Every Limbo boy and girl, all around the Limbo world! Gonna do the Limbo Rock, all around the Limbo clock! Translation: we're talking about Limbo—listen for the spoiler warning because we're covering it all: the puzzles, the successes and failures of the narrative, and the real meaning of the ending. Plus: Brad enjoys a private tour of Uber Entertainment and Monday Night Combat, Chi gets attacked, and Tim reveals the best use of the podcast ever. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard "Very Easy" Naik, and Tim "Also Very Easy" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: There are some calling Limbo the most unique and powerful game of 2010, but our spoiler-packed analysis proves the answer isn't quite so black and white. Plus, we visit the team behind Monday Night Combat and our Quote of the Week—the podcast turns on one of its own. My name is Tim Spaeth; this is the GameCritics.com podcast.
And so it begins: episode 38, GameCritics.com podcast. I do believe introductions are in order. Let's begin as we always do with the man himself, our founding father, Chi Kong Lui. Hi, Chi.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey. What's up, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: Chi, I believe you tweeted this past weekend that you were at a GameStop tagging men? What does that mean?
Mike Bracken: It's another one of those North-South things.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. Well, this is just purely gamer-related, so, dude, man. You're kind of involved, man. You're a Dragon Quest fan, too, so you should know better.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Dragon Quest holds the Guiness Book of World Record for some sort of ad hoc network tagging thing in Japan. It's sort of like that Nintendogs thing. You go into a tagging mode and you swap characters, and if the other character's holding a map, you get one of the treasure maps. So, obviously, we're not in Japan. One in two people have played Dragon Quest, so it's much harder to find people to tag. [Chuckles] And GameStop was so kind to hold an event. So, yep. Headed over down to a local GameSTop and proceeded to some awkward fellow gamers.
Tim Spaeth: So what are the demographics like at a GameStop Dragon Quest tagging event? Were you, like, the oldest person? Or were there—?
Chi Kong Lui: That was the most embarrassing part. I was definitely the oldest guy. You can fill out your profile, right, and say: "Hi, I'm Chi from the USA." And then you put in a title. I think everyone came out 23 years old, because no one bothered to put in their date of birth or something, but everyone's like: "I'm a high school student." And I'm like: "I'm a father." [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: I was gonna say: Chi was the only guy there who had actually touched a real, live woman.
Chi Kong Lui: It wasn't as embarrassing as 10 year olds or five year olds, but it seemed like they were mostly high school kids. One guy was talking about how he called his father; he was gonna go pick him up now, and stuff like that.
Tim Spaeth: Okay. So when you left the event, did you feel either better about yourself or a little ashamed, or no change?
Chi Kong Lui: No change. In hindsight, I should've probably been a little more vocal and a little more chatty. I don't know—I didn't think too much about it when I was there. I wasn't even sure how the feature really worked, to some extent.
When I went in there, there was one guy sitting on the floor with his DS open, so obviously he was there for that. But there were just guys randomly scattered about, so I wasn't sure if no one was there or what. As soon as I turned on my network, some guy's like: "Who's Chi? Who's Chi?" [Laughter] And I'm like: "Oh, that's me." But then everyone's like: "Oh, who's Justin? Who's Mario?" and "Who's whatever?" So that's the awkward introduction. And then people were just sort of standing around, waiting for other people to tag. And that's sort of it. I was there for a half an hour and tagged 11 people. I got a lot of good maps out of it, so that was pretty cool. Although these maps are as hard as hell, man. Anything above a level three is kicking my ass, and that's really surprising, actually.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Well, I'm glad you survived to make it on to the podcast tonight. Let's continue the introductions. Also joining us, it's anti-abacus crusader, Brad Gallaway. Hi, Brad!
Brad Gallaway: Hey. Good to be back this week.
Tim Spaeth: That, of course, a reference to your vitriolic statement against abaci, I guess would be the plural, on Twitter today.
Brad Gallaway: I don't know that it was vitriolic. I think it was more suprising. I, in real life, don't have any mathematic experience using an abacus, and I was a little surprised that it seems like everybody on Earth except for me either had an abacus at their disposal—at their fingertips—or they actually have used one to do math. That blew me away. I had no idea.
Chi Kong Lui: That's bullshit. Who said they had an abacus?
Brad Gallaway: [My Tweet stream?] and every single person there is like: "Oh, yes, I'm really good at math and I have an abacus." So, whatever. Hey, sure. I'm the only one, huh?
Richard Naik: Don't knock the abaci. They can be pretty helpful.
Tim Spaeth: That's true; that's true. All of my children have played with abaci, Brad. So let's continue along the way. Next, it's horror geek Mike Bracken. Hi, Mike.
Mike Bracken: Hey, Tim. Hey, guys.
Tim Spaeth: Mike, I offered you my World of Warcraft: Cataclysm beta key, and you refused it.
Mike Bracken: I did. I didn't even hesitate to refuse it. I'm just so over WoW.
Tim Spaeth: I ended up installing it, and I wanted to share this with you briefly. About five minutes later after I installed it, my doorbell rang, and I go up, I open the door. There is a beautiful young woman standing there wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. She's carrying a stack of horror movie DVDs.
And she says: "It's a gift from Blizzard for joining the beta."
Mike Bracken: Ah.
Tim Spaeth: So you missed out. And she gave me a hug and then, before she left, she offered to watch me play a JRPG.
So just imagine: If we're getting that for the beta, what we're going to get when the thing goes live. Oh, my.
Mike Bracken: I can only imagine. You'll have to regale me with stories, because I'll never know.
Tim Spaeth: I'm gonna get you back, man, somehow.
Mike Bracken: It's not gonna happen.
Tim Spaeth: Well, finally, we have a special guest. You heard his voice just a moment ago. We are always thrilled when Richard Naik drops by the show. Hey, Richard.
Richard Naik: Shubh sundhyaa, gentlemen.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, you and I have both been playing StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. Or as I like to call it: Starcraft II: On the Wings of Love.
Chi Kong Lui: You gotta sing a few verses after that, man.
Tim Spaeth: There's no song here. It's simply a title. We have had, Richard, a few e-mails asking if we're going to do a StarCraft segment on the show. We will, just not this week. I want to play all of my placement matches first. But Richard, why don't you give the audience a little taste, a little morsel of Starcraft II analysis. Would you do that?
Richard Naik: Well, so far, it's been pretty good. I'm more or less getting the vibe I got from the first game. I haven't got to spend a whole lot of time with it. I think I'm on the sixth campaign mission and I'm like you: I haven't even played my placement matches yet. Actually, the only multiplayer match I've played was that time that you and I just fiddled around against the computer. So I haven't gotten to spend a ton of time with it yet, but it seems solid so far.
Tim Spaeth: When you say "fiddled around," let's not undersell it. We crushed the computer.
Richard Naik: Okay. We utterly destroyed the computer, to the point where they will never even think to raise a hand against us again.
Tim Spaeth: Precisely. On Very Easy difficulty.
Chi Kong Lui: I was gonna say: It sounded like it.
Tim Spaeth: Well, that was a lengthy set of introductions. But as I mentioned before the theme song, in just a bit we will be sharing all the hot details of Brad's trip to Uber Entertainment to see the upcoming XBLA title, Monday Night Combat. Plus, we have all been playing Limbo—all five of us. That's going to be our final segment. Just a heads-up: it will be spoiler-packed. We will give you plenty of warning, so don't panic. But we are taking advantage of finally having all of us play the same game. So that's all coming up later. But right now, it's our Quote of the Week.
[Cat that sounds suspiciously like Tim Spaeth meows].
Here comes Phillipe with this week's sealed quote. As always, none of us are aware of its contents, other than that it is a gaming-related quotation from a publisher, developer, analyst, critic, or gamer. Thank you, Phillipe.
[Sound of envelope opening]
We will open that up and take a look. Oh! Oh, my! It would appear that Filipe has purposely taken something out of context to generate controversy. Here is the quote.
Mike Bracken: He's michievious, that Filipe.
Tim Spaeth: He certainly is. Here is the quote:
"Street Fighter is ultimately a game about kicking and punching each other in the face, and that is the foundation that players are able to relate to. When the game no longer represents the perception of fighting that is expected from players, then the game becomes as meaningless as a competitive game of hopscotch."
Chi Kong Lui: Hey, that sounds very familiar.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. The author of this quote is on this very podcast: Chi Kong Lui. Are you calling Street Fighter hopscotch? Are you saying it's irrelevant? Perhaps you would like to place this quote in context. Explain yourself, sir.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] I guess I am calling it…Those are my words, right? What am I gonna say? Yeah. I guess that was me getting a little colorful there, and unfortunately, the Internet dinged me for it.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Let's back up. You wrote an essay—
Chi Kong Lui: Sure.
Tim Spaeth: —that is posted on GameCritics.com. The name of that essay was "Exploring the impact of UFC and MMA on Street Fighter.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, that's the current title. The original title was: "Why Street Fighter is irrelevant because of UFC and MMA."
Tim Spaeth: And the 60-second core of your argument is what?
Chi Kong Lui: The 60-second core of my argument is that the success of Street Fighter can be largely attributed to martial arts. And because martial arts has changed, thanks to UFC and MMA, players no longer feel like they're playing anything remotely related to martial arts. Thereby, it loses its real world connection.
I'll lead in with the example that I used in the article, which was Grand Theft Auto III. I always thought that Grand Theft Auto III was largely successful because of the amount of cultural reference to gangster movies like The Godfather, *Pulp Fiction—
Tim Spaeth: Maybe The Sopranos?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, exactly: The Sopranos. Thank you for that. So, if it wasn't for those things, Grand Theft Auto III would be nowhere near as popular as what it was. Literally I had women friends on the way to work telling me about how much they wanna play this game, and I'm just shocked. [Laughter] How did this happen? I always think it has to draw from some sort of real world reference. Don't get me wrong. Also, there's gonna be a lot of reasons why something is successful. It's never one thing, and I think that's one of the misconceptions of what I wrote.
When something like Street Fighter just becomes a cultural phenomenon, to me it's just more than gameplay. You have to look at the whole entire picture. I looked at Street Fighter, and I have to think that something along the lines of the martial arts had to be a part of what made it so successful. When you look at the influences in there as far as Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport and all that, that was a major part of it. And then when martial arts changed after the UFC and MMA came in there, that had to influence as well why it was popular.
This is another misconception about what I wrote. It's not to say that I'm saying that UFC and MMA are so popular or more popular than Street Fighter, or the game is more popular than Street Fighter. It's just that the public opinion of martial arts is not the same. You gotta really remember back in the day, pre-1993 prior to the UFC [one?], we really had no idea what real martial arts looked like. We really in some ways thought Bloodsport was more or less…that's what we thought martial arts was. People have been hard-hitting me a lot with: "Fireballs and hurricane kicks and all that, that's not realistic martial arts." But, like I said, we really had no idea what it was to begin with, so that interpretation was as good as any, in my mind. So that's sort of the long and short of it.
Tim Spaeth: Okay. So it seems like one of the hangups that the commenters of the article have had is that right now, Street Fighter is enjoying quite a renaissance—indeed, probably if not as popular as it was in the Street Fighter II era, it is as popular as it's been since then, but a great margin. If Street Fighter is no longer connected to the current trend in martial arts, how do you explain its current popularity?
Chi Kong Lui: Good question. And that's part of the reason why I edited my article. To be quite honest, I kind of fucked up there. [Laughter] I took the easy way out, as far as setting up the article. We've talked about Street Fighter IV on this podcast before. We're all not really big on it; we're not fans, and we've hated on it. So I just thought: "Hey, there's probably more than a few people out there who aren't crazy about this game, either." So I thought it was just widely agreed that the series has been in a decline since the original, and, yeah.
I knew Street Fighter IV had sold well, but I just didn't think that it was worth mentioning. But of course, people wouldn't let me go on that one. They were just saying: "Well, Street Fighter IV is doing so great; it's sold millions of copies." But to me, it still hasn't even outsold the original, first of all, and that's only the SNES copies. I think if you factor in inflation to some extent, yes, it's relatively successful, but I don't think it's what Street Fighter II was, as far as being a cultural phenomenon.
So that was my point. So that's why I went back to the article and tweaked it a little bit, to more accurately represent and be a little more subtle about it, and not paint broad strokes, as I originally did. In my defense, I used the broad strokes because I was just so eager to get to my points that I misrepresented certain things. I don't know if it was necessarily misrepresented, but people didn't appreciate it, and I heard that loud and clear. [Laughter] Unfortunately, I kind of forgot: Street Fighter II is still one of those sacred cows out there, and [I] didn't pay my respects, so I deserved it, in some respect.
Tim Spaeth: Well, let's bring in the rest of the crew, and I'll turn to Mike first. I believe, of those who have not spoken, you are the biggest Street Fighter fan. What was your reaction?
Mike Bracken: Woah. Where'd that come from?
Tim Spaeth: Well, maybe not. I don't know. [I'm making?] stuff up.
Chi Kong Lui: I was thinking the same thing. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Mike, maybe of those who remain, you are the least likely to enjoy a game of Street Fighter. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I'll just reverse that entirely.
Chi Kong Lui: Good save.
Tim Spaeth: In fact, I can't even believe how much you hate Street Fighter. It's incredible.
What was your reaction to the article and what Chi has said here tonight?
Mike Bracken: I think Chi makes some interesting points, and I'm really happy to see him come out and say that he tried to paint things in broad brush strokes. I think that was my original problem with what he had written. You could tell he glossed over certain things to get to the points he wanted to make. This is what I love about Chi, though. He's always got some crazy—and "crazy"'s not the right word. "Crazy"'s a mean word. I don't mean it that way.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] [unknown] "crazy." That's all right.
Mike Bracken: He's always got some really different perspective, and even when I don't agree with it, I usually listen to him and I can see where he's coming from. That's sort of here. Street Fighter's a funny example for me, because I think, honestly, most guys who really wanted to have a real martial arts game experience had moved on to Virtua Fighter or games like that. So I don't know that Street Fighter was maybe the greatest example.
But I think there's something interesting here to look at, especially with the whole UFC thing, which I don't know a lot about. And, look—Street Fighter has been stagnant for years. You can call it Street Fighter IV, but it's just really Street Fighter II with prettier graphics. I don't wanna crucify Chi over this article. I think he's taken his abuse already, and I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon.
Chi Kong Lui: Can I just say one thing in response, Mike, also?
Mike Bracken: Sure.
Chi Kong Lui: The reaction you said, that there's something there. That was really the best reaction I could hope for from people. That's what I wanted them to say. Let's face it: this is a blog post, right? Honestly, if I had the time and the money and the resources, I could write an entire chapter of a book about this. I think that's how deep the topic is, in some respects. And beyond just martial arts as well—why games are popular and that sort of thing. And this is a blog post. I thought people would give me a pass on it, but—
Mike Bracken: No. This is the Internet. There are no passes.
Chi Kong Lui: This is the Internet, right. But that final reaction that you had was really what I was hoping for. But yeah, I tried to take too much of an easy way out there, so that's fair.
Mike Bracken: And they'll call you on that every time.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Yeah. Haters gonna hate. What are you gonna do?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, definitely.
Tim Spaeth: Brad, anything you'd like to add to the discussion?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. We could talk the entire show about this topic, because I think that it's a really big topic. Like Mike said, I don't agree with what Chi said, but I think that the fundamental argument he put forward—even though I think there's some merit to it, I think the way it was couched [was] totally wrong. I can easily understand why people had a strong reaction to it. I had the same reaction myself, and I was like: "Oh. I wish we had talked about this beforehand. I would've liked to have given Chi my own two cents on it before he put the blog post up, and it probably would've saved him an ulcer."
Chi Kong Lui: [Chuckles] Believe it or not, I had two people review it. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Well, the wrong people, evidently. Your mother.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, apparently. I agree, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Anyway, outside of that, it's a very big topic. And I think the thing that people really strongly reacted to was the fact that…And no offense, or anything, but I think Chi basically misunderstands the whole popularity of Street Fighter II. The way he was representing it, even though there was a nugget of an idea in there about the MMA and about the cultural relevance, I think it showed a really, really fundamental misunderstanding of what most people's conception of Street Fighter is, and what it represents.
To me, Street Fighter never had any relevance with "real life" martial arts. It was never meant to be a representation of anything that happens in real life. I'm not gonna go the route that you mentioned about how fireballs and hurricane kicks are never real, even though, granted, they're not. But I think the real purpose of it was really two player versus.
That to me was the absolute core of why Street Fighter took off. It was about you stepping up to an arcade machine, somebody else—real life, real time—being there, and it's the whole "winner stays, loser pays" mentality. That was the first time in the history of arcades and of pretty much video games in general where you could actually show off how good you were against somebody else, and see their face and put them in their place and talk trash to them. It was this total revolution in how games functioned in people's lives.
I can remember going down to the local arcade after high school every single day, everybody talking about: "Who was the best? Who played which character? What happened last week? Who beat the game?" It was like this giant zeitgeist that just swept through the entire arcade scene and video game scene. It didn't have anything to do with martial arts on TV. Maybe some, maybe some.
Chi Kong Lui: That's where I'm gonna disagree with you, Brad.
Brad Gallaway: But you were wrong, Chi. That's the thing. That's what I'm trying to say.
Chi Kong Lui: I've got some counter-points to that.
Brad Gallaway: Okay, well let me just finish up. I think that was the biggest thing that people responded to. The way that Chi originally had positioned it, it didn't really touch on any of that at all, and it made it sound as though people were into Street Fighter because it connected with martial arts. And now that MMA is more popular, that's why Street Fighter is irrelevant, which is the way he originally put it. Ask anybody who plays Street Fighter.
Number one, they're gonna say it's not irrelevant, because I think that of all the fighting games, it's still at the top of what people who play competitive fighters play. I think it still has a very, very strong relevance in certain circles. Granted, it's not the same monster that it was, but I think that there's a whole host of reasons why that is. Like I said, we could spend an hour getting into those.
Also, MMA itself is pretty niche. I know you're a big fan of it, and I know certain people are fans of it. But in general, it's kind of an unknown thing. People don't really get on the MMA bandwagon, the MMA games. The last one sold relatively well, but it's not like anybody I personally know is playing it or talking about it. So the way that you came off, it really made it sound like you didn't know what the hell you were talking about, even though that's not the case. I think it was unfortunate that, like you said, you painted with such broad strokes that people really, really, really had a really strong reaction to the point which you were trying to make, which, in the end, is actually pretty interesting.
Chi Kong Lui: All right. It's unfortunate, because even though a lot of those things that you said that I said pretty much isn't what I said at all. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: But it was how it was perceived, though.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly. That was definitely how it was perceived, even though I wrote specific things in there to counter certain points. But it still didn't matter. For example, I never even in the original edit tried to argue that UFC and MMA was popular. I never tried to argue that. I made the point several…I emphasized—
Brad Gallaway: Well, it was in your title, though. Your title screamed it from the top of the rafters, man. You may not have said it specifically in the body of the text, but you didn't have to.
Chi Kong Lui: No, exactly. Like I said, in fact, I went to great lengths to say that it wasn't mainstream, though. I wasn't trying to argue that MMA was taking over and all this other stuff. But again, you can go back and re-read it or whatever. That's fine. When you say it was all about the two-player competitive and bragging rights and all that stuff, are you telling me that what you were actually playing had no relevance to why this game was successful? That the fact that the game's called Street Fighter—you're punching and kicking someone in the face. That doesn't have any relevance to what you're doing? Because that's what [it seems like?] you're saying.
Brad Gallaway: No, I don't think it did. I think what made it the success that it was was a) there had never really been a game like that in arcades before—any kind of competitive two-player like that. And b) it was a really well-made game.
Chi Kong Lui: That's not true. That's not true. You can go as far back as Pong. Then there was Karate Champ.
Brad Gallaway: Well, anything that was as well-made as—
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. No, that's true. That's true. [And then there's even?] the originall Street Fighter, but no, that part's true.
Brad Gallaway: Well, if you wanna go all the way back to Spacewar, that was the first competitive two-player. But I'm talking about something that [completely?] was—
Chi Kong Lui: But while you're there—because I was gonna go back to Spacewar. [Laughter] I was gonna go back to Spacewar.
Brad Gallaway: Well, hold up. Hold up. You asked me a question. Let me finish answering your question. So, yeah, there may have been two-player games before that, but none that were as well-made or that had the same kind of immediacy. They didn't have the technical craft; they didn't have the graphics. They didn't have the same appeal that Street Fighter did.
Yeah, everybody thought Street Fighter was cool: cool characters, cool moves. But I don't think it was intrinsically the fact that it was martial arts. I think if somebody had come out with some kind of shooter game, or something else that was in a different genre, but wa sas equally well-made and at [an] equal level of graphics, I think it would've done just as well.
Tim Spaeth: Mmm.
Brad Gallaway: I think fighting was something that—
Chi Kong Lui: [Unknown]
Tim Spaeth: I have to disagree with that. There is something about two sweaty dudes standing next to each other trading punches, the violence of the game. If it was competitive spaceships or competitive Mario Bros., I don't think it would have anywhere near the impact.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But something that was still one-on-one in nature. Okay, that's totally fine. I'll concede that. I definitely think that that's true. It could've been boxing; it could've been a different fighting system.
Chi Kong Lui: But that's my point, see? So you just conceded the point I was trying to make. That's really as far as I wanted to go. I think that's where—
Brad Gallaway: What did I concede? I have no idea what—
Chi Kong Lui: You gave Tim that point that it's two sweaty dudes fighting it out. That was my point, more or less.
Brad Gallaway: Well, that just relates back to the two-player, which my original premise was. It's versus. That's the whole point of it. Of course.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, but again, it's still versus in a format that translates to other people. Let me just use the Spacewar example. Spacewar is the first video game that ever came out, but that actually made it into the arcades as well via…Who's the Atari guy?
Brad Gallaway: Bushnell?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, Bushnell, right. He put out Spacewar before Pong. But that's two spaceships shooting it out. Well, that's great for geeks, right? It wasn't a big success; he wasn't a big success until he put out Pong. Why? That's a game of tennis, and people can relate to that. You see what I'm saying?
Brad Gallaway: Well, I agree with that. I think it's relatable, but how does that relate to MMA or UFC?
Chi Kong Lui: So what I'm saying is that what made Street Fighter II popular…Again, there's no direct comparison to Spacewar to Street Fighter, but martial arts, again, was the language that made this all connect. It's not a game of Frisbee; it's not a game of hopscotch. It's a game of two guys fighting it out—
Brad Gallaway: Nahhh. I'm not conceding that one.
Chi Kong Lui: —by kicking each other. That's martial arts. It's about fighting. That's all it's really what it is. Martial arts represents the highest form of fighting. Again, I'm not trying to say that…Here's the other point I was trying to make. I never said that this was a realistic game of martial arts. It's what people thought martial arts would be in their heads.
What were those thoughts fuelled by? Those thoughts were fuelled by Bloodsport, by Enter the Dragon. So of course it's gonna be a little bit out there, and of course there's a strong anime influence. But no one knew what anime was back then. So it didn't matter that they were doing all this cartoony shit. When people played that game, they couldn't care less that it was anime. They just cared that you can punch and kick each other, and you were doing something that somewhat resembled martial arts in their heads.
Brad Gallaway: Ah, I would disagree with that. I don't think that's correct, but we can disagree.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] All right.
Tim Spaeth: I don't know that specifically martial arts, but I think the violence speaks to that demographic: the demographic that played Street Fightter in the arcade four hours a day, every day, 12 hours a day on the weekends. Violence speaks to young men.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, that's a good point. I would agree with that. Yes, I would.
Tim Spaeth: So I'm gonna call the discussion here, unless anyone has another big point to make. I just wanna point out that hundreds of arguments just like this are happening every hour of every day on the pages of GameCritics.com.
Chi Kong Lui: Can I just add one closing remark, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: It's your article. You may have the final word.
Chi Kong Lui: Sure. I think a lot of the misconception comes from how I'm trying to blow up this whole UFC-MMA thing, and to that I say: We don't have to be fashion experts to know that what goes on in the fashion industry affects how we dress. I think it's the same thing here. Just because we don't actually know what goes on in martial arts, or it doesn't have to be popular. It doesn't mean that trends that go on in the martial arts world don't send ripples down to what we do when we're playing games about martial arts, watching films about martial arts. One of the commenters that was actually on my site, cybermind, you gotta give props to him for backing me up on [that]. [Laughter] So, that's it. Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Very good. We will link to that article in the Show Notes. If you haven't had a chance to read it already, click that link and join in the discussion-slash-shouting match.
Tim Spaeth: Let's move on now. GameCritics Junket Quest 2010, it continues with Brad's trip to Uber Entertainment to see the upcoming Xbox Live Summer of Arcade release Monday Night Combat. Now, my first question is, how did Mike and I get skipped on the junket? Because Brad saw Lost Planet, Chi saw UFC. Somehow, Mike and I missed our chance to go somewhere.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, we're always getting the shaft on this show.
Tim Spaeth: I'll tell you. I'll tell you. Brad, how did this come about?
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles] Well, it's funny you bring that up. It's kind of a convoluted story. A while back, I had put out a blog post that was criticizing the developers of Brink, which is a game which actually has not been released yet. I think it just got pushed back. My criticism of that game was that it was a game that was touting itself as being a triple-A experience for people who like to customize. At the same time, there wasn't a single female character or female option in the entire game. Kind of putting for the image that "We have a triple-A game, but we don't need to include half of the population of Earth," which bugged me to no end.
So I wrote a blog post criticising them about that. One of the developers at Uber is friends with a guy who works [on] Brink, who was flipping out about the article that I wrote, and they were talking about it. So that guy at Uber sent me an e-mail, and we kind of just met that way. He introduced himself to me via e-mail, and it turns out that their studio is actually only about a half an hour from my house, which was great, because no one had to pay for air fare. So we just continued talking, and they extended the invite, and there it was.
Chi Kong Lui: In his intro e-mail, did he say: "Hey, asshole! My friend told me about this thing—" [Laughter] Was it like that at all, or—?
Brad Gallaway: No, no, no no. It was not like that at all. The guys at Uber are really cool, and actually, his e-mail was more along the lines of: "Hey, just so you know, we actually like girls in our games. Would you like to come check this out?" So I was like: "Oh, okay. Sure." So it was all above board. They didn't take any cheap shots or anything. If I had thought even for a moment it was gonna be like a hostile situation, I don't think I would've went for it. But no, they were very cool, very nice guys.
Tim Spaeth: Was it just you, Brad, or was this an event for multiple journalists?
Brad Gallaway: No, no. This was just me. It was just a personal invite, because they knew that I was in the area. After they told me where they were, I realized they were in my area. I don't know if people know this in general, but Washington State and the Seattle area is rich, it's really rich with development houses.
There are tons and tons of game developers here in Washington, specifically in Seattle and Bellevue and those types of areas around my neck of the woods. I think, probably, we have the highest concentration of developers if you don't count….What? Maybe there's one place in Canada that's got a bunch, and then people in California and stuff. There's actually tons of people in the area, and it's a really great place to live. Microsoft is here, Nintendo is here, so there's lots of talent locally.
Tim Spaeth: So you go to Uber Entertainment. What did they show you? Did they show you around? Did you go right to the game? Did you meet the people? Walk me through the first hour or so of the experience.
Brad Gallaway: Sure, sure. So, I drove out to their location, a really nice location. They had a pretty good view. I thought it was a pretty nice place. It's in a really popular part of a town, which….I don't know if they would want me to mention it out in public, but it's closeby, and it's a really popular place with people who are up and coming.
So I went down there. They greeted me at the door. We just shook hands all around, and we just talked for a little bit. We had a bit of lunch, because everybody was hungry. Then after that, we just came back and they showed me the game. It was pretty quick; we got in there. Both John Coombs, the creative director and one of the guys—his name is Eka—who is the art director, they both gave me a really thorough informational session about who they were, what the game was, what I could expect. Once that was done, everybody in the studio just jumped on a computer and we fired it up, and we had at it.
Tim Spaeth: So for those who don't know what this game is about, can you give us the 10,000 foot view?
Brad Gallaway: Sure, sure. There's tons of videos, and Uber's doing a really big PR push. I think what's going on is it was selected as one of the Sumemr of Arcade titles, and it's a multiplayer-oriented shooterish kind of thing. The art style is really reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, so a lot of people instantly wrote it off as being a Team Fortress clone. But I can say that after actually having hands-on, it's actually a lot different than that, and it's kind of unfortunate that a lot of people have that misconception.
Basically what goes on is, it's kind of like a sport. It's a futuristic murder sport kind of thing, and you start off the game on this field. At each end of the field is a giant ball. The only way that ball can be destroyed is if your team's robots reach it and destroy it. So what you're trying to do is, your team is trying to guard your robots in order to enable them to destroy the enemy team's ball.
So you have six different character classes: there's an assassin, there's a heavy gunner, there's a tank, there's an assault kind of guy, so forth and so on. So you can pick whichever class you want. There's different powers and little skill trees that you can have—little micro skill trees. So basically, the whole point of the game is that you work with your team to protect your robots and try to take down the opponent's ball. So it's very, very, very, very team-oriented.
Tim Spaeth: I'm curious: you mentioned Team Fortress 2. Did they raise the Team Fortress 2 point, or did you raise the…Did that come up at all?
Richard Naik: I was gonna say. That was gonna be my first question to you, Brad: How much of an influence do you think Team Fortress had over something like that? Watching the videos, it seems like it had quite a bit. Obviously, I haven't played it. So what would you say to that?
Brad Gallaway: Well, that's a really fair question, and that was one of the first questions that I asked them. I just asked it straight up. I knew that they probably are gonna be a little bit sensitive about it, since that's probably the game's biggest thing it gets dinged for.
And they were straight up. They all had played Team Fortress, and they were very open in saying that they had experience with it. They weren't trying to say: "What's that? I've never heard of that game before!" They were being coy about it. But at the same time, they really did make the case that even though, visually, it's a little bit similar, and I think probably picking orange and stuff maybe set them up for it…
But they explained that the concept was fundamentally different, and after playing through it, I can say that it is fundamentally different. It's a shooter; your characters are kind of anime-ish, kind of the way Team Fortress is. Yeah, there's parallels that can be drawn, but I think that could be said about any shooter game. So I don't think it's really fair to ding them as people who are playing off of the Team Fortress vibe. I can see where people are coming from, but really, in my experience, anyway, I didn't find that to be very true.
Tim Spaeth: This is a console multiplayer shooter coming out in one of the most crowded multiplayer shooter environments in recent memory. People are still playing Modern Warfare 2; they're still playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Within a little over a month, we'll have Halo: Reach; just beyond that, Call of Duty: Black Ops. Are they concerned about this game finding a place? Did they talk about what might set it apart, or what type of audience they're going for? Is it a different audience than plays those other, more mainstream games?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I did ask them that. I said, basically: "Why should anybody care about this? A lot of people have already written it off as being a clone of Team Fortress 2. There's tons of shooters on the 360, lots of options out there. Why should anybody put their $15 down for this?" They were very cognizant of the competition, but they really took pride in their project.
After actually seeing it, I think one of the big things they were trying to push was that it's really a team game. I mean "team" not in the sense of you have six people on the same team, and everybody's fragging everybody. It really takes a lot of teamwork to play the game well. So it feels different, and you have to have a very different kind of mindset to play it successfully. So it feels different once you give it a chance.
And I think also, with the sports-oriented position they've put on it…People play sports games all the time. You can play football games repeatedly, you can play baseball games repeatedly, because people who are fans of those sports'll play them. I think they're shooting for something similar to that, where you're not necessarily going after the better weapon, or whatever. You're maybe working on your team tactics, you're working on your strategy.
And since it's gonna be multiplayer, if you get a good team together, they've put in a bunch of features that let your team stay together. So if you play different matches over and over, you don't have to go through the same lobbies and reconnect with everybody. You just stay together as a team. So I can understand that they're up against a pretty big wall, but at the same time, I was into what they were doing. It definitely felt a little bit different to me.
Chi Kong Lui: Are they trying to give it that Smash TV, Running Man type vibe? Or are they more taking a serious sports-type approach to it?
Brad Gallaway: It's funny you mention that. That was kind of what I thought. Once I started watching some of the gameplay, it did remind me a little bit of Smash TV, just from the attitude, just from the vibe of it. And they were saying that's for sure what they're going for. I think they mentioned they were playing the Rocky theme song. If I'm getting that wrong, I apologize to the people at Uber, because…oh, no. A-Team, that's what it was. They were listening to the A-Team theme song to get the mix between heroic and cheesy.
So it's not a serious game, by any means. If you watch some of the videos, they're very humorous. It's very light-hearted, but the core of gameplay is really solid. So it is one of those wink-and-a-nudge-nudge, look at us! We're being violent, but at the same time laughing kind of thing.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.
Richard Naik: Yeah. Going back to what you're saying about teamwork—and real teamwork, and not just people running around shooting people as they please—that's something that when it works well, it comes together beautifully. That's the reason why games like Team Fortress or Left 4 Dead or anything like that work so well. The concept of "team" is you have to work with the other players in order to be successful. It's not something like Halo, where you don't really have to do that. If you're awesome at the game, you're awesome at the game. But if you have a bad team, it doesn't matter. It sounds like, from what you're saying, that they're doing it pretty well. If they do, then, well, good for them. I will become a fan.
Tim Spaeth: For those who don't know, Richard is a hardcore Team Fortress 2 guy. You've got some hours in that game.
Richard Naik: Yeah, I've got about 600 hours, I think.
Brad Gallaway: Aw, geez.
Chi Kong Lui: He's done multiple posts on the website regarding Team Fortress, as well, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yes.
Richard Naik: Yeah. I've written my little mini-reviews of the updates that no one bothers to read. But I enjoy doing them, so I'm going to continue to do so.
Tim Spaeth: When you play Team Fortress, do you find that when you're grouped with random people that that teamwork just happens or that it's just completely chaos? Or do you need a dedicated group of people who practice together, who play together, who have a routine together for that to be effective?
Richard Naik: As far as Team Fortress goes, no. Grouping up, being able to play with and be on a team with random people actually works much better than you would think it does. The teamwork, it really isn't all that complicated, but you do need to know what to do. As long as you have a group of people that know how to play the game competently, then you should be okay. It's the Internet, so you're gonna have a whole bunch of assholes that are just screwing around and making teleporter traps and crap like that. But more often than not, you will run into people that are actually trying to play.
Tim Spaeth: [Laughter] That's good that they're trying.
Richard Naik: [Laughter] Yeah, trying to play. Sometimes you just run into this…The other team is just stacked beyond belief and there's just nothing you can do, but them's the breaks.
Tim Spaeth: So carrying that thought over to Monday Night Combat, Brad, does Uber think that groups of random people just coming together are gonna be able to play this game effectively? That teamwork is just gonna happen?
Brad Gallaway: Well, I think it's like what Richard said. I think if you know how to play the game, it's really gonna help and it'll be beneficial. And believe me, when I first started playing the game, I actually was a little surprised at how much there was to it. I expected to just jump in and go, get a few pointers here and there.
But I thought from watching the videos that I knew what I was gonna be doing, and that actually turned out to be 100 percent not the case. There's actually way more to it than appears, and so I really was stumbling. It took me a while to even figure out what was going on, in kind of a good way. And I gotta say, also, the Uber Entertainment team just completely wiped the floor with me. It was ridiculous.
We started up, and I was getting the sense that they were taking it easy on me. I would see their avatars come in real close and then run away. Or they would pop up and they would pop away, like they were counting coup on me a little bit. Then once that 30-second grace period went away, it was like there was no mercy. It was very, very obvious to me that they enjoy their game, and they enjoyed sharing that with me.
I think in the case of Monday Night Combat, if you have a dedicated team, I think that would absolutely be the best way to go. You wanna have a good spread of all the different types. You wanna have one tank; you wanna have one of the snipers; you wanna have one of the ninjas. Everybody when they start playing this game, everybody's gonna be a sniper or a ninja, and that doesn't make for very good teams.
Chi Kong Lui: I was gonna call shotgun on the ninja for our GameCritics team.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter]
Richard Naik: I was gonna say: As far as Team Fortress goes, it goes teams with four-plus snipers rarely win out, unless the other team is just godawful terrible.
Brad Gallaway: Right, right. You totally want people who know what they're doing. If I was to play this game, and if I actually wanted to have a good time and if I actually wanted to win, to me, anyway, from the limited amount that I saw, it seems like having a dedicated team would be better than just joining up. But at the same time, I'm sure that you can get in there and play. There's also a one-player mode, too, so if you don't have any friends online, you can do that, as well.
Richard Naik: Or if you just don't have any friends, period.
Brad Gallaway: Or that, too. Or that, too.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Can I ask one question before we move on?
Brad Gallaway: Absolutely.
Mike Bracken: All right. So when I look at this game, you know what it reminds me of? Death Row on the Xbox.
Do you get that vibe from it? Because I hated Death Row.
Brad Gallaway: No. To be perfectly honest, never once did Death Row even enter my mind. I'm gonna use that as huge praise—
Mike Bracken: Good.
Brad Gallaway: —for the Uber team. Death Row flat out sucked.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. And yet, Doolittle loved it—
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: —and a couple other people I know loved it. I could never fucking understand why they liked it, because I played it and it was horrible.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it was awful. It felt awful: bad idea, bad implementation, bad graphics, bad everything. Everything was bad. I don't know why these people liked it. I have no idea.
Mike Bracken: I had flashbacks when I saw it, just for some reason. Because it was futuristic sports, so automatically, my brain says: "Oh, no. Death Row." And that's [unknown] bad.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, no, no. [This?] is totally not even remotely in the ballpark of Death Row at all.
Mike Bracken: Good. Good.
Chi Kong Lui: It must've done something right for you to even bring the game up out of nowhere here. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Something wrong. Something terribly wrong.
Chi Kong Lui: I guess that's another way to look at it, too, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: So last question before we wrap up this segment. Uber Entertainment, relatively new developer. This is their first game, correct?
Brad Gallaway: Yes. As a studio, under the title of Uber Entertainment, this is their first game. They were working on it for I believe about two years. This isn't something they just dashed out. They told me the history of it and how much work they put into it, and it shows. It definitely shows. When you fire this up, I think a lot of people are gonna be surprised at how well-polished it is, how deep it is, and how much you get for the $15.
But they are all comprised of industry veterans. I don't think anybody on the team was a newbie. Some of the people were from EA; some of the people were from Gas Powered Games. I think Eka, the art director, he was from Bethesda. And he had told me a story about when they were back in a warehouse, and they would program the games, and after they would program the games, they would go downstairs. They would physically hand-pack the boxes and then get those out to the shipping dock. So people [chuckling] who worked at Bethesda wore all the hats back then.
They've all been around; they've all had experience, and they were all, from what I could tell, about my same age. I'm 34 right now. We were all about the same age. But, yeah. Most of us had kids, too, which I thought was pretty cool. Nice group of guys.
Richard Naik: Yeah. One more reason I just realized that people might associate this with Team Fortress 2 is the name of the studio—Uber Entertainment. The medic in Team Fortress 2 has this thing called the Uber Charge, and it's colloquially referred to as the "the Uber." So there you go.
Tim Spaeth: Mm.
Chi Kong Lui: [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: There you go.
Tim Spaeth: Well, Brad, thanks for taking the bullet and going out to the studio. Gosh.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I'm glad we didn't have to do that, Tim.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Thank goodness I got to stay at home and fold some clothes.
Brad Gallaway: If I could just say real quick. I do wanna give a real heartfelt thanks to everybody at Uber. Everybody in the studio was really nice, really warm, really welcoming. It was great of them to take time out of their day and walk me through it. So thanks big time to Uber Entertainment.
Tim Spaeth: Well, Monday Night Combat will be available for download exclusively from the Xbox Live Arcade on August 11. 1200 space bucks—$15 US. So let's take a break. More after these words. You're watching NBC's coverage of the 2005 Kentucky Derby. We'll be back.
It is a rare luxury that more than one of us have played the same game on this podcast. And for all five of us to have played the same game, probably puts a healthy crack in the space-time continuum. Nevertheless, that is the case with Limbo, and here is your spoiler warning, folks. We are going to take advantage of this unique situation and discuss the entire game, from start to finish, holding back nothing in terms of plot or puzzle spoilers. So abandon the podcast now if that is a concern for you. It's your call; this is your last warning. In a moment, you will hear an animal sound. After that, it's spoiler territory.
[An elephant trumpeting]
Okay. Thanks for sticking around, folks. Here's the quick description of Limbo. Doesn't really do it justice, but it is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer developed by Playdead. Very minimalist presentation: black and white; almost no music; kind of a film noir look with that film grain in front of the visuals. Plotwise, all we really know going into the game is that there's a boy who appears only as a silhouette with white eyes. He wakes up in a forest. He's looking for his sister. Like I said, I realize it doesn't do it justice, so I'm gonna turn first to Mike. We haven't heard much from Mike tonight. Mike, this game makes a heck of a first impression. What were your thoughts as you experienced those early minutes of Limbo?
Mike Bracken: I was absolutely blown away by it when I first saw it. The visuals of the game are so appealing to me, I guess, because I'm a horror guy and I'm a film guy. You really nailed it with the film noir description. They gray and the black; it's very dark; it's really atmospheric and moody and somber. The first few minutes, I just basically stood there and tried to drink it all in. Then for the rest of the experience to be that same style with the grain and everything—really, really cool.
I've bitched on this show in the past that we shouldn't always try to compare games with film terminology, but this is a game that lends itself to talking about it aesthetically in terms of how it compares to film. Which I hope we'll maybe get into in a little bit.
Tim Spaeth: Other impressions of the early game? For me, when the screen first fades in and you see the boy lying there and he looks up, I thought I was watching a cut-scene. I was really stunned when I realized that's the game. You're actually playing the game at that point. It was really pretty memorable.
Brad Gallaway: One of the high points was, it was just like you said, Tim. I thought I was watching a cut-scene. And then once I realized that, no, this is actually the game and it's started and the game is simply waiting for me to put in an input, I was really impressed. I thought it looked just indescribably beautiful from the start, and I was like: "Wow, this looks sharp!" And then to find out the entire game looks that sharp, it just really blew me away. It was pretty mind-blowing.
Richard Naik: The exact same thing happened to me. I thought I was watching a cut-scene at first. It's like: "Oh! Hey! I can control things now!"
Chi Kong Lui: I think that the thing that stuck out in my mind, as far as comparing it to other games, was I was immediately thinking about Out of This World—
Tim Spaeth: Sure.
Chi Kong Lui: —slash-Another World. Some things live up to that and some things don't, but you can get into that more later, I suppose.
Tim Spaeth: [Chuckles] I guess let's talk about the gameplay. Like I said, it's a side-scrolling puzzle platformer. Some of these puzzles were pretty devious. Let me ask you first: Did any of you have to look up an answer?
Richard Naik: In the 60 percent of the game I finished, I had to look up one solution, but that was it.
Mike Bracken: There was the one where you had the two gravity things, and you had a box way over on the far the left and then one on the right. You had to basically hit the gravity switch and go up to the ceiling, and then the one came up with you. And then you had to run all the way to the left across the roof there and find the other one and push it back. And then you had to drop them on the two things, the bars that slid out and made steps, so you could get up to the next platform. I didn't realize I could run all the way over there and get that other box. So I'm like: "How the fuck can I do this with one box?" So that was the one that got me. There were a couple others that I sat for a long time and puzzled over. [Chuckles] This is just kind of embarrassing.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, Mike. I got stuck on that one, too. That one was a real toughie. But the one that really got me—and I only had to look up one solution, so I was pretty happy about that. But the one that got me was almost at the very end, when the little boy is standing at an edge and you have to run and jump. And there's a sign that flips the gravity laterally—
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Brad Gallaway: —so you start to fall to the right. For whatever reason, it didn't make sense to me. I honestly don't think that the developers cued that one properly, because it didn't occur to me that you could trigger things in mid-jump. The little flashing button on the side of that sign, it wasn't big enough to me. I just didn't notice it. The thing that really killed me was that at the bottom of the screen, there's a rope, and that rope is in the same shade of black that other ropes are that you can grab.
Mike Bracken: Mm-hm.
Brad Gallaway: So I thought that what you had to do was jump off and fall. There's also a saw blade right above that rope, so I thought what you had to do is time it so that you jumped in order to fall beneath the saw blade, but at the same time, catch the rope. I came so close to doing it so often I thought: "Well, I'm just not doing it right." I kept doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it, and I just could not get that fucking rope. I'm like: "What the hell is going on?"
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: Finally, I just gave up and I looked it up. I'm like: "Wow. I'm not even remotely trying to do the [puzzle]?
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Right.
Brad Gallaway: So that was my one giant sticking point. And honestly, yeah, okay, I'm not the smartest guy on the block, but I felt like that one maybe wasn't cued as well as some of the other ones were. What did you guys all think?
Chi Kong Lui: Sorry, sorry. Let me just jump in on this point. I wanted to just say, first of all: Does anyone think that this is a negative in some sort of way? Because you already heard Mike say: "I didn't know you could do that." And Brad said pretty much the same thing.
Richard Naik: I was gonna say it actually was. The one puzzle—and, again, I've only finished about 60 percent of the game. But the one puzzle I actually had to look up the solution for, I don't remember exactly where it was. But there was a box on the far left side of the screen that I could run to and grab. It was obscured so much by the scenery that I could not see it at all.
I kept trying to make this jump onto this next platform, and I just could not do it. I have actually looked it up, and it was like: "You have to drag the box from the left," and I'm like: "What box?" So eventually I just ran to the left and started pressing the Action button randomly until I finally picked it up. I just could not see it.
That, I think, is probably the only real negative I have with it. The whole film noirish feeling is almost too good, to the point where it's difficult to see stuff a lot of the time.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.
Richard Naik: Beyond that, I did actually really enjoy it. I found myself enjoying it for a lot of the same reasons that I loved another game that I actually like even more, which is Aquaria. It's something that took something that has been done before. In this case, gameplay-wise, there's nothing in here that I have not seen—or at least most of which that I have not seen—in some of the old Pitfall! games. But it just took something that had been done before, wrapped it in this very nice, aesthetically-pleasing package, and said: "Here you go." When you're playing it, you're not thinking: "Oh, this is just some cheap Pitfall! knockoff." You're playing it because it's like: "Wow, this looks really cool and some of these puzzles are really well-done." So I think that they pulled that off really well.
Chi Kong Lui: I think the big debate here is: Do the aesthetics overcome some of the frustration? Let me just get into my story here. The one that stumped me—I didn't have to look this up and I figured this out eventually—was really early on. It's pretty simple, right? There's a floating box and a pond, and I pushed the little box out and I'm trying to jump on the box. I'm thinking: "Is this gonna float across to the other side of the pond? Do I have to make it roll? Do I have to do anything like this?" Did you guys struggle with that at all?
Richard Naik: Yeah, I did. I think we're talking about the same puzzle.
Chi Kong Lui: It's really early. It's literally the third or fourth or fifth puzzle.
Richard Naik: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: And I literally spent a half an hour trying to climb on this box as it rolled around [laughter]. Because I was able to do it successfully a couple of times, so I'm thinking: "Well, I just need to do this 100 more times." Next thing you know, half an hour's gone by. I'm struggling to do this. I've died 30 times, and I'm like: "This game's supposed to be three hours?!" [Laughter] "I've already killed half an hour on this one puzzle! This can't be right!" And of course, I realized later—and the spoiler alert, if you don't wanna hear this, is—you're not supposed to do that at all. You're supposed to drag the box back to the tree.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Thanks, Brad for the tip. And then jump on top of it. But I just didn't know that. And the fact that there was some physics involved with the box just completely threw me. It almost tricked me into thinking: "I can do this."
Mike Bracken: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That's the beauty of the game, though, is that it's devious and it will make you think you can do something and you're just not quite doing it right. But it punishes you for that kind of thinking.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Basically, as you go along, you start to realize that the game wants you to think about things. It almost starts to make you think outside the box in every situation, because that's the only way you're gonna get through some of those puzzles. I would see things where I thought: "Oh, I can make this jump, and I'm just not doing it perfectly." And you can't.
When you do it a couple times and you don't make it—and this is a good thing about the game—the controls, the physics of the character and the game are consistent all the way throughout. There's never a problem where: "Well, maybe it's just the physics why I can't make this jump." Or "The jump's too floaty," or "It's this or that." It's consistent, so once you know what you can do on the first level, you can do that on the last level. So as you get further into the game, and you're like: "I can't make this jump," it's not because you can't make the jump because you're doing it wrong. It's because you have to look, because there's obviously some other thing you're supposed to be doing.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: I enjoyed that a lot, because it made me think and really look at the game in a different way, and not just running through it and jumping around and shit. I actually had to try to problem-solve.
Richard Naik: Yeah. Nothing can be taken at face value.
Mike Bracken: Exactly.
Richard Naik: At least after the first three puzzles, nothing can be taken at face value.
Tim Spaeth: And it's not a game about controller dexterity.
Mike Bracken: No.
Tim Spaeth: So you find yourself trying to make a jump and you're just not quite making it, that's not the solution. When you have that realization, the puzzles became so much more enjoyable. Like you said, Mike, you really have to be thinking about it and exploring the world. It never lets you go anywhere that you're not supposed to go.
Mike Bracken: Exactly. Yeah, you can't put yourself into a corner where you're stuck and can't get out of or anything like that. But you are rewarded for exploring the environment, because the solutions are all there. You just sometimes have to travel a little further than the room you're in to figure it out.
Richard Naik: Yes. And when you die, where it places [your next life] on is also a bit of a hint as well.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Richard Naik: It's like: "Okay. Everything you need is right here." I thought that was pretty good.
Mike Bracken: I love the way that they have so many save points. If you die, you don't have to backtrack. You get to a puzzle and you die because it's a try-and-die gameplay, but it puts you right back there and you just keep progressing. It never gets frustrating, like: "Oh, I gotta go through these three puzzles again to get to the one I can't figure out."
Richard Naik: Yeah. I had a shockingly low level of frustration with this game. I thought I was gonna be pulling my hair out by the fourth or fifth puzzle, but they put those save points in there at the exact right point every single time. They just handled that extremely well.
Chi Kong Lui: I gotta say, I was very frustrated by this game. [Laughter] And I'm glad I heard Mike's take on it, because I kinda see where he's getting at. I'm not trying to say that my interpretation's right or his is right or wrong. I just had a completely different experience with it. Perhaps it's because when I think of ambient games like this, I guess I expect it to just be a little more free-flowing and a little more easygoing. [Laughter] I didn't expect this level of frustration, or in terms of difficulty, just constant trial and error, a lot of dying, a lot of just beating my head against a wall early on. It didn't do it for me.
It's kind of interesting, because I thought back a lot, again, to Out of this World, because there's a lot of similarities there. Out of This World's a very difficult game as well, but what made that game a little more tolerable, I suppose, was…That was also ambient, but it also had more of a cohesive narrative. Limbo is completely almost abstract.
Brad Gallaway: Ohhhh, okay. Let's hold off [on] the narrative, because I think that's [unknown]. But actually, Chi, what you just said exactly played into what I was gonna say. I was saying that out of everybody I've talked to, Limbo splits people down the middle. They're either people like most of us who just think it's the best thing ever and who really got into the puzzles, and then there's the other camp of people who got really frustrated and hate it. I honestly think it's because of the way that you parse the puzzles. I'm not saying you, specifically, Chi. I'm just saying in general.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, yeah. Sure.
Brad Gallaway: The people that hated it, I asked them. I was so curious,because I thought this game was so great. I gave it a nine and a half. It's pretty rare that I rate something that high, and so I was really curious to see why people didn't like it. And the people who didn't like it were people who were not able to visually process the environment in the game. They were kind of locked into this mentality of: "It's a platformer. I should be able to push to the right and make the jumps and just get through it. The puzzles should be a jump-jump and then I get through it."
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I talked to several people who were stuck on the puzzle that you were stuck on, Chi—the box—and every one of them got to the edge of the water and they were like: "I need to move to the right. I need to keep going. I can't make the jump. I need to do the jump again. I gotta try it again." And people who didn't like it weren't able to get out of that mindset and think about: "Oh. Well, if this isn't working, then I should maybe go back and look for something else."
I walked my son through this game. My son is eight, and he's really good at games. I turned the gore off, by the way. I didn't want him to see all the impalings and beheadings and stuff.
Mike Bracken: But the gore is so cool.
Brad Gallaway: It is very cool. I love it.
Chi Kong Lui: Interesting point, as you bring up your son there, Brad, because my son was watching me play this game and he literally ran to the other room, because the spiders and the impalings scared him. And that's a testament to the imagery. I think that it definitely speaks well of the imagery. It's definitely not for kids, okay, guys? But my son has watched me play UFC, and I'm mounting on a guy, punching the guys face in. He just doesn't even flinch at that. The spider thing [and impalements,] he literally ran to the other room. It was kind of actually a little interesting to see.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. Parents who are listening, please turn the gore off. It is fairly gory, even though it's a silhouette game. But the point that I was gonna make was that, after I'd been through the game, I thought: "Well, I'm gonna sit him down." I really wanted to watch him play it, to see how he attacked it. He started off being of the mindset of: "I'm just gonna jump and jump and make it." But once he wasn't able to progress, I just told him: "Look, son. If this isn't working, try something else. Just remember that, and every time you get stuck, try something else."
Once I told him that, he got through three-quarters of the game, no problem. He would die and die and die, maybe two or three times, and then he would start to explore the environment. If I would cue him and say: "Hey. Didn't work, so what should you do? Try something else, okay?" He was able to totally get it. I was really blown away by how well he did. It's just like, if you can think in the proper way, the game is smooth and it flows and the puzzles all make sense. If you can't think that way, it's pure frustration.
Chi Kong Lui: Uh-huh.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I definitely think there's something to that.
Chi Kong Lui: I don't wanna give the impression that just because I couldn't figure that puzzle out, I think this game sucks. That's not what I'm saying at all. I didn't have enough time; I actually wanted my wife to play it, to see if she would do the same thing or not—just to see if it would prove anything or not. But either way, as a critic, I wouldn't ding the game purely based on that.
But at the same time, that's why I posed the question out to you guys earlier in the show. Is this a good or bad thing? To be quite frank, I'm not reviewing the game. From a critical standpoint, I'm not sure what to make of it. Like I said, ultimately, for me…Even that puzzle that I bitched about earlier, I was able to solve it. It's not like I wasn't able to solve it. I didn't need anything. But it was just so frustrating.
I've gotten through I don't know how much of the game—probably a third. I just don't see myself going back to it, trying so hard to figure these puzzles out. It's somewhat rewarding; I enjoy it. And some of them are doozies, and I even figured those out. But it's just, to me…not torturous, but very frustrating just to get to that point. At the same time, I'm not getting a satisfaction in terms of a narrative. I go back to that; sorry if I'm jumping the gun again. [Laughter] Maybe this is a good way to transition into it. What do you think?
Tim Spaeth: Unless anyone wants to talk more about the puzzles—and certainly we can do that and I'm sure that they'll come up again— but I do wanna introduce the discussion of the imagery and the story and the narrative. I'm gonna kick it off with this: I think the game peaks too early, and this is where I think Limbo has a bit of a failure. It peaks too early, in that there is so much happening early in the game that contributes to the creepiness, the fear, the danger, the atmosphere, the ambiance.
Obviously, you have the spider; you have the people who are setting the traps—they're running away from you, then they mysteriously disappear. You see people being hung. You're using those bodies to solve puzzles. It's never explicitly said what's going on or who these people are, and that's fine. That's great. I'm fine with that. But there are a lot of breadcrumbs. There are a lot of things like the spider and the people that get you speculating; that get you thinking about what's happening here. There's a sense that it's going somewhere.
But after an hour, as the environments become more industrial, you stop seeing people. There are no more hanging bodies. The deaths are being caused from inanimate objects—buzzsaws and electrified walls and blocks falling on your head. It really does become more video gamey—
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: —and less about the atmosphere. The unsettled feeling is gone. There are no more breadcrumbs to think about or speculate on. All the mood-setting of the early game didn't lead us anywhere. Like I said, I'm not saying I wanted everything explicitly spelled out, but I wasn't expecting the game to just be a traditional puzzler for the last two-thirds—albeit a very good one, with some very clever stuff happening. But I found myself saying, as I approached the end of the game: "Let's get on with it." Nothing comes close to matching the spider. Nothing after the spider even remotely approaches that moment when you first see the spider.
Mike Bracken: Or the spider chasing you.
Tim Spaeth: Or the spider chasing you, or ultimately, how you defeat the spider. That's so epic! And then the rest of the game just doesn't build on that. In fact, it completely almost forgets it ever happened. So I'm wondering…Mike, you seem to be somewhat agreeing with me. What are your thoughts?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I feel the same way. It almost feels like two separate games in that regard, I think, where you start out and it's the outdoors and there's the people hanging and it's got this very horror…It's got a vibe that's almost indescribable. It's got this really horrific imagery, but—I don't want to say it's presented in a cute way, but it is. The shadow effect and stuff really takes the edge off of it, and it becomes really unsettling even though you don't see any blood or anything like that.
So it's got all that going on, and there's the spider, and there's the period where you're trapped in the spider cocoon and you're running around trying to get out of that, and the spider's chasing you. All that stuff's really cool and creepy, and then you've got these strange people who are trying to kill you. And then, you're right. You get into this industrial area and the last two-thirds of the game take place in there, and you never see another person again. It's just solely puzzle-solving. Definitely weird. One of my few complaints about the game was that, and I agree with you. It doesn't quite work, but I still really like the game.
Richard Naik: Regarding that part where you're stuck in the spider web in the cocoon, was anyone else distinctly reminded of Spring Mario from the Super Mario Galaxy games?
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. I briefly thought: "If I hold down the jump button, maybe he'll jump a little bit higher." Absolutely.
Richard Naik: Yeah. I kept trying to do that so many times. I was like: "This is going to be just like that," and I'd keep dying. I'm like: [sadly] "Oh. They didn't rip it off enough."
Brad Gallaway: I didn't think that, no. So getting off of the Mario thing, I think this gets back to the narrative that Chi wanted to talk about earlier. I definitely agree with you guys that the turn towards the industrial, the factory, the gears, it was kind of video gamey, and I didn't like it nearly as much as the beginning.
But I have to wonder how much of that was tied into the overall story? I honestly think that in the description of the game that Tim gave, which sounds pretty close to what the description is before you buy the game on Xbox Live, I think they shouldn't even say that much. I think the fact that the boy is allegedly going after his sister is a spoiler in itself that nobody should even hear about.
Chi Kong Lui: I didn't even know that, by the way. Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, okay. Yeah. It's not talked about in the game. It's only from the descriptions—the teaser that's on Live Marketplace and in magazines and stuff, or whatever. But to me, when I got to the end of the game, my perspective on it was really different. It kind of jived with the whole industrial thing. My perception of the game was when you get to the end and you see this girl—Is it his sister? I don't know. I'm not sure if I'd go along with that—but you get to the end and you stand there. To me, it almost felt like the girl was trying to keep the boy away.
My impression of it was that maybe she's the one who's setting up all these obstacles just to keep him away from her. So maybe he's in this fantasy world of her construction. It starts off being that he's on the outskirts, and he's out in the wilderness, and there's the spider. Maybe the spider just happens to be there. Maybe it's not really actively after him. And then as he gets closer, are those little boys, are they her friends? Are they trying to help her to keep your character away? As you get closer, nobody else is left. Is she using real world gears and electricity and stuff? Is that close to what the reality is for these two characters?
So when you finally get to her, to me, it looked like she didn't want him to be there. Like there was a distance between them that was indicated by their spacing on the screen. Her back was to him, and that's kind of an indicator that maybe she wasn't too warm to him. So I agree that the gameyness of those levels was disappointing, but at the same time, I wonder how much of it was actually intended, and how much of it was the developers going: "Well, we've only got one hour of gameplay. What are we going to do?" I'm not sure. What do you guys think?
Richard Naik: I think it was intentional, the openness to it of just letting the player interpret what's going on for themselves. The feeling I got is that they said: "We're just going to put this kid in a forest and let people write their own story in their head for it.' That's what I kept doing. I was like Chi. Even when I downloaded the game, I didn't see the thing about his sister, so I had no idea that that was even happening. I thought it was just some kid that wound up in a forest somehow.
So throughout most of the beginning of the game, I was like: "Is he separated from his parents? Am I going to see their bodies hanging around somewhere? What's going on?" I didn't get to the end, but I was consistently writing the narrative myself in my head as I was playing through the game. And I think—obviously, I don't know this for sure, but I think that's what the developer was going for.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm. Yeah. I just kept kind of thinking of it like ICO. Like a colorless version of ICO. You knew you were going through these puzzles, and to get somewhere, but I really didn't care that there wasn't a well-defined story there. The point of the game to me wasn't about the narrative so much. Really, for me, the joy of the game was the way it looked and the puzzles. You do feel this affinity to this little kid because you're him. He's just a black blob wit white eyes, but you do. You start to fill in your own details for him.
Chi Kong Lui: Was your preference in that order, Mike? Because that's my question I wanted to pose to everyone, where you said the style and then the puzzles?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. For me, yeah. I really got into the game because of the way it looks and I enjoyed the puzzles a lot. It's interesting to me, because I like what the game stands for aesthetically. We see these games now they're millions and millions of dollars in budget and years and development, and it's all hyper-graphics and these complicated systems. Here's a game that goes back to basics, to the 16-bit era or even earlier. It shows you, you can make a really simple and compelling game without spending all this money or having to have guys shooting people in the face and 600 people on screen at one time and complicated control schemes, and all that. So, yeah, I did dig it that way.
Tim Spaeth: I love that they had the confidence to just throw you in the middle of the situation—
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: —and the confidence in the little narrative crumbs that they left in the story, that that would be enough for the people who were interested in thinking about it to be able to speculate. My problem was that they stopped dropping those crumbs a third of the way through the game. But like I said, I think this is much better than having a scrolling text wall at the start of the game, saying: "You are Billy and you are looking for your sister Jenny."
Very much like Braid from last year, to which this game has drawn some comparisons. Braid had that ponderous, pretentious text between every level, and this game just says: "You know what? You're either going to figure this out or you're not going to figure it out." The developer is even saying: "You know what? Not everybody is probably going to care for this, and that's okay. Not every book is for everybody; not every movie is for everybody. This game doesn't have to be for everybody." I really appreciated that.
I did like knowing that he was going after the sister. One of the first really disturbing images you see is the hanging person, and my thought was: "Oh, crap! Is that the sister? Did he find the sister and she's hanging there?" That was kind of a disturbing moment.
Richard Naik: Did anyone else get the sense that the boy was growing as the game went on? As if he was spending years and years and years in the forest?
Mike Bracken: Huh. No, I didn't get that.
Brad Gallaway: That's an interesting point, but no, that didn't occur to me. Although I can kind of see where you're going with that.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I was going to say, I don't—
Richard Naik: I'm not positive that I saw it, because it looked to me like the silhouette was actually getting bigger as the game went on, but I'm not 100 percent positive about that.
Brad Gallaway: Maybe you were getting tired and you were just leaning closer and closer to the screen.
Richard Naik: [I was?] tired, but it just seemed like the boy was growing as I was going through the game. But obviously, I'm not certain about that.
Chi Kong Lui: The game makes some very stylistic closeup an zoom in and outs throughout the game, so it's really hard to get a good sense of the perception overall, I suppose.
Brad Gallaway: That's interesting. Yeah. Well, getting back to the story for a second. Story's one of my favorite things about any game, and in this particular game, I really appreciated the storytelling, the lack of a story, the lack of text like you guys said. And, Tim, I'm really glad you brought up Braid. I heard a number of people falling into the default gamer position of: "If this game is good, it can't be better than this other game." So automatically, it was Limbo and Braid. You had to pick a side. You couldn't like them both.
Tim Spaeth: [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: I personally fall on Limbo's side. I don't know about you guys, but even though I appreciated Braid's difference and its willingness to experiment with time, gameplay and stuff like that, I didn't feel like it was a very good game.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I didn't really enjoy playing Braid. I felt like I died a million times, and unlike Limbo, I felt like I never really knew quite what I was supposed to do in Braid. All of the puzzles to me were really, really, really, totally trial and error, whereas in Limbo I felt like most of them, if you took a moment to really look at the environment, you could piece together what you needed to do.
And in addition, everybody got on their high horse and talked about about what a great narrative Braid was and how it was really a commentary about the atomic bomb. I'm sorry. I didn't get any of that when I played through the game. I had to read an FAQ, and here's somebody who was "so smart" about games educating me about what it was really about. And I'm like: "If you're so smart, and if this game is so great, then how come that game failed in communicating that to me?" I'm a smart guy; I was reading the text. Is it just me, or what did you guys think?
Mike Bracken: I always thought Braid was incredibly overrated.
Brad Gallaway: It's like the French arthouse film of video games, dude.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. And it's not to say that it's bad, but it just didn't do much for me. I saw everybody gush about it, and I sat down to play it and expected this magnificent experience, and I was just like: "Well, yeah, okay." Not terrible, but not really going to change the face of gaming as we know it, which everybody was acting like.
Limbo just feels more organic to me in some weird way. None of it feels gimmicky. It just feels like there's a really cohesive vision from the very first moments and it carries through all the way to the end. It's just good game design, I think. Braid, some if it just felt gimmicky to me, at times. I just never could get into it. And I didn't get the atomic bomb thing, either. This is the first I've heard of that, actually.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, really? [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: I'm totally at a loss.
Brad Gallaway: There's pages and pages and pages written about how deep a commentary Braid's commentary was. It's like, if I got none of that, then I have to call that a failure. I really do. Maybe people are going to say that I'm just not smart enough to pick up on that. But if that's really the point of your game, then how come you couldn't just integrate that into the gameplay? Why did you have to hide the text behind all these weird video game contrivances? I don't know. Richard and Chi and Tim, what do you guys think?
Richard Naik: I have not played Braid.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. I haven't played Braid either, and based on your descriptions, I'm not going to. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Chi!
Mike Bracken: Honestly, I think you should play it. It's one of those landmark discussion games that we should all probably play, just so we're familiar with it.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Right, right.
Richard Naik: It's kind of the same reason that I tell people that they should play Heavy Rain, even though I didn't really like it all that much.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: And it would be interesting to hear what you guys think after playing Limbo and then going back to playing Braid. Braid rode such an incredibly high wave of positive feeling from everybody that I didn't take part in. I would be really curious to see what you guys make of it now after so much time has gone by and you don't feel pressured to like it, and now that you've seen the "opposite" approach with Limbo. We should do a second follow-up segment or something.
Tim Spaeth: I'll download the demo again, but I was so turned off by just the wall of text. But I will give it another shot.
Mike Bracken: It's a pretentious game.
Brad Gallaway: It really is.
Richard Naik: It's like the Rushmmore of games. Jason Schwartzman?
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: So any other points about Limbo in terms of puzzle or story? Did any of you put any stock into the title?
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Is he in Limbo? Is he in Purgatory?
Mike Bracken: See, that's what I thought the whole time. And then I'll tell you, I didn't know the sister thing when I started playing it. I didn't find that out till later. I just got the code, downloaded it and started playing, because I was really excited to check it out. Now, when he gets to the end of the game (and this is the huge spoiler section), there's a girl there. But when he wakes up in that field, is that supposed to be the same from the beginning? When he wakes up?
Tim Spaeth: It's the exact same, yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. So to me, that totally made it like Limbo, Purgatory, Groundhog Day. He's just trapped in this place and he's just going to go through this whole thing all over again. So I dug that; that was cool.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] I was going to say: "That's depressing." But of course Mike would dig that. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah. I love that. I'm always into the nihilistic endings.
Brad Gallaway: Me, too, man. Me, too. Totally, dude. I love a good sad ending. I was pissed off when you realize that the girl didn't die at the end of ICO. I was like: "Aw! Cop out! Cop out!"
But like I referred to earlier, I felt like the girl sent him back. I totally agree with the Limbo title, and for me, it was even moreso because it wasn't even just him being trapped. It was somebody keeping him there. That to me was almost even worse.
Tim Spaeth: But wait. Let's consider the order of events. Once you go through the final puzzle, you break through that pane of glass, I guess it is?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, glass.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, [I remember now?]
Tim Spaeth: You have that slow-motion fall and then you land in the forest in that exact same spot that you started the game in. Then he stands up; then he walks to the right and he sees the girl. Cut to credits. So my initial interpretation, which was the "cop-out ending" interpretation, was that he woke up from a dream, walked three feet to the right and there was his sister.
Brad Gallaway: That's funny. I didn't think of that. That's pretty funny, actually.
Mike Bracken: No, I wasn't that cynical for once. Normally, that would be exactly what I would've thought.
Richard Naik: Do you think part of the intent was that people like us would sit around having these discussions about what the hell everything meant?
Mike Bracken: That's funny. Yeah. I was definitely thinking that, and it's funny because we just went through all this. I write about film so with Inception we've had weeks of "What does Inception really mean? What was Nolan really trying to say? Was it all a dream?"
Tim Spaeth: No spoilers! No spoilers!
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Oh, sorry. You haven't seen Inception yet? My bad.
Tim Spaeth: Tomorrow night.
Richard Naik: You need to see it.
Mike Bracken: But you'll have a lot to think about when it's over. I'll say that and leave it at that.
Chi Kong Lui: Going back to Limbo for a second, it sounds like almost the fact that they plugged in the "he's searching for his sister" story almost doesn't make sense. Did it really need to be his sister?
Brad Gallaway: I don't think it did. I was surprised that they put that in there.
Chi Kong Lui: Because it could mean so much more, and be so much more interesting if it isn't his sister. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: That's interesting, though. They never tell you anything about her in the game.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.
Mike Bracken: If you didn't read that thing, at the end you'd be: "Who the hell's that?"
Brad Gallaway: Totally.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm going to call that "bullshit" on the marketing people. When Rez came out, the back of the box said you're this hacker. [Laughter] Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] Yeah. Yeah, assigning any kind of story to Rez is bullshit.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: It's just like lights and flashing and shooting. But I agree with you, Chi. I wonder if it was marketing pressure, if Microsoft was like: "We need to put some kind of blurb here, so you'd better come up with something." Maybe they couldn't just leave it more abstract. If they just called it: "A boy's journey through a dark land," would it have sold less copies or more copies? Were they trying to use the sister as a selling point? I don't know.
Chi Kong Lui: It's interesting. Here I am, complaining that I want more of a narrative, but if I knew it was the sister quest, that wouldn't have helped anyway, to be quite honest with you.
It's not that I want an actual story, but I just wanted more semblance of what I'm actually doing. The whole abstract thing combined with the frustration, in the end, just didn't work for me. I would've preferred that they (and this is, again, just me) break out of the whole trial-and-error dynamic. That just didn't do it for me. I wish it would've mixed it up in another type of gameplay format. I still love the art style and everything, but—
Brad Gallaway: Well, to be fair, though, Chi, to be fair, I've had this discussion with other people and maybe you'll disagree, but I didn't really think it was trial-and-error. I know a lot of people feel that way, but my personal feeling was that if you really took the time to look before you did anything, I feel the vast majority of puzzles you could get through without dying, if you took the time to really examine them. So, to me, it didn't really feel like trial-and-error. It wasn't like try and die, try and die. It was like: "Try something. I made a slight error in what my thesis was. I'm going to go back and change it. Okay, I made it." So obviously, that's not the reaction by everyone, but to me, to call it a try-and-die is doing the game a disservice, I think.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, Brad. I don't have any other words to describe it. For me, it was more a question my brain just at some point doesn't know the answer. [Laughter] What else are you going to do but just try anything? And I'm trying. I'm not trying to just jump into everything head first. Yeah, I am trying to go through the process that you're describing, Brad. It just didn't happen for me, unfortunately. And again, I don't know what to make of that as a critic, because it is a very subjective experience. But it is what it is, yeah. I'm glad I didn't have to review it. I'm glad I didn't have to review this one.
Richard Naik: Yeah. People try to solve the puzzles and then die in the process.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: So "try-and-die" is a fairly…and I'm not even counting that as a negative, but "try-and-die" feels like a fairly apt description to me.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: And I didn't mean it as a negative, in the end. Like I said, I just preferred a different dynamic. That's all.
Richard Naik: Yeah, because that's exactly what you're doing. You are trying to solve it.
Brad Gallaway: Well, yeah, that's true. But if you take it in that literal of a sense, that could apply to any game. I think the connotation with that phrase is that you don't know what you're supposed to do, so you try anything and you just die. Whereas, in regard to this particular game, I think that's not true. I think you do know what to do, or they give you enough clues to know what to do. You simply don't pick up on them.
And the reason I bring this up, even, is a response to all those people—not anybody here on this particular podcast—but people who are knocking the game for: "Oh, this game sucks so bad because you just die a million times, and it's so frustrating." To me, it's like: "Well, you didn't take the time to look and see what you were doing. So why call it a try-and-die when you're not even trying?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I think it's, again, like you mentioned earlier—that some people just expect it to be a platformer, and you continue to move to the right, and you make jumps, and the hardest puzzle will be you have to figure out how to make two jumps or something like that. It's also, I think, an interesting testament to older gamers and younger gamers, and how gaming difficulty has changed. This game's a little more like a throwback to the eight-bit era, where everything was difficult and no game held your hand the whole way through it, and stuff like that.
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Mike Bracken: I think a lot of games now, you've got all these tutorials and all this shit that, basically, walks you through the game experience. And this game doesn't. It fucking puts you in its world, and the solutions are there, and you just have to slow down and think about it. It's there.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, my God. I'm so glad you said. I was hearing people saying that they were pissed off that there was no tutorial. And I'm like: "What the fuck tutorial do you need? There's Action and Jump. It's two fucking buttons!"
Richard Naik: There is a tutorial. It's in the Option menu.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Right.
Mike Bracken: The game has two buttons.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. People were getting out of hand because there wasn't a walkthrough level. Give me a motherfucking break, dude! Seriously!
Richard Naik: The walkthrough level is the first puzzle. That's your walkthrough level.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: I like that. That reminds me of being a kid with my Nintendo, sitting in a room trying to figure out fucking how to get through the dungeons in Zelda, laying bombs everywhere looking for secret passages and that. There was no tutorial how to do that. You just fucking did it. That was thinking! So, actually, yeah. How did we get to…? Now, it's like: "There's no tutorial in this game. It didn't tell me what to do!"
Chi Kong Lui: But you know what the issue [is] for me, Mike? It's like they made a game entirely about that whole: "Let's lay bombs everywhere." [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: It's like the whole game. That's the whole game. And I totally hear you, Brad. I'm not trying to say it's a complete exercise in frustration, but in a lot of ways, that's the thing that most stands [out.] It's not what the game's all about, but that's the thing that stands out the most in some ways. And that's okay, again.
Brad Gallaway: It's not for everybody. Not everybody's brain works the same way, and we don't all get enjoyment from the same kinds of challenges and such. But I would be really curious to see what the age breakdown would be. A lot of the people that I noticed who didn't like it were definitely younger, like in their early 20s. And it's not like we're dinosaurs or anything, but like Mike said, having grown up through an era where there were no such things as tutorials, there were no walkthroughs.
Mike Bracken: You were lucky if the instruction manual made sense.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, seriously.
Chi Kong Lui: This is the thing that doesn't make sense for me. I'm totally with you, Mike. I'm from the same generation, and if you listen to a lot of the things I say throughout the podcast, there's an underlying subtext that I want games to be harder. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: And here this game is, but I'm just in a very strange place with it.
Mike Bracken: The best thing about this game for me was that it's fucking hard, but it's fair.
Brad Gallaway: Totally. Totally.
Mike Bracken: It's not cheap hard. There's a consistency to the puzzles and the mechanics of it that work the whole way through. The only time you could maybe say that the game throws something at you that's cheap is when Brad mentioned when you have to click the signs when you jump. That first time that comes up, it's not totally intuitive that that's what you're supposed to do—that you can do that.
But the rest of the way through, the game has its own internal logic and it follows it and it's consistent the whole way through. It's not like Ninja Gaiden on the NES, where it was just fucking hard because it was cheap.
Richard Naik: [Chuckles] or Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, for that matter.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Any Ninja Gaiden, for that matter. [Chuckles]
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's not just hard because it's cheap. It's hard because it's really consistent, but the puzzles are just challenging, so that's good.
Richard Naik: Yeah. There is a very, very, very, very, very fine line between challenge and cheapness, and there aren't very many games that can actually walk that tightrope successfully. I think Limbo is definitely one of them.
Brad Gallaway: I would agree with that.
Tim Spaeth: We should wrap this up. I will ask: Do we want to cheapen the discussion by talking about price at all?
Chi Kong Lui: I don't think so.
Brad Gallaway: We should; we should. I think we should.
Chi Kong Lui: Really? Okay.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, because it's an issue for people and I think we shouldn't duck the question.
Tim Spaeth: This is a game that has been criticized for its length versus price: three hours for $15. How many of you had a download code for it?
Richard Naik: I purchased it. I paid the $15 for it.
Tim Spaeth: Do you feel that it was worth your money, Richard?
Richard Naik: Yes, I do. I've actually never really bought into the cost as it relates to length. I don't necessarily believe that a longer game is worth more money.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Richard Naik: I enjoyed Limbo, and I consider that experience worth $15. A game could be one hour and cost $15 and if I like it, then that's worth the money. If I'd have paid $15 for a 12-hour game that sucks ass, I'd be pissed off. So, no, I don't think it's a problem at all.
Chi Kong Lui: I agree with Richard. I don't equate length and money [as] the same thing. I think Flower is one of the shortest games, and yet, I'd gladly pay $20 if not $30 for that game.
Mike Bracken: I want games to be shorter.
Brad Gallaway: I agree. I actually had a code from the developer, so I didn't have to pay for my copy. But after I had been through the game, I liked it so much that I went through and I bought my wife a copy. I wanted them to get my money, to be able to profit from that. The quality of it is outstanding. Anybody who says this isn't a quality game doesn't know what they're talking about, regardless of whether they personally like it or they don't like it. I think we need to support things like this. It's obviously not a million-dollar budget game. It doesn't push 85 bazillion polygons and photographic real models. If we as critics really like what it's doing, we like the approach, we like the risks that were taken, then we need to reward it. $15 is not really a lot, in comparison to a lot of these $60 carbon copy sequels.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. You could've spent $60 on Crackdown 2.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, God! Don't even get me started on Crackdown 2. And I'm also of the feeling that, like you guys, length doesn't equal better. I'm all for shorter games that get in and get out. And I think, like Tim said, it's questionable whether Limbo could've even been shorter, and maybe it would've been punchier for that. It's a good question to ask. But I think it's definitely worth the $15, because I'm a supporter of things that are of quality of this nature. This is one of the best games I've played all year. I paid the $15; I would pay it again, and I would recommend it to anybody. It's worth $15, for sure.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I generally don't get anxious when the price of a game is under $20. I don't really consider length. But at the same time, I look back at last year's Summer of Arcade, and I look to the first game of 2009 Summer of Arcade: 'Splosion Man, which was $10 and a good 12-hour experience. And I can't help but think: "You know what? Maybe $15 is a little much when I compare it to that."
The problem is, you can't be comparing games that way in terms of price, because the price, in general on games, decreases over time. At some point, Limbo will be on sale for $10. It may even be on sale for $5, and at that price, it's a complete steal. But I do get where people are coming from when they start comparing the titles, particularly between the downloadable titles. I can't entirely blame them.
Mike Bracken: But isn't that Microsoft who sets those prices?
Richard Naik: Yeah, I was going to say. Doesn't Microsoft force a lot of developers to charge $15, no matter what?
Chi Kong Lui: Well, I think they can choose between the $10 or $15 or $20 mark.
Richard Naik: I don't know for sure Microsoft's guidelines about it, but that's what I've thought.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. We've all heard the stories about people who wanted to release free stuff, and Microsoft won't let them.
Tim Spaeth: But I don't think the average consumer cares who's setting the price, do they?
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.
Mike Bracken: Well, I just think you should assign the blame where it [belongs].
Brad Gallaway: No, I think that's fair.
Richard Naik: Don't blame the developers; blame Microsoft. Blaming Microsoft is fun. Just do that.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: And specifically, like Mike said, every single game in the Summer of Arcade is $15. I think that if you asked those developers, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them were like: "Well, we'd like to go lower." If you look at the Indie Channel, a lot of developers had started doing $10, $5, $8, and when that didn't fly, everybody went to $1.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: So I think people are aware the economy's a factor; people's personal budget is a factor; value's a factor. I think in this particular case, Microsoft has a hand in having it be $15.
Chi Kong Lui: Does anyone know how long the demo is to this game? I just went ahead and bought the game myself, also. I didn't actually try the demo.
Tim Spaeth: It's lengthy. You play up until just before you get wrapped up by the spider.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, really? That's a pretty big chunk.
Tim Spaeth: So 20, 25 minutes, maybe?
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right. You know what I say? I think this game in particular, try the demo. If you like it, it's worth the money. If you don't like it, in my case I probably wouldn't have ponied up $15 in this case. It's not that I think it's not worth it, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. But I think the demo will tell you everything you need to know—whether it's worth the money or not, in this case.
Brad Gallaway: I think that's very true. That's a good point.
Mike Bracken: It's better than DeathSpank.
Brad Gallaway: That's for sure.
Tim Spaeth: There you go.
Richard Naik: I'm nodding my head in agreement right now, even though I've never played that game.
Tim Spaeth: You could argue—and I hate to be so cynical—you could argue that the best part of Limbo is in the demo. That's it's all downhill from there. You could make that argument.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, you could. You could make that argument. Yeah, you really could. Yeah. Not all of the best parts, but most of it.
Brad Gallaway: A lot of it, yeah. A lot of it.
Mike Bracken: They're going to make us edit that out.
Chi Kong Lui: I know. Right, right? That's an interesting point to end on, but hey. What are you going to do?
Tim Spaeth: Well, I do think we should end on that, as we are just about out of time. I need to get out of the studio. Another show is coming in. Before we wrap things up, Brad, I think you have a special announcement. Something really cool is happening at PAX this year.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, absolutely. GameCritics.com has teamed up with Gladriel Games to host a cheesecake social, which will be taking place at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant, which is directly across the street from the Washington State Trade and Convention Center, where PAX is being held. It's going to be September 3, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. The first 50 people through the door will receive a prize pack thanks to Gladriel Games.
The first couple cheesecakes are going to be on us, and I will be there. Chris Poirier from Gladriel is going to be there, and Gabe Purcell from Gladriel is going to be there. There's also gonna be a few other people we're talking to, and hopefully it'll be a really good time. A chance for all of us who follow each other on Twitter and have never met in person to get together at PAX, talk games, eat some food, and just have one big, happy, in-person family.
So once again, it's at the Cheesecake Factory, September 3, 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Seating is going to be really, really limited. I would suggest you get there as early as possible, and once again, first 50 people through the door do get a free special super-secret prize.
Tim Spaeth: Will you be signing autographed photos?
Brad Gallaway: $5 a piece, but yes.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: Well, of course, you're going to charge. I just assumed you'd be charging.
Brad Gallaway: Ain't nothing free! Come on!
Tim Spaeth: Let's wrap things up. Any general "goodbye" comments? Richard, as the guest, I will give you an opportunity to address the audience on any topic you like.
Richard Naik: If you haven't bought Aquaria yet, you should. It's a very quality title; it's worth your money.
Chi Kong Lui: Richard, are you going to mention Aquaria in every single appearance?
Richard Naik: You're goddamn right I'm going to mention it in every single appearance.
Tim Spaeth: Mike Bracken, any final thoughts?
Mike Bracken: I'm just really excited that I'm going to get to play this new Castlevania now.
Tim Spaeth: Mm! Yeah! That's the next title up.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: If we're talking Summer of Arcade, did any of you try the Hydro Thunder demo?
Mike Bracken: No.
Brad Gallaway: No.
Richard Naik: No.
Chi Kong Lui: Pass.
Tim Spaeth: It's actually pretty good. I'm not going to buy it, but it's a meaty demo. There's multiplayer and single-player. It plays really well. It's worth trying the demo, at least. It's a quality title. Quality title. Yes, Castlevania coming next week. I imagine we'll be talking about that on the podcast once we've all had a chance to give it a spin. And six player co-op? Maybe we should all try it together as a family. Hm?
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Brad Gallaway, final thoughts from you, sir?
Brad Gallaway: My final thoughts are that currently I am playing way too many sequels. I've got a really big backlog of games I'm working through, so that I can speak intelligently about the year 2010 by the time December rolls around. I've played six things in a row that were sequel crap, and I'm tired of it. Limbo was the one bright spot, and I'm really, really glad that I played it. It gave me a much-needed breath of fresh air. But in other words, it's looking like a dry year, folks.
Richard Naik: You've got StarCraft II to look forward to, once you finally get around to that.
Brad Gallaway: No. Not going to get around to it.
Richard Naik: [sadly] Oh.
Chi Kong Lui: No PC games, right?
Brad Gallaway: No PC games.
Mike Bracken: I'm actually excited about StarCraft II. I'd like to play it.
Tim Spaeth: Join us, Mike. Join us on battle.net
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles] I've never really played the first one, so I'll be horrible, but I'm definitely interested.
Richard Naik: It doesn't matter. We'll just set it onto Very Easy and crush everything in our path. Those Very Easy Zerg will not know what hit them.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] Cool.
Tim Spaeth: The beauty of StarCraft—and I'm so sorry to say this and divert the end of the show this way—but they have an entire bracket for crappy players. There's an entire tournament just for people who suck. And that is where I'm going to be. Join me
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Final thoughts from Chi Kong Lui, the man who started it all.
Chi Kong Lui: Sure. I'm looking forward to playing DarkStar One and the subsequent opportunity to yet again talk about Wing Commander.
Tim Spaeth: Count me in.
Mike Bracken: It's always Dynasty Warriors or Wing Commander.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. Hey, what about Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty?
Mike Bracken: Man, we made it through a whole show almost with no mention of Too Human.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, and you just ruined it! Bastard!
Tim Spaeth: And now it's time for my final thoughts.
Chi Kong Lui: Right on cue.
Richard Naik: If Tim is allowed to mention to mention Too Human as much, I am allowed to mention Aquaria—a game that is actually good.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Oh! Oh!
Brad Gallaway: Oh! [You're gone?]
Tim Spaeth: Eject. Eject.
Mike Bracken: That's Richard's last guest appearance.
Tim Spaeth: All right, let's say goodbye folks. To the audience, leave your feedback at GameCritics.com. If you want to support the show, the best way to do it is tell your friends, get them tweeting, get them blogging. We would appreciate it so much. And also, remember the show is perfect for playing in the background while you're making love.
So for the entire GameCritics.com family, thank you so much for listening. Good night and bonne chance. [Laughter] I'm sorry. Good night and bonne chance.
Chi Kong Lui: Best close ever.
Mike Bracken: My God.
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.