GWJ Conference Call Episode 177

Conference Call

Heavy Rain, Heavy Rain Spoiler Section, Star Trek Online, Titan Quest, Everquest 2, Tense Gaming, Our Contest Winner, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian and Elysium hold down the fort and talk about building tension in games, Heavy Rain and quite a lot more. Later in the show we do a 40 minute Heavy Rain spoiler section! It's the very last segment, so if you'd like to avoid spoilers it will be easy to skip. 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!

Sponsor
Good Old Games

  • Subscribe with iTunes
  • Subscribe with RSS
  • Subscribe with Yahoo!
Download the official apps
  • Download the GWJ Conference Call app for Android
  • Download the GWJ Conference Call app for Android

Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Sunflower" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.Workbench-music.com - 0:33:04
"Zoo (Dawn)" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 0:47:14
"Zoo (Dusk)" - Zoo (Workbench) - www.workbench-music.com - 1:03:47

Comments

I was surprised that you didn't mention the Thief series in your Tension in Games section. I thought that was a particular strength of that series. Also in the "I'm weak and my enemies are powerful" category X-Com hit that spot for me even though it was turn based.

I think that was the best game discussion I've ever heard, simply because of how completely different each of your experiences were, and I look forward to playing through again. I guess I'll use spoiler tags, just in case

My ending

Spoiler:

For my ending I had Jayden and Madison. Ethan got caught by the cops during the trial after the one where you're supposed to shoot the drug dealer (I didn't shoot him), so he was in the jail cell. Madison reaches the warehouse first, but I forget how she got the address now. She finds Shaun, and then Scott shows up. Memories blurring on the order of events, but Jayden shows up at one point and he's the one who rescues Shawn, doing the whole CPR thing as well. Madison gets chased by Scott, and finally she boots him into the water. I think that was pretty much it. In the epilogue Ethan is freed and reunited with his son and his wife apologizes to him. Madison does her book deal, and Jayden is in a bathroom about to take another hit, but manages to resist, throwing it on the ground. So they all live except Scott, and things go pretty swimmingly for everyone, except Lauren of course, no pun intended.

On playing with my gf and other observations

Spoiler:

She was sorta in and out of the room as I played, but was somewhat into the story. She really got into it when Ethan discovers Madison is a journalist and gets pissed and I had to choose whether to forgive or reject her:

me: Should I--
gf: FORGIVE HER

I think there's a deeper implication buried there.

Also. Do you feel like the faces seem to look better later in the game than early on? Seemed that way to me, but maybe just because of how weird the kids looked in the beginning.

Clowns are the scariest creatures on the face of the earth.

Like Andrich, I too killed the religious freak, flexing my MW2 quick twitch muscles. I felt bad.

I don't remember having much choice about using the drugs. I guess I avoided it almost every time, since Jayden was able to get off them in the end.

During the ARI playback sequence looking for evidence in the video clip, I did find the gold watch and then it asked me if I wanted to accuse Blake, but I said no. Ended up giving up, and I thought that was it, I screwed up.

Many times, despite hitting the right button or button combos, I still felt like it led to a bad result. But perhaps not as bad as it would have had I failed.

Heavy Rain's also my pick for filling me with the most tension. But Demon's Souls does that reasonably well, too.

DudleySmith wrote:

I was surprised that you didn't mention the Thief series in your Tension in Games section. I thought that was a particular strength of that series.

Thief is my #2 pick after the old AvP. The ping of the motion tracker is the epitome of video game tension in my book.

Heavy Rain spoilers! Yes, please!

I can't wait to listen.

I hate it when developers equate tension with frustration! It's not tension when I throw the controller to the floor, that's just frustrating game design.

I think tension builds up when I have an idea what could come towards me but I can't be sure about it, sort of like old fashioned horror movies never showed the "horror", but you heard the sounds and saw the reactions of the protagonists. The mind can make you feel horror and tension much better than any graphic animation can ever do.

barbex wrote:

I hate it when developers equate tension with frustration! It's not tension when I throw the controller to the floor, that's just frustrating game design.

Agreed. The best example of building tension without frustration I can think of is the scene in HL2:Ep2 where you're defending Alyx from Antlions that attack from 3 tunnels.

The combination of the gradually escalating numbers of Antlions, being attacked from 3 directions, the warbling tone of the motion alarm and the worried banter from your squadmates builds tension so effectively you don't even notice it until afterwards.

Of course, being an action game and not a horror game they give you a release for the tension with the arrival of the Vortigaunts and the chance to overpower the previously scary Antlions.

Argh, I'm suffering extreme head-slappery from the song contest. I had two of them very comfortably locked in (Warcraft 2, Chrono Trigger) and pretty good feelings about two of the others (Donkey Kong Country, Xenogears), but I completely whiffed on Myst, of all things.

Tension = Marine section in AvP. 'nuff said.

Bah! I did at least get Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country, but I wasn't even close on the other 4. I'm beating myself up over missing Warcraft 2 and Myst.

I must shout out to Certis (I think?) for saying that many game reviewers may be ill-equipped to judge Heavy Rain. I've felt the same looking around the web. There seems to be a wide-spread inability to grasp subtlety.

Different Kinds of Tension

I only have one thing to add. When I'm playing an FPS, I'm never experiencing the tension of - say - a survival horror game. But I am experiencing tension, however different.

Last night, after some Global Agenda, I found that my neck was beyond tight. This is something I'm pre-disposed to anyhow, but when I'm playing games my body tightens up all the more. This kind of constant-awareness tension feels like a variety that's more even rather than punctuated.

Just a thought. I'm sure the discussion doesn't have to spit apart quite so much, but I thought I'd offer an example that came to mind.

Clearly Certis has never heard of Little France in South Philly...

[size=1]I'm bullsh*tting here.[/size]

Most consistently tense game I've played has to be FEAR, that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time and I couldn't play it for more then an hour at a time. Something about games really gets my heart pounding, if some of these intense games were movies instead they would barely effect me at all.

The most genuine tension I've ever felt in a game was always in Counter-Strike.

You watch your other team members slowly die off, and then realize it's you against 5 or 6 other players. At that point every turn and flip of the mouse gets a little more tense and a little more interesting.

Double the tension if it's a scrimmage or full match between actual teams that play together often.

The most ridiculous tension I think I've ever experienced in a game was in SWAT 4, on the hospital map with all the terrorists. I was probably 80 or 90 minutes into the map, with all three of my teammates incapacitated, all of my ammo exhausted except for my taser and a couple of pistol rounds, and all objectives completed except for neutralizing a single tango who was hiding somewhere in the darkened corridors of the basement. I was wounded too, and a single shot from an enemy would finish me. I have no idea how long I crept through those hallways, painstakingly checking every corner--it could have been anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I pretty much jumped out of my chair when I finally came upon the last terrorist hiding behind some boxes of surgical supplies, and when I tased the f*ck out of him and subdued him, it was one of the most awesome moments of gaming victory I've ever experienced.

I feel like I'm listening to a book club chat to a book I haven't read and don't have much of intention to read.

Edit: And am I the only one that finds it odd that after hearing all this haterade over the years concerning QTEs that the podcast crew has fallen head over heels for Heavy Rain when the critical junctures of the game hinge on pulling off QTEs?

Edit: And am I the only one that finds it odd that after hearing all this haterade over the years concerning QTEs that the podcast crew has fallen head over heels for Heavy Rain when the critical junctures of the game hinge on pulling off QTEs?

Having not listened to the section, in case I end up playing, I think the biggest issue with QTEs is often the way it interrupts the flow of a working game. It takes away the biggest moment and suddenly conceives it in a far less cool way than perhaps the rest of the game had set up. The difference is that when QTEs are the primary gameplay model, and it is done in a way that makes sense, that's fine. There's no inherent flaw with QTEs as a function of player control -- the issue is more often the delivery. I think people have been consistent in that, though it isn't always explicitly stated.

Elysium wrote:

The difference is that when QTEs are the primary gameplay model, and it is done in a way that makes sense, that's fine.

Exactly. I mean, a QTE, when you think about it, but pressing a button to execute an on-screen action in a context specific way. In games like God of War where you're doing awesome combos in a non-context specific way, turning that around and forcing the player to give up control and instead work in the constraints the game is forcing on you is jarring.

In Heavy Rain, the QTEs work because the entire game is framed around the context. The sequences in Heavy Rain would frankly be impossible to do any other way, but if you buy into the "interactive fiction" of it, the QTE's work as a storytelling device. Also, eventually you learn the "logic" behind the button-presses, helping you frame in your mind what general action you're going to have to perform with the controller given the context that you're in - something that makes the QTE's more consistent and enjoyable.

And I do have to say that Heavy Rain gave me far and away the most tension I've had in a game, consistently. I love this game.

Elysium wrote:

There's no inherent flaw with QTEs as a function of player control -- the issue is more often the delivery. I think people have been consistent in that, though it isn't always explicitly stated.

Yeah, I agree to a point on this; it's just that I didn't really get a sense of how the gameplay was outside of the walking and camera mechanics during all the discussions during the show, just plot. Then again, you don't hear book reviewers say, "The plot in the latest Dan Brown novel was pretty shallow, but man were the pages fun to turn."

Rat Boy wrote:

Yeah, I agree to a point on this; it's just that I didn't really get a sense of how the gameplay was outside of the walking and camera mechanics during all the discussions during the show, just plot.

It's hard to describe. The game is trying to get you to mimick your actions on screen with the actions its asking you to do on the controller. At it's best, it works really well, and the tension of the difficulty of the moves it's asking you to pull off matches the tension of what is happening on screen. In fact, the mechanics are really at their best not when they're asking you to do timed sequences of quick button presses (such as in a fistfight) but rather when you're asked to do more complex button moves that give you all the time in the world but the consequences of the failure/success of those moves are severe.

Rat Boy wrote:

Yeah, I agree to a point on this; it's just that I didn't really get a sense of how the gameplay was outside of the walking and camera mechanics during all the discussions during the show, just plot. Then again, you don't hear book reviewers say, "The plot in the latest Dan Brown novel was pretty shallow, but man were the pages fun to turn."

That's probably because none of us felt like the gameplay was getting in the way of the plot. It's a game that's so focused on the narrative that it doesn't matter if you're succeeding or failing the QTEs. In fact, failing those QTEs gave some of us a unique experience.

And yeah, it's tough to describe. It's just kinda there.

Yes, the world really needs more space games. Heck, I'm so desperate, I'm playing Ace Online again. Looking forward to Jumpgate Evolution, Mechwarrior and Descent 4... Ok, the last one is pure wishful thinking at this point, but I'm allowed to dream, aren't I?

Actually, I get most tense when playing RTS games. Will my briliant scheme work out? Will my units be there on time? It is rarely apparent whether my current actions will lead to victory (which I hope) or are doomed to fail (which I fear).

First thing that leapt to mind for me during the talk of tension in games was one night in L4D, the other three survivors were down outside the airport and I was left alone with a tank. I bobbed and weaved and jumped and ran, with my friends whoops and screams of encouragement in my ears. Scared the crap out of me. I eventually took him down by myself.

I think that says a lot about balance, as well. That situation would never be duplicated in L4D2 because within ten seconds of my being alone with the tank I'd have a spitter, a hunter, and a jockey all trying to take me down.

Good balance (as anyone who's played DnD) is huge in creating tension. Getting down to a near TPK but barely surviving is exciting and tense. Easily picking apart the enemy or getting killed when you walk into a room is not.

Demiurge wrote:

And yeah, it's tough to describe. It's just kinda there.

Yeah, I was just curious is all. Not that it matters to me since I don't have a PS3.

On interesting side note, the way Shawn and Karla were talking about it made me think that this could be the perfect date game. Think about it; girl wants to watch a romantic flick, guy wants to watch a mindless blow sh*t up flick, they compromise on a thriller or horror movie. Girl wants to play something on the Wii, guy wants to play an FPS on the 360, they could compromise and play through Heavy Rain together. It seems cinematic enough that whoever doesn't have the controller won't get bored by what they're watching and they could collaborate on puzzle solving or critical decisions, though I imagine an argument brewing if one of them screws up a QTE and a character dies.

Wait, there's your topic for next week: date games. You're welcome.

Another great conference call guys.

I always feel most tense when I'm playing multiplayer games. TF2, Halo 3, Starcraft. Especially in those last few neck and neck seconds of a game when you're unsure of the outcome. Resident Evil 4 (and to some extent 5) does a great job of building tension then successfully keeps it at a steady level throughout. I also have to say AvP 1 for obvious reasons.

System Shock 2 begins with a great deal of tension and then either increases or decreases that tension dramatically based on how you decide to play the game. The game's beginning is very tense no matter what, but the firearms are so over-powered that if you specialize in them, the game's tension is drained once you acquire the assault rifle; however, the psionic powers are so weak that playing through the last part of the game with them becomes a nail-biting experience where you never have enough resources and are always on the verge of death.

Gotta say, without spoiling anything, the final mission in mass effect 2 was incredibly tense for me the first time through it.

I wasn't sure if we'd all make it out alive!

Another way to creating tension in a game is to have other players running around in the same game world who have the ability (and the burning desire) to kill your character. I had no real interest in PvP in WoW and often felt I'd made a mistake joining a PvP server but, equally, the background threat from other players when questing or gathering resources actually kept the game alive. I felt a low level tension and excitement whenever entering an area where I stood a good chance of being attacked.

The original Ghost Recons are a prime example of good tension in a single player game for me. Some of my best memories of those games are slowly moving through a section of countryside, with the wind rustling the trees, as I scan the terrain ahead of me for distant enemy soldiers; all the time aware that I could suddenly be hit and killed by a bullet from a patrol I hadn't spotted.

The Heavy Rain spoiler discussion was fantastic. Thanks, I loved it too.

Sean, I just finished Titan Quest and had much the same love/hate relationship with it. It's explicitly designed to promote multiple playthroughs, which is both a cool and terrible thing. I love the idea of being able to come back to a game a number of times and discover new loot, but the tedium of grinding does get old pretty quickly. I also wish there was a way to experiment with different character classes and specialties without having to basically scrap everything and start over at level 1. I know you can reassign skill points, but I don't know if the game will let you reassign specialties.

As for tension in games, I've heard a lot of talk about System Shock 2 and would love to experience it, but haven't had any luck finding a copy. Is ebay my only recourse here?