GWJ Conference Call Episode 266

Conference Call

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Special Guests Justin McElroy and Jeff Cannata, What To Do When The Trilogy is Done, Our Tribes: Ascend Contest Winners, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian and Elysium are joined by Justin McElroy and Jeff Cannata! We've called in the big guns to talk about Skyrim and what developers should do with all the trilogies wrapping up.

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.

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Joystiq
My Brother, My Brother and Me
The Totally Rad Show
Weekend Confirmed
Tribes Ascend
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Skyrim Mod Thread

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Main Theme - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - http://www.elderscrolls.com/skyrim/ - 37:25

Chandra - (b-sides) - workbench-music.com - 56:28

Comments

Special Guests Justin McElroy and Jeff Cannata "squeal!".

Although Cannata's last recommendation on this podcast was way over hyped (Rage). Hopefully there is lots of Skyrim talk as that game has consumed me.

Fixedified

Jeff Cannata and Justin McElroy on one show? Now you're just spoiling me.

I'm fairly certain the whole first segment is going to just be one big Skyrim circle jerk, but hey, it turns out that game is pretty good, so I'm ok with that.

This week's segment breakdown...
2:10 Zelda
7:28 Skyrim (14:57 - 15:50, 19:20 - 19:51 possibly tiny spoilers)
37:54 Topic
56:57 Your emails
1:18:20 Tribes contest winner announcements
and that's all, folks!

Hurray more Jeff Cannata!

Goddamn it guys, I can't afford Skyrim right now and I have tons of stuff on my pile. You're seriously testing my will-power!

Spoiler:

Doesn't the vampire/werewolf stuff sort of count game-changing things that can happen in Skyrim?

Spoiler:
SurprisedMan wrote:

Doesn't the vampire/werewolf stuff sort of count game-changing things that can happen in Skyrim?

Spoiler:

I'm not sure, I picked up the Werewolf one and the only change it's made to the game is a significant increase in hilarity :).

Easy on the Skyrim spoilers, guys. There's a reason we didn't get into that stuff. Also don't think it changes things all that much, just alters the base formula a little.

Nietzsche wrote:

Special Guests Justin McElroy and Jeff Cannata "squeal!".

Although Cannata's last recommendation on this podcast was way over hyped (Rage). Hopefully there is lots of Skyrim talk as that game has consumed me.

I think I may have been the only one besides Jeff who really enjoyed Rage. Good game, if flawed.

I think that a Fallout game with Rage's engine/gameplay would probably be the best game ever.

Awesome, thanks for the Tribes key - I got a chance to play it a bit yesterday and they've managed to capture the feel of the game much better than I expected!

How is it that I only consistently listed to two (totally unrelated) podcasts -- this one and the Slashfilmcast -- and Jeff Cannata is a recurring guest on both of them? /mindblown

I have to pause the podcast and object to something Jeff said.
About the Mage Guild

Spoiler:

Are you seriously saying that story was well written? It's probably the first questline I would point to as an example of bad writing in this game. Yes it's a bit like Harry Potter, except that you go from being a nobody to being the feaking Arch-Mage in the course of about 2 and a half quests. The people you meet at that college are barely characters.

If you can fill in the blanks with your imagination to make it a good story then that's enviable, but that piece of content, as it's presented, is not good storytelling. I think that's something that's true for most of the content in the game.

non-spoiler version:
I agree that it's more like a pen & paper RPG in that you need to use your imagination, because the story content they present is so thin.

I find it an interesting counterpoint that the podcast is talking about moving forward with games while the 12 month pile thread has begun contemplation of revisiting old games that have already been beaten but are just so fun, they deserve another trip. Although I believe Rabbit was talking about his MAME cab and stuff and how he just doesn't talk about the old stuff he's playing. Still, I agree that there is definitely merit to play a game here and now when it's new.

An Elder Scrolls game with Dark Souls-like combat would be wonderful. Faces look better, a lot better, but animation is still pretty poor. These were things that killed the Oblivion experience for me, but I'm okay with them in Skyrim (for now) as the world is better realized.

I liked the gameplay in Fallout 3, so I may actually prefer that game in the long haul ... if it weren't all gray and drab. Alas ...

I need to go back and play Oblivion for 5 minutes because it doesn't seem like they've done anything interesting to combat except add in dual wielding and casting. The actual swinging and hitting something is still weightless, for the most part.

/ramble

garion333 wrote:

An Elder Scrolls game with Dark Souls-like combat would be wonderful.

This would be almost as good as the invention of the internet.

Glad to hear the mention of Ultima, as the description of Skyrim (something under every rock and waterfall, IIRC) really reminded me of Ultima VII/Serpent Isle. There would be little areas with objects strewn around that told their own stories, totally independent of the main storyline.

What are games offering me that is new, that is worth my time, that challenges the way I think or see the world (whether the game world or the real one)?

Thing is, they're just forms of entertainment. You are going to die, one way or another, sooner or later. It's probably not a great idea to spend that time obsessing over whether each action is meaningful. It's also probably not terribly wise to never pursue meaning. Difficult, arduous, mind-expanding things and easy, enjoyable, escapist pursuits bring each other into balance.

My first reaction was to assume that perhaps gaming culture really is pretty shallow and that there is little hope for this medium evolving behind a pastime of entertainment when even the smarter podcasts aren't willing to ask hard question about what they value in games and why.

I think there's something to be said for enjoying games as they are. There's some well defended eye-rolling that happens when the "games should be art" or "games should be more than entertainment" argument comes up; it implies a valuation of Art over Play, and seems to forget that play is part of what makes us sane, well-adjusted human beings. That doesn't mean that you have to personally like every game, or even want to give them all a fair shake, but personal experience is not the same as criticism. Dismissing Halo: Here We Go Again because it fails to provide a deep and meaningful experience is silly, and knocking it because there are folks who want Halo: HWGA to live up to its namesake and are satisfied with it, equally so.

A few months ago, someone (Julian?) posted about giving himself leave to just enjoy games. Surprisingly, it worked -- put aside the cynicism and just accept that there's a part of your life in which you do something fun, and allow it to be that, and good times are more easily had. I think it's a great strategy: you can get lost in your own ego-brain analysis of every game you play, looking for experiences that will be meaningful 20-years from now (and what if you get nailed by that bus in 2? What then?), or you can adopt a bit of a Be Here Now attitude and play Skyrim.

The rest of us are having a blast with it.

EternalGamer wrote:

If anyone in game criticism was willing to take a hard look at that question, I would have thought it would have been this podcast.

I don't think GWJ has ever been that site/podcast, at least not deliberately.

I think you have to start from the perspective that really, it's just some people on a podcast, or writing an article from their own perspective. When they do go deep into a topic, that's because they care about it, but also some other times they don't care about a particular topic and you'll get that result. Perhaps how they were feeling at the particular time was that they did want to enjoy the 'popcorn movie game', and didn't want to examine it too closely.

I agree there's a big cavernous gap in the market for good game reviewing and criticism, but I don't think GWJ is the place to go looking for it. Every so often it'll happen as a happy accident, but not by design.

I'm only a few hours into Skyrim, and I'm already enjoying it SO MUCH more than Oblivion. The world is more interesting, the characters (so far) are better written and I actually care what happens to some of them. No more of this "Oh dear, the world is ending and gates to hell are opening all over the land. Can you please help me collect 43 nirnroots? I'll show you how to make a potion you'll never use."

The combat feels a lot better to me, particularly the destruction spells. The flame thrower that shoots as long as you have magica is so much easier to do business with than the fireball that travels about one mile every eight days.

This isn't Oblivion with tweaks. This is the game I was led to believe Oblivion was.

Certis wrote:

Easy on the Skyrim spoilers, guys. There's a reason we didn't get into that stuff. Also don't think it changes things all that much, just alters the base formula a little.

Thanks for that. I thought they were show spoilers when I clicked on the first one.

As someone who has almost no real history in RPGs, can someone break down the differences between The Witcher, Dragon Age, and Elder Scrolls. Bonus points for also showing me where Fallout 3 (or the earlier games) falls into the mix. I'm not looking so much for the differences in stories and setting as I am for the prime elements that drive the gameplay.

After all of the love I was seeing about Skyrim, including the Unwashed Masses thread, I have been considering jumping into it. But this episode kind of made it seem like something I would hate, because I do want a strong narrative story to play through. I have very little interest in just playing a game where the prime activity is just finding stuff to upgrade my character.

My impression right now is that The Witcher 2 might still be the game I am waiting for to play a real RPG. But maybe my expectations for it are even wrong.

Jeff's comments about how Skyrim are why he plays games were interesting, and it alludes why RPGs have not drawn me in. Since the Atari 2600 and later the C64, it was the digital versions of sports I love that drew me to gaming. I have just been on a parallel path, separate from the bulk of gamers. I don't have any D&D experience to draw upon, as I was playing Strat-O-Matic Baseball with my cards and dice.

My impression right now is that The Witcher 2 might still be the game I am waiting for to play a real RPG. But maybe my expectations for it are even wrong.

Based on what you're saying, it's much closer to what you're looking for.

So, I apologize if we didn't hit the email the way you expected. I can't speak for everyone else, but I think we tend to shy away from too much introspection on games journalism/criticism, because it just seems like so much self-important navel gazing when I see it elsewhere. I say this fully knowing I'm massively guilty of it a lot of the time.

I've also grown kind of weary of the "Lester Bangs of Videogames" or the "Roger Ebert" discussions, because videogames are just such a different medium. Criticism and coverage is still hugely niche and nascent, and the comparisons grow thin. A good film critic can see 10-15 films a week, and has seen thousands of films in a career. That's simply not possible with games.

Score inflation is in my opinion an entirely different discussion, as most sites scoring systems aren't designed to provide insight, their designed to aid purchasing decisions.

But ultimately, it just feels like ground we've tread a LOT over the last few years, so perhaps we're just gunshy to engage in it too much.

That's pretty much it, yeah. Frankly, I don't think we'll be talking about game reviews again for a while. I'm actually a bit surprised we're asked about them so much considering we don't really review games on GWJ.

Certis wrote:

That's pretty much it, yeah. Frankly, I don't think we'll be talking about game reviews again for a while. I'm actually a bit surprised we're asked about them so much considering we don't really review games on GWJ.

I frankly appreciate that fact for all the reasons Rabbit listed above(especially his comment regarding navel-gazing. While I am often guilty of it myself, I hate to hear it from others:)). I can find reviews elsewhere - I want community here.

rabbit wrote:

So, I apologize if we didn't hit the email the way you expected. I can't speak for everyone else, but I think we tend to shy away from too much introspection on games journalism/criticism, because it just seems like so much self-important navel gazing when I see it elsewhere. I say this fully knowing I'm massively guilty of it a lot of the time.

I've also grown kind of weary of the "Lester Bangs of Videogames" or the "Roger Ebert" discussions, because videogames are just such a different medium. Criticism and coverage is still hugely niche and nascent, and the comparisons grow thin. A good film critic can see 10-15 films a week, and has seen thousands of films in a career. That's simply not possible with games.

Score inflation is in my opinion an entirely different discussion, as most sites scoring systems aren't designed to provide insight, their designed to aid purchasing decisions.

But ultimately, it just feels like ground we've tread a LOT over the last few years, so perhaps we're just gunshy to engage in it too much.

I haven't gotten to hear the email section yet, but I would entertain a draft article about all that.

I would spend a lot of time editing, though, because it's important to me that we contribute something new to the discussion, not merely to repeat something that's already been said somewhere else (Ebert, the Brainysphere, Critical Distance, Paste, PopMatters, etc.).

Dan from Hattiesburg is in the letters again! If you are reading this dan, i am also in H-burg, pop me a message.

rabbit wrote:

So, I apologize if we didn't hit the email the way you expected. I can't speak for everyone else, but I think we tend to shy away from too much introspection on games journalism/criticism, because it just seems like so much self-important navel gazing when I see it elsewhere. I say this fully knowing I'm massively guilty of it a lot of the time.

I've also grown kind of weary of the "Lester Bangs of Videogames" or the "Roger Ebert" discussions, because videogames are just such a different medium. Criticism and coverage is still hugely niche and nascent, and the comparisons grow thin. A good film critic can see 10-15 films a week, and has seen thousands of films in a career. That's simply not possible with games.

Score inflation is in my opinion an entirely different discussion, as most sites scoring systems aren't designed to provide insight, their designed to aid purchasing decisions.

But ultimately, it just feels like ground we've tread a LOT over the last few years, so perhaps we're just gunshy to engage in it too much.

I guess the question is kind of related to the "games as art" question and I agree that that conversation is tired. But I'm not talking about looking for the "Lester Bangs," of games journalism, so much as I am recognizing a huge difference between game writers and enthusiasts and enthusiasts in other mediums.

The question seems all the more relevant to me as I said given that so many people are expressing fatigue and yet critics still review these games highly and gamers still buy them and praise them as well. Given that I see gaming as a increasingly important medium in terms of its cultural impact (has any Hollywood film ever made as much as MW3 just did in a week's time?), it bothers me that we don't seem to have critics and enthusiasts that are willing to be truly critically engaged.

You guys may think it is a coincidence that all big budget games just happen to be really good and that is why they receive warm reception. That answer seems far too convenient to me. At some point our idea of a "well made game" needs to evolve beyond well designed mechanics and good production values. At some point, it should involve discussions about what a game means, what it trying to say or do, and how it fits into larger discussions of cultural and individual application. At some point, that stuff should become far more important than production values.

The reason I think it is handy to use film critics as a touchstone is the very fact that it is not enough for film critics if something has great production values or if it is "fun." There is nothing wrong with "fun" or entertainment (and I think most film critics would agree), but there are higher systems of evaluation beyond "this is entertaining." In fact, calling a film "fun" is definitely still a compliment, but it is probably one of the lowest level compliments you can give a film. I would not call a film by Ingmar Bergman "fun." I would call it insightful, or penetrating, but not "fun." Moreover, I would go so far as to say that it is a safe bet that almost everybody would consider a film that is insightful to be a film that is more worthy of attention than one that is merely fun. At what point does that begin to become true for conversations about gaming? Not until we can see past all that glitters.

EternalGamer wrote:

(has any Hollywood film ever made as much as MW3 just did in a week's time?)

I just looked that up. In their first weeks, MW3 made $775m, and The Dark Knight made $239m

Scratched wrote:

I agree there's a big cavernous gap in the market for good game reviewing and criticism, but I don't think GWJ is the place to go looking for it. Every so often it'll happen as a happy accident, but not by design.

So why do you think it is that this "cavernous gap" exists more in people who write about gaming professionally than people who write about films, or books or music professionally? I guess that was the heart of my question: what is the source of the problem?