GWJ Conference Call Episode 181

Conference Call

Just Cause 2, Metro 2033, God of War 3, Dawn of War: Chaos Rising, Returning Special Guest Eskil Steenberg! Your Emails and more!

This week Eskil Steenberg joins us fresh off the official launch of his online MMO, Love. We talk about the Nintendo 3DS, subscription models and all sorts of other things. We also spend a little time exploring what a new player should try after logging into Love for the first time! If you want to submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563.

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined. You can also submit a question or comment call in to our voicemail line at (612) 284-4563!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Love Main Theme" (Ian Dorsch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 0:42:42
"Love Trailer Soundtrack" (Ian Dorsch) - www.willowtreeaudio.com - 1:05:19

Comments

I meant Antagonist!

Woohoo, Eskil Steenberg! This will be one exiting episode.

Best example of nonlinear linear game structure: Megaman

Dawn of War 2 has a coop campaign mode.

DOTA is a very popular Warcraft 3 mod (an RTS game) where you control one unit; not four, not two, but one. There are parts of the game in Warcraft 3 where you control only one unit. There are large parts where you control only a small squad.

LarryC wrote:

There are parts of the game in Warcraft 3 where you control only one unit. There are large parts where you control only a small squad.

Those were the parts that soured me on the game, personally. I like tech-ing up and building an army more than I like taking three units and figuring out how to kill everything on a map.

To each his own, doubtingthomas396. Dawn of War 2 makes a point of never allowing you to build a unit. What you start with is usually what you end up with. It's one way to go with RTS.

Lots of people make comments about how RTS has been stagnating for over a decade. That's not actually true. RTS has spawned Tower Defense and DOTA gaming already, and I can't wait to see what new game ideas the Universe Editor in Starcraft 2 will allow the online community to produce.

It's just that some people (like you and me, seems like), still enjoy Starcraft pretty much exactly how it was ten years ago. Nothing wrong with that. I'm glad Blizzard is updating the game that we all hold near and dear to our hearts. No one's "progressed" Chess in a good, long, while and there's nothing wrong with that, either.

LarryC wrote:

To each his own, doubtingthomas396. Dawn of War 2 makes a point of never allowing you to build a unit. What you start with is usually what you end up with. It's one way to go with RTS.

Lots of people make comments about how RTS has been stagnating for over a decade. That's not actually true. RTS has spawned Tower Defense and DOTA gaming already, and I can't wait to see what new game ideas the Universe Editor in Starcraft 2 will allow the online community to produce.

It's just that some people (like you and me, seems like), still enjoy Starcraft pretty much exactly how it was ten years ago. Nothing wrong with that. I'm glad Blizzard is updating the game that we all hold near and dear to our hearts. No one's "progressed" Chess in a good, long, while and there's nothing wrong with that, either.

Actually, a game designed around a handful of units without the resource management wouldn't be bad in my eyes. I loved Freedom Force, even though it was basically an extended "baby unit" mission.

Warcraft 3 just didn't feel like it lent itself to that kind of gameplay, though. Maybe I just never mastered the art of how to actually manage combat in that sort of system. Which is why I like Sins of a Solar Empire, because I can just build a buttload of units and send a wave of tritanium death at my enemies rather than trying to figure out how to make my scouts dodge attacks by tanks.

I forgot Eskil was on. Nice.

As much as I respect Eskil and his opinions, I think his vision of where games are going with respect to linearity/storytelling are way off the mark.

There will always be a large segment of the gaming population who want to feel like a hero, and want to be told an epic story. Nonlinear and/or emergent games (like Love) just don't do a good job of that.

AndrewA wrote:

As much as I respect Eskil and his opinions, I think his vision of where games are going with respect to linearity/storytelling are way off the mark.

There will always be a large segment of the gaming population who want to feel like a hero, and want to be told an epic story. Nonlinear and/or emergent games (like Love) just don't do a good job of that.

Which I think is where he envisions it all going: to the point where the emergent story feels as natural as Mass Effect's plot.

I'm not saying I can see the solution (or that Eskil gave one), but I would argue Eskil is agreeing that right now nonlinearity is a problem when telling story, but that it is a solvable problem.

One of the thoughts that popped into my head as we recorded (but the moment passed) was that in Chess, the queen never laments the loss of her pawns or reveals her secret past as a spy for Russia. Emergent story story can feel natural and I think there's a place for it in the future, but it won't ever deliver a Heavy Rain or Bioshock. It would be a different genre rather than a replacement for what's standard right now. Works for me!

Once when I was meditating on the nature of implicit vs. explicit narrative in video games, someone more intelligent than me said that there were two general sorts of game designs:

1. Games designed around the *execution* of an excellent mechanic (Madden, Counterstrike, TF2, Chess)

2. Games designed around the delivery of content.

Obviously lots of video games mix these two concerns to one extent or another. And I think that's the correct approach. I think it's unrealistic and misguided to declare that "emergent narratives through game mechanics are the one true future" because you are excluding half of the possible design space. What Eskil is talking about is execution. But what a lot of people continue to want to consume is content delivery.

My base assumption here is that dynamically generating content that feels compelling as a narrative experience is essentially equivalent to implementing A.I. and will never happen in our lifetimes.

Certis wrote:

One of the thoughts that popped into my head as we recorded (but the moment passed) was that in Chess, the queen never laments the loss of her pawns or reveals her secret past as a spy for Russia. Emergent story story can feel natural and I think there's a place for it in the future, but it won't ever deliver a Heavy Rain or Bioshock. It would be a different genre rather than a replacement for what's standard right now. Works for me!

Unless it's Eve Online. That's true for singleplayer games, but emergent gameplay works beautifully in multiplayer game worlds that support player antagonism (don't think Love falls in this category). You can have deceit and machiavelic personas - it's all up to the players.

Also, shameless plug: if anyone heard the podcast and is curious about DoW 2, we are starting up a league (credit to oilypenguin for all the logistics) and trying to get some regular players on. Our focus so far is the MP vs mode, but if I were a betting man, I would say there's a good chance to find someone willing to help out in the campaign

Come and join us! No skill level required for entry.
Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2 GWJ League!

Certis wrote:

One of the thoughts that popped into my head as we recorded (but the moment passed) was that in Chess, the queen never laments the loss of her pawns or reveals her secret past as a spy for Russia. Emergent story story can feel natural and I think there's a place for it in the future, but it won't ever deliver a Heavy Rain or Bioshock. It would be a different genre rather than a replacement for what's standard right now. Works for me!

Instead of focusing on improving the narrative in emergent games, how about improving the emergence in narrative games? Mass Effect 2 had a good narrative and excellent characterization, but your interaction with the game world was incredibly linear and could really have used more interesting possible outcomes that wouldn't necessarily have to affect the plot.

I've gotta disagree with Eskil's theory that "violent/shooter games breed bad behavior". I'd actually argue the point that they disporportionally attact that type of gamer.

Ditto for his game, as he may not have the hypercompetitive trash talkers in it simply because a non-competitive game doesn't interest them as much.

The return of Sean and Shawn + Eskil = best episode of GWJ CC in quite a while. Oh and a dash of Assassin's Creed hatred from Rob for good measure.

Dysplastic wrote:

Instead of focusing on improving the narrative in emergent games, how about improving the emergence in narrative games? Mass Effect 2 had a good narrative and excellent characterization, but your interaction with the game world was incredibly linear and could really have used more interesting possible outcomes that wouldn't necessarily have to affect the plot.

Yes, please! I couldn't agree more. I don't need a great narrative in my action-oriented, open-world games, but I would definitely like more emergence in my ultra-linear, narrative-driven games.

To a certain extent, competitive gaming promotes trash-talking at the lower tiers of skill because at that level, trash talking actually works to improve your win ratio. In that sense, competitive gaming engenders trash talking and bad behavior.

At the higher tiers of skill, most serious competitive games do not reward such behavior. You'll find almost no trash talking at the highest levels of team vs. team Counterstrike because time you spend talking trash is time you're not spending blowing heads off, and your team would really much rather you spend that time shooting your gun rather than your mouth.

Similarly, many very high level Starcraft players have phenomenal powers of concentration. Nearly all their attention is being poured into the game, so trash talking them is kind of useless and distracts you, lowering your own APM. You'll probably only get results with chemical weaponry, and even that's not a sure thing.

Dysplastic wrote:

Instead of focusing on improving the narrative in emergent games, how about improving the emergence in narrative games? Mass Effect 2 had a good narrative and excellent characterization, but your interaction with the game world was incredibly linear and could really have used more interesting possible outcomes that wouldn't necessarily have to affect the plot.

I think emergence in narrative does happen, but it requires more player investment. I can't speak to ME, but I did just have this happen on my latest run through of Dragon Age:

Spoiler:

I've always been of the opinion that Cailin is a well-intentioned idiot, and Alistair is as well, but I'd resolved to put Alistair on the throne despite my doubts, because I was going to have him marry Anora, and bloodlines are important to these people. As close to best as I could get, I felt. Playing through the Ostagar DLC, though, I found Cailin's correspondence that showed him to be a competent, canny ruler. It totally redefined my perception of Cailin, and in turn redefined my perception of Alistair, and redefined my feelings about the choices I was making. But it required I be thinking that hard about the narrative.

I'm not familiar with Mr. Steenberg, I'm sure he does good work, but I'm always very wary of creators who don't engage in their medium. The only musician I know of who claims to not listen to music is Yanni.

I find Eskil a very interesting person, but I question whether he thinks of "story" in the same way that most players do.

Chess is not a story. Nor is football. These are frameworks in which participants fill roles to complete a very well-bounded interaction. Within these systems people can behave in interesting ways, but even the most epic competition isn't a "story" without the human interactions of the players.

The same is true for his example of the "blow up the gas depot and guys no longer have gas" deal. So, you can hit trigger A to generate outcome B - but what kind of story is that? How well can you obfuscate that it's just a bunch of algorithms responding to your actions?

Unless there are actual people involved at some level - that is, either real people in the form of actors, real people in the form of fellow players, or simulated people whose interactions with the player are choreographed by a real person writer - I just don't see it. Human interest is what makes a story, and given any level of technology I can envision you simply can't generate that kind of interaction on the fly.

Based off of Eskil's description, it seems like his idea of a "story" is an experience that can be generated by a complex system with enough interconnected components, such that each player has a unique interaction with the game. So, OK, unique experiences are cool, I'll grant that; but does that make for a "story" in the sense that most people would think of it? I don't think so. There needs to be a real guy pulling the strings, somewhere.

I liked the stuff with Eskil and I can see where he's coming from, but I think he's overestimating how much people will be willing to pay. It seems optimistic to me to expect people to pay $10/month to play an intimidating game that tells you, "hey, why not join TeamSpeak so you can communicate with people?"

I'm thinking about dropping $10 to try it out. Either way, I hope he's successful. Or rather, I hope the subscription fee isn't very successful and he notices early enough to adopt a less painful model that's very successful.

Chess is not a story, but it is a setting in which a story can occur. Likewise football. Likewise Starcraft. Matches that are described as "epic" often become fodder for stories that get told and retold for years.

I think the ultimate aim in emergent storytelling is to enhance the emergent story with great audiovisual elements without diluting the impact of personality.

Dysplastic wrote:

Instead of focusing on improving the narrative in emergent games, how about improving the emergence in narrative games? Mass Effect 2 had a good narrative and excellent characterization, but your interaction with the game world was incredibly linear and could really have used more interesting possible outcomes that wouldn't necessarily have to affect the plot.

I think Fallout 3 gives the sort of freedom you're looking for. Even though the main story of that game is entirely on rails, you still have the ability to explore the entire world to whatever extent you wish. Out in the world, you have dozens of smaller stories, which all ultimately intertwine to form a unique experience for the player.

On the other hand, I think FO3's main story isn't told nearly as skillfully as ME2's. I'd love to see ME2-quality main story presentation coupled with FO3's ability to ride off the rails for long stretches.

@gore:

I'm thinking you're worrying too much with the word "story". You're putting as a plot, or a script. Nevertheless, I think you can call those unique experiences Eskil talked about stories with no problem whatsoever. You were a participant in a series of events that can form an interesting narrative. Sure, it may not have personal drama attached to it, but does it really need drama to be considered a story?

Didn't like Eskil the first time I heard him, don't like him now. He's an obvious sony fanboy. Going off on random rants totally off subject. By far the worst guest, for me.

Carry on.

likedamaster wrote:

Didn't like Eskil the first time I heard him, don't like him now. He's an obvious sony fanboy. Going off on random rants totally off subject. By far the worst guest, for me.

Carry on.

Sony fanboy? I think I'll need to go back and re-listen cause I don't recall much about Sony at all.

gore wrote:

Chess is not a story. Nor is football. These are frameworks in which participants fill roles to complete a very well-bounded interaction. Within these systems people can behave in interesting ways, but even the most epic competition isn't a "story" without the human interactions of the players.

I disagree when the basis of competition is human interaction. Human interaction at its core is the mixing of human emotion. The dynamic evolution of human interaction has been based on the way humans respond to each other emotionally; whether we are talking about how different races, sexes, or religions react to each other emotionally. When looking at a sporting event like football, the essence of competition for the sport is emotion. Some of the greatest moments in football history have come from a player "digging deep" to find that emotion needed to recover and pull out a win. Or the anger generated when a teammate takes a cheap shot from the opposition and uses that to make a crucial play. For this reason, some of the greatest, feel good stories, turned movies,have been based on sporting events. I dont know about you, but watching the replay of an injured Willis Reed entering the game to help the Knicks pull out a win against the Lakers in a game 7 is a fantastic story.

garion333 wrote:

Sony fanboy? I think I'll need to go back and re-listen cause I don't recall much about Sony at all.

Yeah, I think that's a real stretch.

oMonarca wrote:

@gore:
You were a participant in a series of events that can form an interesting narrative. Sure, it may not have personal drama attached to it, but does it really need drama to be considered a story?

Drama is the human spirit inextricably mired in a series of events. Good story involves drama.

--

Good story is incredibly difficult to craft and very deliberate. 'Emergent' story is unlikely ever as good as story intentionally crafted. Procedural algorithms, like Left4Dead's AI, are much more likely to succeed in this aspect.

Chump wrote:
oMonarca wrote:

@gore:
You were a participant in a series of events that can form an interesting narrative. Sure, it may not have personal drama attached to it, but does it really need drama to be considered a story?

Drama is the human spirit inextricably mired in a series of events. Good story involves drama.

--

Good story is incredibly difficult to craft and very deliberate. 'Emergent' story is unlikely ever as good as story intentionally crafted. Procedural algorithms, like Left4Dead's AI, are much more likely to succeed in this aspect.

Yeah, but his point was about calling those moments stories or unique experiences. Not if they made good or bad stories. Good or bad, for me, they're still stories. But we shouldn't be discussing vocabulary when we all pretty much got what we was saying.

Don't waste my time with "troll" nonsense. - Certis

Move on. - Certis