Episode 176: In A Gunny Sack behind The Bus Boy

The Overthinkers tackle videogames, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Matthew Belinkie, Peter Fenzel, and John Perich to overthink video games, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and why Super Mario Bros. was harder than them all.

Have a “Video Games 101” course for Wrather? Leave your syllabus in the comments.


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23 Comments on “Episode 176: In A Gunny Sack behind The Bus Boy”

  1. Pasteur #

    One of my favorite things in the realm of video game discourse also happens to be something I’d recommend to Wrather. The Diablo II Battlechest can be found at your local Wal-Mart (hypothetically I guess they might sell it at Whole Foods over in the West Coast, I think that’s how LA works). This, though, if you think about it, is very bizarre.

    Diablo II came out in 2000. This means that this piece of software has been sold, in major retail stores, for what is soon to be twelve years running. This is insane, right? I can’t think of another thing short of Texas Instruments that has this sort of unreplaced source code longevity sold tangibly in the major american marketplace.

    The real key, though, and what I think is relevant to Wrather, is the first Diablo, which itself goes back to 1996. To me, it’s a turning point in what we might call “modern game design”, and it’s generally just a very-well-made hack-and-slash with incredibly solid sound design, intuitive interface, and an engrossing atmosphere.


  2. Chris #

    Regarding the Philadelphia Flyers, they were indeed known as the Broadstreet Bullies at one point, including during the time in which they won their two Stanley Cups in the 70s, the first expansion team to do so. While they had a fine goaltender in Bernie Parent, and a forward trio of Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, and Reggie Leach (the only forward to win the Conn Smythe award for playoff MVP on a team that didn’t win the Stanley Cup) they also were a very physical team, led by Dave “The Hammer Schultz.”

    Back then, they also didn’t have a rule against a player leaving the bench to get into a fight, so there were a ton of bench clearing brawls, the Flyers were at the forefront of that, and a major reason the rule against them was put into place. Additionally, during the 70s they played against the Russian Red Army team (think the Russian team from the Miracle on Ice). In Canadian lore, the soft Russians were so shaken by the physical team of Canadians, they tried to give up in the middle of a game. In reality, they were being treated particularly brutally and they weren’t getting any of the calls by the refs, and so they left the game out of protest and fear. Good times.

    It would seem that me and some of the Overthinkers had very similar experiences playing The Sims, only I would fill rooms with fireplaces and tapestries. To be fair, I was like 14.

    When I found out Brian Grazer was producing the Oscars, my hope was that the hosting duties would go to a reunited cast of Arrested Development.

    As for video games, I haven’t played one in five years or so, but I would suggest the following:

    1. Buy a Nintendo 64.
    2. Buy Super Mario 64.
    3. Play Super Mario 64.
    4. That is all.


    • Eric #

      The original Super Smash Bros. is for 64 and is the supreme form of the game.


  3. Rob #

    I’d recommend a couple of games, both of which compliment each other in their approach to gaming.

    The first is Portal. Like many shooters it’s in first-person perspective, but it’s a puzzle game and lacks the reaction-based, visceral elements of shooters. This makes the game an ideal starting point for understanding exploration and navigation in a first-person environment, and how first-person games use space and the player’s perspective.

    Next I would play either Half-Life 1 or 2. Half-Life is a first person shooter, so it requires instinctive reactions and doesn’t always allow the player to learn everything about the surrounding environment before requiring action. However, many of the things Portal taught about how to understand the space the player inhabits still apply.


    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      I’d recommend Portal to pretty much anyone. It’s only $10 for Mac or PC:

      For $20 you can get the Orange Box which has Portal, the aforementioned Half-Life 2, and some other cool stuff. Plus cake! (The cake may be a lie.)


  4. Neil #

    Wow, Matt!

    It’s very much becoming apparent that your time with Call of Duty has made you angry! The student is becoming the master.



    • Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

      Ah shucks. Until I earn a killsteak higher than three, I don’t think you have much to worry about.

      So Neil, what do you have to say on the subject of what your class says about you? I know you’re a big believer in using specific classes for specific maps, but there’s definitely room for personal preference. Are the ninjas who charge behind enemy lines super aggressive in real life? Are the campers the cautious, nervous types (or maybe just lazy)? What can you learn about someone by watching them play Call of Duty?


  5. Andy #

    Is it possible that the fiasco surrounding the absurdly delayed Duke Nukem Forever might have something to do with the relatively short period between the announcement of an upcoming videogame release and the actual release date?


    • Erigion #

      I don’t think it has anything to do with that. Games like Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, or Madden 12 don’t need announcements. People know they’re coming they just don’t know when. Gamers expect these franchises to have new installments every few years or once a year with the sports games. There’s really no need to announce these sorts of games early especially when you consider the lack of major changes between versions.

      On the other hand, major releases by Blizzard like Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 have been announced years before they’re released, allowing the company to slowly release information.

      So yea, I’m sure there’s some magical formula a distributor uses for each of their games but who knows what it is.


  6. Redem #

    Arcade to console aside we should also consider the advent of save game changing the dynamic of gaming


  7. Andy #

    I really should listen to the whole podcast before I start commenting, but I want to float a personal theory related to Belinkie’s point that videogames in the past were absolutely brutal compared to the ones we have today. I think this was more an issue of storage space than anything else.

    Really old games like Super Mario Brothers can be completed in under seven minutes by a truly epic player (there’s a video on Youtube.) Similarly, if you didn’t have to wander the wilderness compulsively slaughtering Trolls between boss fights in Final Fantasy the game would probably take about three hours to walk through. It didn’t take long for at least some games to ramp down the learning curve. The original Legend of Zelda wasn’t all that hard, I mean sure if you wandered into the Lynels before you got the magic shield you were pretty much fucked, but if you progressed from one dungeon to the next in the proper order the game didn’t require too much skill to complete. By the time the next generation consoles came around save functions became essentially ubiquitous because the simple linear progression from beginning to end would just take too damn long to accomplish in one sitting.

    Oh, and if you really think that video games have gotten easier over the years, play Dark Souls. Not only did I lose all my damn equipment over twenty hours into the game, I also lost a perfectly serviceable wireless controller when I, a fully grown and presumably mature man in my early thirties, threw it at the wall.


  8. Leigh #

    In my opinion, two of the most fun games of all time are The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Metroid: Zero Mission. Both are available on the Nintendo Gameboy Advance (or Nintendo DS).

    Fenzel mentioned pretty early in the podcast that game designers are master manipulators, who use social psychology and brain physiology to make the games more addictive. Is that supposed to be understood as a good thing? It actually sounds like a bad thing.


    • John Perich OTI Staff #

      As with all things, the answer is “it depends.”

      For one thing, while video game designers are very good at balancing the effort/payoff ratio, they haven’t got it perfect yet. They’re not as good as, say, Coca-Cola or Marlboro. So there are biochemical limits that they haven’t reached yet.

      For another, video game developers are producing something fun and (notionally) harmless. When it comes to efforts to make a game more engaging, I don’t see any reason to worry about EA more than Parker Brothers.


    • fenzel #

      “Fenzel mentioned pretty early in the podcast that game designers are master manipulators, who use social psychology and brain physiology to make the games more addictive. Is that supposed to be understood as a good thing? It actually sounds like a bad thing.”

      It depends on what you think about the psychology of addiction. If you think addiction is _always_ bad, you flat-out shouldn’t play video games. That’s why Mormons are discouraged from playing them — Mormonism discourages all addictive behavior.

      But if you see some addictions as good and some addictions as bad, and if you see your own pleasure centers as tools you can “lifehack” into doing what you want with your time on earth, then gaming becomes more of a powerful tool than a big danger.

      Still, I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I think we all deep-down know that excessive gaming is bad for our health. It’s probably best to do it in moderation, as with any addiction-inspired activity – and if you spend a lot of time gaming, it’s important to specifically dedicate time to taking care of yourself. All the top starcraft pros always make time for the gym, because otherwise all those hours behind the screen wreak utter havoc on your body and mind.


  9. Timothy J Swann #

    Perich talked about his love for Just Cause 2, one I totally agree with. And it’s not a bad starter, as it has shooting, driving and acrobatics all in one game.


      • Timothy J Swann #

        I found it an immensely cathartic experience. A lot of action video games have the right level of mostly anti-building destruction, and sending hellfire rockets from a chopper into fuel tanks just helps take the load off.


        • Timothy J Swann #


          I tip my hat to you, and thrust the brim into your eyes.


  10. Brian Johnson #

    Oh man, I have been compiling just this sort of mental list for years. I suppose the first question is: what is the intention of Video Gaming 101? Is it a gen ed history course in the development of video gaming, or is it a remedial course intended to quickly develop the skills necessary for modern games?

    Assuming the second case, and assuming a standard academic semester, wherein we have approximately 14 weeks of class, the following games should be played:

    1) Half Life 2 (2 weeks, including episodes 1 and 2)
    5) Dragon Age: Origins (3 weeks)
    3) Diablo 2 (2 weeks, multiplayer) [Well, probably Diablo 3 when it comes out]
    2) Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty (.5 week single player, 1.5 week multiplayer)
    4) Street Fighter 4 (2 weeks)
    6) Forza Motorsports (1 week)
    7) New Super Mario Brothers (1 week)
    8) Portal (1 week)

    This list would be appropriate for a 101-style survey course, making a cross-section of most genres using relatively recent games. The primary intent is to give an introduction to the breadth of current video games, as well as to start to develop basic muscle memory and general gaming skills.

    The course begins with what may still be the finest single player FPS ever created, Half Life 2. Discussion of the video game as an artistic experience begins here, a theme which will continue for the remainder of the semester.

    DA:O comes next, as one of the finest examples of a narrative, player driven RPG. By front loading the course with heavily narrative games, the bridge from cinema and literature as art to games as art is more simply made.

    With Diablo 2, we jump into the world of online multiplayer, as well as the Action RPG. Students have the opportunity to level up their characters by grinding, and will work in teams, exploring the aesthetic and design choices made. This is the first real introduction to Pavlovian design, ie. action-reward cycles which drive repeated play.

    Starcraft 2 begins the unit on competitive gaming, with the most popular E-Sport in the world, Starcraft. Starcraft 2 was chosen as the most recent introduction to the series, as well as due to the excellent online matchmaking. Students will be introduced to basic concepts of how competitive gaming differs from casual gaming, with the idea of analyzing the game system being foremost. Basic vocabulary such as micro-game, macro-game, actions per second.

    Street Fighter 4 continues the section on competitive games. Continuing the analysis of the game system, students will be introduced to the concepts of frame data, spacing, and combos, and then told to choose a character and master them as much as possible. A class tournament will finish out this section.

    The last 3 weeks are much lower key, choosing to introduce the students to modern exemplars of the simulation racing and 2-D platforming genres. A continued focus on games as art, with realism vs representation aesthetics will be discussed.

    The last week is dedicated to Portal, a game which exemplifies the artistic possibilities of games. Focus on the game design challenges and choices made. The building of the fictional world, the character of GLaDOS, the use of recurring imagery to draw the player in will all be analyzed.


  11. Eric #

    Speaking of the Sims, has anyone read up on Alice and Kev? Some of the best reading you’ll find today.


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