32 MIN READ
Nick Halme and Kyle Stallock Argue About Games On Purpose
Kyle Stallock and I go over Dragon Age's quirkiness, the "state" of Rockstar, being immersed in games, and whether or not there is some objective measure of a game's success (then implying that you can make marked "improvements").
Soon-to-be Eidos Montreal community manager Kyle Stallock and I recently felt we "needed to talk" after I bemoaned my time with Dragon Age. I thought it would be interesting to record the conversation. Beware, for it spirals quickly into madness.
Nick: So, you liked this game. Well to be clear I liked it as well, but am angry at it for not being so great.
Kyle: And I am curious to hear what you didn't like, and I don't mean that in any hoity toity I'm BETTER way.
N: Right. Well, some blanket things then -- it pretended it was non-linear, but it made you discover it was linear by letting you roam to areas you couldn't handle.
For instance I went to the city before I went to the forest with the werewolves, it took me a few hours of failed fighting to realize I wasn't supposed to be here yet, and that's why I was failing.
K: Why were you dying? And what skill level were you playing it on?
N: Normal difficulty, I was just not doing enough damage while taking too much -- signs that my tactics weren't at fault, my level was. I came back after the werewolf forest and wiped the city clean.
As an FYI, I also played for forty hours, didn't feel like finishing.
K: Hmmm. Did you cast cc [crowd control] of any kind?
N: So I was playing a 2H warrior; I would keep my party behind a corner and lead the baddies into a bottleneck so I could cone of cold them, then shatter and chain-knockdown.
That tactic failed at first, but after some leveling, I actually didn't need to follow that strictly, I was just the correct level for the area.
So that's part of my beef, it seems like a misguided attempt at non-linearity.
K: Sorry to ask...but you know cone does friendly fire...right?
N: Yep, I was not hitting my own guys, I've played RPGs before.
K: Haha I didn't mean to be uh...mean.
N: I would just plain run out of mana and energy in those fights.
K: I didn't run into that trouble, tbh. And on Hard. I hit Soldier's Peak first.
N: What were you playing as?
N: Well, did you travel out of lockstep with the leveling progression (that I think is hidden in there, anyways).
It sounds like you lucked into playing it the "right way".
K: Oh god no. I think I did it in reverse, from what you're saying. What helped is that I used Shale...all the time. He's a god.
N: Really? Where did you go first? Hell if anyone can remember the mission names, but the general area. Who's Shale?
Oh he's that DLC golem.
When I quit, my party was myself as an Elf warrior, the war dog, Morrigan, and I would switch Alistair back and forth with the Dwarf.
K: The war dog's terrible IMO. Who was your tank? And did you have taunt?
N: I actually did fine in a lot of areas, pretty well in some, but there were some fights (the spider boss, the un-patched Broodmother, the Revenant in the castle) where I felt like there was no strategy to use, I just had to come back later.
When I had Alistair he would tank, but not very well. The war dog was actually maybe my best party member.
With his aoe stun, knockdown, and two other warrior types doing the same thing, when I was doing good there was rarely anyone standing to attack
K: Oh Alistair built as a tank is nuts. Especially with something like...juggernaut's armor.
N: I found he could never hold aggro, even when I switched to him. And he often died while tanking, so I stopped relying on him.
K: How did you spec him? Constitution points and taunt and threaten?
N: I left him with Templar armour, and yeah all the warrior abilities my character didn't need -- I found mass taunt, when it worked, got him owned.
Found more success in being very offensive -- maybe that playstyle was prohibitive, not following the traditional tank/dps build.
N: But again, when I had the most trouble, Alistair was with me.
K: And if you have Wynn to back up Alistair it's gg. Plus...give Wynne tactics to make sure Alistair stays alive.
N: Yeah, about that...I accidentally made Wynn angry, and that strung up bitch had to die.
I started slanting Morrigan towards healing though; she managed it and still did her job as caster dps.
I mean I did have realizations that were fun and showed me I needed to be strategic; I struggled with the final battle in the werewolf forest until I found out I had to freeze the trees the whole time, or whatever.
But the Revenant, I beat him by kiting him for about twenty minutes. And using a lot of my potions and injury kits once Morrigan was out of mana.
K: Yeah, that can happen.
N: It just had so many moments where I was having the opposite of fun, negative fun, and didn't see solutions available.
K: I felt the same way as you for my initial ten or so hours, but then I really started experimenting with character combinations and playstyles.
N: Oh I experimented, and at the end of my time with it I was doing alright, I just wasn't having fun any more, the fighting was such a potion chugging contest...and they make it really hard to make potions.
I don't want to craft in my RPG.
K: Haha. How was it hard, if you don't mind me asking?
N: Requiring tonnes of reagents, and expensive ones at that. Also having to run to the few locales with shops.
Just let me pick an elfroot off the ground and if I'm high skill, make that into a big potion -- or require several elfroots.
I also stopped using traps as they didn't seem time or cost effective. They won me a few fights, but in very specific encounters.
Granted I'm not a huge RPG fan, but I'm a huge turn-based RPG fan, so I thought it would jive.
K: It does. Sounds a bit like you needed to specialize, but I could be wrong. Like you maybe tried too many things.
N: Maybe, I have to say I'm pretty good at this whole videogame thing though, and that game was rough.
Like, I started playing Ninja Gaiden 2 again in lieu of it, rough.
K: But that's a different kind of skill.
N: I just didn't see much skill in Dragon Age. I saw a lot of time-sinks and potion stocking. It was hard to find anything to master.
Now take Mass Effect, granted it's more "mainstream, lead you along", but it's never unclear in what you have to get better at to succeed.
And I mean I also thought it would be more "tactical", but at the height of it I still found myself in WoW whack-a-mole fights.
K: I didn't see it like that at all, tbh. Especially mid to late game. I had to scout and plan my attacks accordingly. If I didn't I was fucked.
Most of the time it came down to Alistair tanking, Shale providing a massive buff, Wynne healing, and my guy going ape shit and killing everything...from behind.
N: But what planning was there? There was some "I need to fight them here, split those guys up, etc" but the rest was: use my aoe, crowd control, then whack them a lot and use a lot of potions.
Maybe as a rogue your party benefited a lot more from the setup, mine didn't. I guess I did go more brute force.
K: Isolate the mage with some anti-magic spells, taunt the physical attack people, have the rogue go and rip the mage to shreds.
N: I did the equivalent, yeah.
K: Sometimes I had to kite the bosses while two ranged people took him down.
N: My dog would pounce the caster, my melee would tie guys up and my mage would nuke.
I also didn't have a lot of ranged options, that fucked me hard in the un-patched Broodmother fight.
K: I just had Wynne use range.
N: My dog has a hard time using a bow, and both my warriors can't hit the broadside of a giant tentacle monster, ynow.
K: That dog...that might've been your weakest element. He's terribly limited.
N: I'm being honest, he was my best cc and at times, tank.
He saved my ass in a lot of fights; so initially I thought "oh, he's throwaway" but he ended up being very useful. Especially since he could draw health from those dog treats and leave more potions for the others.
I did have a co-worker say he had a good time with basically a necromancer setup -- I started playing that but just couldn't grind through again.
I just hope the hyperbole for [Dragon Age] 2 isn't a letdown. Or an all out lie.
"Think like a general and fight like a Spartan with dynamic new combat mechanics that put you right in the heart of battle whether you are a mage, rogue, or warrior."
Think like a general? Really?
K: Yeah that's for the meatheads.
"HOORAH" "OMG I NEED THAT GAME"
N: Unfortunately "Think like a general" usually just means "Attack from the side and get bigger numbers!"
K: But regarding Dragon Age, I think you just had a bad setup. And it could be the game's fault for not letting you know it wasn't ideal for your playstyle.
N: That's part of it sure, it requires certain playstyles and allows you to proceed with flawed ones.
Because I could have finished the game, I'm sure, I just wasn't having fun with the way I had to fight.
K: You can use a mod to respec, ya know.
N: I enjoy RPGs because I can plan and then watch my planning pay off. And I don't know if I would enjoy playing it like a WoW instance either, is the thing.
Like really, I need to have a tank taunt people every fight and then pick off the guys not attacking me?
I have a huge sword and a huge suit of armour for god's sake, why am I not tearing guys apart?
K: Well I mean the job system's been around before instance play.
N: I haven't played a tonne of RPG-like games that require it, or push it to that extent.
K: Well you don't have to do it like I said. It's just one way.
N: One of my favourite turn-based games is Valkyrie Profile for instance, there was certainly a tank concept, but it wasn't required.
If you fought well, no matter who was with you, you won battles.
K: What do you mean, "well"?
N: So, in Dragon Age I would make a plan and execute it, but the encounter would just continue -- I'd have no mana, get injured, and basically feel like I was under-leveled.
As an example in Valkyrie Profile if you were smart with elemental weaknesses and combinations, you could clean up.
K: Maybe your plan was wrong? Or not suitable for the encounter?
N: Dragon Age felt almost like one of those Russian games like Stalker, where it's unnaturally harsh.
A lot of your plans sound like my plans, so no I don't think that was it.
K: Could also be in the execution and how I specced my characters.
N: I get that they were going for "dark, realistic" but you're always near wiping.
K: FYI my girlfriend rarely plays games and she thought Normal was just fine, almost easy from time to time.
N: Oh sure, about half the game was pretty easy, but it only pinpointed how badly designed I feel the previous encounters were.
I mean some places, like the mage tower, I destroyed the hell out of that. So why did I have so much trouble in some other areas?
I guess it reinforces your point, but I always felt like I was using the wrong characters
K: You might've, to be honest. Well, not wrong.
N: And I have a problem with there being wrong characters. Or combinations rather.
K: Using some characters might've been more difficult for you, in a "you specced these in not so good ways", yeah.
N: I believe I specced everyone optimally.
K: There are definitely worse ways to build characters.
N: A lot of it was a no-brainer; mages have a lot of options, but there are very few mages.
K: I really think having the dog was your biggest failure.
N: On my alt character, who was a mage, I actually did have an easier time.
Naw, the dog -- I think the dog even tanked some bosses. The fight with the Dwarf assassin chick comes to mind; he was one of the last party members alive, and killed her.
I think my problem maybe was that I was a direct damage warrior. Like I said I had an easier time with my mage; I got maybe ten hours in with him.
That game was just a lot of work.
K: But the dog has very little options and doesn't make up for the lack of options with higher stats.
N: Not really. He has an aoe stun that is great, and I believe two damage over time knockdowns.
K: But compared to the ones other players get it's not as good. Yeah, but the dot knockdown incapacitates him.
N: It also incapacitates mages trying to wipe my party with one fireball. Which is also fucking ridiculous.
I don't know if it happened to you, I assume it's universal, I got nuked quite a bit by mages.
K: Yeah but I could do much more with my rogue.
N: My warrior hit things hard, that was about it. He hit them really hard, but that didn't seem to be the order of the day.
K: Glass cannon.
N: No, I mean he was also hardy -- he had heavy armour, the heaviest. Which meant managing his attacks was harder.
But the problem was not my main character dying prematurely. A lot of it I think was just plain bad encounter design.
K: But what was his constitution? From all the people i've talked to no one had these problems.
N: You want the number, hell if I remember, but I never leveled withut putting a point in it.
K: Did you sunder armor? All that jazz? And who was your warrior dps?
N: Believe me, I did everything. My main character, my dog, and when he was with us the dwarf were melee dps.
K: So you had two warriors? And the dog?
N: When I tweeted about this I actually got a fair number of tweets back agreeing, I think a good number of players had this sort of experience.
Yup, I tried the rogue and she just didn't perform, and my other options were useless Alistair and the giant guy.
I suppose I could have controlled Alistair myself, but I didn't find that fun. Frankly whenever I took him, I missed my dps.
I would lose fights because we couldn't kill fast enough, and ran out of healing. My Morrigan was pulling double duty healing and using aoe attacks.
Everyone developed a chronic poultice addiction.
K: Ever think the fights are maybe supposed to be drawn out longer than you initially anticipated? It's certainly not a hack and slash.
N: I think they were lazy, actually. Here are guys, now there are more guys, fight them more.
And there I am going, really, this many guys?
K: Easy peezy.
N: Which is funny because at a point, I was able to fight two ogres at once no problem.
K: Aoe stun, life drain, mass life and mana regen with Shale.
N: But a lot of the fights were just bad.
Again, I didn't have the DLC character that is better because he costs money.
K: It was certainly better than ME2's fighting system. That's bland as fuck.
N: Well, that's a question of if you enjoy the meat and potatoes of shooting guys.
K: But it's so basic.
N: At least their encounters made sense.
They didn't throw units at you to cover up the fact that being unfair was their only knob for tuning difficulty.
K: Haha. Ireally didn't have that problem very often. In the beginning, yeah because I specced wrong.
N: I'm sure half the players didn't!
N: No, wrong I think.
You can spec poorly and increase difficulty in Mass Effect, but doing so in Dragon Age undersells the term "increase difficulty".
But then I'm not sure what you mean by speccing poorly, lots of their trees were very simple
I didn't stare at their talent trees like I did in WoW.
K: Like constitution on a rogue, that's poorly.
N: I said ok, my character is a 2H warrior, so I won't put points into the shield, one hand weapons, bows, or dual wielding...I'll have enough dexterity to hit at my level, constitution fitting for a warrior, and clearly little intelligence.
But to move on a bit, another issue I had was the world map.
I actually would have loved lots of random encounters, but they had very few. I wanted to grind, and I would move across the whole map to try and get an encounter.
K: You wanted to grind? Are you asian?!
N: Also learning that the map I saw was the whole world was dissapointing.
Like really, I don't get to go over those mountains?
K: But they flesh out the story, characters, and locations to make up for it IMO.
N: I played WoW remember, I appreciate being left to my own devices and fighting guys for loot.
K: Like look at Red Dead...opposite effect.
N: I actually think the writing in Red Dead is head and shoulders above Dragon Age.
K: Shit I played WoW. I have a motorcycle in it! Yeah no idea what you're talking about on that writing...
N: At maybe thirty hours in [to Dragon Age], I just turned the volume off and listened to podcasts while I played, skipping through the dialogue to find the right choices.
I didn't find much of it too original -- I've read enough epic fantasy novels to understand what the Elves are hung up about.
K: You weren't emotionally invested, eh? Oh it's totally boiler-plate. But a good boiler-plate.
N: And everyone was very antagonistic, it made it hard not to go "Oh alright, I'll just make you dead".
K: Compared to Red Dead, DA didn't have the conflicting design choices.
"Oh this is John Marston...he's fairly educated...but then he goes and tries to assault a fort by himself and almost dies..."
N: I'll admit I don't like how they wrote John Marston.
K: I haven't finished it. So don't spoil.
N: Oh neither have I, but I get the idea. I wanted him to be a decrepit bandit with a good soul.
K: I got sick of the shitty dialogue and game design from '99.
N: He's a good guy. I'm used to Rockstar protagonists being fatally flawed.
K: Yeah. But what you do in the game conflicts with the cinematics. Plus...it portrays this "REAL" old west, but the gameplay is cartoony. Just like GTA IV.
N: Yeah totally, but that's their thing -- half their audience is still angry that they got any more serious than stabbing hookers.
They have a very goofy surreal aesthetic, but it's not bad.
K: No. the aesthetics are solid.
N: But you can't say you enjoyed the writing in DA more.
K: It's the gameplay that sucks in Rockstar games. Yeah I did. It knew what it was. Rockstar games almost never do...except Bully.
N: Well I guess that's just expectations, growing up I watched... maybe every Western ever over my dad's shoulder, and it works fine for me.
I almost made in my pants during the Good Bad and the Ugly mission.
K: I rolled my eyes. The Housers aping off of other people's ideas...like always.
N: Sounds like you didn't want a Western!
Well yes...they're pop culture aggregators.
K: They don't think so.
N: Well I hear they don't think a lot of things. But that didn't hurt the game for me, those are certainly flaws though, I can see why you would roll your eyes.
I enjoy a good Spaghetti Western vibe though.
K: Yeah I didn't get that vibe. Too cartoony. It was like a spoof of a spoof of a spoof.
N: Yep, that was my problem with all GTA games before IV, which I liked a lot.
K: Spaghetti Westerns were, in a way, spoofs. the Terence Hill Westerns were spoofing the Spaghetti Westerns, and Red Dead was spoofing the Terrence Hill stuff.
N: I would have preferred a Deadwood game, but they just weren't making that.
K: Character-driven, gameplay where you don't kill hundreds of enemies...Rockstar can't do it.
N: They can sure destroy employees trying though!
K: Hah yeah. They need David Jones back.
N: Ah, well APB wouldn't suggest that, would it.
Personally I think they could do with stealing Brian Wood back.
K: I still can't believe people are calling Red Dead game of the year.
N: Have you seen the other games...of the year?
K: ME 2 seems like it was made in another decade, with Red Dead being from the '90s (not a compliment...and yes great games came from the '90s...but you know what I mean).
N: I didn't get a '90's vibe from Red Dead. The '90s makes me think of Unreal.
K: How has the gameplay changed from GTA II? GTAIII? Even further, the original GTA titles.
N: You're upset that the GTA Western plays like GTA?
K: Yes, actually. GTA's setting was better for emergent play...and that's the best part about GTA titles.
N: What can they do, make it turn based?
K: It's sad that one of the most raved about features in Red Dead is the checklist of things to do.
"There's so much to do in this game."
No, goddam it, no.
N: No it's not, it means the thirty seconds of fun is not the catching point, it's the world they built.
Sort of like WoW. That game is whack-a-mole in a virtual world, but the world is fantastic.
K: Yeah. but achievements? Checklists? Shoot me now.
N: That's just the sort of gamer you are then, I agree with achievements, but like I said before I like to grind -- prefer to do my own thing and grind.
I had a good time getting some of the suits in Red Dead, running around completing their checklists and finding stuff to do in between.
K: I hope most gamers are like me, or will be in the future, because there are an almost infinite number of things to do that are more entertaining than increasing my gamer score or wasting hours hunting animals to get a different pair of slacks for my virtual character.
This is where I agree with Ebert, btw.
N: But I'm not doing it for the end goal, I'm doing it because it's specifically not a mission where I'm being funneled.
K: In some capacity.
N: That game is about free roaming, and I enjoy free roaming and doing those sort of pseudo-quests, which are admittedly soulless in themselves.
That's something I really hate about Western [development] trends, everything has to be a mission. Or a scripted sequence.
I'd actually enjoy it if you just threw me in a box with ten guns and a hundred zombies once in a while.
K: Yeah. Also...WHY THE FUCK IS THERE A RADAR.
N: Like the mini map?
K: Yeah. WTF.
N: Yeah, it certainly has uncomfortable GTA vestiges.
Like, you worked on it for how long and how hard and it still looks this much like GTA?
K: And plays exactly like it, without the potential for emergent play. I spent so long in GTA IV's multiplayer fucking around with people.
N: Just less of it, not none.
K: Yeah...fuckRed Dead's multiplayer.
N: I have a friend who didn't play Red Dead because there were no cars.
K: That shit was fun at first but there's so little potential.
N: Well the GTA IV mp was throwaway as well. I dont know why they continue to waste their time with it.
K: Mostly, but you could do all kinds of stupid shit.
N: It must be on some Rockstar New York checklist "Add multiplayer that will die". Thats a whole can of worms though isn't it.
K: Ramping off strange objects, flinging your character from a fast-moving vehicle, run from the cops....have a buddy sit in the back of a van and have him toss out grenades.
N: Yeah, Red Dead is very empty. But it has moments.
K: Totally. Nice day and night cycle.
N: Chasing one guy then shitkicking him and bringing him back to town...I'm glad that exists.
K: Yeah. I think the cops have chased and killed the same hobo-looking fuck over two hundred times in my fifteen hours I've played the game. or maybe it's twenty to thirty hours. I have no idea.
Same random encounters...auto-lock on...racing missions (JUST LIKE GTAIV! REALLY?!)
N: I played GTA IV very strangely though, I don't like just causing havoc if I'm alone.
K: I don't either.
N: I wasn't the guy driving on the right side of the road, but I really got into being Niko.
N: And the uh, bald biker guy from TLAD [The Lost and Damned DLC].
K: I drove appropriately, desperately trying to get immersed. TLAD was silly. Worse than Stone Cold starring Brian Bosworth.
N: I thought it was very dark, besides the shit ending.
K: That shit would've been a Spike TV original movie and would've failed.
N: In my hometown they have a biker problem, and I've seen a lot of those guys, and it was really freaky pretending to be part of that weird modern day warrior culture.
K: Dark? Nah. That was childs play.
N: Like, lets go murder some dudes, because they called us names. Thats some straight up medieval shit, but it's happening in a city.
K: Oh yeah. My dad was with the Hells Angels in Cali for a while. Not as one, but good friends with them. Crazy stories.
N: Yeah for sure, it's surreal.
K: But the stories he's told me are more fucked up than the ones in the game, so maybe for me it was a little blah. PG-13.
N: I'm not saying they did an amazing job with TLAD, it's not transformative, but I got some great time out of it pretending to be a biker with just a tinge of conscience.
I don't know if I'd consider shooting a guy crawling away wounded with a sawed-off shotgun to be exactly PG-13.
K: Yeah I can't do that. Glad you can. The world presented to me and what it actually is are too distant for me to feel any kind of immersion. It's PG-13 for me with the cartoony voice acting, graphics, etc.
N: That's too bad, I guess there's some suspension of disbelief that can happen where you just get into it.
K: Totally. I just didn't get it for the reasons I said earlier. I can in most other games, though. Easily.
N: Really? Example.
K: Mass Effect. I'm really into being Shepard...until he talks. The cast of characters is very strong. His character's the worst in the entire game.
N: I find ME writing so stilted.
K: It is...when Shepard talks.
N: And its definitely PG-13.
K: Yeah. HL2's obviously easy to get immersed. Blank slates usually are, though.
N: Sure. I like ME though, I just had better roleplaying happen in GTA IV.
HL2 more than 1 obviously. With Alex, I think is what did it.
K: Yeah, could be.
N: Then, I did have a good time with Opposing Forces
K: Yeah, they did a great job.
N: Like that one moment, where you're tying to uh, escape something, and this blast door closes and you see the G-Man get into a helicopter.
He gives you a sort of "See you later, enjoy barely surviving" look, and you get that soldier left in the shithole feeling.
K: Awesome. Honestly, I think I've been immersed more in The Graveyard than any GTA title.
N: The Graveyard?
K: From Tale of Tales.
N: No idea.
K: Oh shit dude, it's beautiful. Ever heard of Tale of Tales?
N: I did play The Path though. Hated the shit out of it. It was just...bleh.
K: What did you expect?
N: A game?
K: In what sense?
N: In that I don't sit watching a girl on a swingset look at a boy while I think "So this is some sort of little girl predatory Red Riding Hood analogy, I guess" while random shit happens.
That's not the sort of artsy I appreciate.
K: Hmm. Do you mean "game" as in a traditional and more mainstream aspect of this medium, or as a piece of the medium in general?
N: No, this from a guy who cried a single tear playing Passage. I just think The Path was vague and poor.
K: Do you react the same way to vagueness in other mediums?
N: How so?
I mean in a novel, "vagueness" is how you turn a short story into a novel. In The Path vague is explaining away your rudimetary story with a premise.
"This looks bad and is stupid, but I guess it jives with their premise."
K: Being vague is intentional though, in this sense. Tale of Tales is more interested in communicating emotion, and/or stirring up emotion in the player than telling a complete and all threads are tied story.
N: No heart strings were pulled when I was walking through a house with lights flashing and weird noises playing.
K: But maybe you're not the audience.
N: Or maybe they didn't pull it off, and they failed to make me their audience.
K: Maybe they weren't trying to make you a part of their audience. It could be a specific game for a specific demographic.
N: Demographics are a nice way of saying that some people liked it but most people didn't.
K: Not really, demographics can be 4-90.
N: Sure, a demographic is a fluffy excuse.
K: All media's not for everyone.
N: There is a "enjoys pointless cinematics that don't seem to have a point" demographic? Because by that logic they made a perfect game for their "demographic".
K: You might not see something there, but others might.
N: I saw it, and I didn't think it was done well.
K: Or feel some kind of emotion.
N: I saw what they were going for -- and this was the point where I rolled my eyes. They suggest something vague and then make something vague happen and let you interpet it, maybe that's some sort of post-modernism, but I don't think it was good post-modernism. I enjoyed walking through the creepy forest, but I expected something meaningful to happen, and instead I got some bullshit.
N: So am I Woody Harrelson or Wesley Snipes?
K: I'm not saying who's who. I'm just saying you might be seeing it...but you might not be feeling it. And that's no fault of yours.
N: My problem with that is that is suggests there's no room for improvement. "I liked it" doesn't take the onus off of that something to communicate.
It's like modern art or dadaism, like so I'm to understand that this stool with a cup of peaches on it "means something"? No, I think it means that the artist is doing the laziest thing ever.
Of course it can produce emotions, because my mind isn't blank when I look at something, but if that's all you've got, I'm not ready to call that thing "artsy".
K: So what is art to you then? Something with a lot of effort put into it?
N: Effort has nothing to do with it.
K: Days/months/years of work?
N: The author has to convince me that they're trying to say something to me -- if they're not, I don't need them, I'll go stare at the mountain range for a few hours.
K: So you hate minimalism art?
N: I think there's a difference between minimalism and suggestion. I think The Path "suggests" a lot of intent, but has very little to say.
K: You should try The Graveyard, it takes five minutes to "play".
N: I will, maybe it's better.
K: It's less abstract. More blatant.
N: Because I've seen this sort of thing done well.
Before the guy who made World of Goo actually made that, he was also part of this competition where, I think it was Microsoft interns, had to make a game every couple days.
N: He made this one, with a similar art style, that was just a guy with a magnetic head right
and there's a Juliet-type character on a balcony.
I forget what exactly you have to do, but you're trying to slingshot roses up to her I think, and it's very Tim Burton. That made me feel something, and I think it was because a) it had gameplay, interactions, failure -- it did still suggest meaning, but it did it artfully.
K: So you're saying you're a big fan of David Lynch.
N: Andy Warhol was a dickhead, experimenting.
I haven't seen much of Lynch, but a lot of his movies are on my "to watch" list.
K: Yeah you'll probably hate it all.
N: I guess what I'm saying is that Lynch is actually good at what he does. The Path is not good at what it does. But then it's a little indie game. For what it's worth it's neat, but I just didn't get anything from it -- I was actually anticipating it as well.
K: Wait wait wait...wtf does that mean "but then it's a little indie game"?
N: I can appreciate that some people spent a lot of time making a game, and for being a tiny game, at least it was made. It's not terrible -- there are terrible games. It's just not at all what it should have been/could have been.
Like shit, look at Machinarium. It's great, but it was made by an experienced company. I'd like to maybe see The Path remade when those guys have a lot more experience and funding.
I'm glad you enjoyed it, but bleh.
"I find most people don't enjoy our game"
"It must be that we have created art!"
Same reason some people loved that terrible Twin Peaks knockoff, Deadly Premonitions.
K: Oh no, this is way different.
N: Why? There is a demographic that loves bad Twin Peaks knockoffs. So it's validated, right?
K: Wait what? What's validated? People can like whatever they want.
N: So there are no good or bad pieces of media?
K: Everyone has their own tastes, sure, and based on certain qualities some people may think there are good or bad pieces.
N: So you would say to Tale of Tales "Keep on keepin" rather than "Maybe make a better game"?
K: Yeah. positive reinforcement for a company I admire. They've indicated they're intelligent enough to know where they could improve if they should desire to do so.
N: But how do you improve on something that your core audience already likes? Do they make the grandma sit longer? Add more flashing lights inside the grandmother's house?
K: I don't think it's about improving an individual product.
N: But as their design tenets improve are they not moving towards making a better game? That more people will like?
K: To the former, "better" in what way?
"That more people will like?" I don't know if they explicity intend to grow their reach with each release. And each release is very different from the one before instead of being fundamentally the same with a new coat of paint (SUP ROCKSTAR AND 3/4s of developers).
N: So theyre going to make new games that are different but the same as their previous games, because there is no such thing as improving a game that isn't trying to improve?
K: You lost me.
N: As much as some people would like to believe that they possess a brain structure different from their comrades, they do not.
K: In what way?
N: If The Path can't be improved because it already appeals to those special brains...that implies that no other brains are able to grasp it, and heightens it because it abolishes the concept of worth, because it can't be compared to anything.
K: Wait wait wait.
N: There is no reason why they can't look at their game and go "Hey, that was not very effective, now that we have money, lets do that right so that more people get the emotional response we intended."
K: That's up to them. Did they achieve what they wanted? Are they satisfied? All that jazz. But you seem to have this idea that everyone can derive any feeling from a piece of media if they are smart enough and willing.
Or that "art" and that silly "chair all by itself" art is made by stupid lazy people.
N: I'm saying that if you propose the opposite, it sort of breaks the physics of authorship.
Example: Could Tim Rogers improve his writing?
K: Man...I was having a good night and now you had to bring him up.
N: For the purposes of science, bear with.
K: Outcast nerd with a superiority complex.
N: But by your logic, his writing is entirely suitable for the consumption of outcast nerds with superiority complexes, right?
K: I have no idea.
N: Could he not still retain some of that and improve his writing so that, you know, it's better?
K: I try to stay away from them.
N: Because this sort of "everything is someone's treasure" concept seems to seek to abolish the idea that there is a benchmark.
K: Wait, you're comparing Tim Rogers to Tale of Tales?
N: Both are authors of content delivered to an audience -- a minority audience, with a larger group of people that don't get it or want it.
I just can't accept The Dude's "Well, that's just your opinion, man."
K: It's a bit different when dealing with something like The Path vs. Tim Rogers.
N: The purpose of an analogy is to compare two similar things that are, in any other case, not the same thing.
Comparing The Path to The Graveyard doesn't serve much of a purpose as an analogy. Theres common ground in who is consuming that thing, and the questionable quality of it.
K: But improving someone's writing can simply be as easy as reducing passive voice.
N: I like Tim Rogers, that's subjective, you like The Path, that's subjective, but we both have to admit that there is room to improve that would bridge that gap more.
K: Improving a piece of art? The parameters aren't so cut and dry.
N: And improving The Path can be as simple as adding dialogue.
K: Whoa. That's not cut and dry.
N: It is, both games and writing are art forms.
K: So games without dialogue suck?
N: Games that don't say anything, don't say anything.
K: But how would dialogue....I'm confused.
N: Sounds like feigned confusion.
K: Not at all. Flower doesn't have dialogue. Would you improve that with dialogue?
N: Flower has gameplay that speaks for itself, The Path is all up to the surroundings. Walking is not gameplay, for instance.
K: But on a universal level, cutting out passive voice benefits relatively all writing
or reducing it.
N: Just like writing random letters is not writing. Sure games are case by case and the technical aspects of writing are somewhat universal, disregarding chosen styles.
K: Yeah, so "adding dialogue" is completely different than "reducing passive voice".
N: No, it's analagous in that both can be improvements, it isn't in Flower because it has something else that serves the purpose of communicating.
If The Path even had the character identify one of the boys as "Mr Wolf" all of a sudden it's admitting it has a point. Otherwise I could make a game where you play an apple bumping into an orange, and it's commentary on the heat death of the universe, because I say it is.
K: But many people inferred a relatively similar plot from The Path based on the information presented, and the experience.
N: No, they inferred it because they had a website with that information on it.
K: That a fact?
N: That's not a fact, that's an assertion.
I took all their flimsy scenes as being metaphor because I knew it was about Little Red Riding Hood.
But otherwise it's a collection of girls walking towards a house.
That said, I would love to play a game that had the balls to be so absurd as to claim that grinding fruit was representative of the heat death of the universe.