GWJ Conference Call Episode 345

Conference Call

Sid Meier's Ace Patrol, Metro Last Light, Slamjet Stadium, Star Command, Finding The Authenticity in Games, Your Emails and More!

This week Shawn, Elysium, Julian and Rob Zacny cuddle up and talk about finding authenticity in gaming.

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.

Chairman_Mao's Timestamps
00.01.29 Ace Patrol
00.03.54 Frozen Synapse
00.06.44 Star Command
00.10.31 Metro: Last Light
00.23.27 Slamjet Stadium
00.25.43 This week's topic: What makes a game feel authentic?
00.45.58 Your emails!

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outtro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

Push Anyway - BigBot Audio Drop - SGX - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 25:18

True (Game Edit) - BigBot Audio Drop - SGX - http://sgxmusic.com/ - 45:30

Comments

Cuddle Festival with Julian and Rob? *snuggles pillow*

I just listened to this podcast and found it very interesting, specifically the discussion about Metro: Last Light. You guys mentioned the difference between what the leaders in the game were talking about and what the front line grunts experienced. My family moved from the USSR to the US in about 1990, just before the collapse, my parents talk quite a bit about their experience. And it is clear that in the Communist Party era there was clearly the "party line" that was espoused by the leadership of the party to the country and the everyday life of the population. Most of the population saw their situation with grim cynicism because everyone knew that what the party said was unadulterated horse sh*t. It was a big grand joke. Or a big experiment which everyone knew was failing but the government couldn't let it be known lest the lose all respect on the global stage. So they played their game, and the population suffered for it. Your discussion of the soldiers echoed that sentiment exactly.

Also, something to keep in mind regarding "authenticity". Ukraine is not an irradiated waste land. Kiev is not a destroyed city. Odessa is still a very pretty resort town. So while a lot of the architecture is very severe, that was the Soviet style, much of it is beautiful. The cities in and of themselves are not apocalyptic wastelands. If anything, the apocalypse is in the minds of everyone who lives in the former USSR states, that's what's really destroyed. Maybe that's why their game design seems so authentic.

Just some thoughts.

Good conference call again, guys.

I actually was really waiting for someone to give my point of view on this topic in the podcast but since no one did (we clearly need Demiurge on the show for a contrasting viewpoint), here it is! Basically i think it was a pointless question because ultimately what you get out of a game is a personal thing and whether you will feel a game is authentic or not is going to be subjective as a result of that.

I think the more interesting question is do we need universal authenticity in games? Or can we even achieve it?

For me, Tomb Raider wasn't an authentic experience at all because there was no internal consistency to the game world - something that shocked me when Sean stated that he felt there was. The absence of logic surrounding the whole recent history of the island and the logistics of having a multi-hundred-strong cult army on the island just lifted me out of all believability. I was quite happy to play the mechanics of the game but the story was not very good and did not result in an authentic world.

Back to the question I posited above, Sean and I have different experiences in Tomb Raider but since we both enjoyed the game and specifically the mechanics of the game does it make a difference? He felt the game was authentic, I didn't and there will be people in between but what's the take-away message? Does authenticity matter?

I completely missed the conversation between the Reich guards Certis described in my so-far stealthy non-lethal(-to-humans) play through Metro: Last Light, but the mention of the child is a neat little nod on 4A's part to Roadside Picnic/Stalker (I mean the film, not the JAJIAGM (just another jerk in a gas mask) game).

People's insistence that FTL would make a perfect fit for the various iOS platforms always struck me as pretty wrong headed. FTL's gameplay hinges entirely on your ability to quickly and accurately make mouse clicks all over the screen. "Quick" and "Accurate" are not two words I would use to describe a touch screen interface.

The games you single out as authetic are ones I call immersive. I agree that it has nothing to do with a high fidelity presentation though. For me what creates immersion is usually the interactive part of a game. For example in the original Deus Ex how you type in keycodes manually, you can lock and unlock doors etc. It's a small thing but I think there's a difference between having a universal 'use' key that does every interaction and having to do three steps of 1) taking out your nanokey-ring 2) unlocking the door 3) opening the door. The difference being that in the second case you "solve" a microproblem within the consistent rules of the game, there's actually a short thought process as opposed to just an instinctual response to an interact prompt. Immersion is being transported into the gameworld and being forced to think in terms of the rules of that world is one way of getting there.

I think you guys hit on the same thing but having a consistency to the rules of the world is therefore important. Deus Ex certainly had that, all the NPCs follow the same rules as you do, as do the weapons and items they use, the ways in which they can interact with the world etc.

Most disappointing game ever... SPORE

Funny you all mentioned Batman Arkham games as ones where things would stop happening if you weren't there. Isn't that the point on Arkham Asylum? Joker has brought you there and set everything up just for you. And it is perfectly in character for the Joker to do that, too.

Most disappointing game - tie between Ultima 8 and Ultima 9

I actually really enjoyed and still do enjoy X-COM Apocalypse. But I take it for a separate game, not a sequel for X-COM. I'd actually say Terror From the Deep was the real disappointment. They did so much the same, but what they did change was just enough to completely ruin the experience for me.

maverickz wrote:

I just listened to this podcast and found it very interesting, specifically the discussion about Metro: Last Light. You guys mentioned the difference between what the leaders in the game were talking about and what the front line grunts experienced. My family moved from the USSR to the US in about 1990, just before the collapse, my parents talk quite a bit about their experience. And it is clear that in the Communist Party era there was clearly the "party line" that was espoused by the leadership of the party to the country and the everyday life of the population. Most of the population saw their situation with grim cynicism because everyone knew that what the party said was unadulterated horse sh*t. It was a big grand joke. Or a big experiment which everyone knew was failing but the government couldn't let it be known lest the lose all respect on the global stage. So they played their game, and the population suffered for it. Your discussion of the soldiers echoed that sentiment exactly.

Also, something to keep in mind regarding "authenticity". Ukraine is not an irradiated waste land. Kiev is not a destroyed city. Odessa is still a very pretty resort town. So while a lot of the architecture is very severe, that was the Soviet style, much of it is beautiful. The cities in and of themselves are not apocalyptic wastelands. If anything, the apocalypse is in the minds of everyone who lives in the former USSR states, that's what's really destroyed. Maybe that's why their game design seems so authentic.

Just some thoughts.

Great contribution. For what it's worth, a lot of the "very severe" architecture you reference might be classified as "Brutalist."

I think the "authenticity" discussion relates to how much we trust the game's design, and a lot of that does relate to consistency. We might die cheaply in a game, but when the game has made it clear that the world is one of easy, unfair death, it doesn't sting the same.

There was something else that had me piqued while listening this morning, but I don't remember what it was. It'll come back to me, I'm sure.

Remembered it:

We shouldn't forget that Dickens was in large part published for mass-market entertainment. It was the mainstream sitcom of its day—it was just patronizing in different ways than current mass media. Woolf was at least a bit more of an artist/elitist.

Both did a lot to define and refine our cultural expectations for popular fiction, though. Dickens helped make it more acceptable through heavy moralizing and an eye toward public reception and publicity. Woolf brought a more careful attention to language and phrasing — to the craft of novel writing (though she was also quite politically conscious).

I really enjoy hearing games talked about in terms of their aesthetics, and the forces that drive developers' aesthetic choices, whether regional, personal, or whatever. However I fear that applying such a lens to certain American games may lead down a path of despair. I mean, is Call of Duty an "authentically" American game? Does it truly reflect the experiences of its developers (no real experience with the ravages of war or oppression, huge budgets, reclining sofas)? Sure it has many of the problems mentioned in the podcast that destroy its internal consistency, but that lines up pretty well with a lot of American popular culture, and perhaps our psyche as well.

And while riding this tangent my train of thought has pulled me on: young and starving American writers often dream of writing the great American novel, and many great American novels have been written. Cinephiles do likewise with films, and there have been many great American films. Is there a Great American video game? Or did video games arise too late, missing out on that particular aspiration among its creators? What qualities would even make a game American, the way Metro is so distinctly Eastern European?

/meandering rambling

There's definitely something valid in saying that WWII shooters made in the US exemplify the way mainstream American culture tends to see itself and its place in the world.

I think Nick Lalone (if you know / google him) did his MA work on something similar, but with Japanese games.

wordsmythe wrote:

There's definitely something valid in saying that WWII shooters made in the US exemplify the way mainstream American culture tends to see itself and its place in the world.

I once read an article about that somewhere.

Tanglebones wrote:

Most disappointing game - tie between Ultima 8 and Ultima 9

Nice picks but let me counter with...

Master of Orion 3

BOOM

Most recent disappointment was Orion: Dino Beatdown. Still amazed at how broken that was. To date that's my only Kickstarter failure, although it was a freebie for that studio's other game which I pledged $10 for.

Don't look at me like that, it was very early in the Kickstarter gold rush.

Scubasteve wrote:

Most disappointing game ever... SPORE :(

Spore, Doom 3 and Heroes of Might & Magic IV are probably my classic disappointments. Although Spore still had some great ideas under the hood, just a shame they compromised their vision so much. Doom 3 should have been branded differently. HoMM IV was messy but a necessary attempt at rebooting the franchise especially in light of how stagnant the franchise is getting with V and VI which are based off III's gameplay.

tboon wrote:
Tanglebones wrote:

Most disappointing game - tie between Ultima 8 and Ultima 9

Nice picks but let me counter with...

Master of Orion 3

BOOM

I counter-counter with Star Control 3. sadtrombone.wav

MojoBox wrote:

People's insistence that FTL would make a perfect fit for the various iOS platforms always struck me as pretty wrong headed. FTL's gameplay hinges entirely on your ability to quickly and accurately make mouse clicks all over the screen. "Quick" and "Accurate" are not two words I would use to describe a touch screen interface.

There would need to be a lot of pausing involved.

Finally finished this one, and I just loved that final email.

So often when I play a linear plot-driven game (like, say, Bioshock Infinite), it feels like the designers don't even understand the strengths of their own medium. The more a game leans on its writing, the more inclined I am to compare that writing to other forms of fiction, and even mediocre films or YA novels tend to be better in this respect than almost all games.

It's certainly possible to create narrative experiences in games that are uniquely compelling, but for me that requires some kind of synergy between a player's actions and the way the story unfolds: game systems that reinforce themes of a narrative, or inform the view of the narrative, etc.

Gravey wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

There's definitely something valid in saying that WWII shooters made in the US exemplify the way mainstream American culture tends to see itself and its place in the world.

I once read an article about that somewhere.

That Zacny's a smart guy.

Personally, one of my biggest gaming disappointments occurred around the time I was first beginning to grow my interests in game design and development.

Following its much hyped announcement, the game originally code-named Project Ego drew me in with its design director's promise of a systematic, procedurally evolving world. We would be able to carve initials into a sapling and return to find those same markings etched into the bark of a fully grown tree years later or knock a child into the mud in your youth and encounter him as a formidable foe during your journeys as a seasoned adventurer.

Of course that game became Fable and the design director was Peter Molyneux. At least he taught me to temper my expectations.

Tanglebones wrote:
tboon wrote:
Tanglebones wrote:

Most disappointing game - tie between Ultima 8 and Ultima 9

Nice picks but let me counter with...

Master of Orion 3

BOOM

I counter-counter with Star Control 3. sadtrombone.wav

Good point.

But BOOM trumps sadtrombone.wav

Molator wrote:

Of course that game became Fable and the design director was Peter Molyneux. At least he taught me to temper my expectations.

Black & White had already taught me that.

I was hoping the panel would get round to GTA IV in the "authenticity" discussion.

At first Liberty City felt really alive and persistent, but after dozens of hours, I got a bit of a Truman Show vibe. Although after spending so long in the game it was inevitable that I would eventually see its cracks.

You know, the entire time you guys were talking about authenticity, I couldn't help but think about that quote from Warren Spector you have adorning the next forum, "anytime reality gets in the way of fun, fun wins." Sure, but it reality for me has always been part of the fun. Or, at least, some take on reality. Call it authorial voice or authenticity, but it's what makes games an art form after all.