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

Comments

More Lara on the podcasts, please. She is as fun as Ken Levine or Eskil Steenberg. I really mean that in a positive way. She has really done a lot to break up a bit of the stale games discussion that naturally happens over time. She brings an enthusiasm that is more gamer than journalist.

I like listening to her whether I agree or disagree, because she brings it with some passion (even if that passion is disdain). I thought the discussion that came about out of her dismissal of FF XIII was interesting.

Plus, she is the absolute favorite for my daughter. She will ask me now of Lara is on, and only wants to listen to it if she is. Partly from girl power, but she is truly entertained by her. She even played back some of a past podcast for my wife.

Of course, when I bust her for saying, "bitches," I'm going to blame Lara for that, too!

This is not to say that I think there is anything wrong with the the entire crew. It's the one podcast that I listen to weekly without fail. For me, it's still the best weekly discussion of gaming going. I just wanted to give a boost to Lara since she is taking some heat.

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

Evidently, it's fun.

Exactly. Rohrer wanted to make it, and other people enjoy playing it. It needs no other justification.

lostlobster wrote:

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.

That's not a good enough reason for me. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's worth doing.

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.

Easy: You've taken it online. You've allowed people who don't get to see each other often -- or maybe who've never met -- to socially interact and enjoy each others' company. And the mechanics of UNO, in particular, are so widely understood that it acts as a facilitator to conversation, rather than an inhibitor.

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...

I do see that. I just don't buy yet that it was a necessary translation. If you want to tell a story collaboratively via technology, why not play use any variety of other technologies to do so, such as video chat or campaign wikis or Brettspeilweit or, heck, even emergent MMO gameplay? Or why not use something like Little Big Planet (or is Sleep is Death essentially the same idea as LBP? In which case, then I think I'd get the "why".)

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.

I think you are misunderstanding me. I never said (or, if by accident, certainly never intended to imply) that people shouldn't try this out, or that certain interactions are off-limits for videogames, or that there's no way collaborative storytelling through videogames could be enjoyable. I just felt stuck on that basic "why" for the game, as in what did it add to the experience and why couldn't that be met any other way.

found the way you argued about the game off-putting.

In that case, I've got a few ex-boyfriends I can hook you up with.

KaterinLHC wrote:

That's not a good enough reason for me. Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's worth doing.

And who gets to decide what is and isn't worth doing? Games exist for people to play, people are playing this game. You can argue all you want that it doesn't fill some new and unique niche, but the game is clearly fulfilling its intended purpose.

I still love Lara:)

Lara's comments on Sleep Is Death didn't seem out-of-line to me, and she certainly didn't seem any more abrasive or deliberately contrary than Rob or Elysium are in your average week.

lostlobster wrote:

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.

This was my perception as well; Lara seemed to find the whole notion so perplexing and pointless, any specific implementation of such ideas wasn't even worthy of her consideration.

In an odd way, it parallels Ebert's recent diatribe against "video games as art," with the implication in both cases being that there's some inherent limitation of the "video game" as a medium that prevents it from being valid for certain purposes. I basically hear both arguments as "this isn't what I'm used to, I don't understand why anybody would diverge from what I've already been doing since it's so great, now get off my lawn."

Now that's not to say that "Sleep is Death" is any good; Lara could be right, it might be a pointless shadow of traditional storytelling, bringing absolutely nothing worthwhile to the table. I don't know, I've never played it, but neither had she, and I'm not going to attribute any insight to her blind condemnation of the game if she happens to actually be correct in this specific case. My own world view allows for the possibility that a game like this could hold value, and if the game is not "Sleep is Death," then perhaps it can still be something.

I think equating some off-the-cuff remarks on a podcast that was recorded live with an article that was thought out and written to publish and express a viewpoint is not an appropriate comparison.

My own opinion is similar to that of Lara's - why?

Lara could be right, it might be a pointless shadow of traditional storytelling, bringing absolutely nothing worthwhile to the table

Oh come on, I never said that...although now I kinda wish I had, just to have seen the blood vessels burst in Julian's forehead.

Having read through an ungodly number of rants on these boards questioning what the point is of motion controls, I don't see how Lara's skepticism of Sleep Is Death and other forms of game-based collaborative storytelling is much different. I'm in her camp on this one: what's the advantage to being told a story by some random idiot on the internet to what I'm used to? Sure, the potential for serendipity is probably greater, but I'm not really willing to bank on that with what limited gaming time I have.

Now, I'm not ruling out collaborative storytelling as a great innovation in video games (and neither, I should point out, is Lara; that's what separates her from Ebert, gore), but from this vantage point, it holds no appeal for me, and I don't really get it.

And rabbit, in answer to the question you posed to Lara: in what way would IMing with the creator of Vespers be different from playing the game he created without his input? Presumably, he put the time and effort into creating the experience that he wanted to create, and my collaborative influence wouldn't significantly steer him away from his original artistic intent enough for it to be worth our time. My point is this: if the author takes the time to craft their vision fully, and puts in place the tools for you to interact with it, there's no need for them to be there at all when I experience it. Collaborative storytelling sounds like a great way to get a rough draft (as Rob suggested), but it doesn't sound like I'd get a smooth, polished product out of it, and that's what I'm looking for.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

Lara's comments on Sleep Is Death didn't seem out-of-line to me, and she certainly didn't seem any more abrasive or deliberately contrary than Rob or Elysium are in your average week.

Deliberately contrary? I have NEVER! EVER, been contrary just for the sake of being so. NEVER!

Gaald wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:

Lara's comments on Sleep Is Death didn't seem out-of-line to me, and she certainly didn't seem any more abrasive or deliberately contrary than Rob or Elysium are in your average week.

Deliberately contrary? I have NEVER! EVER, been contrary just for the sake of being so. NEVER!

Right, and no one has ever accused you of it in the comments for the podcast. I think Lara should be extended the same courtesy.

I wasn't trying to accuse you of being deliberately contrary; I was trying to say that Lara should be given the benefit of the doubt.

That was Rob being sarcastic by being contrary. See ... he was agreeing with you and stuff.

Also, anything you say now is wrong. (<- agreeing with your original point just by being a contrarian dick instead of using something cleverly annoying like sarcasm)

Elysium wrote:

That was Rob being sarcastic by being contrary.

Foiled again! I'm so bad at spotting sarcasm on the internet.

After listening to the rest of the show, I sympathize even more with Lara's point of view.

To the extent that Sleep is Death is a technological experiment, it is sort of interesting. It's a thought experiment on the extent to which you can do 'story telling' in a new and different environment.

However, it's not clear to me that this experiment provides a video game experience that would be worth paying money for. When I pay money for a video game experience I'm after a lovingly crafted collection of content put together by professionals who are a lot better at it than I am. I am not after some improvisational cooperative brain-fart from some dude. There are any number of other ways I can get that. And I don't really have the inclination to explore this one with either my time or my money.

Bad analogies to other media abound. I'd rather read a finished novel than a first draft told to me off the top of someone's head. I'd rather, in general, listen to professionals play music for money. If I'm paying $100 for a meal, it better be a chef of some repute in the kitchen, otherwise I might as well eat at home.

Still, it's an interesting experiment.

Also, while I understand where certain people are coming from, there are a number of games I have simply rejected out of hand without playing -- The Path comes to mind. I don't think Lara was ever deceptive about whether she played or not, which is the only point on which I might have had concern.

It is, to me, totally acceptable to have a discussion based on a concept instead of actual experience.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Lara could be right, it might be a pointless shadow of traditional storytelling, bringing absolutely nothing worthwhile to the table

Oh come on, I never said that...although now I kinda wish I had, just to have seen the blood vessels burst in Julian's forehead.

Not in so many words, and maybe it was not your intent, but it felt like that's what you were implying (if not about this specific game, at least about the sort of experimental, game-based storytelling mechanism it seems to represent).

Just a few points:

-- Grown ups often need the inter-mediation of a system to allow themselves to play. That's why we have Left 4 Dead, instead of dressing up and playing "Zombies and Survivors" in the back yard. Of course, people DO dress up and play (LARPers), but its somehow easier to put up the system in the middle to make it OK.

-- The point about a great storyteller not needing to be present I flatly disagree with, as I've had some UNBELIEVABLY awesome role playing game experiences that followed no set script, and which really evolved collaboratively. Google "Don't Rest Your Head." The "story" spun by the GM in this case was unbelievably awesome, and completely informed by player actions. It's rare that it works that well, but when it does, it's magic.

-- SID provides EXACTLY that kind of open ended experience for people who just don't happen to be in the same room. We COULD play chess at a distance by calling each other on the phone and reading our moves to each other, but its more fun to play through Chess.com on an iPad. We don't need it, and it's actually a slower less direct way of playing than the phone call. SID provides a toolset so that Lara and I could have a smelly hippy indie RPG experience in a way less wierd-feeling than just doing it on Skype.

-- My experience of playign in the same room with my daughter was a test, and actually, I think we wouldn't do it that way again, we'd probably enforce separation to keep the tension up. It's easier to spin a mystery story if you aren't giving clues away with facial expressions, honestly, its a problem I have DMing all the time.

-- The closest analog to SID is actually just running a D&D game using fantasy grounds, something I know 20 folks here on the site do every single week. The software lets them have an RP experience they cant get in real life. SID is no different.

Elysium wrote:

It is, to me, totally acceptable to have a discussion based on a concept instead of actual experience.

Sure it's acceptable, and I do it all the time. But I think a person's position is a great deal less interesting if he or she has not played the game in question or exhibited any interest in the sorts of things the game is trying to do.

Personal example: sports games. I have no interest in them whatsoever, I don't find value in them, I never play them. I'm entitled to my opinion, and it's totally acceptable for me to tell people this, but why would they be interested in my perspective? I can tell you that I think Madden 512312 is a soulless imitation of real football, and that's a valid opinion for me to hold, but does it really bring much to the table?

I'm a guy who clearly doesn't "get" sports games. And that's cool, everybody is allowed to not get things. But if I were to sit down with 3 guys who were interested in sports games, and if I were to tell them how much I don't get this thing that they're really excited about, does that make for a more interesting discussion?

gore wrote:

I'm a guy who clearly doesn't "get" sports games. And that's cool, everybody is allowed to not get things. But if I were to sit down with 3 guys who *were* interested in sports games, and if I were to tell them how much I don't get this thing that they're really excited about and that it's weird that anybody would even try to do it, does that make for an interesting discussion?

It could be interesting. There have been so many times while listening to the podcast that I have thought that there about how sports games that have solved an issue the guys seem to be having. Even if it is not a problem being solved, contrasting sports games and how they have dealt with advertising, DLC, variance of skill level among players, realism vs. fun, and online play vs. solo play.

So if a sports gamer was sitting in with them, there could be some interesting discussion about sports games that would be enlightening for people that would never play them. Last weeks discussion about winning and losing is a perfect example.

All that a discussion needs is for the participants to be upfront about their bias and experience. From there we can infer how much importance we can place on what is said by specific members of the podcast. I don't have to get mad if Rob doesn't show the proper respect for sports games. I understand where he is coming from versus the Shawns, and Julian.

More importantly, there is some belief that this story game should have been right up Lara's alley. I think a discussion as to why it is not is as enlightening as a discussion as to why the others like it.

I put on my Wizard robe and hat

Oh god, this is almost enough for me to purchase Sleep is Death.

As I get older, I am less willing to put in time to see if a game gets good. I also have gotten better at determining if I am going to ultimately like a game a lot sooner than I used to. There are too many options now to waste time on games that don't grab me fairly quickly. I got up to Odin in FF XIII and couldn't make myself go on. For those that enjoyed it, more power to you. I wish I had drank some wine and fell asleep like Lara.

Having major deja vu again in the emails section this week. Though it's a fairly standard question, I think the one about "what games do you dislike that everyone else seems to love" was asked word for word to another gaming podcast this week. Possibly bombcast, joystiq or weekend confirmed.

Forbin wrote:
I put on my Wizard robe and hat

Oh god, this is almost enough for me to purchase Sleep is Death.

I listened to Idle Thumbs 5 immediately after hearing that comment.

AndrewA wrote:

Some of the best games out there start slow and build into something amazing.

In my halcyon days of youth and cultural revolutions (more like cultural revulsions!), I was taught that a short story should grab you from the very first page, and maybe first chapter for a novel, i.e. pretty darn quick. Perhaps the same should be said of story-driven video games.

Even when a story starts slow, and by slow I assume plot-wise, an element of mystery or suspense has to be there; something that keeps you wanting to find out more. This could be done through sharp characterization or vividly depicting the setting, among other options. If in FFXIII I have to wait hours to discover how interesting the characters are, that sounds like a narrative failure.

That Lara (Laura is the Canadian/British spelling, I assume?) was not enthralled with FFXIII after five minutes of game play suggests this, especially considering that she loved the previous FF games so much, it sounds like, from the very beginning. Same thing happened to me playing Afro Samurai.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Black characters in video games tend to get the shaft

Pun intended? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAa5rP64YbQ

also, Rob is wrong about everything. (esp. PS3 controllers)

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Lara (Laura is the Canadian/British spelling, I assume?)

Maybe. Those Brits never did know when to keep their "u"s to themselves.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Black characters in video games tend to get the shaft

Pun intended? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAa5rP64YbQ

Awesome, and now I retroactively make that intentional.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

Now, I'm not ruling out collaborative storytelling as a great innovation in video games (and neither, I should point out, is Lara; that's what separates her from Ebert, gore), but from this vantage point, it holds no appeal for me, and I don't really get it.

Fair enough. I think Lara had such a strong negative initial response to the idea that I may have read more into her reaction than was intended.

Jayhawker wrote:

More Lara on the podcasts, please. She is as fun as Ken Levine or Eskil Steenberg.
...
Of course, when I bust her for saying, "bitches," I'm going to blame Lara for that, too!

This is not to say that I think there is anything wrong with the the entire crew. It's the one podcast that I listen to weekly without fail. For me, it's still the best weekly discussion of gaming going. I just wanted to give a boost to Lara since she is taking some heat.

Hear, hear. She brings unique counterpoints and perspectives.

2 cents. I'm always happy to hear Lara introduced at the start of the show--as a fan with absolutely no claim to the entitlement I'm about to express, I *demand* you make every effort to appear as often as possible, please, Lara!

That being said, I'm of mixed feelings. My first reaction was similar to some of the things others have expressed--I thought your initial reactions to the concept of SID were reasonable (being similar to my own reactions--this similarity being the measure of all sensibility, of course). I did start to feel as though you were digging in your heels under Julian's barrage of enthusiasm, which may have given rise to the impression that you were being 'judgmental' toward something you hadn't tried. Personally, I was satisfied with your conclusion that you would have to try it. That, to me, said that you were genuinely trying to understand what on earth was the point of this thing, what it is for, and in what sense it is fair to call it a game. These are all sensible questions (see above criterion). Concluding that you needed to try it tells me you were being skeptical (requiring evidence/justification) rather than cynical (deciding it was crap a priori).

Many words. I guess I gave my 8 or 9 cents.

rabbit wrote:

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.

Sorry for the late reply, I work at night and sleep during the day.

Apple has indeed taken an incredibly large early lead. Heck, they rescued smart phones from irrelevance and pretty much invented the market. This isn't a guarantee of future dominance as their massive early lead on GUI driven computers illustrates. Even so, Android sales are also performing well. In February they were selling 60K a day, but I don't know what the figures are currently.

A non-uniform hardware spec is an issue for a developer, but not as much as one would think. Many smart phones including the iPhone use similar ARM CPU and GPU chips. Hyperdevbox took their game Ex Zeus that illustrated the 3D capabilities of the iPhone and ported it to Android where it runs flawlessly. I think the biggest problem is not of capability but of perception. That we're the only two people discussing it in this thread is pretty strong evidence.

My hang up with Apple isn't their product, it's their policies. They're using the iPhone to lure developers and consumers into a walled garden. Once inside, the gate is shut and every possibility has to be vetted by the landlord. I find it insulting that an app can be hung up in approval for a long period of time and rejected for something as simple as having an icon that resembles an iPhone, containing profanity, or engaging in political parody.

Principles won't matter if nobody chooses to buy my stuff, but I want Android gaming to succeed. I want it to work and I'm optimistic, but only time will tell.