We're back and less offensive than ever! Our conversation about detail and immersion becomes an impromptu "State of Rockstar Games" debate. Plus: Our personal gaming tragedies; tales of data loss and other disasters. Featuring Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim "The Traitor" Spaeth.
Tim Spaeth: They say the devil's in the details. Do the little things make the biggest difference when it comes to immersion in games? Plus, every gamer parent's nightmare comes true for one of our hosts. You'll hear the story next. The GameCritics.com podcast starts right now.
In the words of Arsenio Hall: "It's time!" GameCritics.com podcast, episode 41. 41. Man! We are middle-aged. I'm Tim Spaeth; joining me this week, three men: Chi Kong Lui, he's the founder and owner of GameCritics.com. Good evening, sir.
Chi Kong Lui: How's it going, Tim? I think Bruce Buffer now owns that line, by the way.
Tim Spaeth: Uh, "joining me this week are three men"? That line?
Which line are you referring to?
Brad Gallaway: That's kinda gross, man. That's inappropriate for this show.
Mike Bracken: Way inappropriate.
Chi Kong Lui: The Arsenio Hall line. He said: "It's time!"
Tim Spaeth: Oh, really? Somebody else picked that up?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. Michael Buffer's brother, Bruce Buffer.
Tim Spaeth: Oh!
Chi Kong Lui: The Frank Stallone of announcing.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] Yes. That's the perfect comparison.
Tim Spaeth: That's perfect. I will find a different Arsenio Hall quote and edit that in later. Who else is here? Brad Gallaway's here! Senior editor. How are you, Brad?
Brad Gallaway: Doing well, doing well. Good to be back with you guys.
Tim Spaeth: It's been a long time when we split the one episode into two episodes. It's been like three or four weeks since we've actually recorded a show.
Brad Gallaway: Feels like a lifetime.
Tim Spaeth: It does; it really does. Well, the third of the three men, Mike Bracken, the horror geek. How are you, Mike?
Mike Bracken: I'm pretty good. How are you, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: I'm well. Thank you, Michael.
Mike Bracken: You're welcome.
Tim Spaeth: Does anyone call you Michael?
Mike Bracken: Actually, that's very funny. My family all calls me that, so I'm like: "No. I'm Mike. Don't call me Michael." But my family has always called me that, so yes. Does anybody call you Timothy?
Tim Spaeth: No one calls me Timothy.
Mike Bracken: All right. Good to know. Bradley?
Brad Gallaway: [pause] No.
Mike Bracken: I don't know the longer form of Chi.
Brad Gallaway: Good one.
Mike Bracken: It's my xenophobic Americanism running rampant yet again.
Tim Spaeth: There you go.
Brad Gallaway: Nice. Lack of Chinese naming tradition clearly on display here on the GameCritics podcast.
Tim Spaeth: Mm. I love it. Well, guys, the topic this week: the devil's in the details. How attention to detail can lend to the immersiveness of a game. And immersiveness is not actually a word, but we will be using it throughout the show tonight.
And I'm looking over my notes. We've got some interesting games we're going to throw into that discussion. It looks like the latest Mass Effect 2 DLC: Lair of the Shadow Broker; got a little Red Dead Redemption coming up. Can you believe we have not talked about Red Dead Redemption yet? I can't believe we've made it this long without it, but we're going to talk about it. Infinite Space, which is kind of a redundant title.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Plus many, many more. In a moment we'll do our Quote of the Week, as well. But first I want to take a moment, if i can go off prompter here for a second, and address a story that came out in the tabloid press this week. This will be my one and only statement on the matter. I am not leaving the podcast to pursue my music career.
Mike Bracken: Good deal; good deal.
Tim Spaeth: Have I been singing on this podcast? Yes.
Mike Bracken: I thought you were going all Joaquin Phoenix on us. I was a little worried.
Tim Spaeth: No, Mike, this is serious. This is very serious. Have music producers heard the songs and reached out to me? Yes. Am I releasing an album in 2011? Contractually, I can't say one way or another, but whatever I do with my God-given gift of song, it will not effect my commitment to hosting and producing this podcast. And to my co-hosts (and I'm tearing up here a bit), I am so sorry that you have been dragged through the mud along with me. But hopefully this statement will end this tabloid nonsense once and for all.
Mike Bracken: It's been a rough road, Tim, but I'm glad you got that off your chest. Thank you.
Tim Spaeth: Thank you. And I will not be speaking of this again. So with that, let's get rolling. It's time now for our Quote of the Week.
Okay. Well, here comes my assistant Filipe with our sealed envelope. Inside it as we do every week, a quote from a member of the gaming industry or media. None of us have read the contents of this envelope until now. Thank you, sir.
[Sound of envelope opening]
Huh. Is it cheating when we quote ourselves?
Brad Gallaway: We've already done it once. It won't hurt to do it again.
Chi Kong Lui: We did it every single time, pretty much.
Mike Bracken: We're like the easy girl in high school. One more won't hurt.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Here is something one of us recently tweeted:
"My son just erased my Dragon Quest IX save file. 300 hours of questing and loot just vanished into the air."
Well, heck. That is basically every gamer parent's nightmare, and the gamer parent responsible for that quote is none other than Chi Kong Lui. Chi, I don't know if you can bear to relive this, but please tell us: How did this happen?
Chi Kong Lui: Well, my son's really been actually enjoying Dragon Quest IX, or at least watching me play Dragon Quest IX. It's really nice and colorful, and it's actually been a great bonding experience for us. He's been learning a lot about Dungeons and Dragons and fantasy stuff through the game, so that's been great.
In order to try to get him away from my game, I let him play the Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime game, as well as Dragon Quest V on the DS as well. When he plays those games, he really doesn't have any concept of "save." He'll just start the game over and over again, and that's just a perfectly valid game for him. [Chuckles]
Of course, there was always a fear in the back of my mind that he would erase the game, Dragon Quest IX, but I'd always be very careful to monitor his play time and keep an eye on him. He already leveled up one of my guys while I wasn't there, and he allocated the points improperly snd that sort of pissed me off, but since that happened—
I kinda made sure he knew not to do that again, and he would always be very dilligent about it. So it was really good, and I didn't think there was a problem. So what happened was on the morning of 9/11—
Mike Bracken: Aw. It all ties back to 9/11.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right.
Mike Bracken: The terrorists have won again.
Tim Spaeth: If you call this your personal 9/11, I think we're going to get hate mail.
Mike Bracken: We're going to get a lot of hate mail.
Brad Gallaway: We're going to get hate mail. Stay away, stay away.
Chi Kong Lui: No, not going there. So it was the morning of 9/11. I had just done some grinding quests on one of the maps just for the hell of it. I'd already beaten the game, so I'm just in the post-game, grinding for treasures and things like that. I stop playing; I had to do some work. As you guys know, I work at the Red Cross and doing some social media regarding some of the memorial services the Red Cross was doing at Ground Zero.
So while I was doing this, my son Ryan, he found the DS that I'd just left around, because I'd just been grinding: I didn't turn it off or save the game. He flipped it open. He said: "Dad, can I kill the slime?" And I'm like: "Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead. Knock yourself out." So I'm busy doing work and he goes off into the room. I figure he's just going to beat up a couple of slimes and be done with it.
So when I'm done with my work, I go into the room. The DS is on the bed; he's off playing with his trains already. So I said: "Are you done?" So I take it; I open it up, and then I notice that it was on the screen where you're customizing the character, which is at the beginning. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: Um-hm. Hmhmhm.
Chi Kong Lui: When I saw that, my heart just dropped. I was just like: "Uh-oh. Don't tell me what happened just happened." And of course it did, and by that time, there's nothing you can do at that point.
Mike Bracken: Oh, [unknown]
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
I don't understand why some games…When you start a new game, until you save the actual game it doesn't overwrite the previous one. But in this game, they didn't do that. In order to start a new game, you have to just say: "Do you want to erase the game or not?" And if, of course, you say "Yes," it's gone forever. Like I told you before, my son was used to doing this with Dragon Quest: Rocket Slime and with Dragon Quest V, so he didn't think anything of it. And there it was.
I was just standing there like: "Oh, my God. Oh, my fucking God."
Brad Gallaway: So, Chi, did you turn it off and on and flip the lid up and down to maybe see if you could get it back? To see if you were actually really seeing what you were seeing?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah; yeah. I turned it off; I didn't do anything with it and went through the instruction manual to see if there was some kind of a secret button sequence to bring it back. Nope. The instruction manual clearly says: "Once you erase it, it's gone."
Tim Spaeth: Mmm. So, just so people know, your son is how old?
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, he's five years old.
Tim Spaeth: He's five years old. So clearly, not a malicious act on his behalf. But your initial reaction…was there even a notion that you might just raise your voice? Yell?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah, yeah. My voice definitely went up a little bit when I said: "Do you know what you just did, Ryan?" [Chuckles] That kind of a thing. Yeah, I named all the characters after myself, my wife and my best friend, so he actually refers to my character as Chi.
So I said: "You just erased Chi and Regina and Tom and Dale. Do you realize that?" And he kind of got it. I think he kind of got it. He was a little bit upset about it, so I didn't put him in time-out. I didn't think I needed to go there. That was fine.
Tim Spaeth: Mm.
Chi Kong Lui: And then i proceeded to vent on Twitter. [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: You used Twitter as an outlet for your rage, and that's very mature. That's very mature. I have to ask;z Mike Bracken—
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] I knew this was coming to me.
Tim Spaeth: Put yourself in Chi's shoes. How do you react in this same situation?
Mike Bracken: I am generally not an advocate of child abuse, but in this instance, I would be all in favor of severe child abuse [chuckles]. Kidding aside, this is why the children are not allowed to play with Daddy's toys. Buy him his own DS. I think the $160 would be well worth the not losing 300 hours of gameplay. So, yeah. I don't let the kids touch my stuff. It just doesn't happen. Those are Daddy's toys.
Tim Spaeth: And Brad, put yourself in the same situation. How do you react?
Brad Gallaway: Not to be an asshole or anything, but it never would've happened in my house. [Laughter]
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] Because we're better parents.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I have two boys, and my youngest one is one. So obviously he's not really playing very much right now. But my oldest is nine, and when he's here he's got his own DS and he has his own library of child-appropriate games. We never share games at the same time. Well, I guess that's not true—we do sometimes, like if it's on a console, but he's old enough and I always make a big deal about: "Go to save slot 2. Don't touch save slot 4, because that's Dad's."
Chi Kong Lui: There was the problem with Dragon Quest. It's one of those games that only has one fucking save slot.
Mike Bracken: Does it really?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: It doesn't have even two? Really?
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. It doesn't have two, because it's one of those Pokémon-type games where it has all this ongoing content. You need to be one guy in there, although I think that's bullshit. I think they could adjust it.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, they should give you two slots. That's lame.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. And I tried to wean him off the game into other games, but, fuck, Dragon Quest IX has such great graphics, it's like a cartoon. He just could not resist it.
He loved it so much! What are you going to do? I couldn't turn him away. I tried to put him on Dragon Quest V. [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: I got two questions for you, though, dude. Two questions, to follow up on this. So a) Is Ryan going to be getting his own DS for Christmas this year?
Mike Bracken: He would if he was my kid. If he was still alive.
Chi Kong Lui: We already have three DSs in the house. He doesn't need to have his own DS. The question is: Should I have bought him his own copy? Yeah, that's the question. In hindsight, maybe. [Laughter] But he was enjoying it. And I actually enjoyed sharing the game with him. It was actually a bonding experience for us. I have a lot of mixed feelings, man—a lot of mixed emotions. [Chuckles]
Brad Gallaway: So the follow-up, then is: You put in 300 hours and it was gone. We've all lost data here and there and stuff, so we can certainly identify with that. But after it was all done, did you feel like better in a way, almost? 300 hours is a pretty ridiculous commitment. I'm sure the Mike can identify.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: But I don't think I've ever put 300 hours into any game in my life. And considering that we're critics, we have to review things and we have all these commitments and stuff, did you kind of feel like it freed you up a little bit, after the rage had died down and stuff? Did you feel like: "Oh, my God! I can't believe I put 300 hours into this!" Or how did you feel?
Mike Bracken: No. He just totally made a new character named Chi and started from scratch.
Brad Gallaway: Started over, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: I haven't started again, but I actually have been strategizing in my head that if I start all over again, what's the quickest way if I was to do a level run? What do you call those timed—?
Mike Bracken: Speed runs.
Chi Kong Lui: A speed run, yeah. As if I was trying to do a speed run.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, dude.
Chi Kong Lui: And I think I'll probably get relatively close. I wouldn't get as many treasures and things like that, but I could probably get to the endgame pretty quickly and start getting treasures again. So I have thought about it, haven't actualy done it. But actually, Brad, you're correct. It did allow me to try to start thinking about playing some other games, and I definitely needed to stop playing it. As you know, I was pretty addicted to it.
Mike Bracken: 300 hours. I need to go buy this game. I don't need to GameFly it. I need to own it.
Chi Kong Lui: Keep in mind, it's a portable game, so more than 50 percent of it I was doing on my morning commutes to work and things like that.
Brad Gallaway: Right, right.
Chi Kong Lui: It wasn't just like I was sitting on weekends playing, although I would spend a chunk of it on weekends. If I went to the mall, I was playing it. If I was waiting in the car, I was playing it.
Mike Bracken: That's why God made the bathroom.
Brad Gallaway: Chi in a parking lot in a car with his head down, playing DS while [Laughter].
Chi Kong Lui: No, no, it's not a prostitute. It's just me playing Dragon Quest IX.
How pathetic is that?
Brad Gallaway: That's not a head in my lap; it's just the DS.
Mike Bracken: If you have a van with no windows, they'd call the cops on you.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right, right. So, it did give me some time to play Infinite Space, and that's actually eased the blow tremendously. I'm enjoying Infinite Space tremendously.
Tim Spaeth: I'm pretty sure I would've lost it briefly. I don't raise my voice often, but I'm pretty sure I would've lost it, probably for ten seconds. And then I would've done what I do every time I get angry or frustrated. I would get in my car and just drive until the anger and resentment wore off. But I'm like Mike; I have some unbelievably draconian rules about what my kids are allowed to touch and the rule is: "Nothing of Daddy's."
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: No game systems; no games; no DVDs; not my laptop. Any of Daddy's technology is just completely off-limits. And my kids don't play games, so I wouldn't have been in this situation anyway. But my rules actually extend to my wife, as well.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Just a brief story: she lent six of my DVDs to a friend who was on extended medical leave, somebody I've never met. And I came home and i noticed it immediately. There were six holes in my DVD shelf, and I went on this mad hunt for the DVDs.
And my wife, she said: "Oh, yeah. I lent them to my friend. She's recovering from csncer."
And I said: "Get the DVDs back." She's like: "No; she's recovering from cancer." And I actually said this. I said: "Well, chances are, she's going to have an off day from chemo. Maybe she could go to Blockbuster that day."
Which is, in retrospect, not really a very mature, adult thing to say.
Mike Bracken: I think you're like my brother. I think we're brothers.
Tim Spaeth: I did get the DVDs back, though.
Mike Bracken: I have a 17-year-old daughter and she took a game from here and a strategy guide. I'm like: "These will come back in exactly the condition they left, or there will be severe reprocussions for it." And that was a huge step for me, letting her take it. Nobody is allowed to borrow my books, DVDs or games.
Chi Kong Lui: It's kind of strange, because I'm probably the most obsessive-compulsive gamer of the group, and yet, outside of it, you guys are way more anal-retentive than I am, when it comes to your stuff.
Mike Bracken: It's because I'm a collector. So all my shit is in really good shape. I'd go out and I will buy a copy of something used, and then I will go out and hunt for another, better copy of it instead, so I can get rid of the one that has some slight imperfection in it. It's like my OCD thing or something. I am very compulsive about it.
Tim Spaeth: Well, Chi, you seem to be recovered. You seem to be okay. You made it on the podcast just fine tonight, so I'm glad your life has moved on.
Chi Kong Lui: I got to hear some tragic stories here, man. You guys got to make me feel better about myself.
Tim Spaeth: Well, yeah, I guess that's a good question. Would you consider that, Chi, your greatest gaming tragedy?
Chi Kong Lui: Yes. By far and away, yes.
Tim Spaeth: So let me turn to Brad. Brad, what would you consider your greatest gaming tragedy, whether it's data-loss related or not?
Brad Gallaway: Well, I don't really have a lot of really terrible stories. One time when I was, I must've still been in junior high school. We were playing Zelda at a friend's house, and he was being a dick that day and just deleted the save and we got into a fistfight over it, so that was a little happenstance, but it was nothing major.
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]
Chi Kong Lui: Wait, wait, Brad. What about that time when your storage locker got broken into?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, actually, I was just going to say that. I was going to say…not really a gameplay thing. Long-time readers of the site will probably already have heard this story at least a couple times because it's still kind of a sore spot with me. But I'm a pretty big collector like Mike is. Him talking about getting one copy and then looking for a better copy, I was nodding my head silently when he was telling that story.
So it's something I identify with, for sure. One time when I was living in this apartment, they had this little off-building storage unit. It was like a little series of sheds in back of the complex, and at the time we were really pressed for space. So I thought: "Well, I'll just stick my game stuff in there. It's stuff that I'm not playing"—my Saturn stuff and some older N64 stuff that was cool to have, but I wasn't using it at the time.
So I stuck it in there and, bad mistake, bad mistake. I didn't really realize how often these storage units get broken into, and sure enough…I don't know what made them pick mine. Maybe somebody'd seen me going in there, or maybe somebody just knew who I was or something. But anyway, somebody busted into it and stole a ton of my game collection, which was really, really pretty devastating to me. A lot of really hard to replace stuff, a lot of really rare stuff got taken.
Chi Kong Lui: What was the most valuable thing that you lost there?
Brad Gallaway: I think out of everything that got taken, the thing that I was really the most upset about was, I had a totally mint copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga.
Mike Bracken: Saga, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, Saga, that I was really, really upset about losing. And I think there was also a Shining Force 3, is the one that came out on Saturn, also?
Mike Bracken: Yeah. 3, yeah.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, both of those got taken. I was really upset, I was really lost, and I was kind of mad. I called the cops and they couldn't do anything and nobody knew anything. It was basically just like a big "Screw you!" to me. But on the upside, though, at the time that it happened I posted about it at GameCritics.
And really, I think we have such an awesome readership, because so many people read that story and just started sending me stuff. They were just sending me replacement copies of stuff that I'd lost, or sending me stuff that I'd never had in the first place but that they thought I would like. And more than anything else, somebody actually sent me a copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga to replace the one that I lost.
Mike Bracken: Wow. Nice.
Brad Gallaway: And I just was so blown away that somebody out there would be so generous and so nice and so giving to actually give up a copy of that game because mine got stolen. I could not believe how generous that person was. So I was really thankful for everybody that had given me stuff during that time. It really made up for all those bad feelings that I had, and it really made me feel so much better. Honestly, now that so much time has passed, I've replaced just about everything that I lost and I'm way more careful with my stuff. You move on.
Chi Kong Lui: Even more careful than before. [Laughter]
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, totally. I've got things under lock and key; I've got a flock of pitbulls outside of my storage unit. Nobody knows where my stuff is. I've got those little Metal Gear: Solid invisible laser beams that you have to smoke a cigarette to get through and stuff.
So way more secure. But that would probably be my worst gaming-related thing ever.
Tim Spaeth: You turned tragedy into triumph, is what it sounds like.
Brad Gallaway: The readers did; the readers did. I'm so thankful for our awesome readers. We have the best readers on the Internet.
Tim Spaeth: Hear, hear. Absolutely. Mike, what about you? Any comparable tragedies?
Mike Bracken: Uh, yeah, I've had a few. I think any of us who played a lot during the PlayStation era can recount at least one horror story about a Japanese RPG and a third-party Mega Memory Card corrupting. I had a few of those, like a Final Fantasy VII save, where I was working on leveling to 99 so you could go fight the ultimate weapons and all that and everything. [I] go to plug it in one day and it's all corrupted and everything was gone. There were a bunch of RPG saves on it.
But the one that still bugs me the most was Shadowrun on the Super Nintendo. I know everybody loves the Genesis version and everybody hates the Super Nintendo version, for some reason. But I've never played the Genesis version and I love the Super Nintendo one. I got all the way to the last tower—and this was back in the day, where there was no GameFAQs or anything like that. So RPGs, you really had to figure all the shit out on your own and solve the puzzles on your own. There was no easy way when you got stuck, other than some games had a 900 number you could call at $1.99 a minute or whatever.
But, yeah. I get to the last building. You have to fight all the way up through the skyscraper, and then you get to the last boss at the top or whatever. I'm playing it, and the game glitches. And I say: "Okay." I turn it off and turn it back on, and the save system had corrupted and the whole thing was gone. So I never beat Shadowrun on the Super Nintendo, because I was too distraught to start from scratch.
Brad Gallaway: [Chuckles in sympathy]
Mike Bracken: And then, ein Brad's vein, I've never had anything stolen. But when I was living in Oakland, the roof leaked one time, and it came down on my PlayStation games. Some of them, the games are fine, but the instruction manuals in them got wet and then dried and got really hard. I didn't know they'd gotten wet, so they're all stuck together, and there were a few games there, like Elemental Gear Bolt and shit that's not really easy to find anymore, like Alundra. The games are fine, the cases are fine, but the instruction manuals are totally fucked, and I've never found somebody who would just sell me an instruction manual [chuckles] for those games to replace them.
But, yeah, those are mine. Those are the worst, so I've been pretty lucky, I guess, in the grand scheme of things. Knock on wood.
Tim Spaeth: So have I. I really haven't had a major incident. I guess at the beginning of this year, it was the middle of January. In a two-day span, my WoW account got hacked—
Mike Bracken: Ooh.
Tim Spaeth: —and my 17-hour Assassin's Creed II game save got corrupted. The WoW account wasn't a big deal, because I knew I could get it restored. It's a rite of passage: if you play WoW, your account gets hacked eventually.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. But mine never did, oddly enough.
Tim Spaeth: Enh! You know what you should do.
Mike Bracken: I should just start back up again, right?
Tim Spaeth: You should log in tonight when we're done recording and just see if you got hacked. Maybe while you're there, just put in an hour. Just walk aroun [unknown], do a few quests. Just stretch your legs. Make sure the game still works.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Yeah, thanks.
Tim Spaeth: When I got hacked, I did briefly consider not getting it restored and just ending my WoW career right then and there. But I decided that would've been letting the terrorists win, so I did get it restored. Ironically, I haven't really played that much since then, waiting for the new expansion.
But the Assassin's Creed game save thing was interesting. I actually got into an argument about it on another message board with one of the developers of that game.
Brad Gallaway: What?!
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: When the corruption happened, I did some research and basically what happened was, like Dragon Quest there's one game save. So as I completed a mission, the game auto-saved and it locked up. There was nothing I could do, so I turned off the Xbox, turned it back on, and it said: "Bad data" and that was it. There was nothing I could do. I did some research and I found five other people on the Internet had this problem. There's another game forum I frequent.
Chi Kong Lui: [gasp]
Tim Spaeth: I know.
Brad Gallaway: Tim is a cheater.
Mike Bracken: You've been cheating on us.
Brad Gallaway: [unknown] the show yet, but he's a cheater.
Tim Spaeth: I know.
Mike Bracken: I can't, I can't believe this is coming out here, now. In front of everyone. You're airing dirty laundry.
Brad Gallaway: Isn't it awkward? Isn't it weird?
Tim Spaeth: Shh!
Mike Bracken: This is like you just showed up at dinner with another chick after we just made this great meal for you, and you bring home some broad—some strange broad.
Brad Gallaway: And you're holding Burger King in your hand, too.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Too much makeup, and you've got fast food.
Tim Spaeth: I brought my own.
Mike Bracken: I am so hurt now. I don't know if I can continue the show.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I feel dirty.
Chi Kong Lui: [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: I'm so sorry, men. So anyway, here's the thing. There are developers who frequent this forum, and I knew that there was a guy from Ubisoft there who worked on Assassin's Creed II. I said: "Look, man. You've got a problem here. This happened to me; this happened to five other people. I'm just letting you know. Do what you will with this information." He comes back and he says to me that the problem is not with the game. He said: "What you experienced is a very rare anomaly that is not the fault of the game." And I'm like: "Okay, but it's me and five other people who had this same problem with this same game at this same moment of the game." And he's like: "Nope. What you are saying is theoretically impossible."
And I'm like: "No. It is neither theoretical, nor is it impossible." But we were at an impasse. So I asked him: "Why don't you offer a second save slot, or at least a backup?" And he responded with: "You don't need one."
"Because the save error shouldn't happen"—remember, it's theoretically impossible—"and you would only ever want to have one game going at a time, so you don't need a second save slot." And I'm like: "Well, what if my wife wanted to play?"
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: "She should create her own Xbox Live account and play under her account." He couldn't comprehend why someone would want a backup save, and this is where I got out of the conversation. But I'm like: "Look at Mass Effect. You can have 50 saves; it auto-saves, and you can save any time you want. Why can't Assassin's Creed do the same thing?
Brad Gallaway: Because it sucks?
Mike Bracken: Yeah, pretty much.
Tim Spaeth: Well, this is Assassin's Creed II, remember, which does not suck.
Brad Gallaway: It also sucks.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. [Chuckles] It looks pretty much like it sucks.
Brad Gallaway: It continues to suck. It's one long suck train.
Mike Bracken: It continues the trend, as established by the first game.
Tim Spaeth: No.
Mike Bracken: I don't want to hear from you, cheater.
Brad Gallaway: It's like the first one lets go and the second one just latches right on where the first one left off. It'd make a pretty good movie, actually.
Tim Spaeth: My true secret shame here is that I actually started the game over and I did end up playing all the way through another 20 hours.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, God. I did not want to know that.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: And now I can't un know it.
Mike Bracken: I know. We really think less of you now. First the cheating, now you played through Assassin's Creed II, essentially twice.
Brad Gallaway: Who are you, Tim? I feel like I don't even know you anymore!
Tim Spaeth: I already mounted my defense at the beginning of the show about my music career. I can't go down that emotional track again. I can't. I just can't. Why don't we all compose ourselves and take a break? When we come back, our main topic. More GameCritics.com podcast after these words. Well, no words, actually. Just music.
They say the devil is in the details. Are the little things the most important things when it comes to immersion in gaming? That's our topic this week, and Chi, you actually suggested the topic, so we're going to start with you. You raised it in the context of a game you're playing right now. We talked about it before: Infinite Space. What about that game inspired you to suggest this topic?
Chi Kong Lui: Long time listeners of this show know that one half of the podcast is extremely huge fans of the Wing Commander series.
Mike Bracken: And it's not the Brad and Mike half.
Brad Gallaway: It is not that half.
Chi Kong Lui: And I'm always talking about trying to find that next Wing Commander. I think I kind of found it, or the closest thing I've found to it thus far has been Infinite Space. One of the things right off the bat that stuck out to me was the music. Just sort of like Wing Commnder had these really great orchestral pieces that just really heightened the sense of battle. It changed when you were low on health and just really added to the experience. I find that Infinite Space also has this very…
Infinite Space is about commanding your own fleet of spaceships, so it's not quite piloting a fighter jet, but more like Star Trek, where you're captain of the Enterprise.
Mike Bracken: Kirk, not Picard, right?
Chi Kong Lui: Well, I'm more of a Picard guy, myself.
Mike Bracken: Aw, Jesus Christ!
Chi Kong Lui: Can't we all just get along?
Mike Bracken: No. Not over Kirk and Picard. No.
Brad Gallaway: Where does Janeway fit into that, then?
Mike Bracken: Aw, Jesus. My dad always says: "That's just proof you can't let a woman drive. You give her a spaceship from the star fleet and she gets lost in space."
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, no!
Brad Gallaway: Oh, no! I can see the hate e-mail pouring in.
Chi Kong Lui: Disclaimer: That was the opinion of your father.
Mike Bracken: Yes, of my father, yes. Who says it totally in jest, but I find it hilarious. I didn't know we actually had girls who listen to the show, so I apologize. I've already done child abuse tonight and now I've offended women.
Brad Gallaway: Nice.
Mike Bracken: What will we get in the next segment? It's a mystery.
Brad Gallaway: There'll be something, I'm sure.
Mike Bracken: We'll go into something. Sorry, Tera, as you're transcribing this. I did not direct that at you.
Brad Gallaway: [Laughter] You know she just stopped at her keyboard, thinking: "God! What a dick!"
Mike Bracken: She's totally transcribing asshole things to me now.
Brad Gallaway: Misspelling your name in the transcript and stuff.
Mike Bracken: Totally.
Chi Kong Lui: How did that slip out? Asshole.
Tim Spaeth: It's a macro, at this point, I would imagine.
Mike Bracken: All my comments for the rest of the show in the transcript will be: "I am a giant douchebag."
Tim Spaeth: All right. So, Chi, the music of Infinite Space: one of the many details that enamored you to the game.
Chi Kong Lui: Right. Couple of other things. Remember in Wing Commander when you got to pilot the prototype of the Rapier? I loved how the cockpit changed; the weapons changed; the entire feel of the ship changed. It's amazing how so few games get that still, to this day—especially when it comes to a lot of the flight sim games on the PC, where they don't even bother to show the cockpit these days. Or driving games, they strip away the HUD altogether. So you never feel like you're in a different car or a different ship or whatever.
Infinite Space is great because once you get a new ship, when you're in the battles and they have all these panning shots, you get all these porn-like shots of your ship firing off cannons and lasers.
Mike Bracken: Did you just say "porn-like"?
Brad Gallaway: That's what I thought you said.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] Wow.
Brad Gallaway: That one gave me pause there for a minute. Maybe I should check out this game.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Chi, let me send you some of my Wing Commander fanfiction when we're finished here.
Mike Bracken: He's got slash fanfiction, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh. I'm trying to see how I can explain this, but I guess it needs no explanation, so I'll just move on.
Brad Gallaway: Just leave it at porn and move on.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. The other thing I loved about Wing Commander: all those little cinematic moments, right after the ship debriefing. You started running through your ship [fanfare].
Mike Bracken: Jesus.
Chi Kong Lui: You're loading up in the ship, and then you launch out—all that great stuff. Again, a lot of games today think that gamers are tired of this stuff. And yeah, we get tired of it, so just put a "skip" button in there, but don't take it out altogether. That drives me crazy.
Those are the things that add to the experience, and I think Infinite Space, it's a fairly streamined experience, but they don't forget some of these kind of things. When you're in a battle, there's a lot of chatter between the crew and the helms and all that kind of stuff that you hear Star Trek, the movies. You can see the ship and when you get hit with lasers, the ship rocks. All those little details. So like I said, all those things, they add up to that Wing Commander experience that I've been looking for. Even though it's not like you're piloting a ship.
One other thing I wanted to add was just the characters. They're your typical anime characters…well, they're not the most typical. They're not cliché. But the one thing I love about it is, just like the way that Wing Commander, they take the time to establish who they are. You don't need 3D graphics; it could just be sitting there, you're clicking on images of the person and they tell you a little bit about themselves, and that's enough. Infinite Space, at least, does that as well. So I really enjoy the charactes as well in the game.
Mike Bracken: So why did they market this game like an RPG? Because everything I've seen about it, they want to call it an RPG. When you talk about it, it doesn't really sound like an RPG.
Chi Kong Lui: There are a lot of RPG aspects to it—well, mainly just the way the characters look and that you have these conversations like in an RPG game. But really, I'm reminded of a lot of the old PC games, like Elite and Escape Velocity on the Mac. I don't know if you guys ever played that one. But it's got that really retro PC feel, but in a good way.
I don't think there was necessarily anything wrong with those games. I think because of technology, we're all too much in a rush to turn everything into this expansive world, and you're walking around in places like in Second Life or some shit like that. But really, at the end of the day, when you get the details right, a menu interface is still decent in the right context. Of course, this is the DS, so they have to go to that. But I think it's a good reminder that menus can still work in the right context.
Tim Spaeth: I may have something to say about menus in a little bit, but I want to stick on the sci-fi RPG track for the moment and transition to Mass Effect. For that I will turn to you, Brad. Sticking with this theme of attention to detail, one of the complaints that I have had—and I would like your opinion on the matter—about the DLC for Mass Effect has been how poorly it has integrated into the customized story of my Mass Effect Shepard. And I think the last DLC, Lair of the Shadow Broker, I think we've both played it, does a better job, but not a great job of it. I think that's a lack of attention to detail, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on really the Mass Effect DLC in that regard, and how well it's worked for you.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, I would totally agree with that. I actually have been surprised, because prior to this most recent generation of games—and maybe that's not the right thing to say—but prior to Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age, BioWare would've been a company that I would've trusted to do DLC right. They seem to get their games so right, to me, anyway, in so many ways. But this DLC has shown a stunning lack of attention to detail, which has led to really sub-par experiences for me and for you and for a lot of people.
I think with Shadow Broker what they got right was that the only reason anybody plays BioWare games is for the story—the story and the characters. That's the one thing that BioWare does better than anybody else in the business, just about. And so when they brought back Liara and were able to continue her story, and if you were a Shepard who romanced her, then it was even better for you because you finally got to finish that particular storyline as well.
That was really what everybody wanted. People wanted to get more story that mattered and that really could tie back to what you just played. So when you play through the game the first time, Liara gives you the cold shoulder; she talks about the Shadow Broker, it doesn't really go anywhere. Everybody was left feeling like: "Where's the detail? Where's the depth? Why does this not feel natural and normal?"
So it was really cool when they finally circled back. It took them, what? Eight or nine months to do it, which was way too long. And honestly, I think this should've been in the main game in the first place. But I'm glad that they finally did realize that a lot of people out there wanted these details and really wanted to get that closure. So that was really cool.
But, surprisingly, the previous bits of DLC for Mass Effect 2 have been really lacking. They've really showed a real fundamental misunderstanding about what people want from their games. Adding the airship, whatever it's called, was kind of fun for a minute, but it wasn't really anything that really mattered significantly. The other DLCs were pretty light. The one that introduced the thief character, Kasumi, was okay, but she didn't really matter to anybody and it didn't really tie into anything that we did. It kind of felt just tacked on, and personally, I didn't find any of that stuff to be really satisfying at all.
I think Shadow Broker was the one that, to me, is the only one that really matters. It's funny because, since we're talking about BioWare, I think an even better example of not paying attenion to details is Dragon Age. That game has some pretty horrific mistakes in terms of DLC and not paying attention to what matters. I think everybody was kind of stunned when, at the end of Dragon Age—maybe this is a spoiler for some people—but it's possible to have your character either male or female, and they can survive or they can die. Your character can actually die at the end of Dragon Age.
For my playthrough, my hero did. My hero was a female who chose to sacrifice herself, and so when they announced all this DLC, I was like: "Well, how's that going to work? My hero's dead. My story has been told."
"It's going to be pretty boring to have this [unknown]."
Mike Bracken: You have to start from scratch.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, yeah, right. Why would you want to do that?
Mike Bracken: You're a ghost.
Brad Gallaway: Maybe if you had some cool phantom powers out of it, that might work. But it seemed to me like a pretty huge thing to overlook. I'm sure a part of the people who played Dragon Age are going to be sitting there like me, going: "What the fuck? My character died, so how can I possibly play some of this DLC?" Their answer was to either a) pretend like it didn't happen, which was the most unsatisfying, stupid thing ever. When you play an RPG, you care about the story and the characters. How can you just snap your fingers and say: "Oh, well, I gave them $5, so I guess my character's alive now"? It totally undercuts all the story that you went through, all the emotional investment you made.
Chi Kong Lui: Let me ask you this: Isn't all the DLC set right before the finale? Was that how they tried to get around it?
Brad Gallaway: No, not all of it is. I don't think so. Awakenings was after, for sure. The other DLC, Leliana's Song, was supposed to be way before the game took place, so they kind of got around that. The other parts, the Golems one I haven't tried yet, but the other couple ones, I think, yeah, they could've been before. And that was kind of how they set it up in the game. They positioned it within the game to be as though you had not finished the game yet—
Mike Bracken: Which makes you feel like: "Why do I have to pay for downloadable content for events that should've happened in the main game in the first place?"
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. [Chuckles] Totally. Totally. Totally, totally. So it didn't really make a lot of sense. And BioWare's other answer was to just start a new character that was not your original hero, which, again, was kind of a fail because: Why would you want to start with somebody that you don't have any history with? You just spent 50, 60 hours with this one character, and then you're going to start for five hours with this other person and then be done with them? It doesn't make any sense at all.
So to me, I'm really surprised how many games don't pay attention to the details where it really matters. And a lot of these are not really small details, either. I think that they would be really big details to just brush aside or overlook. I hate to say that they're doing it just for the sake of making an extra five or three bucks here and there, but it kind of makes me wonder sometimes.
Tim Spaeth: One of our podcast colleagues and frequent contributor to the show writes in with questions all the time: Doc Brown, over at Gaming the Media—their podcast, a fantastic show. Highly recommended. He actually wrote in to us about DLC. I just want to read a little bit about what he said. He said:
"My issue with DLC for RPGs that emphasize character-building, like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect, one would like to feel as though the DLC is adding to one's character's overall story: both narrative and development. If the game ends definitively, then DLC that forces the player to reload an old save feels slightly hollow for me. While the games's story can be embellished, the fact that the game is likely already done implies that the character's arc has already been completed. Thus adding new weapons, powers and items feels unsatisfying."
It's tricky business with DLC and we thank Doc Brown for writing that. I think the audience most likely to buy DLC is probably the audience that bought the game on day one and finished it very quickly. So you're probably going to run into that with most of the hardcore players of your game. I go back to Fallout 3. We talked about all that DLC on some of the first episodes of this show.
The first two, that's what you had to do. You had to reload an old save, play through. It wasn't until the third DLC that it actually changed the ending so that you could continue playing. And I don't think it's any coincidence that that and the subsequent DLC, Point Lookout, were the best DLC offered for that game, because it continued the story.
Going back to Mass Effect, and sticking with our theme of attention to detail, one of the things I really appreciated about Shadow Broker were the references to the original Mass Effect. Not just the fact that Liara was there, but just the wisecracking comments about: "Hey, wasn't it easier when we just had omni-gel to open all of these crates? That we could solve all our problems with omni-gel?" which, of course, disappeared between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2.
I think that's something that I know I really appreciate: when I'm playing a game, particularly a sequel in a franchise, that references the previous games. Little knowing nods or comments like the omni-gel comment that [are] kind of rewarding me for paying attention, for being invested in the universe.
Let me switch gears slightly. And, Mike, I want to bring you into the conversation here. I know you've been playing or finished Red Dead Redemption, and I, frankly, would just like to hear you talk about Red Dead Redemption. But let me tie it to the topic here for a second.
Mike Bracken: [Chuckles]
Tim Spaeth: I like to think of Rockstar games as having a selective attention to detail. There are certain aspects of their games that are certainly fleshed out, and then certain aspects of their games that are basically just thrown in as an afterthought and really stand out for that.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: Like Red Dead Redemption has a fully-featured Texas Hold'Em and Blackjack simulator.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: It all takes place in the game world, and when you're playing Texas Hold 'Em, you are sitting at the table. When you look at your cards, you're actually looking at your hands holding the cards. You're watching the other players at the table pick up their chips, put them into the center of the table. It is a straight-up fully-featured Texas Hold 'Em game. When the characters shift in their chair, you can hear the chair scraping across the floorboards in the bar. It's really juat unbelievable.
But then at the same time, when you go into a shop, it's a straight-up video game menu. It's like: "Choose quantity: x1, x2." There's a "buy" tab; there's a "sell" tab. And it's like: You built a whole Texas Hold 'Em game, which really isn't that important to the overall game—
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Not at all.
Tim Spaeth: It's this random thing that you can go do, but then the shop interface is just this standard archaic video game interface.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: And this is classic Rockstar. When I played Chinatown Wars… In Chinatown Wars, you can buy lottery tickets, and on the DS you can run the stylus across them and it leaves that lottery ticket residue. So I'm like: "I wonder if I blow into the microphone, if it's going to move the residue?" And it totally did. And that was like this stupid little thing that they put in, but it's this little detail that totally adds to the immersiveness of the experience.
The classic Rockstar example, though—and I think it was San Andreas, and I may have that wrong. Was that the one where you could eat junk food and get really fat?
Mike Bracken: Yes. [And you could get?] really buff from working out.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah [unknown]. High-protien stuff, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Right. You could go buy hot dogs or whatever it is, and you would just get fat. But you could work out and get totally ripped, which was just this ridiculous detail and it was really, really cool. But in the same game, I think if you swim, you die instantly.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: [Chuckles] Yeah, so it's like, all right.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. No swimming.
Tim Spaeth: Your foot touches water and it's like, game over. I think the same thing is true in Red Dead.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: It's just classic Rockstar. There are certain systems that are intensely detailed, but it makes the stuff that isn't fleshed out stand out that much more.
Mike Bracken: Definitely. I have this really interesting experience with Red Dead Redemption, because I love the game. I really liked it a lot. I think it was really nice to see Rockstar branch out from the typical Grand Theft Auto setting and do something in a different area. If you were going to branch out, the Old West is a really cool idea for a place to have a sandbox-type game.
So I love it for that. I love it for the fact that it's good about paying homage to a lot of classic Western films and things like that. I really like the main character, John Marston. Of all the Rockstar, Grand Theft Auto and these kind of game protagonists, he's definitely my favorite. He's the most interesting.
The things that bug me about it, though, are like you said: the fact that they pay so much attention to the detail of some of these things, like the poker or like, as Marston, you have choices throughout the game. You can be a good guy, good Samaritan who helps everybody. Or you can be a complete outlaw and shoot everything that moves and rob people and steal money and everything. But the thing that kills it is, you can shoot someone in the face and then walk up to the person who has the next quest and she treats you like you're still the greatest guy in the world—like you're this good Samaritan straight down from Heaven. Even though you just shot a guy in the face two feet away from her for no reason. [Chuckles]
It's things like that that bug me about it. And this is interesting, because I just played Dante's Inferno and it has the same thing happening: you can play good or bad. You can power up the dark side for the scythe or the light side for the cross. But then when you get to the end of the game, the last cut-scene plays out one way, no matter which way you chose. If you chose to punish every sinner you came across, you still get this ending. If you chose to absolve them, you get the same endingo. It's like: "Why do you give me this illusion of choice in these games and then not cater the cut-scenes to fit that?"
Chi Kong Lui: Let's call that the Too Human Effect.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Yes.
Tim Spaeth: That's fair; that's fair.
Mike Bracken: Red Dead is really cool. It definitely has some issues. It's got the Rockstar issues, basically: Why do they feel the need in every game to put the corny humor in over and over? It's not as flagrant in Red Dead as it is in the Grand Theft Auto games. I understand it; I now accept it in the Grand Theft Auto games as just part of that universe, but I think Red Dead would work better if it were more serious, like a typical Western.
The Mexico segment, the second area of the game, the quests are really not exciting. You play the first half and you run into…there's a necrophiliac and there's all these weird characters and it's funny and it's cool. And then you get to Mexico and it's this terrible Yojimbo, Last Man Standing kind of story. And then you struggle through that, and then you get to the end of the game and it gets kind of interesting again. But, yeah. It's a cool game. I'm interested, though: What have you thought of it, Tim?
Tim Spaeth: I think my overall opinion is I'm disappointed that they remade Grand Theft Auto IV into a Western.
Mike Bracken: "Into a Western." [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: And I liked Grand Theft Auto IV. I enjoyed it; I really had a good time with it. I don't know why I was expecting Red Dead to be something different, that they would create a new kind of game to be this Western. But it is just Grand Theft Auto IV with a Western skin.
Mike Bracken: It is, and it isn't. I see a lot of ways where it is, and I think when people call it Grand Theft Pony that's certainly sort of fitting. I think, though, there's some ways that the structure is the same, but I think there's a little more…I'm hesitant to say "maturity" to it, but I think there's more depth to the story and to the writing of it than there is to the typical GTA game. I think maybe that's why it stands out as better for me.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah. I totally agree with you about Marston, and they're very, very clear right up front when…The first NPC that you meet, Bonnie, who runs this ranch, she hits on you a little bit and you kind of get a sense that if Marston wanted to, that they could get together. But he is completely loyal to his wife and son.
Mike Bracken: Yes.
Tim Spaeth: And that right there sets him apart from Nico Bellic, in that this is not a guy who is going to just randomly become a sociopath and murder 4,000 people. He's not going to sleep with every woman who crosses his path. He is fundamentally a good guy. And I think the game works, plot-wise, if you play him as a good guy.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: I never felt compelled to just walk into a town and shoot the bartender just for kicks, whereas in Grand Theft Auto IV, that's all I did was just shoot grandparents and as many elderly people as I could find.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. [Laughter]
Tim Spaeth: But I have never done that in Red Dead Redemption, and I think that's the writing. But in terms of the game system: go to an icon on a map, get a quest, drive your horse to that location, shoot some dudes (occassionally, it's mixed up), mission is over, you get some money, you get some honor, go to the next icon. That has grown stale for me.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. It's definitely…Because we've seen it so long from Grand Theft Auto and now into Red Dead Redemption, I totally know where you're coming from. For me, I think just the change of setting made it feel more fresh than it really is. Just the fact that I'm not jacking cars; I can whistle for my horse; I don't have to steal a vehicle whenever I want to go somewhere or run to a garage for my car. I just whistle and my horse shows up. I really thought that the detail of the countryside…
Even though you run into these random events and the same couple ones over and over. Like, every time a chick's by a broken-down cart, you know that's an ambush waiting to happen and everything.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah.
Mike Bracken: There's definitely some of that that pulls you out of it, but the first time you see each of those things, it's pretty cool. I found I just had a lot of fun just roaming around through the world, because they've put so much attention to the detail of the setting and the way the horses ride and everything like that. And I'm not even a huge Western fan, but something about that game just really clicked with me. I think it was the writing and, for me, that made up for a lot of the familiarity with the gameplay elements of it.
Tim Spaeth: It could be that I…I am in the Mexico part right now.
Mike Bracken: Ugh.
Tim Spaeth: I am totally with you on the tedium of those missions and just the generic characters.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. And what sucks is, the old gunslinger who is your first mission point there, he's an interesting character.
Tim Spaeth: Yeah, yeah! He's great.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. And then they totally abandon him for this stupid Mexican civil war thing with these guys. And that's the problem, is that guys just become your typical Rockstar quest characters. In the first act you meet this guy who's a necrophiliac, and I love the guy who's the snake oil salesman. He's a good character; he's an interesting character. He's funny, but he's still interesting. He's not just a caricature. He has some depth to him.
But by the time you get to Mexico, you meet the gunslinger and he's awesome. And then it's on to the clichéd Mexican general, the clichéd Mexican soldier, then the clichéd Mexican freedom fighter, and then the clichéd Mexican girl who loves the freedom fighter who's really in it for the good reasons. So it just becomes this big chore to get through those missions. I will tell you to stick with it, though, because it gets better after you get out of Mexico.
Tim Spaeth: I will. I'm definitely going to finish it; I have too much time invested in it to stop, and I'm hoping it gets back to the early promise of the story.
Chi Kong Lui: Going back to the main topic for a second, guys: Let me ask you guys about Rockstar as a whole. I actually am not a big fan of Rockstar in general. Ever since Grand Theft Auto III, I just have never been able to really get into their games, for all the reasons that you guys say. We all sort of agree that they're very flawed in a lot of ways—a lot of uneven execution, a lot of grand gestures and grand ideas and some of it gets executed well.
But that's never been able to add up for me in any of their games, right down to IV. And I think Red Dead Redemption, I started to play that, is going to maybe come closest, and maybe I'll actually be able to get through that one. But in your mind, why is the selective attention to detail, and Mike kind of touched on it…How have you been able to play through all these games, if it's as flawed as you guys say it is?
Mike Bracken: Well, for me, Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas are games that I never finished the main storyline. I would start them…and this is something else I've noticed about Rockstar, and you see it here in Red Dead Redemption, too. They are terrible at second acts.
Look at San Andreas. San Andreas is pretty fun when you're in the first area; then you get to San Fierro and it all falls apart. Here in Red Dead Redemption, the first area's great. You get to Mexico, the game really starts to suffer. So for some reason, their middle acts are just not very good. It's something that continues through all of their games, I've noticed. Even GTA IV is not so good in the middle.
But I think they've gotten better. GTA IV was the first one of their games that I've actually made it all the way through to the end of the story, and then I made it all the way through Red Dead Redemption. So I think they're growing there, and it's a thing where, for me, it's the characters and the story. Nico Bellic is not as interesting a character as John Marston, but for the time, he was the most interesting of their protagonists that had been in one of their games, because he actually talked. There was some kind of…I'm hesitant to say "depth" to Nico. But you could find things to identify with in him, depending on how you played him. If you weren't shooting hookers in the face, maybe you could identify with him a little more. [Chuckles]
I think that's…For me, the idea of freedom has been what has worked in a lot of them, and I just play them in a mindless way. You follow the missions for a while and then you just start fucking around to kill people or see how many stars you can get wanted and all that.
Chi Kong Lui: Or maybe I'm not out of the ordinary. Maybe a lot of people are just playing the first sections and then stopping. I don't know.
Mike Bracken: I think you're absolutely right. I think a lot of people never finish these games. I think the hardcore guys who get them day one play through and see the end of the story, but I think a lot of people play them very casually. You play them for a while, and then you reach a point where you lose interest, and then you just pick it up when friends come over. Thom Moyles used to come to my house and we'd just pop in Grand Theft Auto III and fucking steal a huge tractor trailer and just destroy stuff.
Chi Kong Lui: You just hit it right there. Because I was just going to say: Is it a social thing? And it really is, right? It's like this whole big pop culture social thing.
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Totally, totally. We'd never play that game to try to advance the plot when he'd come to the house. We would just play it to cause mayhem and to see what kind of crazy shit you could jump off of. And it lends itself to that very well. I think, though, with Red Dead Redemption, and even GTA IV, you see they're getting a little bit better at telling a story and making the gameplay to where you want to see the end of it. GTA IV is hit and miss for me, but definitely, I think Red Dead Redemption is worth suffering through that middle Mexico section to get to the end.
Chi Kong Lui: What about you guys? What are your thoughts on Rockstar in general?
Tim Spaeth: I like Rockstar when they are at their most ridiculous, and I think that just ties to what you guys are saying. I never finished Grand Theft Auto III. I couldn't finish Vice City, because the mechanics were too rough for me. I did finish San Andreas. San Andreas, to me, was just "Grab a jet pack, fly to the top of a casino and snipe [unknown]."
That, and then "go and play some Blackjack." That to me was so much fun. I kept playing because that game was really good about doling out upgrades. Every couple missions, you'd get a fighter jet, and then you would get the jet pack, and then you would get some kind of new laser rifle. I don't know what it was. And it just kept escalating. Grand Theft IV, I think I kept playing because it was just so beautiful.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Just a beautiful game. And driving around Liberty City never got stale. The story certainly did, and at the point where Nico became this, I use the word "sociopath," a mass murderer with no redeeming value whatsoever, I was no longer invested and I was just kind of playing out of, I don't know, obligation to having bought it, I guess. But to me, I have the most fun with these games when it's just straight-up crazy nuts, and, to me, San Andreas is Rockstar's peak in that regard.
Mike Bracken: See, for me, it's Manhunt. But that wasn't so much a sandbox game.
Tim Spaeth: Um-hm. And, Brad, I know you love Grand Theft Auto IV.
Mike Bracken: Um-hm.
Brad Gallaway: Big, big fan of Grand Theft Auto IV.
Tim Spaeth: Or not.
Brad Gallaway: Or not. Rockstar is kind of hit or miss for me. I actually do appreciate the level of detail they put into a lot of their games, but like you guys have already said several times, it's usually on the incidental stuff or the peripheral stuff. Finding out that some little gizmo works when you just thought it was decoration is pretty cool, or all the little details are pretty nice.
But in general, in terms of Rockstar's game design philosophy, I used to like them more than I do now. I played and finished Grand Theft Auto III. Like you, Tim, I could not play Vice City because it was way too rough for me.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: I had major camera problems and all kinds of framerate problems and stuff. For me, I think the high point was honestly San Andreas, because it was the biggest. They packed the most stuff into it. But also, I actually did like the story. I thought the story was good enough for me to be interested all the way through, which I honestly cannot say about most of Rockstar's games. Although I finished most of them—I finished Bully, and that story [unknown].
Mike Bracken: Oh, I love Bully. I forgot about that.
Brad Gallaway: It was fun. Good [unknown].
Mike Bracken: Yeah. Bully is really good. Yeah.
Brad Gallaway: But the story fucking blew. And Grand Theft Auto IV was a hot mess. It was terrible; it was awful. I found nothing to like about it, and I don't understand anybody who ever likes that game, because that, to me, was a giant misfire. And I can't really talk about Red Dead, because I started it for an hour. And to be perfectly honest, as soon as I started it, I'm like: "Wow. This is really, really similar to another Grand Theft Auto game."
Which I already knew, but I was kinda hoping it would be a little more different. And so I just stopped, because I had five games that I needed to review at the time, and so I couldn't justify doing a pleasure play in the middle of having all these responsibilities. I just honestly haven't found a reason to come back to it yet.
Mike Bracken: I think the first couple hours or Red Dead are not the most exciting.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, yeah. I think I played for maybe an hour, two hours, and I was just like: "Enh, okay."
Mike Bracken: I literally almost threw in the towel at the two hour mark, because I just wasn't really feeling anything for it. But then I stuck it out.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah. I don't have any criticisms, but it just didn't hook me. And with so many other good things to play this year, I didn't really feel like signing up for another GTA clone with horses. But I probably will come back to it, though. I'll start it again.
Chi Kong Lui: Yeah. What really blows my mind about Rockstar games: It's almost like the actual game itself gets in the way of what makes Rockstar games good. [Laughter] Does that make sense?
Brad Gallaway: That's a good observation; that's a really good observation, yeah.
Mike Bracken: Sometimes they strike me as guys who really wanted to just make movies and got stuck making games instead.
Chi Kong Lui: Exactly. It's almost like they have this disdain for game mechanics that are what they think are the tried and true methods of generating dollars, which isn't necessarily the case. But it's almost like they're pandering in an almost insulting kind of way. And maybe they think it's ironic in some ways that, on one hand, they're doing all these grand gestures and all this forward-thinking art, and on the other hand, they're just throwing the same bullshit and regurgitating the same mechanics back out at us. I don't know; for me, it's never come together quite right.
Mike Bracken: I will say that at least this one, it's pretty easy to shoot, which is nice.
Chi Kong Lui: Right, right. I noticed that; I noticed that.
Brad Gallaway: The horses are easier to control than the cars in Grand Theft Auto.
Mike Bracken: Than the cars, yeah.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, I'm having a hard time with the horses already. I'm already like: "This is why I fucking hate Rockstar games." Everything's just painful.
Mike Bracken: You've had a hard time with the horses? Really?
Chi Kong Lui: When I'm trying to shoot the coyotes, I kept bumping into fences and they kept jumping over fence.
Mike Bracken: Yeah, there are little spots like that. But you just get out in the open and it's a lot easier.
Tim Spaeth: You're going to get some abilities that will help you with that as well.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: So stick with it. But, gentlemen, we are over on time. I am committed to turning in a proper show of proper length, and I am going to call it here. Do we have any final thoughts for the community? Actually, Brad, I'm going to turn to you right now. PAX was a couple weeks ago. We had the Tweet up, and how did that turn out? Did you get to meet any listeners?
Brad Gallaway: Oh, did we not talk about that? I guess we didn't, did we?
Chi Kong Lui: I want to hear this, yeah.
Tim Spaeth: Tell us briefly about the Tweet up.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, it was actually really great. We had a really, really good turnout. We had just a really good mix of people; I was really surprised at how many people came down, and thanks to everybody who attended. And also a big thanks to Gladriel for helping co-host. They did a great job of providing everything we needed. We got to the restaurant; we had a big space, which worked out really well. A bunch of people showed up. And we had tons of food. We had so much cheesecake at the end of the night, I was literally walking up to strangers and giving them cheesecake because there was so much. We could not eat it all.
And it was really fun. We got together with these long tables, and a bunch of people just showed up, and it wasn't really even anybody that I had really had that close a relationship with prior to the Tweet up. But people whose names I kinda recognized and stuff, and so it was nice to meet some of those folks in person. And then, we just sat; we just talked. Everybody really got along well. I think, in total, I would say that there were only two people who I would say were really kinda weird who I didn't want to sit next to.
But everybody else was really cool. They were really normal.
Mike Bracken: Were they listeners, the two wierd people?
Brad Gallaway: I do not want to say, because I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. [No?] details.
Two people were a little bit on the creepy side for me, but everybody else was really cool and really normal and funny. Everybody really got along. It was really a good deal. I would totally want to do that again, for sure.
Mike Bracken: So, really, both our listeners were in one place at the same time.
Brad Gallaway: I know! They both flew across the country to be there. It was all…oh! But it was good. It was really good. And like I said, I totally would like to do that again next year. Maybe organize it just like a wee bit differently, but in general, I think it was a huge success and it was a good time. It was a good time. So to everybody who came out, thanks very much for showing up.
Tim Spaeth: And are there pictures posted somewhere, where we maybe could identify the people you didn't care for?
Mike Bracken: Didn't like?
Brad Gallaway: I actually took a bunch of pictures, but I only used one on my PAX coverage, because I was like: "Enh, if you weren't there, it's probably going to be pretty boring to look at all these pictures of everybody." So I just put one up, and just know that it was cool. You can kinda get a pretty good sense for how big it was in that picture. My wife took a pretty long shot of one of the main tables, so just picture that. It was a good time. Good fun.
Tim Spaeth: Fantastic. Well, I know that Richard Naik and I are both committed to coming to PAX next year, so we'll be right there next to each other eating cheesecake. We could maybe split a piece of cheesecake.
Brad Gallaway: Those are big pieces. Oh, my God. Those pieces are so huge. It was disgusting.
Chi Kong Lui: So you guys ate nothing but cheesecake the whole night?
Brad Gallaway: No, no, no, no. We had appetizers: we had chicken wings, we had potstickers. We had a bunch of appetizers come out, and then everybody's entree was all on their own. Otherwise, that would've cost several thousand dollars or whatever.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, okay.
Brad Gallaway: We weren't going to fund dinner costs for everybody, but the appetizers were free and the cheesecake was free, also, so everybody had that. There was prize packs that we gave out; we gave out a bunch of tee-shirts, we had a raffle; we gave away a PS3 there. We gave away a couple games and stuff, so it was pretty cool.
Mike Bracken: Organize a PS3 giveaway for me, since I do not have one.
Brad Gallaway: [Unknownn] raffle tickets, Mike, and you're sure to win.
Mike Bracken: [Laughter] If I have to buy 300, it's not worth it.
Brad Gallaway: Yeah, right. Only $1 a piece, though. They're cheap.
Mike Bracken: Yeah.
Tim Spaeth: All right, very well. Well, Brad, thanks for sharing that with us, and, like I said, I do look forward to attending in person next year. Chi Kong Lui, always a pleasure.
Chi Kong Lui: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Spaeth: Mike Bracken, always a pleasure.
Mike Bracken: Looking forward to Radiant Silvergun on Xbox Live Arcade. I forgot to mention that.
Brad Gallaway: Oh, yeah. Radiant Silvergun.
Mike Bracken: So fucking excited.
Tim Spaeth: I have no idea what that is.
Mike Bracken: Classic Treasure shmup.
Brad Gallaway: Edit that out, because if you say that, everyone's going to know you're—
Mike Bracken: You've totally lost your credibility, dude.
Chi Kong Lui: Oh, come on. He's already betrayed us already. What's stopping him?
Mike Bracken: What's left, right? He's like the easy high school girl.
Tim Spaeth: And with that, I thank you, the listener. Remember, you can subscribe to the show through iTunes or the Zune Marketplace, or listen right off the GameCritics.com home page. We'd love for you to leave your comments there as well, or e-mail them if you're shy to podcat AT gamecritics DOT com. So for the entire GameCritics.com family and Chi Kong Lui, Mike Bracken, Brad Gallaway, I'm Tim Spaeth; good night and bonne chance.