Matt's Podcast #2: Absolutely Reticulous

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.


Keith Burgun
Keith Burgun's picture
Joined: 09/06/2010
But realism *doesn't* have

But realism *doesn't* have any value of its own in art! If it did, that would mean we could have two paintings side by side, they're both equally awesome, but one is more realistic and therefore it's better? There were movements towards and away from realism in art back and forth over the ages; at this point, the medium is very mature and no one in the fine arts world would ever argue that something is better simply because it more closely matches the real world. I am saying that video game culture has some catchin' up to do in this regard.

>>But people instead want nicely carved pieces and wooden boards.

I think in my comment, I agreed. As long as visual clarity doesn't suffer from it, making stuff prettier is always a plus. HOWEVER! Prettier does not mean "more realistic". In my opinion, Wind Waker is one of the most beautiful digital games ever created. The "realism=better" argument would imply that a Medal of Honor game ( ) looks better. That screenshot DOES look "more realistic" than Wind Waker. But realism has no value in and of itself - it all comes down to how good is the art? I'm also not saying "everything has to be super deformed or highly stylized". I AM saying that we should judge everything by simply how good it looks and not by how realistic it is (two different things).

>>Even with games like Monopoly, everybody loves the paper money and little metal playing pieces. I remember when they switched to that computerized money bank, there was an uproar. I don't doubt but that the sales have gone down.

Ya well that's because Monopoly is an utterly awful game that's not even remotely fun to play. A 2 to 3 hour long game with roll-and-move in which you have almost NO interesting decisions to make, and it has player elimination?!? Terrible. The sad thing is most people just don't know that there are so many great board games out there and so they cling to something like Monopoly, Clue, Risk or other Milton Bradley garbage.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Keith, you seem to have a

Keith, you seem to have a habit of adhering too closely to principle. Monopoly is an "utterly awful game" according to whom? Just because it doesn't come out favorably on some game theorist or critic's "rules" doesn't mean much to me. The fact is that it's a very successful game, and it's not just enjoyed by people ignorant of Settlers of Cataan and the like.

But anyway, I don't think we actually disagree about realism in art. Perhaps there was a miscommunication somewhere. At any rate, I agree fully that a game doesn't have to be photo realistic (or cinematic realistic) to be "pretty" or aesthetically pleasing. That'd just be silly. After all, Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase is unquestionably a work of art.

Arguably, though, even highly abstract works like this are "realistic" in the sense that they're trying to depict something. Perhaps our eyes deceive us somehow, so these artists are showing us "what's really there" if we saw it with our minds instead of our eyes, or "real" impressions, or whatever. A clearer example is that sometimes a detailed drawing (or especially a schematic) can often show us what's really there a lot better than a photograph.

What I object to, though, is that a crude-looking indie RPG is that way by choice. Perhaps some designers feel it doesn't matter, but that's pretty silly. Even if you DO want a super deformed or cartoonish look, it's still better if you have the talent or resources to get it done by professionals.

On a side note, Atari 2600 games and such are generally admired more by art critics than games COD. They like the abstract look to them; the stark lines and colors. But of course WE know that was just a limitation of the hardware. With some exceptions, I'm sure the average game designer back then would have loved to have more detailed graphics in their games (not necessarily more REALISTIC graphics, but definitely more DETAILED graphics).

Keith Burgun
Keith Burgun's picture
Joined: 09/06/2010
>>"Monopoly is an "utterly

>>"Monopoly is an "utterly awful game" according to whom?"

>>"it's not just enjoyed by people ignorant of Settlers of Cataan and the like."
Well, Boardgamegeek is a site where hundreds of thousands of boardgame players go and talk about board games. It's a really great site that I really recommend in general if you haven't checked it out before. Anyway, people rate games on there - they have 7,336 games currently ranked. Monopoly is currently number 7,320, just barely beating Mouse Trap.

This is not an argument ad populum - I'm not saying that just because most people who play board games think Monopoly sucks, it sucks. I'm simply answering your question "who thinks monopoly sucks?" The answer is, just about anyone who's interested in boardgames. Sure, monopoly is SUCCESSFUL. So is Call of Duty and God of War. How does that really help your argument that it's fun?

Again, the reason Monopoly is not fun is because the player has very, VERY few meaningful choices to make. The fact that you are so smart about digital games but seem to kind of embrace Monopoly implies to me that you maybe haven't played many truly interesting board games? Even Settlers of Catan which you mentioned - much of the game is determined by two things - initial house placement, and dice-rolling. It's definitely a way better and more interesting game than Monopoly, but have you played something like Puerto Rico or Through the Desert, or Chicago Express? I really recommend these games, if you haven't.


I think that yes, we do agree more now that you've explained your position on realism. "Crude looking" is always a bad thing, I don't advocate for that. I was just saying that "less stylized" (aka more REALISTIC like Counter Strike vs TF2) does not mean better (or worse).

Finally, yes. Most of the Atari 2600 artists probably would have liked to make their in-game art more detailed. That does not mean, however, that they should have (necessarily). Sometimes simpler is better, sometimes less is more. That's something that the digital age of gamers needs to really take to heart.

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