monsieur_cronky

Timberwolves: Proposed alternatives to the jarring ‘morale-meter’ and tense music!

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SUMMARY

In general I think Timberwolves are a great inclusion, but I can’t understate how disappointing and immersion-destroying I find the morale-meter (including pack-number indication) and the tense music that accompany them. It’s just so at-odds with the natural/seamless interactions the game manages to achieve with all other wildlife. I’ve provided a rationale, and detailed suggestions for improving the Timberwolf interaction below.

(FYI – I’m 39yo male, played apx 200 hours TLD so far, which is double the playtime of any other game I’ve played in my 30+ years of gaming. I started at Wintermute Redux 1&2, and absolutely love the game. I evangelise about it. It’s truly an awesome piece of art. I play almost every day, and it’s become a part of my life. This post is an attempt to help make it better!).

WHY IS IT SUCH A PROBLEM?

One of the things I love most about TLD is the immersive, seamless, and ‘natural-feeling’ interactions around wildlife (pre-Timberwolves). I absolutely love it when I catch myself stopping to check – are those bear footfalls I can hear? How close is that wolf howl? And then if/when you do engage, you can never be sure what will happen. I love that there’s no aiming crosshair on the screen. I love that when you hit the animal, it may fall or run depending where you hit it plus an element of chance. And I really REALLY love that you can be unsure of whether you hit the animal, until you go and look for blood-spatter. Overall, it leads to superbly natural and satisfying interactions.

And so, I (and I suspect others, who, like me, love TLD for its immersion) find it an immense disappointment when suddenly the game flashes up the tense music and morale meter for Timberwolves. None of the other wildlife has a visible ‘health bar’, nor can you tell how many are nearby unless you physically count them. It really feels like cheating, and I don’t want that. However – just providing an option to turn it off is not what I’d suggest – please read on.

WHAT WOULD I SUGGEST?

The following suggestion applies to both Wintermute and Survival modes:

-          If you do feel that players need an audio cue when they’re spotted by Timberwolves, then use only a distinctive howl and/or growl instead.

-          Make their ‘engage-attack’ behaviour to be less ‘on/off’. If they spot you, they could start walking towards you. You then have a (small) chance to run away, but if they get close enough, then they will harry you until you deal with them.

-          If you feel that the morale-meter and tense music are needed for accessibility reasons (ie. to help newer/less confident players feel less frustrated/more aware of what’s happening), then I have a couple of alternative suggestions:

o   Instead of the morale-meter and tense music, pre-arm players with the key aspects of Timberwolf behaviour via a natural interaction. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: Perhaps via extending the phone conversation with Molly in Molly’s barn, where Molly describes the key aspects of Timberwolf behaviour in a little more detail. I feel this could probably be achieved without sounding forced, since it could be in the context of Molly talking about her close escape. EG. “Not much on Great Bear scares me anymore, but those Timberwolves…  well they get worse, the bigger the pack. Once I got swamped by five of them, and I had to shoot three before the rest finally fled.”
Key concepts concerning their behaviour could be further reinforced in the conversation with Father Thomas, right after the scripted Timberwolf-fight outside the hall. EG. “How many were there? Two? Well thank goodness there weren’t more. They’re even harder to get rid of in larger packs.”

o   If you really still feel the morale-meter and tense music are required to avoid frustration/confusion in players, then please consider only having them ‘on’ by default on the easiest game mode, and perhaps only for the first two interactions as 'training wheels' - and also give players an option to turn the meter & music on/off. I would guess that the majority of ‘normal-difficulty’ players – even newer ones - will value the immersion more highly than having the ‘jarring training-wheels’ of the morale meter and tense music.

If you’re still with me, thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Kind regards,

S

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First of all: Welcome to the Forums! And thank you for this well thought out and well argued post. While I feel like the TLD community adheres to quite high standards, to me something like this still stands out in a positive way.

Sadly I cannot offer you much of my own opinion on this other than you pretty much hit the nail on the head so hard it became a nickel. I personally felt the Morale Meter was .... off, misplaced, like it didn't really belong, but I couldn't really put my finger on why, and sort of disregarded that as "well, but they kinda to let the player know what's going on". Now reading through your suggestions .... I think your approach would be much, much better. TLD really did a great job so far when it comes to teaching players its mechanics without offering explicit explanation. Incorporating this into the dialogues would not only have been much more elegant - it would actually have given them a lot more purpose.

The one issue I see is: how do I actually communicate to the player the progress they are making fighting off the Timberwolves without displaying it? What comes to mind is the so called "Survivor Monologue", a tool TLD already uses to communicate needs of the player. Self talks like "Ha, take that!" when successfully lowering morale or "Got one!" when actually hitting a Timberwolf would give the player information how he is doing. Also there could be lines like "Just stand your ground..." when at 50%, or "They can't take much more" at like 80%, just to keep the player motivated to keep going.

I guess many of those ideas went through the designers heads as well, and I can only assume that the final decision to make it a UI element rather than something actually happening in game space was for accessibility reasons. Your approach definitely is more consistent with how TLD operates, but I guess the designers were afraid that communicating it any other way than with literally a pack-health bar would have not been clear enough. Which is a bit sad, since I believe this could have been a much more interesting feature if implemented your way.

 

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I too wasn't a huge fan of the meter... it definitely felt out of sorts with the rest of the game...these idea's are much more immersive

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10 hours ago, jeffpeng said:

The one issue I see is: how do I actually communicate to the player the progress they are making fighting off the Timberwolves without displaying it? What comes to mind is the so called "Survivor Monologue", a tool TLD already uses to communicate needs of the player. Self talks like "Ha, take that!" when successfully lowering morale or "Got one!" when actually hitting a Timberwolf would give the player information how he is doing. Also there could be lines like "Just stand your ground..." when at 50%, or "They can't take much more" at like 80%, just to keep the player motivated to keep going.

Great idea. And thanks for the welcome!

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I'm all for options, but I must say I actually don't want to see the morale meter etc. completely removed. 

Edited by kristaok

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I might like the morale meter a bit more if the red wasn't so bright, maybe a darker crimson like blood stains and not the cartoonist style red. The harsh white needs to have its gamma adjusted/linked with the hdr setting too. I think it is so harsh because the hdr setting allows me to run the game darker, get the ambiance, but still spot some details.

I really like the audio cues idea though too. Another thought was that while I know the timber wolves are a work in progress, The idea about "on and off again behavior' really hit home. I enjoyed trying to get by the old wolves, If I failed I paid a price, fair enough.  Not being able to get by them really takes it out of me, The music turns on, my heart sinks a bit while the game takes my time to roll through what feels more like RNG than a challenge. I felt the same way with the bear spear in episode two so much so that I went back to survival. The thrill is gone from moose stomping too. I have developed a bad taste in my mouth from bear meat and a bit of over respect for mooses, or is it mice so perhaps this is intended. I hope not.

That said, they fixed the sprain system nicely, I noticed rabbit hunting box is smaller but the stone goes where I throw it. Overall accuracy  of the rifle and pistol may have been fine tuned too. And, when I do manage a timber wolf kill, its very gratifying: YEAH!!!. The flanking is probably realistic but unless the marine flare adjustment works I feel a bit too defenseless over losing good clothing. I can deal with bleeding out but I hate when dogs chew on my shoes and I can't do anything about it. Perhaps its time to learn how to bait better.

Edited by Muestereate

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Timberwolves and the morale mechanic are pretty alright as they are, but I agree the bar should be replaced. It does indeed feel too "gamey" for TLD's more hands-on, immersive and instinct-based mechanics.

Of course, let's not get too far with the "realism" and "immersion" (quotes not for sarcasm, but emphasis) because there is no real life thirst or hunger bar, sometimes these vital needs seem not quite urgent and 5 minutes later they prove to be very urgent. TLD has clear vitals meters that fill and deplete, and the morale meter is no more gamey than they are.

My point is, the Long Dark should have a more intuitive timberwolf morale meter, but it should be neither too vague nor too uninterpretable by new/casual players. Perhaps Easy has the classic bar and dialogue , Normal has only dialogue cues like @jeffpeng suggested and...Hard has no morale indicator? You have to keep fighting until they're gone or killed, or until you yourself die?

And if that's not perplexing enough, what about Survival mode? If they are introduced, interloper will be an express ticket to death :P

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On 11/2/2019 at 6:40 AM, thefistoffury1 said:

Of course, let's not get too far with the "realism" and "immersion" (quotes not for sarcasm, but emphasis) because there is no real life thirst or hunger bar, sometimes these vital needs seem not quite urgent and 5 minutes later they prove to be very urgent. TLD has clear vitals meters that fill and deplete, and the morale meter is no more gamey than they are.

My point is, the Long Dark should have a more intuitive timberwolf morale meter, but it should be neither too vague nor too uninterpretable by new/casual players. Perhaps Easy has the classic bar and dialogue , Normal has only dialogue cues like @jeffpeng...

I did ponder the fact that the hunger/thirst/fatigue meters are there, yet I don't find them jarring or distracting - the key difference, I think, is that the Timberwolf morale-meter reflects something *external* to the player character, that the player character could not reasonably have accurate knowledge of. It's 'magic knowledge'. By contrast, those *internal* meters are reasonable because you/Astrid would know how hungry/tired/thirsty/cold she is.

The pack number & morale-meter is the most jarring example I can think of within TLD where the UI provides 'magic knowledge' to the player - but there are lesser examples, like the flare and torch timers. Personally I would prefer those to be gone too - at least in survival modes, because they force more responsibility onto the player. Thank heavens there's no magic map-marker on Survival mode! It's precisely the lack of magic knowledge that forces the player to really engage and pay attention to the environment and is inhabitants. I've never had to get to know a game's terrain as well as I have in TLD, because my survival depends on it. This results in such wonderful satisfaction at becoming adept and knowledgeable within the game, and is a large part of what keeps the game interesting. Uncertainty is the spice of life 😄, as long as it's 'fair'!

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I think the system works fine as it is... To me, the timber wolf packs are good just as they are (considering it's just a story mode thing for now).  I think if folks take a little time to get used to it, they'll be okay.

:coffee::fire:
I find it funny that folks complain about the morale meter... because if that had been hidden, folks would likely be complaining about a lack of conveyance... irritated because they can't tell what's going on. :D  Hell, even with the indicators some folks still couldn't figure out how to deal with them or what was going on... despite the fact that there was a pop-up screen explicitly stating exactly what to do.

Edited by ManicManiac
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48 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

I think the system works fine as it is... To me, the timber wolf packs are good just as they are (considering it's just a story mode thing for now).  I think if folks take a little time to get used to it, they'll be okay.

:coffee::fire:
I find it funny that folks complain about the morale meter... because if that had been hidden, folks would likely be complaining about a lack of conveyance... irritated because they can't tell what's going on. :D  Hell, even with the indicators some folks still couldn't figure out how to deal with them or what was going on... despite the fact that there was a pop-up screen explicitly stating exactly what to do.

You know, I think I've changed my stance a little. I think for Story Mode, the Timberwolves are fine as is, since Story Mode is kind of 'training mode' anyway! But I still strongly feel all the sentiments in my OP apply to Survival Mode. Fingers crossed for December!!!

Edited by monsieur_cronky
Typo

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3 hours ago, monsieur_cronky said:

I did ponder the fact that the hunger/thirst/fatigue meters are there, yet I don't find them jarring or distracting - the key difference, I think, is that the Timberwolf morale-meter reflects something *external* to the player character, that the player character could not reasonably have accurate knowledge of. It's 'magic knowledge'. By contrast, those *internal* meters are reasonable because you/Astrid would know how hungry/tired/thirsty/cold she is.

The pack number & morale-meter is the most jarring example I can think of within TLD where the UI provides 'magic knowledge' to the player - but there are lesser examples, like the flare and torch timers. Personally I would prefer those to be gone too - at least in survival modes, because they force more responsibility onto the player. Thank heavens there's no magic map-marker on Survival mode! It's precisely the lack of magic knowledge that forces the player to really engage and pay attention to the environment and is inhabitants. I've never had to get to know a game's terrain as well as I have in TLD, because my survival depends on it. This results in such wonderful satisfaction at becoming adept and knowledgeable within the game, and is a large part of what keeps the game interesting. Uncertainty is the spice of life 😄, as long as it's 'fair'!

Oh I get your point, yes. And you're right that timberwolf morale is an external value that the player cannot magically know. I also have considered having no timers for light sources, and instead have the light dim over time, which the player could time internally in relation to realtime gameplay. Perhaps a fifth diffuclty mode, someday. There is a huge section of the community who would never play without timers or would quit very soon, so having such a great idea that you had, it would have to be in a separate difficulty.

And about the map, oh God yes! Drop me anywhere in the Great Bear world and within seconds I know where I am, and that's just beautiful (I as in all players who have put time in the game lol) I used the map in Story mode at first, but stopped because I started to forget the layout of the map :D

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I guess my general position here is .... I, as an experienced player, would personally have preferred @monsieur_cronky's approach, but if I would have been the designer having to do this for the all the players, including the people that originally bought TLD for the story mode and probably will only ever play story mode, I would probably have ended up with a solution much like we've got now.

Also @ManicManiacmakes a good point that a lot of people still didn't/don't get what's going on despite the bar and a big fat popup box explaining it. This actually is indication that the current way isn't too verbose, but actually still not verbose enough, at least for some players, and I would bet a pretty steep amount of flare shells that the people that find Timberwolves not communicated well enough outweigh the people that find them overcommunicated by quite a huge margin.

This pretty much is the dilemma designers find themselves in. I can imagine the original concept for the Timberwolfes encounters actually looked more like what is described here. But I can also imagine that internal playtesting produced worries that if even people generally familiar with the game have a hard time understanding how to handle the new mechanic at first, less adept people will outright fail and in the worst of cases give up. To adapt a famous quote: No concept ever survives contact with the customer.

Edited by jeffpeng

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I personally feel that the timberwolves make the game almost impossible... Wolves were dangerous before the timberwolves were introduced. Now you just race through all of your ammo and we all know there isn’t much in the way of supplies in PV. I think they made the game a bit too difficult with this latest episode. I can only speak for myself.... 

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On ‎11‎/‎3‎/‎2019 at 9:58 AM, Drewski_STX said:

I can only speak for myself.... 

And you have, and I respect that.  You can also use these forums to ask other players (or read what others have posted about it) to find out how they handle them, and see if their strategies might work for you.  At the very least this would take the edge off whatever learning curve you might be on, and even if other player's strategies don't work for you... it's possible that in the process you will find what will work for you.

:coffee::fire::coffee:

Edited by ManicManiac
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On 11/3/2019 at 1:28 AM, Drewski_STX said:

I personally feel that the timberwolves make the game almost impossible... Wolves were dangerous before the timberwolves were introduced. Now you just race through all of your ammo and we all know there isn’t much in the way of supplies in PV. I think they made the game a bit too difficult with this latest episode. I can only speak for myself.... 

I thought it would be too hard on me when I first heard about the addition of Timberwolves, but it's actually not / wasn't hard at all. At least not in the Story Mode currently, because in Ep3 I ended up with so much ammo I was able to blast them to smithereens. 

So I definitely wouldn't consider it impossible to fight through the Timberwolves. I'm actually glad they were added. 

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I agree that the bright red indicator is immersion-breaking, but I like the music  - it's a good way to convey the "gut feeling" that something hungry is watching you, and to build tension. 

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I agree the morale meter doesn't really fit the aesthetics of the current UI and HUD in the game, but I am used to the look it has from all of the aRPG/RPG games I play. So, it really was not immersion breaking for me. personally, and it was easy for me to see how far down I was pushing their morale to chase them off. I do like the music as well, it really does make your stomach clench up a bit when you hear it, and lets you know the danger is real, and immediate. I suppose from a purely aesthetic sense, the meter could or should be made a bit more visually similar to everything else. Not a circle, still a bar, with with that "snowy and cold" look. Not sure how else to put that... 

 

Took a few tries to learn how the Timbers behave, and what their attack patterns were. But that's something I have had to learn in aRPGs like Titan Quest and Grim Dawn, dealing with mobs that flank and surround my avatar.  Kite? Don;t kite? Use terrain or architecture do protect myself from the flank attacks... Not too hard, just took some observation and some learning the hard way, lol.

 

I do think they will be problematic in Survival Mode, where those 20% per hit attacks may end permadeath runs quickly. But, being a Stalker player most often, I love to dance with wolves, and look forward to many horrible deaths learning to deal with them in the sandbox.

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Leave out the status bar for the Timberwolves and predictable spawnpoints for 'em. It became tedious after the first one. Would be cool if they were constantly lurking in the distance, never knowing when they'd attack. You know, random event with more time between. Creating tension!

Rescue-mission: Diversity please? Different cases and rescue methods.  What about having to craft a sled or something because one of the survivors broke their leg? Helping a person you ain't strong enough to carry. Just felt like having to do the same thing over and over. And to be honest..the travel distance made me having fantasies about unlimited sprinting....or fast travel. Overall a good experience, but this game could be sooo much better with a bit of tweaking here and there. The atmosphere in this game is sometimes brilliant, like approaching a lit cabin at night during a snowstorm.  that's why I want the best for this game. Cheers.

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Posted (edited)

Dont forget the morale meter should actually behave. I.e. a wolf taking a burning flaregun to the face, he would run! 

Not circle for a new attack, a new flare, rinse and repeat...

The whole apocalyptic-wolves feature is badly written. You cant escape them, without killing or almost killing them with gun ammo.

Edited by aspiranten

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(Hello, my first post incoming!)

I personally like the music change accompanying the timberwolves, it's subtle enough to not break immersion (for me), but obvious enough so I don't get suprise-attacked.
But yes, the HUD is a bit much. I'm not sure it's needed at all, since the music change will tell you once you have managed to scare or kill them all off. If it's seen as necessary, it could at least be made less bright colored. Maybe just plain white like all other HUD elements.

I'm also loving the idea of added survival monologue as an indicator of timberwolf pack morality, but voice acting is expensive... moreover, I'm pretty sure that people would grow annoyed hearing the same monologue every time they fight timberwolves...!

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On 1/13/2020 at 8:07 PM, lillitys said:

I'm pretty sure that people would grow annoyed hearing the same monologue every time they fight timberwolves...!

People grow also annoyed of having Mac or Astrid complain all day long that they are hungry. It's still in the game :D 

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3 hours ago, jeffpeng said:
On 1/13/2020 at 2:07 PM, lillitys said:

I'm pretty sure that people would grow annoyed hearing the same monologue every time they fight timberwolves...!

People grow also annoyed of having Mac or Astrid complain all day long that they are hungry. It's still in the game :D 

You don't have to hear the male of female survivors' voices in Survival and Challenge Mode, or Astrid's or Will's voices in Wintermute, at all. Hinterland gave us a separate audio control for "Character Voice" in settings. Turn it down/off, and turn Subtitles on, and you still get the audio cues/clues and Story Mode narrative, without needing to hear the voices at all. That would work for the idea of "survival monologue" as well. And yes, voice acting is expensive, but the ability to stitch together words from already recorded audio files and only record any new ones that are needed to fill in, is a possibility. (People who make "Deepfake" videos have gotten really good at doing this...). 

On 1/13/2020 at 2:07 PM, lillitys said:

But yes, the HUD is a bit much. I'm not sure it's needed at all, since the music change will tell you once you have managed to scare or kill them all off.

As far as the music change... not helpful for people who are HoH or Deaf who  play the game... they may not hear the changes well, or at all.

 

Personally, I have no issues with the Morale Meter as it is, now that I have gotten used to it. It did take some getting used to in Wintermute Episode 3, but the aesthetics of it fits the rest of the HUD and UI as well as something like this can, and the bright color it uses is visible even in poor lighting, and when it is over a fallen log, exposed tree roots, or red/red-brown building, structure or car, ect., so "dulling it down" too much may make it harder to see for some people, or in some situations (Such as I listed above, or is Subtitles or CC is being used, and the grey background dulls it and hides it somewhat). Adding the character monologue would be helpful though, IMHO. I personally would prefer to see Hinterland modify the Closed Captioning, if they are going to change any single element of the HUD and UI. Add [loud wolf left][medium Moose sounds behind][T Wolf front, left, behind}, or something similar (tested and vetted by HoH and Deaf players for usefulness feedback). Visual aids for HoH, Deaf, and Vision Impaired players should never be minimized or done away with. They can be helpful for many people who have no eyesight limitations, or hearing limitations as well. Even if the Morale Meter is, visually, a little "gamey" looking to some. It is a video game, after all.

Edited by ThePancakeLady
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You make a great point, @ThePancakeLady! I must admit, I didn't think of HOH people at all... 😔

And you're probably right about the HUD as well. Surely we'll all get used to it in time. 

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