GWJ Conference Call Episode 261

Conference Call
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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Great Grey Wolf Sif - Dark Souls - http://www.preparetodie.com - 46:00

Main Theme - Rift - http://www.riftgame.com - 58:57

Comments

According to Carmack, they developed Rage with the console as the primary platform for business reasons. I guess iD's status as the last bastion of the PC platform is now dead and buried.

The driver problems people have been having with games like Rage and the BF3 beta lead me to think that Microsoft may want to have a fundamental rethink of how it implements DirectX standards. Because almost every PC game these days requires specific DirectX helper libraries tied to a specific version of Direct X, they need to be installed almost every time you get a new or old game. Inevitably this complexity is going to lead to problems for the hardware developers who need to make sure their drivers work with the latest games without breaking old games. Then, these headaches people have getting these games to run only feed the perception that the PC as a gaming platform is always going to be more of a hassle, giving developers second thoughts about making the PC their primary platform.

Also, Dark Souls sounds awesome. One question--are the game saves locked to the console? When my PS3 died I couldn't migrate the Demon Souls save game because of this, preventing me from ever finishing the game.

edit: I just realized Rage is actually using OpenGL, but I think my general point still stands regarding the various versions of DirectX, which is used by a majority of games.

Have to disagree with Certis on this one. Dragon Age 2 was not only better than Dragon Age Origins in purely game design sense, it was also of the type of game that did not leave behind a whole lotta notes to help you figure out how to navigate Insanity setting. You figured that out for yourself.

Same with Mass Effect 2 (which was reinvented from Mass Effect 1) and Muramasa, the Demon Blade (the supposed Wii JRPG). In fact, Muramasa was so hard, that no reviewer played it on the putative "Hard" Shura mode, and many deemed that mode impossible and unenjoyably difficult, even though developer Vanillaware came out and explicitly stated that that was the definitive way to play the game.

You could always play the "Easy" mode on any of these games, but as a self-respecting "hardcore" gamer who likes a challenge on the level of Dark Souls and who looks for that kind of challenge, why would you ever want to do so?

LarryC wrote:

Same with Mass Effect 2 (which was reinvented from Mass Effect 1) and Muramasa, the Demon Blade (the supposed Wii JRPG). In fact, Muramasa was so hard, that no reviewer played it on the putative "Hard" Shura mode, and many deemed that mode impossible and unenjoyably difficult, even though developer Vanillaware came out and explicitly stated that that was the definitive way to play the game.

And what of it? If Vanillaware was so adamant that Shura was really The Definitive Way To Play The Game, then why didn't they make that the only difficulty level available to the player?

The vast majority of players are only going to attack a hard mode like that -- and when a dark red box on the menu explains that Shura is "only for the brave", it's definitely being framed as a hard mode -- after attaining some level of fluency with the mechanics, so it's not like the reviewers were engaging in some kind of brazen incompetence by playing it on Muso.

If Muso mode sucked, then that's on Vanillaware, not the player or the reviewer that dared to go with the default menu choice for difficulty instead of using the staggering array of telepathic powers that all game reviewers are blessed with to choose The Definitive Way To Play The Game.

And the implication that people are "playing the game wrong" is dismissive and destructive to any kind of critical discourse on the game. (Or any game, for that matter.) I realize that you're a fan of the game, but you're not really doing it a service by beating this particular war drum.

OzymandiasAV:

They were conflicted about it. As I recall, they were initially only going to have the one mode, but they were pressured by their publisher Marvellous to have a more casual-friendly mode. Shura is not described as "only for the brave." It's described within the selection menu as the mode gamers are supposed to play, who are at all conversant with brawlers.

Challenge mode is actually Shigurui, where you only have 1 HP, ever, so every hit is fatal.

It's definitely a design flaw that Musou mode kind of sucked, but bear in mind that the game still reviewed above 80 on Metacritic despite every reviewer playing it on gimped mode, and some reviewers not even taking more than 4 hours into a 20 hour game.

And the reviewers did not need to be telepathic. As I said, Vanillaware officially came out saying that Shura mode was the way to play it, and every reviewer was advised so.

My point here is that there is no shortage of challenging games, the way Certis was making out. Dark Souls is unique in that you can't play it on gimped mode. If Vanillaware stuck to its guns, Muramasa would have been the same way, but Shura mode still exists for those who are willing to get a game with a normative difficulty (not that it was actually a challenge. Shura was still pretty easy!), and Shigurui for those really up for a challenge.

I also noted that this trend of "casualizing the Normal Mode" isn't unique to Muramasa (and Musou is rightfully termed "casual" within the selection menu anyway). ME2 and DA2's Normal Modes are casual, too.

I'm not disputing your general point about challenging games in the market -- I was actually considering posting something very similar in regards to the "unique experience" of Demon's/Dark Souls -- as much I'm disputing your use of Muramasa as some kind of tangential evidence to that idea.

As far as the actual menu options go...

IMAGE(http://failstateblues.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/muramasa_menu.jpg?w=522)

...I stand by what I originally said.

From the player's perspective, it really doesn't matter whether Marvellous or Vanillaware was responsible for including a mode like that; it's still there and available to them, regardless.

And the Shigurui mode that you mentioned is only unlocked after the player completes the game in Shura, which means that an uninitiated player is going to be presented with Muso and Shura as their initial set of choices. Which one do you think is going to be interpreted as a "hard mode" in that scenario?

OzymandiasAV:

First off, mea culpa. I did not remember the screen label. I obviously didn't take "only for the brave" very seriously, since I'd already known about Vanillaware's recommendations before I bought the game (first day it came in-store, too).

Shigurui Mode is unlocked after you complete either character arc. This is not the completion point of the game. To consider the game complete, you have to at least finish both character arcs, since they have different stories, both of which are part of the game. Arguably, you haven't completed the game until you've unlocked all 108 blades, since that's the only way to unlock the final story boss. A completionist would say that you've only completed the game once you've gotten all items by completing every challenge.

Finally, I've already said that it was probably a design snafu to have had a Musou mode to begin with. What more would you like me to say?

I don't know that I'm looking for you to say anything else, but you've brought it up in enough threads on this forum that I thought it was probably worth having an actual discussion about it.

Hey, anything to get Muramasa on the map, right? That game seriously deserves more people playing it, especially people who think the world of Dark Souls. Who may or may not be speaking on fantastic indie gaming podcasts.

LarryC wrote:

My point here is that there is no shortage of challenging games, the way Certis was making out.

Woah there. That comment was directed toward the difficulty and all the other stuff I mentioned about it. Not JUST the difficulty. I'm aware there are a lot of hard games out there, that's not exclusively what makes Dark Souls unique.

Hey, feel free to expound on the thread. I'm already halfway enabled. Skill-type gameplay-focused games appeal to me immensely. The only thing that holds me back is that there only seems to be a limited arsenal of moves.

If you have the time, I'd be delighted to hear what makes Dark Souls a unique and awesome experience for you, apart from the player skill-based play.

Sadly, I don't have the time, but I did spend a lot of time blabbing on the podcast. Maybe listen to that until you develop a sort of brainwashed, powerless state. Then buy it.

Or read the catch-all. Some of the stories in there are very telling in non-spoiler kind of way.

In re the topic of whether games reflect the times made me keep thinking of this:

100% agreement about the body animations in DX:HR. I'm baffled that people weren't complaining about this constantly.

I joked to my friends that every single person in the DX world is suffering from late-stage Parkinson's Disease. I expect the coder's intent was to show the way that people never stand completely still, but the movements are too random and too exaggerated.

Lock a character into a walking animation, and they look fine. But anybody standing still (read as: anybody you're actually talking to) flails around wildly or shakes like a junkie in need of a fix.

Good point, Ozy. I was thinking about 9/11 during the discussion and found it interesting that the event wasn't mentioned by name. It seems like a strong beacon of why we connect to certain post-apocalyptic-type scenarios (not just your Fallouts, but games like Homefront), while past tropes are falling by the wayside. I also think storytelling in gaming is slowly getting better overall and the natural movement is towards complexity in characters. Since 9/11, life is no longer black and white to many more people and gaming reflects this shift.

That said, apocalyptic thinking seems to be endemic to humanity. Every culture has their myths about how "it" all ends. I believe that advancements in communication, and subsequently, knowledge may make us all quite a bit more paranoid as a society. I mean, Christianity is filled with writings of the second coming of Jesus and all the portents pointing to it being next week, month, year, etc. That's still going on this day, but we're also tapping into other myths like the Mayan calendar.

Regarding the notion of games reflecting our times, I think there's one big event in recent history that has greatly influenced media of all shapes and sizes, so much so that I'm kind of surprised it wasn't mentioned in the discussion:

IMAGE(http://www.thethunderingherd.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/9-11-01-logo.jpg)

The wave that shifted our storytelling from simple "good vs. evil" conflicts to the more complicated "desperate struggle against an unknown enemy, as well as ourselves" archetype had already started years before, with stuff like The Watchmen and other anti-hero stuff (which was mentioned on the call), but I would argue that 9/11 caused that wave to crest.

It's hard for me to quantify it in any meaningful way -- I'm hoping that Nick Lalone's thesis on how cultural changes from 9/11 reflected upon video games will present a much more rigorous analysis -- but, in the wake of those terrorist attacks, it seemed to me that there was a very perceptible shift away from hard science fiction and superheroics, almost as if those concepts seemed naive when compared against the ever-present danger that the country faced.

Naturally, there are works in gaming and elsewhere that have touched upon that danger. The "No Russian" sequence in Modern Warfare 2 is the most notorious example, but you can also point to a number of art games or game-related art, such as the Invaders! exhibit in 2008. And we could fill an entire thread with discussion of the evaporation of the non-realistic FPS in the middle of the decade, which directly coincided with the explosion of "modern warfare" as a setting.

Coincidentally, I think this is one of the reasons that Metal Gear Solid 2 encountered such a backlash when it came out. If you examine the game in retrospect, you focus on the Snake-Raiden thing and marvel (or recoil) at all of the wackiness in its storyline, but it's easy to lose sight of the fact that MGS2 hit the marketplace only two months after the 9/11 attacks. Even in its amended form (and the game was amended to remove specific images of destruction in NYC), the tone of that game's storyline -- which concluded with a rooftop fight on Federal Hall in New York City -- couldn't be any more off-key from the sentiments that were echoing across the country at the time.

EDIT: It took some scrambling on YouTube, but I finally found the cutscene that preceded the final boss fight in Metal Gear Solid 2. Note all of the very deliberate American imagery, affixed upon a completely batsh*t discussion of "digital censorship" and the existential repercussions of the Les Enfants Terrible project. (Mercifully, this link doesn't include the ten-minute codec conversation that follows the cutscene. You're welcome.)

Good point, Ozy. I was thinking about 9/11 during the discussion and found it interesting that the event wasn't mentioned by name.

9/11 occurred to me during the recording, but I explicitly chose not to call it out by name, because I think it's the easy get in the conversation. I would argue that Y2K clearly indicates that we were a society already preoccupied with and fascinated by this odd death wish. We were waiting, almost hoping for society to crumble years before 2001 to a much greater degree than before.

I do think it has more to do with the aftermath of a cultural shift coming out of the Cold War. When the wall came down, everyone seemed to think, at least subconsciously, well that's the end of war and evil. But, of course it wasn't, and in fact it only got more complex and less easy to segment out into good or evil. After we won the fight we could win, we only discovered that an even harder fight against a foe we couldn't identify or name existed.

Having just restarted Demons Souls I was interested to hear the Dark Souls talk. Did you ever complete the first game Certis?

The problem I found with playing Demons Souls is how depressed it makes me feel. It's a fantastic game that I like playing, but I'm not sure I'd say I enjoy it. Last time I made it through 3 bosses and then just got worn out.

The combination of the constant "abandon all hope" vibe, the unending tension of knowing death is one mistake away, the lack of any guidance about where to go and no pause button meaning you can never take a break make playing it so wearing.

Having just restarted Demons Souls I was interested to hear the Dark Souls talk. Did you ever complete the first game Certis?

Never did quite manage it. I think Dark Souls is a lot more likely since the bonfires and starting health potions really help take the edge off the dying. You're never digging yourself into the kind of hole Demon's Souls could put you in.

Certis wrote:
Having just restarted Demons Souls I was interested to hear the Dark Souls talk. Did you ever complete the first game Certis?

Never did quite manage it. I think Dark Souls is a lot more likely since the bonfires and starting health potions really help take the edge off the dying. You're never digging yourself into the kind of hole Demon's Souls could put you in.

Yeah, the grinding for weed was a huge turn off after a while.

garion333 wrote:
Certis wrote:
Having just restarted Demons Souls I was interested to hear the Dark Souls talk. Did you ever complete the first game Certis?

Never did quite manage it. I think Dark Souls is a lot more likely since the bonfires and starting health potions really help take the edge off the dying. You're never digging yourself into the kind of hole Demon's Souls could put you in.

Yeah, the grinding for weed was a huge turn off after a while.

Reminds my of my college days.

Wow...all of you were on point during the main topic of this week's call. No wandering off topic. No long debate about the definition of a word. No Sean calling everybody wrong. I dismissed the topic when it was first mentioned on the show, but you proved I was being shortsighted. Thanks for the show guys.

In your FACE!

PODCAST TOUCHDOWN!

IMAGE(http://img534.imageshack.us/img534/8481/92900689displayimage.jpg)

You just broke Milkman's heart, Certis. Let's hope he doesn't see that pic.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

I guess iD's status as the last bastion of the PC platform is now dead and buried.

Or Zenimax pulled a Bathesda and didn't give them do any QA time on it.

Certis wrote:

Sadly, I don't have the time, but I did spend a lot of time blabbing on the podcast. Maybe listen to that until you develop a sort of brainwashed, powerless state. Then buy it.

Or read the catch-all. Some of the stories in there are very telling in non-spoiler kind of way.

Seriously, this is an awesome, awesome game. I didn't play the first one, and I always play games on normal difficulty. I am completely enthralled, and am happily giving it almost all the free time I have (which isn't much, with a young child).

Do check out the catch-all, and do be aware that there are 5 stages of reactions to Dark Souls, just like dying. They might be he same stages, actually.

I RedBoxed the game to make sure I'd like it, and after the second night I still wasn't quite sure. I did know I didn't want to quit playing, but I wasn't making any geographical progress in the game. I went ahead and bought it; the third night, I only died once of twice in ~2.5 hours. Same the next night. You have to play the game until you learn how to stay alive longer than ten minutes. Then it starts to reveal itself as an awesome, modern Metroidvania game.

Certis wrote:

In your FACE!

PODCAST TOUCHDOWN!

IMAGE(http://img534.imageshack.us/img534/8481/92900689displayimage.jpg)

Go ahead, Certis. Put on the belt.

grouse - [grous] Show IPA verb, groused, grous·ing, noun Informal, verb (used without object)
1. to grumble; complain: "I've never met anyone who grouses so much about his work."

(I hope I am not the only one who needed to look that up.)

Between this show and the last one, you guys have convinced me that RAGE is a great game and will be worth buying sometime in the future. Just not yet. (Incidently, what's the deal with the all caps title? Why is id shouting at us?)

"Indictment" is a word that the dictionary has been misspelling for generations. Who can we blame for this? Romans?

I will be playing the new Batman on the PC, but using an Xbox controller. I played the first game on the PC and the 360 and I liked the controls of the console but the graphics of the PC. What a great time to be a gamer.

Video games, like any form of expression, can be reflective of the culture and attitudes of the time.

Moral ambiguity is something that I have grown to appreciate, because it just feels more realistic. A flawed character is easier to relate to a perfect heroman.

My pocket protector heard someone say DA2 was better than DAO and it jumped RIGHT out of my shirt. Then it heard "Baldur's Gate crap" and stabbed me. "Jerks." Ha!

It's easy enough to say that these are the same old stories, and that post-apocalyptic stories are retellings of shipwreck tales (or of something like Gulliver's Travels), but I think that misses two key points. First, not all classic story types are equally popular at any given time (and there's meaning in what is popular when). Second, there are also important differences mixed in among the similarities of a shipwreck and nuclear war.

It's worth asking why The Tempest is being retold more often than Hamlet these days. Both start on tail of a life-changing event. Why are we more drawn to exploring the new reality than avenging the death of the previous system? Does the fantastic nature of Tempest appeal to us in a way that the new court in Hamlet doesn't?

There's also a difference in terms of being suddenly ripped from civilization and left on an island of wilderness instead of being thrust out (often by people, or by some sense of duty, rather than by capricious Fates) from an island of civilization into a vast wilderness, especially because the hope for a return to civilization takes a much different form.

Elysium wrote:
Good point, Ozy. I was thinking about 9/11 during the discussion and found it interesting that the event wasn't mentioned by name.

9/11 occurred to me during the recording, but I explicitly chose not to call it out by name, because I think it's the easy get in the conversation. I would argue that Y2K clearly indicates that we were a society already preoccupied with and fascinated by this odd death wish. We were waiting, almost hoping for society to crumble years before 2001 to a much greater degree than before.

I do think it has more to do with the aftermath of a cultural shift coming out of the Cold War. When the wall came down, everyone seemed to think, at least subconsciously, well that's the end of war and evil. But, of course it wasn't, and in fact it only got more complex and less easy to segment out into good or evil. After we won the fight we could win, we only discovered that an even harder fight against a foe we couldn't identify or name existed.

I blame Gen X. Those crazy kids with their facial hair and angst about being handed-down a crappy future.

The most unlikeable thing about Dragon Age II is that somebody is always willing to tell you exactly why you did or didn't like the game. Look, if DA II was as great as people say it was, all the critics would have flitted away to the same place as the people who wanted to play Fallout 3 in isometric sprite form. It wasn't. It was a pretty decent game that had some brilliant turns and some horrible flaws. Whether the brilliant parts or the awful parts shined through are solidly in the eye of the beholder.

The game design improvements in DA2 over DAO are pretty objective, in terms of following or being consistent with basic principles. As an example. Storm of the Century is pretty much broken AND it's secret, both design decisions that weaken the overall game. In contrast Stagger + Chain Reaction is powerful but reasonable, and it's documented.