Sep 172012
 

Today, Bioware’s Mark Darrah confirmed the existence of a Dragon Age III and while not much was revealed, we did get enough to wet our whistles for a little while. First and foremost, the new title is called Dragon Age III: Inquisition. In a blog post written by Darrah on the Dragon Age website, he stated that Bioware didn’t “want to hide from them,” with them being the recent rumors of a Dragon Age III.

He went on to state that Dragon Age III is being developed by a lot of the same team that worked on Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. But he did state that there are some new faces developing Dragon Age III along with the old veterans. Apart from that, the biggest reveal, apart from the game itself, is the new engine Bioware is creating. It is said to “deliver a more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices, and more customization.” Their foundation for this engine is based off of DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine, which is not a bad place to start.

Dragon Age II was hit with some pretty mixed reviews upon its release, with opinions on it growing more and more negative as time went on. I, for one, enjoyed it quite a bit but not even I thought another Dragon Age was necessary. What about you? You ready to assemble a party and do some more fighting?

Jun 242012
 

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Dragon's Dogma

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Contains: Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.


In the land of RPG, the thrill of a game whose main goal is to slay a mighty dragon is just tantalising to any hardcore fantasy gamer. With that in mind, if you look at past games which consist of fighting evil dragons such as Dragon Age: Origins for example, you will see that you could run up to a dragon; cast spells at it, fire arrows and finally hack and slash at it until you’ve made yourself a nicely fitting dragon scale armour for yourself! Well, what would you say if I told you that you could climb up the vile beast to strike various critical blows to its head, back, wings and legs? Not only that but you could do the same to other mythical creatures such as a griffin or chimera. To me, if I were to hear this from someone else, I would jump for joy and ask them the name of this golden chalice that allowed me to sip the nectar of monster killing sweetness. And he would say, “Dragon’s Dogma!”

Dragon’s Dogma is set in the vast world of Gransys. The story starts off with a character named Savan. Strong willed, he is off to fight the dragon for reasons unknown other than he is, in fact, a chosen one. What makes him so special? You won’t understand right now, but this sets the scene of your main goal and also acts as a nice tutorial stage where you get to fight a mighty chimera. Once you progress from this stage you find yourself in the present where you play as your own character which you create who is enjoying his or her life in the small town of Cassardis. Life in Cassardis is magical; warm skies above, blue seas lapping against the golden sands of  her beaches and a bountiful catch of fish daily. Nothing could be better than this but for your character, the time for change is nigh, and it’s not by choice either. Cassardis is attacked by the antagonist of the game, the dragon. Acting as the stalwart hero your character picks up a sword dropped by guard and attacks the dragon, piercing his skin. The dragon retaliates by stealing your heart and swallowing it whole. You fall unconscious and are found on  the beach among the dead the only one breathing. Left with a scar, you hear a voice telling you the only way to regain your heart, the key piece to make you whole again, is to defeat this dragon and reclaim what is rightfully yours thus starting your adventure and giving you the title of ‘Arisen’.

Having read reviews for this game and watched the trailers, I was excited. It reminded me of Shadow of The Colossus, what appeared to be an unappreciated game on the Playstation 2 in which the protagonist climbed and killed a series of Colossi to bring back the soul of his love who had been sacrificed earlier in the game. The only differences are that Dragon’s Dogma; runs much more smoothly, is a lot more colourful and consists of smaller beasts to tackle besides the dragon that is. With this in mind and with all the hype, it’s sad to say I was somewhat let down with certain aspects of the game.

Once you start the story and you’ve awoken, there comes the time of setting off out of the town and starting your journey but there is no real indication of this. There are quests from strangers, quests from notice boards situated around and not to forget the story based quests. There are countless quests to do but there is no indication of which quests are which. How do you know you’ve started a storyline quest? I had no idea. Running around an empty map finding little icons come up on my map, not having any clue of what they were and confirming with the manual, I found myself navigating the quest menu a lot. The good thing there is I could choose which quests I wanted to do but I could not differentiate the differences between side quests and main quests which left me running around for an hour before moving on to the next part of the story.

 

The controls themselves whilst fighting appeared a little clunky at the start needed a good five to ten minutes of practice before succeeding in taking on a group of goblins. The setup allows you to hit with X and Y but then use weapon specific attacks with the bumpers. These have been allocated to certain slots in which you unlock when you level up and purchase them using XP or ‘Discipline’. Having done so I was easily able to do certain attacks with ease and felt comfortable in using the controls and with that I could take on anything, be it a goblin or even the dragon himself!

The final thing that let me down was the inadequacy of the cut scenes. More important scenes aside, there is barely any expression on the faces of NPCs that are talking to you. The speech is also sometimes delayed but what does that matter, as their mouths hardly move anyway! The lack of life in the NPCs and towns makes the world feel empty in the safer areas. You aren’t able to explore the majority of buildings and the ones you can are generally shops, which have nothing of much interest besides the shopkeepers who sell you their wares. As I’m on the topic of locations, there are only two real towns; Cassardis and Gran Soren (the main city you spend will most your time in). Any other locations are smaller forts that don’t really offer much in terms of resting and buying wares, in fact, they’re just there as a temporary safe zone to prepare for the next destination.

With these points in mind, what I really did enjoy was the story. Once you get on track and you’ve helped out so many people with their quests, you will find yourself fighting bigger and better creatures. The story really does start to pace up once you start participating in the Wyrm hunt, a series of quests that are more story orientated and push you forward through the game right up to the battle with the dragon to reclaim your heart. Once you’ve defeated the beast, the game doesn’t end just yet, the further content pushes the boundaries of the story and due to the twists and turns your mind will be blown.

Another good thing is that in a world that feels like you’re alone, you are most definitely not. You have a partner, albeit not a multiplayer, this AI character is whatever you make him or her and they will do your every bidding. Your pawn will follow you to the ends of the earth quite literally and not only that, but they also possess another ability, the ability to be plucked from the servers of your game and ‘hired’ by other players around the globe, with a currency known as Rune Crystals. Your pawn is then rated by these players once they have done with them. They will then come back with knowledge of how to kill certain beasts, the knowledge of how to do certain quests or even some kind of item depending on what the player decides your pawn deserves for questing with them.

I’m a guy who enjoys looking at art, so in game scenery has to look good. I expect leaves to look crisp on trees, mountainous ranges to be rolling beautifully across plains and water to flow with a fluidity of well, water! And I have not been let down; the graphics of the landscapes play out beautifully and it really looks amazing. The character models of monsters and other beasts also look great, their movement is smooth and their attacks are harsh. The only let down here is that what you have with the monsters, you lose with the NPCs in the city.

Overall, if you can forgive Capcom for their abundance of blunders with the main cities and NPC models/animations/speech then you will enjoy this game with its intense story and pulling power. The fact you can create yourself and put yourself in a game with a straightforward goal to get back your heart is enough to start off any gamer. However, I give you fair warning now, be prepared for an intense story with so many twists and turns your mind will boggle! For me, this game truly offers a story so great that I could play it again and again and if this draws you in as much as I, you will be in for a treat!

XBox 360

Graphics

85
 

Audio

90
 

Gameplay

70

Creativity

97
 

Execution

85
 

Offset

77
    

8.4

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

May 092012
 

Over at GamesIndustry International, they’ve got the scoop on why news on a new Dragon Age title is scarce. According to industry analyst Michael Pachter, Bioware has been slow to begin work on a third entry in the fantasy RPG series because the team responsible for its development has been too busy working on Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was previously revealed that the team will make a sequel instead of developing additional DLC for Dragon Age II.

“Dragon Age III appears to have slipped to FY:14. We had previously expected the next Dragon Age to be released in Q4:13, two years after its predecessor. However, we believe that a significant portion of the BioWare team responsible for the game was reassigned to Star Wars in order to create content and fix bugs to keep the game’s audience engaged,” he said in the report.

The third game has yet to be officially announced, but we know that it will 1) feature a new protagonist, 2) use the dialogue wheel from the second game, 3) allow players to import save files, and 4) have a map four to five times larger than that of the first game.

Old Republic was supposed to be the game that would wrestle away control of the MMO space from World of Warcraft, or at least be the first game to coexist peacefully with it. Instead, the game is bleeding subscribers just months after launch, losing 400,000 just in the past two months. Meanwhile, Blizzard’s MMO-to-end-them-all trucks along with around 10 million active subscribers and a new expansion set for a holiday release.

Elder Scrolls Online is its next challenger, and my colleague Ryan Hillis has a few things to say about that.

Source: GamesIndustry International

Nov 272011
 

Welcome to part 2 of my weekly series examining different methods of storytelling in video games. Last week I talked about one of the more prominent styles of storytelling, the silent protagonist. I determined that if used correctly, the silent protagonist method can work, but for the most part it is becoming outdated. This week, I’m going to take a look at something I mentioned briefly last week, and that is the idea of player choice. This applies to games that allow the player to select every line of the main character’s dialogue, or to games that put a large emphasis morality based decision making. Like last week, I’m going to look at some games that use these methods effectively, and some that do not, and then discuss the overall merit of player choice.

Baldur's Gate

When looking at games that use the idea of player choice in one form or another, a pattern becomes clear; most of them are western role playing games. That isn’t to say that all of them are, but a large majority fall into that category. This is because western role playing games have their roots in pen and paper role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, and player choice is an essential element of that type of experience. Player choice is one of the core elements of playing a role, and is something that many so-called RPGs seem to be lacking. When it comes to dialogue choices and moral decision making, Bioware is the first developer that comes to mind. Since Baldur’s Gate came out back in 1998, Bioware has been known for fantastic writing and clever implementation of player choice. However, because this series is more about the current state of storytelling in games, I’m going to focus on their modern games; meaning Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect series.

The Mass Effect games are the prime example of how to utilize choice in an interesting way, and they avoid many of the pitfalls present in most games that put an emphasis on moral choice. The main problem most games have when dealing with moral choice, is that they are very black and white. This usually amounts to things like, “You can either donate all your money to this orphanage, or burn it to the ground.” Now, that may be an exaggeration, but only slightly. What makes the choices in Mass Effect so great is that none of them are simple good or bad. Some examples of the choices in the Mass Effects games are, “Risk human lives to save the political leaders of other species, or let them die and focus the human forces on the enemy” or “Let a terrorist walk free to save the hostages, or apprehend him and risk the hostages’ lives.” These and many other decisions throughout both Mass Effect games really make you think, and there is no clear cut good or bad choice. What makes these choices even better is that there are pros and cons to making each choice, as opposed to some games where there aren’t really any good reasons why anyone would choose some of the evil options other than for the sake of being evil. Another outstanding feature that really sets Mass Effect apart is the ability to transfer your save files from the first game to second and from the second into the upcoming third game. This gives your game a sense of personalization when you know that when the next game comes out, you will be starting off with your own custom character and the world will reflect all your past choices.

The normal conversation options all use this same morally gray style. There are basically three types of dialogue choices; neutral, paragon, or renegade. Paragon choices favor the idea of putting innocent lives ahead of all else, and Renegade choices favor the idea of putting the mission objectives as top priority, with collateral damage being an acceptable price to pay. Though dialogue and choice in the Mass Effect games are mostly outstanding, they do suffer from one of the common negatives of morality based games. This issue is the alignment meter, and I’ve yet to see a game where this type of thing worked. Basically, every time you perform a Paragon or Renegade action, you earn points in that alignment. That wouldn’t be a problem, but the game rewards you for choosing one alignment on a consistent basis. This means that if you want to reap all the benefits of this, you must pick an alignment at the beginning of the game and stick to it, resulting in most of the choices becoming irrelevant since you already know which choice you are making. My advice to anyone that plays either of these games, ignore the alignment meter your first time, and make genuine choices.

Dragon Age Origins is an interesting one, because it is simultaneously a great example of dialogue options done right, and a not so great example of moral choice. In every conversation in Dragon Age: Origins, you will have multiple options, and unlike Mass Effect, they cover much more than just the equivalent to Paragon and Renegade. You will have many different means of engaging in conversations, and this makes dialogue quite enjoyable. You can speak to people in many different ways such as being rude, sarcastic, coy, complementary, and many others. When choose these means of interacting, characters will respond according, and you really feel like your actions are driving the conversation forward. The moral choices however, are less well done. These often amount to a simple good or bad choice, with no real gray area. Some examples are, “Preserve this holy artifact and use it’s healing power to help a sick man or simply destroy it” or “Help a group being targeted by demons or just kill them all.” Now, there are some genuinely interesting choices, but the split between black and white choices and interesting ones is not favorable.

Bioware isn’t the only developer that has recently used the notion of choice successfully, Bethesda made great strides in this area with 2008′s Fallout 3. Fallout 3 took it a step further and made choice an integral part of the gameplay. There were many quests in Fallout 3 that had several different methods of completing them. In many instances, you could avoid combat all together by simply selecting certain dialogue options to talk your way out of potentially deadly situations. Another recent game that uses choice very well is The Witcher 2. In this game, some decisions actually affect what path the game takes, meaning that different players will see vastly different things, with several hours of game time being different depending on which choices you make. This is an outstanding feature, and one more games need to implement. It can be quite frustrating when choices you make amount to nothing more than slightly different dialogue, while the core experience remains unchanged.

Nov 042011
 

BioWare have teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to produce a whole new adventure based around the fantasy, RPG series. Written by David Gaider, the lead writer for the Dragon Age games and illustrated by Chad Hardin, whose previous credits include Web of Spider-Man and The Spirit.

The story will feature three heroes from the games, Allastair, Isabela and Varric and will follow them as they travel to Antiva, a land ruled by deadly assassins. Throughout their epic journey they will try to unravel one of the greatest secrets in the history of Thedas, while encountering both a prison break and the malevolent Witch of the Wilds.

The first installment will be available February 22nd 2012 over at Dark Horse’ website and at just $0.99 each, the six part series will only cost six bucks.

Jul 202011
 

By now, I hope you have read the reviews for Bastion, hopefully they have given you a great reflection of the nature of the title. The thing that is amazing to Bastion is that Supergiant Games did everything so… right. A major issue that we see in action titles and in RPGs is the fact that story is often times put on the back burner. In Bastion, the story is there from the very begining, you just don’t know it until you advance further in the game. Instead of playing the game and getting the story as a reward, Bastion operates on you recieving the natural dialogue of a man telling a story while more or less you live out the story he tells.

So what does this mean to other game developers? Gamers love a good story, when appropriate. If Varek in Dragon Age 2 had narrated those long stretches of empty space, the game would have been ultimately more fulfilling. How about a story book narrative in Skyrim? That would be a feature that many gamers wouldn’t be upset over. It all comes down to creating an immersive title without having to force plotlines along.

The other amazing thing that Bastion does that the adventure/RPG developer needs to take note in is the ability to create an environment. With multiple songs in each map, the music sets the mood for exploration, battle and flight for survival. Music itself creates an “edge of the seat” atmosphere that allows us to feel like we are actually making these story elements fall into place. This isn’t anything new, in fact music used to play a major role in games but has since been written off as something that is expendable.

Bastion itself is a comparable story to the future of games itself. If we cannot learn from the mistakes of the past, can we really have a future worth pursuing? At the same time, if we see that something compliments a genre so efficiently. can we ignore it and continue to move forward?

May 112011
 

Editorial note:  This article has been reverted to its original submitted text.  Unfortunately, a few errors in the editorial process caused fact issues, and I accept full responsibility for this.  As you can see, the original text never referenced the city of Megaton in Oblivion – that was a glaring error.  In the future, we will work harder to be sure issues like this become a thing of the past.   -Frank Moricz

First off, it’s being developed by RPG powerhouse Bethesda so thats a no-brainer to begin with but even beyond that, every new trailer and teaser for the epic game should only bring more joy and boners for all the gamer boys and girls.  Let me explain why.  Every Elder Scroll game released to date has had an epic story and overarching lore, hell Skyrim isn’t something new.  It’s been around since Elder Scrolls: Arena.  That’s how devoted Bethesda is to the source material.  You can literally spend days pouring over the lore and books scattered across Cyrodill in Oblivion and I don’t expect Skyrim to be any different.  Forget Bioware and their take on the space epic (also forget Dragon Age, eww) because Bethesda has plans to blow them out of the water with this new title due out in the fall.

Brrr. Nords be chilly.

Skyrim has been in the works for about four years now and its nearing completion but still not much is known about the game other than a few key facts.  Dragons, Bioshock-esque weapon style (as in two separate hands for weapons or magic that can be used interchangeably with the trigger buttons), and a new dynamic quest system that has some promise to not be as completely broken as the old ones used to be.  Remember the excitement of starting a new game in Oblivion or even Fallout 3 to remember, oh crap, every location is the same and nothing is different.  Sure you can try to play it differently but chances are you’ll stock up in Megaton first or go through the Wayfarer’s cave outside the Castle Town in Oblivion.  Skyrim promises to alleviate this by having a dynamic quest system where quests will be given by many people and you’d be thrown into many different locations.  Let me give you an example.  It’s been written many times before but it just sounds to cool not to write.  How many times in Oblivion did you kill the shopkeep only to lose all his quest lines after?  Have no fear for in Skyrim his son will begrudgingly take over as owner of the shop and give you the quests.  I’m sure you can rape this function too by killing off whole bloodlines and towns as they give you quests but hey, what can you do?  Also, on top of the ever changing quest givers, lets say you just got back from a cave where you killed a bunch of rats only to find out the shopkeep’s son has a problem with rats in a cave.  Oblivion would either have you complete the quest now as you picked up some amulet of trans-something or other owned by his great uncle in the cave but not in Skyrim.  Skyrim puts you in a completely new cave and rewrites the game as you go.  Suck on that Gamefaqs.

Not much is known about the dragons and such but you can suck out their souls when you kill them.  Their SOULS.  Dragon encounters can happen anytime on the map so maybe think a super Deathclaw encounter mixed with the semi-random placement of a Big Daddy in Bioshock.  I’ve seen no first hand gameplay but videos show a new weapon system that is to die for, literally.  Finishing moves are introduced (maybe like Assasins Creed?  Weaken the enemy and give a finishing blow with a parry) as well as the awesome knockback damage and weight of weapons and armor.  For once you can feel like you’re actually fighting and not just pressing buttons.

All we can hope for now is more horse armor.

Apr 222011
 

From EA’s Official press release:

EA’s Global Relief Fund Raising Continues Through 2011 as Japan Recovers

REDWOOD SHORES, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Electronic Arts Inc., (NASDAQ:ERTS) is pleased to announce that it has raised over $1 Million dollars for Japan earthquake and tsunami aid. In the wake of the disaster, EA immediately mobilized internal studios, employees and gamers to join forces and raise relief funds for the people impacted by the disasters. EA implemented giving programs through its titles, fan communities and social gaming platforms, all proceeds of which will be distributed via the Red Cross, Mercy Corps and AmeriCares.

“The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last month touched everyone at EA”

Each respective label and their teams took different routes to fundraising. EA SPORTS™ ran a donation program in FIFA 11 Ultimate Team where all proceeds collected in a 24 hour period on March 26 were donated to the Red Cross. Pogo.com™ and The Sims™ partnered with the American Red Cross and encouraged their online audiences to support relief efforts in Japan by making donations to a co-branded microsite. The Play4Free EASY studio behind Battlefield Heroes™ created a “Japan-Outfit” fundraiser promotion which provided gamers with a special outfit that is worn by their in-game character signifying their support for relief efforts. Playfish™ implemented an assortment of in-game fund raising activities throughout their social games on Facebook such as its MONOPOLY Millionaires Japanese Pagoda House and Restaurant City Garden of Hope promotions. Visceral Games™ also raised funds by auctioning a bevy of team-autographed Dead Space™ 2 memorabilia. BioWare™ will put up four custom painted Dragon Age™ II-branded Xbox 360® and PlayStation®3 consoles autographed by Co-Founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk for auction on eBay. The EA Partners studio which is currently working with Tokyo based developer Grasshopper Manufacture on its Shadows of the Damned™ game will make a cash donation to relief funds.

EA also assisted in providing logistical food relief that was performed at EA Canada’s Burnaby campus in partnership with the Kids Against Hunger Organization. These employees worked tirelessly for two days packing 100,000 protein-rich meals that were sent to the most severely quake affected areas of northeastern Japan.

“The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last month touched everyone at EA,” said Curt Wilhelm, Vice President of Real Estate, Facilities and Corporate Services at Electronic Arts. “We’re very proud to see our employees and Labels come together quickly and decisively to help those truly in need after such a tragic event.”

EA continues its fund raising and matching efforts globally, and is directing the contributions to the Red Cross, Mercy Corps and AmeriCares for Japan disaster relief.

Please visit the following links to make Japan disaster relief donations to the American Red Cross, Mercy Corps, or AmeriCares.

EA gets a lot of flak, especially nowadays, but it’s always nice to see people in need being helped.

Apr 172011
 

Point and Click Adventure games have always been near and dear to our hearts here at Gaming Irresponsibly. We were overjoyed when word got out the the unofficial resolution to the King’s Quest series was finally going to be released in episodic content by it’s creators at Phoenix Online Studios. Needless to say we were honored to have an opportunity to have a conversation with Cesar Bittar, Director and Designer of The Silver Lining and CEO of Phoenix Online.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Can you give us a brief history of Phoenix Online Studios?

CB: Phoenix Online first formed as Phoenix Freeware in 2002. By 2004, we dropped the “Freeware,” legally registered the company, and became Phoenix Online Studios.  It was formed by a group of fans who were unhappy after learning that the Sierra we knew and loved had dissolved and that there were no plans for a new entry in the King’s Quest franchise. Through the years, people from every corner of the world, including the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, the UK, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, and the US among others, have become part of the team and have given their all to The Silver Lining.

These days, we often just go by Phoenix Online, and we are in the middle of a big transition as we become a fully functional and commercial company.

What inspired you to give the KQ series a fitting end? 

CB: We just simply couldn’t let go of our childhood dreams, and, when we learned that there would be no more King’s Quest, we decided to take matters into our own hands and do a final chapter. We wanted the series to go out with a bang. We felt it so deserved it. We had been together with this family for so many years and we felt that if we were to say goodbye to our heroes, it needed to be in a big way, a grand way, fitting of a Daventrian adventure.

What do you feel has been the greatest achievement in the production of TSL?

CB: I feel the fact that we’ve somehow been able to coordinate hundreds of people remotely to put together something so cohesive, all this while working in a volunteer way, it’s an amazing achievement in itself. At times, I don’t know how we’ve done it, and while it’s true that it took us a long while to get there, we’ve learned so much in the process that we’ve managed to now responsibly meet our own goals. For example, in the past, the new material we put in Episode 3 would have taken years to put together, but we did it in the best part of 5 months. And all this while we recruited the people to do it, so, I’m sure that now we are ready to take on real productions and work full time on it. That is the value of our achievements: we now can make professional games as we move forward.

What influences (outside of the KQ series) have helped to shape TSL into the game it has become? 

CB: I found The Longest Journey very influential when it came down to give me the crazy idea of making King’s Quest very epic. Around the time we wrote the original script, Lord of the Rings was popular as the movies were just coming out, and I has been loving Final Fantasy for a few years. So there’s where I drew most of my inspiration to say “OK, if I’m going to be spending the next I don’t know many years of my life working on a project like this, it’ll better be something that I’ll fully enjoy, and to me, I’ve been aching for a more mature rendition of King’s Quest, so, let’s have at it!” In the end, we are making the game we want to make, and we are very happy with it.

What made you decide to go with episodic content, as compared to a full game release?

CB: Having worked at Telltale for a period of time, I learned that the episodic content was not only  a great way to market a game, but also an amazing way to keep production focused on chunks of work at a time (as opposed to the full game). Things become easier and more manageable. From a marketing point, your game stays in the news for the whole duration of the production. And from a customer perspective, it gives us a chance to be able to listen to what the fans want and include these changes as we update the build and release the following episode. So it’s a win-win situation in every way you see it.

The remaining episodes seem to be slated to release this year – what are your plans after wrapping up TSL?

CB: Right now, we have so many windows open and so many possibilities that is a little too premature to say what comes next, but I can tell you that it’s going to be big. Having been at GDC this year gave us the opportunity to connect with many people in the industry who’d seen or heard of what we are doing, and there’s a lot of interest going around for what we can cook next. So, like I said, we are still juggling things and deciding on our next step while we work on a few prototypes for different games, but a lot is happening internally!

On a personal level, what games are you playing right now?

CB: I actually caught a whiff of nostalgia, so I was playing the Legend of Kyrandia 1 and 2. Other than that, I have a huge piles of games I always want to play — I’m a very hardcore gamer. I’ve been trying to play Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 for years  now, but I never seem to have the time now to play such immersive games. I do better with DS games these days — I was playing some Mega-Nan games recently, or adventure games. I recently played Gray Matter, by the incredible mind of Jane Jensen, and was so excited to experience a new game from the woman that brought to me my favorite series ever, the Gabriel Knight games.

What are your favorite moments in KQ history? I’d have to go with the zombie house in KQ IV.

CB: King’s Quest 7 as a whole reminds me of Christmas. But as for special moments, I remember curing the dragon in King’s Quest 7 was very cool, and the whole chase scene from the ending of King’s Quest 6 as you went up the stairs was amazing. Also, flying on Nightmare to the lands of the dead was very cool!

After creating a title, do you still have a good time playing it?

CB: Yes! I like to sit back and enjoy these titles as a final creation, and experience all the details that went into finalizing them. I sometimes will also replay Episode 1 just for kicks. It keeps me grounded and reminds me of what we are capable of doing.

Are there any shout-outs or special mentions that you would like to make?  Any sites you would like to bring attention to? 

CB: We’d like to thank everyone who’s been so supportive of our project throughout the years. Not everyone can say that they’ve gone out of a cease and desist twice and that’s only happened because of our incredible fans and because of the support from the press. So, a thousand times thank you!

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Once again, we would like to thank Cesar Bittar and Phoenix Online Studios for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure you do yourself a huge favor and swing by their site to play the first 3 episodes of The Silver Lining as well!

Apr 082011
 

#5 – The Quicksave / Quickload

Ah, the infamous f5/f9 setup that has allowed me to experiment or quickly amend mistakes. This is an irreplaceable feature for me. Especially in exploration type games such as Fallout or Elder Scrolls titles, there is no need to ask myself “what if” when I have these buttons at my fingertips.

Wouldn't it be easier to kill you? Hmm.

Snarky reply? Quicksave/headshot. When all shit breaks loose, I just quickload and everyone likes me again. It’s a beautiful thing.

Can I get away with …? It’s easy to test the waters with a quicksave and some nimble thievery. If I can manage to sneak away with the massive loot, then I’m home free, but If I get caught, redemption is only a button away.

Yes, you could pose the argument that playing like that isn’t “hardcore”, but in the late-game, using Fallout: New Vegas as an example, you have no way to apologize and set things right. You can literally destroy something by accident that took you many hours to earn.

#4 – Expandability

Nowadays, some argument could be made for consoles regarding upgrades and the addition of extra features. People can add keyboards when needed, they can pay ungodly amounts for headsets and other peripherals. The hardware, however, must remain the same. You have no option to boost your RAM or video capabilities, which means a few things:

  • Setting up the visuals is far less complicated
  • You don’t get to set up the visuals.

Dragon Age 2 is a good example. PC users were able to download and install additional high-resolution textures that were simply not supported by consoles. See the example below:

Personally, I like graphics. I want the capability to make the game as beautiful as possible without video lag. When the computer isn’t powerful enough, I’m an easy-to-install upgrade away.

#3 – Modifications

Many games now are being designed to support user-end modifications. Some of these can work on console ports, but some of the very best ones will only be available for a computer. The best part is that almost all of them are completely free – people do it for the love of the game. There are far too many examples to list, but here is a video of something called the “Midas Mod” for Oblivion.

Some mods will actually work better than DLC or full-blown expansions to the game. I’ve seen them add entire questlines, lands, companions and even item sets.

For games that don’t allow modifications as easily, people have released modified save-game files that can add the desired effects. Relating back to #4, however, my favorite mods are simply the ones that make the older game even more beautiful.

Let it be said, I am against modifications when it comes to multiplayer titles – for games that don’t verify file integrity this can be a huge problem. For single-player games though, it’s amazing.

#2 – Dynamic Control

Want to use a 30 button mouse? Doable. Want to completely reconfigure the keyboard to the way you are used to playing? Done.

With most console games, you see a few various sets to choose from. Especially amongst the disabled community, this can pose major, major issues. Here is an excerpt from the forums for Killzone:

A consideration request from a disabled gamer who absolutely loves this game to the developers.

on 03-05-2009 07:12 AM

I was not sure where to put this, but I have been playing the game and absolutely love it. But my special adaptive controller does not have any . Motion support whatsoever nor could I use it even if it did. Currently I have to stop when I reach any part of that requires motion control and have my friend use the regular controller to do it and then switch back over to my controller to continue playing the game. This takes about five minutes and my friend is around. Although he is not always around to do this for me.

Is there something that the developers could do were I could turn the valves or plant explosives without using motion control?

If I could program some kind of alternative to doing this it would make this game so much more accessible to the disabled community. This is one of the greatest games ever and if I could get the developers to at least consider it and give some feedback about this it would be greatly appreciated. I absolutely adore this game and it would mean so much if this could at least be considered.

Any support or questions/or comments are greatly appreciated.

this is a real request” that I somehow hope can be made a reality :-)

This has less to do with consoles and more to do with console ports. Here, the issue lies solely with the developers for not thinking ahead. This is also just a single example, but something I’ve seen more and more lately. With computer games, and the wide variety and customization options that are available, this is far less of an issue.

#1 – Loading Time

Disks are getting faster. DVD readers, blu-ray readers, etc. When I throw a new game into a console and am overexcited about playing it, I have to go through the process of updates and a god-forsaken span of load time while the game is loaded up. Hard drive speed is much faster typically with gaming PCs, and that time gets cut in half. With the advent of things like solid-state hard drives mixed with distribution clients like Steam, the longest wait time is typically for downloading.

Either way, there’s a wait. However, (and again I’ll use Dragon Age 2 as an example) some games can be pre-loaded before the release date. If the files are already locally installed, it’s merely a matter of hitting the play button once we reach the official date of release. Once I do, the load time is nil.

This is a problem that is slowly working it’s way out of our lives. Hopefully soon, we can get back to the days where we can experience cartridge-like startup and see a “Press Start” within mere seconds of initiating a game. Oh, how I miss those days.

Apr 012011
 

On April 6th, 2011, the world will be a better place (and a much, much bloodier place).  Why, you ask?  A new game will debut in the Xbox Live Arcade – The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile.  Today I will post the interview results with the charismatic James Silva, which covers the new game as well as some basic background information.  Readers here can expect our initial impressions of the game roundabout April 4th, as we were allowed a sneak peek into the new project.  Without further ado, here we go:


How did you get your start in video game programming, and what was your very first project?
Making games has been the only thing I’ve wanted to do in life, and I attribute it to two things.  When I was 11 or 12, I, like lots of people that age, was so crazy about Nintendo games that I’d design characters and worlds on paper for games that I somehow imagined pitching to game companies.  When my semistrict parents got weary of my Nintendo obsession, they instituted a no-videogames-on-weekdays policy.   Making games didn’t count, so I started learning how to make text adventures in Basic just so I could play something.  This eventually developed into a big part of my life, with me making Zombie Smashers X in 2000 and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai in 2009, the first game I made that was super successful.

Did you eventually decide to get yourself any kind of formal education regarding game design?
I’ve got a Masters in Computer Science, but most if not all of the technique I use in game development is self-taught.  In fact, I used game development to help me with school way more than the other way around by submitting games or game-like projects (like an animated CPU scheduler) as final projects for a bunch of classes.

From an Indie standpoint, how much extra work does it take to get everything accomplished?
I haven’t actually ever held a “real job” in the industry, so I can’t make an honest comparison.  However, I can echo the common sentiment that wearing several hats has its ups and downs.  It’s nice to have a large variety of tasks; switching from one to another keeps things from sinking into any sort of tedium.  The downside is that your brain sort of experiences something akin to the computational expense of a context switch—it takes some time and effort to fully switch gears from something like engine coding to art, so when I’ve got to hop around to a bunch of different areas of a project rapidly I end up feeling a bit burnt.

We all know you’ve had award winning work done – do you already have the chance of losing the “Indie” and become something more “mainstream”?
Whatever the label, I just want to keep making games.  I don’t really have any epic plans for growing the company.

On the topic of Vampire Smile, what major changes have you made from Dead Samurai, and what motivated those changes?
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile is built on a completely new engine, with all new art, effects, and overall feel.  When I made The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, I had very little experience in XNA (it was my second attempt at anything.  Essentially the game was built as a contest entry.  For Vampire Smile, I wanted to build into the engine flexibility that would have otherwise had to be totally jury rigged in the Dead Samurai engine.
The end result is richer art, more expressive animation, smoother gameplay, and more general awesomeness.  If you try the two games side by side, it’s pretty apparent that there have been some major changes.

Any plans of an arcade release for something in the ZP2K series, or something Z0MB1ES-related?
We have a sneaky Z0MB1ES-related plan in the works!

What core factor really makes a game popular?
I think it’s a combination of good gameplay and character.  A game won’t get very far without engaging gameplay, but it’s the character of game—the art style, theme, and attitude—is what really sets awesome games apart from fun games.  Silent Hill games are the perfect example of this: the games’ hallmarks are clunky combat and use-a-key-to-find-a-key puzzles, but I can’t help but love the crap out of every single one of them (pre-Homecoming), thanks to the awesome character of the games.

What games are you currently playing?
I just cracked open Dragon Age: Origins again, so don’t expect anything productive out of me for a while!  Also, my girlfriend and I have been tackling coop Xbox360 games, Borderlands being the most recent.

2011 looks like an amazing year for gaming releases.  What game are you most excited about?
Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2!  Also, we just got a 3DS and I can’t wait for Ocarina 3D.

For those of us who haven’t played anything from Ska Studios, how would you describe your newest game (The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile – April 6th, 2011)?
It’s a disturbing, art-driven, over the top stylistic action platformer.  The story picks up two years after the events of the first game, with falsely imprisoned, mentally spiraling Yuki vowing revenge on the three corrupted leaders of society.  The game plays a bit like a graphic novel that explodes in blood when you press buttons: the combos are insane, the weapon loadouts are grisly, and the world is epic.

After this release, do you already know what the next project will be?
Our next XBLA project is called Charlie Murder; we’re hoping to have it out in 2012.  Hopefully gamers in the future have similar tastes to those of gamers of today.

What other shout-outs or special mentions would you like to bring attention to?
Big thanks to Dishwasher fans!  Your epic support lets me do what I love every day.


Thanks James!  Below,we’ve embedded a youtube video that will allow you to see into the very heart of Ska Studios, and also take a look at a few clips of the gameplay and development tools.  Be sure to show the video some comment love, and also visit http://www.vampiresmile.com.


Mar 212011
 

Final Day

I tried, folks. I really tried. But in the end, I just cannot do it.

I have given up on Dragon Age 2. I was thinking about all the ups and downs I was having with it — more downs than ups — every time I played, and I realized that even for the things I wanted to see to the end (the stories involving Sebastian, Fenris, and Merrill, as well as to see if my predictions regarding taking on the Qunari would end up true) I was hemorrhaging enthusiasm every moment I carried on.

And a very wise man once said that “All the time you spend trying to get back what’s been taken from you, and all the while more is going out the door. After a while you just have to put a tourniquet on it.”

There came a point when I thought, “This is just not worth it. If I finish for the sake of finishing, I’m just going to end up more disappointed than I am now, and for what? No gain is to be had here.” DA2 could offer me nothing, and all it had done up to that point was make me regret playing, was make me wish I was playing something else. I had to just cut my losses and give it up. More worth it to not know what happens next than to waste my time finding out that I didn’t care.

I had the sex with Merrill, which had to be the most wooden, emotionless interaction ever, and it only reinforced my earlier sentiments that because Hawke can pork anybody on his team there wouldn’t be a single encounter with any real substance. They would all be equally as hollow.

Similarly, the plot itself rang hollow. I cared about nothing in the story, cared for nobody. The plot is absent, and what is there is so weak and pathetic that it makes videogames look bad. I felt guilty for engaging in it, as though I was doing something I’d be ashamed of being seen doing. Like watching Twilight or something.

I no longer gave any kind of a damn about the gameplay. It was uninspired and uninteresting. It was glitchy and unpolished. It was bland and boring. It was repetitive and slow and inelegant and poorly crafted. It simply was not fun.

And worst of all was that it shouldn’t have been! Dragon Age 2 isn’t a bad game! It’s got potential to be really great, and it should be really great! But it… isn’t. It’s not some undeveloped piece of indie crap, and it’s not some terrible movie tie-in D-level cash-in game. The lore surrounding it is great, and the people making it are skilled and should know what they’re doing. But what they gave us was a far cry from what I know I’d be proud to say I had a hand in creating. If I worked for Bioware I wouldn’t be able to look my children in the eye after having put my seal of approval on this game. I’d have begged the producers for more time and money to do what we needed to do to make it better.

Perhaps that was my biggest disappointment. I’m disappointed that I’m so disappointed. That I could even be so disappointed in what should be a Triple A title.

The one thing that kept me from quitting was some old-school adherence to hardcore gamer ideals, that I could never leave a game unfinished. But suddenly I find myself able to do exactly that, a thing which for years I’d been unable to bring myself to do. Maybe it’s because I have less time these days. Maybe I’ve got bigger things to worry about. Maybe I’m just not a hardcore gamer anymore. I don’t know. But I can quit a game if it’s not good enough.

And Dragon Age 2 is just not good enough.

I’m going to go replay some Shadow of the Colossus and Red Dead Redemption. Tom is Hanks and I are going to team up and defeat terrorism by ourselves. There are other games to be played. Games worth our time.

Games worth playing.

Mar 162011
 

Monsters did it.

I’m doing a lot of sidequests right now, and in so doing I am noticing a commonality, a bit of a pattern.

It seems like no matter what the quest is – where it starts, who needs help, or why – some foul demon is behind the curtain pulling the strings. Mages have power, so demons take them over. Blood mages that turn into demons, demons with tits? They’re in there, causing trouble, running amok. They trick normal people into behaving oddly or they become manifest themselves and wreak havoc.

From a rival royal house under attack to a lowly kidnapping, it’s generally the case that some desire demon was at play. Even the raping and pillaging raiders often have blood mages on their side, the demons possessing whom will show up to remark about how foolish the humans were and how demons rule, and they play the best football.

This lends credence to the belief supported by many of the game’s characters, that mages should be kept under harsh control. But it hearkens more deeply to the older, real-world ideals of demons being responsible for the terrible things people did. Or, in many cases, the not-so-terrible. Homosexuality, leprosy, warts, dementia, runny nose, bad eyesight: any malaise was pretty much the work of demons.

But the thing is, there weren’t actually demons doing all that stuff. In the game, there actually are demons, so when they’re really the ones behind everything, it gets to be pretty stale.

Can’t there be greedy people for greed’s sake? Can’t there be political motivations and nothing else? Can’t we occasionally have to take on unarmored civilians – bad people who deserve to die, of course – who are trying to kill us, or somebody else?

We can’t, and I know why: the gameplay isn’t built for it. Instead of learning, Scooby Gang style, that, “Oh, man, it was the besmirched heir who kidnapped and murdered those girls and he’s just making it look demonic!” and then going into combat while the crazed blighter charges and is swiftly cut down in a single blow, we have to fight monsters or at least a swarm of raiders.

This is another in a long line of reasons why the game isn’t as strong as it could be. Why it feels like it was rushed and watered down. Why the whole experience feels unpolished. There is a decided lack of immersion in the game, and a lack of any attempts to be immersive.

In my head I see a Kirkwall-version of any of the cities in Assassin’s Creed, with its steep hills and myriad pathways all flooded with citizens, every one of them a real part of the gameworld with a path and a random routine (shopping in the markets, traveling location to location, doing chores or work). All of them able to be interacted with. Day breaks and passes in real-time, cycling between day and night and providing gorgeous sunsets on the Wounded Coast, breathtaking sunrises on Sundermount.

I picture the Hanged Man growing crowded in the evening, dynamically, in real-time. I imagine Darktown filling up at night and becoming a bustle of activity that never goes to sleep. I envision the streets and alleys all but empty at night, lamp- and moonlit but still foreboding and dangerous nonetheless. Criminals and thugs attack and can be chased or harried or lost to if one plays foolishly and is overwhelmed. The Guard approaches when civilians are threatened, and clearing out an area of random spawns realistically reduces the chances of enemy encounter there, at least for a while. Monies could be paid to provide better Guard watches to permanently reduce enemy activity in oft-frequented regions.

Meeting a contact in the morning and scheduling a nighttime rendezvous means being there at that time of night, having to travel there across the city. Message runners would catch you as you ply the streets requesting you to meet with their senders at a specific time and place.

Change the general dynamic and suddenly the whole world becomes alive. I’m not suggesting a full-sized giant world, here – just Kirkwall, just one large city, with a few small paths branching out of its walls toward different environments, like in Fable.

And while I’m on the subject of sidequests, and immersion for that matter, GOD WHY DO THE DUNGEONS REPEAT. There are three environments in the game. If I have to go through the same cave one more time I think a blood vessel is going to burst.

In other news, I still only care about a few core characters, Hawke is still not among them, and there has yet to be a call to arms of real worth. I suspect that ultimately we’ll be taking on the Qunari, but that’s about it.

Oh, Legacy of Kain, where are you when I need you? Give me Nosgoth, with cities like the magical one I above described, and give me Lieutenant Raziel during Kain’s empire, or give me elder Kain vamping around the lands in search of his army to defeat the elder god…

Vae Victis!

Mar 142011
 

So, busy weekend, but I’ve put in some good hours with DA2, and I’m happy to report that I’m FINALLY getting into it. It has taken me until Act 2 to do so, but I actually do care. And only about three things, but progress, people, progress!

The first is Merrill. She is my girlfriend, plain and simple: she’s cute, naive, smart, honest, and just so darn fun! She’s one of my favorite party members, and I generally shy away from mages, so to actually have one I enjoy in a game is quite pleasing. I’m working toward romancing her later, and although her accent isn’t as melt-your-heart cute as Lexine’s (from Dead Space), the Welsh (Right? Sounds Welsh to me) is doing its number on me anyway. And in a game with generic visuals and generic voice acting (not nearly as bad as Fable’s “how many ridiculous English accents can we mash in here” thing, I’ll admit) that’s certainly a plus. She’s one of the few characters I’ll actually listen to instead of skipping their dialogue (and that includes Hawke himself, who is boring and still manages to sound like an overbearing jerk or a total sand-vagina).

Parentheses, bitches.

So, I like Merrill, and I want to see what happens with her next. I think it’s the paternal thing; I want to protect her. I don’t know. Thing Two that I like (and I knew I would) is Sebastian. He’s a rogue who I don’t hate, unlike Isabela who’s been discussed (and yeah, she’s still a whore, and I still hate her, and it’s less her fault than the fault of those who made her but what are you gonna do, you know?), and Varric who is funny but I just don’t like dwarves, never have, never will. Randy Newman was right; short people have really got nothing to live for. So since you need a rogue, he’d be my natural choice: the archery thing is cool, his armor is THE coolest armor in a game full of silly armors (to the point that I want to try my hand at making a set of my own, you know, in the real world), and his accent is pimp. The whole Exiled Prince, fallen nobility thing is pretty cool, too. He has a very Balthier thing going on, and I played FFXII as Balthier (he was, after all, the leading man).

Speaking of Balthier, the Third Thing I’m liking is Fenris (that’s Balthier’s voice actor, not Wesker). He’s brooding and he hits hard, he’s got a cool story, and he’s great in battle. The voice acting for him has only gotten better, and during his questline in Act 2 it really showed off the actor’s chops. He demonstrated a rage that I genuinely felt, and for the very first time both the friend/rivalry system made sense, thanks to him, and I had what felt like a real, dynamic conversation (instead of the easily decipherable and predictable format it normally takes, where all but one answer seems patently ridiculous for a human being to even say to somebody).

With Fenris especially the friendship and conversation system manages to shine, which is ultimately a shame when compared to the rest of the game where it falls flat. Or maybe I’m not giving the game enough credit; maybe it is a truly dynamic experience and in my game it just so happens that Fenris and I have a complicated rivalry going on which leads to cool moments, and perhaps in your game it’ll be somebody else.

It actually seems pretty layered with him, which is great. We were having a discussion about slavers where he was unloading, emotionally, and near the end he realized he was being open and decided to clam up, citing that I needn’t be burdened. So I took the positive option to let him know that I was his buddy, and he could vent or ask for aid if he needed to. Except Hawke said something dumb, like “I’m here to help, friend,” and Fenris got pissed and said, “I don’t NEED your help!” and I got rivalry points after the conversation ended.

At first I was miffed, because up until that point I’d gotten nowhere with him. I’m trying to romance Merrill, and having the two of them in the party means that one of them is going to get pissed at my decisions. Since I naturally side with Merrill (and I would be mage-friendly anyway, since Bethany is a mage and that makes sense, character-wise), I’ve got a rivalry with Fenris. Until this point I was unhappy about that but I was just living with it, so when I tried to be kind and positive with him but I still got rivalry points, I was a little ticked.

But then it hit me: that was a totally natural response for somebody with this kind of rivalry to have. It was entirely in keeping with his character. The offer of a mage-sympathizer to help with a personal problem caused by mages came across as insulting to him. Later, in his quest, I allowed him to decide whether to kill somebody he hated and had wanted to kill for a long time or to just let her go. He extracted the info he wanted and then like a badass punched that bitch in the stomach like she had the devil’s fetus growing in there. Killed her, then got angry with me. We had an actual argument, because he started going off about mages, and where I normally would just choose the positive option because option two generally is some grossly insensitive non-sequitur and option three is a dick move, this time I went with, “Watch your mouth about mages!” to defend Merrill. And he snapped, and the genuine hatred in his voice was real, palpable, and it all just felt so awesome! The system was working, and I was reveling in it.

And then, in that moment, Dragon Age 2 became fun.

Still a shadow of what it could be. I still want a fully fledged, detailed gameworld. Why couldn’t Kirkwall look as cool as Assassin’s Creed’s Rome? Why couldn’t I navigate it similarly (minus climbing)? Why couldn’t there just be a real day/night cycle, and thousands of NPC’s going about actual business, and guards and raiders and all sorts of random activity?

I want better, tighter combat. I want a better story, because so far all I care about are individual things, and even by Act 2 there’s still no call-to-arms, no inciting incident bridging me toward this ultimate champion backstory. Which could work, if they did it right, but doesn’t work here.

But despite the bad, the good is finally beginning to show, and this makes me very happy. I remain cautiously optimistic.

Mar 112011
 

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Dragon Age II

Mac, Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Contains: Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Content, Violence

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.


Before I wrote anything about it, I wanted to complete at least a single playthrough of this game.  Here we are on 3/11/11, and I’ve done it.

Luckily for me, I had two days off this week.  This game has consumed me since 3/8, and has been a lot of fun.  If you’re a fan of the original, you should love this game.  I’m going to try not to spoil anything , but when I have a feeling something might be a bit spoil-esque, I’ll do this:

[spoiler effect="phase" show="Click to show spoiler"]Spoiler Text here![/spoiler]

I’ll start at the beginning – character creation.  A lot of this portion of the game is very similar to DAO, except the fact that you do have to choose to be human.  (Sorry dwarf lovers.)  There are a total of 3 classes: mage, warrior, and rogue.  Despite the fact that this seems limiting, what you choose here will drastically influence major portions of the game ahead.  Your companions, quest choices, etc.

Another very interesting section of the creation screen is your ability to choose a unique DAO history set – whether Alister became a lone king or was married, whether the main character for DAO lived or died.  On my first play, I went with the default, and the king was very much alive.  :)

For my purposes, I originally chose a male mage.  Of course, regardless of choice you’re a nobody, but even more hated as an apostate.  We already know that you somehow end up becoming a champion of sorts, and the game basically revolves around the path you take to get there.  Because a great deal of that path will be individualized, I will stick to a few general topics and perhaps a few things that I wish I’d have known.

Look how awesome I am :P

First things first: aesthetics.  Because of my laptop, I was playing this game at low graphic quality.  Even so, it was a beautiful experience.  When I first began I was surprised to see that you spend a lot of time going through the same zones over and over.  I admit, I was not impressed by this fact.  Over time, I understood why; as I became more familiar with the large city of Kirkwall, I discovered that knowing the city better made me feel more of an attachment toward it.  The original DAO had many places that became destroyed or altered, but the experience really didn’t affect me as a player – here, each change to the city developed my surroundings further.

 

[spoiler effect="phase" show="Click to show spoiler!"]Over the course of the game, there are huge revolutions in time.  As you advance the main plot, many years will pass.  Kirkwall will remain mostly the same, but your choices influence how it progresses.  The game will warn you before you advance in time, and offer you an opportunity to finish any quests you may want to do.[/spoiler]

 

 

There were also some interesting choices made by the builders of Kirkwall:

“Let’s just stick a campfire on the wall!”

Even after a complete playthrough, there are still a great many things I have no idea about.  I managed to get one of the companion’s armor upgraded a single level, and can only assume it was because I had sex with her.  When it happened, there was no explanation - it just changed.  I can guess that there are a total of four armor upgrades per companion.

Companions were different from the original game.  They still speak to each other as you walk about, but I quickly found myself missing the ability to just stop and enter a conversation with them.  As a result, they did feel much more distant than the original DAO.  They also live in their own individual houses within Kirkwall, making it even more difficult to speak to them – even if they are following you around.  This feature is similar to the Normandy in Mass Effect 2, and I really missed the “camp” from DAO.

[spoiler effect="phase" show="Click to show spoiler"]One of the biggest changes that I noticed was that once I “fell in love” with a character, Merril in my case, that could not be undone.  She moved in and became a resident of my own house.  In DAO it was possible for multiple romances in a single playthrough, but here, I didn’t see that it was possible.  (I did manage to have sex with two of the women, but love was a different story.)[/spoiler]

The rivalry/friendship system was a bit frustrating.  At times I found myself cursing as I made a move that I was sure would help my relationship with a specific companion and only found that I somehow managed to piss them off.  I went through everything primarily as a “good” person, and now wonder if I needed to be more of a cynic to mesh with their personalities.  I never actually became a rival with any of my people, but it would seem that it might even be a benefit to do so based on their skill trees.

[spoiler effect="phase" show="Click to show spoiler"]I did manage to anger certain characters to the point that they were unselectable – but it wasn’t rivalry based.  It was based solely on story choices and my game path.  There are options that can even cause your own people to attack you, in which case you should hope that you never equipped them well.  I do believe that you are bound to lose somebody no matter how you play, so my best suggestion is to save fairly often.[/spoiler]

Aside from the king, there were other throwback characters brought into the sequel.  My personal favorite was Sandal:

ENCHANTMENT!

No throwback characters seem to be playable, but they do show up without fanfare as a hat-tip to fans of the series.  I didn’t feel that any companion in DA2 were as lovable as Alister was in the original, or even Morrigan.  They did have some side-quest type action at certain points which showed a somewhat greater emotional range, but I think Bioware really should have worked in a bit more conversation on-the-run.

Like the original, the game has events that will clearly leave room for DLC packs.  I won’t go into these, but you will recognize them when they happen.  Speaking of DLC, I have the “Black Emporium” pack installed, but do not yet have the “Exiled Prince”.  Once I completed the game, my “resume” option brought me back home with a thank you message from Bioware, but it didn’t seem there was any more I could accomplish.  (My writing desk has a quest indicator but there is nothing available.)

The last thing I wanted to mention was the ending of the game, and I want to do it without significant spoilers.  I will say that they do bring things to a nice conclusion, and the story that Varric tells becomes a wonderful method of foreshadowing.  I kept Merril around for the majority of events, and it became apparent that I was almost done when she kept popping off with things like (and I quote):

Merril: “Do you think we’ll win?”

Aveline: “Win what?”

Merril: “I don’t know, it just feels like things are coming to an end.”

And:

Merril: “Once this part is over, at least Varric will be able to tell a good story.”

Yes, I found that one odd as well.   To her credit though, Merril is a lovable idiot that says weird things all the friggin time.

Based on my character choices, I can say that the final battles were far too easy (more in spoiler link).  You are left with some extremely weighty choices, and you should have full knowledge that you are at the end of the game when you reach it.  The final quest, “The Last Straw”, was very long.  I stayed up late as I progressed through it thinking the very end was in the next cutscene.  All in all, I think that single quest took at least an hour and a half.

[spoiler effect="phase" show="Click to show spoiler"]At this point, I specialized in “Spirit Mage”, and had the tree nearly maxed.  As long as I stood near my other characters I didn’t even need to heal them – we auto-attacked our way through everything thrown at us with maximum health.  (My final battle party was Aveline, Verric and Merril)  It was actually harder to fight through the swarms that led to the boss fights themselves.[/spoiler]

My next playthrough will be as a female rogue, and I will focus more on some of the other companion characters.  I now get the pleasure of playing through everything as a cynical ass, and basically doing the opposite of what I did before.

My out-of-ten score for this game is a 9, especially if you are already a fan of other Bioware titles.  I highly recommend it, and can safely say that there is a good value in at least a single repeat play, even for a game that can be finished in around 20-25 hours.

PC Game

Graphics

80
 

Audio

90
 

Gameplay

80

Creativity

60
 

Execution

70
 

Offset

90
    

7.8

  

How do these ratings work? Click here for descriptions!

Mar 112011
 

Day 2

First off, Tits McGee!

I just met Isabela, and holy crap. This woman could win wars with those bazookas. Her crew carked it when their ship went down but she survived, and her natural (or not so natural – should we assume some kind of magickal implant is out of the question?) floatation devices make it obvious why. Isabela screams SEX from moment one, and after two minutes of knowing her she’s already letting me know that she is ready to let me defeat her blight with my porksword.

But here’s the problem, and it’s not just with this game: WHY do we have to have so much sex? Yes, sex does sell, and I understand where it comes from, but can the game not rest on its laurels without needing to blatantly design characters for the sake of ridiculous sex appeal? Instead of making me attracted to her character I’m not interested in anything she has to say. She is an object. Great going, Bioware, you have objectified women. She may be a super interesting character but I am completely disinterested in getting to know her because I suspect her entire character was added purely for boobage.

That’s not right, guys! What’s the point? How does it further the plot? I’m not saying you can’t have sex in games, or stories, but in any good story everything must advance the plot. So why does Isabela need to be this bimbo? Couldn’t she have been a lithe, sleek character who uses her sex appeal to beguile men and get what she wants while guarding a broken inner psyche that in a vicious cycle only makes her feel worse and worse the more she does it? For all I know they’ll try to do that, but I’m not going to find out.

The blatant and forced sexuality extends to many characters: most of the women in the plot are dealing with lower back problems. Even Witch of the Wilds Flemeth is showing off some really nice GILF power. I LIKE her new character design, but it feels like it’s only there to add to the sexometer they must have had looming over them during development. It’s especially noticeable because the character models really aren’t that great: the faces are samey, the hair is bleh, and a lot of the costumes are repetitive – to say nothing of the wooden animations. These characters don’t feel alive, so it’s like the only way they could drum up interest was to go for our genitalia.

Another part of the problem I discussed yesterday: choices. If Isabela’s story was an integral and immutable plot function then maybe it would work, but I just know it’s not going to be. Because that same overt sexuality she displays is possible with every other character. In service of “choice,” they made every character romanceable (except your sibling, but fuck it, Bioware, might as well go all the way for the WINcest, right?), but change romanceable to sexable, because I kinda feel dirty trying to have a discussion with my party. And I do mean every character, too, no matter your gender. So I can’t have a friendship with the other males in the party without turning it into a rivalry where I’m a total ass, because good buddies (apparently) have to have this really homoerotic undertone with lots of long, passionate looks into eachother’s eyes.

Note: I have NO problem with gay or bisexual people or characters. None whatsoever. Put a gay character in a game and do it well, and shit, I’ll be first in line to play. But that you can romance these characters flies in the face of the strong personalities some of them could, but don’t, have. Half the resources in character development went to these superfluous opportunities that are so sporadic and all over the personality map that you end up with folks who don’t make any sense and can’t hold your interest, Hawke included.

So far my favorite character is Merrill, because besides looking normal she has a defined personality that doesn’t waver. But I will happily report that I’m getting into it a little more, because Fenris is a pretty cool guy too, and so now my party is starting to flesh out nicely. Bethany (since you can’t sex her up) is actually not bad; it’s cool to have that sibling dynamic, and using two mages with the mage-hating Fenris leads to interesting conversations. Also, is Fenris voiced by Wesker?

So, it’s getting better? I guess? Hawke is still flat as a board, and Sebastian (I’ve unhappily discovered) won’t be available until later, but at least a couple of the characters are giving me something to keep playing for. When they’re not trying to eye fuck me. With the still-unimpressive voice acting I’m never quite sure of their intentions. Whatever happened to Leliana and Morrigan and Alistair? Now THAT was good voicework.

But that’s all an aside. I wanted to talk about gameplay, and I’m going to. A little.

The game is mostly in the city of Kirkwall so far, and I get the feeling it’s going to be that way for a while. So it’s a shame that the city is so bland and uninteresting and lifeless and empty and really not even all that big. The Hanged Man is the coolest thing I’ve seen yet, with the Tarot card reference and the creepy visual.

The combat, as well, lacks the requisite spark. It just feels bland and phoned in, and I can’t tell yet if it’s a result of streamlining it or just a flaw with the system in general, because it just imposes this layer between me and the characters, a distance. I feel an extra step removed than I need to be because navigating the bland environments is clunky and uninvolved and fighting the one-note enemies is uninspired and sour.

This double whammy does the worst thing you can do in an RPG, which is to harm immersion. We’re playing a role, and so we need to feel like we’re there, in the game, and that we are the characters we see. But I don’t feel any kinship here. I don’t feel like Hawke, and I’ve not been taken to a dreamworld of magic.

I discussed in a previous article the series Assassin’s Creed and how it simultaneously creates this huge level of immersion while doing everything it can to shatter it in the same breath. What that series does right is the same thing a game like Dragon Age could learn from. Give us these realistic, dynamic environments, make Kirkwall a real, storied city full of people who move fluidly and dynamically throughout. Bring the city to life. It’s got an interesting history if you could only give us the ability to walk through it, on it, over it, around it. Explore its depths.

And in that same move, make combat more tangible, more real. Make it a considerable effort to maneuver to an enemy’s flank and then reward us greatly for doing so. Let us set up ambushes and place our characters tactically for the best advantage, in an environment that actually seems affected by our presence.

Day two has me wanting to continue, but with no real call to action yet that desire is tenuous at best. I don’t know what’s in store for me, but right now I’m not even sure I’ll complete the game, let alone replay it.

All I want to do today is play more Vagrant Story. That game was like playing Shakespeare, and every one of the misgivings I’m having with Dragon Age was executed flawlessly then. Over a decade ago.

Mar 092011
 

Dragon Age 2 is here, but rather than waiting until I beat it to give you my review, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to be keeping track of my play experience each day, expressing my most immediate thoughts and observations as I have them. In this way, you’ll get an immediate look at the game, as well as a raw, unfiltered look into how I play, and how the game has made me feel up to that point.

This is going to be flawed and dirty and close to the chest. I’m going to say things that aren’t accurate or that I’ll later no longer agree with. I’m going to pour out everything I feel, forget everything I know, and just run with it. And it’s going to be pretty harsh, actually, because this is far from a perfect game. So I hope you enjoy this dynamic look into Dragon Age 2. Let’s get right to it.

Day 1:

I’m going with a male warrior, because that’s the fellow from the trailer, and I feel like his story will get me the most fulfilling plot. In a game with multiple paths like this, I’m torn between wanting to live by the consequences of my actions and wanting to get the “best” result (or, at least, the one that flows most naturally and tells the most interesting story). Though I prefer the former, the trouble there is that you have to make sure each branching path is just as good as every other. They can’t be tacked on and superfluous, and that’s the first thing I’m noticing. So far, the clear differences in the story don’t feel vastly important or grandly interesting.

This makes sense; the major choices aren’t going to come so early, but it manifests in more than just plot trees. DA2 uses a conversation system similar to Mass Effect, where instead of picking what you want to say you pick the mood or the gist of what you want to say. Heroic good guy stuff is up top, neutral the middle, bad the bottom. Except it’s not exactly that: instead of heroic good guy stuff, Hawke’s positive dialogue options often feel weak. Dude comes off like a whiny twerp. Instead of neutral options, they’re snarky, sarcastic, mischievous quips. Instead of stern or terse, the negative responses make Hawke sound like a jerk.

The biggest problem I’m having so far is figuring out what kind of character to play. I want to strive for consistency, but so far nothing I do feels very stalwart or concrete. The wishy-washy responses don’t make me feel like I’ll ever be this champion, and as I think that I wonder if maybe that’s intentional? Maybe they want me to feel tiny and unheroic until something cool happens? And then I look at the rest of the game, at the lackluster voice acting, at the unimpressive character models (at least as far as hair and faces are concerned), at the limited customization, and I think, no, probably not.

Now, I’m only a couple hours in. All I’ve done is one main plot quest and some side stuff, only just gaining full control in Kirkwall. Things will change, and an RPG tends to take a long time to get the ball rolling.

But is it even an RPG? I doesn’t really feel like I have control over what I say, how I act. Each possible conversational choice is not as strong as regular, decisive, definitive dialogue in most games. If the game has three main paths, each path by itself feels like only a third of a story, or a third as good as it could be. As it should be.

Choices in games are great, but they’re like time travel stories: they have to be done really, really well, or they fall flat. The choices make the plot weak, and the lack of choices makes this RPG… not an RPG. I want to change what my companions are wearing, I want to have real control over what I say (if you’re going to give me options), and I want to have a dynamic, interesting plot that engages me.

In these first few hours, all DA2 is doing so far – or all I can focus on, at any rate – is making me lament the loss of those really good old-school RPG’s that had great, complex stories with fantastic dialogue and gripping, breathtaking visuals.

Lost Odyssey springs immediately to mind and while its later half ran out of steam its set-up was orgasmically good, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t cry at some of Kaim’s stories. Or, hey, what about Vagrant Story?

You know what? Yeah, so far I really just want to play a remake of Vagrant Story. Or screw that. I want to play Vagrant Story. (Which was just re-released on PSN)

Tomorrow I’ll see if the game picks up any, and I’ll discuss my feelings on the gameplay and combat.

Feb 232011
 

Last night after leaving the office, I installed DA2′s demo on my systems (PC, Xbox and PS3).

I started things off on the Xbox and was treated to an impressive opening movie to set the tone for the introduction. I was initially impressed with the character animation, Bioware seems to set the bar higher with each release. After watching the intro I was thrown directly into battle.

Now first things first, DA:O was an impressive game by all standards but the set it and forget it battle system allowed me to bore easily when confronted with consecutive fights. DA2 overhauls the entire battle system from the first game and replaces it with a direct input battle system. I selected the warrior class for Hawke since the “sword bigger than the player = awesome” mindset truly applies to myself. I immediately started hacking, slashing and cleaving darkspawn into pieces while receiving magic support from the mage in my party. At this point, a whopping 3 minutes into the demo, I was sold. Already commenting to my wife that this is a must have title.

The game allows you to then navigate the dialogue wheel a few times and make a couple choices as well before you get to fight a boss. Now the demo appears to set you up with a completely overpowered character, so the boss starts going down pretty easy. Right before I get the chance to finish the boss off though, the game jumps to another movie. Apparently the narrator is embellishing Hawke’s story and the game brings you to another intro, this time with a much weaker Hawke and his immediate family as supporting characters.

Meet Hawke, the central character on DA2

This time around I got to see the leveling system in place, which was very similar to the original leveling system. Also, I got to change Hawke’s gear to a sword and shield combo as well. When I got to the boss this time though, I was reminded that by no means was this meant to be a cakewalk. Even with a character that could heal and recovery items, I was nearly defeated.

As I neared the ending of the demo, I was already kicking myself for missing the opportunity to preorder the game. Fortunately, Kmart is offering an awesome deal for Dragon Age 2. If you buy the game for either PS3 or Xbox in store 3/8-3/12 you will receive 10K SWYR (Shop Your Way Rewards) points, which is $10 in credit, plus $30 off either a $50 PSN or XBL card as well. Looks like either way, I won’t be missing out on the day 1 DLC.

Pros:

  • New combat system is amazing
  • The story appears to play a larger role in this sequel
  • Magic and archery were incredibly improved
  • Free item for completing demo (2 more for 1,000,000 DLs)
  • Beautiful voice-acting

Cons:

  • Didn’t get an opportunity to check out character customization
  • My computer wasn’t happy with the demo
  • Day one DLC
  • No items could be equipped in demo
  • Doesn’t launch until 3-2 Continue reading »