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“Of Orcs and Men” or “Of Story and Perspective”

October 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Consider the following primer:

The humans are in noble, righteous and peace-loving. Dwarves and Elves are hesitant and peripheral allies. Orcs, trolls, goblins, or some similar, vile, green-skinned, primal species is the main enemy. They are barbaric, unrelenting and murderous. The humans, guided by the light, must tame these wild beats if there is to be any hope for peace in the world.

Now pause here, and tell me which fantasy plot I am referring to. The reason most of you cannot, is because this is the typical tale that fuels the propagation of events in most fantasy books. When these norms are challenged, the result is stunning, unexpected and refreshing.

One example that stands out in my head is the fate of the Elves in Dragon Age: Origins. They were not the reclusive, noble, near-mystical beings that lived in an eternally protected magical kingdom. They were the lower class of citizens, occupying slums and begging on the streets in the game’s many locations. That was cool, it was different, that stood out.

Of Orcs and Men, an upcoming title from Focus Interactive is one such title. I can’t speak much of it, because I have an early access copy and I am in the process of finishing it. But what stands out to me is that it is a fresh perspective on an aging story. It is still humans allied with dwarves and elves against the green-skins, but you get to play and experience the world purely from the green-skin side, switching roles between a diminutive, conniving Goblin named Styx, and a hulking mass of muscle and nerve Orc named Arkail, in a world that shuns, hunts and subjugates green-skins with extreme prejudice.

Can’t wait to see how this story unfolds.

“200 Hours of Amalur” or “Amalurning to Not Trust These Numbers”

February 6, 2012 4 comments

Context

There are a few things I want to talk about today. But in order to do that, I need to establish some context. Damn context. Gets me every time!

First and foremost, 38 Studios’ lead designer, Ian Frazier conducted an internal test. He had testers play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and complete the game in a “speed run”. Since speed run sounds (intentionally) ambiguous, this is how it is defined:

“That means easy difficulty, skip all cut scenes and dialogue, sprint everywhere that’s sprintable, fast travel everywhere you can, don’t do any combat you don’t need to do… that all took around 200 hours, and that was a speed run.”

That is actually an astronomical number. In a day and age where single-player versions in video games take 3-4 hours to complete (hello modern Warfare 3!), a 200 hour video-game is an unprecedented, shocking and welcome event. Of course it is also said that the main storyline should take only 30-40 hours (which is between 15-20% of the 200 hours) to complete. So the 200 hours of gameplay is largely dependent on how much of an overachieving completionist you really are.

The second piece of contextual information you need is that since August 2011, I have invested about 14 days of playtime into my main character, a Night Elf Hunter in World of Warcraft. 14 days is approaching 350 hours of played time in WoW. This implies I spend around two hours daily playing WoW.

Beyond the Context

MMOs, by design, require you to invest a significant amount of time. The meta-game, at every level, is designed around grinding. If you want the best PvP equipment, you must grind points in PvP. These points are further gated by a weekly cap, so you cannot play for a hundred hours in a week and get the best gear in a week. Professions, PvE content, world events, daily quests, transmogrification, and just about every other in-game mechanic is designed around perpetual grind. The reason for this is simple and possibly forgivable. No developer in the world with a finite team and finite resources can create content fast enough to be consumed by the player base. Months of coding, tweaking and planning can be completed in a 20-minute dungeon run. I don’t like the fact that i have to grind everything in an MMO, but as a lifelong fan of the genre, I understand the rationale.

Lately though, it seems that this design decisions seems to be penetrating single-player games, particularly RPGs.

Take Skyrim for example. Prior to the launch, there was a statement by one of the developers that the quest system in the game would technically spit out an infinite number of quests for the player to take on. One example of such behavior was the Thieves Guild, which could send you on a wide variety of jobs across the land. The jobs were randomly created and you could pick from one of several mission types. A second example were jobs made available through barkeeps and innkeepers in towns and cities. These randomly generated quests could send you to go kill <insert antagonist> at <insert location>. Technically, you could have an infinite number of quests in your log. However, I personally found this to be incredibly lame, as it seems to add unnecessary, artificial padding to an otherwise great game.

I enjoy a complex RPG with a deep, compelling storyline and well thought-out lore. Dragon Age took me over 106 hours to complete, and I veered into every nook, cranny and cramped dungeon corridor I could get into. I was elated to find that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning’s “speed run” will take you over 200 hours. But after realizing that only 15% or so of that is the main storyline, I can’t help but wonder how much of this game is fluff activity that yields limited to none player satisfaction.

My point is very simple, MMOs should certainly try not to artificially inflate content, but I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. Single-player games, however, don’t need to pad content with unnecessary grind mechanisms, random quest dispensers, and fluff, unpolished content simply to get more player hour mileage out of the title. 10 times out of 10, I would prefer a tight campaign with side-quests that have meaningful premise, meaningful consequences and meaningful rewards, than “the ability to complete an infinite number of quests”. I am hoping the the later is not the case with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning when I open the box and install the game tonight. But I guess I will let you know in 200 hours of playtime!

“Dragon Age: Cohesion” or “A Short Wishlist”

November 4, 2010 2 comments

Dragon Age: Origins was a great game. It took me 106 hours and some change to complete the game, and it was an exhilarating experience. Sure I had some problems with the game, but all things said and done it was a terrific gaming experience, epic in scope, terrifying even in its conclusion, and bold in execution.

Dragon Age 2 launches March 8, 2011, and by the looks of it, not only does it already address several of the issues players had with the game, it also improves on existing systems to further streamline the overall experience.

Dave Hinkle of Joystiq had a chance recently to sit down with BioWare and try out some of the systems, and what he reported on seems to have a lot of potential. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here is a quick summary:

  • There is a central narrative that recounts the series of events
  • The narrative is broken up into several self-contained ‘acts’; this helps track the sheer volume of quests you have, and never allows the game to boggle you with too many
  • The classes are much more distinct, for instance, the rogue in the first game was a jack of most trades, master of none
  • Your previous decisions will get imported and have an impact on the world
  • Several old characters will return, including Flemeth and Morrigan
  • Graphically, all three version will look relatively the same, but closer to the PC version in the first installment; the graphical overhaul is extensive and everything looks a lot better
  • The dialogue system will give visual clues to indicate the tone of a particular option

Horny

The above, more or less, covers my wish-list. The self-contained act system, what BioWare refers to as the ‘frame narrative’, is sigh of relief. I recall at one stage mid-game I had so many quests in my log that I couldn’t figure out what to start and where to finish. If I didn’t play for a day, it took me a good half hour to sort out what I was working on, and make my way there. In short, it was a nightmare and clunky quest log didn’t particularly help either.

There are, however, a few exceptions that have not been addressed. These things really irked me the last time around, and I sincerely hope they get fixed this time:

  • The dungeon crawls sucked.For the love of god guys, I understand the need to build dungeons in an RPG, but they don’t need to span the length and breadth of Satan’s colon. The dungeon romps were unforgiving in the first installment, and I sincerely hope BioWare either breaks up the crawls, or streamlines them to give the player a break in the middle. For anyone who has played the game, two crawls particular standout for me. The first was on-route to the Urn of Sacred Ashes. The second, *shudder*, was the romp through The Fade. God that was long. And complicated. And long.
  • Storage and Respec. These two issues will fixed via later patches in the first game, but during the first play-through, it was a huge pain to constantly balance everything that you needed to carry and everything that you needed to store. The limited inventory space ensured that you were constantly selling things, even items that you would need later, simply because there was no room left. Much as I loved most of my characters, one gripe I had was about the unforgiving nature of the respec system. If you picked up a skill, you were stuck with it for the rest of the game, even if realize post execution that it was the most useless ability in the game.
  • And finally BioWare, please hire a jumping animator. It will introduce new moves and gameplay mechanisms to the game, and allow the characters to experience gravity like Sir Isaac Newton would want!

Only four months to go. Two if you count the Facebook tie-in. Can’t wait!

“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!

Weekly MMO/RPG Crockpot: “Mummies, Super Heroes, Jedi and Revamping Jumpgate” or “BioWare Bonanza, Trine Sequeled and Dungeon Siege 3”

June 12, 2010 1 comment

That’s MMO slash RPG, not MMORPG. Every week all the random bits and pieces of news that I come across regarding my favorite MMOs and RPGs (or at least the ones that have piqued my curiosity) start piling up in the ‘temporary’ section of my bookmarks toolbar. This is an attempt to clean up my bookmarks.

The following is a quick list if you want to skip to something in particular:

MMOs

  • DC Universe Online Videos
  • Dawntide Beta
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic Dialogue Choices
  • The Mummy Online
  • Jumpgate Evolution Revamped
  • End of Nations Trailer
  • Lord of the Rings Online goes F2P

RPGs

  • Dungeon Siege 3
  • Mass Effect 2: Overlord DLC
  • Fallout: New Vegas Pre-order Bonuses
  • Trine 2!
  • Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 at E3

Here we go!

MMOs

DC Universe Online Videos

The developers of DC Universe Online, recently announced to be set free upon the masses in November, released more videos this week than BioWare, and that is quite a feat to accomplish. To start off, we got the DC Universe Online – Inside the Studio – Episode 5 this week, which addresses some key questions about the upcoming MMO, such as, can players create kid heroes in the DC Universe, e.g.: Teen Titans. Not exactly my cup of tea, if you know what I mean, but the video is embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

Next up we have a short video misleadingly titled “Life on the Streets”, where the game’s creative director Jens Andersen walks us through the “super speed” power and how it plays out in both traveling through the world, scaling walls and combat. It’s very short, barely under a minute (if you take out the time for the logos etc.), and doesn’t really tell us much of anything. Worth a look, especially if you are a Jay Garrick fan! I thought “Life on the Streets” would be about the living, breathing world. Guess I was wrong!

Finally, we have “The Suicide Slums Travelogue” trailer. It has to do with The Suicide Slums, and it is in trailer format. How apt. Chris Cao, game director, walks us through the ghetto of Metropolis, that location in every major city in the world that the so-called “civilized folk” dare not trespass.  There are a few threads of storyline and lore as it pertains to this section of the city, along with some fairly obvious information such as “villains can use the slums’ shadows to hide, whereas heroes can come to the slums to fight crime.” No shit. Trailer is below, it’s two minutes long, enjoy!

Dawntide Beta

This is old news at this stage, considering Eliot Lefebvre already posted about it well over two weeks back. But I caught wind of it just now, so I am going to talk about it. If you have a problem with it, go read another blog you pansy! (Yes I am having a weird day.) On May 31st, that would be exactly two weeks ago, the game went into open beta.

Dawntide stands out from the crowd because its central premise promises the creation of towns, cities, societies, cultures and the whole world of Dawntide based solely on player input. This concept is very intriguing to me, and I have yet to come across a game where player interaction shapes the world categorically. A small example would be the manner in which the Wintergrasp battle is fought in Wrath of the Lich King. One team defends the fort, whereas the other assaults is with siege vehicles, trying to take down the walls which will allow them entry into the inner sanctum. Once the final wall to the fortress itself has been breached, the game is over. The tower cap also works, especially if your faction far out numbers the enemy.

Battles of this scale and scope occur all over WAR, I am sure, as towns are captured and bases razed, but as Eliot points out, “PvP” is far too often regarded synonymous with “sandbox”. I hope Dawntide focuses on player input through social interaction and world questing to shape its lands, and not how hard can you stab the next guy. Whether it actually happens remains to be seen.

I will be trying out the Dawntide open beta with in the week, and post more thoughts here.

Star Wars: The Old Republic Dialogue Choices

BioWare has long touted story and character development as the fourth pillar in MMOs as one of its major strengths. Well that is until Derek Smart came along, and left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Way to go douchebag.

Anyway, in a prior developer walk-through, BioWare explained how their NPC dialogue options were deep, engaging and laden with all manners of choice. These choices, they have now revealed, go beyond the cookie-cutter good and evil, and also delve into the flirty, whimsical, or purely cosmetic to accommodate for a greater set of play-styles and personalities. What I find really cool about the whole affair is that the dialogue options will vary for each class, allowing specific responses that may be tailored to reflect the class and lore. In addition, when grouped, multiple players will be able interact with the conversation, advancing the structured and segmented dialogue tree.

We already know SW:TOR has over 50 novels worth of dialogue and story written for it, and more is being added every day, and that every NPC in the game is fully voice-acted. So this comes as an added benefit, and one that I am really looking forward to.

Here is a quick poll, and your participation is kindly requested.

The Mummy Online

Branden Fraser is to mummies what Francis, Louis, Zoey and Bill are to zombies.  With three movies shot on the premise of ancient mummies, and a spin-off starting he who dares you to smell what the rock is cooking, I suppose it was only a matter of time before there was an MMO spin-off. The game will be set in the 1930’s and feature both player versus environment and player versus player opportunities.

Universal’s Bill Kispert had this to say:

“The Mummy franchise is chock full of exotic settings, supernatural enemies, exciting quests, and over the top action. It is ripe with gameplay possibilities, and we look forward to extending our relationship with Bigpoint to bring the world of The Mummy to life for gamers.”

There you have it, as generic a launch statement as it gets which can be summed up as follows: “We think this is a cool idea, you should too.” For the record, unless I see something groundbreaking, and despite my affinity for mummies, this is likely the last time I will post about this title!

You can find more about the game at it’s official website.

Jumpgate Evolution Revamped

I am a huge fan of the Jumpgate series, so it always pains me to see the game go through so many delays. In fact, next month will mark a full year since the original estimated release date of July 2009. With deafening silence from the developer for the last several weeks, fans of the series were finally given a questionable ray of light. Executive Producer Lance Robertson wrote a detailed forum post on the game’s development.

So what is with all the delays? Apparently the development team has scrapped most of the gameplay elements in the game and replaced them completely with a new vision for what the game should act and play like. Good news I suppose, considering it will always be better to have a game revamped and restructured prior to release and not after (*cough* Alganon *cough*). This does, however, imply that the game will be inevitably delayed even further.

*sigh*

End of Nations Trailer

Here is a novel concept: an MMORTS. Developer Petroglyph has been working on this game for a while, and there was an interview I came across on Bitmob that shed some much-needed light on the title. Petroglyph’s Mike Legg, alongwith the core of Petroglyph, has been working on the RTS genre tracing back to Westwood’s genre-defining Command and Conquer series, and even as far back as Dune 2.

In true E3 fashion, and in order to create some hype for the title, a launch title was revealed. The title itself sets up the storyline of the game, but does not give actual gameplay footage or indication of what to expect. Good watch for the lore and background buff, terrible watch for the anyone looking for massive armies wreaking havoc on the battlefield. I fall squarely in the former category, so I thoroughly enjoyed the trailer, lack of in-game footage notwithstanding.

Lord of the Rings Online goes F2P

This is likely the biggest news in this bunch, but it has been covered to death by Rubi Bayer over at Massively, so head on over to get all the juicy details. They also sat with the development team over at Turbine for an in-depth interview.

RPGs

Dungeon Siege 3

Dungeon Siege holds a special place in my heart, and that is because I absolutely loved the first one, and absolutely detested the second one. The first one needs to be put on a pedestal with a Parabolic Aluminized Reflector spotlight above it, whereas the second one needs to be fed to a pack of wild dogs, pissed upon, and buried six feet under. The first was a work of art, set in a unique world filled with mystery and twitch-based combat, whereas the second was a piece of crap so vile I couldn’t bear to get past the first few hours without throwing up. The first… well… you get the idea.

Anyway, DS3’s developers released some screenshots from the game that look suspiciously like artwork. You be the judge.

Mass Effect 2: Overlord DLC

In three days, that is June 15, 2010, the Mass Effect 2 universe will see it’s latest DLC addition in the form of Overlord. The DLC features a rogue AI and Commander Shepard’s race against time (why is always against time?) to stop it. The DLC will feature five missions set on the same planet, interspersed with more driving in the Hammerhead.

Shepard’s latest exploit will cost you a whopping 560 points, which is approximately $7. Pricey? You betcha! Worth it? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow!

Fallout: New Vegas Pre-order Bonuses

Walmart, Best Buy, GameStop, Amazon and Steam are all offering some extensive lists of exclusive content if you decide to line their pockets with your hard-earned doubloons. Here is a full list:

The Classic Pack, available when you pre-order through GameStop, contains:

  • Armored Vault 13 Suit – Extensively patched up and dotted with piecemeal armor, this outfit is an homage to the classic ending of the original Fallout.
  • Vault 13 Canteen – This handy device is useful for staving off dehydration and providing a small amount of healing in the Mojave Wasteland.
  • Weathered 10mm Pistol – A well-worn 10mm pistol that packs an extra punch despite its modest size.
  • 5 Stimpaks – Food and water are good for long-term healing, but when the fighting is fierce, Stimpaks help keep Wastelanders upright.

The Tribal Pack, available when you pre-order through Amazon, contains:

  • Tribal Raiding Armor – Pieced together from scraps of armor, this outfit provides protection without impacting mobility.
  • Broad Machete – This heavy-bladed melee weapon does high damage against limbs and can quickly deal out a flurry of attacks.
  • 5 Bleak Venom doses – Useful on any Melee Weapon, Bleak Venom makes short work of most living targets.
  • 10 Throwing Spears – If you would like to silently pin an enemy’s head to a wall, Throwing Spears are the way to do it.

The Caravan Pack, available when you pre-order through Steam and Walmart, contains:

  • Lightweight Leather Armor – This hand-modified suit of leather armor reduces its overall weight without impacting its ability to protect.
  • Sturdy Caravan Shotgun – Despite its rough appearance, this Caravan Shotgun will reliably fire 20 gauge shells until the Brahmin come home.
  • 4 Repair Kits – Useful for repairing any outfit or weapon, Repair Kits are a valuable tool for any caravaner.
  • Binoculars – The Mojave Wasteland is a dangerous place, but with these trusty Binoculars you’ll be able to spot trouble coming.

The Mercenary Pack, available when you pre-order through Best Buy, contains:

  • Lightweight Metal Armor – Modified for long-range travel, this Metal Armor sacrifices some protection for mobility and overall weight.
  • Mercenary’s Grenade Rifle – Though similar to other 40mm Grenade Rifles in the Mojave Wasteland, this model has a faster reload cycle.
  • 3 Super Stimpaks – When you absolutely, positively, need to keep your blood inside your body, Super Stimpaks fix you up in no time.
  • 3 Doctors Bags – Mercenaries and broken limbs go together like Iguana-on-a-Stick and Nuka Cola. Thankfully, these Doctors Bags take a bit of sting out of the inevitable crushed skull.

I personally like the Mercenary Pack, but considering there is no best Buy within, well, a few countries of my geographical location, I suppose my doubloons are only good enough for Steam’s Caravan Pack.

Trine 2!

Trine was a fantastic platformer. It was innovative, varied and presented you with a plethora of challenges that tested both your wits and your ability to pay attention to your surroundings. Despite the obvious solution, the game actually allowed you multiple solutions to almost every puzzle situation, which is why it stood out from the crowd.

Trine 2 has now been announced. That is all I have to report now. I will post more as more is (inevitably) uncovered at E3, but this title has my undivided attention. I just hope it isn’t like the Dungeon Siege sequel.

Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2 at E3

Take a look at the following floor plan from E3 2010, courtesy of Kotaku. There really isn’t any additional information, but I am siure more will surface as E3 marches on.

“Wakey Wakey!” or “$40”

March 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Dragon Age: Origins, for all its monotony in combat at the later stages, was a phenomenal game. It took me well over 106 hours and some change to finish the story arc, my inherent completionist nature partially responsible for length of time I invested in the game. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the evolving story, the intense combat, and lore this epic saga had to offer.

That cost $50.

Dragon Age: Awakening costs $40.

Will Awakenings give me a proportionate 80+ hours of satisfying playtime? Something tells me that won’t be the case.

BioWare just released another mini-trailer for a new type of Darkspawn in the game, called Disciples. Along with the previously revealed Children, as well as several enemies still unlocked, it makes you wonder where these Darkspawn were during the initial campaign. Surely the Archdemon could have used the help, considering he got thrashed by a petite city elf girl! Um, that was my sister’s character. Moving on.

The trailer is linked below. Dragon Age: Awakening will be available March 16. Although I wouldn’t count on that, given the fate of the last DLC, Return to Ostagar.

“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

“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

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!

“Inheritence” or “Jumping is Overrated”

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Werit had a nice post up yesterday about how the production values for Dragon Age can be seen applied to SWTOR.

But I wonder if all the irritating things will apply as well. A short list:

  • You are a Jedi, or a Sith, but despite a being able to crush your opponents with a thought, you haven’t ever figured out how to jump.
  • Or swim. In fact, you are hydrophobic. You hate water to the point that you can’t even so much as walk in water, let alone swim.
  • Although you are a badass in the universe, and boast a complete mastery of the force, you can queue up only one attack at a time; multiple attacks cannot be queued. It hurts your brain to do that.
  • Despite an “advanced combat tactics engine”, at times you will enjoy standing around, admiring the scenery, while your friends repeatedly plant their faces into oncoming fists. You know, for fun.

This is one of those few times I sincerely hope I am wrong. BioWare has crafted a masterpiece, but there are some minor nuances that make some aspects aggravating.

Maybe the folks at BioWare exude their own lethargy into the lack of athletic activities in their games? What is the average BMI at BioWare anyway?

“Pigeoncrap” or “Shale Needs Therapy”

November 15, 2009 2 comments

Shale was frozen for over 30 years. During that time as a statue, he got shat on by all manner of pigeons and other assorted birds. The following cinematic is about 2 minutes after you activate the guy.

 

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

Thought of the Day: “Multiplayer Origins” or “Pause and Play”

November 14, 2009 Leave a comment

What if you could play with up to 3 of your friends, each controlling their own parties? The pause and play mechanic would be restricted to each player being able to pause the game once every 5 seconds of combat.

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

“Massive Effect” or “Dragon Dominance”

November 12, 2009 3 comments

Top steam downloads for last week:

  1. Dragon Age: Origins Digital Deluxe Edition.
  2. Dragon Age: Origins.
  3. Left 4 Dead 2.
  4. Borderlands.
  5. Torchlight.
  6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
  7. Football Manager 2010.
  8. Mass Effect.
  9. Shattered Horizon.
  10. Aion Standard Edition and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Dragon Age went all Grey Warden on every competitor’s ass, it seems. But what really stood out to me was Mass Effect making it to the top-ten list some two odd years past its release. Talk about mileage!

Perhaps BioWare’s latest release sparked interest in the old title, much like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare made it to the list the same week ModernWarfare 2 was being released to the masses. Whatever the cause, the fact that a space (not everyone’s cup of tea) SRPG (not everyone’s cup of tea either) can continue to be successful years past release is a testament to stellar production values and the longevity of the title.

“Hydrophobia” or “Ripple Effect”

November 11, 2009 3 comments

I am hoping my graphics are glitching, but in Dragon Age: Origins, you can’t walk/waddle/swim in water. Where you can walk in water a little, the water does not react at all to your presence. There are no ripples, no splash, nothing drips off of the characters.

Maybe the lead designer at BioWare is a hydrophobe?

Is everyone noticing the same thing, or is my PC losing its damn mind?

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

Origins One :: “Dwarf Noble” or “Sins of Our Fathers”

November 10, 2009 5 comments

This is an ongoing, six-part series, detailing the origins story experiences from within the game. Spoilers are in white text, so you will have to highlight to read it. This is to ensure I don’t ruin the experience for anyone else. Observations, both good and bad, also interweave through the narrative. Enjoy!

Getting it Out of the Way

You can’t jump in the game. As an habitual jumper, I find myself unexpectedly pausing the game, constantly. That is very annoying. Moving on.

Not Your Average Stereotype

Despite my earlier hesitation to start as a dwarf, my first character turned out to be as stereotypical a dwarf as it could get. Meet Bronte, warrior, noble, Aeducan, and second son of the King. What I really enjoyed about this storyline was that the stout race was not pigeonholed into the ale-drinking, beard-obsessed, womanizing, gruff, comedic role the fantasy genre is all too fond of. The dwarfs in Dragon Age: Origins break all norms perpetuated by the medium. The dwarf society is mired in a complex political system, living in a city that is but a shadow of the empire’s former glory, entrenched in greed, lust, and a biased and decadent caste system that favors the nobles and sidelines the wretched.

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Eye-Candy Galore

The very first thing I noticed was the graphics. Earlier in the night, I had seen a friend play the Xbox version of the game on a 50-inch plasma. And despite the HD clarity, I had been somewhat dismayed and underwhelmed by the graphics. Suffice it to say my expectations were not particularly high when I finally managed to load the game on my (monster) PC. I was pleasantly surprised. The world looks intricately detailed, beautifully lit, and much sharper than its console counterpart. The lighting is moody, the environments meticulously crafted and alive with a brisk and diverse population.

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Tim Curry is Awesome

The second thing that I noticed was the voice-acting. It is rich, it is fulfilling, and it conveys the emotions and dispositions of the characters. BioWare has taken special care to ensure their characters all feel distinct and real, complete with their own backgrounds, stories and motives. At last count the game had one hundred and forty-four people behind the voice-acting. During the cut scenes and conversations, things in the background blur to an appropriate degree, drawing your eye to the action in the foreground. In addition, life went on. This is to say that unlike the paused game conversation trees in Fallout 3, the world keeps moving in the backdrop.

A Matter of Loyalty

My companion was another dwarf named Gorim who was bound to me in service. A capable warrior, his father had served my character’s father and he was unquestioningly loyal. Guiding my path through the Origins story, he offered helpful advice, backgrounds and interesting tidbits of information. What I loved about this character was how well his dialogue and voice-acting was connected to his sense of duty and servitude.

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He suggested but never imposed. He criticized but never in a condescending manner. He supported my decisions and never went against my will.

What the Faint?

An NPC trader fainted when I approached him. When you interacted with him again, it simply said the character was unconscious, but the character stood, like any other NPC, on his own two feet behind his trade stand.

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BioWare puts in a lot of polish in the game, so this was especially disappointing to come across.

Betrayal I: A Moral Dilemma

BioWare had previously suggested that betrayal will be a big part of the game. Despite this warning, given my good-hearted nature (my ex-fiance would strongly disagree), I decided to go with the noble choice, the righteous path, and never veer toward a cunning, impetuous or morally dubious choice. I imagined that by choosing the positive dialogue options, the world would open up to me better, giving me peaceful passage through simplicity and compassionate action.

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I could not have been more wrong.

Less than an hour into the origins story I found out that my older brother was plotting to assassinate me. I was given a choice here. Should I kill him now, when he is most vulnerable? Should I kill him later? Should I wait and see what move he makes? Or should I simply my younger brother for insinuating such serious allegations against our older brother?

It sounds simple on paper, but it had a powerful impact. I had to sit back, and stare at the screen in amazement. BioWare is notorious for giving you tough choices that subtly tickle the buried psyche of our subconscious minds. But even then this choice made me physically stop and think what I would do in a situation like that. This experience shaped my opinion of the game and my subsequent actions to a great deal, and despite a twist that early, I am now aware that I had barely scratched the surface. I ended up deciding to wait and see. In retrospect, I wished I had the bastard killed. But then again, that would have solved only part of the problem.

Arterial Sprays

Visceral is a word that gets thrown around a lot to define action in contemporary video games. And although it aptly describes the on-screen carnage in Dragon Age: Origins, let’s steer clear of the norm shall we? Combat in the game is a blood-spattering, vicious, and satisfyingly jarring experience. The play and pause gameplay adds a new dimension to the action.  You can pause the game to watch that solider fall backward with the force of a shield bash, his face contorted with surprise and pain, or watch a sword in mid-arc, having just beheaded a foe in a finishing move, or an arrow in mid-flight, zipping to its target, all frozen in time for you to observe and screenshot if you so desire.

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In a sentence, combat is brutal, dynamic and very, very (ridiculously) bloody.

Betrayal II: The Ties That Bind

Remember when I wrote about the complexity and moral dilemma associated with my choice earlier, and how I initially decided to venture down the path of nobility and righteousness? This event changed it all, and I realized that the unforgiving world of Dragon Age: Origins necessitates an uncompromising, at times selfish, and downright ruthless approach.

Earlier in the origins story, I had to battle some of the greatest combatants the dwarf empire had to offer. After the final match, I had the prize helm sent to my last foe as a token of appreciation for his ferocity in battle. This character later joined my party as we hunted in the Deep Roads. After the inevitable confrontation with my older brother and his co-conspirators, an event that resulted in his death, this warrior betrayed me. He flat-out lied to the assembly elder and to my father the king. Adding to the sense of betrayal was my younger brother, who had plotted all along to turn us against each other, in a bid to ensure he would be the sole candidate for the throne after our father passed away.

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I was surprised, appalled, irritated and angry all at the same time. It sounds like a complex amalgamation of emotions, but play through the origins story, and you will feel a sense of helplessness coupled with unbridled rage at how you had been played all along. Even in this situation, the game surprised me further, when my companion Gorim, despite overwhelming (and false) evidence against me, choose to stand his ground and support me, uncaring of whatever consequences. So naturally, I was disappointed when Bronte got jailed, and was separated from Gorim, till some later, unknown point in the game. He visited me in confinement, saying he will always stand by my side, asking me to seek him out, as he too had been exiled to the surface. The sense of loss and despair, strangely enough, was quite palpable for me.

End of The (Deep) Road

I was cast out, exiled from the underground kingdom, sent into the Deep Roads to fight the darkspawn in battle till I perished. My only hope of salvation to find the Grey Warden Duncan and his companions deep inside the tunnels.

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Overall, I was enthralled by the incredible complexity, depth and multi-faceted nature of the story. If this is just the beginning of what some claim to be an 80+ hour epic journey, I am hooked. I can’t wait to see what other origins stories have to offer.

Thought of the Day: “Origins Conversion” or “It’s a Party in Here”

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

In Dragon Age Origins:

What if you could pick and choose your party members from characters who’s origin stories you had already played?

“Bronte Aeducen” or “Once a Dwarf, Always a Dwarf!”

November 8, 2009 2 comments

Once you go Dwarf, you never go back!

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“Fate’s Tomfoolery” or “Dragon Age: Denied!”

November 7, 2009 Leave a comment

I have whined about how the Dragon Age: Origins launched a full three days later in the rest of the world and I had to wait till Friday to play it.

Well on Thursday, I was given a launch date at work for a major project I am working on and it was green-lit for Wednesday, November 11, 2009. This adds an insane amount of hours to an already over-saturated work schedule.

The result? I haven’t been able to clock in a single second of Dragon Age: Origins.

It is almost as if the universe is aligning itself to keep me within a perpetual ‘look but don’t touch’ distance with the game.

Why, Maker, why?

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

“Novelty vs. Nostalgia ” or “Innovation vs. Stagnation”

November 6, 2009 1 comment

Micheal Denny heads Sony’s Worldwide Studios Europe (yes, a Worldwide studio for Europe). Speaking at Develop Liverpool yesterday, he says new intellectual properties (IPs) are necessary for the gaming business to thrive and to counter stagnation. He talked about a ot of other things as well, and you can read the full article here. But we will work with just the statement above.

Novelty

It sounds like a fairly generic, obvious statement. Novelty and innovation go hand-in-hand with memorable experiences and awe-inspiring moments that challenge the very norms that define us as gamers.

But the truth of the matter goes deeper than that.

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There are several new IPs in the last few years that have redefined genres, challenged existing modus operandi, and experimented with pre-existing formulas that both surprised and entertained. Mirror’s Edge and Assassin’s Creed are two examples that capitalized on the parkour phenomenon and introduced it, albiet with varying degrees of success, into the gaming arena. Assassin’s Creed’s repetitiveness aside, no other game allowed you to race parkour-style across rooftops, weaving, dodging, jumping, climbing through densely populated cityscapes with the same satisfying fluidity.

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Another example is Left 4 Dead. It capitalized on America’s necrotic (necro-erotic?) fascination with the undead, and elevated it to breathtaking heights. (Literally. Remember ‘No Mercy’?) At the most basic level, you find weapons, you shoot things, you heal, you get from point A to point B. But the whole experience was moulded in a way that fed our most primal instincts when faced with near-impossible odds, and structured to reward teamwork rather than the ever-present lone-wolf gameplay. In short, it was the first memorable and lasting IP to explore the zombie genre, and it did so with elegance and style.

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Then there are games which mix and match pre-defined and functionally distinct elements of the the gaming macrocosm, and produce something that is simultaneously fresh, yet oddly familiar. Borderlands, a first person role playing shooter game, is a great such example. Although I have some reservations with the game, it has challenged industry norms and brought to life interesting, deviating ways of combining age-old gameplay elements to create a fresh, unique experience.

daochoppa

Innovation even applies to taking the same old concept and applying a fresh twist to it, be it story, gameplay, control or any other aspect that defines the game for what it is. Dragon Age: Origins released three days ago in the U.S. It unlocks for me today (about bloody time). Although I have not played the game yet myself (not that it stops me from shamelessly singing praises about the it), I rest assured because industry veterans, reviewers, bloggers and players are awash with praise. Although BioWare is weaving a tale that the fantasy RPG genre is over-saturated with, Dragon Age: Origins’ “story is rich and engaging, the characters are memorable, and the journey is one that pulls you in, captivates you and compels you to move forward toward the conclusion.” In other words, despite utilizing a familiar setting, the game is designed to surprise fanss of the genre and throw elements into the mix that are both unexpected and against the grain.

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Then there are games that innovate and surprise you in ways you never thought possible. Because prior to these games, the genre to which they belong simply didn’t exist. I am talking about Braid. There were moments where I just stopped, and stared at the screen in awe at how much love and energy and effort they had put into something so elementary and simple. A straight-forward platformer was transformed into a cerebral masterpiece that enthralled, amazed, and made you stop dead in your tracks.

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And for any fan of Valve, the cake always was, and always will be, a lie. Can you think of any other game that made you fall in love with an inanimate cube?

There are countless other examples, but the bottom line is that innovation is what drives the industry forward, gives us novel, unexpected, at times mind-bending IPs to play, and justifies Micheal Denny’s statement. Mr. Denny may be striving for the Captain Obvious title, but he certainly drives the point home. However, that is only part of the story.

Nostalgia

On the contrary, nostalgia plays a big factor in attracting an already dedicated fan base to a new iteration of an old IP. Warcraft, Command and Conquer, Metal Gear Solid, Diablo, Splinter Cell, Max Payne, Grand Theft Auto, Halo (and many, many more) are all examples of great games that relied on nostalgia and the success of the inaugural titles to attract additional revenue.

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Click to enlarge. Courtesy of Bad Pie Bakery.

World of Warcraft is a global phenomenon. With the entire population of Earth, Vulcan, Tattoine and Caprica (that hurt your head?) acquired as the player base of the ever-popular MMO, Blizzard has created a behemoth that is practically impossible to dethrone. ‘The next WoW’ has been applied to countless MMOs released since, and none have achieved the success (at least in numbers and subscriptions) that WoW enjoys to this very day. I can’t help but wonder if the game would have been this successful if prior Warcraft titles had not existed. Would it be laughed upon? Would it be degraded as a shameless clone (I am looking at you Alganon!)? Would it never take off the ground? Or would everything remain the same? Regardless of the level of success WoW would enjoy in this alternate reality, my patented sixth sense tells me it would be nowhere near the level of success WoW is today, had it not been for the millions of avid followers of the IP.

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The Call of Duty series is an interesting case study because it applies to both the novelty and the nostalgia sides of the argument. On the one hand, the series has capitalized on a massive base of rabid followers ever since the first Call of Duty hit the market. On the other hand, the series was redefined with Modern Warfare, a title that needs little introduction and speaks volumes about the level of innovation and effort that went into redefining this classic series on a whole new level.

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The third rendition Max Payne, for the lack of a better word, looks weird. Max is fat, balding, in South America, and a mercenary for hire. It is almost as if someone designed a new game, and someone else stamped it with the Max Payne IP and course-corrected everything accordingly. But as a fan of the original Max Payne and it’s fantastic sequel, I know for a fact I will buy and play this game. I will not care what the reviews say, or what the screenshots look like, or how far removed Max will be from the familiar New-York-world-weary-cop setting. I will play this game with all the enthusiasm and wonder that I played the first two games with. I will remain loyal to this IP regardless of the vicissitudes of passing years or changing studios.

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But the nostalgia factor isn’t limited to rehashing old game IPs in a new light. It also applies to leveraging a tried and true formula, rather than an IP. Consider Knights of the Old Republic. The game took the RPG formula BioWare has essentially and effectively perfected, and combined it with the nostalgic fan base of the Star Wars universe. Yes it was a pre-existing IP, but one that was not leveraged in the RPG gaming industry as such. The result was a product that won grand slam titles, scored high in every category, provided a fresh setting and gameplay, and secured its place as a classic for some time to come.

The most recent of these examples is Torchlight. The graphics looks cartoonish and severely dated. There are only three classes. And it ends too quickly. But it is an incredible experience, offers smooth gameplay and feeds on the far-reaching and widespread Diablo nostalgia that the gaming media has made no effort to hide.

Conclusion

One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one step back.

What started as a ‘Thought of the Day’ post has turned into a 1,500 word piece juxtaposing novelty against nostalgia in contemporary gaming. In the end, I suppose I agree with Mr. Denny, but only in that his statement paints just part of the picture. Nostalgic experiences and revisited IPs are just as important to the genre as novelty and innovation. And in select cases, they can work hand-in-hand to create an unforgettable masterpiece.

Do you guys agree? Which side of the fence are you on? Can you think of some other examples that apply to the two dismetric opposites above?

Funny of the Day: “Practice Makes Perfect” or “Wooden Welding”

November 4, 2009 Leave a comment

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Categories: Dragon Age: Origins