GWJ Conference Call Episode 97

Conference Call

Braid, Geometry Wars 2, Multiple Narratives In Games, Your Emails and more!

Everyone is back in the saddle this week on our last show before Gencon. In fact, we might have some special edition Gencon audio pieces throughout the rest of the week! So keep on eye on the page.

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
"Epilogue II" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:22:27
"Zoo (Dawn)" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:38:52

Comments

11th ?

Well you guys really do a great podcast. You just know that people who write so well and thoughtfully will have interesting things to say.

I was listening to GameFocus' Podcast the other day because they had an interview with Jonathan Blow and I kid you not, most of what they said for opinions were something in the range of "dude!" or "awesome!"

looking forward to the next one!

Say, are there Braid spoilers in this podcast?

I was suprised you never mentioned Siren : Blood Curse in regard to multiple narrative's in games.

Throughout the game you play through the same couple of days as - an American tourist, a ten year old girl, the girls mother and father, the director/cameraman for the tv show they are filming, an amnesiac priestess and a mysterious local doctor.

And not all of them are neccessarily the good guys...

stevenmack wrote:

I was suprised you never mentioned Siren : Blood Curse in regard to multiple narrative's in games.

I've only played the first 5 episodes of Siren (and it's a great game), but to me it seems like the switching between viewpoints makes it feel very disjointed and a bit unsatisfying to play. You get these little artificially defined objectives to achieve with each character to drive the story along in the short period of time you get with the character, with invisible walls around the area to stop you wandering off.

I started listening to this and then, as I was putting my ipod in my pocket, I dropped it into the dog's water bowl and now it's broken. Dammit.

Ok, now that I've gotten over my ipod and listened to the show on my computer, here is my suggestion on what you should do for show 100. You should do a live video podcast, with Russ Pitts, Ken Levine, Jeff Green, Michael Zenke, Cory Banks, and of course the regular crew. I will be utterly crushed if you do anything less.

and then Santa claus will bring us all puppies.

rabbit wrote:

and then Santa claus will bring us all puppies.

Wow, you guys are really going all out on this one!

Ok, the serious parts of my suggestion are the live part and the video part. And you should have Russ on seeing as him and Sanjuro were the first to do a gamers with jobs podcast, and I don't know where the conference call would be with out him (and I mean that I don't know).

I think Indigo Prophecy tried to do the multiple narratives converging to one climax, but it didn't do it very well. I still thought the playable characters were fairly well fleshed out, but the story jumped the shark. Especially when it was possible to have a plot point introduced out of left field because of the sections you played and how "well" you played them.

Indigo Prophecy was definitely the first one that springs to mind for me. As essentially everyone seems to think, they carried it off pretty well until the last few chapters of the game, where it's like they said, "We're gonna break our budget. Better finish this now." Until then, I thought they did a pretty decent job of it

Also, I think a lot of people tend to forget one critical thing when it comes to XBLA pricing, if you think it's too much, don't buy the game. There's no one holding you hostage until you pay $15 or $20 for a title. You won't miss out on the gaming experience of the year. It's entertainment, and if you think it costs too much, go and find cheaper entertainment. I get irritated at the sense of entitlement I sometimes hear and see. You don't deserve a $10 game. Historical pricing isn't pricing set in stone. If the market will bear it, the prices will go up. We now accept $59.99 as the price for retail games. You aren't obligated to buy anything, and distributors and developers will quickly discover if they've priced themselves out of their market.

The Suikoden series (JRPGs) goes with multiple narratives in much the way you guys were talking about. I played suikoden III for a good 30 hours, but as you mentioned, the bloat, and the conceits of JRPGs got to me.

Didn't Warcraft 3 (and Starcraft before it) have split narratives from the point of view of the 'villains' as well as the 'heroes' in their single player campaigns? I remember it being very striking that, when I played the Night Elves, I wanted to eradicate the Undead but then, when I was playing the Undead, I became completely invested in their story line and got pissed with the Night Elves for having the audacity to get in my way.

Ok, I'm not satisfied with my earlier post about suikoden, specifically suikoden III. Suikoden III is divided into 5 acts. The first three acts are played from the perspective from three different protagonists, a knight in the big empire, a rebel against the empire, and some Merc, that's way too mysterious for his own good. You can play the first three acts in any order. The characters all come together in the 4th and 5th acts. You also unlock side acts with tertiary characters as leads. Sort of mini- acts. So. There. Its what you're asking for, but wrapped in a JRPG package for the PS2. Its got a few large scale battles/strategy sequence, where the 108 characters you eventually recruit can die permanently.

Hemidal wrote:

I think Indigo Prophecy tried to do the multiple narratives converging to one climax, but it didn't do it very well. I still thought the playable characters were fairly well fleshed out, but the story jumped the shark. Especially when it was possible to have a plot point introduced out of left field because of the sections you played and how "well" you played them.

I was going to post this. I think it did a pretty good job offering two sides of the story in the beginning but as the game's narrative turned into complete and utter crap, so did anything related to the narrative.

I also think you guys are overlooking RTSs, which almost ALWAYS let you play the campaign on opposing sides.

Regarding the multiple narratives:

Shining Force 3 for the Saturn was a massive game split into three separately sold parts (four if you count the 'premium disc') about a crazy jrpg war, where the first disc had you playing as one side, the second disc had you playing as the other, and the third disc had you playing as a relatively independent group, and all three discs took place roughly in the same time period, and you ended up regularly interacting and fighting with characters that you had played previously in a a previous disc.

You could argue that doing this in a japanese srpg setting isn't quite what you were picturing (I assume a more successful Indigo Prophecy is what you were hoping for), but in terms of budget and feasibility, when you think about it, the relatively light story and conceit to have a billion characters makes that genre far more condusive to the idea. And even though discs 2 & 3 of Shining Force 3 never made it to the US, from what I understand, the game was fairly successful in pulling off what you described.

Also, for what its worth, Dragon Quest 4 (the one with the DS remake coming out this fall) has a SLIGHTLY similar setup, where the game is divided into five chapters, and the first four involve playing through a story arc of a random chump, with each chapter moving on to another chump, until the fifth chapter when they all finally become connected in some way. Prior to the fifth chapter when the game is fairly overt about all the characters being together, you'll do things such as play as a dancer in chapter 2, and then notice a fairly detailed sprite of a merchant in one town, then in chapter 3 you'll play as that merchant, and the whole thing was fairly progressive for its time.

But yeah, old games.

Edit: Another potentially embarrassing example are the Dynasty Warrior games. Though despite the source material, no one in clear conscience would say those games are narrative driven.

BTW guys, maybe it's different in Canadia, but I believe the G in "Whinge" is silent.

I think the most emotional I've ever been over a game was during Planescape: Torment, when...

Spoiler wrote:

[color=white]There's one of those memory stone things that actually contains a memory from the protagonist's earlier life, which he no longer remembers. It's from his point of view and is an encounter between himself and Deionarra. She loves him so sincerely, so desperately, and yet all he feels for her is disgust, and he tolerates her only because he has a use for her. I found her innocence and purity very moving, but at the same time felt not only hate for the protagonist but by that point in the game I was so invested in the characters I also felt a degree of regret, as if his sins were mine. The fact that her theme music is so beautiful helps, of course, particularly at the very beginning of the game when it slowly fades in as you approach her grave in the Mortuary.[/color]

Regarding the emotional investment...

I was wistfully remembering Torment myself when listening to this. Part of the problem I'm having with picking a single moment in the game is that it's been so long that I can scarcely remember all but the vague impressions and snippets of remembered artwork. Thanks for a recall, Lobster - I do (sort of) remember that.

Regarding multiple narratives...

I have little to offer that hasn't come up in these replies or in the podcast itself. It would be great to see someone work toward this goal, but in the mean time, I think just generating good stories independent of the ambitious intertwining of multiple arcs would be better. We've had some great ones, but we all know damned well for every Bioshock there are a dozen games with poorly contrived relationships and frat-humor.

Oh, and I'll spoil Zork for all of you: You get the lamp.

docbadwrench wrote:

Oh, and I'll spoil Zork for all of you: You get the lamp.

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Cramps is 100% right -- Suikoden 3 did exactly what you guys were talking about back in 2002. In fact, beyond what Cramps said and into spoiler territory:

spoilers wrote:

[color=white]
Not only can you explore each of the three characters paths through the first three acts of the story in any order, you also decide which of them eventually become the leader/main character throughout the last two acts. Also, one of the unlockable side acts that Cramps mentioned actually lets you play through the key moments of the game as the main antagonist of the story -- although in true Suikoden fashion, the antagonist is not the typical crazed madman (although he does have some of them working with him) but a relatable, multi-dimensional character just like the protagonists.
[/color]

And for that matter, what Suikoden 3 did was really just the logical extension of Suikoden 2's brilliant story telling method. Even though you only ever really controlled one character in Suikoden 2, all sides of the conflict were presented to you evenly and you were given ample time to relate to and understand the motivations of the characters who you were fighting against.

So really, what you guys are talking about is not new territory in JRPGs, as is exemplified by this one series of games. And by the way, anyone who enjoys JRPGs but hasn't played Suikoden 1 through 3 (and maybe 5) really needs to hunt those games down. They may not have the Final Fantasy flash, but for my money they are finer crafted pieces of story telling than anything Square has ever produced. (Of course, that's not to say that Square doesn't have some great games, and games that have delved into multiple narratives in games. Anyone remember the first third of Final Fantasy 6?)

On the Multiple Narratives, but in a different light;

What about Sword of the New World: Granado Espada? True, there isn't much of a narrative there, but the idea of playing a Family of related characters, each with their own abilities, initially is what made me look into the MMO in the first place. Sadly, from what I saw, they didnt do too much with that interesting premise (such as Character Marriage with other families, Character Births and Deaths, with Traits passing on to children and what not.) But that idea would be a great way to introduce an evolving, moving, multiple-narrative that takes place not just among a character but with their family. I'd love to see an RPG that takes the style and foundation of this game but really develop that mechanic, make it a central theme of the game, and really make it a unique experience as your family develops.

Also, does Dreamfall count?

Benticore
Out

Hey, I have one of those 5GB iPods!

BTW, was that someone's iPhone chirping in the background while Rabbit was talking?

The discussion of the multi-narrative games was interesting and it brings to mind one of my pet questions about the pacing of narrative video games: why are they so frickin' long? I think it is illustrative to compare a compact tightly paced experience like Portal to a more bloated and "epic" tale like Bioshock or KOTOR. Admittedly the latter games have more back story and development, but there is also a huge amount of narrative padding going on because of the perceived need to ship 15 or 20 or 40 hours of "content" around a story that isn't even meaty enough to support a 90 minute film. IMHO, Bioshock's "second act" was particularly guilty of this, sending the player on long useless fetch quests while the plot barely moved forward at all.

It seems to me that these length "requirements" are sort of crippling. It should be possible to trim a lot of that fat and fit existing narratives into shorter games, or more complicated narratives into games that aren't much longer.

My iPod battery died the same second Rob said "I never cried". I kid you not.

The Metal Gear Solid series, although maybe badly written, does succeed at letting you play the hero (Solid Snake) and the main villain (Big Boss, in MGS3). After MGS3, you come to sympathize with Big Boss. Then in MGS4, it all culminates...sort of. Again, it's a shame that Kojima's narrative style is not the most comprehensible, but MGS3 I think did a great job of helping you understand Big Boss. All that struggle and sacrifice he went through, only to realize that his government really does not care about the individual soldier.

The upcoming Champions MMO has a Nemesis system to fill in the flaws component of the PnP game. This is someone that you will have to confront over/over again through the course of the game. I'm not sure of the lengths they'll go and if everyone's story will be different or not.

Why is rabbit the one calling for epic-length games? We all know he won't have time to play them anyway. :p

Re: emotional moments in games, the moment Lobster described hit pretty hard. I also got very misty-eyed at the end of Ico, but so did anyone who in possession of a soul. With regards to non-sappy emotions, VtM: Bloodlines filled me with all sorts of strong conflicting emotions at two points: where Heather, my lovely ghoul announced she would drop out and give me her college money instead, and the part where you're supposed to kill the pathetic, stuttering thinblood on the beach. I felt so guilty after I blew him away with my shotgun.

I've only played the first 5 episodes of Siren (and it's a great game), but to me it seems like the switching between viewpoints makes it feel very disjointed and a bit unsatisfying to play. You get these little artificially defined objectives to achieve with each character to drive the story along in the short period of time you get with the character, with invisible walls around the area to stop you wandering off.

If you think that's bad you should try the original Siren (not only does it jump from character to character but also through time, as you play through a couple of days worth of events in a mixed up order :D)

I kind of liked the way it jumped around here though - but yeah a lot of the story (and character development) does seem to be contained within the archives you collect rather than the levels themselves.

Keep at it btw, it gets all kinds of crazy the further in you get

An emotional moment....

Ok...final battle scene in Half Life Episode 2. I'm half dead, having been pushed all the way back to the installation - only ONE strider remains, I'm out of ammo - desparately trying to hold of the little hunter-killer fellows while desperately trying to get off a bomb to take the big guy down.

I *FINALLY* manage it literally at the last second, the Strider exploding during it's "charging up" weapons animation just seconds before destroying the antenna.

The neighbours must have thought I'd won the lottery or something

stevesan wrote:

The Metal Gear Solid series, although maybe badly written, does succeed at letting you play the hero (Solid Snake) and the main villain (Big Boss, in MGS3). After MGS3, you come to sympathize with Big Boss. Then in MGS4, it all culminates...sort of. Again, it's a shame that Kojima's narrative style is not the most comprehensible, but MGS3 I think did a great job of helping you understand Big Boss. All that struggle and sacrifice he went through, only to realize that his government really does not care about the individual soldier.

Well, yeah, but that's 4 games in a row, not all within one game..

One game that does have 2 characters that you constantly switch between in the same game would be Onimusha3. I wasn't quite impressed with it overall (not my kinda thing), but I thought the 2 guys switching times (ancient samurai guy and modern-day special-ops soldier) was pretty interesting.
It doesn't let you play as protagonist/antagonist either though.

I don't think it can be impossible to write either though - Look at games like Final Fantasy 8 or 9.. there's several times when your groups are split up and/or you end up playing with different characters for parts of the game (in 8, dreams/flashbacks of events some 18 years earlier), and it's all fleshing out their individual backgrounds along the way.
I'd say that like the Steven King books, traditional (J)RPGs are probably the easiest to have pick that up - they have a fixed storyline and the more you let the character interact with that, the harder it gets to try and fit all the charcters into it.

psu_13 wrote:

BTW, was that someone's iPhone chirping in the background while Rabbit was talking?

Yeah, that was the old Blackberry/iPhone data stutter on a speaker sound.

stevenmack wrote:

An emotional moment....

Ok...final battle scene in Half Life Episode 2.

That was my first thought as well - the relief after completing that epic battle made the sequence that follows it all the more emotional.