With great passion comes great verbosity. We're splitting this week's jumbo show in half, which means our long awaited Too Human / Dynasty Warriors showdown won't occur until next week. This week, though, we step WAY outside our comfort zone and delve into some multiplayer-only experiences, like Monday Night Combat, Castlevania: Destiny of Harmonicas, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and more. We think we have a pretty good grasp on where multiplayer needs to go from here. Plus! Our Quote of the Week! Tim Sings! Richard Calculates! Oh. the party doesn't stop! Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, Richard Naik, and Tim "Yes, I Said He Sings" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: Hey, everybody! Tim here with a quick programming note. The show you're about to hear ran very long. It happens when we're passionate about something. It's about two and a half hours. So instead of testing your endurance, we decided to split it in half. What you're going to here this week is episode 39, and features our Quote of the Week and our foray into the scary world of online multiplayer—scary for us, at least. Now, the second half, which will air in about a week (that's episode 40), that'll feature our long-awaited, epic deconstruction of Too Human and Dynasty Warriors. Timely, isn't it?
Now, keep in mind, we didn't decide to split things up until after recording, so the ending this week is going to seem a little awkward, a little abrupt. Don't worry—I'll be back again at the end to [cue sexy voice] comfort you, to keep you safe, to hold you. Mmm. [end sexy voice]
So, enough preamble. Let's get it on. The GameCritics.com podcast starts right now.
It is a show two years in the making: GameCritics.com podcast 39. Oh, I can hardly wait! Let's get right to the introductions, starting, as always, with our owner and founder, Chi Kong Lui. Hi, Chi.
Chi Kong Lui: Hey, everybody. How's it going?
Tim Spaeth: Also with us, senior editor Brad Gallaway.
Brad Gallaway: Hey, guys.
Tim Spaeth: And horror geek Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: [flatly] This is the show we've been waiting our whole life to do. I'm so excited.
Tim Spaeth: I'm giddy; I'm trembling.
Mike Bracken: I am, too.
Tim Spaeth: And to do the show, the we needed an extra large cast. That's why Richard "the Ricker" Naik is back. Hey, Richard.
Richard Naik: Buenas noches, gentlemen. It's surprising you called me "the Ricker." There have been quite a few other people that have actually called me that before.
Tim Spaeth: But it means the most coming from me, doesn't it?
Richard Naik: No comment.
Tim Spaeth: Come on, Richard. We're good friends. You joined me for the premiere episode of our new mini-podcast, GameCritics After Dark, which is an experience that changed my life. I'm sure it changed yours.
Richard Naik: [pause] Yes, it did.
Brad Gallaway: He's still recovering.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. The pause was a little long there, sir.
Richard Naik: Oh, I thought you were going to keep talking.
Tim Spaeth: There you go. I appreciate that. I appreciate you deferring to my verbosity. Listen: for those who haven't heard, we have started a little spinoff, a little mini-podcast. The first episode is posted now. It's called GameCritics After Dark. It's just a short 15 to 20 minute thing we're going to throw in the feed on the weeks that we're not doing the big show, so that you don't go too long without hearing something from us.
As I mentioned, the first show is about StarCraft II, but in the coming weeks, who knows what we're going to talk about? We might talk about pottery; we might talk about love. Who knows? Sky's the limit! And that's why we call it "After Dark," because who knows what goes down after dark?
Chi Kong Lui: It's a sexier version of this show.
Tim Spaeth: It really is. Is there anything sexier than StarCraft?
Mike Bracken: No.
Brad Gallaway: A couple things.
Someone: It's a tough line.
Brad Gallaway: I can think of at least two.
Tim Spaeth: Well, enough plugging of our own stuff. Let's get right to the content. This is the show. The theme is "getting out of our comfort zone." We're going to do that in two ways. First, we have ventured into the terrifying world of multiplayer. That's right: we played games together. Chilling. Chilling. We played some Monday Night Combat, we played a bunch of games that we're going to talk about. The question is: Were we scarred forever by interacting with people, or did we —gasp!—actually enjoy it? We'll find out in our second segment.
In our third segment, it has been a long time coming. We call it the Gamer Exchange Program. Chi made us play Dynasty Warriors VI, and I made you guys play—that's right; it's really happening—Too Human.
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles] I still can't believe it.
Tim Spaeth: Well, it took two years. It took a significant percentage of our lives to get there. What happened next will shock you. It will just blow you away, so stay tuned for that in our final segment. But before we get to any of that, guys, it's time for our first segment, and we call it: Quote of the Week.
[A cat meowing loudly]
Here comes Phillipe with this week's sealed envelope. As always, it contains a quote from someone—anyone, it could be anyone—associated with the gaming industry. I will [sound of envelope opening] read the quote, and we will each quickly comment on it. Here we go. Oh, this is a good one. All right, here is the quote:
"I am unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing, or communicating with family and friends."
It's me; I actually said that. No, the quote actually comes from a guy named Craig Smallwood. He is a Hawaii man who is suing NCSoft of South Korea for damages in excess of three million dollars because of the addictive nature of their game, Lineage II. Now, Smallwood claims to have played Lineage II for 20,000 hours between 2004 and 2009. And I quickly turn to Richard Naik and his Calculator of Shame. Richard, how many days is that? Put that in context for us.
Richard Naik: That is 2.28 years, Tim.
Tim Spaeth: God! So, 2.28 years over a five, five and a half year period. Holy God! Now, he alleges that he would not have begun playing if he was aware "that he would become to addicted to the game." Now, NCSoft urged the court to dismiss the claim; the judge refused. So the case is going forward.
Now, I read the complaint. It looks like Smallwood only stopped playing because he was banned in 2009 for real money trading in the game. So I would imagine he'd still be playing, and perhaps this is vengeance for being banned. But my question for you gentlemen is this: Is there even a tiny morsel of legitimacy to this guy's claim? Is NCSoft liable for this man's addiction? Let's go around the horn and start with—I have to start with—Mike Bracken.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] I'm just happy someone has more hours in an MMO than I have in Final Fantasy XI or World of Warcraft, No, they're not fucking responsible for this. This guy's a fucking moron. You spend 20,000 hours of your life—nobody fucking held a gun to his head and made him sit there and play this game. Ugh. This is so stupid that it's borderline retarded. I can't believe he even got this into court and to make NCSoft have to defend this somehow, like their game is crack or cocaine or fucking coffee. Like some addictive thing: nicotine. Absolutely insane. The dumbest thing I've ever heard. Makes gamers look like morons.
Chi Kong Lui: To me, it's like signing up for a dating site and then complaining that you actually went on dates. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Yeah. The best part is, he's not only so pathetic that he played for 20,000 hours, but then he was into real money trading, too, which is the double whammy of loserness.
Tim Spaeth: You would think, in the five years of playing, that he would be skilled enough not to need a gold [farmer].
Mike Bracken: Yeah. How sad do you have to be to play 20,000 hours and need to buy gold from gold farmers? It's…dude, that's so stupid.
Richard Naik: On what grounds did the judge let the case go forward? Why did he not dismiss it? Does it say why he did that, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: The judge says that there is a potential legitimate claim of neglegence on the part of NCSoft. That they do not have in their license agreement or whatever you accept when you sign onto the game, that there's nothing in there that says: "Hey, you could potentially become addicted to this."
Chi Kong Lui: That's like a tobacco warning, then.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: What I want to know is, how did this guy keep a job? How did he keep himself fed? Based on the number that Richard quoted, that guy spent literally 50 percent of a five year period in front of his computer. I was almost waiting for Tim to say he got evicted for not paying rent or something, and that's what got him off the game. But how would you even function? I have a really hard time even imagining that. He must've gone from the Social Security line to pick up his monthly check, straight home, and logged on and stayed there.
Mike Bracken: Direct deposit.
Richard Naik: [unknown] 46 percent.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] Yeah, right. Direct deposit. Didn't even have to leave the house to collect it.
Mike Bracken: Didn't have to leave the house—just puts it right in. It's right there.
Brad Gallaway: Mike, how do you know that?
Mike Bracken: All right, I plead the fifth. No.
Chi Kong Lui: Does he live in his parents' basement? Is that why he doesn't have money?
Mike Bracken: He might. That could be the other thing. He could live with Mom and Dad. That's a possibility.
Brad Gallaway: Mom comes downstairs and feeds him some pre-chewed food and just keeps his life functions going.
Mike Bracken: Hot Pockets. All he needs is enough money for Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew, and he is set.
Tim Spaeth: And because of that…That's where I'm trying to figure out where he gets three million dollars from. Where does that number come from?
Mike Bracken: [Chuckling] Yeah. He somehow lost out on three million. He lost out on three million dollars worth of income in five years.
Chi Kong Lui: He would've wrote the great American novel if he wasn't so busy playing an MMO.
Mike Bracken: And the funniest thing is, he played one of the crappiest games. I mean, Lineage II? No offense if you like Lineage II. I'm not saying it's the worst game or anything like that, but, Jesus. At least play EverQuest or WoW or something. Play one of the big games that people really get into. I've never heard of anyone being addicted to Lineage II, so this is a first for me. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: It seems to be just a microcosom of everything that's wrong with the American legal system. But I hope eventually this gets in front of a judge who will be intelligent enough to throw it out.
Mike Bracken: The real question for me is: Has Jack Thompson offered to be a special expert for the prosecution, or for the plaintiff's lawyers—for his side there?
Tim Spaeth: I'm sure he was on a flight to Honolulu the second this story came out, no question.
Mike Bracken: I bet. Fuckin'—
Brad Gallaway: This should've already been thrown out; it's ridiculous. Waste of everybody's time.
Tim Spaeth: Yep.
Richard Naik: Yep. That's 46 percent of a five period. Yeah, that's weird.
Chi Kong Lui: I am a little concerned that they started correlating video games to an addictive substance like tobacoo.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Then they might have a legal justification for it. So to me, that's a little bit scary.
Mike Bracken: That's a very, very slippery slope here [they're?] slipping down.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly.
Richard Naik: What kind of warning label would you even put on a game?: "Don't sit here and play this for so long, or you might become addicted."
Mike Bracken: Final Fantasy XI used to have that on there: "We love that you come explore the world of Vana'diel, but go out and do things with your real-life friends, too," basically. [Chuckles]
Chi Kong Lui: It really said that, huh?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It did have a thing like that when you'd log in, that would say: "Go out and do other things, too."
Tim Spaeth: World of Warcraft has the same thing. Even Super Mario Galaxy 2 has that. Every once in a while when you talk to the ship captain, he'll tell you: "Hey! Why don't you stop playing for a while?"
Mike Bracken: It's like when Ness's dad used to call you in EarthBound and tell you: "You've been playing for so long. Why don't you go out and do something?" That was the first game I remember doing that.
Richard Naik: Super Mario Galaxy 2 does it a lot, too. It seems like it did that after every single star I got.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. It knew something about you, man. It knew something about you.
Richard Naik: Yeah, I guess it did.
Tim Spaeth: I don't know. I certainly don't feel like game addiction…I hesitate to even call it "addiction." Anything that's a distraction in your life, I guess you can become reliant on. But it's certainly not on the level of drug and alcohol addiction. Would you put it maybe on the same level as sex addiction?
Chi Kong Lui: I think it can be for certain people. That's the thing. That's where it's tricky.
Mike Bracken: Well, and I think there are just people who have addictive personalities that could potentially make almost anything addictive—
Chi Kong Lui: Right.
Mike Bracken: —depending on what you gravitate toward.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, exactly.
Mike Bracken: I don't think it's necessarily that games are addictive. There are people that are addicted to food. Where do you draw the line?
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, you're exactly right, Mike. Totally. It could be food, it could be books, it could be sex, it could be watching TV, game shows, online poker. It could've been anything that filled this big, sucking hole in this guy's life. It just happened to be Lineage II, and I don't think there's anything necessarily inherent to Lineage or games in general that make them more addictive than any other thing that could be an addiction.
Mike Bracken: I think NCSoft should sign him to a contract to be their spokesperson. It's amazing that anyone fucking played Lineage II for 20,000 hours.
Brad Gallaway: He could be like Subway's Jerod, but in reverse.
Chi Kong Lui: I was thinking the same thing, man.
Brad Gallaway: He started out 98 pounds, and now he's 300 and can't work.
Mike Bracken: 300. He's got Type 2 diabetes.
Brad Gallaway: Right hand's a total mouse claw.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, he has a mouse claw.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, man.
Tim Spaeth: Man, oh, man. Well, let's move on, gentlemen. God, good stuff. Good stuff. Let's move on to segment two, though: A segment we call "We Love Multiplayer." And I mean that sarcastically, of course, because with the exception of Richard, none of us really spend that much time in multiplayer modes. Maybe a little co-op, but certainly not competitive multiplayer, doing the—what do they call it, Richard?—the fragging, the tagging. What do the kids call it these days?
Mike Bracken: Teabagging.
Richard Naik: Uh…The fragging, the tagging and the teabagging? That's a great phrase, but I have never called it that, ever. Even when I was a teenager, I didn't call it that. Uh, "playing the game."
I sit down at the computer and then I press buttons and things happen and I enjoy myself. That's basically all it is.
Tim Spaeth: Man! Kids are much less creative these days.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I'll say! Jeez.
Tim Spaeth: Man. Well, this show, as I mentioned, is about getting out of our comfort zones. So we went out of our way to play games with other people, and we're going to talk about that experience. By the time we're finished, I want each of you to answer this question: What is the single most important thing a game must do to keep you interested in its multiplayer? What single element makes it worth your while? So feel free to answer that at any time, but each one of us needs to answer that before this segment is finished.
Now, the game we all spent the most time with this past week was Monday Night Combat. We formed a little party. I think all of us were there, with the exception of Chi. Chi, where were you? Why didn't you join us?
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, man. I was addicted to Dragon Quest, man. I could not pull myself away.
Mike Bracken: He was addicted to Lineage II.
Brad Gallaway: He's in the middle of filing a lawsuit right now.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, I had my own Lineage. I have my lawyers working on the papers right now.
Tim Spaeth: So the power of Dragon Age was such that you weren't willing to spend time with your—?
Chi Kong Lui: Dragon Quest, not Dragon Age.
Tim Spaeth: Oh, I'm sorry. Got it. It certainly wouldn't be Dragon Age. That would just be embarrassing. But the power of Dragon Quest was such that you couldn't pull yourself away to spend time with your friends and colleagues?
Chi Kong Lui: Among other things, yeah. Among other things.
Tim Spaeth: Like feeding your child or being with your spouse. Something like that.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: Well, anyway, Chi, did you have a chance to play it at all?
Chi Kong Lui: I did play the demo for a little bit, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I think the guys would be in agreement we all had a really good time, but here's my first question, and I'll turn to you, Brad: Did we have fun playing because we were playing together, or did we have fun because the game is good? Or was it some combination? In your mind, which was it?
Brad Gallaway: I think it's definitely a combination. But I think that if you were to break it out in terms of percentage, for me, anyway, I think that it was fun 80-90 percent because we knew each other. And 10 percent because the game offered a good framework for us to interact with each other. I don't know about you guys, but for me, it doesn't really matter what we're playing. It could be anything.
But the thing that really makes it appealing is the trash-talking with your buddies. You're actually there in a game with somebody that you know, that you have experience with, so you probably trust them a lot more than you would trust some Joe Blow that you meet over Live. You can talk about other things while you're playing; you could have little in-jokes between each other. That, in itself, is the most appealing thing about any kind of cooperative or multiplayer experience for me.
So even though Monday Night Combat I do think is a really good game, it's only really fun with you guys. I went to play it with other people, and I didn't have nearly the same amount of fun that I had with you
Chi Kong Lui: What were the modes that you guys were playing, just to give everyone some context here?
Richard and Brad: [together] Oh, we were playing… [pause] Go ahead [Brad, Richard, respectively]
Richard Naik: We were playing Crossfire most of the time. There really aren't that many game modes. There's Crossfire, which is the two teams try to destroy each other's moneyball. And then there's the Blitz, which is, I guess, basically you just defend against a whole bunch of robots. So we spent most of the time in Crossfire, which is really the bulk of the game right there.
Chi Kong Lui: Were you playing against other humans, or were you playing against computer AI?
Richard Naik: Other humans.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, cool.
Tim Spaeth: The thing about Monday Night Combat in particular—and Brad, I had the same experience as you. I played with strangers, and I just got annihilated and it wasn't fun to get annihilated with strangers. It was fine getting annihilated with you guys, though. I felt that you weren't mocking me silently or resenting my presence.
Brad Gallaway: Actually, I was mocking you audibly. In one of our matches, I think I headshotted you five times in a row. To me, that totally made the headshots way more enjoyable. I knew it was you. I was like: "Oh, man, this is sweet." If it had been some random stranger, it's still good, but not nearly as enjoyable.
Tim Spaeth: That's a fair point, though. There was one match where we were somehow on separate teams, and it did become Enemy at the Gates. I was Ed Harris and you were Jude Law. We were just hunting each other on the map, and it was like this fun little metagame. To me, it was more exciting than what was happening on the map.
Richard Naik: Yeah. When I play Team Fortress, that actually happens between two of my other friends. They'll have little sniper competitions or spy competitions between themselves. So if you know people that you're playing with—really in any sort of massive multliplayer game—that'll manifest itself.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. And Mike, what I noticed about you was you actually seemed to be doing well at the game. Your stats were pretty good, and that impressed me quite a bit.
Mike Bracken: Well, thank you. Usually I suck at this stuff. [Laughter] Yeah. This was totally outside of my comfort zone, because I have a little bit of multiplayer experience. I used to PvP a lot in World of Warcraft and got pretty good at it, and I played PSO, but that was cooperative. I tend to stay away from multiplayer games that involve shooting other people in the face, only because I've found that I'm 37 and 16-year-old kids have way better reflexes than I do these days. There's nothing quite like fucking getting shot in the face and watching some 16-year-old punk fucking teabag your corpse for half an hour. It aggravates me, and so I tend to stay away from it.
But yeah, I did okay in Monday Night Combat, and I had fun with it. But for me, it was totally because it was with you guys and we could fucking bullshit about stuff and goof off. We actually won that one game, which shocked the shit out of me. That's, for me, the whole multiplayer thing…even in World of Warcraft, I PvP'd with the same couple of guys most of the time. When I would go PvP by myself when they were working or whatever, it was never as much fun. For me, multiplayer is always about who you're playing with. It doesn't matter what the game is or anything. It's just never as much fun when you play with people you don't really know.
Richard Naik: I had a bit of a different take on Monday Night Combat. I actually had fun with it when I was playing with strangers. In some ways, it was actually more fun to play against people that were better than I was, especially when I was trying to play the support and I managed to hack all of their turrets around their base and they just went completely crazy trying to kill them all and they couldn't do it. Yeah, I actually enjoyed playing against strangers. But then again, I enjoy playing against strangers regardless. So again, that's just me.
Brad Gallaway: So Richard, if I could follow up on that real quick. Was it really that they were strangers, or was it that their skill level was just better? When we all played, we were all basically brand new to the game. We had only played a couple matches between all of us. Which was it for you? Was it the skill or was it that you could detatch a little bit because you didn't know those people? What was it? I'm kind of curious.
Richard Naik: It was a little bit of both, to be honest. I'm not hyper-competitive about games. I know people that are hyper-competitive, but I'm not really one of those people. That's why I usually play the more defensive-slash-support classes in games like this. My best class in Monday Night Combat is the support, and it's basically the medic-slash-engineer class. So I'd say it's a combination of the two.
Tim Spaeth: You know, Richard, we occasionally rib you about your age. You're, I believe, a decade younger than us. Do you think it's a generational thing? I mean that quite seriously. Do you think that gamers in their mid-twenties are more likely to enjoy competitive multiplayer because they really were born and raised on Halo and those types of games? Whereas we come from an era where that technology just didn't exist. Any validity to that whatsoever?
Richard Naik: Honestly, and not to rag on any of you guys, but honestly, I think that is part of it. Especially with the advent of online play, I think is something which is really grown the most in this current console generation, and really, this current PC generation as well. For a while, PCs were the only online gaming platform, but now it's really prevalent on consoles as well. So it's much, much, much bigger than it used to be.
My first system was the old NES, but as I gradually got older, I started playing more and more online. So I imagine for you guys who are, I think, about ten years older than me, I think there would be more of a hesitation towards it.
Brad Gallaway: I think there's something to that, for sure. I definitely think that there is a…I don't wanna say a familiarity. That makes it sound like we're dinosaurs who are resistant to change, which I think is maybe true to a certain extent. But I think that we're all gamers to the point that we would be up for something like that.
But I wonder how much of that is personal preference. Of course, that feeds back into: What did you like when you were growing up? For me, I'm a real goals-oriented player. So I'll play any game, as long as I know there's an endpoint to it. I can't commit to a game where I don't feel like there's ever an endpoint, because then it's like, I'm not making progress, I'm not really spending my time on achieving anything. So it's not like I'm afraid or I don't like other people or anything like that. A lot of these multiplayer modes, for me, they just feel like I'm spinning my wheels and I'm wasting my time when I've got a stack of 15 games I could be finishing.
That's probably why I stay away from these multiplayer, competitive-type games, and I veer more towards co-op campaigns. At least with that, I know there's gonna be beginning, middle and end. What do you guys think?
Richard Naik: See, I actually view the multiplayer gaming as more of a casual thing. That's why I don't really use the word "competitive" when I describe it. "Competitive" to me describes the fact that there are tournaments; there are prizes; there are people that actually practice for hours and hours trying to get better at the game. For me, it's more of a "Oh, I wanna sit down for an hour and just chill out and just relax." Whereas, if I'm playing more of a single-player game (something like Demon's Souls) that's not a relaxation experience. That's an intense "I have to finish this game! Oh, my God! Why the hell did I just die?!" kind of experience.
Chi Kong Lui: It's interesting you bring up the whole casual thing, because one thing I think that correlates to…I think almost all of us relate to the power fantasy aspect of gaming and the escapism part of it. When you play multiplayer, if you don't have that casual mentality and you bring that fantasy mentality into it, your fantasy automatically gets crushed the second you get your ass handed to you. What's enjoyable about that, right? Who wants to play that? I think that's a large part of it.
Richard Naik: Well, for me, I wouldn't necessarily call it a power fantasy.
Chi Kong Lui: No, no. That's what I'm saying, is that you don't look at it [as a power fantasy] because you just explained it. You said it's more of a casual thing, like you're just popping in, like you're playing Bejeweled or something. You just get online, you start fragging other folks and just have a good time with it. Whereas I think for some of us…Mike is always talking about how when we play these hack-and-slash games, you like feeling like a god and smashing into the computer and just wiping them all out. Well, you rarely get that in multiplayer games, unless you really, really practice at it. It's just not worth the effort sometimes, especially when it comes to these multiplayer games. You've gotta dedicate yourself to just one game and really practice at it, as opposed to playing a bunch of different games.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, you're totally right, Chi. I'm actually really glad you brought that up. Now that you said that, I found myself nodding my head. Totally in agreement, because for me, relaxation is like getting into a single-player game where I have my power ups and I can save whenever I want to and I know what's going on. I'm in control of that experience. I have a lot of stuff going on: a life and family and work, and I don't need to go online and get my ass handed to me by a bunch of people who headshot me one second after I respawn.
To me, that's the experience that I have with multiplayer games. That is completely painful, completely unenjoyable, not fun at all, and I'm not willing to dedicate myself to get better at any one particular game. So the experience you just described is a big reason why I don't get into those.
Mike Bracken: And there's something to be said there…To play multiplayer, you almost have to start playing a multiplayer game when it first comes out, when everybody else is at the same starting point.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly. Yeah.
Mike Bracken: What happens is, you end up joining in after it's been out a week and these people have figured out all the exploits and all the game mechanics and everything like that. You're tossed into random games with people who have been playing and know the maps and know everything, and they fucking headshot you in one second and then you get to watch the rest of the match. And that's definitely not fun.
There needs to be some kind of better…and I know some games have done this with the matchmaking systems, but that's something they really need to work on. You get lumped into games with guys who've been playing for months and months and you're just starting, and it's very disheartening. You don't even get to practice, because as soon as you spawn…
Tim Spaeth: You're right, Mike. That has to be the next great innovation in multiplayer: some sort of accommodation for the untalented, for the crappy players. Through matchmaking, bring the crappy players together.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. 'Cause there are lots of us out there.
Tim Spaeth: Totally. Totally. The best time I had in Halao 3 was the first three or four matches, where you're only playing against people who are also on their first three or four matches. The games were competitive and no one knew what they were doing, and I was winning, and I was killing people, and it was great. And then it immediately throws you into general population, and you're screwed. You're just screwed.
So some sort of matchmaking. We're seeing it with StarCraft II with the Bronze League, which is just a collection of crappy players, and it works pretty well. Although, as I mentioned on After Dark, I think there's still a baseline skill level you need to be competitive, even in Bronze Level. But that has to be the next great innovation in this multiplayer field.
Richard Naik: I'm the opposite. The only way you're ever gonna get better is to play against people that are better thana you.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, but the problem with that is they put you in games with guys who are on a level system. What's Halo's level system? There are guys who are level 30 or something like that, and you don't learn anything when you're dead as soon as you spawn. I'm all in favor of playing guys a couple levels higher than you to get better, but Jesus Christ! They put you in these general population games.
Even look at Monday Night Combat—I'm Level 1; we're playing against guys who are Rank 46. I don't know how that ranking system works there, or if it makes a difference, but you're definitely playing against guys who are just way more experienced, and you don't learn anything when you're dead all the time.
Richard Naik: But you do learn something if you're getting headshot instantly every single time. Not necessarily getting headshotted every single time, but dying a lot. Eventually, if you're dying a lot, you will stop doing the things that are getting you killed a lot.
Brad Gallaway: But if you don't even know what's killing you, how can you learn from that? I had that experience.
Richard Naik: That's a fault of the game, then. If you don't know what's killing you and you're just dying for no reason at all, then that's a balancing problem, really.
Chi Kong Lui: I think it's also a grinding issue. It's the tolerance of what you're willing to put in to learn the ropes. I think you're both describing the same thing, but you're just willing to go through that process of dying 100 times before you figure out the ins and outs of what you need to do, whereas some of us may not be willing to die 100 times for the sake of learning the ropes.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, exactly. There's nothing more discouraging, or nothing that feels less exciting and inviting than going into a game trying to get your feet wet and you get headshotted a bunch. That doesn't motivate me to learn the game. That motivates me to go play something else. So maybe I'm just not the right kind of personality type for those kind of games, but until there's some kind of better matchmaking system where you're on more of level ground with other people, that experience of just dying and dying and dying and dying and dying…
I hear what you're saying, Richard, and I get that. But at the same time, the reason why I come to games is not to be stressed out and not to work hard and not to practice. It's to have fun and to be interested by things that are going on and to have that escapist feeling. That is completely the opposite of having to go up that hill, that learning curve, for multiplayer games.
Richard Naik: Yeah, I get what you guys are saying, and I definitely agree that it is a personality thing. Some people just aren't into that sort of thing. But if I'm getting headshotted a bunch right when I start the game, I'm thinking in my head: "Eventually I'm going to be headshotting him," and someday, I will.
Brad Gallaway: You wish in one hand and you crap in the other and see which one fills up first.
Richard Naik: Usually, I see to it that the wishing hand fills up first, my friend. You have to keep your eye on that wishing hand.
Tim Spaeth: Richard, I respect that so much. I really do. Somewhere along the line, I lost that confidence. I lost the confidence to be able to say what you just said: "Someday I'm gonna get that guy." To me, it's like: "Well, I'm screwed. I'm never gonna be able to do it." Which is a terrible defeatist attitude, but I have it. Somwhere along the line I picked it up. So I just wanted to say that I really respect that.
Richard Naik: Once you learn the ropes of any sort of game like that, you can just get on and have fun. Maybe you'll have a bad game and get killed a lot, but it's still enjoyable because you know what you're doing. Just to make sure I didn't sound completely incongruent with what I was saying before.
Chi Kong Lui: And what I notice about you, Richard, is that you're playing these games from the ground up as a multiplayer game. You're not playing a single-player game and then jumping in to the multiplayer side of it, and I think that's where a lot of us get tripped up. We play the single-player experience, built up our confidence, thinking: "Oh, yeah! This is gonna be okay! We've gone through the leveling-up process, we've done what we needed to do, and we think we're gonna go into multiplayer and it'll be okay. And of course, it's not.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: So it's like the single-player is deceptive, in that it leads you down the wrong path. I end up developing an anxiety, really. I've played 40 hours in the UFC game, and I'm thinking I'm pretty good at this. And then I go on to the multiplayer side, and I just felt this incredible pressure, like I had to live up to my own standard based on the single-player.
Whereas if I jumped into the multiplayer first, I wouldn't even have had that. I would've just went in there, jumped in there head first. I don't think I'd have that same anxiety or fears or lack of confidence or whatever.I think that's an interesting thing. If I ever did wanna get into multiplayer, I'd probably just play a multiplayer-only game, as opposed to playing a game that has a single-player and a multiplayer.
Richard Naik: Team Fortress, Chi. Team Fortress. Join me.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm not saying I wanna do it, but I'm just saying… [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: [That's the?] theory, you understand. It's all hypothetical.
Mike Bracken: The other thing with that is you play single-player, and you get in the habits of playing the game one way that the single-player dictates.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly.
Mike Bracken: It just doesn't transfer over when you're playing against another human. There's a whole different set of variables. You're used to playing it one way, and then have to try to relearn the game from scratch when you jump to multiplayer, it seems like.
Chi Kong Lui: And you get that false sense of confidence from playing the single-player mode that you're actually good, and then you're not. [Laughter]
Richard Naik: Mike, you're totally right. Humans are the most adaptable, tricky AI you're ever going to face.
Mike Bracken: Exactly.
Richard Naik: Playing against another human, there's really no other way to prepare you for that. The single-player is…Let's go back to StarCraft. In StarCraft, I feel that the single-player does a decent job of explaining: "These are the basics of the game. These are what the supply depots do; this is what food supply does. These are what produces your units," blah, blah, blah, stuff like that.
Playing against another person, you have to think so quickly and move so fast. There's a couple of missions that might force you to do that, but not really that many. Yeah, there is a bit of jumping right into the cold water head first feeling, so to speak. But you're gonna have to get past that if you want to get into it, which I do. Now I understand that some people might not want to.
Brad Gallaway: If I could put a different slant on this. Two points: the first one is, people I know who are really good at multiplayer, it was like Chi said. They just jump into the multiplayer. I knew a ton of people who bought Modern Warfare, hadn't even touched the campaign until three or four weeks after the game had come out. They had just jumped right into multiplayer and started, and that was what defined the experience for them. More power to them, but I think that's something that doesn't quite fit my playstyle.
But to flip this around a little bit, I think that what we've been talking about really only applies to games where you are going against other people. A good counter-example of that would be Monster Hunter Tri, which I played through earlier this year.
When I was online, I could immediately tell who was jumping into the online before they had finished the campaign. As soon as they joined the game, they had no idea what to do. They had no concept of teamwork. They didn't know what the monsters were like. They dodn't know how to use the traps. You could immediately see these people were just hosing off, running around and stabbing their buddies and falling into their own traps, and the monsters were just having them for breakfast.
In Monster Hunter Tri and I think a few other games like that, it really is to your benefit to go through the story mode to learn how to play the game, so that when you go online, you are able to cooperate in a very functional fashion. To me, that is way more interesting and would be something that I would be way more willing to invest time in than something where you're just going against another team or killing other people. If you were working towards a mutual goal, like the online portion of Monster Hunter Tri, that is just infinitely more rewarding, for my personality.
Chi Kong Lui: And that's a unique multiplayer experience. Most of them aren't like that.
Mike Bracken: There's PSO. Phantasy Star Online had the same kind of setup. You never played against other people competitively. You played as a team to beat stuff.
Tim Spaeth: Well, Brad, since you mentioned co-op, I think it's safe to say, of all of us, you're probably the most co-op oriented. I would say that you cheat a little bit in that regard, because you married a gamer, and that's not really fair.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: That's not cheating. That's why I married her, man! That was total conscious selection. That was on purpose.
Richard Naik: It's like: "Shit! I need someone to play Lara Croft with. Let's get married!"
Brad Gallaway: There you go. [Laughter] And five happy years later, here we are.
Tim Spaeth: There you are. Oh, that is true love.
Mike Bracken: Living the dream.
Tim Spaeth: Seriously. Seriously. Speaking of Lara Croft, you had some high praise for that game in your review, which posted this week. Tell me a little bit about Lara Croft and the co-op experience.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I actually surprised myself with how much I liked it. For those of you who haven't played it yet, the new Lara Croft game formerly known as Tomb Raider, it takes it to an isometric perspective, so the camera's pulled way back. You don't have to do any more split-second jumping and finegaling of the camera. It's way more action orientated; it's way faster and the puzzles [have] lots of objects to manipulate and lots of things to move around. So they're not like the real brain-busters that the Tomb Raider series is known for. They're more tactile puzzles.
But the thing that really makes that experience stand out for me is that it is a co-op experience, first and foremost. You can certainly play it one-player, and I tried that just to see what it was like, and it was fine. It was good, but it really lost something. So I played the entire campaign with my wife co-op. And she's a really good player herself, so it's not like I was helping her along, or anything. She was certainly holding her own.
It just was fantastic. I think the developers, Crystal Dynamics, really took the time to pick apart what makes a co-op experience interesting. I think they really nailed it. There's more to co-op than simply having two people in the same space that aren't trying to kill each other. There's more to it than that. In order to stay engaged, you have to actually be doing something on both sides.
So, in Lara Croft, specifically, Lara has one set of moves—she has the grappling rope, and she has the guns. Your partner in that game, his name is Totec and I think he's some kind of Native person from South America. He's got these spears that can be used as ladders, and he's got a shield which protects Lara, and it can also be used to boost her up.
So no matter who's playing which character, you need both sides to get through each puzzle. You have to actually actively in real time be working together through constant communication, and both have good timing and work on these puzzles to get through them. It was just so satisfying and so deep and so rich. That, to me, was probably the best multiplayer cooperative exprience I think I've ever had. I loved it; I loved it.
Tim Spaeth: So it was more than just: You stand on that platform on that side of the door, and your wife stands on another platform on that side of the door, and the door opens and you walk through. It was deeper than that.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, yeah. There was certainly some of that, for sure. But in one part of the game, there's these really high pillars you have to get through, and there's also monsters. You have to cover each other's back. But then the Totec character will have a shield; he'll hold it up above his head and he's kind of vulnerable.
So Lara has to be on top of his shield, gunning the dinosaurs away so that you don't get bitten. And then when she's on top of his shield, Totec has to jump. Once he's in the air, Lara has to jump after that. So it's multiple layers of teamwork going on at the same time, in order to achieve the same…It's more than just a jump. It's like a triple-part, both of you working on the same wavelength jump. It really had us both totally engaged, totally activated.
There's other parts, too. One of my favorite puzzles in the game was this narrow channel of lava. We both got to it, and we're like: "Gosh! We have no idea what to do!" And when we finally figured it out, it was pretty brilliant. Lara, played by my wife, actually—which is actually kind of a switch, because usually I'm the female and she's the male. But for whatever reason, we stuck with our [genders]
Mike Bracken: Wow. What an insight into the Gallaway marriage.
Brad Gallaway: I know. Totally. It keeps our home happy, I'll tell you that much. So what happens is, Lara has to get her grapple to the far side of this lava channel. Totec has to be standing on top of the rope. While he's doing that, he's shooting and keeping enemies away. There's these giant jets of fire, and Lara is moving around this lava pit in such a way as to navigate the character on the rope through this puzzle.
So I would be defending us from the monsters; she's navigating us through the puzzle at the same time. We both really have to watch what we're doing, so we don't hit the flame jets that are coming up. It was great. We both were totally busy, totally interested, totally active from start to finish. There was no dead zone. There was never a time when it was: "Oh, go do that thing real quick while I sit here." We were always doing something as a team.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter] Hey, Mike. Does that sound familiar? We just played Castlevania.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Yeah, it did, actually.
Tim Spaeth: This is Castlevania…?
Chi Kong Lui: HD.
Mike Bracken: Harmony of Despair.
Tim Spaeth: Forces of Destiny.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, yeah. House of the Dead.
Tim Spaeth: All I could tell was that it looked like recycled DS graphics and boss fights. What is the deal with that game? It is co-op, right?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. But it's exactly what you think it is. It's recycled DS graphics, which are cool. The sprite work in the Castlevania games is cool. I don't know how it looks in hi-def, but on a regular TV, it looks okay. Basically, it's just like a giant boss rush mode. Every stage has a boss, and it's timed, and you're trying to get through it. You can play solo, but you can't really get to everything, necessarily. But you can have up to six people on the map with you, and you can see the whole castle area at once.
You have to co-op in some places. In the first level it starts you together, and you go through the whole thing together. Then on the second chapter, you start at opposite ends of the castle and have to try to figure out how to meet each other in the middle. The best thing it does is if I open a treasure chest, everybody gets loot. So, that's cool. But otherwise it's a weird game.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. At one point, as Brad was describing before, Mike was just standing around waiting for me to try to get a switch. We started off on completely opposite ends, and that's not exactly a good way to do co-op, when you're completely separated. What's the point of that? That didn't make a lot of sense; it wasn't a lot of fun. It was kind of confusing.
And the other part about it is…When you say that they're like DS graphics, the stages are remixed or something. The layouts make no sense. They're all perfectly rectangular. There just isn't a sense of cohesiveness to the stages. They just feel like—
Mike Bracken: Blocks.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, blocks.
Mike Bracken: They're just blocks glued together, basically. It's a very strange experience. I don't dislike it. I hated it when I was playing it by myself. Playing it with Chi tonight was more fun, but it's still…I would be interested in trying it with six people, because even with just two people it's hard.
But it's weird. If you were really into the Castlevania games' boss rush mode, there's something there for you. But if you were looking for something more like Symphony of the Night, it's just not really comparable.
Richard Naik: That brings up an interesting question, when you talked about boss rush mode. If a given stage or level has no other enemies except the boss, is the boss really the boss of anything?
Mike Bracken: Oh, wow.
Brad Gallaway: I didn't think of that.
Mike Bracken: That's like the tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it.
Richard Naik: I know, right? It's philosophical.
Mike Bracken: Very philosophical.
Brad Gallaway: Deep Thoughts with Richard Naik.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Chi Kong Lui: The stages in Castlevania do have little minions running up to the boss. It's not a pure boss rush mode. But the whole point of each stage, though, is to find the boss and beat the boss.
Mike Bracken: And it's timed, so there's a countdown. If you don't beat him in the 30 minutes you have to get through that chapter, you're screwed. And it's funny, because it has a level up system and money and all this, so you can buy new things. The goofiest shit about the game is that if you pick up something new out of a treasure chest, you can't just stop and automatically equip it. You have to go to one of these globes littered throughout the level to equip it there—like a save point. So why get loot in a level that you can't even use right on the spot?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. It was very unsatisfying, yeah.
Mike Bracken: It's [unknown] really weird, and the controls are just funky. They really seem sluggish. It doesn't control like a typical Castlevania game, I don't think. It's very, very sluggish and non-responsive. I was real excited about that game and just came away like: "Eh."
Richard Naik: What system is this on?
Mike Bracken: It's on the 360.
Chi Kong Lui: Xbox Live, yeah.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's one of the Summer of Live games.
Tim Spaeth: Well, it sounds to me like if you only have $15 to spend and you wanna spend it on a co-op experience, Lara Croft is the way to go. I think Brad probably sold me on that game. Brad, would your wife be willing to fly to Chicago to play that with me?
Brad Gallaway: I think she might, actually. She's been getting no sleep with our baby lately, so that's probably sounding pretty good to her right about now.
Mike Bracken: What the hell? Phillipe doesn't play?
Tim Spaeth: No. Phillipe has one hand.
Mike Bracken: Which one?
Richard Naik: I was gonna say: You can't play it over Live?
Brad Gallaway: Not yet. That's a good point to mention, as a matter of fact. When it launched, it only had local co-op. The online co-op is coming sometime in September. Actually, that was a really bad move on the part of Crystal Dynamics. They haven't given an official reason why online wasn't available from the get-go. That game is built and lives and dies on its co-op. But it is coming; it's coming.
Mike Bracken: Speaking of something I totally forgot until you just mentioned that, that only had local co-op that needed online co-op that Tim and I were very excited about is now getting online co-op. That is Torchlight 2.
Tim Spaeth: Yes.
Brad Gallaway: I just heard about that today.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Brad Gallaway: Exciting news.
Mike Bracken: I'm excited; very excited.
Tim Spaeth: Not only online co-op, but the original Torchlight is coming to Xbox Live?
Mike Bracken: Oh, I didn't hear that. That's good, too.
Tim Spaeth: That was announced today, too: Xbox Live and PSN.
Brad Gallaway: Music to my ears.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. Very excited about that. Well, guys, we need to move on. We need to wrap up this portion of the show. So I am going to go back to the question I asked at the beginning of the segment. We're gonna go around the horn very quickly. Whether it's about competitive multiplayer or co-op multiplayer, what is the single most important thing a game must do to keep you interested in its multiplayer? And I will start with Chi Kong Lui.
Chi Kong Lui: I'm gonna say that they have to make it easy. And not just easy, but also integrated well. That's what I loved about Demon's Souls: the multiplayer experience was woven into the single-player experience. You couldn't separate them, and that was what was so awesome about that game. When Mike and I started Castlevania, we spent ten minutes trying to figure out how to match.
Mike Bracken: To get into a game together.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. I don't understand how these guys still haven't figured this out yet. At the end of the day, he had to send me an invite. I had to go into my mail, accept the invite to get in his game. That's the best way you can do it? Come on, guys. That was horrible.
Mike Bracken: At least it's not a Friend Code.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. And I remember playing in Ultimate Fighter, as well. You can set up these team camps, and that never really worked well, either. I invited some people who were playing at the time; they never accepted. It was all very confusing. I think these developers really need to spend more time fleshing out these modes. Maybe what I was saying earlier. Maybe they should just focus on making these multiplayer games, as opposed to making a single-player game with multiplayer. I think that would solve a lot of the anxiety issues for me, as well.
Tim Spaeth: Good. Good answer. Good answer. Same question to Richard Naik: Single most important thing a game must do to keep you interested?
Richard Naik: You asked co-op or competitive multiplayer? I really think that's two separate questions. For co-op, I think there has to be a sense of feeling that you have to work with the other players that you're with. You have to feel like you're cooperating with them (hence, the name "co-op"). You can't just feel that they're there just for the hell of it. You can't just feel that: "There's this other person in the game, but I can just go run and do whatevr I want." It has to be something like Left 4 Dead, or like Brad described with Lara Croft. The other players are essential to winning the game. As in, you will not win without them. There has to be a sense of teamwork there.
For competitive multiplayer, you have to be rewarded appropriately for doing well, and punished appropriately for not doing well—to the point where it doesn't turn you off of the game, but instead motivates you to try to get better. It's kind of the same thing that everyone else was talking about, where they were turned off by just dying so much and they felt like they were being punished too much for not being good. The game has to punish you for doing badly, of course, but then have that punishment be some sort of motivation to try: "Okay, I'm gonna be able to go and get that guy that's killing me eventually."
Tim Spaeth: I think my answer to the question ties neatly into your answer, Richard. Playing multiplayer matches is not sufficient. I need some sort of reward, even for sucking. So whether that's achievements, experience points, unlockable weapons…If I spend 20 minutes and I get decimated, give me something for the time. Give me five experience points towards unlocking a new kind of grenade. Reward me for the time spent. People who suck need love, too.
Richard Naik: Battlefield Bad Company 2 would be right up your alley, then.
Tim Spaeth: Well, Modern Warfare does it really, really well. You get experience points whether you win or lose, so that's something. Brad Gallaway, your answer to that question?
Brad Gallaway: I really echo what you and Richard both said. Ultimately, for any multiplayer experience to hook me, it has to give me something interesting to do with somebody that I know. If those two criteria are met, I will be there—absolutely. If not, I'm moving on.
Tim Spaeth: And Mike Bracken, we'll close the segment with you.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, I thought what you said, Tim, made a lot of sense. I think that's one of the things that WoW PvP did pretty well. You could go in and you could suck, but you still got your experience points or your tokens or whatever, and you were at least making progress moving up through the ranks. Then you could turn them in and buy better PvP gear. So even when you started out and fucking Horde guys were camping your graveyad and killing you as you respawned instantly, at least you were getting something out of it. You were working towards this better gear, so you knew you'd be better.
The other thing for me is that it has to be easy to be able to play with people you know. Castlevania tonight? Setting that up was a pain in the ass. Now I know how to do it, it wouldn't be a pain. But there was a moment there where it's like: "Jesus, this is too much work to play a game with somebody that I know. It's easier to play with somebody random than somebody I know." There has to be that, because I don't wanna play with a bunch of fucking screeching 13-year-olds with racist slurs and homophobic remarks and all that.
Richard Naik: That's what the mute button is for.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, and see, that defeats the purpose of fucking playing for me. The big draw of online gaming is social interaction. If I have to fucking mute everybody, then I might as well just fucking play by myself.
Tim Spaeth: Well said, sir, and a great segment, everybody. But we are gonna take a break. God, I've waited my whole life to say what I'm about to say. When we come back, Too Human. Stay with us.
And unfortunately, you'll have to wait just one more week for that. Frankly, I don't know how you're going to do it. But to help you, here's a never-before heard behind-the-scenes clip of the sound check for my new single, titled, appropriately enough, Too Human. So enjoy that, and until next time, good night and bonne chance.
All right, Phillipe, why don't we do this acapells? We'll drop in some dope beats later. Wickety-wickety. All right, here we go. Two, three, four.
[Rap]: Baldur, he brings the pain, Sweet loot, unh! It drops like rain. Denis Dyack, the man's insane Too Human, Too Human, aw, yeeuh. Cyberpunk vikings. Check it.
What'd you think, Phillipe? Was it fresh? It was fresh? All right. Good. Let's go get some tacos. And some Grammys. [Laughter]
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.