GWJ Conference Call Episode 290

Conference Call

Warlock: Master of The Arcane, Super Monday Night Combat, The Walking Dead, Special Guest Civ V Lead Jon Shafer, Your Emails and more!

This week Shawn, Julian and Allen are joined by Stardock's Jon Shafer to talk about tutorials and respecting players.

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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Warlock: Master of The Arcane
Guild Wars 2 Beta
Super Monday Night Combat
Trials Evolution
The Walking Dead

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Die Anyway (BigBot Audio Drop) - SGX - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 34:12

Push Anyway (BigBot Audio Drop) - SGX - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 59:13

Comments

Deadly Premonition was the game that Certis was trying to remember near the end of the episode, right?

Yep.

Many thanks - and apologies! - to producer Jonathan Downin. My crappy headset mic was picking up everyone else's audio through the over-the-ear headphones, but he did a spectacular job cleaning it up (a new mic is on the way!). Also thanks to Shawn and the entire GWJ crew for having me on, it was a great time!

To kind of summarize the points that I made during the podcast: the strategy genre in particular but also gaming as a whole has a lot of room to grow when it comes to easing in new players. Unfortunately the hurdles to get there are the same as they've always been... first, getting gameplay into a game will always be heavily prioritized over creating good systems which actually teach players the game's mechanics. And second, this sort of work still isn't fun to spend time on (and never will be). My hope is just that over time developers gradually come to see the value in the Valve Model that Julian talked about, where educating players is just as important as more 'visible' features like mechanics and content.

- Jon

Regarding Hobo With a Shotgun, I'm with Pyroman on this one. Rabbit is just plain wrong.

Are there one or two stonking articles on the exploration FEZ you could link to?

Feel free to call me a lazy whatsit.

Higgledy wrote:

Are there one or two stonking articles on the exploration FEZ you could link to?

The big one (that I'm aware of, anyway) is the Ars Technica piece by Kyle Orland and Sinan Kubba, which detailed how the final puzzle was cracked by the community.

Speaking of TF2 and Tribes... did anyone on the podcast play Unreal 2: XMP (eXpanded Multiplayer)? That was a decent attempt at blending the two. A shame it was released right before Atari decided to shutter Legend.

On the subject of respecting the player and active, meaningful tutorial, I think Bulletstorm did a pretty good job for an FPS tutorial. It didn't try to cram everything into three minutes, and they constructed scenarios at the start of the game where the unique moves would be interesting and useful. There were a couple QTEs in there, but they were fun QTEs!

Great discussion this week!

The old Starcraft and the new Starcraft 2 game do an excellent job of dripping down mechanics gradually in a mission format without making each mission into a tutorial.

I'm curious. I hear a lot about how horrible the last Command and Conquer game was horrible because it would not give you all the units at once and you had to unlock them throughout the course of the campaign. But I heard Rabbit praising that type of behavior in strategy games (slowly introducing units and mechanics over the course of a game instead of a tutorial). I'm not trying to be argumentative - this is a sincere question. What is the difference? Why is this acceptable in one game and not another?

Full disclosure - I never played the last C&C game, but did play a TON of C&C Generals and Zero Hour and loved them.

Great guest for a second week in a row! I really enjoyed the discussion topic this week.

ALSO, now that Jon is registered on GWJ I want to extend an offer from a fellow Michigan Goodjer (born and raised in the Plymouth area, still in SE Michigan) to attend any of the meetups we have around here. This weekend we're having a three day weekend in the Cleveland area to play board games (Minpencon) and we'll do a bigger better, crazier version of that in October. In addition, I think ArtofScience and I are going to try to do a smaller Michigan get together sometime inbetween.

A belated welcome to the Great Lakes state, Jon!

IlleBellus wrote:

I'm curious. I hear a lot about how horrible the last Command and Conquer game was horrible because it would not give you all the units at once and you had to unlock them throughout the course of the campaign. But I heard Rabbit praising that type of behavior in strategy games (slowly introducing units and mechanics over the course of a game instead of a tutorial). I'm not trying to be argumentative - this is a sincere question. What is the difference? Why is this acceptable in one game and not another?

Full disclosure - I never played the last C&C game, but did play a TON of C&C Generals and Zero Hour and loved them.

It's really only a matter of pacing. How long are you playing with the same toys before you get new ones? Are you doing the same thing over and over again, or are you adapting and applying new strategies? The real issue with C&C (and Age of Empires Online) was that the trickle was put in place in order to impose an artificial 'MMO-style' leveling mechanic... not to make the game easier to learn. Want that new unit? All you have to do is grind a few more missions which all play out the same way! Intention matters quite a bit, and it shows through in a game's design.

You bring up a good point though. It's a very, very fine line between 'drawing things out in a good way' and 'bad pacing resulting in a boring game.' The reason why Valve's games are so good is because they do an incredible amount of playtesting and tweaking. No other development studio even comes close to matching the time and resources they invest in polish. They even have a full-time psychologist on staff to help set up and run experiments. How nutty is that?

- Jon

Not even Blizzard? I mean, like close and everything. I was thinking that whatever time and resources Valve puts into their titles, Blizzard and Nintendo would be in the ballpark.

carrotpanic wrote:

Great guest for a second week in a row! I really enjoyed the discussion topic this week.

ALSO, now that Jon is registered on GWJ I want to extend an offer from a fellow Michigan Goodjer (born and raised in the Plymouth area, still in SE Michigan) to attend any of the meetups we have around here. This weekend we're having a three day weekend in the Cleveland area to play board games (Minpencon) and we'll do a bigger better, crazier version of that in October. In addition, I think ArtofScience and I are going to try to do a smaller Michigan get together sometime inbetween.

A belated welcome to the Great Lakes state, Jon!

Thank you sir! Also glad you enjoyed the episode! I hope to be on again sometime (with a better mic).

Plymouth, huh? That's actually where Stardock itself is stationed. I won't be able to make it to Cleveland this weekend, but I'll definitely try to make it out to other events in the future. Are the meetups just organized in the forums?

- Jon

LarryC wrote:

Not even Blizzard? I mean, like close and everything. I was thinking that whatever time and resources Valve puts into their titles, Blizzard and Nintendo would be in the ballpark.

It's possible, I haven't been inside those companies so I honestly couldn't say. I imagine they also have extensive testing of some sort, but it's probably not the same rigorous, scientific approach to iteration that Valve has. They straight-up use the scientific method when making games, from establishing hypotheses all the way to running experiments with control cases to measure against. I have no doubt that Valve is unlike any other company in this business in that regard.

- Jon

Jon Shafer wrote:

Plymouth, huh? That's actually where Stardock itself is stationed. I won't be able to make it to Cleveland this weekend, but I'll definitely try to make it out to other events in the future. Are the meetups just organized in the forums?

- Jon

Yep! I can PM you the threads as they are created. We've been doing the meetups in Ohio for two and a half years now semi-annually. There's a pretty large member base in the area, and we grab people from as far as upstate New York, Oklahoma, and even Minnesota. We had about 50 people playing board games, LAN, and video game tournaments last year. Allen Cook, who was on the show with you, was one of our homebrew competition entrants (I beat him out, take that, Allen!) and my roommate last October. There's even been rumblings that Julian might deign to show up this fall...

There are 5-10 of us here in Michigan, so we're going to try to organize something a little more local too (or reoccurring?). Probably centered on board games, with some video games dashed in? I've met some really cool people at these events, and it's always good to put faces to online names of people you argue with in the forum or play multiplayer games with. They're usually nicer than you think they are!

carrotpanic wrote:

Yep! I can PM you the threads as they are created. We've been doing the meetups in Ohio for two and a half years now semi-annually. There's a pretty large member base in the area, and we grab people from as far as upstate New York, Oklahoma, and even Minnesota. We had about 50 people playing board games, LAN, and video game tournaments last year. Allen Cook, who was on the show with you, was one of our homebrew competition entrants (I beat him out, take that, Allen!) and my roommate last October. There's even been rumblings that Julian might deign to show up this fall...

There are 5-10 of us here in Michigan, so we're going to try to organize something a little more local too (or reoccurring?). Probably centered on board games, with some video games dashed in? I've met some really cool people at these events, and it's always good to put faces to online names of people you argue with in the forum or play multiplayer games with. They're usually nicer than you think they are!

Sounds great, please do PM me. I'm fairly busy but should be able to make it from time to time.

And I'm never surprised by how nice this community is! That's one of the things that makes it so special.

- Jon

After playing against some people in a cutthroat game of League of Legends, you might be. (Just kidding??)

This week's rundown, brought to you by the exhausted yet exhilarated Chairdad_Mao:

00.01.54 Warlock: Master of the Arcane
00.07.47 The Walking Dead
00.17.18 Trials: Evolution
00.20.03 Tribes: Ascend
00.24.33 LOTR: Online
00.28.16 Guild Wars 2
00.29.43 Super Monday Night Combat
00.34.40 Topic: Tutorials!
00.59.38 Your emails!
01.17.56 Play Dates!

OzymandiasAV wrote:

Deadly Premonition was the game that Certis was trying to remember near the end of the episode, right?

I started playing this on the recommendation of a friend, but I just couldn't take it after 30-45 minutes. I want to get through the quirky story, but I can't bear with the awful controls and outdated game conventions. There are too many other games that I'd love to play but will never have the time for, to deal with that.

IlleBellus wrote:

I'm curious. I hear a lot about how horrible the last Command and Conquer game was horrible because it would not give you all the units at once and you had to unlock them throughout the course of the campaign. But I heard Rabbit praising that type of behavior in strategy games (slowly introducing units and mechanics over the course of a game instead of a tutorial). I'm not trying to be argumentative - this is a sincere question. What is the difference? Why is this acceptable in one game and not another?

Full disclosure - I never played the last C&C game, but did play a TON of C&C Generals and Zero Hour and loved them.

It's pretty normal to limit the units available in a campaign and slowly introduce them over a number of missions. As far as I can remember, this has been tradition in RTS games since the original C&C and Warcraft games.

I haven't played C&C 4, but it sounds like this game restricts the units that are available to you in multiplayer games until you unlock them in the singleplayer campaign. This is where the difference lies.

The difference is that in Panzer COrps, when you have, for instance, just a few tanks and an infantry unit, the actual engagement is tactically interesting and appropriate and challenging for that set of units. In C&C (and I'd argue most RTS games I've played) the "tutorial" missions feel dumbed down.

Super subjective, and a fine line.

Just listening to the emails section and thought I'd share a couple places I know of where 32-bit games have limited gamers in some fashion and some additional tech info. Please disregard if boring:

1. High-end mods for Civilization 4 have run into a lot of problems where large maps with complex sets of added mechanics, new units and research items and such would overflow what the 32-bit nature of the game allows and cause it to crash. This happened most when the game engine and mods had memory leaks. Later patches fixed a lot of bugs and helped, but some mods for Civ4 are insanely complex and still encountered problems.

2. A similar thing happened recently for Skyrim for people who bump up settings like the area around your character where the world is 'live'. This means for example that creatures and the environment (rivers, waterfalls) will freeze motionless beyond a certain range. I forget the name of this setting. This would frequently cause people to run out of memory. I imagine some of the newer mods could hit this, too.

These problems both happen because the game engines are limited to 32-bit addressing and basically can only get at 2-4 GB of RAM regardless of the size of the computer. Everything from the engine code to the state of the world to models to AI has to fit in that space, and some is wasted due to overhead and sometimes errors like memory leaks.

Unless the developer sets it up specifically, any program will default to 2 GB maximum, though modders will sometimes hack it to use closer to 4 GB (used to be 3 GB, now this is partway up to 4 GB on newer 64-bit Windows depending on hardware). Bethesda upped Skyrim past 2 GB in a patch to help out.

Extra memory on the computer can only help indirectly. It can help to run the operating system and other programs behind a game while minimizing slowdowns. It can also serve as 'disk cache' to remember what's on the hard disk so that things which are used repeatedly don't have to load from the relatively-glacially-slow disk. Generally, I find that putting more than about 6 GB in a gaming machine really only helps the disk caching unless you run a lot in the background.

About Guild Wars 2:

One artist keeps on impressing me, and that's Jeremy Soule. The way his soundtracks riff off his previous works creates a musical continuity throughout a series, while still being new and amazing every time.

Hm, any chance of getting him on as a guest someday?

Mega Man! Mega Man! The red text in a Gamers With Jobs post is called a "hyperlink"! When the mouse cursor changes to a finger pointing, that means you can click it and go to a new page!

...

*cough*

Yeah, that seemed a bit of a relevant video to the topic, though I'm not completely certain everything the guy brings up is intentional.

It did bring to mind the difficulties of modern game design and in-game tutorials versus old school, at least in terms of console gaming. About when I was jamming on games with the NES and SNES, I still remember my brother's copies of Lord of the Rings for DOS. Fellowship came with a huge booklet of information, and I mean huge. I don't recall ever seeing the one for Two Towers, but there was so much reading material.

Meanwhile I opened up instruction manuals for Legend of Zelda and half the booklet was telling you what the items were with pretty art and who the monsters were. You could fit the entire game in there, pretty much. But that's because you had a limited number of buttons. It wasn't much trouble to open up a Mario booklet, see that one button jumps, one uses fireballs, hold it to run fast, and...there you go. All you need to succeed at Mario.

The rest of Super Mario Bros. is just slowly increasing the challenge so that the player gradually gets used to the basics until they finally start to master it.

Modern games, on the other hand...well, it's more than just the number of buttons on the controller. Think about how many actions are available in games these days. Assassin's Creed is more than just climbing around the environment, it also has several different button combinations and tool-sets used to sneakily assassinate people with, then even more button combinations for combat, and when you hit the sequels more combat options based on whatever weapon is equipped.

Teaching a player how to play your game effectively with so many options is going to be tough for inexperienced players. Hell, even for some experienced players it is a challenge. I think this is why you CAN beat Assassin's Creed (the first at least) just using counter-attack. An experienced player would theoretically start pulling off all the advanced moves they picked up with no problem in that training area. New players may not pick it up so easily, and so being able to do something simple in order to win is valuable. But instead, even experienced players just use the minimum effort themselves.

Bah, I've already written too much. In any case, there's only one excellent experience of in-game teaching I can think of specifically off the top of my head, and it was in Dead Space 2. First time you encounter a store where you can buy power nodes, as well as an upgrade bench and a door that required power nodes to unlock. I believe the bench came first, so theoretically the player would use all their power nodes to upgrade equipment. Then you'd turn a corner and, look! A door that requires a power node to unlock! But nearby on the floor was, I believe, a circuit board that sells for 10,000, just as much as it costs to buy at the store.

I feel like it was all cleverly placed so that the player learned to keep at least one power node around in case you reached one of these doors, though they never actually said anything. It was all gameplay, and they trusted the player to intuit the purpose.

I was excited to hear the topic of tutorials discussed, since it's been on my mind lately. As a late 30-something GWJer who doesn't have the attention span he used to, but is still attracted to hard core strategy, I find that I really appreciate games that get me playing quickly but have a lot of depth to explore. Civ V is kind of an unfair example, because so many of us have such a history with the game (and the genre it invented) that a new iteration always feels like a comfortable glove.

I'd put Anno/Dawn of Discovery forward as an example of a game that had enormous depth but taught you as you went along effectively. The entire single-player campaign was basically a tutorial, but it never felt like one.

In contrast, I just recently picked up Total War:Shogun 2 and played through maybe half of the tutorial last night. Not only was it exhausting, it was incredibly intimidating. I'm truly scared to start up a game. I just don't think I have any kind of handle of *any* level of the game: the basic mechanics, the intermediate tactical options, and the long-term strategic view. I mean, I get the basic RTS stuff going on in the battles - but there's SO much in this game, I really don't know if I'll be able to wrap my head around it. I'm too lazy and old. This is a game I would have obsessed over 15 years ago.