GWJ Conference Call Episode 108

Conference Call

Little Big Planet, Mirror's Edge, Fallout 3, Fable 2, What Takes Games To The Next Level, Your Emails and more!

This week we talk about that hard-to-pin-down element that takes a game to the upper echelons of greatness. I'd write more but this American election has totally worn me out.

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

"Small Comfort" - Apoplexia (Benoit Casey) - http://outtobrunch.blogspot.com - 0:28:43
"Luna Machine" (Benoit Casey) - http://outtobrunch.blogspot.com - 0:49:41

Comments

The thing I look for in a game, to turn it from good to great, is personal choice affecting a well written plot. Looking back on all the games I think of as absolutely stellar (PlaneScape: Torment, KOTOR, Fable 2, Fallout 2 etc) my ability to fundamentally change the course of the game to some extent is key. As much as I love games with no plot (Civilization series for example) and games with a great story but no choice (Half Life 2) to be truly great in my eyes I gotta feel like I made a real difference.

For the record: Fable 2 text showed up just fine on my SDTV, as did Lost Odyssey's, Eternal Sonata, Blue Dragon, and Tales of Vesperia. Dead Rising, GTA4, and Mirror's Edge are the notable exceptions, so I don't think it's just that my TV is crap. My username is easy to remember, it's [first initial] + [middle initial] + [last name]. And what animation? I see no animation...

Anyway, good show.

Edit: And it's freaky being the first to post on this thread. Guess everyone's too distracted by the election.

My HDTV is currently in storage, so I played the Mirror's Edge demo on an SDTV(28" widescreen with a composite connection from a PS3) and it wasn't too bad. The main problem I had was that L1/L2 were hard to tell apart in the tutorial.

Text in games is always a problem, though. Developers seem to use bad bitmap fonts and make the text too small even on HDTVs. As gamers get older will we get large print editions of games?

I couldn't disagree more about the dialogue tree complaints.

- Having different options leading to the same point allows the player to get in character without screwing them out of quests. Playing as a smartass, a rude mercenary or a goody-two-shoes is much more feasible this way and it aids immersion
- It is almost always completely obvious which dialogue options will lead to valuable information
- The idea that an NPC should just dump all information they have on you with zero player interaction required sounds really boring to me
- The dialogue was one of the great points of the original game, and I am very glad that Bethesda managed to recapture some of that magic in their version.
- The dialogue interface does suck, but you can blame consoles for that. There's already some mods out that go a long way towards alleviating this problem, example : http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/in...

Overall the complaints sounded to me like someone who simply doesn't want to engage in dialogue with NPCs, which is fine, but not usually what one should expect out of an RPG, especially a Fallout one.

Gaald that tearing on your screen sounds like your windows side bar bleeding through.

I had that happening, turn it off and see if that fixes it. If you do not have that turned on then perhaps get more sleep

WiredAsylum wrote:

Gaald that tearing on your screen sounds like your windows side bar bleeding through.

I had that happening, turn it off and see if that fixes it. If you do not have that turned on then perhaps get more sleep

Damn, beat me to it. Ditto

osmosisch wrote:

- The dialogue interface does suck, but you can blame consoles for that. There's already some mods out that go a long way towards alleviating this problem, example : http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/in...

Thank you for this, this will make a difference, it was getting a bit silly doing so much scrolling. Mind I'm hoping the patch released later this week will fix the crash on exit issue I currently have with Fallout. Bizzare, no problems in game but an error only occurs when I no longer want to play. Still as bugs go, that's the lease annoying I've ever had!

Had a look at Mirror's edge and well, it's too early to say if it will be good or not. I played the PS3 version at the Eurogamer Expo and it was sort of good, but I got bored very quickly.

As for what makes a good game great, it will always be in the eye of the beholder. Consensus on such things are rare to come by.

Thank you for this, this will make a difference, it was getting a bit silly doing so much scrolling. Mind I'm hoping the patch released later this week will fix the crash on exit issue I currently have with Fallout. Bizzare, no problems in game but an error only occurs when I no longer want to play. Still as bugs go, that's the lease annoying I've ever had!

I had the exact same thing in Oblivion - weird but I just ignored it...if it wants to crash to desktop when I'm already quitting to desktop then fair play to it

My main problem with the Fallout 3 dialog tree system is that the B button doens't pop me back up one level in the tree. Instead I have to scroll all the way down to the bottom to the "OK I'm done" option, which is annoying. The beauty of the Mass Effect system, it seems to me, was that it realized that there are really only 3 things you ever want to say to an NPC in these games and it streamlined the whole UI so that you could say those three things in an interesting way without a lot of fuss.

Fallout/Oblivion seems fussy to me.

I think one thing that makes for a 'great game' (from a personnal perspective) is when a developers idea of what makes a great game matches your own. For example, I think I'm in tune with the guys at Bungie and their idea of great single player is also mine. I'm not in tune with other developers and, even though their games are indispensable to large numbers of people (civilisation for example,) they don't create games that I enjoy.

I also think this is the formula for a successful game. Every developer has an idea of what would make a fantastic game. If they put enough time an effort in to make it a reality then their success depends on how much their idea of a great game matches with that of your average gamer.

osmosisch wrote:

- The dialogue interface does suck, but you can blame consoles for that. There's already some mods out that go a long way towards alleviating this problem, example : http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/in...

This sort of thing is why the PC version kicks ass.

@Corey:

'Zee' and 'zed' are both valid pronunciations. 'Zed' is the accepted use in the UK and Australia.

Down with 'americocentric' pronunciation being the only acceptable one!

kilanash wrote:

@Corey:

'Zee' and 'zed' are both valid pronunciations. 'Zed' is the accepted use in the UK and Australia.

And Canada!

Zelos wrote:

My HDTV is currently in storage, so I played the Mirror's Edge demo on an SDTV(28" widescreen with a composite connection from a PS3) and it wasn't too bad. The main problem I had was that L1/L2 were hard to tell apart in the tutorial.

Text in games is always a problem, though. Developers seem to use bad bitmap fonts and make the text too small even on HDTVs. As gamers get older will we get large print editions of games?

Mega Man fonts, please! Three lines of 20 or so characters each to appeal to the new Gamers With Pensions.

Thanks for a great show. And Certis - thanks so much for being the 'Spoiler Police' on this one - it's hard for those of us that haven't played most of these games, but are looking forward to playing them later.

psu_13 wrote:

My main problem with the Fallout 3 dialog tree system is that the B button doens't pop me back up one level in the tree. Instead I have to scroll all the way down to the bottom to the "OK I'm done" option, which is annoying. The beauty of the Mass Effect system, it seems to me, was that it realized that there are really only 3 things you ever want to say to an NPC in these games and it streamlined the whole UI so that you could say those three things in an interesting way without a lot of fuss.

The thing is that Fallout's dialogue trees are not anything near as simplistic as Mass Effect's were. Sure you always knew what you were getting in Mass Effect, but that also made it so that I didn't even pay attention to what I was saying, I knew that if I held up-right and hit X a couple times, then middle left, then up-left and then down-left, I'd have cleared the entire dialogue and got all those "idea bubbles" without even paying attention.

I can do the same thing in Fallout, but all of those pointless, overlapping dialogue choices that were complained about in the podcast.. Those actually matter a lot, in a myriad of ways. If you choose to be consistantly rude to Moira during her book quest, you'll get some specific bonuses later on, and the same applies if you're super nice, or smuper smart, super tough, super agile, etc.. If you randomly chose them, you won't get squat though.

A lot of the "nice/rude/weird" choices in dialogue in Fallout 3 (which a lot of people would apparently rather not see, since they're more about probing for info as quickly as possible and not listening to dialogue,) will do more than just get the same info every time no matter what you choose, they'll open or close off paths right then and there. It's not liek Mass Effect where you can just try talking to an NPC three or four times until you squeeze everything out of them.

As for having to talk to EVERY npc and say EVERY line to them.. That's personal choice, if you're obsessive and feel the compulsion, you can't so much judge the game by your own playstyle.. Fallout is supposed to let you accomplish things all sorts of ways, and frankly once you get the info from one NPC, there's no need to keep probing everyone else.. Hell, you can just skip the NPCs entirely and just walk directly to where your Father is hiding when you leave vault 101, and the game won't have any problem with changing things around to accommodate you.

Also, if the game isn't grabbing you, turn off your radio for a while and just wander west or nroth for a couple hours. If you don't feel like you just read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, then you ahev no soul.

The only thing I ever got out of one of rabbit's "Big Gives" was a nuclear holocaust.

coyo7e wrote:

Dialogue... dialogue.

Why hello there - "stairs" and all that.

This is basically exactly what I came to say after listening to the complaints with the dialogue system.

The only thing I will agree with about dialogue problems, is that it is does seem silly that there are dialogue options for things like "Is there a bar in town?", from the majority of characters in the game... even after you've been to that exact location like a solid 10 times already. Just seems like something that could have been programmed in relatively easily.

To build upon something that Shawn mentioned at the tail-end of the "good vs. great game" discussion on the last conference call, it seems odd to me to suggest that a good story is the key to transcending that good/competent threshold because there are plenty of great games (e.g. sports games or rhythm action games) that don't have a story at all. I'd like to make a further distinction and say that, in my opinion, games achieve greatness by providing a compelling narrative to the player with the following components:

  • Explicit Narrative: The story or premise presented by the game. This includes the plotline, setting, exposition, and the presentation of those elements to the player (graphics, sound, dialogue).
  • Implicit Narrative: The capacity for the player to further (or change or perhaps even create) that story through their experiences. This includes the actual gameplay elements (jumping, shooting, etc.) that implement player action, as well as the presentation of those gameplay elements (controls, menus).

I know that, at first, it may seem useless to abstract gameplay as narrative in itself, but I think that gets to the heart of what makes many of these games so memorable. Julian and Cory both emphasized the social context behind games; that context is created and fueled by what you are able to achieve through gameplay. People congregate to play (and talk about previous games/matches of) Madden because of the gameplay elements that allow you to break your opponent's virtual ankles with a juke before running into the end zone for the game winning touchdown. World of Warcraft doesn't provide a revolutionary explicit narrative to the player, but it is considered to be great by many players because of what you can do in the game, because its implicit narrative is so robust and rewarding that it carries its own vocabulary.

Of course, the real "inner circle" games - the games that are truly timeless - provide compelling content through both of these mediums. Portal's implicit narrative is framed upon one of the most compelling and immersive gameplay mechanics in recent years, but just as many (if not more) of its fond remembrances come from the experiences provided by the game's story, from the Weighted Companion Cube or the hilarious commentary from GlaDOS that occurs throughout the game.

You want to make a great game? Create a compelling world and then immerse players by giving them the means to do compelling things in it.

I couldn't disagree more about the dialogue tree complaints.

- Having different options leading to the same point allows the player to get in character without screwing them out of quests. Playing as a smartass, a rude mercenary or a goody-two-shoes is much more feasible this way and it aids immersion
- It is almost always completely obvious which dialogue options will lead to valuable information
- The idea that an NPC should just dump all information they have on you with zero player interaction required sounds really boring to me
- The dialogue was one of the great points of the original game, and I am very glad that Bethesda managed to recapture some of that magic in their version.
- The dialogue interface does suck, but you can blame consoles for that. There's already some mods out that go a long way towards alleviating this problem, example : http://www.bethsoft.com/bgsforums/in...

Overall the complaints sounded to me like someone who simply doesn't want to engage in dialogue with NPCs, which is fine, but not usually what one should expect out of an RPG, especially a Fallout one.

(Quick preface: I haven't played Fallout 3, so I can't really vouch to the specific gameplay that spurred a lot of the discussion in the podcast.)

I don't think the complaint with Fallout 3 stated that engaging NPCs for dialogue was some arduous chore that should never be undertaken but, rather, pointed out that dialogue trees in general can eventually become a means to an end, rather than a "dynamic" mechanism for storytelling.

I love Fallout as much as the next person, but I would readily admit that talking with NPCs seemed tedious at times because some of the interactions were really interrogations, more than anything else. Even if there were a ton of dialogue options to choose in a given interaction, many of those options can usually lead to the same place and, as a result, there's not really a lot of depth behind that interaction; thus, you conclude that the character exists to simply provide explanation and obtaining said information is really just a puzzle (or a nuisance) in figuring out what sequence of dialogue gets you to the finish line. If you "fall out of the tree" with a bad dialogue choice, you simply reload to "get back up, dust yourself off, and try again."

What, exactly, is the solution to that? Hell if I know. I wouldn't expect truly dynamic conversation in games any time soon, but I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some more elegance here (to allude to one of Julian's articles from a while back). Mass Effect wasn't some great upheaval in dynamic dialogue, but it was lauded for how it presented these interactions more accurately as a conversation, allowing you to choose intent (rather than the exact verbiage) pre-emptively, as though you were "anticipating" while the NPC was talking.

John Brownlee at BoingBoing Gadgets just made a post about Fallout 3 and mentioned the soulless humans and their boring dialog trees:
Fallout 3, or "Why can't Bethesda make f*cking post-apocalyptic hookers fun?"

Sway wrote:

John Brownlee at BoingBoing Gadgets just made a post about Fallout 3 and mentioned the soulless humans and their boring dialog trees:
Fallout 3, or "Why can't Bethesda make f*cking post-apocalyptic hookers fun?"

But there is no f*cking, that's part of the problem. It's just...sleeping.

I had a few thoughts that came out of this podcast:

I have not played Fallout 3. A number of my friends and co-workers have, though. The keyword that keeps coming up time and again is "immersive". I wonder if the game is so immersive that the old-school conversation system just seems antiquated by comparison. To me, it's not a negative criticism, just a thought about how our expectations can change as these game types age.

I've really wanted to get one of those newfangled console systems, but have to say that whether or not I need a hi-def television - for admittedly few games at this stage - would play into my concerns. I wonder if this is why the Wii has been such a number one choice among family-oriented households (as opposed to you alpha-gamers).

Lastly, Cory, how the heck can you have gamer-ADD and be so into WoW? Isn't that the most time-intensive game evar?

Great stuff this week, guys.

How fitting. I spoke to the 'Je ne sais quoi' factor when I wrote up some things that I would've changed about Dead Space.

4. Rainbow Road. I talked about video game flavor in my dissection of Castle Crashers and am really pleased with World of Goo for its use of flavor. Flavor is a department where historically, most big label games lack. Dead Space does include a rather lame omage to BioShock’s plasmid adverts, otherwise I can’t detect any flavor. I’m gussing that flavor requires the following; creative freedom (hampered by lawyers), employees that don’t take things too seriously (hey, we work on f*cking video games) and the trust of managers and leaders. Combine those requirements with the sophisticated technical/production requirements of making a next gen game and it’s not surprising that so few games create the perfect storm. But that is the challenge that the big companies should be trying to meet. And so, I think Dead Space would have benefited from a rainbow road style slip and slide level.

It's too easy to boil that 'video game flavor' down to personal taste. Sure, personal taste effects whether or not you enjoy Behemoths brand of Pork(tm), but, it does not change the fact that Castle Crashers is a game with a whole lot of flavor. Most games lack that flavor, which is why we should cherish it when a developer puts in that love, extra 5%, flavor or whatever you want to call it. When it comes to this x-factor, not everyone appreciates video game flavor (those who are just into it for the visceral experience), some can't detect it (sad but surprisingly common) and still others are enjoying it without knowing it (i.e: "I don't know why I like it, I just do"). The folks in these categories explain why mediocre games, which I call mediocre because of their lack of flavor, can sell well and why great games, with can spark your whole pallet (Psychonauts is the cliche example here) can sell poorly.

coyo7e wrote:
d3p0 wrote:

How fitting. I spoke to the 'ju no se qua' factor when I wrote up some things that I would've changed about Dead Space.

I can't help myself on this one: It's spelled "Je ne sais quoi." It's french, and translates literally to "I don't know what."

Pardon me while I go force the grammar nazi back into his cage under the stairs.

Thanks

d3p0 wrote:

How fitting. I spoke to the 'ju no se qua' factor when I wrote up some things that I would've changed about Dead Space.

I can't help myself on this one: It's spelled "Je ne sais quoi." It's french, and translates literally to "I don't know what."

Pardon me while I go force the grammar nazi back into his cage under the stairs.

kashwashwa wrote:

Why hello there -

Yeah, I get around all the podcasts.. If I'm going to be a pretentious, know-it-all jerk, I gotta keep up on current events!

docbadwrench wrote:

I had a few thoughts that came out of this podcast:

I have not played Fallout 3. A number of my friends and co-workers have, though. The keyword that keeps coming up time and again is "immersive". I wonder if the game is so immersive that the old-school conversation system just seems antiquated by comparison. To me, it's not a negative criticism, just a thought about how our expectations can change as these game types age.

I've really wanted to get one of those newfangled console systems, but have to say that whether or not I need a hi-def television - for admittedly few games at this stage - would play into my concerns. I wonder if this is why the Wii has been such a number one choice among family-oriented households (as opposed to you alpha-gamers).
.

I think you've hit on something with this comment though, because I think that's exactly what hits me about the game - I keep getting pulled out of the immersion by stuff, and I can see how people would "hate" it.

I honestly do catch myself skipping through dialogue trees and stuff, but on the same hand it's not because I'm uninterested, I'd jsut rather be out wandering the wastes, exploring wrecked monorails and blasted gas stations. I like the radio, but on the same hand, I find it incredibly immersive to just wander the wastes, lsitening to the wind and the chatter of my allies. (Dogmeat will bark in tune to some of your radio music though, if you leave it on long enough.)

And no, you do not need an HDTV to read the text in Fallout 3, it's plenty large.. Most games do not suffer on an SDTV, and the ones that do are very well known. as many game devs have said in interviews - if there is no QA for fonts on odler televisions, that's simply bad game design.

I knew that whole rathole we ended up down about dialogue trees would get lost in the translation. I'll have to think about it and try to make it more clear.

Sway wrote:

John Brownlee at BoingBoing Gadgets just made a post about Fallout 3 and mentioned the soulless humans and their boring dialog trees:
Fallout 3, or "Why can't Bethesda make f*cking post-apocalyptic hookers fun?"

Thanks for the link, it sums up my biggest problem with Fallout 3; It feels like Bethesda's Fallout fan mod. The flavor is far more Fallout than Elder Scrolls, but the aftertaste is mostly Elder Scrolls. There was a good deal of sex in Fallout and a ton in Fallout 2. Now I'm not saying that Fallout 3 should have been a 3D sex game, but at least give me one of the two.

All in all it does give me what I wanted (expected?)- The opportunity to role play a wasteland wanderer peppered with Fallout fan service. IMO the best thing Bethesda can do for Fallout 4 would be use some of their we-publish-our-own-mega-hits money and hire someone new as it's lead. I am however, eagerly awaiting Interplay's fabled Fallout MMO.

Which reminds me, Fable 2 = meh. Whoever (Sorry, I don't want to guess wrong) said it did open world better than Oblivion needs to give their definition of open world.

Rob, where'd you get these magic nVidia drivers that made Fallout 3 work for you?

Great 'cast, guys. It's some of the more philosophical discussion that's the reason I love to listen to this podcast. Now, I believe that the "je ne sais quoi" that makes a good game great is unique for each person. Every gamer is going to have one reason that he started playing video games - and a game that is competent enough not to groan at that also epitomizes that original reason he played a game with will be a GREAT GAME.

For me, the original reason that I played a game was because I wanted another world, a place in which I could sink my time and trade it for the satisfying reward of emotional attachment and story. The games that always have stood out to me are the ones that drag me in (sometimes kicking and screaming) and both give me compelling storyline and character. Now, I am relatively new to gaming, compared to you old gaming fogies - the first game that I ever played was Super Mario 64. But since I began my forays into gaming, I have always found the games that made me love a character were GREAT.

Super Mario 64 - Mario never stopped trying. Even when he had to run through about five thousand paintings before he could fight a giant lizard to save a princess for the sole purpose of cake, he never ran out of determination. He always whooped and hollered as he flew through the air even as the health pieces disappeared more quickly than ever. Now, this is an old game - its primary draws are platform-puzzle-solving and secret-finding. The storyline and characters definitely take a backseat for a platformer, especially a retro one, but with the incredibly insane universe of Mario's painting worlds at my beck and call to travel to and fro, I spent a kind of glorious rapture exploring these worlds all for the supercilious goal of a pretty princess. I like to think that Mario and Bowser are actually best buds, and Bowser kidnapped Peach just to give Mario the chance to explore the castle's awesome paintings.

I could write an in-depth examination of the reason I love each and every game that I do love, and I guess my love for SM64 is supplemented by the bias of it being my first game... but that would take way too long. So, I'll jump ahead to Fallout 3, which I'm currently writing a ginormous review for, for no particular purpose. But through the character creation system and the basic aliveness of the desolate world's pockets of life, this is a game that captures my sickeningly womanish heart. Not to mention the epic but simple, heartfelt storyline that captures my writer's mind.

Also, DIALOGUE TREES? I love those.

nsmike wrote:

Rob, where'd you get these magic nVidia drivers that made Fallout 3 work for you?

You probably meant Rabbit, not Rob. You can go here for the drivers though. Nvidia

If you scroll down a little you will find a link to beta and older drivers as well. I believe the drivers rabbit was talking about are the beta drivers, however my version is running fine with the most recent.

If you are experiencing a lot of crashes and you have the FFDSHOW codec installed on your system that may be causing the crashes. You can fix that by going into the ffdshow audio and video menus and adding fallout3.exe to the exception list.

Also, DIALOGUE TREES? I love those.

You are one sick puppy! Dialogue trees are so 1990's. It's almost 20 years later, how about we move on to something better.

Gaald wrote:
Also, DIALOGUE TREES? I love those.

You are one sick puppy! Dialogue trees are so 1990's. It's almost 20 years later, how about we move on to something better.

I think the intention, in games like Fallout 3, is that you take one route through the 'conversation tree' and leave it at that. That way you have a unique experience and the next time you play through the game (or when someone else plays the same scene) you have a different experience. I don't think we are supposed to work our way laboriously through all the alternate branches to see, what if anything, is different.

Mass effect's conversation system was a huge step forwards for me. I found myself looking for folks to talk to and enjoyed chatting to my squad mates and listening to their back stories.