GWJ Conference Call Episode 150

Conference Call

Wolfenstein, Shadow Complex, Spider, Special Guest Ken Levine, Do Lead Designers Matter Anymore?, Your Emails and more!

This week 2K Boston's Ken Levine joins us to celebrate our 150th episode! We talk about whether or not he's necessary, game design, rabbit's horrible, horrible taste in iPhone games and more! Thanks to Ian "Podunk" Dorsch for music from his work on Love. 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

"Love Trailer Soundtrack" (Ian Dorsch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 0:42:37
"Love Main Theme" (Ian Dorshch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 1:10:26

Comments

Byrne wrote:

I am not a pothead, and I don't have a basement.

Dorm room. Basement. Same idea.

Great show guys. This is probably the only podcast that I don't mind running long, especially with interesting guests. So, thanks for coming back Mr. Levine and see you in 50 weeks.

I'm in an apartment! I have to shave every morning! I'm a man!

I mentioned this in another thread, but it bears repeating: regarding the controversy about Shadow Complex and Orson Scott Card, keep in mind that Orson Scott Card was not involved in the production of the game, receives no royalties from the game, and does not own the Empire IP on which the game is based. The Empire IP was created and is owned by Epic Games/Chair Entertainment.

rabbit wrote:
Rat Boy wrote:

Oh, and rabbit, don't have your kid around when you listen to the patient interviews. Who knew the Riddler was such a sadist?

I don't think I'll be playing the GAME with him sitting next to me.

The game itself is definitely a very hardcore take on the Batman mythos very much in the vein of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (where the backstory of the asylum is lifted from). It's still a T game and doesn't go too far graphically like BioShock, but it's definitely not as restrained as the bulk of the comics and the animated series. I want to start hunting down patient files from the Joker just to hear how nuts he is.

What we consider to be bad voice acting is just as often decent voice acting with bad animations or poor blocking. Because we're given a visual anchor, a "person" who is speaking to us, it can be very distracting when that person doesn't move in a way that is believable (or doesn't move at all). With some games, if you can close your eyes and the acting seems better, it might be that the problem isn't entirely with the voice acting. For instance, the voice acting in Mass Effect and Oblivion aren't that bad, but they come across as laughable (the latter much more than the former) because the characters mostly stand around in rictus positions and make the same canned facial expressions again and again.

The best examples of voice acting in games I can think of are the caller's Half-Life 2 and System Shock 2. Interestingly, I found the voice acting in System Shock 2 to be less successful when the "ghosts" were speaking than when those same characters appeared in audio logs. The strange, stick-person character models (a by-product of the technology of the time, to an extent) removed some of the gravity from their lines.

I read the links that Chairman_Mao provided and was interested to find:[quote=The first line of the last paragraph]I believe good acting is good acting[/quote]

Ken Levine on the CC wrote:

Good voice acting is good.

The backlash to the boycott on Shadow Complex seems stranger to me than the boycott itself. Orson Scott Card, however good a writer he is (or was) has some pretty inflamatory views, depending on who you are. Reading his blog, he comes off as being somewhat right of, and more extreme than Sean Hannity. For alot of people, that's pretty abrasive. It's not just that he has these beliefs, it's that he's screaming them from the mountain tops. Is it hard to see why people who disagree would want to distance themselves from him in any way they could (keeping in mind that the only response most of us have is to not buy his books, since we're not all famous authors with popular blogs).

There was a forum discussion where someone from Chair weighed in on this topic, and more or less said that the valid response to Orson's loud excercising of free speech is to do the same in the opposite direction.

so far so good.

Then he said that boycotting the game was "not free speech" because it was a punitive action designed to deny the company money and not making any point that could be considered speech.

Is it just me, or does that demonstrate a massive and twisted sense of entitlement?
I really wonder just how much crosstalk between Orson's "personal beliefs", the makers of the game, and the game itself there is.

I think my short answer is that I have developed an instinctively negative reaction to the word boycott.

People toss it around with such impunity and recklessness that it's about as valuable as the word awesome. It's something more and more done out of petulance to the point that I think it has generally lost most of its usefulness. It's one thing to have once boycotted a company that abused its workers or hired child labor sweat shops abroad. It's something totally different to fire off a boycott because there's no LAN support in a game or you disagree with the political views of someone associated with the title only by a matter of degrees.

I'm not talking about making a personal decision to opt out of a purchase for whatever individual reason you have, but you totally lose me at what feels essentially like penalizing a product unless everyone prominently associated with the product shares your political beliefs. You might as well start making your clothes out of tree bark and sleeping under a handwoven hemp sheet in the forest. It's just so arbitrary as to be ridiculous.

It's like not hanging out with someone because their second cousin doesn't believe gay people should get married.

For alot of people, that's pretty abrasive.

It's just that the whole demonizing of people with contrary views and personalizing the debate has become totally ineffective. It's created a stalemate and this whole mentality, shared by a helluva a lot of people, of self-righteous indignation is boring me to death.

It's not an issue of rights. Obviously you and anyone else has the right to boycott whatever you feel is appropriate. I'm just saying that this, and most supposed boycotts these days, strike me as childish and passe.

Elysium wrote:

It's just that the whole demonizing of people with contrary views and personalizing the debate has become totally ineffective. It's created a stalemate and this whole mentality, shared by a helluva a lot of people, of self-righteous indignation is boring me to death.

It's not an issue of rights. Obviously you and anyone else has the right to boycott whatever you feel is appropriate. I'm just saying that this, and most supposed boycotts these days, strike me as childish and passe.

I love you, man.

Elysium:

Fair enough. I'll heartily agree with you that boycotting Left 4 dead 2 because it's coming out this year is stupid for fork-in-electrical-socket values of stupid. the term Boycott is extremely loaded and overused. Is there a different, concise way of saying "not support"?

I'm fairly on the fence about buying shadow complex or not. It looks like a fine game, but I don't know how much commitment I have for a metroid style game right now, etc... etc...

Along comes these factoids about the background of the game, the universe, and Orson's involvement. Obviously I have the right not to buy the game for that reason, or stupider ones such as: I don't like the lead programmer's mother's face.

So, I have the right to let this nudge me over the edge of not buying this game, but if I do, does it make me an ass? That's a serious question, not a rhetorical one.

If there's a political agenda in the game itself it's subtle to be sure, and most likely doesn't exist. That means this would be based entirely on Orson's affiliation with the project, and the fact that it takes place in the same universe that he writes his more recent stories in (which are fairly politically charged).

I guess it's the same question as, if Left Behind: Eternal Forces was a fantastic game, should we buy it?

"You must excuse me now, I have a hamburger and freedom fries awaiting."

Damn, now I'm hungry.

It seems to come down to the difference between not personally buying it and boycotting it. Folks are absolutely entitled to decide they personally arent going to buy it, but this isnt going to hit the scale of a French Mustard Boycott or the recent cries for a boycott of Scottish whiskey over the Lockerbie release. Is there really enough momentum here to call this a boycott?

My impression is no. It seems a lot of folks are buying the game and enjoying it for what it is, whereas those crying 'boycott' are not buying the game over something it isnt.

Boycotting implies some massive organized movement to me, that is going to have some tangible impact on something, when in reality its just a relatively random set of folks of shared ideology deciding they won't buy it behind the the false pretense that it is going to impact their target. Eventually, I bet a good number of boycotters will buy it as they thaw to the idea that OSC has no real involvement in the project or its earnings, for the basic reason that its a very good game.

Regardless, there is this over inflated sense of 'i'm gonna hit them' in the pocketbook. Them, who? If you have never bought a game from chair, they gave you nothing and you gave them no money.. to be honest, nothing is lost one way or the other. Rather than a lost sale, you are just a non-sale or a potential future sale. There is no message conveyed by throwing the label boycott on this. There is no impact on the targeted movement or philosophy whatsoever, because there was apparently no direct involvement and there are no royalties involved at all. (as I think adam greenbrier pointed out in an earlier post)

Folks boycotting this might as well fall into the same category as folks who didn't buy it because they don't like 2D scrollers or they have a fear of anything 'chair' related , its just non-consequential. People who want to buy the game will. People who won't wont. Its the same argument as with piracy. If you are not going to buy it, you are not really a lost sale. If we flip the usual piracy argument on its head, where is the proof that you would've bought if not for some vague connection to OSC? If you are a consumer that is hyper political about the games development, then you are just not part of the customer segment for the game.

You must excuse me now, I have a hamburger and freedom fries awaiting.

So, I have the right to let this nudge me over the edge of not buying this game, but if I do, does it make me an ass? That's a serious question, not a rhetorical one.

Good question, and one I will take seriously. Not buying a game for any reason is, on the whole, fine. It's the public vilification that's my problem. It's the crusade for a crusade's sake that has gotten out of control. I don't give you a hard time if the idea of Card's supposed involvement in this game is a barrier -- it's the idea of taking that and blowing it up into an artificial controversy.

In the statement "I'm not buying this because I disagree with OSC's political opinions and neither should you" it's the last four words where the trainwreck happens for me. Like you say, it would be one thing if those political opinions formed the foundation of the game in any way, but the tie-in between him and the game is virtually non-existant.

I freely admit to buying much of Card's work. I've grown off him in recent years, not because he has strong political views but they have increasingly cropped up in his work, which gets to the heart of your question, but I can't really endorse avoiding works of art based on the unrelated political viewpoints of the artists involved, much less someone so barely connected to the game. I find the controversy entirely contrived, and to be honest, counter-productive to the cause it is supposed to support.

I guess it's the same question as, if Left Behind: Eternal Forces was a fantastic game, should we buy it?

No, that's not the same question, unless one of the levels in Shadow-Complex that I don't know about involves me throwing grenades at a gay wedding. Phrasing it that way confuses one product and company with a clear political agenda with a product and company that has nothing to do with the issue at hand .

To be clear, I am a strong advocate of gay rights and wholly endorse things that Mr. Card would shout down from the highest roof top.

I find it interesting to consider how the organized boycott or personal non-purchase of a digitally distributed product versus a physical one might differ in regards to conveying a message.

With the digital product, every non-sale still remains a potential future sale. There is some minimal cost for hosting, but distribution costs are not realized until the moment of sale. A digital purchase is by its nature an individual experience.

A physical product has a lot more costs associated with it from printing of manuals, boxes and discs to distribution to the brick-n-mortar site, to the cost associated with the fact that physical product is taking up inventory space. A boycott of a physical product can result in retailer price reductions to clear that inventory space, and then there is always the cost of product being returned to the manufacturer etc. Brick-n-mortar is by nature group oriented and provides a vocal opportunity for protest to spread a message.

There is more to it than this but is it possible that digital distribution lessens the impact of a potential boycotts or individual non-purchases because the non-sale 'state' of the product really has very little cost associated with it, muting the intended message compared to the brick-n-mortar sales channel?

I am not touching Rabbit's assPhone at the next Rabbitcon

Hi, guys! Just wanted to pop my head in, as I infrequently do, and say that was a really great episode. Thanks!

Great show, guys. Congrats on 150! Here's to another 150.

Congrats are in order both for podcasting your 150th and for being the only podcast with the (intestinal) fortitude to ask a guest, "How many craps do you take a week?"

Great outtake

The bats, I think, do server a minor gameplay purpose, and are not just for stylistic reasons. I'm only an hour or two into the game, maybe Batman gets more powerful later, but for now the bad guys tend to get up 3 or 4 times after being knocked down. So when I see the bats flying off their body, I know their not getting back up and I don't have to worry about that guy again. Having said that, I do think it's largely stylistic, and I love the idea that Batman just sees bats when he does something good. Like it's reminding him how awesome he is.

mrtomaytohead wrote:

I read the links that Chairman_Mao provided and was interested to find:[quote=The first line of the last paragraph]I believe good acting is good acting

Ken Levine on the CC wrote:

Good voice acting is good.

[/quote]

If you go carryin pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Come on, if Ken was going to go incognito here, he'd probably use a diabolically clever anagram like E. N. Knievel.

Aaanyay...BioShock has become one of those rare games that I still fire up every few months (like Thief 2 and System Shock 2) just to soak up the atmosphere and doodle around. Its always cool to get his take on the game industry.

Running Man wrote:
mrtomaytohead wrote:

I read the links that Chairman_Mao provided and was interested to find:[quote=The first line of the last paragraph]I believe good acting is good acting

Ken Levine on the CC wrote:

Good voice acting is good.

If you go carryin pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Come on, if Ken was going to go incognito here, he'd probably use a diabolically clever anagram like E. N. Knievel.

Aaanyay...BioShock has become one of those rare games that I still fire up every few months (like Thief 2 and System Shock 2) just to soak up the atmosphere and doodle around. Its always cool to get his take on the game industry.[/quote]

So, Ken is also Michael Abbott. I knew it!

I didn't take tomayto's post to be about Ken's identity so much as the fact that Michael (the Brainy Gamer) pretty much said what Ken said . . . and Michael teaches theater. Or I could be reading it all wrong and it's a giant scheme of Ken's to remain hidden behind multiple facades. Who then is the real Ken Levine? Please stand up.

garion333 wrote:
Running Man wrote:
mrtomaytohead wrote:

I read the links that Chairman_Mao provided and was interested to find:[quote=The first line of the last paragraph]I believe good acting is good acting

Ken Levine on the CC wrote:

Good voice acting is good.

If you go carryin pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Come on, if Ken was going to go incognito here, he'd probably use a diabolically clever anagram like E. N. Knievel.

Aaanyay...BioShock has become one of those rare games that I still fire up every few months (like Thief 2 and System Shock 2) just to soak up the atmosphere and doodle around. Its always cool to get his take on the game industry.

So, Ken is also Michael Abbott. I knew it!

I didn't take tomayto's post to be about Ken's identity so much as the fact that Michael (the Brainy Gamer) pretty much said what Ken said . . . and Michael teaches theater. Or I could be reading it all wrong and it's a giant scheme of Ken's to remain hidden behind multiple facades. Who then is the real Ken Levine? Please stand up.[/quote]

You are right Garion, I was just pointing it out, and resisting to point out that for the second week in a row, there's a grammatical error in the show notes, in the same spot, no less. It's in the size and length description.

That anyone would question my identity is salacious slander and a vile attack on the proletariat ideologies that have given strength to the common man. The thousands of women I have slept with know who I am, as does my treacherous third wife.

That said, with regards to Batman Arcane Asylum, or BAA, I question the use of the bats as some of my fellow comrades have done. My only experience is with the demo, so perhaps they serve a deeper purpose that the full game will reveal. But my problem is that while the game seems to be setting a grim, gritty, dark and in its own way, realistic, tone, the bats are too comical. They appear like a punchline to a series of cheesy jokes, too often and too obvious. Perhaps they are a trope, if Rabbit is to be believed (but I question his use of that obviously capitalistic dictionary. The more communist-friendly http://www.thefreedictionary.com lists no such definition as the one he cites). I don't find them menacing, and Batman should if nothing else be only menacing.

In general I find the overwhelmingly positive reviews surprising. Is it the result of hype? Are people really willing to accept that many gargoyles in a prison? I hope these reviewers will return to the game in three months and say, yeah it's still a great game. But I can only judge the demo, which I have said before had lip syncing/movement problems and stiff acting, surprisingly from Conroy, I felt, even though I now know he is the voice from the animated series, and I really dislike the sheen of the Unreal engine. Perhaps if I had been familiar with the animated series before playing it I could have appreciated it more?

I'm still up in the air on BAA--the positive reviews are swaying me, but then again they tricked me into buying GTA IV which I never play anymore despite how instructional it was on typical American life in New York City. Niko is so brave to immigrate to that den of debauchery!

Chairman_Mao wrote:

I'm still up in the air on BAA

In the UK BAA stands for British Airport Association

Chairman_Mao wrote:

That anyone would question my identity is salacious slander and a vile attack on the proletariat ideologies that have given strength to the common man. The thousands of women I have slept with know who I am, as does my treacherous third wife.

He's Chairman Mao alright. Are you Mao's brain being kept alive in nutrient bath and able to manipulate a keyboard through the power of thought or has your consciousness been uploaded into a giant robot?

Chairman_Mao wrote:

In general I find the overwhelmingly positive reviews surprising. Is it the result of hype? Are people really willing to accept that many gargoyles in a prison?

There is some logic behind the Gargoyles. They are shown and mentioned in one of the graphic novels. Apparently, they were installed on the inside of the building to intimidate the inmates.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

I question the use of the bats as some of my fellow comrades have done. My only experience is with the demo, so perhaps they serve a deeper purpose that the full game will reveal. But my problem is that while the game seems to be setting a grim, gritty, dark and in its own way, realistic, tone, the bats are too comical. They appear like a punchline to a series of cheesy jokes, too often and too obvious.

I don't mind the bats and they don't strike me as being too cartoony or comical. We aren't used to this particular effect happening in a game. As has been mentioned elsewhere, we blithely accept all kinds of glowing orbs, tinkly sounds and repeated animations in other games that are equally distracting and out of place (Zelda's over enthusiastic response to finding an item in a treasure chest comes to mind (admittedly the chest thing doesn't happen very often.)) In the fullness of time I bet most players will stop even noticing that the bats are happening.

Great work on 150, Ken is a champ. Sands was particularly funny to me in a sort of Ed McMann-side kick sorta way, and Certis was skilled and concise with the chops. Bravo, boys.
God, Ken is like a fine wine.
Just once a few moons, luscious every time.

Larry wrote:

God, Ken is like a fine wine.
Just once a few moons, luscious every time.

I think we found a new nickname for Levine. Ken Luscious Levine.

Just kind of rolls off the tongue, don't you think.

PyromanFO wrote:

I am not touching Rabbit's assPhone at the next Rabbitcon

Are you sure? It's touch sensitive.

Wonderful conference call - made the time go by fast, and Levine was great. If only more people in the games industry were like him (with or without the 7yr old mocking).

Great podcast guys. I'm happy to learn that video games aren't real. My Civ4 game was becoming stressful given the responsibility I had over several million Russians. What a relief.

Gaald wrote:

I think we found a new nickname for Levine. Ken Luscious Levine.

Just kind of rolls off the tongue, don't you think. :)

Sometimes I wonder if the homoeroticism is a Canadian thing....