On this episode of the GameSpot’s After Dark podcast, the crew is joined by Brian Altano, who you may know from IGN and the Comedy Button. There’s a variety of topics discussed, including a little video game console called [checks notes] PlayStation 5, and the latest entry in a little role-playing series called [check notes] Dragon Quest, among other things.
One of the interesting discussions focuses on the language of video games, which many of us have learned intimately through playing games over the years. However, for newcomers, it’s much harder to understand how to play games and many don’t make it easy. In fact, they can make assumptions about what we know and are capable of. You can listen to the episode using the links below and read a transcript of some of that discussion there too.
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See But Don’t Tell
Lucy: One or more of us has been playing either Control or Fire Emblem. And I’m here to finally break my streak, at least, in that I played Erica at the weekend, the Flavorworks game. So I played it with my phone because I, annoyingly, trapped a nerve under my shoulder blade at the tail end of last week. And so I was like, “I’m doing nothing this weekend but just playing games.” Annoyingly though, Erica, because you play it on your phone, I had to play it lefthanded. And so every time I was trying to do something I was like, “Aw, come on, man.” But it’s really cool.
Kallie: This is the FMV game?
Lucy: So it is… I don’t know, I think FMV sort of does it a disservice because it’s really well shot and acted, and kind of the complete polar opposite of… at least what I assume, what I think of when I think of FMV. It’s an interactive movie. It’s more so than Bandersnatch. So Bandersnatch is just you picking, you know, the left option or the right option. Whereas in this one you are kind of interacting with the environment. So you would do things like, one of the first things it shows you is a lighter and you… It doesn’t tell you how to do anything either, you just kind of automatically open it and then flick it on the screen.
Brian: So it’s intuitive.
Lucy: Yeah. So it was weird because literally the day before I’d been watching… There’s a really good video essay about what gaming is like for people who aren’t gamers. And it’s all about how we intrinsically know the language of gaming. Like you know that you press this button to jump, or if you try this, this will happen. Because you have years and years of just gaming vernacular. I don’t know, you just pick it up.
Brian: Like input recognition and stuff, yeah.
Kallie: Yeah, to make a zoomed-in version of that would be like understanding Zelda puzzles because there is a language to them. And so your first Zelda, you’re kind of like, “I guess I just put a bomb here.” But now you know like, “Oh that wall looks suspicious.”
Jake: Yeah, like I got this item in this dungeon, that means I’m probably going to do this thing and this one.
Lucy: I mean, but this video… I mean, we should probably link it [Editor’s note: It’s linked below], but it was really good because it was like this guy had his wife play a wide variety of games. So there was Dark Souls, there was Uncharted 2, I think it was. Hollow Knight, Super Mario Brothers. And Portal was the other one. Portal was wild because she could understand putting portals down, but she didn’t know to use the mouse to look around. So if you look at… Because automatically as a gamer- You would know to use the mouse to look around. And it’s just, all the footage is of her just sort of staring at this one wall, getting frustrated because she can’t do anything.
Jake: That reminds me, when I first played Halo 1, I remember not understanding that the right stick is how you look. I was like, “I should just be able to move right with just one finger. Why do I need to use this other one?” And now it makes perfect sense. I can’t imagine playing a shooter without that.
Brian: I had a friend that was the best kid in our crew at GoldenEye, and we just looked at it in his hand once, and we’re like, “You don’t ever strafe left and right. You just point and shoot.” And he was like, “You can do that?” And we’re like, “What? You’ve been wrecking us for like a year.”
Lucy: Oh my God.
Brian: And then we told him that and then he got even better, and we’re like, “Damn it!”
Lucy: Should have kept it to yourself.
Jake: And you didn’t invite him over anymore.
Brian: Yeah, never. We just dropped him like a bad habit.
Lucy: So I watched that video and I actually remembered, so I was at Paris Games Week when they revealed Erica and I remember talking to Jack from Flavorworks about it. And basically, when he was presenting the game he was like, “Yeah, it’s kind of weird how we all understand games. But what if you presented that to someone who just has no understanding of it?” And that’s the kind of stuff that you can see throughout Erica, in that the way that you interact with the game. It just makes more sense to me. It’s less game logic and more just regular logic.
Kallie: Yeah. Like in our review, our reviewer Funke, who’s a newer reviewer for us, he was talking about like, there’s one scene where Erica, who’s acted by a real person, can ding a bell to get service or attention or something and you do that by putting your hand over your phone the way you would ding that bell. And he tried it two ways. He tried just dinging it once and then he tried dinging it so many times that in the scene the person she’s with gets irritated.
Brian: Oh, wow.
Kallie: I’m sorry, did you finish it? It’s kind of like, it’s really short, right?
Lucy: One and done. I did it in about an hour-and-a-half. But it’s a branching storyline, different outcomes, and it does a cool thing where it doesn’t give you all the trophies as you’re playing, so it gives you the trophies as the credits roll. And I went through and looked and I was like, “Oh my God, I could’ve done things so different.”
But it’s, I guess, more of a psychological thriller. Erica, her father is murdered when she’s a young girl. So immediately I was like, “Well crime, hello. True crime, I have to play this.” And yeah, it’s a really cool, creepy narrative. And I really enjoyed it. And I kind of want to go back and see how my decisions would play out if I did it a different way.”