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Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark #60

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It’s a busy, busy week for Jumping the Shark 60. We were missing Danielle, who had a work function, so that sucked. But Tom Chick was back with us after an extended absence and it’s always great to have Tom on. This week we had an extended discussion about Tom’s GDC encounter with Starcraft II lead designer Dustin Browder as well as a pretty detailed look at the Rift MMO. With spring training finally here, that means baseball games, and Bill got deep into The Show. I wrapped up my red ringed 360 saga and spent a fair chunk of time talking Dragon Age 2. By this point Brandon gave up any hope of having time to talk about what he’s been playing, so we dove into our topic segment: DLC.

iTunes Link

Since The Straw drove out from the far off land of Ohio this week for a quality weekend of boardgaming here in Indiana, I skirted my editing duties, leaving editing our group Skype recording on Brandon’s lap. Big props to Mister Binky for picking up my slack and for putting up with a week that is probably a bit less than stellar in terms of audio quality. I haven’t listened to the show yet, but Tom’s Skype connection was a little spotty in the early going and I had some background noise going on in parts as my dad was in town, visiting. Hopefully the content makes up for that. Enjoy!

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at

24 thoughts to “Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark #60”

  1. Listening to it right now and I think I heard a cat
    Also, DAOrigins did have a specialisation that could be taught by a party member, so no DA2 didn’t add anything

  2. I won’t have a chance to listen to this until tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to it. Tom Chick is great podcaster. I like the way he teases his way into every topic, describing a game he’s about to talk about before naming it outright so the listener reflexively starts predicting what its going to be. It’s a very effective hook, and he’s always funny besides.

    I’ll need to clear a time when I can slam the mute button on a moment’s notice, though. That guy drops spoilers like everyone in earshot is strapped to an electric chair, and the only thing to do before throwing the switch is casually mention how Michael Scott will leave The Office.

  3. Even with Danielle absent, you guys are the about the furthest thing possible from a dude/bro podcast.

    By the way, a Jaws/Gameshow theme materialized fully-formed in my head as soon as you mentioned it. I’m recording it and sending it, whether you use it or not.

  4. That’s right! I completely forgot about Tom’s cats adding some extra flavor this week. (This is the type of thing you can’t hide when you record a Skype call.) Ah well; totally worth it.

    On the specializations, I was also right that there are two skills (at least for what’s-her-name the widowed fighter) in her “extra” skill tree that she does get automagically (for free) if she likes or loathes you enough. They’re not necessarily good things, though. For instance now that she likes me, she actually takes 10% of my damage away and deals it herself. Something about “overbearing.” Whatever. I like her.

  5. Well then, I’m glad during the DA2 section that I left out the part where the Grey Warden from Origins appears and replaces Hawke for the rest of the game. That was awesome.

  6. So, what difference does ‘monetization’ make? I’m a capitalist and think it’s a good thing. Why would it matter if the DLC was ready at release or a month later. The sense of entitlement I hear is overwhelming. I don’t think that you’re looking at a valid choice, the choice really is do not include the content, or include it later as DLC. Saying it should be included for free on release isn’t going to happen. They probably started on the expansion (or massive DLC) several months ago, should that be free as well?

    Not that it matters, I’m sure that day 1 DLC is here to stay.

    It’s still better than the microtransactions that social gaming is into.


  7. This issue was brought up on the show, at least that was my intent. I was specifically referring to Assassin’s Creed in how that game offered up DLC later on that “filled in” story gaps in the AC2 plot.

    Of course those plotlines were not essential to the story, but that’s how Ubi did it.

    I think it’s a valid question. Is there a difference in offering up DLC a month post release or having it sit there with a big taunting yellow quest marker over a guy’s head in camp? Hey here’s this quest (that’ll be XXX MS points, please”) Capitalism is swell and all but didn’t I just drop $60 for this thing? I don’t think it has anything to do with entitlement, it’s just something very new to gaming that people are still wrapping their heads around. I’m all for Bioware and EA making money.

    Day 1 DLC doesn’t really bother me nearly as much as the exclusive content stuff. That’s a slippery slope I wish the industry wouldn’t go down.

  8. She transfers damage done TO you, not BY you I think that’s still of fairly marginal use unless you’re aggressively offtanking (say a 2H warrior) or a blood mage using her as a health/mana battery, but I made friends with her anyway because she’s awesome.

  9. “The Force/Fortitude system” is very annoying actually,because when they hit you and you fail the check then your hero lose the command you gave him.This add unnecessary micromanagement and some times your rogue or mage can be locked on the ground or against some wall and can’t get up before next hit by enemy that toss him down again and you can’t do nothing.
    Also when enemy rouge insta kill your mage or rouge on wave number 3 and you must replay 9-10 times just because you must micro all the time and some battles take 1 hour,like the high dragon with 1 billion HP.Actually the battle is faster just in animations ,the real timer is loner,because your enemies had 1000 times more HP than your character…and there is no real tactics in 99% of battle ,just one proven that works and a lot of micromanagement.

  10. The lockdown of your low-fort characters is a good thing, IMO. You actually have to pay attention to the enemy position, be careful about moving across the field and make decisions about just how much aggro to get on your tank.

    One-shotting enemy rogues can be avoided by spiking them down first (rogues are very good at this), or by kiting them until they reappear. You’ll often be able to kite a bit, see their targeting ring appear, and use an AOE to force them out of stealth to be murdered.

    The game does require a lot of micro on hard difficulty levels, but that’s perfectly appropriate for a pausable party game. You have unlimited time to get the micro done, and theoretically when things are hard each action you’re choosing should be tactical anyway. I don’t agree that there’s no real tactics in most battles, as level layout actually matters a bit, and there seems to be plenty of different viable party builds that operate very differently.

    I will grant some of the bosses seem to be operating more off their HP bar than encounter mechanics, though there’s contrary examples like the ARW who revolve around a burn phase – get your execution right and this apparently lengthy fight can be quite short.

  11. Re:You can’t aggro all the time,because of the spawning waves of enemies.
    Re:You can’t disable enemy rogues on hard or nightmare,because they have too much HP,even with assassinate skill there is many bosses that can take the damage.
    Still i think it’s personal thing.I can see maybe MMO player would like this kind of battles,its just not for me 20 min to hack a boss mindlessly.

  12. I think there’s something to this. (Not so much the “mindless” but the nature of the combat now.)

    As much as the player’s physical actions haven’t changed a lot (click this button/hotkey to activate an ability, use again when cooldown expires), the nature of the combat seems based much more on MMO gameplay/strategy than did Origins. That’s just a feeling; I almost never play MMOs so it’s not for me to say. And it’s not necessarily a better versus worse thing so much as it is what you’re used to and what you personally like.

    I just know this feels very different in practice and, 15 hours or so later, I’m not sure it’s for me. Maybe I still just need to learn, but the pacing feels very frenetic and out of control. I don’t like seeing full healthbars just flat out disappear. I don’t like watching characters explode (purely a style/graphics thing). I don’t like how almost every battle involves preparing for the inevitable reinforcements. It’s like monster closets all over again. (This happening in some encounters would be fine. Adversaries should be able to set a trap and catch you from your flank or whatnot, but it’s *all* the time.) I don’t know. I keep thinking with more time I’ll gravitate to this system and learn to appreciate it for what it is, but it hasn’t happened yet. Different strokes, I think.

  13. I’ll have to re-read that. I was sure it said transfers 10% of damage from your character and adds it to Aveline’s damage output, but what you said makes more sense.

  14. More good stuff. (I swear some of you here have just some fantastic comments.) I viewed the combat changes -and you’re right, the system is really very different- as a replacement as opposed to something new. True, you replace a system and you are taking out the old and adding something that is new -that’s still design work done- but I think if you only replace and remove from one game to the next then it still comes off feeling like a net loss. And it’s not that giving games a more narrow focus is inherently bad, I just think it’s not inherently good either and with DA2 I still feel like I lost more than I gained relative to the Origins experience.

  15. I enjoyed the show! I’m a new listener since I came to the blog first, but I’ll certainly be following it from now on.

    Re RIFT: everything sounds good so far but it’s hard to know what it’s really going to be like until the endgame is solid. The rifts themselves sound like they’d be fun initially but not something to base longterm play on. My 3 1/2 years in WoW were spent mostly in raid instances, the levelling game was not a big deal.

    Re Dragon Age 2: I think we can very easily point at mechanics that have been added, but only in the combat space. The Force/Fortitude system is new, and really matters in Nightmare mode, where a carelessly positioned rogue can get tossed around like a ragdoll even by normal mook attacks. Aveline’s damage redirect tricks (hell, high-impact unique character trees in general) is another good example. Add to that the larger number of viable builds, the fact that difficulty levels actually matter and the classes having meaningful roles, and we can see that somebody has done some really great systems work over at Bioware in a short period of time. They’ve delivered improvements that are really quite surprising given the constraints the quick turnaround made obvious elsewhere (hello prefab dungeons!).

    There’s also the personality system, which is really quite neat. I started a second playthrough and went the comedic/snarky route, and was surprised at the shift in Hawke’s tone and her automated/ambient lines. This is step up from Mass Effect, though it’s not a tangible system.

    I’m coming to agree that the game does need some out-of-combat toys, though I think it’s a thorny problem to solve. Origins/Awakenings made the error of mixing combat utility into the skill system, compounded by the number of companions (in all other ways a strength) preventing crafting skill from being a constrained resource. You don’t want to weaken a player in combat as a result of their non-combat choices (otherwise balancing gets hard), or make encounter-focused optimisers give up on fun side stuff because they want to play on Nightmare.

    I’d say either you need a purely cosmetic system (Hawke can be a tailor! She can make a dress for Merrill, and half a dress for Isabella! I probably need an example that they wouldn’t prefer to sell as DLC!) or have a really robust social conflict system with its own ability trees (with the caveat that some “RPG traditionalists” react pretty badly to social combat; it’s not real roleplaying apparently). In either case I’d make it exclusive to the hero unless you had some way to test multiple characters at once in the same way combat does. You’d also need to work around respeccing somehow – I think respecs are essential, but it feels like they’d trivialise out-of-combat challenges unless a really careful context was created for them.

    Re the Exiled Prince: While he seems pretty disconnected in Act I, the guy feels tightly integrated with some of the key Act III stuff. I definitely felt the same way about him as Todd did for Shale. Sebastian should have been the pack-in, not the preorder :<

  16. Oh man, don’t get me started on that.

    I played Origins under the presumption that, like Baldur’s Gate 2 and Mass Effect 2, my character would be importable into future sequels. It affected several key decisions, particularly towards the end of the game, so it was incredibly disappointing to hear Bioware was rebooting the protagonist. Not to mention replacing the combat system I’d loved so much….

    It’ll be interesting to see how Dragon Age 2 strikes me, especially since playing Awakening immediately beforehand is reminding me of all the stuff it won’t have. I almost wish Bioware had cast this weird side-story idea as a spin-off from the main franchise, rather than an ill-fitting sequel.

  17. From one new JTS listener to another, I recommend going back and listening to their back catalog of episodes. I haven’t found one yet that felt out of date. It’s particularly interesting hearing their anticipation for games like Red Dead Redemption and Heavy Rain, followed by their evolving reactions once they’re actually released, and the weekly topics are broad enough that they haven’t gone stale in just a year’s time.

    Also, you owe it to yourself to hear the “Pokemon, bitch!” story first hand.

  18. LOL. I had completely forgotten about that story. Can’t remember what ep that was from. Sometime in the spring or summer?

  19. I just reached Episode 20 where you all were packing up for E3 2010, so it was a few episodes before that. Probably in the 10 – 15 range?

  20. I’m not telling you that you have to like the system – it’s perfectly OK for you to not. But I was absolutely murdering enemy rogues on Nightmare. Get a little CC on them to stop them stealthing, and if Assassinate doesn’t kill them, follow up with Twin Fangs or have a second character assist. It doesn’t work everywhere, but there’s a definite place for focus fire/pure DPS on Nightmare.

  21. I love WoW dearly, so it might explain why I’m reacting so positively to the changes A pausable MMO-style combat engine that lets you control a whole party is pretty great for me. Of course, DA:O was like that too, it was just poorly balanced. Making challenging encounters for it was really rough.

    I’m not entirely sure the encounter design is taking full advantage of the new system (outside the Rock Wraith, which is quite good), a bit like FFXIII which had a fantastic combat engine but only really exploited it in a few battles. You need to have a lot of significant encounters to set up a good learning curve.

    I like the waves on trash. I feel like a lot of team vs team games have a “lame duck” phase that sets in pretty early once one team has spiked down a few members of the opposition and established a numerical advantage, leading to a death spiral on the other side. Reinforcements fixes that – maybe it’s not elegant to use that fix on every trash pack, but at least it’s a fix. I like the way it encourages you to use chokepoints and think carefully about when to invest cooldowns/stamina.

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