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New Dragon Age 2 Images Tease Relation to Grey Wardens

Released on the Dragon Age Facebook page are images that, while not outright stated to be DLC or a sequel to Dragon Age 2….well, logic would dictate that it would not be presumptuous to assume that these are most likely DLC screenshots.

“We managed to land some high rez images that Mike Laidlaw claims he “found lying around.” Are those griffins?” teases the page.

The griffins, one might recall, are the emblem of the Grey Wardens.  Notice, too, well…the fact that these look like new locations. Thank god. The question, now, then: where shall the DLC take us!?

The other two images after the jump.

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Are Difficulty Settings Necessary?

The pursuit of a challenge can be a driving force in life. The accomplishment of something thought to be unobtainable has a certain allure which some find irresistible. Game designers tend to play off of this concept, creating challenges that seem insurmountable in the context of the game world. Typically there will be an option for the player to affect the likelihood of beating the odds through game difficulty. As a designer, the proper implementation of difficulty, in my opinion, is instituting a learning curve and building from there. Once the player has gleaned the knowledge the game has presented, the designer is free to introduce complex obstacles that utilize this knowledge in varying ways. Approaching the difficulty question from this angle allows designers to create more involving situations during the progression of the game. This concept of “learning in order to succeed” seems to eradicate the necessity of a difficulty option altogether.

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I Don’t Want To Save the World

I don’t want to be the chosen one. I don’t want to get the girl. I don’t want to make kingdoms rise and fall on my whim. I don’t want to dictate who lives and dies. Most of all, I don’t want to save the world.

I want small moments instead; they mean more to me. Getting stood up at dinner. Figuring out how to deal with a student that’s being bullied. Deciding whether or not you’re going to use the swingset or toss a ball with your son. Perhaps, even, dealing with the death of a parent. Hey, that’s an actual game! Well, actually, all of these are. But, we’ll get to this specific game–Winter Voices–a bit later, after I explain my rationale a bit.

Basically, I don’t want games to act as an extension of masturbation. Wish fulfillment. Escapism. ‘Power fantasies‘, as Leigh Alexander would put it. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I want something new, something that challenges the entitlement we experience as players–the power that comes with god-like control. Perhaps then, choice and morality would actually mean something, instead of being just another thing you have have authority over. Perhaps then, relationships with other characters can feel more genuine–they are not simply pawns that we can manipulate how we see fit. Perhaps then, I’d be put in my place–and this could be a valuable experience.

I think back on that now that I’m playing through Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Day 3 happens, and an immortal demon called Beldr arrives and is slated to kill us all at a predetermined time and place. Of course we happen to find the singular item that will slay the supposedly immortal being (not really a spoiler, considering the game takes place over 7 days and so it would follow that you do not die on the 3rd day). My party rejoiced, only to find out there’s three or four other beings like him. Of course, they’re supposed to be crazier and more powerful (than an immortal being?) and  we have to take them out if we want to survive.

No problem. ……right?

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UPDATED David Gaider on Player’s Propensity for ‘Optimum’ Choices in Dragon Age 2


A bit late on the uptake, but I just recently came across a post by David Gaider in which he explains the rationale behind the Dragon Age 2 quest “All that Remains”. Those who have played through the quest know the inevitable outcome: your mother dies. Not just any death, either: a particularly gruesome, unnerving death at the hands of blood magic. The remark by Gaider is as follows;

“The problem wasn’t that “everyone picked to save her”. It was that everyone thought they had to save her, and would reload/re-do the quest until the got the outcome that was perceived as the most optimum– even if the result when Leandra dies is more dramatic and has more of an impact on the larger story.

The quest isn’t about saving her, after all, it’s about putting a more personal face on the darker side of magic and the repercussions it can have on innocents.

If someone doesn’t like it, that’s fine. Up to you. But DLC is created to add content, not to skip it– and, no, there is no material anywhere to make this easy to implement. Dialogue after Act 2 assumes that your mother is dead. Period. Sorry, but that’s simply the way it is.”

All That Remains is one of the few quests whose outcome cannot be influenced and, personally, as someone who ended up having my sibling die on me too, shocked me to the core. I lost everyone, and it was my fault. In that sense, I can recognize that Bioware was effective in their intended outcome: to take away the ability to save everyone as an attempt to elicit a reaction.

It’s something that they’ve been toying with for a while, to be sure–for example, the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 had the possibility of not only losing vital crew members, but also the possibility of Shepard himself dying. The big issue with that was that the way to avoid such a fate is easy to figure out: maintain a good relationship with your party members, make sure to get all their loyalty missions and, pick the roles that made the most sense for them in the final stage.  I ended up saving everyone, and, while I can’t fathom the idea of losing some of my favorite party members, I still recognize that the impact of such a loss would have probably made the game more memorable.

You can’t have it all. You can’t always get that optimum outcome, even if everything suggests that you might. Shit happens.

Still, this brings up some interesting things to reflect on. There is definitely an ‘optimum’ mindset that frames the way gamers play games. In a way, it makes sense: why would you try to get the “bad” outcome when you can get the “good” one? Or are people willing to take the “bad” outcomes if it means that it will result in a more intriguing premise?

Update: seems I missed this earlier post by Mary Kirby, where she lists alternatives that they considered earlier in the development of this quest.

    • Sacrifice a follower. Your romance, if you had one. Or whoever had the most frienship.
    • Make the player become a serial killer. You’d have to murder a number of innocent and sympathetic characters in order to restore your mother to life.
  • Let Merrill sustain the spell (possibly costing her attribute points) and keep Leandra in her horrible patchwork zombie state in a back room of your mansion. “

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.

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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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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Thoughts: Dragon Age 2 Demo

We’ve written so fucking much about Dragon Age 2 that those links? They are only some of our…ahem…extensive coverage of the game. Of course, we did all that without the game actually existing in a playable state.

Well, that was then, and now we have a demo.

I’ve mused in the past that we didn’t have to worry about the story, because Bioware always comes through, but the gameplay looked worrisome, to say the least. Turns out I was half right.
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A New Trend in Pre-order Incentives

EA has been an interesting case when it comes to game marketing over the past year or so. Both of the BioWare games, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, completed under EA ownership, have come with the incentive to buy the game new with day one DLC in the case of DA and the ‘Cerberus Network’ updates in the case of ME2. EA has also been doing something similar with its numerous sports properties with its one-time activation code to use online multi-player features. These experiments have clearly been about mitigated used game sales, but what about pre-order strategy? Read the rest of this entry