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PixlTalk Episode 54: Storytellers, Vol. 2

Come, sit on our laps and let us tell you a story!

Instead of romancing their significant others with chocolate, flowers, and back rubs, the Tri-Force PixlTalk crew instead spends Valentine’s Day talking about video games. This week, we go hard on story in games in part two of our Storytellers edition.

We get intimate this time, telling tons of stories about our personal experiences with games like Grand Theft Auto IV, Fable II, BioShock, and others. Then we man up and admit which games tugged at our heartstrings enough to make us cry. The answers may surprise you! After that, we hit on the morality in games issue before getting literary on your asses by talking about what books we’d like to see translated into video game form. So let us whisper sweet nothings in your earholes, and enjoy this edition of PixlTalk. Oh, is that a potato in your pants, or are you just happy to see us?

Featured music:

Yasunori Mitsuda: Frog’s Theme

Yuzo Koshiro: Shenmue Theme




02/17/2012 at 03:19 PM

My favorite Tri-Force crew episode to date. I enjoyed this more than the first Storytellers (which was mostly about Heavy Rain) because this one touched on so many games I've played and can talk a lot about like Halo, Condemned, Mass Effect, Fallout, GTA4, Fable 2, Elder Scrolls, Prince of Persia (2008), and Bioshock. It involved games that made us cry, moral choices in games, consequences or lack thereof, character development, and so much good stuffs it was like an in-depth, honest, satisfying shot of intellectual heroin. Nom nom noms lol. I'm going to have to try hard to focus this comment and talk about the points that would make for the best dialogue. I'll try to keep Mass Effect out of it for now, and wait till the Mass Effect episode because I have so much to say about the cinematics, my favorite worlds I've traveled to in the games and the little narratives you find tucked away in different worlds, the species and cultures Bioware developed, and out-of-left-field characters like Legion whom fascinate me the most. The Mass Effect episode will be so much fun because that series puts me into awe and satisfies my needs to explore, study, effect people, and witness things that are alien to me.

I'll start from the beginning of the episode and just add stuff. I loved the 2008 Prince of Persia a lot like Julian did. My friend Justin bought the game but the gameplay made him sick (literally) because of all the constant acrobatics, flying around, and being dangled above heights. I was the complete opposite because it turned out that my favorite thing about Prince of Persia was all the acrobatics, mechanics, and level designs. The majority of the time you're hanging by a thread onto some obstacle, jumping sketchily between places, being shot through open air, and the whole set-piece is up in the sky. I couldn't get enough of that and the instant the game was over I was already nostalgic for it. The set pieces and environment art are awe-inspiring and will immediatly make you think "Bioshock Infinite city in the sky". Prince of Persia 2008 absolutely had some of the most beautiful environment art and level design and I had a lot of fun playing it. None of that has much to do with characters and story, but Julian pretty much covered what I think about Elika and the Prince, so I agree with everything Julain said just for the sake of not repeating him.

I love the Condemned series but I encounterd a schism between the 1st and 2nd games. Rob said he hasn't got to Condemned 2 yet and I feel you need to be prepared for a dramatic shift in atmosphere and presentation. I fell in love with Condemned 1 because it had a realistic dark environment that was dotted with moments of surreal monsters and visuals. In Condemned 2 the team went from 0 to 60 from the get go and there's literally no realism left and nothing about the story to hold onto. The story is absurd, the magical Oro powers are fucking stupid, and there's absolutely nothing to care about in the game-world. I'm a huge follower of the developer Monolith and I have all of their FEAR and Condemned games, and I've noticed in both series they have a pattern of not giving the worlds any life or meaning. In FEAR 1 Alma terrorizes Auburn City but I was left thinking, "Why does it matter?" because there are literally no NPCs you come across except an asshole who's obessed with eating Cheesy Poos, no narratives to pick up on, no life to see. The city is basically an empty shell and you are just a super-solider wandering around ATC headquarters investigating Alma. It's a great game, one of my favorites, Alma's story is good, but there's not a great environment worth saving. I've actually felt extremely sympathetic towards Alma because of what they did to her, and I want her to get her revenge. The only bad thing is that she wants to destroy everything like a scorched earth policy and even though I want her to get revenge I have to fight for my own survival as well.

In Condemned 1 the city was realistic, there were other cops to interact with, and there was some sense of normality and order so it made sense to try and save that normality. In Condemned 2 the whole city is just a wreck and there's nothing worth saving. You're just a psychotic, pissed off, alcoholic beefcake with a love for beating people to death and you look nothing like the character from the first game. The story goes down the drain, but everything else about the game is incredible. I love Condemned 2 and it's one of my favorite games I've ever played because of the sound design, level designs, combat, and detective stuff. Condemned 2 fucking scares me to death and even when I'm playing a level for the 10th time the scares still terrify me. Weapons are still hard to come by, but they're more fun to shoot when you have them, and the melee combat is expanded upon. There's a level where you explore a doll factory and have a gas mask on.....kill me now, it's one of the most macabre and scary things I've ever played. My absolute favorite level is out in a winter cabin and there's a sequence in that cabin that is one of the most intense things I've ever experienced. I don't want to ruin it but it's such an adrenaline rush, you find yourself sneaking through holes in closets, creeping through the spaces between walls, and scared for your life and survival. One of the greatest things I've ever seen, it was so organic and there was no point in that sequence where I felt powerful and defensible. Condemned 2 has the most laughable story ever, but it has exceptional level designs, encounters, combat, and playing the game makes me more tense and interested in self-preservation than I've ever felt in a game. It deserves high praise and intense ridicule all at the same time.

Julian should definitely play through Halo Reach. Reach is the best Halo mechanically and story wise. I have the novels, all the games, even the anime, I've been invested in Halo for over 10 years now. The story of the Spartans defending Reach is incredible and the incredible fights they put up, as well as the sacrifices they make are really gut-wrenching. Even though Reach has the best weapons, story, and mechanics, Halo 3 has always been my favorite Halo because of the level designs and encounters. Biggest reasons why are: huge sandboxes and live Scarabs in the sandbox that you can board and destroy. My friend and I played co-op Halo 3 for years after it came out. Reach has the best story though, I've talked before about how emotional I got when I opened up my collector's edition and went through all the goodies, then played through the game, saw the ending. The entirety of the Reach experience from pregame, beginning, middle, to end was completely satisfying. 100% fan service, done the right way, done by the best.

My Bioshock experience was like Julians. I just played the demo and decided to get the game. I played through and only picked up on the "would you kindly" deep into the game slightly before the Andrew Ryan sequence showed up. I also thought the way you can deal with Little Sisters is interesting. I killed one Little Sister and felt horrible about the rest of the game and started saving them. I love story but I'm not a writer and I don't have a literary background. I see games from a level design and mechanical aspect so I spent all of Bioshock playing with the plasmids, guns, checking every nook and cranny of the environment, seeing what I liked and didn't like about the timing, perspective, aim, weapon/plasmid characteristics, and studying Big Daddy encounter behavior. I think it was Rob that said he likes Bioshock 2 better. I really liked the encounters in Bioshock 2 better, most notibly the Big Daddy fights because I loved stalking them and setting up traps for them. By far my favorite enemy fights in any game I've played. Killing a thousand zombies in Resident Evil 4 or terrorists in Call of Duty could never equal the experience I got from fighting a single Big Daddy.

Fable 2 got a lot of love and I was really conflicted as to what to do at the end when you can choose between money, family, or the people at the spire. Recently I wrote a blog called Let's Talk Loot and I have a section in there where I talked about my problems with the economy in the game. I didn't need the money by the end of the game, and so I was torn between my family and the many people at the spire. I think in the end I chose to save the people at the spire of all things (even though I loved my puppy and had a big family). I think the reason I felt I needed to save the workers at the spire was because I guilty. During the sequence where you're at the spire, I caved in an started torturing people like the boss was telling you to. I tried to resist and he started stealing XP from me if I remember correctly, and eventually I caved in and started torturing folks. I felt terrible about it lol, so I sacrificed my puppy and family to save the thousands at the spire. It wasn't an easy choice but I felt I had to do it to make things right. After that I quit my playthrough and never went back to finish up the left-over quests.

My GTA4 experience wasn't that great. It was the first GTA game I ever played and I didn't know what I wanted from the game. I didn't really want story, and the story I got was one I couldn't care less about. I couldn't relate with Niko or anybody else. And I didn't feel anything for the NPCs and innocent people wandering around. GTA 4 was a really funny game, I loved the dark comedy and the outrageous characters, but I got bored of it halfway through and quit the story. I just felt like a heavily armed d-bag setting out to usurp other heavily armed d-bags and thugs. Whenever I go back to play GTA4 I just explore the city and eventually go on killing sprees. I love the scope of the environment, all the nooks and crannies to find, and the verticality. Sometimes I'll just hop in a car and drive in the rain listening to the radio, looking at the game's lighting system, the textures, and feel of the cars. I'll take friends on dates to go play darts or drink. Sometimes I'll just walk around and see all the NPCs driving, walking around, etc and it's fascinating. When I'm having a bad day I'll antagonize a guy till he hits me, I'll call the cops, and they'll drag him away lol. I'll walk into a fast food place and toss grenades at the people stuck in there. I'll fly to the top of skyscrapers, spawn a car on the roof, and drive off the roof and crash into the ground far below lol. I'll pick up hookers and do the most horribly psychotic things to them like take them to a dark industrial area where people can't see, I'll bang them over and over, and when they walk away I'll kill them with molotov cocktails and take my money back, it's terrible lol. I'll have hour long gunfights with swat teams. There's actually a perfect defensible goldilocks zone in GTA4 I found where you can have plenty of cover, hold out against thousands of SWAT teams, shoot helicopters out of the sky, enemies are bottlenecked at two points for you to defend, and you can keep it going for ever if you're on the ball. I love RTS and tower defense games so when I was walking around I saw the design for this certain area it just clicked and I knew it would be perfect to defend. GTA4 is like a punching bag for me, but in gaming form.

Carrying on the theme of murdering, the Dark Brotherhood quests are the best thing about Oblivion for me. I played the game over and over with different characters just to go through the Dark Brotherhood again. Rob mentioned the Summitmist Manor mission where you go into a house and smooth-talk your way into this social group and have to kill them all off. It's like a game of clue or something, it's such a classic scenario and that was my favorite Dark Brotherhood mission. I was able to smooth talk everybody and learn about the characters. I killed them off one by one in secret over the course a couple nights, poisoned them against each other during dialogue, never made them suspicious of me, and it worked out perfectly. I'm super patient and enjoy stalking enemies in Splinter Cell, but being able to use my patience and cunning to take out all these people in the Oblivion quest was really something I never had in a game before.

I thought the story and moral choices were much better in Fallout 3 than in Oblivion. At the beginning of the game when I escaped the vault I went straight for Megaton and learned all about the atom bomb at the center of town and how you can either disarm it and save the town or you can detonate it. I decided to disarm it and save everybody, and it was such a great feeling. The dynamic in Megaton is so interesting because there's a church of people that worship it and expose themselves to the radiation, and there's people who are the opposite and want it to be disarmed so it doesn't kill everybody. When I saved Megaton I really felt like it mattered because there are actually interesting people that live there and there are quests to obtain, plus my house is in Megaton. I thought to myself, "Wow, they'll let me nuke this place? How crazy is that? There's no way I could nuke all these people." The Megaton situation isn't even the best part about Fallout 3. The best part is Tranquility Lane where you go into the virtual reality world where everything is black and white, you're a little kid, in this simulated perfect little neighborhood full of characters to interact with. You have the opportunity to frame a husband for adultry, wreck a family, murder people like a slasher movie, instigate a virtual attack by invading Chinese troops to slaughter the neighborhood. and you're being pushed around by the psycho that's running the simulation. It's nuts, that blew my mind not only because of the art and presentation but because of the writing and situations you come across in that single quest.

Speaking of recent experiences I've had, I beat Splinter Cell Double Agent not long ago and in that game you work for two opposing organizations and a numerical "trust" scale system gets affected by the choices you make during missions. In every mission you have primary objectives for each side, optional objectives for each side, and objectives where you have to choose to side with one side and not the other. In Double Agent I cared about the story because I wanted to do the right thing and serve Lambert (good guy) but I knew that I had to do horrible things to gain the trust of the terrorists and get close to their leader. There are huge moral choices you come across like whether or not to blow up 2000 people on a cruise ship mission or sabotage the bomb. There's opportunities to kill your friends or save them, frame people or be honest, attack people or use pure stealth. Double Agent is the kind of game where they force you to ask yourself, "Do the ends justify the means?"

I always wanted to do the right thing but really tough situations were always put in front of me, and I was always taken out of my comfort zone. It was intense at times and I had a hard time balancing the trust system and maintaining my cover. You absolutely can slaughter people in mass, you can become a terrorist, you can lie, you can disarm a biological weapon or you can make sure it gets to its target, and you can betray your friends in Double Agent among many other things, but you don't have to. You have to face every single situation and figure out whether a choice is worth it, if you can live with the choices you make, and what you'll be willing to do for the mission.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/17/2012 at 08:42 PM

Mike, thanks for the kind words. This podcast has been a learning experience for sure, and we've had our snafus and technical difficulties. This was the first episode that really feels like the show I want to produce (though we still need to get some more humor and shenanigans in there), and I'm stoked that you enjoyed it.

Condemned 2 totally has a different feel, and I just can't get into it, even though I've popped it in numerous times. It's just like you said: very supernatural out of nowhere, lifeless areas, and a protagonist so far removed from the first game that you may as well have a totally new character. Combat is still amazing, though.


What did you think of the POP 2008 ending? So many people hated it, but it made perfect sense to me, given the Prince's feelings. It kills me that there doesn't seem to be a sequel was a gorgeous game with some of the best characters this generation.

Sigh. I wish I liked Bethesda's games more. They seem to create some amazing quests, but they're stuck behind such bland characters and janky combat that I just can't get pulled in. I finally traded in Oblivion, a game that I bought in 2006 and attempted to play about 4 times since. I own Fallout 3, and I've started that game 3 times and lose interest after getting to Megaton. I know, there's something wrong with me.


02/17/2012 at 09:03 PM

I've always liked the podcast, but it's been starting to get more and more structured and productive each time I think as you get more experience. Do you have a checklist of stuff you go through to make sure you cover ideas you have? I remember back when you said you wanted to talk about armor modifications in Mass Effect, but never did, maybe you're saving it for the ME episode coming up?

I liked the POP 2008 ending. It was sad but it made sense to me and I felt I did the right thing when I healed the lands. It was a shocking moment that came out of nowhere but in its context it all just made sense, with the lands, the darkness, the two gods in conflict, Elika and her father. It just made sense to save the lands, and not ruin all the progress Elika and I made over the course of the game. I really loved Elika and hated seeing her go, but I saw it as necessary, just like the Spartans in Halo Reach sacrifice for the greater good. I want a sequel to that game really bad.

Bethesda animation and combat design sucks from every way you look at it, but I never buy those games for combat. I get bored of the shooting in Fallout and slashing in Oblivion, but every time I put them in I just wander around and look for weird things I haven't seen before. I haven't beat Fallout 3 or Oblivion, and I don't like the stories for either, but I still wander around in them at times. I was on 1UP talking to Ben Sprague (BrokenH) one time and I told him that Bethesda games don't seem to be "games" as we would think of them. I said that it seems like Todd Howard is trying to create Holodecks from Star Trek, not games. Whenever I listen to Howard interviews he's never focused on the combat or story, all he ever talks about is the environment and exploration. He always go to a lake to see the water, walks through the flowers, scales a mountain, watches snowfall. Those are the kind of things I love most about Bethesda games. The stories, characters, and combat are always afterthoughts it seems, and the world itself is the focus. Howard leads the way over there at the team, and you can tell he isn't focused on the combat and stories. He just wants to make giant places to get lost in, see odd things, wander around and find things organically, and just be an explorer.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/20/2012 at 08:19 PM

We have a basic outline, and we email back and forth at least a week before the show. We're getting a better feel for how we flow together, and I think it really showed in this episode.

You're right, Todd Howard does wax poetic about exploring worlds. And I'd probably be fine with that if the games were all about talking and exploring. I loved Myst back in the day, and I often wished that I could just explore that world in real time. But the Bethesda games have a strong focus on combat, and they just aren't up to snuff. Like I said in the podcast, if Skyrim had combat on par with Condemned I'd be all over it. As it is, I'll be waiting for a price drop.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

02/21/2012 at 04:52 PM

I dont remember if I spoke to you about this before Julian, but the ending to PoP '08 got to me on a huge level as well. After the whole entire game, having to pretty much undo what you were tasked to do in the name of love was pretty amazing. The feeling I got each time I cut down one of those trees was just heartwrenching. I seriously hope that Ubisoft decides to continue that story one day, though it looks very unlikely.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/21/2012 at 05:20 PM

So here's a moment that got me, but more in a "Holy crap what the hell?!" way.  

In Phantasy Star 2, the first series of quests revolve around a man blocking access to the rest of the overworld.  You find out that he's murdering and robbing people to get money to pay the ransom on his daughter. There's several dungeons you have to play through in order to progress to the point where you find out all of this and rescue the man's daughter.  If you've never played Phantasy Star 2, the dungeon layouts are the most brutally hardcore of any game I have ever played.  

Once you rescue her, she hides her face to keep from being noticed by her kidnappers.  Your party tells her about her father.  Eventually you get to the tunnel where her father is and they are re-united, but not in the way you'd expect.  The girl approaches her father in disguise.  Her father attempts to rob her, assuming she's just another passer by.  She resists, and he kills her in a disturbingly bloody way.  While dying, she pulls off her mask and uses her dying breath to relay her disgust of her father's behavior to him. The woman's  father then kills himself in his grief.  It was a pretty crazy scene for it's time.

(If you want to watch the youtube link, mute it and skip to 4:50.  The guy doing the let's play is really annoying.)

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

02/22/2012 at 05:42 AM

This was a damn good episode, I have to say. Great discussion, guys.

I really like the 2008 Prince of Persia as well. I'm actually playing through it again on my new PC. Oh and I liked the ending too.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/22/2012 at 10:34 AM

You know, I figured I'd list my ideas for video game conversions too, just for fun

1: Shakespere's Julius Caesar.  Come on, am I the only one who loves this play?  It's got one of the best monologues in theater history, and it certainly could make for a great game.  The game, like the play, could take place in two parts, with the first casting you as a member of the senate in a Heavy Rain style choice centered game, and the second could be a strategy game that changes based on your decisions in the first half of the game!  Make it happen!

2: Not so much a specific story as an author, but Kurt Vonnegut's writing is very unique.  I'd love to see a game inspired by his writing.  It could be bat crap crazy and still be true to it's souce.  Seriously, with that as your base, you can go just about anywhere.

3: Ok, here's my "lowbrow" pick:  I'd like to see a game based on Stephen King's "The Tommyknockers."  Think Deadly Premonition / Silent Hill hybrid.  Focus more on the horror and less on the campyness.  This is probably my favorite Stephen King novel, mostly because the source of the terror is actually downright freaky in concept.  I'd love to see this happen.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

02/22/2012 at 10:36 AM

I like Julius Caesar, Angelo. You're not alone.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

02/22/2012 at 01:27 PM

A couple more throughts on this topic:

I always wanted to see a Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now video game.  Looks like Spec Ops: The Line is trying to tackle the concept.  Good luck to them.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep / BladeRunner has a fantastic video game adaption.  You guys should check that out!

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