GWJ Conference Call Episode 109

Conference Call

Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, Fable 2, Delivering Game Story, Special Guest Shawn Elliott, Your Emails and more!

2K Boston's Shawn Elliott joins us to talk about what we're playing, how things are going at the new digs, story in games and retractable hummingbird tongues.

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

"Crocodile Tears" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:48:08
"Sunflower" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.Workbench-music.com - 1:13:27

Comments

Love the Gears 2 discussion!!! Can we expect to you some of you guys for Gears and Beers on friday?

You know you're a gamer when you want every choice to lead to some sort of reward. The gripe with the dialog tree that each response must lead to some active quest or at least some sort of significance is problematic to me. I believe having these dialog trees that go nowhere is a wonderful subversion of game design. This was my favorite aspect of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. where there would be empty "treasure chests" or areas where players would expect rewards only to find nothing. I believe it adds to the immersion of the game world by placing a "reality" where rewards and objectives are not assumed by the player. There is a wonderful playfulness to have the roads that lead to nothing substantial and it is extremely interesting in the context of concept of gaming as "a waste of time." Personally, I despise game design that readily places elements that actively foreshadow a prospective quest which often highlights the mechanics of progressing through a game.

Great podcast.
I love how after several discussions on the site about the 'frat boyishness' of Elliott on the esteemed and doomed GFW radio, he immediately confuses the hosts with the hummingbird analogy.
Hooray, duality of man!

Great podcast. It's good to hear from Both bearded Shawn and Fancy-pants game dev Shawn after so long.

Regarding the comment on multiple endings, specifically that they're just a bullet point.
I would say there are definitely games out there that executed multiple endings with a light enough hand to be affective. Chrono Trigger was one. It had a main ending most people would see, and then variations based on at what point in the story you decided to beat the game. I won't defend games that claim to have "hundreds" of endings because they procedurally generate a slightly varied ending at the end of the game (fallout 3 epilogue, I'm looking at you).

Shawn Elliott wrote:

I like to read good books, I don't like to read bad games.

Thank you.

Another great podcast, guys. Shawn was a delight.

Why thank you!

InigoMantoya wrote:

Love the Gears 2 discussion!!! Can we expect to you some of you guys for Gears and Beers on friday?

It would be great to chainsaw..., I mean play with, the GWJer overlords.

I expect you'll see Gaald (Rob) and I online here and there. Many have already tasted my chainsaw by direct application to the tastebud region.

demonicmurry wrote:

You know you're a gamer when you want every choice to lead to some sort of reward. The gripe with the dialog tree that each response must lead to some active quest or at least some sort of significance is problematic to me. I believe having these dialog trees that go nowhere is a wonderful subversion of game design.

While I disagree with your first sentence (I believe that easy-rewards is a problem of today's society and that games often subvert this), I do believe that exploration for its own sake is a valid reward provided that the world is well-made enough.

It's probably because I grew up playing impossibly hard games before there was an internet ("what? he's 4 years old? I'm sure he'll LOVE Dinosaur Hangman! Spell ICTHYOSAURUS, coyo7e! It will swim up and eat your character in a shower of blood if you screw up spelling it, have fun, son!") but I really feel that games have gotten easier to gain better market penetration (hurr hurr, I said it!) rather than because gamers are inherently lazy. I think PEOPLE are inherently lazy, especially kids..

Damn kids get off my lawn!

Also, I smell a potential conspiracy brewing which could be a major coup for this podcast.. And if they don't see the opportunity, then I'll stop being subtle and spell it out later.

I think I've heard enough about the bowel movements of the GWJ podcast crew to last me a while.

I really enjoyed the referring to Shawn Elliott as Elliott. It made me feel like you were talking to me. I responded to a couple of your questions but then my co-workers started to glare.

Good show, guys. -I'm going to see if I can work in that hummingbird analogy into my next team meeting.

Great show guys.

Is there any way to get Shawn's mailing address? I've wanted to send him some sweets since the GFW days but i could never find the address.... i also love Fruit Gums and was going to send him these and also Sports Mixture which are very cool and in the same vein.

Oh and I don't think i'll ever get the love that Gears gets. Having played it, the game just seems average.....

[edit]
Also, is Rabbit some sort of crackgame pusher? He's pushed one person onto WoW another to buy a PS3..... any other people's lives you've ruined?

[edit 2]
Can you tell i'm listening to the podcast while i'm updating this post?

With regards to Rabbit's comments on Story and choices/dialog trees.

Rabbit wrote:

I loved the story of planescape, not so much for what my dude did, in any particular point, but in terms of how that story progressed and how i got to participate in that story. Portal's another example, i mean there's no agency in portal - you have no control - where you're just getting through to the end. It's just a question of you play or you don't play.

I pointed this out in Rabbit's topic and i think it still stands though was never addressed:

Duoae wrote:

The thing that i don't agree with about this is that Fallout is a game of experiencing things primarily through your own play. All those other games you mention, GTA4, MGS4, Bioshock and Portal are all dependent on presenting you with information to tell you the story rather than the player finding the information for themselves. One method is like reading a book or watching a movie and the other is truly unique to gaming.

You're comparing apples to oranges in terms of experience and berating the oranges, when squeezed, for not giving you apple juice. Games like Fallout 3 aren't so much interactive fiction, they're interactive worlds. In one you have no agency on the outcome and your whole point is to experience the game through the eyes of the protagonist (see Portal, HL, Bioshock, text adventures etc.) - your efforts have no effect on the game world unless allowed by the story. In the second you still have that interactive story element to the game - there are a limited number of outcomes that are barely affected by what you did in the game - however you also have agency in the world: The world can be changed 'forever' by your actions and choices (e.g. Most bethesda games, Black Isle games etc.). There are of course games that span the two types but ultimately lie more on the interactive fiction side of the scale (such as JRPGs, Planescape etc.).

Duoae wrote:

You're comparing apples to oranges in terms of experience and berating the oranges, when squeezed, for not giving you apple juice. Games like Fallout 3 aren't so much interactive fiction, they're interactive worlds. In one you have no agency on the outcome and your whole point is to experience the game through the eyes of the protagonist (see Portal, HL, Bioshock, text adventures etc.) - your efforts have no effect on the game world unless allowed by the story. In the second you still have that interactive story element to the game - there are a limited number of outcomes that are barely affected by what you did in the game - however you also have agency in the world: The world can be changed 'forever' by your actions and choices (e.g. Most bethesda games, Black Isle games etc.). There are of course games that span the two types but ultimately lie more on the interactive fiction side of the scale (such as JRPGs, Planescape etc.).

I think you're right that there are these two types of storytelling in video games, but I think that the complaint most of the time with the apples half of the equation is that game companies generally make lousy apple juice.

You use interactive fiction to mean the highly linear, unlock-by-playing type stories of Bioshock, Portal, etc. I don't know if there is an accepted term for the opposite style of storytelling, so I'm going to call it "world fiction." I think there are two key problems most companies run into when implementing world fiction techniques into their games. The first is false choice, and the second is weak pieces.

False choice is something we're all familiar with in video games. I haven't played Fable 2, but Fable was an excellent example of a game that wanted to create a dynamic, interactive story in which you had agency and the world could change "forever" as a result of your actions, but the decisions in the game were largely binary and in any case lead to the same results. The forks in the road were really just medians. I might have misunderstood the conversation, but I thought this sort of game was what Rabbit was responding to with his comment about Planescape. If the choices are so simplistic, why bother having choices?

Weak pieces are when the individual parts of a world fiction are not compelling enough to pursue so that a complete picture of the world can be created. I know that others disagree with me about this, but I felt that this was the major flaw in Oblivion. While I appreciated that the world was more the story than the story was, I didn't find the parts of the world to be particularly engaging; they made this large world to explore but it turns out that if you've been anywhere near a fantasy novel in the last thirty years you've already seen all there is to see. As such, none of the quests, locations, or people in Oblivion added up to create a more compelling story experience than could have been created in an interactive fiction using the same parts. This is an important point: world fictions are more readily sunk by cliche, lackluster implementation, redundancy, and other problems than interactive fictions because each of the pieces needs to stand on its own. In interactive fiction, you can count on the sum of weaker parts to create a stronger whole because those parts are bolstered by the traditional narrative devices of tension, foreshadowing, etc. This is part of the reason why Fallout (the original; I haven't played Fallout 3) was such a memorable experience for most players: not only could they explore the world and have an impact on it, but the world was made up of fascinating parts. The game's locations were well-differentiated and populated by strange and quirky characters (like Harold, Dogmeat, Killian Darkwater, the Enclave, and on and on).

I think game designers would do well to look for examples of fragmented storytelling in literature. The Spoon River Anthology comes immediately to mind as an example of a world that was created through the accumulation of individual parts. None of the poems are dependent on another poem for their impact, and they can be read in any order, but as you read them you develop a sense for the larger community of Spoon River and the interactions of its inhabitants. The same could be done with a game and to an extent has been done with some games, although I haven't seen anything where the individual parts are so intricately woven.

Also, out of curiosity: what were the two "obvious" examples of storytelling that Elysium didn't want to bring up?

You're right Adam. I had the same problem with Oblivion in contrast with Morrowind and Fallout 3.... I think one of the problems is defining the 'other' type of storytelling as you point out. World fiction is a better term than i could come up with but it could be misinterpreted for being a backdrop to the Interactive Fiction term. If we could easily define the terms then perhaps there'd be less confusion and more forward progress as it seems that every designer/consumer has their own ideas about what goes where and which has the most importance in their enjoyment of a particular construct.

Also, out of curiosity: what were the two "obvious" examples of storytelling that Elysium didn't want to bring up?

Bioshock and Portal, which were both brought up in the conversation anyway.

Another great show. Thanks.

I'm just hoping that, some day, we'll have technology that allows you to integrate dialogue trees directly into the podcast. And that we could use such trees to further explore conversations about dialogue trees.

Gaald wrote:
Also, out of curiosity: what were the two "obvious" examples of storytelling that Elysium didn't want to bring up?

Bioshock and Portal, which were both brought up in the conversation anyway.

We tried to avoid saying their names, to avoid creating anymore iTunes alcoholics.

rabbit wrote:
Gaald wrote:
Also, out of curiosity: what were the two "obvious" examples of storytelling that Elysium didn't want to bring up?

Bioshock and Portal, which were both brought up in the conversation anyway.

We tried to avoid saying their names, to avoid creating anymore iTunes alcoholics.

Gotcha. And here I had thought it was Silent Hill 2 and Portal. SH2 is the single most obvious example of good storytelling in games I can think of. One person's obvious isn't another's, I guess.

I want to make a comment re. Mines of Moria. Especially Elysiums (sp?) comment.

I think people, especially those who play WoW, need to realise how excited the LoTRO community is for MoM. I find many people are very dismissive of LoTRO. Sure, it's never going to get the limelight of WoW or WAR, but i have no doubt that Turbine is ecstatic with how their game is going and the interest in the new expansion.

As someone who has only played LoTRO (and I suppose that makes me a fanboy =P) I just get a little frustrated at the dismissive nature of those who play WoW. LoTRO is an exceptional MMO with impressive story and a terrifically realised world, just becuase it doesn't have 9+million players doesn't make it any less commercially viable or important to the developers.

This is more of a general rant rather than a specific complaint, just thought I'd mention it tho

Loved the rest of the podcast tho guys =D

Shawn Elliot is hilarious. He can take any podcast and instantly enjoyable. (Well, unless he talks about Ron P.) PLEASE GET HIM ON AGAIN. I will listen.

Reive wrote:

Shawn Elliot is hilarious. He can take any podcast and instantly enjoyable. (Well, unless he talks about Ron P.) PLEASE GET HIM ON AGAIN. I will listen.

Wait.... are you saying the podcast wasn't enjoyable until he was on it? Heresy!

Get a PO box, I'll send some candy! Great stuff! prehensile tongues.

So I was listening to the podcast while driving, and it occurred to me that a possible solution to the Dialogue-Tree problem might be a sort of VATS interface for conversations. Essentially, at the initiation of conversation, there'd be a freezing of the action, just as there is with VATS. At this point, you'd be presented with various topics of conversation that your character is interested in. The list would be dynamic based on current quests. You'd check off the topics you want to hear about, and then hit the "action" button, again, just as in VATS. The "action" would be a fluid conversation without further player input as your character explores all dialogue options that the target character has for the topics of interest.

Pros:

Fluid conversations.
Avoids constant clicking of dialogue options.
Allows for third-person cinematic (i.e. face-to-face, or possibly even slightly removed camera position to show ambient surroundings).

Cons:

New information in conversations may lead to new "interests", requiring another converse-VATS round.
Would require a player-character voice, which might hurt immersion for some players.
More difficult to code, perhaps.

The second con could perhaps be dealt with in a first-person perspective by showing the target-character listening for a moment, and then answering the question (inferred from the answer).

I think this would make for a far more immersive experience, but I'm not sure how practical it would be from a development perspective.

What do you guys think?

adam.greenbrier wrote:
rabbit wrote:
Gaald wrote:
Also, out of curiosity: what were the two "obvious" examples of storytelling that Elysium didn't want to bring up?

Bioshock and Portal, which were both brought up in the conversation anyway.

We tried to avoid saying their names, to avoid creating anymore iTunes alcoholics.

Gotcha. And here I had thought it was Silent Hill 2 and Portal. SH2 is the single most obvious example of good storytelling in games I can think of. One person's obvious isn't another's, I guess.

You must be new here. Welcome.

Coldstream wrote:

VATS interface for conversations.
...
Cons:

New information in conversations may lead to new "interests", requiring another converse-VATS round.
Would require a player-character voice, which might hurt immersion for some players.
More difficult to code, perhaps.

That's a great idea (and certainly a bigger step forward than my idea of converting the tree format to more of a dialogue web). I could see new topics being foreseeable with high enough INT or similar stat, or popping up in the corner during conversation (at which point you could pause and reconfigure your dialogue tactics).

Ha, send all love to 2k Boston cc Shawn Elliott. : ) Thanks again to the crew for the invite.

ShawnElliott wrote:

Ha, send all love to 2k Boston cc Shawn Elliott. : ) Thanks again to the crew for the invite.

Shouldn't this guy get an instant tag? Something along the lines of "Grief Chief".

So I was listening to the podcast while driving, and it occurred to me that a possible solution to the Dialogue-Tree problem might be a sort of VATS interface for conversations. Essentially, at the initiation of conversation, there'd be a freezing of the action, just as there is with VATS. At this point, you'd be presented with various topics of conversation that your character is interested in. The list would be dynamic based on current quests. You'd check off the topics you want to hear about, and then hit the "action" button, again, just as in VATS. The "action" would be a fluid conversation without further player input as your character explores all dialogue options that the target character has for the topics of interest.

I want to take your idea, dress it up in something nice and take it on a hot date. Then I want to take it home, light some candles and get down to sweet love making. Eventually we'll get married, have some kids and retire together.