Weekend Confirmed 119 - Spec Ops: The Line, Halo 4

By Garnett Lee, Jun 29, 2012 11:00am PDT

After visiting with its designer last week, Spec Ops: The Line stands for inspection. Adam Sessler and Paul Semel join Jeff and Garnett in the discussion that looks at the game both on its surface as a shooter and its underlying ambitions to seriously address the carnage of a "heroic," one-man rampage. Along with the discussion of violence, the conversation also turns to the sustainability of the big-budget console game. Halo 4's commitment to episodic content and the demise of Radical Entertainment lead the news discussions. And of course, it all wraps up on Finishing Moves.

Weekend Confirmed Ep. 119: 06/29/2012

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Weekend Confirmed comes in four segments to make it easy to listen to in segments or all at once. Here's the timing for this week's episode:

    Show Breakdown:

    Round 1 00:00:38 – 00:30:19

    Whatcha Been Playing Part 1 00:30:58 – 01:01:38

    Whatcha Been Playing Part 2 01:02:26 – 01:31:24

    Listener Feedback/Front Page News 01:32:33 – 02:00:30

Jeff Cannata can also be seen on The Totally Rad Show. They've gone daily so there's a new segment to watch every day of the week!

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Garnett Lee @GarnettLee

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Adam Sessler @AdamSessler

Paul Semel @PaulSemel

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Original music in the show by Del Rio. Get his latest Album, The Wait is Over on iTunes. Check out more, including the Super Mega Worm mix and other mash-ups on his ReverbNation page or Facebook page, and follow him on twitter @delriomusic.

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  • You know I thought to myself if square isn't going to remake FF7. Why haven't they actually done a FF7-2 like so many recent ff. keep the materia system, and limit breaks which by the way still the best magic system in any Final fantasy.

    Materia- allowed you to swap in any character regardless of level they had value.

    Limit break forced you to save your power attack. Thus not allowing you to simply hit attack, attack, attack, and made you actually use magic and elixir to replenish magic. So you could use the limit break in a must use scenario.

  • Great show once again guys.

    But I think Garnett you were "FAR TOO ARSH" against Spec Ops the Line ( it's nearly sounded personal ).

    I'm playing the game at the moment ( chapter 5 ) and I'm enjoying it a lot. That's great shooter ! The gameplay is great ( except for the grenade ), the cover system works really well. The sand mechanic works really well, that's a pity we don't use it that often... The environnement are really impressive. That's a great looking game, that have more color that many Unreal Engine 3 games ( Arkham games anyone ).

    That said.

    I see where you coming from Garnett. Yager promised a different type of shooter, where decision making and emotions will take the center stage. I have to say that until now, decision making is nowhere to be scene. I had more decision to make in Gears games ! That says a lot...Besides despite the great voice acting, I just can't get attached to any of those characters, unlike Gears where the characters are so enjoyable and full of color.

    I will reserve my final judgment when I finish the game, but I have to agree until now with the tons of 80s the game is getting. It's 8/10 game for sure. Not more, not less.

    That's a pity that Yager failed to deliver on the promises, is it possible that 2K is behind this ? This would explain the delay. Maybe 2K did not fancy anything funky and ordered Yager to go back to the basics.

  • Loved the discussion of Spec Ops: The Line and the problems with trying to inject narrative in action games.

    I think the problem might be very simple, most action games are purely about nonstop action. The sheer volume of enemies thrown at you almost necessarily results in repetitive gameplay. Thus the only reliable way to make the game stand out is to introduce fun innovative mechanics. Most developers aren't capable of this, so they turn to various gimmicks that are hit and miss. Even really cool things like "big set piece moments", hyper-immersive first person perspective, co-op play, or giant bosses are all kind of gimmicky.

    You really can't just inject story into this kind of game and expect it to work, because mowing down thousands of identical enemies is rarely a scene you'll find in a good film or novel. It simply isn't interesting. Even in massive battles, action needs to be broken down to the human level, and made intelligible to the reader.

    I think good story-driven gameplay has to have three key elements in addition to the obligatory storyline and game mechanics: 1) interesting characters 2) unique encounters 3) a sense of progress. Action games usually fail to deliver on all 3 counts. The characters are rarely interesting. Aside from bosses, the encounters are rote repetition. Rote repetition is fine if you are a Battlefield, Modern Warfare, Diablo, etc and your mechanics are so good they support that, but if your game is anything less than these masterpieces it doesn't really work. Players will eventually get tired of playing the same 2nd-rate game over and over. Action games do a better job of giving you a sense of progress, and this is often the main element they rely on to keep the player engaged. Acquiring better weapons or powers, seeing newer and cooler environments and enemies, etc.

    The main thing I think is missing from most action games today is unique encounters. In the ideal game, the player would never face the same challenge twice. This is part of the secret sauce behind what made old school point and click adventures and RPGs like Baldur's Gate so great. Every area has unique challenges and there is very little repetition. The lack of creativity in many games today is really depressing considering how many millions of dollars go into each one.

  • I see on the show they talked a little bit about how mobile could end up being the more profitable bedrock on top of which more expensive games are built, and I'm not sure I agree with that. If you look at the numbers, right now the real money is still in retail console games. That might be shifting over the next few years, but right now mobile is still a ways off from overtaking console in terms of money. Popularity and growth yes, but not money. Not yet.

    I don't have the sources on me right now, but the vast majority of iOS apps don't really make money at all. On the show they already noted how the store is pretty stacked in favor of a few ultra-successful games, and even those are only about as successful as middle-of-the-road console games. The comparison to Nintendo is especially jarring.

    I think the entire Angry Birds franchise last year brought in less revenue than a single Mario game. Nintendo also still brings in more revenue in a year than the entire App Store has since its creation. Sure that brings up complications between Nintendo's hardware business, software business, and Apple's hardware business. I'm just trying to show that a platform's popularity in no way correlates to how successful it is financially.

    In light of this, as for Nintendo's handheld business, we'll see come August. If they can return the 3DS to profitability and if people flock to NSMB2 like they did the last two games, then they would be insane to dump their handheld business.

  • Firstly, and most importantly, that was a great episode. It was clear that you were enjoying it, and realised how good it was as you were doing it (not just because Supermegaworm made an appearance). That was everything a good round table podcast should be - a group of intelligent, articulate people talking about a subject they love with passion. I'd have Sessler on more often, but I imagine he's a bit divisive!

    One comment though, the section on Episodic Gaming was decent, but had me shouting at the radio (well, at the mp3 player in my running shorts). I'd argue that Walking Dead is pretty much everything you're asking for isn't it? OK, Episode 2 was a bit delayed, but we have cheap, frequently released content with an overarching story, based on a known IP but not reusing the same characters/settings as other mediums and a mature story that's thoughtful and creative.

    Most importantly it DOES answer the big question about episodic content - how do you incentivise people to come back? Well, Walking Dead does absolutely the right thing - it's not a long game chopped into bits, it's a series of mini stories with a plot arc overlaid across the top. This allows the game to bookend each episode and make them partially self contained - it lets you know what's coming and what's been before - and this builds engagement and excitement.

    Each episode is also a reasonable length, just 2 or 3 hours long. But most importantly there is a point to me playing through it because the story is dynamic. I want to play through it because I've made moral choices that I know will affect the story not one episode down the line but three or four. Episodic gaming so often doesn't work because I'm being asked to buy 2 or 3 hours more of a 10-15 hour game I enjoyed. I'm being asked to buy game mechanics. This is fine, but as you pointed out, so few people actually finish retail games that most people (80%) are probably satisfied with the content they already have and don't want more of it. Walking Dead solves this. Make the episodes short, make the player engaged in the arc because they're affecting it and make the game something different to the 150,000 identikit shooters that are out there. Big props to Telltale - I don't think this should be lumped in with their other output, which has felt, at times, rather lumpy and uninspiring.

    I also think Walking Dead, like Journey and Heavy Rain are the first wave of something new, something different for videogaming. I think they're edging closer to what Spec Ops wanted to be, which is using videogames to be an interactive storytelling medium, or a thought provoking one, not just finger and eye exercise.