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Diecast #88: Mailbag

By Shamus
on Monday Jan 12, 2015
Filed under:


First off, a bit of technology housekeeping: I’ve messed with the awful WordPress Podcasting system some more. If you follow the podcast via RSS, then check out this RSS feed. The one we’ve been using is maintained by listener ydant, and requires direct human input to update. This new one – assuming this works – should update automatically. Currently, it should show this podcast and the previous one. (I’m not going to go back and add tags to the previous 86 episodes. Sorry.) Please let me know if it works for you.

On with the show:

This was supposed to be our 2014 retrospective. But then half the cast didn’t show up, I was sleep-deprived, and none of us were feeling the magic. We decided not to do the show. Then we sat around talking about videogames for 45 minutes and realized we were once again pissing away a show’s worth of conversation. So we decided to tackle the mailbag, which has been overflowing lately. And then we only managed to answer a couple of questions.

Also – just to make things extra-fun – my internet connection was abominable. I was getting lag spikes of 15 to 30 seconds, which made it very hard for me to participate in the conversation in a sensible way. You’ll hear me seem to react to things long after they’re said and interrupt the other hosts most than usual. (Although I tried to smooth it out a bit in post production.) Oh well. The episode is unfocused, but we made up for it by also making it overlong.


Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, and Chris.

Here are the questions we supposedly answered, but probably didn’t because we didn’t read the question carefully before we ran off on an unrelated tangent:

1:00 “Your choices matter” means “you fight some guys”.

Dragon Age: Origins uses cost-effective ludic divergences to give emotional weight to its big decisions. Siding with the werewolves added a combat sequence, but that sequence used an existing map and existing character models. Defiling the Ashes could lead to a fight, but again used only pre-existing character models.

You can see the hand of the accounting division in the mechanics, but still: Doing these fights with your own hands gives visceral weight to your choices. It didn't feel like picking off a menu; it felt like betraying someone to their face, then having to follow through by getting your hands bloody.

Where did these things go?


18:00 Good ideas ruined by poor execution.

What would you say are the most interesting and unique games that you’ve played that were ruined by poor execution, that you’d most like to see tried again by a better studio or just the same studio w/ the experience of it’s past mistakes, or just the same studio period but w/ a bigger budget and no externally imposed deadlines?


31:00 Chris tells the best planogram story ever.

How did we get on this topic? It doesn’t matter. This is where you learn what a planogram is, and why yours will never be as cool as the one Chris made.

37:00 Pizza recipe time with Chef Josh!

For some reason.

40:00 Let’s talk about books!

Dear Diecast, what books do you guys read, or are you too busy playing video games to read?

– Michael

Actually we talked about coding. We tried.

1:00:00 Critic’s Regret

Dear Diecast.

Have you ever thought (or worse been on record declaring) such and such game needs to do X, or there needs to be a game with X in it only to later find that the game or a game later did that thing and you were wrong to want it? Do you have any “Critics be careful what you wish for” stories?

Wide And Nerdy

Comments (196)

  1. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I think the genesis of the thought process that led to that last question was the example Chris gave about the Doom Duct Tape mod (and his complaint about mods in general) so very appropriate that he mentioned that. Listening to that in his original review is what got me thinking about complaints that don’t consider the broader context.

    Chris if you ever happen to read my comments, you may get the impression we don’t see eye to eye a lot but you’ve had a substantial influence on how I think about games.

    In your cases, the only things I could think of were things where what they ended up doing was clearly not what you meant. At most it sounds like your requests only backfire because they don’t know what you have in mind (or aren’t really listening directly to you in the first place.)

    The other part of the inspiration was Dragon Age Inquisition. You can see a lot of places where they addressed a fan complaint or technically addressed one and it didn’t quite work out (though sometimes it did. Like the variety of lively looking scenery.)

    EDIT: Also Shamus, that was an amazingly quick response to my request. Thank you so much :)

  2. lethal_guitar says:

    Podcast RSS works like a charm, thanks a lot!

    • Mike S. says:

      Ditto using Pocket Casts on Android. Thanks, Shamus!

      (And thanks once again to ydant for the previous feed, on which I’ve relied for many months.)

      • Cuthalion says:

        +1 on thanking ydant for the old feed. I’m going to switch to the new one, but the old was a great convenience. :)

        • +1 again on thanking ydant, that feed has been enormously helpful for me.

          Unfortunately, for whatever reason the new feed doesn’t work for me. The problem must be on my end, in that it seems to work for everyone else. My media program of choice is MediaMonkey, and it works on all the other podcasts I subscribe to, while this feed apparently works on all the other programs, so . . . /shrug. I’ll pick at it some and see if I can figure out the problem.

          • MichaelGC says:

            On my phone I got something along the lines of: ‘this is not a proper podcast,’ the first few times. I kept trying, assuming it was an error message rather than trenchant criticism … and sure enough it got there eventually.

          • Cuthalion says:

            I’m late, but for posterity, I also use MediaMonkey for my podcasts, and it works fine for me. Sometimes it has difficulty with the urls? It may conflict with the older feed it’s replacing?

      • Taellosse says:

        I fifth thanking ydant for his old feed. The new one appears to be working for me as well. Fingers crossed that it continues to do so!

  3. Daimbert says:

    My own personal example of a game that had a great idea and was hurt by poor execution is “Catherine”. It took on more adult situations, had an interesting mix of elements, and replaced the traditional RPG combat parts with a puzzle sequence … that was so damn hard that they had to add a “Very Easy” difficulty on top of the already existing “Easy” option, and because those portions were so difficult I, at least, spent so much time in them that it made the story sections — which were interesting — seem even shorter than they already were. I’d like to see them continue with that sort of model, but make things a little easier … or even drop the puzzle portions completely.

    • Zukhramm says:

      You mean Catherine, the game with interesting puzzles but dragged down by the story which has characters so horrible you almost don’t want to complete the puzzles so they all die?

      • Daimbert says:

        Well, I didn’t mind the characters that much, even though they are indeed terribly flawed and often nasty — like most people in real life, really — but I do think I have a case against the puzzles — or at least their difficulty — with the actual patch that tried to make things even easier than “Easy”.

        The concept is good, and the concept of that kind of story is good, and using puzzles in place of combat is good. How it all fit together was not so good.

    • Tyrian says:

      I think a game that suffers from ‘be careful for what you ask for’ is Guild Wars 2. Here’s what happened:

      * People complained about paying gold every time they changed their build, and also that acquiring traits were boring. They wanted traits to be more tied into the game world or something.
      * ArenaNet updated the game to let people change traits for free…and required all new players to unlock each individual trait by doing in-game content. Content that was often many levels above the trait, or a huge effort for a single beginner trait, etc. And this needs to be repeated for each alt.
      * People now complain about the onerous and weird requirements to get traits.

  4. CrushU says:

    RSS works fine.

    Where’s the Diecast mailbag, anyway?

  5. Sorites says:

    I’d take away everything BioWare’s working on, including all the money, and give it to Telltale Games.

    BioWare’s gameplay mechanics have continuously declined in the interest of broad accessibility and console controls. I say we give up on combat altogether, take the universes and choice-based marketing, and let Telltale deliver properly.

    • MarkH says:

      I have seen people seriously suggest this. But I like Bioware games. And I have no interest in Telltale games.

      Telltale have got enough money and IP to work on, without having to gut another studio.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        I don’t want to play another single-player MMO from BioWare, though. I guess it comes down to the audience. Are BioWare’s fans willing to accept, say, a game that tells a more direct story? Not quite linear, but more focused? E.g. something like older BioWare, with the Intro Quest–3 to 5 main quests in any order–Final Questline formula? Now, are they willing to accept that if the game takes 20 hours to play through? Even if the writing and the character work and game mechanics are polished and amazing? Or will the fanbase rise up in anger that they dared to put out an RPG that takes less than 40 hours?

        Personally, I’d love a good 20-hour BioWare game, but I’m an older guy who’d really prefer not to spend most of a month’s free time slogging through a game where half the stuff you do is dull busy work. I don’t know, though. Something’s got to give eventually. The sheer amount of work, even just the writing and art assets, put into DA:I is awe-inspiring to behold, but the end product is lacking soul. I like it, but it’s not grabbing me the way previous games did. I feel bad that all that money and talent was spent on a product that doesn’t stay with me the same way.

        • MarkH says:

          I think there were transitional issues making a lot of changes from game to game, dealing with a new engine and a more open world focus. Especially implementing the narrative in each zone and linking things into the main storyline.

          If they use the same engine and not make dramatic changes. I am curious about what they can do in the next game or large DLC.

          Personally I am happy they are going in this direction. My fear was that Dragon Age would try to emulate Mass Effect or CoD. There would be tight linear levels and everything would need to be cinematic which means less content. And they would implement the paragon/renegade structure.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’d hand Bioware’s stuff over to Obsidian. There QA is better now so its a good fit.

    • Vermander says:

      Bioware and Telltale games seems to be a bit of an apples/oranges comparison. They probably appeal to the same fanbase, and both tout “choice” as a major factor in their games, but their work seems very different in terms of content, mechanics and execution.

      To be honest, I found the false choices in The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones much more frustrating than any Bioware game. It drove me crazy that the same characters died and I ended up in exactly the same situation no matter what I did.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I agree we don’t necessarily have to do that.

        That said, Telltale is already applying its format to other company’s IPs. Maybe we could get a “Tales of Mass Effect” without discontinuing the main series.

        • MichaelGC says:

          That could work…

          Blasto will remember that.

          Yep, this could definitely work! :D

          • Otters34 says:

            Tack on a semi-realistic space dogfighting dealy and you’ve basically got what I’ve been hankering after for the Mass Effect franchise to do for ages.

            Just picture it: You’re a Systems Alliance fighter pilot in the early days of human settlement into the galactic community, whose company gets blown to shreds by a batarian Hegemony ambush, leaving only you and a handful of other pilots alive. The rest of the game develops around the player character as they and their comrades(a growing and changing cast of friends, fellow soldiers and interested parties) try to figure out why it happened on the sly (because the batarians sure ain’t going to talk), with the central focus being on the PC’s growing empathy or hatred for their alien adversaries, and how that impacts their decisions and worldview.

            I’d take five of those over another stock BioWare plot.

    • Games I want to see Telltale tackle because the results would be “good,” “interesting,” or “hilarious”:

      1. Portal.
      2. Anything from Warhammer 40k.
      3. A redo of one of those old SSI Forgotten Realms games.
      4. Burnout Paradise (just for the challenge of a point-n-click racing game).

      • Ivan says:

        lol, portal might actually be quite good. Imagine playing as Wheatley sometime between one and two? or even before one, Wheatley was presumably somewhere in the facility.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Telltale’s W40k… heavy breathing

        There are so many settings I want to see Telltale tackle… To be honest I’m starting to worry that with how much in demand they are now they will start spreading themselves thing eventually or even outsourcing (parts of) projects… and we know how that usually ends.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      But combat was fun in some of those games.Heck,Ive replayed mass effect 2,despite loathing what they did to the story,because combat on insane was challenging and fun.Though Id prefer if they made a mix of 1 and 2(grenades were great in 1,and so was the overheating thing with weapons).

      Id rather give bioware budget and no limits to obsidian.

    • Darren says:

      I’ve played a few of Telltale’s new story-centric games and I wrapped up Dragon Age: Inquisition last night. My boyfriend finished DA:I a few days before me and watched me do the last couple of story missions, and we found that we had a substantially different experience and had a fairly significant difference in terms of understanding certain plot points. From what I can tell, Telltale’s games don’t do anything of the sort, and the common complaint I hear is that replaying them mostly just shows how little difference the player’s choices make.

      I don’t really understand all the hate that Bioware gets these days. I’m not saying they’re perfect, or that the shift in their preferred mechanics is a meaningless criticism, but the idea that they don’t offer genuine player choice while Telltale does is baffling.

      • Vermander says:

        I definately agree. I do enjoy Telltale games, but I don’t feel like any of the choices I make really effect the story in any way. I found the first episode of GOT Iron from Ice particularly frustrating in that regard, so much so that when I completed it I went online to confirm that yes, everything does play out the same no matter what you do. I was particularly frustrated by a scene where I left the castle gate closed and ordered my men not to let anyone in, yet a small army of hostile soldiers are allowed to just waltz right in because it’s in the script.

        I’m not saying that Bioware games don’t also have pre-ordained outcomes, but at least in the Dragon Age series I’ve been able to make small changes to the game world (like who is monarch of various countries) and see that carry over into other games.

        A lot of people recommend the Witcher 2 as a better example of choices effecting the outcome. I’ll agree that their divergent storyline trick was really cool, but I couldn’t get past how vile and ugly everyone in the gameworld seemed. Almost every character I met was a drunk, a sexual predator or a vengeful fanatic. There was no Moridin, Garrus or Varric who I actually liked hanging out with.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I almost prefer that to the way Bioware handles it. Sometimes they accept your choice and reflect it, sometimes its a choice that you won’t be around to see the consequences of, and sometimes they just flat out ignore you.

          Softer examples include Dagna who will run off to be an Enchanter even if you convince her to stay home and even if the Fereldan college is destroyed. Harsher examples include Lelianna being alive even if you chopped her head off (yes I know, the Ashes, but can they regrow a head? Besides, its an asspull.) Or Anders for that matter.

          For that matter, its been ten years since either Harrowmont or Bhelen took over Orzhammar. We should be seeing some differences based on their radically different policies and political strengths.

          • IFS says:

            Yeah some of those changes seemed to occur because the Devs themselves forgot that they had them as options (like Leliana being alive regardless of if you killed her or not), and while they at least attempt to handwave them they still stand out as sort of off. That said I don’t mind most of the things they override, Anders surviving Awakening is handwaved off well enough imo, and I’ve always seen the epilogues from Origins and Awakening as a sort of “if you want to stop with the games here then this is how things play out, if not then some things might differ” so you can get a sense of long term resolution without playing the future games.

            That said it would be really nice if Inquisition had actually let you visit Orzammar to see how choices in Origins were playing out, or Vigil’s Keep and Amaranthine for that matter. I’d say one of the things with the game that disappointed me was that the only city we visit was Val Royeaux and with there we barely see the markets and don’t really get much of a sense of its character, especially not anything comparing to how it was described by characters in previous games.

        • Tyrian says:

          That’s basically my complaint about the Witcher series too. Deep story-driven, non-standard RPG? Awesome! Unskippable sex scenes, collectible one-night-stands and horrifying characters? No thanks.

    • Tyrian says:

      I love what Bioware is doing with their games and find TellTale games boring. Different people like different things, dude.

      Also – you’re complaining about Bioware games having boring mechanics, but then suggesting a point and click adventure game company as an alternative?

  6. Weimer says:

    Chris’ remark about doom 3 duct tape mod sounds so negative. Maybe people just wanted more shooty explosion mcshooterson Doom and less monsters-hiding-in-dark-crevices-waiting-to-blindside-you-SPOOKY Doom.

    Well, okay, maybe the implementation of the duct tape to the BFG edition sacrificed artistic vision on the altar of popular opinion. But is it the people’s fault that they have and vocalize opinions about a product? Even opinions that might destroy the “art” of it?

    The developers or publishers don’t have to concern themselves with us plebs. I appreciate the fact that at least some of them are listening.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’d watch the actual episode he did on mods (which is where he originally said this). Consider it in context with that.

    • To be honest, the biggest problem I had with Doom 3 was the memory limitations meaning I had a limit on how many enemies could be in a given area for each part of the game. I missed the hordes coming after me and tricking them into attacking each other.

      Duct taping the flashlight didn’t help with this, naturally.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The biggest problem with doom 3 was that it was boring.No more fun insane runs through vast levels filled with various enemies.That got replaced with closets containing your monster of the level ready to pounce on your back.It was repetitive,not fun,repetitive,predictable,repetitive,boring and above all repetitive.

        Now serious sam,that was the true sequel to doom.

  7. silver Harloe says:

    hole. eee. ship.

    dat ending song. amirite?

  8. Some_Jackass says:

    As a retail worker, Campster’s planagram description makes me cringe because I don’t come here to remind myself of work…

  9. 4th Dimension says:

    @First question: We still have those allthough I do not remember recently a game where your party members turned on you except DA2 I think.
    My biggest problem with these choices is that they amount to skin changes for mooks, and don’t make much impact on the actual storyline.
    For example in DA:I you can save Mages or Templars (you don’t know it at the time) and in the next big battle if you saved Mages you fight mutant Templars and vice versa. But that is that for choice, a skin change. The actual plot proceeds as expected only in the box of ally it says Templar or Mage.
    Similar but worse in my opinion is the end result of you saving bunch of your villagers in DA:I.
    Compare it to the Witcher, where an important choice at the end of the first open map, weither to follow Roche or the Elf dude, means you will be playing more or less two different games because in the next segment it decides if you are in Rebel or Kings camp and thus determines possible outcomes.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Well, most of the main plot quests in DA:O boiled down to different mooks too: for that last battle in Denerim, do you get mages or templars? Werewolves or elves? Dwarves or golems? Depends on how you resolved the quest.

      Granted, there were more opportunities to lose party members through your actions, but you still had to work hard at it (I think Alastair’s the easiest to lose at the end, but you can always just not recruit people.)

      CD Projekt can probably afford to do things BioWare can’t, like produce whole swaths of content players might never see. They don’t have a looming corporate parent meddling in their development. (They have shareholders but the 5-year-old articles I can drag up suggest CDP maintained a controlling interest–if someone else has more current info please share.) While it’s not quite the Goose Laying Golden Eggs like Steam is for Valve, GOG.com probably keeps them solvent enough that their survival as a studio isn’t dependent on a constant stream of big splash releases. And if GNI per captia is anything to go by, you can probably pay a Polish game dev about half of what you pay a Canadian one, even with all the government subsidies the latter’s employer gets (I have no idea if the Polish government gives CDP similar support).

      • 4th Dimension says:

        I am aware why CD PROJEKT can get away with these things, but still it annoys me terribly for people to gush about how many CHOICES you have have when they mostly boil down to insert name A or B in slot A. it’s the lack of vision that bothers me. And it’s not like there are no exclusive quest/content allready. Morrowind allowed you to join just one house. Most of the games don’t allow you to respec even after you get bored with your class. Etc.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I think we need a distinction between gameplay choices and story choices.Having a story diverge between completely different locations and you only see one of them depending on your choice is ok.But having you locked into doing just one set of skills,especially if you have a small number of them,is not.You either give the player a plethora of toys,or allow them to switch their small number of toys practically at will,like kingdoms of amalur did.

  10. Axcalibar says:

    I believe the game being described (9:45) is Darklands.

    • tmtvl says:

      The game being described around 08:00 sounds like the old Black Isle RPG Lionheart: Legend of the Crusader. It’s terrible.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        It was?I cant really remember it that well(except that you are lionheart,and theres magic),but I dont remember it being particularly good or bad.

        There was also one recent 3rd person rpg about crusaders that have immortality due to the holy grail or something like that.It was kind of fantasy.

    • Josh says:

      Yes, this, thank you.

      Josh Sawyer (of Obsidian) made a cool video on the topic of historical games and touched on Darklands in particular, which is what reminded of it when the topic came up.

      • Blovsk says:

        Lionheart wasn’t that bad. It really lost steam and detail after the initial city of Barcelona in exchange for TONS of dry combat but the worldbuilding was amazing and the character creation system was really cool. Shame it didn’t follow through entirely and it sat at an awkward intersection between Diablo action-RPG and BG adventure-RPG and it doesn’t really match up to either of them individually.

  11. Ilseroth says:

    All right so here it is. In answer to the “take the game or give more time/money to it” the only answer that came straight to mind.


    The concepts behind the game were amazing, starting as a single cell lifeform and developing your species into an interstellar empire is an amazing concept… And the worst thing is that I don’t think they did an awful job of it; but everything other then the creature and building creator was incredibly half baked.

    I don’t know if it would be better to deliver it to a different developer but I think they had kind of the right concept with regards to how each section played… they just needed more,

    The Cell section was fine, I think it is the one section that really doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and plays well… given that it lasts roughly 10 minutes, that’s not too much of a surprise though.

    Creature stage is the part of the game most players remember fondly since you do actually spend some time playing it (as opposed to the Cell stage which is over in a blink) and it is where you do all of your customization of you creature (the reason you are playing the game.) But it gets bogged down with the fact that to progress as a species you either have to befriend or kill other species. to be fair spore was on the latter end of the “Every game must have a moral choice bar” part of game development, but still it felt like an unnecessary restriction.

    Then you move on to Tribal stage where you options are, once again, murder or play nice. There are no means of say, developing technology faster so you just defend yourself, and the “friendship” meter and AI actions were awkward and definitely skewed players to play aggressively. There just wasn’t enough options of *how* to tackle this stage and I feel as though it is because the developers were too worried about players being overwhelmed by strategy. Instead it just rings hollow.

    Same with the civilization stage pretty much, it is a little more interesting because you have to manage city layouts and you get to flex the creative juices that you used as a creature on your buildings and vehicles. But practically all of the buildings and vehicles are needed off the bat, which means, assuming you want to be creative, you burn yourself out building 4 different buildings and 3 different vehicles, laying out your city and then going out and taking over the world. While I had more fun playing the civilization section then the tribes, it is also substantially more broken. Units appear immediately, and you are given a massive leg up by spawning first letting you snap up every resource (of which there is precisely one type) in the nearby area.

    The lack of any kind of diplomatic options short of bribing folk makes it awkward, and the rate at which the game progresses is actually too fast really. As opposed to say, Civilization, the game all occurs so rapidfire, especially if you aren’t play as an Economic nation, as the other two nations can’t really play the diplomat as you can only progress through domination.

    And lastly is the space section which highlights all of the flaws of the game. Diplomacy is too stunted, the gameplay/strategy is too simple, the inability to control multiple units (suddenly, as you can in Tribe and Civ). In space progression really is just a hassle. If you want to buy and sell stuff you have to do it manually, if there is a pirate attack you personally have to fly out there. Up until space they value empire building over everything else, but then suddenly expansion is nothing but increasing the % chance you will get harassed while you do something else.

    Well this has been a bit of a tangent, but with regards to… all of these issues. I am not sure if the general shallowness of the game would be fixed with continued iteration (aka: more money and time) or if it would be done better by someone else. The concept, I think, is awesome. And occasionally seeing another person’s creation was actually really cool (though at the time there was an odd glitch that made 99% of the creations ones that I made_ but I think the focus on the creature creature creator and the social sharing of creations overshadowed the most important thing, the gameplay.

    Not sure who would have done a better job…

  12. Paul Spooner says:

    At 1 hour 05 minutes Campster redeems human diction for us all. We salute you good sir!

    Awesome instrumental at the end though! Could have used a ton more voice-sample instruments though.

  13. Vermander says:

    My all time favorite “cool concept, poor execution” game was The Movies, from Lionhead Studios. It was incredibly fun to create my own actors, pick costumes, sets and props and show my own movies in game. I remember the actors being highly customizable and there being a huge variety of props and costumes (including many from the game’s only expansion pack). You shot your movies by placing your actors in a series of pre-scripted scenes from multiple genres, but you were able to change the specifics of the scenes (including outcomes) and how your actors played them (should the ninja kick the spy in the face, or in the groin? Should the action scene be played straight, or for laughs.)

    Unfortunately, to unlock and use all these fun sets, props and costumes you had to play the incredibly tedious sandbox building game, which required you to build and maintain all sorts of studio buidlings and facilities. Plus, you had to start in the 1920s, which meant that you could only make black and white silent films with very basic props. Just about everyone used cheat codes to unlock everything and used the game soley as a movie maker.

    I’d like to see someone remake the game with the focus solely on the movie maker. Eliminate some or all of the studio management aspects, and focus on developing a greater variety of scenes for each genre.

    The really frustrating part is that as far as I can tell, the game isn’t available for download on GOG or anywhere else.

    • HeroOfHyla says:

      The Movies was the first game for which I ever had to upgrade my graphics card. I tried playing it on my parents’ old stock Dell PC, and it couldn’t handle it at all, so I bought a really cheap card on ebay that could play it on low. Low quality meant that all the filter effects on the movies were gone, so your old films, for example, didn’t wind up being grainy and black and white.

      Good Times.

  14. Ivan says:

    I don’t know if it’s worth getting into “A Game of Thrones” at this point. It really feels like a book that is more fun to talk about than it is to read, so if you’re this far behind it might not be worth trying to catch up. I say this because it is hugely over-complicated with like 20 main characters that all have at least 10 supporting characters each, George R. R. Martin also has this nasty habit of killing off characters just as you start to like them or they become interesting, and he doesn’t care about setting up a plot to contextualize all the backstabbing.

    It all really just boils down to a medieval soap opera.

    For context, I say this after giving up after reading 4 books.

    • nerdpride says:

      I’m not 100% on saying it’s worthless, but yeah I don’t like Game of Thrones and I’m not very pleased about having read all of them.

      I don’t know what I want to complain about, except that the vast majority of characters were either morally awful people or sometimes pitiful tear-jerkers. Like what did I expect, right?

      • Ivan says:

        I wasn’t trying to say it’s worthless, I mean it’s obviously insanely popular, but yeah I found it more frustrating to read than it was worth and I really don’t understand what everyone likes about it.

        I mean I assume that everyone loves the character drama, but without the context of a plot to tie all this drama together I couldn’t really care less and would rather read a book that exclusively followed one of the characters I liked.

        Plot-wise, pretty much everything that was interesting happened in the first book, and then the story just kept lousing momentum after that. Martian set up 3 major plot-lines that looked very promising, and then did like one minor thing with each of them per book while everyone killed each other.

        If you go in trying to read this like a story, well there’s no story being told, just endless drama.

        • Ivan says:

          (responding to myself cause I kinda want to go off on a tangent)

          You know, some people have tried to compare Martin to Tolkien, and while I don’t want to try to address this directly, I will say that it’s a bad comparison. Tolkien was writing a story. Everything in his world was there with a purpose, everything that happened, happened for a reason. Martin seems more interested in writing a fictional history. I mean it makes more sense when you think about it that way. He doesn’t use any literary devices like foreshadowing, characters die brutal meaningless deaths, character arcs are left unresolved in the most unsatisfying ways, and he throws a bunch of details at you which may or may not be useless. The only difference between this and an actual history is that we’re watching this unfold “in real time” so to speak.

          With that said, I think this method of story telling isn’t entirely useless, though I would much rather see it written by some history buff, based on real historical events and done with some consistent level of accuracy. It would actually be cool if “Historical Dramas” actually became a thing and were used to try to tell stories about historical figures and show what life was like during that time period. Though I don’t have enough faith in humanity to believe that historical accuracy won’t be thrown out the window in order to make the story more palatable to the masses.

          • Nelly says:

            I found a whole bunch of foreshadowing in the GoT books, in the tales, the visions, the dreams, as well as the actions – much of it is subtle and I only picked up on it either on a second readthrough or a good long think about it. I love the first three books, really enjoy the next couple. I think that you may be right about the watching history unfold thing – I love reading history books and so this may alter my perception of AGOT.

            On your historical drama point – I may be teaching you to suck eggs, but there are a bunch of authors – of varying ability and genre writing that sort of book. For my money the two best are Conn Iggulden, who writes with the actual historical people as the main characters (so far, Caeser, Genghis and Margaret of Anjou); and my favourite Bernard Cornwell who puts fictional characters near famous people and events – Sharpe in the Napoleonic Wars, Derfel with King Arthur (in the most likely Dark Age, Saxon invasion setting) Starbuck in the US Civil War (from the Confederate side), Thomas of Hookton at the start of the Hundred Years’ War and Uhtred with Alfred the Great.

            There’s loads of others though. Sorry to kind of go off on one about it, especially
            Ally if it’s what you know and you meant something different

    • Otters34 says:

      I disagree with your main point pretty obstinately. By my reckoning the entire point IS that it’s a soap opera, but it’s one specifically designed(like you wrote later) to mirror historical trends and give the impression of seeing history unfold. There’s also an entire slew of literary devices and none kf the deaths are actually pointless, even the few that are presented as such. People are in the story to further the plot in some way, whether it’s to give the reader information, set up later events, or simply to stand for something. Ultimately, the characters are in service to the plot, not the other way around as seems to be the prevailing mode in modern fiction.

      I’ve likened this series to a mix of the old chivalric romances and modern dark fantasy, where it is mostly preoccupied with Things or Ideas(as per the old metod), yet has an equal interest in people, what they can be like and why they do what they do. It is a history of a fictional world, but one that knows that a mere RPG setting timeline is hollow without personable context.

      But yes, I too stopped reading the series after the fourth book(the only 800+ page novel I know of that CAN be summarized in a few pages without losing any salint details). I know how A Song of Ice and Fire is going to unfold, and nothing I’ve heard afterwards has made me doubt my decision.

      • Ivan says:

        I’ll just cover this in a huge spoiler tag cause it’ll be easier for everyone that way. Basically I’m going to talk about characters who I feel die pointlessly.

        I don’t know, Sandor Clegain died in a ditch after being stabbed by a drunkard. He never got to resolve the conflict with his brother, who while his death had some significance, it came at the cost of the life of the Prince of Dorne, the Red Viper. His death was completely avoidable and felt completely pointless and unnecessary. After all he dies only about chapter after he’s introduced and we have no context for his death having never heard of Dorne before he showed up. At some point Davos “The Onion Knight” is killed off camera during book four. Now it’s my understanding that the 4th and 5th books were originally meant to be the same book but it just got to be too long. This just illustrates my biggest complaint about the series though, namely the glacial pace of the plot. MAYBE all these deaths will eventually be shown to be meaningful but I don’t have the patience to find out any more. Also one last thing Brienne of Tarth dies a meaningless death (presumably, I mean idk, this is exactly the chapter I gave up on the series) at the hands of zombie Catelyn, who I believe has only one chapter at the beginning of the 4th book revealing her new-found fondness for brains and then proceeds to do nothing for the rest of the book until she suddenly returns to kill Brienne. I honestly have no idea why Martin decided to reveal her so early when it it would have been so much more dramatic to see her suddenly at the end.

        • Vermander says:

          Two of the four people you mentioned above are strongly hinted to have survived and one of the other two is confirmed to be alive in Book 5.

          • Otters34 says:

            Well now that’s a very intriguing and FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-

            I hate, HATE Comic Book-Style “Nuh-uh! I didn’t show you a dead body, so it doesn’t count!” Deaths. At least Prof. Tolkien had the good graces to make his resurrected character a superhuman spirit. And was working in an entirely different style of fantasy. And didn’t keep up the ‘suspense’ for roughly the length of the Bible.

            • Vermander says:

              I agree about the drawn out length, but I don’t think any of them were exactly comic book style magic returns. None of them were the classic “comic book” situation where a character was killed off, but proved so popular that the writer felt compelled to resurect them with a half-assed explanation like “it was a clone!”

              All three of the people I’m talking about “died” off camera. With out getting too spoilery, in one case there is a scene that strongly hints that the character survived and is now “retired” and living anonymously as a monk at an abbey. It’s played ambigously enough that you can ignore the hints and just assume he really did die if you prefer. It seems unlikely that we’ll see him again in the story.

              In another case we left the character in the middle of a cliff hanger scene, where it seems pretty obvious that they survived, but I’ll agree that this is where the drawn out length of the series is annoying.

              In the last case we never even saw the character in peril, we just heard a rumor from a third party that they had been killed, which turned out to be false. Helping fake this character’s death was an important part of one of the many conspiracies in the book.

              My point is, the series isn’t as filled with “pointless character deaths” as people believe. It is true that characters die, sometimes in unexpected, or unfufilling ways, but in most cases their deaths serve as major driving points for the story. Characters losing their partners, protectors, or key subordinates means that they have to make drastic changes to their plans in order to survive. It’s not the classic trope where killing the boss means that the rest of the army automatically gives up.

              Also, I’ve always felt that one of Martin’s major themes is that pursuing revenge is pointless and self destructive. Killing someone who hurt you doesn’t solve all your problems and magically make everything better. Most characters are too busy with their own petty vendettas to see the larger problems looming on the horizon.

        • GiantRaven says:

          If you’re going to make complaints about meaningless deaths, at least get your facts correct. Two of those you mention aren’t true at all and another is heavily suggested to also not be true.

          edit: Whoops. It appears I didn’t see the comment already written saying that. Derp.

      • Zagzag says:

        I’m not the expert here, but I’ve been reliably informed that Martin is actually writing in a medieval style, and that structurally he’s one of the only people to have written an actual romance (to use the word’s original meaning) in the last few centuries. There’s a pretty clear structure to the series too: The first section of the series is about the fall of the typically heroic Starks, once they’re dealt with the story moves on to being about the fall of the Lannisters.

        Personally I loved the books, it feels like the stakes are so much higher and the story’s much more interesting precisely because you know that characters can die at any moment without their death meaning anything. By the point the series is currently at it’s become pretty clear which characters are plot armoured, and that really harms the narrative.

        Then there’s the fact that the story is actually a deconstruction of the entire fantasy genre and the various tropes that it uses.

  15. Ithilanor says:

    About Rogue Legacy: I recently got it, expecting that there would be more in the way of genetics influencing later descendants, and was disappointed when I found out that the traits are totally random. (This is what happens when you play too much Crusader Kings) Still enjoying the game, though.

    • Merlin says:

      It’s still in early access, but consider taking a peek at Massive Chalice if you’re looking for a game-ier Crusader Kings. It’s basically a fantasy genetics version of XCOM.

      • aldowyn says:

        +1 this. The entire time Chris was talking about Rogue Legacy’s ‘themes’ I was thinking of Massive Chalice.

        (As a backer, I have access to the beta, which I’ve done a full run of. It works pretty well actually)

  16. Corpital says:

    I’d like to see everything Peter Molyneux ever created remade. A *proper* new version of Dungeon Keeper, anyone? Black&White? Fable?

    As for pizza…salami, button mushrooms and mashed garlic that has been marinated in olive oil for a day or two. For cheese emmentaler or mozzarella. And mayyybe a hint of sour cream. Sometimes.

    • Ivan says:

      “War for the Overworld” is supposed to be a spiritual successor to Dungeon Keeper. It’s still in beta on steam and I’ve been checking up on it from time to time. I’d say it looks promising but I haven’t played the original.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’d just like to see a developer who could deliver on what Molyneux promised.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        There might be a reason why no other developers promise the stuff that Molyneux does…

        In the user guide to Populous II, there’s a short portrait of all developers, and for Peter Molyneux it says that he’s battling megalomania — there might have been moire to this than they meant back then.

        (Though Pop2 is very much a good game, still play it! (again))

  17. tzeneth says:

    Any way we can get just the mp3 of that ending song bit. That was awesome and hilarious at the same time. Especially the Josh song bits with Mumbles and Chris’s responses.

  18. Paul Spooner says:

    Oh, just wanted to chime in with “Horay Python!” and I’m glad Josh is playing around with it. I’ve found it to be a lovely language, especially for experimenting and playing around.

    On a Dalek tangent…
    My wife went on a Dr. Who binge about a year ago, and my three-year-old daughter watched with her. Through a combination of linguistic misunderstanding, adorable toddler mispronunciation, and childhood innocence, this resulted in our little girl shuffling around the house for days on end, shouting in a robotic monotone, “Exter-bee-dates!”

    • ET says:

      Huzzah Python!* Yay Josh! Also yay PyGame!**

      * Boo unnecessary brackets/semicolons/syntax/etc!
      ** I can’t remember how good/bad the beginner tutorials on the main PyGame website are, so here’s one I found that was reasonably good/easy for me to follow.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Python is a bliss, and it makes this world a better place.

      Also, “dalloc()” took me a very long time to understand… “Why is Chris changing topic again?”*

      Also also: aren’t compilers these days sophisticated enough to realize in most cases when a variable goes out of scope, and put the deallocation statement for the memory in the code during compilation? (OK, so relying on that might be dangerous… but unless you actually handle lots of data, you should still be fine) Aren’t there IDEs that will put in the semicolons for you?

      I love the way that you can just invoke variables by assigning them values, but you still have the ability (using numpy) to define arrays, which are memory-efficient, _much_ quicker for larger datasets, and carry strictly enforced variables (because they have a static address in memory). Meaning: As long as you don’t care, stuff is handled for you but if need be, you can spend a little more programming effort and do it the really fast way, including hardware-accelerated parallel vector operations and all, to the point that it’s as fast as the best C++ implementation (because all serious computing happens in the best C++ libraries)

      *(slightly seriously: The amount of off-topicness in this issue was approaching the border of “it’s entertaining because it’s spontaneous”)

  19. Volfram says:

    Hey Josh


    (I really do think you’ll like it.)

  20. Regarding Chris’ re-reading of books. I might have a solution: Start reading more futuristic sci-fi. You’ll never want to revisit it after you try once or twice.

    What I mean by that is that you’ll still remember and enjoy the “big idea” involved in, say, Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001,” but you’ll probably be put off by the stilted writing and all of the actual behavioral and technical things that are “wrong.” That is, Dave Bowman playing math games with HAL as opposed to playing a bro-shooter or a Civ game with HAL.

    I find that there are very few novels I can go back to over and over again as time goes by, not because I don’t like their concepts as much, but that I find the writing and world-building starts to seem really, really dated. It’s hard to re-read about epic space stuff when the characters are getting printouts, not carrying a music/book library on their hips, or doing things that seem even remotely related to what one would expect from our era.

    • lostclause says:

      One of my favourite examples of dated sci-fi comes from Clark. The idea of us having commercial, regular space travel throughout the solar system but still use typewriters to write novels amuses me.

      On a side note, Chris, I think you’d like Ian Banks’ scifi novels. They’re an interesting series of discussions on colonialism, enlightened interventionalism, cultural hegemony and AI-human interactions. He’s one of my favourite authors.

      • Paul Spooner says:

        The only “Ian Banks” stuff I can find at my local library is composed morally dubious films.
        I believe you meant “Iain Banks”, the late author of “The Hydrogen Sonata” among others.

      • Ivan says:

        Ha ha ha… wow! How did he think we would get to space with a typewriter!?

        Then again… A modern smart phone does have more computing power than NASA had for the moon launch, so maybe astronauts using typewriters isn’t so huge a stretch…

        • Neil W says:

          He did work on radar during WWII which involved a lot of maths with slide rules and tables of figures. And using those techniques wrote a pioneering paper on using geo-stationary satellites for communication in 1945.

          (This is why early fictional spaceships need crews – to do the navigation calculations – and modern space exploration mostly doesn’t so you don’t have to haul along a couple of tonnes of life support everywhere you go)

        • Mike S. says:

          Exactly. We *did* get to space with typewriters. We didn’t send them up there because we didn’t need them (at least not enough to justify the space and weight.) But thus far typewriter-era tech has sent more people to the Moon than smartphone-era tech has.

          It’s also really hard to anticipate new paradigms. Asimov had human-shaped robots that could operate autonomously, speak natural if stilted English and understand natural language commands, and could go long periods without a charge– all things we still can’t manage.

          But when a writer needed automated assistance with a document, he got a robot that read his paper galley proofs and retyped them (on a typewriter) with corrections.

          (The thing could testify in court. But it didn’t have nonvolatile storage, or a network connection, or a screen.)

          Likewise, Kirk and Spock had walkie talkies that were smaller and operated at longer range than what we had in the 60s, and in the 80s Picard’s was even smaller. Fixed teletypes were old hat, and email was growing at universities and corporations. Yet having the portable communicator send text? Didn’t occur the writers, or the viewers.

          I promise that if you or I try to make tech predictions for a few decades hence, we’ll do exactly the same thing. The occasional lucky hit is remembered because it’s vanishingly rare– “obvious” developments never are except in retrospect.

          • I don’t want to give the impression that I’m faulting them for not accurately predicting the future. What I am saying is that it makes it harder for me to read and lose myself in.

            It’s akin to saying that I find it hard to read books in Ye Olde Englishe for pleasure. That doesn’t mean I demand a modernized version of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” to be the standard, if not thrown out of our schools. Asimov himself remarked that predicting the future was a hopeless, thankless task with ridicule to begin with and scorn at the end.

            As I said, the big ideas behind sci-fi are still quite intriguing and entertaining, but I’d rather not have my current jaunts into the unknown run by computers the size of houses using reel-to-reel tape for memory.

            • Mike S. says:

              Sure– the heart wants what it wants. I’d like there to be more people who share my taste for futures projected from other than the present, because I want to be able to talk about them, I want there to be an economic incentive to publish reprints, etc. And I’d like to see the occasional retro-future project, etc.

              (Some of the most fun flavor text I’ve seen in tabletop RPGs are the handwaving in GURPS Lensman and Last Unicorn’s Star Trek explaining why they didn’t get or abandoned certain aspects of modern tech, so that everyhing looks suspiciously like the speculation of someone writing in the 30s/40s or 60s respectively.)

              But if it doesn’t work for you, or if it only works in a certain mood, there it is. There’s plenty of art in the world (that’s generally deemed more important than mid-century Astounding serials) that either isn’t my cup of tea at all, or else requires a positive commitment that’s less frequent for me than the inclination for a comfort read.

              “You'll never want to revisit it after you try once or twice” obviously isn’t true for me for older SF. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong as a general rule. (The Baen editors I complain about elsewhere do know a thing or two about what sells and what puts their readership off, even if their choices madden me.)

              The most I’d suggest is that someone try reading or rereading the Old Stuff before skipping it entirely. Because if it happens to work for you, it can be boatloads of fun.

      • Halceon says:

        You, my good man, underappreciate the power of hipsters. Typewriters are getting to be the big thing again.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Eh,depends on the reader.Im rereading the huge Asimov opus(from eternity to foundation),and I dont mind the silly anachronisms.I sure do notice them(having anthropomorphic robots,but not actual computers,hyperdrive but no nuclear power,nuclear warheads that can destroy whole planets,etc),but I dont mind them at all.

      • Mike S. says:

        I actively like them. One of the things that annoys me about some reprints (e.g., Baen Books edited by Eric Flint) is that there are editors who will try to edit out the anachronisms to “update” a book.

        And you can’t– any work reflects the time and place it was written. So instead you get a book with 50s sex roles and cultural expectations and malt shops, in which the cigarettes have all been elided and the slide rule has been replaced with a calculator. Except oops, now we all “know” that you wouldn’t bother spending rocket fuel on a calculator when everyone has a smartphone anyway. (Which in turn will itself look incredibly dated in the face of the next thing– wearables, implants, who knows?– all too soon.)

        It also interferes with the coolness of the genuine prediction. E.g., Heinlein wrote several books in the 40s in which the characters carried portable phones that wouldn’t have looked out of place circa 2000. He even got some of the social aspects right, like a teenager who made a point of not having his phone on him to avoid a call from his parents. And I can be confident that wasn’t something inserted by an editor a decade after Heinlein was dead.

        (Obviously, this wouldn’t work in 2015, when a teen would sooner cut off their arm at the shoulder.)

        But even the “wrong” predictions are cool. I no more want to see Doc Smith’s Lensman books updated with microchips than I want to see the Iliad with drones and laser-guided missiles. I want fiction to bear the mark of the time it was written, just as I want it to bear the mark of who the author was, or where they lived, or what they experienced.

        (Especially since those old futures are frequently more fun than what people are coming up with now.)

        • Point the first: The Iliad isn’t a very adept comparison. It was a work of its time about its time.

          Point the second: If you actually want sci-fi works to reflect the time they were written, then “fun” futures are part and parcel along with the dystopian ones. Philip K. Dick is rarely “fun” with his futures. I’d also put forth that in some ways we’ve culturally grown up a bit from the always-sunny outlooks that the idea of future-tech gave to audiences in the past. Those futuristic communicators? We have them, but they’re constantly spying on us and the means to get the materials & manufacture them are hardly moral for the universe of, for example, Star Trek.

          If you want a fun future that’s supposed to be believable, you’d need a pretty good concept to sell it, since that’s not something a lot of us would believe possible with things the way they are and with people the way they are.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Fun is a bit of a misleading term.Technically,you can say that 1984 is fun,even though it really is not,at least not by the dictionary definition of the word.But the work is engaging.It makes you think,fantasize as the world is presented to you.Technically,that is a pleasurable,fun activity,even though things you are fantasizing about are deplorable.

            So yes,even dystopian futures are fun.

          • Mike S. says:

            Best guess for Homer’s lifetime is about as far from the events of the Iliad as we are from Star Trek: TNG. SF itself is a new genre in the scheme of things, but it’s a mirror of the much more ancient genres of historical chronicles and fiction, which also always reflect the sensibilities and priorities of the time of writing rather than the time of the events.

            (And as with SF, freqently the tech and social institutions as well, so that the Anglo-Saxons would write adaptations of the Gospels with thanes and Shakespeare put striking clocks in ancient Rome.)

            I’m also not convinced that genres have a teleology (that time makes them “grow up”) rather than simply changing over time to reflect changing tastes and priorities.

            Stage plays aren’t better now than they were in Athens or Elizabethan England, we just have different conventions. Modern YA literature tends towards the dystopian and always has a love triangle because that’s the fashion, not because having that is per se qualitatively better than the previous generations’ juveniles that lack those elements. (And dystopia is neither newer, more realistic, nor inherently stronger dramatically than other modes of storytelling.)

            Likewise a strong 60s adventure story with iconic characters and clear themes like TOS is better than a muddy serialized story with soap opera characterization and a go-nowhere long term plot (say, Stargate Universe). Just as a strong serialized SF show like the (earlier part of the) Battlestar Galactica reboot is better than a weak episodic 60s show like Lost in Space– good work and bad work can be done in any form, at any time.

            And while I like and dislike some of both, I’d say that the Hugo winners for Best SF Novel from, say, 1965-70 are a stronger field than those for the last five years of 2009-2014. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Novel On the other hand, say 1996-2001 is arguably weaker, though it still has a couple of strong contenders. I don’t think it’s generally possible to say that written SF gets better or worse over time– it just changes, as tastes alter and talented people enter and leave the field.

            (And as Big Ideas are discovered, introduced, and worked over till they become cliche, until the next Big Idea comes along.)

            I personally find it a lot more rewarding to sample SF (or any genre I like, really) across its long history rather than to concentrate too much on the present.

            If anything, the new stuff tends to have more chaff to sort through. Not because it’s worse per se, but because time and reputation haven’t given me the tools to sort through the inherent Sturgeon’s Law situation.

            (Standing the test of time isn’t the only test of whether something’s worth reading, but it can certainly help.)

  21. Jin says:

    Re: podcast technology, have you considered trying the technique of having everyone just record their own end of the conversation? You just need a way to sync up the tracks easily (“OK, everybody clap once on three: one, two, three!”). Advantages are that everybody’s audio will be clearer, levels can be tweaked, and you can use a low latency link you don’t need to worry about recording (like a conference call).

  22. Re: Quitting a book before you were halfway through.

    Wait, you stopped reading a book because you found out there was more book to go? Were you not enjoying the story, Chris? I’m probably going to sound more judgmental than I mean to, but isn’t this like turning off a TV show because you find out it’s a 2-parter rather than basing your enjoyment on the material presented?

    Note: 11-22-63 isn’t King’s worst work by far. If nothing else, it takes place in the past, which he’s far more comfortable with, since he’s been regularly embarrassing himself when he tries to include technology in his more recent works. I mean, it’s cool he uses a Macbook and all, but it’s not terribly realistic for everyone in every strata of life own one of the things, and his concepts of how computer viruses work in “Cell” will probably knock you off of your chair. Anyway, younger readers might dislike how King basically says everything about the internet and modern life sucks and wow wasn’t the time he lived in a bajillion times better than the current day in 11-22-63. Other than that, it’s fairly typical King, with less supernatural shenanigans. Back to our regularly scheduled rant…

    So unless the story offended, I really don’t get why having more of something that was at least halfway decent is a bad thing. If a book’s a slog, that’s one thing, but I often prefer a story that’s 600+ pages, as I’ll get a more in-depth tale. Short stories are fine, too (I loves me some short story anthologies, and some tales only warrant a short story), but it’s Stephen King. Anyone familiar with his work shouldn’t expect a small volume for just about anything.

    Anyway, I shut off the podcast after this because I saw it was over an hour. :)

  23. Zukhramm says:

    “You don’t impulse buy a spatula”


    Yes you do.

  24. kanodin says:

    Thinking about it I would like to see crusader kings made by pre-EA maxis, because that would keep 70-80% of the complexity while making it much much more accessible so I could actually get into it.

  25. Zukhramm says:

    Brackets are definitely not just for the computer to parse, Python’s pretty hard to read for lack of them sometimes. I like semicolons too.

    Chris, you mentioned all the books except the ones the ones about games, I guess this podcast really is about cooking rather than games. Please tell us about your boring games criticism books!

    • Bryan says:

      I don’t think the required semicolons are bad either.

      Actually I don’t think they’re the result of line-ending-byte confusion, either. (All possible line ending bytes have to be classified as whitespace when a semicolon is used to end a statement. Without a semicolon, all possible line ending types have to be classified as a line ending, to end the statement. It’s not entirely relevant which way they go. :-) ) I think the semicolons are there because the language designers didn’t want to tell people that they couldn’t write:

      i+=15; j++; k-=3;

      if they really thought it made sense to combine three statements onto one line.

      Though my bigger issue with Python is its threading. While a big processwide lock, held while executing each Python code statement, is a way to ensure safety, it’s not exactly great for concurrency. (Er. Unless that finally died in Python 3? I’m rather behind on that…)

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Well, it’s not like Python did not use brackets. Here’s an example:

      np.array([float(entry.getvalue()) for entry in entrylist[:]])

      … that’s about as many brackets as I’m willing to tolerate (and able to understand without having to start counting.
      To the point that if an expression requires many more brackets, I will sometimes just put it on several lines just in order to group it.

      Most C codes I’ve seen so far also do this: brackets for execution (loops, if clauses…) are put on separate lines and indented, so in the end the indentation becomes necessary to understand the code hierarchy, at which point you could just drop the brackets.

      Even with this, I sometimes wish there was a bracket hierarchy editor for Python that takes one line with nested statements as above and graphically shows me the structure (colour, vertical indentation, boxes … something like that). Even though Spyder automatically closes brackets, and indicates pairs if you select one of them, it is still way too easy to loose track of how many are open and how many of them need to be closed at some specific point.

  26. ET says:

    @Josh around 10:00

    Were you thinking of Secret of Evermore? You had a pet dog, and your dude would make fireballs by mixing alchemical ingredients. Came out on the SNES in 1995 in North America.

    • ET says:

      Upon re-listening, it doesn’t match your “medieval Germany” setting, but you’d probably have lots of fun with it! Sort of like Chrono Trigger in size/scope, but with a smaller party. (You and your dog…I don’t think you get anyone else, but I might be remembering wrong.)

  27. FuzzyWasHe? says:

    I would like a pizza roll, Josh. Please send it ASAP or I will expose you all as the fraud/hacks/Illuminati puppets that you are.

  28. ET says:

    Yay listening to electronica while coding! Woo! Also, yay midi music!

  29. SlothfulCobra says:

    KOTOR did a neat little workaround with voiced dialogue. At least half of the foreign dialogue was in alien languages, and that meant that they could re-use generic alien speech clips for a bunch of different things, just like what they do with gesturing. I think I heard “A chupa pak nak-pak” at least 50 times.

    Then in Jade Empire they got everything confused by actually designing a language so they couldn’t just reuse clips.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I also really like how the captions use your name while the voiced work just skips it. It makes it feel like my name is being used by the characters. Doubly so when its subtitled alien babble. So rewarding to be addressed as Norm MacDonald or Porkins the White*

      *I think a lot of devs these days, including Bioware, get uptight about people creating names that will wreck immersion. To them I say, you’re fighting a losing battle. We’ll thank you more when you let us have our fun.

    • Mike S. says:

      SWTOR also does that. It gets a little old, but I suspect it’s a helpful shortcut. (And you definitely see more people speaking Huttese and the like at higher levels, as they cut corners leading up to release.)

  30. ET says:

    Re: Chris’ dislike of non-game-mechanic interactions, at around 1:00:00.

    Do you find value in mechanics like these, insofar as they can help with world-building? i.e. Make the world seem more real*, alive, etc? I often find myself lamenting the lack of such fiddly mechanics**, which don’t directly serve the game’s core mechanics.

    * “Make the world seem more real” meaning “seem more real, if the rest of the world/rules set forth in this fiction were taken to be real/true”.

    ** Also, some non-interactive stuff, like having birds or other miscellaneous non-interactive or barely-interactive wildlife in the background.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I’m sort of still hoping for a game where all these things are possible.

      I think there may be two reasons why it didn’t work out:

      1: The designers unwillingness to let go of artistic control, meaning everything has to be scripted in a certain way, and the fear that some player action might make success in the main game impossible

      2: The players expectation that everything you can do in a game is something you should eventually try to do, or that’s at least safe to do.

      In order to arrive at a good and successful game that allows the player to interact with everything in a reasonably realistic way, the player needs to have a way of knowing what the consequences will be (either realistic enough that real-world knowledge applies, or the boundaries of the simulation must be known), or there will be frustration. Also, the main story (if there is one) needs to be designed in a robust enough way that the player won’t break it by accident.

      I.e: If all your environment is destructible, then either the game must tolerate half of it being obliterated, or the player needs to know that if they decide to just destroy that house over there, there will be consequences (which, then, the game needs to handle reasonably gracefully.

      This stuff is not easy.

  31. Nalyd says:

    You could give Thief to Arkane Studios, who did Dishonored. . .

    • Ivan says:

      Maybe… I suspect that if you give the guys who did Thi-four-f a second crack at it then they would actually churn out something decent. But I think one of the major problems with the game is that it’s a AAA title. Really I just desperately want large studios to stop shooting themselves in the foot by trying to use the latest and greatest technology to make everything look pretty, and instead just focus on making an actual fun game instead of something too bland and mediocre to even get mad at.

      Something something you can polish a turd…

      • Bruno M. Torres says:

        I think it is pretty safe to say that Thief was ruined by executive meddling and development hell. Gameplay wise, the game was very solid. The story and technical issues are what ruined he game.

        It’s incredible how little the developers still seem to know about handling AAA projects.

  32. Zeddy says:

    I have an hour+ long commute to work and back, and I mostly get that time to pass by listening to podcasts.

    Posted from the bus.

  33. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im sad no one thought about fahrenheit(indigo prophecy for you yanks)as a game with nice concept that would be great if only it didnt get screwed over.

  34. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Josh,why would you rather buy those huge books and spend your time on them instead of buying the dvds and watch the show?

  35. Dt3r says:

    Audiobooks and podcasts are definitely good for a commute, but I’ve found myself listening to them more in the lab. There’s a lot of repetitive tasks in processing samples, so listening to something more thought provoking or conversational helps.

    In between Diecast episodes I’ve been listening to A World Undone, by G.J. Meyer. I’ve also been listening to a history podcast that’s covering the 1st World War right now. I’m curious if it’s the same podcast that Josh listens to.

  36. Retsam says:

    Regarding books, I’ve thought for awhile that a lot of the Spoiler Warning people, (Shamus in particular) would probably enjoy some of Sanderson’s works (e.g. Mistborn). Sanderson magic has always scratched that “programmer” itch for me; systems that function on simple rules, but the combinations of those rules have interesting effects. (While Sci-Fi; what I would have expected to resonate more with my tech-y side, I’ve always found to be too abstract and speculative, for my taste)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Discworld.Definitely discworld all around.

    • You might want to check out Charles Stross’ “The Laundry Files.”

      Our protagonist is a nerd/programmer who winds up working for The Laundry, a kind of version of MI-6, but with the job of keeping Lovecraftian horrors from getting up to shenanigans in our world. He’s often armed with a smartphone containing several simple spells and rituals, is sent to stop various forms of supernatural nasties, and the whole agency lives in fear of an upcoming world-ending event they call “Case Nightmare Green.”

      In spite of the Cthulhu Mythos flavor, it’s often an amusing read.

      • Mike S. says:

        Though I suspect it depends on your horror tolerance. I tried reading his Hugo-nominated “Equoid” set in that world. The beginning was genuinely funny… and I stopped halfway through. Because it’s also entirely effective horror, and I don’t like horror.

    • aldowyn says:

      I tried to find some of sanderson’s work at the local used bookstore last time I was there, couldn’t find any. I was sad.

      Ended up getting a bunch of david weber instead, mostly honorverse stuff, which I don’t regret at all.

  37. Phill says:

    I must be some kind of aberration – I barely notice the end caps in supermarkets. In fact, when they move stuff I normally buy to the end caps because they are on offer, I end up asking where they are because I simply can’t find them. I seem to have developed some kind of mental filter that assumes that the end caps are for certain kinds of offers the stores want to push, which aren’t actually useful offers at all. So I don’t see them.

    I had the same kind of problem with some websites. One site I used to visit regularly for games industry news had a big featured article every week. It was over a year before I noticed the articles were there; the rest of the articles listed on the front page were large font titles with a brief summary below. Those I looked at. The featured article had a large image to make it stand out. My brain noticed the presence of the large image, mentally filed it under “advert”, and I didn’t even notice that it wasn’t an advert but an article.

    Even after I twigged that these were featured articles rather than adverts, I still tended to not notice them for weeks at a time.

    One day internet advertising is going to wake up to the way that people mentally filter out adverts so succesfully, at which point ad revenue will go way down, and things that are free online now will end up being paid for.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Well said. Though I rather wonder what portion of the population has excercised the mental discipline of becoming advert inured. I am loth to take either side here. Either I congratulate you and myself by placing us among the rare elite, or I disparage the entire internet marketing apparatus, and ultimately Google itself, for colossal self-deception. Perhaps the truth lies in the middle ground.

    • Mike S. says:

      To some extent, it’s already happened– my understanding is that web ads don’t bring in a fraction of the revenue of what the equivalent for the same thing in print used to, because it’s easier to gauge their (lack of) effect.

      The problem is that with a lot of stuff, it’s not that it’ll wind up being paid for, but that it will turn out that no one actually wants to pay for it when the figleaf is removed. (Which may be an economically efficient result, but it’s one I’ll regret in a lot of cases.)

      For example, it’s not at all clear that there’s a profitable business model for investigative hard news once the smoke and mirrors that linked it to the ad revenues for classifieds and sports reporting have been removed. Likewise, I value the selection and improvement functions of editors, especially when I see self-published material. But as publishing gets ever further disintermediated, I’m not sure that money will continue to flow in that direction.

  38. Nick Pitino says:

    Getting lots of bread sticks before a meal isn’t a negative, because bread is freaking delicious in-of-itself.

    Admittedly I am someone who can load up on a ton of bread sticks…and still eat the whole meal without issue.


    Anyway, books! A few comments:

    1) I'm going to echo someone upthread and say that complaining that there's too much of this thing you're ostensibly enjoying feels, well, I can't think of a perfectly fitting word here but still Not Right somehow.

    2) Modern fiction books are giant impenetrable tomes? Not all of them! The Martian is no ponderous monstrosity and it’s good. I bring that one up in particular because it’s the first to come to mind and I’m trying to get more people to read it.

    3) As far as getting more reading in in general, this is what’s been working for me: Ebooks and an iPod touch in my shirt pocket. I recently got bit by the bug to read the Honor Harrington series of novels, and this is more or less what’s made it possible.

    Sitting on the toilet? Reading a book.

    Waiting in line at the DMV? Reading a book.

    A little slow at work, waiting for the machine to finish its cycle? Reading a book.

    In the last four months I’ve read all 13 of the main books from the aforementioned series and I’m onto about book 5 of the 16 or so spinoff/short story compilation books.

    • Geebs says:

      I really liked the bits of The Martian done in diary form, but the dialogue between the other characters was pretty bad. Like Neal Stephenson doing bad dialogue bad.

      (I love Neal Stephenson when he’s not in ‘the analogy is apt’ mode)

    • Canthros says:

      Re: ebooks
      I bought a Kindle Touch for more-or-less this exact sort of thing. It’s not as convenient to haul around as my iPhone, but (IMO, YMMV) the e-ink screen is much easier to read on. I also found it convenient to take to the gym, when I use the exercise machines! It doesn’t try to flop closed, like a book, and it’s pretty thin, unlike the science fiction or fantasy novels I tend to read.

      The Kindle was, for me, a critical factor in getting through Anathem, a monstrously huge tome by Neal Stephenson. (Having a month and a half of nothing to do but recuperate after heart surgery helped, too, but I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone who doesn’t need to have it done.)

      I don’t think it’s really a better experience than a real book, but it’s hard to beat for convenience.

      • Mike S. says:

        Yes, this. My Kindle was what let me get through Team of Rivals when I just couldn’t be bothered to haul around that giant brick of paper. Nothing looks intimidating, everything weighs the same minimal amount.

        I’d second the recommendation for an eInk Kindle. I will at times read on my phone or my iPad. But the Kindle is just a more comfortable and more immersive reading experience, and I think it is a better screen for reading on.

        And in some ways it is better than a paper book. Shamus and I are in shouting distance of one another’s ages, which means that he’s either discovered that some of the old paperbacks he used to read have had their type replaced with something tiny and nigh-unreadable, or else he likely soon will. :-) Once presbyopia starts to gradually make itself known, being able to select text sizes is a godsend.

    • aldowyn says:

      hmm, coincidentally I also started reading the Honor Harrington books. I got paperbacks, though, and I read the first six (all I got) in.. < 10 days? Several of them in one day.

      Re: Audiobooks: I haven’t tried them. I like proper books too much and I don’t mind carrying them around.

  39. Adrian says:

    This was one of my favorite podcasts!

  40. Darren says:

    I won’t be able to listen to the podcast for awhile, but is the question about choices implying that the other Dragon Age games don’t feature that kind of event? Because both Dragon Age II (I’m a defender of it, flaws and all) and Inquisition feature scenarios where things can turn out pretty differently depending on what you do, what you say, and even who you bring with you.

    I was rather astonished to learn that there is a way to deal with the Arishok in DA2 that doesn’t require fighting him–violence seems rather inevitable in that scenario–and the second to last story mission in Dragon Age: Inquisition is either just a conversation or a conversation plus bossfight. Depending on what world state you imported, it may even address optional story threads all the way from Dragon Age: Origins. And it determines what happens in the final boss fight.

    The mechanics of the games have shifted dramatically from entry to entry, but the Dragon Age franchise has remained pretty consistent on the storytelling front.

  41. what the hell is wrong with your filter? says:

    why did you delete my comment and block my profile, shame? Now the Window for conversation is over :(

    • Shamus says:

      Since you used the name and email fields to express your outrage, I have no idea who you are. So I have no idea what comment you’re talking about, when it was posted, or why it might be gone. All I know is that a random person is very angry.

      I haven’t intentionally deleted anything. There’s nothing in the moderation queue that’s attached to this post. So… I need more information to help you.

    • what the hell is wrong with your filter? says:

      It was a post on Thief, it had two links to youtube playlists and the Dark Mod mission depository, and had a text on my assessment for what dev to give the thief licence. The youtube links were added after I edited the post and that tagged it for moderation. It subsequently got removed. Any other post I attempted with that email profile/name doesn’t get through.

      And I’m not angry; frustrated though.

      • Shamus says:

        Dangit. I can’t find the comment in moderation or the spam filter. I have no idea how it got deleted.

        Sorry. :(

        • Joseph P. Tallylicker says:

          The “profile” name was “qosiejfr oiq qp”.

          I don’t have the energy to recreate my wall of text, so… The gist was:

          Thief doesn’t need a new developer to get the license, the Dark Mod went standalone and the fans have made several games’ worth of content (www.thedarkmod.com/missions/), with the quality level ranging from decent to great, voice acting being all over the place, and writing similarly ranging from meh to bloody great. So we have the gameplay, we just need writing.

          And then we get to the usual suspects of studios/people we respect for their writing – ex-black isle, obsidian, Amy Hennig, insert person I forgot here… Basically whoever we know who can write noir fiction, who can make the City feel alive.

          Finally, I want to mention (but not link) a youtuber/somethingawfuler by name of Bobbin Threadbare (youtube profile threadbareinc). He is doing an LP of Thi4f, but in order to keep the bile to a manageable level he is doing a parallel playthrough of various Thief The Dark Mod missions. I would link to his playlists but since I suspect that got me blocked last time I leave it to you to find it yourself.

  42. harborpirate says:

    Many people don’t like to listen to podcasts, audio books, or even music with lyrics while they work. This seems especially true for programmers. I think the reason for this is that those two things end up competing for use of the language center of the brain, whereas instrumental or electronic music bypasses that portion of the brain and leaves it fully dedicated to the work task, with the handy side benefit of drowning out any distracting outside noise.

  43. SlothfulCobra says:

    Oh, by the way Campster, there’s a game that’s a little like what you described wanting from Rogue Legacy. Doublefine’s making it, and it’s called Massive Chalice. It takes place over the course of a 300 year war, and it’s been described as “XCOM with eugenics.”

  44. Dragmire says:

    The reason you sometimes find weird items on end caps is because many stores dictate that you have to have a corporate branded product there to keep those brands in the mind of the consumer when they shop. They don’t need to sell, they’re just a reminder to look at corporate branded products when you shop.

  45. Dragmire says:

    Weird, for a couple of moments during the ending theme, I got a Battletoads vibe from it.

  46. thebob288 says:

    Might I recommend to campster that you should start reading tabletop rpg books. Almost all tabletop rpg systems combine narrative flavor and world building with a type of gaming system. If you got into reading them it might expand your view on games in general while giving you a new form of media to digest.

    • Mike S. says:

      For the specific case of a fantasy with a serious attempt to reproduce the historical medieval paradigm rather than the D&D theme park derivative thereof– albeit juxtaposed with high-powered wizards– I’d recommend taking a look at Atlas Games’ Ars Magica.

      (Not to say anything against D&D as a game– it’s just not specifically aimed at any sort of historical recreation.)

  47. Mike S. says:

    Josh: what audiobook version of the Anabasis are you listening to, and do you recommend it?

    (It’s been on my list forever. So far, I’ve only seen the movie “The Warriors”, which is a decidedly loose adaptation. :-) )

  48. Target182 says:

    Honestly, as someone who worked in a grocery store for seven years, and loves to cook, the plan o gram and pizza discussions were rather entertaining. Can you guys do a food related pod cast? haha

  49. Ivan says:

    When you started talking about historical games with fantasy elements the first thing that poped in my mind is Lionheart – Legacy of Crusader by Black Isle Studios.

  50. Primogenitor says:

    At the risk of being even more off-topic, what is a “skillet”, and what is “broiling”? Is it “put a frying pan in an oven”?

    • Mike S. says:

      A skillet is a frying pan.

      Broiling usually takes place in the oven, though sometimes there’s a separate broiling drawer. Either way, it’s direct, high heat from above (rather than below as in an oven’s non-broil setting).

  51. I have been saving these up for my bike commute in the summer, just catxhing up ti this one now, so hello!

    If you are having trouble committing to reading a full on fiction book, I’d recommend Analog. Its a monthly hard SciFi digest magazine full of short stories and such. Really good, high quality stuff. Dune and Asimov’s stuff was first serialized here. It’s great because its cool new sci ideas and concepta, but short and digestable. You can knock out the whole issue in an evening, or just read a story or two.

    If a story doesn’t grab you, skip it. Or just spend another few min and finish it. No loss. If one really grabs you, well now you have a new author to hunt down to read their other books.

    I love it. Highly recommended.

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