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.
Tim Spaeth: Like a wagon train to your heart, it's the GameCritics.com podcast, show number 49. The square root is seven. I'm Tim Spaeth. Let me tell you something; I love you. Let's welcome the cast.
Let's welcome the cast. It's founder and owner, Chi Kong Lui.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey, how's it going, Tim? I love you, too.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] Senior editor, Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, guys. Let's just be friends right now, okay?
Tim Spaeth: Horror geek, Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: I'm like a wagon train to you eardrums.
Tim Spaeth: Mm. Man of action, Richard Naik.
Richard Naik: [unknown], everyone.
Tim Spaeth: And that to you, as well. Folks, our main event this week: tragic games. Games that could have been, probably should have been much better than they were, if not for a critical or fatal flaw. It should be a lively discussions packed with the negativity you've come to expect from us. We also have a new segment. It's called "Thumbs up; thumbs down." We'll do that at the end of the show. But first, it's time for our Quote of the Week. [Singing] Sound effect.
Now, we always start the show with a quote of the week, except we haven’t done it in six months. The way this works, my assistant Filipe brings me a sealed envelope. Here he comes now. Inside this envelope, a quotation from a member of the gaming media or industry at large. We will read and comment on the quote, and none of us, including myself, are privy to its contents. I will open it now.
All right, here we go. This week's quote comes from the Twitter website, and the Tweeter is our friend Doc Brown. Doc Brown, of course, the co-host of the Gaming the Media podcast. Does anyone know what Doc Brown is a doctor of?
Brad Gallaway: It's not a medical thing; it's a scientific thing, I'm pretty sure.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: Yeah, he's some sort of researcher.
Mike Bracken: He's always talking about "the lab."
Tim Spaeth: The lab. He's not a [medical] doctor.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: It's important. We love Doc Brown; he's a funny guy, he's a creative guy, and this is his quote. He says: "I need every game to allow me to save anytime, anywhere. I'm an adult. I can't wait until the next checkpoint." That is his quote. We thank you, Doc Brown. I'll edit this out—did anyone hear a horse neighing behind me?
Richard Naik: I did hear that, actually.
Tim Spaeth: That's one of my kids' toys that just went off spontaneously.
Mike Bracken: Nice. A little paranormal activity at your house.
Tim Spaeth: Very strange. One of those magnet puzzles where you put the horse with the magnet, and then you put it in and then it neighs. You probably have that Melissa and Doug puzzle. It just went off on its own. All right.
Mike Bracken: Freaky.
Tim Spaeth: Anyway, so that's our quote. Now we had a very minor version of this discussion on Twitter when Doc made this quote. Let me open the floor to you fine gentlemen. Do any of you disagree with Doc? I imagine it would be very hard to disagree with Doc, but does anyone have a dissenting opinion here?
Richard Naik: I disagree with about one third of that statement. The exact quote was, I believe: "I should be allowed to save any time, anywhere." Actually, now that I think about it, I do disagree with that statement. The core of this argument is: Should game designers guard against human nature in the name of maintaining balance or a suitable level of challenge or something like that? I think that answer is yes, which is why I don't think the ability to save anywhere (and I mean anywhere) is appropriate for all games.
If you look at, say, the Prince of Persia games, the Sands of Time series, almost the entire game is composed of you running through what are essentially obstacle courses. I think Sands of Time would be ruined if you had the ability to save in the middle of a jump or while you were hanging off a wall or something. It would just ruin any excitement that might be there.
Another thing is, I personally hate mid-boss save points. It absolutely kills any tension or excitement that that boss might have. If a boss fight is too long to actually need a save point, it's too long. If I die and then respawn from a save or something, I don't want to see a half-full health bar. I'm all for frequent saves to minimize frustration for frequent save points, but a game asking me to go from point A to point B or do this task all at once without saving is reasonable under the right circumstances.
Tim Spaeth: So it's game-dependent, is what you're saying.
Richard Naik: Correct. Yes.
Tim Spaeth: So I don't think I would disagree that…and you probably wouldn't save in the middle of a jump in Prince of Persia. [neigh] There goes the horse again. You hear the horse?
Mike Bracken: Umhm.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Richard Naik: Just leave it in; it's [unknown]
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it's no big deal. You can barely hear it.
Tim Spaeth: So I agree that you would probably wait until you land at the end of the jump to hit the save button. But I think what Doc is saying here—and correct me if my interpretation is wrong, guys—I think he's saying that as a matter of convenience, that as an adult, he may need to get up from a game at any moment and answer the door or finish cooking dinner or just be able to end a game at any moment and restart it from that exact same point, as a matter of convenience.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Tim Spaeth: I think regardless of what's happening in the game, he's looking for that.
Chi Kong Lui: Okay, so I don't disagree with Doc Brown that, as a matter of convenience, we should be able to stop play for whatever's going on in our life. And I think the DS is actually great for that. Any game at any point, you can fold the clamshell and it'll effectively put the game in a sleep mode. So I think that addresses what he was trying to talk about.
Where I disagree with what Doc Brown was saying is that games should be more padded with more checkpoints or save points for the sake of that convenience. When I think of save points and check points, I think about Halo.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: And I really think that that game is lesser for having those constant save points. I just don't value my life in that game. I just feel like I'm immortal. I'll die, and I'll start all over again, die again, just going through, treating it as a trial-and-error type of game, as opposed to a GoldenEye, where you really have to get good at the game. You really have to study the level and really think and act like a spy, whereas in Halo, it's just pretty mindless for me.
Brad Gallaway: That's a good point, you guys. My initial reaction was going to be: "I think you should save anywhere," but hearing what Chi has to say about Halo and I'm sure there's dozens of other games where you could just save and it doesn't really matter where you die. That is a good point. I definitely think that level designers take the time to craft some good experiences—well, in good games, anyway—and it does cheapen it a little bit if you can take two steps, save, make sure you don't die, take two more steps.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: That is crap, and it does take away from the experience. But at the same time, as a father of two; as someone who is sometimes called away unexpectedly to work; as someone who has a life outside of games, there have been plenty of times when I just did not have a save point nearby and had to shut a game off and just walk away from my progress. To me, if I had to choose between the feeling of progression and of skill-building by having limited saving opportunities, or having that be a little bit lessened, but having the convenience of being able to save anywhere, I got to say, I think I would just lean towards the "save anywhere." I'm not 16 anymore. I have things to do and life just gets in the way sometimes. So I think that you guys both have really good points, but I think, in this particular case, I'm definitely leaning towards convenience, myself.
Richard Naik: I just don't think that convenience should be that all-encompassing factor when it comes to…
Brad Gallaway: You're not married and you don't have kids, Richard.
Richard Naik: No, I don't. And that's not going to happen any time soon. But still.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, I want you right now, go make a baby. Then come back and you continue this discussion.
Richard Naik: All right.
Mike Bracken: I, on the other hand, agree completely with Doc. I'm 100 percent in favor of people being able to save anywhere at any time, because I don't think most of the arguments I've heard against it are really…They sound good in theory, but I think when you look at them practically, they don't make a lot of sense. People have been able to save every two steps in PC games since the dawn of time. It hasn't ruined PC gaming.
In single-player games, if you don't want to save, nobody's forcing you to save every two steps. That's up to the individual player. It doesn't affect anybody else, and if you want to save and make the game easier or screw with the difficulty curve, then that's your business. You're affecting your own experience. It seems silly to force the rest of the world to work with an arbitrary system of developer-designed saves, just because a certain group of people can't control themselves and play the game properly.
Richard Naik: But it's not the player's responsibility to impose rules on himself; that's the game's responsibility.
Mike Bracken: No, that's not…
Richard Naik: I shouldn't have to work to make the game harder if I wanted to.
Mike Bracken: Well, why the fuck do we have to have save points to make the game hard in the first place? Why can't developers design a game that's just challenging? Why do we have cheat codes and God Modes and all that?
Richard Naik: Uh, so you can cheat?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. So why is this any different? How is this any different?
Richard Naik: Because it's part of the game's design, and like I said before…
Mike Bracken: No, it's not.
Richard Naik: Asking a player to just do something all at once…
Mike Bracken: Asking a player to play the game on an arbitrary save system because you can't control yourself and not save every two steps is bullshit: complete and utter bullshit.
Richard Naik: [It's reasonable?]
Mike Bracken: No, it isn't. It is not reasonable at all. It is completely bogus.
Chi Kong Lui: Let me ask you this, Mike. So do you turn on the God Mode for every single game that you play?
Mike Bracken: No, but it's there if I want to. And I don't save every two steps, either, but why shouldn't I have that power? Why should I be forced to play a game….a single-player game, no less. Online is something entirely different. But why should I be forced to play a single-player game with an arbitrary set of "You can save here, but you can't save here"?
The only reason we had that in the past was because games couldn't incorporate a "save anywhere" thing. That was why we had it. It wasn't physically possible for console games to save anywhere. Now we've moved past that. All it is now is a crutch for developers to make games arbitrarily harder instead of actually putting effort into designing scenarios that engage players and make the game challenging on its own.
Richard Naik: I don't agree with that at all.
Mike Bracken: Well, it is. It is. How often do you play a game that it's hard because you have to go so far before the next checkpoint? That's why a lot of games are hard: because you'll get stuck in an area and have to keep playing it over and over and over. It's not because the game itself is hard; it's because there's so much stuff you have to do before you get to the next checkpoint.
Richard Naik: Not necessarily.
Mike Bracken: Well, how many shooters have you played that way? There's a ton of them!
Chi Kong Lui: Well, let's make a couple of other distinctions, also, first of all. I'm more against the checkpoint. I'm not pro-save point, by any means. That's an old, archaic mechanism. I'm less a fan of the auto checkpoint, just because, like I said, it makes the game so mindless.
That's one point. My other point is, I'm not necessarily against being able to save anywhere. I didn't have a problem with it in Oblivion, I didn't have a problem with it in Fallout. I just think we wouldn't have gotten certain types of experiences if all games had an auto save point.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: One game would be, for example, GoldenEye. Another game that we all love, Demon's Souls. It just wouldn't be the same game.
Richard Naik: Yeah, and that's really just what I'm saying, is that it's not I'm against the idea at all. I'm fine with that concept. I just don't think it works in all games. It's not appropriate at all.
Mike Bracken: It wouldn't change….
Richard Naik: Yes, it would.
Mike Bracken: No, it wouldn't, because nobody's fucking forcing you to save. How would it change the game? You don't have to save.
Richard Naik: [To guard against human nature…]
Mike Bracken: It's human nature because you want to do it. I don't do it. I know a ton of people who don't do it. So because you might do it, the rest of us should suffer with the arbitrary system. Because guys like you can't….
Richard Naik: To guard against human nature.
Mike Bracken: That's such a load. That's such a load of shit. Absolute bullshit.
Richard Naik: No, it's not.
Mike Bracken: It is, because you can't control yourself not to save every two steps, the rest of the gaming population should have to sit around…
Richard Naik: [unknown] arbitrary [unknown] in all games, no matter what kind of game it is, that is a load of bullshit.
Mike Bracken: No.
Richard Naik: That is bullshit.
Mike Bracken: You think it changes a game because you could save every two seconds and nobody's making you do it. But because you would do it, that changes the game.
Richard Naik: That's just ridiculous. I'm sorry.
Mike Bracken: That's on you.
Tim Spaeth: Smokin'. Okay; okay.
Mike Bracken: That's on you; that's not on anybody else.
Tim Spaeth: Okay. First of all, first of all, I have a huge smile on my face because we're actually arguing, and I'm so happy about that. Let me say this. When I played first-person shooters on the PC and in the late 90s, early 2000s, I played all of them. Constantly playing first-person shooters on the PC. I was the guy who quick-saved every ten seconds.
Richard Naik: Yeah; so was I. That's what I'm saying.
Mike Bracken: So, that's my fault?
Tim Spaeth: [Chuckling]
Richard Naik: No, it's not your fault at all.
Mike Bracken: So I should be punished, because you guys suck and can't go ten seconds without saving? The rest of us should suffer?
Richard Naik: In that kind of game, it works. In, say, Half-Life, it's perfectly fine.
Mike Bracken: And even taking that a step further, so what? You're controlling your own experience. If you want to save every ten seconds, doesn't fucking effect me. Doesn't effect anybody else. That's on you; why should I care?
Richard Naik: What the hell does that even mean?
Mike Bracken: Because you're complaining about something you're doing. If you save every ten seconds, that's your fault. You're ruining the game for yourself.
Richard Naik: I'm not complaining about it. I'm not complaining about being able to save every ten seconds in some games. What I was saying…
Mike Bracken: You should be able to save in any game, at any time. It's just a matter of convenience, and it's common sense.
Richard Naik: It's not something you should put on all games, in any way. It's just not appropriate to say that you should be able to do that in any game, anywhere.
Chi Kong Lui: If GoldenEye had a "save anywhere"-type feature, it just would've been a complete different game for me. Would it have been a lesser game? It's hard to say. I think it would've been. It wouldn't have put the kind of pressure on me to play the game with the kind of precision that I had to, and I appreciated that. I'm not saying that's for everybody, but I certainly appreciated that.
Brad Gallaway: So, Chi, just to clarify then, so if, for example, GoldenEye had had a "save anywhere" feature, do you think that you would have used it every ten seconds? Or do you think you would've cherished the experience that you're describing and not save every ten seconds?
Chi Kong Lui: I definitely would've used it, for sure.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter]
Chi Kong Lui: Well, I would. I wouldn't have saved it every five seconds, but at the same time, I think it would've taken a lot less pressure off me to play the game a certain way.
Richard Naik: Umhm.
Chi Kong Lui: And again, I'm not sure that's right or wrong. I think the game was definitely a better game for not having save points in it.
Brad Gallaway: Let me throw something out for you guys, to put a little bit of a different spin on this. I do think that Richard's got a point; I do think that Mike has got a point. And actually, I think Chi's got a point, so I think I'm really happy with everybody right now. But to change this discussion a little bit, what about just for convenience sake? And I'm not talking about a save where you can die, reload the save and try again. It's one of those "hot saves."
Richard Naik: Like a suspend mode?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Like, for example, let's just say that you just have to go to work or you just have to take care of your baby. What would you guys think about a mode or a feature where you could pause or stop the game, but once you come back to it, it's gone. You can't just abuse it and respawn over and over and over.
Richard Naik: So something like what the DS does, when you close it?
Brad Gallaway: Basically, yeah. Just something that lets you take care of real life and put the game on hold—not necessarily saying that you're going to put an infinite spawn point for yourself every 10 seconds, so that you don't lose progress, but just something where you can step away from the game for two seconds and, like Richard said, not ruin that experience. Would you guys be okay with that?
Richard Naik: That's fine. Actually, now that I think about it, Valkyria Chronicles had something very similar to that. You can't "save" in the middle of the missions, but you can do a temporary save. Or maybe it wasn't Valkyria Chronicles.
Brad Gallaway: No, I think it was, yeah.
Richard Naik: Was it?
Brad Gallaway: There's lots of games that have a suspend, where you can pause, but once you reload it, it's gone.
Richard Naik: No; it was Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, that's what I'm thinking of.
Tim Spaeth: Shiren the Wanderer does it. I can't conceive that anyone would disagree with the ability to do that. It's a suspend state. You have it for Virtual Console.
Chi Kong Lui: On consoles, they tend to call that the quick save, but in PCs, that's not what the quick save is. The quick save is F5.
Richard Naik: Yeah; the quick save is "two steps, F5, two steps, F5, two steps, F5."
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Brad Gallaway: Right. So would you guys say that that hot-save, quick-save, whatever you want to call it, suspend-save, wouldn't that be the answer to everybody's argument? I mean, people could stop…
Richard Naik: [Unknown] Yeah, that's fine.
Brad Gallaway: [Unknown] experience.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I'm perfectly fine with that. But that's not necessarily what Mike is saying.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, Mike, what do you think about that? Do you think that's a reasonable compromise?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, it's the compromise, for sure. I don't have a problem with that. And honestly, I do have a problem with mid-boss saves and things of that nature.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: I'm not saying you should be able to break up a scripted event like a boss fight or something like that. I'm saying, when you're out in a world and you're running around random battles and shit, you should just be able to stop anywhere. So if you could do that, that's fine. I could live with that. Again, you're not going to abuse that. That's probably the best compromise, I would think.
Richard Naik: Yeah; if we're talking about an RPG or if anything like what Chi was saying, with any sort of open-world experience, then yes, I think you should be able to save anywhere. But if it's anything like when you're running through an obstacle course or anything like that that's basically the challenge is to get from point A to point B all in one try, I think anything more than that suspend save, I think that would hurt it.
Tim Spaeth: A mid-level save in Super Meat Boy would be missing the point completely, because you're right.
Richard Naik Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: The whole point of Super Meat Boy is to measure your dexterity with a controller from point A to point B. But I guess I go to the other extreme. I want mid-boss save points. I think back to the original God of War. That boss there had three distinct phases, and they all sucked. So if I die on phase 3, why would I want to go back and play a crappy phase one and a crappy phase 2? I guess what I'm saying is…
Richard Naik: Do you actually have to go back to the first phase?
Tim Spaeth: Not in God of War. God of War does it well. But—
Richard Naik: Okay. I was gonna say: If I remember correctly, you didn't have to, but go ahead.
Tim Spaeth: No, and I appreciated it, because all the phases of that fight sucked. So I guess what I'm saying is, if the content sucks, don't make me replay it. If the content is awesome like, say, the final boss of Batman: Arkaham Asylum, which had three phases and you did have to replay all the phases, but it was fun. The content doesn't suck, I don't mind. But if it does, give me save points. I'm just a guy who hates replaying content.
The final boss in Final Fantasy XIII is a perfect example. You play that boss for ten minutes and then it shifts to the second phase and you die instantly. Well, to get back to that point, I have to replay the ten minutes. If I could've saved at the nine minute mark, I may have actually taken the time to finish that game. But if the content sucks, don't make me replay it, is I guess what I'm saying.
Chi Kong Lui: So Tim, is that your message to the developers? [Chuckling]
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: If a game sucks…How about if a game sucks, don't put it out? But yeah. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: So what I'm saying is, and whether it sucks or not is subjective, so make it a universal standard that you can save anywhere and let the player decide if it sucks bad enough that I'm going to use save points. Give the player the power. That's my feeling.
Richard Naik: I think your message is "Make bosses not suck."
Tim Spaeth: Yes.
Richard Naik: Which I totally agree with.
Mike Bracken: I think we're all on board with that one.
Richard Naik: Modern boss design is crap, and I agree with that.
Tim Spaeth: [Chuckles] All right. Any final points anyone wants to make here? I think we have reached consensus on at least the suspend points. I love the fact that we were arguing. The tension between Richard and Mike was palpable.
Your hatred of one another, I could see it on the screen. It's great.
Mike Bracken: Totally, totally. It's intense hatred.
Tim Spaeth: It really, really is.
Mike Bracken: We're gonna have a grudge match later.
*Richard Naik: Just wait till the next time the Chiefs play the Steelers. It'll get really ugly.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's gonna get real ugly.
Tim Spaeth: Mm.
Richard Naik: And I"ll probably be crying, because it'll be losing, 34 to 2 in the second quarter.
Tim Spaeth: All right. Well, guys, that's our quote of the week for this week. Let's pause for a music break. When we return, tragic games. Tragedy. Stick around.
Well, I think we've all cooled down a bit; our rage has subsided. Let's get into our main event: Tragic games. And, Richard, you proposed this topic, so I'm going to turn immediately to you and ask you: What inspired you to talk about this? Or what inspired you to want to talk about this on the show this week—games with critical flaws? What inspired you?
Richard Naik: It was actually nothing in particular. It's just something I've been thinking about for a little while, because I've noticed a few games over the course of the 20 or so odd years that I've been playing games that just…it's something that I think would be really good if they just. That was the question I would ask. It's like: Man! This would be really good, if they'd just _. If they just fixed this, or this was just here: something like that.
And there are actually several that I could probably think of, but there are two that really stand out. One is Heavy Rain, which I'm not gonna go into huge detail about, because we already had a whole podcast about it. But it was really just held back by sloppy writing, and I think if they had just taken a little bit longer to rewrite it and just go over some of the flaws in the story, I think it would have been fantastic.
Tim Spaeth: Hold on, Richard. Hold on, because I'm gonna go over to Mike, and I'm going to—
Richard Naik: You wanna start this again? You wanna see what's gonna happen?
Mike Bracken: Let me just [unknown] again.
Tim Spaeth: I'm unlocking the leash, the chained leash around his neck, and I'm gonna let Mike go free for a moment. Mike has recently finished Heavy Rain. Is there anything you'd like to say to Richard?
Chi Kong Lui: Tim, you didn't go: "Release the Bracken!"
Brad Gallaway: Oh, man! Oh, you gotta go back and record that, dude. That [would be?] epic.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, Chi! Brilliant! So good!
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I'm gonna try to keep it calmer this time. I feel bad for ranting; I'm a little cranky this week. I liked Heavy Rain. I've read a lot of people talk about the problems with this game, and I understand some of where they're coming from, but I don't think it was a poorly written as some people like to make it out to be. I think the game makes sense in a certain way that's probably not obvious to everyone that's a little more obvious to me.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, my God, dude. I can't believe you just said that.
Mike Bracken: What's that? What?
Brad Gallaway: It was so—
Mike Bracken: So condescending?
Brad Gallaway: [unknown] and condescending.
Mike Bracken: I mean, I didn't wanna get into this big thing. I was trying to have this discussion on Twitter with Richard, and it's hard, because it's only 140 characters and I don't wanna get into this thing here, talking about….because there's a genre of film in Italy, a type of thriller that Heavy Rain, to me, and I've never heard David Cage talk about this and I would really like to find out if it was an influence or not. Because if it's not, it's a really interesting coincidence. But Heavy Rain's story draws some elements from these films from Italy from the ‘70s, and if you view it in that light, with that knowledge, it doesn't make the story great or anything like that, but it makes all the little things that people nitpick about the game make a little more sense. So I have this weird affection for Heavy Rain, because I love those kind of giallo films.
Richard Naik: See, I'm—
Brad Gallaway: Wait, wait, wait, wait wait. I get what you're saying, Mike, I get what you're saying. But you gotta listen to yourself for two seconds.
You think it makes sense if you think of it as an Italian film from 40 years ago.
Mike Bracken: No. But that's not true, because the giallo filmmakers are still around and Argento is still making those kind of films. His last film was called Giallo, and it was exactly that kind of film. So they're still around. Their heyday was back then, and it's actually interesting, because they are what gave birth to American slasher cinema. Definitely this tradition has carried on. It's just they were incredibly popular in the ‘70s.
Richard Naik: Me, I'm a connect-the-dots kind of guy. When I watch a movie, I'm connecting the dots. Especially in a murder mystery, which is what Heavy Rain basically is, I want all the dots to connect. I want that one moment where there's the big reveal of who the killer is and everything just clicks.
Brad Gallaway: Right.
Richard Naik: And in Heavy Rain, that moment just raised ten bazillion more questions. So that's why it went downhill from there. I'm the kind of person that loves a movie like Memento.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Richard Naik: That's the whole movie.
Mike Bracken: Right.
Richard Naik: It's just connect the dots, connect the dots, connect the dots.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, and that's the thing. That's the difference between these two things. You're a fan of American thriller films where the connecting of the dots is really important, where these Italian thrillers were way more interested in mood or atmosphere, and they didn't really care about everything making perfect sense after the movie ended. So, yeah, I totally understand that.
Brad Gallaway: [Sarcastically] And that explains why they're so popular in America.
Mike Bracken: Dude, they are popular in America, though.
Brad Gallaway: Uh-huh.
Mike Bracken: God, what a dick.
Richard Naik: You talking to me or Brad?
Mike Bracken: No, Brad. Brad, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: That was totally meant for me.
Tim Spaeth: All right. Well, Richard, I know Heavy Rain was not your primary motivation for this topic, so I'm guessing it's a Star Wars game that's coming up, but surprise us.
Richard Naik: Yes, it is a Star Wars game. It's actually Knights of the Old Republic 2. I don't know what got me thinking about this game, but I just started thinking about it. I"m like: "You know, Knights of the Old Republic 2 would've been really great if __." And Knights of the Old Republic 2 had some really good ideas behind it, in contrast to the first game. They added a way for you to influence your party members' Force alignment that was not in the first game. The main villain, Kreia is, I think, one of the best-written characters in all of gaming. The idea of the exile and the path that you follow through the game works really well in contrast to Knights of the Old Republic 1.
But this game was famously rushed out by LucasArts, so it was really buggy. It was an Obsidian game, but in this case, it wasn't Obsidian's fault, because LucasArts made them develop it in a year. There were huge parts of the story just missing, major plot points went nowhere. The ending levels in particular feel extremely sloppy. Overall, it's just a really unpolished game. And what's worse is if you look on the disc, at least the disc of the PC version, you'll find a lot of extra dialogue files that have the story segments that were cut. They're on the disc, but they're not actually in the game. So the wasted opportunity is just staring you in the face when you look at that stuff. It could've easily surpassed the first game, but it didn't, because it had so many problems.
Tim Spaeth: Did anyone else on the panel play KOTOR 2?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I did.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Would you agree with Richard?
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, yeah. 100 percent.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Definitely such a disappointment after the first game, for sure.
Richard Naik: Yeah. And on a side note, there was a mod in development that was apparently released a couple years ago by some fans that restores a lot of the stuff that was cut, but still on the disc. I haven't tried it, since my Knights of the Old Republic 2 disc was either lost or stolen, which is Exhibit A as to why I don't deal with discs anymore. So I don't know how much was actually fixed, but even then, still truly a lost opportunity.
Tim Spaeth: Could you save anywhere in KOTOR 2?
Richard Naik: Yes, you could.
Tim Spaeth: Okay.
Brad Gallaway: Just checking.
Tim Spaeth: Just asking.
Brad Gallaway: Just curious.
Richard Naik: I'm 99.99 percent [sure] that you could.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I think you could.
Tim Spaeth: Well, this is a good topic, Richard, and those are two good choices, although I didn't play KOTOR 2, but I think that seems to be the general consensus on it. We all brought some tragic games to the table, so let me turn to Brad Gallaway now, and share with us your tales of tragedy.
Brad Gallaway: All right. Well, the first one is gonna be a little bit contentious, because I know this game actually has a pretty rabid fan following. For me, one of the biggest missed opportunities I've seen recently was Earth Defense Force 2017, released on the Xbox 360. Are you guys familiar with Earth Defense Force?
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles] Yeah. Yeah. I haven't played it, though. But I do know a lot about it.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, okay. Well, for those that don't know, you play some kind of a special Power Rangers-ish kind of assault team, and the point of it is to shoot hordes and hordes of these giant bugs. Literally, they are like giant ants and spiders and I think there's a couple robots. There might be a dinosaur or something. So, it's really just this over-the-top, crazy, shooty, really tongue-in-cheek kind of action, and I'm down with that. I thought the concept was great. I bought it when it came out and I thought it was something that should've been right up my alley.
But in Earth Defense Force 2017, every single thing in that game is bad. There's zero collision, there's zero AI, the difficulty is completely fucked in the bin. Everything about the game is terrible: the graphics are terrible, the sounds are terrible. Nothing about it is good. Concept is really, really good, but it just turned out to be a tragedy, because just the game was a pile of steaming shit. And I think the thing that makes it even worse is that it has this giant fan following. Tons of people totally wrote in hate mail when I trashed the game on our site in the review, and I just don't see that there's anything to celebrate about this game. Now, there is a sequel coming out, and it has jetpacks. That was one of the things that was missing the first time, which I think could be a very positive thing, and I think that if they actually include collision detection and maybe some AI, that might be good, too. But I'm willing to give it a shot. I think that there's potential there, but man—Earth Defense Force 2017, pure tragedy.
Tim Spaeth: I think it's very important we all take note that Brad just made good on one of his gaming resolutions.
Brad Gallaway: There it was. You caught it, right?
Tim Spaeth: We all caught that.
Richard Naik: I was gonna say, we all caught it.
Brad Gallaway: Nice.
Tim Spaeth: Good, good. Well done. So none of us played Earth Defense Force, is that correct?
Mike Bracken: No. I've wanted to for a long time, but I've just never gotten around to it.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, same here. I got the disc, but I haven't played it.
Richard Naik: I just haven't, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: So, Brad, we'll take your word for it.
Brad Gallaway: Trust me.
Mike Bracken: We do.
Tim Spaeth: What else you have, Brad? Something that perhaps commoners have played?
Brad Gallaway: You know, it's funny. I spent a lot of time thinking about these, and I had a really hard time at first. It turns out that most of the ones I came up with were on a little bit on the fringe. It kinda makes sense, since I play a lot of fringe games anyway, so I'm not really sure if you guys have played any of the ones that I'm gonna call out. I think, Mike, you've played GunValkyrie, haven't you?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Has anybody else played GunValkyrie?
Tim Spaeth: No.
Chi Kong Lui: I played a little bit of it; I played a little bit.
Richard Naik: I watched someone play it for 15 minutes once.
Brad Gallaway: That's probably the best way to experience it.
Mike Bracken: Probably the best way to experience it, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. GunValkyrie was a game put out by Sega, and that was a game all about being in a jetpack, which is one of my most favorite things. Which is weird, because games don't really do it that well. But you're in a jetpack, and you, again, shoot giant bugs.
Mike Bracken: Another bug hunt.
Brad Gallaway: Bug hunt. You're just in space and you're running around. To me, giant bugs, shooting, jetpacks—that's all you really need to have a good game. But with GunValkyrie, the controls of the jetpack were so arcane. They were just impossible to understand unless you watched somebody on YouTube. Or if you watched the opening movie, and you watched it all the way through, you could kind of see how the game was supposed to be played. But it didn't make any sense when you first started it. You were supposed to get in the air and then boost, and the boost did something to your boost meter, so if you did it right then you kept boosting. All you wanted to do was just kick on the jets and fly around and shoot bugs, but the controls were so crazy. Once you finally figured out what the game was about, really, it was about pulling off jetpack boost combos, which isn't really the most intuitive thing, if you ask me.
So GunValkyrie was a game that I hated. Hated, hated, hated. And I kept having these people say that it was good, and I didn't understand how they were possibly saying it was good. I actually quit it and came back to it, and I hated it and I quit it again, and then I came back to it again. And on the third time I finally got a little nugget of what I was supposed to get from it, I guess ideally, and then I played it all the way through and finished it. And at the end, I still thought it sucked.
But there was so much potential there. So that, to me, was truly a tragedy. Jetpacks, guns, outer space, chicks in metal bikinis: that should've been the perfect game. Seriously.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: I actually liked GunValkyrie, but I agree that the problem is that it's very obtuse and the learning curve is very steep. For me, I always thought of it, comparison-wise, it was like learning how to skate backwards. I understood the concept of how you were supposed to move your feet to skate backwards. My brain could understand it, but my body couldn't do it, and that was how learning how to play that game was. When it finally clicked, it made perfect sense, but until it did, it was the biggest pain in the ass game I've ever played. So, definitely a tragic quality to that one, for sure.
Chi Kong Lui: I wanted to just ask: What was the name of the spiritual successor to that game that appeared on the GameCube?
Brad Gallaway: There was one?
Mike Bracken: There was one?
Chi Kong Lui: It was another chick, but she had those funky moves that were like…
Brad Gallaway: You're thinking of P.N.03.
Mike Bracken: I was gonna say PN03, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.
Brad Gallaway: They weren't related, yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, that wasn't…
Chi Kong Lui: It wasn't a sequel, but wasn't it considered a spiritual successor in some ways?
Brad Gallaway: I think only in the sense that it was difficult to control.
Mike Bracken: Difficult to control, yeah.
That was another game that had a lot of potential that just didn't quite work, and you were really frustrated because you could see where it could've been good, but it sucked type-deal.
Chi Kong Lui: There you go, yeah.
Mike Bracken: I actually saw that for $2.99 the other day. Almost bought it.
Brad Gallaway: It's worth three bucks, but it's [funny?] you bring that up, Chi, because I think in GunValkyrie and PN03 both, both are perfect examples of when you look at the game, you think you know what it's gonna be like and you think you know what it's about, and then when you actually get into the game, it's something completely different, and it's not at all what you want it to be. And yet, I played and finished both and I didn't like either one, but I was so mentally invested in trying to get out what I wanted from them that I forced myself to go through them. I don't know if you guys have ever experienced that. But it was like, attractive chick! Guns! Robots! Armor! It's everything that I like, and yet neither one was good.
Mike Bracken: Nightshade was like that. It's one of those cases where developers have obviously just overthunk it. "We have all these awesome things. Just leave it at that—don't overcomplicate it," and they always do, and that's what happens.
Brad Gallaway: There you go.
Richard Naik: Yeah, great point.
Tim Spaeth: Brad, what else do you have?
Brad Gallaway: Well, I've got a couple quick ones, and again, they're kind of a little lesser-known titles. But I think a more recent one would be Folklore on the PS3.
Tim Spaeth: Mm.
Brad Gallaway: Sony was kind of behind Folklore and they were trying to position it as being the next big RPG before it came out. And, really, it should've been. It had a really cool idea. It was almost an adult version of Pokémon, and I don't mean that in the sexy sense.
I mean, like, it was dark.
Mike Bracken: Nobody was getting it on with Pikachu?
Brad Gallaway: Exactly. There was no actual physical contact, but it was Pokémon for grown-ups: it was dark, it was scary a little bit (the monster designs were creepy and cool), and you did basically the same thing, but you played it in real time, which is something that I've wanted from Poke´mon forever, and I'm never gonna get. But it's a dream that I have.
So it was a really cool thing. But I think the thing that made it such a tragic play, and I think the thing that let to its demise, was that the story just never came together. It was an interesting tale split in half about a detective and a girl. Their stories intertwined, but the story didn't come together. There was lots of bits missing from the tale, and also, in going through the game, you had to play each person's section twice. So it was like the same environments, even though there were a few changes. But it just felt really boring and not fresh to go through the same segment a second time. And so if they had streamlined the gameplay and actually fixed the story, I think it really would have been a really big win for Game Republic, who's also responsible for the recent Majin, which also tanked.
They're a talented studio, but they just make these big mistakes. And it's a shame that they don't fix them.
Richard Naik: Yeah. Yeah. Folklore, I think I bailed on it after about five or six hours. Atmospherically, I think they did really well: I think they created an interesting world, but yeah. It's exactly what you were saying. It just doesn't come together and it just gets way too repetitive.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. The really interesting thing about Folklore, too* is that it actually had quite a bit of DLC support, especially in Europe. I went and I got some of the DLC, and a lot of that DLC really plugs some of the holes in the story—not to the point of where it fixes everything, but clearly, the developers at some point thought: "Oh, shit. We left all the important stuff on the cutting room floor. Let's put it back in." So it's unfortunate that they didn't catch that sooner, because I believe that very, very few people even knew that there was DLC out for that game.
Richard Naik: I wish Knights of the Old Republic 2 had gotten the DLC treatment.
Tim Spaeth: Brad, I think you had one more in your pocket. Do you want to name name-check that real fast, and then we'll move on?
Brad Gallaway: Sure, sure. My last one was Disaster Report for the PS2. It's actually one of my personal favorite games.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: You survive an earthquake in a city, and so there's all these really interesting survival things that you do, lots of variety in the gameplay, lots of really fresh ideas. The tragedy with that game was it was just really, really rough. The production wasn't anywhere near where it needed to be, and the second tragic thing was that they had this weird fetish with water. Your character would die of thirst if you let him go more than five minutes without taking a sip of water.
So instead of dodging falling rocks and stuff, the whole game became about—
Mike Bracken: Where to find water.
Brad Gallaway: Where to find some fresh water, yeah. So that was a big misstep, but still, a really great game. Tragic, though. Tragic.
Tim Spaeth: I always wanted to play that one, but I never got around to it.
Brad Gallaway: It's good.
Mike Bracken: Cool.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Get past the first half hour, and just let go of the water fetish thing, and it's actually really, really good.
Tim Spaeth: Very good. Well, thank you, Brad. If you don't mind, I'm going to go next, because mine are really uninteresting, and then we'll finish strong with Chi and then Mike.
Mike Bracken: Oh, don't let me go last. Mine's not that interesting.
Tim Spaeth: All right, we'll let Chi go last, then.
Chi Kong Lui: Now you're putting the pressure on me. All right, all right.
Mike Bracken: I'm selling my segment.
Tim Spaeth: This was really hard for me, and I thought long and hard about it, and I ended up just browsing my game shelf, looking at spines of cases, looking for any ideas. And I found two. I would hardly call them tragedies, but here goes. The first comes from 2008. If you remember, in 2008 we were all in our early 20s. Richard was 7.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: EA launched two original IPs in the hopes of creating the next great franchise. One of those, of course, was Dead Space, which has gone on to great success and spawned novels, comics and motion comics and concept albums and pornography.
Dead Space has been a huge success. The other franchise, the one I'm going to speak about, was Mirror's Edge, or, as I like to call it, The Mirror's Edge, which is a franchise that has spawned nothing. It was a game. But I think it could've been and should've been a much bigger hit. You had a strong female protagonist in Faith, she had an iconic look, you had some interesting fiction, I thought. You had the unique gameplay, the first-person parkour gameplay that mostly worked. It certainly had some failings I think would've been tightened up in a sequel.
The fatal flaw of this game, of course, and I think this is universally agreed-upon, was the combat. Whenever you had to fight a dude, that game came to a stop. When you were in motion, when you were parkouring, that game cooked. And you'll remember, that's all the demo was. It was a killer demo, but when you were forced to fight enemies, you could run around some of them, but not all of them, and there were many gauntlets of enemies. It was just terrible. The combat was all timing-based; it was mushy, it was inaccurate. Most people I know who played the game never made it to the end, and to me, it just screams of a marketing team or just guys in suits saying: "It's a first-person game, you need guns and fighting. Guns and fighting. Guns and fighting" instead of just letting the game do what it did best, and I really think the combat was the downfall of Mirror's Edge and a potentially great franchise was sacrificed as a result.
Like I said, I dug the fiction, the idea that in this dystopian future the government is monitoring electronic communication and the only way to get messages from point A to point B is by sending them with hot chicks.
Mike Bracken: That's the future we're all dreaming of.
Tim Spaeth: It is; it is, and, like I said, it should've been a franchise. You take the combat out of that game, I think it would be. Who played Mirror's Edge? Brad, I know you played it. You didn't care for it much.
Brad Gallaway: I actaully didn't like it, but I did finish it, and I got the Achievement where you finish the whole game without using a gun, so I did manage the hand-to-hand combat throughout the whole thing. I definitely agree with you. Combat should've been a much, much, much smaller role in that game than it was. But actually, I would also piggyback on what you said. I think another tragic thing about Mirror's Edge were the cut-scenes, which I thought were vomit-inducingly stupid and ugly. It's funny to me, because nobody really brings it up, but those quasi-Flash animation cut-scenes made no sense to me at all. They totally stuck out from the rest of the game; they weren't really well done and they were just awful. They totally detracted from the overall artistry and craft of the parkour sections. Is nobody else bothered by those?
Mike Bracken: I have not yet played Mirror's Edge, so.
Richard Naik: I played it a little while ago. I did not finish it, but I'm basically in agreement with what Tim said. I was very into the world. Faith was a good protagonist. The gameeplay of just dodging and jumping and running and all that stuff was suitably thrilling, but it just fell apart when you actually had to stop. Basically, when the game stopped, it died.
Chi Kong Lui: So, Tim, I think you did say this, but I just wanna confirm. If they took out the fighting, you think there would be enough left there to still be a very solid game, or be a great game, even?
Tim Spaeth: I think so. I think so. Or find some way to introduce some other kind of conflict. If you're going to have combat…God, I would've taken a quick time event over what they had in the game.
Richard Naik: Yep.
Brad Gallaway: Totally, totally.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Richard Naik: Sounds like Deadly Premonition. It was just ruined by combat.
Tim Spaeth: I find parkour games—Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, Mirror's Edge—any time you have to stop and fight anything, I'm just desperate to get back to parkour. And I would just love a game that's just that. To me, I think it would be completely satisfying.
So my other game, putting aside Mirror's Edge, I think most people have forgotten about this game, and in fact, I had completely forgotten that I'd ever played it until I saw it on my shelf, and that's Super Paper Mario for the Wii. Do any of you remember this game?
Mike Bracken: Yup. I own a copy.
Brad Gallaway: Yep.
Tim Spaeth: I hadn't thought about it in years. This was released I think very early in the Wii's life cycle. I don't think it was a launch title, but it came out shortly after. This was the game that was the 2D side-scrolling platformer, but you could also press the A button to shift the perspective into 3D, and so there was like a z-axis that allowed you to get through obstacles or find items. I thought that was just an awesome gameplay technique: just creative and fun. We'd never really seen anything like it before. And I really feel like if that's all the game was, it could have been one of the legendary Mario titles.
But the problem with Super Paper Mario was that it was also an RPG, which is not inherently bad, and there have been good Mario RPG games. But this one in particular was the most generic Mario RPG experience you could imagine. Between the levels, you had to visit—wait for it—a Mushroom Town populated with Toads.
That's right, Toads. And there was card collecting and baking and fetch-quests and a mayor who looked like a Toad.
Richard Naik: Was it Wadsworth or Toadsworth or whatever his name is?
Tim Spaeth: Who cares? Honestly, who cares?
It was such a drag going through these fantastic actiony levels with the the 3D perspective and then after every level you'd have to come back to the town and talk to Toads and go on fetch-quests. And then halfway through the game, you discover that the town has a dark version, which is exactly as big as the light version, and at that point, you just wanna do shots of arsenic. It was terrible. And to me, the tragedy here is that the 2D/3D mechanic was so good, and it was just lost in this horrible RPG experience. And if it had just been a straight platformer—which I think a lot of people going into that game thought it was—just a straight Super Mario Bros. type experience, I think it would've been much better received; I think it would've had stronger sales. Maybe we would've seen that mechanic come back. It certainly would've spiced up New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which I thought was a really underwhelming game.
So neither of these games I would a call a tragedy, but really, some potential classics that died early deaths when they didn't really have to. Any thoughts on Super Paper Mario, if you can even remember anything about it?
Mike Bracken: I think it was tragic that I just didn't even feel like there was anything worth saving in that game.
Definitely tragic, but I don't know if there was even a point to trying to fix it.
Tim Spaeth: I had a good time with half of it. Like I said, that's just what I saw on my shelf. I was flirting with the idea of Wing Commander: Prophecy—
—for its gross misuse of Mark Hamill, but I will go no further. I will instead pass to Mike Bracken, who has some underwhelming choices of his own.
Mike Bracken: One underwhelming choice of my own, yes. I went all out for this segment, clearly, as you will see. I thought about talking about God Hand, since we've all ragged on that enough over the past couple years, but I figure we did a whole big segment on that, so there's no point in talking about it. I instead went with another old standby that I know we've talked about a couple times, another game that people for some reason really seem to like that I don't get: Crackdown.
Richard Naik: Yes.
Mike Bracken: That's such a tragic game. The ability to play as a super-powered cop who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and throw cars around and shoot bullets and shit should've been the most awesome thing ever. It's like Grand Theft Auto from the other side with super powers. But instead, we got a $60 tech demo that had the idea of tall buildings you could climb and jump over and cars you could throw, and basically boiled down to doing that and collecting orbs for ten hours. I have no desire to collect orbs for ten hours, so the game was kind of lost for me. But the potential was really there for them to do something good with Crackdown, and from what I hear, they didn't even get it right in Crackdown 2. So I guess maybe we can just finally put that franchise to bed once and for all.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, yeah. Crackdown 2 was even worse. If you thought number one was a shallow experience, number two was infinitely more shallow. Number two was a platform for which you were supposed to load DLC into. It wasn't even a game.
Mike Bracken: It pissed me off so bad to pay $60 for a game that was basically a tech demo. There's really no other way to describe Crackdown. It's like a really great tech demo, but it's not a $60 game.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. It's interesting you brought that up, because I have to say, I have been utterly confused by how many people think that collecting orbs is fun.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I've heard a lot of people say it makes the game for them. Their whole reason for playing it is to collect orbs. And it's like, Dude, what are you on?
Mike Bracken: These are the same people who go through Grand Theft Auto looking for every package.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, my God. Yeah, I'll get them, but I'm not gonna go out of my way and I can't imagine spending hours.
Richard Naik: I hate pointless orb-collection. It's something that pretty much single-handedly ruined the 2008 Prince of Persia for me. Oddly enough, Crackdown, i actually finished it, and it's one of those games that I enjoyed it while I was playing it, but I'm not really sure why. I just kinda did. But I agree with everything that you said. I don't know. That would be my all-time "I know it's bad but I still like it" game.
Mike Bracken: It's your Too Human.
Richard Naik: I wouldn't say I love it quite that much. I was not in sexual congress with this game.
Tim Spaeth: First of all, Richard, I love the 2008 Prince of Persia.
Richard Naik: Yes, I know you did.
Tim Spaeth: And everyone listening to this podcast right now did as well.
Brad Gallaway: Except for everybody listening to the podcast.
Tim Spaeth: Well, right now as we're recording it, perhaps, but everyone out there listening. And I enjoyed collecting orbs. I didn't go hunting for them. If I didn't see an orb, I didn't look behind things to see if there were orbs waiting there for me. But If I saw an orb out in the distance, I enjoyed—to go back to parkour—I enjoyed the parkour aspect of climbing things and jumping from rooftop to rooftop to get the orbs. There was a tangible benefit for getting them. It boosted your strength and your ability to jump higher and lift more things. So it was kind of addictive, but I maybe got 250 of them and they were just in the course of playing the normal game. I didn't go hunting for every last one of them. But I get when people say that they found it addictive. I get that. I can understand that.
But perhaps no one else here does.
So let's move on and we'll wrap it up with Chi Kong Lui, who's gonna bring it strong with his choice for tragic games.
Chi Kong Lui: All right. Gotta get powered up for this one then. I had two picks. My first pick was Shenmue. I notoriously called it the Bill Clinton of video games—just very ambitious but at the same time, very, very flawed.
Mike Bracken: Wow. We're getting political tonight.
Richard Naik: Who's Bill Clinton?
Mike Bracken: I didn't know we had Bill O'Reilly on the show tonight.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] In a lot of ways, actually, Shenmue is a lot like Too Human without Denis Dyack and without the cybernetic vikings, if you really think about it.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Richard Naik: It's just human, then. It's not too human.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right. There was just a lot of great ideas that never actually came together, and if it wasn't during the Dreamcast era where we were starting to first see next-generation games…I think if this came out on the PS2 or in the Xbox days, we would've killed this game. But because it was on the cusp of that whole generation, I think a lot of us gave it a big pass. Whole chunks of that game didn't make sense: the whole collectibles aspect, the fighting system, all the minigames, and it didn't really ever all come together. You were sitting around waiting for stuff to happen.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Chi Kong Lui: Yet somehow, I played it and I loved it somehow.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm. Spend all your time looking for sailors.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, right, right. So that was my first pick. Did anyone else wanna comment on Shenmue before I moved on to my next pick?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I agree with you. I have spent time over the past year for some reason just thinking about that game. I've never gone back and replayed it because I know if I do it won't hold up. I have such fond memories of it, but at the same time, when you look at it objectively now, I sit around and I think: "Why the fuck did we like that game?" Basically, you did. You went around and collected things for no good reason. You could play other arcade games for no good reason. You spent a lot of time standing around waiting for it to be the right time for something to happen. The combat engine wasn't very good, and the story wasn't even that good. But yet, I liked the game. At the time, I loved that game. Like you said—I think it's a great point—that because it was at the dawn of the Dreamcast era, we were way more forgiving, because this was our first next-gen experience.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Mike Bracken: A hint of what gaming could be, and so we [unknown] slack.
Chi Kong Lui: It did feel like it, for the most part.
Brad Gallaway: Exactly. That's exactly why we remember it to this day. It was reaching so far past what we had known at that time.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Brad Gallaway:* Is it tragic? I don't know if it's tragic or not. This is one where I'm kinda thinking maybe it's not tragic, because I think for what it was, it was [pretty cool?]
Mike Bracken: It's really just a product of its time, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, yeah, exactly. You had to take it in context. If you take it in context when it came out, it actually was really bold, really inventive. It tried a lot of things that games weren't even attempting at that time. Did they all work? Was it at times a very tedious game? Well, sure, but at the same time, it really moved a lot of things forward, and, honestly, I do think that that game doesn't get enough credit for pushing things forward. I could probably go back and write a long paper about how it influenced this game or that game. In general, I'm not even really a Yu Suzuki fan, but when it comes to this particular game, I think he had a real stroke of brilliance. And even though it's not a fun game to play, I don't think that really matters, because I think that it achieved so much, and working with the tech of the time, it was pretty respectable.
So to follow up on that, how do you guys feel the transition went from Shenmue 1 to Shenmue 2? Do you guys feel like it redeemed itself, number two, or not really? Still tragic at number 2?
Mike Bracken: I liked 2. I think 2 is obviously an evolution. I think by the time 2 came around…It's so hard for me, looking back at it, because I think when 2 came around, the writing was already on the wall that we were never gonna see all, what? 14 parts of that.
We were never gonna see the end of this story, and so my attitude towards 2 was like, "Yeah, it's great to see next part of this, but at the same time, I know this is probably it. I'm never gonna see the end"-type deal. So I appreciated it on some levels, but I don't think I was as emotionally invested in it, because I just had that feeling we were about to get reamed on the rest of it. But yeah, it's definitely an improvement, I think, in a lot of ways. But, like I said, it's hard to look back at it because you knew that stuff was coming.
Chi Kong Lui: I never played it. I never got around to playing part 2, but I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about it, Brad.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, my God! You never played number 2?
Mike Bracken: You never played 2, really? Wow.
Brad Gallaway: I thought of all people, you would've played number 2, Chi. I am shocked. I am shocked and amazed. I never knew.
Mike Bracken: Man, you let Ryu down.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I did. Well, if we wrote down all the games that I haven't played yet, it'd be pretty shocking, actually, but anyway.
Brad Gallaway: Maybe we could do that for our 50th episode: Go down Chi's List of Shame.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, man. Ooh. What a way to celebrate 50 episodes.
Anyway. But go ahead, Brad. Let me hear you.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, well, I'm not gonna get too deep into it. I was just gonna say that I think we saw an expansion of the ideas, and I think 2 was a fantastic game in a lot of ways. Still flawed, for sure, but definitely better. But in general, I just wanted to go on record by saying I think that even thought it was tragic—referring to Shenmue 1—I don't think that I personally would call it tragic, just because it was reaching so far and had accomplished so much, that even though it stumbled, I think in general that it was more of a win than a loss, for me, anyway. But I understand why you picked it, though.
Chi Kong Lui: I don't think calling it tragic diminishes those accomplishments. If anything, it makes it more memorable. I think it makes it more enduring, in some ways.
Mike Bracken: In some ways it's tragic, mostly just because you never got to see where it was all going to go and how it would've evolved if he'd got to make the whole series.
* Brad Gallaway:* Oh, yeah, definitely. Especially when you get to the end of number 2, you're just dying to see what's next.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, and that was the worst experience for me, knowing that this is the cliffhanger for eternity, basically.
Chi Kong Lui: Here's something interesting to think about, though. Do you think that a true Shenmue could ever exist? You would think the technology would be able to do it by now, but they haven't even tried a this point. It's kinda weird.
Brad Gallaway: I think so. I think it could definitely be done with the level of technology we've displayed today. I think it just shot itself in the foot by coming out too soon. A lot of people have bad memories of it.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Brad Gallaway: All of Suzuki's chutzpah's gone now, because he's not really a big player these days, anymore. He can't devote $60 million of Sega's money these days. Sega itself isn't even Sega anymore, so.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, but come on. There's been games with much worse credit cred that have gotten a sequel.
Mike Bracken: I was gonna say: Could you imagine if he teams up with Peter Molyneux?
Ugh. The promises we'd hear? And the game we'd get?
Chi Long Lui: And Denis Dyack.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, and Dyack.
Richard Niak: "You'll be able to control this game with your mind."
Mike Bracken: Yep.
Richard Naik: "Your eyes closed."
"With your feet."
Mike Bracken: "You will quit living your life and just live this life instead."
Richard Naik: "Your life is actually the game. The game's your real life."
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right, right.
Tim Spaeth: Chi, was Shenmue your one and only choice, or do you have [another]?
Chi Kong Lui: I had a second pick, and that other pick was Driver: You are the Wheelman. You guys remember that one?
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: That game actually came out in the first year of GameCritics, and that's one of the first games that Dale and I weren't too happy about, and one of the first game reviews that made us outliers right off the bat. [Laughter].
Mike Bracken: Ah, the birth of outlying.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right. For some reason, people excuse that first game. Again, going back to it, it was a great concept. That whole ‘70s/'80s car chase genre, sounded like a great idea on paper. It's something we don't even have today, really, that's done exactly in that kind of vein. The game, as Brad always says, it was a steaming pile of mess. Nothing went right about that game in my mind. The cut-scenes and the CGI were just godawful. The mission design was horrible. Technically, it wasn't that great, and it was a shame, because I was a big fan of the developers, Reflections, who did the Destruction Derby series. I love Destruction Derby. If anyone could've done this game well, I thought it would've been them, but it never happened.
And then the sequel came out, and this game came out a year prior to Grand Theft Auto III, where you can get out of the car and jack other cars. So they actually beat Grand Theft Auto III to the punch, but again, the game is so bad that it never caught on any momentum. And then, strangely enough, the concept was still so strong that they somehow managed to create a third sequel to this game that was at that point universally hated. But, to me, it was a great concept: loved the idea of just being that courier, that driver, wheelman, and they just never were able to put together a game that was good in any way, really.
Tim Spaeth: Wasn't there a spiritual successor to Driver called The Wheelman?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, and I think Vin Diesel was associated with that game, too, in some way, wasn't he?
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeath, that's right. He's the main character in that one.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: That would've been right around The Fast and the Furious time, so that would've made sense.
Chi Kong Lui: I think it came a little after The Fast and the Furious. Vin Diesel was losing a little bit of juice there at that point.
Tim Spaeth: I think it was just a couple years ago, wasn't it?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it's not that old. It's only two or three years ago. It's not that old.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I'm so burned out on the franchise that I didn't even bother to check it out. I just assumed it sucked, unless people started saying it didn't.
Tim Spaeth: So is there any chance Driver is coming back? Are they still making these games, or is it done?
Chi Kong Lui: I have no idea.
Mike Bracken: Never say never.
Tim Spaeth: Never say never. Dare to dream.
Mike Bracken: Maybe it'll come back when Guitar Hero comes back.
Chi Kong Lui: What happened to Guitar Hero?
Mike bracken: Oh, geez.
Brad Gallaway: Dude!
Tim Spaeth: In our new segment…
Mike and Brad: Chi misses the news. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Activision shut down the Guitar Hero division and laid off all those people. There will be no more Guitar Heros.
Chi Kong Lui: Wow. When did this happen?
Mike Bracken: This week.
Tim Spaeth: Couple days ago.
Mike Bracken: Couple days ago, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Before we get too far off on a tangent, let's all take a moment of silence and remember these tragic games. We will take one last break, we'll come back. Our final segment, a new segment, Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down. Stick with us. We're coming right back.
Welcome back. This brings us to our final segment. It's a new way to close out the show. We call it "Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down." Think of these as parting shots. Each of us will deliver a thumbs up or a thumbs down to some random topic, some random event, some random thought. Maybe it's game-related, maybe it's not. Hopefully it's not. We'll see. The thumbs, obviously, that's as tribute to the late Gene Siskel, in many ways our inspiration, but not Roger Ebert, certainly.
Brad Gallaway: Because he's a punk.
Mike Bracken: That's Rog, as we call him in the trades.
Tim Spaeth: That's true. Good old Rog. Brad, I will give you the honor of being our first Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down participant.
Brad Gallaway: Great, great. So to start this off this week, I'm gonna give a thumbs up to powder milk biscuits. Made in Minnesota by Norwegian farmers, they give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Heavens, they're tasty.
Chi Kong Lui: We would've gotten paid for that one, dude.
Mike Bracken: We need a product endorsement for that.
Tim Spaeth: I don't believe I used the word "marketing" in the introduction to this segment. All right, fantastic. Richard, thumbs up, thumbs down.
Richard Naik: Thumbs up to Akira Kurosawa and the film The Seven Samurai, which I watched a couple days ago. It's a very good movie.
Mike Bracken: Wow. It was your first time?
Richard Naik: Yeah. Hadn't seen it before.
Mike Bracken: Wow. Awesome. Classic.
Richard Naik: Um-hm.
Tim Spaeth: Is that a film about Italian emotions?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, exactly.
Richard Naik: Yeah. Really. It's a samurai movie about Italian emotions.
Mike Bracken: Yes. There's lots of swords in it. Emotional Italians.
Tim Spaeth: Emotional Italian swords.
Brad Gallaway: It was big in the ‘70s.
Mike Bracken: It was, it was.
Tim Spaeth: Chi Kong Lui, thumbs up, thumbs down?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I wanted this one to be gaming-related, but sadly, there's just not anything right now going on gaming-related that I can give a big thumbs-up to. So I'm also gonna go the film route and give a thumbs up to the Millennium Trilogy, also known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Stirred the Hornets' Nest. Really, really terrific movies. They're all on Netflix on instant watch, so go check ‘em out if you haven't.
Tim Spaeth: Obviously, these are based on the books.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I've only seen the movies. I haven't read the books.
Tim Spaeth: I haven't read the books, either, but The Dragon Tattoo is perpetually the number one most downloaded Kindle book, and I guess I feel obligated to read it.
Mike Bracken: It's all right.
Tim Spaeth: Real fast, what are these about? What's the general subject matter?
Chi Kong Lui: Man, I can't even describe it. All three movies are completely different films. They all revolve around this new wave hacker chick. I don't even wanna say it that way.
Mike Bracken: You don't wanna say it that way, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: It sounds like it's so cheesy and everything, but they're very realistic films, in the sense that they're just about people, and somehow they're able to make people interesting. They're not doing exactly normal things, but it's played out in a very normal way, and yet, it's just fascinating. It is also horrifying and thrilling at the same time. Just go watch ‘em—it's really hard to describe.
Tim Spaeth: Cool.
Chi Kong Lui: Mike, have you seen them yet?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, and I've only read the first book, but I've seen all three of the films. They're actually remaking the first one here in America.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm dreading that, but, yeah. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Yeah, so.
Chi Kong Lui: But David Fincher's involved.
Mike Bracken: Fincher's directing.
Chi Kong Lui: He's the right guy for that.
Mike Bracken: They got Rooney Mara to star in it, though. I'm a little concerned about that. So I'm not sure how that's gonna work out.
Tim Spaeth: All right, well good. Very good, very good. Mike Bracken, thumbs up, thumbs down?
Mike Bracken: Yes, first up, thumbs down for the Steelers losing the Super Bowl. I'm still devastated by that. A big thumbs down to the NFL for continuing to waste 30 minutes of game time with stupid fucking halftime shows that nobody gives a shit about. In years past, we've seen this trend now where we get a bunch of old rockers. This year, they tried to make it young again and make everybody with a high-def television look at Fergie's fugly man-face. So, in 1080p that's not pretty. I will give a thumbs up to wardrobe, though, because at least we didn't have a wardrobe malfunction this year. The last thing I wanted to see was Fergie's penis slip out of a dress in high-def.
Last but not least, a huge thumbs down to me for my second segment arrogance in talking about Italian horror films. I was totally not prepared for that to come my way, and, yeah, I'm a douche.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, brilliant. I love it. Finally from me, thumbs up to Stan Bush. Do you guys know the name Stan Bush?
Mike Bracken: I do know it.
Brad Gallaway: Sounds very familiar.
Chi Kong Lui: The guy who did "The Touch?"
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. ‘80s rocker Stan Bush. He did "The Touch" and "Dare" on the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. There you go.
Tim Spaeth: Chi, you must know both those songs by heart.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. Um-hm. Sure. But I'm not in the mood to sing a few verses.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, come on. If I start it off, will you join me?
Chi Kong Lui: I'll sing along, sure.
Tim Spaeth: I just want you to solo. I bet if they sang it on Glee, you would sing it.
Chi Kong Lui: Sure, I'll do the guitar riff right at the beginning. [fake guitar riff]
Brad Gallaway: Oh, my God.
Tim Spaeth: That's great, Chi. That was great. Stan has a new song out. It's called "Heat of the Battle," and it's a fine song. It's actually not bad. It's classic Bush. Lines like: "Take a stand, stand in the fire and it's all on the line." It's a fine song, but that's not the point. My thumbs up is for the video for this song. It's on YouTube. Just search "Stan Bush heat of the battle." Don't do it now—wait till the show's over.
Richard Naik: I'm doing it now.
Brad Gallaway: No, don't do it now.
Tim Spaeth: Don't do it now!
Richard Naik: I'm doing it now.
Tim Spaeth: Let me describe it first. It easily features the most implausible sequence of events I have ever seen in any audiovisual medium. So imagine—don't watch it, let me describe it first—imagine a young, sexy blonde, like early 20s. She comes home from a workout, so she's sweaty, she's wearing skimpy workout clothes. So, to relax, she sprawls out on her couch and she turns on the television, and she's flipping channels, and nothing's really appealing to her. But eventually, she flips to the Michael Bay Transformers movie. And you can see on her face, "Yeah, all right. Okay. Transformers? Cool. Fine." It peaks her interest a bit, but she flips channels again, and it's the 1980s Transformers movie. And now she's excited. She's: "Transformers: The Movie? Great!"
So it's still not quite enough for her. So she reaches over under her cocktail table, where there is a copy of the Xbox Transformers: War for Cybertron game. It's just sitting there, at random. So she puts it in, and I don't wanna spoil the rich narrative, but the rest of the video consists of her playing War for Cybertron online against another hot chick. It's amazing, because neither woman has clearly ever played a video game before. As you'll see in the video, they aren't pressing any buttons, and they're shaking the controller to get the characters to do things.
But my favorite part is, superimposed on the video footage of War for Cybertron is Stan Bush himself. He's jamming on the guitar, and every time you see him, the camera gets closer and closer and closer, and you can start to see his hair plugs.
And this entire video, it's just an epic cavalcade of bad decisions. So Stan Bush, you earn my thumbs up this week. Possibly the most entertaining three and a half minutes you will have on YouTube. "Heart of the Battle," thumbs up to Stan Bush. And thumbs up to you gentlemen for coming through big time in that final segment. I think that's a winner.
So let's wrap things up for episode 49. Just a couple programming notes. First of all, if you're a fan of Doctor Who— Are you a fan of Doctor Who, anyone?
Brad Gallaway: Yes.
Mike Bracken: No.
Tim Spaeth: Brad, you're a fan of Doctor Who. You're going to be joining me for a little one-off Doctor Who podcast, talking mostly about the modern series. We're gonna have some very special guests. I'm really looking forward to that.
Brad Gallaway: I am, too.
Chi Kong Lui: Go crazy, you two. Go crazy.
Mike Bracken: I feel the energy levels [unknown] already.
Brad Gallaway: You know what, Chi? You're not welcome. Mike, you're not welcome, either. We're talking any Italian anything on that show.
Chi Kong Lui: See you on the show after that.
Tim Spaeth: That's gonna be coming up in the near future, if you're a Doctor Who fan.
Mike Bracken: You're not invited to my giallo podcast, damn you.
Richard Naik: You're not invited to the Team Fortress podcast, either.
Tim Spaeth: Well, that's another thing that's cooking up, is our epic Team Fortress/World of Warcraft showdown, Richard, you and I, and we'll have some special guests for that. That's gonna be coming out soon. But the big news, of course, GameCritics.com podcast, episode number 50. That's right—number 50. That's our next show. We have some really fun stuff planned. We've got some special guests; we've got some special music, some incredible topics lined up. I may drag out some deleted scenes, some outttakes. We will see how ambitious I feel, so don't count on much of that happening at all.
But nevertheless, number 50, very big show. That is going to be coming up soon. So to you the audience listening, your comments, suggestions always welcome. Post them at GameCritics.com, and if you're feeling ambitious, leave us some kind words on either the iTunes store or the Zune marketplace. I want to thank my co-hosts, Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik. Thank you, gentlemen. We leave you tonight with a cut off Stan Bush's new album. It's called "Heart of the Battle."
Chi Kong Lui: I knew that was gonna happen.
Tim Spaeth: So long, farewell, good night and bonne chance.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.