GWJ Conference Call Episode 83

Conference Call

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) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:27:18
"Zoo (Dusk)" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 1:20:03

Comments

wordsmythe wrote:

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).

This is why I love my RSS reader:
http://www.slate.com/id/2191012/?from=rss
GTA IV, as examined by Sudhir Venkatesh, sociology and African-American studies prof, author of Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, and part of that whole Freakonomics gang. I think he was on The Daily Show recently, if you remember.

Edit: OK, so he gets GTA III mixed up with San Andreas, but I think it's still a worthwhile read. And hey, he's writing about my old neighborhood!

wordsmythe wrote:

I think he was on The Daily Show recently, if you remember.

Colbert Report actually.

nsmike wrote:

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...

Well, that's more of a tautology than anything else, isn't it?

I'm glad there are other glimmerings of hope out there in the wasteland that is the internet. Do you have a link to the show I could use to investigate?

wordsmythe wrote:

Well, that's more of a tautology than anything else, isn't it?

I'm glad there are other glimmerings of hope out there in the wasteland that is the internet. Do you have a link to the show I could use to investigate?

Here's the episode's page.

My point is that those same words appeared in this episode of the podcast, although nowhere near as neatly packaged as they appeared in TRS. Which leads me to believe that either the TRS guys and our own GWJer podcasters had an 'uncanny' moment of parallel thought, one stole from the other, or they both got the idea from some other source.

The uncanny valley in GTA IV is also discussed (though not explicitly named) in a NY Times article.

I'm interested enough to check it out, nsmike. I'll be sure to share my thoughts!

The uncanny valley isn't exactly something obscure to bring up when it comes to gaming. Claiming that someone stole from someone else in bringing it up is absurd.

I think they may have just gotten the idea from a different source. TRS comes out on Tuesdays, which means it would be prior to the GWJ podcast release. I have no idea when TRS records, though. But it would have to be prescience, not parallel thought, if they said it before the GWJ release.

nossid wrote:

The uncanny valley isn't exactly something obscure to bring up when it comes to gaming. Claiming that someone stole from someone else in bringing it up is absurd.

I know what you mean, but this was different... I've never heard the term 'uncanny valley' refer to anything but that area where representations of humans by artificial means got so close to reality, but not quite there that they merely look like an animated corpse. In both the GWJ podcast and TRS, they used the term 'uncanny valley' to refer to the representation of the city, not the characters, which is what made me wonder.

We record on Saturday evenings. As far as I know, we don't watch (listen?) to that show. There's so many gaming podcasts out there hammering on GTA IV, you're bound to hear plenty of similarities.

I'm not sure that I actually want realism in my games. I want my games to be fun. Isn't the sensible level of realism where it doesn't impair the fun of playing the game or break the challenge of playing it. All the GTA games do a good job of giving a pretty superficial level of realism. But I don't want to have to follow traffic laws when I'm playing the game: stopping at red lights, going the right way down a one-way street and so on would make it pretty dull to play. I'm glad they didn't make cops chase you if they saw you breaking the highway code. The game still has my favourite realism-breaking feature: if you look on foot one way a road and observe that it's empty, then turn round the other way, and then turn round again to your first orientation, cars will suddenly have appeared really close to you, faster than they could have got there in reality. A facet of the NPC traffic generation I guess.

Brucie is a very annoying character, and he's clearly been designed as such. I would be interested to see the design process that led up to him. Is he meant to be some kind of satire on alpha males? He's got a Jewish surname (Kibbutz). Is that significant? I don't know.

Which leads me to believe that either the TRS guys and our own GWJer podcasters had an 'uncanny' moment of parallel thought, one stole from the other, or they both got the idea from some other source.

I was the one who brought the term up on the podcast. I can tell you that it simply occurred to me earlier in the day of recording as I was thinking about how lifelike the city was and how that really brought the smaller flaws into stark contrast. At the risk of revealing too much, I listen to very few podcasts (I'm usually listening to music when I work or write, and I can't concentrate when someone is talking while I work) and have never heard an episode of TRS, so I think we'll just have to chalk this up to parallel thought. Honestly, it doesn't even seem like that much of a stretch, if you start heading down a certain avenue of thought.

Elysium wrote:
Which leads me to believe that either the TRS guys and our own GWJer podcasters had an 'uncanny' moment of parallel thought, one stole from the other, or they both got the idea from some other source.

I was the one who brought the term up on the podcast. I can tell you that it simply occurred to me earlier in the day of recording as I was thinking about how lifelike the city was and how that really brought the smaller flaws into stark contrast. At the risk of revealing too much, I listen to very few podcasts (I'm usually listening to music when I work or write, and I can't concentrate when someone is talking while I work) and have never heard an episode of TRS, so I think we'll just have to chalk this up to parallel thought. Honestly, it doesn't even seem like that much of a stretch, if you start heading down a certain avenue of thought.

I hope this isn't coming off as some kind of policing attempt... Obviously that's not my place.

It was just an observation... Probably made more poignant by the fact that I watched TRS immediately following listening to the conference call. My observational and logical skills are apparently not up to snuff enough to find a good usage of that term in that context, either. It just seemed pretty strangely coincidental that you guys made the same observation.

I listen to a ton of podcasts, though. As far as gaming podcasts go, I am subscribed to:

alt.NPR's Press Start
Control Point
DSLife
GWJ Conference Call
GFW Radio
Infendo Radio
The Instance
Massively Online Gamer
Tango Down
Team Fremont Live
Wiispot
Major Nelson

And that's just my gaming ones.

Elysium wrote:
Which leads me to believe that either the TRS guys and our own GWJer podcasters had an 'uncanny' moment of parallel thought, one stole from the other, or they both got the idea from some other source.

[...] I think we'll just have to chalk this up to parallel thought. Honestly, it doesn't even seem like that much of a stretch, if you start heading down a certain avenue of thought.

The uncanny valley discussion starts at 23 minutes into the show NSMike linked. It doesn't seem stolen to me. Beyond that, I've seen a lot of coverage of GTA IV recently, and this seems to be consistant with the discussion I'm seeing everywhere else. I've seen discussions on the verisimiltude (approriate word choice on the part of TRS) of GTA IV on The Daily Show, in Slate, in the NY Times, and other places. That's the view that reasonably intelligent mainstream media seems to be investigating, so I'm surprised that it's in a nerd vidcast.

I didn't really take it as an accusation. I was just clearing up my end. If anything it just confirms that my thought is a driving force in the video game discussion, and reaffirms my insistence that I am the Everyman of gaming though, a nexus of reasonable intelligence from which my concepts radiate in symmetrical forms to those receptive enough to acknowledge The Truth(tm).

Oddly, I also had the "uncanny valley" thought while playing and was surprised to hear so many others use the term in the same fashion. It's nice to know we're all on the same page.

I hated how rob talked about wishing there was sandbox fun in the single player, but that there was never a mission ready when he was. Seems kind of backwards that he refuses to embrace what he is asking for.

I hated how rob talked about wishing there was sandbox fun in the single player, but that there was never a mission ready when he was. Seems kind of backwards that he refuses to embrace what he is asking for.

That's kind of Rob's thing.

I had no idea what the hell the uncanny valley was, I thought it was going to lead to the announcement of Star Trek: The Uncanny Valley!!

The problem with the GTA 4 discussion I found was, that for weeks and weeks, the GWJ had made it clear that you were not on the happy side of life when it came to the game, because of your experiences with the previous set of GTA games beforehand. The best you could ever hope for would be subjective, and after hearing you all, Mr Zenke came across as the only impartial guy.

Granted GTA nowadays won't have been really re-inventing itself, of course not, it has a formula that over a million people at least seem to want, why change the fundermental package when clearly you are on a winner? I do however agree with the fact that there are problems that they should have been sorting out from the previous games, that's what I would hope from a major version number of a product.

I guess I'll still wait for the PC version, then I'll make a proper judgement.

samfisher wrote:

The problem with the GTA 4 discussion I found was, that for weeks and weeks, the GWJ had made it clear that you were not on the happy side of life when it came to the game, because of your experiences with the previous set of GTA games beforehand. The best you could ever hope for would be subjective, and after hearing you all, Mr Zenke came across as the only impartial guy.

I have to admit that, in the same spirit as Zero Punctuation, i found their partially negative talk about a game that has from all other perspectives received adulation to be refreshing. Regardless of their love/hate/indifference to the series, the discussion never degenerated into a baseless rant/rave and i think that this professionalism should be applauded.

RonShatMyCarl wrote:

I hated how rob talked about wishing there was sandbox fun in the single player, but that there was never a mission ready when he was. Seems kind of backwards that he refuses to embrace what he is asking for.

I don't think I ever said that, and if what I did say came across that way than I'm sorry. I enjoyed the open world sandbox in the multi player mode it is where the game shined the most for me. That however wasn't what I was ranting about on the podcast.

My complaints about GTA 4 were about the single player experience, which is what I played most of when I had the game. The single player storyline was really poorly put together not only the awful characters that got on my nerves (just about every one of them), there was also the juvenile script, but the worst problem of all was the timing.

In my experience the best way to tell a story in this kind of open world game is to allow the player to advance through the major plot at his own pace. Give the player the option to take the next step right after he completes the previous one. In GTA 4 however you are left to the mercy of some sort of internal clock or random timing. I would complete a mission be all excited and ready for the next bit only to find out that there was nothing being offered and I had no idea how long it would be until there was. So instead of standing around like an idiot waiting I would call someone up and check out the sandbox experience, which would completely take me out of the story. To make matters worse I would finally find something I was sort of interested in doing and I would be half way across the city on my way to do it only to get the call for the next plot point which is what I wanted in the first place! The only saving grace was that I wasn't expected to drop everything and run back to complete the mission before some sort of time limit ran out. That would have driven me bat sh*t crazy and my head would have exploded.

That is why I think the single player experience in GTA 4 was piss poor. Well that and the fact that every time I failed a mission I had to drive all the way back to where I needed to be to start the mission and the still, now only slightly, broken gun play mechanic which they have had several versions of the game to completely iron out but haven't.

I hope this clears things up. About two days after the podcast I finally decided the game wasn't worth it, not even the multi player could keep me interested and I returned the rental. I have no desire to buy a copy, but I am glad that most of you seem to be enjoying yourselves.

Duoae wrote:
samfisher wrote:

The problem with the GTA 4 discussion I found was, that for weeks and weeks, the GWJ had made it clear that you were not on the happy side of life when it came to the game, because of your experiences with the previous set of GTA games beforehand. The best you could ever hope for would be subjective, and after hearing you all, Mr Zenke came across as the only impartial guy.

I have to admit that, in the same spirit as Zero Punctuation, i found their partially negative talk about a game that has from all other perspectives received adulation to be refreshing. Regardless of their love/hate/indifference to the series, the discussion never degenerated into a baseless rant/rave and i think that this professionalism should be applauded.

Agreed. Still though, I wonder about some of the criticism I've heard, because, to me, it has had a certain undertone of "Why isn't this 'Game A' instead of this?".

What an excellent episode. This was by far the best discussion of GTA4 I've heard, and is also the episode that has converted me from a casual reader of the site to a die-hard fan of this show. Thanks so much!

Nijhazer wrote:

What an excellent episode. This was by far the best discussion of GTA4 I've heard, and is also the episode that has converted me from a casual reader of the site to a die-hard fan of this show. Thanks so much!

Welcome!

Okay, I'm an idiot. I just started listening to last week's GFW radio, and Malloy just called it "the uncanny valley of gameplay."

I guess this metaphor was readily apparent to everyone but me.

I'm guessing the CC isn't going to get the "Is Bill Harris going to write for the site?" question anymore.

Have to echo Nijhazer's comments and say that this was a fantastic episode, guys.

Nice work.

Gaald wrote:

In my experience the best way to tell a story in this kind of open world game is to allow the player to advance through the major plot at his own pace. Give the player the option to take the next step right after he completes the previous one.

Then again, in games like Mass Effect or Oblivion you are given all the time you care to take before taking the next step in saving your world/galaxy from impending doom. The quest in Mass Effect is actually titled "Race Against Time," but then you have all the time you want to slowly bounce around some random planet looking for mineral deposits to survey. Doesn't that also seem silly? For me, I start to feel guilty for not working on the main quest in these games, and soon enough I can't maintain the illusion that there's any reason for me not to stick to the plot.

It seems to me that the GTA mechanic that annoys you is in fact a way to avoid the necessity of a looming sense of dread and let you explore the game environment a little more. It both removes some of the plot's push to keep you away from exploring and it adds an element of realism (since Niko is, after all, subordinate to the whims, strategies, and schedules of others). It may not be perfect, but I think it's a good step towards immersion, and I appreciate that.