Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Game Over

No player choice, No closure or catharsis, Rushed, Unpolished, Plot holes, Lore errors, Not as advertised...
There are a lot of ways Bioware could have ended the Mass Effect trilogy. A Bittersweet Ending or even a Downer Ending I could respect. But going with an Gainax Ending was probably one of the worst possible ways to rap things up in my opinion. Adding insult to injury the three more or less identical endings that Bioware decided to go with really undermine some of the most poignant themes in the series, particularly with regards to tolerance and free will. Basically it feels like a copout in the sense that all the hard work Shepard has done creating trust and co-operation is undermined by a final choice (via info-dumping Deus ex machina A.I.) where the player must choose from three highly reductive options.

Science fiction is always a product of the time in which it is created. So, to put it in real world terms it would be like says the three possible solutions to ethnic, cultural, religious, political, sexual or philosophical differences are:

  1. Force segregation between such groups
  2. Genocidally exterminate all but one group
  3. Force all groups into a quasi-singular group
Granted unity is a lofty hypothetical goal which might very well be unobtainable in reality. So, I guess you could argue that the writers were a jaded bunch or else they're trolling..."guess what guys! The solutions to conflicts between whites and blacks is to force them to live in completely divided regions, kill all the blacks/whites, or make them all grey skinned." Ironically, the third option is the most annoying to me because the underling message is essentially we'd all get along if we were all the same. News flash! People will find reasons to hate each other no matter what you do at a macro level. The only real solution is to stop zealous tribalism and an "us versus them" mentality on an individual basis.

It's like the Matrix sequels all over again except in video game form.

Sorry...I'll stop ranting now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trust is a Finite Resource

I recently heard a claim that humans invented language out of a deep and profound need to complain about things. This is no more apparent than on the internet and on the message boards of video games. "People can bitch about anything and everything!" and while that's true more often than not the seed that births ill will comes from without not from within.

The issue I'm getting at here could be applied to a wide variety of topics ranging from political and economic to religious and ethnic, but this blog is about video games (and to a lesser extent internet piracy) so I'm going to try and frame it in those terms using a recent release as an example namely Mass Effect 3.

Day one DLC is generally a big no-no since it raises the obvious question of why it couldn't simply have been included with the final release product. I've mentioned in the past that DLC needs to be modular and focused on divisive fiddly bits in order to avoid controversy. Releasing DLC which is integral to the story and can only be enjoyed as part of the main story (as opposed to a mini-prequel/sequel) is bound to piss a lot of gamers off. Compounding this is some half hearted attempts to please hardcore fans by throwing in photoshopped stock images. I understand that developers have limited assets to work with, but if you can't do something well then don't do it at all especially when it comes to a big budget series like Mass Effect. Other minor slights against fans include redraws of characters to increase sex appeal, hackney writing and a marketing campaign that panders to non-fans.

Now, from a business perspective these seem like good moves to increase revenue. The problem is all these decisions also alienate the core audience. Granted hardcore fans tend to play passive-aggressive a lot, complaining incessantly only to stand outside their local store for a midnight release purchase. Calling those types hypocrites would be an understatement. However, the fact remains that there are always other new releases that don't resort to clumsy cash grabs. How many would-be-buyers loose interest? Not enough unfortunately, but if you look at the success of recent video game fundraising campaigns I think there is a substantial number of gamers out there that are willing to put their money where their mouth is.

People are dumb, but an individual can and often will be smart. Once they find out they've been slighted they'll go online and let their voice be heard. A developer's integrity might suffer for it though it's hard to judge by how much. Counting how many people turn to piracy or simply refuse to buy involves gathering metrics based on human psychology - a soft science at best. Regardless, one thing is clear; while consumer trust may ultimately be an uncalculable resource it is finite and once exhausted it will affect the bottom line of publishers in the long run.

Friday, March 9, 2012

X + Y = Z

There are a lot of games to play with neat concepts that just don't quite pan out for one reason or another. Sometimes it has to do with finding the right audience, sometimes it's a lack of key features, and sometimes it's feels like the developers simply needed to team up with another group of developers to make a truly great title. So, here's a list of five such possibilities expressed using the simple mathematical equation X+Y=Z, where X is one game, Y is another and Z is the resulting blend which I will explain to the best of my ability.

Zelda + Dark Souls = Hyrule, but with a visual looks similar to Boletaria or Lordran. A brutal difficulty and dying constantly aren't necessary, but having a version of Zelda that isn't a cartoon romp for once would be a nice change of pace. Zelda has always had good melee combat, compelling characters, iconic gear and boss battles to remember. What it lacks is...well it's hard to explain, but if you've gone on adventures with Link in the past you've probably felt at least once that the series is lacking something. Tone, atmosphere, pacing, mood...whatever you want to call it Dark Souls has got it and (at least in recent entries in the series) Zelda lacks it. Now, just to be clear I'm not simply saying Zelda should become darker and more edgy. Rather, I think it suffers from a it a lack of inspiration. Nintendo has the cash and From Software has the talent. Sounds like a winning combination, right? If not maybe Team Ico could also work wonders with the hero garbed in green.

Front Mission + Valkyria Chronicles = Semi turn based tactical squad combat featuring giant custom "Wanzers" armed with over sized rifles, machine guns, shotguns, missile launchers, mortars, hand to hand weapons and huge riot shields. Valkyria Chronicles has an excellent combat system and story, but suffered from a WW2 in Europe knock off setting (personally I think a lot of people were burned out on this because of all the early Medal of Honor and Call of Duty titles that had come out recently). Front Mission on the other hand has flat characters, but a cool setting featuring a politically chaotic near future world complete with rogue nations, PMCs and terrorists. Combine the best of both of these and you'd have the most awesome robot combat game since Mechwarrior.

Master of Orion + Mass Effect = Imagine a space 4X game featuring exploration, colonization, diplomacy, espionage, technology, space warfare and planetary conquest set to one of the most popular and richly detailed sci-fi backdrops invented in recent years. Choosing your starting faction? feel like playing a short game? Go Terran. Want a long game? Play Asari. Looking for a fight? Choose the Turians. Need a challenge? Try the Krogan. No shortage of art assets to use. Plus a procedurally generated universe with random elements would give the game a lot of replayablility. Think of the events of the Mass Effect series as if they were only one of many potential events in a much longer sequence. Of course the end game could always go out with a bang via Reaper invasion.

Ace of Combat + Wing Commander = The peanut butter and jelly of video games. In their day flight sims where the pinnacle of PC gaming, boasting the most impressive graphics and immersive gameplay. Sadly those days are long past, but there's no reason why a revival can't give younger audiences a glimpse of this genre's former glory. Ace of Combat does a good job of capturing the intensity of dogfighting and also injects a fair amount of cinematic flare. The problem is the setting. It feels like the worst of both worlds in that it's neither the real world we live in nor is it fantastical enough to give the creators artistic freedom. Wing Commander on the other hand has a great setting which has been criminally under represented . Instead of having a few fighters dancing about an empty nav point why not a nebula? Or the rings of a gas giant? Or near a pulsar? How about over the surface of a white dwarf star? The tail of a comet? What about in the corona of a red giant slowly being devoured by a black hole? Time to let the players fly for the Kilrathi too.

Crusader Kings + Total War = Consider a dynasty simulation game with all the trappings of real medieval Europe; intrigue, fiefs, titles, crusades, rebellions, alliances and betrayal backed up with gorgeously detailed battles. Crusader Kings has intensely rich strategy, but feels a bit flat when push comes to shove. The Total War series on the the other hand has the bloody tactical combat bit down to a science. Sadly, on the strategic theater there is an over emphasis on base building, not to mention the economic system is a bit wonky. Put these two games together though and they compliment each other with the strengths of one overlapping the weaknesses of the other. If Paradox Interactive and Creative Assembly did a joint venture in this regard they could create the...


So, those are just a couple of fusion ideas I had off the top of my head. If you readers have some ideas of your own don't hesitate to post them in the comments. I know a lot of what I suggested above sounds pretty outlandish, but I've grown tired of seeing the same couple formulas involving a FPS/MMO/RPG combo or some generic competitive/cooperative multiplayer attachment that hardly anyone is still playing a week after launch. It's getting bland. Time for some new recipes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

More Old School Box Art

"Your tiny prince will never get past my tiny guards!"

Nice, but where is the bird? Hardest enemy in the game...

"I'm king of the world! Hu? What's that about a black cat?" 

The lone guy is even more disadvantaged when you consider the sun is in his eyes. 

You know what's cooler than a Ferrari? A Ferrari with weapons strapped all over it! 

"Coming in for my attack run! Wait, why are there floating Moi heads over there?!?" 

"Lets do this!...but first I need to find a pair of pants."