For the 30th installment of TPG Cast, Woodsie and Shepherd (ThePCElitist), Trevor Longino (GOG.com) and Clint Basinger (Lazy Game Reviews) join Phil Cordaro for a highly enjoyable round table discussion on PC gaming from the 80s and 90s.   The gang talk about their first PC games, funny old DRM solutions, the issue of “dumbed down” PC games in the market today and much more.

*Due to the number of guests, Adam Ames does not appear in this episode.

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  • r3t

    Cool discussion, thank you!

    Do you guys have an RSS feed for the podcast by the way? I saw one for the general news and one for the comments, but not for the podcasts in general.

    • r3t

      Nevermind, the regular news rss feed worked for me! I’ve got all your podcasts loaded into my musicplayer now. Awesome!

    • Adam Ames

      We are in the process of creating a more traditional. RSS feed and getting on iTunes and Android.

      • Tony M

        I discovered this podcast because of the excellent Jon Chey interview. Looking forward to being able to subscribe on iTunes

        • Adam Ames

          Thanks for the comment. We will be on iTunes shortly.

  • Steven S

    This was awesome! It was like a “Best Of” show but without having to resort to rerunning old clips.

    For myself I started out on text adventures because that was all I had access to. I do remember a roguelike Star Trek game that maybe the one Trevor was talking about. When I was finally allowed to get a game for myself from the store (with my parents money of course) my first pick was the retail release of Rogue. There was also this weird game called Starquake or Solarquake that I played a lot. I remember you were some sort of either robot or in a suit, and the planet you were on was going to self destruct if you didn’t put the planet core back together. So you had to run around picking up pieces of the core. They were odd items too, like floppy disks and fire hydrants. There were a dozen or so available pieces but only nine were part of the core and you could only hold like four at a time. Every time you started a new game the 9 pieces you needed would randomize, so you never knew what pieces you needed or where in the world they would be. It was a platformer of sorts but you couldn’t jump. Instead you would create these platforms beneath your character that would lift you, but would disappear after a short time. I believe there was also a limit to how many you could use and there were items that would replenish your supply. You had a laser too but it was also limited and needed to be refilled from items found around the world.

    There was also a very cool RPG I had called Phantasie 3. It was party based, turn based combat like Final Fantasy, except there was no main character. You would go to an inn and hire adventurers to form a party. If members died you would go recruit more. It didn’t matter who died as long as one member could make it to an inn you could build your party back up again. There were also trainers in the towns so that if you lost a level 7 warrior you could recruit a new warrior and train him up to level 7. Technically you could have trained all your characters to max levels from the very beginning, but training was expensive and you actually had to work for gold so the system was balanced. It had the type of protection where you had to look up the 5th word in the second paragraph on page 23 of the manual. Which was fine until one day my mom saw an episode of Oprah or whoever. She heard all about how horribly evil these Dungeons & Dragons type of games were and that they would make kids violent and dysfunctional. So she grabbed the box, with the manual inside, and threw it away. I still had the disk because I had left it in the drive, so I could reinstall it and play. But I no longer had the manual for the challenge questions. The game only asked to look up words when going into dungeons, so I spent hours travelling the overworld of the game. Unfortunately the only way to start the main quest was to find the clues in a dungeon so I never really got to play the game proper. After that I got into the Sierra games such as Kings Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest.

    The first game I bought with my own money was Doom. I had played the demo so much that I could hand draw each of the levels from memory while asleep. I wanted the full game oh so very much, but I had little money myself and it was not something my parents would have bought for me (as evidenced by the Phantasie 3 incident). Then one day I saw an add in the newspaper that showed Office Depot was selling Doom for like five dollars. I hopped in the car and drove down there to buy the game and was told the the price was $30. I defiantly showed the clerk the add and he sold me the game for the discounted price. Later, after the excitement of the moment wore off I looked ad the add and saw that it was really for the Doom Screensaver, not the full game. So if anyone reading this was working at that office depot in Southern California 20 years ago, I’m sorry.

  • http://magical-sword.blogspot.com Photographer_Leia

    This is the first time I’ve ever listened to one of these podcasts, having been liked to it today from GOG’s twitter. I enjoyed it tremendously. Thank you.

    • Adam Ames

      I am glad you enjoyed our show. We work very hard to provide quality content and hope you will stick around TPG for more in the future.

  • Matt

    Really great discussion! Over here from RPS, I’ll be checking back with this podcast.

    On the topic of UI’s/immersion/instruction manuals.

    Learning how to play the game is, in its nature, anti-immersive. The character you control would presumably already know how to walk, so on-screen prompts instructing you how to do basic things immediately shatter any immersion the establishing cutscenes/etc have built.

    So originally, pc games came on several 3.5 floppies, and installation usually took approximately forever (at least to a kid’s mind). So you sat there with the instruction manual learning the basic control scheme. All of this immersion-breaking “learning curve” took place outside of the game, so when the game dumped you into the world a (la Ultima Underworld), you knew more or less how to do the basics. The impact of Ultima Underworld’s opening would have been destroyed by a well-lit corridor of tutorials.. instead you’re in the dark, with the unopenable door to the surface behind you. You don’t start with a torch, you have to fumble around and pick one up.

    Then games began to move towards having separated tutorials, that were playable, but separate from the main game. These worked ok, but they led to the “tutorial as main game” that we have wound up in. Asking someone to read today is tantamount to slapping them in the face, so the tutorial is layered over the game itself. Even worse, the game elements have delayed introduction, so you will still be playing the tutorial most of the way through. This in turn led to a generalized de-emphasis on immersion, fourth-wall breaking, etc. Where movies and novels immediately attempt to start bringing the reader INTO their world, games today make it pretty clear that you are not part of the world by overlaying things on the screen that only you can see. This is equivalent to actors in a movie looking directly at the camera and talking to you, while the other characters have no idea.

    Replayability

    This tutorial infusion ties into and greatly reduces the liklihood of replayability. Games are pretty much built to be played once-only, wheras the old games seem to have limitless replayability. It makes good business sense to make a game that is very enjoyable for 10 hours, which will leave you hungry to buy another 60 dollar game in a year or two. Older games don’t feel like they were designed by MBA’s, it felt like they were made by nerds trying to outdo one another in how awesome they could be.

    Dumbing down

    Gaming used to be much more niche. Gaming was for nerds, while the jocks were outside playing football. Well, now the jocks have come inside and want to shoot each other in the head, without all this thinking or reading. As you’ll recall, thinking and reading are the domain of the nerdy types, who used to play games as an escapist hobby. Since the money is with the majority, most modern games will ask you to neither think nor read. At the very best, you will have one or the other. If you do include reading elements (modern rpgs) you had damn well better make it skippable and totally unrelated to success in the game (though the flavor of success might change). Killing is the only skill that will get you ahead, the only thing that will gate your progress, and even then it has become a rotten wooden gate hanging by a single rusty nail.

    Remember in Ultima Underworld, when you had to decipher the foreign language of the lizardmen? The game implied that you had to do so, but it never held your hand and told you exactly how to do it. Newer games say, “decipher the language of the lizardmen, mash X repeatedly!” Or they might abstract the process away from the player, where the player would collect some scraps of paper lying around, scraps of paper marked by a handy GPS-like system (looking at you Skyrim). Ultima Underworld didn’t really tell you how, but the clues existed in the game and you had to use your own brain, not the character’s brain. This really helped immersion.

    PC game “feel”

    This ties back into the games by MBA’s, and the more managed player experience. It is the feeling that your experience isn’t being choreographed. There’s a sort of spectrum, but to me the pc game feel is “tools and freedom” where consoles feel like they’re on rails with very limited choices. PC games will give you more abstract goals. To go to Ultima Underworld again, it didn’t really tell you what your grand goal was. “You are in prison, deal with it.” More modern games will basically highlight the ground to provide you a path to your very, very specific goals (looking at you, Skyrim, again).

    • Adam Ames

      Thanks for the comment. It was a great read!

      In terms of UI, in my opinion, you only have to look at the first two FEAR titles. The first had an extremely minimal UI. A small hand to open/close doors. If that door was unable to open, the hand would turn red. All of your information was there, but out of your way. In FEAR 2, we saw the obnoxious, “HERE IS A DOOR. YOU CAN OPEN THIS DOOR BY PRESSING ‘E’. TRY IT NOW.” This, and other games like it, are a residual effect of a developer trying to broaden its player base. So, this example covers UI and dumbing down.