Matt's Podcast #2: Absolutely Reticulous

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Matt Barton's picture

Shoot me now.If this is Syndicate, shoot me now.It's a smorgasbord of topics this week as I take on the question of "What the hell happened to modern CRPGs?" Why is everything becoming a first-person shooter game? The excrement begins to fly with the upcoming Syndicate and X-Com games. I explain why you should avoid any game "with a great story" and why I couldn't care less about Skyrim and Diablo III. I also talk about my experiences with Baldur's Gate and what I'd really like to see in future CRPGs. Hint: it ain't better narratives.

Download the mp3.

Comments

slenkar (not verified)
oh and I was working on a

oh and I was working on a totally AI driven RPG game for a few years which Ive been meaning to get back to

LachlanL (not verified)
Right on

Funny you mentioned the difference between BG and the Icewind Dale series. I only recently bought ID1 and my party is sitting around lvl 10's. I mainly bought it as I too really prefer the party-based games (my preferred way of playing BG2 is starting a multiplayer game so I can create the whole party and then just playing through with that, unfortunately you miss out on some of the NPC interaction that way though) and saw that the ID series is party-based. Disappointingly though, I'm also finding that my experience so far has lacked any substance. The game has only really consisted of one large location full of monsters after another. These areas (while nicely rendered in the usual Baldur's Gate style) are fairly sterile and mainly serve as XP grind-mills for the characters. Occasionally you'll meet some townsfolk who need rescuing or the odd NPC with a shallow dialog tree, but nothing else to suggest that these areas exist in a living, breathing world. Eventually I'll either clear the area or run out of consumables (in this case, arrows) and have to head back to town to resupply. Unfortunately they really seemed to have missed many of the elements that made BG so magical.

As far as the stuff on everything becoming FPS-ized, again I have to agree. Conversely though, I have a bit of a positive outlook on this whole situation. Here I see real parallels to the film industry. You have major producers turning out derivative stuff that will likely sell well, but not stand the test of time. This will likely always be the mainstream. Now, however, we are also seeing the beginnings of a time where independent producers can make truly innovative work (what I guess would be the art-house films) and actually have enough people notice (and buy) that they can make a living from it. This I can only attribute to the broad adoption of the internet as social networking and purchasing tools. Now when someone makes something special there are enough interested networks setup that those people are starting to get the exposure they deserve. Easier online transactions and digital distribution combined with faster internet connections mean that the barriers to purchasing an indie title (whose producers can't shell out for retail-store shelf-space or big advertising budgets) are lower than ever. As an aspiring indie myself, I find these changes exciting and motivating.

Maybe eventually the market shifts will provide enough cross-pollination between the AAA and indie producers that you'll see what you want (Ie innovative games with AAA content). There are already plenty of examples of popular indie titles being pulled into the mainstream. Now we also see the possibility of situations where developers can start with an innovative product (take MineCraft for example), monetize on that innovation and then add polish using that early capital.

Personally, I'm working on a CRPG of my own and trying to do something similar to what you're talking about in your cast. Looking at the comments above, I'm not the only one and I think that's another promising thing.

Shawn Delahunty
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Tasty Rant

Nice podcast Matt. Just finished it, and couldn't agree with you more concerning the derivative FPS-isms infiltrating... well, everything. I personally love a decent FPS like Half-Life1&2. But I'm sick to the teeth of everything having that presentation style, and having it always being about "shooting stuff". I'd love to play a game that involved NOT shooting stuff for a change. Or if your going to let me blast things, get your sanctimonious, self-indulgent, angsty-emo B.S. notion of "moral ambiguity", "politically relevant storyline", or "dramatic presentation" the *BEEEP!* out of my way... and let me BLOW STUFF UP!

What's fun in an FPS? Jet-packs. Rocket-jumping. Chain-guns, hand-grenades, and rooms full of vile aliens hurling acid-reflux phlegm-balls at me. But how many of those do we really need?

As for your comment about the game houses trying to be "movie producers"? *Madly applauds.* And few of them are actually putting real "Story" into the games anyway... they are filling them up with "setting". Cool set-pieces, forced game-paths, cut-scenes, and limited "dialog trees" do not make story, and they sure as blazes don't make for fun gameplay.

Yet how many millions of dollars are spent by AAA studios churning out Modern Call of Heroes' Duty Warfare vs. America's Delta Force Extreme SWAT Army VIII: The Los Vegas Deluxe Add-On Pack, "Now with extra dust!" ??

It makes me nuts.

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clok1966
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I have been complaining about

I have been complaining about FPS saturation for a couple years now. To be honest I think it started with Quake.. and no not becuase it was a great online multiplayer game (its was!).. it was when iD started licencing its engines, Soon Epic (unreal) and Monolith did the same. You no longer had to build a game engine, it was done, now you just had to figure out a way to make a game for a FPS built 3D engine. When FPS where hot (one could argue they still are) the ease of making them with sombody elses engine became apparent. Now there are quite a few good 3D engines all designed for FPS, but can be adapted to.. Well.. The stuff you see now, FPS like games. I think its been happening so long the game makers just "think" FPS and how can they make a game around it. I'm sure with some reasonig and pointing out the money they save by not building new engines, 'we can use the people to create a BETTER game if they are not doing engine work!" these games look failry atractive to the money guys. And of course you cant discount the fact that the biggest selling games are FPS.. its hard to ignore that fact. Even if they look at how many fail, its a bit like gambleing, 1 in 10 makes it big, 2 in 10 makes good money, 2 more in 10 do enough to keep you making more games, 2 more break even.. so that leaves 3 that "kill" the company.. fair odds (and no i have NO numbers to back that up, just some crude guesswork). Not to bad of odds for doing something "easy".

And sadly its just a fact, come games types do not sell, as most (not all) game developers are in th is to make money, you ahve to look at the big picture. FPS sell, they are the "king" of gaming right now, if you want ot be KING you have to overthrow the current king. No place is this more clear than in the MMORPG World. WoW has been sitting on top for 5 plus years, not only sitting on top, its so in control any 3 or 5 others combined dont beat it on numbers. Yet what heve we seen the last 5 years? 10-20 imitatators, downright copies, all tyring to take a bite.

its not about new, its about what works. I mean, even the most celebrated Indy titles right now are games that try to relive the past glory of gaming. Super Meat boy, VVVVV, etc.. are just hard version of old games most of us old codgers played in the past. Thre is an argument that nothing is new, and I agree, so maybe I'm being to hard. In my opionion some may say the Music games or the dance games are NEW.. sorry we had color or button match games before. heck Simon was around in the 80's, its color and sound matching. Sure GHero does it alot more fancy, but its still the same game. Right now the only NEW game I can think of in the last few years is katmari.. and .. is it new? I almost remeber some game where i rolled a ball of sting over stuff to make it bigger in the past.. but its one of those hazy "may be imagination" things.

I am 100% sick of FPS games, dont get me wrong I enjoy them alot, but as a RTS guy I would like to see some more of those.. yes we lived throuhg the RTS craze.. and IM sure a few are glad its died out.. but as we have seen, everything old is new again. And I have been chasing that "feel" i got playing Ultima the first time, or bards tale, Wizardry, etc.. But i just think you can relive those glory days of early gameing. Forgive the crude anology.. but your first GF (or BF) and ... um.. your first night.. it dont matter how it all went, its most likely somthing you will rembere as good forever.. you try replicate it, and eventally you find the right one (well some of us just keep looking.. and suprisingly the video game anolgy works well here, I play till i get bored and try a new "game").. I just dont think you can make those "firsts" again. I will never see a game the way I saw Dungeon Master the first time.. It may be an exact upgraded copy with the best gee wiz graphics, but it wil never "feel" the same. you can only have your "first" one time...

Right now there is alot of talk about gaming and new ideas in Japan dying off, whe in the pat it was such a hot bed of "new".. I think we have covered it, useing that same art sytle for .. 20 years in games, i dont care how many ways you play the game, the same LOOK will get old. its starting to happen here in the US now.. a FPS is a FPS is a fFPS, it doesnt matter if you shoot bullets, magic or mind control.. its the same. If they are Robot, monster, or ghost, a enemy is an enemy.

As for the story, I dont think that part will ever please everybody. I love BIOSHOCK, learning what happened. I agree recordings are silly.. but how else? This plot device has been used over and over. Computer terminals, books, recordings, paperwork, ghosts, etc.. personally I think FEAR did it best, voice messages on phones, at least its 'real'. I do think games like Bioshock (or most any "modern" FPS) could use security camera recordings or something a bit more realistic.. Of course one could argue in Bioshock (at least) voice recordings mihgt have been ok..

I guess we gotta decide when real and gameplay can mix. I dont think any of us will have the same opinion on that. I agree with Carmack, who needs story in a FPS, I sure dont think it hurts, but I wont cry when its not their either, i have enouhg imagination (some to spare i think) I can make my own story up. BUT!!! a RPG needs some story nowdays (opinion). Thouhg I am a bit sick of the standard that has been used a 1000X.. I do Like when my descisions effect my game. FALLOUT is great for this, i have a "completion" issue.. I want to solve every quest, make everybody like me, get evrything cool in the game. Fallout wont let you. You make the people in town A like you, you will probebly make the people in town B hate you. Clan A has cool power armour, but Clan B has better guns.. they dont like each other so If I wear Power Rmour i cant trade... heck cant be seen by clan b..

SPOILER!!!!
Fallout Vegas had 3 groups all with "plans" for the area. None are clear cut "good guys" heck even the bad guys make some small sense. My point is, my descisions do effect the game.. I chose the "bad guys" I start a war, I become second in command etc.. I chose the Republic ( sorta good guys) I am as hero as it gets.. and even then I can chose to say screw it and become dictator and kill the commander in chief. Or i can side with the mystery guy and .. well lets just say tht doesnt turn out to well for me :)

TO me Fallout is a GREAT rpg.. NOT A PURE RPG, but a great one. The world lives on without me .. people fight, patrols patrol. I can change the world with my actions and they can hurt or help me in the long run. I know some dont like the combat, and while I wouldnt hate it, going to something turne based like DA/Drankensang wouldnt hurt the game, but it would take the scarry out of some of the fights for me.. best of all it has a HARDCORE mode.. you dont heal by sleeping, you need food and drink to work effectivly and when you die.. your dead.

I really enjoyed the ranting.. a ranter after my won heart.. I simply only have hte ability to rant in text.. I dont htink I could do it the way you do.. loved every minute of it.

Matt Barton
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I'm going to have to make a

I'm going to have to make a podcast specifically about how I think stories should be told in games, since I'm being confusing as #$@ about it. I'm sure there are other people who have the same idea who have expressed it better than I will, but I'm not as familiar with them as I'd like.

I was thinking on this last night and came up with the analogy of exposition in film. There is a case that every movie buff knows about: Hitchcock's Psycho. At the end, a guy comes out and explains the psychology of the killer, why he acted the way he did, etc. Here it is in case you haven't seen it:
http://youtu.be/SN0ePyAIz90

You may have to see the whole film to realize how weird and clumsy this part is, but suffice it to say many people consider it awful, even ruining the film bad.

A simpler example would be a film that can't afford an expensive special effects scene, so they just skip it and then have the characters talking about it afterward. "Oh, my God, that plane just crashed into a million pieces in mid-air!" or some such. In other words, they can't SHOW IT, so they have to find some other way to get it into the film, usually by having some of the characters (or a narrator, or even on-screen text) TELL YOU ABOUT IT.

I think games like Bioshock are depending WAY too heavily on telling you about the story rather than letting you play through the story.

Obviously, the affordances/limitations of a videogame are going to affect what kind of story works best. Novels are excellent for getting you inside a character's head (psychological story), for instance. Movies have never been able to duplicate that effectively (though some have tried by letting you "hear thoughts" and so on; generally frowned upon).

I can think of a few examples where games shine in story-telling. One is, believe it or not, Call of Duty MW2. I'm talking about the infamous airport scene, where you're basically playing as a terrorist. That's REALLY effective, because they're letting you experience something in a way that isn't possible in a book or movie.

Think about how else they could have done it. Maybe you're a soldier who shows up at the airport after the carnage and finds a bunch of tapes, terminals, a journal, etc. Would that be as effective? Nope.

If I were writing a CRPG, for instance, and I wanted to have a story (hopelessly cliche!!!) where an evil wizard was ravaging a populace, I'd have scenes where the player was in control of the wizard and had to act accordingly. Use your wizard fire to slaughter innocents. If you don't, perhaps your people look upon you as weak and then you have to fight them, thus ending the game "prematurely." I say give the player that freedom, since I doubt anyone would really want to stop the game there. No, they'll end up doing the deed so the story can progress.

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Nathaniel Tolbert
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Yep, that about sums up my feelings on the state of the Industry

Everyone that has been around since the early days of computer games (and sadly I didn't get into computers till about 1986 or so) remembers the remarkable progression of technology and the creativity in games. As the video game industry has progressed more and more towards being an industry all about profits like all other industries, the creativity and uniqueness of games seem to have taken a hit. Why is that? Well early on, game creators had to be innovative with what they displayed on screen because sometimes the machine capabilities weren't there. Now days that isn't an issue, but I have heard several times from friends that I know in the game industry that they would love to make a certain game a specific way, but NO! That won't sell so it has to be made like this! (re: FPS) Also games were a small industry or group then and so taking chances on something that cost you a couple thousand dollars to make wasn't a bad idea. There are more reasons why but I digress and shall move onto something else.

But comment on the gentleman that stated that all the gold box games wanted to be FPS games, that is utterly insane. There was technology available and FPS tech was already starting to show up when Pools of Radiance came out in 1988-89. If they wanted to be FPS games, they would have been FPS games. They wanted them to be turn based strategic combat games, nothing else. And why shouldn't they be turn based strategy games? They were modeled off of a tabletop game that was a turn based strategy game. Oh and in baldur's gate, in the options there is a spot to enable auto pausing when combat starts and auto pause at the end of a combat round to allow you to make changes in mid combat. I cannot remember where, but that might help make the game seem more true to its roots.

I enjoy FPS games as much as the next person, but what I extremely dis-like is this whole re-invisioning kick that all of these companies are starting on. I already posted a link to the Space quest platformer that (thankfully) got canned. Is the games industry so hard up for ideas that they have to take something that is a tried and true game, with a great system and hack it into bits to make it fit this console generation? I think that truly the most horrible thing that has happened to the games industry as a whole is that it became a real industry. Companies do not want to spend money on anything that isn't a safe bet, which is why we get the same FUCKING Call of Duty game every stinking year. God forbid they take a chance and make something different.

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Chris Kennedy
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Story

I like a wide variety of games, but I will say that I do love games with a really good story - they tend to leave quite a different impression on me than a really good, simple arcade shooter (for example).

It is one of the reasons I really enjoy (or enjoyed) Japanese RPGs. In fact, that genre pretty much beats any other game genre when it comes to discussion. People can discuss that stuff for years - filling in the gaps, writing fan fiction, etc...etc..

Another series I really enjoyed was Metal Gear Solid - This is a unique genre of gaming that combined a lesser used idea of avoiding conflict (rather than running in) along with story. It also broke the 4th wall - and idea I never really liked because I found the game so absorbing that I didn't want to have the 4th wall broken.

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clok1966
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agree/ kinda :)
Chris Kennedy wrote:

It is one of the reasons I really enjoy (or enjoyed) Japanese RPGs. In fact, that genre pretty much beats any other game genre when it comes to discussion. People can discuss that stuff for years - filling in the gaps, writing fan fiction, etc...etc..

Another series I really enjoyed was Metal Gear Solid - This is a unique genre of gaming that combined a lesser used idea of avoiding conflict (rather than running in) along with story. It also broke the 4th wall - and idea I never really liked because I found the game so absorbing that I didn't want to have the 4th wall broken.

I cant argue with you there.. but... The whinny kid becoming a hero thing is overdone. I 100% agree they really put alot of effort into the story part of the game, but sadly alot of them are almost carbon copies (with that said, DA, DAII, etc are all just complete LOTR rip offs, at least the Asain ones go in some new directions). I cant count the asain games where im so shmuck who doesnt want to get involved, yet im the hero in the end. or Im the Bad guy with a heart of gold. I think its asian games strength and weakness. I dont have the hate for the latest FF most do.. but HOLY HAND GRENADE the two younger members of the team are so annoying I wanted to poke sharp sticks in my ears every cut scene they talked. And the reluctant hero, and the bad guy with the ttrendy stocking cap hat.. and the (this is so sad) token black man/comedy relief.. its like they took everything that worked when it was NEW and now been reuseds a million times and combined it. I loved the slow learning curve. but after 20+ hours I was saying FRICK! lets learn something NEW at a faster pace. And the story/cutscenes.. i love how they help the story go along, but this was a game of visual masterbastion.. it was done to please teh hardcore fans and Square to show off what htey could do.. it was excess for no good reason. when you play a game 10 hours and you can split the actual time you play and the time you watch down the middle, your doing it wrong.

But... again with the BUT! I think i can say of all of them I have played my like far outways my dislike. its just they seem to follow that common thread, whinny kid hero, there is one place DA excceled. Several starting races all whith differnt ideas/stories (at least at the start).

I think you did point out something, right now the Purest from of RPG is still from asia, they still buy the most, play the most and sadly stick to the same old formula without making improvments (opinion). it points out how different certain game cultures are. heck even gamers.. games are so varied now, its like music rappers will never like Metal, metal will never like country. None of us will like the same thing. This thread all staerted with Matts dislike of the FPS incorperted into every game. And while I do agree its getting OLD on a grand scale.. I love alot of them and enjoy playing almost all of them. I know Matt doesnt like Hunted:Demons forge (and neither did most reviewers) but it sold enough (it sold better then its sibling released at the same time BRINK from what i hear) that Matt can cringe, there may be a part 2 :) I myslef enjoyed it excpet for some game stopping bugs. platforms that should move when you step on them, yet hte game wont let me step in them, there is an invisible wall...

I do know Ihave bought pretty much every singel RPG i can find for my PS3 (there are quite a few).. Im amazed at the amount of money they get for some on Ebay.

clok1966
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I forgot, XCOM.. as a FPS..

I forgot, XCOM.. as a FPS.. they already did it sorta, Enforcer? (a over the shoulder shooter, and a very average one, fun but average).

I know it wouldnt be Xcom, but I would be all for a stealthy FPS combat game.. Run the game exactly like the original except the missions. But instead of run and gun.. make sure it was all about SKILL.. Run and gun would die quickly. can you imagin walking around a Farmyard comming around a corner and a Gray is there blasting away... knowing point blank he wins. Ever conrer, every door would be scarry. I guess I cant see it being done, but I can SEE a cool FPS, alein invasion of your base.. underwater combat..

There are already 3-4 "OK" updated XCOM clones. We really dont need another.

I think we all have to face it. enjoy what we have or make our own.... I keep attempting the make my own, but man .. thats alot of work :)

Nathaniel Tolbert
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The new X-COM game

Have you seen the videos for this? It deals with some kind of black ooze straight out of the first X-Files movie. I kid you not. It looks atrocious. Why anyone would willingly destroy the somewhat good name of a game to make a decent buck just mystifies me. It's like when they did that new Area 51 game as an FPS shooter. The premise was excellent, but there was none of the campiness from the original two that was so endearing about them (Area 51 and Site 4). I know this is an over-exaggeration, but with the way games are going, in the near future it seems that the only game types we will have are FPS, MMORPGS and casual (read for me: time wasters with no real impact) games. I'm sorry but if that is the way things are going to go, I better start stockpiling up on the old games now so I can have something to play in the next 10 years.

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