Press X to Experience Feelings

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patrickklepek

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Edited By patrickklepek

Everyone has an opinion on the Call of Duty games, even if the opinion is not having an opinion. As gaming's biggest annualized franchise, the release of a new Call of Duty prompts plenty of chatter, snark, and thinkpieces. While some are talking about how Sledgehammer Games appears to have breathed new life into the aging franchise, others can't get over a screen shot that made the rounds on Sunday.

Not exactly subtle, you know?
Not exactly subtle, you know?

This moment takes place in the first hour of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, as Sledgehammer sets the stage for yet another bombastic single-player campaign. Some mild plot spoilers follow.

Privates Jack Mitchell (the player) and Will Irons are sent to Seoul, South Korea to push back on a North Korean invasion. The two are friends, and have been fighting alongside one another for years. At the end of the mission, their objective in sight, Irons gets his arm trapped in an aircraft that's about to take off. Worse, Irons had just placed a bomb inside it. They're unable to dislodge Irons' arm, prompting Irons to push Mitchell into safety. The aircraft explodes.

The next scene opens at a military funeral for Irons. After a short speech, several people approach the casket, including Kevin Spacey's character, Jonathan Irons. Eventually, you're given control over Mitchell, but there's only one option to move the game along. Mitchell needs to approach the casket and, as the game instructs, "pay his respects." It's an incredibly clumsy handling of an early emotional beat.

Or is it?

OK, it is. But I don't know if it deserves the dogpiling that's surrounded it. Call of Duty is an easy target, so everyone wants to get a punch in. Call of Duty has never tugged at our heartstrings, and Advanced Warfare isn't setting the series bar much higher. But a Call of Duty game giving players an opportunity to pay their respects to a fallen comrade, even if it's placed within this pseudo-futuristic interpretation of America, is interesting. It suggests the storytelling happening in smaller games might be rubbing off.

It's also not the first game to command eyerolls for a contextual action. It was only a few years ago Homefront bizarrely asked players to "press x to hide in mass grave." It's true. That was probably way worse. There's also the "press X to Jason" meme from Heavy Rain. Players could press the X button over and over, prompting the main character to endlessly and awkwardly yell for his lost son.

Contextual actions are tricky. More games are trying to ditch traditional cutscenes, sections where players might be tempted to put down the controller. Now, more games are giving agency during quieter moments focused on storytelling. That's what Sledgehammer was trying (and failing) to do here. It's easy to imagine a scenario where the player is never asked to do anything. It's pretty common for "interactive" cutscenes to be little more than a guided walkthrough where the player can move the camera to look around them.

Advanced Warfare's mistake was calling a spade a spade. "Press X to pay respects" reads like developer lingo. It describes the action in such a literal manner, it's impossible to take seriously, so it falls flat.

But as players, we've been trained to interact with the world around us.

When I play a new game, the first question I want answered is whether the toilets can be flushed. It's weird, but it answers a bunch of questions about the game's design goals. Is this the kind of game where the designers expect me to explore everything around me, or should I stick to the path and see what lies ahead? The toilet question gets right to the heart of it, albeit it doesn't work every time. You're supposed to explore in Alien: Isolation, but the toilets are static. (Why else do you think it didn't get five stars?)

Duke Nukem 3D, the game that inspired my quest to interact with all video game toilets.
Duke Nukem 3D, the game that inspired my quest to interact with all video game toilets.

Call of Duty has never been this type of game. It's straightforward. Hide in cover, shoot the guys, keep moving. You might look around to search for hidden intel to unlock some bonuses, but it's largely about progression. There is no lingering and taking in the scene around you. Keep shooting. It's a perfectly valid approach, but one that runs into problems when the tone changes, and the action needs to slow down. Call of Duty's design ethos probably explains why "press X to pay respects" even exists. The game's afraid you'll turn around and leave before paying your respects. The player may not want to, but the designers want you to. The big, floating symbol is the carrot. Who can resist pushing it? Anybody would.

With "press x to pay respects," players have only been given a tiny window into the relationship between these two soldiers. It's hard to build an emotional bond when the minutes spent building said bond can be measured on one hand, and most of the time is spent learning the game's fancy new features. What if the moment had been completely optional? What if it was one of several private moments Mitchell could have experienced during this scene, a way of emotionally contextualizing the character's response?

There are ways to imagine the slightly different, more effective scene, especially since the rest is excellent. I've only played a few hours of Advanced Warfare, so I have no idea whether the story's worth caring about, But as the video above shows, how it transitions to the next mission is wonderfully jarring.

Advanced Warfare employs the most blunt tool possible to achieve its goal, but in doing so, undermined its emotional arc by being tone-deaf. It probably won't be the last game to fumble a contextual action, but maybe it'll prompt games to device better ways to incentivize players to participate.

Of course, maybe Alex Navarro had the right idea all along:

No Caption Provided

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BannerThief

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Hit Enter to read another great article. :)

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Spunkrake

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Tap X to pay respects. Hold X to cry on coffin.

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hassun

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I just want to FEEL, man.

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casty

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#5  Edited By casty
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AlKusanagi

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#6  Edited By AlKusanagi

But can you teabag the coffin and yell racial slurs at its mother? xXxsm0k3dawg420xXx needs to know these things.

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advent_crash

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You want to see a great funeral scene in a game play the Darkness 2. Very well done and I literally gasped at the audacity of what occurs. They know what they are doing.

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hidden81

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I feel nothing.

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InternetDotCom

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So does it just linger forever if you refuse to press x?

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colourful_hippie

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Welp, that last image there is going to make me want to watch american beauty again

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kid_gloves

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The simple fix to make it a more meaningful moment is to just give some sort of choice. Press x, y, a, or b to pay respects in different ways, decline paying respects, walk away, cry, any number of different things that you could choose from. It seems such a simple thing, not a choice that would change the preset narrative but something that would make that moment more for the player.

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df

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My 2-cent suggestion:

1) don't give player a choice when there isn't one: can you choose to not pay respect? no, then guide player through this instead of letting them do it.

2) Advanced Warfare only have a few hours of gameplay anyway, so I don't see why they must try to build emotional moments in the campaign, are players looking forward to these scenes? no, then maybe try to build something else.

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regs79

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#13  Edited By regs79
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DorkyMohr

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It's a tutorial. Shadow of Mordor did the same thing. They're having some fun with it.

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Badfinger

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I think Call of Duty's problem is presenting the interaction in the UI. They don't show a silhouette of a detonator with the UI prompt that just says "Use" or "interact". The UI prompt says "PRESS BUTTON TO PLANT DETONATOR". What if you had a mission objective on your HUD (Plant detonator), and the silhouette just gave you the button prompt? Or just the interaction type with no button?

Thus when you're doing something that's not planting a bomb, it comes across as terrible. There are a number of ways the same scene could have been handled in a non-clumsy way, and all of them are interface related rather than interaction related. The content and intent of the mission is solid.

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MeetThePyro

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I disagree with the sentiment that CoD has never tugged at our heartstrings. I think what happens to Gaz and Capt. Price at the end of CoD 4 is a really effective emotional moment.

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Mcfart

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The only mistake was requiring a prompt. They leaned too heavily on QTEs rather then plain ol' cinematics. Trying too hard to be different, but achieving nothing.

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cooljammer00

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I think this ties into the recent Shadow of Mordor hubbub, in that "Press X to Y" is never a thing that doesn't immediately remind you you're playing a video game. It easily could have been something natural, or at least more natural-y. To relegate pathos to a one time button prompt is silly. Press X to kiss your wife. Press X to pay your respects. Hell, I'll give Shadow of Mordor a pass cause it's a tutorial stealth mission, but in CoD, you easily could have made any button press a "pay respects" key and not had to pop up the tool tip. Or hell, make your character pay respects automatically, and have to press a button to get out of the moment of silence.

I think Dan Ryckert was the one who said after the paying respects scene, your objectives are "pay respects", then something like "follow Irons" and "save the president". If that's not tonal whiplash, I don't know what is.

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kid_gloves

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@df said:

1) don't give player a choice when there isn't one: can you choose to not pay respect? no, then guide player through this instead of letting them do it.

Making them do it, not letting them do it. There is something to be gained by forcing actions on the player. Dead Space 2 did it in a gruesome way, Brothers did it in a very emotionally heavy way. There is something to be said about forcing the hand of the player and making them play something out, I don't think this is a good example of it but I will defend it conceptually.

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bpriller

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@dorkymohr: Exactly, kiss your wife gets praise for being there, pay respects gets mocked. It is all about brand perception and implied effect.

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rmanthorp

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#21  Edited By rmanthorp  Moderator

I'm glad more people are bringing attention to this. Thanks, Patrick. The whole thing makes me cry and scream in anger. I can't believe this total garbage is in such a successful franchise/game. I just hope this doesn't make more terrible people think this is a good or easy idea. It SUCKS and I wouldn't normally bring this up but it's also hella insulting. Grooooss.

Noticed a few places (and in these comments) bring up the moment in Arkham City. That's not AS bad because it's an optional side moment but it's still pretty shit and I would rather be without it.

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Immortal_Guy

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Do Call of Duty games really never try to tug at our hearstrings? I thought it was pretty shocking in the original Modern Warfare, where you fail to stop a nuke from exploding, and your player character is Killed In Action. Granted, the impact may now be lessened thanks to that kind of thing being overused (notably by Modern Warfare 2, where player characters are popping off left, right and centre) but I think it was pretty effective in the first game. I certainly wasn't expecting it, and it did have an impact on me.

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subyman

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I think some games have trouble getting the player involved in storytelling, mostly big budget games. Smaller games have been very good at telling a story and making the player feel a part of it. Its not forced or contrived. This reeks of the same problem Watch Dogs had, an incoherent design process where the people involved in making certain parts of the game didn't talk with each other enough and it felt disjointed. If a competent script writer had been shown that prompt, it would have been cut immediately. IMO, it goes back to the producer/lead designer of the game coming from a technical background instead of a writing/artistic background.

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conmulligan

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@badfinger said:

I think Call of Duty's problem is presenting the interaction in the UI. They don't show a silhouette of a detonator with the UI prompt that just says "Use" or "interact".

Yeah, that's exactly it. If they had a visual language to denote interactive objects, they could have gone without the exceedingly stupid text prompts and avoided all this mockery.

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mikey87144

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It's really bad. It just pops out of nowhere during this quiet moment. Have the character move forward or something. It was so stupid.

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fobwashed

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And thus, the search for Duke Nukem 3D toilet has been explained. Nicely written Mr. K

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T_wester

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#27  Edited By T_wester

X

Am I during this right ?

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hassun

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#28  Edited By hassun

@casty: I love it!

@rmanthorp: He's not all that down on it to be honest. Despite its clumsiness.

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Yummylee

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This just reminds me how much I love the end to The Boss fight in Snake Eater. No prompt, just Snake staring his gun down at his mentor and mother figure, waiting for you to pull the trigger.

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cornfed40

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Seems a little "Much Ado About Nothing" to me. Ide rather have to hit X than just watch a cutscene

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HoboZero

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#31  Edited By HoboZero

Just like that scene in Tommy for the PS2:

Press Start to See Me

Press X to Feel Me

Press A to Touch Me

Hold Y to Heal Me

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Homelessbird

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@rmanthorp: Why did you find it insulting?

As someone who has known some people who died in the line of duty, I thought it was a touching scene. And I appreciated the opportunity to interact with it, however minimally - for me, it gave the moment a weight that it wouldn't have had otherwise. Maybe that's just me conflating my life with the game, I don't know, but I certainly wouldn't call it insulting.

I agree that the button prompt and phrasing probably wasn't well chosen; they could have handled that more smoothly. But it didn't stop the scene from working for me, and I'm always glad to see COD try to have some more quiet, meaningful moments.

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bigjaffa

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If it had just put up the X button prompt with out telling you how to feel then it would be up to the player to decide their own emotions (if they have any). Read like a bullet point on a design doc although some COD players seem emotionally inept anyway........

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zeushbien

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@bpriller said:

@dorkymohr: Exactly, kiss your wife gets praise for being there, pay respects gets mocked. It is all about brand perception and implied effect.

The kiss your wife moment got plenty of critique from the likes of polygon for an example.

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notnert427

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But can you teabag the coffin and yell racial slurs at its mother? xXxsm0k3dawg420xXx needs to know these things.

Accurate.

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billyok

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#36  Edited By billyok

I accidentally clicked in R3 and melee'd the coffin.

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endub

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#37  Edited By endub

Should've put pay respects on a trigger so you could sort of feather it

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ollieg_94

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#38  Edited By ollieg_94

Still yet to see anything as great as Assassins Creed II's "press X for baby to move legs."

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ELpork

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When you consider one of the final missions is you running around in a giant robosuit that launches missiles, like... subtly is not the franchises strong suit. Although this one example of "FEEL EMOTIONS DAMN IT!" storytelling is FAR better then what they did last time with the "I l-l-love you son" stuff. Granted this feels about as shoehorned in as the "these are your family members, which is why you care" style of 'storytelling' in Ghosts.

I don't understand why this crap storytelling is still, like a thing though? I thought nobody played the story campaigns right? That's the statistic I keep hearing about, so why not experiment, and have fun with it instead of trying to play to the largest feasible audience. If they just went for it and do something crazy, or kept it real personal and focused with a singular writer, that might at least get looked at in a positive light and keep people from laughing at your game. And that mass market appeal that it feels like they've been trying to hit (Maybe excluding the first MW and Black ops 2), just ends up being... Well "Press X to Feel" type shii that nobody likes.

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Deathpooky

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Yeah, I think the bluntness of the text is what makes it laughable. It's shoehorning interactivity into an emotional scene to the point where they need to insert tutorial text to make sure you know what to do, since it's so distinct from anything else in the game.

Compare that to the climax and epilogue of Brothers, which has you doing some heavy emotional stuff using the same basic controls and without tutorial text. It's clear what you should do based on the same controls you've been using all along, so it gives the scenes a lot more emotional resonance as you intuitively control the character.

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#42  Edited By Spitznock

I don't think it was trying especially hard to have you feel anything about a character who you (the player) only just met a half hour or so ago at that point. Games don't handle death especially well, but expecting a Call of Duty game to is sort of silly, considering the tremendous kill count the player racks up over the course of the game. Everything is a device to keep things moving forward, which for a big dumb summer action movie like CoD, that's fine.

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Counterclockwork87

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@rmanthorp: I don't think you read the article carefully, he actually doesn't have much of a problem with it other than its not great storytelling. I also don't have a problem with it, it's completely fine. I hope every game from now on does this just to see people get mad at nothing.

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EarlessShrimp

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I honestly didn't notice this until you mentioned it. I guess pressing X to pay respects just didn't hit a negative chord with me. It's a video game, you do video game things. I mean, how else would you have the player interact with it? Instead, should they have just made it be a cutscene where the player is not involved in the action at all? Maybe they were trying to get the player more involved in the moment to bring them a little closer to their recently-deceased digital comrade?

In summation: Video games are fun.

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TruckSimulator

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@t_wester: Thank you for your respect transaction. You have a nice day!

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DorkyMohr

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#47  Edited By DorkyMohr

@twinsun said:

@bpriller said:

@dorkymohr: Exactly, kiss your wife gets praise for being there, pay respects gets mocked. It is all about brand perception and implied effect.

The kiss your wife moment got plenty of critique from the likes of polygon for an example.

In any case I think these examples stand out for a few reasons. They're some clever ways to acclimate the player to the controls/conceits/story of the game, but your immersion in the game is probably at it's lowest right when you start the game. That's why it's so easy to send off a quick tweet of "look at this silly thing" or "can you believe what this robot said about wizards?" And since it's right at the start of the game, most people have seen it and things quickly dogpile.

But I think it's a bit disingenuous to write this stuff off as "videogamey", you suspend your disbelief every time you press a button on a controller. And it's not like QTE's don't have the ability to elicit some pretty high emotions from the player. The microwave hallway in MGS4 I remember eliciting some pretty strong reactions in people, and all you're doing is rapidly pressing a single button.

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umdesch4

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#48  Edited By umdesch4

This thread needs the obligatory "thanks @patrickklepek for writing articles like this for the site". I was smiling and nodding in agreement at everything you said about interactive toilets.

Honestly, these days I haven't had as much time to keep up with everything on this site, but when I get here, I always check to make sure I've read all the wall-of-text posts that Patrick has written since my last visit. I catch up on the other stuff when I have more time.

Keep up the awesome work, sir!

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Toug

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I feel like it would have worked far better if there was just say an X button icon visible by the coffin, but without the full context for the action. Just enough to let you know it's intractable. It's the full description that kicks it over into absurdity.

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Honkalot

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@immortal_guy said:

Do Call of Duty games really never try to tug at our hearstrings? I thought it was pretty shocking in the original Modern Warfare, where you fail to stop a nuke from exploding, and your player character is Killed In Action. Granted, the impact may now be lessened thanks to that kind of thing being overused (notably by Modern Warfare 2, where player characters are popping off left, right and centre) but I think it was pretty effective in the first game. I certainly wasn't expecting it, and it did have an impact on me.

I totally agree with Patrick about it. Though I recognize and have seen people referring to the scene you mention in Modern Warfare as carrying emotional weight. I do not understand it though.

You have zero character investment at that point in the game, I would argue there is none at the very end of the game either. That character is a nameless cipher you've spent maybe 40 minutes playing as, I couldn't even remember the name of that character when that scene happens. To me it came off as an at the time pretty cool looking scene visually, but laughable in terms of dramatic swing and miss.

I'd say Black Ops is probably the only game in the series that to me had some successful character investment, and probably because the storytelling is pretty decent in that game.

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