GWJ Conference Call Episode 243

Conference Call

The Witcher 2, Hunted: The Demon's Forge, Dead Nation (PS3 Freebies), Frozen Synapse, Bold (Wrong) E3 Predictions, Average Games and more!

This week Shawn, Julian, Cory and Elysium make their E3 predictions now so you can tell just how right or wrong they are in real time!

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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CastMedium
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Good Old Games

Hunted: The Demon's Forge
The Witcher 2
Frozen Synapse

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Over My Shoulder - Chroma - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 28:06

Coactive (Short Edit) - Chroma - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 50:42

Comments

I think that labeling games in terms of "superb," "amazing," "average," and "bad," skews significantly onto the side of being judgmental about taste. A game is either fun or not fun, and this is not an objective quality, but a subjective one. As long as the consumer is having loads of fun, then the game is fulfilling its function excellently. There is no "average."

Often, when a game enthusiast labels a game "average," he or she is talking about things like cost to produce, production quality, length, complexity, and so on. The error is in thinking that a game that's more expensive to buy or produce, or that's more complex is somehow better game simply because of those parameters.

This is what naturally leads enthusiasts or traditional video gamers to come up with labels like "casual" as a way to differentiate games they like and games they don't, with the implication that "casual" games are inferior, and that the people who enjoy them are deficient in taste, information, or sophistication.

There is no average, there is no casual, and "hardcore" has been misused so much at this point that it's taken on entirely new meanings.

There are only games you like and games you don't like, and I have never had the patience to continue playing a game that I am not enjoying.

Roke wrote:

Ooh gaming nausea... something I actually know about!

I notice I have become more sensitive to game nausea with time. It doesn't actually make me sick yet, so right now I guess I'm at that awesome midpoint where I just feel the excitement of falling when I take a big jump in a game like Infamous.

LarryC wrote:

I think that labeling games in terms of "superb," "amazing," "average," and "bad," skews significantly onto the side of being judgmental about taste. A game is either fun or not fun, and this is not an objective quality, but a subjective one. As long as the consumer is having loads of fun, then the game is fulfilling its function excellently. There is no "average."
...
There are only games you like and games you don't like, and I have never had the patience to continue playing a game that I am not enjoying.

While "fun" is more than a binary, I think your rubric also fails to allow for games that are good in other ways while not necessarily "fun." There are plenty of films that I find good and even important but that never even attempt to be "fun."

wordsmythe:

I'm not sure how it's useful to consume entertainment media that fails to entertain. I suppose it depends on what you want your games to do for you, but even in that event, you're still not judging it based on whether it's "good" or "average."

You may have more fun with one game than another, and choose to play the one that's more fun for you to play, but having less fun with a game doesn't mean that it's "average." It just means that you didn't enjoy that game as much. Other people may have a different perspective.

"I actually almost give a crap."

Every RPG game going forward should use the Dragon Age II "Move to Junk" feature. Despite DA2 being flawed, that is a great feature.

"I love to buy video games." I feel the same way. I guess I can see how shopping can be a hobby in and of itself.

I know Duke is going to be very old fashioned and probably a let down, but I bought it anyway. I am hoping that it will be fun regardless of any flaws. If anything, I hope the game does well enough so that Gearbox can make a fully modern sequel. I am actually expecting to be disappointed, especially for 45 dollars, but I'll take that bullet for Duke, just this once.

LarryC wrote:

wordsmythe:

I'm not sure how it's useful to consume entertainment media that fails to entertain. I suppose it depends on what you want your games to do for you, but even in that event, you're still not judging it based on whether it's "good" or "average."

You may have more fun with one game than another, and choose to play the one that's more fun for you to play, but having less fun with a game doesn't mean that it's "average." It just means that you didn't enjoy that game as much. Other people may have a different perspective.

So what do you make of a judgment like this:

burntham77 wrote:

"I actually almost give a crap."

I think there's a difference between "wildly entertaining" and "mildly amusing." I also think there's room for things like "vaguely amusing, but artistically important" and "deeply troubling, but a worthwhile and insightful commentary on modern theology, American race relations, and mainstream gamer culture."

I'm not sure how any of the categories you've stated could be simply categorized as "average," as opposed to "excellent."

Recall that the context of what we're talking about here is whether or not we play "average games."

I'm getting the sense that you think I'm saying that certain things are just not worth giving a crap about. I'll be honest and say that I have no idea what burntham is talking about. I'm NOT talking about marginalizing games or simply dismissing games we don't personally like. My point is precisely the opposite - that we can't really say which games are "average" on any kind of an objective scale, especially in the case where we're obviously confusing personal preference with some kind of nebulous concept of overall quality.

Contrast:

"Dead Space 2 was a totally average game and I no longer have time to play anything less than good."

"I didn't like Dead Space 2 very much for so-and-so reasons, so I've stopped playing it. You might like it, though, so I suggest giving it a try."

If you're just talking about the inherent subjectivity of judgment, then yeah—no argument. There are, after all, plenty of reasons we don't give numerical scores here.

Chairman_Mao wrote:
Roke wrote:

Ooh gaming nausea... something I actually know about!

I notice I have become more sensitive to game nausea with time. It doesn't actually make me sick yet, so right now I guess I'm at that awesome midpoint where I just feel the excitement of falling when I take a big jump in a game like Infamous.

I've heard that having a sufficiently high, steady framerate can help prevent motion sickness. I seem to have problems with the FOV settings used by some game engines as well. The narrower the FOV, the more likely I am to have problems. I'm playing through Bioshock 2 right now, for example, and the underwater sequences where I'm looking through a mask view is almost enough to do it.

Head-bob is a major problem for me. The first time I fired up STALKER I was ill inside of 2 minutes. Fortunately, head-bob can be disabled via an in-game option or a mod for nearly everything these days. If I had to guess I'd say that the racing game is in this second "head-bob" class of motion sickness. Unlike a road race, rally cars do bounce around. If this is the problem there's likely little you can do because it's an artifact of the game physics. If you've made a reasonable effort to alter the software so it doesn't mess with your head and had no success then I'd just drop it and move on. No game is good enough to warrant headaches and nausea, and forget medication.

wordsmythe wrote:

If you're just talking about the inherent subjectivity of judgment, then yeah—no argument. There are, after all, plenty of reasons we don't give numerical scores here.

I'm talking about that, too, but not "just" that. It goes without saying that if you want to be consistent about saying that there is no point to scoring games, then you should also hold that there's no reason to call a game "average" in the general, having fun sense of a game's core functionality, which is what we're talking about here.

Certis is saying that he doesn't have any more time to play "average" games, but calling the game "average" carries an implication that they're no good in some kind of an objective sense. I think he might express his sentiment better if he simply said that he no longer has the patience to stick with a game he doesn't currently enjoy playing, a viewpoint which I've always held.

I think it should be taken as given that opinions expressed on the Conference Call are subjective. Nobody on the show is acting as a professional reviewer, so expecting disclaimers and double speak to clarify what is objective and subjective is neither reasonable or desirable.

If Certis says a game is average it's because Certis thinks it's average, that's enough.

LarryC wrote:

Certis is saying that he doesn't have any more time to play "average" games, but calling the game "average" carries an implication that they're no good in some kind of an objective sense. I think he might express his sentiment better if he simply said that he no longer has the patience to stick with a game he doesn't currently enjoy playing, a viewpoint which I've always held.

Things can also be average in a relative sense though, and telling someone you don't enjoy playing something tells you nothing about the quality of the game. For all I know all I'm being told is that said person doesn't like that genre. I don't enjoy chess but it is quite clearly a great game; a beautiful, elegant game design. Saying it's not fun doesn't help you understand the game.

Average in this case is a statement about the quality of all aspects of the production, people can enjoy playing average games. To reject notions that there is a distribution of quality in some manner, and to assert that everything is absolutely relative simply doesn't help. If there is just "fun" and "not fun" then how do sort the good from the bad? We get trapped in a rather boring relativist net.

Epistemology hat: Yes there is no true objectivity with regards to human knowledge but we can arrive at a good proxy for it by way of consensus (in the sense of by quorum not by unanimity).

MrDeVil909 wrote:

I think it should be taken as given that opinions expressed on the Conference Call are subjective. Nobody on the show is acting as a professional reviewer, so expecting disclaimers and double speak to clarify what is objective and subjective is neither reasonable or desirable.

If Certis says a game is average it's because Certis thinks it's average, that's enough.

Surely all opinions are subjective, rather than an objective measurement of 'goodness'.

I'm probably opening up a can of worms here.

complexmath wrote:
Chairman_Mao wrote:
Roke wrote:

Ooh gaming nausea... something I actually know about!

I notice I have become more sensitive to game nausea with time. It doesn't actually make me sick yet, so right now I guess I'm at that awesome midpoint where I just feel the excitement of falling when I take a big jump in a game like Infamous.

I've heard that having a sufficiently high, steady framerate can help prevent motion sickness. I seem to have problems with the FOV settings used by some game engines as well. The narrower the FOV, the more likely I am to have problems. I'm playing through Bioshock 2 right now, for example, and the underwater sequences where I'm looking through a mask view is almost enough to do it.

Certis seems to be close to the cutting edge hardware on hardware but that could explain why dropping down the resolution seems to help him when he is having problems. I don't think I've tried to lower the resolution so it's probably something I should take a chance on. I have played around with changing the Field of View in games in the past and it worked to a degree with Bioshock.

My ears are burning! When it comes to language used in a podcast, I assume that the context of our discussion gives me some leeway when it comes to the words I'm choosing. When I say "average" it's not because I spent a few hours considering the best word(s) to describe my views. It's because people generally know what I mean when I say "average" and it's faster than saying "in my personal, humble and subjective opinion, this game had no features which I considered to be exemplary or particularly enjoyable."

It's a bit of a mouthful. Podcasts are not the venue for going real deep on the language. Pretend you're listening to friends at a bar and you'll probably have about the right idea.

Yeah, I'm sure having to go through a disclaimer every time you advance an opinion would kill the pleasure you get from doing the podcast.

Certis wrote:

It's because people generally know what I mean when I say "average" and it's faster than saying "in my personal, humble and subjective opinion, this game had no features which I considered to be exemplary or particularly enjoyable."

I for one am deeply disappointed that you don't care enough to spend the time to use such clear language

*sob*

That is exactly the viewpoint that I'm saying is destructive. Saying a game has "average" production values by way of critique tells us rather less than saying that it was not fun. This is not a common perspective for gamers, so let me elaborate.

A game's production values or cost doesn't tell us anything about how good that game functions in delivering entertainment. A cheap game like PvZ is awesome, but the graphics are dated beyond any consideration, and the feature set is pretty basic. Conversely, a game bursting to the seams in tech and cutting edge design isn't necessarily fun or important. So how does describing a game as "average" tells us anything other than maybe, this guy didn't like it that much?

Better to start with that first and just chuck out the "average" descriptor altogether.

You contend that emphasizing relativity is useless and just disallows us from saying anything useful. I contend otherwise. Getting rid of such appellations as "awesome," "compelling," and "cool" challenges us to describe why we like a game in real terms that actually convey information.

Example:

"I found the narrative in this game to be compelling."

"I was drawn into the game's story because the narrative was so well paced."

Specific to the podcast and the games used therein:

"I don't find Infamous2 to be as fun as other games I play because I've already explored the open world game in Red Dead Redemption quite recently."

"I don't find Infamous2 to be as fun as other games because it's average."

Other posters:

I feel as if I've made my case already and that any reply to your responses won't offer anything other than rehash. I don't want to make this thread about me, so I'll let it rest unless you have commentary other than "You can't contest that because it's an opinion and all opinions are valid."

Certis:

Hehe. I know, I know. No need to roast your ears over this. I was pointing out your use of the language because, well, you're kind of big deal on the Internet but the critique of the language and the perspective it implies is directed at many gamers in general, not just you. It's all the more damning of our culture's lack of vocabulary that we'd expect to just use "average" for any particular game that doesn't strike our fancy, even in casual conversation.

I have a number of other hobbies aside from gaming, and in those hobbies, my friends and I generally don't use "average" to describe a product that we don't particularly like or recommend. A bicycle could be "entry level," or "competition level," and if I'm lukewarm towards a product, I specify, even just chewing the fat with friends, because conversation is just more interesting that way.

In other words, it isn't that you weren't careful about choosing your wording - it's that you would choose that sort of wording in a casual conversation. It has implications on your (and all our) overall world view of games.

It's not meant to be personal, so please don't get all bashful and embarrassed. It's something that I think is an interesting barometer of where we are as a consumer culture.

LarryC wrote:

That is exactly the viewpoint that I'm saying is destructive. Saying a game has "average" production values by way of critique tells us rather less than saying that it was not fun. This is not a common perspective for gamers, so let me elaborate.

A game's production values or cost doesn't tell us anything about how good that game functions in delivering entertainment. A cheap game like PvZ is awesome, but the graphics are dated beyond any consideration, and the feature set is pretty basic. Conversely, a game bursting to the seams in tech and cutting edge design isn't necessarily fun or important. So how does describing a game as "average" tells us anything other than maybe, this guy didn't like it that much?

Ok, well this is also about context and audience. Neither Fun nor Average as descriptors are indeed especially descriptive. But 'Fun' is so completely subjective it really tells me nothing about a game beyond how one single person experienced it. If I don't know that person personally it's hard to gauge whether I'd agree. 'Average', with the right audience at hand, is making a statement about a work in reference to the currently understood state-of-the-art; that no feature stands out or is worthy of comment. To a gamer I can understand that; I know what 8-bit graphics looks like, I know what bad and good design looks like, I know what the bleeding edge of graphical fidelity looks like. I have experience of a large amount of context. Stating something is average is making an appeal to a commonly held and appreciated distribution of the current quality of games production. Fun on the other hand has no similar commonly understood distribution, all I'm left with is the knowledge that some single person did or did not find something fun.

I don't think either are good descriptors of games (or anything) and in an actual formal review, sure, you'd want to read something that attempted a bit closer and analysis. But in most other fields or hobbies you might engage in if someone says "meh, it was average" you'll almost always know what they mean by it.

This conversation is nice.

Irongut wrote:

This conversation is nice.

Needs more gu

Irongut wrote:

This conversation is nice.

Meh, for Internet semantics arguing, it's pretty average.

Gravey wrote:
Irongut wrote:

This conversation is nice.

Meh, for Internet semantics arguing, it's pretty average.

I dunno, I'm having fun..

Gravey wrote:

Meh, for Internet semantics arguing, it's pretty average.

I see what you did there.

Moving on....

In terms of what might be considered "B" games, typically I'd rather spend my time playing something that at least attempts something new and ambitious as opposed to something that takes an established formula and slaps a new coat of polish on it.

Example: I have far more interest in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories than I do in Dead Space 2.

By any objective standard, in terms of polish, presentation, graphics, audio, gameplay systems, etc., Dead Space 2 is a "better" game, and in a moment-to-moment sense for most people (including, I must admit, myself) it's almost certainly a more "fun" game. Thing is, it's also a game I've played before. I played it when it was called Bioshock and had a bunch of wacky Randian philosophy tossed in there for kicks, and I played it when it was called Dead Space 1. I have no particular burning desire to play it again, although I have no doubt that it's a well-made, well-structured, well-paced, and atmospheric game and that a lot of care and love went into the craft of making it.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is not, by any objective standard, a very "good" game. It has some pretty deep flaws in the way its gameplay is structured, and while it does a good job with the technical tools at its disposal, the presentation is last-gen at best. Moment-to-moment, it's not a very "fun" game. The puzzle-solving is trite, the "combat" (such as it is) is repetitive, simplistic, and frustrating, and the exploration is ho-hum.

And yet, it attempts to do things with its storytelling that no other video game has done before. It is interactive in a way that few other mass-market video games even attempt, and in a way that would be impossible in any medium other than a video game. I wanted to experience those ideas for myself, and I've been able to forgive its other shortcomings enough to play it twice through. While I can't say that it was much "fun" either time, I feel that it's an immensely important game and I feel that I have been greatly rewarded for the time I spent with it.

Given the choice, I'd often rather play the ambitious but less "fun" B-game than the polished-but-safe AAA release, and certainly not the unambitious-and-unpolished B-games that make up the majority of the release schedule.

(Of course, given sufficient time and money, I'd rather play BOTH the ambitious B-game and the polished AAA game. Typically between the two of them that'll take up enough of my time and budget that I needn't bother with unambitious B-games.)

I'm extremely confused by the semantic argument that's going on here with "fun" and "average" and it's that bafflement that, against all better judgment, makes me want to try and examine it seriously. Sorry, everybody!

Are we saying that we shouldn't get bogged down in critical evaluations of games that could result in some games being judged as "average" and, instead, simply focus on whether a game is simply Fun or Not Fun?

If so, I disagree with that one entirely, not only because I think that critical evaluations are important in analyzing and refining the aspects of craftsmanship that can make games better in the future, but because the nebulous Fun/Not Fun generalization is even more vague and arbitrary than the measurement that it's supposed to be replacing.

Are we saying that judging certain games as "average" does a disservice to many gamers because those games can be fun for some players, just like "average" bicycles can still be useful to somebody who just wants to ride around town?

If so, then I'd raise an eyebrow at the equivalency that we're attempting to set up here -- extensive study and meditation upon the writings of the philosophers has taught me that entertainment products and methods of transportation serve very different purposes, y'all -- and I'd say that dismissing any and all critical product evaluations just because some consumers don't care is incredibly damaging, stupid, and WRONG. People That Just Want A Bike aren't looking for reviews anyway, as much as they're looking for a product information brief that tells them what features are available (two wheels? check!), so why starve the people that actually give a damn?

Are we saying that any kind of qualitative evaluation (e.g. number scores, "average" vs. "excellent" or "super neat-o") is bad, because all judgment is subjective?

If so, well, I disagree with that too because, even though we can only make our own judgments of any given product, those judgments can be informed and built upon common experiences and accepted concepts of craftsmanship. And, in fact, some people may have such a level of experience and expertise that their judgments of such products may be of interest to any potential consumers of those products. (It's almost like I'm saying there's an actual purpose behind game reviews! Hold onto your monocles and/or hats!)

Maybe it's just easier to say that I'm not quite sure what's being discussed here, but I'm pretty sure that I disagree with all of it vociferously. Cheers!

OzymandiasAV wrote:

Are we saying that we shouldn't get bogged down in critical evaluations of games that could result in some games being judged as "average" and, instead, simply focus on whether a game is simply Fun or Not Fun?

I'm pretty sure there's only one person saying that.

OzymandiasAV:

I'm not talking about semantics. That's the thing. I'm talking about a perspective shift. You and other perceive simply a quibbling about wording, when I specifically said that it wasn't about wording, but about perspective.

"Average," "compelling," "awesome," and "cool" are all words that stifle critical discussion of a game because it layers a filter of perception and a dismissal of certain characteristics and topics. More than the word, it's the convention that DanB is talking about - a person says that a game is "average" because he didn't have fun with it, and it's automatically "not worth commenting."

I'm fairly sure that the way "compelling" stifles discussion is exactly why there's a ban on that word in the podcast. "Average" should get the same treatment.

I am not dismissing any and all critical evaluations of a product. If anything, I'm fighting for it. If the former is what you understood from what I said, then you're not getting the point.

LarryC wrote:

a person says that a game is "average" because he didn't have fun with it

I just don't think that's true though, there isn't a direct linear correspondence. I've had plenty of fun with plenty of work-a-day games (Pacman CE DX, Mutant Storm).

And I think there is space in the world of criticism for "average"; there are things that are in the middle of the pack, which don't stand out and there isn't a great deal interesting to be said about them. And I don't want to hear about them, I don't want to read those reviews. I'm happy for someone to state that something is average and move on; tell me about something that is interesting. I can't think of a serious long form review that seriously entertains a statement like 'average' as an adequate value proposition. It's the kind of thing people use in casual conversation. This just feels like a bit of a non-issue to me (I am aware of the irony there)