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Archive for October, 2009

“Scared Shepard” or “That Scar has a Very Specific Shape”

October 31, 2009 2 comments

Amidst all the frenzy leading up to Dragon Age: Origins (just two days left!), BioWare hasn’t forgotten about the upcoming adventures of Commander Shepard.

They released a new Halloween themed poster to commemorate the dark side of Shepard. You can download a 1920×1080 version by clicking the image below.

Scarred Shepard

Click to view full version

 

Categories: Mass Effect 2

“Traversing Torchlit Trouble” or “Deliciously Designed Dungeons”

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Still waiting to try Torchlight?

I have played it for about eight hours since last night, and it is a nonsensical amount of fun!

Se7en reasons to try Torchlight:

  • It costs a mere $20. And even at that price, you can try out a demo here. The game recieved a solid 86% at Metacritic. The user score was even higher at 92% overall.
  • You can choose from one of three classes. But each class has three specializations, for a total of nine separate play styles.
  • You get a pet that fights for you, hits like a truck, has its own inventory, and you can teach it spells and used food to shapeshift it. The food you feed the pet comes from a fishing mini-game (among other things). But it is the simplest, most intuitive, most enjoyable fishing minigame ever designed for any MMO or RPG.
  • There is a level editor. It is the same set of tool used by the designers to craft the entire game. Let’s just say those $20 will undoubtedly get you a much longer shelf-life.
  • In 18 months time, the developers will release a free-to-play MMO version of Torchlight.

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Se7en helpful hints for beginners

  • The game is too easy on ‘Normal’. Try ‘Hard’.
  • Your pet can pick up loot if you shift-click on it.
  • Your pet can also be sent back to town with an inventory full of stuff you want to sell automatically, so you can continue playing in the dungeons.
  • If you have an unidentified item, right-click an ‘Identify Scroll’ in your inventory, and left-click on the item.
  • Can’t use an item, but it looks like it might be good for an alt? The game comes with a shared vault system. Every one of your characters has access to it.
  • TnT barrels can be exploded from a distance, say if you are playing the Avenger class, to help expedite enemy deaths.
  • Shift+F9 takes screenshots. They are saved in the Torchlight install folder.
Categories: Review, Torchlight

“Sensible Spawns” or “WoW vs. Borderlands”

October 30, 2009 5 comments

Most modern MMOs like to define themselves as virtual worlds. What this implies is that even if the player logged off, the world would continue to exist regardless. Bears would roam the forests, wolves would chase down and kill rabbits, Frenzyheart would fight on against the Oracles, the Purple Gang would patrol the West Side Heights, and so on and so forth. This creates a sense of immersion, a sense of belonging in a living, breathing world teeming with its own life.

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The immersion factor is however shattered when you kill a boar, and another one pops up. It does not dig out of the surrounding mud, or come out of a farm enclosure of some kind. It simply… materializes out of thin air.  In no other genre of gaming, be it FPS, RTS or even RPG, do your enemies pop out of thin air and re-populate the area minutes after you cleared the menace. The person who gave you the task of clearing out said enemies is still in the same peril, asking adventurer after adventurer to fix the situation for him.

Syncaine made a great post about how to address this issue from quite a few different viewpoints.

My post is more about the way in which these enemies (re)spawn. It’s a pity to see Borderlands, which is not an MMO, come up with a viable and intelligent solution to the persistent respawn problem, without succumbing to the same old lazy formula. I recently started “The Borderlands Chronicles”, a series of posts that recounts my adventures as Bronte the Hunter in Borderlands, providing narrative, critique and commendations along the way. You can find Part I here.

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The skags spawn out of that cave on the right, NOT thin air.

The later section of this inaugural post covers my fight with some skags, the game’s version of demonic dog-like starter creatures. They too respawn over time. The difference is that they charge out of small caves built into the game world. You cannot enter these caves yourself, they are a little too small. But the overall effect undeniably feeds immersion.

You spot a skag, you snipe it from 50 feet out. Immediately two more skags come snarling, charging out of the adjacent caves. And even if you kill every skag in the area, the respawn process will involve more skags eventually walking out of the caves, instead of magically appearing out of thin air.

The system makes sense. It is intuitive, it allows for the beasts to be persistent in the world without breaking the tenous thread it has with the implied realism. Why can’t we have that in WoW? Or Champions Online? Or for that matter, any other MMO that uses the same respawn system?

Se7en Tidbits: “Cross-platform Segregation” or “Hit Capped for Healing”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Here are a few tidbits that caught my attention for one reason or another this week:

  • “It’ll be interesting to see, once MMOs start appearing on consoles (if any ever do), if there’ll be continued segregation, or one, happy, cross-platform family.” – Zoso, An Appeal, Killed in a Smiling Accident.
  • “I guess in their purest form, microtransactions are about freeing the player from subscription fees whilst still enabling the developer to earn a fair reward. They should be additional extras, non-essential, that are a bit of fluff, flexibility or enjoyment to the game without effecting the balance of those who choose not to indulge in them.” – Gordon, Microtransactions Can’t Be Trusted, We Fly Spitfires.
  • “MMOs currently lack depth. The problems that a player must face when he sits down to play are severely limited in difficulty. Modern MMOs are mostly built to tickle players with rewards and those rewards are their primary motivation for continued play. If game systems had enough depth to rival the reward addiction, MMOs would be able to get over the Kosterian Curve of rapid adoption followed by devastating desertion.” – Evizaer, On Balance, Part 1: Strategy and Depth, That’s a Terrible Idea.
  • “The rule of thumb is that whenever someone utters those words ["It's Easy"] and then doesn’t personally go do the thing he or she was talking about, it often means that person is full of crap.” – Psychochild, “It’s easy”, Psychochild’s Blog.
  • “I do like WAR’s crafting philosophy of making stuff you can use.  Aion’s crafting is the definition of grind, but it is much more broad than WAR.  I would love to see WAR keep their philosophy but expand the system.” – Werit, What WAR can learn from Aion, Werit’s Blog.
Categories: Se7en Tidbits

The Borderlands Chronicles, Part I: “Zed’s Red Baby!” or “Skag Skirmish”

October 29, 2009 6 comments

Note: This is an ongoing series depicting the path of Bronte, a Hunter in the dark and cell-shaded world of Borderlands. It will attempt to paint a picture of what the game is like as well as provide commentary of some of the most spectacular moments from the game. Narrative is in black. Bugs and design flaws are in red. Memorable or ‘whoa!’ moments, and positive points are in blue. Enjoy!

Link:

Bearings

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I am outside the town of Fyrestone, accompanied by a chirpy, nerdy, attention-hungry robot, Claptrap. He is voiced to perfection as a cowardly creature who tries to act all professional and official, but can’t help being himself. Claptrap has just handed me a device that apparently plugs into my brain. The device shows me my health bar, experience bar, ammo counter and a compass. Over the course of the game, additional modules will come onlile such as the objectives tracker and the skills interface. I look around at the world I just got thrust into. I scroll through my two starter weapons: a rusty but powerful looking sniper rifle, and an odd-looking handgun.

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What can only be defined as the town’s main gate stands a few feet to the right, a vicious sun beats down on me, towering rock formations, sluggish windmills and structures  together with sheets of metal litter the landscape as far as the eye can see. Yet, somehow, everything seems cramped. The overall feeling is undeniable: this ain’t home, this is a bad place.

Here goes nothing.

Fyrestone Fyrefight

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Fyrestone is a shithole. Before we even enter the main gate, it has already come under attack by raiders. They jump into the town through a rock outcropping directly over my head in glorified dune buggies, and take off into the heart of the town. The robot finally manages to open the gate, and a mere four minutes into the game, and I am neck-deep in my first firefight.

Given that this is just the tutorial part of the game, I am willing to overlook the seemingly inept AI. They charge at me, guns blazing. When shot, they recoil realistically and shake their head trying to recover. But then they keep coming at full speed anyway. The sniper rifle kicks in my hands and fires with a satisfying boom. The second raider gets a well placed shot in his masked head, and I watch it explode in all its cell-shaded glory through the my rifle’s scope.

The town is dead. Or empty. Or both. I don’t come across a single soul as I make my way through the settlement. Doors are shut. Shutters are down. There isn’t any indication as to what happened to the inhabitants or where they went. Raiders attack me in groups of two or three. I settle into a comfortable pattern of taking out most of them from a distance with the sniper, and tearing hot lead into them with the quick-firing pistol up close.

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Scattered along the way is plenty of ammo and money stashed in conveniently placed boxes, safes, piles of junk, the bodies of my slain foes, and even a few toilets. I come across my first weapons crate. Inside is a ton of pistol ammo, and two brand new pistols. They offer differing recoil rates, damage, firing speeds and other modifications. The cool thing is that if you hover over a weapon, there is a hud element that pops up, comparing it against your equipped gun. Any stat improvements get an upward pointing green arrow, any loss in stats is denoted by a downward pointing red arrow. The only problem is that it is not intuitive. If you have the sniper equipped and you are looking at a pistol, it will compare the pistol’s stats against that of the sniper, and not against the pistol in your other equipped slot. So make sure you take out the weapon you want to compare against the new armament.

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One of these new pistols has a scope, allowing me to rapidly snipe my targets from a distance. They take less damage per shot, but the firing rate more than makes up for the loss of damage. The pistol handles well in my hands, each cracking shot reverbrating through the surrounding rock formations. Complete by accident, I shoot at a red barrel next to the last bandit, and he disintegrates in the resulting explosion.

Kill Ten Rats

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I meet Doctor Zed. He is an strange fellow, operating on a dead body, and claims that despite his medical practice, he does not hold a professional degree. The very first mission he gives me holds true to teaching RPG basics. I am asked to kill a few skags, vile looking malevolent dogs that attack anything on sight. I head out from Fyrestone in search of their hideout, only to find it just across the road.

The fight, although quick, is intense. I snipe the first skag from a distance, it buckles, making me think I nailed it in one shot. But then it shakes its head and starts charging. I take aim again and hit it square in the head. It goes down with a pitiful yelp. I hear more snarls, I whip my rifle around towards the series of small caves where I spotted the first skag. As my visions pans left to right, I spot one… no two… no wait, three skags charging at breakneck speed. I panic for the briefest moment. Then I aim and fire.

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The shot connects perfectly with the second skag’s head. It takes me a second to find the third skag through my zoomed perspective. I finally find it, it is merely 15 meters away. FPS shooter instincts kick in, and I pull the trigger without thinking. The first shot misses. 10 meters. I spot the fourth skag several meters behind the third one, running straight at me. I frantically click the left mouse button, willing the gun to shoot. The reload time, an otherwise negligible 2.6 seconds, lasts an eternity. The skag is just 5 meters away. Then the unexpected happens.

Just as I fire off the next shot, the beast leaps in the air, coming straight for my face, flying through 5 meters of empty air in a split second. Painful red marks fill the screen and my vision teeters. I get out of zoom mode and fire a shot at my feet, but the skag is already running away. Running away? That’s odd. Maybe it is a glitch or a bug. I’ll worry about that one later, there is a fourth one dangerously close. I zoom again, aim at the fourth one as the third one runs away, and fire.

*click*

The chamber is empty. How the hell did I use up all six bullets already. The first two shots killed the first skag. The third shot killed the second skag. The fourth shot missed. The fifth shot missed when the third skag lept. The last shot was wasted on the ground trying to kill the third skag up close.

Damn it!

No time to reload. I switch to my handgun. And that is when I see the third skag wasn’t actually running away. The third skag was trying to gain some distance on me so it could leap attack again. I see it turning around, realizing that both skags are more or less the same distance from me, closing in from two different directions.

The next few seconds are filled with panicked gunshots. The two skags go down, making teeth indentations somewhere on my thighs. My handgun has three bullets left. My rifle is empty.

I hear another skag snarl in the distance.

Time to reload!

Links:

Funny of the Day: “James Pwned” or “Gadget Addiction”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

secretagent

Categories: Bronte

“Not Every Hero is Pure” or “Cinematic Superiority”

October 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The TV commercial is here:

Categories: Bronte

“MMO Cloning Technology” or “MMOwned”

October 28, 2009 3 comments

Alganon is a name I came across occasionally in the last few weeks. It is a new MMO being developed by Quest Online, originally slated for a release on October 31, 2009.

The game was previewed by the guys over at That’s a Terrible Idea, as well as Tobold and Eldergoth. And the verdict was resoundingly unanimous: Alganon simply sucks.

Evizaer on That’s a Terrible Idea says: “Alganon is a great example of how to make an MMO that has no chance of success: it copies without perfecting, it adds without improving.” Tobold words are not much different. He sums up the game in the simplest terms: “Alganon is just plain bad.” You can also read Eldergoth‘s detailed and painfully honest (p)review here if you are looking for a much more in-depth look.

I haven’t played the game myself, but the overwhelmingly negative feedback prompted me to look up the MMO, and see what all the fuss was about. In that regard, I suppose their FAQ turned out to be a gold mine. Here are a few nuggets:

“With all of the features, technology and design going into ALGANON, the only thing that will pull you to our game is what it ultimately becomes.”

failtrainAll aboard the fail train. (Note: we will simply ignore the million graphics and UI issues brought about by ‘all the technology’ for the sake of keeping this about 7,000 words shorter). If the ‘only thing’ serving as a selling point for your game is what the game will eventually become, you have failed in just about every category that judges your abilities as an MMO developer. In addition, Alganon charges nearly the same amount as any high-end, mainstream MMO, and requires a monthly fee. Given the sheer lack of polish, and the unabashedly scathing previews from bloggers and industry veterans alike, it is surprising to see Alganon move the release date from October 31 to December 1st. As if an added month of development will magically fix the plethora of issues identified.

It’s a sure shot recipe for disaster, and Quest Online is hell-bent on drowning in the misery of their own creation, the sooner the better!

“Who is your target audience?”
“Any gamer who wishes to be immersed in a large-scale fantasy world where they will have fun, build customized powerful avatars, interact with a virtual community, and explore a vast world of creatures, companions, interesting secret locations, and much more.”

And grandmothers with arachnophobia and a secret fetish for oatmeal raisin cookies. Oh and dead people.

“How large is the world?”
“The continents of Ardonya and Harraja are huge! The domain of Asheran Forest, for example, is larger than the entire playable space of some other games. Many of these areas will be opened up sometime after release, allowing a progression for your character’s exploration long after you begin your journeys.”

frigginhugeAre they *this* huge or *THIS* huge? Asheran Forest being larger than the entire playable space of some other games is a dubious statement since ‘other games’ is as broad a definition as it can get. Incidentally these boast-worthy areas will be open ‘sometime after release’, implying that any sado-masochist willing to fork over $39.99 is buying an incomplete, gimped game where even content you paid for will be kept locked till the developers feel like releasing it to you.

Here is another stellar example of marvelously generalized statements that are about as vague as… something. (Get it?)

“What kind of environments and creatures will I encounter in my journeys through the world?”
“There is a huge amount of variety in the terrains offered in Alganon.”

But at the end of the day, the one thing that baffled me is as follows:

“The core game is designed for single players to have a rich and fulfilling experience on their own if they choose….”

wherethefiseveryoneThis is in the FAQ’s of an MMO. Enough said.

Edit: As reader Leto pointed out, this could simply imply that the game does not force you to group. But there is a clear and present difference between forcing you not to group and encouraging you to stay solo. Champions Online is one great example. The game at no point blatantly tells you to go at it solo, but it is designed in a way that encourages solo play and subtly takes away the choice of grouping. If the same is the case with Alganon, in their pursuit to provide single players a ‘rich and fulfilling’ experience, then once again they have failed to meet basic objectives.

It really says something about the game when you can conclusively and concretely establish that it will not be worth your time, effort, energy or money, despite having invested nay a single second of playtime in it. Perhaps this will serve as a deterrent case study for Quest Online, and budding MMO development studios.

Categories: Alganon, Review

“Prison Break: MMO Edition” or “Michael Scoffield is a douchebag”

October 27, 2009 1 comment

Why is it that no prison in MMOs can successfully keep its prisoners under lock and key? Regardless of the type of prison or the safeguards put in place to ensure no untoward incident takes place, there is always a riot or an escape or a combination of the two. Do they always hire NPC guards that are complete imbeciles? Or are the walls made of cheap pixels? Perhaps the head jailor is a sado-masochist who gets off on getting beaten to a pulp by escaping prisoners every reset?

To illustrate the spread of this plot device, let’s observe some examples from a few popular MMOs.

World of Warcraft

Prisons breaks are to WoW as George W. Bush is to retarded. It just seems to come naturally.

First up we have The Stockades. This is a high-security prison complex beneath the canals of Stormwind City. The instance is home to henchmen, masterminds and diabolical villains alike. More recently, there has been a riot, and the place is under complete control of the criminals. The only problem is that they stay inside the walls of The Stockades and refuse to leave. It would be the Prison Break equivalent of Micheal Scoffield killing every guard and administrator inside Fox River so no one can stop his escape. And then choosing a new cell as his new home.

Wrath of the Lich King introduced the Violet Hold, a magical prison in the southern district of the floating city of Dalaran. It is now being attacked by the blue dragonflight under Malygos‘ orders. The prison guards, being the perpetually inept, blithering idiots that they are, need the players’ help to fend off the blue dragonflight and to keep the prisoners in check.

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The biggest examples of ‘prison’ encounters would have to be C’Thun and Yogg-Saron. Both were Old Gods cast into earthly prisons by the Titans and now corrupt the thoughts of any foolish enough to get close to their prison. Why? Because the guys that designed the prisons were criminally retarded and made the prison out of marshmellows. The solution? Go into the prison and kill the pesky bastards.

Champions Online

In Millennium City, one of the first public missions you will participate in involves preventing some of the most dangerous criminals from escaping during a prison riot. Cryptic‘s Producer of Naming Originality was on vacation the week they named the event, for the event is called “Jail Break”.

Next up is Stronghold, the Desert Zone prison. Unlike Millennium City’s rehabilitation center, this facility is designed to contain and keep watch over the most nefarious and powerful supervillains. A storm knocked out the power in the ’80s, disrupting the power inhibiting fields and allowing nearly 40 supervillains to escape and wreak havoc. In the early 21st century, Grond escaped with the help of a disgruntled guard, killing several guards in the process. And rest assured, the troubles of the facility are far from over.

The Nemesis system is one of the most unique features of Champions Online. But in the interest of this article, it is worth nothing that even your Nemesis can escape from prison, forcing you to hunt the guy down yet again.

Age of Conan

prisonbreak1Conan himself founded the upcoming Iron Tower, a towering structure of heavy stone and black iron. Intended for civil confinement of the most vile of Aquilonia’s criminals, the Iron Tower continues the Tarantia Common District story arc. And yes, you get to go in, and bring the swift and unforgiving hand of justice with great force down upon the insidious prisoners and their minions.

Prison Break: The Convenient Plot Device

Prison breaks are one of the most over-used plot devices. What morally upright (experience-points-starved) MMO player would miss out on a chance to rid the world of a villainous menace of diabolical proportions? (Side note: what exactly is a diabolical proportion BTW?) What heroic (loot-hungry) adventurer would give up on a chance to bring an uncompromising and swift end to the dubious and undoubtedly evil pursuits of the scum of the earth?

I understand the twitch reaction that causes developers to build the inevitable prison break story into the macrocosm of the world. It is a classic, convenient setup that requires minimal explanation. It doesn’t take much for the MMO player to go in charging after those foolish enough to challenge the (questionable) might of the MMO’s law enforcement agencies.

What if we thought of prisons in MMOs in a new light? What instead of keeping prisoners in, there were quests that involved breaking people out? What if a prison instance was designed to facilitate the advancement of lore without being lured into the seemingly inevitable prison break quagmire? What if designers gave us choices requiring us to question our own sense of morality and justice, instead of forcing us to choose the obvious, morally upright choice regarding prison escapes?

For all its flaws, one of the greatest missions in Champions Online involved getting defeated by VIPER forces on purpose. You wake up in a lab, and escape your captors, making your way to the inner depths of the instance searching for an evil genius who was otherwise inaccessible. It was a brilliant concept, well-implemented and flawlessly executed.

Can you think of ways this device can be improved or altered that challenges the norm and expands on the classic paradigm?

Champions Online -

Thought of the Day: “Plausible Prisons” or “Wicked Wardens”

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

What if prisons in MMO’s could actually contain the criminals?

Categories: Bronte

“9 Circles of MMO Hell” or “You Can’t Handle the Truth!”

October 26, 2009 2 comments

This is a month old now, but it’s still bloody brilliant! Click the image for the full-size version.

9 circles of MMO Hell

Categories: Comic

Champions Online: “Ravenspeaker is Retarded!” or “Looks Like They Fixed the Lack of Quest Text!”

October 25, 2009 5 comments

Remember when I QQ’ed last week about the insane grind quest in Champions Online and the lack of text associated with it? Well it looks like Cryptic have fixed the quest text issue.

I went through the quest text, took screenshots and created a composite of the entire text for this mission. Hey Mr. Zinkievich, I bet this wouldn’t have happened if all your characters were voiced!

ravenspeaker-is-retarded-or-theyfixed-the-lack-of-quest-text

Categories: Champions Online

Dragon Age Origins: “Se7en Reasons to get Excited” or “You’d be an Idiot not to”

October 24, 2009 10 comments

Disclaimer: Apologies for the insane length of this piece. I didn’t think it would turn out to be well over 3,000 words.

Eleven days left before DA:O comes out. Eleven. Long. Days.

BREAKING: Dragon Age: Origins has gone gold.

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I am all a-titter (or should I say a-twitt – wait, that joke has been done to death) with the upcoming release of Dragon Age: Origins. BioWare has put together a behemoth of unparalleled proportions, and my patented spidey sense tells me the blogger and gamer community is practically convulsing waiting for the wait (that hurt your head?) to be over.

In the meantime however, I decided to put together this list of reasons you should look forward to Dragon Age: Origins. You know, just to shove you over the edge.

One: Developed by BioWare

If that sub-title doesn’t immediately give you a warm, fuzzy feeling and simultaneously increase your expectations for the game ten-fold, then you need to crawl back underneath that rock you have been living under. Aside from the fact that BioWare won the Game Developer of the Year award from GamePro in 2008, they have several intellectual properties that have done exceptionally well, both commercially and critically.

Here is a short list of titles from BioWare and their associated aggregate ratings from MetaCritic:

A few things should be apparent here.

First, BioWare has been busy bringing out award-wining, critically acclaimed titles every year for well over a decade now.

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to4Second, BioWare is exceptionally good at introducing new intellectual properties, always a risky move, with startling consistency. By contrast, Blizzard Entertainment last introduced a new IP about a decade ago, and has been shipping out (glorious) iterations of the same three IPs: Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft. Like BioWare, they make brilliant games, no doubt. The difference is that BioWare keeps refreshing the formula with unerring consistency.

Two: Storyline and Lore

The folks over at BioWare are master story tellers. These days I am going through my first playthrough of Mass Effect. My character now has access to the first tier of spectre weapons. This has essentially made firefights a joke. Where I would have to try a few reloads and approach the battlefield with revised strategy, I now walk blindly into every combat situation knowing I will decimate and humiliate anything that comes in my path. That being said, the storyline in the game is so exquisitely constructed and so well executed that I can’t help but push forward, waiting for the next bit of lore and plot twist.

Instead of cookie-cutter stories that have shallow two-dimensional characters and plot devices, every game I have played from BioWare offers an unprecedented level of depth, structure and non-linearity in the story. The world feels alive, rich with a complex back story and dynamic, conflicted, flawed characters, each with their own agendas.

Background Elements: The Land

Dragon Age: Origins is no different. The kingdom of Ferelden is a complicated macrocosm brought to life by a well-knit fabric of intertwining lore. And although the game takes place mostly in this kingdom, it is a relatively small part of the larger continent of Thedas. Thedas, in turn, is likely one of many continents in the Dragon Age universe.

Background Elements: The Age

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to2The current period of conflict in the game is known as the Dragon Age in the Chantry calendar, due to the recent resurgence of the presumed-extinct dragons. There have been eight ages prior (Divine, Glory, Towers, Black, Exalted, Steel, Storm, Blessed) and each has its own distinct story.

Background Elements: The Fade

The Fade is a metaphysical realm created by the Maker prior to creating the world of Thedas. Spirits roam this land, and every race in Thedas mentally enters this realm while dreaming. The mages are the only entities mentally aware of their presence in the Fade as they tap into the Fade’s energies when casting spells. The Fade has one physical presence in the world called the Black City, an unreachable location observed in the skies, infinitely in the distance. The mages also have a right of passage where their mind consciously enters the Fade and they fight demons to prove their mettle.

Background Elements: Lyrium

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to5Mages use a rare mineral called lyrium to facilitate the the transfer of their conscious minds to the Fade. This mineral causes serious injury or insanity to anyone who comes in contact. The only race that is resistant to lyrium is dwarfs because of their extended exposure to the material in the deep places beneath the earth.

Background Elements: Ferelden Titles

  • Freeholder: Land-owner
  • Ser: Knight of the realm (male or female)
  • Teyrns/Teyrna: War leaders, responsible for defending those sworn to them
  • Arls/Arlessa: Commanders of strategic fortresses the Teyrns can’t oversee directly
  • Banns: Freeholds choose Banns or Arls to pay allegience; Teyrns come from Banns
  • King/Queen: The most powerful Teyrn. But even the King needs Banns to execute his will over the lands

Background Elements: The Blight

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to3The Blight (with a capital B) is the event where the Darkspawn beneath the earth come across a slumbering Old God (a dragon), and awaken an Archdemon in the process. Unified by the will of this terrifying creature, they storm the surface with a vengeance. The blight (small b) is a disease spread by the Darkspawn that corrupts all living organisms. Crops die. Water sours. Black clouds cover the sky. Anyone who survives the blight infection transforms into the Darkspawn, thus multiplying their numbers.

The only known way of stopping a blight is by defeating the Archdemon leading it. Only Grey Wardens have been able to accomplish this feat over the Ages.

Background Elements: The Grey Wardens

The Grey Wardens are the elitest, bravest and most fearsome of warriors in the world of Thedas. They make the ultimate sacrifice in their pursuit to bring peace to the land and to defeat the Darkspawn. In order to become a Grey Warden, one must undergo the Joining. This involves, in essence, consuming a Darkspawn’s blood, and surviving the resulting infection and transformation. If the recruit comes out of the ritual alive, they are bound to the order of the Grey Wardens, sworn to fight the Darkspawn to the last breath. The ritual awards them the taint, an ability allowing them to be constantly aware of the Darkspawn’s presence, and vice versa. This unique ability was the turning tide that allowed the Grey Wardens to vanquish the first and subsequent Blights.

“Men and women from every race, warriors and mages, barbarians and kings… the Grey Wardens sacrificed everything to stem the tide of darkness… and prevailed.”

– Duncan, head of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to6The taint has unfortunate side effects. It cuts a Grey Warden’s life quite short. Instead of withering away because of  the ever-present disease in their blood, Grey Wardens instead experience the Calling, where they descend into the earth, beyond the gates of Deep Roads, alone, armed with the armor on their backs, the sword in their hilt and their command of magic . They take the fight to the Darkspawn deep within the bowels of the earth, ending their lives with purpose.

The last Blight was over 400 years ago. The Grey Wardens have since faded into legend. Currently, Duncan leads this fearsome group, and there are only two dozen Grey Wardens left in the world.

Background Elements: The History

Here is a short history of the world, put together with the help of the Dragon Age Wikia:

  • Elvhenan, the kingdom of the elves, covers most of Thedas.
  • The elves come into contact with the mages of the Tevinter Imperium. Due to unknown reasons, they started losing their immortality and begin isolating themselves from the human race. The mages wage war against the elves, enslaving most of the race and extending their control over most of Thedas.
  • A group of Magisters (ruling mages) manage to enter the Fade in their physical form. This violation of the metaphysical realm has dire consequences. They are transformed into the first of the Darkspawn, awaken the first Archdemon, Dumat, leader of the Old Gods, and lay waste to the lands. This is the First Blight.
  • The Deep Roads, a series of tunnels and passages beneath the earth, home of the Dwarves, is overrun.
  • The first Joining of the Grey Wardens takes place. The Blight is defeated by the Grey Wardens.
  • The Imperium is beset by two simultaneous conflicts. A tribal horde, led by Andraste, blaming them for the Blight, wages war. At the same time, the enslaved elves of the Imperium rebel. The Imperium loses its might and several large portions of the kingdom. It never again fully recovers.
  • The elves are given Dales as a new homeland.
  • The Second Blight occurs. Hafter unites the Alamarri tribes and becomes the first teyrn.
  • Calenhad unites the Clayne tribes into a single nation, becoming the first King of Ferelden.
  • The time of the Third Blight is currently unknown.
  • 400 years prior to the events of Dragon Age: Origins, the Fourth Blight occurs.
  • The Blessed Age begins.
  • The Orlesian Empire conquers Ferelden and rules it for almost a century. It is the most powerful nation in Thedas
  • In the 97th year of the Blessed Age, the events of the preceding novel, Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, begin.
  • A year before the Dragon Age begins, the Battle of River Dane takes place.
  • At some point in the Blessed Age, a dragon awakens and goes on a rampage, causing the following age to be named the Dragon Age.
  • The Dragon Age begins.
  • In the second year of the Dragon Age, 28 years prior to the events of  Dragon Age: Origins, King Maric Theirin successfully rebels against Orlais and re-establishes Ferelden as an independent kingdom.
  • In the tenth year of the Dragon Age, King Maric readmits the Grey Wardens in Ferelden. They had been banished two hundred years prior.
  • Thirty years into the Dragon Age, when the story in the game unfolds, the Fifth Blight begins.

Sold yet? Realize that I have only gone through a very condensed version of the lore, and I am only on reason number two of seven.

Three: Voice Acting

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to7There are hours upon hours upon hours of recorded voice-acting in the game. BioWare has effectively ensured that no two characters will have the same voice. So is it the same set of 20 guys doing a bunch of different voices for the whole game? Turns out the cast for Dragon Age: Origins is a ridiculous 144 different individuals. The most notable of these are Tim Curry and Kate Mulgrew.

Compare that to, say World of Warcraft. How many Goblins have you clicked on that say “Time is money friend!” or Gnomes that say: “My, you’re a tall one!” in the exact same voice?

Four: DLC’s at Launch

Dragon Age: Origins will ship on November 3, 2009. Most developers provide additional downloadable content several months into the release to give the player additional areas in the existing world to explore.

BioWare, trend-setter extraordinaire, will have two DLCs available on the day of the release.

The Stone Prisoner

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to8The village of Honnleath is overrun by the Darkspawn. A lone stone figure stands at guard the town’s heart. This once powerful golem can be unfrozen from his perpetual prison and become part of the player’s party of adventurers. The golem comes with a rich backstory (that is shocking, really), extensive voice-acting a unique follower quest. You can also tend to the mysteries of the village and bear witness to additional unfolding events that delve deeper into Dragon Age: Origins lore.

Warden’s Keep

Soldier’s Peak is haunted by the undead, some say the ghosts of betrayed Grey Wardens. Other claim demons have overrun the land and decimated the grounds. Whatever the case may be, this DLC continues advancing the lore, uncovering a terrifying secret buried for generations. Players can also unlock new abilities and powerful items.

Five: Content in Advance

To say that the game media has been saturated by an endless stream of teaser content from BioWare is sort of like saying the U.S. economy has hit a little bump. We have seen a never ending barrage of screenshots, wallpapers, videos and a kickass cinematic, leaving us drooling for more.

Character Creator

But BioWare is not yet done. Last week, they released the Dragon Age: Origins character creator. Released as a separate download a full two weeks before the game launched, the character creator allows you to play around with the most elementary step in RPGs: designing your alter-ego. It’s a fairly robust system, with a lot of customization options. For instance, there are up to nine sliders for just the nose of your character. The ESRB rating for the character creator is also misleading, but that’s neither here nor there. In addition, you can save your characters and export them to the game when it comes out. Using this feature will also give you a unique item in game, The Lucky Stone.

Dragon Age Journeys

Yesterday, EA also released a flash game, Dragon Age Journeys, that allows you to play some of the events leading up to the Dragon Age: Origins release. What’s truly amazing is that completing certain tasks in the flash game unlocks up to three items in the actual game itself. You need to be signed into your EA account while playing, and said items will be automatically added to your character’s inventory.

Six: Reviews

I have seen two full-fledged reviews of the game so far.

PC Gamer

PC Gamer gives it a whopping 94%, one of their highest ever. Their final verdict: “A truly astonishing game. Vast, vivid and microscopically detailed. Dragon Age is the RPG of the decade.”

That’s some lofty praise. The following are some additional tidbits from said review, shamelessly copy-pasted from HotCoffeeBurns’ post here. No point in re-inventing the wheel.

  • “Thus begins Dragon age, one of the most enormous and astonishing of games. It’s an unashamed high-fantasy RPG, rooted in the most traditional soil, yet set in a highly original world.”
  • “This is not a game that can be simply explained. How does it begin? It begins in six completely different ways, and each of these can be met with a wildly different approach.”
  • “Whether you play as a human, elf or dwarf, a rogue, warrior or mage, a noble or a commoner, Dragon Age requires a smart use of your wits and weapons.”
  • “You can approach combat in a couple of ways, depending upon your personal preferences and the difficulty to which you’ve set the game. In theory, setting it to easy should let you fight in real-time, where you select opponents and issue instructions from a row of tiled attacks, spells and special items familiar to any MMO player, as the fight happens.”
  • “As you and your party level up, at levels 7 and 14 you get a point to spend on a sub-specialism that opens up new talent trees. A warrior, for instance, can choose to be a berserker or champion, among others. A mage might opt for shapeshifting, allowing her to morph into an animal during battle. A superbly useful talent for a rogue is ranger, which allows you to call an animal to join your party.”
  • “Humans are the dominant race in Ferelden. Dominant in some extremely unpleasant ways. Until a few hundred years ago elves were the slaves of humans. In theory they have been freed, but those who live in cities remain second-class citizens, forced to live in slums, either begging or finding menial work in human houses. A small number of elves broke away to live in the Dales, these “dalish” elves are attempting to recover their lost culture. Bitter and vengeful, they kill all humans who wander into their territory. The dwarves live in the Frostback Mountains. Mages are feared and loathed by all. Your first two hours playing as a human noble will have almost nothing in common with those of a dwarf commoner or Dalish elf. While you’re taught the basics of combat, and introduced to party mechanics, the rest is unique.”
  • “Whether you play as a male or female, there are various characters with whom you can fall in love. However this isn’t a genderless universe, and a gay relationship will be recognized as such.”
  • “The ending, which is different depending upon how you’ve played, manages to deliver on the anticipation built up, surprising you with new twists, and creating an appropriate sense of scale.”
  • After 80 hours of gameplay over 2 months: “This is the most enormously detailed game world I’ve experienced, its history stretching back thousands of years, its cultures vivid, beautiful and flawed, the battles enormous, the humour superb. Roleplaying games now have a great deal to live up to.”

GameInformer

GameInformer gives the game 90/100. This review is also full of praise, but in the interest of some variation, here is an interesting excerpt:

dragon-age-origins-se7en-reasons-to-get-excited-or-youd-be-an-idiot-not-to9“In the middle of reviewing Dragon Age, I had a couple vacation days scheduled. During my long out-of-state weekend, the game was constantly popping into my mind – how I could have won a fight differently, or how I might spend my next few talent points. As soon as my flight landed back in Minneapolis, I didn’t even fight the urge; I drove straight into the office and spent an entire Sunday night in front of the computer fighting darkspawn and saving Ferelden. The number of titles that can foster this level of dedication and obsession are few, and Dragon Age: Origins is among the best of them.”

Seven: MMO Follow-up

Not confirmed. But I bet my bottom dollar they will make one. It is just too damn good to pass up.

Funny of the Day: “They Call him Headless for a Reason” or “Pumpkin Persistence”

October 23, 2009 1 comment

Categories: Comic

“She got no Class!” or “Tørnquist is a Funny Name!”

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

she-got-no-class-or-tørnquist-is-a-funny-name2One of the upcoming MMOs that I am very excited about is The Secret World. It’s not fantasy, it isn’t set in space, you don’t get to be a superhero, and the world hasn’t destroyed itself by firing a couple dozen nukes up its own ass.

The Secret World is set in our present time, in the real world. The twist? Ancient prophecies are coming true and all manners of beasts and monsters that are the stuff of children’s nightmares are coming to life in alarming numbers. And it is up to a few individuals, ordinary human beings initially, to save the world. Players then assume the role of developing supernatural heroes who fight the textbook battle against the rising evil. It is being developed by Funcom, developers of the popular Age of Conan.

If you have not heard of the game at all, I would recommend you watch the following two trailers first. And perhaps read up a little on the game.

You can play as one of three factions, The Illuminati, The Dragons or the Templars. The game incorporates pieces of ancient mythologies, real and false history, urban legends, and pop culture, and ties them into an original back-story.

“We have three playable factions: The Templars, who are based in London and who are on a crusade against evil. They don’t let anything stand in their way, and they’re willing to raze a city to the ground if it means defeating the evil within. Then there are the Illuminati, based in New York, and these guys are more interested in gaining occult power and wealth. They’re more secretive and prefer working behind the scenes to control the world. Of course, they’re also fighting evil, but their motivations are different from their mortal enemies, the Templars. Finally, the Dragon is the joker in this deck of cards. They’re based in Seoul and appear quite innocuous on the surface, but they like playing the other guys up against each other, and they believe in creating chaos in order to achieve balance.”
Ragnar Tørnquist, Producer and Director, The Secret World

she-got-no-class-or-tørnquist-is-a-funny-name1Universal Gaming Database’s Evoker recently had an interview with Ragnar Tørnquist, the producer and director of The Secret World. While Tørnquist was careful not to divulge any significant information, he did elaborate that the game will not have any classes or levels. Additionally, you don’t have to grind to get through the game, but you can if you so choose. Tørnquist insists that you get to create your own experience, but doesn’t conclusively say how.

“You’re going to have fun! Our goal is to make sure that players can sit down and play this game and enjoy themselves from the very beginning. You don’t start out fighting rats with a rusty sword. You get cool firearms, black magic, occult weapons from the outset – and you’re fighting demons and the undead, not wild boar or petty criminals.”
Ragnar Tørnquist, Producer and Director, The Secret World

You can find the full interview here.

“Cinematic to die 4″ or “Coach is the new Bill”

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Bloody awesome.

Categories: Left 4 Dead

“Twelve Days” or “Three Games”

October 22, 2009 5 comments

Werit’s post troubled me.

Life is busy. I am in the middle of a new launch at work, and it’s taking up 12-13 hours a day, at least 6 days a week. I am also writing extensively every day, something I enjoy immensely. I am playing Champions Online, World of Warcraft, EvE Online, and thanks to Syp, I may be starting a 14-day Fallen Earth trial as well. I would say I hate you Syp, but your kid is apparantly Yoda, and you just don’t mess with freakin’ Yoda.

nine-days-or-three-gamesThen there is Risen, Mass Effect (no I never played it before, yes I know that is gamer blasphemy) and an unhealthy obsession with the versus mode in Left 4 Dead to soak up my time.

That being said, I am getting increasingly and acutely aware of three RPG titles that are coming out in the coming nine days, and frankly, I have no idea as to when or how I will play them unless I learn to stay perpetually awake on Red Bull or the Chinese take over the world and enforce day cycles that are 96 hours long.

  • First and foremost, there is Borderlands releasing on October 26. The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions are out already. There are more guns in the game than there are doves flying in slow-mo in a John Woo flick. And that, my friends, is an accomplishment. My infatuation with things that go boom aside, Borderlands looks slick, sly and full of attitude.
  • The very next day we get Torchlight. There are several reasons why this spiritual successor to Diablo may be the next best thing for the RPG genre. First, it’s cheap, just $18. You spend that at cheap dinner on a regular basis. I am sure this would produce more endorphins over the course of several hours instead of momentary relief from hunger pangs. (There is a fat joke in here somwhere, I know it.) Second, the game is randomly generated. Although you follow a pre-determined story arc, all the levels, monsters and even environmental puzzles are procedurally generated. Third, the game is single player, but an MMO will shortly follow. The MMO will also be available at the amazing low price of $0.00.
  • And last but most certainly not the least is the heavy-weight contender from Bioware, Dragon Age: Origins. Popular game outlets have been over-saturated with information, screenshots, concept art, origins videos, character bios, creature profiles, trailers and a breathtaking cinematic. Yet, incredibly, none of us can get enough of it. There is no doubt in my mind that all the bloggers and writers that write about RPGs and games in general will mysteriously disappear on November 3, 2009. That is the date Dragon Age: Origins gets released, and we relinquish our souls to the might and magic of Bioware yet again.

Imagine some sort of clever transition here.

Alec Meer is one of my favorite writers over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Most recently, he has been documenting his (mis)adventures in Risen. The Risen Report is now six episodes long, exquisitely detailed, annotated, and opinionated. His style of writing and the structure of The Risen Report has inspired me to document my own journey through one of these upcoming games.

Perhaps you can help me pick one?

Se7en Tidbits: “80 is the new 10″ or “Apparantly, Cricket Bat =/= Shotguns”

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Here are a few tidbits that caught my attention for one reason or another this week:

  • “Only 0.13% of [World of Warcraft players] actually beat the hardest content in the game. The other 99.87% are complaining that WoW is too easy, without having been able to beat it themselves.” – Tobold, Wipe/gear quota, Tobold’s MMORPG Blog
  • “You have the choice of a signature shotgun, a sawed-off shotgun or a cricket bat.  Hmm, one of these is not like the others.” – Werit, Days of the Dead, Werit’s Blog
  • “First off, we need to discuss conversion factors. Cryptic is following the Microsoft model by making one dollar worth 80 points. The hilarious thing is that they also followed the Microsoft model by pricing just about everything in multiples of 80. Do that many people (especially MMO players) really have trouble doing that kind of math in their head? I don’t get the point.” – Marty, Random Shots: The Cryptic Store, Untangled, Bullet Points
  • “If you bought Aion, you are telling NCSoft and the genre as a whole ‘more of the same please’. Paying the $50-65 up front, and any months after, and you more or less give up your right to complain that the genre is boring, that no one is trying new things, and that too many games are just shallow time-sinks that apply a fresh coat of paint to the same themepark and rides.” – Syncaine, What buying Aion says about you, Hardcore Casual

Categories: Se7en Tidbits

“A Matter of Statistics” or “0.13% L33t!”

October 22, 2009 1 comment

Gear acquisition in contemporary WoW is considerably more complex than it was in vanilla WoW. Originally, you could get epic gear that was well crafted to suit your class only from 40-man instances. Since then, 5-mans, 10-mans, arenas, battlegrounds, quests, vendors, reputation rewards all give epic loot.

A question arises:

  • Is the ability to acquire epic loot from a plethora of different sources responsible for a decline in the pursuit of endgame content?

Tobold made an interesting post recently on his blog. According to Tobold, a mere 0.13% have cleared endgame content.The remaining 99.87% of the player population has not.

This in turn begs two other questions:

  • Is raid content in WoW really that hard?
  • Does it make sense for Blizzard to design content that statistically so few can master?

Larísa over at The Pink Pigtail Inn had a few interesting comments on the subject from another angle, which you can read here.

You be the judge.

Funny of the Day: “Shit Sticks” or “Rory is an Asshole”

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Categories: Comic
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