GWJ Conference Call Episode 231

Conference Call

Dragon Age 2, Torchlight (XBLA), Hot Springs Story, Mount & Blade - With Fire and Sword, A Classic Arcade Interview From PAX, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Rob, Elysium and Karla talk Dragon Age 2 while Cory chimes in from PAX East!

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
Game Thing Daily
Good Old Games

MeYou Health
Dragon Age 2
Mount & Blade with Fire and Sword
Torchlight (XBLA)
Hot Springs Story
"Is Google Making us Stupid?"
"Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction"

"Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Dragon Age 2 - Battle Theme #2 - http://dragonage.bioware.com/ - 0:34:55
Dragon Age 2 - Qunari On The Rise - http://dragonage.bioware.com/ - 0:53:53

Comments

Just a note on the DA2 combat: what you guys are seeing is the difficulty levels actually working.

Play on Hard or Nightmare and the tactical game comes roaring back. When playing on Nightmare, I found every single trash pack to be significantly more tactical and challenging than anything short of Harvester in DA:O.

Origins had a problem with balance. There were a number of behaviours - using the correct mage crowd control spells, crafting plentiful potions to act as your primary healing method and using warrior dual-wield autoattack builds as examples - that made the game very, very easy. These behaviours utterly overwhelmed the difficulty levels. It didn't matter that monsters were doing more damage, because they were mostly locked down and you could use multiple levels of potions to generate amazing healing against whatever was left. It didn't matter if they had increased resistances or HP, as your warrior could just chop them down without trouble. It didn't matter if there were mages on the other side, because Mana Clash would kill them instantly.

DA2 fixes this. The game's balance allows difficulty levels to actually mean something. This is why you can get a low-micro hackfest on normal, but have to sweat on Hard and play with optimal tactics on Nightmare.

The waves of enemies help too. In Origins, trash fights could be brought quickly under control with CC and some spike damage, putting the enemy force into lame duck mode and reducing the fight to a cleanup operation. This is actually pretty common in team vs team games, but the raw power of crowd control made it particularly bad. In the DA2 model, the enemy force remains viable until much closer to the end of the encounter, forcing you to consider your positioning and resource usage against the arrival of reinforcements. It may not be elegant to use this fix on every single encounter, but at least it's a fix.

(incidentally, if archers are spawning on your mages, you're letting the enemy dictate the encounter location. Fall back into a chokepoint and make them stream in single file!)

I made some of the most challenging and encounter-focused modules for DA:O. I'm intimately familiar with the system, and I assure you that Bioware have delivered a remarkable improvement in the tactical side of combat, despite the quick turnaround of the game. DA:O's underlying structure was good, but making a legitimately challenging encounter was very, very difficult because of the delta in class and player performance caused by balance issues. DA2 increases the number of useful character and party builds, fixes the difficulty levels so they actually tell you something about the player, and creates a more interesting tactical space. We see improved encounter design with some of the bosses, and I think Bioware has a real opportunity to deliver some truly fantastic combat experiences in DLC. I just hope we get a toolset update so I can take advantage of it myself.

I KNEW gaald would begin the dissenting opinion for DA2

Speedhuntr wrote:

I KNEW gaald would begin the dissenting opinion for DA2 :P

I calls em like I sees them.

Quantum love! YES! Thank you, thank you, thank you <3
level 13 was my nemesis for sooooo long.

Amoebic wrote:

Quantum love! YES! Thank you, thank you, thank you <3
level 13 was my nemesis for sooooo long.

Kittylexy and I played a wee bit of Quantum on Friday night; she schooled me, as she did in every other arcade game we played.

Mengtzu: Both Shawn and I are playing the game on Hard, in fact. I think our differences are preference based, really - I'm in the game for the story and the gameplay is secondary to that, while Shawn really enjoyed the feel of the first DA's combat and I think was hoping for more of it.

To illustrate: on my second runthrough, I'm probably going to drop the difficulty down to normal, just so I can progress through the story faster.

Hey!

Post those links from the professor that discussed how all this social media crap is affecting people (he mailed in). God forbid I have kids one day, that info is probably relevant.

Also, is it me or you guys didn't actually talk about Mount and Blade? Less cribbage, more muskets!

Am I going crazy or was there a light acoustic guitar tune (ala Dwarf Fortress) in the background of the first part of the letters section?

Achievement unlocked:

Listened to the whole show.

Hey guys, I'm the guy that sent the e-mail about being concerned about social media.

Just to clarify what I was trying to do with the 24 hour electronic media black out thing, the assignment was not so much to "prove" something to them about how much better the qualty of life was or wasn't without it. Part of the goal was just to get them to start to think about what life would be like without this media in preparation for a book that the class was reading that discusses how the medium of television changed our culture. I certainly was not expecting them to write something that offers me glowing praise for "opening their eyes" about regarding how much better their life was without this stuff. In fact, I actively discouraged them from writing that sort of schlock. I was just looking for honest reflection.

Maybe the e-mail was a bit more strongly worded than I intended. However, I do think it is easy to take these technological changes for granted, especially after we have lived with them for so many years. We hardly think of the larger possible implications these things can have on us both individually and as a culture once they become ubiquitous. One of my favorite quotes is a paraphrase of Cicero which says, "The purpose of education is to free the individual from the tyranny of the present." Every time period has its own cultural values and its own habits that tend to limit the way people act and think. So my argument is not really about some mythic pastoral epoch of the "good old days" when things were better. But I do think that, in our current era, these sorts of networks are having a cultural impact on the way we behave and the way we think in ways that should not be underestimated.

EternalGamer wrote:

Interesting stuff

Welcome to the boards! I found your original email and this follow-up to be pretty interesting. Thank you for bringing this up. Were I not on my phone, I'd go into more details and ask you a few questions. So I'll use this spot to save it for later. : )
Looking forward to seeing more of your input around the boards, hope you stick around!

Re: The conference call:
I mean this in the least-creepy way I can muster; It makes me giddy when you guys bring your lovely, articulate wives on the show! Having just gotten a taste of DA2 through my local enabler, this particular segment piqued my interest and Karla's input was much appreciated.

EternalGamer wrote:

We hardly think of the larger possible implications these things can have on us both individually and as a culture once they become ubiquitous. One of my favorite quotes is a paraphrase of Cicero which says, "The purpose of education is to free the individual from the tyranny of the present." Every time period has its own cultural values and its own habits that tend to limit the way people act and think. So my argument is not really about some mythic pastoral epoch of the "good old days" when things were better. But I do think that, in our current era, these sorts of networks are having a cultural impact on the way we behave and the way we think in ways that should not be underestimated.

Yep, technology changes the way we think, communicate and live. Maybe even the way we learn. But if your whole class speaks Latin, you may have an easier time going with that than with trying to teach in Greek.

As for the typo email: The author is not alone. Certainly no creative work can be expected to be truly complete and free of errors—especially not something as complex as a video game—but there's still an expectation that the work was crafted with care, and things like typos go against that expectation. And that expectation is important, because the player (or reader, listener or viewer) invests emotionally and becomes immersed in the work in large part through a confidence that the creator isn't going to abuse the player's trust and feelings.

But then, I'm an editor. I have a passion for these things.

Thanks for the DA2 discussion. It completely reinforced by decision to skip it.

With regards to the letters, and especially the experiment of not accessing electronic media for a day I'll certainly admit that the ability to concentrate on a single task has been hurt quite dramatically by things like the internet. To the point where I've had to in the past unplug my pc from the internet whilst trying to get work done as its so distracting.

So how many GWJ points does DemiUrge get for his segment??

Solid show!

I'm general with Certis in terms of gaming tastes and broad assessment of gaming, but I was surprised during this podcast to hear Katerin and Elysium being closer to how I view DA2. I'm totally with Mengtzu about the combat. It's not a tactical RPG anymore, but in terms of overall design, it's improved by at least an order of magnitude in terms of complexity and balance.

Even the spawning mobs are a change for the better, though I also agree with Mengtzu that it might have been a little heavy-handed to have put it in for nearly every single combat scenario.

Even in any edition of D&D, it was best to leave an off-tank with the squishies to make sure they don't get killed by surprise attacks. This is normally the Cleric, but could be a Ranged Rogue with some means of holding for a few rounds without getting killed.

I played Shield Warrior on Hard and I found it as tactically engaging as DA:O. I found it more engaging, actually, since more things worked and how they worked was very interesting. In DA:O, you could get through most of the game with Eaerthquake+Inferno and the rest of the game could be killed with SoC. Of course, you used Mana Clash or CP for the Mages, and you always dealt with them that way. It got boring.

Great podcast guys.

Sometimes, when I'm alone, I like to close my eyes and pretend that my wife plays the same games that I like (or games at all), AND can offer thoughtful and articulate discussion on the matter afterward. That hit the paper as kind of creepy. If you assure yourself that it's totally detached from you and yours personally, I hope it comes off, better, as awkward nerd flattery.

Anecdotally, about a year ago, I was playing WoW with a friend and we were discussing our in game goals, and one of us just said "if only I could 'ding' for, say, doing my laundry, or taking out the garbage, or doing my banking". I suspect that it's a thought we've all had. But how many of us have thought about whether or not that would be good or bad.

The discussion sparked by Eternal Gamer's letter, and the Epic Win iphone/ipod application leads me to thinking about The Over Justification Principle. A quick google search of the term reveals plenty of information, both related to social media, and gaming. Of course, It won't be long before all media, social, broadcast, and game related are all one thing; but I digress.

It's interesting that this kind of technology and behaviour can affect society on a cultural level as suggested by the links and by Eternal Gamer's course of study (the book on the effect of TV).
My cursory understanding of the Over Justification principle is from hearing about a study where two groups of children were asked to draw pictures. One group was offered candy as a reward for doing the drawings. In subsequent drawing sessions, the offer of candy was withdrawn. The group of children which had previously been rewarded became disinterested in drawing.

It's an interesting debate, less about what the effect of gamification is, and more about what happens if gamification suddenly becomes less profitable. What happens if it stops or suddenly evolves into something which doesn't offer the same reward?

*edit* haven't had a chance to go through it, but found a Gamification blog. Something tells me you guys have presented this already somewhere else as part of your routine (if it's any good).

El-Taco-the-Rogue wrote:

So how many GWJ points does DemiUrge get for his segment??

Solid show!

Glad you liked!

LarryC wrote:

I'm general with Certis in terms of gaming tastes and broad assessment of gaming, but I was surprised during this podcast to hear Katerin and Elysium being closer to how I view DA2.

Psst. Dude. That wasn't Katerin. That was Karla, Shawn's wife. Katerin is Lara Crigger, she of the deep Final Fantasy knowledge and thirst for quality scotch.

I can see how you'd make the mistake, as both women are exceptionally rad.

Are achievements something to be pursued (obsessively in the case of some), or are they recognition for things you've accomplished?*

The way you personally perceive them says a lot about whether and how you should approach the issues of "gamification."

*And yes, I fully recognize that you can say both. Also, the way achievements in games are typically listed, you can get an idea of whether you want to accomplish a given set of tasks.

To close off the philosophical musing: everyone likes to be recognized for the things they do. The issue is clearly one of whether that recognition can/should/does drive behavior, but that is an internally managed reaction. I think it's great that society is raising awareness on that very fact. I just wish they would do so without public clamoring that it's all good or all bad.

Demiurge:

Curses! I knew there was something wrong. Between the lack of sleep and back to back podcast listening, something had to give. And yes, they are both very, very rad.

Virduk wrote:

Thanks for the DA2 discussion. It completely reinforced by decision to skip it.

With regards to the letters, and especially the experiment of not accessing electronic media for a day I'll certainly admit that the ability to concentrate on a single task has been hurt quite dramatically by things like the internet. To the point where I've had to in the past unplug my pc from the internet whilst trying to get work done as its so distracting.

You should play Violet.

HedgeWizard wrote:

To close off the philosophical musing: everyone likes to be recognized for the things they do. The issue is clearly one of whether that recognition can/should/does drive behavior, but that is an internally managed reaction. I think it's great that society is raising awareness on that very fact. I just wish they would do so without public clamoring that it's all good or all bad.

Certainly the case has been made that the most moral person does good without external motivations. But the case has also been made that any decline in virtue is in part due to a decline in communities that celebrate the virtuous achievements of each other.

It may be indirect, but a game that applauds you for doing what you ought to is still someone else recognizing and encouraging good behavior. And I think that's ultimately what gamification is all about: (re)designing systems to encourage good behavior instead of merely punishing bad behavior.

Demiurge wrote:
LarryC wrote:

I'm general with Certis in terms of gaming tastes and broad assessment of gaming, but I was surprised during this podcast to hear Katerin and Elysium being closer to how I view DA2.

Psst. Dude. That wasn't Katerin. That was Karla, Shawn's wife. Katerin is Lara Crigger, she of the deep Final Fantasy knowledge and thirst for quality scotch.

I can see how you'd make the mistake, as both women are exceptionally rad.

Lol,
I've been listening to you guys for four years and I still can't identify your voices with your names.

Though I recognize Rabbit. He's cool.

Chump wrote:
Demiurge wrote:
LarryC wrote:

I'm general with Certis in terms of gaming tastes and broad assessment of gaming, but I was surprised during this podcast to hear Katerin and Elysium being closer to how I view DA2.

Psst. Dude. That wasn't Katerin. That was Karla, Shawn's wife. Katerin is Lara Crigger, she of the deep Final Fantasy knowledge and thirst for quality scotch.

I can see how you'd make the mistake, as both women are exceptionally rad.

Lol,
I've been listening to you guys for four years and I still can't identify your voices with your names.

Though I recognize Rabbit. He's cool.

I'm good with Julian and Corey, though it helps more that I've met them, now. Sean and Shawn give me a little bit of trouble, though.

Sean and Shawn give me a little bit of trouble, though.

How is that even possible? I'm the sexy one.

I really enjoyed the PAX interview! That was always my favorite thing about A Life Well Wasted, before it went the way of the Dodo (and its offensive final episode).

Another great podcast, gang!

Elysium wrote:
Sean and Shawn give me a little bit of trouble, though.

How is that even possible? I'm the sexy one.

I thought you were the metal one?
IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/n72lOl.jpg)

I'm playing The Witcher right now and it's uncanny how your description of DA2 would also fit The Witcher.
If you want to wait for Dragon Age 2 to go on sale, pass the time with The Witcher, awesome game.

Oh and "Metal Sean" just made my day.

I do bring the THUNDER.