Brad's review was just the beginning; we debate the exhilarating highs and inexplicable lows of Mass Effect 2. Plus: Tim quits games, classic sequels we love, and statistics, statistics, statistics. With Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike "The Outlier" Bracken, Richard Naik, and Tim Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: Here we go, folks—GameCritics podcast, episode 30. God, we're so old. I'm Tim Spaeth; I'm joined this week by four—count 'em, four—of my GameCritics.com brothers. Let's start by introducing Richard Naik.
Richard Naik: Hey, everybody.
Tim Spaeth: Welcome to the show. How are you, sir?
Richard Naik: I'm doing well.
Tim Spaeth: Did I blow everybody's minds by introducing Richard first?
Mike Bracken: You did.
Richard Naik: You blew my mind. I wasn't expecting it.
Tim Spaeth: Shaking things up. Keeping it fresh.
Chi Kong Lui: Lost my place in the spot, there. That's all right. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Well, just hang on, Chi. It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be all right. We'll get there. Let's also welcome the horror geek himself, Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: Good evening, everyone.
Tim Spaeth: It's great to have you here, Mike. Doing well?
Mike Bracken: It's great to be here. I'm super. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Tim Spaeth: Oh! Love it. Also joining us, Brad Gallaway. Hi, Brad.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, hey, everybody. How's it going?
Tim Spaeth: It's going well; how's your week going?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, you know. It's been better. But I think I'm gonna recover nicely, thank you.
Tim Spaeth: Good. Good. And last but not least, our founder and owner, Chi Kong Lui.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey, guys. How's it going, man?
Tim Spaeth: See, Chi? We got to you.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, yeah.
Mike Bracken: [Except you're?] last.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. Self-esteem minus five. That's all right.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, I'm terribly sorry.Terribly sorry. It's gonna be fine.
Well, folks, our main event this week, it's Mass Effect 2, because no one else is talking about it. Somebody has to. For those who aren't familiar, it's an obscure little indie title. We're doing our part to help the small man, so Mass Effect 2 coming up in just a bit. In our dénouement this week, sequels we love, possibly sequels we hate. We'll name-check a few and see if we can come to a consensus on what makes for a great sequel.
So all that comeing up. But up first in our opening salvo, it's our question of the week. Now, this question comes from one of our readers, Teemotay Spah-eth.
Brad Gallaway: Isn't it the Klingon pronunciation, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: That's a little alias I go by, periodically. I think it's pretty tight. He wrote on the forums, he asked this question:
"Do you ever feel guilty about being a gamer? Do you ever regret the time you've spent playing games?
And like I said, this is a forum thread I actually started. In that thread, a number of our readers shared a lot of very personal insight to their experiences tackling this question. I want to thank all the readers for that. Where I was coming from, I've been gaming since I was five years old, six years old, seven, something like that. And here I am now, in my mid-30s still gaming.
And if you phrase that a certain way, I have had the same primary hobby for 30 years. I have the same hobby I had when I was five years old. Phrased that way, it doesn't sound very good. It's a little embarrassing when you say it like that. And I kind of feel like if that hobby was something like baseball, or painting, or carpentry, or piano, or something other than video games, I think I would feel better about it. But there's just something about video games where I've started thinking: "Gosh! Maybe I should've moved on. Should I have stopped at some point?" I have some theories about this, but I wanna know what you guys think. Have you ever felt guilt or remorse over your game playing?
Brad Gallaway: No.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] No. So I'm alone here. Tell me why not, Brad.
Brad Gallaway: Well, it's kind of like you said. It's a hobby just like anything else, whether it's stamp collecting, fishing, being a sports nut. Everybody's got something they're into, and, although people may change their hobbies over the years, there's plenty of people that don't. My dad has built model airplanes since he was a kid, and he's just about 60 now—something like that. He's had his thing, and he liked it, and he stayed with it. It's no big deal.
I think just because games used to have that stigma of being "the nerds' entertainment" or "you could only be a social outcast and enjoy gaming"—that used to be the stigma, but I don't really think it's that way anymore. I don't think anybody has anything to be ashamed of. It would be just the same to me as if I was a football head.
When I look at people who watch football…nothing against football, but I can't stand football. I think it's the biggest fucking waste of time in the world. When I see these people who memorize years and years of stats, and they watch every single game every single weekend, and they have the jerseys and all this stuff, I'm like: "Man! You're a total fucking loser."
Mike Bracken: Aw, Jesus Christ, Brad, I'm a fucking loser? I've got 15 fucking hockey jerseys; I've got football jerseys. Jesus. I'm glad this has come out now, that I'm a loser. Thank you.
Brad Gallaway: I'm glad I'm not at your house right now.
Mike Bracken: Wait 'til I go type anonymous comments on your Mass Effect 2 review.
Brad Gallaway: Oh! That was you? I knew it.
But I say that to be kind of controversial and to drive the point home, because I know that football's a really, really popular thing that a lot of people like. But you could flip that, and those football people could say: "Man, look at that geek. He's been playing games for 30 years, and what does he have to show for it? Nothing." It's totally your perspective. As far as I'm concerned, I love games, it's something I've really enjoyed. Just like you, Tim, and the rest of you guys, I'm sure, I've been playing since I was five or six, so that's like 29 years or something like that.
So no, I don't feel bad at all. And on top of that, if you ever want to be the best at something, you have to put the time into it. At this point, I would be very comfortable putting my personal experience up against anybody else in the industry, as far as video games are concerned. On top of the fact that my wife is a gamer, so it's something that we can share. For me, anyway, I have nothing to be embarrassed about, and I'm really proud that I've put my time in. And I'm waiting for the hate mail to come in on the football thing, now. 'Cause I didn't have enough already.
Chi Kong Lui: There's this really bad Michael Rapaport movie about comic books. He's a hardcore comic book fan, and he has this line where he thinks to himself that if he had spent all his time and energy towards something else, perhaps he could have solved some kind of disease or created some kind of amazing scientific discovery. He just sort of muses that to himself. So I always think back to that scene, whenever I think about this.
For me, I do think a large part of writing about games is an attempt to justify all the time that I spent in games, and try to understand why I enjoy it. I don't regret it; I don't think it's a waste of time, either. I think everyone's got their own thing. That's where I stand with it.
Mike Bracken: That's an interesting point about the Michael Rapaport movie. As we know, my MMO hours are the stuff of legend on this show. And there are times that the admission and the thinking about how many hours of my life I spent on a couple of games is a little bit depressing. And I would think the same thing: "Oh, my God! With those hours I could've gotten a doctorate or done something with my life!" But the reality of that is that, if I hadn't spent that time playing games, I would've spent it wasted on something else.
It's nice to think: "Well, if I had those hours, I would've gone to college and done this or that," or "I would've gotten some great career." But the reality of it is, I would've probably fucking watched Judge Mathis for six years or something.
But I wrestle with this a lot. I think we're in a unique position, because we fucking play games and we write about them, so it sort of justifies the playing and stuff. And I'm always grateful, because I've gotten to go to E3, I've gotten to cover industry events. I've gotten to do a lot of things because I played games and wrote about them. I don't ever regret them in that way. There are certainly days where I don't want to play games and I never feel bad about it. But, at the same time, and I know I've spent an obscene amount of time over the years playing them, but it's a hobby. And that's what you do with hobbies, so I don't really have a big problem with it.
Brad Gallaway: To piggyback on what you just said, Mike, that's actually a really good point. Looking back, a lot of some of the best memories of my life so far have been game-related in one way or another. Not necessarily owning somebody in a particular multiplayer match or something like that.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] We have a little more life. Then it was really exciting killing Arthus.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, like you said, going to E3 and I got to meet a lot of the developers who I really idolize. A lot of their work is great; you get a chance to talk to them. I'm meeting my wife peripherally through video games and having that interest together. A lot of the people who I'm really good friends with who are involved in the gaming world. All the other folks I've bumped into and the circles that I've cultivated over the years have been really personally rewarding. I wouldn't have met any of those people or done any of those things if I hadn't put the time into games.
Going back to the football thing—if you put enough time and effot into it, you increase your knowledge of the subject. It takes you places and you go places. It's kind of like, if you're a football fan, you go to the Super Bowl. For us, you go to E3, and you have these things that just kind of add to it. It's not like we're sitting in our homes in this dark room on a couch alone for years and years and years. There's a whole lifestyle associated with it, once you take it past the casual level. Do you guys find that to be true as well?L
Richard Naik: Yeah. A lot of my friends that I have now, I didn't necessarily meet them through gaming, but I grew to know them through gaming in several different ways, so, yeah, that's kind of how I feel. And especially, it's because I'm usually much more at peace when I'm gaming. It's sort of my release mechanism if something's not going right. So, no, I've never felt any guilt about it whatsoever.
Tim Spaeth: One of the things that came up in the thread quite a bit was achieving balance in your life. I had a lot of people comment: "Well, are you unsatisfied with something?" And that's not the case at all. I have a wonderful wife; I have three very healthy, happy children; I have a job I like very much. There's really nothing that I'm unhappy about. It's just, i think, when you reach our age, you hit your mid 30s and, I don't know how old you are, Richard. How old are you, Richard? Can you estimate?
Richard Naik: I will be 26 in about three weeks.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, so you're a kid, basically. You're a young lad.
Richard Naik: Yeah. I'm a young vagrant, yes, basically.
Tim Spaeth: Well, I think when you have a family and you have kids, you do tend to be more reflective—particularly because my kids are getting older, and they're starting to have ideas and thoughts and I need to be more conscious of how I'm behaving around them and how I'm raising them. You do start to look back and think about how you've dealt with things in your life and how you've spent your time, and I think that's kind of what's happening to me right now.
So I don't know. I feel like I need to do soemthing about these thoughts I'm having. So I've made a decision, and I put this out in the forums: When I finish Mass Effect 2, I am going to stop playing games for a month. I'm just gonna stop, and see what happens. Nothing may happen, or I may discover some other hobby that I've never even considered, and that may become a new passion. But that's what I'm gonna be doing. So on the podcast, we'll kind of track how I'm dealing with that—if I'm going through withdrawal. Is somebody okay?
Mike Bracken: Somebody's dying.
Tim Spaeth: Somebody's dying!
Richard Naik: I just coughed; I'm sorry.
Tim Spaeth: You're not supposed to have that kind of reaction. I'm sorry if this is hurtful to you.
Richard Naik: No, no, no. The wine didn't go down the right chute.
Tim Spaeth: As long as you're drinking, it's fine. So, we'll kind of track my withdrawal symptoms on the podcast, and we'll see what happens. But, really, who do you want hosting your video game podcast more than a guy who's not playing video games? Really.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, Tim, can I follow up with you on something real quick?
Tim Spaeth: Absolutely.
Brad Gallaway: I want to put it to you about: Why are you picking games as the thing you're gonna quit for a month? Is there soemthing else you're quitting along with that, or is it because you feel like it's not something that you're proud of? It sounds like you maybe have some kind of…I hesitate to say "self-worth issues" going on here, but—
Instead of that, why wouldn't you say: "Well, I don't like my job because it keeps me away from my family too much," or "I don't like my wife becasue we don't get along"? Is there some reason that you selected that alone, or is there something else you're doing? What was the motivation for picking games for this particular point in your life?
Tim Spaeth: Because everything that I have going on in my life right now has a practical, tangible benefit to me. Exercise contributes to my health; playing with my children brings me joy and educates them and brings them joy; eating allows me to survive. But there's really nothing else for me to give up, and yet I feel like I need to give it up. And all I have to give up at this point is video games. Everything else contributes to my life in a positive way, and right now, I don't feel like video games are contributing to my life in a positive way. So I just wanna see what happens if they go away for a while. Because really, other than college when most of my time was focused on lovemaking, I haven't really ever not had games in my life, and I'm really curious: What is life like when they're not around?
Richard Naik: Tim, do you play games with your children on a regular basis?
Tim Spaeth: No. In fact, I don't let them play games. The only thing that they have ever played—
Richard Naik: You don't play Wii Sports with them, or something like that?
Tim Spaeth: No. We have played Rock Band, only because I was trying to introduce them to music. [Joking] I really want them to become Pearl Jam and Nirvana fans. They're three. But that's it—no, we haven't played any games. I think I am a little paranoid about introducing them to games at this age.
Brad Gallaway: They're still pretty young. Do you feel like that's gonna be your stance when they get older, or is it just because of this particular age? What's your take on that?
Tim Spaeth: I think it's this particular age. [There are] so many other things that I have prioritized for them in their education and their play and their interaction with other kids, that video games are video games are very, very low on the priority scale. For the amount of time that I get to spend with them,—which is a few hours during the week and then all weekend—there's so much other stuff I wanna do with them, that video games is just…I just…no interest in playing with them.
Chi Kong Lui: It's interesting you bring that up, Tim, because I have a four-year-old as well, and since he was three years old, I've basically let him go to town on video games. He's played an extreme wide variety of games already, mostly on the DS. So it would be an interesting thing to compare and contrast. I don't know if you had any questions on that, or if we're gonna go too far off topic here.
Brad Gallaway: That may be a good topic for later, too. I have one who's eight, and so I have definitely taken him the game route. We can talk about that some other time. I have another one who's eight months, and so I'm kind of basing my experience from the first one, to: What am I gonna do with the second one? I think we could probably do an entire podcast on kids and gaming, it sounds like.
Tim Spaeth: Well, we've talked about that many times, so why don't we shelve this for now and come back to it and do a full show? I know we have other parents who listen to the show, and I think it would be a valuable discussion.
Brad Gallaway: I agree.
Chi Kong Lui: Great.
Tim Spaeth: Rock and roll. Well, guys, thanks for indulging my self-reflection. Why don't we take a break? When we return, Commander Shepard's back, but is he better than ever? Mass Effect 2 in two-and-two. Be right back.
Brad Gallaway: Is she better than ever.
Chi Kong Lui: I was just gonna say the same thing. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Oh, shoot! She?
Brad Gallaway: Commander Shepard's a woman, Tim, sorry.
Tim Spaeth: You guys are playing lady Shepards?
Richard Naik: I didn't.
Brad Gallaway: Playing a lady Shepard? That's valid.
Richard Naik: I played a dude Shepard.
Brad Gallaway: You guys are the outliers, man. I don't know where you're coming from.
Mike Bracken: Everyone's a fucking outlier tonight. Jesus! Can you get into the proper spot on the bell curve, please?
Tim Spaeth: There is probably no one listening to this show who isn't familiar with Mass Effect or its newly released sequel, Mass Effect 2: Return of Mass Effect. And that is the topic of this week's main event. Now, as of this recording, Richard and Brad, you have both finished the game. Correct?
Richard Naik: Yes, sir.
Brad Gallaway: Correct.
Tim Spaeth: And Mike and Chi, you have never played a Mass Effect game at all. Correct?
Chi Kong Lui: Untrue. I've just started to play Mass Effect 1, actually. I'm like 10 hours in.
Tim Spaeth: So you more than just started playing Mass Effect.
Chi Kong Lui: Enh. It feels like I just started playing, so I'll leave it at that.
Tim Spaeth: Fair enough, fair enough. And Mike, you haven't played it at all, right.
Mike Bracken: No, I have not. Truthfully, I am embarrassed to admit it, because it's like: Jesus Christ! I've played a bazillion RPGs, so how did I not play the Xbox 360's biggest shooter RPG. But it's just one of those things that fell through the cracks, because I was really busy playing cool shit like Star Ocean 4, or something.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, sexy. So I'm about 20 hours into Mass Effect 2. I think I'm a little beyond halfway; I'm not positive. But out of respect to those of us who have either not played the game or haven't finished, we're going to try to stay as spoiler-free as possible. We'll probably talk about the connectivity to the first game, the general structure, maybe a high-level view of a few quests. But we will try to respect those who haven't played the game. If we have to go into spoiler territory, we will give you a warning when we do so.
So just to kind of set the stage for those of us who have played, let's just give a brief overview of what system you're playing on. Are you playing on PC or Xbox? What gender is your Shepard? What class are you? What alignment were you? Just so everybody knows where we're coming from. Very quickly, I'm on the Xbox, I'm playing as the Vanguard, I am a male Shepard with ginger-colored hair, and I am playing as a Renegade, or the evil class, for those who aren't familiar with the term.
Mike Bracken: You know, when you say Renegade in this game, I always think of that fucking old Lorenzo Lamas show Renegade.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] No motorcycles involved.
Tim Spaeth: Why was that never a game?
Mike Bracken: I don't know. 'Cause it sure should've been.
Chi Kong Lui: There is an original Renegade game, though. The original beat-em-up is Renegade.
Mike Bracken: Right. But it doesn't have any Lorenzo Lamas in it.
Tim Spaeth: That's another podcast we need to do, a Lorenzo Lamas podcast. Richard, what about you?
Richard Naik: I am playing on the PC. My Shepard is a male; his name is Dirk Shepard. I'm playing as the Vanguard, and I am playing as a Paragon.
Brad Gallaway: I am a female Shepard, and I have to say that I'm glad I chose a female Shepard because the voice actress is really superb, so I'm really glad I went that route. I'm playing on 360, by the way. In the first Mass Effect I played Paragon pretty much the whole way through—the goody-two-shoes—but as I made my way through Mass Effect 2, I was still leaning Paragon strongly, but there was more than a few times when I went Renegade, because it seemed to fit the situation. So I kind of straddled both realms this time around. I'm playing also as a strict soldier—none of the biotic powers or the engineering abilities. Just guns for me.
Tim Spaeth: Now, Brad, you and I played on opening night. We both got our copies, and we were both back-and-forthing on Twitter. Your early tweets on this game were really kind of depressing to me. I actually went into a deep depression reading some of your early comments about the game from, say, the first five-ten hours. Talk about those early impressions, and also talk a little bit about your expectations coming in from Mass Effect.
Brad Gallaway: To be clear, I actually was depressed. I was really, really down. Anybody who's familiar with the site knows that I have a really great and profound love of the first Mass Effect. That was, to me, one of the greatest games of all time. It had problems, and people are always like: "Enh. It had the elevators" and "The textures popped in."
Fuck all that stuff. None of that stuff mattered. To me, it was such a transcendent mix of characterization and storytelling and action, and it go so many things right. Everything was phenomenal. I have a dozen memories from the first game that I will never forget, that I felt were just so tremendous. Of course, the bar was set pretty high.
Saying that, though, BioWare is such an awesome developer. They haven't really biffed any of their games, as far as I'm concerned. Some are better than others, and some have issues and all that. But on the whole, I will take a BioWare game over pretty much any other developer's game in the industry right now. They pretty much are the top of what I enjoy playing. So the bar was set high, and it was coming from a developer who I have nothing but the utmost faith and respect for.
It's pretty fair to say that I was expecting a lot. When I first popped in the game, I haven't been that excited about a game in while, so it was like: "Oh, my God! I get to come back to Mass Effect; I had such a great time. Continue that experience, really looking forward to it." Had my evening clear. I'd made a little snack and everything was good. And I couldn't get over the fact that it was just so profoundly different. I [get that?] it was fair to say that it was different than I expected, different than what I wanted and it was a little difficult at first.
I don't think it's really one of those cases of where it was like I wanted one very specific thing, and because I didn't get it I didn't like it. I think it was more along the lines of: "Wow. I really don't like all the changes they've made." I realize that a game can't stay static forever—sequels are always gonna be different in some form. But I hit a bunch of things in a row that I really, really strongly disliked. I just started crashing. I think it's fair to say I was pretty depressed those first two nights or so.
Tim Spaeth: Talk a little bit about specifically what depressed you.
Brad Gallaway: A lot of it was just the technical stuff. I really enjoyed a lot of the gear and a lot of the assigning the mods to the guns, and the different things that you can do to your team. That was just totally gone. I opened up the instruction book and I was going through the menus. I was like: "Where is it? Where is it? It's gotta be here! Where is all that stuff!? Where'd it go!?" And it was just gone. And the thing about the ammo—playing as a strict soldier class, I don't have any of the powers or anything, so I found myself running out of ammo pretty often. That was a real drag on the gameplay.
The level designs immediately struck me in the face as being really, really night-and-day different from the first game. Not like the first game was any kind of open world game or anything, not at all, but the levels were much larger. They were much more open for exploration. They weren't as focused as they were [in Mass Effect 2]. I was going through the missions and I just kept feeling like: "Wow. This is like Gears of War." Every level is pretty much a straight line, and every room has these three-foot barriers that don't exist anywhere in the world, except for in shooter games. Have you ever been in a hallway where it's littered with three-foot-high boxes in the middle of the floor? I've never seen that.
I noticed in a hurry that BioWare had really taken a lot of liberties with the formula. Rather than being RPG with shooter thrown in, it was now shooter-shooter-shooter with a little bit of RPG thrown in. That, to me, was pretty disappointing. It's still a good game, and I wanna say that I do like it. I finished it with 100 percent, so I did everything you can do in the game. I really went through and I saw all the content. But I think it was a little bit of a dirty trick on BioWare's part to shift their focus on genres. I think it really was an RPG the first time around, and I don't think that's necessarily true in Mass Effect 2.
Chi Kong Lui: Here's the part I don't get. The first game was wildly successful, I think. How much more successful can they get with a sequel? Why do you think they felt the need to make these changes? Was it to capture a wider audience in some way?
Brad Gallaway: I think that's part of it. But I think that, regardless of how successful it was—and it was certainly successful—I don't think it was quite as successful as BioWare wanted it to be. They said several times that they were really listening to the fans; they were gonna take all that feedback to heart. But, like I said in my review, [joking] the review which has won so many fans and has really captured the hearts and minds of our readers—
Mike Bracken: I think it's the review we refer to as a "statistica outlier."
Brad Gallaway: As I state in that review, I feel like a lot of the changes were wild overreactions. Did it really bother people that much that the loading screens were that long? Did it really bother people that they had to drive the off-road vehicle that BioWare felt the need to completely strip that out? I just felt like they were caving in too much to some of the nitpicking that was going on rather than trying to really justify what it was they'd created in the first place. I don't know if that's really what happened, but that's my feeling on it.
Richard Naik: You said that in the first game it was mostly an RPG. Now it's a shooter with an RPG dabbled on it. What defines an RPG to you?
Brad Gallaway: That's a really good question, Richard. I guess a lot of it is just, overall, the game's design. In the first one, if you really had to bullet point it out, you had a ton of skills that you could give your people. You could build them the way you wanted them to be built. You had a bunch of equipment, so you could modify things like that. The game really put a heavy focus on exploration, so if you wanted to roleplay being the galaxy explorer, there was plenty of opportunity to do that.
A lot of the quests did not have any combat in them. A lot of them were simply discussion quests—not the major ones, but a lot of the sidequests. So there were plenty of times when you could simply go into a place, talk to a certain number of people and you never drew your gun. You just kind of talked it out, and you played the role of actually being Commander Shepard solving these problems.
I really liked that aspect of it. I felt like I got to play the game the way I wanted to play the game. On top of that, the guns in the first one had infinite ammo, so if you wanted to use the sniper rifle all the time, then you could. You could really play the game however you wanted to play it, within reason.
Shifting that, when you look at the second one, the biggest thing is the levels. The levels are now straight lines. I don't know if you guys noticed, but they took away the map function when you're in a combat zone, and I think, honestly, it's because the levels are so linear. If you had maps, you would see right away how linear they were.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah; you don't need a map. You can't get lost.
Brad Gallaway: Literally. Exactly. And, to me, that's not a good thing. I don't like that. I like Gears of War, but when I want Gears of War I will go an play Gears of War. I don't want to play Gears of War in space when I'm playing Mass Effect. I just feel like a lot of the things that made it an RPG…they're still there. It's still an RPG, for sure, but it to me feels way more weighted on the shooter aspect. Every level is designed specifically around the combat; you have to search for ammo; they force you to switch between the guns. It's fine. If it was any other game, it would be fine. But to me, it feels like too much of a shift away from what made the first game superb and fantastic.
Tim Spaeth: The ammo comment is interesting because—I know we play different classes—I never came close to running out of ammo.
Richard Naik: Yeah; neither did I.
Tim Spaeth: And that could be because we were mixing up some biotics. But even halfway through the game, I got the sniper rifle and it came packed with 60 bullets. I never came close to running out of ammo.
Did you find the combat in general to be…how would you rate it? If you compare it to Gears of War, I don't think it's anywhere near the quality of Gears of War. The shooting doesn't feel as powerful; you don't feel as in control. It really feels like a stripped-down Gears of War. I was not terribly impressed with it in the first game, and, frankly, not terribly impressed with it here. Frankly, it's really, really easy in Mass Effect 2—much easier than in the first game, to the point where it really doesn't matter what gun you're using, and it doesn't matter what powers you use. You're just gonna blow through it.
Richard Naik Yeah. That was one of the gripes I had with combat, and was really one of the only gripes I had with combat: the game was really, really easy. But off of that, a lot of the things that I didn't like about combat in the first game? Gone now. Mainly it was because a lot of the cheap deaths from snipers that you can't see, or a bazillion rockets heading all at once, those are all gone now.
The teammate AI was a lot better in this one than it was in the first one. The first one, they were totally useless. They just got in my way all the time. I had to do everything; they didn't do anything without me telling them to. In this one, I find myself actually using the squad commands a lot more than in the first game, because my team is actually good at doing things now.
Tim Spaeth: See, that's interesting. So are you using the command where you would actually dictate where they go on the map?
Richard Naik: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: They teach you that once in the tutorial, and then I never used it again.
Richard Naik: Oh, I use it all the time.
Tim Spaeth: You don't need it, though. I've found you didn't need it.
Richard Naik: I was using it all the time, just to get my guys in better cover so they would be distracted by them, and then I would run around and flank them with a shotgun. And it would basically be "charge plus shotgun" just owns the shit out of everything.
Tim Spaeth: That is really powerful, but I found that the guns are strong enough that you could just pick people off from a distance. The shotgun seemed like, yes it was fun the first few times, but more of a hassle than it needed to be when you could just pick people off from afar. Different tactics, I guess.
Brad Gallaway: It's funny you guys are bringing this up. One other thing I really wanna mention is that, looking at all the different comments that people have made, specifically in reference to the combat engine and the shooting, it definitely is improved. By anyone's standard, it's better than it was in the first game, and I don't have an issue with that at all.
But it seems like the fan base is split now. People who really like the shooting aspect of it really feel like: "Man, this game is awesome!" But when you go back and talk to some of the people who like myself are more involved in the RPG side of it and really didn't care that much about the shooting aspect, I think a lot of people in that camp maybe are feeling like the changes are not for the best.
Chi Kong Lui: Richard, I wanted to get your overall take before you commented specifically also. What was your general impression of the game?
Richard Naik: I thought it was great. I really enjoyed it. Like Brad, there was a little shell-shock at the beginning of all the differences. It is a double-edged sword, because they do a lot of things that I really, really liked. But then on top of that, there's some changes that I did not like. Really, most of my disappointment with the game stems from what they did not do, rather than what they did.
As I was playing the game, I kept finding myself comparing it unfavorably to Dragon Age. Dragon Age took a lot of the advances that I was wanting Mass Effect 2 to take. Example: Dragon Age did away with karma points—the universal good/evil slider—and they replaced it with individual approval ratings for each of your party members.
Usually on my first playthrough in games like this, I will straddle a moral gray area, just because usually it's the most practical way to play the game. In Dragon Age I could do that and it would be great. I could choose whatever I wanted to—whatever fit the situation—without any fear of retribution from the game itself. When you have karma points like this, it's…Whenever I want to make a decision that seems like it fits the situation the best…Say I'm playing a Paragon and I get one of those little quick-time-events that says: "Hey, do the Renegade option," it feels like I'm sacrificing the identity of the character I'm trying to play. Dragon Age did away with that. I was hoping Mass Effect 2 would do away with it and they didn't.
Another thing that I was hoping Mass Effect 2 would do: They go to the trouble of creating all these great characters and creating all these great personalities, but you never get to see them bounce off of each other. You only get to see them in one-on-one conversations with Shepard, and that's something I really, really felt was missing in the first game. They do do it a little bit more in the second game, but not nearly as much as they did in Dragon Age.
Chi Kong Lui: And that to me is one of the best parts about Dragon Age, let me tell you.
Richard Naik: Yeah, they absolutely nailed that aspect. There was a really, really bad instance of this in one of the missions. Each character has a "loyalty mission" that deals with something that is going on in that character's life. One of them pertains to a character wanting revenge—to protect the innocent, we'll call this guy Jim. Jim is wanting revenge on this guy that betrayed him. You're getting ready to go do the deed and kill this guy, and Shepard and Jim have this really great dialogue about the nature of revenge. It's stuff like: "Will this really make you feel better? Is it worth it?" Just stuff like that, and it was a good conversation segment.
The third person I had with me—and that's another problem, is that I have 11 people to choose from and I can only have two people with me? But anyway, the third person with me, we'll call him Bob. They make it clear that this person has killed a lot of people in his lifetime—both as part of his profession and for personal reasons. So you'd expect Bob would have a very unique perspective on what is transpiring between what Jim is going through and what Shepard may be saying to him, and stuff like that. You'd expect Bob to chime in with some kind of insight into the situation, and he never does it. Bob never said a damn thing throughout the entire mission. He just sat around obliviously and stared at the wall. That wasn't the only time. That happened a lot, where I was expecting the third character to chime in with something and they never did it. It was really disappointing.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. Those who have played Dragon Age know that that was one of the best parts, again. Very often, the third or the fourth party member, even, would have their own take on the whole thing. That just blew my mind in Dragon Age.
Richard Naik: When I first saw that in Dragon Age, I'm like: "BioWare was listening to me when I complained about this for Mass Effect. I wanted them to do exactly this, and they did it." I was like: "Wow!" And then they didn't do it in Mass Effect 2? I'm like: "Well, goddamn."
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I totally agree with you guys. That was one of the things that really took me by surprise as well, because seeing all of the advances and the characterizations that they made in Dragon Age like you guys just mentioned—the cross-team talking, and people having their own multiple viewpoints on any situation. That was fantastic, and I loved that part of Dragon Age. That was the part that saved Dragon Age for me, honestly.
And then to see that none of that stuff was implemented in Mass Effect 2 felt really fake and really shallow at a lot of points. For the situation that you said, Richard, I went through that particular quest with the exact same team that you did, and I thought the exact same thing. I thought: "Wow. How come so-and-so over here isn't saying a goddamn thing?" It's really odd. It feels unnatural.
Richard Naik: And what's really funny is that when they're having that conversation, they're in this taxi cab. The third person is just sitting in the back, looking out the window for the entire conversation.
Brad Gallaway: I know! You can see him, too, daydreaming or something. He's, like, thinking about what hey's gonna eat when he gets back to the mess hall.
Tim Spaeth: You know, it's funny. I also took Bob on that mission, and I think we all subconsciously thought: "Here is an opportunity for three killers to talk about killing and revenge," and that there would be this great conversation that happens. It never happens. Very strange that we all took Bob, though.
Richard Naik: Bob's loyalty mission is also in the same area, so that makes sense.
Tim Spaeth: Let's talk a little bit about the cast. So much of the structure of this game is built around assembling this team. Getting the team together, it's a staple of quest fiction: you gotta get the Fellowship together if we're going off to Mordor. How did you feel that worked? It seems to comprise a good majority of the game—just getting people onto your team and then going on their loyalty quest. How did you guys feel about that?
Richard Naik: This was a double-edged sword for me, because one of the problems I thought with the first game was that you didn't really get to see all of the team in any sort of depth. There were four of your team members that you got to see in depth, and there was two that you did not. Whereas in Mass Effect 2, you get to see everyone in a lot of depth. I loved all of the loyalty missions. They made me like characters that I did not think I was going to like when I first picked them up. That part of it was a great addition.
On the other side, that sort of depth that you see all the characters in is done so at the sacrifice of the overall plot. Not much happens in regards to the main story, which was kind of disappointing, given that the narrative in the first one was just so great. It worked so well, whereas in this one, it's kind of thin. It's like they stepped it up in one area and they stepped it down in another one. Although I do have to say, the events that happen at the end of the game would not have been as good as they were if you didn't get to see the characters in that kind of depth.
Brad Gallaway: It's interesting you say that, Richard, because I kind of agree and I kind of don't. I think I have a slightly different take on what you said. First things first: I don't think it's any kind of a spoiler to say that three-quarters of the game is collecting people. 75 percent of the game is about collecting characters.
Richard Naik: Yeah. The game is less about defending the galaxy from evil aliens, and more about eleven people. (I refuse to count that stupid DLC character that does nothing).
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. It's a huge departure from any traditional RPG structure, or any narrative structure, for that matter. I can't think of anything in any media anywhere that spends that much time simply introducing characters. So that, to me, felt like it was a real risky move on BioWare's part to do that. And honestly, I don't think that it paid off.
One thing that really kind of bugged me about this game is kind of the opposite of what you said about the first one. I liked that you didn't really get deep into it with every character the first time around, because to me that wouldn't be realistic. You might get to know a couple people if you spend a lot of time talking to them and they would open up to you, and that was kind of a natural progression. But in Mass Effect 2, everybody opens themselves up and puts everything they have on the table whether you really talk to them a lot or not. It felt really bizarre to have a person who I talk to one time call me over and say: "Hey, Shepard! I really wanna talk to you!" You know: "I haven't talked to you at all this entire mission, but I'm having this problem with my family that I need you to get involved in!" It was like, okay. This is weird. If I had spent time cultivating that relationship, it would've made sense.
Richard Naik: If you're being recruited to be on this mission to save the galaxy, so to speak, it's sort of reasonable to expect some degree of comeraderie to develop among total strangers.
Brad Gallaway: Well, with some of them, but—
Richard Naik: Well, I mean, a legend? I don't think it's unreasonable that they would all get to know each other on some level.
Brad Gallaway: If there was actual interaction going on, I would agree with that. But in the specific instance that I'm talking about, the characers that I'm thinking of never came with me on any missions. I barely talked to them on the ship, because I didn't care for them that much. To me, they were like the Ashley and Kaiden of the first Mass Effect, where I was like: "I couldn't care less about you guys."
Richard Naik: Oh, really?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, yeah. I didn't care for either one of those characters. But I think that was kind of a good thing: you could choose to get close with some characters, and you could choose to not.
Richard Naik: Kaiden, I hated. He was the worst one. But Ashley I thought was all right. You get to see a bit of depth on her part.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I think that was the cool thing; you could or you couldn't. For me, personally, I didn't care, so I was like: "Whatever." And that worked out for me just fine. To have every single character have this same structure of: "Shepard, I need to talk to you"—they put their quest out whether you really put any time or effort into them or not—felt really contrived. It felt really fake. It felt really tedious. I really would've rather had half the amount of characters, and have each one be twice as deep as it was, or to have more interactions, or to take them on a mission and give you guys some time to bond as a team.
I think that the ending was awesome—I do agree with you there. The ending totally twisted things around for me when I was on a downward slope. When I hit the end section, I thought: "Okay, that saved a lot of my experience." The end is really worth it, but I think they could've done it with less characters. They could've structured it more in a balanced fashion, to where you collect six characters, eight characters, and then you have some story missions, balance it out a little bit more. To me, it felt like way, way, way slanted towards the cast.
It's a shame, because I honestly do think that BioWare does such a good job that any of those 11 characters (except for the DLC character) could've been the star of the show. I think they all were really interesting, and I thin they were all really well-written. I think it did their own work a disservice by not giving each of those characters the time to blossom the way they should have and the way they could have if there were less of them.
Chi Kong Lui: Could they have used the Dragon Age campsite structure, where they're all waiting around during off times?
Richard Naik: They do, sort of. They're all waiting around for you on the ship to come talk to them whenever you want. It's bigger than the campsite, but it's the same concept.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. But the only difference, according to Brad, is that they'll force initiate these opening up segments. Whereas in Dragon Age, you have to get to know them, which makes sense to me.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Richard Naik: I was never forced into initiating with them. Once you recruit someone, you can choose not to talk…They'll tell you that they want you to talk to them, but you don't have to go talk to them if you don't want to.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. That's kind of what I mean. If you look at your quest list, out of the blue it'll say: "So and so wants to talk to you," which triggers their quest list. As opposed to Dragon Age, where they'll be in your camp, but if you don't talk to them, nothing ever progresses. To me, the Dragon Age approach ismore believable, more realistic. I wanna have the initiative myself of building that relationship. And then it makes sense when they finally come to me and want me to talk to their mom, or something like that.
Richard Naik: Yeah, I'll agree with you there. But initially, when you start recruiting people and you see all those slots for people, I'm like: "Man! What the hell am I gonna do with 12 different characters?" Once I got all of them and I started thinking about who could I do without, I couldn't answer the question because I liked all of them. So, I kind of agree that there were too many, but then when I asked myself: "Who could I get rid of?" I don't know.
Brad Gallaway: It's funny you say that, because I totally felt the opposite. I knew maybe two or three of them well enough that I really couldn't get them off my team, but the rest, I was like: "Enh. Whatever." When you combine that with the fact that so many of them have power overlaps, I didn't really feel like it mattered to me who I had on my team.
Granted, I didn't play on the Insane difficulty. I had a couple people try to call me on the carpet for playing the game on less than the hardest possible difficulty, so maybe that changes things. But whatever. In my experience, so many people had the same biotic powers and the same abilities except for that special loyalty ability that there were so many people, it didn't matter. I could pick any two and it would be fine.
I didn't have the same feeling of variation that the first cast in Mass Effect had. In that instance, I really felt very specifically that Tali is my tech, and Liara is my strong biotic. And so I could kind of tell very clearly which person had which role. In Mass Effect 2, I felt like that was really blurred, and everybody was kind of weakened for it.
Tim Spaeth: Let's bring this home a little bit. There's a couple of random things I wanna talk about. Let's talk abut Shepard's helmet. When Shepard is deployed on a mission, he never takes his helmet off. His helmet is always on. So he's having conversations—just casual conversations in a bar. Here's what happens. I can't believe this got through playtesting, and there must be some programming reason why this is the case. His helmet never comes off, so if he's drinking alcohol at a bar, he drinks it through his helmet.
There is a sequence where you encounter a former lover, and you haven't seen each other in a long time. You close in on each other; your heads approach; her lips part, and she rubs her lips all over the faceplate of your helmet.
Her tongue emerges from between her lips and she licks your helmet. Nobody could have played through this game and not made a comment during the QA process that he can't take his helmet off for at least making out? I mean, come on.
Brad Gallaway: Totally agree. And it's bad with the DLC armor—the new DLC thing of: "Buy our version if you wanna get all the good content." I had three other sets of special armor, and I ended up not using any of them, because you couldn't take the fucking helmets off. It was ridiculous! Like you said, you're at a bar, you're making out with somebody, you're walking around. Take the helmet off! And the sick thing was, they perfected that in Dragon Age. You would have your helmet on during combat, and then when you go to talk to your party, your helmet is off because that's just the polite thing to do. I have no idea why they did not carry that over.
Richard Naik: Yeah. When I was playing Dragon Age, at first I was resisting putting helmets on people. I was like: "Oh, this is gonna be awkward when I have to talk to them." But then I talked to them, and the helmet came off. I'm like: "Oh, my God. That's awesome!"
Brad Gallaway: It's so common sense in hindsight, don't you think? Why haven't games always done that?
Richard Naik: I agree. And another thing that I noticed is, there's one of the characters that gets his armor partially destroyed and burnt at some point early on in the game. He's wearing that armor the entire game. He never changes it, he never fixes it. It's just…burnt. The whole time.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, that was dumb.
Richard Naik: And even the alternate outfit for him is still burnt.
Tim Spaeth: Is it really? I didn't even notice that. Aw, palette-swap ahoy! Other thing I wanna mention: How did you guys feel about the connectiviity with Mass Effect 1? So much was made in the promotion of the game that the decisions you made in the first Mass Effect will impact and personalize your Mass Effect 2 experience. Brad, did that meet your expectations? Did it go beyond?
Brad Gallaway: I wanna say that it went beyond my expectations, honestly. All of the major decisions were accounted for, and when I went through my second Mass Effect 1 playthrough—I went through it again specifically to make sure that I made all the decisions that I wanted to make before starting Mass Effect 2—I actually was surprised at how many little things carried over. Some of it was gimpy: you would get an e-mail from somebody from the first game, and they would say what happened to them, which I felt like they could've put more effort into.
But I appreciated that they did it at all, and there was actually more than a few instances where I saw someone or something that had a connection to the first game that I didn't expect. So I did feel like it was worth me going through the game again to make those choices. I thought it paid off.
Richard Naik: I did not play with a previous save game. I have had to re-install Windows since the last time I finished Mass Effect, so I lost my save game, because I did not think I was going to need it. But the saving factor is, I had two Shepards, and my main guy—Commander Dirk Shepard—the default decisions for the second game, there was only one thing different from my previous save game, at least that I noticed. It's a pretty big thing that was different, but that was the only thing. Everything else was the same, so I lucked out there.
Tim Spaeth: I think it was fantastic, but I'm not positive, because I can't remember so many of the things I did in the original Mass Effect. I remember the big decisions like who lived and who died, but a lot of the minor things where somebody would walk up to you on the station and say: "Hey! Remember when you saved my life two years ago?" I had no recollection of saving their life whatsoever, but I knew that that was drawing from my decision in the past.
I can't think of another game that's done something similar, at least recently. The old Quest for Glory games, you could import your character through the games, but [Mass Effect 2 is] really, really ambitious, and I'm really looking forward to see how they handle that in Mass Effect 3, given they have two games' worth of decisions to account for.
So last question. Speaking of Mass Effect 3—and Richard, I'll start with you—if there's one specific thing that you want to see in Mass Effect 3, what would it be?
Richard Naik: The elimination of the karma point meter. I would much prefer having my Paragon/Renegade thing be a skill that I could put points into, so I could just choose which alignment I wanted, instead of having it being dictated by actions. Another thing that was really disappointing about that is when I would try to straddle the moral gray area. They're totally fine with me doing it, but I would not get as many Paragon or Renegade points as a result, and thus I would have conversation options that were locked to me for that reason. So I felt like I was being punished for not going to one side or the other.
Brad Gallaway: If I had to pick just one thing [I'd like to see Mass Effect 3 do,] I would want them to de-emphasize the combat. I know that's probably gonna be a pretty controversial thing, but I really felt like no other game could really touch on that feeling of exploration and role-playing in space the way that the first Mass Effect did. I was really disappointed to see them take the Gears of War route for number two. So, if anything, I would like to see them steer the whole ship back to exploration and dialogue more than shooting.
Tim Spaeth: The one thing I would like to see in Mass Effect 3 is some extra chairs installed on the Normandy, so that your team can sit down instead of leaning up against a bulkhead for the entire game.
Richard Naik: There's one guy that's sitting. Actually, there's two of them that sit down.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah, but Zaeed is in the cargo bay the entire game, leaning against a wall.
Richard Naik: Well, Zaeed's a dick; nobody cares about him.
Tim Spaeth: He's got a cool scar.
Richard Naik: No; no, he doesn't.
Tim Spaeth: Before we take a break, let's go to Mike Bracken and just check to see if he's breathing.
Mike Bracken: Yes, I am breathing. I have been here raptly paying attention to everything that was going on.
Chi Kong Lui: Don't lie; you're working on an essay for your class.
Brad Gallaway: Doing statistics over there.
Mike Bracken: No, I wasn't doing any statistics tonight, sorry. I heard a lot about outliers today, so that was good.
Chi Kong Lui: Okay, now you're beating that to death, Mike.
Tim Spaeth: Let's take one last break. When we come back, we'll name-check some sequels we love. Stick around; we'll be back.
Tim Spaeth: We are back. So much of Mass Effect 2 is defined by its connectivity to the first game, so I thought we'd talk about sequels in general and some of our favorite sequels over the years. Mike Bracken, hit us with a sequel that you love and cherish.
Mike Bracken: I actually had several, so this was a little bit difficult for me just picking one. 'Cause everybody thinks: "Sequels, oh, God, they're terrible. They're killing the game industry," and generally, I agree. There are a lot of really shitty sequels out there. But there are a few good ones, and for mine, I went with Persona 4.
Brad Gallaway: Ah! Bastard!
Mike Bracken: Did I steal yours?
Brad Gallaway: You stole one of mine.
Mike Bracken: Not only is it a huge advance over the original Persona, but even when you look at Persona 3, which is a really great game, Persona 4 then takes what was great about Persona 3 and makes it even better. That's exactly what I look for in a sequel, and that's why that particular game is my choice.
Tim Spaeth: Beautiful. Thank you for stealing the thunder from Brad.
Mike Bracken: Glad to do it.
Richard Naik: I have two also. I have a sequel that I love, and a sequel that I think is the worst possible game that I've ever played. The one that I love is The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. I hear a lot of stuff that I agree with about how the Zelda games really haven't evolved at all since Ocarina of Time. It's all about: Get the boomerang, go to the dungeon, get the hookshot, go to the dungeon, so on, so forth—it doesn't really change that much.
Majora's Mask did change that, and I think it changed it really, really well. Everything that they introduced to the formula was already on top of what had been established in Ocarina: the transformation masks, the time system—a lot of people hated the time system, but I thought it was fantastic. It was all the changes that they added on top of what was already great, was what I thought made it a really good sequel.
The other sequel which is the worst game I've ever played: Mega Man X7.
Mike Bracken: I knew it was gonna be a Mega Man game. I just had this feeling.
Richard Naik: Take everything that made the first three Mega Man X games good, throw it in a blender with a crappy 3D engine and some hamster shit, and that's what you get in Mega Man X7. Everything that could possibly be bad about this game is bad: the levels are bad, controls are bad, the soundtrack is not up to the high Mega Man standard, the art direction is not good. If I had to assign this game a rating, it would be negative pi, just because its awfulness never ends and it just betrays the entire Mega Man identity.
Tim Spaeth: Which system was Mega Man X7 on?
Richard Naik: PlayStation 2.
Tim Spaeth: Okay, all right. I know to avoid it now. Chi?
Chi Kong Lui: I really struggled with this question. It seems like a simple question, but then just trying to find something that worked for me was hard. But ultimately, I came to Street Fighter II.
Brad Gallaway: Ah, you bastard! You stole both of mine!
Chi Kong Lui: I'll keep this short, Brad, so you can go on about it. I'll let you elaborate on it, because I actually wanted to bring up another, more obscure game that I thought was interesting, too: Resident Evil: Dead Aim. That was actually the precursor to Resident Evil 4, which everyone loves. But the thing that was interesting about Resident Evil: Dead Aim is it was a light gun game. And in a lot of ways, that really took the Resident Evil formula in a direction that I thought was really great. The stages were really realistic; the gun element refreshed the whole thing. I think a lof of the ideas that they took from that game were actually ported into Resident Evil 4, which was a huge success.
Tim Spaeth: And I guess we can skip Brad. He's got nothing left in his tank.
Brad Gallaway: First of all, I do wanna call attention to your pick, Chi. I think Dead Aim is a really good call. I feel that's a really excellent observation. But, yeah—for a game that took what was good and improved upon it, I was gonna say Persona 4, which Mike Bracken already talked about. In terms of taking an idea that didn't quite work and then finally nailing it, that was gonna be Street Fighter II, which, obviously, is one of the biggest games of all time.
Chi Kong Lui: That's a huge undersell, dude.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. They take the core concept—two people fighting. I've played Fighting Street several times, and it sucks ass. It's terrible; it's barely even playable. The leap between Fighting Street and Street Fighter II is pretty monstrous.
Chi Kong Lui: It's like a whole 'nother game.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. You can't even call it a sequel, really. But, you know, gosh. Since both of my things were taken, what can I go with? I don't have anything as far as positives left, but I did have a couple negatives. The one thing that really bugs me about sequels is when people don't realize what's good about their game, and then they chuck [it] out the window in favor of some sequel that has almost nothing to do with the source material. There's been a number of those, but the one that jumps off at me is Puzzle Quest.
If anybody's played Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, that was one of the surprise hits of whatever year that came out. I don't know anybody that doesn't like Puzzle Quest. That game just dominates; it's a really great game. But when they came round to the sequel, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, it was like they systematically took every single thing that was good and got rid of it. All they had left was stuff that was just terrible and boring and drawn out and tedious. That, to me, was one of the most perfect ways of how not to produce a sequel.
Tim Spaeth: I hate that game, Galactrix.
Brad Gallaway: It's terrible. It makes me angry. Yeah, it sucks.
Tim Spaeth: I genuinely hate that game.
Brad Gallaway: There is nothing to like about that game. At all.
Tim Spaeth: Nope. So I took, I'm gonna say, a more elevated approach to this question—a slightly different take on it. I tried to think of a sequel that's uniquely sequel-y, and I went all the way back to 1991. Were you guys playing games in 1991?
Brad Gallaway: Of course.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Were you playing PC adventure games in 1991?
Chi Kong Lui: Maybe.
Mike Bracken: A few.
Tim Spaeth: You may have been playing Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers. This is a time-travel game, and the entire plot involves Roger Wilco, our hero, moving from Space Quest sequel to Space Quest sequel. It is essentially a sequel about sequels. He travels to Space Quest XII: Volhaul's Revenge 2, Volhaul's Revenge being the subtitle of Space Quest II. He also visits Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros. And then the big event, for me, is he actually travels back to Space Quest I, and the VGA Roger Wilco is walking around the old EGA Space Quest I and it has all the old PC speaker beeps and bloops sound effects. So I thought it was a really interesting take on a sequel. It's about itself and about the games that may come out and did come out.
Brad Gallaway: Tim, so just to clarify, this entire dénoument sequence was contrived so you could talk about that one specific game, wasn't it?
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Did any of you ever play it? Space Quest IV?
Brad Gallaway: No.
TS It was really the last good Space Quest game, and the whole thing among my little Space Quest club—and, yes, I had a Space Quest club—was: "If the series actually gets to Space Quest X, will it be called Latex Babes of Estros? And, unfortunately, the series stalled out at VI, and we never found out the answer to that question. But I just love the concept of going into the future of the series and the past of the series, and it was just unbelievably clever. So that was my choice for fantastic sequel.
Chi Kong Lui: That's a great description, actually. You make me wanna go back and play that one. I don't think I ever got past II. But it also highlights what's interesting about how PC games back in the day, they just had interesting ideas that we don't see very often today.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah, totally. And I guess if we were to sum up all of our games, how would we define what makes a great sequel? Are there some universal truths that we can pull from this discussion? Obviously, improving upon the original is one. I think maintaining continuity or respecting the history of the series would be another.
Chi Kong Lui: I think it's really tricky, but it has to be almost dramatically different. I think in a lot of the cases that we all talked about here, they were really different in a big way, but yet it wasn't in a way that felt wrong. It was in a good way different. We talked about Majora's Mask, we talked about Persona 4, Resident Evil: Dead Aim. They're all really unique takes on the genre, so I think originality's a part of it.
Richard Naik: It's sort of like adding a couple of new spices to what was already a great dish. Just keeping what made it good to begin with, but not adding too much spices, to where it just becomes terrible.
Brad Gallaway: It's a fine line to walk—a very fine line.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. A very, very fine line.
Tim Spaeth: You could say the addition of Mark Hamill to a sequel improves it drastically.
Chi Kong Lui: I wonder if you're gonna bring up Wing Commander, and then we could debate whether Wing Commander 1 was better than Wing Commander 2 again.
Tim Spaeth: We need to do that at some point. I also wanna talk about Wing Commander: Prophecy, which is just an abysmal failure, and it makes me angry just to think about it.
Chi Kong Lui: Again, I like that one, but yeah. Another podcast.
Tim Spaeth: Why don't we wrap things up for this podcast, episode 30? Just wanna remind everybody that you can subscribe to the show through iTunes, through the Zune Marketplace, or listen right on the GameCritics.com homepage. That's also where you can leave comments. Any last thoughts, guys, before we say goodbye?
Brad Gallaway: I would just like to thank all the readers for their overwhelming show of support for my diverging viewpoint on Mass Effect 2. The outpouring of love was pretty tremendous, and I'm really happy to see that pretty much the entire Internet came together on this issue to promote an alternative viewpoint. So thanks very much to the entire Internet. I love you guys. Thank you.
Tim Spaeth: I don't think there's anything left to be said. For Brad Gallaway, for Mike Bracken, for Chi Kong Lui, and Richard Naik, I'm Tim Spaeth; 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.