GWJ Conference Call Episode 248

Conference Call

Alice: Madness Returns, Morningstar, Gun Mute, Steel Battalion, The Romantic Side of Video Game With Special Guest Roger Travis, Your Emails and more!

This week special guest Roger Travis is joined by Allen, Lara and Julian to talk about romantic relationships in games.

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
Game Thing Daily
Good Old Games

Morningstar
Gun Mute
Alice: Madness Returns
Steel Battalion

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

cosmos - (b-sides) - workbench-music.com - 0:21:37

metro - (b-sides) - workbench-music.com - 0:56:30

Comments

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So Lara and Julian, do we need another podcast just about your experiences/opinions on Bioware games? I'm betting that segment on relationships could have gone on a lot longer.

@Gimpy

Gimpy_Butzke wrote:

I'm betting that segment on relationships could have gone on a lot longer.

You being sarcastic? I stopped listening at 23:00. I figured it would be a super longwinded discussion I have the least bit of interest in, so I stopped it there.

Hey Cook, seems you played so much U2 you forgot what a platformer should be... about platforming! Alice:MR had some interesting & great platforming not attempted by other similar games in a long time. Loved all 15 hours of it. Not only were the visuals great, but even the story was interesting. Hadn't had this much fun with a platformer in a while, to be honest. Different, but in a good way. My opinion...

Lara - you were complaining about pixel-hunting in point & click adventure games, and I agree that sucks.

Thankfully a number of recent games in the genre have started including a tool that allows you to quickly see all of the interactable areas on a screen - check out the Lost Horizons demo on Steam (for example) to see what I mean..... that one little feature has made p&c games 100% more enjoyable for me.

AndrewA wrote:

Lara - you were complaining about pixel-hunting in point & click adventure games, and I agree that sucks.

Thankfully a number of recent games in the genre have started including a tool that allows you to quickly see all of the interactable areas on a screen - check out the Lost Horizons demo on Steam (for example) to see what I mean..... that one little feature has made p&c games 100% more enjoyable for me.

Exactly. Most newer games get that players will feel cheated if they waste hours hunting pixels. Morningstar had helpful hotspots that popped up, but I still ended up going back to previous areas once or twice to find the hidden pixel I'd missed. In a longer game, it might have been a dealbreaker, but Morningstar's maybe two hours long.

By the way, if anyone's interested in the article I wrote for Gamespy, you can find it here:

Putting the Gay in Games: The Industry's Evolving Attitudes Toward Sexuality

I also wrote this one back in February:

Bad Romance: Love in the Time of Videogames

Hey Cook, seems you played so much U2 you forgot what a platformer should be... about platforming!

What's U2? Anyways, glad you enjoyed Alice. I just found the platforming repetitive.

I think in some ways they made it a little too simplified, I never had to figure out where or when to jump, I always knew exactly where I was going I just had to go through the motions. Prince of Persia: SoT for instance did some awesome platforming precisely because I was frequently surprised while jumping, "oh I go there next! Cool!". Alice: MR wasn't really clever or surprising in any way, I just had to jump, jump, jump then I got where I was going. It got monotonous.

KaterinLHC wrote:

By the way, if anyone's interested in the article I wrote for Gamespy, you can find it here:

Putting the Gay in Games: The Industry's Evolving Attitudes Toward Sexuality

I also wrote this one back in February:

Bad Romance: Love in the Time of Videogames

Great article, I really enjoyed it. I guess I shouldn't have been shocked, but I'm reading the comments thread now for that first one and I am thoroughly rattled by the levels of ignorance on display there. And not just from a few people, either. Here's a sampling, so sorry to spoil your lunch:

"seriously gamespy, leave this sh*t off the site, we have everyone else in the world trying to shove all this down our throats, we dont need u guys helping."

"They know adding this crap will run more people off than bring people in.. = less $$$$$"

"this is seriously depressing to see gay in video games..."

"As I share a workspace with a dozen or so gay people I can honestly say. GOD NO PLEASE NO!!! If I'm going to describe how much of a torment it is to work with them I may come of as a gaybasher so I won't even bother. The idea that I will now be confronted with them even in my spare time is honestly disturbing."

"Gay stuff makes me ill. I am a homophobe, and it's a shame to have to have some character hitting on me in such a great game. I may have to avoid games with gay content from now on. Sorry Bioware! "

This is just from the first page and a half out of 6 pages of comments. And this is why it still matters.

As much as I like writing for Ryan over at GameSpy from time to time, the comments are truly a cesspool.

If you don't like the comments you see somewhere, then post your own. Drown them out with reason and sense. The writer, I'm sure, would appreciate it.

KaterinLHC wrote:

If you don't like the comments you see somewhere, then post your own. Drown them out with reason and sense. The writer, I'm sure, would appreciate it. ;)

Hah. Point taken. I'll think about it. Not sure I want to wade into that. You see, I have a problem. If I decide someone is wrong on the internet, and to respond, I can't stop until I'm absolutely sure my point is made and nobody can possibly disagree with me ever again. Or, in other words, I can't stop.

By the way, if you want to play a sort of broken, flawed but interesting free game that perfectly captures the feeling of being present while a couple are fighting, try Facade.

Regarding romance in games, I think BioWare is going in the wrong direction, by breaking up the romantic story into little chunks that only trigger after specific plot points. In Dragon Age: Origins you could hang out in your camp and have long conversations with your companions. It felt like you were actually developing a relationship with each character.

In Dragon Age 2, every important conversation you have with a companion is a quest. Add in the fact that your companions are spread out across the entire city, and the end result was that I just plowed through the main story and only stopped to talk to my friends when a new quest showed up in my journal.

The way the story is broken up over a long timeline doesn't help either. I pursued a romance with Anders, and when he confessed that he'd been lusting after Hawke for years, all I could think was "Really?" Outside of a couple flirty conversation options there was no indication that any sort of attraction was growing between these two characters.

BioWare's writers also never seem to have any idea what to do after two characters have sex. In the Mass Effect games, your partner generally doesn't have any new dialogue options afterward - maybe one post-coital conversation, then they stand around mute for the rest of the game. In DA2 I invited Anders to move in with me, and all that meant was that he stood around in my house not saying anything instead of standing around in his clinic not saying anything. It would be nice to see a romantic plotline where the Big Sex Scene was the midpoint of the story, not the grand finale.

muttonchop wrote:

BioWare's writers also never seem to have any idea what to do after two characters have sex. In the Mass Effect games, your partner generally doesn't have any new dialogue options afterward - maybe one post-coital conversation, then they stand around mute for the rest of the game.

That does bother me as well. In ME1 I never romanced anyone I just went straight through the game. In ME2 I romanced Miranda and I was disappointed that the ultimate goal of the relationship is sex because there was no dialog to really continue the emotional attachment once you get her in bed. Admittedly there is some impact on the story but I'm not sure that it is solely due to the relationship you can have with her.

In DA:O I was pretty happy with the romance with Morrigan. The relationship fit within the character that BioWare created. In DA2 I liked Merril's character but was annoyed at how long things went along before anything resembling a real relationship evolved. Considering that you can flirt with characters pretty quickly upon meeting them I didn't expect a relationship to take years to develop. The only character that let me know what they wanted was Anders. It was pretty easy to see his intentions.

KaterinLHC wrote:

While I won't disagree that BioWare struggles with what to do post-coitus, I thought DA2 was MUCH better about it than DA:O.

I actually thought that DA:O had some decent post-coitus storytelling, but it really depended on which NPC you romanced. Zevran's story doesn't really progress much after the sexy times, but Alistair's romantic plotline had a lot of interesting moments later on, like

Spoiler:

what happens if he becomes king, and the fact that he won't let you kill the archdemon if he's in love with you

Gimpy_Butzke wrote:

The only character that let me know what they wanted was Anders. It was pretty easy to see his intentions.

Actually Isabela also flirts with you first, if you don't flirt with her. (But you don't see fanboys on the Internet freaking out about that. [*grumble grumble*]) I believe Sebastian will also flirt with a female Hawke unbidden, but don't quote me on that.

muttonchop wrote:

BioWare's writers also never seem to have any idea what to do after two characters have sex. In the Mass Effect games, your partner generally doesn't have any new dialogue options afterward - maybe one post-coital conversation, then they stand around mute for the rest of the game. In DA2 I invited Anders to move in with me, and all that meant was that he stood around in my house not saying anything instead of standing around in his clinic not saying anything. It would be nice to see a romantic plotline where the Big Sex Scene was the midpoint of the story, not the grand finale.

While I won't disagree that BioWare struggles with what to do post-coitus, I thought DA2 was MUCH better about it than DA:O. You had the "A Key to Your Heart" quest in Act 3, the snarky dialogue w/ a certain someone in "A Murder of Crows", and all the party members commented on your relationship with Anders during normal party dialogue. (And so did Gamlen, the turd.) A romanced Anders in particular triggers plenty of great dialogue in Act 3 that doesn't happen, IIRC, for the other characters.

I also think the Act 3 quest "Justice", if you've romanced Anders, can be construed as exactly that continuation of the relationship you're looking for -- just not exactly a happy continuation, given that

Spoiler:

Anders essentially breaks up with you once you get him what he wants. Although he's still living in your house, for some reason. Hiding from the Templars, I assume, and admonishing you to keep your mind "on the task at hand". The jerk.

ETA: In any case, for both Fenris and Isabela, sleeping with them is just the romance's halfway point, just as it was with Morrigan. Way more must happen there before a happily-ever-after can be achieved with either. Sounds more in line with what you're looking for.

In fact, my second fave romance in the game is a Sarcastic Marian/Isabela (I watched my husband play through with that). They're hysterical and very, very sweet.

Flirting with Anders first is kind of hilarious. He's trying to be all serious and talk about why Justice possessed him, and Hawke keeps interrupting to say things like "that explains the whole sexy brooding thing you've got going on" and "Justice certainly chose a nice body to inhabit".

KaterinLHC wrote:
Gimpy_Butzke wrote:

The only character that let me know what they wanted was Anders. It was pretty easy to see his intentions.

Actually Isabela also flirts with you first, if you don't flirt with her. (But you don't see fanboys on the Internet freaking out about that. [*grumble grumble*]) I believe Sebastian will also flirt with a female Hawke unbidden, but don't quote me on that.

I rarely interacted with her on my first play through. Isabela never joined my party the first time I played the game. You are right about Isabela though, when I actually did converse with her she was very straight forward with what she wanted from you. I simply forgot about her because she doesn't seem to have any interesting qualities as a character.

I didn't have the Sebastian DLC so I also know nothing about him.

Dragon Age 2 end spoilers spouted out: "oh, spoilers, but it's 6 months after the game came out so it's your own fault..."

Grrrr.

So inconsiderate of listeners sometimes. I was working out upstairs with the podcast playing on the PC downstairs. I can't retroactively skip something I've already heard. And it's not like things can't be edited slightly if a mistake is made in the heat of a conversation.

This has to be my biggest podcast pet peeve. We don't all play games the week they come out. I don't mind spoiler discussions if there's a bit of true warning. And I don't even mind mild "tone" or overview spoilers. But retroactively saying "spoilers" doesn't make it less annoying to me.

I just wish there was more consideration about this from a lot of podcasts. There are so many great games released these days that those of us that might be away from the cutting edge of game releases might not have always played every game we want to a within the first month of release.

Generally GWJ is pretty good about this compared to some others I listen to.

MannishBoy wrote:

Dragon Age 2 end spoilers spouted out: "oh, spoilers, but it's 6 months after the game came out so it's your own fault..."

Is there a safe section, or should I (with my vague intention of maybe playing Dragon Age 2 someday, if I ever finish the first one) skip this podcast?

Fair comment MB. I'll take the heat, as I should have put it in the edit notes. My appologies.

rabbit wrote:

Fair comment MB. I'll take the heat, as I should have put it in the edit notes. My appologies.

I can deal, no reason to apologize. And like I said, it's typically more a problem I have with other shows than this one. Just had to rant for a minute then I'm OK

misplacedbravado wrote:
MannishBoy wrote:

Dragon Age 2 end spoilers spouted out: "oh, spoilers, but it's 6 months after the game came out so it's your own fault..."

Is there a safe section, or should I (with my vague intention of maybe playing Dragon Age 2 someday, if I ever finish the first one) skip this podcast?

It was somewhere around the half way point? It's in the romance discussion once they get to digging deep into DA2 stuff. Starts out safe enough.

rabbit wrote:

Fair comment MB. I'll take the heat, as I should have put it in the edit notes. My appologies.

If anything, Lara's repeated chats about DA2 keeps pushing me in the direction of putting down some cash and picking it up, if only to find out of what all the other romance plotlines that she refuses to touch with a ten foot broadsword are all about.

MannishBoy wrote:

Dragon Age 2 end spoilers spouted out: "oh, spoilers, but it's 6 months after the game came out so it's your own fault..."

Grrrr.

So inconsiderate of listeners sometimes. I was working out upstairs with the podcast playing on the PC downstairs. I can't retroactively skip something I've already heard. And it's not like things can't be edited slightly if a mistake is made in the heat of a conversation.

This has to be my biggest podcast pet peeve. We don't all play games the week they come out. I don't mind spoiler discussions if there's a bit of true warning. And I don't even mind mild "tone" or overview spoilers. But retroactively saying "spoilers" doesn't make it less annoying to me.

I'm just as guilty as Rabbit. Sorry to have spoiled anything. It is, however, a SUPER AWESOME GAME AND YOU SHOULD PLAY IT RIGHT NOW WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO PLAY IT ILL WAIT /endfrothingfangirlmode

ratboy wrote:

If anything, Lara's repeated chats about DA2 keeps pushing me in the direction of putting down some cash and picking it up, if only to find out of what all the other romance plotlines that she refuses to touch with a ten foot broadsword are all about.

I've tried, I swear! But Anders is just so damn charming.

KaterinLHC wrote:

I'm just as guilty as Rabbit. Sorry to have spoiled anything. It is, however, a SUPER AWESOME GAME AND YOU SHOULD PLAY IT RIGHT NOW WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR GO PLAY IT ILL WAIT /endfrothingfangirlmode

I'll get to it. EA ticked me off with the pre-order limited time thing enough that I decided I had enough backlog anyway and I'll pick up the inevitable "Ultimate Edition" with all the DLC. I've not gotten all the way through the original Witcher yet, so I've got that to finish along with Witcher 2 before I have to get another long RPG.

Mass Effect I won't be able to wait on, but for some reason after playing the DA2 demo, I didn't feel compelled to buy it immediately. But I definitely will get to it.

I really wish you guys would stop using Dragon Age 2 as an example for compelling storytelling and deep character interactions... Both are so flat that a coaster looks like a mountain against it. The romance bits are shoved in your face (at least that made it easy to completely avoid them when I wanted to), and the 'romantic' dialogues made me cringe.

Heavy Rain was a good example for meaningful character interaction, without forcing a romantic bit into it. Another one was Jane Jensen's latest output Gray Matter, a recent point & click adventure (which, on a side note, also avoids the pixel hunting and nonsensical puzzles). Gray Matter was the first game since Heavy Rain that made me feel emotionally involved.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind romantic elements in games. I just can't think of many cases where it's been done in a really compelling and mature way.

rainynight65:

In all fairness, DA2's about par for the course when it comes to romantic media content. You should see some of the Nora Roberts and Steele novels, to say nothing of the Twilight material. I haven't read any of the Twilight books for more than a few pages, but I can say with certainty that I like DA2's romances better than Twilight (which doesn't mean that DA2 is better).

You say that DA2's story and romances are flat. That's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but without invoking true literary greats, could you name a story in any medium that would put it to shame. I'm fairly sure that DA2's storyline compares favorably to, say, Transformers 2.

Personally, I don't think Bioware have ever managed to better the romances they added to Baldurs Gate. Also good examples of romances that continue FAR beyond the first "fade to black".

Another one was Jane Jensen's latest output Gray Matter, a recent point & click adventure (which, on a side note, also avoids the pixel hunting and nonsensical puzzles). Gray Matter was the first game since Heavy Rain that made me feel emotionally involved.

REALLY liked the way the main characters interacted in that game, (See also Gabriel Knight and Grace from the GK games). I hope Jensen gets the chance to develope those characters further, but I don't think the game sold particularily well, alas.

PyromanFO wrote:
Hey Cook, seems you played so much U2 you forgot what a platformer should be... about platforming!

What's U2? Anyways, glad you enjoyed Alice. I just found the platforming repetitive.

I think in some ways they made it a little too simplified, I never had to figure out where or when to jump, I always knew exactly where I was going I just had to go through the motions. Prince of Persia: SoT for instance did some awesome platforming precisely because I was frequently surprised while jumping, "oh I go there next! Cool!". Alice: MR wasn't really clever or surprising in any way, I just had to jump, jump, jump then I got where I was going. It got monotonous.

You could definitely shave a good hour or so out of each of the worlds I think, but for me it was totally worth battling through for the art and story (which goes to some INCREDIBLY dark places - I'm still impressed they had the balls to go down the route they did).

LarryC wrote:

You say that DA2's story and romances are flat. That's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but without invoking true literary greats, could you name a story in any medium that would put it to shame. I'm fairly sure that DA2's storyline compares favorably to, say, Transformers 2.

At the end of the day it comes down to taste as well. There may not be much out there that is truly great, but that doesn't make the average great. Only recently I watched two movies that both had very compelling plots and romantic elements, without sliding into kitsch and stereotypes. Those were 'The Adjustment Bureau' and 'Source Code'. From a quality standpoint I'd rate them higher than Transformers

On the gaming side, to me both Heavy Rain and The Witcher (Part 1 and 2) had deeper and more involving storylines than DA2. I would also rate Mass Effect higher. I just didn't find DA2 particularly engaging, 10 hours in I was still trying to figure out what point they were making, and while some plot twists were either predictable or felt forced, there was an overall lack of context. It wasn't fleshed out, it didn't feel finished. The romantic bits were a case of 'Click here if you want to romance this character' ( I kind of preferred the Mass Effect way, where you had to figure it out yourself). It was as if they just wanted to give people a shortcut, instant gratification so to say.

stevenmack wrote:

REALLY liked the way the main characters interacted in that game, (See also Gabriel Knight and Grace from the GK games). I hope Jensen gets the chance to develope those characters further, but I don't think the game sold particularily well, alas.

Man, I so loved the Gabriel Knight games. The ending of GK3 had so much depth (I will never forget the last thing Gabriel said to the French tour guide), and it is one of my greatest hopes that Jane Jensen gets the chance one day to finish what she started specifically with that game.

rainynight65 wrote:

I really wish you guys would stop using Dragon Age 2 as an example for compelling storytelling and deep character interactions... Both are so flat that a coaster looks like a mountain against it. The romance bits are shoved in your face (at least that made it easy to completely avoid them when I wanted to), and the 'romantic' dialogues made me cringe.

Different strokes for different folks. I thought some of Anders dialogue is the sexiest banter this side of Sands of Time. And the confession scene in the clinic, or later at the Estate? Yowza. Hotter than any sex scene in any game or movie I've ever seen. (And most romance novels, too.)

Even if DA2 had included 20 romance options instead of 5, the developers simply couldn't write material that would appeal to everyone across the board. It's just the nature of storytelling. Your audience isn't of one mind.

I bought into the DA2 characters and the interactions between them, so naturally I'm going to buy their romantic scenes a little easier than someone who thinks the romance bits are "shoved in your face" and wants to avoid "completely avoid them". On the other hand, you might like, say, FFVII's Cloud/Aeris romance, which left me alternately rolling my eyes and shrugging my shoulders. It doesn't mean either romance was objectively written poorly, per se, it's just a matter of taste and perspective.

Warning: Slight Dragon Age 2 Spoilers

Sorry Sean, but Laura is totally right about the overarching narrative of Dragon Age 2 being about lost. This really isn't even up for interpretation. The game that is about building a bad ass army? That is Mass Effect 2 you are thinking about. Not only does Laura refer to the constant series of losses, but what about the fact that there is a fissure in your entire party at the end of the game? People start leaving you and questioning you left and right in the last hour of the game. This is not a game about a strong leader that builds an army regardless of whether or not that is what you wish it were.

I also agree with Laura that a strong narrative is necessary for me to feel invested in a game character and a world. A blank slate is never interesting to me. I hate silent protagonists. I've never understood why they are supposed to be more immersive. To me it just always seemed to break the illusion that Gordan Freeman never talked. He is clearly a person. He is clearly being addressed directly. But he never says a damn word. It's ridiculous.

In generally, I think Laura spoke pretty elegantly about the virtues of Dragon Age 2's story and I absolutely agree that a lot of the narrative energy really does seem to be about Hawke and Anders relationship. The game seems to even push you pretty heavily down that path and the ending hour is all about trying to pay off that narrative. I think this where the game's "choice" kind of fails because if you don't follow that path and don't become as invested in it, the game frankly, is not that great of a game.

In fact, it's pretty crappy game in general. I agree with the poster above that things that in general the writing is manipulative and the characters are flat. But I also think Laura is right in that the game is much better if you are invested in the Hawke/Anders relationship. Indeed, I would say that that is THE central plot of the game. The fact that the game allows you to skip that plot doesn't really speak to its favor. It just means you play the sh*ttier version of Dragon Age 2 if you skip it.

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