GWJ Conference Call Episode 208

Conference Call

Hydrophobia, Comic Jumper, Civilization V, Lionheart II, Runic Games' Max Schaefer Talks Dungeon Delving, An Interview With Castle Ravenloft Designer Mike Mearls, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian and Cory welcome Max Schaefer (the co-founder of Runic Games) to the show to talk a bit about Torchlight 2 and designing dungeons. We also have an interview with Castle Ravenloft designer Mike Mearls after the credits!

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

The GWJ Donation Drive!

CastMedium
Good Old Games

GWJ Store!

  • 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

Town (Torchlight OST) - Matt Uelmen - http://www.torchlightgame.com/ - 23:55
Ruins (Torchlight OST) - Matt Uelmen - http://www.torchlightgame.com/ - 45:59

Comments

Gah! 2 days before I can download.. CURSE NEW ZEALAND'S INTERNET!

Such grown ups!

Spoiler:

Mouth full of nuts, and nobody cracks up? What the hell?

You need to invite the DGR crew, or maybe just Moe, to balance things.

Great podcast, I love hearing Schaefer on the podcast (I heard him and his brother also on Idle Thumbs almost one year ago). Runic sounds like the super elite crack commando unit of game developers. Much <3 to them! I'm super stoked to check out TL2 and how they further refine the random dungeon generation.

oMonarca wrote:

Such grown ups!

Spoiler:

Mouth full of nuts, and nobody cracks up? What the hell?

You need to invite the DGR crew, or maybe just Moe, to balance things.

Maybe they were trying to be on their best behavior with Max on the show.

Oh I think Max wouldn't mind Would he? As long as someone threw fire and blood into the mix, everything would be alright.

That's true, though I find that in addition to blood and fire, skeletons go a long way toward making things better.

I like how you don't even bother linking to the iDevice games that Julian mentions anymore.

About 40% of the way through - enjoying it so far. Really missing "Sandie Sands" this week...

I do believed the phrase "We'll stop tossing your salad" was uttered at the end of the main discussion. Wow...Maybe I am just imagining things.

Hey, look what happens to be the article of the day over at Wikipedia.

Rat Boy wrote:

Hey, look what happens to be the article of the day over at Wikipedia.

CONSPIRACY

Funny how I've barely played Torchlight, but immediately recognize the music. Kudos to Uelmen for that great Town theme.

Hello me, it's me again!

I was wondering where that recording went. Always nice when editors make em sound smart!

rabbit:

AD&D 2nd edition, nobody cared if the orc had an ecology? Every entry in the Monstrous Manual had a section titled Ecology!

Although it does remind me of the following, from my favourite Descent quest:

In the corner you see a beastman quietly crying. He hears your party and turns to face you. His tears quickly change from that of heartbrake to rage as he charges you, tearing off his pants as he readies his attack.

There's your believable dungeon ecology.

mrwynd wrote:
Rat Boy wrote:

Hey, look what happens to be the article of the day over at Wikipedia.

CONSPIRACY

To be fair, it probably has something to do with Halloween. Ravenloft always fascinated me because of its classic horror roots. I'm torn between playing Castle Ravenloft or BSG at Hedgecon in a couple of weeks.

Gravey wrote:

rabbit:

AD&D 2nd edition, nobody cared if the orc had an ecology? Every entry in the Monstrous Manual had a section titled Ecology!

That part was always more interesting to me. I just always figured I was the nerd among nerds.

Kamakazi010654 wrote:

I do believed the phrase "We'll stop tossing your salad" was uttered at the end of the main discussion. Wow...Maybe I am just imagining things.

I heard that too.

Sorax wrote:
Kamakazi010654 wrote:

I do believed the phrase "We'll stop tossing your salad" was uttered at the end of the main discussion. Wow...Maybe I am just imagining things.

I heard that too.

Yep, it was there. It's a fairly common saying on the podcast.

Two things struck me about this week. The main one being it was Certis going on about obscure games, as opposed to the usual suspect (rabbit).

The second, it's interesting seeing Certis' distaste for timers forcing choices whereas, as was mentioned, he loved almost the same thing in The Witcher.

I'm not fond of timers myself so I have to wonder, why is that specific mechanism so distasteful? After all, gamers love to go on about consequences for their choices, yet one way of forcing choice sticks in one's craw.

Gravey wrote:

rabbit:

AD&D 2nd edition, nobody cared if the orc had an ecology? Every entry in the Monstrous Manual had a section titled Ecology!

I side with rabbit on this one, except I don't think his comments went far enough. It isn't just role-playing games where we've seen a greater demand for realism, it's all of gaming. Developers are putting more time and effort into making sure that enemies spawn in believable ways, that levels have logical designs based on realistic architecture, and that things like item pickups are acquired in logical ways. Even kids' games, long the bastions of nonsense, are getting in on the act; Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, for one example, spends a ridiculous amount of time justifying the game world and explaining to you why you're having to do the things you're doing.

I think it's related to the rise of story in games. Stories require consistency and logic to maintain a suspension of disbelief, and games have traditionally lacked exactly those things. The greater insertion of story into games has made it necessary to explain to players why they're doing what they're doing and why the enemy is doing what they're doing. You can't just have a bunch of goblins hanging out in a cave waiting to be slaughtered when the player has already been given lengthy rationalizations for why he's venturing into that cave to begin with.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

I'm not fond of timers myself so I have to wonder, why is that specific mechanism so distasteful? After all, gamers love to go on about consequences for their choices, yet one way of forcing choice sticks in one's craw.

I would say that when you don't have a time limit, you can make sure you take your time before deciding anything. When there's a time limit, there's that sense of taking a shot in the dark, since you can't verify you went through all the data.

Personally, I'm all for small repeatable games, with time limits involved. In fact, I would say that Mass Effect 1 would benefit from a sort of global time limit.

Spoiler:

Since you can dick around the galaxy while Saren waits for you to catch up, it kind of breaks the urgency feeling to save the Citadel.

Man I would love to see more short games with big time limits and hugely different paths and outcomes. Smaller threads, but more of them.

Best Dungeon/Level Design Award: Demon's Souls

MrDeVil909 wrote:
Sorax wrote:
Kamakazi010654 wrote:

I do believed the phrase "We'll stop tossing your salad" was uttered at the end of the main discussion. Wow...Maybe I am just imagining things.

I heard that too.

Yep, it was there. It's a fairly common saying on the podcast.

Two things struck me about this week. The main one being it was Certis going on about obscure games, as opposed to the usual suspect (rabbit).

The second, it's interesting seeing Certis' distaste for timers forcing choices whereas, as was mentioned, he loved almost the same thing in The Witcher.

I'm not fond of timers myself so I have to wonder, why is that specific mechanism so distasteful? After all, gamers love to go on about consequences for their choices, yet one way of forcing choice sticks in one's craw.

I think it's a false dichotomy. I was having trouble articulating it on the show, but I don't see an equivalence between making a story choice in the Witcher vs. ignoring content because a clock is ticking down. When I choose to let someone live or die in the Witcher, the ramifications are story-related. People and environments I visit may change based on my choice, but I'll still be visiting them. When there's a time limit, I'm forced to ignore some of the game in favor of other parts without even knowing where my optimal fun is. Replaying a whole game is not a quality answer to that issue for me.

Timers are fine when there's no major choice involved. In Mafia 2 I had a timer because I was racing to a doctor with a guy slowly bleeding out in the back seat. That was tense, focused and fun. In Dead Rising I'm often in a position where I'd like to explore but I can't because I have to get back in time for the next event. I understand why they're doing it, but as the dude holding the controller I feel like I'm losing flexibility and not getting much payoff in return for it.

oMonarca wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

I'm not fond of timers myself so I have to wonder, why is that specific mechanism so distasteful? After all, gamers love to go on about consequences for their choices, yet one way of forcing choice sticks in one's craw.

I would say that when you don't have a time limit, you can make sure you take your time before deciding anything. When there's a time limit, there's that sense of taking a shot in the dark, since you can't verify you went through all the data.

Can't you pause thought?

oMonarca wrote:

Man I would love to see more short games with big time limits and hugely different paths and outcomes. Smaller threads, but more of them.

Cool idea. The original Prince of Persia had a 60 minute limit, so a similar time limit with multiple paths could be a ton of fun.

Certis wrote:

I think it's a false dichotomy. I was having trouble articulating it on the show, but I don't see an equivalence between making a story choice in the Witcher vs. ignoring content because a clock is ticking down. When I choose to let someone live or die in the Witcher, the ramifications are story-related. People and environments I visit may change based on my choice, but I'll still be visiting them. When there's a time limit, I'm forced to ignore some of the game in favor of other parts without even knowing where my optimal fun is. Replaying a whole game is not a quality answer to that issue for me.

Ah, that makes it a bit clearer. I don't think the content of the game changes much in The Witcher based on different choices, at least not to the extent that the time limitations in Dead Rising seem to do. I did start a replay recently, but haven't got far enough to see any implications of different choices.

And often the choices are between two fairly distasteful options anyway, so there's never that feeling of 'missing out.'

Certis wrote:

I think it's a false dichotomy. I was having trouble articulating it on the show, but I don't see an equivalence between making a story choice in the Witcher vs. ignoring content because a clock is ticking down.

It felt like you misspoke and then everyone just latched on to the idea that plot decisions and timers are the same thing. Of course they aren't, I think a little group think took hold there.

Making choices in games like Mass Effect and Fable is directing the narrative. Timers just generate pressure. And the timers in Dead Rising in particular, barely do that. Save the victims, don't save the victims, Chuck is still getting out at the end of the day.

Yeah, but "hey, Saren's lose, he's about to unleash the end of civilization, but no pressure, take your time rolling around on the Mako, doing busy work, gathering rocks, etc" doesn't really gel nicely. Sometimes, that impending doom feel is needed to give your actions some meaning.

oMonarca wrote:

I would say that Mass Effect 1 would benefit from a sort of global time limit.

Spoiler:

Since you can dick around the galaxy while Saren waits for you to catch up, it kind of breaks the urgency feeling to save the Citadel.

Man I would love to see more short games with big time limits and hugely different paths and outcomes. Smaller threads, but more of them.

Absolutely. While I'm a bit ambivalent on timers (see below), there's a real problem when all the narrative and aesthetic aspects of a game tell you there's a timer, but the mechanics fail to recognize any urgency.

Certis wrote:

I think it's a false dichotomy. I was having trouble articulating it on the show, but I don't see an equivalence between making a story choice in the Witcher vs. ignoring content because a clock is ticking down. When I choose to let someone live or die in the Witcher, the ramifications are story-related. People and environments I visit may change based on my choice, but I'll still be visiting them. When there's a time limit, I'm forced to ignore some of the game in favor of other parts without even knowing where my optimal fun is. Replaying a whole game is not a quality answer to that issue for me.

...

Timers are fine when there's no major choice involved. In Mafia 2 I had a timer because I was racing to a doctor with a guy slowly bleeding out in the back seat. That was tense, focused and fun. In Dead Rising I'm often in a position where I'd like to explore but I can't because I have to get back in time for the next event. I understand why they're doing it, but as the dude holding the controller I feel like I'm losing flexibility and not getting much payoff in return for it.

The more I think about it, the more I like the way a timer forces you to make hard decisions in an action-oriented way, rather than via dialog options. I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy playing that, but the concept hits all my buttons.

But I think by this time we can all agree that Dead Rising games ought to have a sandbox mode for exploration and experimentation without the annoyances and constraints of the narrative and its timer.

You guys just won't give up. First peddling Minecraft, now Ravenloft.

Top shelf material as usual, and I enjoyed the segment at the end of the show. I think Ravenloft is exactly what a friend and I who have been trying (unsuccessfully) to get a D&D group set up need to look into.

clever id wrote:

You guys just won't give up. First peddling Minecraft, now Ravenloft.

Top shelf material as usual, and I enjoyed the segment at the end of the show. I think Ravenloft is exactly what a friend and I who have been trying (unsuccessfully) to get a D&D group set up need to look into.

+1 - I just need to save my pennies, and avoid Steam sales for a while to be able to afford it

wordsmythe wrote:

But I think by this time we can all agree that Dead Rising games ought to have a sandbox mode for exploration and experimentation without the annoyances and constraints of the narrative and its timer.

Definitely. Which is why I'm using a trainer for my second playthrough which lets me pause/restart time at will. Which is nice. Unfortunately you still need to advance the story to unlock certain areas but, I can take my time now and faff around while listening to podcasts

Oh, and I'm a big fan of having a plausable ecology in dungeons. Doesn't need to have a backstory the length of lord of the rings, but something like the environments in the Ultima Underworld games, or Arx Fatalis is great. 10x10 rooms filled with monsters from a random encounter table...not so much.

clever id wrote:

You guys just won't give up. First peddling Minecraft, now Ravenloft.

Top shelf material as usual, and I enjoyed the segment at the end of the show. I think Ravenloft is exactly what a friend and I who have been trying (unsuccessfully) to get a D&D group set up need to look into.

That end segment was recorded at GenCon, but it happens to coincide with a lot of things that were elsewhere in the podcast.

You should know that if a player ends their turn without exploring a new tile, they have to draw an encounter card. Encounter cards are sometimes monsters, sometimes traps, and sometimes things like Strahd forcing you to attack the nearest ally. So there's something like a timer pushing you to keep delving deeper into the dungeon, because it punishes you for not moving forward.

I also thought it was neat for Max to talk about how procedurally generated dungeons feel artificial in computer games, while the dungeon tiles in Ravenloft make dungeons feel more organic than a lot of the long hallways and square rooms that Dungeon Masters often come up with when doodling out maps on graph paper.

I'd be curious to see where the recent wave of Nintendo DS dungeon crawlers would fit into this episode's discussion of dungeon design.

These games call back to the tradition of exploration established by Wizardry and other dungeon crawls of that bygone era, integrating all sorts of tricky dungeon mechanics like pitfalls, teleport tiles, and the like...but many of them also integrate more modern conveniences into their design, specifically surrounding the creation of dungeon maps: the latest Shin Megami Tensei game, Strange Journey, auto-maps your progress through the depths, while the Etrian Odyssey series allows the player to draw their own maps of those labyrinthine layouts on the lower screen with the stylus.

Much of the discussion on the podcast alluded to a belief that some of the byproducts of that older design philosophy -- dead ends, backtracking, being lost -- are undesirable among the population of modern gamers.

However, I feel that the approach in these DS games raises a question: are these concepts truly undesirable in a dungeon crawl experience, or have players simply not been given the in-game tools to deal with them appropriately in the past?