GWJ Conference Call Episode 156

Conference Call

Risen, New L4D Map, Scribblenauts, Chris Remo From Idle Thumbs Talks Mass Effect ... BITCH!, Tons of Your Emails and more!

This week we play catch up on all of your awesome emails and voicemails! We also announce the next live show coming this Saturday at 8PM EST. Keep an eye on the GWJ front page for Ustream details as we get closer to the show. 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

Pheonix Strike Audio E-mail - 0:36:56
"Washaway" (Ian Dorsch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 1:00:33

Comments

Kosars:

I'm not expecting them to play every game under the sun. That's just not possible. But this IS Gamer With Jobs, so I'm kind of expecting them to be a little more intelligent about their commentary. Muramasa is NOT a JRPG, which many of them said was the reason they're not interested in it. I think you'll agree that it would sound a little stupid to state that you're not playing Final Fantasy XIII because you're not a fan of fighting games. It's NOT a fighting game, just as Muramasa is NOT a JRPG. It doesn't take a long time to get into it, and it finishes relatively quickly.

Not all the guys are into brawlers and fighters, but I was expecting at least those of them who remembered River City Ransom and the original Ninja Gaiden series with fondness to give this game a try. There aren't a lot of 2D brawlers releasing these days - this is one of the very, very, very few.

I keep wondering how rabbit might react if another podcaster were to voice a reluctance to try Secret of Monkey Island because he's not a big fan of platformers, and then, in the same podcast, praise Sam and Max for being great point-and-click adventure games.

I don't even WANT them to try the game at this point, because all of this hoopla probably already has them on the defensive. They can't possibly view it anymore in the same light than if they're "discovered" it themselves.

EDIT: I'm quite aware that the panel is not of one view on this. That's why I like GWJ better than most other podcasts. But seriously, classifying Muramasa as a JRPG borders on the intolerably uninformed.

Gothic 3 was kind of broken at launch. The fan patch did fix a lot of it's issues.

Maybe you shouldn't take my word on that. Since my rating of the gothic franchise is 1>3>2

. Maybe i should give gothic 2 another shot. I tried twice, but i never got far into that game. Mainly because of the skill point investment system.

I disagree about Oblivion being a good example of the weak-to-strong process as everything leveled with you; thus you never had the ability to gain strength and return to an otherwise impossible area from earlier, or go in and clean-house on minions. You never felt uber because everything else became uber along with you.

Fallout 3 addressed this to some greater extent by locking the area to your level at the time you first entered it; so if you got your clock cleaned, you could return with better weapons and +5 levels and mop up.

One of my favorite gaming experiences that highlights the appreciation of power was playing through Jedi Knight II. I played all the way through, and then restarted but with all powers enabled. It was soooo satisfying to walk through those hordes of stormtroopers, cutting through them and force pushing them with ease! Made me feel like a truly powerful Jedi. Of course, I stopped halfway through when my power-to-opposition ratio even out.

156 episodes, at one episode per week, 52 weeks a year... wouldn't that make this one 3 year anniversary episode?

AmazingZoidberg wrote:

Why do people keep pronouncing it Forza as "Fort-sa"? Is there an invisible "t" in the English language I was hitherto unaware of?

No, but Forza is not English language. It's the Italian word for 'force'.

Fort-sa (with voiced 's') is the correct Italian pronunciation, and it's also how the game's developers pronounce it.

Garrett Young wrote:

We were looking for a name that spoke to the sexy Italian styling of so many of our cars. Roughly translated, "Forza" means, "be forceful." The thing that really struck us is how the word is used at Formula One races in Italy: "Forza Ferrari!" is a common chant from the home fans as Michael Schumacher passes in front of the crowd. We run a risk by using a word that few people in the U.S. have ever heard, but we know the insiders will get it. And for those not fluent in Italian, it's pronounced "Fort-za."

Ahhh, that makes sense.

MoonDragon wrote:

156 episodes, at one episode per week, 52 weeks a year... wouldn't that make this one 3 year anniversary episode?

When we first started we only did one show every 2 weeks. I can't remember for how long, but it was enough to throw off your math Moondragon.

A-ha. That makes sense.

@ HedgeWizard.

I agree to a point. In Oblivion, if you waited too long to start the main quest, as I did, then the AI monsters all leveled with you, but the NPCs didn't. Several early missions (the burning city comes to mind) have NPCs that need to help you wipe out the enemies. If you level up too much before doing these missions then the NPCs get slaughtered by the vastly more powerful monsters and you must face them alone. It took me hours to get through some of those missions, b/c I had to find ways of isolating the monsters and face them one by one.

more on Rob's Brainwave:

I have to say his idea makes perfect sense. So I took a beer, maybe two and started typing away what I think about it.

I recently completed Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which does the exact opposite of Rob's idea (the normal thing so to speak) and fails for doing so in many regards. Most irritatingly, the moveset of the player in NGS2 is very limited in the beginning. The player has to be careful and the bossfights are quite the challenge. Later in the game, when the player has unlocked more moves, fighting the very same boss will be easy as pie. Instead of adding challenge towards the end, the power creep of the player negates any threat the enemies might pose. Mowing whole series of bosses down in level 14-16 is considerably easier and gets rather boring. The player is too powerful and all that shrinks is the time-window to strike back at the boss. Everything else remains the same.

Suppose Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 had the order of levels reversed, then it would actually follow the more traditional path of games getting harder towards the "end". Because the player would not have the perfect counter weapon for each encounter. Because the moveset would not allow for killing enemies in one weapon-level-4 20 hit combo.

I hope people reading this can see that from a gameplay perspective it would make sense that the difference in relative power between the player and the AI has to increase towards the end. Countering players having supermoves by introducing mega Zombies escalates the balance of power in such a way that any game unavoidably drifts towards ridiculousness. 20 years of final level boss battles are testament to that. There is no way to keep the plot on the sane side, if the characters drift to crazy Superman land as result of gameplay predicaments nobody tries to fix.

Suppose a game character really grew weaker from the point you started playing. Basically the only thing he would loose is damage output. Special toys for traversal of terrain or defensive skills would still be in place as a sort of collectible/character growth. The balance of power would be very natural compared to classic games. Towards the end of the game the player would require to time his defensive moves better and cope with fights being harder since the damage output has grown so weak. Windows of opportunity to strike would shrink, without having to escalate the power of characters into fantasy territory.

Everything else is simply clever narration. Start the game with a hero in his prime, mowing down enemies, not worrying about defense, mashing buttons for random supercombos and all that stuff. Then make him grow older with each level. Hence he will loose the buttonmashy combos and have to consider the timing on buttonpresses better. The player will need to block and evade better. The player will need to find tools to traverse the environment instead of wallrunning into a double-super-fly jump.

In many ways the writing of the game would profit from the aging hero loosing power. It would be more personal, more grounded in reality, it would not require a final endbattle between all the good and all the evil in the world. The basic idea for the player is to achieve less of a thing but treasure it more since there were more hurdles to overcome. Start with his day of glory bringing down an empire in a day and then slowly move to the point where the hero dies in a mundane bandit raid on his retirement village. Do away with the cliche young man rising to fame and glory. Let's start with the hero and have him wither. Purely from narration aspects Heavenly Sword already did that. Slowly kill the hero. And just when the player has the biggest down at the end watching Nariko die, they bring her back for one final level of glory - The End. Say what you want about Heavenly Sword but this part of the game will hold up forever.

The traditional tale is always about a boy growing up. Starting by killing a rat and ending up killing Mr. Satan. The business model is to start where the audience (teenager) is and construct a fantasy of him growing into a man. With the average gamer age growing closer to midlife crisis territory, the target audience for "withering heroes" is slowly coming into existence. It's not so hot imagining yourself as a 14 year old Link saving some underage princess when you are 35. The people who loved that were later all suckered into admiring Gordon Freeman, the graduate ass-kicker. That was an eternity ago, people have grown even older since. That means that audience is up for grabs again. There is not a lot that has to be changed in terms of gameplay. A mixture between clever writing, new perspectives and keeping traditional gameplay in terms of power difference between player and AI from start to finish is all that is required. But the hero, the presentation and the writing would be able to strike the heart of the very generation that already moved from Link to Gordon. It is a generation who accepted the idea of heroes starting where the players are in their life and then take them on a journey to a possible future.

A grittier version would see the hero die a sad but meaningful death at the end. Have him protect his grandson or something, or kill him for food if you are a nihilistic heartless SoB. If you are a wuzz, then end it the way you started it; symmetry in writing often works wonders. In that "good ending" version, the hero would somehow charge to the gates of Valhalla mowing down enemies on a flaming chariot for one last encore. I reckon such an ending would have the hero charge the biggest badest screenfilling endboss that never was in any other part of the game and never actually start the fight. Just end it with the hero charging towards the devil himself stating that he will need no help from here on out. Fade to black, roll credits, no direct sequel.

I too liked Rob's idea, though it certainly could use some more thinking about. Anyway, I like the concept of a character going through a story and choosing what powers/whatever to sacrifice. That way you are left with strategic choices. If you give up your tough skin, but keep the hard hitting power, then your defense is low, but offense is high. That's a basic idea, but I do think it shows some promise. Like the Witcher, the choice could rely more on who to help more, not just what sacrifice hurts the character the least.

Unfortunately the marketing for such a game would be difficult ("You grow weak as f**k as the game goes on!!" -Ign.com), which means that if we're to see a game with this concept implemented it's likely to not make it in the "mainstream" or AAA area, so we're now looking towards the indie side of things. This makes sense as a lot of the more innovative ideas come from indie developers, imho.

Another hurdle I'm seeing is that with such a narrative-driven gameplay mechanic I would think that the story side and the mechanical side of development would have to be working really close to pull it off. Again, it would seem like a smaller team would be better able to pull this off than, say, Bioware.

I'm not a game designer and I haven't thought about this all too much, but I do feel like the main hurdle is simply how to weave the seemingly disparate areas of story and gameplay mechanics together.

Perhaps I'll just take RPG Maker and do it myself.

Generally, I artificially inflate the challenge in games I play by increasing the difficulty setting as I go - I've had to do that for a while now, actually.

Gravey wrote:

Here's the thing about "compelling". It's a great word, but it gets used on its own to the point of cliché and that's useless. Okay, game x is compelling—now what about it made it compelling? One can say something is compelling, or awesome, or sucks, just be sure to say why. Arguments need evidence. "Compelling" (like "sucks") on its own is lazy.

So when Rabbit almost says "compelling" in the 78th minute, that should have been acceptable. He led up to it by explaining what about high scores makes them compelling: updated scores from your friends feed competition and keep you coming back to play. Online leaderboards, you might say, compel you to play more.

So Rabbit, you get a pass from me! Lead by example.

This is, I believe, why Rabbit wasn't allowed to use the word "fun" on Three Moves Ahead. Labels are often very subjective things, with the underlying argument being one of personal opinion. The best one can do is provide some explanation of how the game conveyed or created the emotion that lead to the label. But were someone to disagree (be it via "Really?" or some other method), it would either quickly come to "I guess we just have different opinions" or escalate to a (potentially humorous) shouting match. No real work gets done either way.

And that's where labels like "samey" get more of a pass from me. It's shorthand for "This game doesn't differentiate itself sufficiently from the mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics or narrative elements of similar titles." That's still an opinion, but it does at least open the door to talking about how the game is similar to and different from other games.

As for the Rob idea of protagonist with decaying abilities or powers, it's an idea that I've seen thrown around a few times. The most enticing idea I've seen looked at the objection to the usual progress as unrealistic and instead tried to look at how one would model a more realistic progression. To wit: The protagonist would start at roughly 15 years old and experience 5-10 years of quickly increasing physical and mental ability, but after that, strength and constitution would start depleting. After some time, these would be followed by dexterity. As the character ages, the trick is to make a successful transition from the vigor of youth to learn to utilize the wisdom and experience that comes with age.

*facepalm* Sports games already do what Rob is talking about.

garion333 wrote:

*facepalm* Sports games already do what Rob is talking about.

Yep. It may not feel as insightful, but this is certainly in games like Fight Night 3.

wordsmythe wrote:

This is, I believe, why Rabbit wasn't allowed to use the word "fun" on Three Moves Ahead. Labels are often very subjective things, with the underlying argument being one of personal opinion. The best one can do is provide some explanation of how the game conveyed or created the emotion that lead to the label. But were someone to disagree (be it via "Really?" or some other method), it would either quickly come to "I guess we just have different opinions" or escalate to a (potentially humorous) shouting match. No real work gets done either way.

Work (i.e., understanding each other's perspective) would at least be done if the other person explains why they didn't find x fun/compelling/etc, and they can hash out their differing subjective takes (see, for instance, Leigh Alexander's If You're Not Having Fun, Play Something Else). I think that's still valuable, but I'm the kind of person who didn't think Siskell & Ebert was a stupid show—their 'always' disagreeing was the point. But this is assuming we're dealing with rational, open-minded people. So yes, shouting match.

wordsmythe also wrote:

As for the Rob idea of protagonist with decaying abilities or powers, it's an idea that I've seen thrown around a few times. The most enticing idea I've seen looked at the objection to the usual progress as unrealistic and instead tried to look at how one would model a more realistic progression. To wit: The protagonist would start at roughly 15 years old and experience 5-10 years of quickly increasing physical and mental ability, but after that, strength and constitution would start depleting. After some time, these would be followed by dexterity. As the character ages, the trick is to make a successful transition from the vigor of youth to learn to utilize the wisdom and experience that comes with age.

Didn't D&D 3e roughly do this? Cumulative penalties to STR and DEX, and bonuses to WIS, and INT as the PCs age? Well, not explicitly for the rhetorical reason you propose ("to make a successful transition from the vigor of youth to learn to utilize the wisdom and experience that comes with age"), but still it's modeled in the system, if your DM cares about tracking PC ages over a campaign.

As an artistic statement, Rob's idea may have some merit. As a game, it's not very compelling.

The reason behind this is because of the way we learn - we do not, as a rule, adapt to complexity quickly and lose track as we go on. Our brains do not work that way. Our brains aren't wired that way. What we do is learn routines and SOPs and then relegate those to background or rote activity as we do it more and more. As we do the same activity over and over, neurons in our brains create dedicated shortcuts that free mental resources for us to do other things.

Increasing game complexity utilizes this - we LIKE learning things. We are programmed to like learning and mastery. That is the very allure of novelty - it is new. As we master simple commands and game interfaces and relegate them to reflex, the game changes and proceeds to teach us new things, continually engaging us.

There are already games that make you weaker as you go along - most classic games are like this, in fact. They don't literally change down your numbers, but they do pump up your enemies more and more so that you are asked to win by doing more as a player. They layer complexity to keep you engaged and layer difficulty to render your rote routines inadequate.

A game that simplified things as you went along goes against neurologic and pedagogical principles. A game that makes things harder by making your character relatively weaker has already been made.

LarryC wrote:

As an artistic statement, Rob's idea may have some merit. As a game, it's not very compelling.

The reason behind this is because of the way we learn - we do not, as a rule, adapt to complexity quickly and lose track as we go on. Our brains do not work that way. Our brains aren't wired that way. What we do is learn routines and SOPs and then relegate those to background or rote activity as we do it more and more. As we do the same activity over and over, neurons in our brains create dedicated shortcuts that free mental resources for us to do other things.

Type that again when you're 80.

Gravey wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

This is, I believe, why Rabbit wasn't allowed to use the word "fun" on Three Moves Ahead. Labels are often very subjective things, with the underlying argument being one of personal opinion. The best one can do is provide some explanation of how the game conveyed or created the emotion that lead to the label. But were someone to disagree (be it via "Really?" or some other method), it would either quickly come to "I guess we just have different opinions" or escalate to a (potentially humorous) shouting match. No real work gets done either way.

Work (i.e., understanding each other's perspective) would at least be done if the other person explains why they didn't find x fun/compelling/etc, and they can hash out their differing subjective takes (see, for instance, Leigh Alexander's If You're Not Having Fun, Play Something Else). I think that's still valuable, but I'm the kind of person who didn't think Siskell & Ebert was a stupid show—their 'always' disagreeing was the point. But this is assuming we're dealing with rational, open-minded people. So yes, shouting match.

There are ways of working out some understanding of what subjectively appeals to each of us in games (Krpata's new taxonomy and Bateman's BrainHex are recent examples), but I wonder about the use of going down that rabbit hole. It may be directly useful in making games more appealing to more players, but as a player and an asshole, I'm likely to form arguments about the ethical superiority of my preferred play-styles and game elements.

I really like Rob's idea (maybe because i'm a depressive style of person and things like Ubik and entropy etc appeal to me on a thematic level).... but i was surprised how no one has brought up the games were this idea has been used - if not word for word/idea for idea in description.

Shadow of the Colossus
Prince of Persia: The sands of time

Spoiler:

In SotC, your character's whole mission is to lose his humanity and perhaps soul in order to save his love. He gets noticeably weaker as the game progresses though it doesn't really impact what he can do or your abilities as a player. Which is a further interesting idea to do.

In PoP:TSoT, you start off weak, gain power and then lose it before regaining it a little and then finally losing it completely for the final battle.

I'm sure there are more examples of this mechanic used but i don't really count the Metroid series in this respect because you don't really spend much time with all your abilities before you lose them, nor do you really use them and so don't really appreciate them before they are gone. Then you basically become the super-powered girl that you should be by the end of the game but still weak in comparison to your enemies.

wordsmythe:

wordsmythe wrote:

Type that again when you're 80.

I don't believe you understood what I said. The neuronal degeneration that occurs when we age is a separate process from learning and adaptation. Even though brain plasticity supposedly decreases as we age, the process of establishing neural networks during learning remains fundamentally the same, as far as we know.

LarryC wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

Type that again when you're 80.

I don't believe you understood what I said. The neuronal degeneration that occurs when we age is a separate process from learning and adaptation. Even though brain plasticity supposedly decreases as we age, the process of establishing neural networks during learning remains fundamentally the same, as far as we know.

The underlying mechanics may vary, but I don't believe I was wrong about the dynamics.

The dynamics of what? Of when I'm 80? That's not making any sense.

LarryC wrote:

As an artistic statement, Rob's idea may have some merit. As a game, it's not very compelling. ;)

From a mechanic point of view I agree that the idea doesn't 'go with the flow' in terms of what people find satisfying/addictive but from a story point of view a deterioration of resources can be very compelling. I don't know if you've read Stephen Donaldson's 'The chronicles of Thomas Covenant.' There is a continuing theme in his books of things starting off bad and gradually getting worse. Badly needed men and equipment are depleted before they've even come into contact with the the enemies overwhelming numbers. Those books are extremely compelling.

LarryC wrote:

There are already games that make you weaker as you go along - most classic games are like this, in fact. They don't literally change down your numbers, but they do pump up your enemies more and more so that you are asked to win by doing more as a player.

Isn't that a bit like saying a plane flying at 90mph and a plane stationary in a wind tunnel delivering a 90mph wind are the same thing? The effect is the same where plane meets air but the experience is very, very different.

Higgeldy:

No, they're not. Case in point: Final Fantasy. In those games, you start out with stats in the tens, and end up with stats in the thousands. You don't actually feel hundreds of times more powerful at the end than at the start because ALL your level-appropriate enemies scale to your powers.

Having a hero's attack degrade to 1 from 10 and then having him face a 10 HP enemy is functionally the same as having it scale to a thousand and plunking down a 10000 HP enemy in front of him. It's all just numbers.

LarryC wrote:

Higgeldy:

No, they're not. Case in point: Final Fantasy. In those games, you start out with stats in the tens, and end up with stats in the thousands. You don't actually feel hundreds of times more powerful at the end than at the start because ALL your level-appropriate enemies scale to your powers.

Having a hero's attack degrade to 1 from 10 and then having him face a 10 HP enemy is functionally the same as having it scale to a thousand and plunking down a 10000 HP enemy in front of him. It's all just numbers.

From a numbers point of view it is the same but I'd still argue that from a story and an experience point of view it's different. With the plane example the wind speed over the wings and the air circulation on the wings is the same from a purely mathematical point of view (a mathemetician with just that data probably couldn't tell me which plane was flying and which wasn't) but the maths misses the difference in feel between the two experiences.

LarryC wrote:

The dynamics of what? Of when I'm 80? That's not making any sense.

Allow me to introduce you to the MDA framework (mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics).

Put another way:

Higgledy wrote:

Isn't that a bit like saying a plane flying at 90mph and a plane stationary in a wind tunnel delivering a 90mph wind are the same thing? The effect is the same where plane meets air but the experience is very, very different.

wordsmythe wrote:

There are ways of working out some understanding of what subjectively appeals to each of us in games (Krpata's new taxonomy and Bateman's BrainHex are recent examples), but I wonder about the use of going down that rabbit hole. It may be directly useful in making games more appealing to more players, but as a player and an asshole, I'm likely to form arguments about the ethical superiority of my preferred play-styles and game elements.

I guess the difference comes down to persuading someone that a game is intrinsically [subjective adjective] for reasons x, y and z; and explaining why you found it to be [subjective adjective], which no one else is obligated to feel. Game reviews in particular tend to sabotage themselves by trying to do the former, whereas I think the really fruitful discussion follows from the latter.

Gravey wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

There are ways of working out some understanding of what subjectively appeals to each of us in games (Krpata's new taxonomy and Bateman's BrainHex are recent examples), but I wonder about the use of going down that rabbit hole. It may be directly useful in making games more appealing to more players, but as a player and an asshole, I'm likely to form arguments about the ethical superiority of my preferred play-styles and game elements.

I guess the difference comes down to persuading someone that a game is intrinsically [subjective adjective] for reasons x, y and z; and explaining why you found it to be [subjective adjective], which no one else is obligated to feel. Game reviews in particular tend to sabotage themselves by trying to do the former, whereas I think the really fruitful discussion follows from the latter.

I'm going to try and take this a step further. I know I'm likely to say that, while I don't really enjoy games that appeal to a sense of personal power, I understand that some do appreciate slaughtering defenseless members of the lower class due to deep moral failings. (See how I sidestepped that unproductive tangent?) It's fairly easy to say that people enjoy feelings of personal power and conquest for any number of pop-psychology reasons, but if we zoom out a bit, I think there's some fertile ground in looking at either why people don't feel powerful enough in reality or why our culture in general has seems to tacitly endorse such desires for personal power. Have individuals historically had--or do they otherwise generally deserve to feel--more control over their daily lives? Or does our culture tend to overly worship individual prowess?

wordsmythe:

Explain it better. Use small words; I'm kind of stupid.

How does the mechanical limitations of human learning change between when you're 20 and when you're 80?

Higgledy:

If the wind was perfectly the same and the entire cockpit were lined with ulta-high definition graphical displays that respond perfectly to every maneuver, how would you be able to tell the difference?

LarryC wrote:

wordsmythe:

Explain it better. Use small words; I'm kind of stupid.

How does the mechanical limitations of human learning change between when you're 20 and when you're 80?

In the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) framework for looking at video games, the mechanics are the basic rules (player mechanics are the things that you're able to do with one command--the verbs you can perform, such as "shoot fire" for a TF2 pyro). These are the "separate processes" you mention. The dynamics are how rules interact: The "Heavy's base HP" mechanic and "medic's uber ability" mechanic interact to create a new damage/health dynamic for the Heavy. Aesthetics are the way the whole thing is represented--things like the way the fire is displayed, or the sound of gunfire and screaming in pain.

The dynamic of health running down with the clock in Gauntlet is functionally the same as the dynamic of poison in a lot of games, even if the aesthetic understanding of the processes are different (poison may turn you green to indicate you're poisoned) and the underlying mechanics may differ (poison also drains 1HP per second, but only lasts for 30 seconds). As we age, the way our brains work may not change much, but a new mechanic of deterioration is often introduced--a debuff of sorts, layered on top of the regular rules to create a new dynamic. Before the debuff rule is applied, everything's the same. Underneath the debuff rule, nothing has changed. But the end result from outside that debuff rule is different than it was before the debuff was applied. It's a separate process, as you note, but the processes interact to form a different overall dynamic.