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Jake

Idle Thumbs 112: The Cast Of Us

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Idle Thumbs 112:

 

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The Cast Of Us

The Last Of Us cast, a formidable task, is one we'll complete, completely unasked! When we bash guys' heads in with a brick, do we stop aghast, our inner demons unmasked? A game full of bombast, with much to lambaste -- but it looks world class -- will we hold fast, or will we give it a pass? Also discussed: Capsule, Letterpress.

 

Things Discussed: The Last Of Us, Capsule, Letterpress

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before I listen to this, whats the state of story discussion about the last of us in this cast? Should I finish the game first?

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Sound like they're no more than 6hours in.

FYI the game took me 17 hours to complete

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We haven't completed it. Discussion based on 30-50% complete playthroughs, with very few specifics referenced.

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cool, thanks. That sounds like its roughly where I am too. Also the writeup for the cast is fantastic.

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Good cast

About stealth in Last of Us: there are plenty of indicators of how stealthy you are. There's visual and audio queues from every enemy type as well as a sound effect that builds as you're about to be seen. I found it quite good. Actually I found the whole game to be great. Kind of disappointed nobody finished it on the cast and they gave the sort of general 'games are too long' spiel that I don't think applies to the Last of Us. Other than that first act in Downtown Boston, which may have felt a little long if you were going for all stealth the rest of the game is really compact and focused on the incredible narrative. I cared way less that I occasionally have to boost ellie up or find a pallet for her to stand on to cross water as it just seems like a thing you'd obviously have to do in that world.

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Good cast

About stealth in Last of Us: there are plenty of indicators of how stealthy you are. There's visual and audio queues from every enemy type as well as a sound effect that builds as you're about to be seen. I found it quite good. Actually I found the whole game to be great. Kind of disappointed nobody finished it on the cast and they gave the sort of general 'games are too long' spiel that I don't think applies to the Last of Us. Other than that first act in Downtown Boston, which may have felt a little long if you were going for all stealth the rest of the game is really compact and focused on the incredible narrative. I cared way less that I occasionally have to boost ellie up or find a pallet for her to stand on to cross water as it just seems like a thing you'd obviously have to do in that world.

I'm already feeling like it's too long and I'm not even close to done, so I stand by that comment. You may not have felt that way but I definitely do. It doesn't make it a bad game, but at this point every time I walk into a room and I know I'm going to have to shuffle a ladder or fight/evade a bunch of guys I get a pang of weariness. I've just done it all so many times already. I'll keep pressing on for a while but if it actually takes 17 hours as Mington claims, and I'm only a third through that, I don't know if I'm going to make it.

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I'm already feeling like it's too long and I'm not even close to done, so I stand by that comment. You may not have felt that way but I definitely do. It doesn't make it a bad game, but at this point every time I walk into a room and I know I'm going to have to shuffle a ladder or fight/evade a bunch of guys I get a pang of weariness. I've just done it all so many times already. I'll keep pressing on for a while but if it actually takes 17 hours as Mington claims, and I'm only a third through that, I don't know if I'm going to make it.

 

Fair enough. I felt that way about the clickers until I got the shiv upgrade to face shiv 'em if they are about to neck bite you to death, so it wasn't such a "oh boy i'm screwed" if they hear you. I'd love to hear what you guys think about the winter section though if any of you get that far.

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I'm already feeling like it's too long and I'm not even close to done, so I stand by that comment. You may not have felt that way but I definitely do. It doesn't make it a bad game, but at this point every time I walk into a room and I know I'm going to have to shuffle a ladder or fight/evade a bunch of guys I get a pang of weariness. I've just done it all so many times already. I'll keep pressing on for a while but if it actually takes 17 hours as Mington claims, and I'm only a third through that, I don't know if I'm going to make it.

I guess it depends on whether or not you find the gameplay itself pleasurable. I am (so far) really enjoying the stealth and combat in this game, so I don't mind being asked to do it over and over. If you view the gameplay as something that you have to just get through, then yeah the game is too long. If you view the gameplay as itself enjoyable, then the length of the game is kind of beside the point. For example, Chris played many many hours of Zuma. That doesn't mean that Zuma is too long, as long as Chris enjoyed the time he spent playing it. Or a thumsier example: I killed a million dudes in Far Cry 2, and I never minded that all I was doing was killing dudes, because killing dudes in Far Cry 2 is itself pleasurable.

The reason I enjoy the gameplay (specifically, the combat) is that it feels intense, unpredictable, and high stakes. In an average fight I have very few bullets. I start by sneaking around, trying to take a few dudes out. Inevitably I get spotted, which turns the game into hide-and-seek with shotguns. I am playing without the magic hearing, so I have to pay a lot of attention to audio cues to figure out where the other guys are. I have to make intelligent use of my limited resources. I have to consider flanking and being flanked, since most of the combat sequences take place in more-or-less open areas. If I screw up, I'm probably dead. My pulse is pounding the whole time. I find all of this very enjoyable. The fact that these action sequences are punctuated with a pretty good yarn and decent characters is just gravy.

My biggest criticism is that death is kind of meaningless in this game. I would have liked the stakes to be a bit higher. Perhaps you should lose your crafting supplies if you die or something, a la Dark Souls.

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When I finished I really felt like I had experienced something totally new from a video game narrative. I've destroyed and saved galxies, i've saved the girl and even died but I've never before witnessed a believable change in somebodies character over the course of a game. The story wouldn't have been nearly as effective if it was squeezed in to a 6 hour game, it needed time to breathe.

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Holy shit, I need that last little bit at the end of the episode as a ringtone. It needs to happen.

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I guess it depends on whether or not you find the gameplay itself pleasurable. I am (so far) really enjoying the stealth and combat in this game, so I don't mind being asked to do it over and over. If you view the gameplay as something that you have to just get through, then yeah the game is too long. If you view the gameplay as itself enjoyable, then the length of the game is kind of beside the point. For example, Chris played many many hours of Zuma. That doesn't mean that Zuma is too long, as long as Chris enjoyed the time he spent playing it. Or a thumsier example: I killed a million dudes in Far Cry 2, and I never minded that all I was doing was killing dudes, because killing dudes in Far Cry 2 is itself pleasurable.

The reason I enjoy the gameplay (specifically, the combat) is that it feels intense, unpredictable, and high stakes. In an average fight I have very few bullets. I start by sneaking around, trying to take a few dudes out. Inevitably I get spotted, which turns the game into hide-and-seek with shotguns. I am playing without the magic hearing, so I have to pay a lot of attention to audio cues to figure out where the other guys are. I have to make intelligent use of my limited resources. I have to consider flanking and being flanked, since most of the combat sequences take place in more-or-less open areas. If I screw up, I'm probably dead. My pulse is pounding the whole time. I find all of this very enjoyable. The fact that these action sequences are punctuated with a pretty good yarn and decent characters is just gravy.

My biggest criticism is that death is kind of meaningless in this game. I would have liked the stakes to be a bit higher. Perhaps you should lose your crafting supplies if you die or something, a la Dark Souls.

Yeah, Zuma came up in the podcast, but I don't see them as directly comparable.

The Last of Us goes way, WAY out of its way to present itself as a coherent, affecting, and meaningful narrative. And to my mind that goal is watered down by, well, watering down the narrative with so many basically-identically-repeated gameplay sequences.

Zuma (Tetris, Drop7, etc., etc.) is a totally different beast. It is essentially ONLY the gameplay hook, in pure concentrated form. (Zuma has a very light overarching structure but it is basically a formality.) It's something very elemental. It would be silly if Zuma had some grand swashbuckling story about the frog in it. But by extension, on the other end of the spectrum, I also think it's kind of silly that The Last of Us has so much ladder-rearranging in it. I know I've brought that up several times, it's just the most transparent example for me of "Well, this part isn't a cutscene and it's not a combat, so we need something for the player to do"—and it's a bummer to me that that needs to exist so frequently. The amount of combat itself is just a less-pronounced version of that for me.

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The stealth and combat in the Last of Us definitely works well. The way the guns handle reinforce the narrative that your guy isn't really comfortable with using them, and but does so because he has to survive, and the stealth feels the same way. The audio-vision gives you a ton of information, and is the only thing that really doesn't fit in. The feel after getting caught while stealthing reminded me of Hotline Miami. When things go bad and you get seen, you can maybe just barely scrape by and survive if you're on top of your game and get just a bit lucky, which also really fits with the narrative.

 

I feel like all the non-combat stuff like moving planks around gives you a bit of time to breathe and think about the world. I can see how the pacing would be improved without them, but they definitely don't feel like the typical big-budget game padding. If they just wanted to pad out the experience for the sake of length, they would've just had you find an abandoned military turret every 45 minutes, or packed in more unskippable combat sequences, like they do in Uncharted. But unlike Uncharted, every mechanical thing you do generally feels appropriate for the world and narrative.

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I haven't played the Last of Us, not sure if I will, not really fond of the Zombie genre. But what I've taken from the 3 Uncharted PS3 games, Naughty dog always fails to wrap up a game. It always ends in tedious sequences of fights.

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Yeah, Zuma came up in the podcast, but I don't see them as directly comparable.

The Last of Us goes way, WAY out of its way to present itself as a coherent, affecting, and meaningful narrative. And to my mind that goal is watered down by, well, watering down the narrative with so many basically-identically-repeated gameplay sequences.

Zuma (Tetris, Drop7, etc., etc.) is a totally different beast. It is essentially ONLY the gameplay hook, in pure concentrated form. (Zuma has a very light overarching structure but it is basically a formality.) It's something very elemental. It would be silly if Zuma had some grand swashbuckling story about the frog in it. But by extension, on the other end of the spectrum, I also think it's kind of silly that The Last of Us has so much ladder-rearranging in it. I know I've brought that up several times, it's just the most transparent example for me of "Well, this part isn't a cutscene and it's not a combat, so we need something for the player to do"—and it's a bummer to me that that needs to exist so frequently. The amount of combat itself is just a less-pronounced version of that for me.

Sorry, I'm at work so I haven't had time to listen to the podcast. I apologize if I say something that's already been brought up.

I disagree with your basic point, though (that the traversal and combat water-down the narrative). The Last of Us is a story about two people learning about each other while on a dangerous journey. The combat and traversal both reflect and inform that narrative.

Most of the narrative of in the Last of Us centers around Joel and Ellie defending themselves from monsters and other humans. That is the basic conflict in the narrative. Thus it is entirely appropriate that most of the game would also be about fighting monsters and humans: that's what the story is about!

GTA4 is an interesting comparison. In the narrative of that game, Niko struggles with his violence and criminality. During gameplay, Niko is a total maniac who jumps stolen trucks into buildings. In the narrative of the Last of Us, Joel is a cold-hearted killer who slowly becomes attached to Ellie. In the gameplay of the Last of Us, Joel (and the player) behaves like a cold-hearted killer who (at least in my case) slowly becomes attached to Ellie. So in my view, the combat doesn't distract from the story but instead really is the story.

I agree that the ladder parts are lame, but that's because they aren't particularly engaging in terms of gameplay. If you replaced the ladder parts with (for example) more elaborate traversal puzzles, then I'd be quite happy with that aspect of the game. I think what the ladder bits are trying to do is kind of abstract one of the basic themes of the story: that Joel and Ellie have to contend with the landscape as well more immediate threats. Getting across America in the post-apocalypse is hard. It's not a point-A to point-B kind of exercise. A lot of the (admittedly basic) traversal moments in the game reflect that aspect of the narrative, in my view. In other words, the traversal elements aren't just there as gamer tax, but also to provide an in-game demonstration of one of the narrative's basic themes (two people on a dangerous journey).

It's quite possible that all of these themes could be explored more simply or more quickly, or indeed in a different medium altogether. But I like the moment-to-moment gameplay, and I'm glad that the gameplay is married to a story that suits it (in my opinion). From my point of view, I'm happy with the length of the game.

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I wish that games were subject to the kind of editing that movies and books get. It's great if the gameplay reinforces the game's central narrative, but stretching that gameplay out over several unnecessary hours will generally start to weaken the game's point, not strengthen it. Succinct storytelling is almost always preferable to long, drawn-out repetition, and it sounds like The Last of Us gets to bogged down in the latter.

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I'm pretty conflicted about the game's length. On the one hand I didn't mind the pacing or the repetitive serving up of mechanics. I felt it made that ending feel more earned. I felt utterly exhausted at the game's climax; it felt like a huge journey - which I don't think would have been possible if it was a six hour game.

 

On the other hand the last few acts up to and including the ending are really, really good. This happens so rarely in games that it's a bummer that you guys (probably) won't experience it.

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I wish that games were subject to the kind of editing that movies and books get. It's great if the gameplay reinforces the game's central narrative, but stretching that gameplay out over several unnecessary hours will generally start to weaken the game's point, not strengthen it. Succinct storytelling is almost always preferable to long, drawn-out repetition, and it sounds like The Last of Us gets to bogged down in the latter.

I think you're right that that kind of editing might improve games as storytelling vehicles, but I don't know that it would improve games as games. A shorter the Last of Us might make a better story, but I'm really enjoying the moment-to-moment gameplay and I'd be sad to get less of that.

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I'm glad I'm not alone in wishing game were shorter. I kind of wish every game just did the Journey thing and only made the game exactly as long as it needs to be.

 

 

Also, I'm disappointed that you talked multiple times about moving planks around but didn't call it a boards management game.

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Boards management game? Boarding until you get board? :)

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I'm pretty conflicted about the game's length. On the one hand I didn't mind the pacing or the repetitive serving up of mechanics. I felt it made that ending feel more earned. I felt utterly exhausted at the game's climax; it felt like a huge journey - which I don't think would have been possible if it was a six hour game.

I don't think that is true. I think "less is more" can actually apply here and be important. I don't think the emotional impact of a journey story comes literally from the amount of time spent experiencing that story, rather it's the amount of experiences you amass along the journey which make it feel resonant. I think you want PARTS of the story to make you experience literally every footstep taken to get from one place to another, but that's not what you want ALL THE TIME... unless the game is actually a narrativeless simulation (like Day Z). But The Last Of Us is an interactive narrative experience, undeniably, and stories don't work the way you're describing. At least not exclusively.

"Boards management game" - solid

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Sorry, I'm at work so I haven't had time to listen to the podcast. I apologize if I say something that's already been brought up.

I disagree with your basic point, though (that the traversal and combat water-down the narrative). The Last of Us is a story about two people learning about each other while on a dangerous journey. The combat and traversal both reflect and inform that narrative.

Most of the narrative of in the Last of Us centers around Joel and Ellie defending themselves from monsters and other humans. That is the basic conflict in the narrative. Thus it is entirely appropriate that most of the game would also be about fighting monsters and humans: that's what the story is about!

I didn't say the very presence of those things dilute it, just that the sheer volume of it does. The hundredth time I go through a combat encounter, I'm not actually learning anything new or revelatory (even marginally so) about the relationship between these people.

I agree that the ladder parts are lame, but that's because they aren't particularly engaging in terms of gameplay. If you replaced the ladder parts with (for example) more elaborate traversal puzzles, then I'd be quite happy with that aspect of the game. I think what the ladder bits are trying to do is kind of abstract one of the basic themes of the story: that Joel and Ellie have to contend with the landscape as well more immediate threats. Getting across America in the post-apocalypse is hard. It's not a point-A to point-B kind of exercise. A lot of the (admittedly basic) traversal moments in the game reflect that aspect of the narrative, in my view. In other words, the traversal elements aren't just there as gamer tax, but also to provide an in-game demonstration of one of the narrative's basic themes (two people on a dangerous journey).

Those things aren't hard at all though. They're the same every time. If it was a different kind of traversal puzzle, and just the exact same of THAT hypothetical puzzle, I don't think my point would change. You'd still just be re-solving the same thing you've already solved a bunch of times. I don't think any real journey works that way. The journey that these characters are on would be hard for a LOT of reasons, almost none of which would have anything to do with laying a plank across a gap or whatever.

What I'm saying isn't that Naughty Dog should have bit off some kind of crazy simulational game that would try and simulate those hard things, in the vein of Stalker or Day Z or whatever, more that they way they DID choose to abstract it (and the repetitiveness of that solution) to me doesn't capture what it seems like they were trying to capture. And I think if there were simply less of all this stuff, it would be less apparent to me.

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