Staff Herding: Three - Adam Biessener (Part 1 of 2)... - subsaint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Staff Herding: Three - Adam Biessener (Part 1 of 2)...

Welcome to another episode of Staff Herding - a sporadic feature I do where I stalk random Game Informer staff members pleading for a few minutes of their time to answer some questions. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration...it usually takes more than a few minutes and it's slightly more than "some" questions. I was particularly excited about this episode because Adam Biessener is the PC editor for Game Informer....and well, I just happen to be a PC gamer. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the questions and answers.

Before I get to the interview I would like to extend my personal thanks to Adam Biessener for agreeing to participate in this feature (now accepting applications from other staff members) and for taking time out of his busy day to answer the questions with such thought provoking and sincere answers. Game Informer has the most interactive staff I have ever experienced and it's easy to forget just how busy they are, but with contributions like this, it just reaffirms how committed they are to the community.

(image provided by dean - born4this)

One other item I would like to note is my interview is more focused on Adam Biessener the Gamer, not Adam Biessener the Game Informer employee. I'm sure the staff gets inundated with questions like, "How amazing is it to work at Game Informer?" or "Why did you give Darksiders II a 9.0 instead of a 9.25?" - I didn't dwell on those types of questions so if that's what you're expecting, I hope you're not disappointed.

And finally, Member Herding typically features 5 questions + 2 bonus questions, but given the significance of having this unique opportunity, Staff Herding features 10 questions (some are multipart) + 2 bonus questions. It's much longer than Member Herding and therefore will be sectioned into two parts.

Enjoy!

Game Informer Staff Member: Adam Biessener

Game Informer Position: PC Editor

GIO Rank: Veteran Member - Level 13

Gaming Experience (Years playing): 31 now, so...27 years?

Last Game Completed: Omerta: City of Gangsters

Currently Playing: Diablo III, Path of Exile, Kingdom Rush, Dungeon Raid

1. Between your profile and your input in the weekly likes and dislikes feature, it would seem you have an attraction towards fantasy games. Since many of these games offer roughly the same type of characters and races, which class/race do you find you play the most? Do you have a favorite fantasy game of all time? Have you ever attacked Lord British (or met him in real life)? Will World of Warcraft ever end? Have you ever played (or do you play) Dungeons and Dragons, and if so can you tell us the name of your favorite character and provide a brief description? Do you have a lucky D20?

I've always loved fantasy as a genre. I discovered The Lord of the Rings when I was 7 or so, reading it on the couch at my dad's office when he was stuck bringing me to work on a lazy summer day so that Mom could have some time to herself. From there, I moved on into every giant fantasy epic I could get my hands on: Narnia, Susan Cooper's excellent The Dark is Rising, Alvin Maker (which is just awful in retrospect, but hey, I was young and stupid), Wheel of Time, even brief and ill-advised flirtations with Thomas Covenant (rapist leper main character: not a recipe for success in my book) and Shannara. Later, I discovered one of my now-favorite novelists of all time, Tim Powers, and fell in love with his brand of dark modern horror/fantasy.

Anyway, this is about games and not books even though reading predates and is honestly more central to my character and geekdom. To answer your questions specifically, I find myself playing all kinds of characters. Originally it was always wizards, then I was obsessed with hybrid fighter/mages for a long time, then got tired of managing mana and played straight smashy-smashy fighters for a few years...it goes in phases. I'd say that these days it depends on the game in particular more than anything else.

I've met Lord British, a.k.a. Richard Garriott, and for all the flak he gets for the direction Ultima Online took and the boondoggle of Tabula Rasa and his castle and everything else, the guy is crazy-charismatic and incredibly smart. Along with Sid Meier, Gabe Newell, and a few others, he's one of the few people that I've been in legitimate awe of when meeting. Not because of their fame - I really couldn't care less about celebrity, even when I'm meeting childhood heroes like Meier - but because they're obviously way smarter than I am. In any case, I did not attack Mr. Garriott.

[Total side note: the original Tabula Rasa soundtrack, which I don't think ever shipped but that I got a CD of at some press event or another, was full of awesome. I particularly recommend Insomniacs Olympics by Blockhead.]

My favorite fantasy game of all time is also my favorite RPG of all time -- Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn. I wrote a big piece about it here, but suffice it to say that I love pretty much everything about it and am currently about 65% complete on yet another playthrough (elven fighter/thief, a total backstab machine).

World of Warcraft will end around when the machines take over. Actually, it probably won't. More likely they'll jack us into it full-time and use us for batteries. (To answer seriously, I can't see it ending within a decade or longer. People still love it, and Blizzard will continue to be more than happy to take their money as long as that's the case.)

I absolutely have played my share of D&D, though I don't have a lucky die. My favorite character is also my latest: Ezra Starling, a noble in search of adventure. Unfortunately the domain we kept the wiki on has expired and I lack the willpower to dredge up the original docs I wrote for him now, but he had this whole backstory with an estranged brother and a moral code and everything. Good times.

My other favorite tabletop role-playing thing was in this terrible sci-fi system called Alternity. We barely used the books; the rules were truly heinous. The game was awesome fun, though; it was in the mold of Firefly's one-ship-on-the-run setting (though this was well before the second-best show ever was produced and subsequently canceled far too soon), and the whole tone was ludicrous. We had running jokes about the most popular tri-d program in the galaxy (Space Matlock), long monologues invoking the moral lessons to be learned from it, and the single best line I've encountered in an RPG: one of my friends used "Jesus!" as an exclamation, and another asked entirely earnestly, "Wait. Jesus from the Bible, or Jesus from the breakfast cereal?" The game universe was a Futurama-esque far future where our current culture was a dimly remembered dark age, and so it cracked us up.

Anyway. Video games!

[Saint: Sounds like we come from similar backgrounds with reference to choice in reading material, although I can say I've never read a book about a rapist leper, LOL. I was never much on the magic users; I was more inclined to go with the "smashy smashy" classes as you call it. Although I had a Ranger I was particularly fond of...until that little accident. I have read a ton of material about Richard Garriott, and hearing your thoughts about him confirms everything I ever thought about him - I almost feel bad for trying to vanquish him, or should I say Lord British, in Ultimate IV: Quest of the Avatar. You're probably right about World of Warcraft and the machines taking over. YOU...don't have any lucky dice? Oh, we're going to have to fix that. That Alternity game sounds like a blast, but I'm sure the company playing it had a lot to do with it. Great answer(s), and now I see why you tweeted it was turning into a novel, HAH.]

2. You are the resident expert when it comes to PC gaming. Are you from the boot disk generation? What was the first PC you ever owned, and what was your favorite game you remember playing on it? While the PC as a gaming platform is far from dead, there is no denying the landscape has shifted. Do you think companies like Alienware and Falcon Northwest are on their last leg? What are your thoughts on Valve's secret gaming machine and the Xi3/Valve Piston? Do you plan to buy one (or have Game Informer purchase one and call it "research")? What is the smallest hard drive you ever had installed on a gaming PC?

Oh man. So I grew up on a Mac 512K (the 512K stands for its RAM capacity), playing Rogue and Wizardry and Strategic Command. Then my brother got a Mac Classic for graduating high school, and whenever he was home I was neck-deep in Might & Magic at all times. We also stole into Dad's office after hours to play Civilization and Railroad Tycoon on the awesomely powerful 286 his partner used for accounting. So yeah, we had boot disks.

The first PC I ever actually owned myself I bought with my security job money when I was about 20. It was a Compaq with a discrete graphics card, a big deal at the time. I played so very much Warcraft III on that, you don't even know.

I think dedicated boutique manufacturers (Falcon, Origin, etc) will always have a place as long as high-end gaming on PCs is a thing - there will always be a market segment with too much money on their hands that would rather pay a (ludicrous) premium for a nice machine than piece one together themselves. And yeah, that'll be for some time yet.

The SteamBox is fascinating. To make it work at the price point Valve would like to charge for it, though, they'll need to get around licensing Windows. That means that they probably need to get Windows emulation on Linux working well enough that it won't drive non-tech dorks crazy (because that's the bulk of the market they'd like to sell to), whether that's through WINE or something else. Valve certainly has the resources to make that happen, and it's a company full of awfully smart people, so I've got no plans to bet against them.

The smallest hard drive I can remember is the "lesser fireball," as my brother dubbed the original 20MB internal drive on his Mac. Woof.

[Saint: Oh, I'm quite familiar with the 512K. My first computer was the Commodore 64 (64KB or RAM), so I felt your pain. Although, at the time we didn't know any better. It's funny you mention those games, because I am doing a weekly blog series focusing on the 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die, and those games have all come up recently. Rogue was a real *ahem* treat. I never played it before, so I found an online Java app to experience it in all its glory. Ah, Railroad Tycoon, now there is a game I haven't heard mentioned in a long time. Getting that bonus for building the first transcontinental railroad was cool. Warcraft III was classic! When you would click on an Orc and he'd look at you and say, "WHAT!" You're a bit more optimistic about the future of high end gaming rigs than I am, but since you're in the business and I'm not, I find that encouraging. I am so excited about the SteamBox, but I am a Valve fan boy so I am biased. Hah Hah, 20MB hard drive? Crikey. Now they give away 16GB thumb drives as promotional items. We've come a long way, haven't we?]

3. Games like The Walking Dead are often praised because they force the player to make hard decisions often resulting in fatal consequences for the player or the companions to the player. Other games are known for this too, including the Mass Effect series and Spec Ops: The Line. What is the hardest choice you have ever had to make in a game? Did you feel bad about or regret your decision? Do your choices really matter, or do you think the outcome is inevitable? Are you for or against alternate endings in video games?

This touches on two things that are central to what I think of as prime directives for games: hard decisions, and fail states. So I'm going to ignore your specific questions and pontificate a bit instead.

-dealwithit.gif-

Hard, non-revocable decisions are the essence of the interactive feedback loop that good games are built on. Choosing between sending Kaiden or Ashley to their death is a dramatic example, but it's not a particularly good one. A single game of competitive StarCraft is a tapestry woven of hundreds of tiny decisions and a few big ones, and going for a heavier marauder mix can be just as tough of a call as pulling the trigger on a second expansion or committing to a base trade. Building a library instead of a chariot archer in Civilization doesn't come with a pre-packaged narrative, but it absolutely requires you to make tradeoffs and live with the consequences. Launching a foe instead of continuing a ground combo in DMC. Swallowing your pride to help Clementine. Slotting a vitality gem instead of another dexterity booster. All of these examples come from vastly different games, genres, and situations, but they all share their place in closing the interactive feedback loop.

I believe this is why you see widespread derision from gamers toward rote tasks like Farmville (seriously, the whole thing) and grindy MMOs like parts of WoW. When all you're doing is filling an endless progress bar to get the next bit of positive feedback like a rat in a Skinner box, you've lost the point of engaging in interactive entertainment. Some mindless grinding for reputation or crop-growing or whatever can be fine and relaxing, particularly when you're using it as a low-stress background to hanging out in a chat channel with your friends, but calling such activities a "game" is a stretch.

Back to the point about living with consequences, though, fail states that don't end the game are some of the most powerful tools in the developer's toolbox. Mass Effect 2's ending is rightfully praised as a great example; you can "fail" at tasks or objectives and have your crewmembers die for your shortcomings, but still carry on with the mission. In this kind of structure, you've neatly avoided one of the worst traps a game can fall into: a player trying to pick out the "correct" series of actions that the designer intends rather than engaging with the interactive nature of the game and making decisions based on his or her own strategy, goals, moral code, or perversity (see: the awful dungeons Joe Juba so loves to build for his Sims).

Games can be so much more than an endless series of finding the correctly shaped hole for whatever you're currently holding in your hand.

(Also, that's probably a metaphor for life. I am so very profound.)

[Saint: Pontificate away and enlighten us. Hmm, that is a profound way of looking at it and I especially liked the "library versus a chariot archer" in Civilization - that really puts two total opposites at odds with one another, with very different possibilities. Imagine a game that came down to such a simple and seemingly harmless decision. Based on your assessment, I wish I could ask a follow up question about your thoughts regarding Minecraft. There are parts of me that view it similarly to how you describe Farmville, yet I can't break (or explain) the stranglehold it has on me. Your answer was brilliant as much as it was entertaining. I've had those same discussions about Mass Effect and how some try and guess the responses that aren't going to get somebody killed, even though it might not be the decision they would make if they were really in that position.]

4. Imagine you are the producer for a video game project with unlimited resources and the creative freedom to develop whatever game you want. What genre of game do you create? Do you go with an existing title or create something new? Explain your choice. What developer would you want working on the project? If you could pick any song as the introduction soundtrack for this game, what would it be and why?

I think it was Asimov's later Foundation novels where I first read about this (I may be totally misremembering, so please feel free to correct me in the comments) but I absolutely fell in love with the idea of an accelerated real-time multiplayer global political/economic/military simulation. Think Paradox's strategy games (Crusader Kings II, et al) but on a much grander scale and with human players for every faction. The idea of hundreds of players taking on the roles of heads of state and other powerful factions (international trade consortiums, sub-factions of great powers like opposition parties in the modern U.S. or non-royal nobles in medieval Europe) in a real-time game that takes place over the course of weeks is just awesome.

I would throw so much money at Paradox to make it. Enough money to hire an honest-to-goodness interface designer, even.

Baba Yetu would obviously be the intro song, because it is the best intro song of all time and will probably never be topped.

[Saint: Hmm, an interesting proposal, which I don't know why, reminds me of the recent story about EVE Online having a 3,000 player space battle. Perhaps the size and scope of what you're imagining. Honestly I think we'll see more of the "games lasting weeks" in the future, with persistent worlds where players can hop in and out of the ongoing battle. Baba Yetu, eh? It is pretty epic.]

5. Do you think the independent game movement is so popular right now because the games are better or cheaper? Does the price of a game influence expectations? Will Journey win the Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media; does it even matter? When do you think we will see an MMORPG on a game console similar to what we have available on the PC? Are there any obscure titles out there that you know about that we should know about?

Price absolutely influences expectations, but to different levels for different people. Does your boss and his thousands of dollars he doesn't know what to do with care that he spent $60 on an eight-hour game he'll never play again? How about your little brother who spent a week sweating in the summer sun with a rake scraping together that $60? It's impossible to answer that question from a broad perspective. More than anything, though, I think gamers are slowly getting better at realizing that presentation and infrastructure drive cost, not quality. So FTL can be an awesome game for $20 or whatever, and Total War can kick ass at $60, and everyone still feels like they got their money's worth.

Indie games are popular now because brilliant people are making amazing games that exist outside of the mainstream of publicly traded corporation funding and the demands and expectations that come with it. Digital distribution is the great equalizer. In economics terms, we have a healthier market because barriers to entry have been torn down. You don't need tens of thousands of dollars for dev kits and licenses anymore, plus tons more for manufacturing and shipping, plus relationships and clout with retailers to actually get onto shelves, plus big-ticket advertising, plus plus plus.... Competition and creativity are thriving because products can achieve wide distribution and sales without the up-front costs that used to limit who could participate in the market as a seller, while the base is broadening in a huge way thanks to the destruction of the lower price limit (i.e. 99-cent games on mobile, free-to-play, etc).

MMOs are coming to consoles. They're too profitable not to. I will be shocked if Sony and Microsoft haven't figured out a business and infrastructure model for their next machines that lets them get their cut while developers can still make money by running games as services instead of fire-and-forget traditional products.

My go-to weird indie games that I holler at everyone about at the moment are Spectromancer, The Trouble with Robots, and Clockwork Empires. The first two are out (and awesome), and the third looks absolutely incredible.

[Saint: Yeah, I can agree with all of that. I try not to have buyer's remorse with anything I buy, but when I buy a game for cheap and really enjoy it, it seems to be more meaningful than paying full price for a mediocre game. I was a little slow to the indie game movement, but I'm catching up. I still need to play Journey. Wow, you think MMOs are coming to consoles. I know that will make a lot of people happy. I wonder how that will work - will gamers who pay for their XBL subscription be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee too. Well, you called it. Sounds like we'll find out soon enough. I'm not familiar with those games you mention, so I've taken note and will check them out.]


(Check back tomorrow to see how Adam responds to the zombie outbreak question.)

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