The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
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
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.
Game Informer Staff Member: Adam Biessener
Informer Position: PC Editor
Rank: Veteran Member - Level 13
Experience (Years playing): 31 now, so...27 years?
Game Completed: Omerta: City of Gangsters
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.)
That was an awesome interview! I can't wait for the 2nd half.
Love this feature! Thanks Saint and of course Adam for taking the time to go into such great depth!
Adam is a huge reason I became interested in PC gaming. I would always read his reviews and other features and feel like I was missing out on a very large part of the gaming experience. As it turned out, I was!
I completely agree with Mojomonkey12 on this. Excellent interview. I'm a big fan of Adam and I think that each article he writes just gives me that much more in-depth knowledge about the PC side of gaming.
Interesting reversal on the staff! I like it!
I need to see if Adam also kills Hanson... I MUST KNOW!
HAHA! That tweet was hilarious!
That was a really great read. It seems we're both huge fans of fantasy games. The Elder Scrolls is one of my favorite series, and I've put a crazy amount of time into games like Dark Souls, Two Worlds 2, and now Dragon's Dogma.
Not being a real PC gamer (I only have a couple I play and they chug on my weak device), much of this was Greek to me. That said, interesting insight and I especially loved the discussion on hard decisions and fail states. I completely agree, except that I think games without such content can still be considered games. That said, one of the most underutilized gaming mechanisms is that kind of fail state I think Adam is alluding to, namely, being able to fail at something but still continue playing, and living with the consequences. While I never got far in it, True Crime L.A.(?) offered that functionality, wherein you could fail any mission but still continue with the game, albeit with the caveat of not having succeeded against certain nemeses, who might appear later, or with certain objectives. In sum, this is one feature that can and should be applied more often than it is, or at least to more dramatic effect than regularly encountered in a game.
This question is a bit late so don't know if Adam see it to answer, but I'll ask anyway. As a huge fan of Paradox Interactive's games I was wondering if there are any other Paradox games besides CK II that you play?