The Sunday Papers


The Sunday Papers is a collection of internet links that, when clicked, may take you to sites other than Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Do not be alarmed. Sunday is a day for tourism to other, lesser sites, where you can read the work of intelligent, occasionally frightening, people from all around the internet. It’s okay, just sit down and try a few. Take your time. It’s all going to be just fine.

  • Thing of the week has to be Ryan Henson Creighton of Untold Entertainment accounting how he games the “No F@%$ucking Respect! Social Game Developers Rant Back” session at GDC last week. It’s quite the read. The panel had set up a social game which was to be played out by the attendees, allowing someone to do a guest rant. And Ryan did a naughty: “And here, through the uncharacteristic use of cunning and deceit, i had snatched the entire bag of plastic coins that GDC’s social games industry powerhouses needed to run their social game. i tried to judge how best to cram the coins into my body cavity to hide them, and decided instead to furtively stuff the bag into my backpack before giddily awaiting the coming storm.” Now that’s someone who had a memorable GDC.
  • Miss Anthropy celebrates the ladies of Dragon Age over on Pop Matters. “I’m not very traditionally girly, and I like it when a video game character is able to communicate that mixture of gendered ideals without becoming a caricature. I found that in Dragon Age.”
  • Playing videogames with parents is good for the mental health of adolescent girls. “Researchers from BYU’s School of Family Life in Provo, Utah, found that girls who played age-appropriate video games with a parent felt more connected to their families, had fewer mental health issues and fewer problems with aggressive behavior.”
  • Speaking of gaming with the younglings, Mathew Stone takes some time to do a big text sigh about the sorry state of children’s games. Ironic really. “What do you think of when somebody says children’s book? Maurice Sendak, J. M. Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, A. A. Milne, C. S. Lewis… the list goes on. There are so many amazing, spectacularly creative, really important children’s books out there. So where are the children’s games? Well?”
  • BrainyGamer’s Michael Abbott talks about “The Rollercoaster Bias” in David Cage’s work. Another GDC inspired piece, of course.
  • And I only caught the first part of Clint Hocking’s “State of the Art” GDC presentation on “How Do Games Mean” type theories, but it was building up to be a corker. I look forward to seeing it all. As a placebo, it’s worth browsing his Convergence Culture posts, and his blog generally.
  • Here’s an interview with clever and tall game design experimenter Jason Rohrer, focusing on his peculiar multi-tiered shooter, In A Star-Filled Sky. “Developing this game gave me this whole newfound appreciation for what i had always passed off as pointless… player punishment and repetition for the sake of making the player do stuff over and over.”
  • Eurogamer talk to Bioware’s Mark Mike Laidlaw about Dragon Age II: “There’s this strange perception that because the combat is faster – characters leaping into place or charging forward – it’s an inherently console thing. We designed that because we thought that the ability to whirl around and snap off a fireball at a guy who’s charging you, rather than shuffling in and launching it usually a couple of feet behind him, created a much stronger sense of responsiveness. To me that benefits the PC players and the console players.”
  • This BLDGBLOG interview with author China Mieville is top notch: “I’m always much happier talking in terms of metaphor, because it seems that metaphor is intrinsically more unstable. A metaphor fractures and kicks off more metaphors, which kick off more metaphors, and so on. In any fiction or art at all, but particularly in fantastic or imaginative work, there will inevitably be ramifications, amplifications, resonances, ideas, and riffs that throw out these other ideas. These may well be deliberate; you may well be deliberately trying to think about issues of crime and punishment, for example, or borders, or memory, or whatever it might be. Sometimes they won’t be deliberate.”

Music? Oh go on then, I suppose we could link to Minecraft – Volume Alpha.

More soon!

212 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    Re Matthew Stone piece: “but Minecraft isn’t important. At least, not in the same way that, say, Peter Pan is. Minecraft isn’t a timeless classic. It’s just lego blocks.”

    My playing with LEGO blocks when I was a kid had a more profound impact, and was without doubt more important to me than Peter Pan ever was. Even though I loved it. I still occasionally hum to myself Never Smile at a Crocodile or Following the Leader.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    Oops, double post. Sorry.

  3. Cinnamon says:

    I don’t think that Bioware are stripping the strategy and depth out of their games because of consoles. It’s because they don’t have any faith in their user base and because they have shifted their focus so far away from gameplay that they are totally disconnected from what is good or bad. Deciding that the PC version of a game must be adjusted downwards to be similar to a console version is just another symptom of that, not the cause.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      DA:O was naff and ME1 had some glaring issues, but what makes you say they’ve “shifted their focus so far away from gameplay that they are totally disconnected from what is good or bad?” They make RPGs; plot and character are more important than gameplay.

      Their shortcoming is that they fail to deliver on either of those (by constantly rehashing the same plot structure, the same primary school morality and the same character archetypes), not that they’re incapable of building game systems (DA:O’s combat, while it broke above level 12, was perfectly serviceable until then, and ME2’s got perfectly good 3PS combat).

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      I think its a lot like television and film really, content creation costs a lot of money so the lowest common denominator is aimed for. Although in the case of Reality its cheap and aimed at the lowest common denominator. Also the “broad appeal” entertainment pieces are often given the largest marketing budget leading to confirmation bias.

      However if you offer people stuff that isn’t dumbed down rubbish, the best recent example is probably Inception, the general public will likely enjoy that too. I mean heck, even with Dragon Age it was Bioware’s best selling game even with the isometric view and so on that Bioware PR tell us caused console players to struggle. Bioware have decided console players are thickies so they and PC gamers get stuff dumbed down.

      It would seem they think everyone who buys their games are too thick to notice absurdly overly reused assets though so console gamers alone shouldn’t be offended.

      Still, critic’s reviews for the PC version of Dragon Age 2 have been positively glowing, perhaps the gaming public are unable to grasp the brilliance that better minds can perceive.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Dragon Age: Origins had some problems but it also had some encounters where the gameplay really worked well and it redeemed itself. But it didn’t really capture all the of the gameplay of the Baldur’s Gate games, never mind improving on it, which is something that we should be able to realistically hope for.

      As for stories and characters, I can get them anywhere.

    • Unaco says:

      “They make RPGs; plot and character are more important than gameplay.”

      No. No… really, they are not.

    • Serenegoose says:

      In all of my playings of RPGs I have never encountered combat I enjoyed. Not once. Dragon Age 2’s is the most tolerable that I have encountered, however.

    • Cinnamon says:

      @Serenegoose. Enjoy your game then. I’m sure that the gamplay team at Bioware will be thrilled to hear that they have made a game that people who don’t like RPGs find barely tolerable.

    • karry says:

      >In all of my playings of RPGs I have never encountered combat I enjoyed.

      Temple of Elemental Evil…no ? Doesnt touch your heart strings ?

    • Uthred says:

      “They make RPGs; plot and character are more important than gameplay.”

      Yeah, its not as if roleplaying GAMES could possibly require a solid gameplay component.

    • Serenegoose says:

      @Cinnamon. I love RPGs. I’ve spent longer playing RPGs than I’ve any other genre of game (possible exception of RTS but doubtful.) so your statement is hasty and inaccurate. I just play them for the dialogue, plot forks, and characters. I struggle my way through the combat to access the elements I enjoy considerably.

      You have to understand, I’m not calling out for the death knell of RPG combat that I hate. I dig that a lot of people like it. I’m simply offering my opinion that I, as an individual, didn’t actively hate the combat in DA2.

      @Karry. Actually, ToEE is one of the few RPGs I’ve not played, but I thought it was a very straight DnD ruleset? If I didn’t enjoy combat in Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights, what’re my odds like?

    • Navagon says:

      @ Alexander Norris
      The gameplay in RPGs may be different in nature, but it is still very much integral to the overall experience. Perhaps you’re confusing combat mechanics with gameplay?

    • karry says:

      >If I didn’t enjoy combat in Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights, what’re my odds like?
      Pretty high, i’d say, as long as you are able to understand that BG and NWN are Bioware.
      Its very inconsistent that you say you love RPGs, and then in the same breath say that not only you havent played ToEE, but even comparing it with NWN in combat department. You’d have to had read at least one review, i;d think. I mean, on one hand we have completely worthless real-time with a single controllable character, and on the other is a turn based highly tactical party combat with initiative and zones of control. Hmm, what are the chances that it will be the same kind of game as NWN ?

    • Cinnamon says:

      @Serenegoose. I know better than to question anybodies right to be able to define what is a “real RPG.” I was making a joke about how you apparently keep on playing them despite apparently hating most of the time you spend with them to the point where a tolerable title is something to be defended. I’m not like that, If it doesn’t look good to me then I’ll probably just move on.

    • Serenegoose says:

      @Karry: I’m not going to get into a discussion on my RPG fan credentials, however, I first encountered the game bundled with NWN and all the reviews I read of it ended with a fairly mediocre scoreline. Correspondingly, I never particularly investigated it.

      @Cinnamon: I see. A fair point, yes. I’d likely not bother with conventional RPGs if I felt that other genres even began to encapsulate what I want in regards to conversation and characters and epic quests and so on.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Alexander Norris: You couldn’t possibly be further from the truth. RPGs are about the gameplay, not the story, characters and dialogue. Without mechanics that use character statistics a game is not an RPG. An RPG can have no real story, no actual dialogue and no accompanying characters while still being an RPG. Just check out RPGs before Fallout. Or are you one of those people who think RPGs started with Fallout in 1997?

      @Serenegoose: So someone has mentioned Temple of Elemental Evil, and you said it was one of the few RPGs that you haven’t played. That’s completely understandable because no one has played every RPG in existence. However, surely you must have enjoyed the combat system in the Gold Box engine games such as in Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, Champions of Krynn, Death Knights of Krynn or Gateway to the Savage Frontier? How about the combat systems in the last three Wizardry games, Bane of the Cosmic Forge, Crusaders of the Dark Savant and Wizardry 8? Was there anything too bad about the combat is Dark Sun: Shattered Lands? How about the tactical depth of games such as Wizard’s Crown and The Eternal Dagger? You really prefer Dragon Age 2’s combat over the combat in these games? Seriously?

    • bill says:

      I’m with Alexander and Serenwgoose. Combat isn’t the most important point of most RPGs, and it usually just gets in the way, or acts as time consuming repetitive filler. (for me at least)

      Can’t say i’ve ever played an RPG where i found the combat anything other than an obstacle to the real game. I guess first person RPGs like Bloodlines can get away with it, as the combat tends to be much shorter. But every bioware RPG i’ve played (haven’t played mass effect 2 or dragon age) has had horrible combat. Even great RPGs get bogged down by “kill another cliffracer/radscorpions/skeleton/slime/whatever” battles.

      But it’s not only that, the constant focus on combat really limits the artform. Imagine if fantasy novels were all combat, you couldn’t get intriguing situations like in Ice and Fire. Even the archetypal tolkien books hardly focused on combat, and actually featured very little of it when it happened. A LOTR where they stopped to fight a party of orcs every 20 meters would have been dull. And it limits the whole story by the way it frames it and breaks it up.

      It’s been interesting reading the Cardboard Children series, that the things that get most people excited aren’t COMBAT(!) but the ability to double cross, negotiate, team up, trick and generally interact with the world and other players. On the whole, pure combat board games are pretty dull. And if you think about the things you remember from your favorite RPGs, i’d bet it’s not the combat. It’s Jeanette Voerman or HK-47 or a dramatic plot twist. At least it is for me.

      Anyway, this is a long roundabout way of saying i haven’t played DA2, but the fact they’ve gone for a non-standard story, with no BIG BAD and no SAVE THE WORLD and no trekking across the land to find powerful artifacts, but instead a human story with moral grey areas and an unusual (for video games) narrative structure is more interesting to me than the combat. The new combat may well be crap, but RPG combat is always crap, so it doesn’t make a difference. But it’d be a shame if a (potentially) inovative take on the RPG failed because people wanted more standard combat. That just means we’ll get cookie cutter “save the world” quests for ever…

    • Uthred says:

      “Anyway, this is a long roundabout way of saying i haven’t played DA2, but the fact they’ve gone for a non-standard story, with no BIG BAD and no SAVE THE WORLD…”

      Yeah…prepare to be disappointed as the game features both those things

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I think we have two fundamentally different audiences here: those who enjoyed classic, open-world RPGs like Darklands (which had literally no story until you stumbled upon the endgame) or Daggerfall or Realms of Arkania, and those who basically want a good linear story.

      It’s hard to please both in a single game, and BioWare is catering solely to the latter.

    • Betamax says:

      I’ve seen reviewers and others lament DA2 trying to please everyone, usually in regards to some console/PC divide which is quite possibly not even there in the first place, and the game suffering for it. The way I see it they DO have a focus – the storytelling and characters, just as with most of their games. It’s never going to be to everyones tastes, if Bioware was truly to try to ‘dumb down’ or please everyone (etc etc etc) we would be seeing very different games being produced by them. All I see is another of their games that experiments with combat gameplay a bit, and I’m finding plenty to love in there to go with the expected splashings of ideas that don’t work as well as they should.

      Some of the exaggeration in regards to DA2 (in both directions, but especially negative) is quite staggering in my opininion.

    • Wulf says:

      “No. No… really, they are not.”

      I completely disagree, vehemently so, in fact, passionately so. Let’s not mix first person shooters, number crunching/tactical strategy games, or theatrical third person action games up with role playing games. Because what you’re saying is that the story, setting, choices, and/or characters of Planescape: Torment, Anachronox, Morrowind, the Fallout series, Mask of the Betrayer, Alpha Protocol, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, and so on were less important than the gameplay?

      I’m sorry but that’s clearly not true. In the greatest role playing games (which should not be mixed up with other genres), the characters, setting, choices, and story are undeniably more important than the gameplay. To me, that’s why the Dragon Age franchise is failing. The gameplay mechanics of both the original and II (II essentially being like Mass Effect 2) work well enough, but the story, setting, choices, and characters are… well… Mr. Norris covered it best.

      The greatest RPGs we remember we do so because of the choices we made and how the story affected us. We don’t remember them because of that phat sword of +3 somethingorother I got from that daemon. At least I don’t, anyway.

      I think the problem is the confusion of genres that’s going on. The RPG has become diluted into so many other genres that people forget what originally made it important.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Wulf: See, you just named a bunch of “story focused RPGs” with many of them being action RPGs, one being effectively a JRPG, and Planescape: Torment almost being an adventure game in many ways. Fallout and Morrowind don’t even really fit with the rest of your list.

      You definitely do not speak for everyone when saying that the most memorable part of an RPG is its story. There are hundreds of RPGs with fuck all story. Is the Might & Magic series great because of its story? How about the Realms of Arkania games? Gold Box games? You ignore so many classic RPGs and focus on the ones perched right on the edge of the genre.

      There’s a reason why Pool of Radiance is a far better RPG than Dragon Age 2 even though it has a shitty story and fuck all characters. It’s because of superior RPG mechanics.

    • Bilbo says:

      They changed the camera, and they took away friendly fire damage because pretty much everything in the game – even melee attacks – now causes area of effect damage. It isn’t “stripping out depth and strategy”, it’s forward design momentum. I’m pretty pissed off that it’s garnered this response from “RPG purists”

    • Vinraith says:

      @Wizardry
      Not to mention your namesake. I agree wholeheartedly, great mechanics and a diversity of choice make an RPG for me. Story and characters are a bonus, not a necessity. My favorite RPG of all time is Morrowind, which basically had neither.

    • Wulf says:

      I’d like to build on what I said too. I’m going to use another comment for it though because I don’t want it all to get mushed together… I hope that’s okay.

      Anyway, the problem with Bioware games for me, personally, is exactly the same as Mr. Norris described. They’re primary school stuff, Saturday morning cartoon moral absolutes of black & white, good or evil. It’s like BioShock’s choices (which Yahtzee explained the problems with beautifully, look up his BioShock review). You can either be the Shining Knight, or the Evil Felon. That’s what I get from Bioware, too.

      But here’s an example of an RPG doing it right – The Vault 34 Choice. And I will keep championing this as one of the greatest moments of RPG history. I’m going to talk about that, now, and you can check out this wiki entry to see that I’m not making this up.

      Okay, so, I’m following a mission that takes me to Vault 34. Things are going as usual, and I know my task, I’m to shut down the vault generator so that the wasteland will have workable food for years to come. Even if we go independent, that’ll mean food for everyone in the Mojave. Why shut down the vault generator? It’s leaking radiation that will eventually damage the land where the sharecropper farms are and the only way to save the farms is to shut down the generator.

      So, I get to the generator controls, and I find a message. There are families trapped down there – alone and with minimal power. Men, women, children… barely enough food to survive, and there they are, begging me with a message. If I see that message, to help them, they plead. And what must I do? My choice is to reroute power to them, so that they will be able to increase their quality of life until eventually they find a way to free themselves from the lower vault levels. And if I don’t? If I shut down the generator? What little power they have is gone. I damn them – to die alone, cold, and afraid, in the dark.

      How the hell do you choose a scenario there? I either possibly doom the wasteland to starvation, or I help out this suffering group of people. It’s a lose-lose scenario for me, because I’m there, I need to push that switch. I have to make that choice. I decide who lives and who dies, and these people are all innocents, folks who haven’t done any harm to anyone. And it’s my choice. I’m judge, jury, and executioner. I have to weigh up the potential lives of the many, against the actual lives of the families right here, right now. And then I must choose.

      I couldn’t choose. Not immediately anyway. I pulled away from the game. I task-switched away, I did stuff, I span in my chair and thought about it. I went to do some things around the house, and I kept putting it off. That console was always there starinig at me though, waiting when I came back, teasing me with its choice. And how do I choose? What’s the most ethical thing do, here? Whatever I choose, am I not a monster for doing so? Should I just walk away? Should I leave the choice to someone else? But then… that might go bad both ways, the families might still die and the sharecropper farms might still be irradiated. No, I had to make a choice.

      And I’m still not comfortable with the choice I made, and no, I’m not telling you of the choice I made. That choice actually kept me awake for the first night after I made it as I couldn’t stop thinking about it and questioning myself as to whether I’d done the right thing. I was treating this story like reality.

      There you go.

      That’s the power an RPG can have, that’s the power a good RPG can have over you, and that’s exactly hte sort of magic that Bioware games lack. The only Bioware game I’ve ever really liked is ME2, but that’s only because Morden’s choice came damn close to the sort of scenario that was presented to me by the Vault 34 question. But in all Bioware games, that was the only instance I’d seen of that. Whereas Obsidian games have tasked me with similar things in the past, it’s common ground for them to do so, and the Vault 34 Choice was just the latest of many. In fact, the Vault 34 Choice was just the most prominent choice within New Vegas. There were others.

      But even Morden’s choice paled by comparison, because there were obviously ‘good’ and ‘bad’ answers, and Bioware intended it that way by giving you ‘good’ or ‘bad’ karma depending on what you chose, and that lessened it. By forcing their moral absolutes, Bioware actually makes their own games far more shallow. And that’s a shame.

      But again, yeah, the Morden thing was one area where Bioware surprised me, but it was still down to moral absolutes, and the rest of ME2 was very much par the course. Bioware games just don’t present me with scenarios where I have to stop and think about my words or my actions like other RPGs do. And I think that’s more important than how the gameplay mechanics or the combat works out. I think that my actions and my words should be incredibly important, and should impact the reality of that world in a way that isn’t morally black and white.

    • Wulf says:

      @Wizardry

      I just made a case that shows that Fallout does belong in my list.

      I think you might just not have understood the point I was trying to make. Perhaps the above addition will help you with that.

      Sorry about that.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Wulf: That’s fantastic. I’m very pleased for you. However, that seems like merely a player choice. In other words, that’s nothing to do with an RPG. I’m not saying it doesn’t enhance an RPG or shouldn’t be in an RPG. Far from it. But you could create a morally grey choose your own adventure book or text adventure with choices such as that and it wouldn’t be an RPG.

      Are there any skill checks that restrict which options your character can make during that decision? This is not a rhetorical question because I haven’t come across that mission. If there are skill checks that force certain character types down a particular route or that allow only characters with certain traits and level of ability to make the full range of choices then that is good for a role playing game because it is MECHANICALLY SOUND.

    • Chris D says:

      Guys, the what is an RPG? article was last week.
      Not that we can’t talk about it again, but it would be nice if we could at least move the conversation on a little rather than rehashing the same old ground.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Dragon Age did have some morally grey choices and actually marked a departure for Bioware where they previously had a strict, no shades of grey, cowboys with white hats and black hats policy. But that is only one element of the genre, and I actually think that it is a huge shame that it has been so overemphasised just because it is more fun to talk about on the internet. In the end there is only so much mileage that the genre can get from these choices before they start to look like a fad that people tire of like funny inventory puzzles in adventure games, although I do miss those, a lot. Combat gameplay has always been the focus of the rules of the games and it does have legs.

    • Lambchops says:

      @ Wizardy

      I don’t really want to get to drawn into this but surely player choice is actually valid as a mechanic as long as it has visible in game consequence (as opposed to simply causing a moral struggle within the player outside of the game). I fail to see how, for the sake of an arbitary example, choosing to execute someone’s brother meaning they wont join you party later as any less valid as a role playing mechanic as them not joining your party because you failed a persuasion check because of your characters stats. Both of these are directly as a result of role playing surely – just in one case it’s tied to stats and in the other to choice.

      Which you like best is a different kettle of fish and entirely down to personal preference. In fact it’s not even beyond the realms of possibility to really like both!

      However I’m not convinced by the argument that conversational choice isn’t mechanically sound. Not to say that it isn’t sometimes enhanced by more RPG traits (see the importance of the intelligence stat to conversation in Planescape).

    • Wizardry says:

      @Lambchops: You bring up a very interesting topic, actually. The thing is, consequences to your actions should be felt mechanically. If, as was your example, you lose a potential party member then I would argue that this is a valid consequence because you are missing out on the possible benefits that the party member would bring, especially if said party member happens to be a specialist in a certain area (say, a bomb disposal expert with higher bomb disposal skills than any other possible party member). Another example of a good consequence would be rising prices of steel in all shops due to you blowing up the local mine. Money is the mechanic here. However, if a consequence is flavour text or a different ending slide then I would argue that this is not a good consequence in terms of an RPG because there is no benefit, other than the possibility of stirring up emotions inside the player. Your character in the game does not suffer or is not tested as a result of the outcome.

      And now for the important point. Ideally, possible decisions or choices should be dependent on the statistics, ability and traits of your character or party. Blowing up a town could allow for a huge “mechanical” consequence in that factions might turn on you, others may like you, prices might soar up and certain technology such as transportation may be lost. If the choice to blow up the town can only be made if you have a party member with a high enough demolition skill then you experience the most significant feeling from playing an RPG. That is, you feel rewarded for choosing to make your character in the particular way. A valid alternative is to add another path to complete the quest in the same way, but with a much more significant cost. For example, you could pay a huge amount of money to some shady high-tech criminal gang to bomb the town for you.

      Now, the benefit of combining both statistics based choices with these actual consequences that affect your character mechanically is simply the character development opportunities. You are presented with options filtered out based on the abilities of your characters and are rewarded and further challenged as a result. There’s a constant loop here that should ideally last right up until the end of the game. Everything your character has done throughout the game should affect the ability of your character to jump the final hurdle in a particular way. A bunch of free player choices that ignore the player’s character that result in flavour text or a slightly different story is more of a choose-your-own-adventure game than a computer RPG.

    • Lambchops says:

      @ Wizardry

      I think you’re quite right with that. having the ability to make some choices tied into stats does work well and feel rather rewarding. I guess the trick is not telegraphing the situations too transparantly or then it could become a sense of frustration. One game that seemed to do this effectively recently (without replaying it I’ll never know how effectively and I’m not really inclined to at the moment!) was Alpha Protocol (possible spoilers ahead but I hsall try to be a bit vague). I remember one scenario in the game which seemed to be turning into one of those generic “who shall you save” type moments but thanks to having a high level of skill in a certain area I was able to cirumvent it and save both.I was rewarded for my choice and it was a pleasing moment. Clearly there were probably areas in the game where I missed out on more favourable outcomes because I wasn’t skilled in a certain area but because you just don’t see the option you don’t know about it and thus don’t feel punished for not choosing the correct skills for the scenario as you never knew the scenario even existed and thus just went about your business and got forced to face up to negative outcomes. Which is another plus as it forces you to face adversity instead of “gaming” everything into the most pleasing outcome (see Mass Effect 2).

      So there’s another thing to add to my retrospective list of things that Alpha Protocol did rather nicely. Which makes it even more a shame that despite its wonderful ideas the core game element of it just didn’t satisfy to the point that I don’t really feel like playing it again.

      Anyway, I feel I’m veering miles off topic here; but the meachanics choice and consequence in games is something I find interesting as I think it has yet to have been used to its full potential.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Lambchops: Precisely. Getting it right makes the game flow nicely. You play as your character with all their knowledge, expectations and skills. You end up making choices to fit that character and to shape it further in the direction you want to head in. You, as a player, aren’t forced to make constant moral choices again and again with no influence from your character and no outcome that affects your character.

      And now that you’ve said that, I can go back to my first reply about story and characters being secondary to game mechanics in an RPG. Simply put, most pre-Fallout RPGs (with exceptions), with very light stories and no real dialogue, have proper choices and consequences tied directly to the game mechanics. The issue here is that people are blind to it because they expect choices and consequences to relate to the story and plot of the game.

      Take a well known game such as Ultima IV. Let’s say that you are in the village of Paws and need to get up to Minoc but do not have a boat. You have many options available to you.

      1) You can patrol the coast until a pirate ship arrives, then attack the pirates and board it, before sailing around the coast to Minoc. The ability to do this depends on your current food supplies, state of your party members and amount of magic spells that you have prepared. This might take a long time, drain your food and result in significant loss of health for your characters through battles with orcs around the area. However, you will end up with a ship that you can use throughout the game. However, if you already have a ship but left it at Moonglow, the benefit of gaining another ship might not be too appealing.

      2) You can buy horses for your characters at Paws and ride up to Minoc speedily, outrunning the dangerous enemies on the way. This option is, of course, open to you only if you have the money to spare. The negative outcome is that you lose the money and the positive is that you gain the horses. Again, whether you already have horses waiting at another town or village may play a part in your decision to pursue this option.

      3) You can steal horses from Paws, requiring you to pick the lock to the fields (requiring a lock-pick) and kill a rampaging bull, reducing your honour, justice and compassion scores. You can then ride out of town past the guards and continue onwards to Minoc. You’ve saved money and gained the horses.

      4) You can travel by foot down to Trinsic and use the Moongate nearby to travel to Minoc. However, you need to know the correct phase of the moon which will lead you to Minoc. If the Trinsic gate doesn’t open during a full moon, you may have to jump through the gate to an intermediate location in order to get to Minoc on a multi-stage Moongate journey. It’s safe and it is quick but it requires knowledge of the Moongates and the phases of the twin moons to operate.

      5) You can just walk there, killing enemies on the way, gaining experience and gold while losing health, spells, mana, food and time. You also have to weigh up the risk of you getting lost.

      It’s not the best example because the game is from 1985 after all. However, my point is that story and characters are not needed to allow for choices and consequences to play a significant and memorable part in a game. What’s needed is mechanical cohesion. Where a change to one statistic or variable could have knock on effects for other statistics or variables.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Wulf: How about the choice in ME2 detailed in this video (too lazy to do it meself):

      link to escapistmagazine.com

      Honestly I was surprised you weren’t more impressed by that one. The rights of synthetic sentient life, that’s a fun philosophical area, surely. Along with the regular question of whether it’s preferable to live as a slave or to die free. It’s significantly more sophisticated than vault 34 as it’s more than a simple retread of kantian/utilitarian creed.

      Also, I think you’re mugging yourself if you attribute paragon and renegade to good and evil, because that’s clearly not the way they’re intended or distributed. But no-one gets that! Not even the video I’ve linked to get that. They assume that one must be good and one must be evil, then complain, as you have done, when the game does not distribute them in that fashion. It’s incredible.

      P.S: My favourite vault was 11. Very cleverly made quest.
      P.P.S: How about that bit in DAO where a child was possessed and you could either kill him or sacrifice his mother and use her blood to exorcise the demon?
      P.P.P.S: The fate of the rachni in ME1 was an interesting one too. Subverts the standard horde-of-evil-aliens-that-must-be-put-down trope by asking if evil is intrinsic or if things be different if they were given a fresh start. Also asks how much should we/can we afford to tolerate people’s natures. Where is the line of acceptable behaviour, and what is an appropriate reaction when it is crossed? The whole salarian/krogan chemical sterilisation also deals with the same area. Can be enjoyed as speculative fiction but also it’s not hard to draw parallels to humanity there. I dunno. This is surprisingly sophisticated stuff. Far more sophisticated, as I’ve said, than rights of the few vs. good of the many.

    • Wizardry says:

      @ Lilliput King: Seriously? The Ultima IV (1985) character creator is more morally ambiguous than those choices.

    • Chris D says:

      Wizardry

      Ok, now you’re just trolling. Please enlighten us as to the entirely unambiguous morally correct solutions. Surely we will be better people for basking in your wisdom.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Wizardry: Not really sure how to respond to that. If there’s an obvious solution to any of the problems I’ve given, tell me. Otherwise, please continue to define RPGs for the next 12 hours. Don’t forget to make extensive reference to Ultima IV (1985).

    • Cinnamon says:

      After 20 years thou hast found the slayer of thy best friends. The villain proves to be a man who provides the sole support for a young girl. Dost thou:
      Spare him in Compassion for the girl, or
      Slay him in the name of Justice?

      RPG players today would create a character and then think that game was over, thanking the developers for removing all of the filler combat.

    • Kadayi says:

      “Without mechanics that use character statistics a game is not an RPG.”

      All games use statistics (overtly and covertly). Therefore are all games RPGs? If not what distinguishes the RPGs from the non RPGs?

    • Wizardry says:

      @Chris D: Some others…

      Entrusted to deliver an uncounted purse of gold, thou dost meet a poor beggar. Dost thou deliver the gold knowing the trust in thee was well-placed; or show compassion, giving the beggar a coin, knowing it won’t be missed?

      Thy friend seeks admittance to thy spiritual order. Thou art asked to vouch for his purity of spirit, of which thou art unsure. Dost thou honestly express thy doubt; or vouch for him, hoping for his spiritual improvement?

      Thee and thy friends have been routed and ordered to retreat. In defiance of thy orders, dost thou stop in compassion to aid a wounded companion; or sacrifice thyself to slow the pursuing enemy, so others can escape?

      During a pitched battle, thou dost see a fellow desert his post, endangering many. As he flees, he is set upon by several enemies. Dost thou justly let him fight alone; or risk sacrificing thine own life to aid him?

      Thou art an elderly, wealthy eccentric. Thy end is near. Dost thou donate all thy wealth to feed hundreds of starving children, and receive public adulation; or humbly live out thy life, willing thy fortune to thy heirs?

      Thou hast spent thy life in charitable and righteous work. Thine uncle the innkeeper lies ill and asks you to take over his tavern. Dost thou sacrifice thy life of purity to aid thy kin; or decline & follow thy spirit’s call?

      A merchant owes thy friend money, now long past due. Thou dost see the same merchant drop a purse of gold. Dost thou honestly return the purse intact; or justly give thy friend a portion of the gold first?

      Character creation.

    • Chris D says:

      Fortunately I find myself in the happy position of, if I like one thing, not having to declare that anything that is not that thing to be utter shit.

      Yeah, those are quite good though not necessarily better than Lilliput King’s examples. But even if they were the pinnacle of human ethical development that would still not affect the worth of anything else one way or another.

      Personally I will always remember in Dragon age how I had my childhood friend executed and how that still seemed like the best available option.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I was going to make a point about adventure games, but I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m unaware of any pure adventure games that present you with serious decisions to make. I’m probably forgetting something. (Heavy Rain, maybe? I’ve never played it.)

      Nonetheless, that’s clearly where the BioWare-style “RPG” genre is heading, particularly with Mass Effect 2: they’re much better described as action adventures. And that’s fine – I can see a future in ~5 years time where BioWare has firmly established a distinctly new genre that’s focused on interactive storytelling, discarding all the unnecessary cruft that an RPG implies and truly advancing the medium as, dare I hope, an artform.

      And maybe someone else will come along and make the kind of games us sad old geezers long for. Wizardry’s post about the journey to Minoc captured that spirit nicely. Creating your own goals, or having a goal and deciding how best to achieve it (not picking from a preset list) – that’s what I miss in games.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Wizardry: That Ultima IV (1985) has an inarguably awesome character creation system doesn’t actually answer Chris’ question.

      Also, awesome as it is, those questions aren’t really on the same level as the stuff I was talking about. The entire question could be replaced with “Do you value X over Y?” where, for example, X is law and Y is conscience, and be no less meaningful, which isn’t really the case for my examples.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Lilliput King: I understand where you are coming from, but my examples are practically the same as yours. It doesn’t just boil down to “lawful vs good” to create a grey decision. I mean, taking each of Ultima’s eight virtues, which of them are actually law to begin with? Justice is the only one that can be seen as being equal to what’s lawful. If that’s the case, only those questions that pit justice up against the seven other virtues become a case of what’s lawful and what is right.

      What I was trying to point out with my Ultima IV character creation example was how little games have actually moved on since then in terms of moral decision making. BioWare stuck to good vs evil (two poles on a single axis) right up until Mass Effect, where they switched to paragon vs renegade. I won’t try to argue that paragon and renegade are merely different names for good and evil, but it’s just replacing one axis with another axis. At least the Age of Enlightenment trilogy (Ultima IV, V and VI) had a far more advanced set of virtues. Honesty, compassion, valour, honour, justice, sacrifice, spirituality and humility. The last five effectively being permutations of the first three. It was multi-faceted. It wasn’t a single scale. It meant that you had to think about what you consider to be good, and about the breakdown of what good actually is. Helping an old woman across the road isn’t the same as fighting to the death for your friend.

      Anyway. None of that really matters when you consider (read) my first three or so replies to the original comment, because I’ve said time and time again that random moral decisions thrown at the player without the player’s character playing a part in which decisions you are capable of making does not make an RPG.

      EDIT: Actually, the open palm vs closed fist thing came before paragon and renegade, but it’s the same issue at hand.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Wizardry: Yeah, I actually found your posts to be very convincing. I liked the idea that an RPG consists of systems by which you craft a character who takes on problems in a way that makes sense and feels natural within their skillset, and I liked the implications that had for the way the player relates to his character.

      That was why as you can see I wasn’t actually replying to you, but to Wulf.

    • The Army of None says:

      @Wizardry

      Hey mate, just letting you know that I enjoyed reading your well thought out and supported responses. Good to see people recognizing what made some of the great games of the past great and applying that to modern games! :)

    • vagabond says:

      @ Lilliput King:
      The possessed child can be freed without needing to kill him or his mother (although you can have locked yourself out of that option by pissing off the mages circle).

      The Rachni one is morally ambigious at the time, but in Mass Effect 2 we learn it’s all the fault of those horrible reapers. Why this information was not provided to Shepard in ME1 while in the process of making the decision remains a mystery.

    • sonson says:

      I don’t like some of them judgmental assumptions here.
      It’s not necessarily a question of attention spans, intelligence or maturity, as is so often assumed, as to why games like DA: O and DA 2 are as “superficial” as they are.
      A lot of very intelligent people have jobs, family/friend commitments, social things going on. A game of say, Planescape’s depth, is too demanding for someone who might only have a few hours to play a game a week. A game of that ilk requires tens of hours of investment-most people of a working age just don’t have that amount of free time.
      It’s fair enough to want that level of depth, but one also surely has to recognise this is a minority desire, and with that should come various other considerations and realisations beyond assuming that the majority of the gaming population are essentially cultural goons, which is a very immature view as of itself.
      One should have the critical skills to judge a game on what it professes to be, within the context in which it was made, rather than tearing it down for not meeting a very individual niche and the personal desires of a hard core, which is what the above argument constitutes to an extent

    • Kadayi says:

      “Anyway. None of that really matters when you consider (read) my first three or so replies to the original comment, because I’ve said time and time again that random moral decisions thrown at the player without the player’s character playing a part in which decisions you are capable of making does not make an RPG.”

      Go tell that to P&P, freeform or Live action role players. When applied to the broader context your definitions fall down. By attempting to define the cRPG to a fixed space, with fixed criteria you diminish it rather than enhance it. Computer games are an ever evolving medium, to point to games which were (to put it bluntly) inferior experiences Vs P&P RPGs as the high water mark of the cRPG demonstrates a failure to recognise the strengths of the medium of computer games as a whole as they move forward.

    • sonson says:

      @Wulf
      Also, regarding the The Vault 34 Choice-that really doesn’t strike me as a particularity enhanced experience of morality within a game. You decry the easy and black and white morality of Bioware, and it’s easy stereotyping, but at the same time you laud this choice you had to make as particularly wrenching, because “these people are all innocents, folks who haven’t done any harm to anyone.”
      How is this any different from the scenarios you encounter in DA: O? If these people were presented as such,good people, then they were presented as a hackneyed means of plot device for extracting emotion from you at a very base level, because the idea of a “good person” is so subjective and relative that it is absurd to suggest that it’s something that can be accurately captured in this instance.
      It would have been far more courageous had you had to make a choice between people of moral ambiguity, surely? A lot of games require you to help one good dude over another, I don’t see how this is different to be honest.
      I’m glad that you enjoyed the experience, and where left pondering it afterward, but if it is for the reason you said it was then this is hardly a revelatory or rare technique and it strikes me that you have no reason to go on at Bioware in the way you do for merley employing the same technique.
      In fact, looking through this again (no longer directing this @wulf, just general observation) and looking at the examples provided by anyone in the above just goes to show how much small beer this longed for moral depth actually is. These questions and dilemmas have been presented in so many other forms and different media, and asked so many times.
      It’s fun to play a game in which one can think about these things, and be faced with these issues, sure; but in my mind it’s not the strength of the games medium, and if you really want to get into moral conundrums then the gaming landscape is a poor place to do so, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing either, because games have strengths elsewhere. I think games do need a moral component in order to do their best work, but that is clearly not is what is being discussed here, we’re talking about “advanced” or nuanced morality. But In terms of what has been discussed above, the examples still come across as remedial at best within the issue as a whole.
      I guess what I’m trying to say here is this is a case of you like what you like, and that’s where it should end in this instance. If you like that sort of element of moral discussion in RPG’s, great. But to suggest that that is a sign of intelligence or maturity to do strikes me as pretty conceited thing to say, as relative to the matter at hand in absolute terms there is very little depth at all.

    • Cinnamon says:

      @sonson; 50 hours playing a game that engages them on every level vs 50 hours playing a simplified game with a few crazy moral dilemmas thrown in. Which one of these do you think an intelligent adult whose free time has become a highly valued scarcity would enjoy and which one would make them feel insulted? But that sort of person should just give up on RPGs as a genre, I think, and find some strategy games that they can fit into their schedule. There are also, now, plenty of action games that take about 5-8 hours to play and manage to tell a story in episodic chunks making them a nice substitute for evening TV viewing. But when I played Baldur’s Gate 2 I played it in two hour sessions at the end of the day after work and didn’t find it at all challenging to play or follow the events. You hardly need to play these games all at once, I recently picked up a years old PS:T save file and got back into my game in a few minutes. But maybe TV shows like The Wire shouldn’t have been made because they are an insult to intelligent people who are too busy to watch them.

    • sonson says:

      @Cinnamon
      You make the assumption that in order for a game to be worthwhile to play for a few hours it has to be dripping with “intelligence” somehow. Sometimes I like to play games that fit within that-I like how you implicitly think that I don’t, or can’t manage to, just because I made an objective point by the way, that’s very nuanced and clever-I’ve played chapters of Planescape, just like you have, in the same scenario. But just because I have, and just because you do, doesn’t mean that others can/want to. Personal experience in an argument like this doesn’t have half the potency you seem to think it does. If anything you’re just proving what I said earlier in repeating what you think, without considering the wider context.
      There are also times at which I’ve used games to relax, or even to do something positively brainless, as I work in a job which is very intense and involved, and one of the dangers is that I will mentally take work home with me and not give myself time to relax and fortify myself. There are times when I’m sufficiently involved with moral questions in my real life to the extent that I don’t want to have to take that into my relaxation time as well, and so playing something like Fifa or a boardgame simulation or Men of War or Total War is what I want-an easy narrative that I can get involved into to different degrees, without requiring too much intensity or mental dexterity, although there is room to move up that if I want to.
      In either case, it’s down to personal choice, based upon what’s going on in my life. It will be the same with you. That’s it though. You playing Planescape and someone else playing something else is not an indication of your intellect or maturity as being superior to anyone elses’, as you seem to imply by choosing to identify yourself with the excellence of the Wire.
      The Wire is actually an excellent case in point. Yes, there are some deep issues there but primarily it’s an excellent story which is refreshingly not up it’s own arse and is at points farcical, juvenile and comedic. You can go into it at great depth, do further reading on the various issues, move into all that, and I have done at different points; but you can also just lose yourself in some very funny writing, or in some high adrenaline moments, or various emotional plotlines. It’s not just a dry lecture on the decline of the American Empire, at face value. It has different levels of appeal, all of which are legitimate at some point or another.
      I met David Simon the other year and he said he was actually abit pissed off by the way in which the intellectual points had been stressed to such a degree that the genius of the character writing had been undersold and underappreciated. The idea was to tell a story, and in doing so bring up these issues in a way which is organic, not forced and intellectual and “worthy”.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Kadayi: That’s absolutely nothing to do with what I’ve been saying. In fact, CRPGs have so many benefits over pen and paper RPGs. Party based combat is far easier, for example. I’d like to see someone play Wizard’s Crown with a pen and paper. Also, world simulation is potentially far greater than what the best DMs can follow through with. I’d like to see a human manage the world consistency of a game like Dwarf Fortress (not a CRPG but easily applicable to CRPGs).

      In fact, you say that CRPGs should free itself from its pen and paper roots and embrace its place as a genre of video games. If so, that’s a very good reason why story, moral choices for the player to make and interesting characters should be abandoned completely and hard, deep and complicated game mechanics should rule supreme. Because that’s what computer games do best, right? That’s what computers are built for, right? Number crunching.

      You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a go and myself and others for wanting a more traditional experience with CRPGs while also bitching about how CRPGs should embrace its medium. Pen and paper RPGs will always be better at providing moral choices for the player to make, delivering a branching story with an adaptive plot and providing background information upon request. CRPGs will always be better at, or will become better at deeply simulating an entire game world and allowing for large scale battles using large groups of characters.

      Mass Effect and Dragon Age 2 do not embrace their medium. They try to tell slightly adaptive stories that could be done better in a pen and paper session with the games’ writers.

    • Cinnamon says:

      @sonson. I’m not the one who brought PS:T or “very intelligent people” into the discussion. I’m only talking about my own experiences but if surely an only slightly above average person like me can play PS:T in shorter sessions with interruptions then it means something. I can only guess what those fabulously intelligent and successful people would do in general but since I can manage it then I guess that they can.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      Forgive me for my ignorance, sirs, as I am but a child of KOTOR II who’s only ever gone retroactively back to the Classics of the Halcyon Days…but…

      What the hell was that up top about Planescape: Torment being “practically an action-adventure?”

    • Cinnamon says:

      PS:T has a lot of adventure game elements but I don’t think that anyone is calling it an action-adventure, and if they did they are wrong.

    • Adventurous Putty says:

      @Wulf: See, you just named a bunch of “story focused RPGs” with many of them being action RPGs, one being effectively a JRPG, and Planescape: Torment almost being an adventure game in many ways. Fallout and Morrowind don’t even really fit with the rest of your list.

      Whoops, I added “action” in. Still, the general sentiment I think is still condescending a bit to PS:T, which smacks to me of the worst sort of RPGCodex-type elitism. And I say this in spite of agreeing with a lot of Wizardry’s more abstract points up top.

    • Cinnamon says:

      People generally love PS:T for having a ton of adventure game elements. I don’t really see the condescension, other than not wanting to be derailed into talking about adventure games.

    • sonson says:

      Agree with this, don’t see why an RPG should have to stick to strict conventions- A good anything is, by definition, good.

      PS: T is a great game, at points it’s like a top down adventure game, at times it’s like a classic RPG-surely what matters is that it’s a good experience which uses different tropes and devices to achieve its aims? Fair enough to use genre classification as a means of neatly identifying a game, but changing or altering the format of this genre in order to achieve a positive result shouldn’t be held against it when talking about the critical worth of the game.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Wizardry
      “That’s absolutely nothing to do with what I’ve been saying. In fact, CRPGs have so many benefits over pen and paper RPGs. Party based combat is far easier, for example. I’d like to see someone play Wizard’s Crown with a pen and paper. Also, world simulation is potentially far greater than what the best DMs can follow through with. I’d like to see a human manage the world consistency of a game like Dwarf Fortress (not a CRPG but easily applicable to CRPGs).”

      If the best defence you have it that the computers make for great calculators, that’s not much of an counter argument I’m afraid. The sheer excel spread sheet banality of your thinking is truly laid bare.

      Let’s hear from Marc W. Miller, a guy who really knows a thing or too about what makes a RPG experience: –

      ‘Let’s pretend! Let’s pretend that I’m a powerful warrior and you’re a clever thief whose an OK guy regardless and Gloria is a beautiful princess who’s been captured by an evil magician and held in a castle and we’ve got to rescue her and as we’re fighting our way in through the guards Gloria decides to get herself out of the mess she’s in and lures the guard unto her cell and by pretending she’s sick and hits him over the head with a chair and runs out the cell and down the hall just in time to meet us as we fight our way in and we run towards the main gate but just before we get there the magician conjures a horrible demon to stop us. . .’

      Boiled down to basics, role playing games are nothing more than extensions of the oldest game known to man ‘Let’s pretend’. The rule books you see are are just codifications and regulations to help determine what a person could really do if he were a powerful warrior, or she were a beautiful princess , and how long it takes the magician to conjure up the demon and so on. ”

      See the important words to focus on are ‘to help determine’ , it’s never a case in a P&P that the rules should always determine a result, it’s that they are there to assist with determination if required. The rules were always a guide, never the law.

      If your P&P RPG is subject to leeway based on player choice, why should the cRPG be any different as you insist? That you apparently lack the imagination necessary to see RPGs as anything beyond statistics is your weakness.

      “In fact, you say that CRPGs should free itself from its pen and paper roots and embrace its place as a genre of video games. If so, that’s a very good reason why story, moral choices for the player to make and interesting characters should be abandoned completely and hard, deep and complicated game mechanics should rule supreme. Because that’s what computer games do best, right? That’s what computers are built for, right? Number crunching.”

      No, my position is that it is natural for new mediums to ape old ones (in the way TV aped radio in it’s early years), until such mediums find their own feet as unique distinct experiences (there are no maps for these territories). Aping the mechanistic workings of P&P RPGs (distinct from the actual P&P RPG experience) with the initial cRPGs made sense when all home computers were good for was little more ‘base number crunching’, but it was always a poor substitute for the real P&P RPG thing.

      Where modern computers excel is in taking you as the player into game spaces that cannot be replicated through other mediums and allowing you to immerse and invest yourself in them as experiences. The more a game keeps you invested in the game space and the less in the interface the better.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Kadayi: Ideally I don’t want to carry this on because I have about a thousand comments written in the WIT DA2 entry. Therefore I don’t mind if you do not reply to this. I’ll keep it brief too.

      “Let’s pretend”, as you said, is role-playing. Role-playing has existed for thousands of years. Role-playing games were something different, though. Why would they ever need to exist if role-playing already existed? Well, because D&D was the addition of role-playing to wargaming, scaled down to individual units in a small party to accommodate this. In other words, I don’t want to play a video game with role-playing in. That’s what a player choice driven game would be classed as. I want to play a video game version of role-playing games, but with a whole load of extra complexity and simulation layers such as economic and environmental simulation to make the actions of my character matter in numerous ways.

      It’s fundamentally different. It’s people wanting completely different things out of a genre. I don’t see there being any compromises. If anything there will be two entirely different genres. I just don’t know how long it’ll take for people to recognise them both.

    • Kadayi says:

      “In other words, I don’t want to play a video game with role-playing in. That’s what a player choice driven game would be classed as. I want to play a video game version of role-playing games, but with a whole load of extra complexity and simulation layers such as economic and environmental simulation to make the actions of my character matter in numerous ways.”

      The whole point of let’s pretend has always been about interactive storytelling. P&P RPGs has always been about achieving a set storyline goal (Slay dragon, free the slaves, overthrow the king), even if by a long winded route. It seems to me that what you say you want isn’t really an RPG, but more an open world similated environment to kick your heels around in? If that’s what you are after my advice would be to consider Sims 3 as that offers you the ability to weave your own narrative entirely, as you see fit in an extremely rich and reactive environment (personally I’m really looking forward to Sims Medieval to see what Maxis have achieved building off of the world adventures framework).

  4. Vadermath says:

    I am disappointed in Bioware; I’ve played DA2, and it’s not bad, but worse than Origins. The location copy-pasting and reusing tends to stand out a lot in a game that’s located in a single city, and a very bland and uninteresting one at that. The Orzammar of DA:O was a lot more interesting and detailed than this. They were supposed to make a choice; either a large-scale game which focuses on multiple choices and many, but less detailed locations, or a small-focused game with a single character, but more detailed locations and characters, and a better story to compensate for it being so small in scale.

    Here, we have a small-scale with a few less detailed locations, set in a Fantasy City #34, with only one character to choose. The companions are also less interesting than before, and have a silly dumbed down dialogue system.

    Great job on this one, Bioware: I’m sure the console tards are giddy with joy.

    • Premium User Badge

      Joshua says:

      They are not.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      “the re-use of the levels is something we knew was a bit of a risk, but we wanted to make sure there was more content rather than less”

      with logic like that, you know this is one of those “you’re not reviewing the game in the right way” situations

    • StingingVelvet says:

      What I don’t get is that surely it was the assets which took time and money to create. Why not make multiple dungeons with the same assets like Bethesda do? Surely it can’t take much time to take the same walls, floors and junk and move it around a bit for a different dungeon.

      Entering the same EXACT dungeon 10+ times is ridiculous.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      There is a hold your ground button actually, on the bottom left.

    • ChampionHyena says:

      ‘H’ is the Hold Position key. Also, turn your tactics off. Or change the AI type so it moves out of AOEs.

    • Bilbo says:

      To be fair, they made a few big environments that could be changed on the fly by opening certain doors and closing others, or by changing the player’s entry point to the environment. They aren’t the same every time, there are subtle changes in the way you navigate the space each time. I’m definitely starting to feel the reuse now though, having played for around six hours. I’m kinda hoping the action’s going to move on but I’m getting the impression from comments that pretty much the whole thing is in Kirkwall, which sucks if true.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      I liked Neverwinter Nights 2 a lot more than Dragon Age, so I didn’t pick up DA2.

      Zero interest. Don’t like any of the new Bioware stuff, coincidentally.

    • Archonsod says:

      “and have a silly dumbed down dialogue system.”

      Hmm. DA:O let you pick from a list of responses. DA 2 lets you pick from a wheel of responses. Do circles require less intelligence than lists, or am I missing something.

  5. stahlwerk says:

    I know David Cage is not what you would call humble, but the report about his speech reads like excerpts from his soon to be published “Manifesto of why I’m so ace”.

    • Bret says:

      I dunno. “Why I’m so Ace” might at least be a little tongue in cheek. No such luck here.

  6. Theory says:

    There are so many amazing, spectacularly creative, really important children’s books out there. So where are the children’s games? Well?

    All around you. My recently played list in Steam includes Zen Bound 2, King’s Bounty, Magicka, Half-Life 2, Bad Company 2, Medieval TW 2 and GTA, all of which are or can be simple enough to be grasped by children (notwithstanding their suitability).

    It’s adult games that are rare. From my list, only Men of War can really be said to demand depth of thought.

    • Vadermath says:

      I don’t think you’ve grasped the concept of “child” and “adult” very well, mate.

    • Theory says:

      You’d better explain yourself. Assuming that children are stupid is common, and also wrong.

    • dog says:

      not one game on that list would i think of as being suitable for children…

      though my definition of children is currently around the 6-7 year old mark cos thats how old my daughter is and i’d love to have more games which i could play with her…

      hl2? battlefield? seriously, ‘suitable for kids’ ?

    • Nick says:

      Hmm, well, at those ages I was playing Amstrad CPC games so I was able to grasp platformers, bad movie tie ins and weird bedroom coded lunacy at least.. not till 9 or 10 did I get a Gameboy and a Nes.

    • DiamondDog says:

      I might be misinterpreting you here, but you’re kind of basing what a children’s game should be on how difficult the game is to actually learn and play?
      There are certainly plenty of games that children will enjoy playing but there doesn’t seem to be many that actually focus their themes on children. At least not good ones, as the article is trying to say. I know you’re trying to be clever by saying that those games you listed are simplistic enough for children to understand, but they aren’t made for and aimed at children.

      A child that sits down and reads a Roald Dahl book would maybe have the reading skills to get through, say, a Terry Pratchett book. They would, I think, get more from a Dahl book because it was written for them and about them. It’s like saying we don’t need children’s TV because most daytime programs are so dumbed down that even a child could understand them. Fine, but what does a child get out of watching Bargain Hunt?

    • Xocrates says:

      @Theory: Saying those games are suitable for children because they can grasp the gameplay basics is the equivalent of saying the Terminator is a suitable movie for children because they can sit still for 2 hours.

    • Theory says:

      @DiamondDog: Yes, that was my point. Thematically adult, practically childish (depending on how you play them). I’m not judging on themes at all: children’s books/games/films don’t need to be exclusively aimed at them, and indeed many of the best aren’t.

      But King’s Bounty *is* aimed at children, BTW.

      @Xocrates: I explicitly said that they many were not suitable. But they are all capable of being understood and appreciated to some degree by someone without much life experience.

    • Wounder says:

      I have to assume Theory doesn’t have kids. It’s a great concept that kids aren’t stupid and in large part correct, but if you think letting my two, four or even six year old (who is fascinated that you can’t see a black hole) play Half Life 2 would be the act of a responsible adult, you’re going to be getting a guest spot on Fox in record time.
      That they are able to play a game doesn’t mean they should be allowed. Otherwise, I’d have been able to take all that money I wasted on Baby Einstein and Handy Manny DVDs and gone straight into porn (several puns intended!). After all, they are able to watch porn as soon as their eyes open, right?

      EDIT: Where on earth did you get the idea that King’s Bounty was intended for kids? It’s got an ESRB rating of Teen, so while technically, those are children, they’re not likely the intended audience of Hop on Pop, either.

    • Theory says:

      Would people please stop confusing “game X is simple enough for a child to understand” with “game X is suitable for a child”?

    • Chris D says:

      Theory

      You started it.

    • DAdvocate says:

      @Chris D “You started it” not anymore, looks like Theory has edited his original post.

    • Urthman says:

      Good kids games? Toy Story 3, LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Everything Else, World of Goo, Bookworm Adventures, Plants vs Zombies, Crayon Physics, Audiosurf, Minecraft, Mini Ninjas, Peggle…

      And that’s just on PC.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      In Theory’s defence he did say this in his original post “simple enough to be grasped by children (notwithstanding their suitability)” then ye all jumped down his throat for listing games not suitable for kids.
      I don’t have any kids but I remember playing games like Lords of Midnight and Doomdark’s Revenge when I was about 8 or 9. I tried playing them recently and didn’t know what was going on. So I think if they can break the attention span barrier they are quite capable of playing decent games.

      So I think what he’s saying is we need less childish games with adult content. I’m sick of them too. Except for the odd game like Duke Nukem. Especially with the stories in games these days, RPGs being one of the worst offenders. Get real writers guys. The praise that Bioware get for their plots is ridiculous. It’s teen fanfiction grade. Don’t get me started on their romance sub plots. I’m cringing right now just thinking about it.

      Someone give Iain M Banks a ring. Let him write Mass Effect 3. Cos I’m really considering giving it a miss now.

    • Xocrates says:

      Either you have a very broad definition of children, or a very strange definition of adult games.

      While I agree that games as a whole need to gain maturity, this does not make them neither for children or, necessarily, childish. Of the list Theory gives, three (Zen Bound, Magicka, kings bounty) are suitable for children although not necessarily designed for them, while the remaining are not only clearly designed for adults, but at least a couple of them succeed in being if not mature at least fairly serious.

      Ultimately what this means is that I have no idea what Theory’s point actually was. He isn’t pointing out that there are creative games designed for children out there (which is what the quote is complaining about), and that makes me think that he’s simply complaining that games are too easy nowadays, which conveniently ignores that nearly all of the games he names are absurdly inaccessible to people who didn’t grow up with games like them (Heck, I’ve played games all my life and I STILL have problems coming to grips with the Total War series)

    • DAdvocate says:

      @Mad hamish
      “In Theory’s defence he did say this in his original post “simple enough to be grasped by children (notwithstanding their suitability)” then ye all jumped down his throat for listing games not suitable for kids.”

      Theory originally posted that only GTA might not be suitable for children, he has since edited his comment after the legitimate criticisms that games such as Bac Company 2 are hardly suitable for a small child.

    • Theory says:

      @Xocrates:

      Not only clearly designed for adults, but at least a couple of them succeed in being if not mature at least fairly serious.

      That does not mean kids can’t appreciate and enjoy large chunks of them. Every bit as much as GTA is about the spiral of crime a US immigrant falls into, it’s about driving the biggest lorry you can find through columns of honking traffic, collecting trinkets, dressing Niko up in stupid clothes and sprinting into people at full speed. That is all part of Rockstar’s intent.

      I would love to see a GTA with consequences for your actions. A child who wants to cause pretend mayhem would not.

      He isn’t pointing out that there are creative games designed for children out there.

      Er, yes I am. Broadly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that GTA was designed for children, but it definitely accommodates them in many areas.

      Nearly all of the games he names are absurdly inaccessible to people who didn’t grow up with games like them.

      That’s because you are thinking like an adult. I doubt a child would even look at the campaign map in Total War: they’ll just make massive armies in a custom battle and smash them together. I and my friends used to do that ourselves with Age of Empires.

      @DAdvocate: It said “(notwithstanding the suitability of GTA etc)” at first, “etc” meaning violent games in general. But yeah, that wasn’t clear enough and I paid for it.

    • Xocrates says:

      @Theory: Which means you missed the point of the article. The author wasn’t decrying the lack of games that children can play, he was decrying the lack of games DESIGNED for children since things designed specifically for children tend to be more creative, which is the point he’s making when naming all those authors, and a point I generally agree with.

      That said, the article itself has plenty of other faults, but your reply was non-sensical in context.

    • Baboonanza says:

      So I think what he’s saying is we need less childish games with adult content. I’m sick of them too. Except for the odd game like Duke Nukem. Especially with the stories in games these days, RPGs being one of the worst offenders. Get real writers guys. The praise that Bioware get for their plots is ridiculous. It’s teen fanfiction grade. Don’t get me started on their romance sub plots. I’m cringing right now just thinking about it.

      Quoted for truthiness. I find it astonishing that people regard Bioware’s writing as good, or have any interest in RPG plots and characters in general since RPG writing is uniformly terrible (with a few notable exceptions). That is the primary reason I prefer open-world RPGs, since at least you have more scope for player agency to make up for the tripe being passed off as ‘story’.

      My advice to anyone who plays RPGs for the story would be to go and read a good book. Or even a mediocre one.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Well said, Baboonanza. I always prefer a game that lets me create my own story; it’s one of the major reasons Minecraft is so popular. Imagination is terribly underrated in mainstream gaming.

      There are some isolated exceptions. The Human Noble and especially City Elf origin stories in DA:O were fantastic ideas decently executed. But the rest of the game, and of most RPGs, is at about the level of a mediocre TV drama or a bargain bin novel. There’s no Joss Whedon or Aaron Sorkin or George R. R. Martin of videogame writing. Not yet.

    • MrCrun says:

      Right, so when someone says: where’s the video games version of A.A Milne, Barrie and Rahl, Theory says HL2 and Bad Company. Great. In other news Scholastic Books to publish abridged 100 days of Sodom and Reservoir Dogs rebranded U.

    • RobF says:

      “So I think what he’s saying is we need less childish games with adult content. ”

      …yeah, if we’re making kids games that’s probably a good idea to trim the adult content out or it’d make a really shit kids game.

      Wait. What? Oh.

      I think the question “why aren’t we doing more bloody awesome kids games” is a fair question and one we should be asking. As a parent, I’m often saddened that you’re sort of veered off into family gaming or often stuff that’s frankly fucking shit which isn’t *quite* the same. But then, I’m a believer that we’re not doing enough of any kind of awesome game. Not that we’re not making awesome games but that there’s always room for more awesome, yeah?

      But! Games! They’re ace aren’t they? They don’t have to have stories! And the whole thing rubbishing play as some sort of completely inferior thing to be doing, WHEN WE’RE TALKING ABOUT KIDS. Well, erm, yeah. Doesn’t that sort of bring us back round to the same silly headed argument that “we need more seriouses in games” and insert media of choice to compare ourselves to thing that happens over and over and over and over and every time someone says we need this at the expense of this a ludologist shoots a kitten in the eyes and we all cry at the foot of Peter Molyneux. Or something.

      So yeah, good question. Utterly shit angle. And in the meantime, whilst the mythological suffering child will never know the beauty and love a good story in a game could bring *throws hands up to the sky and cries out*, mine can carry on having an ace time with Noby Noby Boy on the iThunk, the VectorPark stuff, Minecraft, all those thar LEGO games he’s got a thing for and all the other really ace for kids games out there. And having a bloody good story read to him every night and enjoy reading all those books with stories in he wants to read himself thus ensuring balance in the world and no doubt, hats. There’s always hats.

  7. kwyjibo says:

    Pretty much a GDC fail when you set up a social game, only to give the reward to a predetermined winner and not the actual one.

    Not that Jane McGonigal has nothing interesting to say, but most people are already quite familiar with her. For those unfamiliar with her work – the recent Techcrunch interview is worth a listen:

    link to techcrunch.com
    link to techcrunch.com

    • Zwebbie says:

      She scares me, with all the “science says you don’t know how to live your life, games can help” talk :( .

    • Teddy Leach says:

      That’s actually the first I’ve heard of her. Her arguments are pretty interesting.

  8. Coins says:

    I don’t really get the Dragon Age 2 hate. I found the city it features quite nice, the combat (as a mage) was quite fun and the overall plot wasn’t even that bad. Agreed, the (terrible, terrible) copy-paste of dungeons must stop. It shook you out of your immersion into the game world by seeing the same fire with the same bench with the same props in the same place in the same dungeon. At least, that was the case for me. I had the idea that the companions were actually better than those in DA1, to a point. I missed two of them in my first playthrough, so I’ll have to see it again to be sure about all of them.

    The strict divide between good and evil was a bit pants, but I don’t know if that was because of my actions or the strict plot. I actually liked some of the choices, as they didn’t condemn anything, but I do suspect keeping everyone happy would be a bit of a shit endgame.

    Speaking of endgame, I thought the boss-battles were quite fun, but I’m afraid to go into major detail in case of horrible spoilers.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      I think most of the “hate” is rooted in the fact that it’s a sequel which is not nearly as good at its predecessor and has come out very soon after it. It’s an okay RPG, probably Bioware’s worst PC RPG but it’s still pretty good. Compared to how huge, epic and deep Dragon Age: Origins was though it’s quite the watered-down product.

    • Bilbo says:

      Is 14 months not long enough for what is essentially a tech reuse sequel? I mean be fair, the guys have got to eat

    • Tacroy says:

      Whoa whoa whoa – if they’re literally copying and pasting dungeons, that is a totally acceptable reason for hate; copy/pasted dungeons are never okay. You can craft dungeons out of the same building blocks, but copying and pasting them wholesale and maybe just closing off some doors or changing spawn points? That’s never right.

    • Bilbo says:

      The game re-uses levels for quests set in the same geographical area, and just changes up the path and the player start point. Well, and the enemies, they’re usually different, ish. It looks less sinful if you compare it to an MMO, in which there really are only a few dungeons, and they’re entirely the same each visit. It’s pretty poor all the same, but I’d point to the spiralling costs of delivering content that competes visually as the beginnings of an excuse – and by and large, I’d say I prefer DA2’s environments to those of the original. I just think we need a few more of them.

    • malkav11 says:

      That’s not really fair. The writing and the graphics are leagues better than the original NWN campaign…and even as simplified as the combat is, it might still be better simply by virtue of being party-based. I’d also describe it as being better than Mass Effect 2 in that, while the locations are copy-pasted, they are at least interesting the first time around and make a certain amount of sense, while ME2 locations are nonsensical cover shooting galleries. There’s also far more party interaction and banter in Dragon Age 2, and the RPG systems, while reduced in complexity and quality compared to Dragon Age Origins, are still much more present and relevant than equivalent systems in ME2. The writing itself is, imho, at a similar level in both games, if not slightly better in DA2. I have yet to play the second and third acts in DA2, so I can’t say if the overarching plot is more coherent, but so far it at least makes more sense that you are running around doing odd jobs in DA2 than it did in ME2.

    • MrMud says:

      I think for the most part DA2 is a pretty good game but the copy pase environments are so atrocious that it brings everything down.

  9. Mana_Garmr says:

    “ability to whirl around and snap off a fireball at a guy who’s charging you, rather than shuffling in and launching it usually a couple of feet behind him,”

    Hang on, I’ve only played the demo so maybe it’s different in the actual game but ,isn’t it now impossible to target enemies directly with fireball, making it much more likely you’ll drop it 5 feet behind the target? Not to mention that the new whirly-staff animations that have to complete fully before you start casting the spell makes it even more likely the enemies you’re targeting won’t be in the damage area anymore by the time the spell hits.

    I certainly noticed that sister-mage seemed to miss her targets completely far more often than happened in Origins.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Somewhat compensated by the fact that the fireball doesn’t laze its way across the battlefield only marginally faster than your warriors, however.

    • Nick says:

      oh no.. you had to time things, how terrible. Also having a rogue attack a mobing enemy is one of the most annoying and stupid looking things I have seen in a game in recent years.

    • James G says:

      Actually, in the main game I’ve found it is possible to target individual enemies with the fireball. Occasionally this ends up backfiring, as you attempt to hit a group of archers, and the guy you’ve targeted ends up making a break for it, and you end up wasting a fireball on a lone guy.

      I am enjoying the DA2 combat though, although it does feel a bit more ‘artificial’ than the first game. I’m playing on hard, and have found that if I’m not careful, even the simplest battle can cause failure. Meanwhile, the more epic battles will usually take two or three attempts.

      Oh, and enemy rogues are evil. If they choose to target one of your mages with backstab, then it can easily be a one hit kill.

    • Land says:

      @Serenegoose; I’ve been trying to contact you in WoW, regarding the Rock, Paper, Saurfang guild, but I never see you online :-( Is the guild still there? Sorry for off-topic reply, didn’t find any other way to contact you.

    • Serenegoose says:

      I’ve been… exceptionally busy writing a book. My apologies. I’ve barely had the opportunity to play my singleplayer games nevermind the community-oriented RPS guild. Short answer is… I don’t know. *much shame*

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      You can, in fact, target enemies with the fireball.

  10. phenom_x8 says:

    No link to recent japanese tsunami disaster! Come on, gamer must be more concern about it since its the center of gaming culture (for the before gen console at least or maybe Pc eroge ).
    The story about Sony closing a few of its electronic manufaturing factory sounds interesting too (dont know yet whether PS3 manufacturing factory included).

    • stahlwerk says:

      I’m struggling to think of a way that this subject could be tackled in a taste- and meaningful way from a “gamer angle”, what with tens of thousands of people dead or missing and another tens of million’s pending irradiation. The human tragedy of all this far far far outweighs any other concerns, and having an article about how this will impact the domestic and international gaming markets would strike me as incredibly cynical.

      [edit: at the moment, at least.]

    • Dinger says:

      I think it’s safe to say that the individual members of RPS are, like their readers, greatly concerned about it. As your statement suggests, however, the reasons for discussing it here on a gaming site would be because the site fetishizes Japanese culture, because it wants to use a high-visibility tragedy to drum up traffic, or because the editors want to identify themselves with affected Japanese games developers.

      This catastrophe is going to affect each of us in ways far more serious than delays in video game releases, and looking at mass misery and seeing only an opportunity to improve page impressions is just bad taste.

      And thank you, John, for not posting a picture of you and Notch together at Mojang. It’s not about the journalists; it’s the story.

      Anyway, that’s wot i think.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      This isn’t the sort of site to make tasteless jokes about tradgedy.

      (Just tasteless jokes about grammar.)

    • cummerbund jackson says:

      Since it was console only, I suppose it won’t get much discussion here, but there was a series of games for the PS2, called Disaster Report, which concentrated on a massive disaster in a large Japanese city, and was supposedly pretty good.

      The game was somewhat open-ended and had you running around the city to find supplies, rescuing people, and trying to find your way out of the apocalypse to safety. Here’s a review of it.

      So it’s possible to explore disasters tastefully in games and I’d like to see a modern game take this on. An open ended game with a ruined city to explore, people to rescue, making some interesting ethical choices along the way, and never once shooting a gun or running from a zombie.

    • F4T C4T says:

      I agree that it would be insensitive to spin a games angle on the tragedies that are occurring in Japan at the moment but flooding reactors with sea water did bring images of Dwarf Fortress to my mind…

    • Jamison Dance says:

      @stahlwerk: I have to chime in to debunk the total nonsense that there are tens of million’s pending irradiation. Yes, the earthquake and tsunami caused damage to a power plant. No, you are completely and utterly wrong in stating that “tens of millions” of people are in danger of being irradiated, unless you also believe that everyone who flies in an airplane is irradiated.

      Read this for an explanation by a smarty-pants scientist, but essentially the Fukushima Daiichi-1 and Daiichi-3 reactors that have the media crying “nuclear meltdown” are in no danger of such. A very small amount of radioactive steam was released into the air, but the radioactive particles were not the kind that stick around for a long time releasing radiation, but have already released all their (very small) amount of radiation. The people living around the reactor may have been exposed to the same amount of radiation you get from flying on a plane, but are in no danger.

      Nuclear power gets a bad rap, but when done right it is one of the most efficient and “green” sources of energy around. I am saddened to think that the media frenzy of misinformation and lies has further damaged the public perception of nuclear power, because it is one of our best options for cost-effective clean energy.

    • stahlwerk says:

      So then the evacuation of “about 185,000 residents” isn’t actually necessary at all? Someone should send the Japanese government that link, then, to spare them the trouble.

      I know I know, nuclear energy can be clean, it can be secure, except when it fails. And, since it’s a human technology, like everything man-made, it is prone to failure. And these kinds of reactors apparently are not fail-safe. Now that the melt-down has officially happened in at least two reactors and hydrogen explosions continue, everything is up in the air, and stating that it’s perfectly safe and nothing to worry about comes across, I don’t know, a bit silly.

      The thing is, taking a flight trip and being exposed to radiation and living in a (mildly to severely, depends how good the containment holds) irradiated area for the whole rest of your life aren’t all that comparable. Even if the radiation is indeed miniscule – what agricultural firm will invest in that region anymore, who would want their children to be raised there?

  11. Nick says:

    Its not just the shift in speed that makes people hink its console focused, its the style and the waves of respawning enemies.

    • vagabond says:

      I assumed that the respawning of enemies was because the console didn’t have the hardware capability to drive the game with the number of simultaneous enemies they wanted.

  12. Zaphid says:

    That Mieville interview was really good read, one of my favorite authors of 21st century easily. Due to the gap in translation and me being stuck reading books to actually complete my exams instead of for my own enjoyment, I only recently finished Iron Council and boy, was it AWESOME. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but he has wonderful talent for solving situations in a very logical yet unexpected ways. The City and The City was a bit underwhelming, but still not quite like anything I’ve read, which admittedly isn’t much these days, so my praise may be misplaced, but I don’t really care.

  13. McDan says:

    Website tourism. by RPS, a holiday in your own home. that first article is brilliant.

  14. Navagon says:

    Er, not enough kids games out there? Seriously? Perhaps if nothing else he’s forgetting his own childhood and how damn near everything on the market was to all intents and purposes a kids game.

  15. Callum says:

    Thanks for linking to the Minecraft soundtrack Jim, I had no idea it was released. Bought.

  16. Colonel J says:

    For someone uninitiated, If I’m going to read one China Mieville book, which one?

    • Zaphid says:

      Perdido Street Station probably. Both The Scar and Iron Council are comparable though, but Perdido was first.

    • Cinnamon says:

      That depends, I suppose. His Bas-Lag novels are probably what he made his name from and out of those The Scar is my favourite but it isn’t the first. The last book of his I read was The City & The City which isn’t part of a series and I definitely recommend it. I’ve not read his last book, The Kraken, yet.

    • jaheira says:

      Yeah, I’d start with Perdido Street Station, though Kraken is my fave. New one (Embassytown) out in May!

    • PhiIl Cameron says:

      If you just want to figure out whether you’ll like him or not, the display of skill with prose in the opening to Perdido St. Station should be enough to convince anyone.

      But The City and The City is a good one to start with in general, as it’s much more detective story than fantasy, which is more amenable to some. Then again, there’s Rat King, about DnB and mythical animals in London, which is always great.

      And there’s Un Lun Dun, his ‘children’s’ book, that’s brilliant too.

      What I’m saying is, start wherever you like.

    • Ghost of Grey Cap says:

      Try Perdido Street Station if you really like fantasy; The City and the City is my favourite though, and more low key.

    • Colonel J says:

      Thanks for the recommendations people. The City and The City had most piqued my interest from the interview so I’ll probably start there. I like the sound of Rat King too.

      I don’t have much of a taste for fantasy as a fiction genre these days but Mieville’s blend of it might be more up my street, I’ll check out Perdido too if i stumble on a cheap copy.

    • Jake says:

      I didn’t really like The City & The City – it seemed like a quite conventional crime novel that just happened to involve a bizarre metaphor for a backdrop, which I won’t spoil but I found to be a bit too hard to swallow, especially during the final showdown which felt contrived and a bit obvious due to how the story was inevitably escalating. I liked the concept much more than the execution, I don’t think it was really very convincing but perhaps if you can accept the central premise then you would enjoy it more.

      His other books sound more interesting to me and he writes pretty well. I think I’d prefer to read something that is a bit more out there, though from the descriptions some of his books sound a bit like Neil Gaiman which I would rather skip.

    • Xercies says:

      I’ve been really enjoying The City and The City so far, it really has a very good idea , which is i think very believable(but I’ve been reading and watching science fiction for a long time so I could be biased in that) I really want to read more Novels like him and Neil Geiman because to be honest they have been my favourites lately.

    • Deccan says:

      For a thematically varied introduction to his style, try Looking For Jake, a short story collection. Loads of fascinating ideas.

    • malkav11 says:

      I think The Scar is his best work, but it does tangentially involve some stuff that was set up in Perdido Street Station and both are excellent, so you should probably read Perdido first.

    • Oasx says:

      The City and the City is good, but honestly you are missing out on what makes him so good by making that your first book by him. Perdido Street Station and the other Bas Lag books are what made him popular, so even though you arent crazy about fantasy i would read Perdido Street Station first, it is amazing.

    • noom says:

      Having read Iron Council and Perdido Street Station, I’d recommend Perdido. It’s got a more conventional (and arguably coherent) narrative so is more accessable. I think he lets his imagination loose more in Iron Council, so some may prefer that, but I found it a little overwhelming in that respect; in fact both books suffer somewhat from pacing issues imho. Worthy reads from a gifted writer nonetheless; convincingly gritty and morally ambiguous.

  17. Lusit says:

    Bioware has no Mark Laidlaw. Valve has Marc Laidlaw. Bioware has Mike Laidlaw, who is in that article and is being interviewed.

  18. JFS says:

    The Laidlow interview and its comments are very interesting. Thanks, Jim. And always remember, folks: Change has nothing to do with quality. It’s only that if it’s too strong, then you’re too weak!

  19. bill says:

    The kids thing is all wrong. It disses lego for one thing! And treehouses!

    I enjoyed all the books he mentioned, but i have just as many great memories of Zelda or Prince of Persia or any of the other many games i played as a kid. There are millions of great kids games.
    What he’s looking for are great kids STORIES… and i’m not sure gaming is the best place to look for that.

    Now, if he’d said “the games industry makes too many violent games for adolescent males these days – where are the innocent imaginary games of old?” then i might have been with him.
    Whereas i could pick up dozens of games when i was young, these days everything is “edgy” or “dark” or “realistic”.

  20. HexagonalBolts says:

    “I’m always much happier talking in terms of metaphor, because it seems that metaphor is intrinsically more unstable. A metaphor fractures and kicks off more metaphors, which kick off more metaphors, and so on. In any fiction or art at all, but particularly in fantastic or imaginative work, there will inevitably be ramifications, amplifications, resonances, ideas, and riffs that throw out these other ideas. These may well be deliberate; you may well be deliberately trying to think about issues of crime and punishment, for example, or borders, or memory, or whatever it might be. Sometimes they won’t be deliberate.”

    But all language is inherently unstable, there is no connection between a word (‘signifier’) and the object that the word is describing (‘signified’) and so meaning is endlessly deferred around a network of related words, that will even paradoxically loop back to the original signifying word… hmm maybe this isn’t the place…

    • stkaye says:

      I think I love you, HexagonalBolts. Within certain presumably shared definitional parameters for the semiotic language-game called ‘love’.

      What can I say, turns out I’m a realist.

  21. Urthman says:

    Shorter Mike Laidlaw: “Our reasons for making DA:2 suck are not the ones you thought they were.”

    • Harbour Master says:

      Not that I’ve played anything of the Dragon Age stable – but I’m reminded of the furore following Invisible War. “We didn’t dumb it down, you ‘tards, we opened it up.” (and so on)

  22. pirusu says:

    I must be the only person in the world who likes Dragon Age 2. And yes, I have it on PC.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      I like it. I’ve put 30 fun hours into it already and am only in act 2.

      It’s just a disappointing game is all. A game can be disappointing and a poor sequel without being a bad game overall. It’s kind of like Deus Ex: Invisible War in that way… a good solid game that looks like complete crap standing next to its predecessor.

    • Premium User Badge

      JiminyJickers says:

      I thnk Dragon Age 2 is awesome. That saying, some of the combat involves running away from the big guy targeting one of your party members only and waiting for the others to beat it up. Still, I am feeling more connected with the main character, which I thought was one of the first games problems.

  23. Teddy Leach says:

    Ryan’s thinking about how to stuff coins into his body cavity and not capitalising his ‘I’s. What a disgusting man. Not that it’s not a good article, of course.

    EDIT: Agh, not a single one in that entire article is capitalised! For god’s sake, send him back to school!

    • DXN says:

      I think it’s just a slightly mischievous-slash-pretentious stylistic tic, rather than his not having gone to school.

    • Bullwinkle says:

      In that case, send him to the dungeon.

  24. Sarkhan Lol says:

    Research concludes spending time with your daughter is good for her as the human sciences take another colossal stride forward.

    • Starky says:

      Stupid isn’t it – any parent taking regular time share an activity (any activity, gaming or otherwise) is going to result in a happier mentally healthier child.

    • Xercies says:

      Actually I’m more interested that boys don’t get the same effect…i want them to go further on why that might be the case.

  25. Vinraith says:

    The problem with DA2, for a lot of people, isn’t a problem with DA2 so much as its a problem with Bioware. Bioware doesn’t want to make games like Baldur’s Gate anymore, they don’t want to make games with tactical combat, they don’t want to make games with interesting character building systems and mechanical choice depth. They want to make choose-your-own-adventure movies with action game interludes, and they’ve determined that these sell better as well. They make darn fine interactive-movies-with-action-game interludes, too, but they’re never going to be the games many of us want them to be making.

    The problem is, classic RPG’s are a niche genre. They always have been, it’s just that video games used to be an overlapping niche, whereas now they’re a mainstream thing. I suspect if you compared BG2’s sales numbers to a modern PC game they’d be considered pathetic, so its little wonder that to get what we really want we’re going to have to turn to independent developers and publishers.

    • 1stGear says:

      BG2 sold something like like 2 million units so…

      I had a longer comment, but honestly, the thing that gets my goat the most about Dragon Age 2 is how incompetently the writing team copied Alpha Protocol’s framing story (Yes, I realize AP didn’t invent frame narratives, but I’m pretty sure its what inspired DA2’s version, since I don’t think frame narratives are mentioned in The Hero’s Journey anywhere). AP’s framing not only allowed the player to actually interact with it, it was their primary method of characterizing the villain and keeping you focused on the main plot. DA2’s has an unreliable narrator they never actually do anything with and could be removed without any loss to the story.

    • Vinraith says:

      “BG2 sold something like like 2 million units so…”

      Really? Alright then, I’m out. Why the hell isn’t a major publisher/development house serving that audience?

    • Starky says:

      I think the reason that audience may no longer exist is simply because that audience grew up and no longer really has the time to sink 60+ hours into deep (mechanically) RPG.

      Anecdotal I know, but the modern student/young person who has that kind of free time to sink into a game in single sessions never grew up on those RPGs like we did, so isn’t interested.

      So all us 25+ gamers who did sink a few hundred hours into the classic RPGs, for the most part don’t have the time to do that. Or need to spread it out over a much longer period of time.

      I still haven’t finished Dragon Age, because 2 hours here and there doesn’t feel like it is worth it. You’re just starting to enjoy it and then your time is up. There are much better games to spend just 2-3 hours with then put down.
      I just can’t enjoy Dragon Age in the same bite sized way I can enjoy say Mass Effect 2, given it’s action and story driven nature, you can jump right in after a few days or a week without playing and enjoy just 2 hours of gameplay.

    • Lilliput King says:

      1stgear: Not totally with you there. The framed narrative in AP pretty much went like this every time for me.

      “So then you went to Moscow”
      “Yeah then I went to Moscow”
      “Did you really think that would do something or other?”
      “I dunno, perhaps I guess a bit”

      MOSCOW

      From a storytelling perspective it was, well, limp. I guess it might have been more successful at characterizing the villain if the villain had a character which involved something other than simply being a villain.

      I haven’t played DA2, dunno if it’s any better. I just find the idea that that somebody would want to copy AP’s storytelling slightly risible.

    • Zenicetus says:

      “BG2 sold something like like 2 million units so…”
      Really? Alright then, I’m out. Why the hell isn’t a major publisher/development house serving that audience?”

      This may just be the old fart here talking, but I think it’s the way the fragmentation of media and “total connectedness” of the younger generations, has led to shorter attention spans. Younger people now have less patience for the kind of number analysis for character stats, or the tactical combat modes in the old classics like BG2 or Neverwinter Nights. That’s my theory anyway.

      There are commercial motivations too, related to modern marketing methods. We used to be able to customize our party members for a dungeon crawl. That was a part of the RPG experience… not just growing your own character, but the party as a whole. Now we can’t do that in DA2, because it would mean Bioware couldn’t sell us DLC to change their costumes. Gah!

      Who owns the D&D rights now? I was never a huge fan of that system, but at least it provided some structure in the old Bioware products. It forced a certain type of game style and complexity, just to stay within the license. Maybe that’s where the next old-school RPG will come from. Although, it would be nice to look forward instead of in the rear-view mirror for a good game of this type.

    • 1stGear says:

      The pre-location bits were basically: “So you went there.” “Yeah.” I was referring more to the ones that took place typically just before the final mission or boss battle, where you were conversing with Leland about what he thinks happened, he’s gloating about how you failed to stop him, and he’s trying to work out the little bits and secrets he doesn’t know.

      More to the point, it’s the only logical way the player can interact with Leland in the game. It’s very easy to lose track of the main Halbech plot in between all the fighting Street Fighter characters and Russian mobsters obsessed with the ’80s and the framing narrative is there to continually remind you of who the overall bad guys are. It’s to give you a better chance to actually speak with and learn about the primary antagonist as well, something that is pretty scarce in most games. If Obsidian tried to have us encounter Leland somewhere else in the game, it would dilute the story, both because it doesn’t make sense for Leland to be outside the boardroom and both because we would want to immediately shoot him in the face and there’d have to be some ham-handed reason we couldn’t.

      Basically, AP’s framing narrative actually serves a purpose in the story, as opposed to being a sales point like DA2’s.

    • Starky says:

      Zenicetus that is indeed old fart talk – kids have ALWAYS had short attention spans (I did and still do :P) – or to be more exact short tolerance spans for things that don’t interest them.
      Hell the attention spans thing is something every generation says about the following.

      It’s nothing to do with attention span, or intelligence, or laziness or the usual complaints from one generation to the next.

      Children, even teenagers can spend amazing units of time, and staggering levels of concentration into things they enjoy – most just don’t notice that because -we- don’t or didn’t enjoy those things as kids.

      Take for example WoW – people mock it for been dumb, but mechanically it is vastly complex, much more so than any single player RPG in the history of PC gaming – yet people mock it for been dumbed down because those mechanics are under the hood.

      Yet I’ve witnessed (i used to work in a gaming club/internet cafe, that had a youth room) average teenagers (as in not the brightest of kids) having discussions about item stats, gear and progression in enough detail that it required fairly advanced understanding of maths for their age.
      They understood the mechanics, read about them, learned them, and applied them – and most of these were the kind of kids who would be lucky to be C students.

      it’s not that they can’t grasp games like BG2, or that they lack the patience too – it is simply that those games don’t interest them because frankly they are just not that much fon compared to what is available today – they are pretty damned primative – at the time they were the best we had.

      Still, I think you’d be surprised how popular games like Total War (Medieval 2 I think it was at the time) were with 14-16 year olds, granted most would only do the historical battles (you can’t do anything else in a gaming/internet cafe really). Obviously the most popular were counter-strike, WoW, and the usual suspects – but you’d be surprised.
      Another example, Football manager (2007) was massively popular, and that is nothing but statistics and stats.

    • Lilliput King says:

      1stGear: Good point. Also, maybe the only reason Leland seemed quite so cardboard as a villain was because we were so exposed to him thanks to the framed narrative. I must admit, when I first read that DA2 would be using both an unreliable narrator and a framed narrative I responded by hitching my left eyebrow a not inconsiderable number of centimetres. Certainly feels like gratuitous piling on of writing techniques.

    • BigJonno says:

      The evolution of RPGs of the electronic variety is kinda-sorta similar to how the pen ‘n’ paper variety have changed over the years. Essentially, they started with a bunch of assorted fantasy mans going into a dungeon and hitting bad people until they fell over and their stuff could be nicked. Complexity was added to make the experience more interesting, because there is really only so much fantasy-man-bad-people-hitting-in-dungeons one can take. At some point, people started telling stories with their fantasy mans and found this kind of interactive storytelling love-in thang was groovy. Over the years, various products at various points on the spiky dungeon death – hippie storytelling scale (Aka the Crunch-Fluff Axis) emerged and people found their preferred balance.

      In both formats, games on the extreme ends of the scale are something of a niche. There aren’t a lot of pen ‘n’ paper role-players who will sit down and play an immensely detailed tactical combat game with no character or story stuff whatsoever. At the same time few want to throw out the rules altogether. It’s the same with computer games; there’s a reason that we’re not flooded with old-school RPGs or commercially successful interactive fiction.

      I see two added complexities with computer RPGs that cause dissatisfaction. Firstly there are lots of alternatives to tactical, turn-based combat. A pen ‘n’ paper RPG needs to have turns and 99% of them have some kind of mechanism like dice, cards or even Jenga (seriously, check out Dread Jenga.) The wonders of the computer age, however, allow a virtually infinite variety of task resolution systems that aren’t tactical and/or turn-based. If you like RPGs for the character/story stuff, that’s fine, if you’re there for that specific style of gameplay, not so fine.

      This compounds the second issue, that of limited resources. With pen ‘n’ paper RPGs, once you’ve found a group you’re happy with, you’re set. You can do your thing, everyone else can do theirs. Computer games, on the other hand, get finished. You want new ones. Someone has to make them. Is your particular poison is unpopular/not commercially viable, you’re screwed. Hence resentment and arguments like the one going on a few posts up.

      So, yeah. Computer RPGs. History repeating with added problems.

  26. ChampionHyena says:

    I still do not understand the hate for DA2. I’ve plugged in 17 hours so far (not something I would do with a game I dislike), and a lot of the strongest criticism is not making a ton of sense from my viewpoint.

    Everyone seems to be raging out about the dialog system, and I don’t quite comprehend. First: yes, it’s more like Mass Effect–had we decided, in the refractory period between games, that we no longer like Mass Effect? Is it an interface thing? If BioWare took all the response options for a given conversation point, removed the wheel, typed all the responses out word-for-word, put them in a numbered list, and removed the mood icons, would you be able to distinguish it profoundly from how DA:O worked?

    Second, I adore ye olde Infinity Engine RPGs as much as anyone. But take even a total classic, like, say, Planescape: Torment. Did no one else get thrown by a couple of those conversation trees where the player was allowed approximately five different responses with only the most granular differences between them, save that one response was tagged with the invisible “enrage NPC” tag (thereby requiring use of the quickload key, ’cause NPCs in PS:T were TOUGH)? Anyone who tells you that DA2 hasn’t got tricky diplomatic situations (in spite of its purportedly “dumbed down” conversation mechanics) hasn’t played very much of it.

    Moreover, I’ve never seen such division on combat mechanics. Is it the high point of the game or the low point? It seems like there are people who dislike the game begrudgingly complimenting the combat and people who otherwise like the game dismissing the combat. Regardless of whether or not he’s feeling defensive, Mike Laidlaw is right in this case: the game is moving faster; how does that make it “consoleified?” Maybe if you’re playing real-time, but that’s a poor way to play it. What we–the PC Ubermenschen–should be doing is turning up the difficulty, turning on damage/status text, scrolling the camera all the way out, pause for every tactical consideration, and jump between each party member to queue and sync up attacks. It’s difficult, thoughtful, and requires a degree of care. Isn’t that how we like our PC games?

    No, I don’t like the copy/pasted dungeon zones. No, I don’t like that I can’t choose individual armor pieces for my companions. No, I don’t like the limited camera control. And no, there aren’t quite the same number of really standout companion NPCs as there were in DA:O. But are these things really destroying the game? It’s fun to talk to the guys, and it’s fun to fight the other guys. I want to see what happens in this story, and I love nerding out about stat weights and talent trees. DA2’s got all the RPG essentials stapled down–why is it suddenly worthless if it does not maintain the status quo in every single regard?

    I feel like if this wasn’t a BioWare game and if it didn’t see cross-platform release, the criticism wouldn’t quite be so harsh. If this was–hell, I dunno–a PC-only release from CDProjekt or Piranha-Bytes or something, would we be ripping it a new one? “This dev made games that I like better” doesn’t feel like a good reason to also say “therefore, this game sucks.”

    EDIT: STOP RUINING MY LINE BREAKS, EDIT FUNCTION

    • Starky says:

      Pro-Tip, copy your post and paste it into the edit box popup, saves the effort of adding all the line breaks again.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I loved DA:O. I loved ME2. DA2 is a poor halfway effort; they’ve sliced out nearly everything that made DA:O a reasonably deep tactical RPG without fully embracing the streamlined action-packed approach of ME2.

      That, fundamentally, is the problem. It tries to do both, actually does neither, and winds up satisfying none of my gaming urges.

      99% of my complaints about the game are symptoms of this, so I won’t bore you with a list, but the junk items and fetch quests are particularly amusing examples of terribly confused design.

    • BloatedGuppy says:

      I agree completely.

      I’ve put in a good amount of time on DA2 so far, and I’ve found it tremendously enjoyable. I’ve also played the vast majority of major RPG releases since the late 80’s. The Ultima games were my favorites, but I also sampled Bard’s Tale, Might and Magic, Wasteland, Fallout, Wizardry, Planescape, Arcanum, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Oblivion, and so on and so on. Even obscure ones like Phantasie, or Legacy of the Ancients. Almost all the Gold Box games. Eye of the Beholder. Martian Dreams. Name a famed and beloved RPG, and I’ve likely at least fiddled with the demo.

      So are my RPG credentials sufficient to enjoy the game? I find it utterly exhausting when fans of a genre decide they are the authorities on what does and does not constitute a good entry in that genre. I like Mass Effect for completely different reasons than I like Everquest. Does that not mean they can both be good games? Oh, this has good mechanics but a poor story, it’s shite. Oh, this has an amazing story but questionable mechanics, it’s shite.

      Maybe I’ve just been alive long enough that I know what a bad game actually looks like. I bought a collector’s edition of Ultima IX, for heavens sake. DA2 is by any reasonable objective standard an excellent title. Critical reviews will support that. If your personal, subjective criteria make it impossible for you to enjoy it, then I feel sorry for you. Although snottily dismissing media is sort of an exalted calling on the internet, so maybe I’m the one who’s missing out.

    • ChampionHyena says:

      @TillEulenspiegel

      That complaint is part of what I don’t understand. What parts are missing that make DA2 less tactical? It feels faster, certainly, but largely that just means timing can be left up to… well, timing and not waiting and hoping that your character’s going to follow through on a particular attack animation or command before the opportunity you’re trying to take advantage of is past. Meanwhile, it seems like there’s a lot more transparency with combat feedback: resists, areas of attack, status indicators, etc. Moreover, I like the cross-class status effects. Elemental-focused mages can inflict the Brittle status on NPCs, but only heavy melee-ers can really take advantage of it. It feels pretty comprehensive to me, honestly.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Start with the removal of backstab positioning. And spell combos.

      Or just play DA:O up until the end of the tower, then play DA2. There’s no comparison. DA:O (particularly at version 1.0 with no patches at normal difficulty) was a beautifully challenging tactical experience. There was a broad variety of encounters in different environments, which all needed to be handled a bit differently. You had to hoard every health potion and tweak each character’s tactics and probably reload several times. And use each ability in an effective manner.

      In DA2, enemies spawn, I mash “r” and my ability buttons (many of which seem pretty ineffectual, at least for a rogue), more enemies spawn, and it’s over.

      And don’t say “raise the difficulty level”. That’s like telling Oblivion players who complain about quest arrows to turn them off. The game simply isn’t designed for it; there are no detailed journal entries like in Morrowind. DA2 combat isn’t just easier, it’s a completely different experience.

    • Jahkaivah says:

      “Everyone seems to be raging out about the dialog system, and I don’t quite comprehend. First: yes, it’s more like Mass Effect–had we decided, in the refractory period between games, that we no longer like Mass Effect? Is it an interface thing? If BioWare took all the response options for a given conversation point, removed the wheel, typed all the responses out word-for-word, put them in a numbered list, and removed the mood icons, would you be able to distinguish it profoundly from how DA:O worked?”

      It’s one thing to have a series have a stupid aspect to it, but another is to see a series which got things right suddenly adopt the same aspect under the impression that the previous method was inferior. It’s tolerated in Mass Effect mainly because the series was using it when it started (it’s also become iconic to the series in some respects), but that doesn’t make it any less daft. I’m sure loads of people would love it if Bioware provided an option to play the game with full dialogue lines given.

      And it is fairly understandable why, if your going to make a game where the player is judged by what their character says you bloody ought to let the player know precisely what each option is going to make their character say. I’ve had plenty of times during Mass Effect seen Shepard say something that made me regret picking that dialogue option, as opposed to say Deus Ex where I have never desired my dialogue options to be given potentially vague abbrieviations.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      Everyone seems to be raging out about the dialog system, and I don’t quite comprehend. First: yes, it’s more like Mass Effect–had we decided, in the refractory period between games, that we no longer like Mass Effect?

      I think the more appropriate question is to turn this around and say: Yes, it’s more like Mass Effect–had we decided, in the refractory period between games, that we no longer like the system from Dragon Age? Was there any REAL need to change the system, and was Dragon Age II better for it in comparison with Origins?

      It’s the one thing that I’m starting to notice. People are taking an attitude of “BioWare’s games” rather than “here’s Mass Effect, then here’s Dragon Age”. They are two different series, made by the same developer. The fact that something works in one series does not automatically mean it will work just as well in another, and the fact that one adopts the other doesn’t automatically mean it’s a better fit, or that the old fit was worse.

    • Zenicetus says:

      @ChampionHyena:
      “That complaint is part of what I don’t understand. What parts are missing that make DA2 less tactical? “

      In addition to what TillEulenspiegel mentioned, there’s this:

      Mages were already overpowered in DA:O. Now that AOE spells cause no friendly fire damage, and there is no link between damage and aggro, your mages can spam fireballs and chain lightning with no penalty at all. You don’t have to *think* about how to use an AOE damager mage.

      They removed different strengths of health, mana, and stamina potions. Now it’s just a red, blue, or yellow button you push, instead of having to think about conserving your strongest potions in the inventory.

      They stripped the whole layer of armor variety from your party members.You don’t have to think about that any more, because you can’t change their armor stats and make decisions about what will work best.

      The combat happens so fast, that if you have a halfway decent party build you don’t have to think about optimum positioning or movement. Anything will work. If you want a real meat-grinder party, try two Rogues (one as the player) and two mages in support: one damager, one healer. No need for a warrior tank at all. On the one hand, it’s nice that we have total freedom of choice in how we choose the party members. But again, they’re removing the *thinking* part of how you put together an optimum party for a dungeon crawl.

      The whole idea of tactics, is that you have to choose the best option from a set of limited choices for a given situation. When *any* option will work just fine, there are no tactics.

    • Manley Pointer says:

      DA2 looks like a total rush job, even beyond the recycled dungeons; Bioware clearly didn’t put the same time or resources into it as they did into DAO or the ME games. Laidlaw’s PR-speak aside, it’s not a case of them making bold creative choices; they made it with a smaller team in less time, and it shows. The game is just plain unfinished, with an abrupt ending to rival KOTOR 2’s and low-grade content throughout; you can bet they won’t half-ass a game from their flagship Mass Effect franchise the same way.

      The dungeons are small and the encounters poorly planned (waves of enemies spawn in on either side of your party). Dungeons are endlessly reused with tiny cosmetic changes. I can only think of a handful of enemy types that weren’t in DAO; even the Varterral (which the game has you fight twice for some fucking reason) and the Harvester are swiped from DAO DLC.

      This is a bit subjective, but I also think the voice acting is lower quality, there are fewer moral choices to make, and your companions are less developed (and not just in the number of lines they have). There are way fewer make-or-break points in the game where companions turn on you if you do something they deeply disagree with; they have less agency, and seem more like window dressing until you hit the game’s grand finale. The player has less freedom as well, as you can’t really make the selfish or plain villainous choices that DA:O sometimes allowed you to make (and Baldur’s Gate II and Fallout allowed a lot of).

      There are also a lot of really shit attempts at humor, including a cringingly bad Sir Mix-A-Lot reference that the writers thought was so good, they had Hawke say it a second time. The random party chatter in DA:O was so funny at times, it seems unbelievable that Bioware could create such leaden dialogue in the sequel, or devise such a wooden group of characters.

    • malkav11 says:

      Some reasons the combat is substantially less tactical and interesting that have nothing to do with the increased speed or the camera limitations (though those contribute):

      1) I’m not sure about rogues or warriors, having not played them, but mages get dramatically fewer spells to choose from. The DA:O mage setup had four basic mage abilities, four new abilities per specialization, and then…what, five or six schools with sixteen abilities each? Now you get about the same number of schools, but with four or five abilities each. To add insult to injury, there are only a couple of new spells, if that, but all of the returning spells start out weaker and less effective than the original version and must be upgraded (with ability points!) to approach their original effectiveness.
      2) Many abilities that used to provide crowd control functionality no longer do, or do so only after upgrades. In general, abilities seem to be on longer cooldowns and accomplish less.
      3) Friendly fire is gone (except on the highest difficulty), meaning one no longer has to take player controlled character positioning into account except when the enemies are doing AoE abilities.
      4) There are significantly fewer enemy types.
      5) Where in DA:O every enemy was a potential danger and there were clearly distinguishable enemies that were even stronger in two or three further tiers of function, there is now a sea of mostly ineffectual enemies that are distinguishable only by the length of their health bar.
      6) In general, encounter design seems to have switched from smaller groups of legitimately challenging enemies to giant waves of mooks with an occasional boss thrown in for good measure. These disposable enemies are so easily eliminated that crowd control, already substantially MIA, becomes even less useful – why hold or stun enemies when you can kill them in a couple of hits?
      7) There is now only one healing spell generally available (on a lengthy cooldown), and only one party member other than the PC who has access to the specialist tree that permits access to the final three healing abilities, including the resurrection spell – all of which must be cast while using a sustained spell that prevents offensive casting for the duration. Combine this with lengthy potion cooldowns, and healing is all but removed from the toolkit.
      8) Although this is relatively trivial, the UI for assigning AI tactics has been changed in ways that make it less convenient to use – default behaviors and preset tactics configurations must be paged through one at a time instead of selected on a menu.

      There’s probably other stuff I’m missing. I will say that although I don’t like not being able to manually equip my characters, I don’t think it directly impacts the tactical value of the combat.

    • malkav11 says:

      Also, I never liked the Mass Effect conversation wheel and bitched about it at every opportunity. It was something I had originally been grudgingly prepared to put up with in exchange for the ability to interrupt conversations, and then they never actually delivered that (yes I know they claim they did in ME2 but that’s not what they described before ME1 came out and does not justify the stupid dialogue wheel). There’s a couple of primary reasons I don’t like it – the dialogue description and the actual dialogue rarely match, so I wind up saying things I did not intend to (tonal icon notwithstanding); and I enjoy reading the dialogue paths I will not be taking. A secondary reason is that the traditional numbered dialogue tree can be operated with the keyboard, which is mildly more convenient. As far as I can tell, you -must- use the mouse for the wheel. (I can see where the wheel would be convenient on a console, but I don’t play these games on a console.)

    • ChampionHyena says:

      @TillEulenspiegel
      I know you said not to tell you to turn up the difficulty level, but… turn up the difficulty level! Just because “Hard” with its friendly fire and its cascades of interrupts isn’t the default, that doesn’t suddenly make it obsolete. In Oblivion’s case, you’re disabling an interface effect. In DA2’s case, the developers put those difficulty levels in there for people who want the game to be more challenging. That is the purpose of being able to change it! Saying the game isn’t designed to be played on any other difficulty level when other difficulty levels exist precisely for that reason doesn’t quite hold water. Go ahead and use it, you’re not somehow fracturing what BioWare “planned” the experience to be by tailoring it to how you’d rather play.

      @Zenicetus
      Once again, re: FF and combat difficulty… you’ve really just got to turn up the difficulty level. I’m sorry if it sounds like a cop-out, and the Normal difficulty level really is something of a sleepwalk (they could at least put some degree of FF in), but if there is an opportunity for you to make the game more enjoyable, take it.

      As for potion strengths, that’s another one of those inventory questions–like vendor trash–that I’m not sure I’m for or against yet. Tiered stuff would be nice, but it always feels like I’m screwing myself over no matter what potion type I take when I’m given a choice like that. Maybe that’s just me. And eventually there’s that problem of lower-level potions becoming largely obsolete unless they scale with level. Not being able to change companions’ armor, as I said before, irritates me. Juggling armor seems like it should be a pain, but… I dunno. There’s something oddly soothing about it. And it fuels my need to loot. I do wish BioWare let you do that.

      @Manley Pointer
      re: voice acting, “Dwarven crafts. Fine Dwarven crafts.”

      Kidding aside, I like DA2’s voice acting quite a bit more, and not just for the absence (so far!) of bloody Steven bloody Jay bloody Blum. And I’ve had more laugh-out-loud moments in DA2’s random party banter, but my archer for this game has been Varric and for DA:O it was (ugh) Leliana, so maybe my party composition’s kinder to the back-and-forth here.

      As for the big decisions, I can only recall one instance in DA:O where I was at risk of losing a party member (Alistair vs. Loghain). Again, maybe this was just the direction my story went. Where moral choices are concerned, I’m sick of having a “good option” and an “evil option.” I know it’s high fantasy and all, but real human interaction doesn’t work like that. If Fenris is blathering on about mages at every opportunity and I want to tell him where to stick it, I can do that without my magical objective morality meter sliding to the red glowy end. Moreover, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many altruistic-seeming decisions I’ve made have played out poorly for my lack of foresight. As for being evil, I can think of a few situations where you might get a chance to pull it off (“rescuing” elven slaves or messing with that kid’s head in the Fade), but being selfish is easy. So many of my wheelings and/or dealings have given me the opportunity to pop the old “bribe me and I’ll go away” question.

      Lastly, as much as I like DA2 and BioWare, copy/pasted dungeons, indeed, are indefensible.

      @malkav11
      Saying the dialogue abbreviations and the dialogue itself “rarely” matches up gives the system a lot less credit than it deserves. Yes, I’ve had mislabeled dialogue options shoot me in the foot and I wish it were a little more verbose, but that’s less a problem here than it was in Mass Effect, given that we’ve got mood indicators. Not really much chance to mistake a pacifying response for an aggressive one. Too transparent? A little too easy? Could be, but it prevents mistakes. Moreover, getting descriptive enough with the dialogue choices might be a little tricky now that Hawke’s actually a conversation partner and not a silent telepathic soliloquy emitter. Maybe they should be using the first line from a given conversation, though.

      I still feel like we’re completely ignoring DA2’s merits just because it’s not DA:O. For what it’s worth, I liked DA:O more than I like DA2, myself. But–and maybe it’s just the path I chose through the game–a lot of the things getting attributed to DA:O are not necessarily things DA:O did well, and it could be we’re remembering it a little more fondly in hindsight than the actual experience played through.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      You seem to be ignoring many of the points people are making. Backstab positioning, spell combos, spawning enemies, lack of equipment choice, ineffectual abilities (this is subjective, but my rogue felt like a badass in DA:O, not so much in DA2 – even though it’s an easier game!), etc etc. When I say they’ve sliced out most of the combat depth, this is what I mean.

      Yes, I’ve tried playing on a harder difficulty. It’s still not fun, just frustrating, particularly without a proper zoomed-out camera. Again, my point: not designed for tactical combat.

    • DiamondDog says:

      So, what’s the deal with people not liking spawning enemies then? I’m struggling to see how it spoils things. Or why it’s classed as a console trait.

      That’s a genuine question, not just snark.

    • malkav11 says:

      I had a whole post about the many things they’ve changed that suck the depth out of the combat, but it apparently got eaten by my browser or something, as it hasn’t shown up. And I really don’t feel like retyping it at this point. But the fact is, the only thing that harder difficulties turn back on is friendly fire. And that only activates on Nightmare difficulty, not Hard. Which is a bit higher up the scale than I have any intention of going, personally. Frankly, I don’t even intend to go to Hard because with the design changes they’ve made, the fights being mostly trivial is about all that’s preventing them from being incredibly annoying.

    • Jahkaivah says:

      “Yes, I’ve had mislabeled dialogue options shoot me in the foot and I wish it were a little more verbose, but that’s less a problem here than it was in Mass Effect, given that we’ve got mood indicators. Not really much chance to mistake a pacifying response for an aggressive one. Too transparent? A little too easy?”

      Also too simple, people were asking for more grey morality in RPGs as it were.

      “Moreover, getting descriptive enough with the dialogue choices might be a little tricky now that Hawke’s actually a conversation partner and not a silent telepathic soliloquy emitter. Maybe they should be using the first line from a given conversation, though.”

      In other words, adopt the system most games were using for dialogue for decades now untill Bioware started trying to fix what wasn’t broken? This isn’t exactly some massive conundrum that we’re trying to solve here.

    • malkav11 says:

      Oh hey, there’s my post.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Gassalasca says:

    Re Matthew Stone piece: “but Minecraft isn’t important. At least, not in the same way that, say, Peter Pan is. Minecraft isn’t a timeless classic. It’s just lego blocks.”

    My playing with Lego blocks when I was a kid had a more profound impact on me than Peter Pan, and was without doubt more important to me both now and then .Mind you, I loved Peter Pan. I still occasionally hum to myself Never Smile at a Crocodile or Following the Leader.

  28. Jumwa says:

    Not to be redundant but: no kids games?

    Since the launching of the newest (and now seemingly the most critically acclaimed) Pokemon was just a week ago from today, it seems odd to be seeing such a statement at this time.

    There are the Mario and Zelda games impactful in so many ways. Heck, the Paper Mario games brought most of my genuinely (and intentionally) hilarious gaming moments.

    I could go on, but I’m sure everyone who stopped to think about it a while could remember some very great, well-polished childrens games they loved and likely still do love if only through the lenses of nostalgia.

    • Xercies says:

      To be honest Nintendo games are a very small subsection i would say and that most games now a days are not very much for kids. i actually was going through this before, what do the children play now a days. Since i don’t know if they are willing to play older games from previous consoles(though the wii marketplace s a good thing for that) and to be honest some of the crappy tie in games i wouldn’t give to any kid.

    • Jumwa says:

      I certainly don’t mean to imply that such games are in great abundance. However, they do exist, and there are some very good quality titles amongst them.

      The games industry could definitely use more good quality “casual” or “child” games, or whatever you want to call them.

    • Pantsman says:

      EDIT: Reply fail.

  29. BobsLawnService says:

    That Bioware interview has converted me frm being mindly interested in the game to being put off completely. Something about the way Laidlaw answered those questions makes my skin crawl but I just can’t put my finger on it.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Hmm… I know what you mean there. I can’t put my finger on it either. However, he’s aware that they didn’t put as much effort in as they should have (re-using levels, for example), but he can’t seem to see why that’s having a negative impact on people’s opinions.

    • Pantsman says:

      He doesn’t sound like a human being. He sounds like a PR mouthpiece. Everything he says rings of marketing spin. That’s why it’s creepy.
      It’s as if they’re not interviewing Mike Laidlaw the person, but BioWare the corporate entity.

    • Wulf says:

      This is why there are certain people in the industry I absolutely adore, even if I’m not a fan of their games (though sometimes I am). I could name the obvious examples in the indie scene, but there are some in the mainstream as well.

      Indie? Pretty much everyone interviews as a person. And Wolfire excel at removing the barrier between their customer base and themselves.

      Mainstream? Let’s see… pretty much everyone at ArenaNet is great at this. Then there’s Jack Emmert of Cryptic, and Randy Pitchford of Gearbox. Let’s not forget Gabe Newell either. All of whom are candid and incredibly honest, up front, and clearly passionate about what they do.

      It always disappoints me to be honest when someone is reduced to a PR mouthpiece because that’s the old world for me, one before the Internet, when words were published and carefully measured before doing so. It’s a shame that some people in the industry still subscribe to that.

    • sonofajoiner says:

      I reckon it’s probably the continual, snidey references to gamers being terrified of change as an explanation for all the criticism that’s got your hackles up. And he’s been making them for months, even going so far as to shoe-horn them into DAO dlc. It’s as though Laidlaw can’t believe for a second anybody could look at the hollow, heart-lacking, under-detailed shadow of a sequel that is DA2 and rationally conclude that it is full of suck. No, it’s because we’re over-emotional knee-jerk-wads.

  30. Juiceman says:

    Laidlaw is too busy trying to be a victim to realize why people don’t like his game. He thinks change is always for the better and Dragon Age 2 proves him wrong.

  31. Kaira- says:

    What we need is more games for adults AND childs. Most games seem to be targeted to teenage boys. Which saddens me.

  32. sendmark says:

    Yeah I’m also pretty turned off by that interview, comes across as dismissing criticism is being down to fear of change, rather than genuinely addressing it. Glad I decided to wait and see, rather than commit to first day buying. A shame as DA:O and DA:Awakening were ok, not BG2 quality but passable and worth buying without waiting for a sale.

  33. Hoaxfish says:

    I wonder what Miss Anthropy thinks about the fact that almost every female in Bioware games gets boiled down to their “romance” option.

    Whether or not Bioware intend it, their “fans” (at least a vocal part of it) seemingly focus heavily on the Romance options only (in the same way I imagine Japanese players enjoy Hentai dating games)… It’s sometimes hard to believe that there are other aspects of the game to discuss.

  34. Pointless Puppies says:

    To me that benefits the PC players and the console players

    That’s funny, because everything I’m reading for both parties says that PC players feel the combat is most definitely dumbed down, while console players feel the combat degrades to spamming the same button over and over.

    This is what happens when you try to please two completely different play styles. You end up pleasing neither.

  35. Gap Gen says:

    I kinda thought the children’s games guy shot himself in the foot at the start by claiming Minecraft had nothing to teach children. I get that he meant that narrative was a powerful educational tool, but the Minecraft comment was kinda idiotic and off-topic. It certainly lost me before he’d even begun the meat of his essay.

    • Weylund The Second says:

      My kids learn stuff from Minecraft. Like all of the things I have to explain to them, about gravity and cooking meat and why Daddy’s killing cows. And *then* they go build stuff with Lego blocks and leave me alone so I can work for half an hour.

      I thought it was a decent rant, as rants go. Not much… content, honestly. Without underestimating the average 5-year-old (my kids are pretty bright) I think it’s safe to say that kids don’t get the profound messages in Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are”, but adults expect that they do because we’re still self-centered idiots.

      They get that there’s an island with monsters on it, and it’s super fun and you get sent there for saying you’re going to eat your mother. It’s like “Cat’s Cradle”. You know it’s a sad song, but you don’t realize why men drink like fishes and cry when it’s on until you have kids. Or freaking “In The Night Kitchen”? Seriously? It makes Beckett look sane.

    • Tei says:

      Some people idea of learning is memorising historical facts or list of items. These people forget how important is problem solving, working in a team, communication, creative expresion, etc… Things you will have plenty in a Minecraft server. To be honest, memorizing things is important. But is not the only important thing.

  36. Grayvern says:

    Dragon Age 2 is ‘dumbed down’ in only 2 ways, this is after 30 hours of play, The fact that fireballs have no friendly fire while this is conceptually annoying although it means you actually use those skills instead of ignoring them. And the character models are way too low res in places, notably hands.

    Everything else is a matter of perception, on pc, on hard you still need to pause, issue commands, use control magic and skills intelligently.
    It’s actually more tactical more of the time because they have removed what was quite frankly cheese in the form of the arcane warrior.
    While combat is speedier which makes issuing commands a time sensitive matter, the game needed it, many people seem blind to Origins massive flaw that of having huge sections, more than anyone who doesn’t binge game would get through, of combat often 3+ hours with no pay off and in some cases end in sight.

    The only other ‘loss’ is ‘crafting system from DA:O which was basically cheaper potions, even though that was pointless as there was nothing to buy in origins that wasn’t better than dropped loot. It’s now been streamlined so you find sources then pay slightly less for potions.
    In feel the game is closer to a mix of Baldurs Gate 2’s above ground portion and KOTOR.

    Although Baldurs Gate 2 comparisons should stop that game had very little skill use or tactics, save, save the mage for harder fights and autoattack through 75% of the game.

    Bioware have made massive strides in DA2 to fix what has been a recuring problem in more recent games, that of having nothing the shops worth buying, in 2 I have bought more, and more useful things than the entirety of Dragon Age.

    Honest critique of Dragon Age 2 comes in the form of the fact parts of it feel rushed and so far too much of the quest design falls into the template of talk then kill monsters. Perhaps the most glaring flaw is Hawke’s voice acting.

    Finally in story terms Dragon Age 2 is far braver than origins, it tells, so far a smaller scale political, familial storyline.

    • malkav11 says:

      The loss of the skill system is not actually a loss – the only skills that were relevant are still present in alternate, more sensible forms. But there’s a whole lot more that broke the combat than just turning off friendly fire.

  37. Tei says:

    I am reading everything people say about Dragon Age 2, to decide if is a buy or a pass…. The writing on the wall is that is a rushed RPG. Rushed RPG’s have game breaking bugs, lots of repetitive or generic content and abrupt ends (so don’t feel conclusive).
    :-/

  38. Saiko Kila says:

    People loving DA2 are not alone. They’re just a sexual minority.

    • JackShandy says:

      Is that sex as in gender, as in they’re women in a male-dominated genre? Or that Dragon Age 2 lovers enjoy sexually deviant acts or fetishes? Or that they know what they like… Biblically? This comment just confuses me.

  39. RegisteredUser says:

    I would just like to say F@ck you “social” game developers. F@ck you.

    See, you do get respect. Out of respect I left out the % and $. Then again that might have to do with the 1 symbol for 1 letter replacement logic I prefer.

    You never know.