Chi hits the Vegas Strip to throw down with some of MMA's biggest stars and gets an early look at UFC Undisputed 2010. Brad takes on Alan Wake and in the process enrages the entire Internet…again. And we open up the mailbag to answer your burning questions about game manuals, Final Fantasy XIV, and Microsoft Game Room. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "Pitfall is So Worth Three Dollars" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: This week on the GameCritics.com podcast: Chi flies to Vegas for a mixed martial arts boot camp and an early look at UFC 2010. Brad defends his controversial Alan Wake review, and we open up the mailbag to answer your questions about the death of manuals, the Final Fantasy XIV alpha, and my irrational love for Microsoft Game Room. Get ready. The GameCritics.com podcast starts right now.
It's time for a podcast—a GameCritics.com podcast, 34th edition. I'm Tim Spaeth. Thanks for joining us. Let's say hello to the panel, starting with Chi Kong Lui. Hello, Chi.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey, Tim. How's it going, guys?
Tim Spaeth: Let's also say hello to Mr. Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, guys. What's up?
Tim Spaeth: And returning from…somewhere, it's Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: Good evening. I can't believe we've done 34 of these fucking shows already. Amazing.
Tim Spaeth: Well, some of us have done 34 shows.
Mike Bracken: I haven't. Yes. I think I've done about 20. I suck.
Tim Spaeth: But we're glad to have you back—the four of us reunited at last, here to entertain, enlighten, offend. What are we talking about this week? Speaking of offending, Brad, you've gone and done it again: offending the Internet, this time with your review of Alan Wake. Hopefully, later on you'll tell us why you scored the game so heinously low. How dare you, sir. How dare you.
Brad Gallaway: We might discuss that; I don't know. Still thinking it over.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] We are also going to open up the mailbag. We have a massive backlog of letters to burn through, and we will do that in our final segment. But first, it's the latest entry in our "flying across the country on game junkets" series. Chi, you were recently treated to a little Vegas action. Got a hands-on preview of UFC Undisputed 2010. For those of you who don't know, Chi, you're something of an MMA superfreak, are you not?
Chi Kong Lui: Yes, that's pretty accurate. Right next to my love of video games is my love of mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting.
Tim Spaeth: I'm always interested in how these invitations come about. Did Brock Lesnar come by the house with a plane ticket? How did you find out about this little trip, and what was your reaction? You must've been thrilled.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. Actually, it just came in the inbox as these thingd do, and I actually missed it twice. My GameCritics e-mail address gets spammed so heavily that it's hard to notice some of these things come by. I happened to just notice it and thought I had already missed my opportunithy to go. But after a couple more reminders, apparently space was still open and I just figured I'd hate myself for not going.
Tim Spaeth: Who actually flew you out? The publisher is THQ?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, THQ. They paid for the flight and the hotel at the Palms.
Tim Spaeth: Nice; the Palms. Now, if this were me, I would get on the ground and I would probably miss the event because I got caught up in gambling. I would be playing blackjack on THQ's dime. I have to ask, as a gambler: Did you do any gambling before or after?
Chi Kong Lui: No. I'm more in the Brad camp. I don't gamble.
Brad Gallaway: Did we talk about that before?
Chi Kong Lui: Come on, Brad. You talk about that all the time on this show, how you don't gamble.
Brad Gallaway: Really? Oh, man. I lost my dirty little secret.
Mike Bracken: Ah, jeez. The things we know about you.
Brad Gallaway: I must be podcasting in my sleep, man.
Chi Kong Lui: Ever since I went to Atlantic City as a young man and I saw how the money just evaporated at light-speed, that pretty much turned me off from gambling.
Tim Spaeth: See, for me, that just turns me on.
So there you are; you get to Las Vegas. Tell me about the event itself. How was it structured? I know you saw the game, but there were a lot of extra-curricular activities as well?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. The event was broken up into two parts. The first part was actually getting to train with UFC trainers and UFC fighters. It makes a lot of sense, I think, from their standpoint. Not a lot of people know about mixed martial arts, and you have to get a better understanding of mixed martial arts in order to truly appreciate the game. What better way than to put the game journalists through what they called an impromptu boot camp?
In the morning, they treated us to a semi- "power-breakfast," which was just a semi-healthy wrap and a whey shake. After that they put us on a bus and drove us down three blocks, although it took 15 minutes because the driver literally got lost.
I know; we could've walked there. Instead, they put us on this bus that…I don't know if you've seen my photo gallery. It's a pimped-out bus. On the outside it looks like any other charter bus you'd see, but on the inside it's got a stripper pole and the whole limo getup. Everyone's just looking at each other like: "Okay. Why is there a stripper pole here?" It was sort of inappropriate, but whatever.
Brad Gallaway: Did anybody use it?
Chi Kong Lui: Funnily enough, they did. They didn't have enough room in the bus, so some guys were just straddling the stripper pole.
Brad Gallaway: That was a dream fulfilled for some people, I'm sure.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Not a good image when you're talking about game journalists and stripper poles.
Mike Bracken: I was just shocked by the idea of game journalists going through a boot camp that required physical activity.
Chi Kong Lui: Speaking with the publisher at the breakfast, we joked around with him, saying; "I thought this was some sort of elaborate revenge on game journalists, where they were gonna put us through some kind of torture." There wasn't a single game journalist that I spoke to that wasn't a little bit concerned about the whole training thing. [Laughter] Even I was a bit concerned, to be quite honest with you. I've never done any kind of mixed martial arts training. But I just had to do it, and I was looking forward to it. But I spoke to more than a couple of guys that were dreading it, actually. But even the publisher told us that when they spoke to the UFC guys, they were like: "You understand that these are gamers, right? These guys don't work out. We can't have an incident here." They're like: "Oh, yeah, sure. Trust us. We know what we're doing."
With that, they shipped us off to the ultimate fighting reality show—what they call the Ultimate Fighting Training Center. Any of you guys watch the show at all?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I do.
Chi Kong Lui: They took us to the actual place where they train, which is just three blocks away from the Palms. You'd never know it from looking at the footage or anything like that. They told us to dress in gym shorts and they gave us all T-shirts to wear. It was a UFC T-shirt, and knew this was a set up for some sort of failure there. Here we are in the lobby of the Palms; we're all wearing Ultimate Fighter shirts, and none of us look like fighters.
That's not a good thing. Sure enough, somebody on the hotel staff's like: "These guys do not look like ultimate fighters." No shit, Sherlock. So it was a little bit embarrassing, a bunch of guys not quite looking the part.
Tim Spaeth: At what point did the UFC guys ask everyone to take their shirts off? Surely that was part of the training, I would imagine.
Chi Kong Lui: They started us off with a 15-minute cardio warm up. I gotta give my fellow gaming journalists a lot of credit—no one passed out or anything like that. I feel like any time you get a room full of gamers, you're always gonna get a wide disparity of people. Not everyone fits the stereotype. But inevitably, 25-30 percent of people who fit the exact stereotype of what you expect. But even those guys managed to keep up, which was cool. Again, it wasn't the most intense workout. Right off the bat you could sense that they toned it down. It was basically just cardio, jumping jacks and punch left and right.
Brad Gallaway: So when you guys were doing this, were the ultimate fighter guys laughing at you?
Chi Kong Lui: Funny you said that. When we first walked into the training center, some of the guys were just hanging out. And then of course when you walk in, all the eyes are on you. I gotta say, it was really intimidating. But most guys were pretty cool. I didn't sense that they were laughing at us or anything.
One thing I gotta say that really spoke to their professionalism. Most of these fighters, when they're not fighting, they probably work at some sort of a school and teach classes. It would be really in poor form if they were making fun of people. They deal with regular clients as part of their schools.
Brad Gallaway: Can you jump ahead to the part where you oil each other up and get in the tapioca?
Mike Bracken: Or the North-South position?
Tim Spaeth: I'd like to hear about the mounting. Now guys, let's be respectful. The UFC fighters were professional; we will be professional.
Mike Bracken: Yes. Sorry.
Chi Kong Lui: You guys gotta set this up for me now, 'cause I don't know where to go with this.
Tim Spaeth: I have a serious question. You said that the training portion of this event was designed to educate the journalists who may not be familiar with UFC so that they could better understand the game. I assume you talked to a number of the journalists; maybe you knew some of them. Would you say that most of them were not familiar with UFC?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, easily. Out of the 30, 40 people that were there, I can honestly say there was one guy who actually trained in mixed martial arts although he didn't quite look the part. He was super enthusiastic, obviously. Outside of him and maybe two other guys that were kind of familiar with mixed martial arts in general, easily I knew more about mixed martial arts than most of the guys there. But most people barely even played the first game or had just a basic understanding of it.
Tim Spaeth: As we transition to talking about the new game, would you say that was an effective education?
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Let me just talk a little bit more about the training first. The training was broken up into three different parts. They broke us up into three different groups, and there were three different stations: one for jujitsu, one for boxing and one for kickboxing. I started off in the jujitsu area, and we got to train with this guy, Marc Laimon, who's pretty well known 'cause he had a heel stint on one of the seasons of Ultimate Fighter. He got into it with one of the fighters as being a know-it-all trainer and not someone who steps in the octagon. But he was a nice guy.
For the jujitsu part, they walked us through two moves, which is really cool to see up close and personal. One was this arm-lock that they call the kimora. They would just demonstrate it. Everyone had to partner with somebody else, and then you have to get on top of this dude and start arm-locking him. I had the…I wouldn't call it the "pleasure"—
Tim Spaeth: I heard "getting on top" and I heard "pleasure."
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. That did not sound right at all. I was paired up with Jay from AtomicGamer. He was a very nice guy. I work for the Red Cross and I do CPR training once every two years, so I'm used to getting on top of somebody. Not that we did mouth-to-mouth in CPR, but there's definitely a lot of close contact as far as practicing the heimlich maneuver and that sort of thing. It didn't really bother me so much, but yeah, it was a little awkward at first for some people.
They walked us through more arm-lock, and after that we practiced it and the instructors corrected us and gave us some pointers. Then they showed us how they transition from the kimora move to an arm-lock, which is really appropriate for the game; that's exactly what happens in the game. You might have a reversal or go from one move to another. It's actually really nice to see that up close and personal. I did a video of that, so you can actually check that out on the website.
After the jujitsu training, we did boxing. We were getting personal instruction from this mountain of a man named Todd Duffy. If you've seen pictures of this guy, he's exactly what you would think of when you think of a UFC fighter. He's a gigantic Mr. Clean-looking fellow, although much younger—Mr. Clean in his 20s. He barely has a neck, he's just a humongous guy. He walked us through a couple of punch combos.
That was actually the most intense part of the workout for me. For three minute rounds, we would just go to town on the various punching bags that they had around. As part of that, I got to hit pads with Carlos Condit, who used to be the WEC middleweight champion. I don't know if you've seen boxing training where the guy holds up two pads and you punch it. That was just a cool moment for me, 'cause it was really surreal to have this champion—they dissolved the belt, but he's still technically a champion—holding pads for me while I'm punching them.
From there we actually got to go into the Octagon and they put us through kickboxing training, which was oddly sort of familiar: more or less the same thing [as the boxing training]. They just walked us through different combinations, and also teaching us a workout in the process. Again, if you watch the video that's on the website, he tells you that this is a workout you can take home. He calls out a number, you do the punch combination. I've seen this all the time on the Ultimate Fighter show when they're doing the training.
By this time, more fighters had shown up. One of the biggest names in the heavyweight division, Antonio Naguerra, and Forrest Griffin, who won the Ultimate Fighter show, and Frank Mier—again, they're all former champions. [Laughter] Make of that what you will. No current champions showed up, all former champions.
Brad Gallaway: At any point during the day, did you go behind one of these big guys and totally sucker-punch him? Just try to get him off guard?
Mike Bracken: Slap him a full Nelson?
Chi Kong Lui: [sarcastically] Yeah. If I valued my life, I wouldn't do that. If you see these guys in person, they're very imposing people.
Tim Spaeth: So it sounds to me like, even if you never saw the game, this was a dream trip for you. Just the training and the hanging out with the people. But you also got to see the game. Are you at a point where you're ready to talk about that? I know you were very fond of the 2009 edition, and I'm wondering how the 2010 edition stacks up? Did they improve upon the flaws that you saw in 2009? What were some of the highlights of the new game?
Chi Kong Lui: After the training, we had a little downtime. At the hotel they took us to the Hugh Heffner Suite in the Palms hotel, where all the gaming journalists each had a game station set up for them so they could all have individual time with each game.
Brad Gallaway: And by "game station" do you mean "naked Playboy bunny"? [Laughter]
Chi Kong Lui: I guess that's a theme of the trip. First there were stripper poles and no strippers. Then the Hugh Heffner Suite, but no Playboy bunnies.
Brad Gallaway: I think you're holding out on us, Chi; I can't help but have the feeling that you're leaving some stuff out.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. There might be some elements to this story that are not being related to us.
Brad Gallaway: You know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but come on, man. This is us. No one else is listening to this.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. For real.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. Definitely no one's listening to this. The evidence is on the website, man. It is what it is. You know me—I like taking pictures of the ladies, so if there were some women there I definitely would've been going crazy with the camera.
Brad Gallaway: I don't know, man; I think there might be a hidden cache of pictures hidden somewhere on the site.
Chi Kong Lui: In my own personal collection.
Mike Bracken: It's a scavenger hunt.
Tim Spaeth: So there you are. You're sitting at your Playmate-less game station, and you are about to play UFC 2010. What were your impressions?
Chi Kong Lui: At first it was really complicated. I spoke to a couple of the other journalists and they all had the similar complaint that the interface was very convoluted, a lot of buttons to go through. That didn't bother me so much, but it was interesting to hear their side of it. I honestly didn't have too many problems with the first game; I actually thought it was great. Yeah, they didn't have left-handed fighters because of a technical issue, but it's not like I really missed that. When I was playing the game, it's not as if I was like: "Oh, I can't wait to have left-handed fighters." It wasn't like I thought that was a big deal to begin with. But for people that like to hate and complain, that was a big deal.
Outside of that, I didn't think there was too much to worry about. But when I started , the interface is pretty much just as complicated and, if anything, it was even more complicated because they included all these other things that you have to do. They wanted us to focus on the Career Mode. You know how every Career Mode starts in any game: you gotta spend half an hour just to create your character and tweak it how you want. For people who know me, I love that shit. I could spend hours and hours doing this. But I had to turn that part of my brain off just so I could start playing the game.
Nonetheless, the Career Mode is still very involved. It's kinda funny that they wanted the journalists to play through it. But I think it all worked out because eventually I got into the flow of it. It takes a while to get used to that, so I'm not sure if other people are gonna still think it's accessible in that regard.
There's some really complex concepts, too, as far as training for the fight goes. They have this thing where you have Conditioning and Fatigue, and they have a parallel relationship with each other. In the first game, you just had Stamina. If you trained, you were tired, you had to rest so you could train again. End of story. In the new version, they have this thing where when you train your Conditioning goes up, but also your Fatigue. You wanna go into a fight with what they call "peak level conditioning," but with as little fatigue as possible. So you have to rest and not train as hard. It's a tricky thing, but when you watch ultimate fighting, they talk about this kind of stuff all the time. But even playing it, it was really complicated to figure out. I had to ask the developers questions about it just to get an understanding of it.
They also tweak the transitions on the ground game, how you go from one position to the next. For the longest time I was having a hard time doing the same moves that I did in the first game. They became a little more nuanced. Everything in the end still felt great, though. Once I figured it out I was fine. Now there's left-handed fighters, there's more online features. They basically jacked the shit out of this game. There was barely anything that was untouched. Even after the fights you can talk smack about the other fighter so that he'll hate you later and you'll develop a grudge with him. I thought that was kind of funny; I didn't actually write about that too much, because I didn't really experience that.
Tim Spaeth: I'm looking at the fighter that it appears you created for the Career Mode. The face looks exactly like you. It's uncanny. Did they create that for you? Did you create that yourself on the spot?
Chi Kong Lui: I created that myself. I'm just really good at making my own character. Here's my formula; it didn't take me that long, either: I take the most Asian-looking guy that they have as part of the templates. I give him my haircut, slap on the biggest eyebrows that they offer, and presto! There's the Chi Kong Lui character.
Brad Gallaway: And for those of you at home, you too can have your own Chi.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Chi Kong Lui: It never fails. Although I will say this: I'm playing the final version right now prior to its release. I got a review copy from THQ. When I created my own character again, I went back and tweaked the features even more so that it looked even more like me. The amount of customization you can put in there is incredible. Even my wife walked by and was like: "Yeah, it's you. You nailed it."
Tim Spaeth: I can't comment on the definition of your biceps and pecs, 'cause you don't post a lot of shirtless pictures of yourself on the website. But at least the face is just spot-on. Absolutely.
Chi Kong Lui: That's all true, man. It's all 100 percent true. I'm all about the realism. I wouldn't put that on myself if I couldn't back it up. Funny enough, you can put a humongous beer belly on your character if you want to.
Mike Bracken: So you can be like Big Country.
Chi Kong Lui: Yep, exactly. They got the Big Country physique.
Tim Spaeth: I'm not a huge MMA guy. I played the demo of the first game and I was very impressed with the look, but I couldn't really say whether or not the feel was accurate. But that game sold like a million copies in a month. That was a huge blockbuster. Is there anything in the 2010 version that would appeal to someone like me that isn't terribly interested in fighting games or MMA? It doesn't really need to branch out to an audience outside of fandom, it seems to me.
Chi Kong Lui: That's a difficult question. I thought about this even when I wrote the preview. The only thing I can point to is they created these Arcade Modes, where you don't have to go through the Career Mode. A lot of people know who Chuck Lddell is; they know Rampage and who's gonna be the new BA Baracus in The A-Team. He's actually an ultimate fighter, although they had a lot of issues regarding him being in that movie. He had to cancel a fight in order to be in that movie, and he and Dana White got into a huge spat over it. I don't know if he's still gonna be an ultimate fighter after he fulfills his contract.
Mike Bracken: They should let Rampage do whatever the fuck he wants, 'cause he's one of the most interesting characters they have, I think.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. This is true. Although he also had this little incident where he, you know…
Mike Bracken: Yeah. His little run-in with the law.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] His little run-in with the law. Right. He was completely delusional and just drove his monster truck through the Las Vegas highway, smashing cars and he even got sued for unfortunately causing a woman's miscarriage, although they found him innocent of that. But it was a pretty ugly incident at the time. If you mean he's interesting that way, yeah, he's interesting.
Mike Bracken: He's just interesting in general. He's just fun to watch. Even when he's not fighting, he's a funny guy.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. He's awesome. For people who are not into creating their own characters, you can just pick a guy, compete in the Arcade Mode, and if you win the title then they have a Title Defense Mode. Or you can set up your own pay-per-view and run the fights however you want. You can have tournaments.
The other thing I wrote about is the online features. They're much more elaborate this time. In mixed martial arts, they have all these different fight camps, and they develop mini rivalries with one another. They replicated that now also in the online features. You can set up fight camps—so I could create a GameCritics camp and we can train together or do something together that increases our training. I haven't really gotten too into that yet. And then have rivalries with other camps and compete for rankings and bragging rights, I guess. Those features are the only things that stand out to me for the non-MMA fan.Ultimately, this is like Madden for mixed martial arts. If you're not into MMA, it's hard to say you're really gonna enjoy this.
Although, let me just make my one plea: We've talked endlessly on this show about Street Fighter IV and how it's the same fucking game and how they don't do anything original. This game is the exact opposite of Street Fighter IV. If you're that guy who hates Street Fighter IV and you wanna see innovation in fighting games, I hate to tell you this: it's this. It's Ultimate Fighting: Undisputed, because it's everything that Street Fighter IV isn't. It's actually based on what street fighting is today: there's all this stuff with the ground, there's all kinds of styles of fighting.
Let me go back to one thing. The amount of customizations for the Career Mode is so enhanced this time, it's like a role-playing game. The first game was pretty close to it but not quite. This time around, it does feel like you're playing a role-playing game, in that you're managing your fighter's career, you have to manage his training, and you get to customize every single move that your fighter has. You do this by going to these other fight training camps as I was just talking about.
In the first game, you can only have one stand-up style and one grappling style and you're pretty much locked into those styles. Whenever you leveled up the entire style you got access to new moves. They did away with that this time, and you have to learn new moves separately from each other. The great thing about that is that you're not tied to any one particular style. It's exactly like mixed martial arts is: you blend whatever fighting systems you want and come up with a completely unique fighter. It's incredibly addictive, let me tell you. I'm getting into that right now, and it's as addictive to me as an MMO would probably be for a lot of other people. That may be another selling point.
Going back to what I was saying earlier, you know how Tony Hawk got a lot of people into skateboarding. It's like that. I would hope that you can get over the fact that you don't know who these people are. You gotta go to school on the ground game. [Laughter] It takes practice; it's like going to university just to learn it. But once you learn it, it's incredibly satisfying.
Even when we had a tournament between all the game journalists, the causal people who were there were just looking on. It was exciting. Every time someone got knocked out or was going from one submission to another, there were a lot of "ooh!"s and "ahh!"s from the audience. I think you really take the time to view it, it would click.
Tim Spaeth: There's a demo out now. The actual game releases May 25, so it could be available by the time you're listening to this. Chi, any last words on the game? Guys, any questions before we pause for a break?
Mike Bracken: No; I thought that was very informative. Thank you, Chi.
Brad Gallaway: Glad you got a chance to go.
Chi Kong Lui: Brad, you still awake? I was gonna say.
Tim Spaeth: So for any developers listening, it's either Mike's turn or my turn to go on one of these junkets.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, we haven't been anywhere, dammit.
Tim Spaeth: Silicon Knights, if you're listening, fly me up to Canada. Too Human 2—I'm ready to see it. I'll do whatever you want, just give me the call. Mike, I don't know what you wanna campaign for? Anything?
Mike Bracken: You know, I don't care. I'm open; I'll go for anything cool. Just not anything sucky.
Chi Kong Lui: Let me just give a shoutout to the developers for UFC Undisputed. They did an incredible job. It's worth looking at just because these guys really worked hard on it. I know it sounds corny whenever you read these things in the previews. But I was there; I spoke to these guys; I played it, asked them tons of questions about it, and they really do care about it. I know everyone cares about their game and all that, but these guys really do care about their game, and it really shows in their work. They're the good guys here, so if you really wanna support a good game and a good company, you should support this, unlike the shit that's going on with Activision and all that bullshit with Infinity Ward and all that.
Tim Spaeth: Well said. Great to hear a passionate man talk about something that he's passionate about, so, Chi, thanks very much for that. Let's take a quick break now: when we come back, Alan Wake. Stay with us.
Well, Brad Gallaway, once again you have given a high-profile title the lowest score on Metacritic. Once again, you are pushing your secret agenda, and this time your target is Alan Wake.
Mike Bracken: Thank you for exercising your ploy to get more traffic to the site.
Brad Gallaway: It's all about the hits.
Tim Spaeth: Now, this game is not out yet; it's out this week. In fact, I think it comes out around May 25th. But it seems like you finished this game weeks ago, before anybody else. Did you get your hands on an early copy? It seems like reviews for this went up very, very early.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I did actually put in a request to Microsoft and they were gracious enough to hook me up with a pre-release copy. Also, I've heard—and I can't confirm this—that the game somehow got jacked and there were plenty of copies floating around the piratewebs or whatever. I've heard of plenty of people who've actually played the game who have nothing to do with reviewing or journalism who just got a ripped copy. I don't know exactly what the deal was, but apparently, it was in a lot of people's hands really, really early. But I will say that my copy was legit. Thank you, Microsoft.
Tim Spaeth: We would expect nothing less. Before we get into your criticisms, this game was in development a very long time. Somehow, I don't actually know that much about it. Can you just give us a general overview? Who is Alan Wake?
Brad Gallaway: No problem. Alan Wake is an author who has a string of best-selling books, but unfortunately he loses his mojo. The game goes into it a little bit, but you just have to assume that he's going out to this far-away town of Rightfalls, Washington, which is my home state. He is trying to get his mojo back; he's trying to get back in the game, craft a new bestseller. So he's going up for a little R and R.
As soon as he sets foot in town, his wife gets kidnapped, crazy stuff starts happening and without giving too much of the story away, it's related that because he's an author he has a special connection to this thing that's going on in town. This thing tries to take advantage of his talent, and that comes out in the gameplay a little bit. Effectively, you're an author trying to reclaim your wife who gets kidnapped and along the way save the world from eternal darkness and blah blah blah. You guys know how it goes.
Chi Kong Lui: Is it me, or does this sound like Silent Hill?
Brad Gallaway: It's kind of like Silent Hill. Honestly, if I had to say what it was like, it's a mashup between the most recent Alone in the Dark from Eden Studios with a lot of Twin Peaks thrown in, and, honest to God, a little bit of Uncharted. If you took those three things and mashed them together, that's what Alan Wake is about. It's both kinda cool, because it seems like it takes from really good stock. But at the same time, it doesn't really have much identity of its own. It actually has a lot of problems, to be honest with you.
I will say that before I went into the game, I was expecting a pretty significant amount. The game has been talked up for quite a while. It's been positioned as one of the heavy-hitters for Microsoft for some time. It's been in development, Tim, like you said, between five and six years. The developers are Remedy, the people behind Max Payne, which was a pretty big blockbuster back in the day. I think that it had a lot to live up to, and unfortunately, not only does the game not live up to the standard most people expected, I don't think it really matched up to even a mediocre level of what people expected.
Tim Spaeth: Tell us why. What were your main criticisms?
Brad Gallaway: To be honest, my main criticism is that for something that's touted as a psychological thriller…The writers and developers talked endlessly about how smart this game was gonna be; how important the story was gonna be; how interesting it was that Alan Wake was a writer and how they were gonna capitalize on that in the plot. Honestly, it was all just a bunch of crap.
To me, there are so many clichés and so many problems with the story, that it was Game Story 101. The main character's a writer—big deal. It didn't come out in the gameplay; it didn't come out in the themes; it didn't come out in any of the game mechanics at all. I'll give you an example. In the story, it's revealed that Alan has written an entire manuscript which he has somehow forgotten. This manuscript is shaping the events of the town. To me, that sounds pretty cool. I'm a writer myself; I like horror games. It seemed like a really good setup for crazy things to happen.
But unfortunately, all that really happens is that Alan runs around in different locations, mostly in the woods. (It's 75 percent in the woods). He finds pages lying around, and they're collectibles. They might as well be golden rings or heads that look like Alan's head. Maybe 1-ups or something.
They could be anything. He finds these pages and it's supposed to be the actual pages of this manuscript which is shaping reality. Instead, it's telling me stuff about something I did five minutes ago; it's telling me stuff about something that's gonna be coming up in five minutes. You don't ever write anything. You don't ever use that mechanic. You don't ever rearrange the pages. You don't do anything with it. You just get these collectibles and go about your business. Honestly, about halfway through the game, I stopped reading the text. It had no impact on me, the story or the game whatsoever. That whole mechanic for me was just a wash.
Mike Bracken: Dude, you stopped right before it got awesome. See, that's the problem.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I finally read two more pages.
Mike Bracken: In two more pages, it would've all come together.
Brad Gallaway: Ah, man! Dude, I'm such a terrible critic!
Mike Bracken: You're fired.
Tim Spaeth: There's a rich mythology that you are completely ignoring.
Brad Gallaway: To be perfectly frank, as someone who writes myself, I have to be a little bit critical of the writing. That's something that I really look towards. In Alan Wake, the writing is bad. It's really, really bad. Alan himself is a tool. One of the guys that I follow on Twitter called him a wank. He's like: "Wake is a wank." I'm like: "You know, that is so true." He just encapsulated the entire Alan Wake experience for me. Wake is not really a likeable guy. He's kind of an asshole. He's mean to his wife; he's mean to people around him; he's really crabby.
You're thinking: "This dude is successful, he's probably got some money. He's got all these books on his shelf; he's a well-known famous dude." And he's just crabby all the time. He's really mean to people, and I didn't like him very much. Didn't feel any sympathy for him; half the game, I'm like: "Man, you're a jerk, dude."
Besides that, the story itself isn't very good. Honestly, I just don't think it is. It rips off a lot from Stephen King; it rips off a ton from Twin Peaks. It rips off a lot from Alone in the Dark, and it just doesn't really do anything original. The entire storyline is revealed at about the halfway mark, and there's not really anything to look forward yo after that. When you get to the end of the game, it's like: "And? And what? What was I waiting for? I guess nothing, so the game's over. Okay."
The developers make a big deal about saying: "We crafted this to be an ambiguous experience, to leave you wondering. If we gave you all the answers, then it wouldn't be as scary." News flash: it's not scary, number one, and number two, it doesn't make fucking sense. So much stuff happens that just isn't explained or doesn't have any relevance that I didn't have any connection to anything that was going on. For a game that touts itself as being psychological horror and that spent so much effort on the story and characters, man, that was a complete, complete washout for me. I didn't take anything away from that at all.
Chi Kong Lui: While we're on the topic of story, I have to ask this question: Going back to Max Payne, I've heard to people refer to the story in Max Payne as "pure genius," and then on the opposite spectrum, some of the most hackish, amateurish writing ever. Do you guys know what I'm talking about? The pulpy—?
Mike Bracken: Yeah; it's sort of a noir thing.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, the noir, pulpy thing. I thought it was the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Did I totally miss that, or did you guys think it was genius or something?
Mike Bracken: I thought it was in the middle, honestly. I didn't think it was genius, by any stretch, but I thought at that time, for what game narrative was, that at least it tried to ape something like noir films or pulp fiction detective novels. Yeah, it's middle-of-the-road for me. I'm sure if I went back and played it now, I would probably think the story was kind of dumb, in retrospect. But for its time, I thought it was okay.
Chi Kong Lui: It wasn't even just the story. It was the whole style. It's like Resident Evil trying to excuse themselves by saying: "It's a B- movie; that's why the voice acting is terrible." Come on, guys. I didn't buy that for one second.
Mike Bracken: I liked the gameplay in Max Payne a lot, though.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, the gameplay is fine, but we're talking about the story. I was just wondering what you guys thought about that. Tim, did you have any thoughts on that?
Tim Spaeth: I didn't play Max Payne, so I can't compare. I'm terribly sorry.
Brad Gallaway: I played Max Payne back in the day; it's about the same for me. I didn't like Max Payne's story back then, and I don't like Alan Wake's story right now. I have heard both sides of the argument. Some people say it's brilliant and some people say it's not. To me, it's not. I think that they're trying hard and I can respect that, but at the same time, it's just not very good.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. It just didn't work. I got it, but it hurt my ears, literally, when I was playing that. It sounds like Alan Wake is once again showing their weakness as far as storytelling and writing.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, definitely. Anybody that says Alan Wake has a phenomenal story or that it's as deep as it pretends to be, I would have to really challenge that. I just don't see it at all. If anybody disagrees, I would invite you to send us a letter and let me know why you think I'm wrong. You're probably gonna do that anyway, so go ahead and just tack that on. But I just don't see it at all.
Not to sound completely negative, because even though I didn't like Alan Wake overall, I gave it a six and a half. I know a lot of fans completely flipped out over that. But like we say here at GameCritics, five is average, so I gave it a little bit above average. It's not a terrible game, but the story was a total fail and I gotta say, the gameplay and the game design actually was half and half to me.
The thing that really saved it and that kept it from being even lower was that I really did like what they did with the combat mechanics. These creatures that Alan Wake finds in this town, they're townsfolk and they're wrapped in these shadows. If you just shoot them with a gun, it doesn't have any effect. Alan has to strip the shadows away with a flashlight, and you've got the most powerful flashlight known to man. It's a really strong beam, and then you have an Overdrive on it so you can make it even more powerful to strip the shadows away even faster. I don't really know how that works, because I've never seen a flashlight with Overdrive on it. But Alan's got one, and it kicks ass.
Mike Bracken: It's like a handheld lighthouse.
Brad Gallaway: It is, man. You hit the turbo button and the hamsters inside just start running faster. It becomes this giant laser beam that he's shooting out.
Chi Kong Lui: Does it ever run out of batteries?
Brad Gallaway: When you do the Overdrive it does. You can run out, but they throw so many batteries at you. I don't think I ever ran out of batteries, and I used it without a care. I just used it on anything and everything, and I was never even close to running out of batteries. They keep you pretty well-stocked with ammo.
The thing that I liked was that it wasn't just a reflexive run-and-gun. You had to do a little bit of strategy because the enemies usually came in groups and they always back-attacked you. Every encounter guaranteed at least two or three dudes to get you from the back. You have to run around all the time, focus your flashlight on some guys until their shadows go away And then you bring in the guns. It was a balancing act, and there was a little bit of tension more than the average shooter, because you couldn't just blast away. That I thought was really good.
The other thing I really liked about the game was that the environments are really beautiful. They're repeated too often and you spend way, way, way, way, way too much time in the woods, but they really did a good job of capturing the landscape. Like I said, this game is set in my home state, and I actually have lived in a part of the state that looks a lot like where this game is set. Having been in a place that was very similar, I can say that they really did capture what it looks like. It's a very authentic feel, and I was very impressed by that.
They obviously spend do much work on the environment, ut they loved it so much that they wanted to use it as much as they possibly could. Most of the game is Alan Wake running in these forest trails. You're just running, running, running, and there's trees, and there's dirt and there's bushes, nd you're running, running. You get attacked by these shadowy guys over and over and over and over and over, and then you run, run, and then there's trees, and then they shoot. And then you run, and then there's trees, and then you shoot.
Dude, I get it. The first level or two was cool, 'cause I was still getting used to the game and it was still very impressive, technically. But, man, it got old fast. I was really starving for some more gameplay mechanics. I think as deep as it ever gets is you find generators in the woods conveniently placed where you need to start the generator to turn on a light in the middle of a forest clearing because it's so important to have light there. There's these elevators that need buttons to be pushed. That's as deep as it gets.
Mike Bracken: It's an elevator button-pushing simulator.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] Yeah. I learned to fear the red elevator button and I needed to make it green as soon as possible. Once I mastered that mechanic, Alan Wake didn't really have a lot left to teach me.
The last third of the game got a lot better. You started spending some time in town. There were a couple pretty cool set-pieces: there's one where you're on a rock stage and you're fighting off this horde of dudes, and that was pretty cool. Kinda goofy, not scary, but it was cool.
There's a few other little elements that come into play, which make it a thrill ride. But at no point would I say it was scary; at no point would I say it was even deep. Basically it's a run-and-gun that takes place mostly in the woods with a cool flashlight mechanic. After five years, that's what we got. It's not terrible, but it's nowhere near the tour de force that we were expecting; it's nowhere near the same caliber that most people were expecting or what the developers were promising, if you ask me. It's not terrible, but it just did not live up to the standard that I think it set for itself.
Chi Kong Lui: I never kept up with the whole Alan Wake saga, as far as the five years of development hell. What exactly happened, in short form? Why did it take five years?
Brad Gallaway: From what I understand, the original idea behind Alan Wake was much more open—almost like Silent Hill 1, where you could roam most of the town. I think they were going for that same kind of feeling, where Alan Wake would have this town at his disposal and he could travel anywhere within it. I think it was supposed to be much more of an exploration/survival horror.
Interestingly, that is exactly what happened with the most recent Alone in the Dark. I know that a lot of people hated Alone in the Dark, and it got really bad reviews, for good reason. But they put out a revised version on the PS3, and that, to me, was an exceptional experience. It was exactly like Alan Wake, except that you could roam anywhere in Central Park. You had a really large area you could go through. You had all these emergent gameplay things happening; you had a lot of physics happening; a lot of really interesting things to discover. In my eyes, Alone in the Dark was a real success, and one that a lot of people ignored, unfortunately. It seems pretty clear that Remedy tried to follow that template, and for whatever reason, they just decided halfway through: "Wait, wait, wait. We can't do the open world."
It's not on rails, per se, but it almost feels like it's on rails most of the time. It's extremely linear, and you don't really have a whole lot of freedom. I guess they just decided they couldn't pull it off and went for a scope that was more manageable. Kudos to them for not putting out a trainwreck—it's certainly not a trainwreck—but I don't think it is what the original vision was.
Tim Spaeth: It seems like coming into 2010 we had so many games with amazing, revolutionary stories to look forward to. We had Mass Effect 2, we had Heavy Rain, we had Alan Wake, and it seems like they all just let us down completely in the story department. Not to bring us back to our topic from last week, the art of game storytelling, but what's next? What do we have to look forward to, in terms of great stories on the horizon? Is there anything to look forward to?
Chi Kong Lui: More Dragon Age?
Tim Spaeth: Maybe for you guys.
Chi Kong Lui: I thought you started the PC version. No?
Tim Spaeth: I did. I'm not into it. To be fair, I've been really busy and I haven't had time to play, but last night I was gonna set aside some time and I ended up playing Pitfall!* instead.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, dude.
Mike Bracken: Wow.
Chi Kong Lui: On Game Room?
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Pitfall!* on Game Room. But we may be talking about that later in the show. Dragon Age is such a commitment and you have sit down and be ready to listen to people in British accents talk just endlessly, over and over and over about nothing. I haven't been able to get into that mental place yet.
Brad Gallaway: As far as the rest of the year, I don't really think there's anything story-wise I'm looking forward to. The big fail for me was Assassin's Creed II. I got sick of people talking about Assassin's Creed II this year. That to me had another fail story, but I can't think of anything that I'm really looking forward to. Mike, anything on your radar?
Mike Bracken: Nothing. Literally nothing, story-wise. I'm sure there are games we're all looking forward to, but nothing stands out because it's going to have a fantastic story or change the way we think about game stories or anything. This has been a disappointing year in that regard. A lot of promises that weren't met.
Tim Spaeth: Red Dead Redemption, maybe. There's a shot there. Open-world Western, Rockstar. I liked the Grand Theft Auto stories, so that kind of appeals to me.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it could happen.
Tim Spaeth: We'll see it happen.
Mike Bracken: I just don't know if their brand of humor will translate as well to the wild West setting. That's the only thing that concerns me there.
Tim Spaeth: All right, Brad. Thanks for your chat about Alan Wake, and let me remind people: if you want to read Brad's Alan Wake review or, indeed, any of his Metacritic-ruining reviews, be sure to visit GameCritics.com and click the Reviews link.
Brad Gallaway: Let me just tag on: I have to say this. I don't wanna say this, but I have to. I know that somebody listening to this is gonna say: "Oh, my God. Brad Gallaway is out to tool Metacritic. He's out to kill those Metascores; he's out to take people's bonuses away from them." Okay, listen: that was sarcasm. It was a joke. I honestly review games the way the way that I see them and I give no consideration towards how my reviews are gonna skew the Metascore. That was just humor. Do not write in about that because it's just a joke, okay?
Tim Spaeth: I pretty much believe you there.
Mike Bracken: Guess I can delete that e-mail.
Brad Gallaway: I heard you type on your keyboard.
Tim Spaeth: All right, guys, one more break. When we return, we'll sift through the mailbag. Stay with us. Please stay with us.
Well, we are running long, so we are going to open up the mailbag and get right to it. Letter number one:
"What are your thoughts on Ubisoft going eco-friendly and getting rid of physical game manuals?"
Mike Bracken: I want my fucking game manuals. They already chinzed me on them. They don't fucking put half the shit in it anyway.
Tim Spaeth: You guys read game manuals?
Brad Gallaway: Totally, dude.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Really? I haven't opened a game manual in five years.
Brad Gallaway: That's probably why you didn't like Lost Planet.
Mike Bracken: I don't like opening them, but occasionally you have to.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, exactly.
Brad Gallaway: Some of them are really good. Some are excellent, and some are average.
Mike Bracken: Some have good stuff in them, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Most of them suck, but when you get a good one it totally adds a whole other level to the game.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Tim Spaeth: When games like Wing Commander had blueprints of fighters—
Brad Gallaway: Oh, God, no. We are not talking about Wing Commander today.
Mike Bracken: It's always Wing Commander. The Too Human manual is really good.
Brad Gallaway: I would much rather talk about Too Human, honestly. That's how sick I am of Wing Commander.
Chi Kong Lui: I was gonna say, Tim, that whole era. It doesn't have to be just Wing Commander. The Civilization manual was a novel—my God. And anything that Micropros put out was just legendary.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. That's fifteen years ago. Game manuals haven't been like that—
Brad Gallaway: Not as good as that, granted, by far, but there are still some good ones. The one for Risen was pretty cool. That was a really excellent book.
Tim Spaeth: I think you guys are nuts. Game manuals? Really? You guys actually read game manuals? I'm stunned!
Mike Bracken: Trust me. I would rather the fucking game tell me how to play it, honestly, but sometimes they do such a piss-poor job of it that you have to go to the manual. If I have to go to the manual, I don't want to go through some fucking computer or menu system. I just wanna open the book and be able to flip to what I want and read it and be done with it.
Brad Gallaway: I totally agree with that, too. I totally like the in-game tutorial, for sure, but what I like about books is the peripheral stuff that you get. Why do people buy collector's editions? Because they ant the extras. To me, a really good book is like getting the collector's edition for free. You get character portraits…
Mike Bracken: It's the exact same thing with people who buy strategy guides. You can go on a site and read a walkthrough for free, but if you buy the guide you get some extra artwork, you get some cool other stuff in them.
Brad Gallaway: If you really like the game, it's like getting this bonus thing.
Tim Spaeth: I respect that, but when I buy a game I'm buying a game. The extra stuff, I just don't care.
Mike Bracken: Soon he'll be like: "I don't care about owning the disk; I just want the game." Then you're out, Tim.
Brad Gallaway: Then you can join those dudes on the other podcasts that [warned?] you.
Tim Spaeth: All right, let's move on. Letter number two:
"Tell us everything you know about Final Fantasy XIV."
Well, I was going to throw this question out, and then I learned Mike Bracken…?
Mike Bracken: Yes. I have two friends who happen to be in the alpha test of Final Fantasy XIV. I've actually talked to them a bit about it and got some insight into how it plays. I'm such a nerd that someone actually posted a couple hours' worth of footage of the early stages of the game on Justin.tv against their non-disclosure agreement, and I sat here like a dork and watched it all one day.
Basically, I can tell you Final Fantasy XIV looks a lot like a cleaned-up version of Final Fantasy XI. They've taken all the character classes from XI and given them new names and changed their graphics a little bit, but it's the exact same races.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] This sounds like every other fucking Final Fantasy game ever.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's really funny, because when I'm watching this footage there's a scene of one of these characters wandering through a plains area, and then there's a mountain that goes down and a cave that cuts into the hillside, and it looks just fucking like the entrance to Ordell's Caves in Final Fantasy XI. I'm like: "Why did you just make another game that's, like, Final Fantasy XI with better graphics? Why didn't you make a different MMO? Or if you were gonna keep some things, but expand others?" But I'm nostalgic; I love Final Fantasy XI and we've all talked about how many hours of my life I wasted playing it, so there's a certain appeal to it.
The most interesting thing that I have seen so far is that they did add these instance events, sort of like World of Warcraft has. They're like instance dungeons, but it even extends further. You'll get quests to do and it will instance the quest, which means it will put this bubble around you and you're in your own little instance. People could be out grinding, killing all the mobs you need, but you're in your own little instance space so you're actually getting the mobs so you can do your quests without having to compete against people who are grinding. That's one of the biggest problems with Final Fantasy XI: people were assholes about mobs.
But other than that, my friends were telling me that the combat is a little bit slow still, which you would hope they might've fixed. They did add some voice acting to it, but a lot of the NPC dialogue still takes place in the window. One friend was really complaining that it still feels like a game that was optimised for use with a console controller and then retro-fitted for a mouse and keyboard, which is kind of annoying but sort of understandable, too, since they're trying to get console gamers to play it.
I worry the same things will happen that happened with Final Fantasy XI, where the limitations of this generation of console hardware are going to keep the game at a lower level than it would've been if it were just PC only. A year or two down the line, this game is also going to look kind of crappy in the same way Final Fantasy XI looks if you're not playing it on a PC with a bunch of mods to clean it up.
But I'm not disappointed by it. I would liked to have seen them do more with it, maybe done some things differently, but it still looks interesting and if you liked Final Fantasy XI or you're looking for something to do other than play World of Warcraft, I think this might keep you entertained for at least a while.
Tim Spaeth: Yes or no: Will you buy it?
Mike Bracken: You know, I have really sworn off MMOs. All my friends are really giving me the hard sell to come back and play, though. Right now I'm saying no, but that may change. I don't think so, though—not because I think it looks bad or because I don't wanna play it. It's because I know that I will waste an obscene amount of my life playing it, so it's just better not to start.
Chi Kong Lui: But you're tempted.
Mike Bracken: Well, I'm always tempted, because I've been playing with the same group of guys from Phantasy Star Online to Final Fantasy XI to World of Warcraft and it would be the same group of guys with this. So they're real-life friends, so there's always that component to it. But yeah, I don't have the time. I know most of [this group] in real life, but not all of them. We have this little group of people who move from game to game, so there's that aspect of it that's appealing 'cause it's something you do with your friends. But at the same time, I know that I'll play compulsively and I just don't wanna do that anymore. I just don't have interest in doing that. There's too many other games to play and stuff. No, I don't think I'm gonna play.
Tim Spaeth: Very well. Time will tell, though.
Next letter. Chi, I'm gonna direct this one to you. The 3DS, is that what we're calling the new Nintendo handheld?:
"Is 3D the next evolutionary step in gaming? Does 3D interest you as a gaming technology?"
Chi, you like your DS, you like your Pokémon. Do you want your Pokémon jumping out of the screen at you?
Chi Kong Lui: Two words, man: Virtual Boy.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I've been down this path. It wasn't pretty.
Tim Spaeth: But it is time for a new DS.
Mike Bracken: 'Cause it's been two weeks since the last one.
Chi Kong Lui: What's the latest? 3XL, or whatever it's called? XLI?
Tim Spaeth: The core is still the same. If you compare a DS to an iPhone or a PSP, it is starting to look pretty clunky. I don't care about the 3D aspect of it and they've said that you can turn off the 3D aspect. I would like to see a new, more powerful graphics engine, hardware engine. But the 3D—no real interest whatsoever.
Chi Kong Lui: I'll say this: It's right up Nintendo's alley to not create new technology but to use existing ones and retrofit it into whatever hardware they've got going. 3D in a handheld? What's that gonna be like? [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: I'm not even interested in 3D TVs.
Chi Kong Lui: Don't you need the full, giant screen in the movie theater for the effect to even feel like 3D? You're gonna have little things popping up out of your little DS? That just sounds weird.
Brad Gallaway: I think I've seen the video that shows a potential mock-up of what it would look like. It's a game that's actually on the DS right now. They think that the actual 3DS effect is gonna be very similar to what they did in this regular DS game. It has this weird depth of field trick, where it's running on a regular standard DS. The DS tilts and there's some kind of sensor I guess that knows that you're titling it and so it shifts everything on screen. If you're looking at it a particular way, it actually does look like you're looking into the screen. There's a whole depth to it that just isn't generally there.
I did see that, and I thought: "Huh." It's interesting, but just like most of Nintendo's recent offerings, it's very limited in practicality and more likely to come off as a gimmick than anything else. In terms of the 3DS specifically, I'm probably due for a new DS because I'm still rocking the original model.
Mike Bracken: You have a fatty still.
Brad Gallaway: I do; I like the fatty. It feels good in my hands.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I like the fatties.
This is the most perverted show we've ever done: Chi's UFC experience, and now fatty DSs.
Brad Gallaway: I would be glad to talk about that subject in a different podcast. The wife has the newer model; I'm fine with the old one and it works just great. I am due for a new one, so in that respect, I'd be up for a new and improved, more powerful DS. But the 3D doesn't interest me at all. I'm gonna say that's true also for any of the other potential 3D technologies being discussed right now. I just don't see it as offering anything that really, truly enhances gameplay outside of a little depth of field tricks.
It's kind of like salt on a steak; you can make it taste a little bit better, but the steak itself has gotta be really good. You can't just have this giant plate of salt and like it.
Chi Kong Lui: Busting out another food metaphor.
Mike Bracken: He likes his food.
Brad Gallaway: I do love my food. If you guys listen to me for a while, you'd know I talk about food quite a bit. It's like the Wiimote. I've played maybe two games where I really felt like: "Wow! This game was totally improved thanks to motion technology." 98 percent of it is like: "Man, this is stupid. Totally shoehorned; doesn't work." It's gonna be the same thing [with 3D technology.] There's gonna be one game where it's mind-blowing to play it in 3D and it totally makes the game better, and there's gonna be a ton of Casino Party Pals, and My Little Pony Poops in Your Face.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Who cares? It's not gonna add anything to it.
Mike Bracken: Yeah; Nintendogs in 3D.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Bracken: You gotta pick it up outside of your screen.
Tim Spaeth: My Little Pony Poops in Your Face DS. That's nice; lovely.
Brad Gallaway: You heard it here first. We called that one.
Mike Bracken: It's gonna be a bestseller, I bet.
Tim Spaeth: Let's move on. Let's burn through this one quickly:
"Ia it unfair to release different pre-order bonuses at GameStop and Best Buy like BioWare did with Mass Effect 2?"
Mike Bracken: I think it's fair, because they can do whatever they want. I think it's cheesy on their part, but I don't really care that much about pre-order bonuses, so I guess it doesn't really matter to me.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. I think as long as the pre-order bonuses are eventually released as DLC so they can nickel and dime us to death. That's basically what's happening here.
Chi Kong Lui: That's what I was thinking. Darth Vader on Soul Caliber: you could buy it on the 360 if you wanted it.
Brad Gallaway: It's just annoying. Really, all you're doing is pissing your customer off. Who do you know that's gonna actually buy all these different versions? You're lucky to get people to buy your game new even one time. What are you trying to do? Is anybody really gonna drive halfway across town to go to Best Buy because they want the special helmet or something? It's annoying because people who are gonna buy your game are likely interested in that stuff, and so you're gonna make them feel bad because they can only afford to buy one version? They're smoking if they think somebody's gonna buy all that stuff. Obviously, like you guys said, it'll be DLC later.
I don't know. To me, it just seems really cheesy and irritating. If the bonus is any good—and they're junk most of the time.
Chi Kong Lui: That's the other part of it. The bonuses aren't even that interesting to begin with, anyway, so [the practice] is annoying but I'm not up in arms about it.
Brad Gallaway: I'm a big Mass Effect fan, regardless of what anybody thinks of my review [of Mass Effect 2]. I was really freaking out. I'm like: "Oh, my God! There's all these different versions and I'm only gonna be able to get one. I'm not gonna have the complete experience." The little collector in me started screaming. But then when I actually tracked that stuff down and got it, it was stupid. I didn't end up using any of that stuff. I was kicking myself that I even cared about it because it was totally worthless.
I don't know about you guys, but to me at this point, I'm gonna buy whatever version is most convenient for me and just screw all the rest of the stuff. If the bonuses are any good, they're gonna be DLC.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I don't even want collector's editions anymore. I ain't paying extra for any of that shit. I just want the fucking game and to be able to play it and that's it. I don't care about any of that crap anymore.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I'm with you, man.
Tim Spaeth: There you go. Last question:
"What are your thoughts on Microsoft Game Room? Does it have a place in your library or do you see it as a poorly-conceived way to overcharge gamers for content that should be in a bundle?"
Tim Spaeth: I kind of feel obligated to answer this one.
Chi Kong Lui: Can you explain how it works first? How is it different than just buying Xbox Live Games?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Do a rundown, Tim.
Tim Spaeth: Game Room is a free lobby that you can download at any time.Once you have that lobby loaded, you have access to a store where you can purchase games for $3 apiece. The games themselves appear as arcade cabinets within the lobby. You don't actually move your avatar around the way you do in PlayStation Home. In general, it's just a separate lobby, but at the end of the day you're really just buying games the same way you do from Xbox Live Arcade.
The difference is that the lobby looks and feels and sounds like an old arcade from the early 1980s, and you can actually see the arcade cabinets there. They've done a pretty good job of recreating the original arcade cabinet art for some of the games that they could license the artwork for. On others, they're just generic cabinets with labels on them. Does that explain what it is?
Chi Kong Lui: Definitely, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Absolutely.
Tim Spaeth: When you download Game Room, you have access to any of the games for ten minutes absolutely free. Then when those ten minutes are up, you have the option of purchasing the game for $3. That's where a lot of people are getting hung up. It's $3 whether you're buying a 30-year-old arcade game, an Atari 2600 game, or an Intellivision game. No matter what it is, it's $3.
I personally don't think that $3 is an unreasonable amount of money for a game that you really like. For me, Tempest, Centipede are timeless classics and to have an arcade-perfect port plus all the bonus features that come with that $3: they have medals and challenges and Achievements and leader boards. There's a Sands of Time-style "rewind" feature, where if you make a mistake you can rewind your game and try again. $3 to me is totally reasonable for that, again, for a game that you like.
That's the thing about 30-year-old games. They're either timeless classics or they're completely unplayable. People always give the example of Combat. Who would pay $3 for Combat? You wouldn't play three cents for Combat. If you play the ten minute demo, you will be burnt out after about ten seconds.
Chi Kong Lui: But that's what I was thinking. Most of these retro games, I don't play for more than ten minutes before I'm bored to tears anyway.
Tim Spaeth: Exactly. Look, I've bought about 12 games on Game Room.
Mike Bracken: Wow.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. But they're 12 games that I really, really like; that I played a lot of as a young boy and that I think still hold up today. Pitfall!* I think holds up beautifully.
Chi Kong Lui: What?
Tim Spaeth: It does!
Chi Kong Lui: I didn't think it held up back in the day!
Mike Bracken: I was gonna say, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: And that's what it is. You either like these games or you don't, and I am very, very fond of old games. I love 30-year-old games. Granted, on Game Room, the ratio of "timeless classic" to "junk" weighs very heavily on the side of junk. For the 12 games that I bought, there are about 50 that I won't go near.
Look, I'm not naïve; I know that there are a thousand ways to get all of these games for free. But for me, the opportunity to sit down in front of my television like I did when I was a kid, sit Indian-style with a Fresca at my side, staring up at my screen playing Pitfall!,* playing Centipede, for me, $3 a pop is totally worth it.
I think Game Room is very respectful towards those old games; there is a really passionate of players. Not a huge community, but a very passionate community of like-minded, old-school gamers that have rallied around this service and I think it's important to preserve these games and make them available to the people who love them. So I support the service; I like the way they're doing it. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but those are my thoughts. What's keeping you guys away from it?
Mike Bracken: Actually, $3 and if they're adding Achievements and leader boards and all that stuff, I would be perfectly fine with that. I agree with you in that it's nice that somebody's preserving some of these games and also trying to make them appealing to modern gamers. Nobody's forcing you to buy the stuff. I don't think $3 is particularly unreasonable for a game, if you love Pitfall!* or Centipede or anything like that. I'm sure there's stuff on there I would love as well. $3 for that? Hell, yeah, I'd do that.
Chi Kong Lui: I just downloaded it this morning; I haven't loaded it up yet. But from what you're saying, I think $3 is fine. I like the fact that you can play anything for ten minutes. I think I'll be burned out with more than 90 percent of it after ten minutes anyway. It's almost worth the price, just based on the fact that you have the ability to play them.
I think $3 is great for some of the big classics. I would like to see maybe $1 for some of the Atari 2600 stuff; I just can't see myself paying $3 for E.T. or something like that. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah, but nobody's making you.
Tim Spaeth: You wouldn't pay anything for E.T. And if you did, I would feel sorry for you. People should pay you to buy E.T. I think the ten-minute demo is a really cool thing. They went a month without releasing games, but for the last few weeks they've been releasing about seven games a week. Even if you never spend any money whatsoever, you can go into Game Room and get an hour of time with six or seven different classic games.
I think that's really cool just to expose people to those older games. Like I said, some of them are terrible. The Intellivision games are unversally unplayable, just horrible, horrible games.
Mike Bracken: is Adventure on there?
Tim Spaeth: Adventure was in the initial release, one of the original 30 games released for it.
Chi Kong Lui: Did you guys ever play yourself in Intellivision Baseball, where you'd throw the pitch yourself and then hit it and field it yourself with the other controller?
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Chi Kong Lui: Ah, the memories. The memories.
Mike Bracken: The memories. I didn't know anyone else had ever actually done that.
Tim Spaeth: Brad, you had a very strong anti-Game Room tweet shortly after it was released. It says something like: "If you like Game Room, you're a jackass" or something like that.
Brad Gallaway: I don't remember that at all. You're making that up.
Tim Spaeth: So you've been very quiet. What are your thoughts?
Brad Gallaway: Honestly, I haven't really given it much thought. There's so many things out to play right now. I always look forward to seeing people on the cutting-edge, to seeing new things, to seeing innovation and interesting developments. I pride myself on being a forward-looking gamer.
At the same time, I do think it's really important to preserve game history and I do think that it's a great education for people to be able to go back and see those things. Would I buy them? Probably not, because I already know. I lived it back then and nostalgia's great, but money's money. I probably wouldn't play any of those games for even half of that free ten-minute period. I'd be like, one game of Centipede, one game of Moon Lander or something and be done with it.
It's great that it's there. I'm not mad that it's there; I don't think it shouldn't be there. If you like it, more power to you. I certainly am all about archiving things and saving things and knowing where we came from. From that perspective, I do think it's great. Is it for me? No. I know for a fact I would never play those things, and I certainly wouldn't spend money on them. But I don't begrudge them that they're there.
Tim Spaeth: It was interesting. They have replays of all of the top scorers on the leader board, and something I learned last night is that it's possible to have a perfect game of Pitfall! I was watching the replay, and it's astounding: the speed and acrobatic skill of the one guy who has a perfect game on the leader board. It's just amazing, and if anybody has any interest in Pitfall! whatsoever, I would recommend that you go go in, watch that replay—you don't have to pay anything to watch it—even for five minutes. It's amazing, and a great throwback to a simpler time that I'm very nostalgic for.
Brad Gallaway: Yes, you are.
Tim Spaeth: So those are my thoughts on Game Room. Any last comments before we wrap this show up?
Chi Kong Lui: What were some of your other picks for Game Room that you bought?
Tim Spaeth: The first thing I bought was Tempest, which is one of my favorite arcade games of all time. It's the arcade vector graphic…you spin around the perimeter and shoot into the screen. Asteroids Deluxe, Lunar Lander, which is a fantastic physics-based game and holds up really, really well. I would recommend you try that.
Keystone Kapers is a very cool early platformer, very high-paced, controls really well. Super Breakout is the arcade version, not the Atari 2600 version, and it does not play terribly well. That was one I bought without demoing, and I probably should've done that first. You really need a paddle to play that.
Yar's Revenge, which is an Atari 2600 game that I could never figure out when I was a kid. I never understood it. I read the on-screen instructions and I said: "You know what? I am gonna crack this game. I'm 35 years old; I should be able to do something that I couldn't do as a seven-year-old," and I did it. Yar's Revenge is a great game, a lot of fun.
The one I'm really waiting for is River Raid, which was one of those great Atari 2600 shooters. That is on tap for release in the next month or so.
Mike Bracken: I used to love River Raid.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah; really looking forward to revisiting that one.
Brad Gallaway: Talking about these games and reminiscing about how games were back in the day, I played games like a monster back then, I'm sure just like you guys did. I went to the arcade all the time and stuff, but I don't have a whole lot of nostalgia for those days. I think games today are so amazing, and we've come so far. I can't really think of any other medium or genre that has come so far, so fast.
When you think about it, we were all there at the dawn of when this stuff started. To go from something like Pitfall!* to something like Gears of War 3 or whatever…Back then, did you ever think that in a million years you would see anything that looked and controlled…?
We take so much for granted these days. Just from that respect, I do think it's great that Game Room is there, so we can go back. When my son is here, I often whip out some of the older stuff and I go: "Oh, man! Look at how crappy this game is, and we thought this was cool back then." He can't even understand how I even played some of that stuff, some of those "hits" back then.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm thinking of Toshinden. [Laughter]k
Brad Gallaway: Toshinden, yeah. Dude, that game was the shit when that came out. I was crazy over Toshiden, and now it's like a joke. People say it and you laugh— ha, ha, Toshinden. But I was there, and I played a demo of that game before it ever released, and that game fucking blew my goddamn mind. As soon as I played that for two minutes, I'm like: "I gotta get a PlayStation. I'm going out right now; I'm getting a job; I'm saving money; I'm getting a PlayStation, period."
To me, it's really fascinating to think about these games and to think about how now I get no real enjoyment out of playing them 'cause they're really punishing and hard and crude. But it's really amazing to me how far we've come, and I really wish that more people would have more appreciation for how incredibly impressive and deep and wonderful games are these days. They're just getting better and better. Nothing in human history has come so far so fast.
Chi Kong Lui: We used to say that graphics would never be as good as a Pixar movie, and here we are today and they're way better than a Pixar movie.
Brad Gallaway: Do you guys remember going to the arcade? I remember being in high school and going to the arcade and being like: "Oh, my God! Look at the graphics on Street Fighter II. So awesome! We couldn't get anything like this at home. We have to come to the arcade; we have to skip lunch and use our lunch money to come play in the arcade, because these graphics are so awesome. You just can't get this." Now you can download stuff that's twice as good, ten times better than those old graphics were. It's not even a big deal. We don't even think about it anymore.
But back then, Samurai Shodown? "Oh, my God! Look at the animation on that!" All that stuff back then was so incredible, and the arcade was a magical, incredible experience that just blew your mind every time. Now we get way better than that on a daily basis.
Chi Kong Lui: I don't think of it as "better;" it was just a completely different experience. I remember going to the local store that had arcades and you spent a quarter on Mat Mania and you were there from 11:00 in the morning to 6:00 PM and they had to throw your ass out. You could just play Mat Mania forever on one quarter. It was a different time; it was a different experience.
Brad Gallaway: I don't mean to put those games down. They certainly have their place, and we wouldn't be anywhere today without those games. But to me it's just mind-boggling how sophisticated and how beautiful and how rich games are compared to such humble beginnings. I feel really fortunate to have been able to see so much in just my lifetime, and I'm still a young guy. I'm only 34. a lot of people in some other fields, it takes lifetimes to have those kind of advancements. It's just amazing.
Chi Kong Lui: Here's an idea for a future show. They were talking about this in Gaming the Media, how they're just so fond of the 16-bit era games. Mike and I have an affinity for the 16-bit games, so that might be an interesting topic to talk about: Are games really better? What do we love so much about those games? Maybe try to get a more objective look as to whether or not those games actually are better of it's just nostalgia or what.
Tim Spaeth: That's a great idea.
Brad Gallaway: Well, maybe we can get some reader feedback and comments on that. That would be a great thing to have people chip in on.
Tim Spaeth: I think it would, and where can you chip in? At GameCritics.com, you sillies. It's where you can find the latest episodes of our podcast; that's also where you can leave your feedback. Remember the show is also available through iTunes and the Zune Marketplace. You can leave us a kind word there as well. Let's go around the horn: final thoughts? Any last words?
Brad Gallaway: I'm checking Amazon for one of those super-powered Alan Wake flashlights right now.
Tim Spaeth: Keep us posted, would you, please?
Chi Kong Lui: You know, Tim, I gotta remember that you always ask for this at the end of every show. I never prepare anything for this, so I gotta remind myself to think of the last words.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Mike, not even an f-bomb? You haven't even dropped one this week.
Mike Bracken: Oh, I so have dropped some f-bombs this week.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. He opened with an f-bomb.
Tim Spaeth: Well, can you give me one more f-bomb, just for the road?
Mike Bracken: Fuck, yeah, I can give you one more fucking f-bomb.
Tim Spaeth: Thank you.
Brad Gallaway: Woah! Two f-bombs at once.
Mike Bracken: This episode'll be like The Big Lebowski. F-bombs everywhere.
Chi Kong Lui: Tim, I got one for you, man. Lebron James is coming to New York, baby!
Tim Spaeth: Oh, Jesus. Good night and bonne chance to everyone but Chi. Chi, I've got some other French words for you, man.
Mike Bracken: He's got an f-bomb for you, Chi.
Tim Spaeth: Play the music. Phillipe, where's the music? Get me out of here. 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.