Gameological In StereoPodcast

Podcast Episode 4: Your Cheating Heart

Episode 4: Your Cheating Heart

Gameological In Stereo dares to bend the rules.

By John Teti • May 25, 2012

Last week, when I was editing our interview with Colbert Report writer Meredith Scardino, I had to look up Scardino’s favorite game, Scramble With Friends, as I’d never heard of it before. I learned that when you start to type the word “scramble” into Google, the second suggestion is “scramble with friends.” The top suggestion? “Scramble with friends cheat.” Cheating is a measure of last resort for some, and a measure of first resort for others. It’s the topic of the day on this week’s episode of the podcast.

I’m joined by Drew Toal, who recently participated in a Scrabble For Cheaters tournament—you may have read about it here on the site. Russ Fischer also makes his debut on the podcast, as we discuss the disjointed vision of Max Payne 3 (pictured above), the temptations of GameFAQs.com, and the old Nintendo tip hotline. Plus, after wowing the world with her review of Mystic Ice Blast on the previous installment of the podcast, my own mom is back to talk about Bejeweled Blitz. And it turns out that she is disturbingly well-prepared for the day’s cheating theme.

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1,889 Responses to “Episode 4: Your Cheating Heart”

  1. HobbesMkii says:

    Boy, this was a rich one.

    On the cheating front, I have to say that while I’m a very passionate RTS player, but I cheat all the time at those. And it boils down to one reason: I’m absolutely terrible at resource management. Plus, it seems like in those games that they make the computer more difficult by allowing it to cheat.

    I also “cheat” at Solitaire. I do the draw three “Vegas” style game, and there’s an option to hit undo (there’s also a hint key), but worse, you can chain undos, to the point where you can start the game over.

    The reason I feel uncomfortable when gaming execs talk about making their games more cinematic is that I feel like they’re limiting their game’s potential by saying that. There’s so much more to it than just telling a movie’s story or making it feel like a film (and I love movies a lot). Because you’re able to sit in a protagonist’s world in a far more involved way than when you watch a movie.

    Based on the reviews, it sounds a lot like Max Payne 3 is one of those tonal shifts in any IP when the creator moves on (The West Wing leaps to mind, or the Alien series of films and its four directors.

    • ShrikeTheAvatar says:

      This is the fairly obvious answer, but Shadow of the Colossus is a great example of a game that feels cinematic without having extensive cutscenes (or even dialogue).  

      It’s more about scale and atmosphere sometimes..

      • HobbesMkii says:

         I feel like scale’s something cinematic that videogames can use and have more impact with. With film, a sense of grandeur of one’s surroundings is often a manufactured trick (green screens or careful angles). But for the purpose of the a videogame, a massive area is actually a massive area. There’s no trick. The mesas of say, Borderlands, are more real to me than those you would see in any movie.

      • caspiancomic says:

         Yeah, I feel like when people in the games circles talk about games being “cinematic” it represents a misunderstanding of not just games, but cinema. Whether “cinematic” is used to mean an abundance of cutscenes, or non-interactive setpieces, or whatever, it’s a pretty reductive view of movies and it misses the point of games anyway. When something super “cool” happens in your field of vision in a game that you didn’t cause, and that will have almost no bearing on how the game is played, that’s not “cinematic”, not really. Funnily enough, when movies come out featuring the sorts of carnage game developers refer to as being “cinematic”, the movie critics tend to disparagingly call them “videogames.”

        Shadow of the Colossus is a great example of a game the captures the scope and atmosphere that could be called “cinematic”… but for which we really ought to have a better word. The combat in particular looks and feels and plays great, and that’s because of a lot of factors: the music, the great controls, the sound design, etc etc. The reason they feel so “cinematic” (for lack of a better term) is because they’re designed so perfectly for the player. Nothing is there that doesn’t need to be, there’s nothing missing that should be present, there are no indulgent details or setpieces that occur outside the player’s control, everything that happens in the battles is either caused by the player or was implemented by the designers for the player’s benefit. No fluff, no buildings blowing up for no reason just because it was in the budget, no helicopters being shot out of the air just so the player has something to look at while he or she ought to be actually doing something. Just pure gaming.

        • TaumpyTearrs says:

          “Cinematic” is definitely misused. For example, in Battlefield 3’s single-player there are scripted “cinematic” moments where you watch buildings crumle, vehicles crash, etc.

          But in the multi-player, the players and the game create “cinematic” moments on the fly. Watching a scripted building collapse into a helicopter over and over is boring, but shooting down a chopper that crashes a foot in front of you as you run for your life is incredible.

          “Cinematic” to often means “watch this cool thing”, when it should really be “you just did something so cool it should be in an action movie.”

      • Merve says:

        @caspiancomic:disqus: I think it’s important, though, not to write off those kinds of so-called “cinematic” flourishes entirely. Directing the player’s eye towards an impressive setpiece for a few seconds is a great way show something off or tell a piece of the story without wresting control from the player completely. Plus, if deployed correctly, it can provide a nice break in the gameplay, and breaks are essential for pacing.

        Obviously, if a game is basically “setpiece, walk five seconds, cutscene, walk five seconds, setpiece,” then that’s a problem. But I’m fine with the occasional exploding helicopter. “Cinematic” flourishes are just another tool in a developer’s toolbox, and like most tools, they’re best used in moderation.

        • caspiancomic says:

          You’re absolutely correct, of course, and on review my own comment delivers a kind of cynicism that doesn’t accurately represent my true feelings on the matter. Plenty of games use great setpieces to great effect, and like you said, they’re almost always a superior choice to pure cutscenes (although as a JRPG fan, I’m also not wholly opposed to cutscenes personally, I just recognize that they represent an imperfect use of the medium) in terms of delivering information to the player, world building, teaching a player about an incoming risk before it arrives in full force, etc. I mainly take umbrage with the spate of modern, mostly FPS titles in which players move through corridors and rooms in order to stand in front of interesting stuff that is happening in the background, as opposed to being given an opportunity to participate in interesting stuff themselves.

          Heck, even my beloved arthouse-goon favourite, Journey, employs cutscenes between levels and is sprinkled with setpieces. It mainly manages to pull them off without inspiring ire or boredom because the game’s non-interactive moments are all to deliver information to the player, not to stroke the ego of the developer. Off the top of my head, the opening sequences to the Arkham (Whatever) games are a good example of setpieces being done right. These intro sections are technically playable, but the focus is on all the world building and information delivering going on around the player, and they work really well because it doesn’t feel like pointless and distracting attempts to pad out the game’s length or sucker a 14 year old into telling his friends how totally pwnage they are or however the hell kids talk these days.

    • Merve says:

      I’m all for some games trying to go for a feeling of playing through a movie, but I don’t think it’s just about making flashy cutscenes or setpieces. The little stuff matters too. One trick that I’ve noticed a lot games using is that they have the characters talking or bantering even when you’re in control of your character. (Mass Effect 3 does this especially well.) It helps give the feeling that you’re playing through a movie instead of alternately watching a movie and playing through the shooty bits. When the shooty bits and the movie bits don’t mesh well, you get the problem that Russ and John talked about in the podcast.

      • HobbesMkii says:

         BioWare’s pretty good about the background chatter. In Dragon Age 2 the companion characters are always talking to each other about events that have just taken place. And if you put Isabella in the party you get what are, for videogames, pretty frank and forward discussions about sex.

  2. ShrikeTheAvatar says:

    Your mom is pretty hilarious.  I especially like hearing you laugh at her in that family way… so great.

    “TIME UP!”

  3. Raging Bear says:

    “Up, Up And Away” is still stuck in your head from a few weeks ago, isn’t it?

  4. GBoxW says:

    Just another plug for anybody on Max Payne 3 to join the Gameological crew at http://socialclub.rockstargames.com/crew/gameological_crew.  We’re still trying to sync up some playtime, but if nothing else, help us rep the crew.

  5. Jeff Bandy says:

    I’d like to start the Bonney Teti fan club. My cat makes those exact same noises!