GWJ Conference Call Episode 25

Conference Call

Oblivion: Shivering Isles Expansion, Burnout Dominator, TMNT Wii, European Game Development Takes Over, Giving Up On Games and more!

Shawn returns to whip the crew back into shape with a riveting, high octane discussion on the coming prominence of European PC games and the developing style of their own. Tons of game impressions, our thread of the week and the awesome new contest! Entry email after the jump.

Want to support the show? Hit the Digg link just above (it's fast and easy to register) or review us on iTunes! Read on for show notes.

To send in your contest entry, email [email protected]! Deadline is April 21st.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined.

Sponsor
Liongames.com

The Links
Burnout Dominator
Shivering Isles
TMNT Wii
Lord of The Rings Online

Thread of the Week 2: Giving Up On a Game - KillerTomato

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Terra" - Chico Correa & Electronic Band - 0:32:04
"Impeller" Ian Dorsch - 0:52:53

Comments

How spoilery is the discussion of Shivering Isles?

Say, for example, I was like Gaald in my dislike for spoilers on games I was really into. Should I wait until I've made some progress in the land of madness before listening to the discussion, or will my ears remain more or less unmolested by details best discovered on one's own?

Don't worry ZeroKFE no specifics on the story line are discussed.

Agreed, little more than general enjoyment are discussed.

Incidentally, I agree that you should empty your inventory before entering the isles. I'm well over burdened and plan an inventory dump in Skingrad before I carry on.

Nice call guys though they're getting shorter.... what gives?

[EDIT]
Ignore that, for some reason when i first opened it up in winamp i only got 45 mins. When i relpayed it again (i usually listen to a conference call two or three times...) i got the full 65 mins.

We target an hour. Believe me, you should hear how long we REALLY run!!!

It's all the cursing at each other and talking about cheese we cut. Really nothing interesting.

I'd be perfectly happy if you guys ran the show around 8 hours. That way I'd have something to listen to all day at work on Wednesdays.

mumford wrote:
I'd be perfectly happy if you guys ran the show around 8 hours. That way I'd have something to listen to all day at work on Wednesdays.

I know you weren't really serious Mumford but that gave me chills when I read it. I don't even want to think how long it would take me to edit an 8 hour show. Although given the opportunity I could imagine us talking for that long.

Gaald wrote:
Don't worry ZeroKFE no specifics on the story line are discussed.

Cool, thanks.

I'd pay for an 8 hour weekly episode of GWJ.... i reckon i'd pay $5-10. not bad really since i no longer watch TV...

Burnout 3 was called "Takedown" and was the best entry in the series (and was the first one published by EA). It was a nice combination of the challenging gameplay from the first two games and a slick, EA money backed presentation.

Burnout 4 was called "Revenge" and was basically the same game in terms of presentation, and had slightly more interesting map design, but they added "traffic checking" so that you could safely hit traffic in the same direction. In some modes this was fun, but overall it took away from the white knuckle thrills of Burnout 3. (Also, the PS2 and Xbox versions had a stupid system where in crash mode you had to do timed button presses to get a full speed start; mercifully, the Xbox 360 version did away with that crap.)

Burnout Dominator is from all accounts kind of like Burnout 3.5, despite being the most recent entry in the series on last gen systems, and is really just a stop gap for Burnout nuts until Burnout 5 hits current gen systems in the fall.

Gaald wrote:
I know you weren't really serious Mumford but that gave me chills when I read it. I don't even want to think how long it would take me to edit an 8 hour show. Although given the opportunity I could imagine us talking for that long. :)

If I were kidding, I'd have used smilies.

...

I'm not sure why anyone would think that the cultural background of a team does not influence his/her products. Rabbit (I think...) comes across as if games developed in Eastern Europe are nothing but the product of a bunch of work slaves, led by creative forces contributed by Western companies. It starts with subtle things such as colour perception, let's not even talk about different gaming preferences a market has based on its history.

Basketball? No. Bad hosts. Bad!

Games that Suck Now

LOTRO - "Fellowshipping" is a verb, but it's a church thing.

Command and Conquer 3 - Dude, don't even get me started on the system requirements for these games. If I was going to play a game for cut scenes, I'd play Final Fantasy XII.

Shivering Isles - We're having way way too much fun.

TNMT - sounds like an RPG with random spawn. You're running along, minding your own business, and POW! You get ripped into this tiny other dimension with something trying to eat you. Nice.

GH360 - Effects Pedal! YAY! Crap. You know I'm really trying hard not to buy this. I cannot hear you! LA LA LA LA LA

European Gaming Scene
This isn't new. Game development houses have been working over there for years and publishers have been using them. If you're anywhere in the publishing industry you know this. MS and several of the other big houses have been using them for years. Even back in the Xbox days - I know of three launch titles for the orginal Xbox that were at least partly developed in Europe. I had a friend who was a PM of a launch title who was stuck jetting between Munich, Tokyo, and Sydney for most of 2000.

Yes, the base culture affects the game. My point is that this has been going on for a long, long time. There's no new effect we're seeing here. Europe already has a style, and we already like it.

Oh, and Phil Harrison would spit green fire out his ass if he thought it would get him out of the hole he's in. I wouldn't recommend taking him in vain.

Thread of the week
Define "give up". I've had a year between getting to a final boss and actually killing him.

Email
...

This isn't new. Game development houses have been working over there for years and publishers have been using them. If you're anywhere in the publishing industry you know this. MS and several of the other big houses have been using them for years. Even back in the Xbox days - I know of three launch titles for the original Xbox that were at least partly developed in Europe.

I'm not sure where you and rabbit seemed to get the idea that Sean and I were shocked that Europe develops games, or that we thought this was some new trend. It was so obvious, it seemed almost besides the point to even make that clear. Of course it's been going on for years upon years now, but I really do think we're turning a corner in almost every aspect of European development.
There's no new effect we're seeing here. Europe already has a style, and we already like it.

Can you put your finger on what this European style is?


Can you put your finger on what this European style is?

finger ==> butt?

Dey took your jebs!

Interesting discussion on European game development. I think we're seeing a trend that has been going on for some time that, as rabbit noted, is the result of the gradual globalization of the industry in general. All sorts of interesting companies are popping up Eastern Europe with the fall of communism and opening of markets, and I'm sure we'll see the same phenomenon continue to occur elsewhere across the globe.

Eastern Europe and Asia are currently huge outsourcing markets, and I'm willing to bet that as the game development industry matures in these regions we'll see the rise of more bonafide development houses. Some will busy themselves mostly with developing and marketing within their own regions, especially as far as PC titles are concerned. I'm willing to bet that others will create games that find markets worldwide, and eventually rise to global prominence. Is it a stretch to think that 10 years from now we'll see developers with the same widespread market influence of Ubisoft or Square Enix coming out of, say, Korea, Ukraine, India, or anywhere else in the world? I don't think so. The European phenomenon seems like just the beginning.

In the end I think it'll be a good thing. Gaming transmits cultural influences in such interesting ways, both in terms of artistic direction and design sensibilities. The more of those influences are in the mix, the better, in my opinion.

edit:

Certis wrote:
Can you put your finger on what this European style is?

Sure. It's the opposite of the Japanese style.

I'm halfway joking. If there is such a style, it's more of a North American/Western Europe style. You could throw out names of companies like Ubisoft, Bioware, Rare, Valve, Epic for examples but in the end I don't really think you could pin it down.

You can, however, write up a list of features that the European style typically doesn't include: turn-based RPG combat, anime/manga stylings, insane difficulty, unforgiving checkpoints, emotionally dramatic narratives.

Certis wrote:
I'm not sure where you and rabbit seemed to get the idea that Sean and I were shocked that Europe develops games, or that we thought this was some new trend. It was so obvious, it seemed almost besides the point to even make that clear. Of course it's been going on for years upon years now, but I really do think we're turning a corner in almost every aspect of European development.

Maybe because of the way you guys phrased the beginning. It was all, "Look! These guys are making all these games!? OMG!"

I guess I'm too close to it and I don't see it as any different. I've been reading news out of The European Game Developers Conference since 2000. And you haven't had a Nietzschean discussion of game development until you've read a 40 page document on how if you love games you must also hate them for their stifled potential. You can almost smell the Galois wafting off the page. Not joking, btw. That was one of the papers presented in 2003.

There's no new effect we're seeing here. Europe already has a style, and we already like it.

Can you put your finger on what this European style is?

This is complicated. There are so many influences on a game and there is stuff a mink breeder wouldn't tolerate going on under the hood. There are several factors here:

-- Specific designers really do muddy the water. I can see a game that Michel Ancel had charge of a mile away. Is it because Ancel is French, or because he's Ancel?

-- Publishers also muddy the water. Whether or not you want to admit it their requirements do affect the game's style. Again, you can tell a Naughty Dog or an Ubisoft game by it's lines, whether it was made in Canada or Bulgaria.

-- Different sources muddy the water. Many games have multiple dev houses and multiple publishers working on them. And when you have very dispirate styles there it makes it hard to tell. Is Enchanted Arms itself because of it's very Korean main developer or Ubisoft's overarching French effect? Is Magna Carta what is is because of Hyung-Tae Kim's ultra-androgenous designwork, Softmax's Korean development style, or Banpresto (Japanese), Atlus (Japanese), and 505 Games (Italian) working on the publishing duties together?

-- Localization muddies the water. If you're talking about pure-blooded Eastern European design, you gotta localize to even get it out to the rest of Region 2. Unless you're up to a Cyrillic UI, you're going to have the same Lost in Translation problems you get with Japanese games only without the 20+ years of built up fan-sub underground knowledge that drives the import Asian games market. And who is doing the localization? A lot of the European stuff comes out of Ireland and Germany. Some big localization houses there. For the far east, it's all about Seoul.

-- Subcontracting is rampant. Is Fuzion Frenzy what it is because of the Japanese and German houses that were subcontracted by Blitz games to help do the coding, Blitz's overarching British art direction, or the designer/PM from Microsoft Game Studios (who I happen to know is a Hawaiian of Chinese extraction)? And how would you know? The credits are just the guys at Blitz with a couple well buried callouts to MGS and the leads at the two subcontracted companies.

This is why I say we're already seeing it. If you're thinking that just the fact that one of the development houses has a headquarters in Montpellier makes that much difference, well, we've been seeing work out of there for the last 15 years. A lot of it you didn't even know was out of there.

If I had to point out a specific style, I see games like Syberia (and Syberia II) as being quintessentially European. Built by The Adventure Company back in 2002. They also have an excellent Agatha Christie series. Lionhead's work is also a classic example. Not just Fable, but also Black and White. Again, have to mention Michel Ancel's work with Beyond Good and Evil.

As a guy from Central Europe, let me put some points there to the discussion of European Style. I strongly believe there is no single European style (although Brussels would certainly like such thing). The reason is not only the language barrier and relatively short time being "together", but also the cultural differences, which turn into chasms once you cross the iron curtain. I see several distinct styles in Europe:

1. The French style is very art-oriented, you can feel strong art direction. Ancel is an obvious one (and maybe the first one to use the depth of focus in the Beyond Good & Evil in-game cutscenes to great effect), but go back a few years and you'll find Future Wars, Another World and Heart of Darkness by Eric Chahi. Or other stuff by Delphine Software (publishers of Another World), such as Flashback or Cruise for a Corpse.
Benoit Sokal is Belgian rather than French (but from Brussels, so you could in fact call him French) and he is also strongly present in the already mentioned Syberias, but also older Amerzone. In fact he's a comic creator and actually had an exposition of his art just recently.
Then there's Coktel Vision - just remember Gobliiins (1,2,3) or the ingenious Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth adventure - with a very distinct art style. They're French at first sight.

2. You can find lots of attention to detail in German and Scandinavian games. Anyone played Realms of Arkania RPGs? Those games were deep. You could in fact contract a number of diseases and die or at least have long-term effects. They allowed incredible customizing options (each character had around hundred characteristics that actually influenced its behavior ingame - from haggling to ability to diagnose diseases). Very immersive, and that was more than 10 years ago. The company was called Attic, I believe. As far as Scandinavia goes, just remember Paradox Interactive, the creators of Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron and Victoria. You can't be possibly more attentive to detail than them. By the way, the guys from Crytek are actually of Turkish origin, so I wouldn't go for them as typical German guys. I would count them more in Central/Eastern Europe type (see below).

3. UK games show for me a specific sense of humor (maybe that's because I like British humor). Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital or Black & White from Bullfrog are obvious ones, very enjoyable were also Broken Sword series from Revolution Software. Especially the first one (Circle of Blood was it in United States) was very European, the locations and accents were sooo great. I play that game every year at least once, just for enjoyment.

4. Eastern Europe is a different beast. Up until, say, 1992, its access to games was hugely limited. Piracy was the only way and it was still sparse. That meant that there were only a few games in circulation that were played endlessly until you became sort of hard-core fan of one of the few games (I loved Colonization and UFO, some did Centurion, others still Civilization and Dune 2). Which led to demands for extra high difficulty when such guys started to program their own games. When I sat with Slovak developer Cauldron (quite successful in these parts) we were talking about their Spellcross turn-based strategy game with RPG elements (and still one of the best games I ever played, after 12 years, I am still playing it). It actually had two versions: one for Czech and Slovak republics with insane difficulty and one for international audience with the difficulty toned down. The guy actually told me that we in Central Europe demand our games to be difficult, as we are used to play them for a long time. I own both versions and the difference is quite significant. And I love the more difficult one the best More examples? Operation Flashpoint with its realism making it difficult to play for typical FPS gamer, same goes for Hidden and Dangerous. Mafia has its insane portions, most notably the racing part. You could have played puzzler Fish Fillets (it can be now downloaded and played for free), a great and very difficult piece. I remember old strategy game Reunion (from Hungary) as being quite difficult, especially because of resource management.

5. Russia excels in programming, I would say. The fact they had to make do with inferior computers made them very tech-savvy, which in part goes for whole Central Europe. I haven't played Stalker so far, but I remember older Russian shooters (Chasm: The Rift and another one from space which I can't remember) which had gorgeous engines without any bloodthirsty spec requirements. This prowess is now used all over Central and Eastern Europe by e.g. Ubisoft Romania (Silent Hunter IV), 10tacle and others. Turkey can be also placed in this category - the guy programming Crytek engine is actually Turkish and just remember how Far Cry technology blew everyone's minds back in the days.

Kind of got into my thing, I suppose:) Still, I tried not to mention obscure or plainly bad games. Hope it gives you some perspectives. And also, these are only my opinions, feelings, etc., but I just live here and follow the information, so I hope it is a bit helpful.

Michael Ironside -- side. Only one of him.

wanderingtaoist wrote:
Plenty

Thanks for sharing! Definitely a good look, I wouldn't know where to begin (let alone what to say) about "typical" styles from these places, so I enjoyed reading your summary.