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PixlTalk Episode 49: A Little Bit of Everything

A Good Ol' Sit Down About Games

This week is a little different from the rest. Seeing how it’s been awhile since the four of us have gotten together, we decided to talk about what we’ve been playing. While the discussion starts out simple enough, we manage to stumble upon some interesting topics along the way.



Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/12/2012 at 07:32 PM

You hit the nail on the head, Jesse. I was clenching my teeth through this entire episode.

I always find people that complain about the changes to FF XII and XIII to be kind of odd. The series has always been about change, and especially since FF VII, the games have changed drastically.

FF VIII had that odd magic system, with the way you had to siphon spells from enemies and use spells to junction to your stats. FF IX went back to the SNES days, with a four member party and traditional job classes. X completely removed the ATB system and went for a true turn-based mechanic. Then they did a total 180 with X-2, making one of the most hectic battle systems of the series. I love XI, but I agree with Jesse-it shouldn't have a number. FF XII is the single player version of FF XI, right down to the mission structure. And XIII became a twitch-based battle system, requiring super fast reflexes and thinking on the fly. They're all great, just in different ways.

No comment on Asura's Wrath. I'll talk about it on our next show. ~.^

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

01/12/2012 at 11:15 PM

agree with you 100%, just curious what final fantasy did you enjoy most?

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/12/2012 at 11:52 PM

I have a full ranking, but FF IV remains my favorite. It was my first, and to this day, I love the 5 man party, the music, and the tragedy-filled story. People got weepy over Aeris? Characters did left and right in IV.

My least favorite is II. Uneven difficulty, broken magic system, annoying leveling mechanic. Bah!

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

01/13/2012 at 10:00 AM

Nice, I still have yet to play anything under VII. I know its blasphemy ... I hope to try a few of the older ones someday though.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/13/2012 at 10:17 AM

I remember being so frustrated with customers when IX came out. The people that cut their teeth on VII complained that IX wasn't an FF game. I was like "Children, that IS a Final Fantasy game!" 

There's definitely a generational divide between the SNES and PSX games. I have a special affinity for those older games, but the "newer" games are high on my ranking.


01/13/2012 at 03:41 PM

I'm a huge Fable fan and have all 3, but I haven't been able to play the 3rd since my Xbox died so I can't talk about Fable 3. I thought Fable 2 was way better than the first game and improved on it in most ways and didn't do anything worse than the first. Compared to Fable 2, Fable 1 is anemic in its design was a basic foundation for the series at best and desperately needed to be expanded upon greatly, which Fable 2 accomplished. I think it was Mike that said Fable suffers as a mediocre action-adventure, and a mediocre RPG. I agree with the fact that Lionhead hasn't ever nailed it with their vision and design, but the reason why it doesn't work as well isn't because of the blending of two "genres". It's all in execution, not concept. Molyneux has some of the most brilliant ideas of any designer to exist, him and his team just aren't always sure how to glue them all together and the end product isn't representative of the vision.

The part where Jesse brought up the question of, "Have RPGs ever existed as a genre?" was a bit washy and I'm not sure everybody got his point the way I did, or maybe I didn't fully understand Jesse's theory and I'm washy too. From what I understood of it and the conclusion I come to through it is that RPGs have never existed as a genre. RPG fans aren't all the same and aren't consolidated whatsoever. We don't have a consistent criteria for what an RPG is and when we try and take a game and figure out how legit it is as an RPG, we don't actually explain what we mean.

We know what we want and we are vocal and passionate about it but in the end we just say, "This isn't a real RPG! RPGs are disappearing, what happened to the good ol' days?". Instead of getting to the details of what we mean, it's much easier for us to just lump all our ideas under a single banner of RPG. Most games that try to sell themselves as an RPG end up, at the end of the historical chain, getting compared either subconciously or conciously to Dungeons & Dragons or a game that was influenced by it. D&D isn't the definition of an RPG because RPGs aren't a genre. D&D is a turn-based action adventure board game in a fantasy setting, which is a mouthful and we don't want to say that everytime we cite it. People pick and choose design elements from D&D to make up their criteria for an RPG and it usually involves the turn-based encounters, die rolling, stats, customization, and evolution of their character.

Those are all just design choices that can easily mingle with every other design choice in gaming and in any setting. When you put all those particular design choices together in a fantasy setting like D&D does it doesn't mean you magically have an RPG genre on your hands. You still just have a turn-based action adventure in a fantasy setting. Just because you're rolling a die, doing the math on your own, and filling out stat charts doesn't make a new genre. With our tech these days all that math gets done behind the scenes and on the fly as you play. Jesse was right about the turn-based stuff sometimes being a product of technical limitations. Back in the day it was much easier and more cost effective to make a slower turn-based system as opposed to a fluid fast system that did all the math for you and did the combat in real time with amazing animations and more calculations going on on-screen all at once. You couldn't make an Uncharted back in the days of D&D boardgames, or Baldurs Gate 2, or whatever "good ol' RPG" people hold dear. If you really want to do the math and charts on your own, you just have to say, "I want a game like D&D, make me a Mass Effect that's like D&D, or Baldur's Gate 2, or KotOR, or something I liked in the past. Let me mess with tons of numbers and do attacks one-by-one" It doesn't get us anywhere if we just keep saying "RPG" or "RPG elements". When people moan about RPGs disappearing or dying it's make me sigh and wish they would elaborate on what kind of game they want.

It's like going to an automobile engineer and saying, "Just make a good ol' car, just like the good ol' days!" and the engineer say, "So you what do you want? I could make this thing with an electric engine, combustion, I could even make it run on hydrogen. Do you want 2 wheels, 4, 8? I could build a body around it to look like it's from any era." And the guy says, "Just make me a real one, a real car, this one sucks, cars sure aren't what they use to be." There's still no magical RPG formula for a designer to go to and there's no feeling you get in your stomach when you know you're making a "legit" RPG because there's no such thing. The only feeling you get in your gut is when you make a fun game, and a fun game doesn't have to do what D&D did. If RPGs are dying, good they deserve it, actually the classification or banner deserves it. Pressure from fans makes it seem like developers have the responsibility of defending, preserving, or evolving the RPG genre, when in reality there's no genre there's just a bunch of design ideas historically to pick and choose from.

With mechanics, I love games that show enemy HP and the damage I inflict with each attack (like KotOR), but I like the combat to be real time and the animation to be superb (like a Zelda or Uncharted). I want to be able to simply see numbers on screen in my character overview because math just by appearance puts me at ease and lets me know I'm in control and there's integers to mess with. I want a numerical level of skill for my abilities and I want to be able to invest in those things and see my character get stronger but I don't want to waste my time rolling dies and making a chart. I don't want 100 mediocre abilites and animations to pick from, just give me a dozen and make them awesome. I want to be able to personalize the way my character looks and dresses (like Fable). Maybe I want to be in 1st person perspective in a sci-fi setting (like Halo or Borderlands). When you start picking, choosing, and blending all these elements and "genres" people often say, "It's too much, people won't 'get it' or understand it, it's not true to the genres." To me that just sounds like stagnation and status quo. What has the status quo ever done for any of us? Screw the status quo, the genre restrictions, and the fans who care about them.

Game design is forced to walk the right rope and balance between art and business, and when you stick to genre rules and give into fans it's more about business and less about art. You just sell out and give them what they want instead of innovating. When Mass Effect 2 came out and got rid of the longer stat chart from ME1 and streamlined it with the fire and ice ammo, and the couple other abilities, I thought it worked much better for Mass Effect 2. I didn't care about whether it was true to the RPG genre that people have built up in their heads. It made the game faster and made the combat more satisfying and I actually used the abilities. ME is a shooter at its core, not a turn-based action adventure D&D. Why do people even call ME1 an RPG? Because Bioware made it? Because it was similar to KotOR with the dialogue system and morality system, and people consider KotOR an RPG?

The abilities and stats in ME1 were more numerous, but also less useful and satisfying. Just like how Morrowind was bigger than Oblivion but the quests weren't as fun or complex. I would wander around Morrowind and complete a dozen quests in a half hour and it wasn't interesting at all, but I got experience and loot. In Oblivion I could do one quest for a half hour and it was fascinating and I got experience and loot.

It's not all about selling out and giving into the masses. It's about figuring out what design ideas can be put together to make the best game you can make, as well as what will sell well enough. It's the balance art and business. When people say a game gets dumbed down it's a bit elitist in some situations, like with Mass Effect, because it attempts to put hardcore RPG fans above the masses and tries to make the non-harcore people seem like they're interlopers sucking the life out of a genre that doesn't actually exist or threatening a glorious way of life for hardcore RPG fans that don't even have the same standards or criteria as the next hardcore player.

In conclusion, people who have the ego to label themselves as hardcore suck a fat one and so do genre rules. Yay for artistic revolutions and the death of genres lol! Mass Effect 3 should be a ton of fun, and if it takes D&D's legacy and criteria and tosses it out the window it doesn't matter to me, I never asked Mass Effect to be like D&D.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

01/13/2012 at 03:59 PM

Michael, you certainly seem to understand where I was coming from on my "do RPGs even exist?" idea.  It's a topic we could certainly talk about much more, but the central idea is that back in the day an RPG was a game where you assumed the role of a character whose stats you could effect, had much more control in combat (did more than jump on their heads) and had a deep and engaging plot.  But now games across all genres have these elements. Borderlands and Dead Island use mathematical combat - numbers drip from your enemies, inFAMOUS has moral decisions and unlockable powers, Trine has skill trees, etc...

So my main point is that what we originally thought of as an RPG wasn't a genre at all, rather it was a collection of game mechanics that when grouped together most resembled the pen and paper role playing games many of us geeks were used to playing.  Now many of those elements have been transfered to other "genres."

Just as you said, genres are disapearing as the technology and ingenuity of developers improve.  It used to be that making a first person shooter was limiting, but even games in the first person that include guns, like Half-Life or Metroid Prime are hard to classify as such.

We as gamers and people in general like our labels, but the truth is that they are disapearing and that's okay.


01/13/2012 at 04:36 PM

Lol...indeed. What you said. That's why you're a great writer Jesse, you were able to say what I needed to say but you did it much more efficiently. When I write I'm not very organic, I literally see discussion and analysis like programming code and paragraphs and trains of though become algebraically organized and it's a long equation that never ends. I had an informative essay in a creative writing class in my first semester of college where I took the topic of educating a reader to build a skateboard. I turned that topic into an ordeal over 11 pages long.

I had a lengthy analysis of each physical piece of the skateboard, how each piece of the skateboard affected the other systems, and how variations in each system (length of skateboard, thickness of wood, concavity, density of wheels, tightness of the trucks, etc) affect your experience. I talked about center of gravity, the physics that occur when you ride, and the way you can pick the right assortment of hardware to help you achieve those physics comfortably and with consideration to your physical dimensions (height, weight, shoulder width, etc). It was the most ridiculous fucking thing you would ever read, but I loved it and in fact I thought the essay was inferior, thin, and didn't explain things thoroughly enough to educate a reader. The only reason I stopped writing was because the deadline came.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/13/2012 at 07:41 PM

I don't really see why people have trouble wrapping their heads over what an RPG is. The traditional RPG is a game that has a core set of rules based on a number of player stats that have a direct impact on the way the player succeeds or fails. Yes, it stems from Dungeons & Dragons, and the term "role playing game" is probably a misnomer to begin with. Because it's not assuming a "role" that makes an RPG an RPG. It's the rules underneath that govern it. There's usually a heavy story component to the game, but that's not a prerequisite: many of those 8-bit RPGs have little to no story worth talking about. But it is a genre. A poorly-defined one, but a genre, nonetheless.

Mike, you say you get tired of people complaining about RPGs fading away, and you also claim that Mass Effect is not an RPG. I can address both of these at the same time. It doesn't matter what you call a game--all video game genres at this point are damn near meaningless. What I don't want to see fade away is deep gameplay based on stats that improve as I progress through the game. To that end, I would argue that Mass Effect is one of the purest examples of an RPG in recent years.

In Mass Effect, my ability to succeed in battle is based on my character's stats and equipment, not my ability to aim and shoot. When I target an enemy, I just need to be close. When I pull the trigger, the game is utilizing the information about my weapon proficiency, equipment modifications, and checking that against the armor and shield stats of the enemy. I'm given a large selection of abilities to choose from. I can focus on a few core ones, or try and balance between all of them. You claim that the abilities in Mass Effect were more plentiful, but not as useful. As someone who just completed my third playthrough of ME 1(on Insanity) and went straight into ME 2 for a third time, I can tell you that the lack of options in 2 was jarring for me.

That's because I use everything at my disposal in Mass Effect. I spend half of every battle paused. I bring up the ability screen, and I'll target enemy "A" with Tali and have her use Overload to take out his shields. At the same time, I have Liara use Stasis on enemy "B" (the toughest enemy on screen) to take him out of the fight until I'm ready. At the same time, my Shepard (a Vanguard) is using Lift on enemies "C", "D", and "E", because a maxed out Lift in ME is ridiculously powerful. After all that goes off, I again pause to have Liara use Warp while Tali uses Sabotage and I fire my shotgun for big holes in the helpless enemies in the Lift field. By the time all that is done, the Stasis has worn off, and I concentrate everything we have on the toughest enemy.

That's deep combat. That's thinking tactically. In ME 2, I'm playing a shooter where I still use powers, but my options are cut in half, and anytime I use an ability, I'm locked out of all the other powers that character has, thanks to the universal cooldown. So I'm stuck playing a shooter with battles about as exciting as the first Gears of War: see the obvious cover points where an ambush is obviously going to occur, take cover, shoot, reload, shoot, move on. Yawn.

I don't want games to shy away from deep, stat-driven mechanics that give me the freedom to choose how I want to play. I think the idea that "the masses" won't understand how to play games like that is outdated thinking. 11 million people play WoW currently, and that doesn't count the others who used to play and quit. These aren't all hardcore gamers, these are grandmothers and 10 year olds and frat boys. These people, who may have never played an RPG before, excel at a game with far deeper mechanics than Mass Effect. Developers don't give their audience enough credit, and it's to the detriment of the gaming landscape.

So, I don't care what you want to call these games, or if you think it's a genre, or not. That's pointless. But if these very sound, immensely enjoyable mechanics continue to get diluted and simplified then we're left with every game becoming a competant third-person cover-based shooter.


01/17/2012 at 05:12 PM

All great points Jules, and you're officially the only person I know that has actually explained it the way you feel and the way it needs to be heard. Most people just facepalm or reach up to the sky crying out for the old days, and I don't like that, except as comic relief lol. When it comes to issues of genres and mechanics I feel like we have to poke at fans with sticks and irritate them just to get them to spill the beans, let the emotion out, and eventually get to explaining what they really mean. Sometimes some fans seem to turn it into anti-shooter rants and I'm like, "How the fuck did we get here? I'm trying to pry some sap and honesty out, but I was hoping more for the intellectual and critical kind. Not the fanboy kind."

I love many of the RPG mechanics I've had in my RPGs, and I want to save many of them, but some of them I don't care for in certain games at least. I like my games in real time mostly, but I still love a good turn based system every now and then. You already know that I've never played the Final Fantasy series and I'm still looking to get into it, but since I haven't played it my turn based system experience has been limited and I actually played my first FF inspired turn-based system when I played the Gamecube RPG LOTR: The Third Age. I love that game!

To a FF fan that game is likely an inferior rip-off that's hardly worth a glance as you walk past it on the shelf and shuffle your way over to wherever the "real stuff" is, but to me it's a priceless experience. I'm so good at that game and I come back to beat it once every year or other year. It's like a gateway-RPG because it seems to me to be a bit simpler than a FF (but I haven't played FF so I wouldn't know), but underneath the hood The Third Age runs on a deep stat-based system, the battles are turn based, and the game requires you to "grind" a lot especially in boss battles. The stats are all on screen, enemies bleed numbers, and there's plenty of spells to boost your stats temporarily or ones that enemies can cast on you to be a thorn in your balls.

I like the grinding in that game because even though sometimes your whole party dies and you have to start over, I always feel like I want to try again. There are battles you have against the huge elephants from The Return of The King, and those battles can last forever and a day and I've been forced develop a complicated strategy of making sure my healing character is always alive and can resurrect automatically when killed, and the other characters have to use skills that weaken armor, lower the elephant's strength, cause damage over time, and chain together mutliple strikes. My leadership character has to cast spells that raise party damage, adds spirit points (mana) over time, and increases odds of enemy misses and ally hits. Everybody dies over and over and the healer brings them back to keep swinging, the elephant's HP drops little by little, and it's just a hell of a time. Those elephant battles are only half as bad in comparison to the final battle against Sauron, because he is the ultimate thorn in the sack.

I could spend many more paragraphs reminiscing about The Third Age, because it's a great game, great RPG mechanics, and it makes me wonder if there's any other games out there like it that I would enjoy. I think your criteria for what an RPG might contain, or should contain, is a good one. To an extent I also love games that allow me to succeed based on my stats and equipment, but that kind of system has its own flaws just like a basic FPS formula does.

In an RPG the system can be set up so that there's not much skill involved in the actual combat. You can buy a powerful set of armor and a sword and plow through enemies while you munch on Doritos and wait to rack up XP. That gets boring, and that's where you need to add those "dumbed down" mechanics of making a person be good at aiming and shooting. I get immense satisfaction and take great pride from being great at shooting in Halo, because it's never consistent and it always requires application of timing, hand eye coordination, and muscle memory in ways an RPG never would. In some RPGs I don't have to apply anything but some simple math while I'm at the town shop buying up my sweet new gear. I go out into battle and in the case of KotOR I just sit back as the invisible die rolls, I watch it unfold, and I just wait till the XP rolls in. See what I mean? That's not any better than Gears of War's formula for encounters. The old-guard and status-quo of RPGs isn't some infallible system or set of memories that hold a great deal of weight anymore. Memories are too forgiving and mallable. Old RPGs can be every bit as boring as old FPS's, and I want both to be evolved and mated. If I was playing Mass Effect 2 and somebody was trying to convince me the game was inferior to some old 8-bit Final Fantasy I would take a shit right on his face, just like I'd take a shit on him if he was telling me Halo Reach is inferior to Goldeneye.

I'm impressed with how tactical you played through Mass Effect. It's nice that the game gave you those options and let you play that way. It's also nice the game gave me the option to not care about any of that and play it like a shooter. I didn't have the same ME experience whatsoever. I didn't spend much time paused at all, and I didn't manage the party member's abilities, or play tactically. My playthrough was like the wild west Jules. I let the ally AI do whatever it wanted, I just akwardly shuffled around as is custom in ME1's mechanical feel, and shot holes into everything with my practically unlimited "ammo" (I'm so glad they added heat sinks into ME2 and made ammo a real thing because ME1's guns were bullshit!) but I still had a great time and didn't want to play it any other way. Mass Effect is special to me because of the dialogue and mostly the cutscenes. I wasn't one of the people basking in its stat chart, party managing, or taking great pleasure in shooting even. My pleasure all came from the dialogue choices and the cinematic cut-scenes (my favorites in all of gaming).

I play Halo Reach far more tactically than I ever did Mass Effect, but you don't hear many RPG fans or fans of tactical combat giving it much love, especially since it's a *gasp* popular shooter lol. Halo lets me play how I want. I play Firefight, customize what enemies I want to face, how strong they are, how strong I am, my weapon loadouts, what equipment and abilities are around me and how strong they are as well as their duration, and then once the chess board is all set I spawn out into the level and so begins an hour long grind where I'm scrambling, shooting, flanking, fragging, using abilities in the best ways I can, fighting to survive, loosing lives, gaining lives, using an array of weapons for every nook and cranny I get stuck in, and changing tactics as various waves of enemies with different programming come and force me to change. There's nothing dumbed down or "mass appealing" about any of that. The masses don't have a reputation for deciding a Spartan should have 80% of normal shields, +50% melee damage, no radar, a magnum, armor lock ability, Heroic difficulty giving a 2x point multiplier, with unlimited rounds and sets, and be stuck in a courtyard with oncoming waves of giant Hunters ready to charge at you and glass the ground you stand on.

The first Gears of War wasn't the best in its encounter design, but it was far from being "yawn-worthy". I never yawned back when I played that game and none of my co-op buddies did either. Even when we played solo we didn't. It was a ton of fun. The formula of take cover, shoot, and move on is pretty accurate as a generalization of the first Gears, but it was still fun. Gears 1 is a better shooter than Mass Effect was as either an RPG or a shooter. Mass Effect is my favorite franchise around, but it's not good enough for me to pretend its encounters and mechanics have been designed any better than other games. In fact, Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 can both be described as "yawn worthy" if you're looking at the formula of look for ambush, take cover, shoot, and move on. That's  exactly what Mass Effect has been all about even in the first game. In Mass Effect you can always tell when enemies were coming because there was high ground, an open space, some chest high cover, or some of those ugly utilitarian shacks that the games are known for.

As an RPG (armor and stats making you stronger and having an effect on attacks and defense) I would say Dragon Age is better than Mass Effect. Hell even LOTR: The Third Age on the Gamecube is a better RPG in that sense than ME. As a shooter, pretty much any shooter is better than Mass Effect, especially Gears of War (even the first one). But enough of the cons, here's the pros. As a mix of RPG stats, party managability, and shooter mechanics mixing with a dynamic and cinematic storytelling, there's nothing better on the planet than Mass Effect and that's why I love it and it's my favorite franchise out there.

I want my shooter, my cutscenes, and dialogue. You want your deeper stats, party managing, gameplay pausing, and tactical combat. We should both get what we want. The first ME kind of did that in many ways by having what we both wanted. ME2 stripped away a lot of the deeper managability and stats, but improved the shooting. They need to bring back more of those deeper elements, I agree with you. Now I understand what you mean and why it matters so much, we can only hope Bioware does too.

I also agree that we always need to challenge players and give them more credit. Dying is okay, adapting is okay, complexity is okay. But here's where the problem is. People need to stop getting on their soapboxes, and implying that shooter mechanics are for dumber folk, RPG mechanics are better, nana nana boo boo, and shooters are the enemy. That's where I get pissy, because I was playing shooters and becoming passionate about them back in the day when RPGs like FFVII were the most vogue thing in gaming and I wasn't a part of that crowd. When I had my PS2 and the majority of the games were all RPGs, I wasn't crying out that RPGs were outnumbering my shooters. I played both genres and like both, and eventually when games like Borderlands and Mass Effect came along and I started seeing how they could mash the different systems together, I found it to be more fun than either of the systems was on their own.

It feels good to have a legit and deep conversation about Mass Effect, because most people out there outside of us, don't seem to be having the same talks. It's mostly JRPG vs. WRPG, FPS vs. RPG, and other crap that doesn't matter. All the genres, industries, and status-quos need to be raped, pillaged, cross-bred, and evolved.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/17/2012 at 07:35 PM

Hmm. Clearly, I didn't explain myself well.

The fact that you played Mass Effect that way is a flaw in the game. It did a piss poor job of explaining the powers wheel, the fact that you could target multiple enemies, and more. I remember a reviewer hated the game because he never put any points into his weapon proficiency, and as such his character couldn't shoot for crap. Mass Effect (the first one, anyway) is meant to be played using your abilities in tandem with the shooting. The shooting isn't good enough to stand on its own, nor was it meant to be.

I agree that Gears of War is a better shooter than both Mass Effect 1 and 2. My point is that the first Gears had very obvious cover points where you knew what was going to happen before you even got there. Mass Effect 2 has this same design flaw, and it's not nearly as good a shooter as Gears. But because the game removes so much of the mechanics from the first game, you're left with just that: subpar Gears of War 1 style combat. It's fine for what it is, but the point of the first Mass Effect was that it was offering something different and did a pretty good job of doing it, poor tutorials aside.

We'll have to agree to disagree on the heat sinks. I think they suck. My fem Shep is totally ruined in ME 2 because the shotguns are so poor in the game. Since I know how the guns in the Mass Effect universe work, it doesn't make any sense why I can't fire my shotgun more than 12 times. A better way to handle this would have been to utilize both systems: the heat sinks allow you to fire faster, but when they run out, you can still fire, but need to manage your weapon better, lest it overheat in the middle of a firefight.

And for the record, I don't think that shooters are for "dumb people" and RPGs are for "smart people". I think that developers don't think that a mass audience will "get" deep RPG mechanics, and that's just wrong. Borderlands was kind of a big deal, and it didn't turn gamers off that "X" machine gun does 274 damage per hit while "Y" machine gun does 320 damage.

I love shooters, and I love the idea of RPG mechanics bleeding into them. I think RPG mechanics can make almost any genre better. But what I don't want is to see those mechanics so watered down that they no longer have any use. It's not enough for me to play a game that tells me "Your leveled up! You're stronger now!". I want to know how I'm stronger. Am I doing more damage? Did I learn a new move? Can I choose how my character grows?

Oh, and if you ever decide to play a Final Fantasy game, I suggest X. The Third Age took the battle system from X wholecloth, but the execution in X is quite a bit better, dated voice acting aside.

Nick DiMola Director

01/17/2012 at 07:43 PM

Just to give a bit of incite into the conversation Jesse and I had regarding RPGs, here's how it went:

I had recently read an interesting article on the difference between a feature and a platform in regards to just general electronics and software. For instance - a calculator was once a platform, but today it's just a feature. Sure, standalone calculators exist, but what you'll see most often today is a calculator as a feature. Your cell phone or computer stands in its place, because it's a platform.

We were discussing a bit about the bleeding of genres and how tough that made it to vote for GOTY awards (is Deus Ex an RPG, is it a Shooter, is it an Action/Adventure?). That's when I proposed that RPGs were once a platform, but are today more of a feature. They were and still are a standalone genre, but like the calculator, it's more or less been consumed by other platforms. Most every game seems to introduce RPG concepts these days (experience points, leveling up, stat-based gameplay) to help give the experience more depth.

The RPG still exists in its most pure form in many of the JRPGs still being made today, but its most important features have been lifted and integrating in unique ways into other genres. You could probably argue the same thing of the beat-'em-up genre, which has mostly been integrated into general "action" games or other titles with melee combat.

tl;dr version - Yes, the RPG genre still does exist, but it's definitely not the platform it once was.


01/17/2012 at 07:57 PM

That makes sense Chessa, I agree on that conclusion you came to in that conversation with Jesse. I like RPGs as both a platform and as a feature. I was telling Julian all about how much I love LOTR: The Third Age and the systems it uses (he let me know it was taken from Final Fantasy X so I will try to play that now). I have Star Ocean The Last Hope and I absolutely love that game and its combat, but I'm not sure how it fares in the eyes of some JRPG fans. I've never been exposed to a lot of JRPGs, so over the past year or so I've been seeking them out. My first real experiences with RPGs in general were with the Champions of Norrath and Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance series' on PS2 several years after I started gaming.

As a platform I haven't had enough experience with RPGs. I love the way RPG mechanics are used as a feature though in Borderlands, Mass Effect, CoD, and a few others.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

01/17/2012 at 11:05 AM

Some observations:

I believe that the fundamentals of FF7, including the bones of the story, are very solid.  The issues really lie with the presentation (see hooves for hands,) speed (loading times for battles, unskippable summon animations) Character stats (no real pros or cons to making someone a dedicated caster except for Aeris, but you know how that ends up...) and translation issues (finger?  What the hell, This guy are sick, etc.)  A remake of FF7 would be spectacular if they did more than just an HD update, but a real, true remake would have to tear everything down and rebuild it from scratch.  That's the real problem with an FF7 remake.  The game could conceptually be awesome, but the investment required to pull it off is probably just a little scary to Square Enix right now.

FF XIII - 2: I'm willing to give it a shot considering how they seem to have addressed the things I don't care for about first game.  Exploration has returned, customization seems to be addressed at least, and they added towns and a world map.  This pleases me.  I'm still withholding a purchace until I actually read some reviews.

One thing they've done lately that concerns me has to do more with localization.  Combat looked awesome in XIII, but I have issues with how it sounded, namely Vanille. Seriously, she sounded like she was enjoying that WAY too much.  Some of the videos I saw seemed to have Sara making similar sounds.  I don't get it, why can't they make the actress sound like she was getting, I don't know, punched in the gut or something. It really takes you out of the action quite a bit.  There's a time and a place for stuff like that, and I'm OK with it in games in the correct context, but when I'm trying to kill an evil pope who just turned into some crazy tank with a million faces I don't need to hear seductive 'oohs' from the female party members.  It's just plain stupid.

That's all.  Great ep guys.

PS: Someone had the infinite wisdom to buy my kids a DVD with about 10 eps of the Super Mario Bros Super Show on it.  HOLY CRAP that show was bad, but I remember loving it as a kid.

Funny thing is, my kids love it too right now.  I can't wait for them to share my dissappointment in another 15 years or so.


01/17/2012 at 08:47 PM

It's okay, maybe I didn't read into your words well enough, it could be my fault. If Mass Effect was meant to make me use the powers wheel in tandem with the shooting as a whole combat system, it failed. It honestly took me a couple seconds for my brain to even register the phrase "power wheel" Julian, because I had to remember, "Is that what they called it in ME?". That's how little I used it, I know what it looks like and I used it sometimes to activate my own Femsheps solider abilities like adrenaline rush or something like that. I rarely used it ever though, and since I was going wild west and letting my party members do whatever they wanted, I saw the power wheel even less.

I see now how failing to emphasize the power wheel among other things made the game become a sub-par Gears of War in many ways. I don't want a sub-par Gears, I want a great Mass Effect. I'm on board now, I think, if I'm understanding everything accurately. There's actually a lot about the ME system that I'm clueless about Jules, and I've never talked about it because I was a bit embarassed. I obviously don't understand the power wheel very well, but there's other things like the descriptions behind the upgrades, and the powers themselves.

In ME1 I was slow to catch onto the percentage increases of skills, I'm still not actually positive I know what I'm talking about but I assume I'm right. For example when you upgrade a proficiency and lets say it explains, "3% assault rifle damage" and then with the next level you upgrade it and it says, "5% assault rifle damage". That can't be cumulative (8%) right? Doesn't it mean that the 3% gets rewritten and replaced as 5%, so you actually only gain 2% damage during that gain from level 1 to 2? These are things I didn't understand and only assume I know now. The game often doesn't even say + or - with any of the descriptions and I had that same problem in ME2. It got to that point you mentioned where I knew I was getting stronger, but I didn't understand how. It makes me feel a bit stupid.

Also in ME1 the only way that I played "tactically" was by gathering the crew that worked best for me. My Femshep is a soldier so I use Wrex (strong biotic) and Tali (strong tech) to balance out the party. I plug people with my guns, Wrex uses his shield to protect himself and deals heavy damage with biotic powers, and I keep Tali around because eventually I will need her to use her tech skills to open doors, chests, etc. I understand that and I liked using that system of finding people with skills I need (however the downside to that is that obviously I don't get experience playing with the other party members besides Wrex and Tali).

With that said, about finding people with skills I need, when it came time to play Mass Effect 2 everything changed. Correct me if I'm wrong (I've only completed ME2 once), but I don't think that the tech skills even exist in ME2. I don't think any of the skills exist now that I think about it. In ME2 I was able to experiement with more party members (which is good) however I didn't understand how any of their skills mattered to me and how well we would work as a unit. As I told you earlier, in ME1 I just let the AI run wild but at the very least I absolutely always made sure everybody on my team had something to contribute (combat, biotic, tech), but in ME2 it was just a mess because I didn't know "who did what". I know you romanced Tali and liked her, and so I bet it would break your heart to know that I didn't use her much at all in ME2. Suddenly now that the tech skills were removed I saw no use for Tali because there was nothing to open, hack, etc. I loved Tali in ME1, she was my buddy throughout the whole game right along with Wrex and I never played with other party members. In ME2 she just collected dust down in the engineering quarters and got replaced by the giant tits of Miranda Lawson lol.

There wasn't a lot of use for the party management in ME2. I just picked Miranda cause she was hot and she became my No.2, and then the third party member slot just fluxuated and went to whoever. In the Mass Effect series when I level up and place a stat point into something I'm never sure exactly what it means. I always want to have a crew that combines important skills and balances out, but both games have been very different about how to achieve it. On a smaller note, when it comes to the heat sinks I didn't have a problem with them. What I had a problem with was the system in ME1 where I just had to upgrade my gun to make it more resistant to over-heating and eventually I could just shoot and never over-heat. In ME2 I used the sub-machine guns mostly and I liked having to keep track of the "ammo", pick up heat sinks, and reload. I wasn't worried about how it conflicted with the canon set in ME1. I just wanted to fire projectiles, manage ammo, and reload. The simple act of reloading is important to me. When I play through Resident Evil 4 or 5 and have a weapon upgraded to infinite ammo, it kind of ruins the experience. I don't want that to happen in Mass Effect.


01/17/2012 at 08:51 PM

@Julian, the comment above is intended for you. I meant to have it below your comment but forgot to attach it as a reply.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/17/2012 at 08:58 PM

Ha ha! You sound like Revolver Ocelot. "I love reloading! Putting each bullet in the chamber gives me such a thrill!"

I can see your point, coming from a shooting background. I keep going back to the fact that Mass Effect was trying to do something different with guns. This goes back to another of those arguments I always make about gamers not liking change, because you're in the majority on that point. People across the board applauded the switch in ME 2, with very few people disliking the heat sink addition. Again, I think it works fine, but as someone who's not a good shot, it was nice using guns where I didn't have to be super accurate to succeed.

I will say that, if you set your team mate AI to use powers aggressively on ME 2, they do a pretty good job using the right powers at the right time. I just like having them target specific enemies for the most damage.

And you were right with the way the level ups worked in the first game. You'd get +3% damage with your first rank, and the next rank would be +5% or something. They didn't add up to 8%, but if you maxed out a gun on the tree, you might be doing 225% damage. My fem Shep can one shot most unshielded enemies in ME 1, and I love that.


01/18/2012 at 12:42 PM

Hah! Anyday I get compared to Revolver Ocelot is a good day lol. I reload any chance I get in games that have guns. When I play Halo or CoD, if I clear a room and kill two guys lets say my magazine holds 32 rounds and I only use 6, I will still reload right after that encounter. I'll reload a gun even if I only use a single bullet to get rid of somebody. I do that all the time in Splinter Cell and Crysis 2 because I'll use stealth and a supressor, sneak up on enemies, and plug one right in their head, reload and move on.

I understand the point you made about not having to be super accurate to succeed. I like having a shooter be a nice balance of accuracy, auto-aim, and magnetism and I have good examples of when both work well. A perfect example of a game that goes badly and demands perfect accuracy are the pre-Conviction Splinter Cells because there was no auto-aim, no magnetism, and you literally had to put the cross-hair right on the pixels where the enemy's head was. Conviction solved those problems and was a ton of shooting fun while still having all the stealth elements. The aiming and gunplay in early Splinter Cells was so bad that it was as if it was an in-joke. Like Ubisoft was nudging you and saying, "Hey you might want to go stealth in this game kid. You could start shooting, buuuuuuuut it'll suck, for you." It worked out for me because the only way I play those games is slow, sneaky, and neck-breaky, but for the people who wanted to shoot stuff, they were in for an awful experience.

When the balance of auto-aiming, magnetism, stick sensitivity, bloom, hitboxes, and everything else goes well you end up with the Halos and CoD's of the world. The auto-aiming is useful because it'll help the player focus more on movement and strategy as opposed to just standing there trying to aim perfectly. Auto-aiming is most obvious in CoD because at the beginning of Modern Warfare 2 for example, they blatantly train you on auto-aiming when you're at the firing range. Magnetism is something that's obvious in Halo. Magnetism defines and outlines how far a bullet will "bend" in order to hit an enemy. Bullets and projectiles do not necessarily travel in a straight path; they will curve very slightly in order to hit a target. Different projectiles will experience different curvatures.

In ME1 when I was in the codex reading how the guns worked it made enough sense and wasn't a big deal, but once I was out in the field using the guns it wasn't as fun. Not just because the movement was weird and the cover system shoddy, but also because the guns didn't feel weighty, sound powerful, and they became more like the phasers from Star Trek. I love Star Trek but I don't want my guns to become completely efficient and clean like phasers are in Star Trek. The crew in Trek just whip them out, point, get rid of something, don't have to worry about reloading, and firefights (if you can call them that) are about as exciting and loud as playing tag with laser pointers.

In ME1 the shooting was just like a quick, "Pew Pew Pew!" and then there was some beeping when the gun overheated. I'd be happier if it was "Pow Pow Pow!" and then I had to slip behind cover, pop the mag out, slap a new one in, and hear the clicks. Honestly the heat sinks in ME2 make absolutely no sense to me. I knew how the ME1 guns worked, it was futurisitc, the description made sense. In ME2 the heat sinks don't make sense at all, but it's a lot more fun for me to reload and have some hallmarks of current projectile tech as opposed to the futuristic, clean, efficient, pew pew pews and beeps of ME1.

You're right about the team mates using their aggressive powers pretty well on their own in ME2. Sometimes it didn't work out well, but the majority of the time I didn't have to yell at them. Since I come from a stronger shooter background, the way they stripped away all the powers was something I was able to adapt to quickly because I've been accustomed to getting stuck in shitty situations with just guns and movement in my shooters, so in ME2 I just shot my way out. However it was still jarring, because even though I was able to adapt to it, it still limited the capacity of the group I felt. The way I noticed it first was when you are about to go groundside and you're picking your squad they bring you to that squad select screen and under each team member it shows the skills they have. The freaking list is only like 4 or 5 items long lol. It's like "Warp, Lift, Incendiary Ammo, Disruptor Ammo". I thought that was weird, because it let me know right away that each character could only do so much.

In ME1 there was a list and if I wanted Tali to be better at Encryption I would ignore Hacking and invest points in Encryption for her, while I invested points in Wrex's Warp and ignored Lift. In ME2 each character only has a couple set main skills and then maybe an ammo power or grenade power. You don't have the option to invest in Warp while ignoring Overload, Lift, Singularity, etc. Your only option is to strengthen the couple skills you have. If I started a new Shep in ME2 and wanted to be a mix of combat and biotics, I don't even know what skills would be available to me and if it would be worth it to try.

On a completely different note, did you ever use the M-920 Cain? I bought it the first chance I got, saved ammo for it all the time, and used it throughout the game whenever I got in a pickle that the SMG couldn't deal with. I'd run into a couple heavy mechs or a room full of the giant white Geth Prime and I'd whip out the portable nuke gun (M-920 Cain), charge it up, and when it fired the screen would flash, everything would vaporize, and all that would be left was silence and a small mushroom cloud. That was one of my favorite things in the world because it looks like a gun Duke Nukem would use (because it has the yellow nuke symbol) and sometimes I'd find myself dying and in a situation where I needed to be saved, all that saved Cain ammo would come in handy, and the Cain would get me through in the brightest and most destructive way.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/18/2012 at 07:50 PM

I'm curious, which guns did you use? Since you were a soldier, you had access to all of them. I always felt that the sniper rifles and shotguns sounded really powerful, especially the echo effect on the snipers. Pistols and assault rifles sounded less impactful, but that made sense to me, since they weren't firing actual bullets.

I roll with the Collector Particle Beam exclusively. It burns through barriers, shields, and armor in no time. The only downside is the aesthetic, which doesn't mesh well with the Mass Effect armor (which is another big complaint I have about ME 2, but I'll save it for the podcast).


01/19/2012 at 12:41 PM

I just realized I made a mistake. In the ME series Soldiers can't use the SMGs. I was thinking about Borderlands because I play as Lilith in Borderlands and I always use SMGs. In Borderlands you have incendiary weapon abilities just like ME so I got those mixed up.

In Mass Effect 1 and 2 my soldier character has been using mostly assault rifles. I'm very picky about my weapons and when I find a gun that works for me practically, I stick with it forever pretty much and get really good with it. Like in Halo Reach I play almost exclusively with the DMR because it's accurate, powerful, and a medium ranged weapon. When I play a co-op Firefight session for an hour I'll get around 600 kills and 450 of those will be with the DMR and I'll have a ludicrous amount of headshots. My friend will get a similar amount of kills but his will be spread out with every weapon in the game. I like to play at medium range and so in Mass Effect I always use the assault rifles.

In ME1 I made due with the assault rifles but once I felt the changes in ME2 I realized how much better I liked them than ME1. In ME1 the assault rifles got the job done and eventually I became so powerful with them that they never overheated and they could put down enemies quickly. However they sounded too thin by having too much bass, not crisp, and I couldn't attach to them the way I would with Halo's DMR for example. Gears of War 1 had a similar problem because the Lancer also sounded thin and became like a watery/muddy series of thin clicks, but the Lancer didn't have enough bass whereas the ME1 assault rifles had too much bass and echo.

When Gears 2 came around they improved and changed their Lancer problems by slowing down the Lancer's rate of fire, changing the sound completely to have more bass and be much more crisp. When I was starting up Gears 2 one of the things I was most concerned about was how the Lancer would feel, and I got lucky because it was as if Epic knew the Gears 1 lancer needed to be changed and they went and did it.

I thought ME2 did some similar things with their weapons. The assault rifles had more presence, and all the little things came together to make the guns more fun to shoot. Like the smoke that rises from the barrel, and the heat effects when you reload a heat sink. The sounds had less echo, were more crisp, and have a fine balance of bass, mids, and treble.

I used the assault rifles exlcusively and any time I changed it was practical, like using the Cain to get rid of heavy mechs, or a sniper to get rid of a distant enemy. I invested heavily into upgrades for the assault rifles, and invested moderatly with the other weapons. In ME2 I thought the best looking and sounding assault rifle was the Revenant because it was black & red and pretty loud, however it was incredibly inaccurate. I also loved the Vindicator because it was very controlled, super accurate, and fired a quick 3-round burst that could put down enemies nicely when I got headshots, however it didn't look very cool. The guns all have their pros and cons, but they're a lot of fun to use.

The Particle Beam was really cool and a lot of times I was torn between taking it out on a mission or taking the Cain. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about the Mass Effect armor. I was really really disappointed with the armor in ME2. The "customization" area in the Captain's Quarters was a joke. There wasn't anything to pick from! For me there ended up only being 3 different sets of armor and they aesthetically weren't very cool to look at, weren't that different, and they had these lame tacked on perks (like 3% rush speed) that didn't make me feel any better about the whole thing. The colors weren't that special and the way you could color different sections didn't do it for me, and the patterns sucked (like the camo one or the solid patterned one), and the way you could change materials was lame. There were like 6 different material options and they were all the same except had little differences in reflectivity and a plastic or fiberglass appearance.

Oh and the options for changing your team mate's clothing was lame too. I go through hours of quests and eventually finish a loyalty mission, and at the end of all that, Miranda like me enough that she thinks it's cool to change her tight white suit into a tight black suit? Give me a break. It's nice to know that I fight to gain their loyalty just so they can have one single minor outfit change. I loved the loyalty missions themselves, but the repercussions and "rewards" weren't anything special. My crew was dressed so generically and my Shepard was dressed so generically I didn't feel like my crew wouldn't have been any different from the millions of other people playing the game.

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