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Episode 280: Sand in the Ointment

by James Jones, Greg Leahy, Jon Lindemann, and Jonathan Metts - February 19, 2012, 5:11 pm PST
Total comments: 19

This week's robust round of New Business is merely a prelude to the heady feature topic: What is gameplay, anyway?

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This week's show begins with a quick celebration of Nintendo's downloadable news, with Hulu Plus, the Wii Virtual Console's resurgence, and the expansion of the 3DS Virtual Console to include NES games. Greg's New Business flows perfectly into impressions of Wario Land and the Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D demo. James shares a few final thoughts on Rhythm Heaven Fever to accompany his full review here on the site. Jonny is down on Mario Kart: Super Circuit but more positive on the Mass Effect 3 demo. Finally, Jon completes not one but two games this week: God of War 3 and The Simpsons Arcade Game.

The latter half of this episode takes an idea from fellow staff member Minoru Yamaizumi, who needed to translate the word "gameplay" into Japanese and asked us to try defining the concept itself. It's a murky subject fraught with semantic traps, but we tried our best to get around the idea, how Nintendo leads in this regard, and how gameplay factors into our favorite games ever. We'd love to hear what you think of the discussion and of the topic itself, so please comment below or shoot us an email.

This podcast was edited by Greg Leahy.

Music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is used with permission from Jason Ricci & New Blood. You can purchase their newest album, Done with the Devil, directly from the record label, Amazon (CD) (MP3), or iTunes, or call your local record store and ask for it!

Additional music for this episode of Radio Free Nintendo is copyrighted to Nintendo, and is included under fair use protection. 

Talkback

The RuffiansFebruary 19, 2012

What an amazing discussion! Really, there's been many other sites trying to tackel this subject head-on and failed immensely in organizing their thoughts into solid arguments. You guys truly are a unique bunch.

Adrock¸February 20, 2012

Great episode.


The discussion on what gameplay is reminds me of a commentary piece written by, to say the least, a rather colorful and passionate person who wrote that the word "gameplay" is the stupidest word in video games. The crux of the commentary being that when you are talking about gameplay, you are just talking about the game. (Eh, that's a poor paraphrase of his points.)

For me, gameplay/a game is simply how it (the product) plays. With music, it is how it sounds. With a drawing, it is how it looks. With a movie, it is how it looks and sounds. With a game (and gameplay), it is how it plays. From there, I think about all the things that make how a game plays (rules, scoring, goals/objectives, mechanics, controls, tools, attributes, statuses, environments, objects, feedback, results, etc.) and conclude that is what gameplay/a game is.

It becomes difficult to separate where the game ends and where graphics, sound, music, and story begin. This is especially so in Just Dance, Rhythm Heaven, and Ghost Trick which mentioned in the podcast. The difficulty may come from the background question of "What makes a game fun?" and how our personal answer might be that the technical game part of video games aren't the reason why we love to play video games.

Ah, I'm getting off track with a different philosophical discussion.

I'll leave off on where I think gameplay ends and other aspects begin by taking the example of Mario's jump sound effect. That there is a sound effect on a successful jump is important feedback to the player, and such feedback is gameplay. However, as far as gameplay is concerned any short and quick sound effect would be adequate in providing feedback. This is where gameplay in this example ends. That the Mario jump sound effect is the reassuring and joyful sound we have come to know, recognize, and love is where sound design and editing begins.

P.S. Going off from the above, I would imagine a pure gameplay representation of Rhythm Heaven would be sets of lights and sequences of tones that serves as cues for the player input. That is a cold and soulless to imagine for a game that is very much the opposite.

Glad0sFebruary 20, 2012

To me, the only games that I can think of in the last generation where gameplay and story were both equally well-done and integral are Portal and Portal 2. Other games like the Mario series, the Uncharted series, Ghost Trick, the Zelda series, and many, MANY others have really nailed one of the two, but not both. IMO, the Portal games are the best of the past generation.

Glad0sFebruary 20, 2012

Also, while "Sand in the Ointment" was a great title for the episode, I can't see how you didn't name it "Like a Fine Coffee". Or, you could have just named it "Boom".

I absolutely loved Warioland 1 as a kid, it kept me sane at my siblings sporting events playing the game trying to collect as many pieces of treasure and the types of hat powerups that I had never seen before.  Only other Warioland game I played was the Virtual Boy game, which was pretty similar as far as I remember (admittedly it's been a while since playing either)

I know Greg mentioned a bit more focus on puzzle solving in the subsequent Warioland platforming games, but how else has the series changed?

LolmonadeFebruary 20, 2012

Gameplay is a very loose term but I think a good definition would be the mechanics and all the data they're fed. When I play a game and really get into it I ignore the graphics and music and such window dressing and see it as a purely mechanical thing that expects certain actions and reactions from me. That doesn't mean that gameplay cannot be story based, e.g. handing the player a story situation and making him decide stuff based on his understanding of the story and the situation is perfectly fine gameplay though very risky because you aren't dealing with a consistent ruleset and the correctness of an answer depends on how closely it matches the designer's thoughts, if the designer has weird thought patterns then the gameplay gets screwed up. Using presentation to influence the player is also perfectly valid, be it creating an emotional bond to characters or events so that the player decides differently is fine (e.g. I forewent getting the Apocafist in Saints Row 3 simply because I wanted to humiliate Killbane) or distracting or confusing the player with noise (I maintain that to make a scary game you MUST prevent the player from fully understanding the situation, games are always predictable and if the player can predict your horror game you lose).

So gameplay can include all other factors of the game if they are relevant to the way the player interacts with the game.

Spak_SpangFebruary 20, 2012

Quote from: Glad0s

To me, the only games that I can think of in the last generation where gameplay and story were both equally well-done and integral are Portal and Portal 2. Other games like the Mario series, the Uncharted series, Ghost Trick, the Zelda series, and many, MANY others have really nailed one of the two, but not both. IMO, the Portal games are the best of the past generation.

I haven't played the sequel, but story was minimal with the first game. Hell, you didn't even notice the story unless you tried to paid attention to it and it was not integral to the game.

Quote from: TJ

Quote from: Glad0s

To me, the only games that I can think of in the last generation where gameplay and story were both equally well-done and integral are Portal and Portal 2. Other games like the Mario series, the Uncharted series, Ghost Trick, the Zelda series, and many, MANY others have really nailed one of the two, but not both. IMO, the Portal games are the best of the past generation.

I haven't played the sequel, but story was minimal with the first game. Hell, you didn't even notice the story unless you tried to paid attention to it and it was not integral to the game.


IMO, the story in the original Portal was minimal, but effective.  Valve did well by not overtly explaining anything, and as you explore the levels you start to get a sense of what is actually happening, leading up to the final confrontation with GLADoS, the robot who was going to dispose of you like so many other test subjects that preceeded you.

While the story in the game wasn't integral, it brought a flavor that made Portal stand out so much more than if it were just a series of levels with a portal gun. It was the delicious frosting on a small, but rich chocolate cake.

For me, gameplay is all about the game mechanics, i.e., the core actions you're performing in order to play the game. Everything else serves to enhance these core game mechanics, or make them more meaningful to the player.

- The story provides context for a player's actions, and makes their actions significant in some way.
- The presentation/graphics engage the player, immersing them in the game's world or keeping them interested.
- The music heightens the overall experience by giving aural cues as to how the player should be reacting to the game at any given time (happiness, sadness, exuberance, thoughtfulness), or by providing feedback by changing in relation to the player's actions.

At the core of everything is that constant mechanic-based feedback loop known as gameplay.

LithiumFebruary 20, 2012

The reason I think mgs 3 doesnt have 3-d in first person

http://i.imgur.com/yU72y.jpg

Kojima's gunna Kojima


I havent played the demo (i dont even own a 3ds) but i do know that you cant see in 3-d if you have one eye.

YoshidiousGreg Leahy, Staff AlumnusFebruary 20, 2012

Quote from: Lithium

I havent played the demo (i dont even own a 3ds) but i do know that you cant see in 3-d if you have one eye.

Haha, it looks like Snake's lack of depth perception probably is the reason for the 3D deactivation, as I went back to the demo and couldn't aim in first-person using the gyro sensor the way you can in RE: Revelations. One problem with this though: the period of the game covered by the demo features Snake with both his eyes apparently intact.

ROiDSFebruary 20, 2012

Quote from: NWR_Lindy

For me, gameplay is all about the game mechanics, i.e., the core actions you're performing in order to play the game. Everything else serves to enhance these core game mechanics, or make them more meaningful to the player.

- The story provides context for a player's actions, and makes their actions significant in some way.
- The presentation/graphics engage the player, immersing them in the game's world or keeping them interested.
- The music heightens the overall experience by giving aural cues as to how the player should be reacting to the game at any given time (happiness, sadness, exuberance, thoughtfulness), or by providing feedback by changing in relation to the player's actions.

At the core of everything is that constant mechanic-based feedback loop known as gameplay.

I agree. The gameplay is the most important thing in a game.

Phil!February 20, 2012

See, and I'm one who splits gameplay and play control as two differing aspects of a game. Gameplay is all of the sequences you do in a game. For example, collecting stars in Mario 64/Galaxy or using situational tools/abilities in a Zelda game. Play control, however, is how the character you play as controls..or feels as you move he/she/it in game using said tools and abilities. This can be everything from how loose or stiff Mario might feel as you press a button to make him jump, or it could be firing arrows with pointer controls in Zelda.

A favorite game series of mine, Fire Emblem, doesn't really have any play control. Now it's gameplay, however... that's a different story. It's a game about making very strategic moves on the battlefield, using the correct weaponry/magic, and leveling your characters to get the best stat combinations possible. A game such as Fire Emblem doesn't need play control, but a game like Star Fox absolutely must - and it better be fluid and smooth.

That's my stance anyway.

It is possible to have depth perception in one eye, though not via stereoscopy, so the gimmick makes sense. It's still pretty dumb, though.


And a small correction for James, who was otherwise on point and hilarious in this episode: Sid Meier's most recent game is Civilization V in 2010. An expansion was just announced, too. And his company is making the new X-COM strategy game, though I don't know how involved he is personally.

SundoulosFebruary 21, 2012

Quote from: Lithium

I havent played the demo (i dont even own a 3ds) but i do know that you cant see in 3-d if you have one eye.

SPOILERZ...but, for most of the game, Snake doesn't have the eyepatch...  :P

@Rachtman - I would also split off Controls from Gameplay. Controls certainly influence how well the game is played, but they are not part of the core game mechanic itself.

For example, in Super Mario Bros. the core game mechanic is jumping, which in and of itself is nothing interesting. However, the feel of how Mario jumps and the control you have over how and where he jumps is what makes the game spectacular, and so much fun to play.

What about DK Jungle Beat?


Isn't that the gameplay too?

VuduFebruary 22, 2012

I heard about this podcast on GAF. I haven't listened yet, but I think if you take gameplay and substituted another word, like say, sex, people would figure out what it was. People can interprit sexplay.

KikoriMinoru Yamaizumi, Japan CorrespondentFebruary 24, 2012

Thank you for your amazingly interesting discussion on gameplay,
which proved that, as I wrote, you guys are the most intelligent gamer quartet EVER!

Now I think that gameplay may be translated into game-sei (ゲーム性) in some context.

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