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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Alice: Madness Returns
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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

Podunk wrote:

This is not an example of a romantic relationship with a high degree of player agency, but I think it's worth mentioning the tragic romance between Daniel and Victoria in Tribes: Vengeance. It's been a long time since I played the game, but at the time I found it to be genuinely moving, and a surprisingly sensitive look at an adult relationship in the unlikely context of a sci-fi shooter. Ken Levine FTW. :)

Tribes:Vengeance was a Irrational Canberra game. It's a decent example of a romance though, and neatly tied into the main plot. I can't help thinking there more good examples out there, but they are few and far between. The Witcher 1 and 2 are pretty good involving the main characters.

Scratched wrote:

Tribes:Vengeance was a Irrational Canberra game.

Right, but Wikipedia credits Ken as writer on Tribes:Vengeance.

To further drag Ken Levine into this, I found the romantic subplots in Systm Shock 2 to be very engaging.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

To further drag Ken Levine into this, I found the romantic subplots in Systm Shock 2 to be very engaging.

You keed (I think), but the relationships between the characters that you find through the logs are well delivered, and well paced.

Tanglebones wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:

To further drag Ken Levine into this, I found the romantic subplots in Systm Shock 2 to be very engaging.

You keed (I think), but the relationships between the characters that you find through the logs are well delivered, and well paced.

I'm not kidding. I think the writing in System Shock 2 is rather brilliant, and the romantic subplot between two of the characters (the lovers who take the final escape pod) is really well done.

Tommy and Rebecca wasn't it? SS2 was good using them as it was telling another perspective that was going on at the same time as you were progressing through the ship, and you were always one step behind them. I'm not so sure if it was a romance, but rather correspondence between two lovers. It's been a while, but I don't remember a progression of their relationship, but how they coped as they moved through the ship, missed connections, etc. I think very few games are over the time scales needed to develop such relationships between characters

SallyNasty wrote:
LarryC wrote:

muttonchop:

Sometimes, I think I played an entirely different version of DA2 compared to most folks. None of the stuff you mentioned as being big important events didn't seem particularly significant to me.

I know exactly what you mean. I like almost all of the games I play and when people totally tear them apart, I wonder what game they were playing.

Hey, I like the game. I'm working through a second playthrough right now. I just like over-analyzing things.

LarryC: Only the last event I mentioned was all that important in the context of the story. The rest seemed like examples of BioWare trying to make DA2 bigger and better than DA:O, and not really following through all that well. Every preview for the game had people raving about how the story spans multiple years, but it really didn't need to. There weren't many events in the game that needed that much time to take place, and they really didn't do a good job of conveying the passage of time. Some ongoing plotlines were weakened by the "one year later..." transitions, because it made it seem like everyone involved just stood around for a year waiting for Hawke to show up.

Some ongoing plotlines were weakened by the "one year later..." transitions, because it made it seem like everyone involved just stood around for a year waiting for Hawke to show up.

What I find interesting is that Bioware (well, sort of Bioware) did this type of thing so very, very well between BG1 and BG2. I've not put a ton of time into DA2 yet, but my sense of it from listening to the podcasts and the small bit I've played is that yet again, a formerly well-solved problem has been taken up by a new game, and not for the better.

Heck, would anyone have actually complained if DA2 used the DA1 engine? What if if used the Infinity Engine? I wonder how much of this type of plot-softness relates to the constant reinvention of the wheel by developers, necessitating that time be devoted to getting the basic interaction mechanics "right" rather than focusing on building a deeper, better plot. Of course, the alternative isn't much better -- I had a futile argument with someone on Reddit recently about New Vegas not being inferior to the work of amateur and semi-pro modders (and thus not worthy of a price tag) "just" because the major improvements over Fallout 3 were to plot and pacing.

Still, I'd love a slower, more deliberate pace of engine enhancements and much more budget and consideration paid to the core mechanics and lore, especially in my sprawling RPGs. I don't need a shiny new water renderer every other year.

I'm sorry again about the spoilers, guys. I just get very passionate about DA2; it's my favorite game of the past five years, maybe more. It's flawed and broken in many ways, I won't deny that. But the flaws just give love something to stick to.

OzymandiasAV wrote:

I'm afraid to open this can of worms, but was there even a romance between Cloud and Aeris? He bought a flower from her, she went on a date with him at the Gold Saucer, he nearly ended up killing her as a result of Sephiroth's mind control, and then she got skewered by Sephiroth anyway, which further solidified Cloud's role as Mayor of Frowntown for the rest of the game.

My only point was: What works for one person doesn't work for another.

I have to agree with Julian's impressions of Dragon Age 2 and place the blame largely on the snarky dialog options. I posted about it in the Dragon Age 2 thread but I felt like snarky Hawke undermined what drama there was in the story and kind of ruined it.

I thought snarky LadyHawke, when rom'd with Isabela, actually had a rather sweet and touching story arc too. And unlike Garrett/Anders:

Spoiler:

I do believe they have a happily ever after in store for them, roaming the seas on a pirate ship. Garrett and Anders are far too codependent to achieve such peace. At least, however, Garrett will never be alone.

As I said on the show, Hawke is characterized mainly through his/her losses -- Sorry, Julian; I still think you're wrong, and I'd be happy to quote chapter and verse on this. -- and they're always events that are mostly out of his control. That's why I think seeing the Garrett/Anders romance through to its completion is so crucial to understanding the game, because

Spoiler:

to do so, Garrett must choose not to leave Anders. Thus: After having so many people he loves taken from him, so much heartache and so much grief, when presented the option, Garrett decides not to leave the one person he has left. Even though that person is a confirmed terrorist and utter nutcase.

Still, for anyone who's seen codependency firsthand, you know that there was never any other choice Garrett would have made. It was -- wait for it -- poetic Justice.

What I tried to say on the show, and I'm not sure I succeeded, was that I think the three basic types of Hawkes -- diplomatic people pleaser; wise-cracking jackass; callous brute -- are really just various expressions of the same basic character: A person who struggles every day to cope with staggering tragedy and loss. The same experiences, just three very different (and very realistic) reactions to it. I thought the consistency and depth of what BioWare achieved with Hawke was incredible, but I fully acknowledge that not everyone had the same experience.

So, Lara, what's the best way to play Dragon Age 2? Male Hawke hooking up with Anders? Any particular class that has a better storyline?

Mages feature pretty heavily in the main plot, so a mage Hawke seems to get the most class-specific dialogue options. It's also the class with the most in-game lore associated with it. A warrior in any fantasy RPG is just going to be someone who hits things, but a mage in the DA universe comes with all the apostate/Circle/Templar baggage, as well as a much more personal connection to anything involving demons, The Fade, and blood magic.

muttonchop wrote:

Mages feature pretty heavily in the main plot, so a mage Hawke seems to get the most class-specific dialogue options. It's also the class with the most in-game lore associated with it. A warrior in any fantasy RPG is just going to be someone who hits things, but a mage in the DA universe comes with all the apostate/Circle/Templar baggage, as well as a much more personal connection to anything involving demons, The Fade, and blood magic.

If anything, that highlights the potential pitfalls of doing a complex RPG with many options, there's so much to take account of, so many options available. All of those have to be designed and made, then there's the high possibility players won't even notice. Plus, I think you could reasonably DA2 could have been more complex, for example what if to take the templar specialisation as a warrior you needed to train with the templars and go along with them, rather than just clicking a button at level 7/14, and likewise for all the other specs. There's a lot of potential for tying the gameplay and plot together, but it's a giant undertaking especially when big studios are more interested in being a factory production line for games to produce them as fast as possible.

Scratched wrote:
muttonchop wrote:

Mages feature pretty heavily in the main plot, so a mage Hawke seems to get the most class-specific dialogue options. It's also the class with the most in-game lore associated with it. A warrior in any fantasy RPG is just going to be someone who hits things, but a mage in the DA universe comes with all the apostate/Circle/Templar baggage, as well as a much more personal connection to anything involving demons, The Fade, and blood magic.

If anything, that highlights the potential pitfalls of doing a complex RPG with many options, there's so much to take account of, so many options available. All of those have to be designed and made, then there's the high possibility players won't even notice. Plus, I think you could reasonably DA2 could have been more complex, for example what if to take the templar specialisation as a warrior you needed to train with the templars and go along with them, rather than just clicking a button at level 7/14, and likewise for all the other specs. There's a lot of potential for tying the gameplay and plot together, but it's a giant undertaking especially when big studios are more interested in being a factory production line for games to produce them as fast as possible.

This is why I understand their choice to have limited players to human characters.

Scratched wrote:

for example what if to take the templar specialisation as a warrior you needed to train with the templars and go along with them, rather than just clicking a button at level 7/14, and likewise for all the other specs.

The warrior specializations don't make a ton of sense. Templars require extensive training and frequent lyrium use to gain any sort of anti-magic abilities. Reavers need to undergo a ritual that involves drinking specially-prepared dragon blood. The first game actually made you do the Reaver ritual to unlock the specialization, but the Templar specialization just required a short conversation with Alistair, who was never even a full Templar himself. In DA2 you can become either of these things without any training or any of the special rituals or substances needed to do so. Berserker's fine since you just need to get really angry.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

So, Lara, what's the best way to play Dragon Age 2? Male Hawke hooking up with Anders? Any particular class that has a better storyline?

Just as I think Alistair/Warden is the "canon" romance for DA:O -- as much as any COULD be -- I think a DipomaticGarrett/Anders is the "canon" one for DA2. Obviously it's also my fave, although SnarkyMarian/Isabela is a close second.

Gameplay-wise, mage is my fave class, but story-wise, I like a Warrior Hawke w/ a Templar build. For obvious reasons. For your first playthrough, go with either a dual-wielding rogue or a mage; the gameplay is faster and more exciting that way. Warriors, however, I think require the most tactical, full-party thinking, esp. on Hard mode, so if you liked that about DA:O, that's the class you may want to go with.

Note that Garrett/Anders will have more detailed dialogue than Marian/Anders (just as Marian/Fenris will have more detailed dialogues than Garrett/Fenris). I haven't tested Isabela or Merrill, though.

Merrill is the worst romance option for first-timers, IMHO, because:

Spoiler:

She is the only character who never grows or matures. The resolution of her Act 3 quest comes down to one of the most awful choices in the game: To either make Merrill take responsibility for Marethari's death and thus end up slaughtering her entire clan, the clan she's worked so hard in her own way to save; OR, for Hawke to once again cover for Merrill, stand up in her place and shift blame from Merrill onto you.

It's AWFUL, and it would be even worse if Hawke were rom'd with Merrill, I'm sure. It's one of my favorite moments in the game, and I think it gets overshadowed by the Chantry moment. But Hawke/Merrill may fall really flat for those looking for the kind of end-game stakes you find in Hawke/Anders.

I don't get how an off-week, weak podcast WITHOUT Certis or Elysium gets so many listens and 75 comments while no-one had anything to say about podcast greatness with Ken Levine.

NERDS.

NotCoffee wrote:

I don't get how an off-week, weak podcast WITHOUT Certis or Elysium gets so many listens and 75 comments while no-one had anything to say about podcast greatness with Ken Levine.

NERDS.

Ken seems like a great dude, and we are all fans of his games, but hey - he is only a coffee grinder around here.

There was a lot to comment on this week's podcast thanks to Julian "The Spoiler-meister" Murdoch and Lara "Scotchy-scotch" Kreiger:)

I think someone like Ken delivers such complete thoughts, there's not necessarily a whole lot to do but nod in appreciation. If you read through show comments, most discussion is begun with polite disagreement with one of the hosts.

For the record, I think this show rocked. I love sitting in the audience and appreciating these awesome people as a listener.

There was a lot to comment on this week's podcast thanks to Julian "The Spoiler-meister" Murdoch and Lara "Scotchy-scotch" Kreiger:)

I don't think Lara has had booze on the show in months ... despite my peer pressure.

Certis wrote:

I think someone like Ken delivers such complete thoughts, there's not necessarily a whole lot to do but nod in appreciation. If you read through show comments, most discussion is begun with polite disagreement with one of the hosts.

For the record, I think this show rocked. I love sitting in the audience and appreciating these awesome people as a listener.

There was a lot to comment on this week's podcast thanks to Julian "The Spoiler-meister" Murdoch and Lara "Scotchy-scotch" Kreiger:)

I don't think Lara has had booze on the show in months ... despite my peer pressure.

I think there are enough episodes out there that have her and scotch on together that I stand by her re-branding:)

Poor Laura Kreiger. Everyone always gets her name wrong

Certis wrote:

I don't think Lara has had booze on the show in months ... despite my peer pressure.

You can stop Fedexing Highland Park to my house any day now.

muttonchop wrote:

Poor Laura Kreiger. Everyone always gets her name wrong :)

This Laura Krieger gal sounds like quite the lush. Sounds like she'd be fun at parties, though.

KaterinLHC wrote:
Certis wrote:

I don't think Lara has had booze on the show in months ... despite my peer pressure.

You can stop Fedexing Highland Park to my house any day now.

Redirect them to my place. I'll want to celebrate once I'm done with pain meds and physical therapy.

To be clear, for months now LARA (note spelling) has been the spoiler and I have been the boozer.

rabbit wrote:

To be clear, for months now LARA (note spelling) has been the spoiler and I have been the boozer.

I spoiled on one episode, and now I'm "the spoiler"? I want to speak to your supervisor about this. This is the worst kind of discrimination: The kind against me.

Another great podcast guys. I already made this comment on Twitter but for the sake of fairness I just wanted to say I really enjoyed the conversation between Rabbit and Lara over Dragon Age 2; I'm probably going to start a second playthrough because of it and you all should be ashamed of yourselves.

Also I wish I was still in school I would have loved to attend Roger Travis' class and not just because I think he sounds like Jeff Goldblum at times. That's a bonus.

muttonchop:

To the contrary, I think DA2 is one of the few games to insert years between significant events that makes the entire narrative seem a lot more believable. I mean, how much disaster and life-change can realistically occur in the span of four months to a single individual without him going insane? I've gone four months in real life with no truly notable events occuring!

I think DA2 and Bioware writers simply forgot to write in the (obvious) caveat that Hawke's romances, friendships, and general life simply went on the normal, otherwise unremarkable trajectory most of those things follow in between the momentous events and life-turning conversations.

I mean, do we really need 6 hours of Hawke and Varric chewing the fat on nothing in particular? I hope not.

Furthermore, there were a significant amount of background events that really needed the element of time to really be ripe for an event to occur. For instance, the situation with a certain villain would not have nearly the same impact if every single event happened within a week. Hawke and Merrill

[spoiler]
getting married and living together
[/quote]

would not have been believable and consistent with Merrill's character without the element of time. Most centrally, the

[spoiler]
violent boiling over of Mage anger over consistent and systematic Templar abuses would not have been believable had it simply been the object of a few months, and it would not have been believably described as a gradual erosion of Mage-Templar trust if all the events had happened within the span of just one year.
[/quote]

On the second point, I think it's fair to say that gamers have been so used to playing the character that's the instigator of every notable event in their games that it has begun to seem to many for it to be bad for an NPC to have a hand in doing things and shaking the world. Many gamers, particularly podcasters especially here, ask for something different; and when Bioware gives us something different, reviewers and posters lambast them for it!

It's not like Hawke is powerless - he's changed the landscape of Kirkwall just by being there, and the player is given considerable leeway to decide on several very important world-changing events.

TheHipGamer:

Remarkable improvements in gameplay were made between DA2 and DAO in the span of its 18 month development cycle. It's truly remarkable how much they've achieved in that time. Both narrative gameplay and combat gameplay have been improved by at least one order of magnitude. Arguably, the combat mechanics were improved by two. It's just that exploration fans keep trying to see DA2 as an open world environment and belabor the use of repeated maps. Like that hasn't been done before...

KaterinLHC:

Gameplay-wise, mage is my fave class, but story-wise, I like a Warrior Hawke w/ a Templar build. For obvious reasons. For your first playthrough, go with either a dual-wielding rogue or a mage; the gameplay is faster and more exciting that way. Warriors, however, I think require the most tactical, full-party thinking, esp. on Hard mode, so if you liked that about DA:O, that's the class you may want to go with.

I played most of my three playthroughs on Hard. Then I reloaded my various save points between interesting combat encounters and did them again on Insane.

All class playthroughs require cross-character interaction on Hard or higher settings because the large HP bump occurs at that setting, necessitating the use of Cross Class Combos to get anywhere without getting bored. I did not get the impression that Warriors required this more than Mages or Rogues. If anything, Warrior's ability to get Vanguard + Berserk for ridiculous damage stacking allows them to get away with less tactical play.

Certis:

My own take from Ken is that much of what he says just isn't open to discussion, either with him, or with people who agree with him. I gather that I can sound the same way.

xandric:

To be perfectly fair, Lara (sorry, my mistake, Laura) hasn't given everything away. The story's only part of the reason DA2's a great game to enjoy.

burntham77:

Merrill's a frickin beast in combat. Her lack of healing is easily overshadowed by her ability to tank bosses, put down crowd control, and exploit cross-class combos. She is consistently the highest overall damage dealer in any group I put her.

You will want to spec her early in Blood of the First and gun up hard on Primal and put all points into Con, not Int. The only harder hitting characters are Mage Hawke and a well-tactic'd Justice Anders (who can't heal, either).

Both narrative gameplay and combat gameplay have been improved by at least one order of magnitude. Arguably, the combat mechanics were improved by two.

They were certainly changed, but I don't agree that the change made them better. Spam-clicking, choosing one of 4 dialogue options, and "push a button for AWESOME" gameplay are not what I was hoping for as a long-time fan of CRPGs, or as what I wanted from the spiritual successor to BG.

I realize there's some personal preference there, but my point really wasn't whether the systems were better. I was suggesting instead that perhaps we had a competent engine in DA:O, and that instead of spending time creating yet another RPG engine, those same resources could have gone into writing, asset creation, and more/deeper character interactions. Historically, that kind of focus has yielded pretty amazing benefits (BG2 vs BG1, F:NV vs F3, etc.). I'd have loved to have seen the same happen with the Dragon Age series, but alas, the fervor seems to be for mechanics rather than content everywhere, and not just in traditionally mechanics-driven genres.

TheHipGamer:

They were certainly changed, but I don't agree that the change made them better. Spam-clicking, choosing one of 4 dialogue options, and "push a button for AWESOME" gameplay are not what I was hoping for as a long-time fan of CRPGs, or as what I wanted from the spiritual successor to BG.

You can't spam-click on Hardcore and expect to live, let alone on Insanity. I highly recommend playing the game on those settings. Enemies die too fast on any lower setting for the game to really allow Hawke to strut his stuff. This is not a facetious qualification. Cross Class Combos form the heart of the game's tactical backbone, and there's just no point to using them when your +900% damage combo is effectively doing 1 point of damage on a mostly-dead enemy.

You really need to compare the settings. In DAO, it doesn't matter. Insanity was barely harder than Normal. In DA2, the settings really do something - a definite improvement. The game's combat is much more nuanced and complex on the harder settings, no question (Except for the boss combats. Those are bad). I would go so far as to say that DA2's combat offers a greater degree of tactical richness compared to DAO's.

Narrative gameplay is improved in several ways. Responses from both Hawke and his companions change depending on how you've been playing her up to that point, and most responses are beliveable and well-delivered, even when interchanged, which is a definite improvement. I've been trying my best to make Hawke schizoid by alternating responses, but it all flows so smoothly and well that even when you choose randomly, it just seems like Hawke has a complex, normal personality. A Forceful choice from a Diplomatic Hawke in a given situation won't necessarily elicit the same dialogue as the same choice made by a Sarcastic or Forceful Hawke. It's remarkable to me that they made the effort to allow you to portray Hawke consistently while still have a similar breadth of response for each broad Hawke-type.

I'm all for more content, but I'm surprised at the direction of improvement and the amount of improvement shown by Bioware in DA2. It really gets an undeserved bad rap. I WILL unreservedly say that it's a great game and that posterity will treat it better than it's got so far.

LarryC wrote:

I'm all for more content, but I'm surprised at the direction of improvement and the amount of improvement shown by Bioware in DA2. It really gets an undeserved bad rap. I WILL unreservedly say that it's a great game and that posterity will treat it better than it's got so far.

And it's something I'm noticing with games, for all the times designers can be clever and put in bits like that, they're worthless if they're hidden away. Think of all the games that put up messages in your face explaining parts of the game which we swat away like a web page pop-up, game designers really need to think of great ways to communicate with and teach their players what's going on in their games, rather than just making it and hoping gamers notice and understand what's going on.

It's a shame that DA2 is so buried under so many issues, and that there's little motivation for EA to keep working on that one title, but stay in a cycle of making short lived hits.

Another part of me thinks Bioware gets too much limelight as it is and more gamers should broaden their horizons.

I recorded a response to the DA2 conversation on the podcast. It was just easier. Here's the link to the youtube video of it (it's only audio though). This isn't intended to be an audio email or anything to be played on the podcast. Just sort of throwing it out there.