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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 33: Roger Ebert Again and Games with Great Storytelling

Tim Spaeth's picture

Why do so few video games have truly great stories? We have some suggestions for developers and share some of our favorites. Plus: Roger Ebert breaks our hearts, and Chi and Tim finally have a reason to talk about Wing Commander. Brad is thrilled! Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad "Likely Going To Hell" Gallaway, Richard Naik, and Tim Spaeth.

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Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3  
Articles: Podcasts  
Topic(s): Games as Art  

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Another game worth

Another game worth mentioning guys, is Silent Hill 2. Some iffy dialogue and voice acting hasn't diminished its strengths over the years and I believe it deserves a place along side (perhaps in between) Bioshock and Ico. It also brings to mind the use of sound to support a story without overwhelming it.

Not without its flaws, but I wanted to toss it into the mix despite them. Silent Hill 1 and Shattered Memories make for an interesting case as well.

I agree with you guys in regards to Roger Ebert, BTW. The burbling was insensitive however. I wonder what Tera Kirk will think when she types that out.

why did y'all remove the

why did y'all remove the sound player? Don't really want to download it. sigh!

coyls3 wrote: why did y'all

coyls3 wrote:

why did y'all remove the sound player? Don't really want to download it. sigh!

It looks like Google's audio player is down. I'll look for an alternative.

Ebert

I'm not surprised by Ebert's stance on the subject; He always was an ass to the opinions of Siskel, even if they were valid. I've viewed Ebert's opinions as being very self-centered, no matter how solid the counter-points were. I was rather shocked when he had an approving view of The Phantom Menace, even though its substance didn't fit into his normal critique of films.

I was kind of disappointed

I was kind of disappointed that Brad didn't come to the defense of FFX when Chi and Tim were bashing Final Fantasy.

Other possibilities

You guys picked some good choices for stories, but there was one name I was surprised to see left off the list. Tim Schafer.

I only mention him because, as a game developer, I always looked up to him. He was my favorite of the game gods. Everything he does is steeped in character, decent plots, and great emotion. If the question of "games as art" is in play, this is a huge name to drop.

Think about Manny from Grim Fandango. He was an incredibly simple polygonal character, but still displayed a huge range of emotion.

Consider also Full Throttle. Even though it was the basic "King's Quest" pixel-clicker game, it managed to tell a deep and involved story of adventure, sacrifice, and Hell's Angels philosophy.

And there's Psychonauts. Here's a game about a kid who runs away from the circus so he can crash a psychic camp and uncovers a plot to steal children's brains so they can power a psychic tank army! The characters, story, and gameplay really made that a great game.

I can understand that some games don't resonate with everyone, but that guy covers a wide spectrum. Pirates, evil tentacles, Harley's, Heavy Metal, the day of the dead. . . the man's an amazing storyteller.

Tim Schafer and the Other Greats

There are a lot of things I regret about this episode, but the lack of recognition for Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, Roberta Williams, Jane Jensen, Al Lowe, and the other legendary adventure game creators of yore is, no question, an egregious and embarrassing omission. We've thrown much love to The Longest Journey but considering how much time I spent with its spiritual predecessors, I'm frankly stunned at myself for not mentioning them. Bad host. Bad!

Coyls> You know, I actually

Coyls> You know, I actually had a comment about FFX, specifically Wakka, but the convo moved on and i forgot about it. There's always a dozen things you 'D'oh!' over after the recording stops...

I listened to the podcast a

I listened to the podcast a while ago but i did not want to post a comment until after i had read Ebert's article/post.

To be honest before i read it i thought the guy had used some very insulting comments. After reading it though it seems that the backlash and most counter articles are the ones that have taken to insults.

I agree that for someone to be able to judge whether a form of medium is art or not he/she at least needs to experience it. That's where i think Ebert's biggest weakness lies.

Not that i think games have achieved art status yet. I am not sure, but if i was forced to say yes or no i would say the latter. At least not yet. But i believe that they have great potential to give art new meaning due to this interactivity.

Finally, i think gamers should lighten up. We love playing games regardless of how others see us or the medium. Why do we have the need to justify ourselves all the time? Especially to people who don't play games.

I almost stopped listening

I almost stopped listening the podcast after 10 minutes this time. Yeah, Ebert is a grumpy old man and all, but is it _really_ necessary to bash him for a good 15 minutes?

I noticed bad cases of Pavlov's reflexes in plenty of gamer blogs and websites. But I really hoped your response would be more calm and considerate. Even Yahtzee found a rather modest response and wrote some interesting things, like:

"It speaks more to your own insecurity than their obvious ignorance. It puts me in mind of evangelism. A religious person will (generally) never, ever convince an atheist of the existence of their god, nor vice versa."

His whole piece: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/7473-Extra-Punctuation-Videogames-as-Art.2

Apart from the overreactions... regarding story in games:

I second Brand by stating you forgot Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert and a bunch of other people. Nobody mentioned Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis, which has a better story than some of the movies? I also loved both Mass Effects, after some initial confusion. Coming close to the end, I couldn't put down the controller with both games and stayed up 'till 3 or 4 in the morning to finish the fight. Something Halo still didn't... (not really, only kinda, sorta...)

Wing Commander on the other hand...

I enjoyed the games back then, but the story isn't so deep or remarkable, that I would put it on a podium. It was remarkably well made, especially considering cutscenes in other games at that time. I would compare it with movies like Independence Day. A special effects extravaganza with outstanding production values, but not groundbreaking in terms of depth when it comes to the story.

Li-Ion wrote: I almost

Li-Ion wrote:

I almost stopped listening the podcast after 10 minutes this time. Yeah, Ebert is a grumpy old man and all, but is it _really_ necessary to bash him for a good 15 minutes?

Hey Li-ion, looking back at the segment, which believe it or not, we tried to keep it short compared to the length of our regular discussions, I personally thought we expressed more shock and dismay due to our respect/admiration for Ebert as a film critic. I'm not sure what we said would qualify as "bashing," but I think we all were trying to make sense of the madness behind Ebert's comments. Some of our comments have been emotional ones, but in the end, it was an honest reaction.

Li-Ion wrote:

I noticed bad cases of Pavlov's reflexes in plenty of gamer blogs and websites. But I really hoped your response would be more calm and considerate. Even Yahtzee found a rather modest response and wrote some interesting things, like:

"It speaks more to your own insecurity than their obvious ignorance. It puts me in mind of evangelism. A religious person will (generally) never, ever convince an atheist of the existence of their god, nor vice versa."

If people are standing up for something they believe is right, does that make them insecure? The problem here is that Ebert is not some evangelical nut job that can be ignored. Ebert is an internationally known and well-respected mainstream film critic and his comments were way out of character and potentially damaging to those who care about games as art.

Li-Ion wrote:

I second Brand by stating you forgot Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert and a bunch of other people. Nobody mentioned Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis, which has a better story than some of the movies?

I actually considered Fate of Atlantis, but nothing stood out to me outside of the amazing production values and solid design as great writing or storytelling. What specifically do you remember about the game that you would cite as great storytelling/writing?

Li-Ion wrote:

Wing Commander on the other hand...

I enjoyed the games back then, but the story isn't so deep or remarkable, that I would put it on a podium. It was remarkably well made, especially considering cutscenes in other games at that time. I would compare it with movies like Independence Day. A special effects extravaganza with outstanding production values, but not groundbreaking in terms of depth when it comes to the story.

As I said on the show, I think the plot was pretty mediocre and part 2 was rather forced, but characters were cut above the rest. To this day, I can still recall all the characters and their personalities which I attribute to the strong writing/scripting of the characters.

Hello Chi! Chi Kong Lui

Hello Chi!

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

If people are standing up for something they believe is right, does that make them insecure? The problem here is that Ebert is not some evangelical nut job that can be ignored. Ebert is an internationally known and well-respected mainstream film critic and his comments were way out of character and potentially damaging to those who care about games as art.

Yes, but making a lame joke about his ability to speak on the podcast doesn't prove your point, nor does it invalidate his.

I don't know what is more damaging: that Ebert said what he said, or the way that we as gamers (not only this site, but gamers in general) respond to this? I saw only few good replies and they perish in a sea of overzealous ranting. I'm pretty sure that the masses of comparisons of him with various dictators or farm animals won't make him reconsider his position.

Quote:

I actually considered Fate of Atlantis, but nothing stood out to me outside of the amazing production values and solid design as great writing or storytelling. What specifically do you remember about the game that you would cite as great storytelling/writing?

It would have made a better movie than the crystal skull ;-)
Thinking about it, maybe the plot of Fate of Atlantis only stands out for me in such a positive light, because most graphic adventures were just so much worse? It was one of the few adventures I remember solving without questioning my sanity, because I couldn't follow the unique logic of the game's designer. The puzzles and challenges made sense in context with the story, but the story was - like the movies - not very deep and meaningful. But at least it could stand up to the movies in terms of story, something that many games still can't.

Quote:

To this day, I can still recall all the characters and their personalities which I attribute to the strong writing/scripting of the characters.

I agree with that. After listening to the podcast I watched some Wing Commander cutscenes on youtube. In terms of characters Wing Commander is still an example of how you can make a character that feels more like an actual person, compared to the plenty of blunt stereotypes, that tend to run through most contemporary gameworlds.

Feedback

First time listening to this podcast and while it was great to hear interesting subject matter discussed, I was a bit disappointed in the crass handling of the first segment on Ebert. I mean, jokes about his inability to speak and comments on how old people just need to die when the man himself has been, and most likely still is, close to death? This is just inappropriate no matter how much you disagree with a person.

Even so, I am surprised no one touched on his quite, in my view, antiquated definition of what a game is. He, most likely, wouldn't even consider something commonly called an art game to be an actual game. He likens video games to sporting activities--generally saying video games have to have set rules, points and a win state. It would have been more interesting to hear what exactly you guys disagree with about what he is saying, instead of these fist-bumping-comments like "games are just art, there is no reason to talk about it so let's just continue on about how this sullies our view of Ebert as a critic." Of course, not a direct quote from you all but along those lines.

Also, no games at all that would suffer from a good story? Commonly, the answer to this question is puzzle games in the vein of Tetris. I was surprised no one at least mentioned this or provided a preemptive counterpoint. Oh, and the lack of any adventure games in the quality writing section but others have commented on that already. Sure, some of the best in adventure games is Comedy writing and frequently, especially in film, that isn't held to the same regard as Drama. I can see why it might have been an oversight.

Ben wrote: ...comments on

Ben wrote:

...comments on how old people just need to die when the man himself has been, and most likely still is, close to death?...

That was definitely not aimed at him in personal. It's just a fact that old, conservative viewpoints die with old generations that pass away.
They also said they will maybe become that old generation.

Can't agree with Yahtzee and

Can't agree with Yahtzee and anyone else who waffles on the definition of art with statements like 'oh it varies completely from person to person,' 'art can be in nature,' 'the artist doesn't matter to the viewer' etc.

Art is a very specific concept. People may have trouble describing it, but they don't have trouble recognizing it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art

"A vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas."

Games can do it. Ebert is incorrect in his opinion that they can't. Yes, it should matter to gamers that a pillar of popular culture denigrates their community.

Talk to some non-gamers in your family or workplace. Many of them do think video gaming is nothing but a mindless, embarrassing waste of time that they would happily eliminate if they could. Crazy Australian and German anti-gaming legislation did not come from nowhere. This opinion has a large community if you check around - and that community hates you.

They don't hate the idea of play, of interactive theatre, of collaborative activity - All these things are fine off a screen, without a controller. They hate your traditions based on their opinion, just as Ebert does. Make whatever comparisons you want. The whole D&D is Satanism thing comes to mind. As PA pointed out, people have been complaining about new things corrupting the youth since Socrates.

Some people downplay it, say gamers don't need to defend gaming in these debates because it's just a silly fun pastime. They just happen to play these silly games for 40 hours every week, but it really doesn't matter. They are more concerned with what image they're projecting of themselves to nongamers, than of the issue being discussed.

Good for you guys, I respect people who respect themselves.

KCalder wrote: Many of them

KCalder wrote:

Many of them do think video gaming is nothing but a mindless, embarrassing waste of time that they would happily eliminate if they could. Crazy Australian and German anti-gaming legislation did not come from nowhere. This opinion has a large community if you check around - and that community hates you.

Can only partly agree with that.
Many non-gamers think it's a waste of time, but they don't hate you for that hobby and they don't want to eliminate it. That's just some populist politicians, the Bild-"newspaper" and some conservative people who believe that propaganda and want some scapegoats for gun rampages and aggressive youths. If it's not the current flame target of dull press i think people don't care.
That's part of the problem why youth protection laws overdo it sometimes. No one cares for the already strict limits, every underage gets to easy to every game and so some want to make it even more restrictive.
(i'm austrian so i believe i have an idea what is going on in germany, but can't speak of australia)

great podcast

first time listener, long time reader. loved the podcast. felt like i was sitting around listening to friends talk. liked the caj.

re: storytelling. hey, what about Beyond Good and Evil? Ace characters, rich and human, and the political story rolls out delightfully through NPC interactions. or Summoner? the midgame loss of vendors and townsfolk made me feel the destructive power of war better than any documentary or any goya. "but, but, my upgrades..."

someone mentioned games based on novels as a winning formula. made me think of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. SoC. despite its many flaws, i really enjoyed it because of story, especially the last third when it gained a lot of forward momentum. i fought all the harder to reach the end, drawn on by the mystery just like the character i was playing. compulsive, moody, ambiguous. just like a tarkovsky movie (although i didn't see the eponymous film). i think the game's story's pedigree helped. (p.s. the mute protagonist worked much better for me here than in Half-Life 2.)

couldn't agree more about Portal. most fun i've had gaming EVER! gotta find me a Win95 machine so i can finish Grim Fandango and finally play The Longest Journey. thanks for what you do GC! you all rock, but especially brad :)

Re: KCalder

KCalder wrote:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art

"A vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas."

Thus newspapers are art?

Sorry, but I don't agree with the wikipedia article. The definition of art can be watered down to a degree, where my breakfast can be considered art, since it invokes an emotional response in me.

Quote:

Games can do it. Ebert is incorrect in his opinion that they can't. Yes, it should matter to gamers that a pillar of popular culture denigrates their community.

Does it denigrate football or ice hockey if I write an open letter, claiming football and ice hockey are no art? How come gaming is 'better' than ice hockey or football?

Quote:

Talk to some non-gamers in your family or workplace. Many of them do think video gaming is nothing but a mindless, embarrassing waste of time that they would happily eliminate if they could. Crazy Australian and German anti-gaming legislation did not come from nowhere. This opinion has a large community if you check around - and that community hates you.

I think you have to hit the brakes here...

I've never heard my non-gamer colleagues and family talking in a demeaning manner about video games. Maybe you feel that way for some reason, but that's not what I experienced. Nobody looks down on me because I say I play video games. During adolescence I had some arguments about video games with my parents, but after I educated them a bit, they eventually realized that my video games are in no way less valid as past time activity as the TV shows they watch. Now they're having my old PC and playing some casual games on it. In terms of time spent, my parents are bigger gamers now than I am ;-)

Regarding the situation in Germany: I have to second crackajack, it's just some old politicians who want to catch some extra votes with old people who don't know anything about games. German mainstream press (except tabloids like 'BILD') have realized that. We see an increasing amount of newspaper articles in Germany, which raise the flag for gaming and gamers, when they are attacked by some ranting politician. It will take some time until it's in the German conscience that games are not only toys for kids however.

Quote:

Good for you guys, I respect people who respect themselves.

You're saying I don't respect myself, just because I don't claim games are art per se? o.Oa

Li-Ion wrote:KCalder

Li-Ion wrote:
KCalder wrote:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art

"A vehicle for the expression or communication of emotions and ideas."

Thus newspapers are art?

Sorry, but I don't agree with the wikipedia article. The definition of art can be watered down to a degree, where my breakfast can be considered art, since it invokes an emotional response in me.

To a degree, yes or at least that's what conceptual artists like Marcel Duchamp made a case for. What differentiates "good" and "bad" art is artist intent and how much thought is put into the expression.

Li-Ion wrote:
Quote:

Games can do it. Ebert is incorrect in his opinion that they can't. Yes, it should matter to gamers that a pillar of popular culture denigrates their community.

Does it denigrate football or ice hockey if I write an open letter, claiming football and ice hockey are no art? How come gaming is 'better' than ice hockey or football?

I don't think it's a question of one being better than another. Its a question of inclusion versus exclusion. I think one could make a strong case that atheletes are incredibly expressive with their bodies and often a beautiful sight to behold. That's why stylized punching and kicking is called martial arts. The problem with folks like Ebert who spend more time trying to describe what isn't art rather than what is, really are missing the point.

Li-Ion wrote:
Quote:

Good for you guys, I respect people who respect themselves.

You're saying I don't respect myself, just because I don't claim games are art per se? o.Oa

Just a reminder to keep things cool here. Thanks.

Chi Kong Lui wrote: I think

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I think one could make a strong case that atheletes are incredibly expressive with their bodies and often a beautiful sight to behold. That's why stylized punching and kicking is called martial arts.

That's actually an interesting one. I don't know the exact terminology in English, but in German we differentiate martial arts and combat sports in that way, that combat sports are competitive and have a strict rule system, to determine the winner of a contest of martial proficiency. Martial arts on the other hand have an important philosophical component. It is more than two dudes dishing it out, it is a way of life. Video games (at this point!) remind me on the former category, since they follow a (more or less) strict ruleset with the goal of winning. In other words: I'd count Street Fighter IV as combat sport, not martial art ;)

I may have come off a

I may have come off a _little_ strong on the issue of people that hate gamers and gaming, heh. I don't think it's on anywhere near the same scale or seriousness as major prejudices out there. The most you're likely to get from anyone is polite disdain, as with Ebert.

Even so, some people do hate video gaming, the same way some hate gambling, or subversive music, or drugs - they do perceive them as harmful or wasteful, and they do have a much narrower, more stereotypical view of what a videogame is than you do.

I mostly wanted to point out that if gaming is something you're passionate about - if you think it's a positive thing - you should speak up when debates arise, because some really don't think that.

I would say newpapers are

I would say newpapers are art. They are deliberate arranging of elements in order to convey information. Nowadays newspapers are pretty advanced in their layouts and use techniques to provide the reader with information in an efficient and user-friendly way. I would also say that advertisements and branding are art. Andy Warhol comes to mind. Graphic/web designers use many "traditional" visual principles (color theory, etc.) - I would definitely say they are creating art. So I agree with KC and Chi here in that art is (or should be) a pretty well-defined concept, and it is broad. What is "good" or "bad" art is what's up for debate IMO.

As for Super Street Fighter IV: I think games are a very different type of art in that they allow the user to configure the elements. Whereas traditional art has only the artist configure the elements and the user only interprets them. The experience of configuring the elements (playing the game) is extremely powerful. To many SSFIV devotees, do they not feel powerful emotions, masterful and in control of something? Is it not a "way of life" for some people?

Also, I would say all art has rules and goals. When I look at a painting in a museum, I am bound by the laws of light and how it interacts with my eye. I also expect to get something out of it, whatever that something is.

I think it's ironic how Ebert used cave paintings as a example to show how Santiago was wrong in her assessment of what constitutes good art. In his description he talks about how they need to have appropriate lighting in order for the viewer to fully appreciate it. That is very gamelike because the viewer needs to actively configure the elements around the painting in order to view it "successfully". It's almost like a puzzle. It sounds similar to those 3D pictures drawn with chalk on the sidewalk that you have to view from a certain angle.

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