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Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark Podcast #62

No High Scores

Just another ho-hum week of Jumping the Shark this week. Except not really, because EA2D’s Soren Johnson joins us to talk about his latest project, Dragon Age: Legends. Woo! If you’re not familiar, Soren’s past credits include Spore and a little gem we’re fans of around here, called Civilization IV. We skipped the what we’ve been playing portion of the show this week to keep the dialog focused on Legends. In the process we also talk about the past and future of social gaming, the development challenges and perks of trying to make an actual game in an arena largely known for Farmville knock-offs, and maybe, just maybe, a little Civ IV chatter too…

iTunes Link

This week was a normal multitrack edit, which usually means you’ll get the best quality we can deliver. I hit a couple snags this time that I couldn’t work my way around, so if you hear a bit of a hum or a high-pitched whine that go in and out, my apologies. I did my best to get rid of that and through 95% of the show it’s not noticeable. The hum was very likely a PC fan that, for some reason, was much more prominent in the opening minutes of Soren’s track than it was later on. Hopefully you don’t even hear the high-pitched whine that comes in and out with some of Dani’s audio. Binky doesn’t hear it. Bill hears it, but only just barely. I think it’s finger-nails on a chalkboard, but then, I was wearing some fairly decent headphones. Let us know if you notice it as I’m curious.

As for the content this week, Soren’s an engaging guy to talk to and we’d very much like to have him back on in the future. Just an incredibly friendly and gracious person. As for his game, the thing that strikes me about Legends is that it really does work as a game. I don’t play other Facebook games, but it strikes me as a cut above the usual Farmville type stuff. No, it’s not like playing Origins or anything, but as a sit down and play for ten or fifteen minutes while waiting for spaghetti to cook kind of game, it’s pretty neat. You get your character, you march down a path to an encounter, recruit the characters of some of your buddies, and play out a turn-based battle. In between you build up a castle with rooms that help load you up with potions, equipment, etc. This stuff will, in turn, help you get through some of the tougher encounters. In some ways, I dig this dynamic better than the encounter system in DA2 because of how it integrates a lot of out of combat decisions with what you’re able to do and how effective you are in combat. I won’t be forking over real world dollars anytime soon, and I’d hardly skip playing DA2 to put 40 hours into Legends, but if you’re looking for a neatly-balanced game, that a couple times a day, you can throw a half hour at, Legends is well worth checking out.

Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark Podcast #61

No High Scores

Danielle is back in the hizzy for this week’s episode of Jumping the Shark, and it’s a darn good thing given our topic segment is devoted to the goings on at PAX East and she’s the only one of us to go to the big show. This week also takes Brandon off the leash to talk about what he’s been playing (Bulletstorm and Homefront), I chime in with some further refined thoughts on Dragon Age 2 (I’ll be posting more on it this week), and Bill analyzes Shogun 2 and why the Oda clan can’t seem to stay alive.

iTunes Link

I’ve written before in this space about the importance of redundancy in recording. This week turned out to be a perfect example of why since my audio, as recorded in Audacity, flaked completely out about 45 minutes in. It was very strange. I was editing the show as I always do, moving right along, when out of nowhere every time I spoke it sounded like a half second of noise and then nothing. The next 30 minutes were all dead silence, only returning to normal with about ten minutes left in the show.

My first thought was to panic that something had happened to my mic and all of my audio lost. Of course, since everybody else could hear me throughout that couldn’t have been it. I clicked to unmute the recorded Skype track, which I keep synched with the individual tracks while editing, and sure enough my audio there was intact, making it possible for me to switch to the Skype track for the second half of the show. Crisis averted. That said, if you notice a change in audio quality after the first break, that’s why.

I’ve no idea what happened to my Audacity recording, but as it has in the past, the backup recording was there to save the day and our year+ streak of not losing a show to technical difficulties continues for another week. Whew!

Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark #60

No High Scores

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!

Writing About Talking: Jumping the Shark #56

No High Scores

This is the first week of Jumping the Shark I’ve missed in a couple of months so, of course, they chose a topic near and dear to my heart: Romance in games. I guess with the show being released on Valentine’s Day, I can forgive such insolence. It’s harder to forgive the fact that with all the Bioware talk, Baldur’s Gate II was mentioned only in passing. Seriously, Bill, that’s all you’ve got?

If you want to talk about games that handle player “romance” in a way that doesn’t make you cringe, for my money, BG2 is the poster child. (Disclaimer: Given how long it’s been since I actually played the game, I may have the whole rose-colored glasses thing going on.) More after the jump…

No High Scores

Ah, Jaheira, you saucy minx. You complete me. (No, not really.)

In all seriousness, you have to grade on a curve when it comes to romance in games. I think the so-called romances in Baldur’s Gate 2 worked, in part, because nobody really knew they were there. You were playing the game to play it and not to see which characters you could “score” with, so if your character ended up going down a romantic path with a party NPC, it was unexpected, and therefore more genuine, and not because you kept reloading dialog sequences until you found the one that worked.

In the case of Jaheira, I recall spending half of this gargantuan fantasy RPG just trading dialog about friendship and the nature of loss; she had, after all, just lost her husband at the start of the game. And because it was a much more primitive game by today’s standards, the romance was entirely about the dialog, rather than getting to the “steamy” cut scene showing characters with uncanny valley eyes uncomfortably doing stuff that may or may not resemble a PG-13 sex scene. Your relationship with Jaheira, should you choose to pursue it, builds gradually, as you travel the world, completing quests and the main storyline, and it unfolds in a way that can be meaningful if you’re the type that can put yourself in the shoes of your character.

People seem to be fairly divided when it comes to the question of whether or not games should incorporate romantic elements. Many justly think that if you can’t do it well, don’t do it and I think we can all agree that the vast majority of games are unable to handle such encounters in a way that would hold up to similar relationships in a novel or movie. That said, I don’t think it’s a mistake to incorporate love and adult relationships into games. If a game is trying to tell a story with some emotion, to exclude love from the equation, because you can’t represent it as well as can other forms of media media, is pure surrender. If it fits in the context of the story the designers want to tell, romance can absolutely add to a game. It is, after all, a fundamental part of the human experience and, where games are unable to accurately reflect said experience, I’m more than happy to do the heavy lifting of connecting the dots in my own mind. Just give me the dots.

When it comes to romance in video games, I’m fond of saying that you tend to get out of these games what you put into them. If your only goal is to get with every possible character and you always choose dialog options to that effect, you’re going to get a more juvenile result. You are, after all, behaving like a juvenile. (And that’s fine. I imply no judgment in that.) But a game like Dragon Age typically offers you the opportunity to play it with at least a relative amount of sincerity. For example, I actually liked the way Bioware handled the character of Morrigan because the game’s writers put an arc in for her that meshed well with the way I wanted to play my own character.

Morrigan, for all her power and intellect, is a child when it comes to understanding people. Her entire life she’s existed outside the fringes of society. She has not been taught to value life and she lacks any understanding of what it is to exist within the framework of organized society. People are a mystery to her and, convinced of her own superiority, not one she cares to solve. If you, as I do, like to play The Big Damn Hero archetype, you can, over the course of the game, evolve her perception of both people and love. True, some of the silly junk you have to do (gifts) and say to raise up her preposterous approval meter does break the immersion, but I found it worth overlooking because the result, the obvious inner conflict she endures and ultimately finds herself unable to truly succumb to, is done reasonably well. It will be interesting to see if anything becomes of her character when the sequel arrives next month. More interesting will be seeing if, and how much, Bioware is able to grow in terms of providing a romantic option for your new player character. The company loves to talk up how important story is to their games and why romance is such a critical part of that, so if that aspect of DA2 turns out to be all about getting to the inevitable sex scene then I will be disappointed. I think they can and will do better.

Back to the actual podcast. I was whipped from traveling this week and some other events that were going on. With very little free time this weekend, I took the cheap and easy route and again edited using the Pamela feed. With only a three-person show this week, it’s still much easier on the ear than last week’s show.