Gameological In StereoPodcast

Assassin's Creed III

Episode 9: The Two Refrigerators Theory

Scott Jones tells us why over-designed games are like a house with an extra fridge.

By John Teti • November 21, 2012

Gameological In Stereo has been neglected for far too long, but our irregularly scheduled podcast is back today with one of my favorite hours yet.

Scott Jones joins me to talk about the “two refrigerator” theory of game design that he picked up from one of his buddies in the Vancouver development community. Then the internet’s favorite game-reviewing mom, Bonney Teti, offers another Bejeweled update and reviews another Facebook game that has been occupying her time lately, Typing Maniac. And then Eurogamer’s Ellie Gibson returns to report on a lame-sounding but amazingly popular British competition game. Also, we bicker over Letterpress.

Don’t miss a single episode of Gameological In Stereo: Add the podcast-only feed to your RSS reader, or your podcast app, or what have you. You can also subscribe on iTunes.

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  • George_Liquor

    Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Big thanks to the Gameological staff for slapping together such a kickass website!

    • Fluka

      *Helps parents lug white wine bottles and pumpkin pie…from the second refrigerator in the basement.*

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Thanks to you and to all the other Gameological regulars! I am grateful for you all every day, no lie. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  • His_Space_Holiness

    Mmmm… multiple refrigerators…

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    Hey, before everyone slips into a tryptophan (of tryptofun, in my case)  coma tomorrow, here’s a cool thing:

    Humble Bundle and Double Fine are doing a collab where you can view and vote on their Amnesia Fortnight projects. Contributing to the Bundle gives you:
    -the prototypes for Once Upon a Monster, Costume Quest, and an unreleased DF game
    -the opportunity to vote on which Amnesia Fortnight proposals will get made (some of the concepts are kind of AMAZING)
    -the chance to download those prototypes once they are made

    • Sleverin

       Oh man, wicked find!  Thanks a bunch for linking that, these projects sound pretty interesting!  Kaiju Piledriver, The White Birch, and Black Lake all sound really cool as does Hack ‘n’ Slash.  Black Lake and White Birch will be my top watched choices, personally, those both sound interesting and I love a game with a good, well-crafted atmosphere.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      more like Trip-to-fUN! HAHA, RIGHT GUYS?! YEAHHHH

  • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

    I do not understand you guys at all.  The “second fringe” theory makes sense to me. Why throw away extra stuff? When I pay 60 bucks for a game it isn’t a bad thing that it has MORE content. If you don’t want an extra fridge, just ignore. How the heck would you look complaining to the real estate guy about getting more for your money?

    Video games don’t need editors the way movies do. You aren’t FORCED to see everything in a movie. It is a choice you make. I can’t complain about Connor spending 5 hours wondering the woods hunting rabbits and fixing up the Homested when they are Templars to kill, because I’m controlling the pace of the story.

    When I played Red Dead Redemption I skipped all the extra stuff and finished the story straight out. Afterwards, there was a bunch of optional stuff, some of which interested me, some didn’t. That doesn’t take away from anything. Sometimes it is just fun to have extra things to do in the open world.

    The same goes for AC3 that has a bunch of bonuses on top of the core game. I’m not saying it is perfect, and not padded in some areas. I still hate the present day storyline and the Haytham Kenway arc and the begining is a waste of time.

    But I can’t take you seriously, for complaining about the game having sidequests. Especially when they are irrelevant to the story experience. Have you played Skyrim?

    • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

      I agree AC games are overstuffed, and I play them anyways (don’t always finish them, though).

      But am I the only one who LOVES AC multiplayer??  It’s so different from the millions of shooters/horde mode MP games out there…  Like Rock-Paper-Scissors with sneakiness and knives.

      • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

        When I first tried it in Brotherhood, I thought the multiplayer in an AC game would be pointless. But instead it turned out to be really good, and a breath of fresh air in an era of HALO/COD clones. And the core game was just as good, if not better than before.

        But alas, Dishonored has to be better because it DOESN’T have a multiplayer mode right?

        This sarcasm came directly from the guy that laughes in the face of the pointless multiplayer in games like Bioshock and Spec-Ops The Line. Yet loved the shit out of the co-op and spied vs mercs modes in Splinter Cells.
        Even though they OBVIOUSLY took time an attention away from the precious single player which remained exactly the same as it was before Ubisoft put the extra modes in there at all.

        • Scurvyhead

          Part of me enjoyed their assessment of Dishonored’s lack of multiplayer– it is nice to see devs buck a trend in order to pursue their goals more fully.

          On the other hand, it also came off as some curmudgeonly snickering.

        • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

          @Scurvyhead:disqus 

          I love Dishonored. But it isn’t a better game for not having multiplayer. And since the single player stands on it own. That means a good multiplayer mode would haved added to the game, and a bad one would be something I ignored. That’s in a vaccum though.

          But since I’d argue Splinter Cell Chaos Theory is just as good or a better game than Dishonored (sans multiplayer even) the argument that multiplayer inherently deprives games of focus is just seems flawed in my eyes. Some game devs just suck.

        • sirslud

          You know co-op and spies vs mercs is coming back right?

    • Citric

      The problem with pointless extra stuff is that instead of honing in on certain aspects and polishing them, you’ve got people off doing their own little projects and corners of gameplay, and you get this sprawling world where you can do everything, but you can’t do anything well.

      I think the best example of this is GTAIV. You had so much stuff! An infinite number of refrigerators! But the combat sucked, cars handled poorly, missions were tedious and sometimes scripted so precisely that it didn’t feel like you were playing a game, it kept trying to get you to play stupid darts and pool games that were simply not fun, they had these TV shows that missed the point of an interactive medium, and the game overall just was a mess and, personally, not very fun.

      Time is finite, and when you stuff a game with too much pointless detritus, there’s usually not enough time to get everything else polished, or to make something which is an elegant and coherent whole.

      • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

        You are really wrong on GTA4 the open world is fleshed out and teaming with life (I LIKED messing around on the fake internet, radio statios and TV). The story and writing were amazing. And the driving and gunplay worked well for that type of game. Especially when you compare it other games in that same genre.

        I never felt for a second that because GTA4 had team deathmatch that it was any less of an open world game. It’s just a game with a bigger budget behind it than Mirror’s Edge or the 2008 Prince of Persia.

        I really don’t know get you guys here. Is LA Noire better because it had less content? How did this “focus” make it a better game than Red Dead Redemption? Because they played about the same to me? One game simply made the artistic choice to force me to advance, while the other gave me a sandbox and extras.

        Was the Orange Box less of a game because they gave you Portal and Team Fortress. Did the two player mode of Portal 2 ruin what was already a great game with an extra component you could ignore?

        Would you rather games all be short and linear and still cost 60 bucks a pop?

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          I wouldn’t say the entire Gameological Society agrees with the Two Fridge theory from the Podcast.  Here’s my two cents:

          I think a nice, tight game with sweet mechanics and a well-paced narrative deserves high praise and titles like this tend to stand above larger games in my personal pantheon of favorites.  Portal 1?  Brilliant example. 

          But lately I’ve been getting back into open-world games (starting with Sleeping Dogs, actually), and when the mechanics of the sandbox are fun, I want a reason to fuck around in that world as much as possible.  Saints Row 3 was 90% jokes and busywork and I’ve put nearly as many hours into it as I have loftier fare like Skyrim or Civilization.  Prototype 2 was a 100% lame-brain knuckle-dragger but killing things by hurling razor-tentacles was a treat and if they wanted to give me more busywork to let me do so, I would be happy to put another 5 hours into it.

          I don’t think adding in everything-but-the-kitchen sink has really helped Assassin’s Creed (I couldn’t even finish ACR), but do we really want to go back to the beautiful, detailed world of AC1 with nothing to do but collect feathers and finish the story?  Faffing-about on rooftops whispering “good night, sweet prince” while executing guards is as good or better than doing story missions, so give me more opportunities to do it!

          There has to be a middle ground, people!  Sometimes an open-world game is allowed to be overstuffed.

        • Citric

          I don’t think you want to understand what I’m trying to say.

          I never said that GTA4 wasn’t an open world game, I said it wasn’t a focused game, and that lack of focus made it worse. There was a ton of stuff going on, but many of the core mechanics were, at best, unpolished. If the time and money spent implementing the crappy dating game subplots and activities was directed towards polishing the combat or making the cars handle better, the game would have been more fun, plain and simple. There was extra content that didn’t add to the experience, it existed for the purpose of adding content. When that additional content is crap, it’s just like finding a cat turd in your sandbox.

          More stuff doesn’t make something better, it just makes more of it.

        • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

          @twitter-495079299:disqus 

          Agreed for the most part

          I don’t know about you but I played Portal as a bonus game added to Half-Life 2 though the Orange Box. It also had a bunch of additional challenge maps, and a sequel that added multiplayer and the ability to make your own puzzles along with the core game.

          The original Portal did release seperately at one point, but for 20 bucks.

          I finished ACR faster than I did AC3. There was a greater pull for me to finish the story of the Ezio games as fast as I could. But afterwards I had no motivation to go back and hunt down all the extra stuff.

          I beat AC3 with only a 35% completion rank. I stat I would not believe if it wasn’t for the all the sidequests I told myself I’d “get to later” on my quest to kill Charles Lee.

          I’m glad there is extra stuff for me to mess around with. But if it were not for the George Washington DLC, there is no way I would still be playing this game next year.
          ————–

          Also you know what game NEEDED this much content? Fable.

          Remember how the game was supposed to emcompass your character’s entire life but it’s all over in a week and a half?  You’ve already seen your 10 year-old hero morph into an old man after doing 25 or so quests? If Ubisoft was on that it would have been the epic thing it was supposed to be.

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          Dammit @facebook-537496384:disqus , I was only two missions into AC3. :P  Now I know not to trust that bumbling Charles Lee!

          You playing AC3 on PC by any chance?  All my usual Creed-buds are on PS3 but I went for the deluxe PC version cuz I was hoping the graphics would be great on my souped-up PC. (they’re not)Agreed on Fable, too.  There was fun combat and good-world building and there was really nothing to do except collect beard cards (sigh) and finish the story.

    • Mike_From_Chicago

      There are a few issues here: First, open world games always involve a conflict between the need to advance a plot and the need to flesh out the world.  Bethesda is fairly skillful at world-building, so many of the quests in Skyrim feel unique (they involve interactions with NPCs or mythos that the main quest avoids and add a sense of depth).  Something like AC2 or ACB has you rehash activities from the main quest by assassinating NPCs or collecting items.  That can be fun, but it can also become repetitive. 

      That repetition is the other big issue.  If you have a solid core mechanic, it’s not a problem – ie, killing lots of people in AC2 is fun, combat in Skyrim is fun.  A friend of mine has proposed that video games are all about problem solving using in-game logic, and the fun of the game depends on how well that logic works (for example, mixing stealth and combat in AC2 or melee/magic in Skyrim).  When that logic breaks down, the repetition stops being enjoyable – and I do think GTA4 is a good example.  There was no depth to many of the side activities, and while I liked the central shooter/driver mechanics, and I appreciate that the other activities existed, they weren’t particularly fun or memorable, and in the case of the girlfriends/friend constantly calling you on your cell phone, they were actively annoying.

      Basically, the big question is whether more activities make a game more immersive, and it really depends on how well they work.  That’s partially a matter of opinion, but I do think that some games would benefit from tightening up.

  • Electric Dragon

    It’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s a normal working Thursday for me. But working from home, so I can listen to GiS as well. And the GiS theme music is just the most uplifting thing ever.

    I would like to echo Ellie’s love of Bake Off, although I think she does Paul Hollywood a disservice by comparing him to Simon Cowell. He’s never nasty like Cowell is, but does have high standards and will tell a contestant exactly what they’ve done wrong. I have a horrible feeling that an American version will manage to miss out all the things that make it good – there’s a great sense of camaraderie between the contestants (Ellie mentioned the incident where one guy suffered an unfortunate hand/mixer interface scenario – fortunately one of the other contestants is an intensive care consultant), and the hosts are very supportive when things go wrong.

    Have a great holiday, those of you who have one!

  • Scurvyhead

    This is my favorite kind of interview. Two self-satisfied dudes who agree with each other, building off each others’ riffs without having to defend or explain their ideas in any detail.

    That was a lie

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    As soon as my girlfriend heard the word “kangaruby” she spit out her drink and started laughing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Django-Zeaman/782182159 Django Zeaman

    Good theory. I’ll remember that one.

  • HL112

    I was so excited for pray 2 :(

  • Dwigt

    The issue in ACIII is less about having two fridges than having a fridge shown to you, then ten hours after you’re into the game, somebody name drops a second fridge in the middle of a sentence. You find it located in some back room, and it requires you to go outside, turn around the house, use some rusted key to find a second fridge full of unlabeled food and drinks that are actually ingredients that are supposed to work with your main fridge.

    In that situation, I’m not angry that there was a second fridge. I just find that the guy who put it in the house and the architect are complete idiots.

    ACII and Brotherhood found a middle ground between main and side missions. Revelations had this awful bomb ingredient system or the tower defense that was an obvious add-on by another studio and didn’t blend that well with the main game. ACIII has a much extraneous futile stuff as Revelations, but I tend to be even less merciful towards it because there are many more bugs in ACIII. There’s a good reason for which a main quest is a main quest: the developers are supposed to give it an extra effort.

  • Penis Van Lesbian

    Just started playing RDR this w/e… and I’m pretty much with SJ. I’m too old for this shit. (looks beautiful though).

  • ted_k

    I’d just like to say that I like this podcast very much, and I wish it came out more regularly. That is all.

  • MSUSteve

    SO glad to hear the podcast come back, and with all of my favorite contributors, no less!

  • KevinSorbo

    When John Teti said, “They needed a colonial Rod Roddy saying, ‘A NEW BOAT!’ ” I busted up laughing so hard, LOL.

  • Any

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