GWJ Conference Call Episode 225

Conference Call

Dead Space 2, Magicka, Dead Space iPad, Raskulls, The State of Mods, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian, Elysium and Allen talk about the state of the gaming mod scene.

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

CastMedium
Good Old Games

Dead Space 2
Dead Space iPad
Magicka
Raskulls

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Main Theme - Magicka - http://www.magickagame.com/ - 22:53

Sector Sweep - Half-Life 2 Episode 2 OST - http://www.valvesoftware.com/games/e... - 38:52

Comments

Just adding more money to your table good sirs!

With regards to Magicka's controls, I recommend plugging in a 360 controller. It works without any set up and it's about a 100% less complicated! Probably due to it being made in XNA. The trade off might be a bit of speed in casting but it's more fun to combo on the pad in my opinion (it's all on the right stick; 2 opposite elements assigned to each of the 4 directions then roll the stick a quarter circle left/right, up/down to summon the element). Even my girlfriend had the controls down in no time with that. You'll still kill yourselves a lot though.

I'm also pretty sure the language is made up but with a few Swedish\English-like words thrown in to the mix to make it correlate to the text but I could be wrong.

Oh and I instantly loaded Torchlight up for the first time in a while once my girlfriend had had enough of co-op.

I like the sound of how they used the fact that the iPad is a touch screen for the Dead Space game, it just seems like it really improves a game when you take into account all the characteristics of the platform you're making the game for. If the game has things you can touch and you're on a touch device, then let the player touch them without going through some weird mechanism. The fact that Dead Space makes use of a load of augmented reality in it's world would make this a great fit.

Now if they would only add a little holographic mouse cursor on the PC for the store.

On modding, depending where you look some companies take it very seriously. Valve goes to the extent that they pay map makers to include their maps and models in the base Team Fortress 2 game, and they still actively recruit from the mod scene, an example being Adam Foster who made the Minerva Metastasis short campaign and was likely responsible for the little ARG that led up to announcing Portal2 (wiki). Epic games is also heavily involved in modding, with their sponsoring the Make Something Unreal contest, the ModDB mod of the year contest, and putting out UDK (a standalone base for a mod, rather than needing the end user to own a particular game), and many of the games that are now on UDK started as UT3 mods and are now going commercial

I really liked the mod conversation on this week's show. Being a younger gamer, I never really took too much notice of the mods that were more the speed of a user-made expansion or total conversion, rather picking up the more vanilla minor modifications for modern games that just fix the odd gameplay element that's not quite balanced right. Torchlight is the only game that I've played recently that I've used mods for, mostly because one particular enemy is quite imbalanced and I wanted to expand my stash size. It's definitely kinda nice getting back into that scene, because I've subsequently got more into bigger overhauls that change the game in fundamental ways and mix up the formula after I burned about 30 hours into the original game.

The comparison I've seen again and again for Dead Space 2 multiplayer is Bioshock 2. They're both singleplayer focussed games that have a multiplayer bolted on. I haven't managed to get a mp game going both times I've tried, so I can't really comment on whether I like it or not, but if this is the result of companies obsession with shoehorning online multiplayer capabilities into game that were previously singleplayer, I wish they would find some other route to link online than competitive multiplayer, or go the full hog and make a really in-depth multiplayer, like for instance Natural Selection.

In terms of mods, one thing to keep an eye on for the future is the Foundry for Star Trek Online. Basically, users can create their own missions/quests and considering how creative Star Trek fans can get, there's going to be a flood of new content that can arguably be better than what was available at launch. I don't think I've heard of an MMO that allowed user-created content like this before.

Scratched wrote:

The comparison I've seen again and again for Dead Space 2 multiplayer is Bioshock 2. They're both singleplayer focussed games that have a multiplayer bolted on. I haven't managed to get a mp game going both times I've tried, so I can't really comment on whether I like it or not, but if this is the result of companies obsession with shoehorning online multiplayer capabilities into game that were previously singleplayer, I wish they would find some other route to link online than competitive multiplayer, or go the full hog and make a really in-depth multiplayer, like for instance Natural Selection.

At least DS2 had the good taste to keep all the achievements single player, which is the main reason I have avoided Bioshock 2 thus far.

Correction: Everyone does have to play Half-Life 2.

Gravey wrote:

Correction: Everyone does have to play Half-Life 2. :)

and the Episodes 1 & 2. Everyone must share the "where are you episode 3?" pain.

I second Mr. Sand's sentiment that, if you are half way through Half Life 2 and unsold, don't bother. Maybe bump the difficulty up to maximum, if you're especially proficient, to amp the tension. Since I'm one of those people, I'll try to convey what I loved about HL2. I just played it again last year.

It's in the moments where you are running through the decayed city, low on ammo, low on health, wary of headcrabs. You stop at a small spot out of main view. In the distance, you hear the approaching noise of Combine radio traffic against the faint but persistent background of an alert klaxon. Overhead, you hear a large flying machine zoom past. At that moment, you're distracted by a frayed poster with pro-alien propaganda. Then you hear the gunshots.

I guess I'm a romantic, but the preceding paragraph is only possible because there's no lame Lucas-esque exposition, no stupid "the year is 19-flibbidy-doo and Combinator-Agency-Prime has conquered the earth. Only Gordon H. Freeman can save humanity." There's no voiceover of any kind, in fact.

It's age shows, for sure. The AI is probably dated, though I wouldn't know it. The physics puzzles felt tacked on. Some of the driving was a bore. I sure don't get the voice acting criticism, though. Anyone watch any Unskippables in the last year?

At the time of release, both Half Life & Half Life 2 didn't, by a clear mile, have a gaming peer. Today, we have Bioshock and an extremely creative indie game scene. Some of Valve's innovations are part of the bland gaming landscape.

If I had to succinctify it, what Half Life 2 (in particular) did right was present a credible, believable space.

To address Rabbit's comments regarding developer support for modders, remember that the developers of games need tools to create levels and make the game do what it does. The question is, do they make these tools available to modders. Take Bethesda for example. They give out their developer tools as part of the game. Even if the mod tools suck, hardcore modders will figure them out and make it work.

1. Supporting mods is unquestionably going to be a more expensive engineering effort compared to just building the tools and content for the game itself. From a software engineering standpoint there is no way it is not. The only question is if supporting such systems ends up making you back the extra cost in some way.

2. I never thought the HL2 series was that great. Certainly not as good as the first 2/3rds of Half Life. The whole thing just drags on and on through dull set pieces. I guess the zombie level wasn't too bad. So there.

'Custard?' That must be a Tom Holt reference?

Devs and publishers dumping mods to sell DLC? Sounds logical, but I don't know that evidence really bears that out.

Dragon Age: Origins had a ton of DLC including one that gave the player a chest, yet one of the first mods, created by one of the game devs, was a chest mod. DA:O had great mod support.

Bethesda games usually have a fair amount of DLC, yet their support for modders is great, despite the fact they try sell items like the much maligned Horse Armour.

I don't know if there are counter examples to this? Shooters don't seem to get mods anymore, but I don't know if that's because it's not being allowed, or just because shooters are so dime a dozen no one can be bothered.

I do also think that many former modders have moved to making their own games with the frameworks that are easily accessible today.

psu_13 wrote:

1. Supporting mods is unquestionably going to be a more expensive engineering effort compared to just building the tools and content for the game itself. From a software engineering standpoint there is no way it is not. The only question is if supporting such systems ends up making you back the extra cost in some way.

Being a software engineer, I disagree. Supporting mods would be more expensive, but giving away the tools and letting the modders do what they please costs absolutely nothing.

Man, I'm interested in mods, but the mod pool seems way to deep, I'm terrified of diving in.

Also, I can't download much due to severely limited internet

I can't think of any specific examples, but I've been under the impression that mod communities have a history of functioning as "farm teams" for some studios. Is working on mods still a way to get the attention of people who might hire you, or was that always as rare as winning the lottery?

Oh, and re: being too old to mess with mods: given that modding is largely a way to buy more gameplay with time rather than money, I suspect that college is when a lot of gamers do most of their dabbling in mods, and then we transition into buying new games rather than going out of our way to get more out of old ones.

Valve's interaction with the TF2 mod community is probably the the best going right now. I never play custom maps, but I certainly appreciate when Valve makes a few of them 'official'. And now they have little stamps in their stores you can buy to show financial support to the folks who made your favorite map. I just want the cool community content polished up and presented to me in a coherent way.

I'd say mod makers going professional still happens, but probably less often now. These days there's more avenues to make money from your creations, so your options aren't either join the AAA rat race or release it as a free mod, there's a whole spectrum of ways to get your game out there.

kazar wrote:
psu_13 wrote:

1. Supporting mods is unquestionably going to be a more expensive engineering effort compared to just building the tools and content for the game itself. From a software engineering standpoint there is no way it is not. The only question is if supporting such systems ends up making you back the extra cost in some way.

Being a software engineer, I disagree. Supporting mods would be more expensive, but giving away the tools and letting the modders do what they please costs absolutely nothing.

Only if those tools don't crash on most computers, and doesn't require $5000 software to work, and has some documentation except for "go ask Jerry, he wrote it".

Tools meant for external consumption are just more expensive than internal tools, especially on really complex projects. We have plenty of tools that are written by a developer to do a certain job and nobody but that developer can use it correctly. I've never had a software job where those kinds of scripts and tools didn't pop up as a natural part of the process. It takes effort and time to make them re-usable. The only reason to make them re-usable in a gaming studio is to either re-sell your engine, or for mod support.

You guys sold me on Magicka, but I'm going to wait for a Steam Sale/multiple patches.

PyromanFO wrote:

Only if those tools don't crash on most computers, and doesn't require $5000 software to work, and has some documentation except for "go ask Jerry, he wrote it".

Tools meant for external consumption are just more expensive than internal tools, especially on really complex projects. We have plenty of tools that are written by a developer to do a certain job and nobody but that developer can use it correctly. I've never had a software job where those kinds of scripts and tools didn't pop up as a natural part of the process. It takes effort and time to make them re-usable. The only reason to make them re-usable in a gaming studio is to either re-sell your engine, or for mod support.

Seconded.

misplacedbravado wrote:

I can't think of any specific examples, but I've been under the impression that mod communities have a history of functioning as "farm teams" for some studios. Is working on mods still a way to get the attention of people who might hire you, or was that always as rare as winning the lottery?

Oh, and re: being too old to mess with mods: given that modding is largely a way to buy more gameplay with time rather than money, I suspect that college is when a lot of gamers do most of their dabbling in mods, and then we transition into buying new games rather than going out of our way to get more out of old ones.

For what it's worth, I spoke with some of the lead writers from Dragon Age and TOR at PAX who said that Mods are a great way to show your skills if you want to be a content writer or graphic artist. I'm not sure if that's as true for developers. At any rate, it's always something you can put in your portfolio.

One correction for the GWJ team - the Lord of the Rings mod for Medieval Total War has been live for almost two years. It's just constantly being updated.

jdzappa wrote:
misplacedbravado wrote:

I can't think of any specific examples, but I've been under the impression that mod communities have a history of functioning as "farm teams" for some studios. Is working on mods still a way to get the attention of people who might hire you, or was that always as rare as winning the lottery?

Oh, and re: being too old to mess with mods: given that modding is largely a way to buy more gameplay with time rather than money, I suspect that college is when a lot of gamers do most of their dabbling in mods, and then we transition into buying new games rather than going out of our way to get more out of old ones.

For what it's worth, I spoke with some of the lead writers from Dragon Age and TOR at PAX who said that Mods are a great way to show your skills if you want to be a content writer or graphic artist. I'm not sure if that's as true for developers. At any rate, it's always something you can put in your portfolio.

One correction for the GWJ team - the Lord of the Rings mod for Medieval Total War has been live for almost two years. It's just constantly being updated.

I've heard similar for level design and that sort of thing. If you want a job in the games industry, show you've got the skill and drive to make something, don't just say, "I loves to play the vidja games". Fill your portfolio with levels you've made and can show off to a potential employer.

jdzappa wrote:
misplacedbravado wrote:

I can't think of any specific examples, but I've been under the impression that mod communities have a history of functioning as "farm teams" for some studios. Is working on mods still a way to get the attention of people who might hire you, or was that always as rare as winning the lottery?

Oh, and re: being too old to mess with mods: given that modding is largely a way to buy more gameplay with time rather than money, I suspect that college is when a lot of gamers do most of their dabbling in mods, and then we transition into buying new games rather than going out of our way to get more out of old ones.

For what it's worth, I spoke with some of the lead writers from Dragon Age and TOR at PAX who said that Mods are a great way to show your skills if you want to be a content writer or graphic artist. I'm not sure if that's as true for developers. At any rate, it's always something you can put in your portfolio.

One correction for the GWJ team - the Lord of the Rings mod for Medieval Total War has been live for almost two years. It's just constantly being updated.

BioWare employs more writers than any other studio, and they make you build a quest in Neverwinter as part of your application.

PyromanFO wrote:
kazar wrote:
psu_13 wrote:

1. Supporting mods is unquestionably going to be a more expensive engineering effort compared to just building the tools and content for the game itself. From a software engineering standpoint there is no way it is not. The only question is if supporting such systems ends up making you back the extra cost in some way.

Being a software engineer, I disagree. Supporting mods would be more expensive, but giving away the tools and letting the modders do what they please costs absolutely nothing.

Only if those tools don't crash on most computers, and doesn't require $5000 software to work, and has some documentation except for "go ask Jerry, he wrote it".

Tools meant for external consumption are just more expensive than internal tools, especially on really complex projects. We have plenty of tools that are written by a developer to do a certain job and nobody but that developer can use it correctly. I've never had a software job where those kinds of scripts and tools didn't pop up as a natural part of the process. It takes effort and time to make them re-usable. The only reason to make them re-usable in a gaming studio is to either re-sell your engine, or for mod support.

My point was, tools exist, let people use them. The hardcore modders will spend the 5k for the software and they will figure out what Jerry did. Sure, nice easy to use tools are great, and yes they could cost more money, but to just discount it means that the game will never get modded (though even without the tools, modders figure things out).

Heck, I remember when Star Wars Galaxies introduced the Combat Upgrade, a group of people decided to create their own private server that ran an pre-Combat Upgrade version of the client. I don't know if they ever finished, but the point is they tried and did make progress.

----------DEAD SPACE 2 MULTIPLAYER----------

How was it that none of you played the mutliplayer on Dead Space 2? With as much as you all like Steam / Left 4 Dead, I thought it was a no-brainer. In fact, I only played a few hours of Dead Space 1 before turning away from it in from boredom (environments, scares), but gave Dead Space 2 a try because it has a L4D-like multiplayer? Keeping in mind I'm playing on xbox, here's my take:

Fun?
Yes, the multiplayer is challenging both as a human and as necromorph. Having some skilled and communicative teammates will certainly make it a pleasure, whereas having dumb-ass no-micers will probably relegate it to pubby-L4D status. At one point a few nights ago we had a party of four old-school L4D1 GameBattles players, so definitely saw how easy it is to win when organized and mutually supportive. The humans and guns and abilities are satisfying and challenging, and the four types of necros are as much fun and challenge to learn as when we started playing infected over two years ago.

Maps?
There are five maps total, and they are about the size of the longer L4D2 maps, but they're not linear. Most are some type of maze or other indoor-type structure filled with corridors that gradually become unlocked or otherwise accommodate the progress of the human team.

One advantage of the game, though, is that a multiplayer game typically takes 10-15 minutes. On the other hand, probably because of this, is that the games don't feel quite as epic as L4D.

Good Online Structure?
Not so much. When you choose the multiplayer option from the main menu, the following menu only gives you two options: create a party of up to four players, or quickmatch. Once you've created a party, there is only one option: quickmatch. So effectively you CANNOT match up against specific teams/players (so much for competitive gaming). At best, if you have four players in your party, maybe it'll do a better job of matching you up against a like group of four, but from what I can tell it just looks like it finds random folks, or pairs, or sets of three. When you're in the lobby, it doesn't even show who will be on which team, just a listing of the up-to-eight players present, though your party will always be on the same team.

Also, the scoring is beyond inept. Each game features one round each to play as human and as necromorph for each team. For each of those two rounds, either the survivors accomplish a task (escape the map, blow up something, use a bunch of computers) for a win or the necros stop them from doing those tasks in time for their win. Now, the worst part: even if one team wins the first round, and the other team wins the other round (both teams survive, or neither teams survive), the game returns to lobby. There is no tie-breaker round! How could they leave out a best-of-three mechanic? So shortsighted.

Other oddities: the lobby has an auto-countdown timer, so the game will begin 60-90 seconds after the last one. And there doesn't appear to be any way to kick players, so I'm not sure what you're supposed to do when there is a team-killer or other griefer. And friendly fire is very powerful, so....? Finally, whereas players earn levels and unlock weapons and armor as human, it feels odd having the level playing field so important to L4D removed. Only your human stats and unlocks get bonuses from leveling, not your necro stats.

Buggy?
Ya, unfortunately. I'm sure this'll get fixed, but there's one major bug screwing over the multiplayer. In about 1/3 of the games I played, at some point during the map, the objective that the humans were supposed to accomplish would completely disappear, like a computer not activating or an item to be carried vanishing. When that happens, it's certain death for the survivors, who then just fight off the necros until the timer runs out. Fortunately, the bug almost always or always affected both teams on that map, so as to not benefit one team unfairly. But the frequency, at least 1/3 of games played, makes this a real game-breaker, literally.

OVERALL
So when the objective bug gets patched, and when they add a tie-breaker round, and enable you to player match so as to play 4v4 with friends (or competitively), it'll be worth another look. For right now, it's a fun little diversion, but certainly does not replace L4D.

----------MODDING----------
Even though I am older now and too busy with work to mod, I appreciate that they're there. You guys mentioned there is a voice pack for Oblivion? If that had been available shortly after release, I would have finished Oblivion. Instead, I was driven away from the game after 10-20 hours from hearing the same five or six headache-inducing voices from all the NPCs. Also, in addition to League of Legends, we would not have had Counter-Strike or the many team-based games and modes without modding.

----------PLUG----------
Check out Game Dev Story on iPhone, N'Gai Croal's sleeper hit for 2010. Lots of fun.

EDIT: Someone just reminded me that, yes, Dead Space 2 multiplayer DOES let the necromorphs improve with level. You'll occasionally get "more execution damage" and the like from time to time.

I should have known that putting on the CC before the husband and I considered doing some gaming together would result in me getting ditched for Magicka ; )

Great show, as always. Really liked listening to the CC opinions and responses on modding.

I would like to see a game called "Super Wussy." It would be like a regular platformer, but the game would scroll to the left, because you'd be running away the whole time.

Don't confuse "I don't have time for mods" with "I am too lazy to bother with mods", especially for MMOs.

I see that Lara has been consorting with my wife. Just for that, I am going to EXTRA half-ass it this week. Yeah, take that!

"I'll bet he's fat!" "I'll bet he's like 400 pounds at least!" "He probably couldn't fit under a bus." I think I just lost 5 pounds from laughing.

"That is a svelte show." I see what you did there.

This was one of the funniest GWJ shows ever. Now come with me to buy a bike to ride it to Best Buy to buy a Kinect. Good times!

I know this is way old but I'm listening to the part on game modding and as someone who used to do a great deal of modding I kind of take issue with the idea that it was DLC that killed the modding community, or even age.

This is what killed the modding community:

Unreal Tournament (1999)

IMAGE(http://unit13.ortlos.info/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/UT99_1.jpg)

Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)

IMAGE(http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01770/cod-blops-itvw4_1770948b.jpg)

Every "generation" of graphics meant each mod would take me 3-5 times longer to create due to higher resolution textures, various surface tricks like alpha and bump maps, lighting effects, etc. Not only does the time commitment get dramatically greater but the barrier for entry gets dramatically higher: it is far, FAR easier to make something that looks fine in Unreal Tournament than something that looks fine in Cod Blops. We've gotten to a point where if you're good enough to make a convincing mod for a modern game, you're good enough to get a job in the industry.

Now obviously CoD isn't the most mod-friendly game so please bear with me. All the other examples were about 3 years old by now.

You can't mod Blops, at all, at least not officially. There's plenty of mods for COD4 (link) as that one had tools released, even total conversions like this. For many games that don't release tools, mods will often happen regardless, how about some high resolution textures for Mass Effect 2?

As much as far as graphics go, there's a higher demand placed on the developer, but that doesn't stop people trying. It seems wherever you look there will always be people trying to mod a game, large mods like Mechwarrior Living Legends for Crysis and small ones to tweak one little aspect of the game.

If you include a cheat as a mod, there's often incentive to do so as people will pay for various hacks, and people will go and modify their locked down console hardware to do so, that's how determined some people are to mod.