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PixlTalk Episode 60: Pop Cast

A round robin discussion by some pop culture junkies.

Oh hey, didn’t see you there. It must be time for another edition of PixlTalk, Tri-Force style! This week, Patrick takes us on a pop culture journey into fantasy game development. Before that we spend some time talking about what we’re playing, including Kid Icarus: Uprising, Gotham City Impostors, and Silent Hill: Downpour.

After that, we go into a round robin brainstorming session, talking about what pop culture properties we would love to see given the video game treatment. There are obvious ideas like G.I. JOE, eclectic ideas like a version of The Hunger Games with permadeath, and even a game idea based on TMZ. Yes, that TMZ. We also get heavy into comics, wanting games based on Powers and Sandman, and much much more! Things get a little…weird at the end. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Featured Music:

M: Pop Musik

The Seatbelts: Tank!

Cold Slither: Cold Slither

Aqua: Barbie Girl



Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

03/29/2012 at 11:57 PM

I think it's time to blow this scene...OKAY, 3, 2, 1 let's jam!


03/30/2012 at 06:27 PM

You're the man Patrick, you've really been coming up with some really great discussion topics. Everyone seems to be playing some pretty cool games. Sucks that Downpour was such a drizzle and Murphy Pendelton was such a jabroni. I probably won't be picking the game up at all now. In fact I still haven't finished Homecoming. I was actually enjoying Homecoming quite a bit. I loved the town, the music, and the couple puzzles I had to deal with. I just took a long break from the game exactly like I did with The Room and I haven't been back to it in a while. I don't have any big problems with Homecoming, it just didn't hold my attention for more than a few hours. At the moment I'm playing a mix of full games and demos. I've been on a demo spree trying out stuff. I'm obsessed with Civilization Revolution, and I desperately want the full game so it just shot straight up towards the top on my list of games-to-buy, right behind Deus Ex Human Rev. I was so happy that Sid Meier got a shout out in this episode when you guys were talking about diplomacy in a Star Trek game I think it was. Another game I've demoed and really want now is Warhammer 40k Space Marine.

As far as full games go I've been doing a first playthrough of Fable 3, which is a long story and I wouldn't know where to start with that game, so I won't. Finally, last night I started my second playthrough of LotR: War in the North and I'm having a blast, it's way better than my 1st run through the game. My 1st run was kinda "meh", but my 2nd run on a higher difficulty has been a whole new game. The game is so much tougher and requires strategy and defense in a way that's similar to Dark Souls. I walk into encounter spaces holding the bumper so that my shield is brought up and everything. I've died so many times in the first castle alone and it's always made sense and I've been able to up my game and overcome it. Not only is the combat even more fun but I was able to take my leveled character and use him. There's tons of replayability because just like the enemies, the loot all levels as well. When I ended my 1st run I had the best junk in the game, but at the beginning of the 2nd run I basically had the worst junk and I was more than happy to engage in more loot fests and dungeon diving. Even the RPG skill tree and stat features are built for replayability. You will never max out on the 1st run. You'll get a bunch of cool abilities (I didn't feel cheated), but you won't even get 50% of the skill trees maxed on the first run. Jules I remember you were saying you wanted to check out the game, and I can't recommend it enough. I even wrote a blog about it a couple days ago going into detail. It's review-ish but I don't like calling it a review, it's just a gaming update to me.

Boom, wall-of-text is well on it's way to fruition, I must continue. I thought everybody had really amazing ideas for pop culture inspired games. I especially loved Rob's Real World idea. I agree with Rob, I love seeing games be able to work as social experiments. That's kinda of the way I look at Mass Effect or any games that present you with ethical dilemmas. Not just ethical dilemmas, but I like games that give players freedom to show their personality and habits, especially when people don't realize they are showing it. It's fascinating even watching people play a game like the Sims, Sim City, or Civlization because some of the mechanics in those games are completely void of violence or what many define as action.

Anytime I visit my cousin JoJo she is always playing the Sims or some social online game. I will literally sit and watch her play for an hour just to study what's happening. We will talk about the houses she's built, she'll show me her decorations, her floor plans, the families she's built, and the deeds she's done. One time she told me that in order to obtain this house she wanted, she actually killed the person living in it and usurped the plot of land. I was like, "What? You can kill people and steal? You're...okay with that?" Whenever I play Sim City I always try so hard to please as many people as possible and I always support the clean energy efforts, science education, and socially progressive things, even when protestors or corporate representatives start gathering outside my mayor's house. I love strategy games and god games like that. I can't wait to buy Civilization Revolution because I have too much fun with those mechanics. I usually focus my civ on science and culture gathering and I have a secondary focus on military spending. I avoid open war as much as possible but I do build a ton of spies and sabotage other civs in every way I can. I tried waging war against Alexander the Great one time and laid siege to his capitol Athens, man that was a fucking stupid idea. He tore us up from the floor up, none survived, and when the battles were over I didn't even have any units to send back home with their tails between their legs lol.

Usually at the end of the demo I built up a catapult army (3 units), combine it with an archer army (3 units) and I go unleash a full assault on Montezuma and the Aztecs because in the demo they're probably the only ones I can defeat in war. I know It's fucked up, but it's a lot of fun. I'm just fascinated by these Sid Meier games because there are so many conditions for victory and you don't actually have to engage in war at all if you don't want to. There's such a variety of victories like domination, economic, scientific, cultural, etc. You can research and implement different types of governments from Despotism to Democracy, and you can even strictly institute religious fundamentalism or focus purely on science. Plenty of freedom, paths to take, and skills to mix. I can't get enough of these games, Sid Meier knows the way to my heart, as does Will Wright.

When it comes to pop culture-influenced games that I want to make I'm not sure I have any gems like how you guys did. Off the top of my head I want a good Mighty Morphin Power Rangers game. Lots of action, you could run around and do quests for people in a school setting because in the shows the kids are usually pretty young. Then you could band together to fight off giant monsters, have robots to upgrade and personalize like an RPG, than get into straight up action-packed brawls and boss battles on a Godzilla scale. There could be human-to-human combat when the kids are just in their normal Power Ranger form, and then there could also be giant robot combat. The game would be a childhood power fantasy, but in it's narrative and quests maybe it could address issues of bullying, gender roles, maybe there's a divide between the Power Rangers and you have to become a mediator and diplomat in certain quests so that it's not all just violence. Maybe some of the Rangers have problems at home with family and have to be counseled or helped out. Has anybody on the crew played Knights of the Old Republic? In KotOR when you are taking the Jedi trails you come across a Jedi that has become angry and tainted by the darkside. She can potentially become a party member, but I think she can also be killed, I don't remember. Well you have to get to know her, use empathy, and diplomacy in ways that really stuck with me and maybe you could do that with some enemies in a Power Rangers game. Power Rangers has been seen as racially stereotypical and even sexist or racist, as well as just being overly violent and pointless. Maybe it's time to change that image and make it much more than it has been. The Rangers should be presented as real young adults with real problems, but also have this amazing ability to fight for what they believe in and save the world in fantastical silly ways that make sense to kids. You could give them that fantastical universe, but also get them to ask themselves, "I have all these cool power, but what am I fighting for? What matters to me?" Mechanically there's so much potential in a possible PR game, and you could try adding intellectual exercise to it. It'd be easy to fuck it up, but I think it's worth the risk and could possibly evolve the IP and give it more credit than it has. I just came up with that off the top of my head, but I've had some other ideas for a bit longer.

One of the ideas I've had for a while is an open world, social simulation, stealth, evasion, survival, horror game inspired by The Grudge. When it comes to horror I don't care much for chainsaw men and monsters. What really terrifies me and gets under my skin are ghosts. In the movie The Grudge there's a scene where a lady is at her work and begins to be antagonized by some subtle ghostly things. She finds a security guard, he makes her stay in the surveillance room as he goes to explore the disturbances. She watches on the camera feeds as he wanders around finding nothing. But then on one camera feed she sees the ghost girl in the form of a shadow, spill under a doorway, materialize in a hallway, and begin walking towards the camera. The ghost was chasing her and was completely aware of her. The lady is so terrified she runs home safely but the ghost follows her and deceives her in a few clever ways until it eventually ends up in her bedsheets and sucks the lady into nothingness. I saw that and thought I could make a game based on that. She was a completely normal person living her life, not a power fantasy, but she was confronted with some paranormal dangers. She couldn't take self defense classes, couldn't use pepper spray, couldn't whip out an assault rifle and say, "Come at me bro!". An unknown and deadly threat engaged her fight or flight responses and she wanted to survive. Games don't do that and they should.

The point isn't violence, in my game you can't just shoot your way out, you can't just inflict damage on things you're scared of. You have to have scary things confront you, be vulnerable, and engage the survival instincts. You should feel like a survivor, not like a sexy badass. Being a survivor isn't always pretty, and being in a spooky environment won't always leave you feeling confident and empowered. It could be open world and the progression isn't simply about quests completed and XP. It's similar to a film, but it's very mechanical and much more interactive than a Heavy Rain for instance. You create and personalize a character, than the game begins. You have a sandbox in which you live your life, but since you're new to the game you have no idea what to do, you get to wander around pick up on narrative clues given to you through phone calls, letters, emails, conversations, and even dream sequences. There should be a speech tree for sure. You can send in applications to an employer, do a job interview, wander around your apartment complex and try to figure out your own version of a normal life. You have to stay hydrated, clean, do laundry (which means you might have to wander to a creepy laundromat in your complex), dress your character, and you live your life.

You could come across NPCs and develop relationships whether they be friendship or romance, you could get phone numbers, go on dates, visit apartments, have sex, go party for fun etc. Or you could be a shut in and play mini games in your apartment. If you are more of a shut in and spend plenty of time in your room, it could become a bit like Silent Hill The Room. You could give the player all these ways to kill time and feel ownership over this character. Now, ghostly encounters will happen in any variety of ways and you shouldn't be able to predict them all the time. Maybe at home, at your girlfriend’s house, at the laundromat, at work, in a hallway at some random building you stumbled across, etc. The plot progresses when you encounter ghosts, evade them, survive, etc. You will want to figure out what the heck is going on so you have more quests to progress that plot.

Most of the scares should be very subtle. Maybe sometimes something happens and you never actually see a ghost at all. Maybe you hear weird noises, see odd things, are alone somewhere unsettling. I want players to be in an interesting and atmospheric environment that is colorful and beautiful at times, cold and empty at other times, and will hopefully build up false senses of security. I'm obviously not a writer, I can't explain why the ghosts exist, what they want, or what the progression will mean and how pacing will work. I just want to work out the mechanics, level designs, and the level of variables I want in the system. Who can affect who, is there an economy, do you need to pay bills, how will currency be acquired as well as expended, are relationships based on a simple math system like Fable, how long should the day night cycle be, is there more than one job to apply to, how many buildings would need to be explorable, is there HP, permadeath, if your in a dialogue tree and you start telling people you're seeing ghosts will they distance themselves from you or try and try to take you to a doctor, etc?

Ideally I would want the animation to be the most superb thing about the game, like an Uncharted, or like that Kara tech demo we saw. The world won't feel real if the animation isn't cutting edge. I want it to be open world, be dynamic, and offer really intimate and creepy horror in ways that aren't tightly scripted and linear. I don't want people to live in this open world city and feel like it's one-dimensional. When you're in a playsession I don't want you to feel like you're in a dungeon, need to beat a sub-boss, get 1000 more experience, and level up to 23. Ideally when a player enters a playsession they should be curious, and not have a clear idea of what will happen next. In my game you should be able to just wander around like an Elder Scrolls game, enter some building, walk into a random bathroom, and sit in a corner reading letters if you wanted to even if it had nothing to do with a quest, a relationship, or ghost evasion sequence. You shouldn't be punished for playing it your way. It should be as player authored as we can afford to make it. As the player authors their own character and experience, the AI will decide on what time is the best for a scare, a plot twist, some drama, etc. The AI will constantly watch you without you knowing, kind of like the AI Director that Valve created in Left 4 Dead (which controlled the zombie encounters), and will adjust the game according to how you're playing. Scare intervals can't be too close or far apart, and the intensity and variety of events has to fluxuate.

If the animations were superb I would love to go crazy with the movement mechanics, that would be my favorite part of all! Your character would be a normal person, so you shouldn't be able to do Mirror's Edge style parkour, but you should be able to move around in abstract ways. Hide under tables, in closets, climb, jump, squeeze into places, sprint, do a running charge through a doorway, jump through breakable windows, have a cover system, hide from threats, etc. I don't think all of this is impossible on current tech. I don't think every mechanic and element would work in the finished product, but I do think the concept is worth fleshing out. The brainstorming phase is the most important part of any game because you get to shoot for the stars, and then begin working your way backwards, cutting things, finding what works best, till you have a working system and well rounded gameplay that makes sense. Simpler is always better, I want to avoid overwhleming the majority of players with overly elaborate mechanics. There should be a lot of opportunity in the game, but the mechanics you use to engage opportunities should be very simple and consistent.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

03/31/2012 at 01:23 AM

That was a wall of text full of salient points! Look to this space for my actual reply.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

04/01/2012 at 12:10 AM

If I'm honest, one of my favorite things post-podcast is reading Michael's feedback/praise/points. If you want a solid, atmospheric, J-horror inspired title, look no further than Calling for the Wii. I won't play it with the lights off.

Michael, I rate people in life. Some are rated higher than others. You're one of those people.

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

04/04/2012 at 11:45 PM

"Boom, wall-of-text is well on it's way to fruition, I must continue." Hilarious, I actually had to say that to myself, outloud, because it was so funny.

Thanks for the praise, bub.

As for Civilization, I actually find it tons easier to way any other way beside war. Maybe I'm in the minority, but building up a huge force of units, only to be slaughtered at the steps of another country seems like it wastes too many turns for me. It's not as viable as just building your own defenses and teching or culturing to victory. Then the only thing that you have to watch out for is other teams allying against your own and attacking at the same time, which frequently happens on the higher difficulties. If only getting troops through diplomacy were easier... :)

Anyway, I enjoyed reading your own strategies, Michael117. Thanks again for the love.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/07/2012 at 12:13 PM

You know, when Power Rangers came out, I was a little older than the taget audience, being about 13 at the time. I still thought it was awesome, what with the martial arts action, big robots, and Kimberly's hot ass. I always thought that they could make a really awesome Power Rangers game, but at the time I didn't understand the cold reality of making a licensed game: pump it out fast to catch the trend, and target only the lowest common denominator.

With that being said, Power Rangers is nearly 20 years old (?!!) now, so there's now a market for a nostalgia-heavy game. I think you could take some cues from my G.I. JOE idea: go heavy on the camp. Make the monsters look just as rubbery and fake as the show. Make the city during the Megazord battles look cheap and flimsy. Get voice actors to purposely say their lines as cheesy and over the top as possible.

But the kicker here is that you put some awesome core mechanics at the heart of it. Let's see a combat system like the Arkham games, allowing the Rangers to take on huge groups of enemies at a time, and make it look awesome. Give the Zords weight and heft, and make them feel powerful. Of course, drop in/drop out co-op would be a must.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

04/01/2012 at 01:30 AM

Great cast guys!

If I had to pick a few games I'd like to see done right, id go for a great Superman game done by Rocksteady for obvious reasons. Next would be a Beast Wars game by High Moon. That would be pretty hard to pull off, but I think its possible

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

04/01/2012 at 01:24 PM

PS. Id elaborate, but I dont wanna leave an essay of ideas. Perhaps we'll discuss it next time we talk.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/07/2012 at 12:15 PM

You know, I almost said Superman, and Rocksteady was my go-to choice as well. But I opted for Powers simply because all of my other ideas were so obvious. But you and I are on the same page for sure, JD.

And yes to a Beast Wars game. Or more specifically, yes to a Beast Wars game that isn't the atrocious game on PSX, or that abysmal fighter on N64. (although the Japanese fighting game for Game Boy Color was pretty awesome. Chibi Megatron? Yes please.)

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

04/02/2012 at 11:41 AM

My thoughts so far (I'll update this once I finish the podcast.)

Patrick - I want to play a good Cowboy Beebop game so bad.  I thought you were going to mention Neon Genesis Evangelion when you said obvious anime choices, but then I remembered we already had Xenogears...

Rob: So you want Mass Effect: The real world huh?  

Julian - Man you took me right back to my childhood with this one.  Funny thing is, I had a very similar idea when I was a kid.  Well similar in that it was a GI Joe game, but my dream was for the SNES.  Basically, it was a Contra style shooter developed by Rare using the Donkey Kong Country tech.  Just imagine how sweet that would have been!

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

04/04/2012 at 11:51 PM

Haha, Angelo! Just like the Mass Effect ending problem, Neon Genesis' endings would piss off so many fans. That is probably the anime that got me into anime, so it'd be amazing as well. I wouldn't want anything less than a replica version of a mech for that game.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/07/2012 at 12:19 PM

The best Evangeleon game I can think of came out for the Saturn. It was part school/dating sim (yes, really) and part mech battle game. Of course, it was a licensed anime game made on the Saturn, so the 3D models of the evas looked rough.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/07/2012 at 12:18 PM

You know, I was always surprised that the big 80s cartoons weren't leveraged for video games more often. Your SNES JOE idea would have been awesome, and I'm still pissed that a true Transformers G1 game has never been released in the U.S. I love the hell out of Transformers Armada for PS2 and War for Cybertron, but I want the Autobots crash landing on Earth and taking the form of actual vehicles, just like the first cartoon.

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