I HAS PC Life and Interwebs

26Aug/143

Death, Taxes, Gaming.

"The only guarantees in life are Death and Taxes" is one of those old quotes that stand the test of time. Having been playing a lot of X-Com lately I caught myself doing something that I regretted afterwards which made me think about death in gaming a lot closer - and I realized I didn't like what I found (with my own behavior). The stage is set.

X-Com is a tactical game where the goal is to defend the Earth from alien invaders. As you play you encounter new aliens and start learning why the invaders are there in the first place. Slowly but surely I have been piecing together the puzzle and while doing so, doing a pretty good job of keeping Earth away from panic. I have lost Mexico as a supporting state of the X-Com program but the rest are pretty safe and secure. (Sorry, Mexico). One of the great parts about X-Com is that the soldiers you use on field missions can improve with experience, and gain ranks and access new skills and strengths. They also die - permanently. All that being said they are generally devoid of any personality and the skill trees are standard - so you can have the exact same soldier where the only difference is name and nationality, plus some stats that influence how they behave in game. My favourite squaddie (short form for squad mate, I'm not sure if that's standard terminology but that is what I use!) is "Pitbull". She is an American support specialist. I don't even know her real name (if squaddies live long enough, they are granted a nickname). Pitbull has saved my other squaddies and often has single handedly changed full outcomes. She is max rank now and never, ever misses a shot. She is amazing. I love seeing her lead missions and is the closest thing I have to a "super soldier".  She has helped me advance so far in this game. She died yesterday, and I did something I never thought I would.

I reloaded the earliest saved game so I had her again.

This was perplexing to me. Reiterating here - I don't even know her in game name, she is a "tool" in my toolbox to stop the alien invasion. She has no personality outside of her shared and easily copied skill set. The reason why this perplexes me is I was reminded of death in other mediums and comics, for example, I HATE when people are killed off and they are always brought back. It sours the experience. With that long winded intro I am going to look at a few games where I have experienced death, and some observations (and questions).

Comics

Thalen's post "On Retcons" popped up on Anook this morning and it reminded me of my own views on death in the comics medium. I hate it. When Superman "died" the first time it was made out to be a HUGE event in the DC universe. I was a Marvel comics guy through and through but I still bought that edition so I had it preserved - a moment in history! It was in 1992 and I thought it was a brave, bold move and that the comic world would be shaken up forever. Think of the stories they could build off of this! The other heroes picking up the slack, how the DC Universe would change without Superman.. wait - what?

The death of death having meaning, you mean.

Superman taught me one thing. Death is temporary. Death lasts exactly three months in the DC Universe. That tainted comic deaths for me forever. Of course, Marvel is equally (if not more) guilty of this - my favorite comic book character is Colossus, from the X-Men. He has always been my favorite since I was a kid. Sure enough, read through his "life" here at the Marvel Wiki and its a disgusting ruin of an amazing base character. Deaths, rebirths, alternate realities, blah blah blah. I'll never buy another comic. To me, there is nothing wrong if you run out of content and much like Thalen's article (where Nick Fury was sun-setted quite nicely for his character and then brought back in a poor way) just let the stories end. Harry Potter ended. The world is fine with that. If you tinker too much with your assets they aren't assets anymore.

Gaming

I have four instances in gaming that stand out to me with gaming and death. The first is the aforementioned X-Com and "Pitbull" eating a Muton sandwich. The second is going a bit further back but very similar - to Blood Bowl, another turn based game that you can improve your characters and I had a whole post based around the antics of my Wardancer. I ended up losing her to randomization eventually - but she had to stay dead because it was a live game vs another human being.

The third instance  is in the Walking Dead - when the protagonist died (we all saw it coming) It clearly felt like a part of the narrative and the introduction of the true protagonist all along (the little girl). It felt satisfying how he died, and how he kept her safe for so long.

The fourth is in Mass Effect 2 - at the ending attack on the Collectors depending on what actions you took your squad mates would live or die. I cheated on this one too (shame on me) because I was emotionally invested in the characters I had spent so long developing with.

Inconsistent behaviors to me considering my comics stance? At the same time since they are different mediums, can I be excused? The Comics rant is pretty consistent with my Walking Dead experience - the narrative. At the end of it all I react to death in games on different motivators and in the above examples of X-Com and Blood Bowl I had ties with my characters through achievement. They weren't fleshed out or personal but they helped me achieve things in gaming and because of that I wanted to protect them.

In Mass Effect 2 I wanted to protect them because I had developed a relationship with the characters and wanted to preserve that. Like protecting your little brother from harm.

In the Walking Dead I accepted the death as part of the overall narrative and that death actually improved the experience overall. Great story, great sacrifice.

So I ask you - do you go out of your way to save your protagonists or let the dice fall where they may? Is it different depending on game or genre? We all know MMOs care nothing of death or penalties, but what about other games when those deaths are more permanent?

 

8Jul/140

Dragon Age : The Birdcage

Sorry, that was the most sensationalist title I could muster.

Can you spot the gay party member in this picture?

News this week, on the heels of Canada's Pride Week in Toronto, is that Dragon Age: Inquisition will have the first openly gay party member for the series - Dorian. The events aren't even close to being linked, just a happenstance coincidence (no doubt.)

I'm sure some hardcore gamer boys will be upset and it is somehow "in their faces" but I still say good job to Bioware. It takes some courage - not like the real courage it takes for gay people to come out to their friends, families, and communities - but courage nonetheless. Bioware has always been more open about same sex relationships in their games anyway. Time it was brought out of the closet (did they have closets in Dragon Age?)

My take is pretty consistent here when it comes to community. Look around you - do we all look, talk, think or love the same? Of course not. I want that diversity in any community I am a part of mostly because it is reflective of the real word. I support the human rights regardless of how they view themselves or how the world views them. Video games are growing up as both an entertainment and artistic medium and it makes sense to have diversity in our fictional worlds. I know it is offensive to some on "religious" or "moral" grounds, and gamers (in general) get a bad rap for their intolerance towards sexuality (and maturity..) but that is ok - they have the option to not use Dorian and I'm sure Dorian isn't going to spend battles hitting on the protagonist. He'll probably just fight, kill and maim like most other Dragon Age party members, while putting in a genuine effort to save the world from some menacing threat. Only with more style. (I had to say that - I mean, I barely used ANY stereotyping in these 500 words...). Sure, its a single player game so the sense of community isn't the same as say, an MMO, but it will continue the conversation and just maybe it will give an MMO developer the guts to try it next.

I'm curious what style of personality Dorian ends up having and looking forward to DA:3. On the heels of all the gender diversity in Warlords of Draenor discussion and even WildStar lacking strong female character develpment let's see how this conversation unfolds.  The video game industry does such a great job representing women to begin with that I can't possibly see any issues building out a believable and supportable gay character experience. (Do I need to note <mild yet obvious sarcasm> for that last line?)

20Oct/130

Against My Better Judgement

I went back into SWTOR.

I love the Star Wars Universe. I was in early Beta Tests for SWTOR and like many others, believed if the game was launched as a single player experience it would have done amazing. Really, it is just a better, shinier KOTOR.  Dragon Age in the Star Wars Universe. Mass Effect-esque gameplay in a Star Wars backdrop. It could have been a perennial giant seller as a single player game such as the COD series or even Assasin's Creed. I went back knowing that it really isn't an MMO but the storylines I did in beta were pretty well done - and I wanted to see some of them through and maybe experience a couple new ones. I was willing to invest my time (and depending on the experience, money)

Wow, they have really messed it up. During my three hour play experience last night:

1) You can't get certain quest rewards without being a subscriber. Major quest rewards are unattainable. Really? PRE-LEVEL 10? The starter experience?

2) The restrictions on chat make group very, very difficult (and there are heroic quests that require you to have a group as early as level 6-7)

3) XP gains have really been throttled (not surprisingly though)

So after spending a lot of time (and money) in League of Legends, someone who does Free To Play exceptionally well, it was a letdown. I want to spend time in EA's Star Wars Universe, I want to give them my money - but I want to feel like I am rewarding them for good programming and business decisions. If I gave them a dime right now it would be the exact opposite.

25Oct/113

Tuesday Ramblings.

I don't post nearly as much when I am playing. One of those funny things - when I play a lot, I don't post. When I'm not playing a lot, I post. With limited gaming/personal time, it just works out that way.

I am in, and there is, a SWTOR beta. That's all I am allowed to say (NDA wise). No no, not sharing any impressions either way, just sharing what I am allowwed to share. And that's it.

I have done a lot of beta tests at various stages, and the amusing part always is the disconnect between customer expectations based on released information, and what you see know when you are 'in the know' - hands on, so to speak. This observation is completely unrelated to my sentence prior, but is a pretty consistent and common theme in the beta tests (in general) I have participated in.

On a side note, I am somewhat shocked at the lack of World of Pandas/Pokemon rage. When I read the announcement I started going to some of my favourite blogging sites to enjoy reading pages upon pages of hate and anger. Perhaps it was because Blizz's next step down wasn't a surprise to anyone (anymore), or that bloggers just tend not to care about WoW anymore. If I missed any good posts on it, please link them.

I actually like the idea of the monk class (a personal favourite in EQ) but everything else is both unsurprising and uninspiring. I will tip my hat to Blizzard for fighting to the end, trying to break the standard-ish MMO growth curve and climb then slow decline. On a somewhat unrelated note, Zynga's IPO is due soon. Not sure why that popped into my head when writing this section.

Best blogging post I read this week goes to the BBB, and it's not even game related. JP sure has a way of tackling a polarizing topic in such a way to encourage thoughtfulness on the subject. While many may not agree with him, he hits the nail on the head, and it's a brave post considering his normal subject matter. (It's also a sad statement to qualify a post about human rights as being courageous - but you know what I mean. Right?)

Have a few posts I have been plugging away on in the background that I'll get to this week. Time permitting, of course =)

I did say ramblings, after all.

22Aug/112

Fun Police for Jedi

EA and Bioware are wrapping everything into their 'hail mary pass' launch of SWTOR (pardon the pun) to do everything imaginable (and then some) to recoup their eleventy billion dollar investment.

For those of you who don't clicky links on blogs, they are releasing a PVP warzone based on a neutral planet where the good guys and the bad guys pause their intergalactic conflict (oh, that silly thing?) to partake in something loosely resembling football set in a fantasy world. Immersion breaking? Yes. Misguided? Probably. Downright silly? Uh-huh - if you are one of those Star Wars geeks who endear the IP.

But the real question is: will it be fun? Yes, probably. It sure looks that way. I just don't think it belongs there, and is an aspect that totally negates the whole point of having a story based (brand new pillar, amirite?) MMO in the first place.

Next PVP warzone being released is on hoth and  involves both ice skates and a small round disk made from compressed wampa fat. DLC price of $10.

My hype meter is at an all time low for SWTOR.

 

27Jul/112

Feast or Famine

Going to a new blogging style. The exciting 'when I can/feel like it'. When I blogged regularly I blogged pretty hard, 3+ posts a week, keeping on top of current events and all the "excitement". I took an extended break once, and in the same breadth kept lurking and reading my favorites without posting. I haven't posted since December and plan on making it more regular (without any firm commitments!)

Now I'll just have the odd meal, enjoy the writing part, and keep blogging for no ulterior purpose but to enjoy myself on much needed breaks.

So, what have I been up to gaming wise?

a) I broke my EA holdout 10 months after it started while in a gaming funk, and bought Dragons Age 2 on sale. As reviewed by others I was a bit dissappointed when compared to the first.

b) Long after Cataclysm was released, I did my WoW dance once again, enjoyed it for what it is, then left when all I could do was done. Un-subbed prior to 4.1 with little interest returning. Maybe next expansion for a 3 month ride to remind myself why I unsubbed in the first place =)

c) Played more of Minecraft - although given up on creating something completely awesome, I am strip mining to hollow out under the world but making all resources renewable - anything I take from the ground I have to reuse above ground. Will someday end up with a rediculous cavern underground and floating islands in the sky. It's definitely Zen grinding down blocks then finding uses for them elsewhere

d) Played Rift until level 15, quit, much for the same uninspiring reasons the current-gen MMO mechanics I often lament

e) Trialed AION for the free 20 levels, enjoyed myself a bit, not buying.

f) Less excited than ever about SWTOR and their marketing giganticnous of the title, and looking forward to not buying it on release while waiting for the reviews to pour in from trusted like minded bloggers. I still expect to play it someday as I am a fan of the DA/ME conversation wheel choices, but everything I have read about it from the CE backward has me in pure holdout mode.

Work wise we are expanding into Asian and South American countries, so that has been interesting and exciting. My family and I (odd to make the distinction, heh) are moving this week to a new home 7 hours away for work.

How have you been? =)

18Dec/103

Lambs to The Slaughter

After reading the comments of SWTOR's latest QA from Friday, I noticed a couple of things:

  • Seems to be a lot of MMO rookies following this closely
  • There will be major disappointment for those rookies

Some random ones, amid the rabid fanboyism:

Can you imagine a small smuggler ship entering in Coruscant atmosphere with two passengers(you and your companion) hidden in secret compartments?

and republic soldiers (another plays) searching for illegal stuffs in that ship?

Sorry, Poster 345. You can't imagine it. The Quest designer can though, and rest assured with that cool move, you and 4 million other characters will get to experience it!

This game is being build at such a grand scale... something i've never seen before. The dev teams deserve a monthly fee. Just look at their work O_o
You can just stand in AWE, gazing upon it's greatness.

I too hope you can jump from the highest skyscraper and just dive for a couple of minutes.

Sure, if it's scripted!

I'm pretty sure the heroic flashpoints will be different than we've seen in other games. Instead of like in WoW where they're the regular dungeons that are repeated, but are more difficult. In ToR, I see it being entire brand new flashpoints with end-game in mind. By this I mean that they will still focus on story, but in a different way, so that they are repeatable and don't feel like you're playing the same story over and over

Not commenting.

I don't get why they don't let any faction visit any planet. I would understand barring the starter planets cause of the PvP servers, but places like corusaunt. They keep saying they want to make it like in the movies and books, well darth zannah went to corusant to the jedi temple itself and she was not the only sith to ever visit the place. Bunch of bounty hunters go to the repulic capital also to find work

So the content is fresh when you decide to try a different side. I mean, why could players go to any planet they want? That's what rails are for!

I'm a bit disappointed that their are multiple servers... I like the entire "One Server" where your name can be heard and known by all, and your choices effect the game as a whole, not just your server... By the way, I've been wondering, to what extend is this "Your choices make a difference in the game" go to? Do your choices only effect immediate characters, like the captain, or do you capture worlds, defeat leaders, etc that die once, and EVERYONE's story is different...? I don't doubt it'll be a great game either way, but it would be cool if one player's choices could effect another on the other side of the galaxy...

Dare to dream, random poster, dare to dream. World impact is left for single player games.

Now, I used to be guilty of the same hopes and dreams when new games were announced and discussed. Most gamers have an active imagination, which is handy to have when playing in fantasy worlds. Just skimming the contents there are going to be a lot of disappointed people. I do think TOR will be successful, but really - take WoW, skin it as star wars, add in voice overs, and that is the crux of what you are going to get. The core gameplay will still be on rails, repeatable content.

Still may be awesome, but the fantastical quotes made me sign in nostalgia.

19Nov/105

Bioware’s New Game is Shattered Steel (probably).

A lot of speculation out there, but here's a visual cue on why it is probably a remake of Shattered Steel.

Capture from the video

That's not a building, its a cockpit

See those two, round black bulb things above his head (and to the left?) He's not shooting out of a window, he's shooting out of a cockpit.

Oh look at this high rez screen from ages ago.

Oh, look at the black round bulbs in the corner

Either a complete coincidence, or nifty stuff.

EA probably heard I have banned myself from their products, and this is their clever way to get me back. I love giant robots.

29Sep/103

time = money / money = pizza [therefore] time = pizza

Callan hits an interesting point in the comment section over at Tesh's musings about the value of his time.

I am in Tesh's camp here, where my discretionary budget is at an all time high, and my time budget is at an all time low. Gamers often judge the value of a game based on how many hours it gives you, and that argument often supports 'the reason why a subscription model works for me'. Take WoW, and remove the part of the game that annoys you the most that feels or is necessary (grinding for cash? getting locked out of an instance for a week? farming for mats? runnin the daily heroic for frosties?) figure out how much time you spend doing doing that activity every week you dislike, and realize what your sub fee is buying you.

It happens in all games. I just finished Mass Effect 2. I had great fun. I didn't think it was too short, but there was a nagging part of it that drove me nuts. Go crazy with me after the break.

29Sep/102

Star Wars The Old Republic : Hopes and Dreams

I have writers block. I have 7 drafts written on various topics but am having a hard time piecing them together. Some of them are related, and I think, can I combine them? Do they make sense? I have lost my groove, and working to find it.

My time off blogging was spent playing 3 games. WoW, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect. Having just finished Mass Effect 2 this week it gives me cautious optimism for Bioware's SWTOR, even though I made fun of them on at least one occasion. In typical naive internet fashion, I am basing my personal hopes and dreams not from the devs, or things I have read about the upcoming title, but because of the type of game I want (dammit!).

Review of what lead me to my hopes and dreams, and how I would like to see SWTOR end up, after the break.