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Archive for July, 2010

“Study Claims Video Games Make People Less Violent” or “Eat that Joe Baca”

July 29, 2010 1 comment

Via 1UP, via CVG, a new study shows that violent video games increase decrease violent behavior.

Wait, whaaaaaaat?

The study conducted by Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson involved taking 103 subjects, subjecting them to frustrating tasks, the nature of which remains unknown. The ending of Splinter Cell: Conviction was pretty frustrating, that’s a good guess. Anyhoo. After having undergone said irritating task, they were randomly selected to play no game, a non-violent video game, or a violent video game as a hero or a villian. The results were interesting to say the least.

“The results suggest that violent games reduce depression and hostile feelings in players through mood management.”

- Dr. Ferguson.

He even added that this research could be used to help patients with frustrations or violent behavior. There are loopholes of course. For instance, the study was conducted on adults, and the most galvanizing rallying cry of the naysayers has been that violent video games are corrupting out children. Additionally, with only 103 subjects divided further into four separate sub-test groups, the results may be a fluke instead of an accurate portrayal of society at large. It is also debatable whether the participants were optimal subjects for the study. Not to mention the other studies that suggest otherwise.

That being said, such on that Joe Baca!

“Why I am Excited about Dragon Age 2″ or “The Importance of a Central Character”

July 26, 2010 4 comments

Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins – Two of the Greatest RPGs Ever Made

Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest triumphs in RPG gaming in recent memory. BioWare created a universe that was believable, sucked you in and made you realize the importance of solid, gripping storytelling. Part of the reason the game stood out for me was because it was the continuation of the previous iteration, using a familiar cast of characters and led by Sheppard as the protagonist. This was the single most effective facet of the Mass Effect universe: getting the players emotionally involved in the trials and tribulations of one Commander Sheppard and deeply caring about all the conflicts he (or she) was mired in.

Dragon Age: Origins was also a great game. Part of the reason was the concept of the origins stories and how they inter-weaved throughout all the main story campaign and part of the reason was the rich detail of the universe, which has become a hallmark of BioWare games.

Why I Enjoyed Mass Effect 2 More in the Long Run

What I am trying to say is that I tremendously enjoyed both video games, but my relationship with both over the course of time morphed in diametrically opposite directions.

For Mass Effect 2, each additional piece of lore and DLC added to the universe and pulled me deeper into the ongoing conflict and the lives of the main cast of characters. I was intrigued, unable to put down the Firewalker, Overlord or Kasumi DLCs, because they continued to advance the story of a familiar character we had grown fond of, a character who had suddenly become the most important human being in the universe, an unsung hero by the name of Commander Sheppard.

Dragon Age: Origins, on the other hand, in the larger sense, failed to do so. The biggest problem Dragon Age: Origins faced was that there was no central protagonist to hold the narrative together. Sure each of the six starting stories inter-weaved and essentially boiled down to the same larger arc and Ferelden-spanning conflict, but there was no singular name you could identify the game with. Dragon Age: Origins was essentially about six versions of the same exact story, and any of those versions may have been the truth. I am not saying the characters were not well-developed, or that the stories were not intriguing in of themselves. I am just saying there was no central glue that held it all together because there was no central protagonist.

Then came the expansion: Awakenings. This new content further deteriorated my sense of involvement in the series by giving m a new protagonist to play with. Sure you could import your existing character, but the problem here is that the Orlesian character added, effectively, a seventh origins story to the mix. Thus I started losing interest in the universe. Put simply, I just didn’t care enough about the predicaments of the Dragon Age denizens, which is a sad thing to realize about a game you spent 112 hours, 13 minutes and 56 seconds playing.

So when I heard that a sequel was in the works, I was less than intrigued to give a rat’s ass about it.

Why I am excited about Dragon Age 2

What has piqued my curiosity now is Hawke. BioWare’s Chris Priestley said the following on the official forums a few weeks back (I know it’s several weeks later, the new job is kicking my ass!):

“While I do enjoy having fun with our fans, I am not joking about this. The player character is a human (either male or female) with the last name of Hawke. Dragon Age 2 is the story of Hawke.”

This immediately had me interested in what else he had to say about the upcoming game.

Dragon Age 2 thrusts players into the role of Hawke, a penniless refugee who rises to power to become the single most important character in the world of Dragon Age. Known to be a survivor of the Blight and the Champion of Kirkwall, the legend around Hawke’s rise to power is shrouded in myth and rumor. Featuring an all-new story spanning 10 years, players will help tell that tale by making tough moral choices, gathering the deadliest of allies, amassing fame and fortune, and sealing their place in history. The way you play will write the story of how the world is changed forever.”

Hawke, my friends, is the new Sheppard. Like Sheppard, you can select a first name and decide if the character will be male or female. And most importantly, the series will now have a central character that everyone who talks about the game can relate to. I, for one, after waning interest in the series, am as excited about Dragon Age 2 as I am about Mass Effect 3.

Footnote: Another human male in another universe filled with alleged equal opportunity and various races. Kind of makes me think BioWare is a bunch of xenophobic sexists!

“Activision Publishing’s CEO is Delirious” or “Call of Duty = Star Wars?”

July 23, 2010 1 comment

“The Call of Duty franchise is a force of nature. I think it is the closest thing this generation has to a Star Wars. I think it’s unique and bigger than any musical act or any movie franchise in that capacity.”

- Activision Publishing’s CEO Eric Hirshberg

I’m sorry, but this guy has obviously lost it. Comparing a video game, as much as we all, myself include, love them, to a phenomenon as grand and time-tested as Star Wars is not only cocky, it’s downright stupid. Thirty plus years later, we are still discussing, watching, and reveling in the glory of all that is Star Wars. If in 20 years from now we are raving about CoD in the same manner, perhaps then you would have some solid ground on which to stand and stake your claim.

Ask yourself, in all the time you have played CoD, is there a singular moment that can compare, let alone stand toe-to-toe, than when Princess Leia stumbles into Jabba’s lair in a gold bikini? I didn’t think so!

Categories: Bronte

Quote of the Day: “Why GearScore is a Terribad Idea” or “Couldn’t Agree With You More WoW.com”

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

How can you tell a good raider from a bad raider?

GearScore? NO. Often times, people will rely on a numerical gear score, but this is not a good way to judge player quality. Very good players will have low gear scores when starting out, and very bad players who have been persistent or been carried can have very high scores. GearScore  is not an indicator of goodness or badness; it’s purely an indication of how much time and luck the person has had on that character.

- Jim Dalton, Guest Post: Vetting puggers — beyond GearScore and achievements

Categories: They said whaaaat?

“Why APB Turned Out To Be Such a Disappointment” or “Mike Schramm Read My Mind”

July 14, 2010 3 comments

“What APB‘s really missing in terms of gameplay is a real sense of progression. You’ll be doing exactly the same task five minutes into the game as you’ll be doing fifty hours in. While there are various sub-factions to earn reputation with that unlock bigger weapons, and a few stats (Notoriety for Criminals and Prestige for Enforcers) that go up and down based on your performance at any given moment, nothing really changes. No zones are conquered, no wars are won, no faction-wide rewards are granted. Even when you’re doing it right, it’s just mission after mission after mission, and while you are unlocking new weapons or bits of customization, all you get is a small text notice in the chat bar. Nothing about the gameplay ever changes.”

Mike Schramm, Review: APB (Day 2: Enforcers, get enforcin’), Joystiq.com

Categories: APB, Review

Picture of the Day: “Cutest Chun-Li Ever” or “D’awwwwww!”

July 13, 2010 2 comments

Courtesy Kotaku.

Categories: Bronte

“What MMOs Can Learn From Borderlands” or “Twice the Hogger”

July 12, 2010 3 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. 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.

hogger

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.

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. Last year I 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.

b1-7

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 tenuous thread it has with the implied realism. Why can’t we have that in WoW? Or for that matter, any other MMO that uses the same respawn system? Why must we clear boar after boar in McLure Vineyards, only to have them appear by sheer force of will, out of thin air? Why must we wipe out all the worgens plaguing the town of Darkshire in Duskwood, only to watch them completely bypass the laws of nature and reproduction and re-populate their recently ravaged camp with judicious speed?

More importantly: anyone got a better idea?

“Decomissioned For A Week” or “New Job, New Rules”

July 7, 2010 3 comments

I just quit my old job. If any one of you have read this blog for any length of it’s short life, you know I had to disappear for about 2-3 months towards the end of last year. This happened because my company (a news channel) had an issue with me blogging under some obscure, unintelligible clause in the employee contract. It took a bit of negotiation, but I was able to blog again without jeopardizing my job.

Understandably, this left a bad taste in my mouth and coupled with a few other issues, such as, you know, lack of organization-wide increments for over three years, I decided it was time to graze in greener pastures. I resigned, effective immediately, and followed my boss to a new, rival organization. of course they h ave their own set of rules, so they are currently in the process of going through my blog to determine if there is any conflict of interest. Hence I have been unable to post for the last few days.

I am assured that by tomorrow I should have the approval to blog as I please. In fact, the Director of HR gave me his personal guarantee after giving the blog a cursory glance. So in all likelihood, I will be back to a regular posting schedule by Friday, June 9th. Apologies for the lack of updates. And stay tuned! :)

Categories: Bronte

“Why We Blog” or “A Love Letter to A Name”

July 2, 2010 2 comments

My post the other day on what WoW can learn from RDR seemed to illicit an interesting spectrum of comments. The responses ranged from complete agreement to thinly veiled resentment. Although I find it odd that the responses were so varied in scope and context, I was pleased to see that the people who wrote them were not only civil, but that they had very carefully and lucidly articulated their arguments. There was an actual discussion on the issue, a clash of ideas, a symphony of thoughts. Kiryn’s response was particularly interesting and then along came “A Name” with the following:

“This is the same gimmick as the Spiderman games. You wander around, someone yells for your help, you go save them, or not. Basically the reason more people don’t do this is because after you’ve saved the wife from hanging once, for no reward to speak of, you just don’t care anymore. Fact of the matter is, half the time these random quests get you accidentally killed while you’re on the way to do something far more important, like chasing live bounties or pursuing getaway bandits.”

Then you have choice, or more importantly the illusion of choice. One could argue that MMOs are filled to the brim with choices, you could level in any direction you wanted, in any particular order, siding with any of the many factions. If you are on a quest, that quest dictates where you must go and what you must do. But you are at least afforded the option of choosing which quest you finish, and which one save for later. In the same vein, if you are pursuing bandits or live bounties, and you come across a random quest, you have a choice. You can weigh the options and decide for yourself which mission you wish to attempt. You may think the former is far more important, I would respectfully disagree. I think helping the poor bastard and his hanging spouse is more important to me, and I would change course to engage in the random mission instead.

“Basically its just crap. Your whole basis for this writeup is years out of date, played out, and entirely useless unless you find a game developer willing to put out random CHAINS, which then affect the WHOLE GAME, and cause something to be SUBSTANTIALLY DIFFERENT once completed. Furthermore, they should never show up again. If I save some dude’s wife from hanging, I never want to see that quest again.”

You feel that the only way random quests will work is if they are done in chains. Again, I respectfully disagree. You feel that things should be substantially different when you complete the quest, and again, I disagree. Consider WoW. In the thousands of quests you are likely to have completed thus far, how many have made a substantial difference to anything? In Northshire, despite millions of human rogues, mages and warriors fireballing and hacking their way through the near-hapless diseased wolves, the wolves still remain. In Loch Modan, despite the fact that you saved the dam from the Dark Iron Dwarves and their Seaforium charges, they are still an ever-present danger. In Blackrock Mountain, you vanquished Blackwing and his seven minions, but the very next Tuesday (and every Tuesday since), he magically reappears, and threatens the world again.

You claim that once you save the husband and the wife, you never want to see them again. What of the daily quests in WoW? How many have you completed? Which ones have you done regularly for reputation gains or items gained through higher reputation? That doesn’t annoy you a lot worse than a random quest in which you have to save a family from marauding bandits? What about the Kill Ten Rats cookie-cutter quest mechanic. Shouldn’t you, by definition, be sick of MMOs because regardless how how creative they manage to make the monster, at the end of the day, killing precisely 10 of them is what will do the trick. Except it won’t, because somehow it never does.

The point is that you cannot claim my argument to be at fault or being “just crap”, because the current MMO design does not facilitate substantially changing world events through player (inter)action. A random quest chain does not have to bring about game-altering changes for it to be effective. I think you and I are suggesting the same thing but in separate capacities. There needs to be impact in MMOs, some form of a tangible reminder that what we did mattered, and wasn’t just a mechanism for experience gain so we could move on to the next (non)crisis. And in that I agree, if I rescue that husband and wife, I don’t want to come across them again. In fact, it would be nice if the next time I visited a major city, I find them selling fruit on the streets, grateful to me because without me they wouldn’t be alive or have each other. That small gesture right there would be enough of an impact for me, it doesn’t need to be substantially game-changing.

“Also you compare RDR, which is basically a single player game with no substantial multiplayer or MMO content and only the re-playability you can come up with yourself, to WOW, which currently entertains 11 million people at the same time, changes every 2-3 months, constantly re-balances and reinvents itself. Why do the quest givers stand in the same place giving the same quest? Cause you can only do it once, but the game is shared with the other 10.999 million people still, several thousand of which may be on your server at any one time. There are around 4-5000 quest in WoW. If even half of them were randomly encountered (Which some are actually, in the form of drops from monsters you just happened to kill) you would spend your whole life just LOOKING for them.”

First, the topic of the post was not: “Why WoW needs to be more like Read Dead Redemption”, the topic was “What WoW can learn from Read Dead Redemption”; it is like when I suggested that WoW adopt the spawn mechanisms from Borderlands, because they made more sense in an MMO context than mobs appearing out of thin air.

Second, I understand why quest givers stand in one place and why player experience should be generally similar; but that does not mean there cannot be any randomness involved. By all means stick to what you know best, hell stick to what we as players know best. But at least give us the option of randomly coming across a flaming wagon under attack with kobolds and their goddamn candles!

Finally, You stated there are about 5,000 quests and WoW, and then made an argument around the premise that “if half of them were randomly generated…” This is where I disagree, I think that would be a nonsensical number of randomly generated quests. Consider Northrend. Each zone has roughly 80-100 quests. Even if 10% of them were random, it would give the game a flavor it currently lacks, and it would still allow players enough content to level through even if they never came across (or completely ignored) every random encounter. My point wasn’t that random quests should be forced on the player population. My point was that there should be a choice for doing them, if you so please.

“Further Proof that GS is Overrated” or “The Most Fun I’ve Had In a 5-Man Recently”

July 1, 2010 6 comments

Initially I didn’t want to make this post. Then I saw the following in trade chat, and I was compelled:

“5.8GS LFG for lightening quick 5-man, min 5.6GS, PST!”

Regardless of my other activities in WoW, I manage to run at least one random dungeon a day for those precious, precious Frost Badges. Except for the last week-and-a-half. The last 10 days or so I have been running Ahune because he takes all of two minutes and gives me the same two badges with much less work.

I digress.

Prior to the Midsummer Fire Festival, the Gods of Random Chance dealt me my cards, and I was teleported to the Halls of Stone with the group pictured on the right. The average GS was 3521 (rounded up and not counting my personal PvE GS of about 5,200). That is fairly low, especially for an event like the Tribunal of Ancients. Even the tank was a complete greenhorn, admitting early on that he had the fundamentals of tanking down, but this was one of his first instances as a druid tank.

Most would cringe by this point. Surely a group so under-geared with an arguably novice tank is destined for wipes and all manner of lolfails. What followed instead, was one of the most challenging and fun instance runs I have had in a long time. It took us a good hour and a half to clear the place out, and at no point did feel that I could have done something better with my time.

It also reinforced the need for careful planning and meticulous pulls (in bold are all the things we have utterly forgotten to do in 5-mans):

  • We waited for patrols, pulling lone packs one at a time
  • We CC’ed the Dark Rune Theurgist to ensure party survivability while we slowly whittled away at the suddenly and inexplicably robust health bars of trash mobs
  • We used single-targeting damage, and refrained from AoE
  • We use LoS mechanisms to pull mobs around bends to be tanked in relative safety of previously cleared areas
  • We used traps to slow down Unrelenting Constructs so we had enough time to kill his friend before he got to us and wrecked havoc
  • Hell, I even had to, wait for it, drink once or twice to recover from a particularly long and arduous fight

There was an unsaid level of camaraderie and teamwork that worked to our advantage, and instead of being disheartened at the abysmally under-geared group, we took the challenge head-on and went about cleaning house. In addition, everyone was lighthearted, didn’t take the whole thing too seriously, and there was playful banter that kept things alive.

To give you an idea of what kind of group I was running with, when we killed the Maiden of Grief, my DBM announced:

“Maiden of Grief down after 2 minutes and 19 seconds. Your last kill took 54 seconds, and your fastest kill took 39 seconds.”

By the time we ended, we had had zero wipes, two deaths in all, and one of the most enjoyable Wrath 5-mans I had ever had the pleasure of running. And we did it all with a GS-deficient group that only had good players, teamwork and positive spirit going for it. So if you are a GS-aficionado, the next time you decide to announce a 5.6GS requirement for a “lightening quick” 5-man, I hope you are reminded of this post and you die a little inside. You jackass.

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