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Archive for November, 2009

“Happy Eid” or “Holiday Hiatus”

November 30, 2009 1 comment

I am not terribly religious, but it is the Eid season (read: Muslim Christmas). And I seem to have more family members than I can honestly remember or keep track of.

So I am taking hiatus for the weekend. See ya on Tuesday!

Categories: Bronte

“Deus Ex: The Nameless Mod” or “Se7en years in the Making”

November 27, 2009 1 comment

Deus Ex remains to this day one of the most satisfying games I have ever played. I have fond memories of it from well over eight years ago, when it was first released. The developers back then released a toolset, allowing modders to create their own worlds. However, after about 2-3 years, most mods died out or simply faded into oblivion.

One project, The Nameless Mod, trudged on steadily, and on November 22, 2009, finally reached the finish line.

It has been seven years since the modding team, Off Topic Productions, had started work on the mod.

I found out about the mod’s release very recently, courtesy of RPS. They also conducted an interview with the Chief Creative Officer (mod leader) of Off Topic Productions, Jonas Wæver. It’s an interesting read, and gives some valuable insight into what it takes to keep a mod alive for so long.

Eight years later, I can’t even recall where my Deus Ex CDs are, not that I would have time at the moment to check it out. But if you were ever a fan, you can check it out here.

Categories: Deus Ex

They Said Whaaaat?: “Roper Talks Sense” or “Launch Day Blues”

November 26, 2009 Leave a comment

As skeptic as I am of the upcoming Star Trek Online by Cryptic Studios, this gives me hope:

“The biggest impact was that there was a lot of outcry when it happened and this leaked into reviews – even from editors that never played in the head-start time period. It was something we had to do for the good and longevity of the game, but trust us – with Star Trek we’ll have a LOT more people in the beta near the end to better test the global experience and difficulty curves.”
– Bill Roper, MMOCrunch: An Interview with Cryptic’s Bill Roper, re: Lessons learnt from the launch of Champions Online.

Se7en Tidbits: “Thinning out Jedis” or “What MMO Costs More Than $15 a Month?”

November 26, 2009 1 comment

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

  • Seriously, how dare the designers allow such an atrocity.  That’s like letting a kindergartner hit the square block through the round hole.” – iTZKooPA, You Learn Something New Everyday, Project Lore. [Bronte: Wait, you can’t put the square block through the circle? WHAAAAT?”]
Categories: Se7en Tidbits

“Warning, You Might be Drowning” or “Live Disasters”

November 26, 2009 1 comment

I came across this interesting piece of news in InformationWeek.

New York state authorities may use gaming platforms such as the Xbox, PlayStation or Wii to inform citizens about natural or man-made catastrophes. State officials are currently testing the system on the Xbox 360, claiming that youth spend more time with gaming consoles these days than with television or radio. The later are the traditional mediums for disaster information dissemination.

On paper it seems like a sound strategy. I can’t help but wonder what is next in the incessant evolution of consoles: ‘Insert foot in this compartment for a pedicure’? ‘Place dirty laundry in the disc tray’?

Categories: Article of the Week

“Story of my Life” or “Grey Wardens Seekings Soap’s Help to Fend Off Boomers!”

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Second comedic post of the game. If you don’t follow Experience Points, you are missing out on quite a few laughs.

Click to visit comic.

Categories: Comic

“Modern Warfare 3” or “Ultra-Realism”

November 25, 2009 1 comment

I don’t know how I missed this piece of comedic gold before, but here it is:

 

 

Categories: Modern Warfare

“Rotten on the Inside” or “Real Life Parallels”

November 25, 2009 2 comments

Full disclosure: I have not played Aion extensively. My interaction with the game has been limited to about 10 hours worth of gameplay on a friend’s account. Despite over-exposure to the MMO, I don’t much disagree with the opinions of my peers in the blogosphere.

Aion launched two months ago. Since then, despite enjoying a fairly successful commercial launch in a hyper-competitive market, against the caped heavy-hitter by Cryptic and the indie-developed Fallen Earth, I don’t hear good things about Aion. Jayedub, always the diplomat, said earlier this month: “To summarize, I thought that Aion is not a bad game, in fact it’s pretty solid; but not being able to experience the PvPvE till level 25 and the grinding gameplay was too much for me.” Pitrelli also got tired of it earlier in the month. I could link about 15 other blogs, but what boils down to is that Aion, gorgeous as it may be, is a perpetual grind-fest. It is not innovative, it’s design is more banausic than inspired, and arguing that “it gets fun around level 25” is the equivalent of saying “you have to eat 25 piles of dung before you get the cake.” I’d rather just not have the cake.

Ready for an awkward transition? Here we go.

I work in media. We have an anchor who looks like the girl next door, the sultry seductress, and the good girl, all rolled into one. But that is an on-screen persona, enhanced substantially by the application of copious amounts of make-up. I have seen what she really looks like when she rolls into work, and it makes her stalkers (two of which she has taken out restraining orders against) all the more laughable.

My point? Aion is similar to this anchor. On the surface, it looks like your dream MMO: visually stunning, graphically superior, alive with the ebb and flow of a dynamic world teeming with life and energy. But when you play it for an extended period of time, beneath a glossy, shiny exterior lurks an ugly beast, hell-bent on devouring your time and your coin, in exchange for prosaic content, bromidic gameplay and an incapacious, linear world.

Yesterday I stumbled across this new trailer for Aion. I can’t help but wonder if  fresh coat of make-up is being applied to perpetuate the facade. The trailer touts the graphical revamp, and quite frankly it looks phenomenal. But great looks does not a good game make.

There is hope however, and some information gleaned from the trailer (and Korean translations) is quite promising:

  • Graphics: DX10 support; dynamic weather effects; glossier world
  • New Areas: Underwater zones; other new zones; new cities; new dungeons
  • Questing: New quests; questing revamp
  • Playing Characters: New skills for existing classes; new classes
  • Player housing: High degree of customization for interiors and exteriors of player housing
  • Mounts: Tameable mounts; mounts for two riders; mounted combat
  • Combat: Revamped to be more action-oriented; Scorpion-esque ‘GET OVER HERE!’ whip; crossbows

The word ‘new’ seems to be premeditatively married to the list above. However, it seems like more of the same. If you notice, none of the elements in the list above address the issues of monotony, the mindless grinds or the lack of innovation. At least not directly. A combat system with the added aureate effects is pointless, if I have to repeat the process for literally every quest and objective. Customizable housing, tameable mounts, new weapons and improved graphics are all great things, but they add to the periphery of the game, while the core remains effectively untouched. And if the core is still rotten, a shiny exterior simply does not cut it.

My time these days is completely occupied with a wide variety of MMO, RPG, and non-RPG pursuits. Even if the news about Aion was ground-breaking, I don’t know if I would have time to invest in it. But for those that play it, I hope similar dialogue in the MMO community necessitates that the developers pay some sobered attention to the suffering aspects of the game, and stop whitewashing over the glaring imperfections in the game with improved pizzaz and shiny fluff.

Categories: Aion, Monotony, Opinion

Borderlands Interview, Part II: “I’m Excited That You’re Excited!” or “MAINSTREAM’D!”

November 23, 2009 4 comments

A few weeks ago I contacted Randy Pitchford, co-founder and CEO of Gearbox Software, for an interview regarding Borderlands, the upcoming DLC and the possibility of a sequel. Randy was nice enough to make time in his busy schedule (i.e. playing and making video games for a living – lucky bastard!), to answer some of the questions.

This is part two of that interview and covers the possibility of a sequel, some technical questions, and other random tidbits.

You can find Part I here.

[Sidenote: Read my on-going review/in-character/commentary series on the game, ‘The Borderlands Chronicles’:

Enjoy!]


:: ON BORDERLANDS 2 ::

Bronte (B): Mike Neumann has all but directly confirmed a sequel to Borderlands. Can you comment further?

Randy Pitchford (RP): I think Mikey just said that he can confirm that there’s a “chance” for a Borderlands 2.  I think he was playing around with the journalist there… He also said, “Obviously, nothing so far is planned. We’re working on DLC.”

B: Come on! You know you want to!

RP: I don’t have anything to announce at this time, but I’m really excited that you’re excited. 🙂

:: ON TECHNICAL ISSUES ::

Thank you for not allowing PC to be a bastard-child, secondary-citizen to the console generation. Do you feel a game designed from the ground up on the PC has better cross-platform development? Or vice versa?

RP: I think PC development has become more complicated and tricky over the years. But I also think we can do even more there. We’re looking at sales and looking at forums and we’re prioritizing things in our support of the game and are going to take influence from the data and the experience to affect our future decisions.

B: Halflife, Brothers in Arms, and now Borderlands. Do you feel getting hit IP’s that demand expansions and sequels stagnate a studio’s creativity or enhance it?

RP: We just try to make video games that we think are fun, cool and those we want to play ourselves.  I think that it’s important for us to spend time on things we want to spend time on. Sometimes, that’s new things and sometimes, that’s caring more for things with which we’ve already spent time. I think if we had a magic wand, we could magically create more time for ourselves because there are so many things we want to make and so many things we can spend our time doing.

B: Borderlands, for a lot of people, was a painful experience because of the troubles with online play and LAN issues. What steps is Gearbox taking to ensure these issues are sorted out for the upcoming content?

RP: I think that is the thing I wished was most different… And we’re investing more support in those areas. There are some awesome people here that really care, even after the launch, in correcting the troubles.  We’ve already deployed some updates, for platforms, that have addressed some of these issues and we have more deploying as soon as we’re clear to do so.  I think the connectivity issues that some customers are having will be soon cleared up and I think the experience has taught us and our publishing partner a lot which in turn will make the connectivity experience in our future games much better.

:: MISCELLANEOUS ::

B: Are you aware that your name’s initials also stand for “Role Playing” or “Randomized Pew-pew?”

RP: I am now.  Thank you for pointing that out.

B: Was it really you that killed those play testers?

RP: That was some funny thing that IGN did.  I had no idea that they had even done that, but after the surprise, I was highly amused by it.  I even dressed up like the fake me for our costume party at the studio during Halloween because what else could I be?

B: Are there any plans to bring that madman to justice?!?

RP: MAINSTREAM’D!

Categories: Borderlands

“Coincidence?” or “Marcus = Roman”

November 22, 2009 2 comments

Marcus Kincaid in Borderlands, and Roman Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV.

I can’t be the only one who sees the resemblance…

Categories: Borderlands

Borderlands Interview, Part I: “Oh Lord, There Ain’t no Heaven” or “Zombies, Wereskags, Tankensteins, oh my!”

November 21, 2009 5 comments

Gearbox sign with some dude

If you have never heard of Gearbox Software, insert a witty variation of the crawl back under the rock pun. Halflife: Opposing Force, some obscure title, Counterstrike, I think it my have been, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, a little game called Halo, and more recently Brothers in Arms and Borderlands are just some of the titles Gearbox Software has produced over the years.

If you don’t know of Randy Pitchford, lift that rock you have been living under above your head… higher… a little higher… little higher still. Now let it drop. One of the four co-founders of the company, and the current President and CEO, his vision and leadership has made Gearbox Software a force to be reckoned with. With so many titles under his belt, one might say Randy is a magician. You’d be right, because prior to becoming a developer, he actually was a full-time magician in Hollywood!

I contacted Randy a few weeks ago for an interview regarding Borderlands, the upcoming DLC and the possibility of a sequel. Randy was nice enough to make time in his busy schedule (i.e. playing and making video games for a living – lucky bastard!), to answer some of the questions.

This is part one of that interview and covers Borderlands and the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC. Part II will focus on Borderlands 2, technical issues, as well as some miscellaneous comments.

Enjoy!

:: ON BORDERLANDS ::

Bronte (B): Borderlands is a lonely place. Aside from a few plot advancers and quest givers, even the main ‘towns’ feel devoid of human life. The bandit towns, on the other hand, seem brimming to the rafters with goons. Given the post-apocalyptic feel of the game, and the setting of Pandora, was this an intentional design choice?

Randy Pitchford (RP):  From a story point of view, we did want the place to feel that the lawful side of things had completely degenerated. We wanted the towns to feel as if they once were much more relevant and populated, but when you finally arrive, few are left and their future is bleak.  From a design point of view, we wanted the game to focus on the action and not on reading text or following character plots around. The most fun to be had in Borderlands is through adventuring, taking down bad guys and taking their loot. This is where we wanted much of the focus to be. As far as we felt, we could safely push  that part of the experience so; we downplayed the NPC and dialogue which is often associated with role-playing games.

B: Gearbox has made shooters for a long time. In a prior interview with Xbox Magazine, you said that Diablo’s near-obsessive loot-collection mechanic was a heavy influence for the game. Yet it feels that even the loot that drops from bosses is scarce compared to the loot flood we experienced in Diablo. What was the rationale behind this decision?

RP: I don’t think scarce is the right word for describing the amount of loot that drops from bosses in Borderlands. A typical boss will spew a bunch of things and you will also typically find other valuables locked away in chests nearby. In Borderlands, however, we tried to be careful about finding that right balance; too much loot and you’re spending more time sifting through it and making decisions than you’d like; too little loot and you get bored and lose interest because you’re not having enough opportunities to find new and exciting things.   I’m really confident we achieved the balance between those end points, especially considering how much we iterated the design and how much we tested it with test subjects. Still – there’s always room for improvement 🙂

B: Aside from Diablo, Borderlands is compared to MMO’s on occasion. Creatures re-spawn (in a logical manner, not materializing out of thin air, kudos on that BTW). There are dungeon crawls. You can grind the same boss for the perfect loot. It is almost as if Borderlands was an experimental foray into the treacherous waters of the MMO genre. Hint, hint?

RP: Yes, there are some MMO influences in Borderlands.  While we’ve definitely done something in creating the first great shooter-looter, there are certainly things we can do even better through iteration. Expect some developments in the future updates and in add-ons in which we’re heavily invested.

B: ‘Shooter-looter’, I like that term. I also noticed you didn’t really answer the question! 🙂 Moving on! Borderlands had a very harsh, unwelcoming feel to it. The music especially added to the idea of isolation and the overall mystique. How elaborate was the sound design behind the game and how will you improve on it in the upcoming DLC?

RP: I’m really proud of what Raison and Mark accomplished with the audio design; those guys are incredible. Raison took tremendous responsibility for the music and most of the audio effects in the game. He did a great job capturing the feel of both desolation and wonder, and wrapping it all together which is a difficult task to accomplish.

B: One personal pet peeve: why does my vehicle (at least on the Xbox 360) have two steering wheels? You accelerate with one, and turn with the other. Was there a reason behind this counter-intuitive implementation?

RP: The vehicle control was modeled after Halo’s vehicle controls.  We made the assumption, for the Xbox 360 version, that most of our customers would’ve played Halo and would already be familiar with that method for driving cars. For those customers, who did NOT play Halo but are playing Borderlands, we figured they would be able to figure it out.  Maybe, in a future iteration we will support different methods for controlling the vehicles, however, control is so closely linked to camera and physics which is really difficult and risky to do when doing more than one thing.

B: I understand the game was built using UT3 technology. Some of the levels in the world felt cramped and small, especially given claims of Pandora being a massive planet. There are speculations that the aging technology may have forced the wraparound designs and dictated the size of locations. Your thoughts?

RP: Reading this question, I’m not sure if we’re playing the same game. 🙂    First, the version of Unreal Engine used for Borderlands is not aging.  In fact, the engine development team has been supporting the technology with amazing improvements well into the generation to ensure that it is the best engine in the world for this kind of game.  Furthermore, Gearbox built upon the technology with additional new features and lighting techniques that are as cutting edge as you can get; including, support for ambient occlusion on Xbox 360!   Secondly, the huge variety of spaces found on Pandora, from the most open and wide, to the most linear and cramped, are more about variety in the layout than they are about a technology limit.   The maximum size of the game spaces and the number of things within each game space are limited by the memory and performance of the platform.   We decided to break the world into chunks in order to support the cooperative game play so that we can be sure that cooperative players are likely to be playing in close enough proximity of one another.

B: Why can’t we shoot the shit out of Claptrap? He is annoying!

RP: Claptrap is a character, to be sure. Although, a ClapTrap shooting gallery could be fun. 🙂

:: ON THE ISLAND OF DR. NED DLC ::

B: Zombie filled DLC a week after Left 4 Dead 2. Ballsy!

RP: Hmm…  I didn’t really think about it like that. I think the DLC is for people who like Borderlands and want to see that experience improve and grow such as killing Zombies, Wereskags, Tankensteins and all kinds of crazy undead critters which have all been rendered like we’ve never seen before. Plus, you can play these 50+ new quests alone or with friends, all the while, collecting a ton of loot, leveling up and having a blast.

B: Dragon Age introduced launch day DLC’s that is only downloaded if you had a unique legitimate key. Would you experiment with something similar, at least for the PC, to ensure the rampant piracy on the platform is somewhat curbed?

RP: I don’t know. I’m not going to comment on what other people are doing, but I am happy to talk about what we’re doing. We released Borderlands worldwide in late October, but had to finish more than two months earlier than that in order to get through the certification, manufacturing and distribution process.  As we finished the game and started going towards certification, the developers at Gearbox had so many cool ideas that we just went all in and started working on DLC in order to add new experiences that could be launched as soon as we get them done.  Because of the passion, the motivation and the intense amount of effort the team has put in – between when the game was practically finished to now- we’re going to be able to launch the first DLC for Borderlands just a little more than a month after the first retail copy hit store shelves.  We think that’s really awesome and we hope that customers who love Borderlands support us and our motivation to make even more DLC.  The value is there! It’s an incredibly cool new campaign and is pretty large for what it costs.  I think people are going to love it. There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

B: There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

RP: Check out the screenshots – it’s like an entirely new game with new places that are totally different than the environments in the original game.  There are also new creatures and enemies that are really creepy, cool and just fun to fight and take down.   I love the Tankensteins, especially, the ones that carry loot chests on their backs.  Killing them and then looting the chest is really gratifying. 🙂

B: What about structure and storyline?

RP: You’re going to visit Dr. Ned’s Zombie Island, as the title suggests, but you’ll head out there and into the Jakob’s gun manufacturer’s facilities on the planet and get caught up in a cool and interesting adventure. There’s a nice set up for it that’ll kick off when you first fast travel to the area, so I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone. By the way, even if you haven’t unlocked the fast-travel network yet, we let you fast travel to the new area that comes with the DLC, right off the bat.  And, we’ve done some scaling of the content so that when you enter the area you  pretty much have a challenge, no matter what level you are in when you buy it.

B: Is Dr. Ned related to Dr. Zed? Neumann says no. I think he’s lying. That sneaky bastard.

RP: Nope, totally unrelated. They have nothing to do with each other.  It’s all just a big coincidence that their names sound alike. 🙂

B: We’ll make that two sneaky bastards then.

(Continued in Part II… coming soon)

 

Borderlands

1. Bronte: Borderlands is a lonely place. Aside from a few plot advancers and quest givers, even the main ‘towns’ feel devoid of human life. The bandit towns, on the other hand, seems brimming to the rafters with goons. Given the post-apocalyptic feel of the game, and the setting of Pandora, was this an intentional design choice?

Randy Pitchford: From a story point of view, we did want the place to feel that the lawful side of things had completely degenerated. We wanted the towns to feel as if they once were much more relevant and populated, but when you finally arrive, few are left and their future is bleak.   From a design point of view, we wanted the game to focus on the action and not on reading text or following character plots around.   The most fun to be had in Borderlands is through adventuring, taking down bad guys and taking their loot. This is where we wanted much of the focus to be. As far as we felt, we could safely push  that part of the experience so; we downplayed the NPC and dialogue which is often associated with role-playing games.

  1. Bronte: Gearbox has made shooters for a long time. In a prior interview with Xbox Magazine, you said that Diablo’s near-obsessive loot-collection mechanic was a heavy influence for the game. Yet it feels that even the loot that drops from bosses is scarce compared to the loot flood we experienced in Diablo. What was the rationale behind this decision?

Randy Pitchford: I don’t think scarce is the right word for describing the amount of loot that drops from bosses in Borderlands.  A typical boss will spew a bunch of things and you will also typically find other valuables locked away in chests nearby.   In Borderlands, however, we tried to be careful about finding that right balance; too much loot and you’re spending more time sifting through it and making decisions than you’d like; too little loot and you get bored and lose interest because you’re not having enough opportunities to find new and exciting things.   I’m really confident we achieved the balance between those end points, especially considering how much we iterated the design and how much we tested it with test subjects. Still – there’s always room for improvement 🙂

3. Bronte: Aside from Diablo, Borderlands is compared to MMO’s on occasion. Creatures re-spawn (in a logical manner, not materializing out of thin air, kudos on that BTW). There are dungeon crawls. You can grind the same boss for the perfect loot. It is almost as if Borderlands was an experimental foray into the treacherous waters of the MMO genre. Hint, hint?

Randy Pitchford: Yes, there are some MMO influences in Borderlands.  While we’ve definitely done something in creating the first great shooter-looter, there are certainly things we can do even better through iteration. Expect some developments in the future updates and in add-ons in which we’re heavily invested.

  1. Bronte: Borderlands had a very harsh, unwelcoming feel to it. The music especially added to the idea of isolation and the overall mystique. How elaborate was the sound design behind the game and how will you improve on it in the upcoming DLC?

Randy Pitchford: I’m really proud of what Raison and Mark accomplished with the audio design; those guys are incredible.  Raison took tremendous responsibility for the music and most of the audio effects in the game. He did a great job capturing the feel of both desolation and wonder wrapping it all together which is a difficult task to accomplish.

  1. Bronte: One personal pet peeve: why does my vehicle (at least on the Xbox 360) have two steering wheels? You accelerate with one, and turn with the other. Was there a reason behind this counter-intuitive implementation?

Randy Pitchford: The vehicle control was modeled after Halo’s vehicle controls.  We made the assumption, for the Xbox 360 version, that most of our customers would’ve played Halo and would already be familiar with that method for driving cars. For those customers, who did NOT play Halo but are playing Borderlands, we figured they would be able to figure it out.  Maybe, in a future iteration we will support different methods for controlling the vehicles, however, control is so closely linked to camera and physics which is really difficult and risky to do when doing more than one thing.

  1. Bronte: I understand the game was built using UT3 technology. Some of the levels in the world felt cramped and small, especially given claims of Pandora being a massive planet. There are speculations that the aging technology may have forced the wraparound designs and dictated the size of locations. Your thoughts?

Randy Pitchford: Reading this question, I’m not sure if we’re playing the same game. 🙂    First, the version of Unreal Engine used for Borderlands is not aging.  In fact, the engine development team has been supporting the technology with amazing improvements well into the generation to ensure that it is the best engine in the world for this kind of game.  Furthermore, Gearbox built upon the technology with additional new features and lighting techniques that are as cutting edge as you can get; including, support for ambient occlusion on Xbox 360!   Secondly, the huge variety of spaces found on Pandora, from the most open and wide, to the most linear and cramped, are more about variety in the layout than they are about a technology limit.   The maximum size of the game spaces and the number of things within each game space are limited by the memory and performance of the platform.   We decided to break the world into chunks in order to support the cooperative game play so that we can be sure that cooperative players are likely to be playing in close enough proximity of one another.

  1. Bronte: Why can’t we shoot the shit out of Claptrap? He is annoying!

Randy Pitchford: Claptrap is a character, to be sure. Although, a ClapTrap shooting gallery could be fun. 🙂

Borderlands DLC:

8. Bronte: Zombie filled DLC a week after Left 4 Dead 2. Ballsy!

Randy Pitchford: Hmm…  I didn’t really think about it like that. I think the DLC is for people who like Borderlands and want to see that experience improve and grow such as killing Zombies, Wereskags, Tankensteins and all kinds of crazy undead critters which have all been rendered like we’ve never seen before. Plus, you can play these 50+ new quests alone or with friends, all the while, collecting a ton of loot, leveling up and having a blast.

  1. Bronte: Dragon Age introduced launch day DLC’s that is only downloaded if you had a unique legitimate key. Would you experiment with something similar, at least for the PC, to ensure the rampant piracy on the platform is somewhat curbed?

Randy Pitchford: I don’t know.  I’m not going to comment on what other people are doing, but I am happy to talk about what we’re doing.  We released Borderlands worldwide in late October, but had to finish more than two months earlier than that in order to get through the certification, manufacturing and distribution process.  As we finished the game and started going towards certification, the developers at Gearbox had so many cool ideas that we just went all in and started working on DLC in order to add new experiences that could be launched as soon as we get them done.  Because of the passion, the motivation and the intense amount of effort the team has put in – between when the game was practically finished to now- we’re going to be able to launch the first DLC for Borderlands just a little more than a month after the first retail copy hit store shelves.  We think that’s really awesome and we hope that customers who love Borderlands support us and our motivation to make even more DLC.  The value is there! It’s an incredibly cool new campaign and is pretty large for what it costs.  I think people are going to love it. There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

  1. Bronte: There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

Randy Pitchford: Check out the screenshots – it’s like an entirely new game with new places that are totally different than the environments in the original game.  There are also new creatures and enemies that are really creepy, cool and just fun to fight and take down.   I love the Tankensteins, especially, the ones that carry loot chests on their backs.  Killing them and then looting the chest is really gratifying. 🙂

  1. Bronte: What about structure and storyline?

Randy Pitchford: You’re going to visit Dr. Ned’s Zombie Island, as the title suggests, but you’ll head out there and into the Jakob’s gun manufacturer’s facilities on the planet and get caught up in a cool and interesting adventure. There’s a nice set up for it that’ll kick off when you first fast travel to the area, so I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone. By the way, even if you haven’t unlocked the fast-travel network yet, we let you fast travel to the new area that comes with the DLC, right off the bat.  And, we’ve done some scaling of the content so that when you enter the area you  pretty much have a challenge, no matter what level you are in when you buy it.

  1. Bronte: Is Dr. Ned related to Dr. Zed? Neumann says no. I think he’s lying. That sneaky bastard.

Randy Pitchford: Nope, totally unrelated. They have nothing to do with each other.  It’s all just a big coincidence that their names sound alike. 🙂

Categories: Borderlands

“Ostagar: Revolutions” or “Sorry About the First Title”

November 20, 2009 2 comments

It has been a busy day, but at least I got some good news at the end of it. BioWare announced the latest DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, Return to Ostagar.

Ostagar is now infested with the Darkspawn as winter sets in. One of the survivors has escaped and is now seeking the Jedi’s Spectre’s Grey Wardens’ help. The official website lists the following:

  • A return to the battlefields of Ostagar, now thick with darkspawn encamped amidst the snow
  • An opportunity to reclaim the lost arms and armor of a king
  • A second chance to add Dog to your party

The price tag is $5.

Dissecting this piece of news, I came up with the seven points:

  1. Returning to Ostagar is intriguing. Although I am not sure why you could not do that in the first place.
  2. King Maric’s armor looked dashing, pictured in the screenshot above. I would love to get it for my tank character.
  3. Getting another opportunity to add Dog makes little to no difference to me. (Is there a way to lose the Dog in the original campaign. I have never used him, but he is in my camp and I can call on him if absolutely needed.)
  4. The original game cost $55 (tax included) and, according to some accounts, gives 60-80 hours worth of gameplay if you explore the world in detail. A $5 content should subsequently provide me with about 6 hours or so of content. There are other factors that go into it as well, such as the quality of the content, or the progression of the characters involved. But overall, I am looking to be entertained for a good chunk of time.
  5. What was the fate of the prisoner in the cage? One of the screenshots may have already ruined that part, but I am interested in knowing.
  6. Is it possible that there could be another battle at Ostagar, perhaps not the same scale of the first one, but a large clash. More importantly, a clash you and your party could actively participate in and turn the tide. There have been some very memorable battles in Dragon Age: Origins so far, and a few (Redcliffe, for instance) had 20-30 individuals exchanging blows on-screen. But I want to participate in a war. Several hundred against several hundred. I think that would be quite marvelous actually.
  7. I am maybe 25% through the game, so I am not sure if Duncan’s fate in the beginning is final. But a survivor? DUNCAN? Say it is so!

Click to Enlarge.

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

“Bronte the Psychic” or “Math FTW?”

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I predicted over a month back what the release dates for Icecrown (Patch 3.3) and Cataclysm would be, using some empirical analysis of past content release and gaps. Looks like I may have been right after all!

Read this: ““Cataclysmic” or “When it’s Done, Stupid!”“.

Then read this: “Patch 3.3 Not Live for “1 Month +”“.

The Borderlands Chronicles, Part III: “Vending Machine Tycoons” or “Give ’em Hell Bloodwing!”

November 20, 2009 4 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!

Links:

Sid Meier’s Vending Machine Tycoon

I am in the Arid Hills. It doesn’t look much different from the previous areas, just looks like more of the same: drab, dry, dead. But there is a certain comfort in familiarity, so I trudge on, boomstick in hand, looking for pieces of some legendary sniper rifle and a mine gate key.

There are vending machines to my left where I can get rid of any unwanted items in my impossibly large backpack. I don’t understand how Dr. Zed and Marcus can be such successful vending machine entrepreneurs on Pandora. They seem to have vending machines in literally every corner of this world. How do they get them there? Who keeps them maintained? Don’t they get attacked when they come to restock, pluck out sold items and collect cash? And how is it that no one ever breaks into these machines?

Skag Scars

A skag roars in the distance. Sounds big. I go through a drain pipe to the first cross-section. There are several caves about 50 paces ahead of me, and quite a few of the skags are already on patrol. They are all either my level or a level above. But unlike my first few encounters with the bastards, I am much better prepared this time around. My sniper rifle does a whopping 145 damage per shot, and Bloodwing is maxed out to do the most damage per flight.

I spot an Alpha Skag in the group. They are well-armored, and take the most amount of shots to kill. Using a sniper is out of the question if it starts charging. But I have my trusty sub-machine gun with me, and despite a sheer lack of skill with the weapon, I know it can dispatch foes if they get up close and personal. Aim and accuracy matter little if most of your vision is filled with a skag’s teeth. But patience is a virtue, and instead of firing at the first skag I can track through my scope, I wait patiently, and inch forward one tiny step at a time. In time the Alpha spots me. He roars, opening its mouth in all directions, letting out a terrifying howl. I smile. Big mistake.

A single shot down its pie-hole dispatches my first foe without much trouble. I hear multiple howls, without wasting a second, I turn around and sprint to the drainage pipe I just came from.

Choke point.

I dispatch them one at a time. Single-shot precision kills. At least two of them go down mid-air, as they leap at me, mouth wide open, in an attempt to bite off a piece. I laugh as one skag literally explodes into chunks of smoldering flesh. “What”,  I say, “you didn’t like that?” And I start laughing. It’s a triumphant moment. I feel superior to the creatures that died by my hands in every conceivable way. But this is just the beginning, and I had the advantage of the choke point. That is more of an exception than the rule. This world isn’t all that forgiving.

More skags at the next ridge. Not too much trouble. The previous area had several barrels that I lure them to. The blue ones explode with a large amount of electrical damage, green ones are corrosive, whereas red ones simply explode. Quite handy.

My momentary high is short-lived as I spot a poor soul impaled on a large pike. Subtle.

Separation Anxiety

There is a bandit camp around the ridge. Two of them patrol a sniper’s nest up top. A quick succession of head shots alleviates that problem. But the camp is another story. In the blink of an eye, my shield is gone, as well as half my health bar. I missed the grenades that had been lobbed at me by the one of the raiders because my field of vision was severely limited through the scope of my sniper. Cursing under my breath I fire back at the rifleman. He has already taken cover, and with all the bullets slamming into me, I cannot seem to get off a clean shot. A midget shot gunner, however, is not so lucky.

Bloodwing stirs, and I set him lose. “Give ’em hell, Bloodwing!” I yell. I tuck in to the right, out of the line of fire, my health nearly depleted. Bloodwing circles overhead once, then twice, and then continues the pattern. I am confused. Why isn’t he attacking? It isn’t clear to me then, but it appears Bloodwing is afraid of being too far apart from me, which limits him to a certain range. I am mildly irritated. Gonna have to train that damn bird better. He finally makes one last sweep overhead, and returns to me.

Keeping the rock outcropping between me and the barrage of endless bullets, I inch closer to my enemies, and then let Bloodwing loose a second time. This time he beelines to the crouching raider behind the barricade, ripping the poor bastard to shreds. Since I have focused on making Bloodwing a true agent of death, not only does he solve my problem with the raider, upon returning to me, he also restores a big portion of my health.

Revitalized, I switch to the SMG and come out of hiding guns blazing, lobbing two grenades at the remaining foes. It does not take too long, and within minutes they lie at my feet, fresh bullet-holes gaping like the unending depths of a dark, dreary abyss.

I hear something shriek overhead. Rokks. These guys have very little health, but in large groups they can swarm you, and rip your insides out in seconds. There is trouble ahead. I can feel it in the air. I better be careful.

Hugging Chemical Barrels is a Bad Idea

After clearing out another small camp, and inching close to the edges to keep my distance from the rokks overhead, I spot another sniper perch in the distance. I crouch, debating if I should send in my personal agent of death on wings, or dispatch him with a single bullet? Bloodwing would not be able to get him at that range. He has already established that any considerable length of distance between us causes him severe separation anxiety. And that is when I notice the corrosive acid barrel next to the lookout. A single shot explodes the barrel, showering him in acid. I watch his surprised expression through the scope, as the acid eats away at his body, literally devouring him whole. Good riddance.

The Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

My map tells me the four pieces of the legendary sniper rifle are in the next camp. I start shooting. Psychotic midgets, shotgunners, badass bruisers, they all succumb to the overwhelming firepower I pack, backed by the ferocious talons of my trusty companion. It’s a little odd they some of them come out of hiding only after the very last combatant on the field has been eliminated. I have a feeling if they all came at once, I would be swarmed, overwhelmed and killed. This all seems a little too… easy.

The sniper rifle has four parts I need to secure. I have found only three so far. I make several circuits of the camp, and my map indicator offers little help. I am a little frustrated, three other three pieces were essentially just lying about, why isn’t this one? It is then that I notice that only one of the buildings in the camp has an upward pointing arrow. And if that is not enough of a hint, there are three storage cabinets on the roof of the structure as added incentive. I jump above, and grab the last piece. But what truly annoys me is that this last piece was a good distance away from where my map marker suggested.

Sledge is a Cocky Bastard!

My map tells me the mine key is in Sledge’s Safehouse, which seems to be just up the hill from my present location. I take out my sniper rifle to scope out the area. The criminal hideout sits atop a small hill about 100 paces ahead of me. So ballsy are the inhabitants, that they have made no attempts to hide the entrance. In fact, upon closer inspection, the entry point prominently displays the words: “Sledge’s Safehouse.”

Cocky bastards! (See what I did there?)

Bloodwing stirs restlessly. He can sense the blood of the upcoming battle. I pet his head. I check my weapons, making one last round of the camp to pick up any additional ammunition. Satisfied that all my ordinance is in order, I start my short trek to the safe house.

Time to hunt!

Links:

“Tweeter Age” or “Marvelously Vague”

November 19, 2009 2 comments

Tweeted earlier today:

If I was a fan of Dragon Age: Origins, I’d be keeping my eye open for something cool coming tomorrow. Just saying.

Oh those cheeky bastards!

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

Se7en Tidbits: “Something Fishy” or “Whining About all the Singing at the Opera”

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

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

  • “If I had the instance piercing powers of a Turbine developer, I would be very interested to see how the amoebic entity of players reacts and splits against foreign invaders, especially ones like a Witch waiting for a good crowning.” – Ravious, Breaking From the Collective Tempo, Kill Ten Rats.
  • “And like legendary Cassandra before him, though he prophesied truly, nobody believed him.”, Tipa, EVE Online: How to get shredded in W-Space, West Karana. [Bronte: Frustrating as it may be, this is the reason EvE is such a great game, you truly feel like you are carving your own path. Whether you fail or succeed, you don’t have game mechanics to blame.]
  • “I believe that there is a correlation between how well a fantasy MMORPG does relative to its contemporary competitors and how deep and interesting the fishing mechanism that is available at launch.” – Wilhelm2451, A Theory of Fishing, The Ancient Gaming Noob.
  • “Nothing is more insulting to a gamer than impugning his ability to play videogames, and if you suggest that a reviewer lacks the required skills, then all his credibility is instantly shot and time itself will reverse to a point before the review was written, undoing its evil in a Quantum Leap-style situation.” – Jim Sterling, How to Respond to a Video Game Review, Destructoid.
  • Dragon Age explores well-defined mythic territory, so complaining about its formulaic nature is like whining about all the singing in opera.” – Michael Abbot, It’s an RPG thing, The Brainy Gamer.
Categories: Se7en Tidbits

They Said Whaaaat?: “Aussie Pansies” or “Butchered 4 Dead”

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

“Well here we are, Patch, faced with the unenviable task of telling Aussies around the country that Left 4 Dead 2: the heavily edited Australian version (or, the ‘ruined version’, as we call it) isn’t worth the plastic the disc is printed on; that the game has been butchered so badly that we’ve found it hard to enjoy.”
Left 4 Dead 2: Edited Australian Version Review, IGN

The gore, mutilations, dismemberments and decapitations have been butchered from this version. Pun intended? 😛

Thought of the Day: “Uninspiring Inspiration” or “I Kan’t Haz Curbstompz?”

November 18, 2009 3 comments

In Dragon Age: Origins, anyone else feel that inspired by your leadership, the “perks” your companions get are rather underwhelming? Increased points in their primary stat? That’s it?

I thought at least Shale would gain “curbstomp” as an ability! Pigeoncrap!

“Champion Roper” or “The Art of Being Vague”

November 18, 2009 2 comments

Bill Roper recently gave an interview to Jeux Online. It’s a good read, and you can find the full transcript here.

Some things stood out to me.

First, I understand that as a journalist, you have to be diplomatic about what you ask and say, partly to ensure you have a snowball’s chance in hell of being given the same opportunity twice, and partly to maintain a civil, unbiased tone. However, this does not imply that you cannot ask the hard-hitting questions or ask questions phrased in a manner to soften the blow or even detract from the truth of the matter at hand.

On to the interview and Roper’s answers. I appreciated the fact that Roper was candid about the state of the game. Some highlights:

  • “[At launch we] definitely could have been much better balanced, especially in terms of overall difficulty curve and resource(in-game currency) allocation on day one.”
  • “…retcon pricing was very out of line early on.”
  • “The crafting system definitely needs a lot of attention, as does the auction house.”
  • (Not a direct quote) There was also a recognition of leveling gaps and a lack of content for the endgame players.

From the sounds of it, Roper is at least well aware of the issues Champions Online faces at the moment, which is a refreshing and encouraging thought. However, the vagueness of the following statements left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • “We definitely want to keep adding content into the game, both within the current leveling curve and also at the end game.”
  • “We’re working on different game systems right now that will allow players to do a lot of different things over the course of their hero’s career.”
  • “[New instances are] one of the many things we’re looking at doing.”
  • “I don’t want to go into TOO much detail on unimplemented systems, but the best way to put it is that we’re focused on creating extensible game systems as opposed to only making new missions.”
  • “Our goal moving forward is to combine the creation of new content with game play systems that together create many more options and hours of game play than we could achieve by making new instances or zones.”
  • “Moving forward we’re going to continue to create scenario-based PvP maps as these seem to go over the best with our players.”
  • “We’ll be making a pass through [the crafting system and the auction house system] at some point, but the sheer complexity of what’s there, combined with the work that is already on our “Master of all things Upgrades” is daunting.”
  • “The game is just getting better and better, and that’s our focus moving forward.”

There were a few cool announcements as well. Nemesis: Confrontation definitely sounds like a lot of fun. I posted earlier today about Cryptic upcoming secret feature next week. I am 99% sure this is it. Part of the reason this new feature is so exciting for me is because the Nemesis system is sheer brilliance, and one of the most innovative elements of Champions Online. An improvement on the system can only mean a good thing.

  • On the UNITY/Nemesis Crossover: “It’ called Nemesis: Confrontation. 5 heroes. 5 Nemesis. An epic villain of Legendary proportions bringing them all together in a distant locale. This is a repeatable Lair that has all-new rewards and threats. We’ve been spending a lot of time on it to make sure it’s challenging and fun for our level 40 heroes.”

Finally, they are also working on the next tiers of powers, the restriction being the next tier may reward specializing in one power tree. I am not sure if this is a positive step or a major blunder:

  • “We are already working early designs for Tier 4 powers for exactly that reason – to give players a real reward and goal to push for.”

So there ya have it! Some cool new upcoming things, an admittance of flaws, and a whole lot of vague!

Categories: Champions Online

“Effective Box Art” or “Is that Olivia Wilde in the Back?”

November 18, 2009 2 comments

Mass Effect 2’s box art has been revealed.

Looks pretty cool, but what does it tell us?

  • The game will focus heavily, perhaps more than the first one, on combat.
  • There will be new alien species introduced, some apparently suffering from jaundice.
  • Shepard may suffer from constipation.
  • The background is interesting, it looks like a ravaged (nuked?) futuristic city, a visceral point of conflict that may steer a significant plot-line in the game.
  • One of the developers (or at least graphics artists) has a secret crush on Olivia Wilde.
  • Weapons, armor, all looks to be more of the familiar, which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective and preference.
  • Most significantly, at the time of taking this photo, something very exciting happened to the right.

Almost done with the first game. Can’t wait!

Categories: Mass Effect 2