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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 49: Gaming Tragedies

Tim Spaeth's picture

How many games have fallen short of greatness because of a single, fatal flaw? This week we look at gaming's most tragic failures. Plus, an actual argument breaks out before your very ears, and our thumbs get a workout in our new segment Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik, and Tim "Heat not Heart" Spaeth.

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About the save points, I

About the save points, I tend to agree with Mike. I don't think to be able to save anytime has ever taken away the challenge or the tension from the games I have played.

I also think that anyone who wants to get the most out of his game will naturally tend to save less in that it can ruin immersion.

Anyway, great and hilarious podcast (need I say it everytime?).


I just finished listening to the first segment about save points, and through the whole thing all I could think about was an angry developer responding in the same way Mike does: "I'll make my game with whatever save system I think is appropriate. If you don't like it, you don't have to play it"

I'm generally against the idea that all games should be this or include that. Shouldn't developers be free to make the game they want to make, without trying to cater to a mass audience (unless they want to)?

Driver series

For those wondering what happened to the Driver series, there is one in the works which should be releasing within a year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Driver:_San_Francisco

Listening to the first section again...

I do think on second thought that everyone has a point. Often it is also about common sense: of course you don't flank 2 save points on 1 hour tedious gaming interval...

By the way I have a question about Halo and Goldeneye because I have never played them, and also because I do think checkpoints are beneficial to some games.

Is Halo similar to Modern Warfare? Because I think the checkpoints in MW are justified in that they serve the pacing of the game. I also love that I can just forget about saving and focus on the action. Limbo's checkpoints also seemed to be appropriately placed for the same reason: I can just stay immersed within the game.

On the other hand I loved to play Hitman on the highest difficulty setting where you can only save in between missions for the same reason Chi mentioned with Goldeneye. But that's probably because the missions' nonlinear style make them less tedious/boring to start all over again.

User freedom is more important then gamer ego

I also have to agree with Mike, it is not even a point that I consider up for debate. Every game should allow you to save as often as you want and everywhere you want, no restrictions, no exceptions, complete freedom to the user. I'd even go a step further, add a God Mode into the option menu, no cryptic cheats, just click and be done with it. I'd say I consider this one of the main points why games are still not taken as serious as other media.

Just look at DVD or books. How would you feel about a DVD that only allows you to view it in one sitting, no fast forward, no rewind and no chapter select. How about a book (or eBook) that only allows you to go forward page by page, no skipping, no jumping around, just linear reading from start to finish. Sounds stupid? Yes, but that is exactly how many games are still build.

Many games still do not give you the freedom to explore them how you want and more importantly revisit them how you want. Want to see that interesting cutscene again? Have fun fighting that boss for half an hour again. It is really kind of ridiculous that this is still considered acceptable game design these days, as it adds nothing to the game, but takes away a lot of fun the users could have had.

All the counter arguments about challenge and stuff could easily be fixed by simple achievements or statistic tracking. I don't mind having a "played without using quicksave" achievement or an extra special hardcore mode that disables those.

It wouldn't even something fundamentally new. A ton of PC games to offer quicksave and games such as X-Wing or Strike Commander did have invulnerability straight up in the option menu. It didn't take away from the experience at all, but it was there when you might need it.

To argue from a plain practical point of view: I never stopped playing a game due to it offering quicksave, but there have been a ton of games I never finished because they didn't.

I COMPLETELY disagree. If

I COMPLETELY disagree. If every developer made games with a save anywhere option, then people like you would always miss out.Most people would miss out. Demon's Souls wouldn't have been half the game it was with a save anyhwere feature. No tension, no suspense, it would've been completely ruined. Its upto devs to resist our worst urges, and to sometimes force things on the player to enrich the experience. If a president only did what they thought would be popular, they'd be a horrible & irresponsible president.

Demon Souls would have been

Demon Souls would have been the same game -- because no one was forcing you to save every other step. You still control your experience. And what about the people who never finished Demon Souls because they got frustrated with the difficulty of the experience and couldn't make progress? Those are the people who missed out.

I mean, really, this isn't much different than letting players select their difficulty. The guy who plays on easy isn't getting the exact same experience as someone who plays on nightmare, but a lot of guys beat a game on easy or normal or whatever and still come away happy with the time they spent with Game X.

I think Grumbel said most of the things I didn't and should have. Games compete with a lot of other forms of entertainment and have become more mainstream. This is the time where they should be courting new players and bringing them into the fold and something like save anywhere, which allows players the freedom to pick up and play for a few minutes or a few hours and stop whenever they want makes them more inclusive.

The challenge is for developers to come up with new ways to make a game challenging aside from using the antiquated spacing of save points to create tension. It can be done.

Glad to see thoughtful discussion on this topic. I promise not to yell at anyone...I might swear though. :p

the beast is released

*running away from the Bracken*

Naturally, I totally

Naturally, I totally disagree with Gumbel and Mike. Like Tim said, having the ability to save on a whim in something like Super Meat Boy would be missing the point entirely. It's why I don't like mid-boss saves-a boss should be a task that needs to be completed all at once. If the boss is long enough to need save points, it's too long.

Furthermore, I don't think the movie-game comparison is valid, since as we've all heard before, movie watching is a passive activity whereas playing a game requires some sort of skill. Being able to stop anywhere in a movie doesn't matter because watching it doesn't require the viewer to do anything other than hit the play button.

As far as the ego argument goes, personally I could not care less about what people think I do in single player games. I hate achievements. It breaks immersion whenever the achievement unlocked thing comes up, and I couldn't tell you which ones I have off the top of my head. I've never cared about impressing people with my performance unless it's some sort of online competitive game (I.E., Team Fortress 2) where outdoing other players is the whole point.

All that said, the suspension save should be standard feature on all game systems. I shouldn't be punished if I need to go do something, and as long as it can't be abused it's fine.

So commence swearing I guess :P

Great podcast guys, it was

Great podcast guys, it was fun to listen to the fiery debate and infotainment.

With the save issue, personally I think it depends. If Demon Souls had a universal save system, the incentive to train and hone your controller skills will probably diminish. With such a save feature, you could easily fluke your progress through the levels, saving each time you find a rest point.

Even if you were the most gifted player, I'd believe you'd still resort to saving on the go because of the inherent difficulty of Demon Souls. A save point at anytime, in a game with a high level of difficulty, is a huge sell even for the best players.

Demon's Souls allows to step away from the game

Interesting fact that not many seem to realize about Demon's Souls: if you quit the game somewhere in the middle of the level (not during a fight, since it's a bit difficult to open the menu which doesn't pause the game at that point) it actually saves your progress. I noticed that some weeks ago when I had to step away from the game because of real-life issues and quit it in the middle of a level. When I restarted the game I was at the same spot I left it. If even Demon's Souls allows you to quit where you want and return to the game where you left it, what's the reason not having this option in every game?

I am with Mike on this topic: you should be able to leave the game whenever you want and be able to save wherever you want. PC games have quicksave/quickload in singleplayer since decades and it doesn't destroy the experience. After all it's your choice if you want to quicksave every 5 seconds or not. And if someone want's to quicksave every step of the way it's his (or her) choice. His (her) experience might or might not be the same you have if you don't have the qs/ql-functions bound to your left and right mouse buttons, but that's up to personal preference.

Yesterday I was playing a bit Alpha Protocol and it didn't allow me to save where I want. I had to leave the house because I met some friends at the local pub and thanks to the checkpoint-madness in modern games I lost some progress now. In this game you do quite a lot of sneaking. So am I forced to do the sneaking I already did AGAIN just because I have something resembling a social life beside gaming? It's not that the sneaking is especially challenging - with the character build I'm using now it's really easy - it just has to be done and this evening I have to do the section again for no good reason.

Since we're at it: why are there so few games that allow you to pause (often unskippable) cutscenes? If you force me to watch your lackluster story because it's so important, allow me at least to check the door when the pizza delivery is coming.

Li-Ion wrote: what's the

Li-Ion wrote:

what's the reason not having this option in every game?

I think one of the main reason is simply that it requires quite a bit of time and effort to implement correctly, which is why even games that allow you to save almost everywhere, still forbid it in certain situations (can't save in cutscenes, can't save when character is in the mid of a dialog, etc.).

The NintendoDS doesn't have that issue as it never has to store the save, it just keeps the content in the RAM, so that feature comes for free without extra effort on the software side. Similar things could of course also be done for the big consoles and one could also do it brute force and just dump the RAM content to the drive, but that would mean savegames that are in the hundreds of Megabyte, not practical for a general quicksave system, but probably good enough for the suspend-save that the NintendoDS does.

The cutscene handling in games is indeed weird, its probably just a left over from the days where people cared less about user interface design that nobody really bothered to fix yet, but it seems to slowly get better. There are many games that allow you to pause the cutscene and most now also ask for confirmation before skipping it. Still, I don't think I have ever seen a rewind function in a cutscene.

And as response to Richard: Yes, quick saving everywhere in SuperMeetBoy or other arcade games would change the experience, as it would spare you all the practice and pattern memorization, but nobody would force you to use it and, probably more important, I might not want that original experience in the first place. Just because an experience works for some people doesn't mean it works for all, sometimes I just want to get through the content of a game and be done with it and not be forced to practice and replay things over and over again till I have mastered them.

For example the main reason why I haven't yet bought Demon Souls (and maybe never will) is that I absolutely hate punishing game mechanic such in that game where you lose all your souls when you die twice. Would I get a different experience with quicksave? Maybe, maybe I wouldn't because I don't feel the need to use it. At the moment I simply get no experience from the game at all as I don't own it.

And there are of course more extreme examples, different people play games differently and here is a video of a blind gamer playing Abe's Exoddus and the reason he can do that, aside from the sound design, is because the game offers a quicksave.

Speaking of Abe

Speaking of Abe, I'm ashamed to admit I have recently played and given up on the first episode (though I finish the second one) at some point just because I was tired of repeating the same level over 30 times. Funny thing is, even if a quick save was implemented, I don't think I would even have had the time and speed to press on it.

All in all, an excellent game though, and I do intend to play it again and finish it, damn it. And yes, I remember distinctively the sound design was excellent.

gaming tragedies: Alpha Protocol, Vampire: Bloodlines

I'm currently playing Alpha Protocol and I want to put it on the list of great gaming tragedies. The premise of playing as spy sounds great. The game seems bursting with ideas and the story and writing are (so far) pretty good.

There is only one big problem: the game is not finished. When playing AP it becomes clear that developer Obsidian ran out of time or money or both. Glitches and bugs are scattered all over the place. None of them really breaks the game, but they always pull you out of the experience somehow and are sometimes just annoying. This could have become THE spy game. A game that makes Sam Fisher, James Bond and Jason Bourne jealous.

Unfortunately it isn't and it reminds me a bit on Vampire: Bloodlines, Troika's swan song and one of my all time favorite games. Rushed out of the door before it was ready and thus not living up to the potential.

I played through Bloodlines 4 times already, the first time without any of the fan-patches. And I'm someone who can count the games I played through a second time one one hand. Maybe Bloodlines was too ambitious. I'm glad they tried but sad the studio had to close down as a result.

My thoughts in chronological

My thoughts in chronological order.

-I generally agree with Brad, but I really liked EDF 2017. Some parts were shoddy: the jumping was terrible, spiders looked cool but their web attacks were cheap, and vehicles were a bust, etc... but any game where you start out with an infinite ammo rocket launcher and can crumble even the largest skyscrapers in a single shot (complete with vanishing rubble) is a good time in my book. It even worked well from a gameplay standpoint having to clear the way. It's especially fun co-op, btw.

-The way Brad talks about GunValkyrie is exactly how I felt about Mirror's Edge. Played through it to completion, didn't like it, then got motivated to give it another try and played through the entire game a second time waiting for it to click, but it never did. Also the combat and custscenes suck, so there's that.

-I just wanted to throw out that I totally agree with Tim about collecting orbs in Crackdown. In a vacuum it's not a very fun activity -- as is why I never went for 100% after beating the main game -- but in the context of the campaign it was my favorite thing to do. Figuring out how to get to them was fun in and of itself, imo, and it would frequently lead me to skirmishes that I would have otherwise never engaged in. And while it wasn't brought up specifically, I liked the lack of story in Crackdown. The story was in the setting and I thought it did a great job at portraying a Robocop-esque totalitarian society and found the core gameplay a hoot. Rarely have I been so outraged by a GC podcast as when "The Bracken" called it a tech demo (but that's okay. We can still be friends).

-Tim's right about Super Paper Mario not being memorable, but I recall liking it and don't remember the town as being a sticking point at all. IIRC it was a pretty small hub world with secrets that were gradually uncovered and not bad for what it was. That being said, I also remember the game being too talky in general and it ruining the flow. Though the story of Bleumere and Timpany was quite good.

-If I had to pick two gamesas my tragedies it would be Brutal Legend and Epic Mickey for similar reasons. They both have great worlds, characters, stories, atmosphere, music, etc... but both fall victim to some questionable game design and rough mechanics. I'll still defend these games for what they were, but neither are the masterpieces they should have been.

Jeffrey, I'm glad we can

Jeffrey, I'm glad we can still be friends. I stand by my assessment that Crackdown is basically a tech demo masquerading as a game (albeit a really interesting tech demo), but I know a lot of folks who really dig it.

For some reason, it never clicked with me -- even though I stuck it out til the end.

save a tree!

real life interference save

save anywhere anytime
ok with me, even in Super Meat Boy while jumping.
Of course it changes the experience, but if someone doesn't like to replay the first 17 jumps because he made those a bazillion times already just can't get the final one right: what's the point in forcing someone replaying something he has already done more than once? That's not satisfying him in the way it does players that were able to do it on their thirtieth try. At the end it makes him stop to play at all.

Depending on the game i'd say just couple the save possibilities with the difficulty setting. Make a tutorial that manages to give an idea what you are able to do and what waits for you (COD4 did that quite well) or let the player unlock those harder settings right in the beginning. If he is able to. (completing a game and then unlock hard when it's to easy from start to end? seriously?) You choose hard, you lock away the temptation of saving anywhere in easy or in medium where you'd have e.g. a limited number of saves.
The game should as soon as possible identify the appropriate maximum settings for each player.
It's not myself who should adjust the difficulty of a game to be playable, it's his job to offer a sort of smooth, enjoyable and satisfying experience depending on my initial choice and on my capabilities.

Allowing ultraeasy "press start to win" for those who want or really need such settings, why not, offering a polished experience with strict rules on hard for those who are able and want to, job of the developers/betatesters.

Mirrors Edge without figthing. Where can i get it?
Disliked also the sort of precise and at the same time not animations. If i got the idea of euphoria engine right this is necessary to get a great first person parkour game. The character has to adapt absolutely fluid to the environment.
In PoP it's not that important, you can hide details quite good, but when you see your own hands the animation system has to be flexible.

I liked the cutscenes. Of course they where not in unreal ingame engine but the comics of Max Payne weren't either. CGIs for WoW ads have hardly anything to do with the game if i'm not completely wrong.
I like it when a game has one style but i like it also when it's not monolithic. And ME had already this interesting clear, cold but colorful ingame graphics which was fresh for the imo very boring usual Unreal engine visuals and this extra layer of not using Unreal standard (which is imo ingame cutscenes) goes with it.

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