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Interview With Eitanya

Garrus and Shepard

Have you ever wanted to cuddle up with your favorite character only to discover hugging the game box or dvd case is just uncomfortable and not very fullfilling? Then you need to drop Eitanya an e-mail. Her plush version of the fan-favorite character “Garrus” from BioWare’s Mass Effect series was first posted in Game Informer and then made its way around the web. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing her on the creative process and finding out why she started making soft and squishy versions of characters.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure thing. I’m 26 years old, currently living on the gorgeous Emerald Coast with my husband, my brand new baby girl, and one spoiled rotten dog. I work from home designing plush toys, hats, and doing whatever other random creative things strike my fancy. When I’m not playing video games, of course.

How did you get started making these plushes?
My husband is a huge fan of the Strider video game series. I wanted to get him something related to the series for his birthday a few years ago, but finding something Strider-related that he doesn’t already have is getting increasingly difficult. So I got it in my head to make him a plushie. Mind you I had never attempted anything even remotely like that, but hey, I’m all about panic-learning! After making a few simple ones for myself I managed to plushie-fy Hiryu and then it was all over. I was hooked.

What did you make before that first plush?
Before Hiryu? A poison rice ball from Tenchu, a small Weighted Companion Cube, and my first human plushie was Faith from Mirror’s Edge.

Do you have a favorite plush that you’ve made?
Oh that’s tough…probably Aphmau from Final Fantasy XI, I was really happy with how all the details turned out.

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Mass Effect 3 Aiming for Mass Appeal

Central to my criticism of Dragon Age 2 was that it was a game made by people who didn’t seem like they wanted to be making big Western RPGs. Rather, it felt like they would have been more comfortable making God of War with a flimsy conversation system attached.

At the time, it was disappointing, but we were confident, especially because of some early reports, that Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t suffer the same fate. It’s their “most ambitious title to date”! How could that possibly be disappointing, especially if they’re working in more RPG elements.

Well, leave it to EA to wipe away some good feelings. Eurogamer gave us the potentially bad news, with John Riccitiello saying they are “are purposefully shifting it to address a larger market opportunity.”

If that doesn’t sound like bad news, I don’t know what does.
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Weekly Gaming News And Articles Collection Week of April 17th – 23rd

Hey all!

So, this is my first post and figured I’d start with a collection of some of the more prevalent news that’s come around this week so ya’ll can catch up if you’ve been working for the weekend and haven’t had a lot of time to check up on the news! My first review will be appearing on here later on, but until then, enjoy!

Playstation Network Is Down! Everyone Keep Calm!

So first of all, those of us with PS3’s (myself included) know what’s been going on since Wednesday. PSN outtage! And its been down for quite a while! It’s Saturday now, officially by the freckle on my arm anyways, and it’s still down! Reports have been coming in from various sources, but so far, the official word from the Playstation Blog is that they believe this whole event was caused by an outside intrusion–a hacker, perhaps. Some people say Anonymous is behind it, but hell, that’s more speculation and unfounded conspiracy rumors that I just don’t feel like getting into. Hit the link for all the deets!

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UPDATED Mass Effect 3 To Have Class Specific ‘Heavy Melee’, Enemy Types, Locations and More

Trove of new Mass Effect 3 info for you folks, courtesy of the Bioware forums (scroll down a bit to read it in English) who have access to a Spanish magazine with said info (and as a note, this link is useless to you if you can’t read Spanish).

Some of the more interesting tidbits;

  • UPDATED: Christina Norman clarifies this bullet point as follows, “No new classes. All classes have improved melee and a class-specific heavy melee.” There’s a new class called ‘Heavy Melee’ which will take advantage of the swath of new melee moves which will be introduced in this iteration, including “rolling, jumping small holes in the ground, as the SWAT turn and strike the enemy with greater variety of melee attacks.”
  • Though the reason that Cerberus turns on you is still not explained, they tell us that the Illusive Man will send out three types of enemies at you: mechs, assault units and what is described as “ninja” shock troops. Woo! We might get a slight reprise from the ENDLESS HORDE of mercs from 2!!!!
  • Engineers can pull a TF2: there’s turret building.
  • Yes, we will finally visit Earth–New York, specifically (of course?). Also, Mars. As for the rest of the galaxy, we’ll be visiting a Salarian world and what may be a Quarian moon.
  • It seems to be suggesting that the game is 10 to 15% faster than previous iterations.
  • There’s a new scanning system. Woo Mk 2.
  • Influences for the third title include Halo, KOTOR, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly. Surprising no one, I’m sure!
  • Bioware thought about changing their morality system at some point, but decided against it.
  • Though Shepard’s story ends, they list possibilities like an MMO, to an action title in first person, or perhaps a platformer–that it depends on what players want.
  • Weapons can be modded and customized, suggests that there are at least 5 things to customize for weapons (scopes, ammo types…?)
  • They can make some “really bad things” happen as endings. Wow, are they talking about actual consequence? The mind, it boggles.
  • It’s Bioware’s most ambitious title to date.

More Mass Effect 3 info as it arises!

Dragon Age 2: On Branding and Circumstance

Small roundup for you folks today, one item dealing with the marketing for Dragon Age 2 and one item dealing with the way conflict is structured in the game. First item of interest comes from an interview over at Game Informer with the Bioware founders, Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka, where they touch upon why the standard male Hawke was chosen as the ‘face’ of Dragon Age 2.

” That’s a great question. One of the things we really embrace in our games is diversity and enabling people to take on different roles so, obviously, we have strong female leads. We have amazing voice acting talent for both the male and the female roles.

That said, for the marketing face we have to make a choice. And it’s a tough choice to pick an iconic face — the face of the brand. You have to pick an iconic representation for the brand and it comes down to the marketing team’s intuition. It’s not easy because we know a lot of the fans enjoy playing the female lead so we always make sure it’s just as high quality as the male lead for the main characters in our games.”

Hmm. Does gender dictate how iconic something can be?

Second item was found over at GameBanshee from yet another interview with Mike Laidlaw defending Dragon Age 2. A good deal of criticism for Dragon Age 2 honed in on the fact that it lacked an “epic scope”; ie an easily identifiable evil villain for which you must overcome all odds to defeat. Instead, we got a lot of politics and circumstance and it wasn’t easy to point fingers or cast blame over the situation. He states the following on the subject:

“The “prominent antagonist” is a staple of fantasy, be it the brooding eye of Sauron or the endless hordes of the archdemon. For Dragon Age II, we wanted to attempt something different and break the mold and try to vilify circumstance, rather than a specific evil. It’s a story of how heroes are made, not born, and I think that by the same token, it’s a story of how the antagonist need not always be the villain. To me, that’s a very human tale. I believe the early game likely could have used some additional appearances by Meredith, but we were likely being over-cautious of her being perceived as a source of confusion or frustration for players: “I think she’s important, but she feels disconnected from my current goals!” ”

Nonetheless most players felt lost and aimless, as if the three acts were disconnected and you were never sure what Hawke was trying to do, exactly. I think that may be why fans clamored for an easily identifiable villain–it would provide them with a sense of purpose and direction. Personally, I found their choice to make a ‘villain’ out of circumstance admirable and refreshing.

Truths and Consequences

Developers love talking about making their games full of moral choices with consequences, but that’s a crock of shit: no one makes games with consequences. I’d even say moral choice is an illusion, like a linear world designed to feel open: most moral choices are choosing between being a petulant child and being a noble savior, and even if they open different branches of plot, they do not effect real change, or real emotional depth.

The fact is, in the environment gaming is now, there is no such thing as a moral choice. They cannot exist. Video games of the moment place morality on that superficial spectrum and ask, “Are you a paragon, or are you a renegade?” It doesn’t matter which one you choose, so long as you choose one: there will be no major changes, regardless of what you choose.

This is the realization I get as I replay Mass Effect 2: nothing matters. You have a number of options, but there is no reason to think about them. They are superficial, meaningless choices designed to make the player feel good about themselves regardless of whether they are good or evil rather than insightful plot branches. Being “evil” is never the wrong choice, and being “good” is never the right choice: they are just paper thin moralities for the player to cling to in an attempt to streamline character development.

Patricia wrote about Don’t Take It Personally, Babe a few days ago, and I wanted to take that game’s concept of choice and run with it. Specifically, the choice of whether or not the player gets with Arianna. It’s possibly the moral choice I spent the most amount of time thinking about ever, and this got me to thinking (once I chose to begin a relationship with her): why was it? What did it have that the litany of choices in Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Bioshock, inFamous, and countless others lacked?

And there’s something. There’s definitely something.
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Piping hot Mass Effect 3 details emerge

My favorite things about Game Informer exclusives is that they try so hard to keep things secret, and then everything is blown open and their well thought out feature (as well thought out as Game Informer gets) is reduced to small bullet points in a forum post that makes reading their article pretty meaningless. It’s pretty much my favorite thing.

Anyway, following this cut be Mass Effect 3 details, and WHAT THEY MEAN.
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Love Game

Oh god, not the Lady Gaga song.

I stumbled upon the Digital Romance Lab this morning via this week’s Sunday Papers over at Rock Paper Shotgun. As Rossignol suggests, it’s a beautiful post so I wholeheartedly suggest you read it. More than that, it provides some context for this post.

There’s one bit in that post that intrigued me, a bit that is obvious but has interesting implications if taken at face value.

“Games create meaning through the gap between its rule-based procedures, and the player’s subjective response. This is what Ian Bogost calls the simulation gap. Therefore, in playing video games, we are able to critically reflect; to learn something about not just the game’s creator, but about ourselves.

Videogames are, then, excellent tools by which we can explore what it means to be human; to help us to explore, and unravel our subjective selves.”

Earlier the post stipulates that reading Pride and Prejudice allows the reader to learn something about Jane Austen, how she saw the world and, more specifically, how she saw romance. Objects like books are ”expressions of the way we see the world; or, at least, of how we want to represent it.” However, unlike books games are structured, easily quantifiable objective based systems. Romance often follows suit in that regard. Games tend to enumerate or somehow represent exactly where you stand with a possible romance.

This is where one might be inclined to criticize such a dehumanizing, inaccurate representation of romance. How can a game like Dragon Age Origins, for example, give you a special achievement for sleeping with specific characters? What does that say about how Bioware sees romance? Further, what does that say about what they think we want out of a romance?

It’s here that my mind recalls a recent conversation with a friend regarding relationships. He made a crack about how girls tend to look at the title ‘girlfriend’ as an objective that rewarded them with a type of ‘ascension’, a type of elevation in both status and treatment.  Romance unlocked!+5 kisses, +10 cuddles, etc. This came to me as a shock, initially. I’m not much for titles myself, I’m not sure I ever see myself getting married. What does a title or piece of paper prove, after all? Neither is necessary to have an understanding of monogamy if such is your thing. Thus I can’t help but wonder if its function is primarily a social one, like achievements (evidence of your skill and accomplishments to your peers) And yet for me the title had a facade; an expectation that came with it. An implied level of intimacy–we’re not talking purely physical here–which was exclusive to the title.

The expectation is somewhat furthered when I play games. Most of the time, I obsess over the romance aspect of games. At first this worried me–am I some maladjusted socially inept person or something? Perhaps! But I also realized it wasn’t just me, it’s the way some of the relationships are structured. If I wanted to get to know someone better, if I wanted to experience intimacy, romancing them was inevitable. A requirement, even. In Persona 3, getting to know any girl meant you were making them your girlfriend. There is no other choice. In Mass Effect, being cordial to someone is the same as romancing them. Romance unlocked! +5 deep conversation. Congrats. Often times, even when I’m not shoehorned into a relationship I still seek it out anyway: I can’t help but feel like writers only allow you to know characters the best if you pursue their love. A level of intimacy which is exclusive to the romance.

I can’t help but think about the seemingly rat-raceish nature of it all. Finding ‘the one.’ Settling down and getting married by age 30ish, have a kid, what have you. Do it and you’re playing the game right, you’re winning. Love becomes a marker of a successful maturity into adulthood, as the NYT puts it, ”Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child.” Of course, what that article ends up conceding is that such milestones and the way we go about achieving them is currently being redefined. Some might acknowledge this as an inevitability given how archaic and arbitrary they are as markers of…anything. Will we start seeing this cultural shift reflected in games?

By no means am I implying this is a standard parsing of the human experience. Not everyone treats life as a series of achievements. Nonetheless it’s interesting to look at that approach when thinking about the way games position love–can we truly say it’s a completely off-base representation, speaking structurally? Or is it actually representative of the ‘real’ underbelly of love? Let us not forget that romance doesn’t have to be be structured as just another game mechanic.

Review: Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 is the oddest bird I have played in ages. It’s what you get when people who really don’t want to be making role playing games make one anyway. It tries to follow the Mass Effect blueprint, by tearing out all the negatives reviewers pointed out in the previous game, distilling the game down to an unadulturated positive experience.

Of course, there is a major difference. Mass Effect was a game with simple, obvious flaws: the combat was a little off, there was too much generic exploration, and the story, while good, featured a lot of characters who were not especially memorable. We can pretty much all agree why Mass Effect wasn’t perfect. On the other hand, if you put ten fans of Dragon Age: Origins in the same room, you would have ten completely different sets of complaints. Some people felt the combat was boring, some felt it was confusing, and others felt it was the best in an RPG in ages. Some people loved the story, the “generic” quest to defeat a horrible evil race, and some people loved the silent protagonist and the complicated dialog system. Others didn’t like those things. Some people liked the scope of the game, others felt the characters were bland and unlikeable.

A lot of the problems with Dragon Age 2 can be traced to the fact that it is a game built to mechanically correct the flaws of its predecessor. As it is, however, I want to go at it in as pure a way as possible, and not compare it to Origins in the slightest. Well, that’s not true. I plan to spend a second or two on it at the end. But it’s very much it’s own beast, and deserves to be tackled as such.

Unfortunately, as such, Dragon Age 2 is a mediocre game that is soulless and forgettable fun.
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Dragon Age 2 Impressions

Yes, friends, another impressions post. Obviously, I have not completed Dragon Age 2. Nowhere near it, actually. While I do plan to, in this case, wait until completion and write an actual, honest to god, “serious merits of this title” review, I also wanted to give you, our faithful reader, something of an idea of how the game stacks up.

We’ve picked an auspicious day to do this, though, what with the shit hitting the fan over the EA Accounts devils banning you from playing games and some secret DRM shenanigans. All this adds up to a lot of awkwardness on Dragon Age 2’s part, and we haven’t even gotten to the game yet.

But we will. Oh we will. In bullet points! With a real review to follow.
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