Conference Call

GWJ Conference Call Episode 124

Dawn of War 2, Men of War, F.E.A.R 2, Street Fighter IV, Empire Total War Demo, Special Guest Shawn Elliott, Innovation, Your Emails, Voicemails and more!

This week 2K Boston's Shawn Elliott joins us to catch up on all the games he's playing, his Second Life adventures and a bevy of other interesting topics! 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

"PodunkStump" (Ian Dorsch) - 0:57:19
"Los Pistoleros" (Ian Dorsch) - 1:26:24

Comments

When you guys discussed the stereotypes of games form Japan, you skipped Nintendo(as Shawn pointed out). That's not good, but is understandable, because most of us would qualify as hardcore gamers, and Nintendo doesn't really make "hardcore" games. But that just made me wonder about what stereotypes they would have about our games in that similar context.

Does Japan make RPG's than we make shooters? Let's assume it's equal(I have no idea). What is it that makes shooters more appealing to us than RPG's? Will this trend last, or is it just a fad?

Developers should be asking these questions. As more parts of the world gain access to gaming, we have to look beyond our cultural biases, and be critical of gaming cliches. If not, American developers could possibly end up in a similar place as Japan in now, wondering what the hell happened.

I think that you can certainly see trends in the output from various regions, allowing for exceptions and abhorrations for the pattern.

When I think of Japanese games released in the US, I think of:

- Effeminate male characters
- A focus on young characters
- A close adherence to video game genres that evolved from 8/16-bit console systems
- Jugs

When I think of American games, I think of:

- Bland armored space heroes
- First person shooters
- A surplus of dialog barked at you by angry sergeants, regardless of era or appropriateness
- Guns

These are just off the cuff images that pop into my brain when thinking of these two particular countries output. Would this qualify as stereotyping? It would be fairly easy to print out a list of games which support every assertation. Then again, it would be fairly easy to do the same disproving them...

So Dawn of War 2 is like an SRPG but played in real time?
An RTSRPG, if you will?

Why did you recommend Steam for DoW2? The disc version, which one has to register on Steam anyway, is more than £10 cheaper. That trumps any supposed inconvinience for using a disc.

EDIT:

Cory is absolutely right about the pad being fine. I use a stick, but whenever I'm playing someone on my friends list and he bitches about the pad, I change controllers and play with the pad. I don't have any problems and I'm competitive. Do I do Focus Attacks and such? No. However, I'm not using them on the stick yet, either.

Also, I think the chap from 2k was slightly off target when he said you need a pad to be competitive against the friend who'd had always played the SFIV games. That kind of person will be trouble no matter what game you play and what controller you have, simply because they've put more time into gaming in that genre.

JSUMAN wrote:

When you guys discussed the stereotypes of games form Japan, you skipped Nintendo(as Shawn pointed out). That's not good, but is understandable, because most of us would qualify as hardcore gamers, and Nintendo doesn't really make "hardcore" games. But that just made me wonder about what stereotypes they would have about our games in that similar context.

Does Japan make RPG's than we make shooters? Let's assume it's equal(I have no idea). What is it that makes shooters more appealing to us than RPG's? Will this trend last, or is it just a fad?

Developers should be asking these questions. As more parts of the world gain access to gaming, we have to look beyond our cultural biases, and be critical of gaming cliches. If not, American developers could possibly end up in a similar place as Japan in now, wondering what the hell happened.

If Nintendo's newest first party release isn't hardcore, I'd like your idea of what is, exactly.

1Dgaf wrote:

Why did you recommend Steam for DoW2? The disc version, which one has to register on Steam anyway, is more than £10 cheaper. That trumps any supposed inconvinience for using a disc.

It's (effectively) the same price in the US. Amazon vs. Steam.

Despite Dow 2 being Steam authorized, does it allow you to spawn a second client for local LAN multiplay. My son and I had fun playing each other in DoW 1 on our local LAN because it allowed you to install the MP client multiple times within that local LAN.

I can't see myself ever buying two copies of a game for such local play, so I might as well pass on this one despite my hopes for some Orc and Tyranid battling

I'm a big fan of STEAM though, so I guess this is just the changing times.

I've got to say, I've heard a bunch of discussion about Fear 2, but Shawn's description actually made the game sound interesting. I understood the tag "serviceable" that kept getting thrown around here and other places, but Shawn made serviceable sound sexy. This isn't a knock on anyone else, but just one of those things that makes me stop and go, "sh*t, yeah, man, I forgot just how much I loved GFW Radio."

Irongut wrote:

Despite Dow 2 being Steam authorized, does it allow you to spawn a second client for local LAN multiplay. My son and I had fun playing each other in DoW 1 on our local LAN because it allowed you to install the MP client multiple times within that local LAN.

Probably not, because all matchmaking and such is done through Games for Windows Live, and not Steam.

Which sucks when you're trying to do that, but still... Achievements, mmmmmm.

The 360 d-pad mod thing is true

To get better accuracy, players will give the d-pad a little more room to register a direction press by making a very minor modification to the raised ring encircling the d-pad. Basically they remove a little of the ring, so that the d-pad has more room to move out when you press in a direction. It's supposed to really improve its functionality, though I havent dont myself. The X-acto knife mentioned on the call is probably a very clean way to do it (carefully) by removing a bit of the inner side of the ring. In a more extreme example, I've heard of folks using a dremel to grind down the ring itself, and though that might give a very functional result, I can't imagine it would be nice looking.

It seems the mod is not a big deal as it doesnt require opening your controller. I haven't done it myself. I only mention it because though it was laughed off on the call, its a pretty common mod , particularly for previous fighters that were released, though I suppose any d-pad heavy arcade titles like a Pac Man would benefit.

There's been a persistent rumor that Dawn of War II is headed to the at least the 360. Do you all think this one could be the RTS that actually works on a console?

Al wrote:

There's been a persistent rumor that Dawn of War II is headed to the at least the 360. Do you all think this one could be the RTS that actually works on a console?

Not unless they slow it down. While you have four squads in sp, you have a bunch of abilities. It's all about micromanaging the direction/placement of your units and their abilities.

Then again, if you have four squads and you assign them to a direction on the d-pad, I suppose you could map special abilities to buttons and whatnot.

Multiplayer wouldn't translate, I don't think. I think a unit spamming rts is actually easier to translate to a console than DoW would be.

I'm also willing to admit that developers are smarter than I am when it comes to designing games, so . . . .

garion333 wrote:

I've got to say, I've heard a bunch of discussion about Fear 2, but Shawn's description actually made the game sound interesting. I understood the tag "serviceable" that kept getting thrown around here and other places, but Shawn made serviceable sound sexy.

Not to sound like a fanboy on a YOU AM BIAS!!! rant but I feel that F.E.A.R. 2 is getting kind of whacked for being a good shooter that doesn't do anything new in the Enthusiast Press when the same could be said and written about every FPS that has come out the last three years.

Halo 3 is more of the same and even looks the part. COD4 (as much as I love it) is still largely COD2 with automatic weapons, perks, and unlocks running at 60FPS. Gears of War 2 is basically more Gears of War (which isn't a bad thing). And for having played the demo and read the reviews Killzone 2 sounds essentially like a COD game with Space Nazis and a dumb control scheme. That's all fine. 10 out of 10! A plus ! the reviewers cry.

But F.E.A.R. 2 is basically more of the same and OH MY GOD THAT'S THE WORST THING EVER! Where's the innovation! This is just more of the same! Oh how horrible!

Um, okay? So its fine for Halo 3 to be Halo 2 with somewhat better graphics, but when F.E.A.R. 2 is more F.E.A.R. then it is a sin against all humanity. Sure seems like one of these oddball double standards that I can't quite pin down the logic of. Not that I really come to expect logical, or editorial consistency from the Enthusiast Press.

Fear 2 is scary in the capacity that any game where you're a bad-ass with bad-ass guns can be. That is, not very.

Still, the atmosphere works, and the visuals are appriciated.

During that whole discussion of why developers should just let everyone follow through on every idea everyone has and turn them into $5 or $10 download games, and pursue a business model that is akin to Kindergarten when the teacher tells everyone to grab a busted ass musical instrument from the moldy box and "play what they feel", I was reminded of a simple fact that most Creatives (myself included) forget.

Ideas Are Cheap. At least when you are a Creative working in a Creative field. I have a hundred ideas a day for stories and scripts. Hell, at this rate I've probably forgotten the plot to the World's Greatest Screenplay a hundred times over.

We tend to get wrapped up in this notion that all good ideas must be used and it is a tragedy, an affront to God and Man, if they get ignored. This is easy to understand. When you are a writer, or an artist, or a musician, or anyone in a creative field you really do think every idea you have is the greatest thing ever and the people that stomp on your Great Idea at the Tuesday meeting are ignorant spawns of the devil who fail at every turn to recognize your genius.

But the truth of the matter Good ideas are cheap and quite common and aren't always useful in the context of whatever you are doing.

larrymadill wrote:

But the truth of the matter Good ideas are cheap and quite common and aren't always useful in the context of whatever you are doing.

Yup, it's in the execution, but damned if good ideas don't feel good.

"Same leader-guy and his dudes"? Nice Certis...

The one drawback to Sean's invention is that when someone tries to pickpocket you, they'll instead be goosing you.

larrymadill wrote:

Not to sound like a fanboy on a YOU AM BIAS!!! rant but I feel that F.E.A.R. 2 is getting kind of whacked for being a good shooter that doesn't do anything new in the Enthusiast Press when the same could be said and written about every FPS that has come out the last three years.

Halo 3 is more of the same and even looks the part. COD4 (as much as I love it) is still largely COD2 with automatic weapons, perks, and unlocks running at 60FPS. Gears of War 2 is basically more Gears of War (which isn't a bad thing). And for having played the demo and read the reviews Killzone 2 sounds essentially like a COD game with Space Nazis and a dumb control scheme. That's all fine. 10 out of 10! A plus ! the reviewers cry.

But F.E.A.R. 2 is basically more of the same and OH MY GOD THAT'S THE WORST THING EVER! Where's the innovation! This is just more of the same! Oh how horrible!

I like the cut of your jib, Madill.

I had to chuckle to myself in this empty office, listening to the GWJ crew talking about sterotypes in games from different cultures. So careful not to offend, so careful to be PC. When one of you blurts out "japanese role playing games have weird stories, ok!?" it made me spit coffee on my keyboard laughing so hard. Well played, sir.

I think the game Shawn was talking about was Closure, the platformer where things only exist where you can see.

Can someone point me to a thread or site where they show those sketchups for old games with new graphics? Thanks.

Even though Rob weeps every time I say this, I enjoyed the two hour podcast; however, I've had to start taking notes while listening so that I can remember what to respond to.

My Notes wrote:

scarcity and fear

I'm not sure that mainstream games that place an emphasis on resource rationing are disappearing entirely, but you're right that there are fewer of them around. BioShock, Silent Hill Homecoming, and Resident Evil 5 all made ammunition scarcity a game feature to varying degrees of success. I suspect that there will always be games that limit your resources because that's seen as one of the fastest ways to amp up a game's difficulty and, thereby, its tension and level of fear.

What's interesting about ammunition rationing in particular, however, is that it's an extremely difficult balancing issue that I haven't yet seen done well. The crux of it is this: if you want to limit the amount of ammunition available to the player then you need to provide an ammunition-less alternative so that the player can still progress through the game; however, you cannot make the ammunition-less alternative so appealing that it becomes more useful than the weapons that require ammunition. Many survival horror games ration your ammunition but leave you with a pathetic melee option; Silent Hill 2's wooden plank and lead pipe, or Resident Evil's knife, are nearly worthless alternatives to those games' pistols and shotguns. Silent Hill 4, meanwhile, went too far in the opposite direction: some of the easy-to-acquire melee weapons are so much more useful than the firearms that it becomes pointless to cart around the guns and their bullets.

There was a great post about atmosphere and difficulty in horror games at Chris' Survival Horror Quest. I highly recommend it as it examines some of the reasons why horror games use things like rationed resources and sparse checkpoints to increase a player's feelings of fear and dread.

My Notes wrote:

fighting games way complicated

That about sums it up. All I could think of while Cory and Shawn Elliott were talking about Street Fighter IV was that I will never be able to wrap my puny brain and sloth-like reflexes around a game like that. I'm glad those games exist, and I'm glad that people like them, but they've always seemed to me to be the hardest of hardcore genres, and I feel like their conversation reinforced that view for me.

My Notes wrote:

iterative innovation

Shawn Elliott's comments about innovation in games were very interesting to me because they tracked nicely with some of my own thoughts lately. Companies that make larger games generally take smaller risks, choosing to add individual features to an established mode or method of gameplay rather than creating something entirely different. Rather than reinvent shooters from the ground up, companies will add a handful of features to their new shooter because the risk of turning off potential shooter customers is much, much smaller if you can point at the rest of the game and say, "This is just like what you know." What this leads to, however, is a feeling that genres have stagnated. Some of the furor surrounding Killzone 2 has illustrated this nicely—as does the dismissal of games like Fracture or Lost Planet as tech. demos—where there's a feeling that its just another shooter regardless of whatever new features have been added. By being very conservative in their attempts at innovation, companies are opening themselves up to the feeling that their game is simply more of the same. However, I imagine that while gamers are looking at a game like Thief: The Dark Project as an example of wholesale innovation paying off, companies are looking at flops like Alone in the Dark (2008).

Which ties into this:

larrymadill wrote:

Not to sound like a fanboy on a YOU AM BIAS!!! rant but I feel that F.E.A.R. 2 is getting kind of whacked for being a good shooter that doesn't do anything new in the Enthusiast Press when the same could be said and written about every FPS that has come out the last three years.

Halo 3 is more of the same and even looks the part. COD4 (as much as I love it) is still largely COD2 with automatic weapons, perks, and unlocks running at 60FPS. Gears of War 2 is basically more Gears of War (which isn't a bad thing). And for having played the demo and read the reviews Killzone 2 sounds essentially like a COD game with Space Nazis and a dumb control scheme. That's all fine. 10 out of 10! A plus ! the reviewers cry.

But F.E.A.R. 2 is basically more of the same and OH MY GOD THAT'S THE WORST THING EVER! Where's the innovation! This is just more of the same! Oh how horrible!

Um, okay? So its fine for Halo 3 to be Halo 2 with somewhat better graphics, but when F.E.A.R. 2 is more F.E.A.R. then it is a sin against all humanity. Sure seems like one of these oddball double standards that I can't quite pin down the logic of. Not that I really come to expect logical, or editorial consistency from the Enthusiast Press.

My theory is that to, as you put it, the Enthusiast Press, features like Call of Duty 4's "automatic weapons, perks, and unlocks," Gears of War 2's Horde mode, and Halo 3's Forge actually are new enough for those games to not be considered merely serviceable or more of the same. The Enthusiast Press largely seems to view innovation in games through a similar lens as game companies: smaller innovations can make for a fresh gaming experience when an outside observer would find little to distinguish them. Gamers in general are connoisseurs while your average person isn't going to be able to tell much of a difference between Halo and Half-Life; likewise, game critics and commentators will likely see a greater difference between Gears of War and Gears of War 2 than less involved observers might.

My Notes wrote:

cultural differences in narrative/gameplay transparency

Certis talked about what is, to me, the largest difference between Japanese and North American developers: the emphasis on choice in narrative. However, I think there's also a divide in how narrative is presented. North American developers seem to be moving away from cutscenes as a method of storytelling, preferring to convey the game's narrative through scripted but still interactive gameplay events or through narration that overlaps the gameplay in progress (e.g., audio logs); Japanese developers, meanwhile, seem to be sticking with cinematic cutscenes between gameplay sessions as the primary means of storytelling. Consequently, or perhaps causally, Japanese games seem to have fewer "Everyman" protagonists that are passive observers of stories in progress; it's a lot easier to create a rounded, individual player character when that character can respond and interact with other characters and events in ways outside the confines of the game's normal mechanics.

I bought SF4 for PS3 on the strength of its d-pad, yet I still find it impossible to do Honda's torpedo move without accidentally jumping. Nothing was wrong with the simple + shaped d-pad so why the circular 360 one and the separated PS3 one? Do Nintendo have some sort of patent on +?

adam.greenbrier wrote:

I'm not sure that mainstream games that place an emphasis on resource rationing are disappearing entirely, but you're right that there are fewer of them around. BioShock, Silent Hill Homecoming, and Resident Evil 5 all made ammunition scarcity a game feature to varying degrees of success.

Just want to add the Half-Life series to that list. Valve keep you seemingly on edge with ammo all the time, I wouldn't be surprised if they dynamically handle how much ammo comes out of each crate.

During the whole cheaper, smaller games, living with the big epic budget titles; Hellgate London and Mythos. Mythos was obviously the better of the two. What would the picture be like if Mythos were released and some of its ideas tested for Hellgate? Would people pay for fast travel? How many convenience items are sold? Instead they put all of the risks and ideas into a 50 million dollar Edsel.

Or going forward. Battlefield heroes as a test bed for tweaks in mainline battlefield titles. How a weapon or ability pans out

Hey guys, thanks for responding to my question on the podcast.

My aim in asking that question was to do something like what Shawn Elliot said, which is to more examine ourselves and our generalizations in labeling games, "Japanese" or "North American." Referring to a game as Japanese (in a way that implies more than its geographical location of birth) seems like sloppy analysis, but were are all guilty of it. We all label something, be it Japanese games, French film or British literature. This label, though useful in discussing games or other media in a cultural context, presents problems in that it becomes too easy to throw one game into one category based purely on the developer's native tongue. For instance, it is fair to say that Halo is an American game and one can see that through allusions to the grandeur of American-style militarism. It is unfair however to call Halo "American" simply because you shoot a gun and are a space marine.

I'll glad Mr. Elliot brought up my reason for asking the question. I would love to see some sort of scholarly article about cultural influence on games if anyone can point me in that direction. I feel like someone, somewhere has written an in-depth analysis of American Puritan heritage versus sex and violence in video games or something of the like in other cultural contexts.

Oh, and I like turtles. Just throwing that in there.

The example of resource management and scarcity creating fear and tension that always stands out in my mind is The Thing for the PC/PS2/Xbox. We'll never see a sequel, but the act of tying resources to the NPC's fear and trust meters and the constant danger of exposure to the Antarctic weather made the game exciting despite the linearity, the indescribably frustrating placement of save points, and the cheap deaths. Even the decision to make the NPCs unreliable partners worked for the game.

Also, thinking about my recent gaming experiences, Left 4 Dead has left me shaking with dread and anticipation more than once. The scarcity there doesn't constrain the ammo, but rather, the health. So you can be a space marine or a civilian survivor, and you can give both guns and endless ammunition, but the critical point is limiting the player's ability to survive and revive and carefully shepherding the player(s) through the scenario.

Can anyone remember the old raps Shawn Elliot used to do when he was on GFW. He should release an album, even if only in digital form. I know its a little weird but I use to actually rewind the old podcasts on my ancient ipod to listen to them, they were so funny. (I'm obviously not that computer literate or I'd simply cut out the audio into smaller clips).

Good times, but hey if GFW hadn't of died then I wouldn't have been looking for a new podcast and wouldn't have found GWJ. You guys rock!

THE 1 CONSOLE salutes Gamers With Jobs for another worthwhile listen!

It's always a treat to get Mr. Shawn Elliot's perspective as he adapts to his new role as a developer of commercial videogames. I think he rightly describes the mechanisms that exist to constrain and limit so-called "innovation". I agree that it is less a failing of the individual developer, and more just a natural product of the financial ties that bind studio, publisher, press & audience together. Basically, "innovation" represents a risk with dubious merits, unless you are operating on a business model built squarely upon it. It would seem that for every enthusiast who proclaims a thirst for the new there are three more with a preference for the tried and true.

As to why I am choosing to relegate "innovation" to the arm's-length confinement of quotation marks, allow me to explain: I think "innovation", specifically in the context of videogame design discussion, has become a bit of an empty buzzword. The way the word is used it seems to be a reference to tangible, describeable, sometimes unorthodox improvements made to existing, familiar systems. At other times, "innovation" occurs in conversation as a quantity, a unit of measure, or as some essential characteristic to which all electronic entertainment should aspire. While I sympathize with the sentiment, I find the significance placed upon this ephemereal and ill-defined catch-all descriptor can be a little awkward.

I suppose what this boils down to is: When reaching for an adjective to describe a worthwhile film, book, record or a lived experience, how often do you reach for "innovative" as a first choice?

Case in point, a topical conundrum: Something as fundamentally unfamiliar as Noby Noy Boy cannot easily be described as innovative, as it does not improve on a discernable system. Is Noby Noby Boy less innovative? Is it consequently less valuable?

Yet another conundrum, less topical: Admittedly, something as pioneering as Super Mario Bros can be described as innovative for a handful of reasons (not the least of which might be the authoritative introduction of 'side-scrolling' to the familiar 'platform' system). However to describe it solely in this narrow way, or to separate the "innovative" elements from the tight cohesion of craft, imagination & charm, seems to be a vulgar reduction (or a violent dismantling) of the entirety of the work. Is the concept of "innovation" a helpful tool for analysis? Is it a meaningful measure for evaluation?

THE 1 CONSOLE hereby recommends retiring the empty buzzword "innovation".

larrymadill wrote:

But F.E.A.R. 2 is basically more of the same and OH MY GOD THAT'S THE WORST THING EVER! Where's the innovation! This is just more of the same! Oh how horrible!

Um, okay? So its fine for Halo 3 to be Halo 2 with somewhat better graphics, but when F.E.A.R. 2 is more F.E.A.R. then it is a sin against all humanity. Sure seems like one of these oddball double standards that I can't quite pin down the logic of. Not that I really come to expect logical, or editorial consistency from the Enthusiast Press.

I kind of feel the same way. Personally, I actually was disappointed with F.E.A.R. 2 as a whole, because being a huge Monolith fan I expected them to take things to the next step and they seemed to feel fine treading water. But I still found it an enjoyable shooter, and as I mentioned in the official thread in the forums, it follows in the Valve sense of providing environmental clues within level design instead of the condescending overly-scripted "cinematic" events and huge glowing spots on a compass most devs seem to rely on nowadays. It's still fun and very well polished, but it seems like the general gaming press insists that you either need to be Gears of War 2 or Geometry Wars 2 in sense of scale and budget and if you're in-between you shouldn't even bother trying.

A good example of this is Eurogamer's reviews. Personally I like them, and I don't want to sound like some whiner who points out two different reviews by two different people and tries to claim a conspiracy theory or anything like that. But it kind of rubbed me the wrong way reading the reviews for F.E.A.R. 2 and Killzone 2 side by side. They both pretty much spend most of the time talking about how both games fail to do anything new and are merely competent at what they are, which makes it confusing that the conclusion on Killzone 2's review is claiming that in the end it's the fun experience that's important and that's why it's a stellar game, whereas F.E.A.R. 2 concludes with the reviewer practically telling Monolith that they should be embarrassed with themselves for releasing it, despite the former game having vastly superior time and resources to work with. It seems like if a game is AAA, then reviews are falling over themselves to apologize for even mentioning what's wrong with the game. Although considering the sh*tstorm that's raised by their audience any time an AAA game gets a score under 9.5, I'm not sure if I can blame them.

I understand that Halo 3 did make some interesting implementations, and in no way am I saying that it's a bad game, and I'm hoping Killzone 2 is fun too, but that doesn't forgive it's shortcomings, and it doesn't mean you need to condemn games that aren't operating with sky-high budgets for failing to make the same changes that they simply can't afford to do. If anything, these AAA games should be held to a much higher standard, because they have the ability to spend their money wisely and most don't. GTA IV has received endless praise, for instance, for spending their insane budgets on things like having a different voiceover for the same mission so when you repeat them they have a completely different script. It feels odd, though, since it just accentuates the fact that the whole reason that would be an issue to resolve in the first place is because they're still failing to put in place a forgiving checkpoint system. I sometimes wish that devs who put some huge thought into the player experience, like Monolith, would be able to have the kind of budget that games like Killzone 2 has, and maybe we actually would get something innovative out of it. Maybe that's just starry-eyed thinking.

Anyone else crack up listening to the Men of War voice acting?