GWJ Conference Call Episode 184

Conference Call

Splinter Cell: Conviction, Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, Strategry, Collaborative Storytelling, Your Emails and more!

This week the crew bands together to discuss collaborative storytelling in games and they totally get along! 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

"Twilight Bay" (James 106) - 0:25:41
"Chloe" (James 106) - 0:53:45

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Heh, looks like you guys fixed the link already. When I initially downloaded it, it was the 4/14 'cast. Redownloading...

Geez, it was the wrong link for like, 30 seconds! Quick on the draw.

The heck is Strategry?

Lemme guess, I've got to listen to find out.

Another week without a review of Plain Sight? I am shocked.

I read an article about Jason somewhere (Ars?). He lives incredibly cheaply and has a sponsor that allows him to dedicate himself to this kind of non-commercial exploratory work.

At some point (far in the future on the other side of peak oil after we invent fusion power plants and flying cars) there will come a point in mankind's future where each person is provided a baseline of food, shelter, healthcare, etc. and working will be optional. At this point, most people will devote themselves full time to leisure, including creating art. I truly expect that thousands and thousands of Jasons will emerge at this time to push the boundary of gaming into truly fascinating territory.

This is happening to some extent already with the mod/indie scene, but even here, designers and developers working for free (with a few exceptions) still have to be concerned with feeding and clothing themselves and cannot fully commit to this work. In spite of this, the mod/indie community makes some incredible stuff. I just wonder what it will be like when there are 100 times as many as today when few people to worry about basic amenities.

The podcast would have to be renamed, of course: Gamers Without Jobs

Five minutes of playtime and Lara is ready to slam FF XIII on the podcast? Disappointing.

It's extremely telling that she thought that Sahz (or "black sidekick" as she called him) was a light and fluffy character.... he's anything but, and that's apparent to anyone who has given the game more than five minutes of their time.

Like or dislike the game as you please, but don't pretend that five minutes with ANY video game is enough to have an informed opinion about it. Some of the best games out there start slow and build into something amazing.

I'm burning with nerd rage right now. You folks are totally mistaken on your perception about Android and games.

First, there are not five Android phones currently available, there are dozens and the list grows by the month. Google wisely provides the OS free to anyone and even directly supports manufactures as they develop their handsets. This results in a competitive market. Choice is your friend, it is what drives innovation.

Secondly, Google hasn't "given up" game development. I totally agree that game development is the one area where Android has lagged the most behind Apple. They are aware of this and they are making huge changes. One change is the release of an NDK that gives apps more access to the CPU and provides a nice path to port apps between the two platforms. Another change that I can't believe you all missed is that Google just hired industry bigwig Mark DeLoura as a developer advocate. Google was at GDC and gave out free phones to attendees! They created a slick sidescroller and released the source code free.

I'm done ranting, I'm just frustrated as an Android developer myself that you all took such a dismissive attitude when Google is scrambling to support gaming on Android. By the way, I love the podcast and you're all my heroes.

AndrewA wrote:

Five minutes of playtime and Lara is ready to slam FF XIII on the podcast? Disappointing.

It's extremely telling that she thought that Sahz (or "black sidekick" as she called him) was a light and fluffy character.... he's anything but, and that's apparent to anyone who has given the game more than five minutes of their time.

Like or dislike the game as you please, but don't pretend that five minutes with ANY video game is enough to have an informed opinion about it. Some of the best games out there start slow and build into something amazing.

I spent both thirty minutes and then two weeks later two hours with FF13, since I don't own a PS3. At least within the first two hours, I couldn't relate to any of the characters I met until then (tough girl, stereotypical black guy, pseudo-tough trenchcoat dude, smart ass girl and whiny boy). It's not even that I hated them, I just felt indifferent about them, their demise and what was happening in general.

This to me marks bad storytelling. Square-Enix knows they've got millions of fans that would suffer through a hundred hours of bad storytelling abuse just to receive the "I beat FF13" badge and still be part of the elite Final Fantasy fan society.

Don't get me wrong, the game seems to be certified eyecandy, but past that you really have to be a fan or blinded by the hype to find this enjoyable from a narrative point of view imo. And isn't this what RPGs are all about?

On Sleep is Death.

This kind of gameplay was possible in Neverwinter Nights and, I believe, Vampire - The Masquerade (Redemption?).

The difference here, of course, is accessability on several levels:

Jason's game has no rules, simple client/resources and (IMO) the brillant idea of spreading the resources just by players participating in a game - It will be a success, probably putting some people off on the graphics, even though they aren't the point of the game.

NWN has a dedicated DM's client with access to the main game's as well as user created (via the module builder) resources. It is possible to play with more than one DM and I've had several brillant experiences in games run like that.

NWN uses the main game's rules (D&D 3rd edition), though it's entirely possible to build scenarios that ignore them. Scenario building is somewhat involved and it's necessary to prepare a minimum of content before running a game.

Lastly every player need a full client and to download the module.

The above characteristics kind of limited the spread, but the game still went ahead becoming a great success.

I always wondered why Bioware didn't explore the possibilities more than they did. I guess it came down to rights and profit on content production.

AndrewA wrote:

Five minutes of playtime and Lara is ready to slam FF XIII on the podcast? Disappointing.

It's extremely telling that she thought that Sahz (or "black sidekick" as she called him) was a light and fluffy character.... he's anything but, and that's apparent to anyone who has given the game more than five minutes of their time.

Like or dislike the game as you please, but don't pretend that five minutes with ANY video game is enough to have an informed opinion about it. Some of the best games out there start slow and build into something amazing.

You're right: Five minutes is definitely not enough time to give an informed opinion on any game. Of course, I wasn't trying to give one, either. My whole point was that I didn't care enough to keep playing past five minutes, so that I could form that informed opinion. Five minutes is apparently all I could stand before falling asleep. (Of course, it could've been the wine, too.)

And it breaks my heart, given that I love the series as much as I do. I mean, contrast this opener to the first five minutes of, say, FFVI, or heck, even FFXII. Now that's in medias res done right!

As to your other point about Sahz: Maybe he does develop into an interesting character at some point in the game. (Certainly, Barrett had one of the more touching backstories, too, if you could ever decipher it.) But all I have are first impressions, and my first impression was very, very negative.

Black characters in video games tend to get the shaft (if they're there at all, of course), and for once, I just wanted a black guy who didn't fumble about and wisecrack his way through things while some other character carried all the awesome, you know?

Luggage wrote:

I spent both thirty minutes and then two weeks later two hours with FF13, since I don't own a PS3.

Which is perfectly respectful, and far more than enough to have an informed opinion on whether or not you like the game.

I'm not criticizing Lara for not liking the game, but rather for going on about "hating" it in a podcast without giving it more than five minutes of her time. Certainly she's not obligated to give any game a second more of her time than she wants to - but in the same breath there is no call for trashing a game when you've clearly not given it a chance.

Luggage wrote:

At least within the first two hours, I couldn't relate to any of the characters I met until then (tough girl, stereotypical black guy, pseudo-tough trenchcoat dude, smart ass girl and whiny boy). It's not even that I hated them, I just felt indifferent about them, their demise and what was happening in general.

Lightning (tough girl) was fairly dull to me, as were Snow (pseudo-tough trenchcoat dude) and Hope (whiny boy).

Sahz is NOT a "stereotypical black guy" in any sense of the term - I have a hard time looking back through 56 hours of game play to see how he started out though, so I'll defer to you if you tell me that he is on par with the idiotic twins in Transformers 2. Sahz's character really develops well, and he's part of some of the more heart wrenching scenes in the game.

Vanille (smart ass girl) is likewise far deeper than she originally lets on. Without being too spoilery, that super-cheery demeanor is a mask. But you don't see this for a long time.

Fang - who you don't see for a while - is another good character.

Maybe this speaks to the pacing of the character development being off, or at least the first hours of the game being dominated by cliched character roles. I *AM* a longtime series fan (started with FF 1) and so am certainly more than willing to give these games longer a longer leash. (It took three attempts at 5+ hours each for me to finally give up on FF 12 for good.)

KaterinLHC wrote:

You're right: Five minutes is definitely not enough time to give an informed opinion on any game. Of course, I wasn't trying to give one, either. My whole point was that I didn't care enough to keep playing past five minutes, so that I could form that informed opinion. Five minutes is apparently all I could stand before falling asleep. (Of course, it could've been the wine, too.)

We were posting at the same time; see my above reply to Luggage for the counter to this.

KaterinLHC wrote:

And it breaks my heart, given that I love the series as much as I do. I mean, contrast this opener to the first five minutes of, say, FFVI, or heck, even FFXII. Now that's in medias res done right!

If you love the series, then you owe it to yourself to at least give the game a couple of hours on a rental. If you still hate it at the end of that time, then by all means leave it in the dustbin. I've played numerous games that didn't click with me right away, but given a little bit of time I fell in love with them - Plants versus Zombies springs to mind as an example; hated it at first, but ended up loving it.

I do feel for the android devs out there. As I said in the podcast (I think) I love the hardware. I lust for a Droid honestly. But consoles are about installed base, and early installed bases have a tendency to be very very hard to sell against. My understanding from talking to devs is that a hit android game sells 20k units. Hit iPhone games sell over a million (just ask Firemint). Sure, those are outliers in both cases.

There's only so much Google can do to combat this, because there are real business model issues. Because google only makes pennies around the edges, the financial incentive to really support game developers is spread among the carriers, the handset makers, and google. Nwith Apple, it's all them. They make money buy selling more apps, selling more handsets, revving the platform, or even just accelerating the market position of the iPod touch (which had a crazy good sales quarter).

Thats a systemic issue emblematic of wide open systems. I agree that there are lots of benefits, but there's a reason we don't have open source game/broad licensed game consoles.

Wait, we sort of did -- it was called the 3do.

AndrewA wrote:

Sahz is NOT a "stereotypical black guy" in any sense of the term - I have a hard time looking back through 56 hours of game play to see how he started out though, so I'll defer to you if you tell me that he is on par with the idiotic twins in Transformers 2.

I honestly couldn't because although young Megan Fox has some impressive assets on display, I knew every characters in that movie would have made the Duke (Nukem, mind you) look like a literary genius. I also absolutely despise Michael Bay's directing (safe for the "The Island" slip-up).

AndrewA wrote:

Sahz's character really develops well, and he's part of some of the more heart wrenching scenes in the game.

Vanille (smart ass girl) is likewise far deeper than she originally lets on. Without being too spoilery, that super-cheery demeanor is a mask. But you don't see this for a long time.

Fang - who you don't see for a while - is another good character.

Maybe this speaks to the pacing of the character development being off, or at least the first hours of the game being dominated by cliched character roles. I *AM* a longtime series fan (started with FF 1) and so am certainly more than willing to give these games longer a longer leash.

Exactely my point. I think I am like most people when it comes to games. If I am not an absolute fanboy, the game has one night - or two to three hours - to hook me. If it fails to do so, I am probably never coming back. There's just too much else to play out there.

I thought FF13 looked gorgeous, I liked the movies and I played the old 8 bit titles (stopping before the infamous FF7). So I can relate to what keeps people coming back. But as someone who's more interested in the genre than the franchise, FF13 did nothing for me in those first two hours. And that is rare. Heck, even the Gothic games made you care about what was going on after two hours.

AndrewA wrote:

If you love the series, then you owe it to yourself to at least give the game a couple of hours on a rental. If you still hate it at the end of that time, then by all means leave it in the dustbin. I've played numerous games that didn't click with me right away, but given a little bit of time I fell in love with them - Plants versus Zombies springs to mind as an example; hated it at first, but ended up loving it.

The older I get -- and the more pressures I have on my free time -- the less I can justify playing a game for a couple of hours to see if it gets good. Two or three hours is pretty much an evening's worth of free time for me, after dinner, chores, errands, etc, and when we eventually have kids, I'll have even less free time.

So why spend an entire evening playing a game, which bored me off the bat, to see if it improves, when I could use those precious two or three hours to do something that I know I'll actually enjoy?

I love the series, but I just can't justify playing through crap anymore. Especially when I've been told from numerous sources that it takes at least 10-20 hours to "get good". I could play and beat another (better) game in that amount of time.

Rob's Brain: This high school musical is terrible. My sister is the only person worth watching!
Guy Next to Rob's Brain: This high school musical is terrible. My son is the only person worth watching!
Guy Across from Rob's Brain: This high school musical is terrible. My cousin is the only person worth watching!
Guy Across from the Guy Next to Rob's Brain: This high school musical is terrible. My friend is the only person worth watching!
Guy Next to the Guy Across from the Guy Next to Rob's Brain: This high school musical is terrible. ... I'm leaving.

I have to completely agree with KaterineLHC. I made it thirty minutes into FF13, but at that point I had grown numb below the neck and my spinal cord was trying to gnaw through itself so that I'd have something interesting to pay attention to. The simple fact is that there are WAY too many options out there for me to waste time with a game that a number of people have told me, "Just get through the first few hours and it gets better!" I admired the graphics, sound, and storytelling, but ultimately, I had no fun whatsoever.

AndrewA wrote:

If you love the series, then you owe it to yourself to at least give the game a couple of hours on a rental.

I disagree; we've plonked down our $50/$60, and a game owes it to us to give us something interesting. There are so many good games to be played now, there's just no reason to throw away time on one that starts off poorly.

Indeed, I think a lot of the love for old school "classic" titles comes from the fact that their contemporaries were really horrible, so spending "only" two hours to get to something fun looked like a triumph in comparison. Games as a whole have gotten dramatically better, and there's just no need to cut that kind of slack any more.

That said... I personally have more than 5 minutes' tolerance before I throw in the towel. Most games have intro cut scenes and/or character creation processes that take at least that long, and I'm willing to overlook issues with those elements (providing they don't take too long).

I doubt Check-In will ever be that entertaining if there aren't more volcanoes, unicorns, high school musicals, and Conan O'Brien references therein.

The fact that Laura is trying to make objective statements (specifically about "Death By Sleep), without having played the game she's talking about seems to me like nothing but cynicism.

I understand the whole devils-advocate thing, but that's not what she's doing even if she is trying (which I don't think she was actually trying). I've gotta say the conversation she was trying to have while criticizing the game was irritating, especially since it was obvious she didn't even have a grasp on the actual game mechanics.

"Why does it have to be a video game?"

You do know you're on a video game podcast right?

Having said that, I haven't played the game myself and I'm not defending it. However I was certainly curious to learn about the game without preemptively criticizing it.

kashwashwa wrote:

The fact that Laura is trying to make objective statements (specifically about "Death By Sleep), without having played the game she's talking about seems to me like nothing but cynicism.

Couldn't agree more. I bristled every time she criticized this, a game she hasn't played. She's very strident about the game/system being a failure or useless when she knows little to nothing about it. Her part in the conversation wasn't helpful or illuminating — and came across as cynicism for the sake of cynicism. Same, actually, with her 5-minute antipathy for FFXIII.

EDIT: Just got to the part where she says she's willing to try it. I'm glad she going to and I'll be interested to hear her response to it.

My name is Lara. You know, like that Tomb Raider chick.

Also, I wasn't trying to criticize Sleep is Death so much as understand the point of it. Why does it have to be a videogame? Why does the idea require the videogame medium to perform its function, when boardgames or even just plain old in-person storytelling gets the job done just as well? And "Because you're on a videogame podcast" is not an acceptable answer.

I'm perfectly open to innovation in game storytelling. In fact, I welcome it--when the innovations make sense. This, however, doesn't really make sense to me yet. Which is why I remain skeptical until I get a chance to play it myself.

Skepticism != criticism.

KaterinLHC wrote:

My name is Lara. You know, like that Tomb Raider chick.

Also, I wasn't trying to criticize Sleep is Death so much as understand the point of it. Why does it have to be a videogame? Why does the idea require the videogame medium to perform its function, when boardgames or even just plain old in-person storytelling gets the job done just as well? And "Because you're on a videogame podcast" is not an acceptable answer.

I'm perfectly open to innovation in game storytelling. In fact, I welcome it--when the innovations make sense. This, however, doesn't really make sense to me yet. Which is why I remain skeptical until I get a chance to play it myself.

Skepticism != criticism.

It doesn't have to be a videogame. It is a videogame. Asking "why" isn't going to provoke an interesting answer. For instance, why did they make UNO an XBLA title? To make money off an old IP. Okay. Great. Now how does it work? How does it change the nature of the game? Is it more enjoyable? Does changing it into a videogame allow for a better experience or a lesser experience?

So, why did the hippie make a videogame? Because he wanted to. Okay. Great. Now: using these new tools to aid storytelling — does it add something? Does it allow for more freedom? Does it retract from the experience? What do we get OUT of it as a videogame that we couldn't get from a boardgame/storytelling? It sounds to me that people who have experienced the game have some pretty exciting and interesting answers to these questions.

Your skepticism and repetition of "why?" came across as cynycism and the enjoyment that we all sometimes get from being contrary (there must be a big German word for this). And while you're funny and witty and full of energy — it really didn't move the conversation forward, which was frustrating.

Again — glad you're going to try it and look forward to your comments on it afterwards.

I've played a good 20 hours of FF13 and I found it to be more to my liking than Dragon age, but if someone wants to just give up on it after 5 minutes because it does not look interesting I have no objection. I don't understand why the population of gamers has such a need for external confirmation of their personal taste and preferences.

I for one, can't understand why anyone would play Dragon Age instead of FF13, but I can understand why one would find FF13 tedious and boring. But I've thought that about *all* of the FF games. It's all a matter of what you feel like putting up with IMHO. I liked the flow of the game, and did not mind the bad parts. Even so, it's not my place to make other people's gaming decisions for them. Do what you feel, go with the flow. Especially because in my experience if a game doesn't work for me immediately, it never gets better.

Edit: FWIW, I also don't see the point in Sleep is Death. I have no interest in a video game that makes me create the content. That's what the professionals are for.

^^^^^^^ Did you just steal my notepad txt file I was typing in?

KaterinLHC wrote:

The older I get -- and the more pressures I have on my free time -- the less I can justify playing a game for a couple of hours to see if it gets good.

So true. As someone who has spent about 120hrs on Dragon Age: Origins on the 360 (not counting the expansion), I can't wait to hear more after you've gotten more time with it.

thank you lostlobster and kashwashwa. You just saved me 20 minutes of trying to find the right words and typing them up.

lostlobster wrote:

It doesn't have to be a videogame. It is a videogame. Asking "why" isn't going to provoke an interesting answer. For instance, why did they make UNO an XBLA title? To make money off an old IP. Okay. Great. Now how does it work? How does it change the nature of the game? Is it more enjoyable? Does changing it into a videogame allow for a better experience or a lesser experience?

I absolutely disagree. The "why" here is crucial, because we already have mechanisms for collaborative storytelling in other media (boardgames, cardgames, even in-person games). As far as I can see, the only thing making Sleep is Death different is that it's a videogame, and I don't understand yet why that's a useful or necessary difference.

Why did they make UNO an XBLA title? Because an online card game serves a unique purpose: to bring people together who normally don't see each other through a card game everyone understands. I get the "why" of UNO as a videogame. Indeed,I get the "why" of translating most boardgames as videogames. I still do not get the "why" of translating collaborative storytelling into a videogame format.

Now: using these new tools to aid storytelling — does it add something? Does it allow for more freedom? Does it retract from the experience? What do we get OUT of it as a videogame that we couldn't get from a boardgame/storytelling? It sounds to me that people who have experienced the game have some pretty exciting and interesting answers to these questions.

But those questions were exactly what I was asking! And they all come back to the "why" of collaborative storytelling as a videogame. Maybe I didn't ask the questions you wanted me to in the way you wanted me to ask them (and thus perhaps why you said I was being contrary just for the hell of it). But really, all I wanted to know was "why".

I still do not get the "why" of translating collaborative storytelling into a videogame format.

Evidently, it's fun.

KaterinLHC wrote:
lostlobster wrote:

It doesn't have to be a videogame. It is a videogame. Asking "why" isn't going to provoke an interesting answer. For instance, why did they make UNO an XBLA title? To make money off an old IP. Okay. Great. Now how does it work? How does it change the nature of the game? Is it more enjoyable? Does changing it into a videogame allow for a better experience or a lesser experience?

I absolutely disagree. The "why" here is crucial, because we already have mechanisms for collaborative storytelling in other media (boardgames, cardgames, even in-person games). As far as I can see, the only thing making Sleep is Death different is that it's a videogame, and I don't understand yet why that's a useful or necessary difference.

Why did they make UNO an XBLA title? Because an online card game serves a unique purpose: to bring people together who normally don't see each other through a card game everyone understands. I get the "why" of UNO as a videogame. Indeed,I get the "why" of translating most boardgames as videogames. I still do not get the "why" of translating collaborative storytelling into a videogame format.

Now: using these new tools to aid storytelling — does it add something? Does it allow for more freedom? Does it retract from the experience? What do we get OUT of it as a videogame that we couldn't get from a boardgame/storytelling? It sounds to me that people who have experienced the game have some pretty exciting and interesting answers to these questions.

But those questions were exactly what I was asking! And they all come back to the "why" of collaborative storytelling as a videogame. Maybe I didn't ask the questions you wanted me to in the way you wanted me to ask them (and thus perhaps why you said I was being contrary just for the hell of it). But really, all I wanted to know was "why".

I don't see it. I don't see how your "why" equates to "how." The simple answer to your "why" question is "because." We have new technology so of course it's going to be used to create new versions of old ways of doing things.

How does UNO as an online card game serve a new purpose but this game doesn't? You've taken a card game which in no way needs to be adapted to online use. It works perfectly as a card game. If you can't see that this new game appears to be an adaption of F2F board/RPGs to a videogame space, allowing the same kind of translation to a videogame space then...

You know what? I'm crossing into territory I have no place arguing from — I've not tried the game, and feel like I'm straying from my point. My argument with you is that I don't see where you're arguing from. It seems to me (and maybe I'm misunderstanding you) that you think a certain type of interaction shouldn't be converted into a videogame and, because of that, you can't see how anybody would be interested in such a thing or how it could be enjoyable or even necessary.

But, really, I've got no horse in this race. I just found the conversation on the podcast to be less than helpful and found the way you argued about the game off-putting. But I've said all I really have to say on the topic.

Plus, I have a horrible head cold.

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