Deep Listens: Relationships in Games

Deep Listens is a gaming podcast series I'm recording with a few of my friends. Every two weeks we pick and play a new game and then discuss it from a literary, philosophical, and game design perspective. Its kind of like a book club for videogames. We try to dig as deep as we can on an individual game every episode so check it out!

In this episode of Deep Listens we discuss how platonic relationships work in Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, and The Walking Dead Season 1. We explore how each of the games approach non-romantic relationships from a technical perspective and how each of the relationships in the game unfold. We also discuss why the relationships in each game seem to play out so similarly. We also tak a listener email and discuss radio in Fallout 3 and some games that stood out to us from E3.

Here's the episode:

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Lost in the Myst: Part 3- Leaving the Myst

Today is the day I beat Myst! After completing the piano puzzle for the first time during a short play session, I decided that I would try to play the piano as few times as possible. To make that dream a reality I would need to beat the game in one try. With that goal in mind I quickly retraced my steps and cleared the Mechanical and “I guess I’ll park my boat in this boulder” Ages. All told the backtracking probably only took about 5-6 minutes total. I’ve gotten very good at clicking through those screens (fuck the clocktower). With that done I set my sights on the spaceship.

That piano puzzle sure is annoying.

I successfully played the piano again and it jumped out to me that this game is really terrible for people with any auditory or visual disabilities. If you’re blind, there is no way to read the tons of books and visual cues the game throws at you. If you’re deaf, then all of the audio cues go out the window and the game does not provide any visual cues for a lot of its puzzles (like the rotating fortress in the Mechanical Age). Heck, if you’re red/blue color-blind, then the compass in the Pirate Age and the journals are really hard to decipher. Games still aren’t great at catering to people with disabilities, but Myst just jumped out to me because it is so great at times at communicating using both audio and video simultaneously. The game communicates which of the brother’s rooms you’re in based on sound and visuals; and if I just heard a clip or saw a piece of furniture, I could tell you which brother I’m dealing with. If my hearing was poor or my vision compromised, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this game nearly as much. Myst manages to provide you with auditory and visual clues for so many puzzles that it’s a shame when that redundancy isn’t there.

Speaking of puzzles that require accurate hearing, the Spaceship Age is nothing but one big sound puzzle! Giving each of the locations in this age a different sound was a really clever idea and it makes it stand out, despite its foggy, barren landscape. Figuring out the receiver puzzle wasn’t too hard and determining how to open the only locked door was natural as well. What wasn’t natural was the fucking labyrinth. This age has a trial-and-error labyrinth that leads to its exit. You can’t see where you’re going and the only inkling you have about where you are is a few sound effects that demark certain areas. Otherwise it is one gigantic case of fumbling around in the dark with the same gifs repeating over and over. I stumbled through this puzzle for about a half hour before I consulted with my unseen consigliore. The solution for the labyrinth is about ten steps and getting through it still took about five minutes of gifs. The labyrinth is probably my most hated puzzle in Myst (barring the clock tower that crashes your game). It is trial-and-error at its worst in a game whose biggest strength is figuring out a solution and quickly putting that knowledge into practice.

Do you see the page in this picture? I sure didn't.

If you were paying close attention, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention picking up any journal pages in this age. That’s because I didn’t. I thought that, like in every other age, there would be two rooms to search. I expected that at the end of the labyrinth I would find Sirrus’s record collection and Agamemnon’s murder-harp. But no, at the end of the labyrinth is the end of the level. And so I left because I wasn’t in the mood to sit through those fucking gifs two more times.

Back on Myst Island I solved the puzzle to enter the Channelwood Age and I must say that I liked this age the most of all of the ones I’d seen. It has some actual vegetation and, unlike the other ages, I can actually imagine people living there. The water pipe puzzles were fairly simple although I had a hard time navigating the various walkways because of how jittery the transitions between screens can be. At the top of the village I found Sirrus and Abacus’s rooms. In Sirrus’s room I found the second half of a piece of paper that describes how to open a secret vault on Myst Island. That secret vault seemed to be the key to the good ending since the brothers tore the instructions in half and hid both of the halves. It is pretty clear that neither of these two is to be trusted and so them hiding some instructions for a secret vault sounds like a gigantic red flag. However, I went this far to collect the journal pieces so I grabbed both pages and returned to the library.

After restoring the red and blue journals I realized that I forgot to collect a page in the Spaceship Age so I backtracked one last time. By this point I resigned myself to picking one of the brothers and since I wasn’t going to play the piano and go through the labyrinth two more times I decided to roll with Sirrus. I figured if I was going to be stabbed in the back, I would choose the guy who literally keeps back stabbing daggers in his fancy shelves. So I went through another ten minutes of gifs and returned to the library. Sirrus was ecstatic that I found all of the journal pages and he provided me with some final, creepy, “I’m totally not going to stab you in the back” instructions. He told me to use a specific pattern in the fireplace of the library to get the final red page. He also told me to ignore the green book hidden with the final red and blue pages.

The solution to the game's biggest puzzle is right in front of you in the very fist screen! Now that's some clever design.

I decided to try to open the Myst vault before making a clearly terrible decision. It is amazing how much Myst hides in plain sight. I knew the marker switches were clearly important, but I had no idea that they would be the key to the good ending. I found the white page in the vault and at that point I decided that I would definitely go through with helping Sirrus first. Getting the white page only takes a few seconds if you know what you’re doing so I figured that I could beat the game a second time pretty quickly. With that thread untangled I returned to the library and sealed my fate. It turns out that Sirrus is a jerk after all! Once I used the final page, I found myself trapped in the red book looking out at Sirrus. I was then treated to some awesome FMV of Sirrus taunting me and tearing out the pages of the red book to lock me in. So don’t trust that guy!

I reloaded the game for one final time, but this time I immediately collected the white page and opened the green book behind the fireplace. I found Sirrus and Agrippa’s dad, Atrus, trapped in the green book. He explained how his sons grew corrupt during their time exploring the ages without his supervision and he explained how they used his wife, Catherine, as bait to trap him in the green book. Once he was locked away, they each opened the red and blue books and found themselves trapped since the books were intended to trap greedy adventurers pillaging Myst Island (since the brothers and Atrus were trapped in books, who hid all of the journal pages? I guess I'll never know). I ventured into the green book with the white page in hand and I provided Atrus with the exit he had been seeking. He promptly returned to Myst and destroyed the books containing both of his sons. What a happy ending!

I did it. I beat Myst. After starting from scratch about ten times, I did it. I won’t have to listen to that weird teleporting noise anymore. I won’t have to read any more e-books. I won’t have to find any more journal pages. It’s over. Now I just have to sit and wait as @zombiepie finishes FFVIII… wait… what’s that ZP? I’m not done? I thought we agreed that I would play Myst and you would… What, what do you mean it’s not fair? I couldn’t save! I had to go to that fucking clock tower like 20 times! Come on! …ok …ok. … Yes Selphie is a nightmare person as is Zell. …Yes Squall is the worst. …The game is only 12 hours long if you play it right. … Alright, you know what, fine I’ll play another Myst game. If it makes you happy, I’ll do it. Riven here I come!


Lost in the Myst: Part 2- I Wish I Could Save

I really wish I could save. I really wish I could save. I really wish I could save. Although most of Myst’s puzzles are “solved” via inputting a single answer that you can take down in a notebook and immediately reenter once you start the game, the process of reentering those solutions is growing tiresome. I think I’ve “solved” the clock tower puzzle about ten times now. I know that I wouldn’t even be able to complete most modern adventure games without saving; but, I could certainly appreciate Myst’s design without seeing it dozens of times. This isn’t going to get any better is it?

I picked up where I left off last time and finished solving the constellation/boat puzzle. Once the ship was raised I made a beeline for it and found another mysterious book. Inside the book was a poorly animated gif and once I clicked on the gif it blew up to full screen. Another click of the mouse transported me to a weird island made up of two boats slammed into the side of an island and a few towers. I must say that the mystique of Myst still holds up in the modern day. Finding all of these strange, ancient books that transport you to alternate places and times is still captivating despite the aging graphics. I was legitimately disoriented for a few moments when I entered the “crash boats into rocks” Age and when I realized there was no clear way back it was a little scary.

I have no idea how the rocks grew around the ship, but that is sure what it looks like

Once I accepted my new surroundings I set about attempting to solve some puzzles. My first stop was an umbrella with three buttons. I pressed each of the buttons from left to right and each time I heard some vaguely mechanical noises, but saw no clear effect so I left to look elsewhere. Next I climbed to the top of a set of stairs and found a telescope. The telescope didn’t seem to show anything of note. With those avenues out of the way, I entered an odd tower in the middle of the sea. In the tower was a key on a chain, a ladder leading up to a locked hatch, and a chest at the bottom of some stairs. Despite my best efforts to pick up the chained key it just wouldn’t move, so I went down to the chest. I flushed some water from it and then was stumped. There was nowhere else to go and nothing else to click on. I did several laps of the island and found nothing.

It was at this point that I turned to the game’s hint system. The hint system has been a huge help and it is remarkably modern in its implementation. There is a hint button you can press that will give you some vague tips about the room you’re in or the puzzle you may be solving, a clue button that will give you a more explicit answer, and a map button that will let you look at a top down map of your current location. All of the hints are written from the perspective of some character that has already solved all of the game’s puzzles and they both add flavor to the world and provide some salient guidance.

The nice disembodied hint person told me to try pressing the first or second buttons under the umbrella. Upon doing so I found that the tower had filled with water and the chest had floated to the top. I was then able to used the chained key to open the chest, which itself contained the key to the hatch above the ladder. Once I ascended to the top of the tower, I found a generator with a hand crank. I gave the generator a twist or two and then went down onto the ships to see if anything had changed. The generator turned on the lights in two previously dark tunnels leading into the rock. Before I could make any more progress I had to cut my play session short. I wish I could save.

By the time I returned to the game I figured out what the clock tower puzzle unlocked so I eagerly retraced my steps and entered the damn 2,2,1 combination again… no system crash this time (thanks windows 98 compatibility mode!). From there I found that one of the giant gears on the island rotated in concert with the gears in the clock tower. Inside I found another book with another gif inside! The book took me to the Mechanical Age, which is apparently made up of an island fortress surrounded by tiny puzzle ruins. At this point I should mention that I have no idea if these different ages are supposed to be the main island at different points in time or if they are different locations altogether (I’m guessing the books in the library cover that topic, but fuck reading). If they are supposed to be the same place, then the water level on this island is crazily inconsistent. Also an architect is making a killing on all of the build-ups and tear-downs that the island has experienced.

I like this guy's style

In any case, I made my way into the fortress and began my search. On one side of the fortress was an opulent throne room with fancy-ass paintings and a wind-up bird. On the other side was a nightmarish torture throne room with a wind up cobra. I guess this is the part where I mention Sirus and Aganon or whatever their names are. It seems like the story is about two brothers who have divided these ages amongst themselves and wreaked havoc. I don’t know much about the two, but in the early going I’m going to have to side with the guy who decorates with gold and tapestries instead of swords and shrunken heads. In each of the throne rooms I found a hidden panel next to the thrones which hid a secret chamber. The fancy brother’s secret room held treasure chests full of gold and a wine rack. In the wine rack was a note that mentioned subjects and taxes; however, I haven’t seen any people or places for people to live so I have no idea who is being taxed here. I also found a red page that must go with the creepy red journal in the library. In the secret chamber of the murder dungeon I found a cage, a rack full of what appear to be poisons, a bloody knife, and a box full of severed heads. I know Myst isn’t a horror game, but man it feels like it could have easily been one. All they would have needed is a disturbing image behind a few of the jittery animations and bam, spookcentral. The atmosphere of the game is oppressive at times and the musical choices and sound effects really establish an unsettling tone despite the game not showing much violence or gore. With that severed head neatly restored to its proper place, I found a blue journal page and continued my exploration.

In the middle of the fortress I found a set of gears that unlocked an elevator and I rode the elevator to an apparently empty room at the top of the fortress. After riding the elevator a few times to no avail, I tried hitting the middle button between the up and down buttons. The countdown sound effect for the elevator repeated for several seconds and I was almost certain that the game crashed. The sound effects stretched and distorted so much that I almost shut the whole thing down. Fortunately, the game lurched into action after about 30 seconds of whirring futility. I consulted my disembodied buddy about how to proceed and he or she told me that I should exit the elevator when that horrible, glitchy whirring noise is happening (I probably would have figured that out if I didn’t think the game was actively on fire). That causes the elevator to only descend half way and it gives you access to a control panel on the top of the elevator. Which leads me to the question, who builds structures this way? What person thought that hiding a control panel on the top of an elevator was a good security measure? Why would they leave torture chambers and loot piles behind hidden, unlocked doors? The control elevator was a real immersion breaker.

Fuck that clock tower

Once I actually got on the controls I had a real problem with lining fortress up with the outlying islands. There is no visual feedback about where the fortress is facing and so I used trial and error at first. I was able to successfully reach the first of two islands through dumb luck… but then I had to put the game down. I quickly scribbled half of the clue and then resigned myself to another trip to that stupid clock tower. I wish I could save.

As soon as I retraced my steps I quickly found that the trial and error method was too time-consuming for my tastes. I consulted my ghostly companion and he or she suggested that I should go to the fortress rotation simulator in the stabbing death room. The fortress rotation simulator clued me into the fact that each of the different islands makes a different tone when you line the fortress up with them and so I was able to finally get my solution. I found it difficult to get back to the main entrance so I just reset the game and retraced my steps again. Once I finally cleared the Mechanical Age and returned to the library with the journal pages I quickly put them in their proper place. I had no idea that I would be treated to some “great” FMV acting. It turns out that each of the feuding brothers is trapped in one of the two journals in the library and based on what I know about them I don’t want either of them to get out. Yet, this is a video game and it sure seems like collecting all of the journal pages is one of my main goals. What a dilemma.


Lost in the Myst: Part 1

This week I started playing Myst to uphold my end of the FFVIII vs Myst bargain I struck with @zombiepie (I regret nothing). Just so you know, I’ve never played Myst before and I’ve never finished any adventure game (other than Pajama Sam and Putt-Putt) without a guide. I tend to get frustrated with adventure game logic pretty quickly when I play adventure games that have strong narratives. I’m there for the story, not figuring out how a balloon animal can scare away pigeons. However, for this playthrough I’m not allowed to use any guides so I’m sure this will go swimmingly! Luckily from my first exposure to Myst it seems like I’m not gonna give a single fuck about the game’s story so this island is going to effectively be one big puzzle box and I like puzzle boxes. So with that in mynd I entered the Myst.

Look at all those graphics!

When I first booted Myst: Masterpiece Edition the first thing that jumped out to me was that the game didn’t have any kind of resolution selection and it really didn’t play nice with OBS. The game only displays in 640x480 and it looked like a pixely mess when stretched to fit my monitor. It wasn’t a huge deal breaker, but it was a bit of ominous foreshadowing for the technical problems that were to come.

My first step on Myst Island was remarkably short of fanfare when compared to modern games. The game just dumps you onto a dock next to some sunken ship with no indication of the controls, goals, or even the setting. The cold open wasn’t a problem, but it was a bit jarring. I first tried to flip one of the switches that I came across, but the switch didn’t seem to do anything yet. I explored a bit and found a hidden door that lead into an underground light array of some kind. In the room I found a panel with some settings listed and number panel underneath. I tried putting in each of the listed settings, (40 for the topographical extrusion test, 67 for the water turbulent pool, and 47 for the marker switch diagram) but nothing happened. With that potential puzzle solving thread left dangling, I made my way towards the main part of the island.

On my way towards what seemed to be some buildings, I found a note on the ground that mentioned that I should input the number of marker switches on the island into something called “the imager” in order to receive a secret message (perhaps the imager is that secret light array I found underground?). I took note of this hint in my notebook and started a tally of every seemingly useless switchbox I encountered. At least those switches seemed to have a potential, if cryptic, purpose.

I made my way into some sort of observatory next and had a seat in the barber’s chair that lay at its center. The star chart on the ceiling was completely illegible, but on my way to the exit I found a light switch. Even with the lights off, the star charts and date inputs seemed to be of no use to me at the moment. There’s another dangling puzzle thread to keep track of.

I don't know whether to look at the stars or get a haircut

I walked a bit further up the main staircase and found a library full of paintings and books. The books were unfortunately full of seemingly important writing and each of them were several pages long (save for one book that had 300 pages of 5x8 grids). I started reading the first one and it contained the story of some guy, his family, and some tree dwelling people. It was kind of interesting, but it mercifully contained no clear hints in its prose. Using that book as an indicator of what was to come, I skimmed the other books for clear hints and came away with a diagram of a piano and some constellation to symbol mappings (maybe those will play into the constellations in the observatory?).

On my way out of the library I touched one of the paintings on the wall and noticed that the library no longer had an exit. Instead, the bookcase descended into the floor and revealed another secret room. I found an elevator and rode it up to find two ladders: one with a key symbol and the other with a book. At the top of the key ladder was a placard with the numbers 2:40 and 2, 2, 1 written on it. At the top of the book ladder was a window that had a clear view of a clock tower across the island (more hints!). After noting down these hints I descended back into the library and entered what appeared to be a fireplace, but upon entering a screen dropped down with a 5x8 grid on it (maybe that book full of 5x8 grids has something to do with this!). I entered some nonsense and exited the fireplace. I was locked in the library for a bit before I figured out how the paintings worked and how I could unlock the main door, my fumbling around lead me to find some empty books and a tiny control that allowed me to rotate the main tower to face each of the landmarks on my map. I noticed that the only landmarks on the minimap were ones that I had already entered so I decided to scour the island for more locations.

I found a rocket, a basement full of generators, a clock tower, a log cabin with some kind of burner in it, a big tree, and a clearing with a miniature sunken ship in it (maybe that ship corresponds to the sunken ship from the beginning of the game?). After unsuccessfully interacting with each of these puzzle rooms, I returned to the library and rotated the tower to face each of the locations on my minimap. I got a few new clues to try out thanks to the plaques above the key ladder. I found the combination to the vault in the log cabin and found some matches inside. I tried to use the matches to ignite a burner inside the cabin, but clicking on and around the burner didn’t seem to do anything. I’m guessing that I’m just clicking on the wrong part of the pixilated mess smeared across on my screen. I also found some dates that clearly correspond to the barber’s chair observatory. I tried one and found a constellation that lined up with one of the constellations in one of the books in the library. I’m assuming that I need to use all three of the symbols that the hinted constellations correspond to in order to raise the tiny ship in the clearing and the huge ship with it.

Fuck that clock tower

The final clue I found pointed to the clocktower and I successfully raised a cog bridge leading up to the tower by setting the clock to the correct time 2:40. Once inside the tower I saw some numbered gears that I assumed I needed to set to 2, 2, 1. With that in mind I pulled one of the handles attached to the gears and… the game crashed. After all of that puzzle solving the game crashed. I couldn’t regain control and I couldn’t save. So I shut the damn thing down and started it up again. I made a bee-line for the clock tower, pulled the handle again and… it crashed again. It turns out that the “Masterpiece Edition” of Myst doesn’t run properly on Windows 7. I searched the Steam forums and it looks like on Windows 7 and 8 the game always crashes when you pull the lever in that stupid clock tower. The solution I found was to run the game in a Windows 98 compatibility mode. I booted the game up again in compatibility mode and made a beeline for the clock tower once more. I raised the gears and walked in with a new bit of hope. I pulled one of the levers and… it worked! I was able to solve the puzzle, which just moved some gears as far as I could tell. After that I tried to save the game and… it failed. I tried again… nothing.

That was enough for my first play session. I looked up speedrun times for the game and it can be beaten in a minute so I know that once I have the proper solutions to some of the puzzles I should be able to beat the game in no time. Myst is one of the rare games where you do the growing rather than your character; it’s the Dark Souls of adventure games. With that in mind I look forward to continuing this groundhog’s day of obtuse puzzles. I’m sure nothing else will go wrong.


Deep Look: Psychonauts- Lessons In Piggybacking

Hey Duders,

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found particularly worthy of highlighting and exploring. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes.

In this Deep Look I examine Psychonauts once again to show off how the game utilizes real world objects and concepts to condense and contextualize gameplay information. The world of Psychonauts is rife with symbolism and intelligent design that both makes the world aesthetically cohesive and teach the play about the world in a quick and effective manner. By conveying so much information through smart naming and symbolism, Psychonauts allows its relatively unintuative gameplay systems to blend together naturally into one compete whole. Piggybacking ya'll, it saves a lot of time and energy!


Deep Listens: Fallout 3

Deep Listens is a gaming podcast series I'm recording with a few of my friends. Every two weeks we pick and play a new game and then discuss it from a literary, philosophical, and game design perspective. Its kind of like a book club for videogames. We try to dig as deep as we can on an individual game every episode so check it out!

In this episode of Deep Listens we discuss Fallout 3 and whether the apocalypse will go down the way that every video game seems to think it will. Will Thomas Hobbes's bleak view of human nature play out when the world ends? Or is humanity a bit more social than that? We also discuss the patriarchies of the wasteland and the various goofy societies that have sprung up in the world of Fallout 3. We end the podcast discussing all of the dumb goofy Fallout glitches that we encountered during our playthroughs.

And here is the the podcast rss feed and webpage:

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Deepish Look: Toy Story 2- Finding The Value In Mediocrity

Hey Duders,

Here is a Deepish Look! My usual Deep Look videos focus in on a cool gameplay mechanic or story element from a game I have played the heck out of, in the hopes that I can share what makes that mechanic so cool. This Deepish Look is a bit less critical and a bit more review-y or Quick Look-y. I still try to give some good insight into the game I'm playing, but this video is geared a little bit towards people who may not have played the game in question. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes.

In this Deepish Look I go back to one of the very first games I've ever played to see if it stands up to modern scrutiny. It turns out it doesn't! However, Toy Story 2 does have a lot of mechanics that are emblematic of where 3D platformer design was in the late 90s. So I take a look at why the developers might have made collection the game's core mechanic and what value that holds. I also show off a few moments of isolated brilliance in the early levels that stand out in an otherwise mediocre game.


Deep Listens: Psychonauts

Deep Listens is a gaming podcast series I'm recording with a few of my friends. Every two weeks we pick and play a new game and then discuss it from a literary, philosophical, and game design perspective. Its kind of like a book club for videogames. We try to dig as deep as we can on an individual game every episode so check it out!

In this episode of Deep Listens we take an email about Shadow of the Colossus before delving into Psychonauts discussion. We cover how Psychonauts uses Freudian and Jungian psychological terminology as world building tools. We discuss the various mental maladies that afflict the characters in Psychonauts and how those maladies shape the way we talk about the game. We also talk about how Psychonauts utilizes its summer camp locale to set its tone and aesthetic. We finish up by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Psychonauts' collectibles.

Apologies for some of the audio issue with this episode. We should have those issues hammered out soon.

And here is the the podcast rss feed and webpage:

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Baby Deep Look: Broken Age- The Subversive Ending

Hey Duders,

Here is the latest Baby Deep Look! My usual Deep Look videos focus in on a cool gameplay mechanic or story element from a game I have played the heck out of, in the hopes that I can share what makes that mechanic so cool. This Baby Deep Look is just as deep as a normal video, but I focus on a mechanic or ability that is so small that the video is much shorter than usual. I aim to keep Baby Deep Looks around 5 minutes long. These videos should be small little observational nuggets that hopefully give you some useful insight into a game's design that you might not have noticed otherwise.

In this Baby Deep Look I break down the very end of Broken Age. I talk about the dual narrative structure of the game and how it creates a very interesting problem for the ending. I also explain how the ending functions as a sort of wrestling match for the role of the true protagonist. Come join me for the exciting ending of this gorgeous game.


Deep Listens: Shadow of the Colossus

Deep Listens is a gaming podcast series I'm recording with a few of my friends. Every two weeks we pick and play a new game and then discuss it from a literary, philosophical, and game design perspective. Its kind of like a book club for videogames. We try to dig as deep as we can on an individual game every episode so check it out!

In the flagship episode of Deep Listens a few friends and I discuss Shadow of the Colossus and some of the philosophical and literary questions it raises. We discuss mereological essentialism with respect to whether SotC fits all of the required criteria to be a game, and what criteria are needed to make a game. We discuss how the colossi designs blend organic and inorganic elements in order to create creatures that feel morally killable, but also make you feel remorseful when the killing is done. We also debate whether SotC is part of a post-modern movement within video games. Come check out a new podcast with some deep discussions about one of the greatest games ever made.

Edit: And here is the the podcast rss feed and webpage: