Did creativity, innovation, and overall quality peak in the 20th century? Or are today's games truly better than ever? We try to free ourselves from the haze of nostalgia and find a definitive answer. Plus: Super Mario Galaxy 2! Monster Hunter Tri! And stay after the credits as we tear apart the Prince of Persia movie and puzzle over Ben Kingsley's resume. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "Works Every Time" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: Are today's games better than ever, or did gaming peak in the 20th century? We'll debate it. Plus, Mario's back in Galaxy 2—is he better than ever? And we try to try to rationalize our addiction to Monster Hunter. Brace yourself: the GameCritics.com podcast starts right now.
Welcome, listeners. It's the GameCritics.com podcast number 35. I'm Tim Spaeth, and yes, I bought a Lando Calrissian outfit for my Xbox Live avatar: the best $2 I ever spent. Now, assuming my castmates haven't fled in embarrassment, let's introduce them now. Chi Kong Lui is the GameCritics owner and founder. Hello, Chi.
Chi Kong Lui: It'll take more from you to surprise me, Tim.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] Brad Gallaway is GameCritics's senior editor. Hello, Brad.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, everybody.
Tim Spaeth: And Mike Bracken is the legendary critic and horror geek. Hello, Mike.
Mike Bracken: Hello. I thought you already had a life Lando Calrissian outfit for Phillipe.
Tim Spaeth: Well, I have one for Phillipe, but I need one to look at on-screen as well.
Mike Bracken: You can never have too many Lando. Everybody wants to be Billy Dee Williams.
Tim Spaeth: Absolutely. Although in the avatar marketplace, it's referred to as the Barren Administrator's outfit—for some reason, they can't use Lando's name. But it looks hot. I look sexy in it. I mean, my avatar does.
Well, folks, we do indeed have a show for you this week. I can't believe I'm saying this, but we're kicking it off with a couple of Wii games. Wii games! Phillipe, am I on the right podcast? Phillipe is nodding his head. In a moment, Monster Hunter 3 Tri, followed by Super Mario Galaxy 2 Tri.
Couple quick hits there. And then in our main topic: Are today's games better, or did game development peak in the 20th century? If you're one of those guys who yearns for simpler times—cartridges, 2D, Mode 7 graphics—we'll decide if you're right or wrong. I suspect there's going to be a lot of 16-bit talk in there, and not just because it says that in my show notes.
Before we get rolling, just a quick shout-out to some incredible podcast fans that we have at the Wilmette Community Theater in Willmette, Illinois. Last weekend, they performed a live reading for charity of GameCritics.com podcast 32, using the written transcript provided by Tera Kirk.
About 300 people came out and they raised close to $10,000 to save that theater. It's in dire need of renovation. They've been struggling in the economy and it looks like they're gonna make it. Just an incredible cast, crew, audience. They were kind enough to invite me out and say a few words before the show. I wanna thank the people of Willmette and, in particular, Sam Brady and Claudette Jenkens. They run the theater; they arranged the whole thing. Thanks so much for listening to the show. What a great honor that was, and for a great cause, as well. Thanks very much.
Mike Bracken: Aw! I'd have sworn more if I'd have known they were gonna perform it.
Tim Spaeth: Well, it was interesting. The person playing you was a young, Japanese girl.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] Just like real life!
Tim Spaeth: Exactly. To hear f-bombs come out of her mouth was startling at first, but kind of hot as well.
Mike Bracken: Definitely.
Brad Gallaway: Is this true, or is this your made-up bit? I can't tell.
I wanna say it's fiction, but I can never tell with you, dude.
Chi Kong Lui: I just gave up trying; I just let it go.
Tim Spaeth: I think we should move on and let the audience decide what's real and what's fantasy. We are going to begin tonight with a quick hit of Monster Hunter 3 Tri. I think, perhaps, there's a hyphen in there as well. Brad, perhaps you can educate us, as you are the one who's been playing this game. What's the deal with Monster Hunter, by the way? I don't know a lot about the series, so maybe a quick history lesson. It's massive in Japan but hasn't had a lot of success in the US, is that correct?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, very true. It's one of the biggest series in Japan right now because of its particular focus. I'm sure I'm gonna get tons of hate mail for this, but I think it's a very Japanese game in general, when you look at the nuts and bolts of it and what its core identity is. It seems to me like a very culturally Japanese game.
But to give you guys the nutshell, Monster Hunter is a game where you pick a character, you have a couple different weapon types to pick from, and then you get sent out into the field to ostensibly hunt monsters, but really, that's not what happens. It's not really about monster-hunting; it's about resource-gathering. It's a little bit of a bait-and switch.
When I originally started playing the game with the very first iteration back in the day, I was a little bit surprised at how grind-heavy it was and how much you had to walk around and collect things—collect sticks and collect bones and collect all these things. The reason you need to do that is because you make weapons and armor out of them.
One thing that makes the Monster Hunter series unique is that your character never levels up: only your stuff does. From start to finish, your character is gonna be the same character that they always are, but you get progressively better swords and guns and armor and stuff like that. Really, what it all boils down to is that you get your character, you go out into the world, you collect a bunch of stuff, and then you come back and you make stuff out of your stuff. Then with this new stuff equipped you go out and you kill stuff. It's this giant circle of life, except for it's not really as clear-cut and simple as I just made it sound, which really wasn't that clear-cut or simple.
The reason I really got into Monster Hunter, especially Tri, this latest one, was because I think the concept is gold. It's like money, man. You get these big swords that make Cloud Strife's in Final Fantasy VII look like a little nutcracker or something. You get these giant weapons, the monsters are even bigger. There's these dragons and there's these dinosaur-looking things. In Tri, you can even go in the water, so you fight these giant sea serpents underwater. It's pretty epic in scale and it's really, really impressive when you get these little screenshots and stuff.
But like I was saying earlier, what it really boils down to is you spend a lot of time doing resource-management. I think the first six or eight hours of the game was strictly about doing these really, really almost tutorial-level quests and collecting little pieces of bone and metal so that I could make a sword that was halfway decent. It wasn't really until maybe eight or ten hours in that I started seeing some of the bigger monsters and actually started getting some of the sweet action that I wanted happening. So it's a little bit of a frustrating experience from that respect; the appearance is quite different than what the reality is.
Now, having said that, there is a lot of stuff to like about it. But unfortunately, there's just as much to not like. I'm not really one who's predisposed towards really grinding in games, and like I said, this one is really, really grindy. You need to kill several iterations of the same monster before you get enough parts to actually make the next level armor or the next sword or something like that.
It's kinda tedious, and it's kinda boring, and there's a lot of technical problems with it, too. It looks like an early PS2 game. The animation is really stilted and stiff, it's really awkward. There's tons of menus, and the game doesn't really tell you anything about what's happening. If you're even remotely considering playing this game, I would strongly recommend getting the strategy guide or going onto GameFAQs or checking out the mesageboards at GameFAQs, and doing a lot of research to find out what's going on. It's just this giant, jumbled mess.
But the good thing—or, I guess, kind of a good thing—is that once you start peeling back the layers and you start figuring out what's going on, it can become really addicting to the certain kind of player who's willing to put in the time. Generally that's not me, but given the subject matter of killing big monsters, which really does appeal to me, and the fact that you can get all kinds of cool-looking gear and new sets of armor…
I don't wanna say I'm a loot whore, but I definitely appreciate a game that has good drops. When you finally collect enough scalps from this armored monster, or when you get enough spider webs to make a net or something like that, it really gives you a little bit of tingle when that stuff starts to pay off. It's enjoyable from that aspect, but you know, I gotta say, the grind just really kills it for me. What about you guys? Do you guys really go in for grinding in games?
Mike Bracken: Yes, I do.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] You're talking about Mike Bracken here.
Mike Bracken: I love grinding. It's like this topic was conceived just for me and my love of loot-whoring and grinding. Yes. I have yet to play any of the Monster Hunter games. I've always meant to; just never got around to playing them.
To me, they seem like Phantasy Star Online, which I have this never-ending love affair with, in the sense that you go out and kill shit. I guess there's a little more collecting to it from the way you're describing it, but yeah, dude. Anything that makes me go out and kill a bunch of shit, or hunt stuff down to make better stuff, I'm all in for that. And then loot-whoring on top of it? This is like my perfect game. I have to go buy this now.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] If this is up your alley, you're totally gonna love it. Seriously, you have this target. You can pick these quests from the quest-giver in town. You'll know what you're up against. You go to fight this monster for the first time. It's very, very common in this game to fight a boss for an hour—an hour-long battle.
Mike Bracken: This is so perfect. It just keeps getting better.
Brad Gallaway: You're a fan of those epic bosses, huh?
Mike Bracken: I am. This just keeps getting better.
Brad Gallaway: It's totally common. And if the game didn't time you out at an hour, those battles would go on even longer. Just this week I spent three hours on this one boss and just didn't kill him. He just was still alive at the end of an hour of hacking and slashing. I was like: "Oh, my God! Okay, I gotta increase my stuff."
After that defeat, I had to spend three or four hours tracking down this certain beetle that I needed to make a certain trap. And then I had to go and farm these dinosaurs that were in this other place because they dropped a certain piece of armor that I needed to up the armor that I had. Once I got all equipped up, I switched my weapon—had to grind a little bit for that—and I came back and eventually I kicked the guy's ass. The first time, it was an hour plus and he didn't die; the second time it was 15 minutes.
Chi Kong Lui: What you're describing here to some is like gaming ecstacy.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Chi Kong Lui: What I was surprised about, Brad, is that from your Twitter posts and your blog posts, you sounded very positive about the game. I was actually surprised you came down so hard on it here on the podcast. Is it just a really big love-hate thing? You stuck with the game, which is more than you did for a lot of other games.
Brad Gallaway: That's very true, and I actually got a lot of really negative responses to my earlier blog posts when I started off saying that the game wasn't really as good as I thought it was. It's not. This game is almost like being a heroin addict. When you're doing it, you like it and you enjoy it, but you would never recommend it to anybody. You know that it's bad for you, but you just can't stop.
This to me is like gaming heroine. I know it's trash, I know it's not any good, but I can't stop.
Mike Bracken: That's every hour I ever spent on an MMO.
Chi Kong Lui: Mike has to be saying about now: "Welcome to my world."
Tim Spaeth: You're describing Borderlands.
Brad Gallaway: You know, I was actually thinking that. I was really going over that in my head, and I was thinking of World of Warcraft, I was thinking Borderlands. I was thinking of things of that nature that I generally stay away from and generally dislike. I was trying to think of what it was about this game that really just kep me going. Honestly, I think it just boils down to: I think it's just really fucking cool to go and kill something that's the size of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I think that's the definitive thing for me. Nothing is different: totally grind-heavy, totally tedious, really repetitive, a lot of frustration, controls suck, menus suck, technology sucks on it. There's a lot of "suck" to it, and yet I think it's really cool when you fight these big monsters and they come out and they're all teeth, and they're all claws and they're shooting fireballs. It's just you against this giant beast. There's just something really cool about that. It just scratches my itch, and so for that reason alone…
I think I'm somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 hours into it, and that's way more than I ever thought I would put into it. Honestly, I was hoping I would be done with it by now. But it keeps going—I'm about maybe three-fifths of the way through. Haven't even touched the online portion yet. Everybody I talk to who's online sounds like they're a thousand levels ahead of me. I don't want to be the greenest noob to show up online, so I'm still increasing my stuff and getting better swords and all that.
Haven't even touched it, but for those of you listening, Monster Hunter is really, really strongly focused on online. You can get a group of people together—I think four is the max, but I'm not sure, don't quote me on that—and you can do a number of quests which are available only online for lots of items which are only available online. You work as a team. There's all these different weapon types: there's lances, swords, guns. There's even an axe which transforms into a sword which then shoots lightening, which to me is like the ultimate weapon of all time.
There's all kinds of stuff, and if you get a group together, everybody with their own unique gear, you can have all your bases covered: one person can be a healer, one can be a tank. It has a really, really strong online presence; I haven't tried it myself because I've been so involved in the offline, but it is there and I don't want to neglect mentioning that.
Chi Kong Lui: There's another 60 hours waiting for you right there, Brad.
Mike Bracken: 60? You'd probably play way more than that.
Brad Gallaway: Way, way more than that. I've talked to people who have played it for over 100 hours and they still feel like they're not done. But I will tell you guys, with respect to my personal time which is really limited and my review time and the other stuff I'm working on, I told myself that once I clear the offline quests, I'm done. I gotta just put it down and step away from it. If I don't, it'll totally suck away all my free time. I won't be able to get any reviews done; I won't be doing any writing; my child will go hungry; my wife will be neglected. Once I clear the offline, it's over. It's done.
Mike Bracken: Bracken is once again a cautionary tale.
Tim Spaeth: I'm a bit flummoxed here, Brad, because for your monster-killing fun, didn't you have Demon's Souls? Didn't that scratch that itch? Is this scratching a different itch? To me, it seems like Demon's Souls from the way you described that game, was superior in every single way. I get that it's two different game systems, but after coming off Demon's Souls, it would seem to me like this would be too primitive for you.
Brad Gallaway: That's actually a really good point, Tim, and to be honest, Demon's Souls is superior to Monster Hunter in every way. There's nothing that Monster Hunter does that Demon's Souls doesn't do better, in terms of control, technically, in terms of design, in terms of atmosphere. Demon's Souls just kicks Monster Hunter's ass all over the place.
But I guess it's just more. I went through Demon's Souls two or three times; I saw pretty much everything there was to see. This is just different. It's a lot more primitive; it's a lot more crude; honestly, I think it's a lot more frustrating. I think Demon's Souls was an easier game to play. If you actually knew what you were doing, you could progress through the game a lot more quickly.
In Monster Hunter, it boils down to: How often do you get the drop you need? How often do you get the item you need? How long are you gonna grind? For me, it's a different focus, but I just like killing big monsters in general. And having tapped out Demon's Souls, this is just one more place to go to get that fix.
Chi Kong Lui: Demon's Souls isn't exactly killing T-Rexs and that big beast type of thing. There's bosses at the end of each stage but it's not the primary focus.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Yeah, that's very true.
Tim Spaeth: What is the official title of this game? What combination of words should I use? Monster Hunter 3 Tri hyphen?
Brad Gallaway: I think you can skip the hyphen. Looking at the title on the cover of the box, it's Monster Hunter Tri. I think the Tri just represents the 3. I've been saying "Tri" and I think most people have been saying "Tri." It's Monster Hunter Tri.
Tim Spaeth: All right. I just wanna talk about it on the train with my fellow commuters. I wanna sound cool. I don't wanna sound like I don't knwo what I'm talking about. Is this a full-priced game? This is a $50 game?
Brad Gallaway: As a matter of fact, I haven't even checked that. I do believe it is a full-priced game; I don't think it's a bargain title at all.
Mike Bracken: No. It's full price.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I think it's a full-price game. If listeners are keen on the idea of grinding out for cool weapons and killing really big monsters, and don't mind that it's gonna be a pretty significant investment of time and effort, then I think it's worth looking into.
Although having said that, I just got wind that there's gonna be Monster Hunter Frontier on the Xbox 360. If I had known that was coming, I probably would've held off of Tri. Number one: Live is a lot better for grouping up with people, and also, this game is in dire need of stepping up to the next level of technology. It seems really, really left behind right now. It seems really PS2 era, so if I had known before I started that there was gonna be a 360 version coming, I think I would've held off, because I don't think I can play these games very often.
Chi Kong Lui: You gotta just learn to love the addiction.
Brad Gallaway: It's kind of a love-hate.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: I'm sorry; I was trying to find out if GameStop was still open so I could just go buy it now.
Tim Spaeth: Well, I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Mike. There's nothing I enjoy more than when you're addicted to something, 'cause it frankly makes me feel better about my addictions.
Let us move on. We're not even gonna take a break; we're just gonna press right into Super Mario Galaxy 2. To start this off, one year ago, during our E3 2009 podcast, I said the following about the just-announced Super Mario Galaxy 2. Take a listen.
"I played through Super Mario Galaxy once. I loved it, but the reality is, if I were to play it again I wouldn't remember any of the levels. For me, Super Mario Galaxy might as well be Super Mario Galaxy 2. It's just more of the same, and I'll probably end up getting it, but I'm honestly in no hurry whatsoever."
Here we are one year later and after about 5 hours with Super Mario Galaxy 2, I can say that while it may not be a necessary game or even an important game, it is one hell of a game. I like this game a lot, and I know I'm the only one playing it right now, so let me ask you guys: Did you play and enjoy the first Galaxy? Chi, did you get some time with it?
Chi Kong Lui: Nah, not really. Just a couple of hours. Wasn't really into it.
Tim Spaeth: Hm. Brad, what about you?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I did play it. I didn't do every single thing there was to do in the game, but I did finish it, and I had a pretty good time with it. I liked it. I didn't think it really captured the essence of Wii. I think that game could've happened on a different control setup on a different system, but it was a good game. I enjoyed it.
Tim Spaeth: Mike, what about you?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I thought it was pretty good. A definite step up after Sunshine, that's for sure.
Brad Gallaway: Big time. Big time.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: It restored my faith in the Mario franchise a little bit.
Tim Spaeth: I'm not a Nintendo fanboy, but I will sound like one when talking about Galaxy and now its sequel. Galaxy was my 2007 Game of the Year, and so far Galaxy 2 is actually topping my 2010 list, which right now has one game on it. This has not been a great year for games for me, so having this show up on my doorstep was pretty refreshing.
I think the secret to these Galaxy games and the secret to their success for me is the variety of the content. The polish, yes, it's unmatched; the controls are nearly flawless, but the real magic to these games is the variety. Again, this is where I veer into fanboy territory. I hate myself for saying something so cheesy, but every level—every level—is like opening a present.
And inside that present is magic. It really is. There is a sense in these games that anything can happen. I know how ridiculous that sounds.
Chi Kong Lui: You think? [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Anything. Anything can happen. Hardcore pornography.
Mike Bracken: I was gonna say: Porn happens?
Tim Spaeth: Let me give you an example of on what level this works for me. In this game, as there was in the first game, there is a side-scrolling level, which by the way has more creativity in one level than any level in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It's one of those levels where the gravity flips, so you flip a switch and suddenly you're running on the ceiling. Actually in Galaxy 2, you can run on all four walls—the gravity moves in four directions.
But then about three-fourths of the way through this level, all the sudden for no reason in particular, the perspective changes to a top-down bird's-eye view. Suddenly you're playing Mario from a Legend of Zelda perspective. You've never seen this in a Mario game before. I was trying to think back, and this has never happened before: a top-down Mario game. You're weaving your way around this path and you're jumping on goombas and it only lasts about a minute. After about a minute, it goes back to a side-scroller.
There was no real reason for that to happen, and it only happens on that one level. I've played about 30 levels of this game and it just happens for that one minute. I think that's the secret of these games: they introduce something fun or novel and then they don't show it to you again for another 30 or 40 levels. You never get sick of anything, and at any time, anything can happen.
They've introduced Yoshi in this game. Yoshi's only been on two levels out of 30. There's this new suit, it's a Cloud Suit. You've seen that for two levels out of 30. They give you something fun and then they take it away before you get sick of it.
I'm just thinking of other games that introduce mechanic or a minigame or something, and it's fun for the first couple times. In BioShock, they had the Pipe Dream minigame, when you're hacking a turret. You do that the first time and it's a lot of fun. You do it the fifth time and it's like: "All right, I'm good." Then you do it the hundredth time and you start to resent it, you forget what was ever fun about it, you become angry. All you want is for it to end and to never see it again.
I think most games would take something like the top-down perspective shift that I talked about and they would create an entire sequence of 20 levels, where you do nothing but that. Then halfway through, it would start to get hard and frustrating, and you would just be completely sick of it. That never happens in these games.
Some other quick items: I mentioned polish and attention to detail. So many little things in this game impress, if you're paying attention. For example, when you hop on Yoshi, the background music changes very subtly to a tropical version of that level's music. Whenever the gravity shifts, again, a subtle change to the music. It's a really small thing, but it adds so much to the ambiance.
I mentioned controls. Some of these levels are really coked-up, M.C. Escher-esque designs. Yet, whether you're running upside-down or around the diameter of a sphere, you never feel so disoriented that the controls become a problem. You never really feel disoriented at all. I will say that the underwater levels are still a bit janky, but clearly this game was play-tested to death, and it really shows in the controls.
Our friend Hargrada had a great summary of the game on Twitter. I'll quote him here. He says: "It's a great 3D Mario platformer. Not the experience that the first one was, but I like playing it more overall. I'm totally hooked on the star hunt again. It's got that "just one more star" drive to it." And he's totally nailed it. When we're done recording here, I am going star-hunting.
That's really where I'm coming from here. I have some other things to say about the differences between Galaxy and Galaxy 2, but I'll pause for a moment and ask if you have any questions so far, since I'm talking a lot.
Brad Gallaway: Like we said earlier, I played and I enjoyed the first Galaxy. I don't think I would've given the first Galaxy a 10. It would've gotten a pretty positive review, that's for sure, but I don't think it was quite a 10 for me.
Mike Bracken: 8.5, 9.
Brad Gallaway: It would've been up there, yeah, totally. But this one seems to be getting just this mad love, beyond all realm of reality. It seems like every reviewer who I've read has literally had an erection as they were typing out their review. There's so many 10s. Granted, I haven't played the game, so I'm not gonna be speaking from a position of authority here, but as someone who liked the first one, I will definitely play Galaxy 2, but it's not like I ran out to the store on day one and bought it. I'll get to it when I get to it, but I'm not really dying.
It seems pretty evident to me that this is a giant wave of nostalgia and fanboyism buoying the game along. I'm not saying it's not good, but it seems to me like it can't possibly be that good. In your opinion, do you really feel like it justifies all the crazy scores it's been getting?
Tim Spaeth: Our friend Nightdreamer asked the same question on Twitter. As you guys all know, I don't write reviews. I frankly don't know how you guys can put numbers on games. But I have two theories as to where all these 10s are coming from. The first has to do with expectations.
There's an interesting parallel to be drawn here between this game and the reviews for God of War III, in that the reviews for God of War III and Galaxy 2 all basically admit that those two games are pretty much the same as the games that game before them. But whereas Galaxy 2 is getting 10s, God of War III was getting 7s, 8s and 9s. I think the expectation for God of War III was: "Because it's on a completely new system (PlayStation 3), it would be mind-blowing, relevatory in some way. And it really wasn't. It was as good as the other ones, but still disappointing.
I don't think there were any expectations for Galaxy 2. When it was announced last year, no one was expecting it. No one was expecting that there would be a sequel to this game. There hasn't been a sequel to a Mario game on the same platform since SNES days.
Chi Kong Lui: In fact, every one was heralded as the symbol that Nintendo was creatively bankrupt. They were just making a sequel out of it at this point, which is something they never did.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. But it's the nature of the game that every level is so different. Even though it's technically the same format and the same structure, the actual content of the levels is constantly changing. It never becomes tedious, and it never feels the same. In one respect, there was definitely, I think, lowered expectations for this game. When it turned out as good as it did, the scores are probably inflated to a degree.
The other thing that's happening here—and this is pure speculation, and please feel free to call me out on this if you think it's ridiculous. 2010 has been a really dark year for games. A lot of really heavy games with dark subject matter. Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake, Heavy Rain, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption. No real light-hearted romps.
Mario Galaxy 2 comes around, and it's completely unlike anything that's been released this year. It's refreshing, it's lightweight, it's exhilarating, and I think it was just a refreshing change of pace for reviewers. It was something different, and I think the game is probably being rewarded for that. It's speculation, but I think there's some merit to it.
Mike Bracken: That's actually a pretty good point. I hadn't thought about that.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, that's very true. It's funny you mention it, 'cause that hadn't really occurred to me that we've had so many dark games. To me, it's been a great year because there's been tons of games which have really been of good quality and worth playing, critically and also just from an enjoyment perspective. But yeah, now that you mention it, I think you're right. I think there has been a lot of heavy, heavy material. It's a good point.
I do wanna also touch on the topic of variety. I think that's a great thing that you bring up, because for me as a player, that's one of the things I really enjoy the most about any game. I like any game that can really change the formula up and keep things fresh and not keep giving me the same thing over and over. As soon as a game starts repeating itself and it doesn't have anything more to say, that's when it should end. Unfortunately, most games don't. They keep going for another five or ten hours—unless it's a JRPG, and then it goes for another 40.
It's interesting to hear you say that, 'cause it actually makes me more excited to check it out. I am a really big fan of variety within the scope of a single title.
Chi Kong Lui: I actually had the exact opposite take on that, which is interesting. I feel like games sometimes put in variety too much because they don't have confidence in their core game mechanic. Not that I want them to be repetitive, but I like them to be about something substantive: something that I can master and evolve along with. I guess that doesn't happen for a lot of games.
But at the same time, I really don't sink my teeth into games where all they do is keep throwing new things at me, and it just seems like they're just trying to keep me entertained. I find that more boring in some ways than anything else. Tim, is that an accurate way to describe Galaxy 2—too much variety, in some ways?
Tim Spaeth: I know what you're saying and I agree with you. I think it's the rare game that can throw so much into the pot and come up with a truly delicious stew.
Brad Gallaway: I do the food metaphors on this show, thank you.
Tim Spaeth: I'm so sorry.
There is variety in the level types; there's variety in the power-ups; there's variety in the goal for each level. But it all still revolves around the theme of running and jumping and sliding and riding and trying to get a star at the end of the level. I just think there's something about the people working on this game, and I don't know if it's Miyamoto or the people working under him or who the people are, but there is something unique and there is some sort of intangible thing about the way this game plays and controls and is designed that overcomes that. I'm not sure I can even describe it. You just have to play it and feel it. It may work for you and it may not, but it totally works for me.
Brad Gallaway: I think I know what you guys are both saying, and I think you guys are kinda saying the same thing, just in a different way. I definitely hear what you're saying, Tim, and that's one thing that I really value in a game: when a game can pull that off.
And Chi, I also know exactly what you're saying. You don't like to play a game where they get away from their core values or their core structure, like in Final Fantasy VII when they threw in the snowboarding. I know some people liked that, but to me, it was like: "This is totally bizarre and has nothing to do with anything."
So I think the key is having enough variety but still staying within the sphere of connecting to the main theme. In Gears of War, if you could do a couple different things that are related to shooting and monsters, then it makes sense, but if all the sudden there was a rhythm dance segment, then people would be like: "Woah! What's going on with this? It's too far out."
I think any developer that can manage to keep variety but still keep that hole of the main [themes], like in Mario Galaxy's example, running and jumping and platforming, that's a pretty flexible genre. I could see how there's lots of room for something like that, whereas it might be more of a challenge in Dynasty Warriors, where you could have this other bizarre mode. It might be harder to sneak something in like that to get the variety in there.
But I hear what you're saying, Chi. I don't think that sticking something in just for the sake of sticking something in is good. But I think if it's able to be consistent with the main concept, then I'm cool with it.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. I agree with that, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I do have a couple criticisms about the game. It's not all love, and I'll mention a few of these things. I haven't seen these mentioned in a lot of reviews. If you remember in Galaxy 1, some of the levels involved races against Evil Mario. I think even Sunshine had Evil Mario. You basically had to beat him to the end. I found those levels really frustrating in the first game.
Those so far have not appeared in the second game, but they've replaced them with three evil Marios chasing you. You don't have to race them, but you have to accomplish different goals while they're running after you. They're really just annoyances. They're not that hard to avoid, but you'll occasionally bump into them or they'll bump into you and they'll eat away at your health. I occasionally died, just because they were there and I didn't notice them or I missed a jump or something.
It really doesn't quite work. I think Nintendo needs to drop the Evil Mario thing. Every time they try to implement it, it just doesn't fit the game and they just haven't found the right way to implement it. No more Dark Mario, Nintendo. I forbid it.
One other complaint: I mentioned the underwater controls earlier. I really feel like they haven't quite got it down. It didn't work very well in Galaxy, doesn't work so well here. I never quite felt like I was completely in control. It's not horrible; it's much better than the most recent Tomb Raider games, but given that the rest of Galaxy's controls are so excellent, these average underwater controls do stand out as not-so-good.
But the thing that annoys me about this game most of all is that the game has been broken up into worlds, much like traditional Mario games: World 1, World 2, World 3. Within the worlds, you have galaxies, so one world is made up of multiple galaxies. Within a galaxy, you have planets. I just have to say, Nintendo, that is some jacked-up astronomy. That is not how it works.
Brad Gallaway: One thing that annoyed me about the first Galaxy was that if you played a session and you spent some time getting 1-ups, you could rack up 25, 30, 50 1-ups or extra lives. But then when you went to save your game and you came back, you still only had 3, and you'd have to go talk to Luigi and he'd give you a couple more. Then you'd have to collect them again. It seemed like a totally pointless waste of time. Is that same thing happening in Galaxy 2?
Tim Spaeth: Yeah, same thing here. But you do accumulate 1-ups really fast. I noticed that today: I had 30 and then I started another session and I was back down to five. I think there's no point to having finite lives. I do agree that you should be able to die in a level, but they offer so many opportunities to get 1-ups that even if you run out of lives, you can just restart the game right from where you left off. There's no real point in having finite lives, but you do accumulate so many so quickly that it doesn't really matter. I think it's just a holdover because Mario games have always been that way.
Chi Kong Lui: That sort of just sums up Nintendo once again.
Mike Bracken: Holdovers.
Chi Kong Lui: They just seem to be running away from any form of innovation whatsoever, as if they're gonna offend anyone. I don't get it. What's the big deal? Take a chance, for God's sake.
Mike Bracken: "They love the boomerang in the dungeon in Zelda in the last 17 games! They'll love it again!"
Brad Gallaway: The sick thing is, a lot of people do. You get all the haters coming out of the woodwork.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, they flip out.
Brad Gallaway: I agree. We fell in love with Nintendo.
Chi Kong Lui: We've talked about this already.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, we did. We did. They were so creative and so brilliant in so many ways. They broke so much new ground, and yet they've totally backed away from that. I don't wanna put it all on Miyamoto's shoulders 'cause he's only one man, but they should totally be taking more risks. I would like to see them branch out and do something brand new: new franchise, new characters. I'm sure they could do it; they're a talented bunch of people.
Chi Kong Lui: Maybe that's the problem. They're just still riding on Miyamoto's coattails, to this day.
Tim Spaeth: To summarize that point and wrap up our discussion here, I don't think they would be able to get away with a Super Mario Galaxy 3. I think they've probably taken this as far as it can go. I think you're absolutely right, guys. They need to get this teem—whether it's under Miyamoto's direction or not—on something brand new. There's a lot of talent, there's a lot of creativity, there is some really mind-blowing stuff in this game. Let's not put it towards Galaxy 3. Let's put it on a new franchise. Will it happen? Probably not.
Chi Kong Lui: Sounds good. Even when you say it, it sounds great. Why not? You might have a hit on your hands. You might have another Pokémon on your hands. Why not?
Tim Spaeth: At some point, there was a first Mario game and there was a first Pokémon game. Why not a first something else? That ends our discussion of Super Mario Galaxy 2. Why don't we pause for a moment? When we come back, our main topic. Stick around.
Well, I have become that guy: the guy who thinks that all good music was written before 1997, and that everything afterward is crap. Yes, I'm that cranky old guy. A lot of people have a similar opinion about games—that gaming peaked in the 8-bit or 16-bit era, and that everything today is just pomp and circumstance and explosions and breasts. And actually, that sounds pretty good.
The question I pose to you, gentlemen, and our main topic tonight: Are today's games truly better games? When people answer "no" to that question, they often point to the 16-bit era. That seems to be a touchstone for a lot of older gamers, so let's start there. Mike, I know you're quite passionate about all things 16-bit, so let's start with you. Was this the greatest era of all time?
Mike Bracken: If I had to answer definitively, I would say yes, the 16-bit era was the greatest era of all time. I have a list of reasons for that, actually. I've talked about some of them before, and others are new since I knew we were gonna do this topic. This is not to say that I don't think games today are fantastic, or that they haven't made great evolutionary steps forward or that this isn't a great era of gaming. The funny thing with the 16-bit era for me, though…
I'm the old, cranky bastard of this show. I think I'm the oldest guy at GameCritics still; I'll be 38 this year. I've been playing games since we had a Pong console when I was four; I've played since the beginning and I've owned pretty much every console along the way. The evolutionary jump from the 8-bit era to the 16-bit era, I think the only time we've seen such a huge leap in terms of graphics and gameplay and everything, maybe you could make the case that the jump from the 2600 to the NES was similar, or maybe even a little more.
I think when you take a look at it, the jump from the NES and the 8-bit era to the Genesis and the Super NES, the way games evolved in that period—the graphics got better, you were able to put more stuff on the cartridges so you got better stories, you had better controls.
This is not to say that there wasn't a lot of shovelware crap games out during that era, because there were. But I think what happened is, games evolved there and got really good, and you got better music and better stories and better controls and more ambitious games. They've aged really well.
I would say this era right now is probably the second-best. I put the 16-bit slightly ahead of it, the reason being, I think in a couple years the graphics in today's games are not gonna look very good because of the way graphics continue to evolve. The funny thing about the 16-bit era for me is, because it was all sprite-based, those graphics still really look cool and have a certain amount of charm to them that's still really good. If you go back and look at PlayStation-era games, those games are hideous now. You look at PlayStation 2-era games, even. Today, I'm playing Killzone 'cause I'm bored, and that game's God awful ugly compared to what's out now. It's only a couple years old. Meanwhile, I pop in Chrono Trigger, that game still looks really cool. It's got great sprites on backgrounds and everything. Those kind of graphics just don't seem to age, or if they do, they age really gracefully.
Chi Kong Lui: When you say "ambition" comparing current and 16-bit, what qualifies as ambitious in the 16-bit era for you?
Mike Bracken: You really start to see games in the 16-bit era come out with more stories. You saw this starting in the 8-bit era, but there were still a lot of games in the NES age like Kung-Fu, where you were basically just kicking the shit out of eight million guys, trying to get to the top of the thing to save your girlfriend. That was a story.
I'm a little biased I'm an RPG guy, and I think the 16-bit era RPGs are better than today's RPGs by far. They told the same fucking stories: the stories haven't evolved at all.
Chi Kong Lui: They're remaking them.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, it's the same fucking stories over and over. They're not hopelessly complicated like today's RPGs are, but they're still engaging and they've still got menus and hit points and all that shit.
I think what you see in terms of the ambition, especially theirs, is if you look at the original Final Fantasy from the 8-bit era, there was really no story to that game. You picked your character classes—you could pick four fucking white mages if you wanted to, and struggle through the game that way. None of the characters were part of the story. When you get to the 16-bit era, you start to see that the characters become important parts of the story and there's an actual narrative happening. Like I said, not every game in this era had that, but you really see that happening.
You start to see these games like…I'm hesitant to call them "becoming art," because I know that's so loaded with 10,000 different arguments about whether games are even art in the first place. But I think you see the technology advance, and game developers were a little bit more daring about what they were trying to do in that era.
Now gaming seems like its become so commercialized, like we were talking about last segment talking about Mario Galaxy. You've got guys who are very creative still, and the technology is there to do amazing things with it, but gaming has become so commercial that you're really roped in by the corporate bean-counter guys who say: "My game has to have a cover system like Gears of War and has to have this from Popular Game X and open world like Grand Theft Auto, where the guys don't get as much freedom. That 16-bit era, I think, developers had a lot more room to try to experiment and do things. For me, those are the reasons why that era of gaming is still so great.
There's certainly some nostalgia to it and all that, I won't deny that. You almost have to take it on a genre-by-genre basis. The 16-bit RPGs are definitely better than the RPGs of today, and I would even argue are better than the PlayStation-era RPGs. But I think shooters today are probably better than the 16-bit ones. If you go back and play a shooter on the SNES, it's not as good as Gears of War.
But there's also something to be said, that those games were easier to pick up and play if you weren't an actual hardcore gamer. The controllers were smaller and had fewer buttons, weren't so complicated. There's that in favor of it, too. I'm happy with where games are today—don't get me wrong. But for me, that 16-bit era is still the best era. What do you guys think?
Chi Kong Lui: You've added so many other things for me to think about.
One thing I wanted to comment on right off the bat was what you were saying about the art thing. Let's not get into the art question, but for me, what it means is that the games actually started to look beautiful. You can actually say that this is beautiful-looking art. The music is just such a staple of that era. The music's become iconic, really, coming out of that generation.
Mike Bracken: Which is amazing, 'cause it was all midi-on-cartridge stuff. It wasn't full orchestras like we have now, but it's still really iconic.
Chi Kong Lui: But it started to sound orchestral. Building one what you were saying, the 16-bit era for me was a really amazing balance between technology, gameplay and everything along those lines. I think today, there's just too much technology, and I have to blame 3D for that. The two games that symbolize that to me are Final Fantasy VI versus Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy VI, granted, it's all sprite-based, but what I like about sprite-based games is that you didn't feel like there was a limitation to where the world ended. It could go on and on. Granted, that was probably an illusion, too. I'm sure there's only so much data you can fit into a cartridge and the world has to end somewhere. But it certainly felt like, in terms of the developers' palette, they could make as large a world as they wanted.
Final Fantasy VII was the exact opposite. Everything felt so enclosed. Granted, it wasn't quite 3D, 'cause it was those static backgrounds.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, it still had the static backgrounds, which definitely hurt it. There were moments in that game where you would be moving through an area and you would stop to look at the backgrounds 'cause they were static, animated backgrounds, they weren't 3D. And you'd think: "Wow, those are really pretty" but they also felt really fake because you couldn't move through them freely. There was a really weird disconnect for me with Final Fantasy VII with the super-deformed but 3D characters and those backgrounds. That game has aged really poorly, to me.
Chi Kong Lui: I just think that once 3D came into effect, it created this huge overhead, and then the production costs and everything skyrocketed. Higher costs results in fewer risks; fewer risks, less innovation. It's ironic that when you think 3D, well, 3D's like the real world. That's an actual environment. The world should be more open. But in fact, they're more limited because of the technology.
We are getting to a point now where it actually is making good on that promise when you see games like Oblivion and Fallout 3. These games are starting to feel like pretty expansive worlds, so I'm actually enjoying a lot of what's going on today.
I think what's great about the 16-bit era was that the technology was starting to come into its own, but it wasn't so limited.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It wasn't a focal point
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly. It wasn't the focal point. There was the Mode 7…It's always there. These are games, so there's always a technical issue, but it didn't override the importance of gameplay. I'm like you; I don't hate games today. I'm not someone who only wishes games were like they were in the past, but I certainly really miss the balance of gameplay and technology as well as the innovation.
I think we're seeing so much less innovation today. Back then, there were a thousand Super Street Fighter clones, I get that. But at the same time, when a new concept came out, gamers' heads didn't explode. Today, a new concept comes out and it just gets ignored. People just don't care. It's kind of sad, unfortunately, the state that everyone just wants to see the next Madden. Back then, a little game could come out and really become the next big thing. Today it's just so much harder, so I really do miss a lot of things about that era.
Brad Gallaway: The stuff that you guys are describing is all stuff that seems really part and parcel of a media growing and evolving: a rapid explosion of creativity, the experimentation, the core focus on new ideas. That's stuff happens with any medium. You could look at books, film, anything. When people were just starting out, nobody was afraid to try anything. There were all these ideas happening that were really off the wall and bizarre; some of them stuck and some of them didn't.
But as time goes by, certain things begin to evolve: you start getting genres, you start getting archetypes, you start getting these different modes where people know they can mine these modes and get a certain user base behind them. I think that games are on the exact same track as any other medium, in terms of how it develops.
Like you guys, I definitely miss those days of the wild creativity, although it wasn't the 16-bit era for me that I value most. I think it was probably the jump to the 32-bit, the PlayStation era, when that first started. There were all kinds of crazy games coming out. You never knew what something was gonna be, which was also true in the 16-bit, and even the NES days. But I remember my library just exploding during the PS1 era, because there were so many crazy things to do and play and see, and it was a really vibrant, creative time.
But I definitely agree that the emphasis on technology is really a stifling influence, in terms of creativity. Chi, like you said, exactly: when you have to sink five million dollars into a game to make it up to a gamer's standard, then you are much less prone to take risks; you're much more prone to stick with an established formula that already has been proven to work. That's when you start getting stagnation and things start feeling the same. I definitely agree that, in terms of creativity, we are in a little bit of a low point now. Risks are just not financially acceptable if people are gonna expect the same kind of bells and whistles that they do. I think there's a case to be made for the indie scene right now. I think there's a lot of room for people to put less money into graphics and sounds and put more into gameplay. I'm definitely in favor of that.
But just stepping back from that whole aspect of things for a little while, I guess I'm gonna be the only guy on the podcast who actually thinks games are better these days than they were in the past. Getting away from creativity, I'm talking about things like being able to save anywhere. I love saving my game.
I don't wanna have to dig out my memory card and run back to a save point, and then you get stuck in the middle of a boss battle and you can't quit. It's still an issue sometimes these days.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. There's still so many RPGs even in this generation that still make you go back to a save point and all this crap.
Brad Gallaway: Very true, very true. Those games are screwed. They need to catch up, because there's a lot of games these days that have no issue with letting players save all over the place.
Along with that spike of creativity, I think difficulty curves back in the day were way out of whack. I don't know about you guys, but there were plenty of NES games, plenty of 16-bit games that I thought were great, except they were hard as hell. Either they were totally unfair, or they were just screwed in so many different ways that you couldn't finish them.
I think that now that games have been out for so long, developers have been a lot more savvy to pick up on how to alleviate those sticking points; how to reduce those monstrous difficulty curves. I totally agree with what you're saying, but at the same time, I do think that a lot of strides have been made. For me, personally, playing games these days is a lot less painful and it's really enjoyable. I still think there's a lot of really good titles coming out, even though there's maybe not the mad boom of creativity that there was in the past. Just technically speaking, I think that, yes, games today are much better and much easier to play, more friendly.
Tim Spaeth: Before we move too far away from 16-bit, I'm gonna read this letter from our friends at the Gaming the Media podcast. They also throw their hat into the 16-bit ring and reiterate a lot of points that you made, Mike, as well as you, Chi. They wrote the following:
"Hey, GameCritics crew,
Love the podcast. Keep up the great work. I'm writing in to share my thoughts regarding the 16-bit era. While it's undeniable that some of our love of previous generations stems from the nostalgia of youth, I'd argue that the 16-bit era holds meaning for so many folks because it heralded an explosive diversification of quality gaming genres that had previously been rather rudimentary or non-existent on consoles: story-based RPGs, simulation and strategy games, first-person shooters, not to mention fighting games. All of these made significant first console appearances during this era."
Chi Kong Lui: Wait, wait, wait. First-person shooters? In the 16-bit era?
Mike Bracken: There were.
Tim Spaeth: Doom got ported to the SNES.
Brad Gallaway: Silent Debuggers got ported to the Turbo-Graphix 16. That was pretty classic.
Chi Kong Lui: Okay. If you're saying PC, that's fine, but I don't know if I'd throw that in there with the consoles.
Tim Spaeth: You're right; they were ports from PC games appearing on consoles, but I can't recall a console-only 16-bit first-person shooter. I'm sure I'm missing something.
Mike Bracken: I'm sure there was one.
Tim Spaeth: Finishing the letter:
"While modern titles have improved almost all individual aspects of gaming, there was something exciting about a time that saw a regular stream of new genres being presented to players, shaping our tastes for generations to come. I think that many of us old-school gamers remember the 16-bit era as the first time we began to think of console games as an art form uniting visuals, audio, story and gameplay in a way that was emotionally resonant—something we now take for granted."
Mike Bracken: I agree.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Yeah, I would agree with that.
Tim Spaeth: Well-said, from our friends at the Gaming the Media podcast. We actually tried to get them to come on the show tonight or record a little something; we couldn't quite work it out, but hopefully we'll be able to work some synergy, as I like to say, in an upcoming show.
I wanna move on and talk about nostalgia. The Gaming the Media guys talked about this, and also, RandomRob on our forums started a thread in our podcast forum, coincidentally as we were prepping this topic. We approached this at the same time. Let me offer a choice from RandomRob, and I'm interested in your take. He says:
"Videogames are a market, right? There is occasionally art, but for the most part, 9 out of 10 games are violent wish fulfillment scenarios because that's what sells. There used to be a great deal of experimentation going on with the medium but does that mean you really want to go back and play those games again?
"Games are moving more and more into the realm of a TOTAL experience these days, rather than novelty experiences that you have to force yourself into by limiting (or altering) your perceptions, or having to memorize strange control systems and rules.
"I don't think games have changed, I think people have changed.. they expect creature comfort from their entertainment, to be challenged less. At least, not to be challenged by the fundamentals of gameplay. "
What do you think?
Brad Gallaway: That was a good piece. I think I agree with a lot of what he said there. I think that echoed my sentiments about games being a lot more player friendly. Maybe not necessarily about games being easier, but I definitely think that not killing players with these whacked-out difficulty curves and these weird things that popped up in some of the older games. Like I said, I think developers have gotten a little more savvy about being friendlier, because you're not gonna have an audience if you scare them all away. But in general, I think that was really well-said, and I think I agree with most of that.
Chi Kong Lui: When this topic first came up, I think the first thing I had to do was take a look in the mirror and really think about the whole nostalgia factor. Am I looking at this with rose-colored glasses? After thinking about it, nostalgia factors into it, as Mike said. But I think we really made a strong, objective case for why 16-bit games were so great.
I know it makes for a sexy topic to say: "Are games better today?" Of course they are from Brad's standpoint. I'm not gonna disagree with that, although we should have another discussion on whether save points are absolutely necessary. That's another topic. To me, GoldenEye with save points is not GoldenEye anymore. That game needed what it had in order for it to be successful.
What is interesting, though, is, Brad, you talked a little bit about the technology in the 32-bit era. I think we're not getting enough out of the technology these days. When was the last time someone tried to sell you on a new technology that actually paid off? I'm thinking of the geo mods from Red Faction, and that was a pretty big letdown. It just didn't really amount to what we thought it was gonna be.
Whereas what I loved about the 32-bit era…One of the first games that caught my attention was Destruction Derby, where they put 32 cars on the screen and let them go nuts—just crashing them out. I love that; that game was a big game for me. I still have the original one in my collection.
Games back then, even in the 32-bit era as well as the 16-bit era, they made some promises and they usually lived up to it. Today, I know it's harder to innovate, but at the same time, maybe the technology is still a good thing to focus on, but at least get more bang out of your buck. Promise something that's gonna be a little more interesting. Don't be Peter Molyneux, where you promise something that you can't deliver. That's even worse. [Laughter]
Maybe we just need to see more focus on technology that actually makes a difference. It doesn't necessarily have to be the most advanced thing out there, but just something that's gonna affect the gameplay in a very positive way.
Brad Gallaway: It's funny you bring that up, Chi, because I often think the same thing myself. I'm hoping that we're gonna see that come back this generation, with all this talk of the current consoles having a ten-year lifespan. That's the best thing I could possibly wish for, because you only started getting the really breakthrough, really polished, really well-done, the best games at the end of a console's life cycle. That's when everybody's had the most time to work with it; they're the most familiar with the hardware; they've gotten enough funding to work on the project that they wanna work on. As soon as they start hitting that stride, it's like: "Okay, time to move on to a new piece of hardware," and you start the cycle all over again.
I think right now, the consoles are absurdly powerful, if you look back to what we were working with in the arcade game days or the NES days. This is 1,000, 10,000, a million times more powerful than what we had back then, and yet, we're still so focused on pushing things forward that we're not making the most of what we have. I think if everybody just agreed: "No more new tech for five more years; let's just work with what we've got and maximized, and we're open to experimenting," I think that would be great. I think we'd start to see a lot of games that really did start to deliver on those promises.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. That totally makes sense, especially the ten-year cycle thing. Like you said, everybody starts talking about maxing out on consoles a year or two after they're out. But the truth is that it takes everybody five or six years before that starts to happen, and then they're already moving on to the next thing.
I always feel like we probably miss out on some really good stuff because everybody's in such a rush for the next system, just as they're finally figuring out how to really take advantage of the last one. Especially with these systems now being more than $400, they have to last more than five years; I can't spend $1200 every five years on three new consoles. That's the extra bonus of it, I guess. But, yeah, I definitely agree with that.
Chi Kong Lui: We can all bld blame Microsoft for that, because they were convinced that they had to come to market first so they totally rushed the current genration that we'e in right now.
Mike Bracken: And look at how that turned out. Every 360 is dead.
Brad Gallaway: That stuff aside, I think rhw rhinf that you were getting at, Chi, was that we seem to be stuck at square one. Everybody is still playing catch-up with the new hardware, so maybe if we just put it on pause, we could get past the state where everyone's getting to grips with it.
Chi Kong Lui: It's not so much just the getting to grips with it, but they're not using the technology. Maybe it does have a lot to do with getting a grip on it, but they're just not using the technology in a way that's interesting. For example, Flower. That didn't need the newest technology out there, but it needed an idea to push the technology in a way that was different than what's currently out there, an experience that was different than what's out there.
It's just not seen anymore. I just remember back in the day, even in the 16-bit era, we were just experiencing so many new things going on. Today, it's just more about: Is the physics more real? Who gives a shit? [Laughter] Who cares?
Mike Bracken: And there's something to be said for that. Sometimes I think that the closer we get to photorealism, the less interesting some games become. Part of the fun of gaming for me was always that it was an escape from life. Maybe that's why I don't like military shooters: they're too much like being in the military. I think: "Well, shit. If I wanted to do that, I'd just have joined the army when I was 18."
That's not saying that I don't like any kind of photorealism. But at the same time, yeah. That other art style was almost like playing cartoons, even though they weren't as nice as cartoons. I guess I'm not a fan of this move towards constant realism, and it doesn't work so much for me aesthetically.
Tim Spaeth: It's like special effects in movies were so much more interesting when they weren't—
Mike Bracken: Yeah, when they weren't all computerized. When somebody actually made a puppet or put squids on something. That's a great point, actually.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, totally. I would agree with that.
Tim Spaeth: I have a few more reader commentd and then I think we can wrap up the discussion. We had one comment from crackajack. He says:
"Now and then I play old games, but I often stop immediately because it sucks."
Mike Bracken: I have had that happen, too. I will totally confess that; that I've gone back to games from that era that I thought: "Oh, this was so great," and then you go back and you're like: "Dude, what the fuck is this, man? I don't wanna play this. This sucks."
Tim Spaeth: crackajack actually wrote more, but I'm gonna stop his comment there, because I just love that line.
Brad Gallaway: It says it all. What more needs to be said?
Tim Spaeth: Absolutely. frogofdeath, he writes:
"In all reality, I would much rather play a 2D sidescroller than the vast majority of games today. Same for overhead shooters as opposed to flying my ship in some 3D world to blow shit up. And if it came down to it, I would probably pick two of the overhead versions of Zelda before any of the 3D installments. Honestly, part of it is nostalgia, but the style of a game is part of the reason I play, and those are the styles I prefer."
Mike Bracken: Definitely. I'm the same way. I could definitely see where he's coming from on the Zeldas, especially because all they've done with Zelda in the past 10 years or however long it's been since Ocarina of Time came out is just fucking make it 3D. They haven't changed the gameplay any. Except you can turn into a wolf.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, that's always been my fantasy.
Mike Bracken: I was dreaming for the day I could turn into a wolf.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly.
Mike Bracken: Thank you, Miyamoto.
Tim Spaeth: Here's an interesting one from gamefreak666. He writes:
"Surprised its not come up already, but where do modern games made with retro roots come into the equation? The top of the list is 3D Dot Game Heroes, which practically lifts the original Zelda into the third dimension. Also one of the better 360 arcade games, Shadow Complex, which is almost a carbon copy of the Super Metroid gameplay. Not to mention the amount of hours I've spent trying to beef up my mediocre score on Geometry wars. New Super Mario Bros Wii & DS are also good examples. Are these considered nostalgic games or are they good in their own right, or both?"
Mike Bracken: That's a tricky question.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I would say "both." I think if a formula works, then it works, regardless of whether it's 8, 16, 32-bit or whatever. For that reason, I think Shadow Complex is a good game.
Chi Kong Lui: I was thinking the exact same thing, dude: Shadow Complex.
Brad Gallaway: Even though it is exactly like Super Metroid, it's still a good game; it still works. If I had never played Super Metroid, I'd be like: "Wow! Shadow Complex is so awesome!" But I have played those games.
Chi Kong Lui: It holds up, for sure.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it holds up.
Chi Kong Lui: With the right bells and whistles—and that's what Shadow Complex did. It upped the ante a little bit and worked.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I think if something works, it works, regardless of what system it's running on. That's how I see it, anyway.
Tim Spaeth: Before we end this segment, I guess I should throw my hat in the ring and answer the question: Are games today truly better? I bet you guys are expecting me to say "No, they aren't." That gaming peaked with River Raid in 1982.
But I'm not going to say that. I am going to say that games today truly are better. But it's something I struggled with quite a bit, and I posted this in the GameCritics forums. I'm curious what you guys think. I play less games now, and I'm much more selective about the games that I play. If I was in my 30s during the NES era, would I have played Kid Kool or Deadly Towers or Ikari Warriors 2? No, I would not. I would not have had time to play those games.
But back then, I played everything. Now, due to lack of time and the abundance of game information and discussion on the Internet, I generally play only not just good games, but also games that are specifically tailored to my tastes. It's hard for me to answer this question objectively, because I'm not playing bad games anymore; I'm only playing games that appeal to me. In that respect, I can say that, yes, gaming is better now than it ever was. But I've also eliminated 95 percent of the crap.
Mike Bracken: I remember when I was a kid playing 16-bit games. (Well, I wasn't actually a kid then). Shit, you were lucky if you got five RPGs a year. Now, sometimes you can get five RPGs in a month.
There's so many more games, too. The law of averages almost dictates that you're gonna get more good games because there's just so many more games. You're gonna have more crap, too, but it's gonna balance out. I have nothing against this generation of games. I've loved every generation we've gone through. I have favorite games from the 2600 to the NES to the Super NES to the PlayStation, all the way up to today. But the 16-bit era for me is always gonna be the one that I like the most.
Chi Kong Lui: Why do we even play a lot of these games? I'm thinking about Uncharted 2. What was supposedly so interesting about this game that I needed to play it, or that everyone else should play it? Honestly, I don't know—we get some interesting dialogue in there?
I think what we learned from the 16-bit era and even in older games, they really thought the concept through and it really made sense in a lot of ways. If it's a game about a giant mech, really play that idea up and make the player feel like he's in a giant mech. Don't fucking put some emo pretty boy in there who's got some angst issue going on and then try to call that a story.
There's just too much bullshit out there now. There's some great games out there, don't get me wrong. But I just think there's just so much more muddled-up stuff. I wish developers would make sure the technology goes toward making a real big difference in the concept of what we're playing, rather than for the sake of saying: "We've done it before; we're doing it now. You should be excited about this." [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Brad, I think you've made your stance very clear but any last thoughts on the topic before we wrap things up?
Brad Gallaway: I would like to say that although I do believe that games today are better than they have been and that would be my choice if I had to pick, I do have a lot of love for previous generations. We wouldn't have been able to get where we are today if not for those previous generations. It's this giant curve that we're on. I'm fine to be at the leading edge of the curve, but I still give props to the older stuff.
Tim Spaeth: Sure. I guess, really, there's only one answer to this question and that is: "In which generation did Too Human come out?"
I think there's your answer right there. Hopefully we have managed to shed some light on this topic, but we are out of time. So ends another episode of the GameCritics.com podcast. A quick programming note: Our next episode will be our second annual E3 Spectacular. Last year's E3 podcast was one of our most downloaded shows; we have big things planned for this year's installment. I say that without knowing what any of those things are.
Perhaps you will hear me make such insightful statements as: "Scribblenauts will be the game of the year."
So it should be a blast. I am looking forward to that show. For the folks listening, if you have comments about this week's show or suggestions for future shows, head over to GameCritics.com and let your voice be heard. Speaking of voices being heard, let me give my castmates the final words. Chi, it's your favorite part of the show: Any final thoughts?
Chi Kong Lui: I thought I just did give my final thoughts. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: That was about the topic. Now it's your final thoughts about anything—life in general.
Chi Kong Lui: Stay in school. Next.
Tim Spaeth: Good advice. Brad, your final thoughts?
Brad Gallaway: I just want everyone to know that I recorded this podcast in crotchless pajamas because recording the GameCritics podcast means you need to be ready for anything.
Tim Spaeth: Mm, sexy.
Brad Gallaway: It is, let me tell you.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, I pray that you have your webcam on. Mike, any last thoughts?
Mike Bracken: How do you top crotchless pajamas? Fuck. I got nothing. Thanks for listening.
Tim Spaeth: Beautiful. That'll close the book on episode 35. Thanks for listening, everybody. Good night and bonne chance. By the way, I saw the Prince of Persia movie today. It's horrible. Horrible.
Chi Kong Lui: You gotta talk about that, dude.
Mike Bracken: I don't even know if they screened it. I didn't get a press invite or anything to it, so I was like, "Fuck it. I ain't paying to see it."
Tim Spaeth: It's not even worth talking about; it's really not. There is no aspect of it of any significance or quality whatsoever.
Mike Bracken: Not even Jake Gyllenhaal's abs?
Tim Spaeth: He is covered up the vast majority of the movie.
Mike Bracken: I hate that guy. Hate him.
Tim Spaeth: He's supposed to be a charming rogue, and number one, the only thing he does that's charming is he smirks occasionally. But they haven't written any charming rogue dialogue for him. He doesn't even have catchy one-liners at the end of an action sequence. He always just smirks. He does and accent, but other than that, it's just Jake Gyllenhaal with long hair.
Ugh, it's bad. There's a whole sequence where they explain how the Dagger of Time works. You see it happen twice; he does it once by accident. It's an aside—we shouldn't even be talking about it.
Chi Kong Lui: Well, you should, because this is relevant.
Brad Gallaway: It's topical. Come on.
Tim Spaeth: So the Dagger of Time, it's actually a button on the bottom of a dagger. Every time he rewinds time, they zoom into the dagger and he clicks a button. Like he's pressing a button on a game controller.
Mike Bracken: Ugh.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, man. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: The first time he does it, he does it by accident. And then the second time he does it, he does it on purpose. And then they spend a good two minutes explaining how the dagger works. He might as well be turning towards the camera, talking directly to the audience. He's like:
"Now, when I press the button on this dagger, it rewinds time? And when time is reversed, I'm the only one who can tell that time's been reversed and it gives me a chance to correct mistakes that I might have made? But the sands are depleted, so I can only use it a few times before I won't be able to rewind time anymore. And I'm the only one who can tell, as the wielder of the dagger."
And then he explains it again for a few more minutes. And then the girl, she explains it. You could figure it out when he actually did it, and you watch time rewind. It was so bad; it's the clunkiest exposition ever. And what is Ben Kingsley doing in these movies?
Mike Bracken: Ben Kingsley is the funniest guy, because he will do Oscar-caliber roles and then he will subsidize his lifestyle with the biggest piles of shit: BloodRayne and this movie.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly. This is the guy that was in a Uwe Boll film, for God's sake.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I love Ben Kingsley; I will almost watch anything Ben Kingsley's in, but I don't understand… He's kinda got that Michael Caine syndrome: Michael Caine will do the same thing. I guess he decides: "This role would pay off my mortgage, so I'll do it, even though the movie sucks." Or: "I get a trip to somewhere exotic while we're filming."
Honestly, some of them will admit that. Michael Caine admitted that he did Jaws 4 only because he got a free vacation to the Bahamas out of it and it was enough to pay off his house. And he was totally honest about it. He's like, "Dude, this movie's a piece of shit. I knew as soon as I read the script."
Brad Gallaway: Those movies may be pieces of crap, but sex stores and trips to Thailand don't pay for themselves.
Mike Bracken: That's right. That's what it's all about. Somebody's got their priorities straight, at least.
Chi Kong Lui: Didn't Michael Caine do some guide for actors and he said you should always movies that are filmed in nice locations so that you get a nice trip out of it?
Mike Bracken: Probably. Donald Pleasance did the same thing before he died, too; he admitted the same stuff. He's like: "Yeah, I did the last Halloween movie not because it was any good or I had any interest in doing it, but I got used to living this lifestyle in Europe where I like nice things and good wine. That pays for it." He's like: "I'll do any shitty movie if it pays for my lifestyle."
Chi Kong Lui: I can respect that.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, totally.
Mike Bracken: At least they're honest.
Tim Spaeth: "Mr. Caine, I'd like you to take a look at this script." "Yes. Done."
Mike Bracken: "Where are you shooting, and what does it pay? That's all I need to know."
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.