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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 50: The State of Game Criticism, Dead Island Mania

Tim Spaeth's picture

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.

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Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3  
Series: Dead Island  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Horror  
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Loved the podcast until...

Loved the podcast until a certain point, Sam Marchello seems to be doing a "my opinion is right, deal with it" mentality, however, she fails to take a lot of things into consideration.

First of all, calling the 3rd Birthday sexist after playing Ar Tonelico 3 (which features actual stripping of girls) is kind of weird. Both are equally offensive to my senses.

Second of all, I thought her opinions regarding game reviews were spot on until she started taking shots at competitor sites, and those opinions should be taken with a grain of salt as she leaves out important information.

As an example, she claims that RPGFan scores games around 20% higher than other sites. This is true, but you also have to consider their grading scale (which operates where anything below 70 is failing, 70-79 is average, 80-89 is good/decent, 90-100 is excellent), while RPGamer goes with the traditional 5/10 (or 2.5/5) is average. The fact that she does not take these differences into consideration and proceeds to attack a rival site without even considering mutual differences hurts her credibility.

Otherwise, a good podcast.

Discussion of child imagery, christian themes

I thought the discussion of child imagery was excellent- GOOD discussion, and likewise agree Dead Island has fated itself probably to obscurity.

I enjoyed Sam Marchello's presence (NICE TO HEAR A FEMALE VOICE ON THE GC PODCAST FR RLZ), I did think her comments about the Xtian themed game could have been more pointed. It sounded like she didnt like it because it had Xtian themes, rather than because the injection of them hamstrung the gameplay or story. My question for her would be something like: how does West differ from a game like Xenogears, that had Xtian imagery and thematic license all over it yet retained its own unique narrative?

I thought the discussion of game scores and disingenuous reviews was good. Scores I think in general, ARE too high- Including RPGamers score for FFXIII, btw. ;)

Destructoid maintains a rating class for each of its score points. It would be interesting to see this site do something similar. I think it's definitely true that a 10 should be a hypothetical review score, and really, one that should be awarded years later, in hindsight. Revolutionary not only in its gameplay but in its ability to touch on social themes, and redefine entertainment in a new way.

A 9 should be as good as games get today. A 9, to me, is Half Life 2. An 8, held back from being a nine by some issue not related to mechanics, but design. Heavy Rain, to me, is an 8. It brings some great things to the table, but in a way that many people won't like.

So should then a 7 be 'average'?

I worry there's this standard that 'average' should be graded on a curve; ie - slightly above average in execution but mediocre in quality (GOOD BUT UNINSPIRED) - but doesn't that standard put a bottleneck into review scores? A gray area where people aren't really finding their opinion of something, not like or dislike. Is that laziness? Are reviewers unwilling to dig into their prejudices and attractions for certain material? I prefer a reviewer who can assess a game as being middle of the road and really lay into it for not being a better game. Borderlands to me, was exactly that kind of game. Given alot of 8s and 9s, shouldve been given a 6. It was derivative, repetitious, empty, and only worth playing online.

To me a 7 game should be FUN to play, a 7 should not be UN-FUN, but probably forgettable, and definitely derivative. Or a great concept with some weak gameplay.

Split/Second to me is a 7. So is Nier.

A 6 is where rough gameplay issues gain strength and anything below would be the domain of broken gameplay or gameplay so single minded as to be grating and insipid..

A perfect 5? Watchmen: The End is Nigh.

The 1 should also be a hypothetical, a game so bad that it literally gains cult status the moment it appears..
ET The Extraterrestrial.

I really liked the music by RandomRob, btw. He's one of my favorite electronic artists and I dug the kudos you guys gave him. Thank you!

:D

Just a quick comment... I

Just a quick comment...

I agree with you on the 10s, Rob. It's long been part of why I've never given a game a 10 during the almost ten years I've written for GameCritics (wow, almost ten years...my life is flying by).

I think a 10 works for something after the fact -- like years down the road. I've never entirely subscribed to the 10 is perfect and nothing can ever be perfect therefore nothing gets a 10 mentality, but instead tend to think of it in the same way you do.

Hey Rob

First off, it was a pleasure to be on the podcast. I admit my performance wasn't perfect (I'm a touch mad at myself for a few things).

First off, I was totally in the camp that thought we scored FF13 too high, but we did somehow negate that with a second opinion review that appeared a few months later with a 3/5. That's where I feel the game hits for me personally, but again some folks like things more than others, and even I can admit that's a moment where our scoring wasn't perfect. I find scoring in general to be such a pain that half the time I just don't want to bother with it. Still, if seven/eight continues to be the average, there will be a mess of problems in the future where we will finally discredit ourselves so badly that we'll be able to never take ourselves seriously.

As for your question about Xenogears, I've never actually played the game (I've got it on my shelf though!) so whenever I get around to it, I'll gladly come back and answer your question. West just made me feel so uncomfortable as someone who isn't religious nor Xtian. I know Xtians who also played the game who also said it was such a wrong depiction of what they believe, but I'm in the camp that is almost always uncomfortable when religion is presented in games. I'm lame, what can I say.

By the way, Rob, you track was awesome. I quite enjoyed it!

Hi RPG Lover, First off, I

Hi RPG Lover,

First off, I never had credibility to begin with. I feel bad about mentioning RPG Fan, but at the sameitme there scoring system has never made much sense to me. I know they use an American standard system, but in Canada, those percentage scores mean something completely different, which for me is hard to process sometimes. I'm not saying our scoring system is perfect, because it's not. But I admitted to my confusion with RPGFan because I sincerely sometimes wonder where they're scores come from when I see 80% for a game where they bash something so hard. To me that doesn't make a lot of sense, especially when I then compare it on our scale. If I came across as rude, then I apologize completely as that's not my intentions. Especially considering that yes, I work for the competitor, but we've been on friendly terms with them for years, and I love some of their writers, even if I don't necessarily agree with how they score.

I also believe everyone should take reviewers in genral with a grain of salt. I never said my opinions were perfect, nor did I say my opinion is right. I am a blunt person, so if it comes across that way, then I'm sorry, but I'm not right. This just happens to be a subject I'm passionate on because I'm working towards trying to become a better reviewer myself, and when I see these types of slip ups from professionals (which I do not consider myself to be), I'm curious as to why.

And the 3rd Birthday is sexist. Ar tonelico is also sexist. But I'd rather play Ar tonelico which at least doesn't try to be anything more than it is, than play the 3rd Birthday where it attempts to be a snuff film most of the way through.

Again, I'm sorry if you don't like the things I have to say. Hell, I don't like the things I have to say. But I knew I wasn't going to please everyone. If I was offensive, I'm sorry, as that was never my attention.

Excellent episode. Loved

Excellent episode. Loved that Tim says at the beginning of the pilot that they should change their name. Fifty episodes later and it is still "Gamecritics.com poscast".
Is was nice to hear a female voice for a change. Not to be sexist (don't want the wrath of Sam Marchello to come upon me), but it breaks up the monotony.

I don't know if you talked about this in a previous show since I'm a fairly new listener, but Sam brought up some interesting points about ethics and ideology on gaming. Both in the sense of engaging ethically reprehensible themes (like sexism) and in promoting and ideology or religion. I know there's a RTS based on the Left Behind books in which you must convert or destroy the enemies of God (muslims, hindus, catholics, atheists, agnostics, and basically everyone that is not a True Christian(tm), I guess). I've also heard that it is a horribly broken game... but it raises the issue. How much ideology are you willing to accept in games? How much unethical behaviour is acceptable? And how does it affects your reviews?
If you ever touch on this, I would be vary interested in hearing Sam elaborating on her ideas since she appears to have a very strong opinion about it.

@RandomRob and @Mike

Mike Bracken wrote:

Just a quick comment...

I agree with you on the 10s, Rob. It's long been part of why I've never given a game a 10 during the almost ten years I've written for GameCritics (wow, almost ten years...my life is flying by).

I think a 10 works for something after the fact -- like years down the road. I've never entirely subscribed to the 10 is perfect and nothing can ever be perfect therefore nothing gets a 10 mentality, but instead tend to think of it in the same way you do.

RandomRob wrote:

A 9 should be as good as games get today. A 9, to me, is Half Life 2. An 8, held back from being a nine by some issue not related to mechanics, but design. Heavy Rain, to me, is an 8. It brings some great things to the table, but in a way that many people won't like.

Personally, I don't think a 10 is anything special. It's just the highest possible score one can give. I'm not saying that there are tons of games that I would give 10s (there aren't) and I certainly agree with the notion that the 10 and other high scores are applied way too liberally.

However, a 10 is not sacred. If a game measures up to the standards I have for my highest possible recommendation, I'm not at all shy about bestowing a 10 on it.

10s

Richard, I was coming from the point of view of looking at a game like MGS4 or GTA4, both of which received 10 scores from various sites, yet does either game raise the bar for anything other than presentation? I'd say NO, strongly.

What game would I give a 10? I can't think of one.

RandomRob wrote: Richard, I

RandomRob wrote:

Richard, I was coming from the point of view of looking at a game like MGS4 or GTA4, both of which received 10 scores from various sites, yet does either game raise the bar for anything other than presentation? I'd say NO, strongly.

What game would I give a 10? I can't think of one.

One of the few modern games that I gave a 10 to was the first NBA2K. It was so far ahead of any basketball game up to that point that thought it was by far and away a 10.

I also found it hilarious in episode zero Bracken talks about how he hates playing the Tales games, but he still plays them. 50 episodes later, he's still doing the same thing with Final Fantasy XIII.

10 without hesitation

RandomRob wrote:

What game would I give a 10? I can't think of one.

Oh, I can tell you what games I would give a 10 without hesitation:

UFO: Enemy Unknown (the best game I ever played - period)

Master of Orion 2 (took Civilization to space and made it so much better)

Demon's Souls (in my opinion the best game of this console generation)

Mechwarrior 2 (everytime I step into any vehicle in any action game or action-sim I instinctively compare it to Mechwarrior 2, which is still my reference point after all these years)

Day of the Tentacle (in my opinion the pinnacle of adventure games)

The Secret of Monkey Island (Do I really need to explain? Look behind you, a three-headed monkey!)

Red Baron (I can't recall a flightsim that managed to balance pseudo-realism and fun that well)

There are a couple of other games that come close to a 10 for me, like System Shock 2, Monkey Island 2, Civilization 2 or Deus Ex.

Great podcast chaps, and

Great podcast chaps, and some excellent topics of discussion.

I just wanted to highlight something I think maybe Mike said which was that he doesn't like gamers in general, and that they get so overenthusiastic about trailers like Dead Island because they simply haven't experienced films, television or literature properly. I completely agree with this, and it is unfortunately a trend in gaming for people to just assume what they're seeing/playing is something special, when in reality it isn't. Aside from the Dead Island trailer - which did absolutely nothing for me, by the way (I'm actually surprised it got so popular since it's so ironically obvious why it would be popular, but whatever, that's gamers for you) - games like BioShock, or Mass Effect constantly get praised for story, yet they are both nothing spectacular, so I can only assume the people saying such things have basically never read a book, or watched a good film. Meh.

Also, on the 10/10 discussion, here's my view: Since perfection is impossible, to my mind, a 10/10 should merely mean a game that achieves what it sets out to do superbly, while also displaying a general game design that reaches the absolute pinnacle of what's possible. Good examples, for me, are Mario 64, Mario Galaxy, Okami, Ocarina of Time, or even Wind Waker; each of these games have flaws, so aren't perfect, but do what they do to such a magnificent degree that full recognition is deserved. These are games that you can genuinely look back on and still appreciate for their superb design. Unfortunately, with the way 10/10s work today, my idea of the score and meaning simply doesn't exist. Coming from what I said earlier - too many reviewers lack the experience to know something genuinely superb, and so abuse 10/10 for something as throwaway as, say, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. That's a shame.

Interestingly, I remember Richard scored Dragon Age Origins a 10 so I'm looking forward to what he will make of the sequel, perhaps for the same reasons I enjoyed Brad's review of Mass Effect 2. ;-)

Just some random thoughts

Just some random thoughts that came up while listening to this (extremely entertaining!) podcast. Feel free to ignore them:

- Good choice, Sam! It's always hard to come up with only 1 game as a representative of an entire genre, especially one as wide as RPGs, but Valkyrie Profile is a very nice choice indeed. Can't complain about that. Me, I would've chosen Xenoblade probably. You guys are in for a treat if that ever gets localized.

- I totally agree on a lot of gamers (not all of them obviously) being dense. And you don't even have to visit hell-holes like the Gamefaqs/Gametrailers forums. It's all over more "respected" sites like Kotaku as well.
As a 31-year old it's hard not to shout "get off my lawn" at a large percentage of the gaming population, for a variety of reasons.

I think one of the main reasons the Dead Ris...sorry, Island, trailer is so popular is because it kinda breaks one of the few taboos that videogames still have left. A lot of gamers want their favorite pastime to be judged on the same level as movies and books, and yet movies and books can get and have gotten away with pretty much everything so far, where there are still some things in videogames that are considered inappropriate, implying that games should be judged on some different level than all other media and, dare I say it, art.
One of these things is violence aimed at children. Children have died in games before, but it tends to be a non-violent death, and it is never actually depicted. Dead Somethingorother shows the death of a little girl in full gory detail, which some people are seeing as the next step in the "maturing" of videogames, no matter how misguided that may be.

One other thing would be sex, as in, ACTUAL sex instead of just skimpy, revealing outfits. BioWare and Quantic Dream have tried to tackle the subject (although Silent Hill 2 probably deals with it most mature of all), but it's still very much a taboo.
Another upcoming game looks to break that taboo as well: Atlus's Catherine, and trailers for that game have caused a similar stir in the easily impressed. (I'm happy to say, though, that Catherine is actually completely devoid of sex and actually has a proper, fairly mature story).

- YES! Super Adventure Island! Go Yuzo Koshiro!

- Are people seriously adjusting their reviews because the publishers threaten not to send them free copies anymore!?
That's pathetic! Games aren't THAT expensive, surely you can just buy them yourselves if it means maintaining your integrity!?

- 3rd Birthday is the biggest mangling of female protagonists since Metroid: Other M.
The game itself isn't that interesting either, although it has some good boss fights.
Also, you can fix Aya's clothes at a terminal. They don't restore automatically, so that explains how you could start a new chapter half-naked.

- Oh my God, Leisure Suit Larry... Your choice of music is so awesome!

I'm happy to see so many

I'm happy to see so many great comments on this podcast.

I'm gonna respond to like ten things, so apologies if I don't mention you by name.

I can totally relate to the "get off my lawn" thing. I've struggled for years to figure out how to articulate my disdain for most of my gaming brethren without coming off as either an elitist or ageist person, and I still haven't really figured out how to do it. I always tell people I'm glad the Internet wasn't around when I was 20 -- because I'd hate to have all of my stupid ill-informed opinions on everything chronicled for all of eternity. I shudder to think of having a permanent record of some of my beliefs readily available to anyone who can use a search engine.

And that's my problem with a lot of gamers and even some of my peers in the field. I don't mean it to be a blanket statement, but a lot of these guys haven't spent enough time studying and learning about the thing they love so much. This is especially true in gaming, where we're all constantly marching forward and anything old has "shitty graphics" or "outdated gameplay" and therefore isn't worth playing.

There are, of course, exceptions -- but the reaction to things like Dead Island just point out how shallow and easily manipulated a lot of us are. I'm not saying it's wrong to like the trailer -- I liked it well enough, but the hyperbole that surrounds everything in the industry (everything is either BEST. EVAR. or Epic Fail) gets really grating.

On the subject of 10s -- I don't expect everyone to subscribe to the same philosophy of the 10. I just don't dole them out lightly because my personal belief is that we should save them for games that truly transcend what's come before.

I really hope Xenoblade makes it here -- would love to finally play it since I hear nothing but praise for it.

Chi -- I've at least managed, so far, to stop torturing myself with Tales games. Final Fantasy will be a much tougher nut to crack.

Personal 10s

Here are some of my personal 10s. In no particular order:

The Longest Journey
Dragon Age: Origins
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Team Fortress 2
Super Mario Galaxy
Chrono Trigger

10s

My opinion on 10s (or 5/5s on my site) is that you'd darn well better be willing to give them out just the same as you would a 1 or you're not using the whole scale, just the lower part.

I've not done near the reviews of those here on staff, but out of my almost 100 reviews, I've given two 1/5s and two 5/5s. I don't consider 5/5 to be a perfect game (and we don't label it as such), just an amazing one.

@Michael

Yeah, exactly. There is no perfect, just "this is a great game and I recommend it as highly as I can".

3rd Birthday

Sam wrote:

And the 3rd Birthday is sexist. Ar tonelico is also sexist. But I'd rather play Ar tonelico which at least doesn't try to be anything more than it is, than play the 3rd Birthday where it attempts to be a snuff film most of the way through.

Great job on the podcast by everyone involved! Some really mature debate there - a nice change to what a lot of other gaming podcasts offer.

I am definately interested in hearing more of Sam's opinion of the 3rd Birthday though. 'Snuff film'? Did we even play the same game? I finished it twice back when it came out and don't really see what this comment is referring to.
As for the clothing/damage thing - I agree it was a silly system which pandered to the mean gamer average age in Japan (ie, mid-teens). However, it was possible to heal Aya's at ANY computer terminal throughout the game for a tiny fraction of the amount of points the player got from defeating the previous stage - doing so also restored the outfits defence rating, so by not doing so you were basically playing the game wrong. More than that, I personally felt compelled to repair Ayas outfit after each level. Choosing not to do so is something I really cannot fathom - Sam, any clarification as to why you chose to play the game this way?

And while I agree, the game can be considered sexist (although the depowerment of Aya's character IS explained at the games end), I often wonder whether it's acceptable to apply such Western values when reviewing a game from a foreign culture? Keep in mind that the Women's Lib movement died on the grapevine here in Japan back in the 70's, things like gender equality and sexual harassment are things that are not only a part of the culture, they are also things that get fun poked at them by the mainstream media. Then again, since you are reviewing (Im presuming) the US release, then perhaps the more US-centric take on the game is a valid one. Either way, perhaps this is a topic for another podcast?

Speaking of which, for a somewhat different take on the 3rd Birthday, I recommend the lates Out-cast podcast from Tokyo: http://theoutcastpodcast.blogspot.com/2011/02/out-cast-episode-15-3rd-birthday.html

On a final note, Ill be interested to hear what the GamesCritics crew thinks of Catherine - I'm halfway through it and have to say that it depicts adult relationships pretty damn well imo. I hope they manage to keep the nuances to the dialogue, should Atlus decide to dub it.

Anonymous wrote: Keep in

Anonymous wrote:

Keep in mind that the Women's Lib movement died on the grapevine here in Japan back in the 70's, things like gender equality and sexual harassment are things that are not only a part of the culture, they are also things that get fun poked at them by the mainstream media.

Sorry, that should read 'these are things that are not only NOT a part of the culture...'
Thanks!

I can't believe you gave

I can't believe you gave Dragon Age: Origins a 10. You can save anywhere in it outside of combat. I thought for sure that would knock it down to at least an 8. :p

I'd give Crystal Renn a 10

I'd give Crystal Renn a 10 for making plus size sexy.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_YTxbRMzpLmc/THfJKj0Gl8I/AAAAAAAADSY/CWJGS2YwW3w/s1600/crystal-renn-harpers-bazaar.jpg

Review scores

I am still listening to the podcast but with regards to reviews i think using a scale of 1-5 has better chances of being used fully compared to say out of 100.

Although inevitably this means that it's more difficult to distinguish great games from good games it should allow for a more uniform way of giving out scores.

The way things stand 1-60% is barely used at all. Of course there is no guarantee that reviewers will not just rate everything between 3-5.

Great Podcast

First of I wanna say that I still stand by my Final Fantasy XIII review! Still!

Anyway, I think the problem with the response to Dead Island isn't just with gamers. People are suckers for sentimentality, and the combination of a cute, white girl dying in reverse to melodramatic music, followed by a touching scene with her parents is honestly all it takes for most people melt.

By contrast, I just picked up Knight's Contract, and in the opening video there are a couple of especially gruesome, obviously exploitative child deaths right there. I can say with complete confidence that there is no way that the Knight's Contract intro would get half the attention of Dead Island's trailer. Like Chi said, it's not just about dead kids.

I'm not defending the trailer, but maybe I am defending gamers. The over enthusiastic hyperbole isn't something they (we?) invented. It's in every corner of the internet, from Xena fandom to competitive quilting.

As for scores, I'm with Richard on this one. I think 10 is an important, dangerous number, but not a sacred one, and purposefully avoiding it kind of turns 9 into the new 10 anyway. More important than protecting the chastity of the 10 is learning to utilize the 1-6. If reviewers allowed themselves to freely stretch across the full number spectrum, I think that would take a lot of the burden of perfection off of the 10.

Sam, play Xenogears! It's long, and difficult and flawed, but it's also beautiful and--in a lot of ways--the pinnacle of RPG narrative, even today. I think it's one of those works that as a serious critic of a medium (in this case, RPGs) absolutely must be familiar with. Not to mention it's a good example of Christian themes in games, and that's something I'd love to see more of when done right. I'm saying this as someone who converted to Christianity at 10 (wasn't raised that way!) and then moved away from it in my teens.

3rd Birthday

Should I call Gears of War "sexist" since it only features only "alpha male" characters that are "bros" who enjoy killing mutant aliens. Bleh.

Sorry, but in reverse to Sam's comments about 3rd Birthday, I don't like sensitive reviewers. Strongly disagree with Sam's thoughts on 3rd Birthday, since the gameplay ITSELF is good. If you concentrate so hardly on the story sucking, fine, but the gameplay is the best action game for PSP, bar none. If I concentrated hard on the storyline for Resident Evil 4, then I'd hate that game also, since it's just blockbuster storyline with no depth at all, really trashy and silly. But the gameplay is so phenomenally good and well designed, then I can forgive the crap story.

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