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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 41: Gaming Tragedies, Detail & Immersion, Rockstar Games

Tim Spaeth's picture

We're back and less offensive than ever! Our conversation about detail and immersion becomes an impromptu "State of Rockstar Games" debate. Plus: Our personal gaming tragedies; tales of data loss and other disasters. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "The Traitor" Spaeth.

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Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   Nintendo DS  
Developer(s): BioWare   Rockstar  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Open World  
Articles: Podcasts  

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I think RDR would still be

I think RDR would still be in my collection if John Marsten could've jackknifed a horse and flipped it, causing a horse pile up on a main road, then jumped onto horse's head and stomped on it till it exploded, causing a chain reaction that would've exploded all the other horses.

randomrob wrote: I think

randomrob wrote:

I think RDR would still be in my collection if John Marsten could've jackknifed a horse and flipped it, causing a horse pile up on a main road, then jumped onto horse's head and stomped on it till it exploded, causing a chain reaction that would've exploded all the other horses.

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10G - A Catastrophe of Colts

One quick note -- I wish I'd finished Red Dead before we'd recorded; once I got out of Mexico and decided to stop doing side quests I really enjoyed myself. The final "section" of the game, plus the epilogue, made for one of my favorite game endings ever.

Tim, Glad to hear you liked

Tim,

Glad to hear you liked the end. I was really curious as to what you'd think of it once you made it there. Mexico is really a drag -- which sucks because it starts out promising. I stand by my assessment that Rockstar sucks at the second act of games, but the ending of RDR makes slogging through Mexico's cliched crap worth it in the long run.

I don't know, I found RDR to

I don't know, I found RDR to be (overall) an awesome experience. The story is pretty good, but, to make it more interesting (or not, depending on your perspective), RS drags the narrative in various directions. The good thing about Rockstar games, however, is that the side quests aren't usually mandatory; but merely something to do. I think the problem is that some gamers experience the world of RDR and start hoping for an experience like an RPG. For instance, I heard a lot of comparisons to Fallout 3 for some reason. However, RS's reliance on characterization and cut scenes hampers this somewhat. I'm not sure if Rockstar was too lazy, or were simply incapable of heaping such a complex system on an already complex game. Who knows? As far as calling it Grandtheft Horse. I think that would be selling the game real short.

Regardless of how people feel about the overall structure of the story, I think many people will agree that this one of best/better titles to come out this year.

Also, I know this is off topic, since I've been musing over this issue (coupled with the fact that RS games play out like movies). Would you guys consider movie reviews and game reviews similar? I say they aren't.

assassins creed save game corruption

Its shocking any developer would claim that save-game corruption cannot happen; thats very ignorant. There is a big difference between impossible and unlikely. I had a save game corruption issue on the first assassins creed. I am tired of company attitudes about how their special game should only have one save game slot. And they aren't the only ones; I won't play gas-powered games anymore because of a corrupted save game on Dungeon Seige 2. Yet another reason to avoid ubisoft games in the future.

Googoo24 wrote: I don't

Googoo24 wrote:

I don't know, I found RDR to be (overall) an awesome experience. The story is pretty good, but, to make it more interesting (or not, depending on your perspective), RS drags the narrative in various directions. The good thing about Rockstar games, however, is that the side quests aren't usually mandatory; but merely something to do.

My chief complaint about the side quests is that the time spent-to-reward ratio is way off. There's a lengthy fetch quest involving a plane that rewards a minuscule, practically irrelevant number of fame points. Perhaps the story is meant to be its own reward. (In that case, it wasn't.) Similarly, I stopped saving the randomly spawning damsels in distress because it wasn't worth the time. And the game never clarifies why I'd want to pursue the tedious "Mastery" challenges. I guess I'm the kind of gamer who needs to know what he's going to get out of his time spent; I shouldn't have to consult a FAQ for that information.

tacitus wrote: Its shocking

tacitus wrote:

Its shocking any developer would claim that save-game corruption cannot happen; thats very ignorant. There is a big difference between impossible and unlikely. I had a save game corruption issue on the first assassins creed. I am tired of company attitudes about how their special game should only have one save game slot. And they aren't the only ones; I won't play gas-powered games anymore because of a corrupted save game on Dungeon Seige 2. Yet another reason to avoid ubisoft games in the future.

I've spent far too many hours in my professional life trying to convince programmers "That's not how a REAL PERSON would ever use your software!" Programmers frequently don't think outside their narrow logic path. That particular guy is also a heavy gamer, though, so I think he was just being defensive about his baby. Whatever. It's a crappy save system no matter how you look at it.

(And for Mr. Naik: I know you aren't that kind of programmer. Take no offense.)

Good podcast

One of my favorite details is the crotch shot in Goldeneye. Not because its a crotch shot, but because they acknowledge the shot. Yeah, you can get twitch reactions to shots, but to be that specific was really great. Can you imagine running through COD4 and making the terrorists grab their privates? The fanboys shudder...

Hey Tim, the game actually

Hey Tim, the game actually does clarify what you get for the mastery challenges, at least somewhat. It tells you that you could get the Legend of the West outfit, in the menu.

Now the game doesn't specify what the outfit DOES, but it's called Legend of the West. Just the name itself made me go, "DO WANT."

Oh, and I didn't enjoy the Icarus sidequest either. For any subsequent playthroughs, I highly recommend just swallowing your pride and turning the cheats on. That way you don't have to go do any silly flower picking escapades to get an awesome black trench coat.

Yeah.

"I guess I'm the kind of gamer who needs to know what he's going to get out of his time spent;""

Yeah, I think that's a problem for a lot of people. Rockstar has a variety of quests, but the reward may not necessarily be worth the effort. In an RPG, for instance, you can usually altar the outcome of a given quests, or know what you will receive outright. For instance, I could be sent to fetch an item, but I return to the quest giver and refuse to turn over the item. I then kill the quest giver and rob his corpse. Rockstar needs to allow the player to interact with the story as much as the world., if that makes sense.

"""""Similarly, I stopped saving the randomly spawning damsels in distress because it wasn't worth the time. And the game never clarifies why I'd want to pursue the tedious "Mastery" challenges""""""

Yeah, these were simply meant to keep the player active and prevent the world from appearing barren. However, after the 200th attempt to steal my horse....Well......

Not played RDR, not planning

Not played RDR, not planning to either. Totally sick of the GTA format. It was great when it first came out, but the open world concept is getting a bit stale tbh. I'm actually starting to prefer tighter, more controlled environments that allow for directed story-telling and entertainment, rather than rely on emergent behaviour to generate the wow factor. ME2 Firewalker is the perfect example of how a specifically designed environment delivers more entertainment and bang for the buck than the fractally generated landscape of ME1.

ME2: LOTSB - fantastic. As mentioned above, I really believe that story driven, directed games are the way forward and ME2 delivers in spades. I love everything about the ME universe and this is an important, if a little short, add-on. Nice to see some closure on the Liara/ShadowBroker threads that were left hanging. Can't wait for number 3.

Infinite space - great concept. Execution severely lacking. Bad menu system, manual could do with extra info, and a bit unbalanced - how much do you have to grind just to get that corsair again? BUT strangely addictive and characterisation is good. I think the game will work much better on a system with a bit more oooph. Maybe the Wii - it deserves a well thought out port.

Final note: do you do transcripts? I rarely have the time and patience to sit through a pod cast.

Alv wrote: Not played RDR,

Alv wrote:

Not played RDR, not planning to either. Totally sick of the GTA format. It was great when it first came out, but the open world concept is getting a bit stale tbh. I'm actually starting to prefer tighter, more controlled environments that allow for directed story-telling and entertainment, rather than rely on emergent behaviour to generate the wow factor. ME2 Firewalker is the perfect example of how a specifically designed environment delivers more entertainment and bang for the buck than the fractally generated landscape of ME1.

The open world concept isn't stale. Its the Rockstar/GTA brand of open-world that is stale. From a pure game mechanics stand point, open worlds have existed before GTA and were also more sophisticated. Unfortunately, the market climate and popularity of GTA ensured that the developers would never stray too far from the formula. Sadly, franchise evolution is so much slower or in today's games.

Alv wrote:

Infinite space - great concept. Execution severely lacking. Bad menu system, manual could do with extra info, and a bit unbalanced - how much do you have to grind just to get that corsair again? BUT strangely addictive and characterisation is good. I think the game will work much better on a system with a bit more oooph. Maybe the Wii - it deserves a well thought out port.

Saying IS's "execution is severely lacking" is tad unfair. I think the general graphics, music and ship/character designs are all top notch for portable or otherwise. It relies on an archaic, but servicable PC-based menu system for these types of games, but I have yet to see someone do it better, so IS gets a pass from me in that regard.

I also think the way large-scale fleet battles are handled in terms of design/gameplay in concept/execution is simply brilliant. Think about how difficult it is to translate the idea of commanding multiple starships into something that most people can grasp that isn't an RTS and without it being a boring "fire" command. It's not perfect, but what it was able to present to the gamer deserves a lot of praise and I was entertained.

Alv wrote:

Final note: do you do transcripts? I rarely have the time and patience to sit through a pod cast.

Yes, we do, but you have to give our wonderful transcriber, Tera, some time to work it out.

IMHO, ME 2 does nothing

IMHO, ME 2 does nothing remotely new either. It's the same ole' "your choices affects the outcome", linear RPG. You follow a linear path (for the most part), are forced to make some crucial decisions, and, depending on your perspective, characters die and the outcome is altered. Games like that have been around for years. Only difference being that it's in space, the decisions are straightforward, and the action intense. Regardless, I still enjoyed the game.

Seems like Rockstar/GTA/RDR

Seems like Rockstar/GTA/RDR touched a nerve with some people. The commenters response has been disproportionately large, compared to how much of the show you devoted to it.
Rockstar seems to do that to people.
They excite some people, while baffling and frustrating others.

Alv wrote: Not played RDR,

Alv wrote:

Not played RDR, not planning to either. Totally sick of the GTA format. It was great when it first came out, but the open world concept is getting a bit stale tbh. I'm actually starting to prefer tighter, more controlled environments that allow for directed story-telling and entertainment, rather than rely on emergent behaviour to generate the wow factor. ME2 Firewalker is the perfect example of how a specifically designed environment delivers more entertainment and bang for the buck than the fractally generated landscape of ME1.

Fallout 3 is a great open world game. I wish there were more games like it.

You know how Fallout 3 did

You know how Fallout 3 did something right? It got old Fallout fans mad. It wasn't as bug ridden or unintentionally silly as Oblivion, nor did it feature that game's lack of consequences for your actions. I loved every minute of it. New Vegas needs to hurry up and get here.

I havent noticed anyplace in

I havent noticed anyplace in Fallout3 where your karma had any impact on the story, other than dad having a stern rebuff for you for destroying Megaton. "I can't believe you killed all those innocent people! Oh well, let's go turn on the generator and save the world", etc.

Well, the main story has

Well, the main story has never been the real focus in Fallout games. Exploration and side quests take up the most meat. Furthermore, the main quest in F3 is ridiculously short and it's game over after you complete it.

Also, I don't think they wanted to force the player to play a certain way, or similar to games like ME 2. In ME 2, depending on your actions, you'd essentially be forced to become good or evil. If you became too nice, eventually you'd lose the option to commit more "evil" acts. The same is true of some quests in Fallout 3, where certain options during conversation are removed if you're too evil, or you can't recruit a certain character because of your Karma. However, it's easier to redeem yourself in Fallout 3.

No it's badly executed.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

The open world concept isn't stale. Its the Rockstar/GTA brand of open-world that is stale.

As are the Bethesda open worlds eg Fallout 3 and Oblivion. The problem is 'Open Worlds' are never open, and once you work out the obvious limitations, the whole illusion is shattered.

I'm not a believer in relying on random occurences in an so-called open worlds to provide 'emergent' entertainment. I'd much rather have developers design and direct entertainment situations. Directors make entertainment. It's what directors get paid to do and it's high time the gaming industry starting giving this more attention. Give me Gears of War/Mass Effect any day over GTA/Fallout/Oblivion.

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

Saying IS's "execution is severely lacking" is tad unfair. I think the general graphics, music and ship/character designs are all top notch for portable or otherwise. It relies on an archaic, but servicable PC-based menu system for these types of games, but I have yet to see someone do it better, so IS gets a pass from me in that regard.

C'mon, you can't possibly be saying that a PC-based menu system is suitable for a Nintendo DS???? It's badly executed because the DS has 8 buttons, of which only 3 of which are ever used, and not in clever ways. The shoulder buttons (either one!! how thoughtful of them to consider the left handers....!) enable time to be sped up when travelling between planets but are totally redundant when docked. How many times were you wishing you could use the shoulder buttons so that you could compare various modifications to various ships without having to backtrack several menu layers?

Also it is never clear exactly how various ship modifications and ship personnel affect the performance of your fleet. It cannot be difficult to utilise another button to make these comparisons possible.

It is what it is. Badly executed. My 10-year nephew could have suggested better design decisions in it's menu system. The fancy graphics do not make up for this

Quests in Oblivion and Fallout 3 ..

Quote:

I'm not a believer in relying on random occurences in an so-called open worlds to provide 'emergent' entertainment. I'd much rather have developers design and direct entertainment situations. Directors make entertainment. It's what directors get paid to do and it's high time the gaming industry starting giving this more attention. Give me Gears of War/Mass Effect any day over GTA/Fallout/Oblivion.

Most of the quests in Oblivion and Fallout 3 follow scripted events, the same as Mass Effect 2. Enemies appear in the same numbers, and events transpire depending on your decisions. It's all script based. The only time you encounter random events is in the wilderness. I'd take such randomness over the resource gathering element in Mass Effect 2, or the millionth cloned mercenary base in Mass Effect 1 any day of the week.

Alv wrote: I'm not a

Alv wrote:

I'm not a believer in relying on random occurences in an so-called open worlds to provide 'emergent' entertainment. I'd much rather have developers design and direct entertainment situations. Directors make entertainment. It's what directors get paid to do and it's high time the gaming industry starting giving this more attention. Give me Gears of War/Mass Effect any day over GTA/Fallout/Oblivion.

I'm the exact opposite. I'll take Fallout/Oblivion over Gears (I don't know if I'd lump Mass Effect series with the Gears lot). What makes games unique and exciting to me is that the gamer can be or take part in being the director/author. When it comes to linear narratives, games will always be many steps behind movies and books in terms of drama and emotion.

Alv wrote:

C'mon, you can't possibly be saying that a PC-based menu system is suitable for a Nintendo DS???? It's badly executed because the DS has 8 buttons, of which only 3 of which are ever used, and not in clever ways. The shoulder buttons (either one!! how thoughtful of them to consider the left handers....!) enable time to be sped up when travelling between planets but are totally redundant when docked. How many times were you wishing you could use the shoulder buttons so that you could compare various modifications to various ships without having to backtrack several menu layers?

Also it is never clear exactly how various ship modifications and ship personnel affect the performance of your fleet. It cannot be difficult to utilise another button to make these comparisons possible.

It is what it is. Badly executed. My 10-year nephew could have suggested better design decisions in it's menu system. The fancy graphics do not make up for this

It's far more intuitive to have context-driven touch buttons than relying regular gamepad buttons and since the touch screen is basically a mouse-type interface, I don't agree that a PC menu system is inappropriate. The tetris-based grid of the ship customizations was brilliant and lot of fun to play around with. The combat system is very streamlined. Civilization had an novel-sized instruction manual to explain all the game's details. Does that mean the game is badly executed?

Are some of menus in IS a tad dense? Sure, but I would expect no less from an anime/sci-fi Star Trek-esque game. Like any game, IS has its fair share of flaws, but there's a lot of good content and some excellent design choices and until I see a better executed version of IS, I'm going to sing its praises more than its harp on its negatives.

Games claim drama and emotion throne

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

When it comes to linear narratives, games will always be many steps behind movies and books in terms of drama and emotion.

You really prefer to be the neutral observer, just a bystander, to being the main actor of the story who has to solve some puzzles, jump into safety, shoot the bad guy and rescue the princess, be the glorious hero?
The right in the middle viewpoint of games is an advantage to the most of the time distanced view in movies (occasionally shaky cam is used to get more immersion) and to books, were i-perspective is at least in my books not at all common.
I can understand when someone wants also to be the director, a second plus, where i prefer the professional to do that for me, but placing Max Payne, Mafia or Fahrenheit far behind Titanic, Deer Hunter or Pride&Prejudice and Fahrenheit 451 is something i definitely won't sign.

The best movies and books might still be in leading position but the games which wanted to play in drama and emotion league are close behind and while i can't see anything the old medias can improve (3d is awesome... not), games can for sure, especially considering that today many are simply done by mimicing movies in some ways. I guess the Cameron, Scorsese, Kubrick generation in games has still not come and games will always have the advantage of the unique player centered perspective.

crackajack wrote: You

crackajack wrote:

You really prefer to be the neutral observer, just a bystander, to being the main actor of the story who has to solve some puzzles, jump into safety, shoot the bad guy and rescue the princess, be the glorious hero?

I don't consider myself a bystander in open-world games. Its more like the "man with noname" senario where I can interject myself in the world as I see fit. I could choose to be a relatively passive bystander or I can be in the thick of the drama. I feel most empowered by the option.

Quote: You really prefer to

Quote:

You really prefer to be the neutral observer, just a bystander, to being the main actor of the story who has to solve some puzzles, jump into safety, shoot the bad guy and rescue the princess, be the glorious hero?

Just a bystander? In both Fallout 3 and Oblivion you are the central character in both games plots. Your decisions affect the lives of others and the world itself (more so in Fallout 3). How can such a role be diminished to being a neutral observer? I think you have it backwards.

For instance, in a game like Max Payne, I have no impact on the story or the events that transpire. I'm forced to follow the same story every time I play, there can be no deviation. It's simply shoot everything that moves and follow the corridor to the next level. In fallout 3 I can become a thief, murderer of innocents, computer genius; kung-fu expert, marksman, scientist, etc.

How is that simply being a "bystander?," particularly in comparison to a game like Max Payne, where I'm simply along for the ride?

Chi Kong Lui wrote: I don't

Chi Kong Lui wrote:

I don't consider myself a bystander in open-world games.

You were talking about the quality of drama and emotion in linear narrated games compared to movies and books.
Bystander, an inactive role, was of course meant for movies and books.

And you said linear narratives can't quality wise be put on the same level with movies and books.
Games can offer different experiences: either just main actor or also director (or just a game).
I understand when someone loves to be in charge of everything more than just the puppet on a string actor but this is imo great already, gives the narration impact, something the other medias can't offer, so they lack a, depending on the consumer, very important feature. So games are by default one step ahead in consumer immersion no matter how bad the narration in the end actually is.

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