Posts Tagged BioWare

The Nitpixels Podcast Episode 34: Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Nitpixels Podcast returns this week with your hosts Matthew Rossi, Alex Ziebart, and Mat McCurley. This week is all Star Wars, all the time. Here’s a shocker: we don’t hate it!

You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below, download it directly via the link below, or download and subscribe via iTunesNote: The iTunes store can take an extraordinarily long time to display new episodes on the podcast page. If you subscribe, it will download the episode for you, even though it may not immediately display on the page.

Do you have a question you would like to ask the Nitpixels crew? Have comments about the podcast? Email us at mailbag@nitpixels.com and we’ll answer it on the next edition of the Nitpixels Show if it strikes our fancy. You can also tweet any of us your questions — you can find our Twitter handles on the right-hand side of this very page (unless you’re on our mobile site).

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The Nitpixels Podcast Episode 24: Behind the curtain

The Nitpixels Podcast returns this week with your hosts Matthew Rossi, Alex Ziebart, and Mat McCurley. This week’s podcast would have been posted earlier, but I managed to spill a full can of Coke into my keyboard the very moment I began this news post and needed to buy a new one. Brilliant.

This week our discussion topics include:

You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below, download it directly via the link below, or download and subscribe via iTunesNote: The iTunes store can take an extraordinarily long time to display new episodes on the podcast page. If you subscribe, it will download the episode for you, even though it may not immediately display on the page.

Do you have a question you would like to ask the Nitpixels crew? Have comments about the podcast? Email us at mailbag@nitpixels.com and we’ll answer it on the next edition of the Nitpixels Show if it strikes our fancy. You can also tweet any of us your questions — you can find our Twitter handles on the right-hand side of this very page (unless you’re on our mobile site).

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The Nitpixels Podcast Episode 16: Fire hot

 

The Nitpixels Podcast returns this week with your hosts Alex Ziebart, Matthew Rossi, Mat McCurley, and Michael Sacco. We’re late again this week because man, sometimes a guy’s gotta get some sleep, you know?

This week’s discussion topics include:

You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below, download it directly via the link below, or download and subscribe via iTunesNote: The iTunes store can take an extraordinarily long time to display new episodes on the podcast page. If you subscribe, it will download the episode for you, even though it may not immediately display on the page.

Do you have a question you would like to ask the Nitpixels crew? Have comments about the podcast? Email us at mailbag@nitpixels.com and we’ll answer it on the next edition of the Nitpixels Show if it strikes our fancy. You can also tweet any of us your questions — you can find our Twitter handles on the right-hand side of this very page (unless you’re on our mobile site).

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Sexuality is Not a Game Mechanic

Dragon Age 2, BioWare’s latest RPG offering, allows players to strike up romantic relationships with party members regardless of the gender of the player character or the NPC in question. Basically, if your ideal romantic interest would have to be homosexual/bisexual in order to be romantically compatible with your particular character, they will be. This also means that you as a player may periodically experience flirty conversation from NPCS that might not match up with the sexuality you intend for your character.

After a self-professed “straight male gamer” posted on the BioWare forums complaining that he was getting hit on by male characters while playing as the male version of Hawke, BioWare’s senior writer David Gaider gave a fantastic response: essentially, “get over it.” Gaider affirmed that BioWare is committed to giving players of all sexualities the opportunity to pursure romantic interests in whatever configuration they please, which is fantastic, and a real step forward for video game relationships in general.

Somehow, though, I’m still finding cause for concern.

Video games have been struggling for a long time now to be recognized as a legitimate art form, largely because it’s not been until recently that games have even had the opportunity to have extended dialogue, like books, and voice acting, like movies. The increase in “cinematic-ness” (cinematicity?) has also led to an increase the number of memorable, “real” characters present in games.

To be fair, though, games and movies and books are often all striving for very different things. A fantasy book you read or movie you see in theaters has the aim to entertain you, to tell its own story, to present its characters in a specific set of scenes and situations. Things are a little different in modern role-playing games, especially where BioWare is concerned. While still taking part in an over-arching narrative, you’re given the opportunity to shape the world (and the narrative itself) through your decisions and interactions. And even your main character, normally the rigidly-defined cornerstone of a narrative, isn’t set in stone; you can choose different backgrounds, appearances, and, in this case, sexualities as well.

Now, contrary to what sitcoms and movies would like you to believe, “homosexual” is not a personality trait. Neither is “bisexual” or “asexual” or “only sleeps with big disfigured metal space bugbirds” (don’t judge me). But it is part of a character, of a person. Sexuality shapes interactions both personal and public, and lots of other facets of a character. Which is why BioWare’s choice concerns me.

Let me give you some perspective. I liked Final Fantasy VII just fine, but I didn’t love it like I loved Final Fantasy IX. In FFVII, with the exception of some small stat differences, all characters behaved fundamentally identically in battle thanks to all of their skill assignments being handled with Materia, useable by anyone with no restrictions. Anyone could do anything, which was a far cry from the highly specialized characters of FFIX. If I needed brute force, I knew to use Steiner. In FFVII, anyone could be my brute-force guy (or gal).

Now, perhaps it’s fallacious to use game mechanics as analogues to “real-life” traits. In fact, I know it is, and I’ll get to that. So I’ll put it in a different way. In a BioWare game, like in a good movie or book, I can expect a character to generally act a certain way. I know Garrus will have a deadpan one-liner for lots of situations. I know Miranda will choose (and suggest that I choose) the most pragmatic option in most circumstances. These are the ways these characters work, the way they react to things. They’re integral parts of their character.

So what’s not integral? Stuff that relates to or works with game mechanics. Is Miranda a fundamentally different character if she uses submachine guns instead of pistols heavily in my game as compared to my friend’s game? No, she’s still a femme fatale ice queen. Her choice of gun has an effect on gameplay, not narrative — two very different things. It affects how I experience the narrative, perhaps, but not the narrative itself. That krogan was going to meet his end regardless of the weapon used, and Miranda would still shrug it off because that’s who she is. And so is her sexuality.

Essentially, by making it something that can be adjusted, changed, deleted, what’s happening is that BioWare isn’t treating sexuality like a character trait. They’re treating it like a game mechanic. And in an oeuvre that includes games in which “relationship” has historically (and unfortunately) been defined as “a minigame with sex as a reward,” that’s actually not that surprising. In fact, I’d argue that the best way to please players of all sexualities would be to give them a handful of relationships meaningful outside of the pursuit of a PG-13 sex scene, not give them access to a large number of ultimately trivial ones.

If it sounds like I’m condemning BioWare’s decision, I truly am not. I don’t envy BioWare in their effort to please people of all sexualities, and envy them even less in trying to legitimize an art form. In fact, I don’t even think this is a bad solution to the heterosexual male-dominated “gaming culture” that thinks elves are “gay” even when they aren’t. It’s just that there’s still a long way to go if we want games to be societally progressive and a legitimate art form, and part of the latter is not just continuing to sacrifice the building blocks of a character in the name of game mechanics when there simply must be other ways to do it. Even if we haven’t thought of them yet.

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Dragon Age II – The review in which I spoil the hell out of this game so if you don’t like that, why are you still reading this headline? It’s only going to get worse.

I am simultaneously awed by and slightly disappointed with Dragon Age II.

Awed by the art of the game, by the improved combat system, by the quest flow. Awed by how much work obviously went into it. Awed by the decision to focus away from the Gray Wardens who were the stars of the previous game and instead focus on a ten year period of time and unfold a story over that ten year period. Awed by some really excellent in places voice acting and dialogue options, and by a dialogue system that actually creates a voice for your character based on the kind of dialogue you choose over time. (For instance, my first Hawke almost always choice the diplomatic route and so his tone was far less sarcastic than my second playthrough.) This is a superlative game. This is a game that is superior than its predecessor in almost every single way from gameplay to storytelling.

The original, however, does not have so unrelentingly grim and painful a theme as does its sequel. In Dragon Age: Origins, you play a hero in a time of crisis who stands up against both disastrous unnatural entities bent on destroying all life while also taking action against those who attempt to use the crisis to ascend to power. While it’s a bleak and horrific threat you face, the game itself has a tone of optimism in the face of the disaster and in the end the triumph that comes feels wholly complete and justified. Furthermore, choices you make really feel as though they had a positive impact on the world.

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Dragon Age 2: My bleary eyed response

This is intended as a kind of infodump reaction to the game. A full review will be coming as soon as I replay a few times.

It’s a good game all told. I just finished it, blazing through it in two nights of painful insomnia, and I will doubtlessly play it again to catch up on all the side quests I missed. Some of what Alex said in his demo impression holds true for me. While I think the female body type worked fine for Isabella, it’s very disconcerting to see every female in the game, even your mom, expanded to such proportions. My wife made the point that if your apostate sister was really serious about hiding from the Templars, that dress she has on isn’t going to avoid her any attention. She’s right. It’s even weirder when Flemeth shows up in her wildly different new outfit but the story tells you it’s taking place at the same time as the events of Ostagar and Lothering from DA:O. I get that Varric wouldn’t know what Flemeth used to look like, but it was still weird to see her with a boob window.

From here on in will be spoilers. So don’t read any further if you don’t like those.

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Mass Effect and combat diversity

It is extremely hard to deny that Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games currently on the market. Personal taste will determine where it falls on your gaming hierarchy, but it’s still undeniable that it’s a wonderful game. Mass Effect 2 worked very hard to improve its combat system over the first Mass Effect game and cut out a lot of the unnecessary fat, and while it did a good job at this, there were a number of things the original Mass Effect did very well that didn’t make it into the sequel for one reason or another.

My personal grievance is the loss of some of the most thrilling opponents from the original game. Mass Effect 2’s cover shooter gameplay is on the whole more exciting than the combat of the first game, but the enemies themselves aren’t particularly meaningful — each enemy that pops up feels like little more than more meat being thrown into a grinder with very few exceptions — the Scion enemies force you out of cover temporarily and the melee opponents that flank you do the same, but their appearances are rare outside of the core, mandatory missions against the Collectors. Beyond that, combat is essentially: enemy sticks their head out, enemy dies.

Personally, I see a few ways they could mix up combat again in the upcoming Mass Effect 3.

Bring back the Geth Hopper

The leaping, wall-crawling son of a bitch at the top of this post is the stuff of nightmares. The unit is pitched as a “cyberwarfare platform” in the in-game universe and it does its job well. Not only does the hopper scramble your on-screen radar while it’s present and blind you to your enemies’ locations (assuming you don’t have the appropriate upgrades), it also adds additional dimensions to the combat. When the geth hopper is involved, you can’t just look straight ahead and take a headcount of what you’re fighting. The hopper could be on the ground, but it could also be overhead or on the walls, taking cheap shots at you while it scurries out of the line of fire.

A close friend of mine, one of the rare few that disliked Mass Effect 2, describes its combat as “hiding behind conveniently placed boxes while spraying bullets down a hallway.” That’s an extreme oversimplification of the game, but it’s true in the most basic sense. There are very few enemies and encounters that force you to pay attention to what’s going on anywhere but directly in front of you. The reintroduction of the hopper (or new enemies similar to it) could change the dynamic of combat in a big way.

Geth in general are also less intimidating in Mass Effect 2, largely because the cover shooter gameplay makes them feel less intelligent, less predatory. The geth could be downright terrifying in the original Mass Effect, employing snipers in high, hidden nests while throwing shock troops, armatures, and colossuses at you. The geth are supposed to be scary opponents, but in Mass Effect 2 they were a mild inconvenience, even in Tali’Zorah‘s recruitment quest wherein you actually are put up against a colossus. Unfortunately, the single colossus you encounter is completely stationary and poses no real threat whatsoever while you funnel the geth ground troops through a single pathway of your choice.

Bring back the hoppers, bring back the armatures and the colossuses, and let’s make the geth scary again.

Bring back the krogan

Oh yeah, there were krogan all over Mass Effect 2, but did any of them ever strike fear into your heart? Krogan in the original Mass Effect were dangerous brutes that, if you let them close to melee range, would completely ruin your day. There weren’t very many of them, but the ones you encountered were damn mean and damn meaningful.

In Mass Effect 2, the krogan are plentiful. There are encounters where you kill them by the dozen, and one of the recruitment quests specifically throws weak, mass-produced krogan at you — almost like the game is fully aware that these giant, imposing berserkers are no longer notable. Throughout the game you also encounters the krogan-led Blood Pack mercenaries, made up of the monstrous krogan and the diminutive vorcha — the universe’s sentient vermin. In encounters with the Blood Pack, it’s rarely the krogan that sets you on edge. You see it, gun it down, and move on with your life. The vorcha with their rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and insane health regeneration that demands no less than a headshot to put them down are far more frightening.

Mass Effect 3 needs the krogan of the first Mass Effect, not the glorified moving target of Mass Effect 2. When a krogan charges me, I want to be worried.

More flanking, melee enemies

Mass Effect 2’s husks are one of the few enemies in that game that make you realize how vulnerable Commander Shepard and his/her teammates can be. Until you’ve acquired a significant number of upgrades, a husk rush can swarm over your team, drag your allies to the ground in an instant, and force Shepard into a terrified retreat. That’s a good thing. The husks (and to a lesser extent the fishdog varren) flank you, flush you out of cover, and suddenly you’re under fire from all of the enemies you were safely hiding from behind a box.

These enemies were used to great effect in the few core missions against the Collectors, the game’s primary opponents, but very rarely beyond that. The rarity of in-your-face combat in this game (unless you played a vanguard, of course) not only made combat very repetitive after awhile, it also made some of your teammate options less attractive. The only time you would want your allies using shotguns is when they were equipped with the DLC shotguns that turned them into long-range weapons. They had no opportunities to use these weapons up close, so a large aspect of those characters was essentially useless.

In Mass Effect 3, I would like to see some more short range and mid-range combat that forced you to adapt to the situations and use your teammates that specialize in that kind of combat. Use your tough, tank-like characters, use the characters that are strong short-range fighters, build a perimeter and hold out against the swarm.

To sum up

Mass Effect 2 is one of my all-time favorite games, but the transition from Mass Effect 1’s engine to Mass Effect 2’s engine definitely carried a bit of the “baby and the bathwater” issue with it. If BioWare builds Mass Effect 3 up using what they’ve learned from both of its predecessors, we’re in for one hell of ride. I don’t want them to ignore the great things that weren’t carried over from the first installment of the series, because there’s still a lot of potential there waiting to be used.

Mass Effect 2 fell into the trap of assuming that because different enemies use different spells, that must mean combat will be diverse. That’s not true. You need variety in aesthetics and motions as well — the first Mass Effect nailed that, but the sequel fell short. Mass Effect 3 has an opportunity to integrate the strengths of both games and I hope they achieve that.

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