GWJ Conference Call Episode 151

Conference Call


Batman: Arkham Asylum, WoW Cataclysm, Wet is Terrible, Seven Questions, Your Emails and more!

This week Michael Zenke joins us as we formulate seven questions that must be answered well for a game to be considered good. Don't forget to submit your own question for the list! We also announce the upcoming live show this weekend! 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

"Anxious Tedium" - Ouranos OST (Tom Quinn) - http://thomashquinn.googlepages.com - 0:27:44
"The Way Your Journey Ends" (Tom Quinn) - http://thomashquinn.googlepages.com - 1:01:01

Comments

The questions we've settled on so far!

1) What are the goals of the game? Are they compelling and sustainable?

2) Does the game consistently “pay off”?

3) Does the game avoid impeding progress with pointless obstacles in the game or the interface?

4) Does the game flow to the point that you lose track of time?

5) Does the game give you sufficient context?

6) Is the presentation engaging?

7) Write in your question! call AT gamerswithjobs.com

7) Do the maps progressive naturally or is the player pulled from the experience by being aware of length, scripted events, or illogical design?

Remember demonbox, while these questions may not apply to every game under the sun, they should apply to a broad spectrum. FPS, RTS, Puzzle Games, Arcade, Adventure, RPG, etc.

There you go being smart. Hmm, guess I'll have to try to do the same.

I guess I'm supposed to write this in, but since I've already started here...

7) Is the game skill-based? Failing that, does the game give the impression of being skill-based?

For the first part I'm allowing that many would say that the last Prince of Persia does not make the cut. For the second part, I'm looking at you Peggle.

I'm going to say that Zenke is wrong on the release date of Cataclysm and it'll be along with Elysium's guess or even sooner.

For both Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, they had about three months of friends and family alpha and about three months of open beta.

The friends and family alpha for Cataclysm is starting in about a week. This would put the beta starting around December and the game launching around March/April.

How polished is the game, in terms of mechanics, emotions, graphics, and usability?

A somewhat bland and generic sounding question. However! I find it is the best indicator of a game's quality-- the more polish time devoted in development, the closer the game is to the designer's vision.

When I puke from running in circles in mgs2, when I dance in riches in Little King's Story, when I pull off an amazing shot with perfect auto-assist in Halo3, I know there's quality in the back somewhere.

Can't wait to listen. i doubt anyone could follow up Ken Levine as a guest, but I'm sure Zenke will give him a run for his money. He's always great.

I think most of those questions could be categorized by story which I heard nothing about.
Can't believe I am going to miss the live show. No hitting on demiurge for me I guess.

I have to say that this week's topic was great and very "engaging". I see it being very difficult to really settle on seven good questions and the value of asking them faces a never-ending debate. I guess what I'm getting at here is that I think your entire list is very preliminary and is in dire need of improvement.

First of all, I think the very name of the list is wrong. "Questions that must be answered well for a game to be considered good." This presupposes that the answers to the questions can be objectively valued and there is some threshold at which the value is high enough for the game to be labeled "good". I would say that a better name for the list is "Questions that must be asked to form a meaningful opinion on a game." This allows the answers to the questions to be subjectively evaluated and recognizes the result an opinion that does not necessarily fall into the categories of good or bad.

1) What are the goals of the game? Are they compelling and sustainable?

I think this is a great first question. Goals are a fundamental aspect of any game. What does the game want me to do? However I think the second part of the question constrains the evaluation of the goals and is unnecessary. It may not be necessary for every goal in a game to be compelling and sustainable for every player. Not every player tries to get 100% of the achievements in every game for example. Perhaps a better way to state this question is "What do I think of the goals the game presents?"

2) Does the game consistently "pay off"?

Also a good question but I would make it broader. I would ask "What feedback does the game provide me?" Material rewards are not the only way a game communicates with the player. Simple things like damage numbers popping up over the heads of enemies can go a long way. The nature of the interaction from the game to the player is essential to understanding the experience of the player.

3) Does the game avoid impeding progress with pointless obstacles in the game or the interface?

This is an interesting question since at it's core it asks what do I hate about this game? I would say "What problems do I have with the design of the game?" Or to be less punitive of the designer, where has the implementation of the game design fallen short of what I, the player, think was the intended design choice?

4) Does the game flow to the point that you lose track of time?

Okay, this question is a little tricky. I find it to be very subjective and relies on the game to evoke an almost inexplicable euphoria. I understand that pretty much everyone has had the "lose track of time" feeling, but I find it difficult to use as a device for game criticism. Perhaps another, pedantic, way of putting it is "To what level is my consciousness drawn to the game over reality and for what period of time?" But to put it really simply, "How does the game engage me?" I don't find either question to be truly satisfying and would say that the feeling of "flow" is a symptom of the enjoyment of a game and not something that can be evaluated to better understand that enjoyment.

5) Does the game give you sufficient context?

I like this question but it's phrased oddly and kind of overlaps with questions 1 and 2. What is the context if not the goals of the game and the feedback guiding you to achieve them? Well yes, there is more but I think that should be its own question and perhaps what I'll submit as the 7th question. Perhaps another way to put this question is "What do I think of the rules of the game?" Any deficiency in explaining those rules can be part of the answer to that question.

6) Is the presentation engaging?

Yes! Absolutely. I know there are many game purists out there, Certis apparently among them, who consider games to be all about gameplay and everything else is just packaging. However I would say that the presentation is an inseparable part of how a game is experienced, and probably where the vast portion of modern game budgets is invested. People don't just play games, they experience them. Everything from watching a trailer years before release to listening to the cute song at the end as the credits roll. Perhaps not the most important aspect in evaluating a game overall, but still a big one. Again I wouldn't want to load value into the question itself so I would simply ask "What do I think of the game's presentation?"

7) What are we missing?

Can we ask for more questions? There are a few other things I can think of off hand that you guys missed, the big ones being player agency and designer viewpoint. I was gonna save this for my email but here you go. You guys mostly focused on what the game does for you as a player. However I think it's also important to consider what you can do as a player in the game. "What kind of agency do I have as a player?" There's also a third party involved in the game, the designer. That entity may have embedded some meaning or values into the game that effect how you experience it. To put it very simply, "Why did the designer want me to play this game?"

So here's my own preliminary list of questions, a short guide to approaching game criticism.
Questions that must be asked to form a meaningful opinion of a game
1) What do I think of the goals the game presents?
2) What feedback does the game provide me?
3) What do I think of the rules of the game?
4) What kind of agency do I have as a player?
5) What do I think of the game's presentation?
6) Why did the designer want me to play this game?
7) What problems do I have with the design of the game?

Does the game have a natural and pleasing progression of complexity and/or difficulty that is derived from its world/rules?

When you lose can you always tell why and use that information to improve your future performance?

Portal, IMHO, is the best recent example of a game that does this perfectly.

8. Is the game fun?

I wanted to comment on "Mystery Dungeon Shiren the Wanderer" which I bought brand new for $20 after listening to a certain someone's glowing review which did make it sound like something of a zen experience. I hardly ever buy a game without some research but made an exception in this case because your review (intended or not) was pretty glowing.

To date, I've spent about 10 hours on the game and have not touched it ever since. I stopped after dying for the 20th time and losing up till a plus 10 sword. Its the most retarded gaming experience I've ever had. I now know that you're supposed to die the first 20-30 times all in the aim to upgrade your weapons and armor and of course deposit it. But its a tedious chore.

I like old school RPG's, which can be frustrating but I think I'll skip rouge likes form now on. If you're interested in Shiren, I strongly recommend "Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard" instead. Its hard, its old school and can be frustrating but not hair pulling frustrating and having nothing, absolutely nothing to show for your hours invested in a game like Shiren.

7) Does the game provide a sense of accomplishment?

And now I know why Demon's Souls has taken my soul, it answers almost entirely affirmative to all the questions with just one or two minor caveats.

Yeah, I'm just name dropping the game to prove that there are at least TWO of us playing the game.

Fredrik_S wrote:
8. Is the game fun?

This. If you're having fun, then you consider the game to be good.

To me, these questions seem more appropriate for a game reviewer to ask himself, or a game developer to ask themselves before shipping, rather than "questions that must be answered well for a game to be considered good." On a personal level anyway, which is how it was presented in the podcast.

I prefer to use the "innocent until proven guilty" mantra when playing games, or "fun until proven not fun" if you will. What I mean by that is if I've done my homework, I should know before buying a game (a new, full price game especially) that I will have some fun with it, at least in the early stages. If I reach a point in the game that makes me stop playing it, then I could see asking myself questions to pinpoint exactly what fundamental aspect the game did "wrong." But if I'm having fun with a game, I'm not going to validate my fun by asking myself those questions so that I can justifiably "consider the game to be good."

Again, is the game fun? "Yes." Good enough for me.

Having said all that, I understand that you guys have to come up with show topics, and I really did enjoy the banter. Great news hearing that you're already doing another live show! If I can make it, I'll definitely be there. Now hurry up and post the time it'll happen.

Advice on Shirren & the Warehouse:

Do the puzzles that Fay the Researcher gives you in town. Spend a lot of time doing these. The puzzles are actually kind of fun and are a tutorial on some of the more nuanced points of playing the game. Every one you complete, Fay will give you an item. Go stick that item in the warehouse. Repeat. Before you know it, your warehouse is full of stuff to start going on an adventure with. Pick up the best stuff and go have fun. If you get killed and lose some good stuff... oh well. Go back to 1!
Its a roguelike, you can't build up too much attachment to your character, as it's nature is always ephemeral.

Are you guys going to post a video of this Conference Call? The part around 67:30 where Cory loses it and Zenke did... something is completely lost on those of us who can't see your video feed.

Also, somebody needs to make some sort of a remix involving Shawn's rendition of the Imperial March. Priceless.

7.) What about the game will keep you engaged and returning for more?

JediK809 wrote:
Are you guys going to post a video of this Conference Call? The part around 67:30 where Cory loses it and Zenke did... something is completely lost on those of us who can't see your video feed.

Also, somebody needs to make some sort of a remix involving Shawn's rendition of the Imperial March. Priceless.

No there won't be a video of that posted anywhere. That was just bad radio unfortunately and I had no easy way to edit it out without the show sounding weird.

You know, I think the six existing questions actually cover things pretty well. The only one that seems oddly worded would be this one:

4) Does the game flow to the point that you lose track of time?

The overall concern of flowing naturally between the different aspects of the game is important, but it's that pesky "lose track of time" part that seems a bit too specific, considering all of the micro-gaming opportunities out there on various handhelds and/or social networking sites.

But that's nitpicky at best, saddeningly anal-retentive at worst, so no worries. Good discussion on a good episode.

Couple of other specific comments:

- I thought the dismissal of console exclusives was interesting. Yeah, of course, exclusives don't mean anything to you if you own all of the consoles, but that's not the situation for everybody, even within the mostly-adult GWJ community. And, personally, I can't see exclusives ever going away, simply because they're the easiest way for a console manufacturer to distinguish themselves from the competition over the duration of the product life-cycle.

- Also, to respond to the email about lack of critical response to Ratchet & Clank...the series is in a weird spot in gaming. The notable PS2 entries in the series aren't old enough to fall into retrospective discussions, but they also predate virtually every video game podcast in existence; they're right in the middle of seemingly hundreds of good-but-not-amazing games that flooded the last console generation during the mid-oughts. And, while the most recent PS3 R&C games were decent enough, they were also almost indistinguishable from those PS2 games (Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal), which themselves were "merely" good to begin with.

Compare it with the Metal Slug series; both R&C and Metal Slug deliver a very specific type of game for their respective audiences...and the people that are looking for that specific kind of game really enjoy those series. But the differences within the series come down to minutia - "in this Metal Slug, I ride a camel instead of a tank" - and, in the current gaming climate, where potential players are faced with AAA Blockbusters or Lean and Mean Downloadables, they sit uncomfortably in gaming's middle class; too big to hold interest through smaller rounds of gaming, not big enough to compete with the big boys as an entire experience.

Comrade GWJ, I am persuaded by your persistent argument in favor of Batman Arkham Asylum's greatness and that the demo is a poor reflection of the game in it's entirety, much like the mirror made of mercury into which I'm constantly sending Xiao Wang to fetch my often dropped jade comb. When he returns from the hospital I'll have to send him to pick me up a ¥5 copy at the local pirated video game store.

What was Zenke saying? 2-WoWs? taWoWs? caWoWs?

If you think Killer Croc's sick, listen to the Riddler's first interview tape, the one about the baby.

ranalin wrote:
What was Zenke saying? 2-WoWs? taWoWs? caWoWs?

"teh WoWz", I'm guessing.

So I've heard mention of Winnipeg a few times now... Who's my local-boy?

I understand you may not answer for "privacy reasons".

AnkleBiter wrote:
So I've heard mention of Winnipeg a few times now... Who's my local-boy?

I understand you may not answer for "privacy reasons".

I don't know if they're from Winnipeg or not, but both Rob and Certis are from the same area in Canada. So, if they're talking about Winnipeg it's probably those two chuckle heads.

Yessirs, 'Teh WoWz' is my preferred way to speak of Blizzard's Mount Awesome.

On the video thing: What I was doing was keeping my hands firmly clamped over my mouth so that I wouldn't say anything dorky about The Old Republic. Cory thought that was humorous, and my apologies for making things confusing. I just didn't want to open my flapping maw and have something stupid and fanboi-ish pop out. Again.

Plus, I was really enjoying my Shiner Blonde at that point.

Michael Zenke wrote:
On the video thing: What I was doing was keeping my hands firmly clamped over my mouth so that I wouldn't say anything dorky about The Old Republic. Cory thought that was humorous, and my apologies for making things confusing. I just didn't want to open my flapping maw and have something stupid and fanboi-ish pop out. Again.

Instead, you shrieked like a harpy and made Corey die laughing. *golf clap*

There is only one ultimate question that a game has to answer right and that is:

"Is the game FUN?"

And the correct answer to that is, "Yes, very much so."

Every other question is secondary to this question. If the game fails at this question, its answers to any other question are moot.