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Three Moves Ahead Episode 35 – Brutal Legend

October 20th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 22 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Skip a night and the inmates take over the asylum. Tom and Julian decide to talk about Brutal Legend, especially its strategy components. Why is BL Tom’s favorite game of the year? Are there different strategies for the RTS component? Is it an RTS at all?

Also, Bruce makes a cameo appearance in the intro.

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Sarkus

    While personalities can take you guys along, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed that the last two weeks have been about a game that came out months ago and now a game that only Tom (who thinks everything is a strategy game) would define as such. Is there really nothing better for a podcast thats supposed to be about strategy games to talk about?

    I’m expecting significant Tropico 3 discussions next time, and I don’t mean the “oh, only one of us actually played it” approach we got to Hearts of Iron 3 a few months ago.

  • j

    Good show, the first one I’ve listened fully through. You guys are fun to listen to.

  • Troy

    Tropico 3 was the plan, but I had to bail. I think the RTS elements of Brutal Legend are actually quite clear, though it certainly doesn’t describe all of the game.

  • Dirk

    I want to agree with Sarkus and say that the shows recently are dealing with games that are more towards the fringe of “strategy” and are not very interesting. While this may only clash with my own idiosyncratic preferences and tendencies, it is notable to me how much I used to enjoy the show and how disconnected these recent shows – heavy on console games which at least half of the panel by their own admission don’t even own – is really missing the mark.

    Still love ya Troy!

  • mutait

    I’m a big fan, but I have to agree the last several podcasts probably won’t make 3MA’s Greatest Hits album. I actually don’t mind the occasional foray into the fringes of strat gaming (the boundaries are always more interesting than the center). But I do wonder if things would work better if there was less of an emphasis on staying topical (i.e. latest releases that the group have widely varying levels of enthusiasm about or experience with). Where past podcasts often shine are at those moments where the group rediscovers and debates some meaningful game or innovation or debacle from the past. Since part of the problem with current strategy titles is that they seem to keep making the same mistakes and often seem to have no sense of their lineage or the history they’re participating in, a great role for your podcast might be to remind us of what does and doesn’t make for great strategy gaming.

    Just my two bits. Regardless, I’ll keep listening.

  • Tom Chick

    Wait, wait, you guys don’t think Brutal Legend is a strategy game? Maybe I didn’t make the case very well on the podcast, but Brutal Legend is a full-blown, card-carrying, bona fide RTS. It is every bit as much as a strategy game as Sacrifice and EndWar, both games that it has a lot in common with.

    That’s cool if you’re not digging the last few podcasts, but you’re sadly mistaken if you think Brutal Legend doesn’t deserve a prominent place in any discussion of recent strategy games.

  • Troy


    I agree that our “theory” chats are among some of our best. The problem, of course, is that you often run out of theory ideas or need a new release to trigger a discussion idea. Even our HoI3 show was really about WW2 in general as a setting – we almost always tie our shows to a larger theme even when a particular game is the pro forma topic.

    Having not played BL, I can’t say whether it has RTS aspects or not, but Tom’s not alone in making the connection so this isn’t his own special quirk talking here.

  • mutait

    Sorry, Tom and Troy, I wasn’t arguing that BL isn’t an RTS — I think Tom and Julian made a great case that it can be viewed as one. And I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t be discussing the boundaries of the genre — that’s all cool and fascinating stuff. I’m talking about a practical problem where the topic for a podcast becomes a new game that only two of the four 3MA members have played yet. (I get the feeling that there would have been the same ratio even if you’d done Tropico 3 instead.) I’m probably bringing in my own baggage here, but I sometimes get the same feeling I do at work (fiction writing prof) when I listen to students workshopping a short story that half the group hasn’t read.

  • Josemas

    Brutal Legend multiplayer is definitely a strategy game, and it’s great. I also do hope to hear more about Tropico, Hearts of Iron, Dominions 3, etc. , and especially, when the time is right, Solium Infernum. (Section 8 as a strategy game was a bit more of a stretch for me but I still enjoyed the discussion).

    Loved the podcast.

  • Sarkus

    I may have overstated the issue regarding Brutal Legend as it is not a game I’ve played. Many games released are not easily classified within specific genres and often contain elements of several. But if the concept of “strategy” is defined too broadly, then just about any game qualifies. Will the upcoming RPG Dragon Age also be discussed? Because it certainly appears to have strategy elements, yet I would not call it a strategy game. IMHO, obviously. Sure, hearing some takes on it would be nice, but since there are so few strategy game focused podcasts, I’d rather see this one differentiate itself rather then compete with other excellent podcasts.

    Perhaps my bigger issue is that the actual discussion of new strategy titles seems to have gotten lost in recent episodes of the podcast. As Mutait notes, it seems like the group isn’t really all that prepared to discuss the new releases when only one or two have actually played them. It may be that I need to adjust my expectations of what to expect/look forward to each week.

  • Dirk

    So let me re-state my perspective: the recent bias has been toward “console-style” strategy games that are about how quickly can you mash buttons (or give quick spoken orders) and big, gaudy graphics. That seems more consistent with “Tom gaming” (for lack of a less direct way to put it) as opposed to the kind of games that Troy seems to really like and talk about. Not surprisingly, Troy has been more of a passive voice in these conversations.

    I guess part of it is I think my gaming and interests align a lot more with Troy’s than Tom’s, and having week after week of the latter is a bummer. Nothing against Tom, natch, I just like different things (I would be THRILLED for a show about HoI that actually talked about the game as opposed to devolved into a WW2 gaming convo) and I know Tom would rather have his eyelashes plucked than play _that_ game enough to be an active participant in such a talk.

    I look forward to 3MA and its been a letdown this month for this strategy gamer. About half of the people who’ve chimed in on this thread also aren’t feeling as much love so, regardless of the reasons, _something_ isn’t resonating for members of the vocal minority.

  • Troy

    Alas, a podcast that was only about the games that I really loved would be monthly. They just don’t make enough of them.

    Rest assured, you all being heard. We take our listeners (and my readers) very seriously.

  • Dirk

    No question about that, Troy: you get a consistent A+ in the customer service department. I wish there were more Flash of Steel’s and Three Moves Ahead’s out there to enjoy.

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    An enjoyable podcast, although the lack of Troy at the helm, did make it feel a bit unusual. I guess strategy can cover a lot of ground in gaming terms, but I also come at it from the Tom Chick perspective, so I’m willing to embrace strategy in action games, as well as even cover a lot of games on non PC platforms. I think my rule of thumb nowadays seems to be if Tom likes it, I’ll probably like it.

    I think the nostalgia trips are nice to blend in to the show, giving a much wider and almost historical bent to the discussion, not only looking at current titles, but also putting them in perspective of the titles that have come before, sort of taking stock of the genre’s evolution. That aspect, coupled with the depth of knowledge by the panel, really does give added weight and integrity to the chat. I also think the panel’s make up is part of the appeal of the show, with Bruce quite clearly old school wargamer, with little time on his hands to taste the now, Julian with his enthusiasm for boardgames along with his broad tastes in gaming on any platform, Tom and his ability to dissect the intricacies of any game, and explain the design mechanisms and exactly what works and what doesn’t – alongside his sheer appetite for current games, and coming across outlying esoteric gems, and finally Troy, with his historical knowledge and carefully thought out appraisals of the more traditional strategy and war games on offer. So, for me, the interplay of backgrounds and specialities makes for very interesting listening. I always come away with a new angle on a game, or something to think about in the genre. Not many podcasts can generate that sort of listener enthusiasm.

    Now then onto Brutal Legend – I have to say unto Tom mentioned the RTS angle on Fidgit, I was leaving this game well alone. I assumed it was going to be an adventure game similar to Full Throttle. However, after playing the RTS free demo, I still thought it was worth a punt for the comedy, and the style of how the action was woven around a fantastically ridiculous story.

    I can say I’ve enjoyed myself so far, I’ve only made it past the first Stage Battle with the Goth Chicks army, but by gum that wasn’t half a battle. I think it took me like two hours straight to play it out and win. I was attempting to conjure some sort of tactical play, trying out different approaches, but mostly banging my head bangers against a wall of lolloping Tim Burton stripey jumpers caked with stinging black eye liner. It began to feel a lot like Demigod in terms of it being a war of attrition, only I found myself fumbling around with the controls, knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but couldn’t actually make the mechanics of it work. I think perhaps the game works as an action orientated introduction to RTS play for non RTS players, but for RTS players I felt like I was in a straightjacket at times.

    There seems to be several mechanisms for moving your summoned troops around, that are all very similar, but can be utilised in different circumstances. You have the LB beam of light, that you can place on a target, and use it as a point to rally any nearby troops to. This can be independent of your Eddie, all you need to do, is fly Eddie near some fresh troops and press right on the d-pad, and they’re off. You can play a solo to panic summon all units to your position, more useful if things are getting on top of you, and you’re willing to forgoe other objectives being served by your troops. You can solo a rally flag which allows you to carry a mobile waypoint around with you, and you can plant it in the ground, and keep churning troops out and they’ll head for the rally spot. Or you can take direct control of a unit, and walk it to where you want them to go. What I found frustrating was I couldn’t find an easy and quick way to command units separately from the pack, place them, and then leave them to protect or to attack. I was always trying to send stealth Roadie units in to take out Fan geysers, or towers, and on most occasions I was defeated, I usually ended up having to walk them to the target and initiate the attack myself. Which usually left other areas lacking in control. And I’d have to start again, summoning and moving stuff.

    I was pretty sure I was at a stalemate at one point, I could organise an attack, but it would be met with such force as to neutralise most of the units I could summon, then we’d both trickle back to lick our wounds, build up fans, and begin the process again (and again). Even with the profanity filter on, the air in my gaming room was blue. I eventually managed to win by overshooting the enemy’s forces and taking the fan towers behind their battling troops. I had to do this manually, me and my Roadies. It felt like a cheap win, because the AI didn’t seem to have the power to rebuild the geysers at their stage when they’d committed so much “fan juice” in the attack or defence of the geysers in the middle of the map.

    I’m looking forward to more of this, with the vain hope that I’ll pick apart the control mechanisms and find a way to make the attacks and defensive plays I want as an RTS player. I’ve not quite got to grips with the unit types and whether they have any sort of rock/paper/scissors mechanic between their strengths and weaknesses, but from the play I’ve had, it seems they only really come into play if you enhance them with their double team powers manually.

    I do like the game, I think the exploration and driving/weapons bits are entertaining enough, the story is fun and clever, and makes you laugh out loud. The RTS sections can be a bit harrowing in terms of controls, but at least this is pushing strategy to the masses in a way a traditional RTS couldn’t.

    I don’t really see the Endwar connection to the games RTS mode, other than the camera perspective is at the unit level, but theres no direct action based control on the unit there. Stormrise did a similar unit level approach, and I think it certainly adds a level of personal “in the battle” feel to the game. The only other game I could think of that has a similar unit level action based approach is Savage: Battle of Newerth/Savage 2 (both derived from Half Life mod Natural Selection, I believe) – where you are a unit in the conflict and you fight it out with action gameplay, whether it be melee with swords and shields or FPS style gun toting. The major difference with the Savage games is that there is a traditional RTS commander looking down upon the battlefield commanding the other players to do things. I enjoy RTS, and I think I warm to games where they try and couple tactics with action, but still give you that “in command” feel.

    A quick poke at the strategists who are lifting their nose up at console based games, the latest Panzer General: Allied Assault out on XBox Live Arcade today, is a lovely blend of wargaming boardgame, and card use and collection. Its got unit placement, its got all the good stuff of panzer general, but its got the added bonus of cards and a multi-tiered combat resolution that seems to give you a lot of choice at the win, depending upon which cards you have and how you want to play them.

  • mutait

    I don’t want my fault-finding to overshadow the love. It’s a good (and generous) thing that you guys do each week, and I appreciate it. My dissatisfaction with a few recent weak episodes probably just arises from my knowledge of how great this podcast can be when it’s working. When the four of you are all present and contributing, it’s kind of like the gaming podcast equivalent of the Beatles — a perfect synthesis with each member contributing some specific but crucial part of the whole.

    Don’t worry, I’m not going to speculate which 3MA member is Ringo.

  • Troy

    Fault finding is good. Love is good. Beer is good.

  • Primemover

    Wow, did Bruce sound tired! Working with neurosurgeons, I know what type of hours they keep!

    Troy, your presence was missed.

    Tom and Julian are big boys and don’t need anyone to come to their defense, and I thought their discussion of BL was insightful. It certainly does not sound like a traditional RTS, but then again, the genre should only benefit when a design or conceptual twist to one of its kind is out there for the masses. Especially where it is a console game, a non-traditional RTS will likely market and sell better (especially with a poster boy like Jack Black who would appeal to the console owner demographic).

    Non-traditional RTS is still strategy, and discussing its merits is no different than discussing board games or CCG’s. All are a different modalities/mediums with strategy as their theme, even if the expectation for TMA is that it will focus on PC strategy. If Diner Dash and Cake Maker become central discussion on TMA, maybe then Troy will have to explain himself.

  • Tim McDonald

    Excellent podcast. I admit, I wasn’t sure how a podcast without Troy would function, but it actually worked quite well. (We still love you, though, Troy. Do come back to your loyal listeners.)

    And yes, Brutal Legend is a real-time strategy game. It’s not a pure RTS, but that section of the game is easily the most developed, and almost every other element builds up to it, slowly teaching you the controls and the way things work. Much as I’ve said this about the game before: the solo action starts off teaching you the controls, and then it evolves into a squad combat game that teaches you about rudimentary orders and Double Team moves, before finally turning into a full-fledged RTS when you get the hang of everything else.

    My own problem with it is the lack of feedback. I’ve found it hard, at times, to work out exactly what’s murdering my units and why, or even whether certain units are classified as vehicles or infantry. I actually found it worse when new units turned up, as it became even more confusing until I worked things out, but then I’m slow.

    Not as bad as the bloody, bloody Reapers that the Drowning Doom faction have, though. Much as there are counters, they’re still horrible and murderous. Speaking of which, did someone eventually get the name Drowning Doom right in the podcast?

    On a non-Brutal Legend note, I don’t mind the podcasts doing this. Much as I like the theory discussions, it’s nice to hear you guys discussing something like this in such detail every now and then, too.

  • Switchbreak

    All the gaming podcasts out there have talked about Brutal Legend for a bit, but this was by far the most interesting look at it that I’ve heard anywhere.

  • Mordiceius

    I haven’t finished listening to the whole podcast yet, but I listened to one part that I just wanted to clarify something on.

    You say that you think that there was perhaps different design teams working on the RTS and then the open world stuff, but it was actually quite a different story. Tim Schafer said in an interview that Brutal Legend actually started out as a 100% full-blown overhead RTS game. They created the game to be played fully RTS style.

    From there, they realized that it was actually an awesome world they created so they stripped down and simplified the RTS elements and created the open world gameplay style and the story. What Brutal Legend initially was going to be looked nothing like what it is now. Now, I would almost call it a pseudo-RTS.

    I don’t think you can call the gameplay of Brutal Legend a full-blown RTS. When I think of a true RTS, I think of a lot of strategic and precise squad combat. I think of a lot of attacking and defending and having to control 8 different squads in 8 different areas of the map at the same time. If you play multiplayer like that, you will lose. In this game, the best thing to do is just have one army that you move around with as a zerg and lead the charge with on the ground. Between double teaming and guitar solos, you should actually spend very little time in the air commanding troops. That really makes me think of it as not an RTS.

    Just my two cents.

  • Ginger Yellow

    “In this game, the best thing to do is just have one army that you move around with as a zerg and lead the charge with on the ground. ”

    So, like Command & Conquer, then.

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