GWJ Conference Call Episode 86

Conference Call

Age of Conan Deep Thoughts, Penny Arcade's New Game, The Bad Boys of Gaming, Demographics, Multiple Endings, Your Emails and more!

This week we realize just how drunk we'd get playing the rabbit drinking game. From turtles to terrorists, we also talk about gaming bad guys through the ages and some of our favorites. Big thanks to Benoit Casey for the new tune! This podcast only has one ending, but Shawn wishes there were a few more.

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.

Penny Arcade Game
Age of Conan
Mirage UI For Age of Conan

Thread of The Week

GWJ Demographics - nsmike

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Unknown Wonder" - Apoplexia (Benoit Casey) - http://outtobrunch.blogspot.com - 0:39:41
"George" (Benoit Casey) - http://outtobrunch.blogspot.com - 1:06:03

Comments

At the end of the day I didn't think you were going to say it this week, but there it was, right at the buzzer!
Another good one guys, although I'm sad to hear my worst fears about that new Raiders film confirmed. Really? Really?? Worst than Temple?

Really? Really?? Worst than Temple?

Yes.

Elysium wrote:
Really? Really?? Worst than Temple?

Yes.

Easily, the worst of the series.

I liked how Shawn (?) was okay with the demographic information gathering.... *suspects that during that sentence on the podcast he was cutting a close figure to Mr. Burns; "Excellent!"*

Good podcast guys! Nice work on the length - none of that slacking off now!
Though, if you want to pander to these people with such piffling things as 'lives' you could cut up each segment into a separate downloadable file ending and beginning with the interlude music. This would allow said people to enjoy shorter segments and not have to find their place on mp3 players while on the move etc.

Gaald wrote:
Elysium wrote:
Really? Really?? Worst than Temple?

Yes.

Easily, the worst of the series.

Ugh. At least now I know. Channel 4 in the UK seems to be showing a commercial for it in every ad break at the moment. They showed the first film recently on the BBC. Even with the rough edges it's still my favourite.

Andrew Ryan was a great villain. In the end I was racing to get to him.

I bet it was because of the ending, because up until that point, I thought it was actually pretty good.

As for examples of bad guys, I believe the best bad guys are good people turned bad or people who believe what they are doing is right, and if you see things from their point of view, suddenly it makes sense why they do what they do, and if they don't waver in that, that makes them the more effective.

Andrew Ryan wins my vote for doing what he thinks is right, as he explains himself all the while, you see the depth to him and understand what he does and why, but the one bad guy I can think of that does both the above is Arthus from Warcraft 3, TFT and soon WOW, as he pursues evil to try and save his people and ends up the true villian. Actually quite a good character developement from Blizzard.

EDIT: I hope Mr Clarkson from Top Gear doesn't frighten all the people of other nations due to his "over the top everything" (though must say it's a great show because of that!). If he does, we as residents of the UK apologise. James May forfills standard english stereotypes so he's OK....

Gaald wrote:
Elysium wrote:
Really? Really?? Worst than Temple?

Yes.

Easily, the worst of the series.

Yeah. It wasn't horrible though. It was entertaining, at least.

But then again, that's probably because I was 4 years old when the last one came out, and never saw it in the theaters...

Gaald wrote:
Elysium wrote:
Really? Really?? Worst than Temple?

Yes.

Easily, the worst of the series.

In short, Indy - Sala + aliens = suck.

A couple things about AoC.

I agree that the drops are pretty lame for the most part. However, I'm not so sure that's a terrible thing. From a technical perspective it's always safer for the devs to start with things underpowered and up the ante rather than go toward the opposite extreme and face a wave of complaints about nerfing when they have to tone it down. And from a story/immersion perspective, this is the world of Conan, which is decidedly low magic. Conan himself was not decked out in Flaming Underwear of Awesome Prowess. He wore regular stuff and had a sword which, while badass, was not bedazzled or endowed with earthbending powers. I really, really appreciate the fact that if you find something cool, it's really an event - it means something precisely because it doesn't happen very often. Ultimately, I never, ever want to face a choice between which pair of magic shoes my character should wear today. That would just be so un-Conan. Of course, it's a game, and even I want cool stuff soemtimes, but I do appreciate the fact that the devs are erring on the side of the mundane over the super-magical. It's in keeping with the gritty feel of the genre.

Another thing about AoC that just hit me last night after I got ganked for the fourth or fifth time while solo questing is that there really seems to be almost no consequences of dying in PvP. This took me by surprise, maybe because this is the first time I've actually wanted to even try an MMO. I just assumed that I would lose some money, or XP, or one of my items, or something. Instead I just end up respawning (usually not very far away) and continue on my business. It's a minor nuisance - an interruption - but nothing more (spawn camping is a different matter entirely, though). In fact the last time I was ambushed as I finished hacking up a monster I decided to just stand there and let it get over with (I wasn't going to win so I didn't bother trying). Twenty seconds later I was back in the same spot and my attacker had moved on. Ho hum. I'm really not sure if I like that or not. Right now I like it because I'm inexperienced and I've been killed about 20 times whereas I've only been the victor 2 or 3 times. Anyway, I'm curios what others think about the whole PvP thing.

Miserere wrote:

...there really seems to be almost no consequences of dying in PvP. This took me by surprise, maybe because this is the first time I've actually wanted to even try an MMO. I just assumed that I would lose some money, or XP, or one of my items, or something. Instead I just end up respawning (usually not very far away) and continue on my business...

If you ever want to try the pain of losing xp and possibly even anything you've got on you, including everything you've got equipped, try Lineage 2. You'll learn to hate it quickly and think the sun shines out of AoC's... well, you'll prefer AoC's method.

Further to the game endings discussion, I don't understand why developers are interested in doing more than one when you consider the amount of effort required to make a single good ending, where most tend not to be very good at all, and how diluted that would become for each additional ending. Then there's the difficulty with sequels where you're basically telling players that the ending they had never happened.

The main thing that gets to me is that the good 'right' endings are usually behind insanely lengthy, endurance-testing, collection-fests that I usually don't have the patience for or simply lack the time to do. Then I buy sequels to these games that are built on the premise from this ending I've missed and it's highly irritating.

Open-world games are the only ones I can imagine would be sensible to have multiple endings for but they're yet to create a compelling open world that I care about so how would it ever be possible for me to suddenly give a damn at the end, unless it's relief that the experience is over or 5 gold stars that I managed to finish it. The problem with open worlds is that the designers want to push the player to a certain point, but as the world is open who says the player would also want to do the things that would get there?

One game that I did manage to get the good ending to, mainly because of the time I had available back then, was Wing Commander IV. After playing through the whole game I would have been really pissed to have gotten the bad ending, which consists of the bad guy (Admiral Malcolm McDowell) getting away with it, but mainly I feel sorry for anyone who missed the good ending because I personally thought it was the best ending to a game I'd ever seen at the time and it was a huge pay-off for the hours put in.

I get that people want a personalised experience, but in getting that they will only receive a watered down ending that maybe relates to choices they made. Focused experiences allow for a more powerful payoff. Developers try too hard to appeal to everybody and by doing so end up merely achieving mediocrity (that's obviously not the only reason their endings are mediocre).

Half-life Episode 2 is a good example of a directed experience with a powerful ending. By forcing the players hand, making them see and do certain things throughout the entire game, they were able to deliver a strong ending.

It seems to me that multiple endings are something thought up by marketers. "They've got 10 ends? We'll have 5 gajillion!".

Anyway, I had a point in there somewhere... I think it was that multiple endings suck. The ending I usually see is the game gathering dust because I don't give a damn

I get that people want a personalised experience, but in getting that they will only receive a watered down ending that maybe relates to choices they made. Focused experiences allow for a more powerful payoff. Developers try too hard to appeal to everybody and by doing so end up merely achieving mediocrity (that's obviously not the only reason their endings are mediocre).

I think that makes a pretty poor assumption, not without merit given the industry average for crappy endings, but poor none the less. It was interesting, because in the conversation Elysium said he'd prefer one GREAT ending to three GREAT endings. Later on, rabbit says "No no, he's just saying he'd rather have 1 GREAT ending instead of 3 OK ones" which smells a bit like backpedaling to me.

I don't see any reason why you can't have three effective, meaningful endings depending on what you did throughout the game. There's an assumption being made that there's only one good ending possible, but it seems to me a variable ending based on your actions has an opportunity to bring you face to face with your choices and go beyond being the passive observer of a story while handing the mechanical thrust of the sword.

If I were to start a D&D session with my friends and tell them right from the start that no matter what they did, I already have the ending nailed down to the last detail, they'd probably beat me with their rule books. It's an interactive medium, we should encourage developers to explore the possibility of giving players a feeling like they're doing more than just painting by numbers. Not saying we've managed it so far, but there's potential here.

Perhaps a better way to approach this issue would be to list games that had multiple endings that weren't crap. Should such games exist, even with the idea of good endings being subjective, it would be good to see if there are any common themes (assuming there's more than one).

While I'm not sure D&D is a good comparison, I think we're quite a way off having games that provide alternative outcomes for any possible action, if that day wil even arrive at all. I'm not sure I even want it to.

You have to get Casilda's blood for the volcano quest. The quest giver will say something of the sort,"I thought you didn't know much about your past. Better to be sure the blood is tainted enough. Go get some from the prostitute."

My guardian at level 20 is really starting to really distance herself from the other classes I've played as far as sturdiness. Even from another soldier such as the dark templar.

And how come nobody is talking about the bar brawl system, hmm?

I don't even know where to get into a bar brawl!

Me either but it was one of the hyped features and they give you a drinking cape as a bonus item for pre-ordering.

Is it not in, or is it just wholely over-looked?

One question I had is what was the actual name of the game trade store that was talked about just before the games you can play now section was over. I live in Calgary and I'm wondering if there is one around here because EB's is retarted and I've had enough of Best Buy as well.

Diablo had good villains. One was a kidnapped and possessed child. The other was the possessed hero from the first. (with a long drawn out breakdown of the hero's resistance to corruption)

There is no pain as deep as that of a man who can wear no pants.

samfisher wrote:

EDIT: I hope Mr Clarkson from Top Gear doesn't frighten all the people of other nations due to his "over the top everything" (though must say it's a great show because of that!).

BBC America needs to start selling Top Gear here in the states. I'd need to order the Region 2 set if I wanted to get my fix

harrisben wrote:

Perhaps a better way to approach this issue would be to list games that had multiple endings that weren't crap. Should such games exist, even with the idea of good endings being subjective, it would be good to see if there are any common themes (assuming there's more than one).

I think what bugged me about the endings thing was the little differences that often go into making an "ending" (hence the blue house/red house bit). If you had that one aggression perk in Fallout 1, you ended up grinding that one last dude into hamburger. Does that count as an alternate ending? Does it get ticked off as being different enough to go into the marketing schpiel?

Oddly enough, I liked the way that Marvel: Ultimate Alliance did it. Throughout the game you're given little miniquests from the NPCs, with the only immediate bonus being an XP gain. At the end of the game, you see how your completion of these quests have repercussions (save Namor? He's a friend to the surface world. Didn't find the witch's ring? She allows Odin to be murdered).
I'm fully aware that this could be charted out for one of those HUNDREDS OF ENDINGS flowcharts, but I never really felt a need to go and replay the game (nor did the game offer something to dissuade me from doing a fetch for quick XP).

harrisben wrote:

Perhaps a better way to approach this issue would be to list games that had multiple endings that weren't crap. Should such games exist, even with the idea of good endings being subjective, it would be good to see if there are any common themes (assuming there's more than one).

Fallout. How great all the variable endings you could get in that game is what gives me hope for Fallout 3 and their "over 500 endings." I'd be willing to bet that the "over 500" is every possible combination of a series of endings that will be shown in a montage at the end of the game - not an actual count of the number of endings that they've written.

Certis wrote:

If I were to start a D&D session with my friends and tell them right from the start that no matter what they did, I already have the ending nailed down to the last detail, they'd probably beat me with their rule books. It's an interactive medium, we should encourage developers to explore the possibility of giving players a feeling like they're doing more than just painting by numbers. Not saying we've managed it so far, but there's potential here.

The difference is that you have your gigantic human brain to use to dynamically meld the story, whereas the poor developers only have the relatively puny resources of a primitive computing device to fall back on. Creative and dynamic narrative is one of those things one might call "AI-complete", in that if you can do it, you have essentially built and A.I.

And even if you did have a gigantic human brain, not very many human brains have the capacity to build compelling endings on the fly.

So, color me pessimistic that we'll ever see anything like this beyond what is fairly straightforward and obvious.

This podcast needed Elysium singing "I wanna apprentice you up."

A multiple place-centric ending (see: Fallout) envelops an entire place, with its many people, into one brief summary.

The approach I am interested in is character-centric endings, as opposed to place-centric endings.

Each key character has several possible paths that are affected by player's, and their own actions. Because in the end, when we watch a TV show, we get more attached to the characters individually rather than their neighborhoods as a whole.

In addition, character-centric endings are easier to manage content-wise. You're not setting an entire village on fire, or staging an invasion by giant robots, you're just doing a lot of writing of dialogue and behavior routines on a deep level for each key part.

It was interesting, because in the conversation Elysium said he'd prefer one GREAT ending to three GREAT endings.

I stand by that. But, additionally I _do_ believe that the very existence of equally alternative endings devalues all endings.

If I were to start a D&D session with my friends and tell them right from the start that no matter what they did, I already have the ending nailed down to the last detail, they'd probably beat me with their rule books.

Comparing a live D&D game to a video game is even worse than comparing it to a movie. You should be thrown from a tall building.

Here I was thinking I could mention one interactive medium to suggest a concept without having to enter the minefield of apples to oranges comparisons. The point stands that in the interactive medium of video games there are opportunities to explore the consequence of choices, much like pen and paper roleplaying games do. Using one interactive medium as an example of potential is substantially different than comparing it to a passive experience. You sir, are copping out and reaching for the low hanging fruit of this particular argument.

I'll ask the question again, because I think it's an interesting topic. If you have three GREAT potential endings, and you reach one of them and you think "Wow, what a great ending!" you believe it's devalued by the mere possibility of things happening differently for someone else? I honestly don't quite understand the viewpoint. I'd take one great ending over a handful of moderate ones, no question. But if all of them are equally great and have the bonus of being relevant to your input I'd think the ending is made even better for it. Who cares if there were other possibilities if I'm satisfied?

I don't want developers wasting time developing content of which I, or others, will only see (say) half. I have little or no interest in replaying a game to collect all the unlockable endings. That's more boring than playing a platformer where all you do is collect strange abstract objects and never kill anything.

So I am on the side of Mr. Sands. Deliver me a unified singular experience. Don't dilute your time trying to create a transparently false facade of my "choices" have "impact" when really the whole thing is just hardwired to go in one of three ways.

What about choice? If a player's actions cannot affect the ending in any way, then one will never have more than the illusion of choice.

Elysium wrote:

But, additionally I _do_ believe that the very existence of equally alternative endings devalues all endings.

Even if you don't you don't know that the other endings exist? Does this apply to other media as well?

psu_13 wrote:

I don't want developers wasting time developing content of which I, or others, will only see (say) half. I have little or no interest in replaying a game to collect all the unlockable endings.

If you have no interest, then the designers have failed at their mission of making the game varied and freeform enough to be replayable.

Here I was thinking I could mention one interactive medium to suggest a concept without having to enter the minefield of apples to oranges comparisons.

I'm sorry, princess. I didn't mean to make you sensitive.

Like I said on the show this is a philosophical argument, and one to which I doubt we could come to an amicable agreement.

What about choice? If a player's actions cannot affect the ending in any way, then one will never have more than the illusion of choice.

Such is the constraint of any video game capable of being produced. _For me_ I prefer a contained story. Now, the interesting question you bring up is if the knowledge that other endings exist influences the experience for me, and I think the answer is yes. So, I will agree that if I don't know there are other endings, and I experience a great ending then I can be satisfied, but when is that ever going to happen?

rabbit, you mean your kids can't play LEGOS in co-op?