Diecast #300: Three Hundred!

By Shamus Posted Monday May 4, 2020

Filed under: Diecast 82 comments

Three hundred is a lot of podcasts. If podcasts were a physical object and not audio files, and if you took all 300 diecasts and stacked them up, then the resulting pile would be tall enough to fall over. Amazing.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:
01:10 Mailbag: Games that are too Good

Dear Diecast,

Sometimes when I’m done with playing a game that I really liked – and had a particularly good time with it – it can result in a situation where I don’t want to replay it ever again, in fear of my memories being better than reality (because, who knows, maybe it wasn’t so good after all? Maybe it correlated with the interests/obsessions I had then, but not now?). Has this ever happened to you? If so, why?


04:24 Mailbag: Sci-fi Books

Dear Diecast,
I really like the fact that you’re a videogame podcast named after tabletop RPGs, whose hosts like getting sidetracked by all number of other topics!
So, I’d like to ask: would you like to get sidetracked into talking about sci-fi books? What sci-fi books have you read recently (or not so recently) that have left an impression on you? What did you like/not like about them? Do you think any of their ideas can be adapted to videogames?
Keep being Awesome,

15:35 Mailbag: Trial and Error Games

Hi Paul! Hi Shamus!
(For some reason this order of names sounds better than the reverse one)

Is there a game (or series, or genre) where the trial and error approach to gameplay situations is frequently present, but that’s not frustrating to you, but the opposite – it’s fun and you enjoy the game?

Also, happy This Is Sparta Diecast! Congratulations!

Best regards, DeadlyDark

23:52 Mailbag: Borderlands 3

Hello Shamus and Paul,
This question is as much for your readers as for you. I picked up Borderlands 3 when it finally released on Steam. I have really been enjoying the game, but have been curious about my experience. Six months and 2 DLC’s later, have you gone back and seen if the experience was the same for you? I haven’t been experiencing what you did (which kind of had me on the fence before playing it) and I was wondering if your experience with the bullet sponges and weapon power have changed? Also, I enjoyed your dissection of the previous games, and wondered what your opinion of the overall plot and tone of three were? Recently rereading your earlier posts, I think some of the unanswered questions from earlier games (i.e. Zarpadon and blowing up the moon) were answered. How would you rate or compare this and is there ever a chance we might get a series of articles on it?
Anyways thank you for your website, in these times it is even more enjoyable than ever,


30:44 Mailbag: Gamedev Podcasts

Dear Diecast,

You guys seem to have vaguely complimentary skill sets. Why don’t you make a game together? Then the podcast could just be about game development!

Followup question: If you don’t want to do that, can you recommend any good game development podcasts/blogs?

Congrats on three hundo,

35:44 Mailbag: Fading Genres

Dear Diecast,

In the last Diecast you mentioned as an aside that Tower Defense games have “sorta vanished”, despite having been very popular for a while. This got me thinking of other genres of games that have, if not died, then faded to a shadow of their former selves: point & click adventure games, real time strategy games, and now tower defense.

So my question is: what genres do you think are on their way out, and are there any where you’d hope that they’d vanish? Is there anything you think is due for a renaissance, like how Rogue/Roguelikes have reappeared?

Thanks for the great content,

43:56 Mailbag: 4 Producers 1 Sample

Dear Diecast (mostly Shamus),

Have you been following Andrew Huang’s 4 Producers 1 Sample series on Youtube
The summaries where they go over the sample manipulation and music composition techniques they use seems right up Shamus’ alley. I know you’ve mentioned Huang’s Youtube channel and music lessons before.

Do you think (given the opportunity) participating in something like
that sounds like it might be fun? Maybe if it was with a bunch of peers of similar skill level?


49:56 Mailbag: Historical Accuracy

Dear Diecast,

Recently I’ve been in a mood for anything related to the French Revolution – including games. This led me to playing two titles – We. The Revolution and Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Both of these games take certain „liberties” with source materials, but from different reasons, which I found interesiting.
In „We…” the player acts as a judge in the Revolutionary Court. Therefore you can occasionally change the way certain trials concluded (for example, you can decide that Danton is innocent and let him live). Players agency, combined with the huge integration of the story with events that took place during that historical period means that the game can’t remain faithful to these events – which in my opinion is the correct approach in an interactive medium. But then the game went so far in its third act that it wasn’t really about Revolution anymore. You couldn’t experience that period because there was so much changes that it made the whole affair almost unrecognizable (hard to say anything without spoilers, but I suspect that the developers wanted to make sure that players’ choices would still have an emotional impact).

But then AC: U happened, which somehow managed to create a story that is almost completely detached from the French Revolution – it might as well never have happened, story-wise nothing would be different. When it finally does something related to that historical period (practically at the very end), it’s only to push its own story about the struggles of assassins and templars with each others, which is much less interesting than the actual events that happened. And it actually pushes the story even further from the French Revolution (my guess is that Ubisoft was really afraid to say something about such a controversial topic).

But that made me think – how far you can go with altering historical events in a video games? Should there be limits for players’ interactivity in the name of historical accuracy or the other way around – should events always be determined by their choices? AC: U didn’t want to change anything (or even say anything) and it turned the French Revolution into unnecessary background noise. We. The Revolution has changed too much and it wasn’t about this subject anymore. Is there a line to draw? Some elements that shouldn’t be changed no matter what? Certain topics, themes? Or maybe the deveoplers should go all-in and changed everything they want?


58:28 Mailbag: Value of Games

Dear Diecast,

One of my earliest memories is the first time I ever played a video game at a neighbour’s house. The cheerful music, colourful visuals and apparent miracle of the input/feedback loop by which I was able to control the little blue hedgehog made me an instant convert to gaming for life.

What I’ve always loved most about games is the way you can become completely absorbed in the activity of playing them – to become an inhabitant of the universe of the game. It isn’t just that they’re fun, although I’ve played many fun games. I’ve always struggled to articulate exactly what I mean by this, but the best way I can describe it is that, at its best, gaming somehow manages to achieve a state of meaningfulness.

Even among the enthusiast press, when the value of games is discussed, it’s often in terms of their potential for social or personal improvement, or as a jumping-off point into the rabbit hole of how we define capital-A art. But I seldom recall seeing much discussion of the value of gaming just as it is, in spite of the the livelihood it has made for thousands and the passion it inspires in millions. At best the nebulous benefits of leisure time and escapism are acknowledged, only to be countervailed with concerns about laziness, toxicity and retreat from reaility. The wider media takes an even dimmer view.

I’d like to know what other people think about this. Do games matter? Can gaming be meaningful? Have others found an instrinc value in playing games, or are their potential benefits considered to be more limited and utilitarian?

Congratulations on reaching 300 episodes,


1:03:01 Mailbag: Taking Notes

Dear Diecast,

conglaturations* on another milestone reached! You guys make my Mondays far less of a pain than they could be, thanks for all the entertainment.

Recently I was digging through my physical game archive and I came across my notes for Pokemon. I used to keep track of which ‘mon I saw where and at which levels so I could return there after fighting the Elite 4 (or after defeating Red in Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal). I also took careful notes on where I saw trees that could be cut down, pools of water that could be crossed, and other such obstacles that may hold points of interest.

Nowadays I still do a bunch of note taking, even though ever more information is easily accessible online and there is less need for me to do so.

How about you guys? Do you take notes while playing? I imagine Shamus jots down a lot for articles on the site.



1:07:51 Mailbag: Game it out

Hi Shamus and Paul.

I’ve been watching a Youtube channel that I think you guys would find interesting. It’s called “Let’s Game It Out” – most videos focus on one of the myriad of low-budget ‘tycoon’ or ‘simulator’ style games out there, playing them in the most absurd way possible. He finds hilarious ways to exploit broken mechanics and push systems past their breaking point). As an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVt5my65WL8 – playing Smartphone Tycoon, he designs terrible phones and sells them at ridiculous prices, but somehow is successful enough to sell 34 quadrillion phones by the end.

He’s also done a whole series of videos on Satisfactory, – the first of which is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vYYhL9Vt8o. They get progressively more ambitious (and physics-breaking) as they go.

Hope you enjoy them.


From The Archives:

82 thoughts on “Diecast #300: Three Hundred!

  1. ElementalAlchemist says:

    If podcasts were a physical object and not audio files, and if you took all 300 diecasts and stacked them up, then the resulting pile would be tall enough to fall over.

    What if the object was an atom?

    Even at sheet of paper size, that’s only half a ream. I suppose you could trip if it was bolted to the floor or something.

    1. The Puzzler says:

      Podcasts are cassette tapes, right?

      1. Echo Tango says:

        If they were vynil records[1], they would definitely fall over. But people always stored records on shelves like books, not stacked on top of each other. :)

        [1] do-able, if the quality was lowered by slowing down the record

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      If you stacked 300 atoms that’d be one hell of a spindly tower, of course it would fall over.

  2. DeadlyDark says:

    If I had to choose three sci-fi books, that left the strongest impact on me, it would be Dune, Blindsight and Dark Forest (with Ubik as a honorable mention)

    Dune is obvious, I felt in love with the universe due to my time with Emperor Battle for Dune (that game has some kick-ass music as well – especially by David Arkenstone, one of my all time favorite), and when I finally read the book, I was at awe, how logical and thought out it is.

    Blindsight is by Peter Watts. Very technical, very nuanced. It’s sometimes very hard to follow (the author doesn’t shy from using difficult concepts), but its still rewarding nonetheless. Also it has a vampire named Sarasti. And Witcher 3 had one of the vampire monsters named Sarasti, so that’s a good coincidence. I also want to add, that Peter Watts wrote a novelization for Crysis 2, and made it a very deep sci-fi story, despite it following the same events as the game. (so yeah, Crysis 1 is the best gameplay-wise, but Crysis 2 is better with its story. In the book, granted, but still)

    Dark Forest by Liu Xi Cin. First of all. I like that this book is basically a spy thriller, where two sides plotting against each other, but it’s very asymmetrical warfare, since they can’t engage directly (for the time being), and both sides has very different means to prevent each other’s actions. It also shows very interesting (and not necessarily bleak) view on the near future. And the final resolution is very interesting one (won’t spoil it, let’s just say it reminded me of one scene in original The Thing). I do must admit, that the next book, while not as tense (it’s more of the chronicle, than a story), explores this resolution more in depth, and it’s… the most anti-Star Trek thing I could ever dream. Not in a way that it’s edgy (unlike ST Disco), quite the opposite, the tone is very thoughtful and well told, but the universe here is very pragmatic. Basically, the idea is that alien life universally prefers to destroy potential competitors before even meeting them. No mutual cooperation, but more like hide and seek combined with mutual assured destruction on a galaxy level Can’t recommend high enough.

    1. Lino says:

      Dune is awesome. Such an incredible universe! I’ll definitely put the other two books on my to-read list.

      As for me I was recently extremely impressed from Hyperion by Dan Simmons – a 4-part space opera-y type thing. It’s weird.

      The first book has a little bit of everything. – Lovecraftian horror, a side dish of classic English literature, a dash of cyberpunk, all wrapped up with some gut-wrenching character moments.

      The latter books lean more into the space opera part, and some people don’t like books 3 and 4, but I loved them all.

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        Hyperion is very interesting exercise in switching between genres. But tbh, I’ve enjoyed Endymion and Rise of Endymion more, than original Hyperion

        1. Lino says:

          Oh yes, I particularly liked Endymion. I loved the fact that we got to explore all the words that were only touched upon in Hyperion and Fall.

          And it fit thematically, as well – it made sense how we could only got a surface level understanding of the different worlds during the Farcaster era, as that’s how people were living during that time – leading shallow lives, and turning once-unique worlds into a homogeneous mess. But when the Farcasters fell, those worlds once again became unique, and now there actually WAS something we could explore.

          Also, I liked the way books 3 and 4 dived deeper into the philosophical themes hinted at in the first two books.

          Don’t get me wrong, I like a good laser fight as much as the next guy, but I prefer sci-fi that doesn’t shy away from exploring some more complex topics.

          But still, the first book holds a very special place in my heart. I just loved the way the narrative was delivered.

          If I had to rank them, it would be:
          1. Hyperion
          2. Endymion
          3. Rise of Endymion
          4. Fall of Hyperion.

          1. MikeK says:

            +1 for Hyperion.

            Full disclosure: I’ve only read the first two, but they form a nicely self-contained pair.

            On a related note, I’ve never played Mass Effect, but I’m often struck by how much the plot sounds to be similar to Hyperion (based on what I’ve gleaned from this site). This may be an observation from a place of ignorance, though.

    2. Syal says:

      If I had to pick three, it’d be Dune Messiah, Ender’s Game, and… hm… I guess Foundation And Empire. General “fighting against an inevitable fate” stories, not so much sci-fi necessarily.

    3. tmtvl says:

      I’ve read Hitchhiker’s Guide, I’ve read some Asimov, I’ve read some Wells, but the only sci-fi books that I remember to any extent were Van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle (where the Final Fantasy Coeurl monster comes from), and Joan D. Vinge’s Eyes of Amber.

      If you’re into history then sci-fi just kind of gives a deja-vu (dreams come true, I see my soul inside of you) feeling.

    4. Retsam says:

      I don’t know if your original comment made it clear to others that it’s the middle book in a trilogy, but I agree, it’s easily the best of the trilogy. It’s just bigger and better than the first one, and while I enjoyed the third one, I was largely disappointed by how the story went.

      But, still, the trilogy is phenomenal, overall. I liked the basis in modern Chinese history (and I imagine I’d like more if I actually knew hardly anything about the topic), and I like the combination of “weird sci-fi” and “near future”.

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        No, I didn’t make it clear (should’ve). But the thing is, the first book (Three Body Problem) seems a little… superfluous and reads more like a book long prologue for the Dark Forest (except some insights about chinese history). I’m fairly sure, you can skip it and start straight with Dark Forest without losing almost nothing.

        1. Algeh says:

          Interesting. I read The Three Body Problem the year it was up for a Hugo since it was in the packet, but I didn’t find it grabbed me enough to pick up the sequels. I am generally not a fan of several things about the book that are not the fault of the book but rather about my own tastes, including things set in modern day, stories spread over multiple volumes rather than mostly contained within themselves, and something else that I forget now (lots of different viewpoint characters?), so it had a lot to do to try and win me over, but if the sequels got better maybe I’ll get the next one out of the library once we have libraries open again. (I like some books or series that have those elements, I’m just pickier about which ones than I am about, say, military SF set in space, which I tend to consume uncritically in quantity unless it’s really, really badly written or forgets to have a plot of its own beyond retelling a historical battle in space.)

          I do remember liking some things about the book, and feeling that it was in general a pretty good book, just not one that grabbed me enough to keep following when it didn’t match well with my usual niches. I’m somewhat fuzzy on the specifics now because I read the entire slate of novel nominees that year in a 24 hour period when I pretty much ran out of time before ballots were due. It wasn’t one of the series or authors I decided to keep following or re-read in a more leisurely fashion based on that admittedly non-optimal experience, but it was ranked fairly highly on my ballot since I felt the problems I had were more with me than with the book. (I start my Hugo reading much earlier now – that was my first year as a voter so I wasn’t used to keeping the deadlines in mind.)

          1. DeadlyDark says:

            Worth a try, I think.

            I also add, I liked ther main character in the second book more. He was the right kind of selfish

    5. Retsam says:

      If I had to pick three sci-fi books, I think they’d be Ender’s Game, the Martian, (which are both well-known), and the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars).

      While the Martian and the Mars trilogy are, on paper, about the same thing: the exploration and colonization of Mars, they’re hugely different in practice. The Martian takes a very scientific and technical look at Mars exploration and uses that to tell a great survival story, but the Mars trilogy is much more broadly aimed.

      The Mars trilogy is much less interested in scientific and technical details and more interested in the broader picture, and has a much more diverse set of perspectives on Martian colonization, pro-terraforming and anti-terraforming, those who view it as a political extension of Earth, those who view it as a blank slate for political reform, and including views that border on spiritual and mythological.

      The overall series is less a traditional plot following a cast of characters, and more a fictional history of the planet: often hitting the fast-forward button and covering a lot of ground.

      It’s a daunting series, it took me several years of off-and-on reading to get through it; but I’m really glad I did.

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        Can’t help, but place The Martian, Red Mars trilogy and Expanse in one universe, tbh. I know it’s pointless, but that’s how I see them

        I like Mars books myself, yeah. I do feel that they would’ve been better being two books, not three (after some artful editing, of course)

    6. kincajou says:

      For my three books it has to be UBIK, Solaris, and the martian chronicles. All special and fantastic in their own ways!

      As for yours, i haven’t read blindsight but i’ll certainly check it out. Dune is a classic for a reason and it’s fantastically fun (the only reason it doesn’t make it significantly up my list is that it doesn’t do anything that really had a “unique” impact, or rather, it’s my first space opera but it’s not a book i find pushed me to think in a different way or just approach sci-fi differently. It’s a solid brick in the wall but it can’t compete with oh som any of the others (hell i struggled in chosing a stanislaw lem book, i am sad i couldn’t include the left hand of darkness or roadside picnic… but choces must be made…)

      For the three body problem trilogy (or as you say dulogy, the first book is mostly se tup), i must admit i really really didn’t get along with it. Book one and a decent chunk of book 2 (the three body problem) i found interesting spy thrillers with sci-fi elements… then it felt downhill from there in book 3 (and some chunks of 2). to the point that i’d reccomend dropping the series after book 2. Some particular issues i had: i was irritated about the hibernation mechanic which, whilst interesting enough to keep characters we have come accustomed to, had a terrible ultimate impact on the story (essentially leading us to the message that “old generetions are better, more prepared and just all round superior”) something that i find particularily unfortunate as the old characters have already had plenty of time to shine and it would have been fun to meet the new generation (also i cannot help but feel a comparison to the foundation book(s) and how they pulled off a similar mechanic, in a way more akin to what i like).
      I also had major problems with the treatment of female characters and the female “protagonist” of book 3 (or rather how she’s not a protagonist at all) but, for the sake of the “no politics” rule, i feel i shouldn’t dig into this much here.

      All in all, the first book(s) of the dulogy are fun and engaging but to me they didn’t bring anything particularily special to sci-fi and beyond my qualms with them they haven’t been particularily memorable. So, the three body problem and sequels don’t make it very far up my list.

  3. William says:

    New mailbag record!?

  4. Joe says:

    There have been a few Discworld shows in the past. None particularly good, IMO. They just don’t capture the spirit. And the upcoming Watch looks especially bad. Any time the Earthsea adaptation is brought up, that’s a bad sign. OTOH, Rhianna Pratchett is a producer at another company that hopefully *will* capture the spirit. And finally, TwoFLOWER.

    Dan Simmons’ Hyperion books really moved me the first time I read them, but I could never get through a second time. There’s something else with an adaptation mired in development hell.

    It’s been far too long since I actually read a book. Does listening count as reading? The third Expanse novel, the third time I tried it. I hated the villain so very much. They were set on getting revenge on the wrong person for the wrong reason. I couldn’t finish book 4, the villain was even worse. But Paul, 320 pages is a doorstopper? Mate, I’ve always found that’s a perfectly decent size. Doorstopper to me is twice that. Compare the Fifth Elephant, probably the biggest Pratchett, to Game of Thrones.

    Generally, if I finish a game and love it, I’ll give it a second go pretty much straight away. Try to recapture the magic, though that rarely happens. But I’m generally guilty of going back to the well too many times. I’ve seen the Star Wars OT so many times that even the best jokes rarely make me smile any more. So now I try to pace it out a little more.

    1. SupahEwok says:

      I fell out of love with the epic fantasy/sci-fi 600+ page doorstoppers when I realized almost all stories I’d ever come across would fit perfectly well in 350 pages or less. Everything else is a matter of bloat and unnecessary details.

      1. Joe says:

        Yeah, I see that. I’ve tried reading the Malazan series a few times. Never again. But one of the prequels, Dancer’s Lament, is a nice and snappy tale. Yeah, I tackled the series partially out of order. Please no one harrass me about it.

        1. Retsam says:

          Yeah, Malazan is just not fun. Even as someone who loves big epic fantasy, Malazan is just too dense and too impenetrable. Made it 6 and a half books in before eventually just running out of gas. The whole “here’s 3 different stories on 3 different continents, that won’t have anything to do with each other until the last five minutes” thing is just tiring.

          The only exception, I found, was the fifth book, which I really enjoyed: it was a reasonably self-contained story, where all of the story threads reasonably tied together.

      2. John says:

        I liked Tad William’s Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn trilogy a lot, but the books got longer as the series went on. (The third book is so long that it had to be split into two paperbacks.) When I went looking for other Williams books to read, I was dismayed to find that long series seem to be his specialty. Lucky for me, he does have a few one-and-dones, like War of the Flowers, which is probably my personal favorite spin on fantasy or folklore in a modern setting.

        1. Kathryn says:

          Same guy who wrote Tailchaser’s Song? I always liked that one, but not so much that I went looking for any of his other work.

          1. John says:

            Same guy. I haven’t read Tailchaser’s Song though. That’s the cat one, right?

            1. Kathryn says:

              Yeah, it’s pretty good. Not as good as Watership Down, but comparable in terms of creating a consistent cat culture/society that isn’t just fuzzy humans.

              1. Gautsu says:

                William’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is long, but really good. It is not as dark as ASOIAF but it is one the George R.R. Martin’s biggest inspirations for writing his saga. William’s Otherland was an interesting take on a virtual world, War of the Flowers was another interesting take on faeries in magic-industrial revolution. His Shadowwatch however, was initially conceived as an internet radio play type of thing, and when it didn’t work out re-written as a series of novels. It felt like he tried to mesh Martin with his earlier work, and to me at least, felt derivative of himself. Not his best. For some reason I never got around to raeading his Bobby Dollar urban fantasy, and I am just now getting to his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn sequels

    2. Lino says:

      I actually really like the live-action Discworld adaptations. It’s not the same as the books, but it’s close enough for me to enjoy them.

      A couple of years ago I stumbled upon some old animated adaptations of Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters. Haven’t had the time to watch them yet, though.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Mileage obviously varies but I found the Hogfather movie to be quite delightful, it may sound odd but the fact that special effects sometimes shown that very clear “TV level” quality actually improved it for me because it felt like they weren’t trying to distract from the spirit of the work. Also Marc Warren made for a really good Teatime.

  5. Gordon says:

    You should read “A Deepness in the Sky” it’s a prequel with Pham Nuwen’s back story, he really was a big deal in his time, and there’s no medieval dog society in that one.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      “A Deepness in the Sky” was pretty good. It’s true that it doesn’t have the Castle Hounds, but it also doesn’t touch on The Beyond at all either. The contrasting tech levels are still there though, just scaled a bit closer together. As usual, Vinge is playing with technological singularity.

  6. Gordon says:

    On movie / book / game adaptions. I strongly think people approach this all wrong. What I think you should do is take the setting and themes and maybe some characters and tell a new story that is suitable to your medium but respects and explores the setting and themes.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      So, adapt the Genre, not the narrative?

      1. Gordon says:

        The genre is fair game.
        The main thing though is stories are told totally differently in the different mediums, books can be long, detailed and exposition heavy, movies have much more bandwidth but a very limited time span, and games involve the “audience” in ways the others can’t touch.
        So trying to take a story from one and tell it in another is a fools errand, even done very well there will have to be changes and compromises. And in trying to do that people often lose the soul of the original.
        So don’t, instead tell a new story and in doing so focus on what made the original what it was.

        This applies within medium as well, why is “Tales from the Borderlands” a so much better adaption of it’s source than “Ghost in the Shell 2017”
        It’s because Tales tells a Borderlands story that is appropriate to it’s medium while GITS2017 tries to retell a story that was made for a different medium.

    2. kincajou says:

      So you’re thinking something like blade runner (from do androids dream of electric sheep) rather than the lord of the rings trilogy?

      I should point out that i agree with you, i just happened to chose the lotr title because its the first example of a relatively direct adaptation of the source material that i could think of, not to necessarily point out that you can do great things even with more direct adaptations. Although it does rais that question too, so i guess in the end i would be more on the nuanced side, i’d like to see adaptations take more freedom and just be set in the universe but if done well i think direct adaptations can also work (just harder to pull off)

  7. jpuroila says:

    Trial and error games: My first thought was bridgebuilders and the like(what’s the genre even called? Construction games?). You build a bridge(or whatever it is that you’re building), then test it to see how and why it fails. Even more so than in puzzlegames, that’s the point of the game. Granted, I don’t typically play such games myself, but they can be fun.

    1. Lino says:

      I also don’t play those types of games, but I occasionally watch LPs of them, and it’s a lot of fun watching someone fail :D (and, judging by the LPers’ reactions, they’re having fun as well).

    2. Echo Tango says:

      I think the distinction between trial-and-error gameplay where it’s frustrating, and “trial-and-error” where it’s not frustrating, is the amount of feedback you get and how heavy the punishment is. The latter is just “playing a game”, and the former is memorizing some arbitrary things before you can regurgitate the answers. I can make mistakes in Factorio, but I’ll be able to recover, and I can see the places where I ran out of stuff, or where the aliens breached my defences. Invisible Inc is a squad-based stealth game, but you can rewind several times and re-roll the whole level if needed (depending on difficulty-setting), and you can also hack cameras and plant tracers on guards to see everything. Super Meat boy is the epitome of good feedback and light punishments – you know exactly where you died, and most levels are short! :)

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I kind of feel the opposite; to me “trial and error” is something I would apply to things that can only be avoided by foreknowledge. In things like platformers designed around limited or no saving, it was generally the case that you could always theoretically get through a level on sheer skill on the first try (even though realistically no one does that)

        Games with frequent checkpoints often also use this as a crutch to remove that quality, throwing in obstacles that can only be avoided if you already knew they were coming but figuring “eh, you just autosaved anyway” makes up for it.

        In the average NES platformer, you start dying and getting sent to the beginning of levels or even the game, but as mastery increases you get to the point where you can pretty much blow through the thing in an hour from a new game start. In the average modern autosaving platformer, you run into a lot of things that are going to kill you the first time no matter what, but then will never kill you the second time, because you can just autosave and button-mash without ever actually learning anything.

        I played the Super Meat Boy player-generated thingy all of once. The first level I ran into spawned my character right above a buzzsaw so I would have to die, reload, then hold the right arrow to avoid dying on the second attempt. I got that retry right away, and there’s no penalty, but that’s beside the point.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          We’re in agreement; This is what I meant by trial-and-error. (The non-frustrating stuff, where you don’t just have to memorize, doesn’t get this label.)

  8. Gordon says:

    I’ve played both Farcry 3/4 and MGSV a bunch, they both reward stealth, however things go quite differently when you get caught and I keep thinking about that.
    In Farcry 3/4 if the baddies trigger a base alarm the situation will rapidly escalate like 5x and the only realistic / fun option is often to run away and wait until things quiet down. So my initial strategy is always to disable the alarms first so this can never happen.
    In MGSV when you get caught your play style phase changes from stealth to action but it’s a manageable survivable action that is fun in it’s own right. So my initial strategy is a list of what order I’m going to do the stealth kills and there’s a lil self challenge to how far down that list can I get before my cover gets blown.

  9. Lino says:

    Out of the Assassin’s Creed games, I absolutely adored the first one. My favourite part was the ending when you could see all those freaky writings on the wall, all of which hinted at a much larger world, beyond.

    Really, that’s the thing that killed that series for me. When everything about the conspiracy was vague, you could project your own thoughts and feelings on to it. But as they started fleshing that story out, it took away the mistique. It’s a bit like that old Jaws rule: “Wait for an hour before you show the monster!”

    Up to that point, you only hint at it, making the viewer fill in the blanks in their head. Whatever monster you can create with your special effects can only pale in comparison to what the viewer’s mind can conjure up.

    And that’s what the AssCreed sequels killed for me: all that mystery was gone. I haven’t played any of them after AC 3 (which I was thoroughly disappointed with), and none of the sequels have compelled me to see if things have changed.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I have played up to and including Black Flag, though I do plan to continue the series one of these days. My favourite thus far (and I have actually replayed them over the last 3 years or so) was AC:Revelations. To be clear, there was nothing revelatory about it, in terms of the present day plot it told us exactly what we knew from AC2 already and for the purpose of the “Desmond trilogy” it could very well not exist… but I felt the writing got a bit of a bump up, it gave some closure to Altair and I actually liked the older Ezio who has sort of settled in his personality and didn’t have to go through an arc that the writers couldn’t handle, they even put in some jokes that worked!

      1. Platypus says:

        Yeah older Ezio rocked, he actually felt like an assasin capable of well thought out murders rather than an arrogant rich kid playing at being one. Also the series is always quick to bring up ezios “charm” but only old ezio actually is charming to me rather than a man who the game keeps telling me is charming and a “ladies man.”

  10. Gordon says:

    You might like the Underhanded C Contest. “contest to turn out code that is malicious, but passes a rigorous inspection, and looks like an honest mistake even if discovered”

    1. tmtvl says:

      The Daily WTF ran a similar contest in 2015, about the Lucky Deuce.

      Although my favourite bit of obfuscated code will always be blokhead’s JAPH:

      not exp log srand xor s qq qx xor
      s x x length uc ord and print chr
      ord for qw q join use sub tied qx
      xor eval xor print qq q q xor int
      eval lc q m cos and print chr ord
      for qw y abs ne open tied hex exp
      ref y m xor scalar srand print qq
      q q xor int eval lc qq y sqrt cos
      and print chr ord for qw x printf
      each return local x y or print qq
      s s and eval q s undef or oct xor
      time xor ref print chr int ord lc
      foreach qw y hex alarm chdir kill
      exec return y s gt sin sort split

  11. Zgred says:

    Hi, I’m that gut that asked that long question about historical accuracy.
    To clarify, I didn’t say that Assassin’s Creed: Unity gave player too much options – quite the opposite, the problem was that you couldn’t even participate in these events that took place then, let alone change them. It was that other game – We. The Revolution – that was too generous (IMHO) in terms of the freedom offered to players.
    The question was so long because I’m using you as a training ground to practice my English :)

  12. Syal says:

    I’ve never avoided playing a game because I didn’t want to ruin my memory of it. Games are sorted into how many times I’m willing to replay them and how they hold up on repeat playthroughs. So the games I don’t go back to are the games I enjoyed but didn’t love.

    Not sure if Active Time Battle RPGs count as a full genre, but I think they’re dead now; it’s a middle ground between turn-based and action, but people either want turn-based or action.

    Don’t know what else “intrinsic” would mean if it’s broader than “makes you feel good”. I guess it would be something like “cultural touchstones” where people have more shared experiences to relate to each other over, and can use certain genres for shorthand individualism.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      There’s only a few games, where my enjoyment of the game diminished over time. Rimworld, because it’s only got small- and mid-scale events, but anything long-term (years, military conflicts) is missing from the game, even though everything in the game pushes you towards those things which aren’t simulated. Fallout 2, because I started appreciating things like stories, characters, and worlds, and those are all pretty silly or poorly-justified in that game. Not much else that I can remember right now, though. :)

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Until several years ago I have not replayed games a lot, I don’t know why I started doing that a bunch and I’m not entirely comfortable with some of the implications (feels like I’m a bit less about discovering things and more about “old comfortable shoes”), though I still don’t feel like replaying games over and over and generally at least a couple years have to pass before I even think of touching a title again.

      That said the “can’t be as good as my memory of it” does factor into some games that I remember liking. In recent years Baldur’s Gate (and BG2) didn’t really stand the test of time for me while Planescape Torment was actually if anything better than I remember it being. My personal theory is that Torment stands on a very solid, unique and deeply personal story which stays relevant due to its intimacy while BG is solid but somewhat generic and also more combat focused and I dislike real time with pause. Psychonauts was pretty much as entertaining and “casually smart” as I remembered, and old Thief games were amomg the very few titles I’ve replayed a number of times. I’m actually replaying Dragon Age: Origins right now and I find the writing to be quite nice, demonstrating to me that it’s not so much me going all jaded in general but I do indeed not like the nuBioware writing, though for reasons of insanity I’ve decided to challenge myself and try going through it on nightmare so the mechanical side of the game is quite different from my initial experience.

      The one titles I’ve actively avoided replaying though is FF7, this one literally cannot live up to the memories particularly since it was my first JRPG and I was also quite unfamiliar with anime tropes at the time so it was all fresh, and weird, and unexpected. Though now I hear the “remake” is not just repeating but doing some visibly different things with the storyline (I’ve been very actively avoiding actual spoilers) I’ll probably give it a try when it hits PC.

    3. Joshua says:

      One of the things that I always thought about ATB games is the system itself tends to be punitive. You quickly enter in all of your choices so as to *not* get extra attacks on you from taking too long. About the only real advantage they had was allowing spells like Haste to improve the speed at which you acted without having to give you double turns, so you could have something like +50% speed or something, which wasn’t really possible in older turn-based RPGs but is now available in modern RPGs that use Action Points like Wastelands 2 and Divinity: Original Sin 1&2.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        XCOM: Chimera Squad has another system better than active-time battles; Enemies and your guys all go in order, on a continuous timeline, but it’s all still turn-based. Faster enemies go first, and more often, but you don’t need fast reflexes for the guys you’re controlling to have fast reflexes. :)

        1. Syal says:

          And speed-based turn-based has been around since at least Tactics Ogre back in 1995.

          I suppose one advantage of ATB was being able to switch between party members with full gauges if you really wanted a slower character to act first; not sure how many turn-based games let you stall a character’s turn without losing it. And making running less pass/fail, with holding the buttons taking time but not turns.

      2. tmtvl says:

        I like Grandia 2’s system where the global ATB (wwhich your party members and the enemies move along at a rate depending on their speed) pauses when selecting an action or during special attacks. It also allows you to delay an enemy’s action by attacking it.

  13. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I was very surprised when playing Borderlands 3, I did NOT have the same experience as Shamus, and recommend the game strongly. Yeah the Calypsos are a total wash, and the game’s story is meh, but they still tie a lot of lose ends from the other games nicely. The gameplay feels very good, it’s Borderlands 2 with more powers, less friction (for example you have a lot more fast travel, a lot more mobility…). The bullet sponges problems only start around 4 mayhem levels I’d say. The two DLCs are excellent with good stories entirely detached from the Calypsos, and a lot of returning characters, for the example the wedding of Hammerlock has Gaige as the organizer, whom I missed a lot!
    There is also now a lot more legendaries with special effects that create interesting synergies, kind of like Reaper of Souls.

  14. Sean says:

    I’m kind of surprised our hosts don’t read that much, though to be fair neither did I until a few years ago, after getting gifted some audiobooks; I found I was able to pay attention to that format so much better than text, and since then I have had a voracious appetite. Having seen some of the ideas explored out there, most game and TV portrayals of sci-fi feel more like just an aesthetic than a real use of the genre.

    An entertaining, fairly light entry that I suspect Shamus might quite enjoy: “We Are Legion (We Are Bob)”, first part of a trilogy technically but it works fine standalone. It dabbles with AI rights, self-identity, Von Neumann probes, and human settlement of the stars, from the perspective of a very contemporary and jocular software engineer.

  15. John says:

    But that made me think – how far you can go with altering historical events in a video games?

    It all depends on the game. If you aren’t shackled by the demands of narrative, you can go as far as you like. Half the joy of a game like Crusader Kings II is trying to achieve implausible and ahistorical outcomes. If you are shackled by the demands of narrative, then it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish with that narrative. If you’re trying to teach the player about actual historical events, then you need to stick to those events pretty closely. If you’re trying to teach the player about what it was like to live at some particular moment of history and, as Shamus notes, you aren’t overly concerned with sequels, then getting the setting right is more important than sticking to the timeline. If it’s plausible that the player could change history then let the player change history. Your game will be the better for it and the player will appreciate that he’s not being railroaded.

  16. Kathryn says:

    Not only do I take notes during games, I create filtered, color-coded spreadsheets of the activities. I’m a completionist, and I like to complete the game tasks in the most efficient order possible. For FF12, for example, there was no way I was spending any more time in the Great Crystal than I had to, so I listed out all the tasks that required me to go back there and completed them all (including Omega Mark XII) on one big trip. I had tables for the hunts, the Espers, the sidequests, etc. For FFXIII, when I was working on the cheevo for having held one of every accessory and weapon in the game, I had a list of the accessories and weapons themselves, plus the components I needed to make them (as appropriate) and the stock I had of said component. For FFX, I’ve got a spreadsheet of all the monsters you need to capture for the zoo, plus lists of all the optional bosses, everything needed for the ultimate weapons, etc. (Not that I actually *got* all of those things…I stink at blitzball and could not win that %&$*%# chocobo race, so Tidus and Wakka are SOL.) And so on.

    (For FFVI, I created a spreadsheet listing all the Espers, the spells which they taught, and the rates at which they taught those spells, so that I could devise the most efficient path to teach every character every spell. I, um, I might have just a *touch* of obsessive compulsive personality disorder.)

    1. Chad Miller says:

      For FFXII I had spreadsheets for the Bazaar system and a hand-drawn map for that Great Crystal. Crazy how the map just arbitrarily doesn’t work there. =x

      1. Kathryn says:

        I can’t believe I forgot about the bazaar – I definitely had spreadsheets for that. The worst part was how you had to trudge around with crap in your inventory until you got to the point where it was safe to sell everything you were holding (because the bazaar had that “feature” where it would zero out your count of a widget once you’d bought one of the things made with it).

        I used someone else’s hand-drawn map for the Great Crystal. Haha.

    2. tmtvl says:

      I remember when I wanted to 100% FFVIII, reached the endgame, noticed I was missing some cards, had no idea where they were, had nothing about them in my notes, and I was confused.
      A few months later I bit the bullet and looked up a guide. Turns out you need to lose specific cards to specific people to get them to use their special cards.

      Same thing with Castlevania: SotN, where there’s a rock with a path through it which opens a door if you go through in one direction in wolf form, followed by going through in bat form. None of my notes or maps had helped me with that.

  17. GoStu says:

    Hey, thanks for taking my question!

    I realized a little after the fact that the way I phrased the question (“… is there any you wish would disappear”) is rather mean-spirited. The ‘Popular Thing I Don’t Like’ is still making others happy and it’d be a dick move on my part to wish for that to go away just because *I* don’t like it. What came to mind was the time where XCom got a shitty third-person shooter made – third-person-shooters were quite popular at the time but it felt like a terrible waste of money, developer talent, and IP.

    Still, great answer with “bandwagon-chasing battle-royale modes tacked onto games that didn’t have them, just because Fortnite makes enough money to carry a whole studio”; that’s more representative of the thing I was thinking.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Two third person shooters. There was The Bureau, and before that was the X-COM: Enforcer. Unless one of them is classified differently because genres are nonsense.

      I found the question interesting in that a lot of genres came back with the indies, I don’t keep up with RTSes a lot though I think I’ve noticed a few in the wild but while it has died down a bit by now the point and click adventure definitely has seen a real revival a few years ago.

  18. Retsam says:

    I’m curious why Terry Pratchett why Shamus and Paul say that they think of Terry Pratchett being on the boundary between fantasy and sci-fi. I’ve read about 10 Discworld books (A lot of the guards books, Monstrous Regiment, Small Gods, the Moist von Lipwig books), and they’ve all felt squarely in the “fantasy” genre without anything I’d describe as sci-fi.

    Is this just because of the specific books I’ve read, are there more “sci-fi” Discworld books that I haven’t read, or do we just have rather different views of what the boundary of fantasy and sci-fi looks like?

    1. Geebs says:

      I think it’s because Pratchett’s writing style was rather reminiscent of Douglas Adams. Who also wasn’t sci-fi, really.

      1. Lino says:

        Exactly. Also, one of Pratchett’s goals as a writer was to prove that sci-fi wasn’t the only genre where you could explore complex and meaningful topics.

        That, and to write books that said something meaningful, and were funny at the same time.

    2. Hector says:

      Although Shamus didn’t mention it, Pratchett’s second book was called Strata. It is more or less hard sci-fi, not comedy, and not set on the Disc, but it’s set on a disk-world.

    3. jpuroila says:

      Now that I think about it, some of the later books tackle themes like “How would technology develop in this crazy alternative world?” which does make them a bit scifi-y.

      Trying to categorize Discworld books as a whole gets a bit tricky. The first books were fairly straightforward parody of contemporary fantasy(Cohen the barbarian, Carrot as the chosen one, etc.) but the series kept evolving.

    4. tmtvl says:

      The Unseen University tends to skirt around sci-fi (any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology). Just don’t let the ants out of Hex.

  19. Raion says:

    Hello Shamus, and people of the cast Die,
    nothing relevant to the podcast or discussion here, I just wanted to raise awareness of the youtuber Tantacrul.
    No, I’m not a spambot, hear me out:
    he is a software designer and composer, and on his channel he has a series of increasingly lengthful (lengthier? longer? longer, probably) videos criticizing the interface design and functionality of music notation software in a humorous fashion.
    I figure Shamus, and the kind of people who enjoy his complaining about software frustrations, would find it amusing.
    He doesn’t have a playlist dedicated to just those, but search for “music software” within his channel, and the 4 relevant videos will float up, the chronological order being Reason, Sibelius, MuseScore and Dorico.
    Incidentally, doesn’t youtube channel interface suck majorly. Ah well.
    Hope you guys get a kick, I certainly did, and I don’t even care about notation software.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The interface in YouTube could be much improved with relatively little effort. Just move some things around, so there’s less different sub-menus, areas of the view to interact with, and less things crammed on top or below, so that it’s easier to get around. For example – on mobile, or when you’ve got your window pinned to the left or right half of your screen, comments are all the way at the bottom of the what-videos-are-up-next list-thing, so you have to scroll through them before you can comment. The video description, comments, and next-videos-list could all be tabs underneath the video, which would save all of the endless scrolling to get from one of those things to the other. There’s other simple stuff around…playlists and searching I think, but I can’t remember right now. :)

    2. Philadelphus says:

      Ha! Ok, I got a kick out of his review of Sibelius. That was pretty funny.

      I found it especially interesting as back in February I started teaching myself LilyPond, which is like LaTeX but for music—you ­write a text file which the interpreter then compiles into a music score and/or a MIDI file for you. So it’s kinda like programming music, and as a programmer by trade I’ve found it fun to play around with. I’m just putting the finishing touches on my 16-instrument orchestration of Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith, which has been quite the learning experience for something with only a tiny amount of patchy musical education!

  20. Kowh says:

    For Youtube I’ve had the best luck with https://www.youtube.com/feed/subscriptions rather than the main page. The main page has been hot garbage (as you put it) for years if you want to follow specific channels.

    PS Shamus: Your pronunciation was spot on.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I just bookmark all the people I care about. It’s like, less than thirty channels that I actually have the time or desire to watch frequently. ^^;

  21. Lino says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention – even though I was most interested in the space-plot, I actually really liked the dogs in Fire Upon the Deep. Maybe it was because I found the entire book mindblowing, and I gobbled everything the author threw at me.

    But it also had a lot to do with the fact that the dang things were just so interesting!

    Also, adding to sci-fi books that left a big impression on me – Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. If you have even a passing interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Eastern philosophy, then I strongly recommend it!

    Another series I really really like is Chung Kuo by David Wingrove. It’s basically a cyberpunk future where the world is ruled by China. It’s got a huuuge scope – I’ve only read the first 4 or so books, but it’s really good fir anyone interested in Chinese culture. There are many parallels with Chinese history and classic Chinese literature, presented in an easily digestible way. Still, it gets pretty dark at times, and I wouldn’t classify it as “light reading”.

    I’d add Asimov to the list as well, but this post is already long enough, and I think Asimov is an author who goes without saying.

    1. Gautsu says:

      Anything by Zelazny IMO. The man was amazing

  22. Gautsu says:

    Hey guys, thanks for taking my question (this is Chris of the BL3 question since my internet nom de plume doesn’t match my email). Sorry to hear that the story didn’t tick anything for you; this is the first BL game (besides Tales) where I actually feel like I know MY vault hunter. I can definitely see how the main story could be hit or miss (I guess just like every Borserlands game seems to be amongst your readers). My question came up because I chose my character based upon what (used to be at least) the conception that he was the weakest of the vault hunters, in Zane. To be honest, I feel like a god when playing, in a way that I never dis in BL 1,2, or the Pre-Sequel. I enjoy the increased focus on movement during combat and it feels more frenetic and kinetic to me. At the same time the oranges I have been lotting feel more powerful than what your initial posts (and many of the responses your readers gave as well) seemes to be. I have no doubt that many balance passes have been done (at least 2 have happened since the game released on Steam with the release of the 2nd DLC and the current Rise of the Cartels event going on).

    For science fiction, I really enjoyed Simon Morden’s Petrovich Trilogy (Equations of Life, Theories of Flight, and Degrees of Freedom, although I might have them out of order since I loaned my copies to a buddy). A mathematician’s post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk tale set in London, they were fun and able to mix serious sci-fi with some humor and over the top type of shenanigans.

    Piers Anthony gets overlooked a lot, for his cutesy humor and sex laced stuff (I.e. most of Xanth) but he had some interesting to great stuff earlier in his career. If you can overlook the sex(-isms and -ists as well) the Battle Circle, Incarnations of Immortality, and 1st Apprentice Adept had some cool things in them. I am really shocked that no one has tried to crib The GAME from Proton in some way.

    If you don’t mind some fantasy in your science fiction, then I whole heartedly recommend C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t read it, but the basic premise is that thousands of years in the future on of Earth’s colony ships lands on a Planet named Erna. Erna has a pretty unstable tectonic system and also a naturally occuring force called the fae. Their are different types, but the basic gist is that this force interreacts with your subconscious- feel afraid of the dark, and it will begin manifesting real creations from your subconscious. Thousands of years later mankind has adapted and sorceror can consciously manipulate the far, while the Church tries to use mass manipulation of belief to try to create a world more akin to old Earth. I found it to be a fascinating setup, but the characters, specifically Damien and Gerald are what set it so highly on my favorite lists.

    But hands down my favorite science fiction series of recent years has to be Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Cycle (no longer a trilogy since he has kept writing them). I will say this: they are definitely not for everyone, parts are very grimdark, but OMG he can take a scene and dial it up to 11. When I consider how to do a great sequel in a series I used to point to Jim Butcher’s Changes as an almost perfect example; Brown’s Golden Son and Morning Star both outdo Changes and then their predecessor as well. Iron Gold is a slight step back as it has to reestablish the new status quo, but I really enjoyed Dark Age that followed (although it is definitely the most dark book in the series so far)

  23. Echo Tango says:

    “One of my earliest memories is the first time I ever played a video game at a neighbour’s house.” That’s funny, that’s one of my first memories, although for me it was Pong.

    Some of us would consider Pong to also be a video-game. :S

  24. tmtvl says:

    I don’t mind replaying good games, that’s what they’re there for.
    Ultima Underworld 2, Chrono Trigger, and Terranigma simply don’t have any equal in the modern video game industry.
    In fact, as modern AAA games get ever worse I feel ever less inclined to waste money on that dreck and ever more inclined to just replay the golden classics.

  25. Lars says:

    Book 2 Video Game: I take the “easy” aproach and choose comic 2 game. There are some who did that right. Batman Arkham, Spiderman: In Dire Need Of A Subtitle, Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Now I’m fantasising about a Girl Genius game with gameplay close to Battle Chasers, or as a LEGO game (the old ones without voice acting). That would be great.
    “Easy” because the world is already visualised and concept art is there. Just needs: All the rest …

  26. AndrewCC says:

    “if you took all 300 diecasts and stacked them up, then the resulting pile would be tall enough to fall over”
    See, I feel this is wrong. If podcasts were a physical object, I’d imagine them to be really flat, and disc shaped, similar to a vinyl record, but even more flat and larger. So you could stack them to at least 500 before they were in danger of toppling over.
    So please keep making the podcast until you get to 500 at least.

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