GWJ Conference Call Episode 113

Conference Call

Prince of Persia, Resident Evil 5, Fallout 3: For The Masses, Word Flow, Bread Crumbs And Game Difficulty, Your Emails and more!

This week's Conference Call has been produced specifically for the masses. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm given to understand we'll be rich soon. Rich!

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/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Anxious Tedium" - Ouranos OST (Tom Quinn) - www.citadel-studios.com - 0:45:43
"MMM Cowbell" (Greg Decker) - 1:09:07

Comments

I believe the term "For the Masses" should be trademarked like "I wanna friend you up" or "Blight."

I like some difficulty. But it has to be tuned to my abilities and time. I like to overcome challenges after 3 or 4 tries. Any more attempts needed than that and there's a good chance the game is just too hard for me to enjoy. Mirror's Edge pushed through that, but it brought fresh content to the table so I was able to hang on and die 10x and still enjoy the game.

It also helps that Mirror's Edge had frequent checkpoints. I never had to replay 10 minutes of ME to get to the part I had trouble with.

Also in this day and age, the rare difficult game stands out. It's a breath of fresh air. Maybe I wouldn't like if every game was difficult? Not sure.

But games that are too easy make me wonder why there's a controller in my hands? To pause the movie I'm watching?

It seems like they shouldn't make games both much less difficult while also adding many more checkpoints or ability to save anywhere. It seems like the latter makes it unnecessary to make games too easy.

Overall challenge makes the game more exciting to me. I want to overcome something. I don't want that feeling where it doesn't matter what I do everything will work out. I hate that feeling where bullets whizzing by your head and explosions are just smoke & mirrors and not actually aimed at you. They are just background noise and atmosphere.

That being said they have to be intelligent about the difficulty. It's really easy to go overboard.

Totally with Elysium on the "for the masses" comment. Too many games remove all of their uniqueness by putting trust in focus group feedback.

Anybody can take user feedback and compound a list of compromises to address key issues. But it's extremely difficult to understand the reasoning behind the feedback, and avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

It's possible to parse user feedback and keep unique experience (Valve iterated the hell out of Portal), but it's much more likely you'll end up watering down the game to a point that it's accessible but boring.

I find the Fallout disappointment talk pretty interesting... I never played the first two, and wonder how different things would feel if I did. I'm 95% infatuvested in 3, if I can use a non-existent hybrid term. I felt similar to Rabbit for the first few hours, a little wearied by the bleakness of it all (which sent me running back to Albion regularly for fuzzier, happier times), but once the firefights against Super Mutants started, that somehow lightened things up for me and injected a good deal of fun into the proceedings. Not to mention they have a talent for sneaking up on and scaring the bejeesus out of me. In fact when I located Galaxy News Radio, the Behemoth somehow got behind me without my knowing and when I turned around I experienced the #1 heart-skip I've ever felt with a game.

I appreciate the sense of journey to it all (finding the Washington Mall really was an endeavor for me, with how labyrinthine that east side of the map is). The weird moments, like coming undetected upon an enormous laser-filled firefight between raiders and brain-bots while the sun goes down, the dulcet tunes of Galaxy Radio on my wrist. I like that I've stumbled onto the main storyline a couple times without setting it as my main quest and following the markers... things just triggered in my natural course of exploration in some instances.

And as for flavor, there's a lot of post-America melancholy that I find really affecting, perhaps in as much as it ties with current national worries rather nicely. Listening to the dramatized recordings in the Hall of Records really got to me somehow, how weird and inspired and tenuous and possibly fleeting this whole national enterprise may be. Is that feeling present in the original games as well?

The 5% I'm holding back is pretty much reserved for Bethesda's weird physicality for organic beings... floating dogs (mine died somehow on the way home when I told it to head back to Megaton, sadly... and I left it at that), the stiff people, etc.

In regards to the email about the sense of accomplishment and pride in beating games written from the guy who grew up in the eighties. I agree, I feel this sense less from games now but I feel it has to do with the gamespace (memory) available to developers at the time. Developers now have millions of times the space to program a game whereas their counterparts from 20, 15, or even 5 years ago had doodily squat room to play in, hence the game had an end because they ran out of room to program. Now developers can keep building (until the funds run out) and there really isn't a WALL of space to limit the game and bring an end.
Being a gamer who grew up in the eighties also, nothing beats the sense of pride and joy when I beat Pitfall 2 on the 2600 with a perfect score. Nothing beats mastering Mike Tyson's Punch Out NES, taking a picture and being pretty damn sure it beat the best scores in Nintendo Power Magazine. But still nothing beats sitting down to Portal for the first time, investing four or five hours, and BEATING it. Now these games are over 20 years apart, but they share something, there IS an end. The former for the memory limitations of the time, the latter for the limited funds. Either way, having a game that you can beat IN ONE SITTING, for me, I think is the key to a sense of pride and fun. Nobody can doubt knocking out a lvl 80 in WOW is not an accomplishment that any gamer would relish, but I think the reward of, 'I'm going to sit down and do this', as opposed to 'after 45+ hours I might beat this and that will be cool' gameplay design change over the decades is not condusive to that sense of reward and joy in gaming that I seek, so I empathize with the emailers query.
This comment is too long as usual, but great podcast guys!

Haven't finished the podcast yet, but I have finished Fallout 3. Allow me to rant:

I don't understand what's wrong with making a Fallout game for the masses. A game that I played to death in college now has billboards and midnight release parties. I think that's pretty freaking awesome. And the end result is a far cry from the disappointment of Tactics and that other one.

Also, did anyone on the podcast play the game as an evil character? For that matter, did anyone in the press, or were they too distracted by deadlines? You're presented with some pretty heinous options, and they're a lot less abstract than they were in isometric perspective. This is the first game I've ever played where I told my wife what I did and she got mad at me.

Finally, having replayed Fallout 1 before the new game came out, I can't understand why anyone would think that the game doesn't carry on the old tradition. The game begins with any number of possibilities, but no matter what stories you create along the way, it only recognizes a few, and then it ends. That seems to be a classic RPG dilemma. Bioshock and Planescape suffered from the same problems. What's with the ambivalence?

Um...grr?

I haven't played PoP yet, I plan on picking it and Dead Space up this weekend. For PC, I do have a no-name controller but I may get a 360 controller as well, I <3 that thing.

For me personally I am happy that games are getting 'easier.' I don't play for the sense of achievement, I play to be entertained. For the same reason I watch TV or read. I do want a game to keep me more engaged than watching a sitcom, but if frustration kicks in I can find any number of other things I would rather do with my time. That is why my pile of shame exists, with most of the games I've hit the wall and don't wish to make myself suffer to progress.

I think part of it is that I am not an old school gamer, I grew up with an Intellivision in the house, but we hardly played with it. Actually, I wonder why we had it, it must have been massively expensive. I was more of a reader and wanderer on the farm.

Having said all this, I do understand why gamers who grew up with a controller in their hands are frustrated by the current trends. I really think that a game like PoP could benefit from real difficulty selections, let the morons like me go through and don't punish us too badly for mistimed jumps, tighten up the timing for people who played the original PoP and finished in 60 minutes. I'm no developer, but it can't be that hard.

It just sounds though that Elika is being blamed when she isn't the problem. She is really just an automatic quick load.

@rabbit: One thing that helps be get through the frustration barrier that you complained about... a walk-through. The first time I used one I felt like such a loser, but then I realised that it was MY game and I could cheat my way through it if the game was screwing with me. :p

MrDeVil909 wrote:

I haven't played PoP yet, I plan on picking it and Dead Space up this weekend. For PC, I do have a no-name controller but I may get a 360 controller as well, I <3 that thing.

Do it. It feels perfect with PoP.

Before people try to defend Prince of Persia's difficulty, they ought to remember that game's heritage. It did not start on the XBox. It started as a side-view platformer that would kill you (with no sand or magic to save you) ruthlessly a thousand ways every level, in a single hit that you need pixel-perfect skill and timing to avoid. I remember one part where you needed to get a running start and leap at just the right time to get across this series of stepping stones. Each stone was about as wide as your foot. If you stopped going forward at full speed you'd lose your momentum and be unable to make the next jump. If you fell, you died. IIRC, there were something like 5 stones in a row.

IMAGE(http://www.retroisland.co.uk/Games/Amiga/Screenshots/Prince_of_Persia_2.png)

(This is much easier than the spot I was just talking about)

Prince of Persia was a game that HATED YOU. HATE. Sometimes when you got through a hard part it was not your skill but the game luring you into a sense of accomplishment so it could utterly crush your hopes and dreams.

LostLobster wrote:

Stuff

Look! Another lobster!

LobsterMobster wrote:

IMAGE(http://www.retroisland.co.uk/Games/Amiga/Screenshots/Prince_of_Persia_2.png)

(This is much easier than the spot I was just talking about)

I remember that bit in the picture, you had to press a timed switch to open that gate on the left and then run and jump across to it before it closed. It took me forever, I don't remember getting that much further in the game in fact. I was playing the Sam Coupé version, not the amiga.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

For me personally I am happy that games are getting 'easier.' I don't play for the sense of achievement, I play to be entertained. For the same reason I watch TV or read. I do want a game to keep me more engaged than watching a sitcom, but if frustration kicks in I can find any number of other things I would rather do with my time. That is why my pile of shame exists, with most of the games I've hit the wall and don't wish to make myself suffer to progress.

Seconded.

I've been playing videogames since I was five and my parents bought be an Atari 2600 to cure my lazy eye. Part of me does lament that games are easier these days. But I don't lament that they're easier because I want them to be harder. I lament the dumbening because I think those dang kids in their baggy jeans with no belts who think Bungee invented the FPS need to pay their freakin' dues if they want to call themselves gamers.

So it's more of an abstract desire for others to suffer than something I actually want to spend my money on. If games went back to being unfairly, punishingly, PUT-IN-ANOTHER-QUARTER-B***H! difficult, I'd probably spend more time painting miniatures, or playing the banjo, or any of my other dozen hobbies that I don't do as much because of gaming.

Games shouldn't always be easy, but they must always be fun.

I haven't read the comments because I haven't listened to the podcast yet.

I cannot download it directly to my Iphone through Itunes. I think there is something wrong with your feed to itunes. Or at least the one they have on the app on the iphone.

The last podcast they have up on Itunes is November 9th. This is weird because I downloaded your show last week directly to my phone. Can you confirm this is the case?

I cannot download it directly to my Iphone through Itunes. I think there is something wrong with your feed to itunes. Or at least the one they have on the app on the iphone.

I'm pretty sure that direct-to-iPhone thing only works for podcasts 10 megs or less. Ours is way bigger than that, you need to download it from a computer and sync it.

You guys need to hike the audio levels a bit across the board. I go from the podcast back to my music and nearly make myself go deaf.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

For me personally I am happy that games are getting 'easier.' I don't play for the sense of achievement, I play to be entertained. For the same reason I watch TV or read. I do want a game to keep me more engaged than watching a sitcom, but if frustration kicks in I can find any number of other things I would rather do with my time. That is why my pile of shame exists, with most of the games I've hit the wall and don't wish to make myself suffer to progress.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

Games shouldn't always be easy, but they must always be fun.

I agree that games shouldn't be too difficult because that leads to frustration and takes away all the fun but I'd also argue that making a game too easy can also be the death of fun and engagement in a game.

Halo 3 and Mass Effect are examples of games where the 'normal' difficulty level is actually what used to be the 'easy' difficulty level and the correct level to play at, if you are an experienced gamer, is the next one up (the water being somewhat muddied in Mass Effects case by classes that made the game harder because the class had fatal weaknesses.) For both these games I started playing on normal and felt I wasn't really having any fun. As soon as I started playing again on a harder difficulty the games suddenly felt focused and I was having a great time fighting challenging enemies. I was surprised how much difference changing the difficulty made.

It's a fine balancing act and I don't envy developers having to get it right.

nsmike wrote:

You guys need to hike the audio levels a bit across the board. I go from the podcast back to my music and nearly make myself go deaf.

For me, that pertains to every podcast it seems. I've just gotten used to turning podcasts up the volume back down for music.

LobsterMobster wrote:

Before people try to defend Prince of Persia's difficulty, they ought to remember that game's heritage. It did not start on the XBox. It started as a side-view platformer that would kill you (with no sand or magic to save you) ruthlessly a thousand ways every level, in a single hit that you need pixel-perfect skill and timing to avoid. I remember one part where you needed to get a running start and leap at just the right time to get across this series of stepping stones. Each stone was about as wide as your foot. If you stopped going forward at full speed you'd lose your momentum and be unable to make the next jump. If you fell, you died. IIRC, there were something like 5 stones in a row.

Prince of Persia was a game that HATED YOU. HATE. Sometimes when you got through a hard part it was not your skill but the game luring you into a sense of accomplishment so it could utterly crush your hopes and dreams.

I remember playing the original Prince of Persia and I don't think I was able to finish it. What I loved about it, though, was not the unfair difficulty, but the beautiful animations. That was always the original's biggest contribution, not the punishment it dealt out. There were plenty of old school games that were frustratingly hard, but the graphics showed people how amazing videogames could look. Looking at those screenshots now doesn't have the same impact, but when it came out it was breathtaking, especially when you saw the prince in motion. The current incarnation did not blow me away like the original, but it does have those smooth fluid animations.

P.S.

I am surprised they haven't re-released the original. Seems like a great freebie to people who buy a limited edition version of or pre-order the new Prince of Persia. Better yet, they could have released it as some sort of Easter egg in the game.

Higgledy wrote:

I agree that games shouldn't be too difficult because that leads to frustration and takes away all the fun but I'd also argue that making a game too easy can also be the death of fun and engagement in a game.

Halo 3 and Mass Effect are examples of games where the 'normal' difficulty level is actually what used to be the 'easy' difficulty level and the correct level to play at, if you are an experienced gamer, is the next one up (the water being somewhat muddied in Mass Effects case by classes that made the game harder because the class had fatal weaknesses.) For both these games I started playing on normal and felt I wasn't really having any fun. As soon as I started playing again on a harder difficulty the games suddenly felt focused and I was having a great time fighting challenging enemies. I was surprised how much difference changing the difficulty made.

It's a fine balancing act and I don't envy developers having to get it right.

I think we are in agreement, which is nice because I like greements.

Rimshot.

Crickets.

Ahem, so anyway, all we're saying is that anytime difficulty level gets in the way of fun, fun wins.

EDIT: I corrected a spelling error.

heavyfeul wrote:

I am surprised they haven't re-released the original. Seems like a great freebie to people who buy a limited edition version of or pre-order the new Prince of Persia. Better yet, they could have released it as some sort of Easter egg in the game.

It was an unlockable in The Sands of Time - though the graphics were different and the sounds were really bad.... though the sounds may have been original, i'm not sure :/

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

I think we are in agreement, which is nice because I like greements.

EDIT: I corrected a spelling error.

You missed one

:p

When I was twelve, I developed a cataract in my right eye after an injury. I missed a lot of school and stayed home to play the original Prince of Persia on an old brick of a laptop. My brother had a tendency to sneak up behind me and cover my left eye while I was playing; if you think the game is punishingly hard, try playing it when you can barely see it.

heavyfeul wrote:

I am surprised they haven't re-released the original. Seems like a great freebie to people who buy a limited edition version of or pre-order the new Prince of Persia. Better yet, they could have released it as some sort of Easter egg in the game.

There is a graphically updated version on XBLA called Prince of Persia Classic. It's my understanding that the gameplay is identical.

I like words. I would also pay money for a GWJ tote bag.

And I gladly admit that I am an elitist games snob.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

There is a graphically updated version on XBLA called Prince of Persia Classic. It's my understanding that the gameplay is identical.

I completely forgot about that. There ya go.

I don't know about a tote bag but I'd buy a t-shirt.

I know it wasn't a perfect game but did anyone else enjoy the Co-Op in Too Human. Once I started playing Co-Op in that game I really had fun with it. The only thing that got block in that game was that if you were playing with someone who hadn't finished the game you couldn't open some areas. Other than that I really enjoyed it.

There's been an article over on Eludamos about death and it's relevance in games as a type of illusion killer when linked with a strong narrative.

Thought it might be pertinent to the discussion surrounding Deadspace/Prince of Persia/etc.

[edit] looks like there's a problem with wherever they're hosting their files... So ignore this for the time being.

Duoae wrote:

[edit] looks like there's a problem with wherever they're hosting their files... So ignore this for the time being.

edit: woops you are not talking about us are you.

Duoae wrote:

There's been an article over on Eludamos about death and it's relevance in games as a type of illusion killer when linked with a strong narrative.

Thought it might be pertinent to the discussion surrounding Deadspace/Prince of Persia/etc.

[edit] looks like there's a problem with wherever they're hosting their files... So ignore this for the time being.

I would agree it does take you out of the experience. Where designers need to be careful, is when trying to alleviate that effect. Ubisoft did a great job with it in PoP, but did not do such a good job in Assassin's Creed. Sometimes these things can seem very transparent. Too Human's ressurections come to mind as well as an example of what not to do. Fable 2, in contrast, is a good example of a how to do it well, as Certis pointed out earlier. I would have loved if Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War 2 used the Far Cry 2 system of "death" as well. If they could have figured out how to do it in engine on all spots on the different levels, it would have been cool.

Another thing designers could do is instead of failing and restarting a level, just have the player fail or have a way to bring them back to finish the job in a logical fashion. For example, on the air strike mission in COD4, if you fail to shoot all the bad guys, have the good guys on the ground improvise and make another pass with aircraft. Or just let the player fail and feel the guilt of letting his brother in arms die.

I will admit that I do not play games to be overly challenged. I do want a sense of accomplishment, but when I play a game, single player at least, I want to feel like a bad ass. The trick is not to make me feel like I am just along for the ride. I need to have that sense that I am executing the things my character is doing based on my skills (mad skillz yo!). Multiplayer is a totally different story. I really enjoy the challenge of overcoming failure and making a solid impact on our team's success. The occasional frustrated rage quit is just par for the course when it comes to playing against other humans.

Re: your discussion about difficulty. I still think that the original Max Payne has one of the best implementations of difficulty that I've had the pleasure of playing. Remedy implemented a adaptive difficulty setting whereas if you died more than once in a certain area, it would lower the difficulty for you. It did this by simply slowly widening the angle of where the bad guys shots would land. So in the beginning it would be basically pin point accurate, on later loads their shots would slam into the walls around you instead. It really did give you that sense of achievement without frustrating the player (too much).

Fredrik_S wrote:

I still think that the original Max Payne has one of the best implementations of difficulty that I've had the pleasure of playing. Remedy implemented a adaptive difficulty setting whereas if you died more than once in a certain area, it would lower the difficulty for you. It did this by simply slowly widening the angle of where the bad guys shots would land. So in the beginning it would be basically pin point accurate, on later loads their shots would slam into the walls around you instead. It really did give you that sense of achievement without frustrating the player (too much).

Your comment got me thinking about Left 4 Dead. The AI director does a good job of ratcheting the difficulty up and down based on player performance in game, plus it has the three traditional difficulty tiers. It is a good balance.

Duoae wrote:

There's been an article over on Eludamos about death and it's relevance in games as a type of illusion killer when linked with a strong narrative.

Thought it might be pertinent to the discussion surrounding Deadspace/Prince of Persia/etc.

[edit] looks like there's a problem with wherever they're hosting their files... So ignore this for the time being.

It's a neat write-up either way. I caught it when their site was working.