GWJ Conference Call Episode 163

Conference Call

Assassin's Creed 2, Left 4 Dead 2, New Super Mario Bros Wii, Modern Warfare 2, Special Guest: Joystiq's Chris Grant, The Trouble With Emergence, Your Emails and more!

This week Chris Grant answers for his scathing Left 4 Dead 2 review. We also talk about the perils of emergent game design and how bad rabbit is at nearly everything. 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 - 0:56:12
"The Way Your Journey Ends" (Tom Quinn) - http://thomashquinn.googlepages.com - 1:10:53

Comments

Wow, three minutes in and I'm already going nuts. I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I have to respect Chris for honestly analyzing his own play experience rather than following the hype. But listening to him feels a little bit like going crazy from all the dissonance between his reality and mine.

Really liked the discussion on R2D2's AI director, that was great. I'm guessing Valve doesn't do PS3 ports because a port of a port would result in an insane AI director a la that Michael Keaton movie.

On game realism:
I am post-mortem proof that one man can kill millions of minions without dying, but if games were realistic they would be boring and tedious as hell. I cite Ultra Realistic Modern Warfare as evidence.

It's a probably a moot issue anyway. Even the most "realistic" games are not even close to as realistic as, say, True Lies. Let's consider Modern Warfare 2:

Magic healing powers (I just need to rest for five seconds!)
Despite my awesome healing powers, I cannot climb over the barbed wire
I die and begin my new life five minutes earlier in time.
1000+ rounds of ammo and 20+ grenade launcher grenades, and I can still run at full speed
No matter how much I shoot this wooden board it won't break
I swear there was a body here a minute ago
Titanium eardrums
Why do I have to wear horse blinders to be a soldier (no peripheral vision)
Why doesn't the US government invest in these unlimited ammo caches and turrets?

and

Why is my blood made of raspberry jelly?

But a lot of these (not the blood jelly so much) contribute to the game's fun factor, because it maintaines a certain pace that keeps the gamer engaged (Uncharted 2 does this much better).

So, realism can suck it. I don't want it in my games and I hope no one gets the idea that more of it would somehow be better for entertainment.

That said, I'm all for games addressing controversial issues, and I agree that MW2 did a pretty half-donkeyed job of it. It would have been great if they used that $50 million budget to create a second completely different story line by letting you kill the terrorist in the airport and saving all the people. Or did just about anything else besides what they did do, which was just lame, lame like a soldier who can't run for some reason until he gets outside.

Haha, agreed with Switchbreak. Although listening further it sounds like the game is broken on the 360. Personally I really like it when multiple special infected attack you at the same time in coop since that's what it's like in Versus. I can see how having it happen constantly can lead to wipes, getting to the end of any given level in Versus is quite a challenge but that mode is designed to have wipes. Also the AI can have unfairly good timing and accuracy to preform these maneuvers, better than a human team's coordination in some cases.

The main advantage humans have over the AI specials is that the AI isn't very good at ambushes or hiding its presence, so with a certain level of skill you can avoid and kill them before they get their attacks off and this is generally what's needed to get through the game on Expert difficulty. But if you don't have that skill and they're sending several at the same time then the basic mechanics of how the infected work, incapacitating or otherwise neutralizing the players, will quickly overwhelm a team on any difficulty.

Oh yeah. Farcry 2? Space Asshole? Thanks for trying to fill the Idle Thumbs shaped hole in my ears.

Latrine wrote:

Haha, agreed with Switchbreak. Although listening further it sounds like the game is broken on the 360. Personally I really like it when multiple special infected attack you at the same time in coop since that's what it's like in Versus. I can see how having it happen constantly can lead to wipes, getting to the end of any given level in Versus is quite a challenge but that mode is designed to have wipes. Also the AI can have unfairly good timing and accuracy to preform these maneuvers, better than a human team's coordination in some cases.

The main advantage humans have over the AI specials is that the AI isn't very good at ambushes or hiding its presence, so with a certain level of skill you can avoid and kill them before they get their attacks off and this is generally what's needed to get through the game on Expert difficulty. But if you don't have that skill and they're sending several at the same time then the basic mechanics of how the infected work, incapacitating or otherwise neutralizing the players, will quickly overwhelm a team on any difficulty.

Oh yeah. Farcry 2? Space Asshole? Thanks for trying to fill the Idle Thumbs shaped hole in my ears.

This is pretty spot on, on all counts. L4D2 is noticeably more difficult and better for it I think. The director plays the specials much closer to how you'd expect them in a versus game. It will certainly give co-op more longevity (via realism as well) whereas I felt I was done with it after once through on each campaign of the original.

The Xbox 360 version of Left 4 Dead 1 was also slightly harder than the PC version by all accounts. Left 4 Dead 2 on 360 is a bit harder than the previous version, but not that much more difficult.

Chris's complaints are just completely at odds with the experiences of me and my friends. For me and my L4D crew, (who played it almost all year including the day before L4D2 dropped) Normal didn't usually give us a lot of difficulty, while Advanced was OK until a tank turned up with all that extra health.

We have completed the first 2 campaigns on 360 with less than half a dozen deaths between us. And I don't consider us particularly "hardcore" players, we never even reached chapter 3 of a L4D1 campaign on Expert.

Chris' comments completely baffle me. While it is harder than the first game, the difficulty levels now actually live up to their names. Normal in L4D1 was far too easy, let alone the Easy mode.

I really don't understand how anyone can find easy in L4D2 to be difficult at all - the enemies do very little damage and have less health. Yeah, you're still going to get tanks in a finale on easy, and yes, at the end you're going to get 2 more, but the tanks go down foolishly quick on easy and you're not supposed to be sitting around fighting the final two - you're supposed to be rushing to your escape.

This is all speaking from owning the PC version, however. Also, there's often multiple special infected at the same time on the PC version as well, so I really don't think that's a 360 specific thing.

Is it just me, or were people praising having multiple special infected at once when the L4D2 demo came out as the AI knew how to do combo attacks, not just dumb attacking at the first opportunity.

Nice show guys - some interesting commentary.

I think that the email towards the end about personalising killing and making killing fewer people is looking at something more akin to Die Hard. Not sure if i'd call it a stealth game though. Flashback didn't have a huge kill count but each kill was very satisfying because they could be pretty difficult and you were very vulnerable.

I haven't listened yet but I will say that I was less than impressed with the Xbox 360 version of Left4Dead 2. There's some pretty healthy frame rate dips and pretty significant lag issues when playing pick up matches. Also the community on the 360 seems worse this time around (those on GWJ excluded) even though I'm guessing its bigger.

I'm not giving up on L4D 2 yet, but I can see how someone could give the 360 version a poor review and I could see how a poor review could be totally justified.

Hey, that was me who went with you guys on your first try!

Who cares about his comments on L4D2, what really annoyed me was his constant loud swallowing! Was he drinking something? Gah. Annoying.

Great chat about Assassin's Creed 2. I didn't think any single-player game would top Batman for my GOTY, but it's becoming quite clear that AC2 is firmly planted at the top spot.

Another bit of flavor I'm missing from Left 4 Dead 2, the houses don't look lived in. The apartments and hospitals had garbage strewn all over every hallway, making it look like a world that died in a panic. In Left 4 Dead 2 I just don't notice as much of that in the level design.

That said, I think it's a superior game in almost every other way to the first, and I'm having a blast.

A few notes on L4D2: from what I can tell, Certain Affinity did not do the port this time around. However, what Certain Affinity contributed to the first game--control tweaks, integrating the multiplayer with Live--is really unchanged from L4D1 to L4D2, with the exception of new stuff like 4v4 matchmaking. What has changed is the AI director, and that is purely a Valve thing. My guess is that the 360 build is pretty close to two months old now, while the PC version has received several major updates both post-release and during the period that the community was playing the demo. I'd be really surprised if there wasn't a patch waiting for MS certification to address some of the issues Chris was having.

Regarding the caveat for Nvidia users: L4D had the same issues with Nvidia cards and multicore rendering. There are workarounds that resolve the issue for most people.

I really disagree that the game feels like an expansion pack. I've put in about 12 hours with the game so far and have barely dipped into versus and scavenge, and I haven't even played survival mode. It's still got some bugs and technical rough edges, but I spent a lot of time with original L4D (around 200 hours) and I find L4D2 to be a huge improvement in almost every way.

Also: booting in Windows is a "pain in the ass?" No wonder Chris finds L4D2 to be so punishing, the guy can't even turn on a computer without complaining about it.

I don't know what weird voodoo is going on with Chris Grant and/or his friends but my experience with L4D2 on the 360 is completely different. Yes, it is a (slightly) more difficult game than the original, but going through the campaigns with two humans, one human anchor, and a bot on Normal we have yet to had a TPK except on a few finales — which is as it should be, I think.

Edit: just got to the "expansion pack" comment. Couldn't disagree more. I think they've improved on most every aspect. It feels more complete than the original; the gameplay feels somewhat deeper.

Flying_Norseman wrote:

Who cares about his comments on L4D2, what really annoyed me was his constant loud swallowing! Was he drinking something? Gah. Annoying.

I wondered what that was too, was he doing a Woody Allen impression?

Podunk wrote:

Also: booting in Windows is a "pain in the ass?" No wonder Chris finds L4D2 to be so punishing, the guy can't even turn on a computer without complaining about it.

Torturing a Mac by forcing it to boot into Windows is pretty painful ;).

lostlobster wrote:

Edit: just got to the "expansion pack" comment. Couldn't disagree more. I think they've improved on most every aspect. It feels more complete than the original; the gameplay feels somewhat deeper.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing that refutes the expansion-pack sentiment for me is how far they went to give every level a unique gameplay conceit. Just look at the very first campaign: You start off going through a burning building. There are hallways that start off clear, but if you open one of the doors with smoke coming out of it, the fire will spread and block that path, forcing you to find a way around. Then there's the elevator ride that slowly fills up with smoke and culminates in the run through the burning haze on the first floor where there's fire everywhere and you can't see. What's cool about this is that even though it's got all these neat gameplay aspects, they use it once and move on. They don't throw a burning building into every campaign, it's just this completely unique thing for that level. Then right after that, you have the Quest For Cola which also never happens again. Then you have the finale which is the only time the Scavenge game shows up in a campaign.

The first game had a lot of these neat little gameplay mechanics, like the alarm cars, that mix up the standard dash-for-the-safe-room formula, but it repeated all of them throughout all the campaigns. Except for the metal detector in the airport, which is unique, there was very little to separate the actual mechanics at play from one campaign to the next. What I love about L4D2 that really separates it is how much they change that. Every campaign doesn't just feel like a different setting, they all feel like you're doing something completely different.

Switchbreak wrote:
lostlobster wrote:

Edit: just got to the "expansion pack" comment. Couldn't disagree more. I think they've improved on most every aspect. It feels more complete than the original; the gameplay feels somewhat deeper.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing that refutes the expansion-pack sentiment for me is how far they went to give every level a unique gameplay conceit.

Well said (all of it). And, while I agree that the houses don't quite seem as lived-in at times, or the graffiti isn't as funny, it seems kind of strange to complain about that when they've created a damned hurricane for you to play through, the coolest among new cool environments, imho.

Switchbreak wrote:

The first game had a lot of these neat little gameplay mechanics, like the alarm cars, that mix up the standard dash-for-the-safe-room formula, but it repeated all of them throughout all the campaigns. Except for the metal detector in the airport, which is unique, there was very little to separate the actual mechanics at play from one campaign to the next. What I love about L4D2 that really separates it is how much they change that. Every campaign doesn't just feel like a different setting, they all feel like you're doing something completely different.

I agree completely.

To me, L4D2 feels like a Valve game from top to bottom. L4D1 started at Turtle Rock, and although Valve provided writing, an art overhaul and a lot of gameplay tuning, the basic gameplay did not change much once Valve bought out Turtle Rock. Between that point and release, my understanding is that Valve spent most of their time polishing, and infusing the game with some personality and visual identity beyond what was basically a co-op Counterstrike mod with zombies and some tricksy AI.

With L4D2, Valve actually had the time to go back and dig into the gameplay.

NathanialG wrote:

Hey, that was me who went with you guys on your first try!

Heh, I heard that I got a mention on the podcast and went in for a listen and discovered it wasn't actually me they were talking about. I did play with Certis and Rabbit, but it was with Pigpen and we played Swamp Fever and Hard Rain (not Dead Center). I was the only one who'd played Swamp Fever before at the time. On Swamp Fever, Certis and Rabbit made it out while on Hard Rain I believe we all survived (and Certis called me a c*cksucker).

[size=6]I totally carried the team. Shhh, don't tell Certis or Rabbit I said so.[/size]

Sucks to hear about the 360 version.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

On game realism:
I am post-mortem proof that one man can kill millions of minions without dying, but if games were realistic they would be boring and tedious as hell. I cite Ultra Realistic Modern Warfare as evidence.

It's a probably a moot issue anyway. Even the most "realistic" games are not even close to as realistic as, say, True Lies. Let's consider Modern Warfare 2:

Magic healing powers (I just need to rest for five seconds!)
Despite my awesome healing powers, I cannot climb over the barbed wire
I die and begin my new life five minutes earlier in time.
1000+ rounds of ammo and 20+ grenade launcher grenades, and I can still run at full speed
No matter how much I shoot this wooden board it won't break
I swear there was a body here a minute ago
Titanium eardrums
Why do I have to wear horse blinders to be a soldier (no peripheral vision)
Why doesn't the US government invest in these unlimited ammo caches and turrets?

To note that one guy can kill hundreds of people in the course of a game is fine as a one off, quirky observation but I'm not sure it really holds water as a criticism of games. As pointed out above realism to isn't really what games do. A game is there to provide you with a fun form of the activity you bought it to experience. In a shooter that is generally going to be shooting people who are trying to shoot you.

A realistic shooter level would consist of three days of boredom and discomfort in a fortified position waiting, in vain, for an enemy force to arrive, an over night relocation by truck then, to spice things up a little, an afternoon spent sheltering in a ditch while someone else deals with a mortar team and finally few days R and R before you get to shoot at a distant bush that may or may not be sheltering the guy who took a pot shot at one of the sentries (actually I might enjoy a level like that but then I don't think I'm typical when it comes to what is enjoyable in a game.)

Edit: An Assassin's Creed game that had you travelling between Liverpool, Manchester and Bolton would freak me out (although I'd be available for voice work, "Eh up lad. What's thee doing in this neck o' t' woods and why's thee carrying them big sowards?")

Higgledy wrote:

A realistic shooter level would consist of three days of boredom and discomfort in a fortified position waiting, in vain, for an enemy force to arrive, an over night relocation by truck then, to spice things up a little, an afternoon spent sheltering in a ditch while someone else deals with a mortar team and finally few days R and R before you get to shoot at a distant bush that may or may not be sheltering the guy who took a pot shot at one of the sentries (actually I might enjoy a level like that but then I don't think I'm typical when it comes to what is enjoyable in a game.)

Sounds like you want to play this.

I haven't play Left 4 Dead 2 or more than a single campaign of Left 4 Dead, but I can't help noticing that most of the people in this thread saying that Left 4 Dead 2 isn't too difficult are all pretty experienced with the first one. That may or may not mean anything, but when you've spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours playing a game competitively against other people, your perception of what is and is not difficult for the average player in that game might be a bit off. I can't help but wonder if Valve tweaked the difficulty in Left 4 Dead 2 based on feedback primarily from more experienced players.

King Arthur era, eh? Assassin's Creed 3 and the Holy Grail...

"Help! Help! I'm being repre...!"

*stab*

adam.greenbrier wrote:

I haven't play Left 4 Dead 2 or more than a single campaign of Left 4 Dead, but I can't help noticing that most of the people in this thread saying that Left 4 Dead 2 isn't too difficult are all pretty experienced with the first one. That may or may not mean anything, but when you've spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours playing a game competitively against other people, your perception of what is and is not difficult for the average player in that game might be a bit off. I can't help but wonder if Valve tweaked the difficulty in Left 4 Dead 2 based on feedback primarily from more experienced players.

Your point is a good one, and it'd be interesting to know how Valve determines difficulty.

However, we're responding directly to Chris Grant's comments that, playing with seasoned L4D1-ers, they died every third step in L4D2. (This may be a slight exaggeration.)

Switchbreak wrote:
Higgledy wrote:

A realistic shooter level would consist of three days of boredom and discomfort in a fortified position waiting, in vain, for an enemy force to arrive, an over night relocation by truck then, to spice things up a little, an afternoon spent sheltering in a ditch while someone else deals with a mortar team and finally few days R and R before you get to shoot at a distant bush that may or may not be sheltering the guy who took a pot shot at one of the sentries (actually I might enjoy a level like that but then I don't think I'm typical when it comes to what is enjoyable in a game.)

Sounds like you want to play this.

Colour me excited :).

I am no L4D expert--and it sounds like Chris played with L4D experts--but I played on the 360 and didn't find it difficult at ALL on Normal. I remember us complaining that Normal was too easy and Advanced was too hard--that something in between would be preferable. We had 0 deaths on normal. On advanced, we would have at least one death per attempt, and frequent wipes.

Amoebic and I beat the bridge scene at the end on the first go--but we were right on the edge of defeat the entire time. Pure insanity and adrenaline--but we beat it. First try. It's hard for me to imagine that Chris was experiencing the same game I played.

He made one comment that made me think the memory of frustration is retrospectively exaggerating things for him: he complained that bots on 360 are "useless." This is baffling to me. All of my friends have complained, if anything, that the bots are too good. They are crackshots, picking off specials before they even are visible to you. In my experience, the game is *easier* when playing with one or two bots, not harder.

Rat Boy wrote:

King Arthur era, eh? Assassin's Creed 3 and the Holy Grail...

"Help! Help! I'm being repre...!"

*stab*

We will not go to Camelot after all for it is a silly place.

I haven't listened to the podcast yet, but from what I call tell from the comments it seems like this guy had problems playing through on Normal. My own experience was that while normal is certainly doable (I've only wiped a couple of times during the finale events), it was definitely harder than Normal in L4D1. I think that its a fair criticism to say that Valve should have tweaked the difficulty a bit - but that by no means is indicative of the overall quality of the game.

The fact that Normal in Torchlight was too easy was dismissed in milliseconds with a response of "play on hard". Why can't we dismiss the fact that Normal in L4D2 is to hard just as easily with a response of "play on easy?" Is this an insult to our collective e-peens or something?

Either way, while I love the gameplay changes in L4D2 and the unique gameplay conceits of each campaign, the setting is still really, really not clicking with me. The daytime levels just don't feel right. I finally got to play Hard Rain last night and the last 2 sections where it's a storm in the dark were by far my favorite levels in the game so far. Running through towns in the day just doesn't click with how I want the game to be.

philosofrenzy wrote:

I am no L4D expert--and it sounds like Chris played with L4D experts--but I played on the 360 and didn't find it difficult at ALL on Normal. I remember us complaining that Normal was too easy and Advanced was too hard--that something in between would be preferable. We had 0 deaths on normal. On advanced, we would have at least one death per attempt, and frequent wipes.

Amoebic and I beat the bridge scene at the end on the first go--but we were right on the edge of defeat the entire time. Pure insanity and adrenaline--but we beat it. First try. It's hard for me to imagine that Chris was experiencing the same game I played.

He made one comment that made me think the memory of frustration is retrospectively exaggerating things for him: he complained that bots on 360 are "useless." This is baffling to me. All of my friends have complained, if anything, that the bots are too good. They are crackshots, picking off specials before they even are visible to you. In my experience, the game is *easier* when playing with one or two bots, not harder.

I kinda wonder if his friends were handicapping him on purpose without telling. Like jumping off of ledges or shooting him in the back, and then blaming the director. Like a bunch of Xbox 360 versions of Prozac.