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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 29: Divinity II, Star Trek Online beta & Listener Mailbag

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We're back! Our first show of 2010 offers looks at Divinity II: Ego Draconis and the Star Trek Online beta. Plus, we answer your letters about adventure games, lazy developers, insta-DLC, and games of the (last) decade. With Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "Not Roy Scheider" Spaeth.

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Please send feedback and mailbag questions to podcast (at) gamecritics (dot) com.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3  
Series: Divinity   Star Trek  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Online/Multiplayer  
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First, let me cast my lot in

First, let me cast my lot in with the TNG bunch. Kirk is just an ensign compared to Picard.

Second, as far as multi-stage bosses go, I actually like it when they aren't broken up into save points. Part of the challenge (for me) is being able to run the gauntlet so to speak and beat all the boss' forms in one life. The concept of save points in general doesn't bother me either, as it's the same concept. Totally agree about unskippable cutscenes through.

Third, I think there's lots of hope for the adventure genre, although it is difficult to sell in this day and age. Quantic Dream seems to be putting some major effort into bringing it back into the spotlight, but nobody else really is.

Fourth, Brad, I get what you're saying about soul. It's something that every player has a definition for and can't really be defined empirically. For example, to me BioShock had lots of soul, whereas Halo 3(single player) did not. I also agree about Zelda's recent lack of soul-there's actually an article brewing about what the series needs to do to reinvigorate itself.

Just a note to listeners,

Just a note to listeners, during the Divinity II segment, Mike brings up a PS2 game called "Draconis" and I respond to his question, but what we both actually meant was DRAKAN: the Ancients' Gates.

Sorry for any potential confusion. = /

Great podcast, as always.

Great podcast, as always. Keep them coming.

Regarding adventure games, I don't think they need to evolve to anything, because their true audience doesn't expect to see them simplified or mutated.

Let's see how many relatively high-profile traditional adventures were released in 2009: Machinarium, Ceville, Memento Mori, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Time Hollow, Still Life 2, Broken Sword Director's Cut, Tales of Monkey Island, Monkey Island SE, Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper, Mata Hari, Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis, Dark Faul: Lost Souls, The Whispered World and, arguably, The Path and The Void.

The thing is, most of them are released only for the PC and we all know how videogames websites have been neglecting this platform. Either because the community doesn't like playing PC games or because the titles are too cerebral in the way that they don’t demand brainless shooting. Games like Heavy Rain are great in reintroducing the genre to a different audience but they won't progress it, since its conventions are already defined.

And I think that GTA III gets too much recognition for its 3D open world and side missions structure, since a PC game named Outcast, released in 1999, already presented this kind of composition - and, IMO, with much more style.

Soul of a Commando

I thought Brad's definition of soul was pretty spot on. I kind of struggled with the concept in my New Super Mario Bros Wii review, and it was good to hear something that was in line with what I ended up going with.

And I couldn't agree more with Brad's thoughts on Bionic Commando. I totally caught myself doing that aimless, glassy-eyed nodding people do during a particularly moving sermon, and felt momentarily embarrassed. I guess it's only appropriate considering BC was the closest thing to a religious experience I've had in a while. :P

Yeah, my bad. Draconus was a

Yeah, my bad. Draconus was a Dreamcast game that I kinda liked. Drakan was the game I meant, though. I'm retarded, but anyone who listens already knew that.

As someone who loves to

As someone who loves to check out games from past gen systems, thanks for the clarification on Drakan :)


About save points and cut scene skips - I disagree. Sure, sometimes lazy companies should have implemented these standard mechanics on their otherwise by-the-numbers game.

But whenever people suggest that 'games have to have an industry-wide standard,' I tend to disagree. I know it's anti-immersive to me if I surf through an easy stage, save right before the tough boss, and then cut-scene skip to try the fight 4 or 5 times. If that stage as a whole was fun and gradually built challenge as I went through, it'd be almost as fun the second time through as well - and I'd be very eager to put the hurt on that boss. The game this makes me think of is Tenchu, back on the PSX - you could invest a long time getting through the stages, and you had to get past the same roadblocks if you failed. But there was just enough freedom in how you did it, and just enough challenge, to make each trip through worth it.

Unfortunately, often games aren't as fun as we expect, and we do want to just save our big chunk of time invested in walk-over gameplay so that we don't have to redo it, and we can proceed to enjoy whatever else the game has to offer.

'Save-anytime' presents its own problem, that of save-scumming, a practice familiar to PC gamers. When you can save anytime in a platformer, you end up breaking the dynamic experience down to individual jumps. When you can save anytime in a game with gambling, you break the economy. When you can save anytime in an rpg, you can ruin the experience by reloading when you think you've performed suboptimally and want to have done better. I'd say almost every gamer has a great game in their past that they've ruined this way before understanding the problem. It's not a lot different from cheat codes.

I would like to see more of the 'everything is saved' model now coming back to console games from its MMO origins. But on the whole, I think it's best when game designers can can choose wherever they want to be innovative, including things that the players think should be industry standards.

Just a bit more on cut

Just a bit more on cut scenes.. I find them welcome before a tough boss fight as long as they're short, interesting, and more about action than speeches. Sometimes they can get the blood pumping. But yes, often they are just aggravating.

My most hated recent cutscene was the one prior to fighting Sepulcher in Silent Hill Homecoming PC. You could only skip each individual line the characters spoke leading up to the battle, none of the dialogue choices seemed important, and it was at that point that I realized I should have played the game on Easy, or at least on non-broken console controls.

As terrible as that was, sometimes you have to deal with the bad and look forward to better. Homecoming was one of those games where I appreciated the effort and potential it had, even though the end product, QTE's and all, was just not for me.

I completely understand

I completely understand where you're coming from in terms of save scumming, but at the same time, that's sort of on the individual. It seems wrong to punish everyone else because some people will take advantage of the "save anywhere" system--particularly in single-player games where no one's hurt but the player anyway.

I don't know--maybe it's me getting old. Years ago I would have called anyone who wanted to save anywhere or wanted an opportunity to save between boss fights a pussy. Now, I just feel like I want most games to make their experience as painless for me as possible. I don't think it's that I've somehow lost my "hardcore edge" so much as I find most games I play these days to be something to be endured more than enjoyed. Anything that lessens my suffering is something I'm all for. :p

Okay, I'm not really that bitter, but I do think we've reached the point where making games more save friendly (if for no other reason than it makes it possible for people to pick it up, play for ten or fifteen minutes and then go do something else) would be a benefit in spite of the problems you mention.

autosave ftw

I am a PC-gamer and i agree with quicksaving is not always the best thing. My favorite is autosave. Just stay focus on playing and when failing, pop out at the save spot and just go for another try.
Sure, i don't have to press F5, but that's hard if you just beat that room and are afraid of dying and don't want to play it again. But by pressing F5 you release the suspense without reward. That is a thing the developer should not give into the hands of the gamer. The script should stay in there hands. If you fail, are not good enough at first try, then the game should punish you, by having to play it again as long as you do it right. They should decide how hard it is on easy, medium and hard. They should decide how long some scenes without saving should be, and, how they reward you for proceeding past this area.

Unskippable cutscenes, yeah, no-go. I never watch a movie with autorepeat on certain scenes x times and then looking at the next scene also millions times. That would ruin a movie.

The difference between doing a shootout twice and seeing a cutscene twice is the challenge. If i want to be challenged then it's no problem to play it more often but cutscenes are nothing that's challenging me. Also depends if the challenge is fun or for some reasons you don't enjoy them. Then it is really a pain to do it again. Bioshock without vitachambers would have been bad, but that was even more than quicksave.

At the end it would be easy to implement options for all gamers. Those who don't want to be challenged, those who don't mind seeing cutscenes....
- skippable cutscenes on/off
- quicksave on/off. or a slider that regulates the amount of autosavepoints. or it could be linked to the difficulty level.
- whatever...

The developers seem sometimes lazy about it. But i think that really is an important decision where to place the game. Add some options and they could make them appealing to everyone. Make a sort of rpg-intro where you state what type of gamer you are with multiple choice questions. (or just tick some options in a menu -> deactivate Elika, i want to die, and so on.)

The same with autoheal which also gives the pacing to the player. The challenge is not any more really under control of the developer and he doesn't have to balance it thoroughly.
Sure, medipacks all over an alien planet are weird and the searching for them is nothing an rpg-item-collector hater enjoys (which is similar to searching for savepoints), but autoheal is mostly not explained properly and as said removes the need to balance. Some options, and everything could be ok for everyone, but that would be even harder than just balancing medipack amounts and ai strength and enemy amount...

Mostly i thought of actiongames now, but RTS and RPG or racing simulations have similar rules i think are correct.
Give the player choice but do it at the beginning where he can more easily decide to toughen it, stick to that after he has progressed a while and not total freedom where it's to easy to subside the whole time.

Li-Ion is a deliberately confusing name ;)

...the easiest is just to say 'Ion'. I put the 'Li' in front just because 'Ion' as a username is often taken already. After a while I got used to it.

Beside my awesome name:
I'm in favor of autosave with a generous amount of checkpoints. Save anywhere is ok too. I hate nothing more than games that only allow you to save every hour or so. Sometimes I have to leave home rather abrupt and don't have time looking for a savepoint for the next 20 minutes.

I usually don't go back to another save if something didn't work out without any problems, since I value progress over perfection. The only thing I want from my save is to prevent me from loosing to much progress/time in case of virtual death.

Since we are already at hate: I hate unskippable cutscenes. Especially unskippable cutscenes between a checkpoint and a tough boss. I stopped a number of games already because I got tired of watching the same cutscene 5 times over.

Enough hate for today. Liked the show, now I'm actually slightly interested in Star Trek Online and would Divinity 2 a shot if I wouldn't have already so many games to finish ;)

Enduring games


This might be a skosh left of where you were going with it, but your comment rang a few cherries. I've had the same problem lately of just wanting my game experiences as painless as possible. I don't know if I feel like I'm suffering through what I play, exactly (since I just game for myself, I don't really have any titles forced on me), but I've been impatient as hell, and it's getting to the point where if the game doesn't autosave every five minutes, I feel like the developer's declaring war on my free time.

I don't think the problem is you getting old so much as the way development's been trending in the last few years. I'm from that generation of gamers that view Ocarina and FFVII as something like the dawn of time, but even over my brief span as a gamer I've noticed games feeling more and more like something to get through and developers becoming more and more willing to help shoot me through the process. . .and me becoming more and more upset when they don't.

What's your take on this? Is the modern gamer's work ethic (oxymoron, but you know what I mean) shot? Or is game culture, like every other type of culture, zipping along so fast anymore we should be grateful--or even demand--anything (autosaves, lower difficulty) that lets us move on to the next big thing coming down the pipe?

I'm really wondering how this trend will affect new gamers' views on the classics. I've recently played emulated Super Castlevania IV and FFVI on my PC, and while they're both wonderful, I just don't know how I would've ever set aside the time to beat them without that handy F2 save anywhere feature. That last stretch of Slogra-Gaibon-Death would've taken me at least a week to pull off on the ol' Super Nintendo. It's weird playing something and thinking "I'm sure I could do this, I just don't want to take the time, Mass Effect 2 next week, FFXIII in a month, etc etc." Is this position defensible, or do I just need to man up, practice on Demon's Souls, and go play Contra 3 with an apple stuffed in my mouth?

On the flip side, of course--Brad's comments on video game soul? Give me an octopus fight in the rafters of an opera house over anime angst any day.

Eel, You definitely took it


You definitely took it in a direction I was heading, but I didn't have time to really go in depth. I'm strapped for time tonight too, but I'll definitely be back to respond to this or we'll address it on the show.


Saves Before Bosses & Demon's Souls

I know this is a little late, but I'm catching up on the podcasts after having a kid. :P Brad, around 39:40 you give a rant about save points before bosses. I just wanted to point out that the lack of save points before the bosses is probably going to be the nail in the coffin for me on Demon's Souls. Despite all the game's other strengths, this laziness on the part of the developers is a grave hindrance to progression and enjoyment. My time is so precious to me right now, I'm seriously questioning whether or not it's worth finishing the game. A couple of months ago I thought I would play the game through a second time with a completely different class, but that's out of the picture at this point. It's too bad, too, because I want to finish it, but having to replay an entire stage because some boss one-shots me on my first attempt makes me a pretty sad panda.

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