>Talking About Talking: The Fake SFTC Podcast

>We’ve been wanting to get a STFC podcast going for a while, now, and we’ve been so busy with other things that we haven’t been able to figure out the logistics of making it happen. (Speaking of which, if anybody reading this can recommend a reliable method of recording Skype calls, please leave a comment below.)

In the absence of having a podcast, then, what follows is a fake transcript of what a STFC podcast might sound like, as we’ve been having a rather interesting email conversation about Uncharted and Brutal Legend over the last few days and we don’t feel like keeping it to ourselves:

Gred: Goddamn, the Uncharted 2 reviews have me salivating!!! They even motivated me to start clearing my plate for its release. I went back and played a bunch of Batman. I think I’m nearing the final act (just left Croc’s lair, now on my way to have it out with Poison Ivy in the Botanical Garden). Once that’s wrapped up, I’ll go back and push through Uncharted 1. And if there’s still time left over before U2 comes out, I’ll finish HL2 Episode 2. I hope you won’t be too quick to swear off Uncharted 2 multiplayer! I know you’re not an online shooter guy, but if it’s as fun as the initial buzz suggests, then there should be plenty of fun to be had even by the sucky…

Fuck. I just remembered that Uncharted 2 and Brutal Legend come out on the same day. I’ll buy both, but how am I supposed to choose one to play first???

Jervo: 1. You are indeed near the end of Batman. But I would make preparing for U2 your highest priority.

2. I tried the U2 multiplayer demo last night for a few minutes; it’s definitely U2 multiplayer. As combat is my least favorite part of Uncharted in general, I’m not entirely sure how much time I’m ultimately going to spend with it (especially since my bluetooth headset doesn’t always work), but it’s solid and clearly no joke. If you’re so inclined, I’d say you should download it when you get home, and maybe we can try it out together before getting DiRTy.

3. I’ve preordered both U2 and BL, and having played the BL demo already, I think my choice is clear; I’m playing U2 first. I liked the BL demo, although I’d already seen most (if not all) of it already – it’s more or less what they showed at E3. And I must admit that I’m not as excited about BL as I feel I ought to be. The more I hear about it and how it changes from a GoW action game to more of an Overlord-type RTS, I get a little… I don’t know… nervous. U2, on the other hand, is right in my sweet spot; that’s the sort of game I want to be playing right this second.

Gred: I’m super excited about BL. I totally trust Double Fine. Psychonauts certainly wasn’t perfect, and parts of it were tedious, but it was all wrapped in such a terrifically imagined world with such outstanding writing that I was able to forgive a lot. I don’t expect BL to be the be-all end-all in terms of its gameplay, plus I’m beginning to wish Jack Black had never become involved, though that has admittedly provided a good visibility boost which should help sales. But until Double Fine fails me I will buy their games on day one, RTS elements and all. So that’s why the strategy stuff doesn’t make me nervous as far as my own enjoyment of the game. But it does worry me from a potential sales standpoint… A game based on an original IP that doesn’t lend itself to easy categorization could find itself in limbo at retail. Not that Double Fine should kowtow to the mainstream 100%, but Lord knows they could use a hit.

That said, I probably will play U2 first. Seems like U2 lends itself more to burning through the single player campaign in a fevered rush, whereas I could see myself taking my sweet time with BL.

Jervo: I’m an old-school Jack Black fan; I am generally embarrassed whenever he appears in anything these days (except for Tropic Thunder) but I loved Tenacious D before it was cool to do so, and everything I’ve seen of BL confirms that it was a perfect casting choice. (I was going to say something snarky here about how voice acting’s impact on gameplay is less than negligible, but that’s not necessarily true; it’s only true when it’s obvious that 90% of the development budget went towards the voice acting. Frankly, one of the things that made the first Uncharted so endearing was the quality of the voice acting, and all the reviews indicate that U2 is even better in that regard.) I’m sure BL will be enjoyable, and I’ve already ordered it, so I feel like I’ve done my part in terms of supporting DoubleFine. It’s just that, well, U2 is going to be jaw-dropping.

Gred: Dunno if you saw that Action Button reviewed the first Uncharted: http://www.actionbutton.net/?p=607. I haven’t read it yet, but I assume it’s a great read!

Jervo: I told you about this the other day. They call it a “murder simulator.”

Gred: Oh. Right.

Yeah, so I read it. Definitely not one of their better pieces. I thought they’d take it somewhere more interesting, but they kind of briefly made their point, and then the review fizzled out.

Jervo: Well, considering that our main problem with the game is that you can’t kill the bad guys easily enough, I think it’s a pretty insightful point to make. The game does such a fantastic job in terms of story and presentation and motivation and yet it can’t be ignored that you’re killing hundreds of human beings – and I was never actually sure why I was killing them, except that they were in my way. It’s a similar observation to that of going to Rapture in Bioshock and eating potato chips out of the garbage that are at least several years old and getting healthier as a result.

Gred: The Bioshock potato chip thing makes very little sense, particularly because of how dissonant some of the contrivances in Bioshock are with their bend-over backwards attempts to get you to buy into the plausibility of Rapture, as the ActionButton guys brilliantly observe and explain in their review.

All the Uncharted killing, though, makes at least some sense to the extent that all of these guys are trying to kill you. I agree that the combat gets tiresome and that the game would have been more interesting with fewer, more considered confrontations. But movie-like games remain games nonetheless. They require a different sort of suspension of disbelief than movies do. Drake is not Indiana Jones. Drake leaps up crumbling fortress walls hundreds of feet up as a matter of course, whereas if Indy did that repeatedly (rather than, say, as a unique set-piece moment) we might not so readily accept it in the context of a movie. It’s not apples to apples.

But if we do want to compare apples to apples, I don’t really see how Uncharted is all that different from most large-scale shooters. How is exterminating all of these guys is different from annihilating untold numbers of Covenant, German soldiers, Locusts, etc.? Sure, those are framed as larger-scale “save the world” scenarios, but at the end of the day it’s still “Kill them or they’ll kill you.” Drake’s own adventure admittedly starts as a mere treasure hunt, which is hardly the noblest of causes nor one that would justify a triple-digit body count. But as far as I’ve gotten in the game, they’ve worked in enough alternative motivations (search for and rescue Elena, avenge Sully) that the killing just doesn’t bug me from a moral standpoint (though it gets pretty damned tiresome from a pacing/fun perspective). Plus, the enemies in Uncharted are presumably mercenaries, i.e. men who have entered the private army business for money. These guys (including Drake!) are all vying for a big fat prize, and they are all willingly playing a high stakes game. In that regard, it wouldn’t be a tragedy from a story perspective if Drake was killed during his quest. He’s a mercenary of sorts himself. From a gameplay perspective, of course, his death sucks.

The Uncharted body count doesn’t keep me up at night. Far less morally challenging or ambiguous than, say, the countless games which turn World War II into a shooting gallery. (Sure, I play them. But there is something about it that’s unsettling.)

Jervo: Indy’s personal body count in Raiders, by my perhaps faulty recollection, is actually rather low. He punches a lot of dudes, and knocks out a few guys to change clothes, but he really just shoots that one dude with the sword – and according to film legend that was an ad-lib by Harrison Ford because he was violently ill and didn’t want to do the fight scene choreography. The guy he fights by the plane ends up getting his own head chopped into sushi; shit, even God ends up killing more dudes than Indiana Jones.

I’ll admit that the combat in Uncharted is necessary as it breaks up the action and creates a different sort of tension. It’s a game, after all, and you kill dudes in games. And it was clearly something that the design team thought about and tried to implement as well as they possibly could – the cover system works well, the death animations are convincing, and the whole thing would’ve been perfect if the enemies hadn’t been so bulletproof. As long as we’re talking about Uncharted influences, Tomb Raider’s combat (at least in the more recent, better iterations) is not nearly as much fun or as well implemented – of course, there’s not nearly as much of it, either, so it kinda evens out.

But I submit that Uncharted is different from other large-scale shooters because Nathan Drake is not a soldier, and he’s not saving the world. He’s not killing aliens or Nazis or zombies. More to the point, I don’t want Uncharted to be Modern Warfare with platforming and puzzles. My favorite parts of Uncharted – as they are in Tomb Raider and other games of that sort – are the exploring and the puzzle solving, when you’re not rushing against a clock or dodging bullets, and you’re free to examine the environment at your own pace. That’s the part where you actually feel like a treasure hunter, because it’s actually you and your brain that’s solving the puzzles; that’s the part that could actually happen in real life. You don’t have to suspend any disbelief (other than the idea that every archeological find can only be found by moving blocks onto weighted floors).

Gred: See, that’s where I think their point is interesting. Would/could Uncharted have been a sales hit without all that shooting? Shooters sell. Is there a “realistic” style exploration-based adventure game that sold out there? I can’t think of one. So they are totally right to call bullshit on all of the gamers who cry foul and say “Not all games have killing!” Right. Just the ones that sell. And 85% of the games I buy. But I still find the term “murder simulator” to be a bit silly.

Jervo: Would Uncharted have been a sales hit without the shooting? No, probably not. Does that suck? Yeah, it kinda does. Can we be grateful, then, that the combat mechanics in Uncharted are at least well-designed and constructed, except for the bulletproof enemies? Absolutely, and that’s probably got as much to do with why the game did so well as anything else. Hell, that’s why they built a whole multiplayer mode around it.

BUT.

There’s still way too much killing in Uncharted than is necessary for the game to still be successful and enjoyable, and that’s a stone-cold fact. And the fact that the enemies are bulletproof merely exacerbates how tedious it becomes, this killing of people over and over and over again. We can assume AB purposefully uses the term “murder simulator” to recall good ol’ Jack Thompson’s railing against GTA, and in that context they’re probably right – I’ve probably killed more virtual people in Uncharted than I did in GTA4. (Not counting driving accidents, of course.)

Gred: Sucks that it wouldn’t have sold without shooting: Herry hoo. [Translation: Very true.]

Too much killing: Herry hoo. (Though I still see the high body count as a difference of degree and not kind from most other games.)

I love that running people over in GTA games doesn’t count! Even if you try to play the earlier games as a “nice” criminal who avoids killing the “innocent” (Niko can’t really be played as nice), you can’t avoid running people over or the game will just be hell. So it’s a “necessary” evil, the necessity being that it would otherwise take forever to drive anywhere!

And then, suddenly, we were both hit by a truck.

2 responses

  1. >Enjoyable read, gents.I think that in the wrong context, Jack Black can be annoying, and in the right one, he can be tremendous. (High Fidelity comes to mind.) After playing the Brutal Legend demo, personally, I can't imagine it working nearly so well with anyone else. I think he's *perfect* for it, and I can't wait to spend more time with Eddie Riggs.And regarding the moral questions raised by Uncharted 2, I will simply defer to greatness and quote this review: http://e4g.info/1188/uncharted-2-among-thieves-review.html"Any Uncharted game wouldn’t be complete if you can’t kill anyone."

  2. >I agree with you 100% about Jack Black. He certainly does not suck across the board, but I kinda have to take him in limited doses. A little Black goes a long way.

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