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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 50 Transcript

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For our 50th episode we welcome Sam Marchello of RPGamer.com. She offers her perspective on the state of game criticism and helps us break down the mania surrounding the Dead Island trailer. Plus, as a special bonus: our never-before-heard "pilot" episode! Special thanks to RandomRob for his epic musical contribution. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik, and Tim "Podcast Angry 3D" Spaeth.

 

[Music]

Tim Spaeth: The ancient Romans would call it episode L.

[Laughter]

Celebrating 50 episodes, it’s the GameCritics.com podcast. I’m Tim Spaeth; we have, folks, an amazing show packed with surprises. Let’s get right to the introductions. We start as we always do, as we’ve done for 50 episodes, with Chi Kong Lui, our founder and owner. Good evening, Chi.

Chi Kong Lui: Hey. Happy 50 episodes, Tim.

Tim Spaeth: And to you, sir, even though you actually haven’t been on 50 episodes. I have. You haven’t. Nevertheless, happy 50 episodes.

Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Okay.

Tim Spaeth: I’m sorry; I apologize. I’m a little loopy tonight, because this is the second podcast this weekend that I have done with our next host, Mr. Brad Gallaway. How are you, Brad?

Brad Gallaway: Doing really well, and really looking forward to tonight’s show after the glowing buzz I had from last night’s show. This one’s gonna be even better, I believe.

Tim Spaeth: We’re of course referring to our Doctor Who one-off podcast. We had Kimberly Unger, Sinnan Kubba join us. By the time you hear this podcast, that one will have been released, so I hope people have checked it out. Great show, the guests were fantastic. You were fantastic as well.

Brad Gallaway: As were you.

Tim Spaeth: Thank you. Mike Bracken, the Horror Geek, also with us. How are you, Mike?

Mike Bracken: I am excellent and I also was not fantastic on the Doctor Who podcast.

Tim Spaeth: [Chuckles] Mike, tonight is Oscar night.

Mike Bracken: Yes, it is. In fact, it’s funny: we scheduled the show and I didn’t realize it was Oscar night, and I was supposed to do Oscar stuff tonight. [Chuckling] So I blew it off for the 50th show.

Tim Spaeth: I appreciate that. I was going to ask: As a film guy, do you pay—obviously, you do—any attention to the Oscars? Do you put a lot of [unknown] into it?

Mike Bracken: Yeah. Yeah, usually I’ll be writing a lot of Oscar stories tomorrow, I’m sure, over at Cinematical.

Tim Spaeth: And since you’re with us tonight, you’ll just be making up the details, presumably?

Mike Bracken: Yeah. It’ll be the Oscars as I envision them. So a lot of weird Japanese smut will have won, and a horror flick will have won Best Picture. Yeah, something like that, basically.

Tim Spaeth: Sounds perfect. Sounds delightful.

Mike Bracken: It’ll be great.

Tim Spaeth: Thank you, Mike. And, Mike, guess who’s here? Your nemesis, Richard Naik.

[Laughter]

Richard Naik: I’m moving up to nemesis status? Wow.

Mike Bracken: You’re my archrival.

Richard Naik; I thought I was “minor annoyance.”

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: No, he's my best friend. Come on. I love Richard.

Tim Spaeth: So many people enjoyed your conflict on the last episode, so I think people are expecting it tonight, and I'm just looking forward to seeing snd hearing the sparks fly.

Chi Kong Lui: I believe the quote was: It made them feel uncomfortable, actually.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: One person said that, yes.

Tim Spaeth: Well, we'll see how things go. And we do need to be on our best behavior, because—and I mentioned surprises, here's the first one: we have a special guest tonight. We are thrilled to welcome Sam Marchello of RPGamer.com Sam, thanks for being with us.

Sam Marchello: Aw, thank you for having me for your fiftieth episode, Tim.

Tim Spaeth: It is our pleasure. Now, I must ask you, if I may: Working for RPGamer.com, one would presume that you have a fairly good knowledge of RPGs.

Sam Marchello: Well, as...yeah, I could say I have pretty good knowledge. Not as good as some of the other people on our staff.

Tim Spaeth: Well, I was just going to say, Mike Bracken is our resident role-playing game expert. And I thought it might be fun for you, Sam, to tell us your favorite RPG of all time, and then we'll have Mike rate that decision.

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: Aw, this is [gonna be cruel?]

Richard Naik: Tim [unknown]

Mike Bracken: [Unknown] the villain of the show, now.

Tim Spaeth: Mike's getting the villain edit, that's right. So, Sam, if you don't mind, and I hate to put you on the spot like this, but if you don't mind, what is the best RPG of all time?

Sam Marchello: I don't really have a favorite all-time. My personal favorite, I guess, is Valkyrie Profile on the PlayStation.

Mike Bracken: Good choice.

Sam Marchello: I'm a sucker for romance. It is the most romantic game you will ever play, and it is the one that will make you bawl like a baby. Which I did—I cried when I played that game, and my mom was like, "You're pathetic." I'm like : "It's a video game and I'm crying!" But I loved it. It has probably one of the best stories I've seen in an RPG, even if the Norse mythology's a little inaccurate.

Tim Spaeth: I'm glad that you mentioned that the game made you cry, because it kind of brings us full-circle. One of the earliest things we talked about on this show was: Can games make you cry? and, sure enough, yes they can.

Sam Marchello: Oh, yeah.

Tim Spaeth: Fantastic. Mike, are you cool?

Mike Bracken: Yeah, I'm good with that. That's a good choice. I love that game.

Tim Spaeth: Very good. Fantastic. Well, Sam, thanks again for joining us. We're gonna hear a lot from you tonight. Tonight's topic...Look, any other podcast for their fiftieth episode would resort to navel gazing, self-aggrandizement. Not us. Not until the end of the show, at least. We will do a little bit of that.

Chi Kong Lui: Only every ten years. Right, Tim?

Tim Spaeth: Exactly. Only every ten years in a three-part, six-hour podcast marathon would we ever do that.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: We would never do that.

Tim Spaeth: Certainly not. Our main topic tonight: we've talked a lot recently—and, really, over the history of this podcast—about review-writing and criticism. It's an important topic that I really feel like we've taken about as far as it will go with just the core group. And that's why Sam is here tonight, to bring a fresh perspective. The state of game criticism as seen through the eyes of someone who is not us. So I'm very excited to get to that. We'll also have our wildly successful new segment: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, and as I mentioned, some very cool fiftieth episode surprises at the end. But first, right now, as always, it's our Quote of the Week.

[Singing:] Sound of horses. Horses neighing.

Chi Kong Lui: I darfe you to keep that one this time.

Tim Spaeth: [Singing:] Sound of horses neighing.

Brad Gallaway: You know he's gonna keep it in.

Mike Bracken: You know it's gonna stay in there.

Richard Naik: I was gonna say: No, bad horse.

**Sam Marchello: [Singing:] Bad horse, bad horse, bad horse, bad horse.

Tim Spaeth: See?

Sam Marchello: Sorry.

Tim Spaeth: See?

Chi Kong Lui: Right on cue; right on cue.

Tim Spaeth: Sam has come in, she is singing.

Chi Kong Lui: She's getting warmed up.

Tim Spaeth: Sam, you can come back every week.

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: Aw, thank you.

Tim Spaeth: You have to sing.

Mike Bracken: Even though we only record every other week.

[Laugher]

Tim Spaeth: All right. Well, here comes Filipe with the sealed envelope, which of course contains a quotation from a member of the gaming industry or press. None of us are privy to its contents. Now, before I open the envelope, as you all know, Filipe has been bringing me these quotes for over two years. Yesterday, he comes down to my office and he asks me: "Mr. Spaeth, since it is the fiftieth show, it would make me so happy if I could read the quote on the air."

Mike Bracken: Wow.

Tim Spaeth: And I am nothing. I am nothing if not generous to the help, so I said: "Of course, Filipe. You may read the quote on the air." Unfortunately, here's the tragic part—just yesterday, Filipe was coming down the stairs with a plate of eggs for my lunch, and he tripped. He rolled down the stairs and his larynx popped out.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: Wow.

Tim Spaeth: So it was like spring popping out of a broken pen. I did end up taking him to the hospi—well, I had him prepare me some new eggs and then I took him to the hospital. He's going to be fine, but he's in no condition to speak. So Filipe, maybe for episode 100 we'll have you read the quote then. But tonight, I will take care of it. Let me open now the envelope containing the quote.

[Sound of envelope opening]

Richard Naik: When did Filipe get out of prison?

Tim Spaeth: Over the holiday. Presidents’ Day.

[Laughter]

All right. Here is the quote: “Dead Island.” Filipe, this is two words. This isn’t a quote. You were amped to say two words? Really? Really? Now I have to ad lib. Get out. Get out. Get out. All right.

Sam Marchello: Aw.

Tim Spaeth: Well, look. It’s not a quote. It’s not even a sentence. Here’s what I think he’s getting at: Dead Island. I think at this point we all know it’s a game. It’s coming out soonish. Not sure exactly when—I could’ve looked it up, but I didn’t bother. A trailer for this game appeared online last week. The Internet went ballistic. They went nuts; they went crazy. There are some calling it the greatest game trailer of all time. I saw a few people call it the greatest trailer for anything ever, period. And I think a verbal description doesn’t really do it justice, but in case you haven’t seen it, basically there’s a zombie assault on a family. It’s told in reverse and in slow-motion. There’s a little girl. She’s being chased by zombies; she’s bitten by zombies. She’s rescued briefly by her parents. The little girl then turns into a zombie, bites her father and is then thrown out a window to fall 20 stories, crashes to the earth. All of that, except in reverse.

The mania surrounding this trailer was off the charts. My first question for you is: Do you think that mania was warranted? And we will start—

Richard Naik: No.

Tim Spaeth: Oh. Apparently we will start with Richard Naik.

Richard Naik: No.

Tim Spaeth: [Pause] All right.

[Laughter]

Let’s take a break. When we come back, [unknown] game criticism. Now, Richard, please elaborate.

Richard Naik: I do not understand the hype for this trailer at all. I mean, yeah, it’s well-made, but that makes it a good short film. It didn’t show me anything that would really make me want to play this game. It just looks like another run-of-the-mill zombie killing spree. Zombies are pretty much the new Nazis now. They’re the go-to monolithic evil force that every game uses. So the trailer’s gotta be more than that to really grab my attention now, because it’s just been done so much that it isn’t interesting anymore. And the trailer, while, again, it was really well-made, it didn’t really show me anything that says that this game’s gonna be unique, so, no, I wasn’t into it.

Chi Kong Lui: You weren’t sort of disturbed or emotionally engaged by the sight of a twelve-year-old girl falling out of a window?

Richard Naik: I was not, but, again, as we’ve discussed before, I don’t have children, so it’s not gonna work on me the same way it would someone else that does have children.

Chi Kong Lui: Um-hm.

Tim Spaeth: Chi, were you disturbed by it?

Chi Kong Lui: Um, I wasn’t disturbed as a parent, per se, but I thought it was really well done and I thought it highlighted, again, how a lot of the gaming community, or at least some of the serious-minded gaming community is just desperate for that emotional experience that we keep trying to describe, beyond the guns and explosions and [shriek?] the guy’s face off kind of experience. I thought that trailer, by the end of it, communicated that. Is the content of the trailer violent? Yes, and is it a little bit exploitative? Possibly. Debatable, I suppose—especially if you read that article that was on CNN by Omar Gallaga.

Tim Spaeth: I think it’s GaLAga, but Gallaga.

[Laughter]

Richard Naik: [Unknown] Gallaga?

Tim Spaeth: It’s a video game podcast.

Chi Kong Lui: [Unknown]

Tim Spaeth: We’re gonna say “Gallaga,” whether he likes it or not.

[Laughter]

I have some excerpts from that article that we’ll read here in a bit. I need somebody to explain to me why this trailer had the impact it had. Yes, it resonated emotionally; yes, it sort of tapped into the things that you said, Chi, but what was it that caused the explosion? For two days, it’s a trending topic on Twitter. Every gaming website is covering it. What was it about this trailer that did it?

Richard Naik: Yeah. One of my friends sent that to me on Instant Messenger, and then right after that, four other people sent it to me. And then I saw six people post it on Twitter. I’m like: “What the hell is this?” I watched it, I’m like: “What is the big deal about this?” I just do not get it.

Chi Kong Lui: Let me take a crack at this one.

Richard Naik: Okay, you take a crack at it.

Chi Kong Lui: It’s what I like to call the Battle Royale effect, and I’m talking about the Japanese manga, movie Battle Royale.

**Mike Bracken Kinji Fukasuku, yeah.

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. I only read the manga—I actually never saw the movies. But I think anyone who watches that, you immediately relate to the characters. You immediately put yourself in the characters’ positions, and I think that’s what makes it so compelling. So I think it’s similar along those lines, in that just the way the trailer was done. It’s not done in the Duke Nukem “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubble gum” and all that other kind of nonsense. It’s done in a very down-to-earth experience, where you’re this family and they’re on vacation and they’re getting attacked by zombies, and unfortunately, their daughter becomes a zombie in the process, which is horrific. I actually think it has the opposite effect of what Omar was trying to say. Whereas he was trying to say that it is i desensitizing us to that, I actually think it’s the opposite effect. It actually sensitizes us to the violence, as opposed to making that girl just another cannon fodder. Do you guys agree with that?

Mike Bracken: Well, I would say, first off, I think the reason people went nuts over this trailer is because it’s not like other game trailers. Remember, a couple years ago, people went nuts over the Gears of War “Mad World” trailer, because you have the strange juxtaposition of brutal violence with a slow pop song there. In this video, you have slow classical music. And then this video takes it one step further by putting everything in reverse. It’s sort of like the video game trailer version of Gaspar Noe’s film IrrIrreversibleeacute;versible, just with less anal rape in it. Because that film does the same thing: It starts at the end and then you watch horrible things happen, and you get back to the beginning. At the beginning, which is the end of IrrIrreversibleeacute;versible, you’re seeing these people who have this great life, and you’ve already seen the terrible thing that’s gonna happen to them, so it has this totally different impact. You see this bad stuff, you know it’s coming, and they don’t know it’s coming when you last see them.

I think, though, for me, it’s a cool trailer, but I also think it’s really pretentious. The idea of the shooting it backwards and the music and all that. It’s one of those things that’s really weird about—and I always get in trouble for this, because I don’t like most gamers, for some reason. I just think most gamers are kinda dense and easily manipulated. And I think it’s because a lot of gamers are younger, maybe. But it’s like, yeah, it looks really cool if you’re 20 and you haven’t ever seen any films or you haven’t read a lot of books or anything like that, and that’s probably pretentious, but it’s the truth. If I was 20, I’d think that video was the greatest fucking thing anyone had ever made. But as you get older and you see more things, you start to see: This is again, gaming trying to do something like film, but gaming maybe shouldn’t be doing that. Maybe gaming should be trying to do its own thing.

Richard Naik: Yeah, and then the bigger question I would have is: Do any of you guys see the game having the kind of emotional impact that Chi was talking about?

Mike Bracken: [Chuckles] No.

Chi Kong Lui: It’s a trailer, though. You’ve gotta cut it some slack there.

Mike Bracken: Right, but again, it’s one of those things. It’s like a trailer, again, that really doesn’t show you any gameplay footage or anything like that.

Richard Naik: Yeah.

Mike Bracken: Film does this, too, so it’s just manipulative a little bit. They could’ve shot anything for that trailer, and that stuff might not even be in the game.

Brad Gallaway: Well, to be fair, the whole point of a trailer is to get people’s attention on the game, and it was wildly successful in that respect.

Mike Bracken: Definitely.

Brad Gallaway: Because without that trailer, nobody would’ve given that game a second thought. The game is made by Techland, and I believe they are from Poland. They made, what? Call of Juarez and the sequel, and Nail’d. Those games, they show a little progression of improvement in technical prowess, but they’re not knockout games, and nobody really pays attention to them. None of them were bestsellers. So who’s gonna give a rip about another game featuring more zombies from a developer that would rank as middle developers, at best. So, in terms of the trailer fulfilling its function, it was goddamn fucking home run out of the park. It had the entire world talking about it.

Mike Bracken: Yeah. They sold film rights. Film rights were sold. The thing now is, though, now they’re gonna have to deal with the level of expectation that trailer raises, and I’m really curious if they can live up to that.

Brad Gallaway: They won’t. It won’t.

Tim Spaeth: Sam, I heard you try to jump in there. Go ahead. What was your take?

Sam Marchello: No, I wanted to agree with Mike, actually, that the level of pretentiousness that the trailer was providing. Truthfully, I’m not the biggest zombie nut, and I turned the trailer off halfway through just because I have a big problem with children being attacked and stuff like that. It makes me squicky and wiggy and it’s not my thing. I can understand why people can enjoy what Dead Island’s trying to showcase, but for me personally, I don’t wanna see more children being victimized in video games, okay? Heavy Rain tried to kill me enough with it as-is.

[Chuckling]

And I don’t even have kids.

Tim Spaeth: We alluded a bit ago to the Omar Gallaga article on CNN.com.

Mike Bracken: I think we’re calling him Omar Space Invaders, now.

Richard Naik: Omar Joust.

Mike Bracken: Omar R-Type.

Tim Spaeth: Anyone else?

Richard Naik: Omar Radiant Historia.

Mike Bracken: Omar Radiant Silvergun. Omar Ikaruga.

Richard Naik: Omar Tales of Symphonia.

Chi Kong Lui: I was just trying to think of the sequels to Gallaga, and you guys are going just nuts with this. [Laughter]

Sam Marchello: Omar Centipede.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: [Unknown] Omar Centipede.

Chi Kong Lui: Getting back to the topic for a second.

Tim Spaeth: Yes, let’s go back to Mr. Insert Game Name Here’s article on CNN, because it ties to what you just talked about, Sam, and I’m gonna quote a chunky bit of the article here. He says:

The video game industry which has strived since the 1980s to have the same cultural cache as TV and movies has found a taboo that can make gamers feel like they’re consuming more mature, provocative entertainment. When such depictions are presented in an artful, entertaining way, video game advocates are put in a position of defending content that might be less palatable in other mediums. Would the Dead Island trailer work as a live-action preview of a movie, or would it have provoked outrage? I wonder if our tolerance for virtual gore and bloodshed in games has numbed us to the mutilation and torture of children because they are virtual characters. Perhaps there are some people who like the queasy feeling of taking down kid-sized monsters and space monsters in their video game entertainment. If that’s the case, then the Dead Island trailer has done its job. It’s horrified me and left me feeling haunted and sad.

Chi Kong Lui: I gotta jump in here, Tim, though. Are people getting on Twitter saying they’re excited about fragging kids? Come on. That’s not what this is about. That’s not why people are “excited” about this. And I hate to use those words. Just as Sam was saying, she doesn’t enjoy this. Those are loaded words that we use to describe games. It’s an experience that people are moved by, and so there’s a difference there. I guess I’m getting off [topic] on the idea that they wanna go around killing kids, and that’s not what the point of this trailer is, either.

Mike Bracken: Well said, Chi.

Chi Kong Lui: Thank you.

Sam Marchello: Definitely.

Tim Spaeth: Nailed it.

Chi Kong Lui: The other thing is I think we all agree in some capacity that we want to see more emotional content in our games. We want to see a broader spectrum of things being explored. Is it still zombies? Yes, but do you guys see this more fitting into that category? Because by the end of the trailer, that's what I felt. I felt that: "Wow. That was"—I don't want to say "powerful," but "that was pretty moving." It had that IrrIrreversibleeacute;versible effect, as you said, Mike.

Mike Bracken: Yeah. The other thing Omar doesn't really seem to get in that article was that George Romero killed two zombie kids in Dawn of the Dead, back in 1978 and the world did not end because of that. [Chuckling]

Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.

Mike Bracken: This isn't something new. In fact, I would rather see a game where if you're going to have the zombie apocalypse, there'd better be some zombie kids in it. Because when I'm running around in Dead Rising 2 and there are no zombie kids? It's like: How is that realistic?

Chi Kong Lui: Right. Or Oblivion. There's no kids in Oblivion.

Mike Bracken: Yeah. Children are part of the world. Bad things happen to adults in games, bad things happen to kids. There are certainly games that take that almost in an exploitation film direction. I'm thinking of Dante's Inferno, where you're slaughtering the little demons who are unbaptized babies who died. But I didn't see anything in Heavy Rain, for that matter, or this Dead Island trailer that struck me as: "Oh, they're exploiting children" or anything like that. It was just a component to the particular tale they're telling.

Chi Kong Lui: I think it's okay for people to feel uncomfortable about it.

Mike Bracken: Yeah.

Chi Kong Lui: I think that's the point. There's a lot of films that do that also.

Mike Bracken: Umhm.

Chi Kong Lui: You're not supposed to enjoy...I don't think anyone sits through Schindler's List and says: "Wow! This is just wildly entertaining!" [Chuckles]

Mike Bracken: Yeah.

Chi Kong Lui: Sorry for bringing up Schindler's List because I know personally, I use that one way too much. I wanted to talk about maybe using American Me, the James Edward Olmos film. Has anyone ever seen American Me?

Mike Bracken: Yep.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I've seen that. Yeah.

Chi Kong Lui: That film to me was brutal. I saw that as a teenager and I was like, "I never want to go to prison" after I saw that film. [Laughter]

Mike Bracken: You know what it comes down to? There's definitely a line of taste with these things, and looking at it from a film perspective, sometimes there are films like Nick Polumbo's Murder Set-Pieces that cross the line with that, with the children and killing them and stuff like that. But there's definitely a line, and everybody has their own line, but from what I've seen of that trailer, it's a horrific moment, and it's not solely horrific because it's happening to a child. It's a horrific moment, period, and I don't really think they presented it in a way that was particularly offensive or anything like that.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I definitely agree. I'm a parent myself, and I am certainly no fan of violence against children in any medium. But I found that trailer to not be offensive at all. It really stirred some emotions, but in a positive way. I agree that we are supposed to be uncomfortable, and I do agree that it's time for video games to move up a little bit, and I think that part of that would be encapsulating more realistic experiences. Like you said, Mike, you can't have a realistic zombie movie without having a whole spectrum of people in it. Of course, there's going to be children in any kind of city or town or anything like that. Kids are all over the place.

I didn't think it was any kind of over-the-top content at all, and in fact, I almost appreciated it, because it to me said that the developers or at least the people who made the trailer were aiming for something a little higher up the scale than just your standard zombie frag. Of course, like we've said, it really remains to be seen whether the developers are actually going to try to incorporate that in the actual gameplay. I really sincerely hope they do. But even if they don't, to me, the trailer was mature in a good way, in a thought-provoking way, but it wasn't exploitation to me.

Sam Marchello: I don't know what it is about it. I wasn't offended by it. I think everyone's got valid points. I just know for me when I see that kinda stuff...Mike is right. In some ways you have to have that sense of realism, which means, yes, kids are going to be a part of it. But every so often, I find myself when I think about little kids and stuff, there's that level of innocence. And what the trailer does is it really does take that away, that level of idealism. I think that's what made me so uncomfortable. It's like you're taking a child who's idyllic and you turn it into a zombie and it's like, Oh, God, I think I'm going to be sick.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: In some ways, though, that almost makes it successful, since it's a horror game.

Sam Marchello: Absolutely.

Mike Bracken: And the point of horror would be to—

Sam Marchello: To terrify you.

Mike Bracken: Exactly.

Chi Kong Lui: Can I ask you this, Sam? Is it a double-standard? Is this something you would expect in a film, but you can't accept in a game?

Sam Marchello: Oh, not at all, actually. I think video games should be progressing more in terms of mature content. I've always believed that. At the same time, there has to be some limitation, I think. I think that if this becomes Left 4 Dead God Knows What, that expectation for something with a mature story that they're trying to show in this trailer is going to go straight out the window.

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.

Sam Marchello: There's no way to really look at it. I think film still does it a lot better, but films had years to perfect that, whereas video games are still at the stage where they're still trying to get their fingers and their feet wet. It's like, how do we do this and make it just as thought-provoking as a film?

Chi Kong Lui: Right.

Sam Marchello: And if you're going to look at something like Battle Royale, well, Stephen King did that first, right? But Stephen King didn't use high school students. That's what makes Battle Royale effective. It's high school students. That's why it's a shock value. These are not adults. These are 15, 16, 17 year olds who are forced to murder each other because the government says they have to.

Chi Kong Lui: Right.

Sam Marchello: And actually, recently, there was another novel that did this called The Hunger Games, and they used children even younger in their form of the bloodsport novel. So I still think literature does it the best, truthfully, to provide that level of shock value.

Chi Kong Lui: It would be a huge let-down, though, if this just ends up being Left 4 Dead 3.

Mike Bracken: I was going to say, if this is just Dead Rising 3, basically, right? Yeah.

Chi Kong Lui: Right, yeah, that would be very disappointing.

Mike Bracken: Which is kind of what I suspect it will turn out to be.

Richard Naik: Like I was saying, zombies are the new Nazis.

Mike Bracken: Exactly.

Tim Spaeth: Like you said, Brad, it's a marketing triumph, and whatever footage they next release from this game, it's probably going to have more people watching it than have ever watched any second trailer in the history of games. If they don't nail it, they're probably screwed.

Mike Bracken: Definitely. They've set the bar very high.

Tim Spaeth: Here's my greatest fear. You play as the zombie girl and you eat the dad via a quick-time event.

[Laughter]

Richard Naik: That's the whole game.

Tim Spaeth: That's the whole game. You just jam on th A button to sink into his neck, and that's the game. Go, Dead Island. Let's close the discussion. That was fantastic, everybody. We are going to take a break and when we come back, the state of game criticism. Here's some music. Be back in two-and-two.

[Music break]

Welcome back. Over the course of 50 shows, we've looked at game criticism from almost every angle. What should a review accomplish? How should reviews be scored? Is there a difference between reviewing and criticism? How do you write a review? And I think we've reached a point, as I said before, where between the core group, we've pretty much exhausted our opinions.

But it's a big world out there, and thanks to wonderful technologies like the Twitter and the Facebook, we have connected with many other critics like you, Sam Marchello. And I know the state of game criticism has been on your mind of late, and we wanted to have you on to share your perspective. So let's start at a 10,000-foot view. What do you think of the state of reviews today? Are we in a Golden Age? Are we in a Dark Age? Are we somewhere in between? What do you think?

Sam Marchello: I think we're in a sad, sad inbetween.

Tim Spaeth: Mm.

Sam Marchello: And I say that because I think lately what my biggest problem is, is I'm noticing a lack of consistency. We're very inconsistent in our industry, and there's no excuse for that. If you look at the way films are scored, the way books are scored, the way music is scored, there's a level of consistency in the way which people review, and generally, you get a good consensus of what you think a product is going to be when you actually finally take a look for yourself.

The problem I have with game reviewers is that there's a lot of insincere reviewers out there. Insincere, disingenuous, and you can tell just by the text, the amount of love and attention they put towards something they played, whether they liked it or hate it, as horrible as that sounds.

Chi Kong Lui: Can you elaborate on what you mean by "insincere"? In what context?

Sam Marchello: Okay. I think if you have to write an apology after you write a review, that's insincere. Because you know what? First off, if your opinion is the way that it is and someone calls you out on it, you have to be ready to defend it. And if you decide the next day that: "Oh, my God! People hate me! I need to re-review this game and then write an apology to such-and-such company because they caught me for only playing one hour for this particular game!", you should be ashamed of yourself. And I've seen this happen far too many times—last year with Jim Sterling having to apologize to Square-Enix for his low score for Final Fantasy XIII.

Mike Bracken: Oh, that so deserved it, though.

Sam Marchello: Oh, I'm sure it deserved it.

Richard Naik: I was going to say: Why was there an apology?

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: He scored it too high; that was the problem.

Sam Marchello: Don't get me wrong here. I'm on the same page with everybody about the game. But you shouldn't have to apologize for a score you gave. And the reason, obviously, that he probably apologized was because Square-Enix probably threatened Destructoid and said: "We're not sending you review copies anymore."

Mike Bracken: And that's the whole problem with the industry as a whole.

Sam Marchello: Absolutely. They have a stranglehold.

Mike Bracken: Yes.

Sam Marchello: However, then you have other people—and I shared this review with Brad, because this was actually the one that really actually upset me. Over at C&G Monthly, which is a Canadian magazine, a reviewer reviewed Two Worlds II. And from everything that I'd heard from my colleagues, from Brad, from other critics, the game was a big, big improvement over the first one—like, massive improvement.

And this reviewer had the nerve to say: "No, it's the exact same game we got in 2007. There is no improvements. No nothing." And it's like: Excuse me? I go: Did you play the first game? Are we comparing the same game here? If everyone else is saying: "No, they actually fixed all the things that were broken in the first game," how do you still have the nerve to say it's the same thing? And then, funny enough, he was the guy that got caught by the SouthPeak PR lady for having only one Achievement and played one hour of the game.

[Chuckling]

So, you shouldn't have to apologize. At the same time, for an example with an RPG, you have to make a bit of an effort. I don't care that you don't like the game, but you still got to put at least ten hours into it to make sure that all the problems are legit, whether it be with the story, with the controls, whatever. You got to make a solid effort.

Tim Spaeth: So, in your opinion, Sam, why aren't they making the effort? Is it kids? Is it just immaturity? Is it lack of integrity? What's the core of the problem? Why is it happening?

Sam Marchello: First off, when I talked to the C&G Monthly guy, because he actually came after me for my comments, he said it was due to a lack of time because he works for a magazine. Here's the thing: I know you guys don't have the same review policy as we do. Ours is: To completion or no review.

The reason for this is because RPGs have a tendency that after a certain point in the hours, something changes—whether it be the story, the gameplay, whatever. Something eventually changes after a certain number of hours, and, me, personally, I don't want to write a review for something I didn't finish and then say: "Oh, yeah, but the story's really awesome!" and then when I go back and finish it, I find out that the ending's horrible shit. I feel like a liar then. If you're going to play an RPG, you really have to put an effort into it.

There's certain sites that every time I read them, I cringe because they can't score worth a damn. Mike, I'm sorry, but I know you used to work for RPGFan, but that's one of them.

[Laughter]

They don't know how to score; they don't know how to score.

Richard Naik: Oh, snap. Snap.

Mike Bracken: RPGFan scored great when I was there, but no. [Laughter] I agree. I do.

Sam Marchello: I'm sorry—when you say a game is really, really horrible but it gets an 80?

Mike Bracken: Yeah. I have my issues with the direction of RPGFan's reviews over the past few years that have been pretty well-documented.

Chi Kong Lui: Where did you document them? [Laughter]

Mike Bracken: Actually, I've spoken with some of the people who write there and stuff like that.

Brad Gallaway: So he's got a notebook he keeps under his bed.

Mike Bracken: Yeah. I didn't take them up with the world at large, but I did take them up with people who are in a position to do something about it.

Chi Kong Lui: Can you say anything more about that? I'm just curious, just for background here.

Mike Bracken: Well, part of the thing is with RPGFan, they don't pay their writers. So you're taking writers who basically work for the love of writing and playing these games and talking about them. And what happens with a site that's dedicated to something like RPGs, it attracts guys to write for them who just love RPGs and are really into that. RPGFan's reviews are currently a) a lot of them are too long. [b)] A lot of them are too arcane, the way some of these guys over there write the reviews now. [c)] The scores are funny. What Sam says is true. You'll see a review that calls a game awful and talks about all these terrible things and somehow it gets an 80. I've seen that. Not everything over there is terrible, but there is certainly some there that's not—

Sam Marchello: Like I said, I'm not calling it a horrible site because I do read it.

Mike Bracken: Umhm.

Sam Marchello: Mostly just obviously because I work for the competitor, but also because I am curious, especially when I've played the same game as somebody else over there and I score it very differently. I always try to look. It's like: "Am I crazy?"

Mike Bracken: Oh, I always looked at you guys when I wrote for them. I always checked you guys out.

Sam Marchello: For most people who don't realize, we are probably one of the hardest markers in terms of RPGs. I think actually, we're the hardest. If you look at our average score on GameRankings, we're actually lower than you guys by a percent, funny enough.

[Laughter]

Whereas it's funny, because when we compare to RPGFan, they score usually ten to 20 percent higher than we do.

Mike Bracken: I think what happens over there now is that there's a feeling of these guys just love RPGs and so they cut everything a lot of slack.

Chi Kong Lui: Sounds like fanboy syndrome, right? [Chuckles]

Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah. It definitely sometimes has the fansite mentality. So I definitely see where you're coming from with that.

Sam Marchello: I know. For me it's just hard to look at sometimes, because it's like: "You and I played a very different game."

[Laughter]

I don't like [like consistency?] problems.

Mike Bracken: And, see, I don't have a problem with that, because there's always a subjective nature to any type of reviewing of things. But, yeah, my problems more stem from the occasional...the pieces over there sometimes where the text doesn't match the scores. That's what I always have the bigger problem with. That's not just endemic to them. That's a lot of places.

Richard Naik: Yeah, that's one thing I notice, is that sometimes I'll read an article saying: "Oh, this game is so terrible!" then it gets a 7 or something.

Sam Marchello: It doesn't make sense.

Richard Naik: Or it's an article where—and this is a problem that I really notice that's really, really widespread, is that there are so many reviews that just don't try to make any sort of argument at all. It reads more or less like a consumer guide. And it's like: "This game has guns; this game has explosions. The explosions are really cool. 9 out of 10."

Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]

Richard Naik: And that's basically it.

Sam Marchello: Yeah, and you know what? I'm sorry. We can't be having that.

Chi Kong Lui: Sam, I wanted to ask: How is RPGamer different, or how does it operate differently, rather, so that it doesn't fall into the same traps?

Sam Marchello: Well, for one thing, we use the full scale. We have a five-point scale with .5s and we use it to the full extent that we can. The second thing is, we do a very intensive proofing process. So when we go through our proofing process, there's usually at leas three to four eyes on the piece before it's allowed to go up. That's to make sure that the score matches the text; to make sure that nothing's being skimped over. Our reviewers like to ask each other a lot of questions. We are always asking each other questions before we post something, especially when a game gets a 4.5 or a 5. We ask the intense question of: Are you sure this is a 4.5? What makes it a 4.5? Is this something I'm going to remember 20 years down the road?

Chi Kong Lui: Right.

Sam Marchello: And that's really how we treat anything that gets a 4.5 or a 5. They have to be something that's so remarkable that you're either going to play it again in the distant future, play it again right away, or something you're going to remember that you loved so much. And if we can't justify those reasons, it can't get that score.

Chi Kong Lui: So Brad, that sounds kind of familiar, huh?

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, a little bit, yeah. I've noticed over time that whenever we have new writers on—and I'm not pointing a finger at anybody—

Richard Naik: Okay, good.

Brad Gallaway: But in general, I think [they tend?] to score pretty high. No, not you, Richard. I'm talking about in general.

[Laughter]

And so, yeah, as the reviews editor, to me, I always have to question those. We've had a number of high scores recently, and that's [got] my little warning light up, but most of them have been really justified, and it's like you said: If it's something that we're not going to think about in ten years, or if there's just no convincing argument as to why it deserves [the score]...It can't just be a good game. It's got to be remarkable.

Sam Marchello: Yeah.

Brad Gallaway: So I'm totally on the level with you there, Sam, for sure.

Chi Kong Lui: And we also use the full extent of the scale, yeah.

Sam Marchello: I know you guys do. I actually frequent your site because of that, and I'm very appreciative to see a site that uses the full extent of the scale.

Chi Kong Lui: It's just funny how the similarities go, yeah. We don't go through three or four editors, but Brad's on the job, and certainly we do scrutinise the ratings and the content, that's for sure. Yeah.

Richard Naik: I just gave my first 1 recently, so that's the full range of the scale.

Sam Marchello: Congratulations!

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: It's a good feeling, isn't it?

Richard Naik: Oh, it's so good.

Sam Marchello: I gave my first 1 last year, and I got into a lot of trouble from the developer, because the developer got mad at me. His game had this really scary, overly Christian tone, and I said: "You know what? It's not acceptable, because your forcing your religious ideals onto other people." I called him out on it.

Mike Bracken: What game is this?

Sam Marchello: This was an independent game called West.

Mike Bracken: Hm.

Sam Marchello: Now, I think I told Brad about it, because I wrote in his blog.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I think I've heard about it, yeah. I've never played it.

Sam Marchello: Yeah, it just has these very heavily Christian overtones that are very forced upon the player, and if you're someone who's not Christian playing this game, you're going to be very uncomfortable. Which I was, and I outright told the developer: "Look, you know what? I think you're being a little facetious, and I don't like what you're doing, personally," and he was very upset. There was other reasons why it got a 1, but the story being the convoluted mess that it was plus Christian overtones, I had to put the flag up for people who were interested in the game, to say: "Hey, look, there's this problem and if you can get over it, kudos to you. I couldn't, because I'm not Christian, and I don't like those kinds of ideals force-fed into me."

So it was very hard for me, because at the same time, I love supporting my indies. I'm pro-indie all the way. I try to support my indie developers as best I can. That was one of the few cases where I said: "Here's what I think would've made your game work better." I'm always about providing feedback, though. If I give something a bad score, especially to an indie, I will purposely give them feedback, just to say: "You know what? You don't have to use my feedback, but this is what I'm suggesting to you to maybe fix the problem." And funny enough, I know, Brad, you were playing Aphilion a while back.

Brad Gallaway: Yes, I was.

Sam Marchello: I remember I scored that game really low, and people got really mad at me. Funny enough, the developer approached me and said, "Well, your review was the harshest and I think it was the moat truthful, because there obviously is some problems with our game. What can you suggest to make it better?"

Richard Naik: So what about times when your attitude towards the game is like: Why was this made? Why was this released?

Sam Marchello: Oooooh.

Richard Naik: Because that's how I felt about Force Unleashed II. It'a really a scam, is what it is. No one can play that and tell me with a straight face that it's a finished product.

Sam Marchello: Okay, well, I'm under embargo to talk about a certain one, but I'll bring up something with The 3rd Birthday. 3rd Birthday is the most sexist game I've ever played.

[Laughter]

And that's all I'm going to say about it. And when I write the review, Square-Enix is going to know, even if I've got to write a letter to go with it.

Tim Spaeth: Mm.

Sam Marchello: Another problem with a lot of critics, you get a lot of critics who when they're out of their comfort zone, they don't know what they're supposed to be writing, and that makes for a bad review, too. They'll give a bad score to a game that they normally wouldn't play—not because it might be bad, but because it's just something they wouldn't play.

Brad Gallaway: An interesting thing that comes to mind for me, now that you're talking about reviewers out of their genre, is that in the games review field, people who are over 30 are not really all that common. There are some, for sure, and I think most of us are, clearly, but there's this wealth of new blood and that's great. I don't want to be ageist in a reverse way or anything like that, but I think you have to have been around for a while in order to play a really wide variety of games so that you can, as a reviewer, adjust you sensibilities and adjust your mindset when the time comes when you have to review something that isn't your favorite genre.

Chi Kong Lui: Mmhm.

Brad Gallaway: I think that because a lot of these writers today are relatively young. I don't know how many games people have played before they step up to be a "reviewer." A lot of these guys are journalism students or they just recently graduated or they're still in school and they just like games and they think they can write. Granted, a lot of them can. I think a lot of them just need more experience under their belt and to not be under the thumb of being afraid of pissing off a publisher in order to really take off. But in the meantime, like you said, we get a lot of these people who just don't have the experience and don't know what to do with games that they aren't familiar with. And then we get a lot of these "professional" reviews come out [that] maybe do a disservice to the reader as well as doing a disservice to the game themselves.

It sucks that there's a lot of older, really experienced people who just aren't in the field anymore, and honestly, I think a large part of that—and you guys can correct me if I'm wrong—is that it's really hard to support a family being a games journalist. There's not really a ton of money in it, and I think that most of us can probably testify to that. I think if there was, if there was a living to be made, I think maybe we would have this Old Guard who were like the wise old owls of the review sphere. What do you guys think?

Mike Bracken: There isn't any money in film journalism anymore, either, let me tell you that.

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I agree 100 percent, Brad. If you didn't say that, I would've.

Richard Naik: I think there's too many people that are wanting to write, and not enough outlets for them. I don't mean to demean anything that we do, but it's more or less an expendable profession.

Tim Spaeth: So let's close out the discussion with this question. Sam, you've painted quite a dire picture for us tonight.

Sam Marchello: Sorry!

Tim Spaeth: The state of criticism is disastrous. No. But let's try to spin this positively. How do we fix it? What is one practical action that we can take, or a suggestion that we can make to turn this ship around? Or should we just do our own thing, and screw everybody else?

Sam Marchello: Well, I think for me personally, the best thing people can do is honestly, get other people to read your work before you post it—more than one person. Make sure that when you score something, it fits your text. I know people have a hard time scoring, and truthfully, I'm in the camp that's just like: "Enh, we don't need scores." But publishers want them, right, so we got to give a little bit if they're going to give us a free game.

Still, it doesn't hurt to have a couple eyes on something. Other people will see things that you as the writer can't see, and they're going to be willing to ask you questions, just to make sure that you're on the same page as they are. You don't necessarily have to agree, but if you're going to give something a 5 out 5, you'd better damn well back it up, which is what we're not seeing anymore. We're not seeing proper justification for the scoring that we're giving, and it shouldn't be that way. I just feel that we really have to get better on the proofing process. We have to get better in the way that we formulate our opinions. We have to have good reasoning behind why we say the things that we say.

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, Tim, I think we mentioned earlier that the assignments editor should do a better job of giving the right assignments to the right people who are qualified to actually review the games. That would help a lot.

Tim Spaeth: Yeah.

Chi Kong Lui: The other thing I would add also is to use the full spectrum of the review rating scale, because the phenomenon that we're seeing has just devalued these game reviews to the point where the folks like GameCritics and RPGamer, we're the outliers now.

[Laughter]

Chi Kong Lui: If more sites were honest and gave more diverse ratings, then the publishers wouldn't give people shit about it, and we'd be able across the board to be more honest. The reviews, in turn, would have more value, and then maybe we'd be able to support ourselves doing this profession.

Tim Spaeth: Well, I gave this conversation a 9.5 out of 10. Well done, everybody.

Sam Marchello: Wait! Where did our other .5 go?

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: We're not going to remember it in ten years.

Sam Marchello: Okay, good.

[Laughter]

Richard Naik: I was going to say: Who's responsible for losing that .5, hmm?

Chi Kong Lui: That just got so meta.

[Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: It did, indeed. Sam, thank you so much. Thank you so much. We are going to take one last break. When we come back, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down and some fiftieth show activities. Stay with us. More GC.cP right after this.

[Music break]

Well, it worked so well last week, we're going to do it again this week. It's our new segment, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down. The idea is that each of us will give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to something. Maybe it's games-related, maybe it's not. Let's show you how it works by starting with Brad Gallaway. Brad, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down?

Brad Gallaway: Well, this week I got one of each. I'm going to start with my thumbs down, and I'm going to give a big, big thumbs down to parents who don't manage their kids when you go out on the town. I was actually at a museum today with my own son, and I just was horrified at seeing the lackadaisical effort put out by these parents, who were buried in their iPhones, and the other one was on the phone talking, and the kids were just running all over the place. They ripped a leg off of the tyrannosaurus skeleton. They were defiling the Native American exhibit and stuff. It was awful. And the parents were just sitting there. I'm sorry, but when you take your kids out, it is not time for you to check out. It is time for you to be actively involved, and it really pisses me off when I see parents who don't do that. So, anyway, big, big thumbs down to those disaffected, uninvolved parents. Screw you. Screw all of you.

Sam Marchello: Hear, hear.

Tim Spaeth: Absolutely.

Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles] To change it up, my thumbs up, game-related this time, thumbs up to the recent Yars' Revenge reboot trailer. I think this was a reboot that nobody expected. I didn't see it coming, I don't think anybody saw it coming. But Yars' Revenge from the Atari 2600 is making a comeback and it looks really nice. It kinda looks like a insectified Panzer Dragoon, and that to me sounds like a win. So thumbs up to Yars' Revenge. Looking forward to it.

Sam Marchello: Oooh.

Tim Spaeth: Sam, your Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down?

Sam Marchello: I'll start with my thumbs down, which I briefly actually mentioned in the main topic. I've been playing a ton of The 3rd Birthday. Oh, my God! Thumbs down to sexism. Thumbs down to Aya Brea being a little wuss.

Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles]

Sam Marchello: Thumbs down to misogyny—especially the misogyny. I don't like it, and Square-Enix needs to get a rain check on how to write women in video games. Actually, the whole industry does, but that's a different topic.

Brad Gallaway: So, quick followup question, though: Is she hot in that game, though?

Tim Spaeth: [Laughter]

Sam Marchello: Oh! Oh, totally! It's funny: one of my girlfriends said to me...I also recently played Ar tonelico Qoga for review, and I had the exclusive on that, which also has some sexism in it, but it's done more in a tongue-in-cheek, funny sort of way. The girls strip in that game. They do their special attack and they strip off their clothes. It's not quite like: "Oh, my God! They get totally naked!" It's just, they overheat, they need to take off their clothes. So it's done in a way where it's like: "Hee hee! They take off their clothes!"

In 3rd Birthday it's like: "Why can I see Aya's butt? Why is it that Tetsuya Nomura thought this was realistic that a zombie smacks her, and oh, my God! She's got no clothes!

[Laughter]

That's not realistic to me, especially when I can see her bum. You'd think the bum would be the hardest area to get at, too.

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: It is in real life, I'll tell you that.

Sam Marchello: Seriously.

Chi Kong Lui: It's kinda crazy how they went from Parasite Eve to an [h on bar? I know that's wrong]. What the hell, man?

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: No, it really is like that, though.

Mike Bracken: Parasite Eve II had that steamy shower scene.

Sam Marchello: Well, this one also has a steamy shower scene, but I have not gotten to it yet. It's just more of whenever apparently Aya takes damage, she loses more of her clothes. I started mission zero with no clothes, pretty much, and then episode 1, I also started with barely any clothes, and I'm like: "I didn't get hit! What the hell? I'm already naked!"

Tim Spaeth: I'm just making some notes for our Game of the Year podcast.

[Laughter]

Chi Kong Lui: I was just going to say, Sam, you do realize the irony that you are selling this game like you wouldn't believe.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah.

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: I couldn't care less.

Mike Bracken: She's sold me two games this segment. She sold me the Ar tonelico and now she's sold me Parasite Eve.

Tim Spaeth: Chi, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down?

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, okay. Why do I always get to follow the [unknown] segments?

[Laughter]

I returned my brand-spanking new PC today to Costco because it got recalled, so big thumbs down to Intel for fucking up the Sandy Bridge motherboard that was defective. So, yeah, big thumbs down to Intel. Thanks, guys.

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: That was from the heart, yo.

Mike Bracken: Did you take all your porn off before you took it back?

Chi Kong Lui: Well, of course, and you got to defrag it afterwards, too.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, right.

Chi Kong Lui: Standard operating procedure.

Mike Bracken: Yes. Just wanted to make sure; I didn't want you to be embarrassed.

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, yeah, that was a pain in the ass, too—making sure all my personal data after I transitioned over.

Mike Bracken: I like how he calls it "personal data" now.

[Laughter]

Richard Naik: It's very personal data.

Mike Bracken: Yes.

Brad Gallaway: That's a great euphemism; I'm going to start using that, too. I've got a bunch of personal data here I've got to take care of.

Mike Bracken: "What are you doing in there on the computer, Chi?" "Oh, I'm just looking at my personal data."

[Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: Richard...Richard....

Chi Kong Lui: Wait a minute. I do have a couple thumbs up. I wanted to give a thumbs-up to Belkin Conserve surge protector. It's a surge protector that when you turn off your TV, it shuts off all the power to all the other outlets, so your Wii won't be in standby mode. It basically kills all the standby power, so I actually thought that was a pretty neat product. I don't really know how much money you're saving or not saving, but I still like the idea of just killing standby power. [Laughter] I always enjoy that.

A big quick thumbs up to the Knicks for acquiring Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. I'm hoping right now that they beat the Heat, although it's highly improbable, but I'll check the score after this podcast.

Tim Spaeth: Richard Naik? Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down?

Richard Naik: I have three. First, thumbs down to the St. Louis Cardinals. It has been an awful, awful off-season. Adam Wainwright is out for the season; it's looking like Chris Carpenter might want to trade out; they were not able to give Albert Pujols his extension. I do not have high hopes for the season or really, the next several years. But then again, the NL Central is extremely weak, so we might even see fucking Pirates make a run at [300?] or something.

Mike Bracken: I was going to say, I don't want to hear you complain about your baseball team, because my Pirates haven't won in 18 years.

Richard Naik: Oh, no. It's difficult for me to get pissed off, because they gave me 2006. But, still, not a good off-season.

Thumbs up to Rift. I started playing it over the past few days. I'm actually getting into it, more so than I've gotten into other MMOs, which is unusual for me, but it's been going good so far. And then finally, thumbs up to the saying: "Hot peas," which I heard for the first time about an hour ago from Sam. I'm like: "That is amazing. I'm going to start saying that now."

Tim Spaeth: Before we go to Mike, Brad, real fast, your take on the Cardinals off-season?

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: Oh, you know I'm all about it. I have so much to say, I'm going to have to wait til we're done recording before I can begin to even touch on it.

Tim Spaeth: All right. Special baseball podcast—

Mike Bracken: Podcast coming up.

Tim Spaeth: Mike Bracken, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down?

Mike Bracken: All right. First up, thumbs down to GameFly customer service for giving me the fucking runaround. They obviously don't know who I am, and now they are going to get some really nasty letters, nastier than they've already gotten from me.

Chi Kong Lui: Did you say: "I have a podcast"?

Mike Bracken: Yeah, I haven't popped the podcast card yet. That's my ace in the hole. No, seriously, I don't know why this fucking company is so backward sometimes, but I shouldn't have my top five games sit at the same top five and never get any of them for two months in a row, even though I send back two games every week. If that's the case, then maybe you should order more copies of these games, because they're popular. So I'm not paying $25 a month for two games that are number 25 and 26 in my queue. And for those people who say, "Well, you can only put two games in your queue, and that way they send you what you want," well, okay, I get it, but that defeats the purpose of having a queue that holds 50 games in the first place.

Enough bitching about that. Thumbs down to me for my masochism. I am currently at 65 hours into Final Fantasy XIII.

[Laughter, groan]

I have beat the main story; I am halfway done with the aftergame missions, and you might wonder: "Mike, you hate this game! Why are you doing the 64 aftergame missions?" Because I want to be able to say definitively when it's done how terrible it is [so] nobody can come to me and say: "Oh, it got really a lot better after the main story ended!" or "after you got to mission 45 after the game!" So hopefully by Wednesday, I will be done forever with Final Fantasy XIII.

Tim Spaeth: I'm just shaking my head, man. I don't know what else I can do.

Mike Bracken: [Chuckling] I got another thumbs down there, too. I don't want to spoil the game for anyone, and this is like a minor last boss spoiler, but what the fuck, Square-Enix? Since when does poison work on a final boss?

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: I'll know that for when I get to the final boss now. Thank you, Mike.

Mike Bracken: Oh, my God! The second form is kicking the crap out of me, and I can't figure out why. And here poison actaully works on the second form of the final boss. Why not just make Death work on it and let me kill it instantly if you're going to do that?

Sam Marchello: Well, hey, think back to Yunalesca.

Richard Naik: I was going to say: I seem to remember poison working on the final boss in Final Fantasy X.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, that's true.

Richard Naik: I could be mistaken.

Mike Bracken: No, no you're right. I'd actually forgotten about that. I had forgotten about that.

Richard Naik: It's the one where you're fighting what's-his-name's dad and he turns into that monster and it's him between those two little towers that heal him. You can just poison him and it completely negates the effect of the towers.

Mike Bracken: I forgot that; okay, Square-Enix is off the hook for that one.

Sam Marchello: Now, let's not let them be off the hook.

Richard Naik: Oh, no. They're certainly not off the hook.

Mike Bracken: They're not off the hook for the rest of Final Fantasy XIII, including its chapter 12 opening cut-scene that would make Michael Bay shake his head in embarrassment at how overproduced and edited it is.

[Laughter]

That's all I got.

Tim Spaeth: Thank you, Mike.

Chi Kong Lui: How much do you hate life that you got to torture yourself for those 64 aftermissions, just so you can say that this game is 100 percent terrible? [Laughter]

Mike Bracken: I know. I don't know what it is.

Sam Marchello: It's that you hate yourself, and it makes me sad.

Mike Bracken: It is.

Sam Marchello: [Unknown] finish the game and be like: "Okay, done." [Laughter]

Mike Bracken: It's my self-loathing; I can't help it.

Tim Spaeth: There aren't even missions. It's just walking to those stupid statues and getting a mob and going to kill it, right?

Mike Bracken: Yeah. And you know what? The funny thing is, that part is actually better than the game, because there's none of the stupid fucking story to deal with. [Laughter] Its just "go to the statue and get the quest and then you find it on the map and you go kill the thing, and they give you something, and then you're done."

Tim Spaeth: Oh, man.

Mike Bracken: I don't have to hear le'Cie or fal'Cie or Cocoon or Gran Pulse or any of that gobbeldygook gibberish shit they talk about for 55 hours. It's good.

Tim Spaeth: I don't even know what to say, man. I just...good God. I've just got a real quick one, and thumbs up to my dad, who turns 71 today. Happy birthday, Dad. You've never listened to this podcast, but nevertheless, happy birthday. All he wanted to do for his birthday was see the Nicholas Cage movie, Drive Angry 3D.

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: Oh, my God! I saw that yesterday!

Tim Spaeth: Yeah, we went and saw it today, and it was awful.

Mike Bracken: Yeah.

Tim Spaeth: But it got me thinking, as I was sitting there, the credits were rolling: How great is it that here in America, no matter when your birthday is, there's always a new Nicholas Cage movie to see?

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: Nick is one more flop away from doing Syfy Channel movies.

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: I can't wait!

Mike Bracken: He'll be the first Best Actor Oscar winner to do a Roger Corman Sharktopus vs. Giant Anaconda Syfy original.

Sam Marchello: That'd be amazing!

[Transcriptionist's note:] It would, indeed.

Mike Bracken: And I will be there that night to watch it, for sure.

Sam Marchello: Me, too, me too.

Richard Naik: I was going to say: Last time I went to the theater, in the previews before the movie started, there were actually three previews for Nicholas Cage movies. Three.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: Hey, when you got tax problems, you got to work, man. You got to work.

Tim Spaeth: I was happy to do my part to help him out, yeah. So let's wrap things up here, folks. And as I mentioned at the top, we have a few things to celebrate the fact that this is our 50th show. First of all, a member of our forums, and I guess he's now a moderator on our forums, RandomRob. Our good friend RandomRob, we've talked about him on the show. He knew that I have been looking for a new theme song. And indeed, he actually composed one for us, which is just unbelievable. How many times in your life has someone written a song for you? Now we can all say that at least once, somebody has. So RandomRob wrote this great song. We're actually going to play that song in its entirety to close out tonight's show, so I want to thank Rob for that—just a lovely, lovely gesture. Wasn't it, guys?

Brad Gallaway: It was.

Richard Naik: Yeah, it was.

Brad Gallaway: Absolutely.

Richard Naik: I really do enjoy the song, so good job, Rob.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it was a good piece of music.

Mike Bracken: I have not heard it. How have I not heard it?

Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. How have I not heard this, either?

Tim Spaeth: You should read the GameCritics.com forums. Just head over to GameCritics.com/forums, I think. After that song ends, we are going to share with you a bit of content that no one has ever heard before...or at least hasn't heard since September of 2008. It is, in fact, at long last, the test episode of this podcast: the pilot, if you will. It's about 15 minutes long; it is me, Brad, who I hadn't spoken to in four years at the time, and Mike, who literally we had just met minutes earlier. So we're going to play that for you. Like I said, it's about 15 minutes. And to give you an idea of how terrible a host I was, pay attention to the part where I ask you both how you became involved with GameCritics, and I let Mike answer, and then I completely blow off Brad.

[Laughter]

Sam Marchello: Aw.

Tim Spaeth: He doesn't get a chance to answer at all; I just move on. It's really bad, but I think it's an interesting little novelty, a little bit of history of the show.

Brad Gallaway: I'm still bitter about that, by the way.

Tim Spaeth: I know; you've been holding that grudge for so long.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it's been eating away at me inside. It's like a maggot of hate growing inside me.

Mike Bracken: Thank God he has sports-watching to dull that.

[Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: So let's wrap this up by first thanking our special guest, Sam Marchello, RPGamer.com. Boy, you were great, and I hope you'll come back.

Sam Marchello: Oh, anytime.

Tim Spaeth: And if people want to catch up with you, obviously, they can go to RPGamer.com, but is there anything else you'd like to plug? A Twitter? A Facebook? Your latest movie? Whatever? This is your chance to plug your stuff.

Richard Naik: To sing your new hit single.

Sam Marchello: If by "hit single," you mean "doing a Jigglypuff impression for an RPG Backtrack," sure. If peopel want to follow me on Twitter, my Twitter handle is merrygodown. It's named after a fok explosion song. If you want to read my work at RPGamer.com, I post almost every day, so you can't miss me. The last review I did was for Ar tonelico Qoga. It's up on our index; feel free to read, especially if you want to get your porn on. It's definitely in there. I made some really nasty sexual innuendoes in that review.

Tim Spaeth: Hm.

Sam Marchello: I was so proud of myself that day. [Laughter] So, yeah. If you're looking for good RPG reviews by crazy people, come check us out.

Tim Spaeth: Fantastic. Thanks again, Sam. I also want to thank my co-hosts, most of whom have been with us for 50 shows. Technically, it's like 57, but who's counting? Chi, Brad, Mike, Richard, thank you all and I look forward to the next 50 shows, if we live that long.

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: We will.

Mike Bracken: I'm getting old. I'm getting old.

Chi Kong Lui: We won't live another three years?

Brad Gallaway: That's pretty amazing.

Chi Kong Lui: Do you know something that we don't, Tim? Are you trying to tell us something?

Tim Spaeth: I'm not..I...look.

Mike Bracken: 2012 is right around the corner.

Tim Spaeth: That's true; that's true.

Mike Bracken: We're all fucked.

Tim Spaeth: Enjoy life while you can. But most of all, I want to thank the audience—particularly the few of you who've been listening since Day 1. It's been a fantastic journey, and it's only going to get better from here.

[Laughter]

So with that, here is the music of RandomRob. We will see you back here in a couple weeks for episode 51, as we kick off the next 50 shows of the GameCritics.com podcast. So from all of us, good night and bonne chance.

[Music]

Tim Spaeth: Hello and welcome to the GameCritics.com podcast for the week of October 5, 2008. I'm Tim Spaeth, your host and moderator, and I'm joined by the editors of GameCritics.com. Gentlemen, would you please introduce yourselves?

Brad Gallaway: Hey there, Tim. Brad Gallaway from GameCritics.com here.

Mike Bracken: And Mike Bracken from GameCritics.com over here.

Tim Spaeth: Gentlemen, it's an honor and a pleasure. How many cities are we representing, by the way? Do we have all the time zones covered?

Brad Gallaway: I think just about the entire...yeah, three. I think we have West Coast and Central, so we're missing two time zones. That'll be rectified next time, though.

Tim Spaeth: Do we have someone to represent Mountain Time? Someone in Denver or Saskatchewan?

Mike Bracken: Ooh, I don't think we have anyone at the site in Mountain, do we?

Brad Gallaway: I don't think so. We could find someone.

Mike Bracken: Gene is in Hawaii, so we even have that one covered.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, we could go a little further out.

Tim Spaeth: That's even better. I don't know of any game podcast that has a Hawaiian.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, he's actually from Guam, I think, though, but he lives in Hawaii now.

Brad Gallaway: So the whole Pacific Rim covered.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, we've got Pacific Rim coverage.

Brad Gallaway: Exactly. It's very exciting.

Tim Spaeth: Forget about content—that alone will set this podcast apart. I should point out to the listeners, even though we're not planning on publishing this, that I am neither a founder nor an editor of GameCritics.com, although I did write one article. Do either of you remember what that article is?

Brad Gallaway: No, I don't.

Tim Spaeth: It is published as a feature.

Brad Gallaway: Is it really?

Tim Spaeth: It is.

Mike Bracken: Oh, I don't know. Hunh-unh.

Brad Gallaway: No. What is it? What was it?

Tim Spaeth: It was that memorable.

[Laughter]

Brad Gallaway: Of course, we feel like jerks starting out. Jeez.

Mike Bracken: Yeah.

Tim Spaeth: Exactly. It was a writeup of the Star Wars Galaxies expansion Jump to Lightspeed.

Brad Gallaway: Oh, that's right, that's right, that's right.

Mike Bracken: Okay.

Brad Gallaway: I remember that now. I never play MMOs so it wouldn't be something that would jump at me, but I do remember that, yeah.

Mike Bracken: I just never played Star Wars Galaxies.

Tim Spaeth: Yeah, and that was probably a good call on your part. I went back and read that article today, as a matter of fact, and if you want to delete that off the site, you just go right ahead.

[Laughter]

That's one miserable piece of writing.

Brad Gallaway: That proud of it, huh?

Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Bad, bad writing. So anyway, this is just a technology demo. We're not planning to publish this. But if the podcast should become the planet's most beloved podcast at some point, and I have no doubt that it will, [meow from Tim's cat] this could become a collector's item. I'd like to find out a little bit about the origins of GameCritics.com. I know you guys are celebrating your ninth year, is it?

Brad Gallaway: I think it's actually ten, I believe. Well, I'm not sure. I believe that things really got off the ground as GameCritics proper [in] either '99 or 2000. I actually joined the site in 2000, but I believe that Chi, who is the owner of the site and his co-founder at the time, Dale, I believe they had a forerunner to what GameCritics is now. I think it was called the Art of Videogames home page, if I'm not mistaken, and I think they got that running maybe one or two years before it actually became GameCritics. So I think it's going to be about technically nine years as GameCritics.

Tim Spaeth: And how did you both become involved?

Brad Gallaway: Bracken, you want to go first?

Mike Bracken: Sure, sure. I was actually trying to figure out exactly when I started. I think I started in 2001, actually, right after the site had been up for a while. I was writing at RPGFan and just covering RPGs all the time, and I wanted to find a place where I could write about games other than RPGs, because spending 50 hours on a game to write a review is a long time and I wanted to play other stuff. And I found GameCritics and spent some time there reading the reviews, and they were really, really in-depth and intelligent pieces, so I got in touch with Chi, and that was when I joined. So, I've been there ever since.

Tim Spaeth: You guys both seem to be the two most prolific writers on the site. I was doing a cursory review, just trying to get some numbers. How many reviews have you each written for GameCritics?

Brad Gallaway: I think I'm in the neighborhood of about 400 right now.

Mike Bracken: I think Dan might've actually passed me by this point. I know I'm over 100. I've never actually counted. But I went on a spell here when I haven't written as many, so I'm hoping to get back in the swing of things and catch up with Brad at some point.

Brad Gallaway: [Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: Well, it's not a competition.

Brad Gallaway: I think it might be.

Mike Bracken: When he's beating you four to one, you got to even it up a little bit. But he's so prolific, I can't keep up with him.

Brad Gallaway: Well, that's because I only play games that are two hours long each, that's why.

Mike Bracken: Yeah. I always get suckered in. This is the thing at GameCritics. Whenever the RPG comes along or the 60 or 70 hour games, somehow I always say: "Yeah, I'll play that!" and then that's my review for the next month and a half. So I got to learn to play shorter games.

Brad Gallaway: I space them out. I do like maybe two a year, because I know that when they come down the pike, that they're going to just bog me down and kill my numbers. So if it's not something that I've heard is fantastic, I'm like: "Somebody else can do it. Bracken'll take it or maybe Tera'll take it," so that's how I roll.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, I'm easy. I'll take anything. If it's free, it's for me.

[Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: So how does this work out? How do the assignments come down to each of the critics? Do you guys basically say: "All right, I want to review this" and then somehow you acquire a copy? Or does Chi or Dale actually assign the reviews to you? At this point, do you basically get to write your own ticket?

Brad Gallaway: It depends. We had a different way of working it in the past, but I think the thing that we naturally evolved to is that whenever some games come in from publishers or whatnot, Chi'll just put out an e-mail and say, "Hey, we've got game XYZ here. Who's up for it?" And then everybody says: "Oh, I really, really want to do it" or "I'll do it if nobody else does it" or "I have no interest in that." And then Chi just sorts trhough the responses and whoever seems the most eager can do it. Once in a while, if one of us is really on fire, we can call dibs on something if we can make a good case for the kind of review we're going to write. But we just go with the flow. It doesn't really seem like there's a lot of conflict. Bracken, what do you think?

Mike Bracken: Yeah, we have that number system. I haven't seen it in a while, but for a long time, whenever we would get new games in, Chi would send out an e-mail and you had to rate each game on a scale of 1 to 4, and 4 was: "I'm dying to play it; I have a strong angle for a review. Please send it to me immediately," and 1 was: "I would rather poke my eyes out than play this game."

[Laughter]

And so then you would send them back in, and he would then decide based on who had what numbers for what would get which games. So it was sort of a thing where you could kind of pick and choose what you want to do, but there were also assignments based on what you said. There were times that I would send in and say that a game was a 2 for me and I would end up getting it anyway. So I don't know if that's just because I took over Thom's old job of playing the really crappy games for the site or what.

[Laughter]

But, yeah. Usually, we get to do what we want, though, so it's pretty cool.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, the key part about that is because we're not a for-profit site and no one on staff is really making any money off of this, it's really hard to take a really crappy game and say: "Hey, you! You are going to review this now," because you can't force volunteers to do something they don't want to do. The system we have now is probably optimal for where we're at.

Mike Bracken: It works, too, that we're all pretty diverse in what we like to play. Even with the big titles that come out, I would imagine at a bigger site that when you've got IGN or something, there's a lot of guys want to play Halo 3. But Halo 3 comes out at GameCritics and there's only a couple guys that would really want to play that and do the review of it. So it's not like we're all fighting over the same game, so it's pretty cool that way.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, we've got the genres pretty well-covered. I think everybody's got their favorite, and there's not really a whole lot of overlap.It's kind of unique.

Mike Bracken: No, it's very cool that way.

Tim Spaeth: So if you had to look ahead to the releases remaining in 2008, which game are you most desperate to review? What do you want?

Brad Gallaway: Gosh. It's kinda tough because there are some games that I want to play, like I'm really, really, hot to play, but I just know in my gut that I just don't really want to do a review. And there are other games where I'm really dying to tear it apart [Laughter] or get a review up there and my picture in the corner of the page, but it's not something I'm really anxious for on a personal level.

I split myself two ways, but in terms of something that I really, really, really want to review, I got to say, I was a really big fan of Saint's Row for the 360. And I know it gets some heat for being a San Andreas rip-off, which it is, obviously, unabashedly is. But it's good, and it does everything that it sets out to do, and to be perfectly honest, I hated Grand Theft Auto IV. I couldn't stand it; I didn't even bother finishing it, because it just didn't hold my attention, and I thought Rockstar went in a really wrong direction. When I got fed up with Grand Theft Auto IV, there was Saint's Row giving me the kind of gameplay that I really wanted.

And it's kind of unfortunate, because I feel like the game, even though it does a lot of things, I think, actually better than Rockstar has ever done, it's always seen as the also-ran. So I think, for me personally, I want to evangelize a little bit and maybe get some more respect thrown to Saint's Row II if it holds up, because I think it's a really good game. It really does improve on a style of formula that I personally like a lot, and in terms of the open-world mayhem-causing games, that series is the tops—not Grand Theft Auto anymore.

Tim Spaeth: Mike, what about you? What are you hoping to review?

Mike Bracken: Well, kinda like Brad, I have things that I'm really looking forward to playing and then maybe not so much reviewing. I think the thing I'm most looking forward to from the rest of this year is Wrath of the Lich King.

Brad Gallaway: [Chuckling]

Mike Bracken: Although I would hate to actually have to write a review of it. I've spent all these hours with World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade and everything, and we don't have reviews on the site of them, because I find the task of...even though I've played thousands of hours of these games, [the task of] actually trying to put that experience into a review is just too difficult. But, yeah, I'm really looking forward to Wrath of the Lich King, but, again, it's one of those things: How do you review an MMO expansion, because it's going to take a long time before you ever see half of the content. But that's what I'm most looking forward to.

Tim Spaeth: And with an MMO, it's such an evolving beast that you almost need monthly updates almost as feature articles—particularly with, as you said, Wrath of the Lich King, which really releases...Patch 3.0 is, what, in a couple of weeks? That's really the start of Wrath of the Lich King. You almost need a separate review of just the patch before the expansion comes out.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, exactly. And, ah! A fellow WoW fan.

Tim Spaeth: Yep.

Mike Bracken: I get nothing but grief from everybody in my normal life about my love of WoW, but it's always nice to run into another fan.

Tim Spaeth: I just don't talk about it or mention it.

[Laughter]

So, yeah, I hit Exalted with the Shattered Sun about eight hours ago, so I'm very proud of that.

Mike Bracken: Oh, nice. Nice. I have actually been not playing because my guild over the summer, everybody decided, "Well, we're just going to wait for the expansion," so there was no more raiding or anything going on. So I've just taken three or four months off just waiting for the expansion to come out, so I'll be all fresh and ready to go so I can get to 80. That's the big goal. Big goal for the holidays.

Tim Spaeth: Well, on the topic of things we've been playing, just to kind of wrap up our little demo here, let's each take a game we've been playing recently. Let's give a little two-minute take on it. Who'd like to go? Brad, you want to go first?

Brad Gallaway: Sure, yeah, no problem.

Tim Spaeth: Not to put you on the spot.

Brad Gallaway: No, not at all. I came prepared. I've actually downloaded Orbient on WiiWare this week. Evidently, it's kind of a remake of a Japan-only niche game called Orbital, I believe. I don't know if that's actually true or not. But what the game is is you start out as a planet and the only thing that you can do is either attract or repel to other planets and objects that are in space, so you only have two buttons.

You don't actually use the stick or to move directly, or anything like that. And the presentation is really bare-bones. It's a black space background. Your character is a white little ball. You're getting closer and further away from red balls. It sounds completely boring and like it's not even worth anyone's time, but it's a fantastic title. I'm totally in love with it. I think this title in particular, pardon the cliché, is getting close to what I would think of as truly interactive art.

It's so beautiful and it's so elegant and simplistic, and yet the complexity of the gameplay is totally there. No one can argue that it's [not] a really full-fledged, challenging, interesting game. And it costs six dollars. So to me, that in itself justifies everything that's been happening with new download games, the indie scene that's exploded with all the online services. But for me this week, it's all been about Orbient, and I'm thrilled to be playing it. So that's where I'm shooting my love this week.

Mike Bracken: I am absoltuely amazed that you have found something to play on the Wii. My Wii does nothing [but sit there collecting dust?]

Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] It's funny, because I was actually thinking that myself. It had two inches of dust on it until about two weeks ago, and then I've been playing it every day. But I think most of that is the down stuff that I had. I just went through Order Up, which I think is a really neat cooking game.

But, yeah, lately...I play it for little chunks, and I'll play it pretty intensely, and then after that, it'll sleep for another six months.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, that's like here, except that we don't play intensely at all. It just sits there.

[Laughter]

I want to play the thing; I spent all this money to get it, but there's nothing I ever want to play on it.

Brad Gallaway: Yeah, yeah. [Unkown]

Mike Bracken: Bizarre.

Tim Spaeth: I actually downloaded Mega Man 9 for the WiiWare, just so I would have something to play on the Wii, just so I could have an excuse to play it. It's interesting that Nintendo apparently doesn't feel it needs to publicize anything on the Wii, as far as WiiWare goes. I haven't heard of this game, and this is something I'm going to check out now, especially at six bucks. And, again, it'll keep the Wii warm for me.

Brad Gallaway: Oh, it's worth every penny. Honestly, I think it's going to be probably on my Top Ten of '08 list. It's going to be a real strong contender.

Tim Spaeth: Good suggestion. Mike, what about you?

Mike Bracken: I'm about ten hours into Tales of Vesperia on the 360. I've been having a decent time with it. I've played a lot of the Tales games over the years, and it's kinda wierd because I'm not the biggest fan of the battle system, because it's like a real-time fighting system. It's the heart of the Tales games, yet I don't really like it, but I keep playing the games.

[Laughter]

Yeah, it's bizarre. This one is really cool, though, because it's a throwback to the 16-bit era RPGs but with really nice graphics and stuff like that, but it's still got the battle system that, for some reason, just doesn't feel right to me. It always devolves into button-mashing. You can set all these different moves to stick configurations and stuff and yet, I just sit there and end up mashing the same two buttons over and over, anyway.

But so far, it's cool. It's just...every RPG seems to have this period where you go through in the beginning and it's really slow going, and then maybe if it's a good RPG you finally get to a point where it takes off and you get sucked into it. At ten hours, I have not reached this point with the Tales of Vesperia.

Brad Gallaway: Ugh.

Mike Bracken: I think it's right around the corner—or at least I'm hoping.

Brad Gallaway: Ten hours and still bored is the kiss of death for me, man. It's so long.

Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's not "bored," it's just not exciting either yet. You know things are going to start happening, but for some reason, the Japanese RPGs anymore like to put a really long buildup to getting you to the main quest now. Tales may very well be on the main quest now, but I don't get the impression that it is, even at ten hours in. It's a cool game. I'm liking it, but I'm not loving it. But I hated Tales of Symphonia on the GameCube, so this is a definite improvement over that.

Brad Gallaway: Let me ask you a question, Mike, real quick, if you guys don't mind me jumping in, ince you brought up the real-time combat engine. I watched Vesperia for a little while, and it didn't look like anything that was suited to my taste, but my wife just recently played Eternal Sonata, and that had a pretty cool combat engine. Watching her, I was on fire to play that. Have you played Eternal Sonata and if so, how did it stack up against Vesperia?

Mike Bracken: Yeah. I actually finished Eternal Sonata way back late last year. Really good game—I liked it. It's a lot like a Tales game, but for some reason, I like the combat a lot more in it, because it was active but yet you still had control over every character. So like a hybridized system instead of being where you just control one character and the AI conntrols everyone else, you controlled a character and you had a gauge for attacking and stuff like that, and then the next character you took over had a gauge for moving and attacking.

Brad Gallaway: Right, right.

Mike Bracken: So I like that, because I like to micromanage, and I find that a lot of times like in Tales of Vesperia that the AI does not do what I want it to do when I want it to do it, so I'm constantly trying to keep myself alive and fight and kill things and have the AI do what I want it to do. I think it works much better in Eternal Sonata. If I had to choose between the two right now, I would say: "Play Eternal Sonata.

Brad Gallaway: Good to know; good to know.

Tim Spaeth: I have played no RPGs on the Xbox 360, but I am playing the magnum opus that is Too Human, still.

[Laughter]

Met with laughter. It's not a disaster; it's perfectly fine. As a guy who enjoys filling up experience bars, as any true World of Warcraft fan would be, and a guy who enjoys comparing statistics on various pieces of loot, this really pushes all the right buttons—at least for me. It's incredibly repetitive; the story is not told particularly well. Although it is, I think, actually an interesting story, just told in a very disjointed fashion. It basically reimagines the Norse gods as a board of directors of this futuristic corporation, and that to me is very interesting. It's a very unique concept, but it's just bad storytelling. And I won't ruin it for you because I know you're both planning to put 50 hours into it later.

Brad Gallaway: Absolutely.

Tim Spaeth: Yeah.

Mike Bracken: Totally.

Brad Gallaway: [Unknown] for the Game Over screen, yes.

Tim Spaeth: So we'll have to do a Too Human three hour wrapup once you and the rest of the team have played it all, but it's a perfectly slightly above-average game that I have that I seem to be moderately addicted to. So I recommend trying it out. I wouldn't spend $60 on it, but definitely worth giving it a shot.

Brad Gallaway: It's funny you say that, Tim, because I actually am a little bit confused as to where Silicon Knights are getting all this prestige and "respect," I guess. I know that I was a big fan of the Kain games way back on the PlayStation 1? Is that where they started out?

Tim Spaeth: Umhm.

Brad Gallaway: And those were good games—

Mike Bracken: Yeah.

Brad Gallaway: —but they don't seem to have kept up with the times. Eternal Darkness, again, interesting ideas, but really shoddy storytelling and the gameplay was super repetitive.

Mike Bracken: We are the two guys who took the heat for not loving Eternal Darkness as much as the rest of the gaming world did, as I recall.

Brad Gallaway: Very true; very true. Yeah, you did do the main review, didn't you? Yeah.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah. Not one of my favorite games, eitehr.

Brad Gallaway: I'm just surprised that anybody even gives Silicon Knights more than two seconds of attention. Honestly, I don't think they've turned out a really good product for at least a decade or something like that.

Tim Spaeth: Yeah. I could not get through the Metal Gear Solid, was it Twin Snakes?

Brad Gallaway: Twin Snakes, yeah.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, Twin Snakes was, yeah.

Tim Spaeth: It was unplayable to me, and part of it was the cut-scenes, part of it was the controls, but I said: "You're remaking what I think is more or less a perfect game in the original Metal Gear Solid," and I don't think it matched up anywhere in terms of controls or the way the story was retold or the new voice acting—none of it was up to snuff, compared with the original game.

Brad Gallaway: It didn't need to be done. It was pointless.

Tim Spaeth: Yeah, agree.

Mike Bracken: Yeah, I made it through I think two or three hours of the Twin Snakes before I finally had had enough. Not a favorite here, either.

Brad Gallaway: So phooey to you, Silicon Knights.

Tim Spaeth: Bah!

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: Don't get that started, or we'll have Denis Dyack over here on our forums having us shut down.

Brad Gallaway: Hey, maybe it'll get us some hits, you never know.

Mike Bracken: Maybe it'll get us some traffic, yeah.

Tim Spaeth: He's somehow going to wind up with a copy of this podcast, and you guys are going to get a call next week. We'll have him on the show next week. We'll see.

[Laughter]

Mike Bracken: Looking forward to it.

Brad Gallaway: Absolutely. I'll ask him why he can't design a damn good game. What's the deal? Ten years and you still screw it up.

[Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: Any final thoughts before we wrap up this tech demo of the GameCritics.com podcast? By the way, we need a name for the GameCritics.com podcast. "GameCritics.com podcast" is more of a description.

Brad Gallaway: Right. [Laughter] [Unknown] to the critics. Maybe we'll get some...

Mike Bracken: We are the wrong guys to talk about...We are not who you want to talk to about naming things.

Brad Gallaway: We'll have a vote or something. I don't know.

Mike Bracken: That will have to be for Chi to figure out, because I'm terrible at naming anything. I'm the guy who wrote film reviews for years and just put the name of the film and the director, and that was the title. So we don't let me name anything.

[Laughter]

Tim Spaeth: Well, gentlemen, it's been an honor and a pleasure, and thank you for letting me moderate this tech demo. We will see how it turns out, publish it internally and come up with something that I think is going to be very, very special. Thank you both, Brad and Mike.

Brad Gallaway: [Unknown] absolutely.k

Tim Spaeth: We will do it again real soon.

Mike Bracken: Thank you.

Brad Gallaway: Will do.

Tim Spaeth: Bye-bye.

[end]

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