Conference Call

GWJ Conference Call Episode 83

Age of Conan, Mario Kart, Grand Theft Auto IV, Rob Off The Rails, Your Emails and more!

Michael Zenke joins us for our in-depth impressions of Grand Theft Auto IV. Does Sean still hate it? Will the vein on Rob's forehead burst? Can Michael inject some sanity into the conversation?!

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.

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Zoo (Dawn)" - Zoo (Workbench) - - 0:27:18
"Zoo (Dusk)" - Zoo (Workbench) - - 1:20:03


After playing quite a few of the GTA games I have to say that as a 15 year old, who the humour is supposedly aimed at, I don't find most of it very funny, but I also don't like South Park. I still agree with the statement though as most of my friends think its hilarious. Now please don't make the main topic a single game next time, I might of liked it more if I was more interested in the game, but the games you can play right now part is there for games like GTA IV which you can play right now, and probably should be extended for big releases.

Drat. Missed that TF2 sale. I really should have gotten The Orange Box during Black Friday. =(

That was quite the spirited conversation about GTA4. I'm really pleased you guys didn't address the 10/10 PERFECT GAME point of conversation that's been buzzing around forums and blogs and whatnot. The conversation was more about the mood the game sets, and the negatives of going for a "living city" vibe with similarities to real life. It's not something that's approached from a variety of perspectives.

The listener e-mail suggesting that Rockstar was a negative for the industry kinda rubbed me the wrong way, though. If not GTA, then controversy would revolve around Hitman, or Manhunt, or Army of Two... Id was demonized for DOOM for ages, and they weren't exactly throwing satan-worship in their games to sell more. Hell, we went through this with Night Trap and they certainly didn't set us back (save for the bad FMV).

I mean, Rockstar is the one that made a game about Ping-Pong (sorry, "Table Tennis"). That wasn't exactly Boob Pong: Maximum Cleavage.

Almost forgot: Zenke was pretty good to listen to. I hope he becomes a semi-regular.

Man, Rob certainly popped some rage pills before the GTA4 segment. How much f*ck, f*ck, f*cking sh*t was in there?

Also, Rob I'm with you on the hatred of the 10/10s. Luckily I played the game for a couple hours before seeing those, but it definitely didn't seem like it deserved them, especially with the way reviewers almost never give a game a 10 when it just refines what it already did, but for some reason this is a different case.

While I was at college those monks who do the sand mandalas visited and did one. It took them days, and it was really quite remarkable. The sounds, the process, everything.

But as fond as I am of photography, I just couldn't stand all the douchebags standing around taking roll after roll of photos of the thing. Talk about missing the point.

Oh, and by the way Rob, there is a setting on your cellphone (in GTA4) to stop receiving calls until you turn that setting off. That lets you do whatever you like and resume the storyline when you're ready.

I agree with a lot of the AoC comments. I've only been involved with it through the "Open" Beta period, but I gave me both renewed hope that an MMO doesn't have to be dumbed down for the worst players and a concerned pause. There are some classes that (I've tried) that have a bit of a WoW feel, but some of the subtle difference do, in fact, make all the difference. Button mashing is a thing of the past (as you don't want to stack spells up in case the dynamics of combat change), there's no auto-attack, and even my "Healer" (Priest of Mitra) offers some very interesting offensive capabilities (repulse was an awesome gain). Positioning, planning attack patterns, looking for openings in melee, and the like are a refreshing change. The story, cut-scene quest interactions, is more involving as well. I don't find myself hitting the questor, accept, and reading what the quest completion requirements in quick succession, ignoring the rest. It's similar to my experiences with LotRO. The world felt more alive and my role in it more inclusive.

However, the performance issues that some are having was a big concern and I seriously considered cancelling my pre-order. Fortunately, some of the folks here (at GWJ)who've had the opportunity to play the game in closed beta assured me that I won't find myself out there alone because I have one of the few machines that work in the game.

And yes, I am willing to accept the risk involved in being at the forefront of a new game that may not be polished upon launch. A rough road over new terrain sounds more interesting than smooth ride over a route I've done literally hundreds of times at this point.

LobsterMobster wrote:

Oh, and by the way Rob, there is a setting on your cellphone (in GTA4) to stop receiving calls until you turn that setting off. That lets you do whatever you like and resume the storyline when you're ready.

It's silent mode under the options menu for Ringing. Only found out about it yesterday myself.

And I'm sitting on some kind of retort/rebuttal/agreement with the praise and criticism in the podcast, but I think I'll save it for an audio e-mail.

I disagree with Michael that in 10 years, we won't see single player games anymore. Even if you look at the online play of huge titles, compared to the number who buy and play online, online penetration is still very low. With most random gamers being complete jack asses online, I don't see it moving past the hardcore niche of core gamers.

There will always be a place for single player games and the market, in my belief, will be larger than multiplayer games. Even if the single player game includes multiplayer, the single player market will out weigh the multiplayer.

I've been on the fence about GTA IV since it was released. (Before that, I had no intention of playing it.) I'm pretty sure this podcast sold me. I'll probably grab it on my way home from work tonight. I really want to experience the multiplayer modes, as they sound like something I would really enjoy, especially compared to the die-spawn-die-spawn thing I usually get out of the other popular multiplayer games (Call of Duty, Gears) I have. The only one I find legitimately fun and that keeps me coming back is TF2, and I'd like something different and more free-form.

I've been enabled... but I think it's okay because I got my stimulus check yesterday. Well, maybe not, since I had already spent that in advance. Oops!

Fun show this week.

Regarding GTA IV, in order to enjoy the game you have to suspend a lot of disbelief and learn to accept its mission structure on its own terms. You also have to come to grips with its crass, harsh, satirical world view. All three were off-putting for me at first, maybe because it's the first GTA game I've ever spent more than an hour with.

What really baffled me was Rob's conclusion that the story just wasn't very good or very interesting. There are a lot of things about GTA IV that don't necessarily impress or dazzle me, but I think the dialogue, voice acting, and character development are just superb, especially in comparison to other games. While many of its characters are absolutely loathsome, they're still completely fantastic, and often hilarious. The depth, quality, scope, and amount of its story-based content is really quite amazing.

I'm probably 20 hours in or so. One thing I've noticed, at least for me, is that the game's weaknesses don't really get any more troublesome. It's strengths, though, become more and more apparent. The city that I'm playing in now seems vastly more detailed and interesting than it did at first, the story is far more interesting than I expected, and the characters are more engaging and remarkable. The more I play, the better the game gets.

Ulairi wrote:

I disagree with Michael that in 10 years, we won't see single player games anymore. Even if you look at the online play of huge titles, compared to the number who buy and play online, online penetration is still very low. With most random gamers being complete jack asses online, I don't see it moving past the hardcore niche of core gamers.

Agreed. People were saying that single player games were doomed ten years ago. They were wrong then too.

"GTA games ... are ... dooty."
- Shawn "Certis" Andrich

I've been meaning to mention this for a while.

When you order from Lion Games, there's a little box for notes and delivery instructions. I tend to leave little messages for Tony in there, and he scribbles notes back on the receipt he sends along with the order. A couple months ago, I dropped a note in there telling Tony that we missed his spot on the podcast. His response:

Tony wrote:

Hello Erik,

There is always a place with GWJ in my heart. Lots of good people there.


I think that complaining that GTA4 is not targeted to your age group/demographic is a valid criticism. Come on! Stand up and say, "This is juvenile satire!" Don't dismiss such thoughts by saying that it's surely targeting someone else. Any game is probably going to appeal to some demographic and even so it'd be valid for me to stand up and say I don't like it.

(Note, I am not saying I think GTA4's satire is juvenile; I have not played it.)

Lamentably, I find myself once again agreeing with Quintin.

I think gamers and the gaming industry need to admit when they're being juvenile, and perhaps even answer for why a game with such consistently mature themes are repeatedly juvenile.

Oh also, I was disappointed not to hear Gaald talk about his whale-riding experiences.

I was disappointed with some of the opinions expressed in the podcast and the reasonings behind them. Rob just seemed to blather on about his trivial grievances despite strong hints from the rest of the group that he should stop. Yes you don't like Brucie, you're not really supposed to. Yes you can die right before completing a mission, much like you can lose the lead on the last lap of an endurance race. Yes you blew yourself up with a grenade, I think we've all been there at one time or another. I just didn't think one persons annoyances deserved to monopolize so much of the podcast while every one else waited to try to inject some sense into the discussion.

It also seems like a great deal of people are ready to write off the humor in the game after they hear the first dick joke immediately dismiss the game as juvenile and beneath them. I felt the humor covered all spectrums ranging from fairly sharp (the hmo/healthcare debate on the radio) to middle-ground (brucie's auto body ads) to yes . . . juvenile (next top hooker). I know when a game like this comes out the temptation is high to get up on your high horse and let us all know how guttural we are for enjoying ourselves. But I thought it got somewhat shameless during the podcast.

The point was brought up that games like this keep gaming from becoming a respectable hobby or passion for an adult. And I agree, but for a completely different reason. It just seems to show how small the community as a whole can act when a developer can create an entire living breathing city, with impressive voice acting, engaging plot, and just an overall amazing experience, but all we can do is sit back and nitpick at how a window doesn't break when I throw a brick at it, or my date doesn't acknowledge that I'm breaking traffic laws.

It also seems like a great deal of people are ready to write off the humor in the game after they hear the first dick joke immediately dismiss the game as juvenile and beneath them.

Actually, for me it was the thousandth dick joke that did it.

I like that Workbench music. I've had it on my iPod since the podcast with the song "Crocodile Tears".

Quite enjoyable. I like the part where you were talking about schools and game dev as a career. Seems like I'm on the right track.

I was disappointed with some of the opinions expressed in the podcast and the reasonings behind them. Rob just seemed to blather on about his trivial grievances despite strong hints from the rest of the group that he should stop.

Yeah I went on for quite a while and went a little overboard, unfortunately keeping quiet while everyone else brought up issues I wanted to talk about didn't help matters. I don't think we will be doing that again.

I do however think that problems like the slightly improved but still broken gun play mechanic, mediocre and juvenile script, a story chock full of aggravating characters, a horrible sense of timing in delivering the storyline, are not trivial especially when they are all in the same game. A game made by a company who has been basically making the same game over and over again.

Yeah the city in GTA IV is a technical marvel and it makes for some really fun multi player with a good group of friends, but the single player experience is lacking in so many ways.

Dam if only I could have been that succinct in the podcast, I could have saved you the extra 7 minutes or so.

I'm on the bandwagon of hating GTA since GTA 3 on the PS2, but I feel as though my own life experiences help feel in the gaps between immature dick jokes and realistic take of a cynical world view.

Maybe I'll agree with all the complaints when I'm more then 2-3 hours in, but so far the game's dialogue is great and captures the characters that are admittedly illegal pretty realistically. I'm not going to say to much relating to my own personal experience, but admittedly the complaints in the pod cast are valid, but also invalid (yeah i have no balls), but have any of the people on the show actually met illegal immigrants or have they read literature involving 1st generation immigrants living in America, such as Christ in Concrete. I've worked with illegal immigrants and I don't know if you guys know this, but there is a lot of casual talk about women and their"tittees." It's what they can do in a society where they feel at a disadvantage, they can remind themselves of their own man hood striped by society by objectifying women. Perhaps its over done in the game and I'll agree with you guys after 10 hours of game time, but the complaint to me (so far) seems more like you guys either A) don't care, because you think the game suffers for it, or B) are crazy. Or I guess C) I've met all the immature immigrants.

Seriously love your show guys, but after spending an entire semester in a class where all my classmates where white (and they all thought noticeably differently then myself, but still similar to one another), I can't help, but feel this is some how an opinion coming from a different racial background and up bringing then my own. Maybe I'm just that 15/18 year old generalized within the podcast although I'm 22. When I chill with said kinds of people (rarely) it's pretty much all they talk or care about. I've been given gems of truth, but they were trapped within crude stories of sleeping with women and then ditching them so they can play Tekken 2 in the down low some where in Syberia.

About the non subtle dialogue: yeah, thats a little questionable, but I've known men to say non subtle things. In those cases it's because English isn't their first language. Maybe I'm giving Rock Star too much credit, but this is my interpretation so far and It's allowing me to really enjoy the game.

Daouzin, I see the point you're making in that the crude and immature aspects of the game could fall under the banner of realism. I wonder, though, at what point realism ceases to be a worthwhile goal.

I admit that I probably come from the perspective that realism is best when it's a means to another end than an end in and of itself. That is, I think that realism often makes it easier for us to compare the game's story and environment to real life without being distracted by abstractions made as concessions to technological limitations (it's easier to compare Niko to real humans than it is to compare Pac-Man). What happens in GTA IV, though, might be that the world and characters are real enough that the possibly more realistic character aspects actually distance the characters from the player. (Perhaps this is another case of the uncanny valley, but in more social terms.) If you follow that view, the game probably becomes a rather serious social commentary, instead of merely an object of commentary regarding the society and people who create, play, and endorse games like GTA IV.

I think it would be really interesting for an anthro or sociology person to compare GTA's immigrant experience with the real thing. It'd probably make a really great Freakonomics blog discussion (if it hasn't already).

Gears of a Solar War:

Just when you thought LRM Frigates couldn't get more overpowered...


We added chainsaws.


(I have a great audio advertisement in my head for this, but I have a crappy microphone and zero time for editing such a thing)

In regards to the email about a college education in games-

I work at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, which has quite a few game related courses. They are mainly art related courses (modeling, rigging, animation, UnrealEd, etc), not much programming or game design (yes, we do know the difference). We're right now working on expanding our game-related offerings to include more courses so we can offer them as a specific track.

I can't say if the possession of a college degree in games will affect your ability to get a job, but I can say that the problem a lot of the out-of-touch game design programs have is that a lot of the instructors have very little to no experience actually working in the industry. They are generally people who might know a 3D package, or have maybe read some game design books, or went to school for something like Computer Science.

I hope I don't sound too much like a shameless plug, but at Gnomon our greatest selling point is that all of our instructors work full-time in the industry that they specialize in. We're right in Hollywood and are pretty entrenched in the different industries we teach, namely visual effects and art production for film, games, commercials, etc.

So anyway, degree or not, if you are looking for a formal education in anything related to games, make sure you research the program being taught and find out if the people who will be teaching you actually have practical experience to share.

The sweet siren sounds of Certis' singing about AoC made me reconsider it as a MMORPG candidate. I'll definitely check it out when it's officially out.

Good grief, Rob. You had an opportunity to send a shout-out to your Sins homies and demurred? For shame, sir! Where else can I get my ego stroked?

"Sephirotic must be stewing right about now"

Hahaha! I was burning with a desire to be able to go back in time and drop in on the podcast. One of the biggest problems in Game Education is that there are many schools that are jumping on the bandwagon. Now, it's a big bandwagon and can accommodate more, but most of these programs are run by people who, like eric_c said, have little to no game development experience. The trick is to do the research into what the programs teach, and if you can, get a list of where their students are now working. Including the school I work for, I can think of around 4 other schools in the US that have decent game programs. Out of these 5 schools, only 2 of them really cover programming and design. Most of them are still art schools.

And yes, you do NOT need a degree to get into the game industry, but like Mr. Sands suggests, a degree is important for other reasons. It shows that you can see something through from start to finish, which is important in any project-based industry. The other benefit is contacts. It's hard to work in a vacuum. There is an artistic synergy that occurs when you are in a group of creative people. I would also suggest that you research the faculty. Make sure that they come from the industry and understand what it takes to create a game.

The biggest problem I think that new students have is a lack of understanding into the process of making a game. Too many students come into my office telling me they want to be a game designer when what they really want to do is to be a character modeler or texture artist. I send them to our "Intro to Game Development" course to set them straight.

It does take passion. You can't come into this industry because you want to make money. It doesn't pay all that well. That's the trade-off for doing something you love, though. Fortunately, as the industry matures, I'm seeing an increase of respect for the artists and people involved in the creation side. Hopefully, the monetary compensation will start trickling down, but until the industry grows larger, it's going to be a while.

Before I go on too long, feel free to PM me if you have any questions.

I think the Totally Rad Show guys are stealing your ideas... One guy, in the same sentence, called it "the uncanny valley of video games" and pointed out that the little details that aren't there "stand out even more because of it."

That seems like a little more than parallel thought, if you ask me...