PAXCast 2012 TRANSCRIPT, Part 2

By Shamus
on Apr 22, 2012
Filed under:
Video Games

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Interesting fact: It took Josh and I about three hours to record this hour-and-a-half conversation. Then I split it into to parts, and it took about an hour to edit each half. Then it took Gale some unknown interval of time to listen and make a transcript of the whole thing. Then it took another hour and a half (per segment) to gather up the screenshots and links for the final post.

The upshot is, these two posts combined represent about eleven hours of work, plus whatever Gale put in. I mention this because Josh and I had a conversation about how doing a podcast would be the easiest way to cover PAX.

Man, everything is easy until you do it. Anyway. Here is part 2. Thanks again to Gale for this transcript.

J: Hey everyone, I’m Josh.

S: And I’m Shamus.

J: And we’re throwing tea into the Boston harbour.

Here I trimmed the original recording to remove a five-minute rant / lament about Boston. I’m still toying with the idea of doing a post on it. The city really did torture us while we were there. Skipping ahead…

S: Actually, we’re supposed to be talking about what we saw. Although. . . . We’re actually going to start off by talking about a game we didn’t see, which is Monaco.

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J: We kinda saw it.

S: Yeah, at a distance.

J: But we didn’t spend any time with it.

S: You can’t get near this game. It is always busy. It’s a four person, cooperative-based game, and you just can’t get near the machine. There’s four people playing, and behind them are four other people blocking your view, so you just gotta stand at the back and hop up and down. So that’s all I know about Monaco: it looks like the back of a dude’s head.

J: It was at PAX 2010, and now it’s here, and it’s still not out. Still looks cool, still looks really fun, but I still don’t think it has a release date.

S: Isn’t this what indie games were supposed to solve? Indie games weren’t supposed to have this problem. You should not keep showing up to conventions centres. Y’know, these booths are expensive. According to one site I read – the guys who put out Organ Trail – the smallest possible booth costs $1,400. So I hope those guys that are making Monaco are just swimming in cash, because going to PAX like five times and having nothing for sale. . . . It just seems like a really bad idea to me. I hope they have lots of money.

J: I have a card from the booth here. All it says is Monaco, and www.monacoismine.com. And that’s it. Nothing else on it, no release date, no information. No promotional material. It’s a nice card, at least.

S: Yeah, it’s glossy, on the back it’s got some weird watermark of the characters. This is a fancy thing! They paid to have stacks of these made, to advertise a game that they don’t even have a release date for. You can do that when you’re a triple-A publisher, but indie’s supposed to not do this.

J: It’s basically an index card-sized business card. It would be cool if that game came out, sometime this century.

S: Moving on: swuhtor. Star Wars: The Old Republic.

J: We are just starting this off so well, with all these cool games that we saw, and totally did stuff with, aren’t we?

S: [Laughs] I know! They weren’t showing it. The Old Republic area was a bunch of couches. It was actually a bunch of stools, is what it looked like to me. A bunch of square sitting things.

J: Well, yeah, but they were leather, so that was cool.

S: They were leather.

J: They actually had a few stations with the game on it, but they were off in the back somewhere, and they had some merchandise. They had a little stage, and I guess they were doing cosplay stuff, or whatever. Some kind of hourly show. I don’t know. I don’t care.

S: Yeah, all I know, is that there wasn’t much going on, and there was nothing to do, and there weren’t many people there. Kind of like the game itself! Zing!

J: [Laughs] It’s a good thing that we don’t have a bunch of Old Republic fans on your site.

S: I know. I’m sure nobody will complain about that comment. Really, I was grateful for the Old Republic booth, because that was a great meeting place, and a great place to sit down. “Oh, I’ll meet you at the Old Republic booth.” That was an awesome thing. I wish in every show they would have, in the middle of the floor, an open area with some benches or something. Where people could sit, and kinda be a rally point for groups when they break up. This is something you need to do, Penny Arcade. That’s what we used the Old Republic booth for, so I don’t have anything to say about the game.

J: That was the sole Bioware presence on the show floor. They had their two panels, but there was nothing about Dragon Age 3 there. Although, given how bad Dragon Age 2 turned out, or at least. . . . I actually didn’t finish playing Dragon Age 2, ‘cuz I was bored with it, but given how everyone else raged about Dragon Age 2, I’m not even sure people are anticipating Dragon Age 3 anymore.

S: They’re actually making a spin-off title called The Deep Roads.

J: [Laughs] Yes!

S: That’s all it is. Just endless deep roads.

J: Because that was sequence I remember when I think, “Yeah, Dragon Age 1 was cool”. Fifteen hours in the deep roads.

S: Yes. That is the defining thing about this game. That’s what people want. They can’t get enough deep roads. What people were saying to Bioware was: “I just want a game where I fight darkspawn. Nothing but darkspawn. In the same-looking tunnel. For hour after hour. That’s what I want.”

J: Underground.

S: Underground. Moving on, The Secret World. We both wanted to know more about this game. They had a huge booth, carpeted, lots of game stations, but no information!

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J: It’s a secret!

S: [Laughs]

J: You shouldn’t laugh at that.

S: It’s an MMO, put out by – who’s putting it out? Why can I not remember? Oh, Funcom.

J: Funcom. Which is why we couldn’t sign up for the beta, because we had Funcom accounts that existed, and they didn’t have a bit that said “Hey! Sign up for the beta with your existing account!”. You had to make a new one.

S: It was so dumb. I was so frustrated. “Great! I got a Funcom account!” “No, you can’t. . . .” What, I can’t be in the beta? Because I already have a Funcom account? That doesn’t make any sense! that was very frustrating, because I wanted to check this game out. Now, it looks like a pretty traditional MMO, very World of Warcrafty. Y’know, stand still, do your cooldowns timers. This isn’t a thing like TERA or Guild Wars 2, where you’re going to be moving all over the place, and doing a lot of action. But even at that, it’s a modern day MMO, which I thought was a nice touch. I wanted to see it because of that.

J: I’ve heard maybe a little more about it than you have. Not very much, though. Apparently it’s heavily anticipated by some people, but I don’t. . . . It’s set in the modern day, and all conspiracy theories and myths are true, and there’s the illuminati. . . .

S: And templars. And cerberus. And dragons. Not cerberus. Well, maybe just a rogue cell.

J: “I swear I didn’t know about the dragons that are fucking up your shit, Shepard.” Because that’s totally how The Illusive Man talks. Imagine that, in Martin Sheen’s voice.

S: It looked very interesting to me.

J: Yeah, and it looked very atmospheric, for an MMO. Most MMO art styles are not the greatest. Although, I say that, but TERA has a really nice art style, really clean, crisp, colourful. The Secret World kinda reminded me of Alan Wake. All the stuff that we saw, the demos people were playing, were set during night time. I don’t know why that happened, maybe we’d just gotten lucky, and the day/night cycle happened to be on night when we were there. But it looked really nice. Maybe not from a technical standpoint, it’s not like “Oh, this is Crisis 2 level of – uh, or no, Crisis 1 level, because Crisis 2 wasn’t. . . .”

S: No, it definitely was not technically amazing, but artistically pleasing.

J: Art style-wise, yeah. I guess you get to have various mythologically-related powers, I suppose depending on what class you pick, or whatever. I think we saw some guy who had vaguely werewolf-ish powers. I don’t know, we need to do more research.

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S: Alright, Civ 5 expansion, Gods and Kings. We actually got in to see this one. This is also not one of our favourite – uh, this is not our most favourite, but this is another one we were pretty happy with, that we thought was pretty interesting.

J: What were you saying there, Shamus? “We hate Civ 5!”

S: I was happy with it. They could’ve made it into a shooter.

J: “As Genghis Khan, you must fight Oda Nobunaga with your bow!”

S: “And rocket launcher.”

J: That was actually an April Fool’s joke, they pretended that they were going to release Civ 5 as a fighting game.

S: Diabolical!

J: 2K had the most floor space of anybody else. They actually dedicated some of their massive floor space to a line, to get into a line, to get into a line, to go play Borderlands 2.

S: This is not an exaggeration. That is an actual thing that happened at PAX East 2012. There was a line for a line for a line.

J: Yeah. It was pretty crazy. And they had some theatres, where Firaxis‘ stuff was, and Civ 5 was one of those. And by theatres, I mean they set up a box room that you couldn’t see into, that had Civ 5 motif stuff on the outside. There was a line to get inside to watch a presentation by one of the devs. This struck me as maybe a little strange, ‘cuz an expansion for Civ 5 isn’t something you’d expect to roll out the red carpet for, but we got in there, and that was the single best area of space in the entire convention centre. I mean, they had air conditioning, theatre seats, carpet, statues. . . .

S: Oh, they were so comfy.

J: It was great.

S: OK, so the big thing with the Civ 5 expansion, is they’re introducing a new resource to manage, which is faith. And they’re adding this whole religion gameplay mechanic.

J: Yeah, they’re bringing back religion from Civ 4.

S: Now, I think it’s weird, because we already have culture. Was culture in Civ 4? I didn’t play it.

J: Yeah, culture was in Civ 4. Culture actually had a bigger role in Civ 4, because you could take over other civ’s borders by spamming culture.

S: Well, this I thought was really weird, because in vanilla Civ 5, your religion is just an aspect of your culture, there’s a whole tree dedicated to your religion. I forget what it was called. Piety, or whatever?

J: Piety, yeah.

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S: And they’re not diminishing that. But they’re making this other system, which is the same thing running along in parallel, which is faith. The idea being that you can found new religions, and spread your religion around that way, and it affects your diplomacy. It looked really interesting.

J: Yeah, religion is a lot more complex and involved than it was in Civ 4, where it was basically a diplomacy tool. Y’know, you would pick a religion to be friends with guys who were also that religion, and enemies with guys who weren’t, and you’d get some minor happiness bonuses, and stuff like that. Nothing that interesting. In Civ 5, it has a similar impact that grabbing culture trees does, if you’ve played the game. You’ll be able to found a religion, and choose different bonuses, and choose more bonuses as you continue to unlock slots for your religion. It seems interesting, in that aspect. Maybe a little confusing, because culture is a completely separate thing. There was some evidence that culture trees interact with faith, so they’re probably going to revamp basically everything in that game, to work with religion. Other minor stuff they added. . . . They added espionage, which again, back from Civ 4: Beyond the Sword.

S: Espionage looked really interesting to me. I like that better than the religion stuff. This whole parallel-running game, with units that aren’t on the board. You don’t have to move your spies around, which I didn’t like. In an earlier iteration of Civ – I can’t remember which one had spies that did that – I always found that annoying.

J: Civ 4: Beyond the Sword added espionage. It was kinda silly, because if you pumped espionage, you could basically see the whole map all the time, and you could see what everyone was doing. It kinda got really overpowered. Civ 5 is a lot different from that. Now you have a certain number of spies, you can have them do whatever you want. You can have them steal tech from the AI, or figure out what an AI is doing, or rig elections in a city-state to try and increase your influence with them. And that sounds really interesting. They’ll gain experience and level up, and there’s a risk versus reward element to it, where the more risky stuff you do, the more likely he is to die, and then you lose everything you’ve built up on that spot, and have to start out with a rookie spy. That seemed like it could add a lot more depth to Civ 5’s fairly middling diplomacy system, although at the same time, it might just make the AI even more schizophrenic. The one thing they didn’t mention at the Civ 5 thing, and they didn’t have a question and answer thing so I didn’t get to ask the developer there about it, either, is something that really bothered me about Civ 5. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of focus on the multiplayer whatsoever. You can’t play mods, you can’t play scenarios, you can’t have simultaneous turns turned off, there’s no wait timer between actions going on, so any wars in multiplayer just turn into “Quickly click everything that you can before your opponent does, and hope that a worker doesn’t grab your camera and drag it across the map to ask WHAT SHOULD I BUILD NOW, DUDE”. So I’m hoping that they’re going to improve multiplayer at least somewhat.

S: Alright, I think we’re going to skip a few of these, here, because we’re running low on time again. Do you want to say anything about Skulls of the Shogun?

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J: Skulls of the Shogun looked interesting. Another indie game we didn’t get a chance to look at, or play. It was pitched as a fast paced turn-based strategy game. Which sounds hilarious. It’s a mobile game, that’s also on the PC, so it has a mobile game art style, and a mobile game brevity to it. It looks pretty interesting. I can’t really comment on the gameplay, because we didn’t really give it five minutes, but it looks like it could potentially be very fun.

S: OK, Assassin’s Creed 3.

J: Assassin’s Creed 3, yeah.

S: [Sighs] I can’t say anything really super bad about it, but it’s all set during the revolutionary war, and I was more disappointed with the game for all the things it wasn’t. I can’t fault any of the things they’re putting in the game, they’ve got some new weapons for you to use, but it’s the American revolutionary war, and you’re fighting while the American revolution is going on, but you’re running around mostly in the wilderness, in this game. That can’t compare to Florence, to me, there’s just no way. I mean, the rest of the games have been just seeing these magnificent works of architecture, and now it’s, y’know, trees. Now, you can climb the trees, they’re cool, but I don’t know. I feel like a lot of the personality of the game has gone away.

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J: Plus the white assassin suit now looks completely ridiculous. It’s gone from making sense in context, in Assassin’s Creed 1, to kind of making sense in Assassin’s Creed 2, to just completely. . . . What the fuck is he doing wearing a completely white sheet as a costume, as he walks around in a battlefield? He’s wearing something that just says “Please shoot me”.

S: Yeah, there’s the rebels, which of course are wearing blue, and the British, who are wearing red, and then there’s you, who’s running around in white. I mean, that would just make both sides assume you’re an enemy, and get them both to shoot at you. They didn’t have rules of engagement, back then. If they see a dude, running around on a battlefield, armed, they’re not gonna assume you’re a civilian. They are going to shoot you! In the demo, they showed you walking up beside some rebels, none of them questioned what this civilian was doing, dressed in a hood, wandering around the battlefield. Then you just went up with them, and climbed some trees and some rocks, and assassinated some dudes. It felt weird.

J: Yeah, it felt strange that nobody was going “What the fuck are you doing here?” Maybe it makes sense in context, like you’re working with those people, whatever, and they’re all totally fine. They had the first scene in the trailer, was the infamous speech at Bunker Hill, with the “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” thing, which was said by. . . . I can’t even remember the guy who said that.

S: Oh, it was one of the guys in the trailer that we watched.

J: Right. That’s where the historical quote comes from.

S: [Laughs] Yes. Yes it did.

J: Citation needed. The way they adapted the Assassin’s Creed mechanics to non-urban environments looks pretty interesting. The trees look fairly organic, they don’t look artificial, the cliffs look good. And they seemed to be putting some emphasis on keeping combat mobile, which is good, because a lot of Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2, and the other Assassin’s Creed games, pretty much have been “Stand around and wait for some dumbass to attack you so you can counter attack”. And then in the later games you can use that counter attack to trigger an execution chain, which let you kill everybody with a stab. Which looked no more ridiculous than standing around with eight guys surrounding you and trying to kill you, and then countering them one-by-one.

S: Yeah. Again, I can’t fault the game, and I don’t want to say that any of this is absolutely wrong, but the demo they showed just felt a little. . . . It seemed to be missing some core part of Assassin’s Creed 3. And it’s early in development, maybe that will come together. Maybe you’ll spend some time in, say, Boston. Y’know, in some of the bigger cities.

J: I’m sure you’ll spend some time in Boston, and Philedelphia. I can’t imagine them doing without those.

S: But even, those places are just not going to look as spectacular as Florence. So. . . . I don’t know. I’m having a hard time seeing how this is going to work, but, well, maybe they’ll pull it off.

J: And we were sitting on wooden crates, while watching that. That was their idea of a chair.

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S: I did not like that. That was so, “Oh, we finally get to go into this theatre and sit down”, and then we got in there, and it was literally wooden crates. Especially after we’d been to the Civ 5 panel, and they had those theatre chairs. It kinda sucks sitting on wooden crates. Like, my back hurt. It would be better to just sit on the floor, but y’know, everybody else was on the crates, so you wouldn’t be able to see. So that was kinda frustrating.

J: Obviously a lot of work went into the booth. Very interesting booth, very nice. Had like museum-style stuff on the walls, which we could read. But we were sitting on wooden crates, and that was maybe taking the immersion a little too far. Also they gave out inflatable tomahawks.

S: So silly. So silly! Inflatable tomahawks. The girl presenting it was like “Oh, for watching this demo, you’ll get an inflatable tomahawk, just like the one Connor uses in Assassin’s Creed 3”, and I was like “Wait a minute, he uses an inflatable tomahawk in the game? How does that work?”

J: So we decided that the box art for Assassin’s Creed 3 should just be the box art for Assassin’s Creed 2, except the hidden blades have been replaced with inflatable rubber tomahawks.

S: Yeah, they should auto-inflate, like he pulls a little string, and they pshwooof, fill up.

J: [Laughs] And he just goes to town with them.

S: He goes to town donking you on the head with this inflatable toy. That’s exactly how the game should play. You know what, let’s wrap this up, because I want to have enough time to talk about this game. Our big favourite. Of the whole show. The one game that ran away with the show for me.

J: We’re not going to talk about Children of Liberty?

S: No.

J: I guess you kinda already talked about that. OK. So, winner of PAX East 2012.

S: Yes. The winner. They win PAX.

J: I think most people. . . . Well, I won’t say most people there, but a lot of people there would agree with us – and this isn’t going to come as a surprise to anyone – is XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

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S: Yeah, not XCOM the shooter, that they’ve been working on, that we’re suddenly not hearing about. This is a remake, or sorta re-imagining of the original X-COM. And everything they did at the show was just right. It was so amazing. They had a nice showroom, they had a nice theatre, they came in, they showed us about, I don’t know, fifteen minutes of gameplay. And then they had a Q&A session. The PR guy, or the developer, or whoever was answering the questions, was very good. He knew exactly where the line was. A lot of people don’t think about how hard this is, but letting the audience know where the line is? So you don’t end up just saying “I can’t say. I can’t say. No comment. Can’t answer that.” He was really good at doing those without just shutting people down and frustrating us, and letting us know what areas we should ask about and what areas we shouldn’t ask about. Which meant that the questions that were asked were really productive, and we got to find out a lot more about the game than was shown in the demo. This is a hard thing, and this guy handled it just right. It was very exciting.

J: And the way he said the “We’re not talking about it” thing, almost sounded to me like a tongue-in-cheek confirmation of whatever was being asked. Like, “We’re not talking about it but that’s totally in the game!

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NOTE: These screenshots were provided by 2kGames and I’m sure they were chosen for their “wow” factor. However, they sort of leave you with the impression of this over-the-shoulder game. Just to be clear, the demo we saw was a top-down, turn-based strategy game, just like your great-grandfather used to play before the Great Shooter Deluge. – Shamus

S: Yes! Sometimes he would do that. Like someone said, “Will they have terror missions?” and he just said “We’re not talking about that!” Y’know? You could tell. You could tell, “OK, yeah, it’s XCOM, of course we’re gonna having frickin’ terror missions, but we can’t like, promise that, we’re not going to discuss them, or how they work, or anything” so he just steered the audience away from those questions. Now, obviously this is a re-imagining, the game is not exactly the same. And my big fear is, of course, dumbing down. There are some things that are simplified, or changed, but every single thing that was simplified or changed, they had a really good gameplay reason. It was never like, “Oh, we were afraid it would be too complicated for people”, or “We were afraid this might put some people off”. It was never reasoning that sounded like they were worried about some demographic. They always had good reasons. Like your maximum squad size is six, now. In the old one, you could have like twenty, and you could just zerg the enemy with your rookie rush. And they said yes, you could do that, but that leads you away from the core mechanic of levelling up, it takes the value of your individual soldiers away, and it kind of nerfs the most important aspects of the game, and it drags battles down because you’ve gotta move twenty guys. At the same time, you’re incentivised to act that way, to protect your good guys, to just basically sacrifice a bunch of rookies to protect your good fighters. So they took that out, both to make the game more interesting, and so you wouldn’t have to move like fifty guys. That was a totally valid answer to me, even though it was about taking out functionality.

J: In fact, you said to me, after we saw that – I remember this vividly – that everything they mentioned they were going to remove, or change, was all stuff that had bugged you personally, about X-COM’s original gameplay mechanics.

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S: Right. I didn’t like being incentivised to do rookie rushes, it was kinda frustrating, and dumb, and silly to move these twenty guys to flush out the enemies so you could pick them off with your good guys. Just having that taken out of the game just focuses it on what I wanted to do, which is make a squad of dudes. The other thing they removed is time units. I hated having to count squares. I want to get to this doorway, and then turn to the left, but then you get there, and you don’t have enough points to turn to the left. So then you can’t see what you wanted to look at, and it’s all frustrating. So you spend a lot of time counting, and doing math on time units. Now, it’s move, and shoot. Every turn.

J: Yeah, it’s move-move, or move-attack, is the way they describe it.

S: Right. Or, well, there’s also full-round attacks, ‘cuz there’s things like suppressing fire, I think. Or maybe the sniper’s attack is a full-round attack.

J: Yes, the sniper’s attack is a full-round attack, I think. So you could only move or attack, with the sniper.

S: And there are some other things, I think, that are a full-round action. You could move into position, or you could do a big attack, or you could move really far. And that gives you most or all of the functionality that you had in X-COM, without having to fuss around on the stupid grid and count time units. Instead, as your guys are upgraded, you can just move further. Which is really what you want! So I thought that was a great change.

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J: I was really impressed by what they were doing with the camera. ‘Cuz in the original X-COM, it was just isometric top-down, but now that it’s 3D, they’re taking advantage of the fact that they can just move the camera all over the place, wherever they need it to be to show off a cinematic action, or whatever. And of course, since it’s a turn-based game, that doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if the player loses control over the camera for a few seconds, when they’re not on the clock. When you go to do an action, to attack an alien or whatever, the camera zooms in to over-the-shoulder of your selected guy, and kinda points at the target that you’ve got selected. If you move in such a way that allows the alien to make an attack on them, you’ll go into kind of a bullet time, you’ll go into slow motion, and you’ll watch the bullets fly past or fly into your guy.

S: Yeah. So it gives you the best of both worlds, where it gives you an action game, but it doesn’t interfere with the strategy turn-based thing.

J: And the other thing that struck me about that, was everything we saw with the game demo, was done on a console. They were like, “Press Y to Do Stuff”, it was very much the console version of the game.

S: And it worked.

J: I wonder if it was intentional for them, to demonstrate that “Yes, we didn’t have to dumb down the game to put it on a console”. Everything about the game feels so smooth when you watch it, and yet it’s being done on a gamepad, a controller.

S: I couldn’t even figure out what buttons he was pushing, I don’t know how it was working. But it was working. I didn’t see them lacking any functionality, in the game. It was all there. Everything was there! You could command your guys to move around, and take cover, and do this turn-based stuff. That’s normally mouse focused, and it worked with a dualshock controller.

J: Which is crazy, for X-COM. When you think of X-COM, you think of a monumentally complex interface, and that very much has been streamlined, which is a good thing. One of the things that bugs me so much about going on to GoG, and buying an old game, and playing it, is that interface design has really come a long way in the past fifteen years. And it’s really, really, really hard to go back to playing an old game, like a mid-nineties game. The amount of actions versus the amount of clicks, the ratio has really changed in favour of actions, over clicks. So I think that’s really very interesting. And they made it clear, during their panel, that they weren’t just making this as a console game, and that they weren’t going to just hand it over to some other team, to port it to the PC badly. [Coughs] Bioware. A PC team working in tandem with the console team. It wasn’t going to end up being this crazy disconnect between the two versions, where one of them was better because that was the native platform it was designed on.

S: That’s another thing. They had a panel. On top of the demo, which we went to see on the show floor, they had a panel with their lead designers, where we talked about some of the design decisions, where we got the sense that these were not PR flacks, these were not marketing guys. These were the core designers, and they talked about what they were doing, and they had an immense amount of respect for the original game, and took all of it seriously. None of them ever said “This is dumb”, or “Oh, we can definitely do better!” When they did change something, they were very careful to know what they were doing before they changed it, and not be dismissive with anything. Even things that seemed kinda broken about the original. And they were open to suggestions! One player – pff, one player, one person – came up during the Q&A session, and said “Will the flat-top haircut be in the game?” Which was a funny thing that the original game had a flat-top haircut on your characters, and it looked ridiculous. And it was so ridiculous that it stood out, and so people started to associate it with the game. And they sorta said, “Sure! I guess! We’ll talk about that!” Like, they were willing to put that in. During this meeting, we were finding out about what they were doing, but they were finding out what we expected to see in the game. It was very much an exchange, it was really, really healthy.

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J: I think, after the debacle of the other XCOM game, which may or may not still be coming out, 2K did probably the best move possible, by giving that to Firaxis. We know Firaxis, they can make games. They can make good turn-based games. So I have every bit of faith that this game will be good, now that I’ve seen it.

S: I am very much looking forward to it. I think the people working on it have their heart in the right place, and I love the transparency they have, their openness, and their willingness to listen to the fans. I think it’s incredibly healthy, and sort of inspiring to see this. Y’know, that games aren’t always going towards the devs being isolated from the fans, like we see from more and more big AAA titles. That we can still have that open dialogue between the artists and the audience. It was just great to see. I would’ve been excited to see this even if I didn’t care about this game. I would’ve loved to see this exchange, just because I would’ve thought that this is how it should be more often. I was just very excited by it. Very good. Thumbs up to Firaxis games, they’re great.

J: So yeah. 2K Games won PAX, as far as I’m concerned. Which is not what I expected to be saying, when I got to Boston. I did not expect to see such a strong showing from 2K games.

S: Neither did I. But yeah. They won.

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From the Archives:

  1. GreyDuck says:

    I should’ve guessed it’d be XCOM. I need that game, now-ish!

  2. Chad says:

    I’m probably in the minority, but I would have preferred a simple prose recap: I can’t listen to a podcast while I’m doing something else that takes brain power cause I miss stuff, and I can’t be arsed to sit at my computer and just listen for however long it goes and it’s cumbersome to read transcripts.

    • sofawall says:

      I actually have the same problem. I don’t like just sitting and listening to dialog (unless it’s really good dialog, and sorry Shamus but a professional screenwriter you are not), but I miss stuff too. Basically, I am just taking a lot of words to say “Me too, you’re not alone!”

      I did not dislike the content of the podcast, but making it as a podcast was probably not the most ideal method of disseminating the info.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I usually play some not too demanding game,like civ4(well its not demanding to me,since I sunk god knows how many hours into it).

  3. Zagzag says:

    With the onset of exams I’m basically behind with my life at the moment, or so it seems most of the time. In spite of not having got round to litening to the podcast I certainly intend to. In contrast to those above me I like podcasts as a method of disseminating info, and thought you ought to know that. I would certainly be behind you doing things like this in the future, since I listen to other regular, but fairly similar podcasts, and adding your voices to the podosphere or whatever it is called would certainly raise the mean quality.

    Please note, I am not in any way requesting that you do any more than you already are for us, since I’m sure we don’t deserve it, and you certainly deserve a rest. This is merely an endorsement of the format, despite how long it took to put together.

    • Sumanai says:

      Different people have different types of needs for input. I have difficulty following podcasts, but I don’t really mind either. It helps that Shamus and Josh work together well.

    • BeardedDork says:

      I agree podcasts are ideal for tasks requiring very little brainpower and I find that they actually make me more productive in certain circumstances. Honestly I very rarely actually watch spoiler warning usually I put it on and listen to it while I do other things.

  4. Sumanai says:

    Now that I can go and easily check bits and pieces that were said, I can remind myself what I thought in certain bits.

    Secret World: I’m generally speaking interested, but I ran into one bit of info that was worrying. I’m not getting into specifics since I don’t really want to talk about it, but it was something that could foul up the game for me.

    Civ5: The espionage system sounds somewhat similar to the one in a fully expanded Galactic Civilization 2. Which is good as I liked it and they seem to be going further.

    AssCreed3: I like well made trees and forests in games, so that actually sounds good to me. But I’m not certain it makes the most sense to set it up in the middle of a war, since that would sound like something that would make the whole assassination thing a bit tricky.

    tactical X-com: I really hope it’s possible to Action-Move. And that there’s an option to turn on flattop haircuts.

    • Simon Buchan says:

      The rockpapershotgun interview implied that move-shoot and move-move (at least) are the standard rookie abilities, but that other skills, including action-move are possible to learn, though I don’t know how much it’s tied to their class system. It sounds weird to me, but I’ll have to play to see if it feels wrong.

      • Sumanai says:

        That sounds off. Something like shoot-move should be default, and when I originally heard about character’s learning new tricks I was worried it would be used for something I consider basic. I’ll hold judgement in this case until I play it, however.

  5. Simon Buchan says:

    I’m another podcast lover, and as the Giant Bomb guys will tell you, it’s totally possible to pull off 3 hour podcasts with hour-long digressions on completely irrelevant things and have people love them! If anything, the extremely tightly editing was slightly distracting – I’d have perhaps preferred a spacier, less rushed longer series, though not knowing what was cut down I can’t promise that :P. Basically, I’m trying to say that if you wanted to produce podcasts more often for some reason (you want to make me super happy, for example), I’d say you should be aiming for doing say 10-20 minutes of work on them – basic leveling and syncing and perhaps adding in some intro/outros. The real problem, I should think, would be finding a contrast to Spoiler Warning.

  6. Infinitron says:

    Re: XCOM

    Have you considered that having so few soldiers on the field means that the game’s difficulty will have to be nerfed, because each individual soldier is now such a large percentage of your fighting force?

    A huge element of the original game’s atmosphere was your rookies getting raped by flaming plasma death. Can’t have that anymore. Gotta give you the ability to take your small squad of bald space marines, run across the level to cover in a single turn, and play it like a turn-based version of Gears of War.

    • Lord of Rapture says:

      I agree. A lot of the changes which Shamus vouched for I’m kinda wary of. All the mechanics in the original X-com emphasized the vulnerability of your guys and the importance of managing your time and resources very carefully. One wrong move could get your entire team wiped out. Now it sounds like they’re trying to make it more focused on just a few guys taking out a bunch of aliens, removing a large part of the feeling of vulnerability and the atmosphere of tension and fear that made the original great.

  7. Museli says:

    So, what exactly do you do in Monaco? I’ve seen sites singing its praises for a few years, but I’ve yet to see a description of what the gameplay entails.

    Disappointed to learn that The Secret World is another cooldown-manager in the vein of WoW and SW:TOR. I’ll give it a month or two, because the setting looks cool, but I’ll probably not stick around beyond that. I’ve already spent way too long playing that sort of MMO.

    Gods and Kings had better make some significant improvements to Civ 5, or I’ll be most annoyed. If I wanted to pay extra for things that were already available in the previous game, I’d be playing The Sims 3.

    I’d completely forgotten that they were working on a new X-COM game that would be similar to the originals. Between Xenonauts and this, there should be something to keep everyone happy – I’ll certainly be owning both. Heck, I may even try the FPS as well.

    Thanks again for the transcript, Gale :)

  8. some random dood says:

    I’d just like to add my thanks to Gale for transcribing this. I have a problem with pure audio for information – I tend to just “zone out” so end up missing stuff. Same happens for talk-radio, audio-books etc so having a transcription available for a pod-cast is valuable to me.
    And of course thanks to Josh and Shamus for sharing their experiences of PAX – looks like there will be some interesting games coming out in the coming years that don’t simply involve shooty-bangs :-) (Nothing wrong with a good shooty-bang, but I do like a bit of diversity!)

  9. Destrustor says:

    Wow, that X-com thing sounds neat. I’m actually really interested in it.
    Never played the original, so I wouldn’t get nostalgia value out of it, but it looks fun enough to seriously consider.
    Does anyone know when it will be released, and on what platforms?
    Maybe I should just google it…

  10. Stormcaller says:

    I just hope they dont have the issues TFTD had with the tech tree – you know, if you research a Tasoth Commander you can no longer get the Leviathan Sub, so you cant finish the game…

    • froogger says:

      Hah! I never got that far, it would bug and I’d back a few saves, but after doing that dance a few times I’d ragequit. Then I’d install it again a few years later :\ Enemy Unknown worked nicely though, so that one I got to finish.

  11. Gale says:

    I think it took me about an hour to transcribe ten minutes of audio, so I’d probably push the combined time up to 17 or 18 hours. Honestly, these two sessions combined probably took way less time and energy than either of the 2010 segments. These were shorter, the audio quality was much clearer, and deciphering crosstalk between two people is exponentially easier than crosstalk between three. Hell, just having the audio file there was a big help. Trying to deal with youtube again would’ve added at least an hour to the clock, as well as quite a bit of stress.

    So yeah. Hope it was worth it.

    • X2Eliah says:

      It certainly was useful to me, for what it is worth.. Plain-audio podcasts are something I rarely can divert enough attention to to actually parse what is being said. I can never remember even what is said in them 10 minutes ago, and frankly.. the time spent in *listening* to a podcast vs. reading a conversation is incomparably longer.

      • Bubble181 says:

        I don’t mind listening to talk radio while in the car or so, but – this. The amount of time spent reading vs time spent listening, compared to the amount of info gained is just soooo much better in text than audio. Heck, even video.

  12. Dovius says:

    These transcripts are really handy for me, since my retention sucks with audio-only logs. Many cheers and interwebz to Gale!

  13. sofawall says:

    As a new commenter to the site, I am curious. If someone responds to my comment, do I have to go back and read it manually, or am I notified in some manner (probably email)?

    I realize the possible futility in asking this via comments, but I figure people will see it this way.

    • Infinitron says:

      Manually. This isn’t Facebook…

      • sofawall says:

        Or Youtube, or any number of sites with discrete pages full of comments that, once seen, you might not go back to read. Heck, Facebook is a bad example. If someone comments on something you post, it shows up in the news feed. The email is entirely superfluous because simply using the service, you can easily see what is being said to you.

        If I am reading through the archives and leave a comment there, I am not likely to go back and read the post again every day to see if someone responds. This means that even though I may want to know what people want to tell me, they may not tell me for a month. I won’t even remember my comment then, never mind what article I need to check to see if anyone posted anything, because I’m not going to open up every article I’ve ever commented on, every day, just to see if something has generated a response. I understand if emails cannot be sent to notify people based on limitations of hardware or software, but if it is reasonable to do so I cannot think it would be anything but a good thing. Assuming that, like Facebook, the ability to opt-out was included.

        • Infinitron says:

          You have a legitimate complaint, but blogs generally don’t work like that. It’s assumed that you’re a “regular” and not a “drive-by commenter”.

          • sofawall says:

            But even a regular isn’t going to keep going back to the article time and time again just for the comments. It seems that an email notification is better for regulars and worse for drive-by commenters. Drive-Bys won’t care about what’s said afterwards, they’re gone. It’s regulars who want to have a conversation.

            • Shamus says:

              Just so we don’t frustrate ourselves here:

              I don’t see anything in the WordPress features that would allow me to offer the requested functionality. Yes, I can see why you would want it.

              A lot of people don’t realize just how much traffic takes place on those old posts. I’ve got over half a decade of archives here. Many people do surf the archives, drop comments, and respond to others. It would be nice if they could have their conversations with the other archive surfers, but I don’t see how to do it short of adding a plugin. (And I’m not crazy about adding a plugin that will send out emails without me knowing. The potential for mischief is pretty big.)

    • Sumanai says:

      Like it was said above. I tend to go through comments every now and then searching for my username. Feels a bit egotistical, but it gets the job done.

    • Dragomok says:

      Also, FYI: your avatar is e-mail based and can be changed at Gravatar Dot Com.

  14. psivamp says:

    Living in New England, Boston is my mental reference point for large cities — and the origin of my hatred for cities. I remember nights being completely lost after going to a show in Boston or Cambridge and ending up making weird loops between the two trying to just get out and back north.

    Other things: $1400 for a cubicle on the floor. That doesn’t seem outlandishly expensive, but that is a significant amount of money if you’re independently developing a game.

    • swenson says:

      And GPSes will fail to work the instant you turn them on. Boston truly is a terrible city to find your way in. I love it for its historical significance and all the cool sights to see, but do I ever loathe trying to actually get anywhere there!

    • Pickly says:

      You should go to some grid based cities more oftwen, much easier to figure out where to go. (Although the cities themselves can be bigger, in area terms.)

      • psivamp says:

        I once got forced off the highway into DC once on an 18 hour trip from South Carolina to New Hampshire and because DC is grid-based except for the round, I was able to find my way out easily.

        Along the way, my crappy little sports car made it into a Japanese family’s vacation photo of the Washington monument.

  15. X2Eliah says:

    Hm. Did this XCOM’s devs in any way reference or mention XCOM: The Shooter?
    I’m sort of wondering what is actually going on with that game (not out of wanting to play it.. just idle industry-related curiosity).

  16. A note: The Star Wars: The Old Republic booth did have a reason for the couches (aside from being a wonderful meeting/resting place). They had several “shows” with the developers or other people (I have no idea who these people were but they were very knowledgeable about the game– or at least sounded better than the Assassins Creed chicki-boo. They at least sounded like they actually worked at the company full time.) Basically it looked like they were trying to do a panel several times on the expo floor, which wasn’t so great because it was open and noisy and I think a lot of the people sitting there were people who were there for carpeting and comfy seats rather than to listen to them talk.

  17. ccesarano says:

    The Dragon Age panel was actually pretty interesting, though they didn’t tackle much. Just three topics: Meaningful choices, less-repetitive dungeons and being able to change the outfits of your characters.

    They didn’t go into too much detail, though.

    I got to ask about the origins from the first game, and whether we can get something like that in the next game, and sounds like they’ll be doing a decent compromise between how they handled Hawke (basically: we need to add voice acting for the protagonist) and the Warden.

    It was funny, though, as the whole time they were not saying it directly, but subtly hinting that “Hey, we’re not the same dev team as Mass Effect, so PLEASE don’t judge us based on that!”

    As for Assassin’s Creed 3, I actually like the concept of not being around cities this time. It’s an attempt to keep the game fresh rather than being repeats of the first two (well, four) games in different eras. So I applaud them for that.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Hey, we’re not the same dev team as Mass Effect, so PLEASE don’t judge us based on that!

      Which is a bit of a shame, by the way, because if we had to choose between the dev team behind Mass Effect 3, and the dev team behind Dragon Age 2.. Well… Idk if other regulars on this site will lynch me for this or not, but I’d much rather prefer the ME3 team than DA2 team.

      That said.. Are they really different? Afaik at least a lot of the main story writers are the same.

      • Sumanai says:

        I’m not going to lynch you for that, just judge you.

        But seriously, haven’t played either Dragon Age game and I’m having a hard time feeling interested enough to buy them. I don’t see much point in expecting anything good out of Bioware, no matter how much “they’re not the same people”. At this point their biggest problem is their public relations, not individual screw ups in storytelling or gameplay. Not that those are meaningless either.

      • ccesarano says:

        I feel that Dragon Age 2 was a result of pressure to release a sequel a year and a half later, just as Mass Effect 2 had done. At least, that’s the argument I’m going to use. I loved the first Dragon Age, but I haven’t even gotten past the first few hours of DA2 simply because it feels like they skipped so much potential gameplay. It FEELS like a rushed game.

        Considering Dragon Age 2 released…well, a while ago, and they sounded as if they were still figuring out the direction for Dragon Age 3, so I’m guessing we won’t see nearly so rushed a product.

  18. Bubble181 says:

    The Boston level of AssCreed III will be hated and reviled. It’s a 5 hour level, with 0 kills – just you, wandering up and down random streets, trying to find your way. And it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.

  19. Cybron says:

    Much thanks to the guy who transcribed this.

    I’m a little wary of the Xcom bit. A lot of those changes seem reasonable individually, but when you stack them on top of each other, it starts to look a lot like an entirely different play experience. And as I really liked the original Xcom play experience, that bugs me. Glad to know they had respect for the original game, though (flat top hair cut hell yes).

    I noticed you didn’t mention anything about the logistic side of Xcom, which has always been a major part of the game. Did they say/show anything on that subject?

    • Shamus says:

      They did show quite a bit. It was actually the part I was most excited about. (Sadly, no sceeenshots of it, though.)

      Your base in now a side-view / cutaway view that the devs call the “ant farm”. It’s got the command center. (With the Xcom globe view) alien containment, research, hangar, etc. All the stuff you’d expect. You can see people milling around in the base, and if you zoom way in you can see they’re not just generic filler models but your real squad and personnel. (You customize the squadies yourself.) You add on facilities as you like, although it gets more expensive as you go deeper.

      I thought this was a straight-up improvement over the original.

    • Sumanai says:

      I doubt they did. From what I’ve gathered on the Rock Paper Shotgun article they’re keeping that part under wraps until near the release or after.

      I’m certain you’ve heard, and gotten sick of hearing, but just in case I’ll mention Xenonauts. It seems they’re going for “same, but different” while the new X-com is “different, but same” if you catch my meaning. Both seem promising as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t mind the game style shift for X-com because of Xenonauts.

      • X2Eliah says:

        “It seems they’re going for “same, but different” while the new X-com is “different, but same” if you catch my meaning.”

        Um.. Er. Mmm. Hm. I..? Wait, no, I don’t get what you were trying to say there. What’s the difference between interchanging the order of “same/difference” in this occasion?

        • Michael says:

          I think he means one will be like a fish with a salad in it, while the other is a salad with a fish in it.

          I’ll admit, I have no idea what he means either.

          • Sumanai says:

            Yeah, I was afraid of this. As someone, I think Jarenth or Krellen, said here before: Brevity is the soul of wit, but not of communication.

            Xenonauts is the same as the original X-com, since it uses Time Units, potentially large groups of rookies, top-down base etc. It’s basically the same, except it’s updated with better graphics, different system for the “tanks” and so on.

            So it’s the same first and foremost and different second (only where they think it really needed changing).

            New X-com is different from the original, since it uses Move-Action system, groups limited to six, side-show base etc. It’s different, but it uses the same themes. Aliens based on popular culture, surprises over the course of the game and so on.

            It’s different first, and the same second (only where they felt it was important to stay the same).

            It’s a subtly different perspective from the designers, so I decided to use a figurative phrase for it. Unfortunately, such things tend to be meaningless if taken literally and therefore have a tendency of misfiring.

            • Sumanai says:

              Now, I have to admit that I put game mechanics first and themes second, so you might not agree on that. But it’s my perspective, so it’s the only one I can really talk about until someone else talks about theirs.

  20. Tuck says:

    The new X-com gameplay sounds very much like that in Silent Storm.

    Although move+action or move+move sounds like a D&D 3.5E turn…let’s hope they have the all-powerful 5-foot-step too!

  21. Mephane says:

    Being a total noob about the entire XCOM game/franchise/setting, but an avid fan of our cute little grey friends and their disc-shaped spaceships (they are disc-shaped in XCOM, aren’t they?) – is there some gameplay mode, either in the original game or in the one shown at pax, where you get to play them instead of the humans?

  22. Dasick says:

    Regarding X-Com changes, the QA link you have has an interesting response that is rather critical of the changes:

    clicky

    As per the norm, everyone is ignoring him and going after the “OMFG zey changed it nuw it sux!!!11!” posters.

    But he does raise valid objections (well, valid in theory. Haven’t played original x-Com, just heard a lot about it in regards to game design), especially the time units.

    “If you wanted precision without the headache, there are a load of ways you could have improved the TU system at the interface level, up to and including allowing people to lay down their short-to-long-term plans before hand, complete with graphical indicators and a button marked “execute”.”

    “I’ve sat through that every second weekend for years, mostly for sake of getting to the actual roll-to-hit stuff and the role-playing, because even with that little bit extra, the movement is irritating to me. I ran half my move and sliced that orc, but I can’t use the rest of my move? I have wished it could be more like a TU-based system, but I tolerated it because I knew such a system would be bothersome to keep track of and calculate on paper. On a computer, however, with a machine’s (usually) faultless memory and ability to display things in easily-interpreted forms, such a system could graduate to granular TUs and really spread its wings, so it’s sad to see it hasn’t been allowed to, even before we get to things like different “costs” for shots.”

    • Sumanai says:

      Some of them are valid. Some sound like “it should’ve been kept the same for no reason”, but there are good points as well. But I don’t really see the importance of weapons having variable time costs, especially since it complicated things in the original quite a bit.

      Since you haven’t played it, I’ll try to explain:
      Every unit has a certain amount of Time Units, this varies according to their stats and how tired they are. The cost of firing a weapon was a percentile on the total, for balance reasons.

      (Actually it’s that the TUs stand for how much a unit can do in the same amount of time. So a fast person can walk 10 meters in X seconds, a slow 5 in X sec. But with weapons there’s not much that changes, since aiming takes time and pulling the trigger is pretty fast. However, faster people should aim faster and thus complicate the calculation further.)

      Pistol might have 25%, a rifle 40%. With 40 TU max firing a pistol would cost 10 TUs, a rifle 16. If the unit has 32 TU max, pistol costs 8 TUs, a rifle ~13 TUs.

      Which means that how much it costs to fire the same gun varies from unit to unit. Which in turn means having difficulty calculating how much units can move and fire, which becomes a problem once the “fast and loose” part is over and you’re forced to either miser TUs or die. Then you take into consideration different weapons in the hands of different people and it gets really fun.

      The “it’s more realistic” argument would hold more water if it weren’t for the fact that X-com games were never really focusing on realism. It could work if one of the two would be eliminated (variable cost among weapons or variable cost among units). One would be to make the maximum TU universal. Every soldier has 40 TU maximum, so a rifle will always cost 16 TUs.

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