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Thoughts on Nonplayer

Fun fact: I don’t read comics; they’ve never captured my interest much. Nonplayer though–this caught my eye right away, and it’s easy to see why. Yes, I’m very superficial. You throw something like the picture above my way, and I’ll start swooning. I adore Wind Waker, Uncharted and Borderlands specifically for their visuals. I can’t stand the thought of playing some older, classic games because of how ugly they look. The angular polygonal shape of games on the N64 make me cringe now, looking back.

Nonplayer is definitely a visual treat, reminiscent of the wonder and splendor of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. This is a living, breathing world–a video game world, no less. It’s liveable; the detail is intricate in a fantastical, almost impossible way. The warm color palette invites you in. It’s not plausible inasmuch as it’s palpable, tangible–like Avatar’s visuals. I can’t say enough about the visuals–they’re worth the price of admission alone.

Nonplayer follows the story of Dana Stevens, a young adult who has dropped out of college, lives with her mom and delivers tamales for a living. Oh, and she plays a ‘full immersion’ MMO called Warriors of Jarvath where she happens to be an elite assassin. The twist? The NPC’s that are killed for quests have started to gain sentience. Like Skyrim’s Radiant AI, but real. The other crucial tidbit: when these NPC’s die, they stay dead.

Wow, a player having to deal with accountability? The possibilities for such a premise are great, though we’ll have to see where Nate Simpson takes it. It’s not a new premise, for sure, but the quality of the writing and the visuals may make it all worthwhile. Right now, with only one issue out, it’s too early to tell. If there’s one thing I hope, though, is that it doesn’t take the approach Battlestar Galactica did, where the humans all have such trouble conceptualizing feelings and emotions of something else simply because it’s not human. The fact that the NPCs are transient like us, however, may mean that the humans do not put up such a strong psychological wall.

Another interesting bit in the comic is the tech. It isn’t touched upon too much on the first issue, though the hardware looks like an ordinary bluetooth headset which is capable of taking you into the game. More than this, there appears to be tech that can transform what you see in the real world into something more interesting–that’s what the picture above is showcasing. Why experience the ‘real’ world, when you’ve got something more intriguing at the touch of a button? This, too, is a thought-provoking premise. We’re mitigating more of our daily lives in the digital realm, parsing high-bandwidth interactions and experiences into low bandwidth ones. Sure, though, the divide between the digital and the ‘real’ is, at the end of the day, political (ie one is not more legitimate than the other). But we’re still not at a point where we can freely admit that as a society, we privilege certain interactions and modes of experiencing life over others. I’m interested in seeing how this society, which already has all the tech in place to ‘fully’ transport us into the digital realm, deals with that reality. Is everyone immersed in that culture? Why or why not? Do they privilege one over the other?

If any of this sounds appealing to you, this online preview may be of interest to you, as might be this interview with Nate Simpson.

Dragon Age 2 Round Up: Changes Keep RPG Alive, ‘Final Verdict’ On Combat/Controls, Morrigan/Flemeth, More

Been too long since we posted something on Dragon Age, hasn’t it? Not enough new information floating around, but I scoured the Dragon Age 2 forums and have come up with a trove of new info on Bioware’s upcoming RPG title. Enjoy, in bulletpoint form.

“Consoles:

  • Press A to perform basic attack.
  • Open radial menu and press A to issue attack order, character will auto-attack.
  • Non-controlled characters will behave based on tactics.

PC:

  • Right click to issue attack order, character will auto-attack.
  • Non-controlled characters will behave based on tactics. “

While it’s a shame that the title will adopt a system akin to Fable’s, I’m glad that I have the option to not button mash to make something happen continuously. I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds button mashing tedious, and the ability to auto attack plus the pausing via the radial menu means the game will retain the necessity for tactics. And speaking of the radial menu and tactics, another tidbit: the radial menu will now has a couple of new tricks up its sleeve meant to increase complexity and strategizing, according to gameplay engineer Seb Hanlon.

“DA2 supports pause’n’play to allow you to carefully consider your positioning, basic attacks, and ability use for all your party members. On the PC, it plays much like Origins, though with faster, more expressive, less hesitant movement and animations, and better hit presentation. On the console, we’ve made it easier to play tactically by improving the radial menu (for example, it no longer automatically closes after issuing a command) and adding the ability to give move-to-point orders to your party members.”

  • There are some incoming changes, UI wise. Like Mass Effect 2, when you look at an equippable item, you will not see hard numbers. Instead, you will see a number of stars denoting its effectiveness relative to your level. Mike Laidlaw describes it as follows:

“The stars offer an at-a-glace indicator of the weapon, armor or item’s usefulness compared to your current level. An item that used to be five stars at level one will slowly drop off to none when you’re in your teens. The goal there is to make it easy to tell what’s above and below the curve for your current character.”

The purpose is to  have “at-a-glance information clear and easily digestible, while having another layer underneath that lets you dig deeper and get neck deep in the statistics,” a philosophy that will be followed by things such as character creation, skill trees, and so on. Fortunately, us stat junkies can still get our fix–you can ‘inspect’ items to see all the hard numbers…but the fact that we have to press an extra button to see the relevant information is a drag: can’t they find a way to relay the information easily without initially hiding it? The answer is simple: the changes that are occurring, aren’t really for me. We already know that the combat changes are meant to attract the Fable/Borderlands crowd (….???), but changes to the UI–such as these, but also the streamlining of companion’s gear (actual “armor” will update on its own, but we can equip other items to them) are meant to bring Dragon Age 2 to a wider target audience. Mike Laidlaw poses the UI changes as follows–though I believe you can probably assume this is the sentiment behind all the aforementioned changes.

“Have you considered that it might, just maybe, help someone who has never played an RPG before understand the concepts of equipment and stats at a high level, and then encourage them to go a little deeper into the stats themselves and maybe start to love a genre for which you apparently have so much passion? That, maybe, just maybe, they might become an RPG fan that helps keep the genre alive, and maybe, just maybe, even more robust than it is today because it’s got a larger fan base than it currently does?”

It’s all to keep the genre alive. It’s dying, don’t you know?

  • Moving on to the narrative side of things. First, let us revisit our my favorite duo, Morrigan and Flemeth. Bioware has said it time and time again, but just in case you weren’t convinced, have Mike Laidlaw state it once again: “The answer’s always the same: “We’re not done with Morrigan’s story.” Of course, what he means by this is still unclear: it may be less of “Morrigan’s story” than it is “Flemeth’s story,” since the two are quite…intertwined. Maybe even the same person, depending on your choices. And, don’t think Bioware has forgotten about your choice regarding the possession of Morrigan. We already know that Flemeth meets Hawke & co before the fall of Lothering, and that she tasks them with a mission–ie, after the warden has met Flemeth, but before Morrigan asks him to slay Flemeth. On the subject, David Gaider says the following: “As to how that ties into what the Warden might or might not have done in DAO regarding Flemeth– well, you’ll just have to see. But we certainly don’t ignore it.” The plot thickens!

And that’s it for today’s roundup.

 

More Borderlands DLC Confirmed

Randy Pitchford said so! His exact words, as told the holy bible Twitter: “I get a LOT of questions about more DLC for Borderlands. Yes, more is coming! T2 already said so! Let’s talk soon :)” Hey used a smiley face so the man is is serious, people.

Prior to this, the General Knoxx Twitter was reactivated stating “tap. tap. is this on? had to turn my tweetergramming machine back on. just got some new orders. (sent from the future.)”

So, Archie, what does it mean?

Blacklight Tango Down Wants You To Be Unique On the Battlefield

Who wants to play Modern Warfare when they can get a taste of Future Warfare? Introducing Blacklight Tango Down, a downloadable FPS title by Zombie Studios which drops on July 7th on both XBL and PSN. It promises the depth and complexity of a 60 dollar title, for just a measly $15 bucks. See the game in action for yourself, here. In that video, you can see the ‘feel’ that Blacklight is trying to go for: futuristic, but grounded in reality. SciFi-ish, but no rayguns or Tesla tech.

A recent developer diary reveals that Blacklight is aiming high with its customization options.

There are a myriad of weapon interchangeable components, which they say are mostly tactical in nature–like sights and magazines. You can, however, unlock more presets, and this eventually enables you to build your own unique weapons. There are 6 core primary weapons times 30 different items, making the combinations on par, if not exceeding, that which Borderlands offers.

It goes beyond simple interchangeable components, though. Blacklight wants you to feel some sort of attachment to your personal guns, and so they’re also including a variety of charms, perks and attributes. Yes, you read that right: charms. Like, you know, cell-phone charms. These things:

Except…for guns. Also, they’re probably not going to be hearts. Each charm has some sort of perk or attribute associated with it, though, so they’re not entirely just for show. There are 25 different attributes to change accuracies, spread, speed, amongst other things. This inclusion was critical, they suggest, because “Weapons are  key component for identity…if someone else picks it up, they’re gonna know  ‘its George, Tom’.” I’m still trying to put together the idea that my gun can have a cute little keychain on it…in the future, warfare is tres chic, obviously.

‘The future of warfare is just around the corner’

Gamer Confession: New IPs Saved Me From Abandoning Games Forever

I really did almost do it. About a year ago, around this time, I had given up. The games of yore, the new and exciting developments, from the mid 80s until sometime during the middle of the last gen…I began to lose interest. Sequel after sequel, shooter after shooter after shooter.

I realize it’s all about the business decision. New franchises get released all the time, sure, but how much are you really going to invest? A sequel that you know if it’s a decent game will generate X million number of copies, let you break even. The chances of some newfangled idea of even breaking even are slim to none. Once in a while something new breaks through….maybe.

But recently, the biggest games? Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Battlefield 2. Gears of War 2. Killzone 2. God of War 3. Halo 3.

You tell me: why should I be interested?

Yeah I got a Wii. I was excited for the possibilities. When I found out the possibilities I was excited about were mostly lame sports or fitness related Nintendo games and most of them looked worse than games on my Gamecube, I dusted the thing off and got rid of it for a 360.

Two months after I got the 360 I wondered why I had wasted a few hundred bucks on a bunch of alright RPGs and another paperweight of a useless system.

….Until I was persuaded to get an XBL Arcade game, Shadow Complex. A dandy of a game, basically mixing Metroid with Metal Gear in a sidescrolling platformer, based largely around getting upgrades. It was pretty awesome. For such a cheap price, I was really amazed and I’ll be honest, knowing how good that game is and it’s replayability? I’d easily pay double whatever amount it was I first paid for it.

About a month later, another gem fell into my lap. Borderlands.

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RAGE (the game)

That’s right kiddies, the repertoire of games of which I write about has grown by one more!

RAGE is an FPS (of course it is) currently in development by id Software, the guys behind Doom and Quake–you’ve heard of those games, right?–will be published by Bethesda, and will use the Tech 5 engine. See the trailer for it here:

So, what’s this game about? A meteor has hit Earth, resulting in a post-apocalyptic setting (of course it does). You play someone who has just been unfrozen from cryogenic sleep, and your main goal is to simply survive in this new, hostile world. Don’t let this fool you, though. It’s not the wastelands that we are so well acquainted with, like Fallout and Borderlands. This game is lush. It’s vivid, it’s colorful. It’s hand crafted, and when I say hand crafted, I mean hand crafted. Every. Single. Thing. No two rocks are the same, you’re not going to be seeing repeats of texture 1, texture 2, texture three. The artists at id Software have individually painted every single thing you see in the game–which explains why the game looks so damn good, visually speaking. Then again, I’m going to assume that the game will be pretty solid otherwise, too, considering the people who are involved with the project. I think we can safely assume that the game will have excellent FPS controls and mechanics. I mean, they…invented the genre. So, gameplay and visuals, check. The story/plot…we won’t know be able to say much on, until the game is tucked into our disc trays.

Yes, there are mutants, there are factions, there’s even some form of “authority” which is questionable at best. Pretty cookie cutter stuff, for a game in this genre. But there’s so much more to it, in a way. It’s just…in the way the world has been crafted. If you took a look at any of the videos that were linked, you’ll notice how much character the people you encounter have. Their personality exudes from their facial expressions and fidelity. And it’s not just an FPS, either–it has many RPG elements, such as side quests, weaponry upgrades, as well as freedom to approach and solve situations as you see fit, looting, blueprinting and building weapons. The folks at id Software promise a multiplayer component, but they’re bullish on revealing what that will be–it’s very likely they haven’t figured it out yet, considering this game won’t release until sometime well into next year.

If there’s one thing I’m particularly unsure about, aside from the story, it’s their decision to give such a huge focus to its racing aspect. I’ve yet to see any game outside of the racing genre that actually gets those mechanics and controls right, and judging from the myriad of videos, RAGE will have a lot of racing/driving in it. After all, your dune buggie is your main means of transportation when out in the wasteland. Still, we’ve all endured the Mako, so it probably won’t be any worse than that!

Brink Pushed Back, Other Details

The Brink Twitter is the bearer of bad news: Brink’s release date has been pushed back to Spring 2011. Initially, I was upset by this announcement, but then I remembered that I probably have way too many games to buy during the fall-time anyway. Still, if this news has broken your heart, fear not: we also have some cool new details regarding Brink which you may find of interest.

As you know, Brink has loose RPG-elements in the same way as Borderlands does, such as gaining XP through the completion of objectives on the objective wheel. These objectives are one the means through which Splash Damage tells Brink’s story without relying too heavily on cutscenes and dialogue–the other being the extremely detailed environment. I expect this experience to be much like Borderlands in this respect, too: there’s definitely a story there, but you can choose to ignore it if you really want to. Ed Stern goes on record and states that the RPG elements in Brink allow players to have a high level of customization for weapons, skills, abilities, and appearances. They included these because they believe that players will have high attachment to their unique characters. He also tells us about an unlockable ability which ‘informs’ you of when someone is aiming at you, and the general direction of that enemy. Sounds lame at first, but then you realize that such an ability would make the game high-tension and that much more interesting when in competitive play.

Back on the subject of completing objectives, Game Informer reports that some of the things that you can use earned experience points is to change classes on the fly, or for turrets to place on the field. Assumably, there will be other interesting options for you to spend your XP in. Lastly, the objective-based system gives players incentives to work as a team–a system which we know, if implemented correctly, has worked wonders for games like Battlefield Bad Company 2.

Stay tuned as we bring you more Brink details!

Taking A Look at Hunted: The Demon Forge

We talk a lot about Gears here, and with good reason: say what you might about the game, but its influence on the industry has been great. Here, too, we see its influence: Hunted has widely been called a dungeon crawler for the Gears of War age. Take a look at this trailer to see what we mean:

Demon Forge is a co-op dungeon crawler with a cover system that makes you take the helm of either its elfin E’lara, who wields a bow, or the tank Caddoc, unsurprisingly adept with a shield and a sword. The game features many puzzles which will take both players to solve, and it promises to deliver a story-driven experience. Enemies and bosses will take both players using their unique attributes and  working cooperatively to defeat them.

You know, I’ve never been a fan of medieval RPGs–often they seem to hit on way too many of the same boring trophes and class systems. But after games like Dragon Age and Oblivion sucked me in so profusely, I’m warming up a bit more to the setting and its nuances. That being said, I’m looking forward to having Demon Forge hands on, and seeing how the dungeon crawler takes its many influences and attempts to modernize them. It was succesful in Borderlands, we’ll see if Demon Forge does the same.

Weekend Note: Uncharted Awe

Things! They happened last week! More things! They are happening right now.

I will don last week as the ‘week of trailers,’ because we posted lots of those in our news items. You see children, the awesome marketing tactic used pre-E3 is to blow your load early so people talk about your products instead of those products getting lost in the mix. If my education is worth anything, I, too will be one of those geniuses that designs those marketing strategies someday.

Next week is E3 and so undoubtedly we will have that much more quips, observations and bitching for you to consume. Who knows what those crazy kids at the big 3 will unveil? To make things interesting, Graham, Schwartz and I will be partaking in a drinking game during the show on Monday. We don’t quite know what the conditions for the game will be just yet, but we will make sure to let you know the results!

In the way of less business-like things, today I plan to sit down and play Metal Gear Solid for the first time…I plan on beating it today, too. I played through the remake on the Gamecube, which I enjoyed at the time but since I was perhaps 11 or 12, do not remember anything about it. I’m told that to like that game is to be sacrilegious or something.

Graham and I are making our way through playthrough 2 of Borderlands, intent on getting the most insane guns we possibly can from the game. Chances are, we’ll run through playthrough 3 to see if we can top what we find on playthrough 2. But aside from that we need to cap our levels to even think about entering the Knoxx DLC, so that requires more than 1 playthrough to achieve.

Also been playing through Persona 3, have made it to somewhere in the 20’s in the Tartarus. To be honest, I don’t know why I like the game–there are many tediums–but I can’t stop playing it. Its like Animal Crossing all over again. Plus I am intent on figuring out whether or not I can romance our party members–if not, why does the game keep giving me hints as to what Mitsuru looks for in a man? Also, why does she look like 27 to everyone else’s 14? Why is Junpei such an idiot? Why do I just stand there when people tell me very personal things? I feel like a heartless brick or something…not that bricks have hearts, but, you know. It’s just he way I stand there looking blankly at them…I weird myself out. But people keep throwing themselves on me and everyone wants to be my friend! What the hell!

I ended up trading in MAG…I just couldn’t enjoy the game. Lots of neat ideas, sure, but it just couldn’t deliver. MAG has very little soul…and less of a lot of other important things, like gameplay. I got Uncharted 2 as well as the Sonic energy drink, which I will write a review of…sometime soon. Anyway, I played through the first couple of hours of Uncharted, and man, I’m just in awe. Not only is the premise fresh and interesting–you’re the supposed descendant of the explorer Sir Francis Drake; a treasure hunter with a shady past looking for the fabled lost ships of Marco Polo. And the production values on this game is just plain insane–it reminds me a lot of Avatar. Avatar presented such a rich, living world–small details like the glow of the flowers at night to the majestic landscape made my imagination run wild with the sheer beauty of what it was witnessing. It’s the same thing with Uncharted, and the narrative benefits all the much more from it. People will tell you that it’s always gameplay over graphics. Rubbish. I want them both. And either way, we’re primarily visual creatures–whats wrong with wanting something that entangles your strongest sense? Still, video games have a long way to go in terms of narrative and storytelling. It’s always a pleasure when you get the best of both worlds, though.

Onwards, to next week!

Character Focus: May’s Feature

PIC UNRELATED

So, here at Nightmare Mode we have something we’d like to call our ‘monthly feature,’ where we pick a subject or theme, and all participating writers and contributors submit an entry. In May, we picked ‘favorite video game character.’  Read on past the jump to see what we wrote about Flint, Prince North, Morrigan and Patricia Tannis!

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