What Are You Playing This Weekend?

Thomas Middleditch

Thomas Middleditch, comedian

The Shakespearean improviser laments the overwhelming vastness of open worlds.

By Steve Heisler • January 11, 2013

In What Are You Playing This Weekend? we discuss gaming and such with prominent figures in the pop-culture arena. We always start with the same question.

Thomas Middleditch is a comedian who has appeared on Comedy Central’s Mash Up and is a staple with the touring improv geniuses The Improvised Shakespeare Company. He also runs a games-centric blog, n3rdlyfe.com. He spoke to The Gameological Society about why role-playing will always be a part of his life.

The Gameological Society: What are you playing this weekend?

Thomas Middleditch: I finally broke down and started playing Far Cry 3. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty slick. Big games nowadays impress me less and less with each passing year. It’s like the difference between watching a small movie like Brick or Little Children, and the new Bourne movie—it’s awesome, but it’s just different.

Gameological: Is there a trend that you’ve noticed with the big studio games?

Middleditch: The best analogy I can make is the movie one. You go to see a big blockbuster, and you’re like, “That was fun.” You’re not leaving that moving saying, “Wow, I was emotionally affected, but man, there were some sequences that were really exciting, suspenseful even.” There were some cheesy moments that you might have even rolled your eyes at. You were never really caught off-guard by the plot or what actually happened.

Conversely, the other game I’m playing is called War Of The Roses for PC. It’s by no means an in-depth story game. All it is is a multiplayer-only, medieval melee game literally set in the War Of The Roses. You get points to get gold and buy new weapons and armor and stuff. It’s kind of like Mount And Blade. You get to a point where you’re just playing one game, you end a round online, and you’re first, the number-one-ranked player in the match, and you’re like, “Oh my God! I’m getting good!” It’s both awesome and bad at the same time.

Gameological: How important is story in a game to you?

Middleditch: It really depends what type of game it is. For example, I play a lot of flight simulators and stuff. I don’t need a story. There are some of them that have some kind of campaign where essentially you have a pilot career and you do battle and you progress in the world.

Story is—it just really depends on the game. A great example: A game like Braid. Incredible story and by the end you’re done. The first BioShock. Oh man, what a satisfying story that was. Here’s an interesting problem that some games are having, especially open world games. The main story in, say, Skyrim is pretty cool. You go and you play it. It’s very standard high fantasy stuff. It’s interesting and engaging, but some of the other stuff just takes away from it. I actually found that Skyrim, for me, is too vast. I’m 60 hours in, and I’m like, “I’m not half way done with the fucking game! What am I going to do?”

In Far Cry 3, the main story is pretty cool, and the voice acting and the motion-capture acting—the actors are great. If it were just that game, I think you could center in on it and make it a much more satisfying experience. That’s what games like Half-Life and Portal do. It’s not really an open-world game. You’re kind of on rails, but I think you get a better story that way.

Gameological: In Skyrim, the Mages’ Guild stuff was reduced significantly.

Middleditch: Yeah, it was really disappointing. What bugged me was, you got in and there’s a problem, obviously, with the Mage’s Guild, and everyone’s kind of suspicious of the one guy, and you meet the one guy, and he’s super-evil. He’s like, [in a cartoonish evil voice] “Ha, I’m bad. I’m a bad man.” He’s so obviously evil that I thought maybe if you uncovered the truth that he’d be a sort of Severus Snape kind of guy—he looks evil, but he’s actually doing good—but no. He’s just a bad guy.

Gameological: Do you play multiple games at once? And if so, how do you keep track of where you are?

Middleditch: Sometimes I do play multiple games, but the tangential game will be a game like War Of The Roses—an online-only thing where it’s like, “Ugh, I just need to hack and slash other humans.” Usually the tangential one will be some kind of multiplayer thing. Even if I’m in the mode where I’m consuming games at a rapid pace, I do like to complete one and move on to the next.

Gameological: Does your interest in games bleed over into your interests as a comedian?

Middleditch: Because I play so many video games and I’m involved in a lot of other nerdy stuff—I have a remote control helicopter, and I play a game like Dungeons & Dragons that’s called GURPS.

Gameological: It’s called what?

Middleditch: It’s called GURPSGeneric Universal Role-Playing System. [Laughs.] I don’t know if you’ve ever played it, but it’s a pen-and-paper role-playing game. You can buy a whole game and play in a certain world, but this is just a set of rules and you can apply these rules to any scenario.

I play all that stuff and naturally it’s going to influence my comedy stuff. It’s not as if it’s a secret thing. I have a blog about all these passions and I don’t write under any alias. I do like to keep some elements of my life segmented, but in no way am I shy about any of this stuff. I think it’s pretty important if you’re going to know me to know that I’m insane about this stuff. Some friends and I were talking about making an old point-and-click adventure game. That would be an interesting second dream of mine realized, to somehow make a video game.

And now, we put the question to you. Tell us what you’ve been playing lately, and which games—video or otherwise—are on your playlist for the weekend.

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40 Responses to “Thomas Middleditch, comedian”

  1. hcduvall says:

    That Far Cry 3 story…I just went through 3 “twists” and it just lost me. I wasn’t super into it, but I wasn’t hating it either. It has much better gameplay than 2, but the story is much less satisfying. It’s weird, because the characters clearly get commentary that works meta, but the makers opted no to go with satire or a tight story like Far Cry 2 (and all it owes to Heart of Darkness), but what feels like one cliche piled on another. Man, maybe it’s like a Verhoeven movie. Maybe the joke is on me…

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I hear ya… I just thought that FC3 is way too repetitive and in essence never feels like actual wilderness.. not that FC2 managed to do that any better.
      The issue is that the justifiably scared and incapable protagonist turns into Solid Snake within a few minutes and that sort of ruined it for me to begin with.
      Two insta-death crocodile attacks and several quicktime events later I had pretty much lost all motivation.

  2. PaganPoet says:

    I agree with him about some games being too vast. There is such a thing as having too many choices.

    As for me, I’ve finally started Mass Effect. Only about 10 hours in. Charlotte Shepard is a tough as nails, no nonsense badass who will stop at nothing to get the mission accomplished. By contrast, Carlos Shepard is an understanding hero who is always making sure his crew is happy. After all, a happy crew is a good crew. I’m doing my run first time through as Charlotte…maybe all three games? Then going through again as Charlotte. As for my crew, I tend to keep Garrus around, because he’s a badass, Tali, because I like her accent, and Kaidan, because he’s so so handsome and that’s a useful skill to have in battle.

    Those of you who don’t know, I play FemShep (Charlotte) as my Renegade and ManShep (Carlos) as my Paragon. I’ve already played through ME2 all the way as Carlos, but only partially through as Charlotte. Unfortunately two members of Carlos’s crew died in the last mission. Being a PS3 owner who held off on buying ME3, I was pretty excited when the Mass Effect Trilogy was announced. Figured it was a good chance to start the whole series afresh.


    Carlos has to have Kaidan around in Mass Effect 3 to romance and have awkward, hollow man-sex with, so I’m thinking Charlotte is going to send Kaidan on *that* mission so I can see how Ashley’s racist story continues on in the other two games.


    I’ve also been dicking around in Gravity Rush again, trying to get a Gold Ranking in all the replayable missions. I still don’t quite get the hang of the gravity slide, is it just me?

    Anyway, I really do hope this game gets a sequel. Yeah, the battle system is a bit off and frustrating, but with some tweaking it could turn into something truly outstanding. Is there anything better than hurtling Kat (and maybe a few innocent bystanders, mwahahaha!) across the city, hunting little purple gems?

  3. EmperorNortonI says:

    Not all that much, recently.  10 hour days at work are fun.

    I’ve been making progress on Borderlands 2.  We just got to flying Sanctuary, and a whole bunch of side-quests opened up.  Woot.

    At home, I’ve been playing Tropico 4.  On the one hand, it’s a well put together city builder with a reasonably thought out economy.  On the other hand, it’s SO aggressively stupid in its presentation.  Everywhere it doesn’t matter, they loaded on the racist stupidity.  Argh!  I can forgive that they overlooked the systematic imbalances in trade that kept Caribbean nations impoverished, and I can forgive the utter and complete disregard for the rapacious local elites who brutally exploited the laboring peasants.  But those silly caricatures?  That just kind of hurts.

    No time lately for PlanetSide 2, sadly.  Maybe soon.

  4. Effigy_Power says:

    Apparently I clocked over 40 of my 80 hours of Crusader Kings 2 in the last to weeks, so… I may have a problem. That said, half of North Africa drinks Guinness, so who are you to judge.

    I am trying to do good on my desire to want to shake things up a bit and stop shooting at stuff in games, because I am so bored with the game mechanics of it, as the people woefully listening to my tirades in the Steam chat can attest to. So obviously I’ll be putting hours into Unreal Tournament 3 pretty hard.
    Just kidding. I just got the technically weak, but possibility-rich Gothic 3, which I haven’t played in a while. I blame Sub.
    I was thinking that this game could really use a free-form Co-op mode a la DayZ which would make it amazing… alas, no such thing.
    I also want to get some more Civ 5 stuff going. I’d love to be able to play a longform game without bitch-slapping some uppity neighbor who thinks he can just steal my damn cities with his catapults and camels…
    Plenty to do in Sleeping Dogs still, but I must admit that now that I am through the story, the air is a bit out, despite this being an excellent game.

    I seriously have to get back to drawing. I have been slacking for a few weeks now since I did the GS-feature and I always have to make sure that that doesn’t extend to a month of regressing to stick figures and fart jokes.

    • djsubversive says:

       There apparently IS a Multiplayer Mod for Gothic 2: Night of the Raven, but not 3. And it looks like it’s “standard deathmatch, but set in the world of Gothic,” which is beyond dumb. I’m still investigating how hard it would be to mod co-op into it. A party of Nameless Ones, skinnin’ boars and pickin’ herbs… oh, and getting stun-locked by raptors.

      I ran into my first “Monster” enemy recently. they’re like small tyrannosauruseses. I stood on a cliff and shot them full of arrows while they roared uselessly below me. I’m a great hunter. :D

  5. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Of all the glass beads, shiny geegaws and broken pocket watches I was compelled to buy over the Steam holiday sale, the purchase I’d be most likely to slip on a fake cover if it were a paperback I was reading on the bus, is RAGE.
       I haven’t played much.  I enjoy it despite, hell, probably almost because it feels like an antique.  An antique given an incredibly shiny new coat of paint.  It’s like the game RAGE has an inverse ratio applied that the more advanced the graphics, the more remedial every other element must be in return.
       In fact, the game is almost sentimental and a little quaint.  Making the name RAGE almost ironic.
       Like a really big guy named ‘Tiny’.

    • Reuben says:

       I got RAGE for $5 on Steam as well, and honestly I was still disappointed. What galled me the most is that it was actually a really fun shooter at its core. It was just buried under a terrible UI and atrocious graphics and repetitive quests with recycled dungeons and a lame story. Half those complaints would go away if it hadn’t been designed specifically for consoles and then straight ported to PC.

  6. caspiancomic says:

    After playing the first couple of hours of like fifty games in the weeks following Christmas, I’ve been forced by the beginning of second term to commit myself to only one or two titles, played for a couple of hours a week, like some grounded high schooler. Responsibilities! Who needs em!

    Anyway, in addition to chipping away at New Game Plus in Persona 3:FES (I will always be playing this game forever, so from now on even if I don’t list it just assume I’m probably playing it), I’m going to finally start Mass Effect. Also, I’m going to put my head down and get a bit further in 999, if I’ve got the time.

    Hahaha oh man, I’m so used to posting door-stopping essays in WAYPTW, it feels weird to just list the games I’m going to play. I’ll make up for it by linking to my newest 5,000 word indulge-a-thon in Keyboard Geniuses.

    • PaganPoet says:

      I’m actually anxious to get back to P3FES sometime too, as I still haven’t had a perfect playthrough. Too busy with other games atm though.

      I just started Mass Effect myself, so you, Jackbert and I can document our space operas!

  7. Nudeviking says:

    Mrs. Nudeviking and I have been playing the Gamecube version Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and will probably play that unless she has to work (does freelance stuff and will occasionally gets called on weekends) in which case I’ll play Zelda: Skyward Sword.

    No new games for me in 2013 until I play through some of this backlog!

  8. Erdschwein says:

    First off, yay gurps! If I recall correctly, GURPS is the inspiration for the the original Fallouts’ SPECIAL system and those games were fucking spectacular.

    This weekend, I’m going to try to ignore the sweet draw of the screen and read some important stuff before term starts and I can’t read anything substantial and interesting. But realistically, I’ll probably end up playing more of Grim Fandango, which is just as good as I remember.

    Also I beat Far Cry 3 this week, it was pretty great. A thoroughly enjoyable open world, actual motivation to collect the random shit/explore/do side quests, and the story was decent. Jason was sort of my least favorite character. I definitely agree with the reviewer here, who said the character development wasn’t very good. But some of this is my fault. I’d say I played 3-5 hours before attacking the Medusa, meaning I was already a very capable killing machine with 4 guns strapped to me. So it didn’t really make sense to hear Jason going, “oh god, I don’t know if I can do this!” You skinned a shark underwater and then fought off another with your bare hands, I think you can kill 8 pirates undetected with your 3 silenced guns. This is sort of just a general problem with pacing in a genre that by definition refuses to pace the player. On the other hand, the character wasn’t developed very well beyond this. For a plot that focuses on the character’s transformation from average joe to ueber warrior, this is pretty damning. Still one of the best games I’ve played.

    SPOILERS: How dumb is the whole “He doesn’t know what you look like, right?!” Uh, yeah he does, remember the phone video? The fact that he was at Vaas’s camp in the very beginning while Jason was a prisoner? The fact that this is 2012 and everyone in America has a facebook page?

  9. Citric says:

    I finished a game, yay! Yakuza Dead Souls is done! I’ll admit to breezing through it, since it seemed oddly inappropriate to go do karaoke with the city in crisis, but I enjoyed it a lot. I think I just liked how they recognized how silly it all was and just embraced it, just a joy. I kind of want to try the other Yakuza games now.

    Of course I bought something like 20 games since the last time I finished something (stupid Steam, stupid me impulse buying stupid crap) so here we are. I’m also considering getting a bunch of Atlus stuff on PSN ’cause it’s cheap. Riviera, Knights in the Nightmare, Yggdra Union and Hexyz Force. Thoughts? Hopefully, thoughts that will scare me away from such things?

    Anyway I’m still plugging away at Romancing SaGa (it’s harrrrrrrrd) and Persona 2, which really needs a more modern approach to random battles – that is, not one eery five steps. I like the world and atmosphere so much I’m better able to tolerate the (massive) flaw. I’m also sporadically playing Bit.Trip Runner, which is a dick.

    I may start up something new as well, but I haven’t decided what.

  10. doyourealize says:

    Minor spoilers for Dragon’s Dogma ahead.

    I was excited the other day when I finally decided to sit down and finish Dragon’s Dogma. That would give me time to finally go through both Catherine and Lollipop Chainsaw before I headed back to Dragon’s Dogma for a new game, or maybe try the NG+ because, well, that game is fucking awesome. Start Spoiler However, upon completing DD, I find out that it’s not actually completed, so I still have some time to go. Still though, immediately being attacked by a drake outside Gran Soren was pretty thrilling and unexpected. End Spoiler

  11. cookingwithcranston says:

    I just received my copy of Epic Mickey 2 for the 360 yesterday and will probably be immersing myself in that this weekend.

    I always wanted to play the first one but was only available for the Wii. If ever I considered buying a Wii, Epic Mickey would have been a motivating factor. The other being Zelda: Twilight Princess.

    The co-op feature with Oswald is an even sweeter bonus.

  12. poco GRANDES says:

    oh man, i tried to get some non-RPG-playing friends to play GURPS and they mocked it mercilessly… all because of the ridiculous name! nice to hear a shout out, though. i was particularly a fan of GURPS Supers. 

    as for my plans this weekend, i’m finishing up my first playthrough of ME3. i’ve been playing the whole trilogy since it was released on ps3 for the first time, and yeah, i finally get what all the hype was about. it’s pretty awesome… i think i’m really close to the ending, though… like “finish it tonight” close. after everything i’ve heard about it, i’d be lying if i said i wasn’t nervous.