GWJ Conference Call Episode 119

Conference Call

Red Alert 3, Fable 2 DLC Pack, Crayon Physics, The Recession and The Gaming Industry, Your Emails, Voicemails and more!

This week we tackle the economy and how the recession may impact the gaming industry and the games we actually play. It's more interesting than it sounds, I promise! We also announce Sean Sands' next Horizon Broadening Game and discuss the ending of Gravity Bone. If you want to submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Small Comfort" - Apoplexia (Benoit Casey) - http://www.cerebrimusic.com - 0:36:40
"Luna Machine" (Benoit Casey) - http://www.cerebrimusic.com - 1:00:25

Comments

Zelos wrote:

Interesting point, but it's not the same medal, is it? You'd know you didn't run a marathon, in the same way that you'd know that you used Easy mode, or took all the hints.

But would you care? The guy playing on easy mode isn't the 'victim' here. He's saying that the ability of a newbie to win on easy mode somehow makes the hard mode player's effort worth less. And this brings us to contentious points like, "If you didn't play on Hard mode you didn't play it properly."

The problem I see is much more general, some games don't have a hard mode to play on at all. Others don't scale the difficulty level properly throughout the game, and getting the balance right there is notoriously difficult. I fear that relying on story over challenge is a dangerous thing.

Nijhazer wrote:

Let's say you run in a marathon, and at the end, you get a medal. Even if you run ten marathons in a year, each of those medals is going to mean a lot to you, because you worked your ass off for them. Mr. Andritch even posts pictures on the site at the end of the year to prove that you no longer have an ass. If I run my measly three miles and I get the same medal, that is going to diminish the feeling of accomplishment you get from running the marathon.

This logic is flawed, I think.

First off: The fact that someone lowered the bar and gave you the same medal they gave someone who ran eight times as far as you doesn't diminish the fact that the other guy still ran eight times as far as you. He knows he really earned it, and you know you didn't. The fact that some functionary decided to make you feel better about yourself by giving you a medal you didn't earn only cheapens true accomplishment if self esteem is wholly created by exterior sources. Contrary to what some professional educators seem to think, this is not so.

Second, does this mean you object to the fact that, say, Guitar Hero has an variable difficulty? I finished GH1 and GH2 on normal and never touched hard, let alone expert. I unlocked all the same songs that Elysium unlocked, and I can legitimately say that I beat the story mode. Does that cheapen the fact that Elysium completed the game on Expert?

Games are, first and foremost, entertainment. People who are interested in enjoying that entertainment shouldn't be shut out because the game is too hard. The option should be there for novices, casual players, or people who just suck at games (and I'm afraid I must raise my hand on this count) to enjoy video games, just as the option should be there for people who are looking for a challenge.

Nijhazer wrote:

The system that we have had in place for years now has been very effective: Developers present you with a challenge, and you as the player work to overcome it. In order to overcome the challenge, you may have to improve your skills, and this will require a time investment; but once you do overcome the challenge, it will be all the more satisfying as a result. If you decide that you don't want to make that investment, then you stop playing, and find another game that is more to your liking, because there are plenty of games out there for every kind of gamer. I enjoyed the hell out of Braid, because it gave me that sense of satisfaction that I crave whenever I realized the solution to one of its puzzles; but I can respect that not every gamer is going to want to take the time to figure out the puzzle on his own. What I can't respect is the notion that this degree of challenge should be considered bad game design.

I don't believe that's what anyone on the podcast actually said, but I'll leave it to them to defend their own words. Meanwhile, I've highlighted the word I have a problem with here.

Gaming, to me, is a hobby. A particularly frivolous one at that (hobby carpenters, for example, actually make something useful. Hobby car mechanics save money on repairs and oil changes. We, as gamers, produce nothing but the occasional good time-- which is enough for us.) The second a hobby starts to feel like work, what's the point of it? Here on this site we have jobs already. When you start treating gaming like a job you end up one of those joyless critics that can't squeeze a drop of fun out of anything that's not perfection on a disc.

I'm not saying that games shouldn't be challenging, but I don't see why it's a bad thing that the level of challenge be regulated by the player. It's like saying that DVDs shouldn't have subtitles in other languages (the creators of the movie intended it to be understood in their native language, after all) or that cars should only have two speeds. Personally, I'd rather be able to share an experience with someone who is more or less skilled than I am. My daughter, for example, is not yet 2 years old. When she gets old enough to play, I'll be introducing her to some games-- we have a gamecube set aside for her. I'm sure she won't be as skilled as I am, but why should she have to march into the digital meat grinder just because I can play Viewtiful Joe on Adult?

Oh, and one last thing: If a significant number of the players of a game complain of something being too hard, then chances are it actually is bad game design. There's a fine line between challenging and broken.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

One thing I absolutely do not want to see is a lot of development in "tragic games," though. If I'm going to spend six, eight, twenty hours stepping into the shoes of a character, there better dang well be some kind of payoff at the end other than a big flipped bird. Telling me to solve puzzles, avoid perils and survive dangers only to throw up the equivalent of a line of text at the end saying "...and everything you just did was for nothing" is not something I want. Maybe other people do, but somehow I doubt it's a big market.

You bring up an interesting point that I've been exploring lately, myself. There are very few video games that are tragedies while tragedy is commonplace in all other narrative art forms. Plays like King Lear, novels like Absalom, Absalom, and movies like The Godfather are built around the tragic downfall of a character or characters. Television has shied away from tragic endings to its series, but individual episodes and story arcs are frequently tragic.

Video games, meanwhile, have resisted tragedy because in addition to being a narrative art form they are also games with all of the attendant expectations of success and failure. When a character in a novel fails to save his beloved wife, it's a tragedy. When your goalie fails you make that one extra save, there's no tragedy in that; you just lose. Video games have shied away from tragedy because in most cases a tragic ending for the characters is a failure on the part of the player. You can enjoy King Lear without necessarily wanting to be King Lear. In a video game, you are King Lear, and almost no one wants to fail.

I bought SOASE boxed via an online order through Stardock, since I wanted more of the money to go to the developer (and I really like boxed games).

The thing that steamed me a bit, however, was that I paid over $60 for the collector's boxed copy (after shipping), whereas the new release was $54 (after taxes!) via Best Buy! I don't expect the game to cost (that much) less if I buy it directly, but costing MORE upon release than the exact same thing in a store (which of course takes its cut) makes me feel a bit cheated.

Then again, it IS an excellent game

I think you misread us on a number of points Nijhazer, especially on our expectations in general.

- I've stated multiple times that the ease of play in the latest Prince of Persia is disappointing on a number of fronts and the original Game Cube version is superior in the sense of giving challenge and the tools to overcome them without being overbearing.

- In the past when we've talked about Ninja Gaiden the question of difficulty is often due to bad game design. Exploding ninja stars coming from off screen and fighting poor camera controls (also mentioned in relation to the difference between Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy) is difficult because it's flawed. Has nothing to do with being a challenge of skill.

- I don't think I can ever be convinced that a mainstream game created for a wide variety of people would be well served in not having multiple layers of difficulty and options to make puzzles easier. Making a game too difficult without any recourse is no better than making it too easy is in my opinion. Puzzles are typically a fail state situation. You beat them and move on or you're stuck for good. Not giving the player a way to move forward if he/she just can't get it either through an optional hint or some other mechanism would be poor design. Period.

There's no across-the-board philosophy at play here. Every game is unique in its level of difficulty and I think you'll typically find us down on it if the difficulty is due to a design flaw (poor controls, cameras, obtuse puzzles, etc.) rather than a challenge that can be overcome with skill and determination. I think rabbit was pretty clear that it wasn't a knock against Braid that the puzzles were challenging aside from one or two of them. He just couldn't overcome them, so he used a walkthrough to move on.

I think doubtingthomas makes a number of good points there. I don't need to re-hash them.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

You bring up an interesting point that I've been exploring lately, myself. There are very few video games that are tragedies while tragedy is commonplace in all other narrative art forms. Plays like King Lear, novels like Absalom, Absalom, and movies like The Godfather are built around the tragic downfall of a character or characters. Television has shied away from tragic endings to its series, but individual episodes and story arcs are frequently tragic.

Video games, meanwhile, have resisted tragedy because in addition to being a narrative art form they are also games with all of the attendant expectations of success and failure. When a character in a novel fails to save his beloved wife, it's a tragedy. When your goalie fails you make that one extra save, there's no tragedy in that; you just lose. Video games have shied away from tragedy because in most cases a tragic ending for the characters is a failure on the part of the player. You can enjoy King Lear without necessarily wanting to be King Lear. In a video game, you are King Lear, and almost no one wants to fail.

I have nothing much to add, I just wanted to quote you because you're so right.

I wonder if it has something to do with the time investment. You mention TV shows tend to not end tragically, just as video games don't. That might have something to do with the fact that the typical consumer invests significant time into a TV show or game.

Consider the travesty of the ending of Quantum Leap, for example. After four years of watching Sam and Al cavort through history, we come to the final episode and find out that... Sam never gets to go home. I dang near threw a brick at my TV at that.

Similarly, a lot of people have complained of the ending in Fallout 3. I can't say whether it disappointed me, because I haven't reached it yet. But chances are anyone playing Fallout 3 put a lot of hours into the game, exploring, grinding, performing fetch quests, etc. There's at least a solid work-week of stuff to do in that game, and I'm sure people logged several dozen hours over that. Then they get to the ending, and it's not what they expected. So they voice their displeasure.

Interestingly, some of the same people really liked Gravity Bone's ending, which from what I surmise based on half-read comments (I'm checking the F3 thread, but trying to avoid spoilers), is much worse than the ending of Fallout 3 (I don't know if your character in Fallout 3 is killed at the end, but even if he is, the character made whatever impact on the wastelands that the player wanted him to make. Even if the main quest ending is lousy, I can take solace in the other storylines that I closed while on my way to the main quest.) So what gives? Is it because the player only invested 20 minutes in the character, rather than a hundred hours? Is it because one was free and therefore there was no expectation of it being good, while the other one used a significant portion of a C-note?

Certis wrote:

I think doubtingthomas makes a number of good points there. I don't need to re-hash them.

That is so sigged.

Stupid power outage. It'd be nice if Itunes remembered where you left off when the electricity dies.

When it comes to platformers, I don't think you guys are giving yourselves enough credit. How long have you been playing videogames? Over 25 years now, I'm guessing? I bet you moniez that if you do anything for 25 years of your life, you'll get better at it. Not all platformers are getting easier. You're just getting better. While your kids may startle you with their own skill at gaming, hasn't there been a time or two where they've had to hand the controller to you and ask you to get through it for them? I bet you.

Arovin wrote:

What is Rabbitcon?

A big sleepover at Rabbits house with a bunch of people from the site. He just likes to have people over and they come all year long. Or so I understand.

Good show.

One comment regarding game difficulty.
God save me from "No gamer left behind" games-for-babies crap.
If you need to finish something, read a book.
Now I'm not saying games should be needlessly hard, but dumbing down kills alot of what would otherwise be fantastic games. Could you imagine "Mount and Blade" being easier or simpler? Sure, it could be. It's called Dynasty Warriors. Who wants that? No one.

Certis wrote:
DudleySmith wrote:

I think that Certis has missed some Knothole Island content. There are three major quests on the island, and you have to leave the island to trigger them. This isn't really made obvious, but when you go back to Bowerstone, the next quest will be activated. The second and third quests are not very different from the one you've already done, but the shrines are built around a different weather theme.

So it's probably 90 minutes rather than 30. I don't know whether that'll change your opinion of its value for money though.

Are the insides of the shrines much different as far as experience with the first one goes? I can't say I'd be super excited about doing that same style dungeon area with those "puzzles" two more times.

More of the same. I didn't like the cullis gate puzzles either. There are some unfun examples in the second two shrines, I'm afraid. They are timing puzzles, really. They didn't take me as long as the one in the first shrine, though. I mean, I was only stuck on the first one for 5 minutes or so, but it was quite a long 5 minutes.

A few comments that need to be said but don't necessarily need to be e-mailed.

1) If you want to make it easier to distinguish who is who, say eachother's names more often. Radio Talk Shows usually do this. Try not to rely on the word "you." Speaking of word-reliance...

2) The word "game" is a noun, not an adjective. As such, you should not use it as a descriptive term for games. =) You don't have to say "It was a game for the masses," when you can say "It was for the masses."

3) LOTR: Conquest is fun but lacks depth, and IMO doesn't warrant a purchase once you see the flaws in its online component. It is limited to 16 players per game (despite advertising the whole "Its a WAR!" idea) and lacks balance between classes (Mages are able to kill every class if played well, while other classes have direct Rock-Paper-Scissors style counters)

I apologize if this ends up coming up later in your discussion, but I had to pause the podcast to get this out so I wouldn't be distracted by the thought.

EA failed big this year, but it wasn't because of the recession, it was because of poor management and marketing. Every executive in the world wants to find a scapegoat, and it's a lot easier to say the declining economy is at fault when you under-perform. When they talk about users gathering around the "top 5", they may want to compare that data with the data of how many games are being released during the fall from year to year.

If you release a game like Mirrors Edge against Gears of War 2, it's not going to sell. If they had just adjusted their schedules and marketing tactics (it couldn't be cheaper to get advertisement these days as the industry collapses), they could have pushed that game with tons of momentum in Q1 or Q2.

The recession didn't stop Blizzard from setting a record of most games sold in a 24 hour period in November, why should it be blamed for mediocre games selling poorly in the fall?

Also, I strongly believe that the only gaming market that will be truly hit hard by this economic situation is the Wii. That's a luxury item (though it's cheap), the rest of the industry is a cheap escape. Layoffs to development teams right now are more for posturing to keep investors happy more than any real need to cut the fat.

I'm disappointed that Mr. Sands didn't bust out, "I wanna Zune you up."

If you release a game like Mirrors Edge against Gears of War 2, it's not going to sell. If they had just adjusted their schedules and marketing tactics (it couldn't be cheaper to get advertisement these days as the industry collapses), they could have pushed that game with tons of momentum in Q1 or Q2.

I'm pretty sure they can't just throw up their hands and abandon the holiday season. The issue was not scheduling, the issue was competitiveness, and let's be honest -- it's damn hard to launch new IPs in a season like the one we just saw.

I'm not saying there wasn't management errors, but I think you're on the wrong track here. Mirror's Edge just wouldn't have done the same business in February that it did last year, even if it did get eclipsed by a GOW2. The idea that a game like ME could have been successful outside the holiday season is a fallacy.

The recession didn't stop Blizzard from setting a record of most games sold in a 24 hour period in November, why should it be blamed for mediocre games selling poorly in the fall?

Actually, you're making EA's point about the top 5 syndrome. The point being - yes, well recognized brands will continue to sell well, but the recession is hitting the middle of the road games. You can't look for the dip in the curve by examining the extremes.

Also, I strongly believe that the only gaming market that will be truly hit hard by this economic situation is the Wii.

I hate to totally disagree again, but I'd argue the _exact_ opposite. Look for the Wii (low price point, broad appeal, casual market friendly, kid focused, softcore approach) to be the system that is totally unaffected by the downturn.

I liked the comments about the Fable II DLC "puzzles" - I also found it annoying for the same reasons. No creativity required, just memorizing where the orbs are and hoping you hit it fast enough. I felt like the game was playing "keep away" with me - and what they were keeping from was getting on with story already!

Sensical wrote:

...hasn't there been a time or two where they've had to hand the controller to you and ask you to get through it for them? I bet you.

I ended up handing the controller to Kepheus after about two dozen tries at the Fable II DLC "puzzle". I couldn't manage to hit the last two orbs in enough time.

I've been gaming regularly now for a couple of years and I have yet to develop the quickness required for time based tasks (I'm 33, maybe it's all down hill from here and I'll never be any quicker).

I do enjoy true puzzles though where they require logic and thinking - those are fun even when I fail the first few times at figuring it out.

No love for boardgamegeek.com? Scott of Board Games with Scott is to be found there along with every single piece of information about every single boardgame known to man.*

It can be difficult to navigate at first — but chock full of boardgame goodness and friendly people happy to share information about their hobby/obsession.

*slight exaggeration, but only slight

Hey, I'm the "narratological" guy. I was secretly hoping I would spur some slight discussion on Pathologic, but since it's a pretty obscure European game, I won't blame anyone if they haven't played it.

RockPaperShotgun wrote an excellent article on it, and I think the descriptor "the single best and most important game that you’ve never played" is fairly accurate.

It's just one of those very unique games that can really affect you emotionally if you let it. Certainly a good candidate for the whole "broadening horizons" experiment. I can't recommend it enough

Interesting; it goes in the hat.

lostlobster wrote:

No love for boardgamegeek.com?

Only because I'm a moron. We've talked abotu it a lot, but I thought the question was really about podcasts. Derk and Aldie used to do one (geekspeak) a long time ago, but as far as I know gave it up? Possible I misinterpreted the question, but really I was thinking podcasts, and Gamingreport slipped in because I think of it as "news," which for some reason I never think of on the geek.

Trachalio wrote:

Up here in Canada, EB Games isn't the only major retailer that sells used games. Recently Futureshop started buying games back and selling them used:

Hum, Futureshops' stocks of used games are laughable at best. I think the customers are not catching on. Nobody ever thought of that place as buying used games. They may give up before anyone even notices.

In addition to the missing boardgamegeek reference (how I miss the incredibly excellent GeekSpeak, which is what got me into podcasts), Scott is part of the On Board Games podcast.

And there's the Dice Tower podcast, along with many many others that can be found with the expected search terms.

Hakkesshu wrote:

Hey, I'm the "narratological" guy. I was secretly hoping I would spur some slight discussion on Pathologic, but since it's a pretty obscure European game, I won't blame anyone if they haven't played it.

RockPaperShotgun wrote an excellent article on it, and I think the descriptor "the single best and most important game that you’ve never played" is fairly accurate.

It's just one of those very unique games that can really affect you emotionally if you let it. Certainly a good candidate for the whole "broadening horizons" experiment. I can't recommend it enough :)

I read through this article a few months back. While I was fascinated by the article itself and the game it described, I was glad I was experiencing it vicariously. It doesn't sound like much fun to play at all. Personally I'd not go quite that far into broadening your horizons on that one, Ely.

Nah, maybe not. I don't think it's quite as ruthless as the article makes it out to be, but it's pretty hard to find, anyway. Still, I recommend the article! I've always found the subject of negative emotions in videogaming quite fascinating.

Perhaps I'll even construct another e-mail on the topic at some point!

Hakkesshu wrote:

Hey, I'm the "narratological" guy. I was secretly hoping I would spur some slight discussion on Pathologic, but since it's a pretty obscure European game, I won't blame anyone if they haven't played it.

RockPaperShotgun wrote an excellent article on it, and I think the descriptor "the single best and most important game that you’ve never played" is fairly accurate.

It's just one of those very unique games that can really affect you emotionally if you let it. Certainly a good candidate for the whole "broadening horizons" experiment. I can't recommend it enough :)

I read the entire article over at RockPaperShotgun and I was a bit speechless. I must play this game. I've looked all over the place, Amazon, eBay, EBGames, Game.co.uk, etc and only found it at an exhorbitant price

Then I checked on Direct2Drive and it's there. For 14.99$. Buy!

Keep up with the financials ans NDPs, I appreciate hearing how things stand and what people think about the state of the economy. With the fall of 1up your there really isn't any podcasts that take this on anymore, or least I don't know any.

I think you might be surprised how many people care about this information, being primarily adult gamers, most of us are interested in gameing's influence back on society and 'where the money is' is a definate way of tracking this.

Sorry for any spelling misshaps, this is on my phone and the only internet I have atm, and I figured if I don't comment now I wouldn't later

Hi, guys. Just listening to the tail end of the podcast and had to comment the following:

While I'm glad there are awesome puzzle games for those people who love or formerly loved sitting down on a Sunday afternoon with a 3-4 hour jigsaw, I hate puzzle games. So, when I hear about a "great" game that has a heavy emphasis on puzzles, that game gets scratched off my list. When I play games, I'm looking for an interactive experience where *I* control the pause button, not the game. Don't get me wrong: twenty-five years out of college, I still score in the top ranks of online logic tests...but that's not remotely the experience that I am seeking in my video games.

So, when you see a game that has *some* puzzles (versus a "puzzle game") with an "opt-out" or "hint" option like you described, please emphasize those features to us. There are a lot of games that I haven't purchased, simply because I knew that I would have to interrupt my experience to google or hit a cheat/FAQ site to jump those hurdles, while the rest of the game was otherwise interesting to me.

Again, you people who love puzzle games, I LOVE YOU. Much happy consternation, contemplation and reflection to you. Regardless, those games that happen to include some puzzles -- that are not "Puzzle Games" -- that give people like me an "out" and the ability to enjoy the rest of the content virtually uninterrupted, I'd definitely like to know about them.

Just started listening to the podcast for this week. Just wanted to drop a note that I think you're selling the Fable II DLC a little short. Completing everything, so far as the questline, I believe takes a good amount more time (at least an hour or an hour and a half) to complete. With me getting into the side stuff heavily and completing the three part cycle of the weather quest, I spent about 4 hours on it with one character.

Not to say this should change anyone's opinion too dramatically. But I think its a more complete package, as DLC, than you give it credit for

I found you guys on iTunes a few months ago and I really enjoy the show!

Totally agree with the voice mail that complained about voice over and other "advances" in gaming technology.