Tag Archives: bioware

“Story Mode,” Action Games, And Interactive Fiction

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So Horizon Zero Dawn is the latest big budget game to include a “story mode” or what people are calling super-easy modes now. While some may argue against modes that significantly de-emphasize or nullify combat, they’re really part of a larger trend along with “walking simulators” and new adventure games. Continue reading

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Mass Effect Andromeda’s Marketing So Far Just Isn’t For Me.

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The new footage of Mass Effect: Andromeda from Nvidia’s CES 2017 keynote looks okay I guess. For Mass Effect fans who are less interested in shooting aliens than in other popular aspects of the franchise, EA’s marketing for the game so far has been odd. The game comes out on March 21st and the level of hype in the air feels decidedly light for such a big release. Continue reading

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Is Witcher 3 The Next Game Everybody Wants To Imitate?

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I still don’t quite know what to think of information on an upcoming Assassin’s Creed game being broken on 4chan of all places, but one thing did catch my eyes — the mention in that 4chan thread of a desire for a “Witcher-feel” in the game. All I could think upon reading that was “here we go.”

I guess I should have expected it. The Witcher 3 has been named game of the year by over 150 publications (and this blog) for 2015. It’s the hot new game everybody likes. Of course it would become the next secret sauce everybody else is trying to capture. Even if the 4chan thread itself was bunk, we still might see other developers make similar desires known in the near future. Everybody should definitely be learning from good games including Witcher 3, but when big developers say they want to be like this good game or that good game, in my opinion they usually end up missing the point of why those games are good. Continue reading

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The Witcher 3 And Why Most Action RPGs Have Bad Combat

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I’ve been wanting to talk about action RPG combat for a little while now since all the criticism about The Witcher 3’s combat came up after people got it in their hands. This also comes relatively soon after many hours of engaging in Skyrim’s infamous combat system. We also have people’s concerns brewing over Bethesda’s plans for Fallout 4’s combat. Continue reading

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BioWare Is Kind Of An Anomaly On Consoles

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Playing the Dragon Age Inquisition trial EA put on Origin and discussing how it handles its combat system made me realize something about what BioWare is trying to do. You ever think about how many other western developers released party-based RPGs on consoles? Continue reading

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Dreams For Mass Effect’s Future, Part One

Ever since Mass Effect 3 ended people have speculated on the future of that franchise, and I’ve had my own list of wishes and questions about where it could go. I’m not gonna go over questions like “sequel or prequel?” here. I’m just gonna focus on one of my main disappointments with the initial trilogy that I don’t expect to be rectified in the future.

And that disappointment is how we never got a true sequel to the first Mass Effect. Not in the mechanical gameplay sense anyway.

The original Mass Effect is the perfect example of deeply flawed execution of a game design template that had a lot of potential. That potential of a modern space RPG wasn’t really explored in the second and third games, where BioWare tried to make shooters to court a more mainstream audience.

The Mako was difficult to control (at least on Xbox 360), the inventory system was horrendous, planetary surface exploration was dull, as were many extra locations, and the combat looked like Gears of War but was still stuck with RPG roots. The thing is, I still enjoy the first game’s gameplay the most because the complete package still created enough of that space RPG, even if it was a flawed one. I really like the idea of what it tried to do, and I expected the sequels to deliver on that.

And some people complained when Mass Effect 2 simply got rid of a lot of the trouble areas of the first game instead of improving on them. Why couldn’t BioWware just make a better inventory system (even a rip-off of Dragon Age’s inventory would’ve been a huge improvement) instead of scrapping it? Planet scanning is even duller than driving across a square mile of flat land, and the surfaces you did explore were pretty much just linear paths. In Mass Effect 3 they were literally the multiplayer maps.

And that planetary exploration is actually what I miss the most from the first game. I like to think of the random planets, bases, and ships you explore in the first Mass Effect as basically the random caves and dungeons of an RPG, just in a space setting. All BioWare had to do for the sequels was make a better Mako and maybe try to give the locations a bit more polish.

If BioWare is even thinking about planetary exploration for future games, maybe today’s tools are better than what they had in 2007. If they can pull off a good open world for Dragon Age Inquisition, why not Mass Effect? What if procedural generation tools are better today than they were seven years ago?

But of course we know better. We know BioWare is going for action game fans now. The action game focus is ever-present even in the Inquisition videos they use to try to placate RPG fans. Maybe they’ll take the same approach to Mass Effect — actually try to offer a deep RPG and a twitch action game at the same time, but trying and succeeding are two different things.

The upcoming space game I’m most interested in is No Man’s Sky. Can a four-man team really give us a true galaxy to explore? If they can, what could a team of hundreds with a massive budget accomplish?

BULLETS:

  • The current Humble Bundle is for several Image Comics digital trade books, all DRM-free. I’ve been checking them out and they’re really good so far. East of West is predictably a western, but is extremely fantastical in the comic book way with heavy sci-fi and occult-ish themes. Fatale looks like it could be a pretty good noir/horror thing. What I like about it is that even though it has obvious horror and occult themes, they aren’t all that overt. Chew might be my favorite that I’ve read so far — funny with an interesting detective story. It’s set in a world of chicken prohibition and a militarized FDA. Really appreciate Image for dropping all its DRM. Meant I could just drop the comics into my preferred iPad app for a road trip without having to worry about synching.
  • That “Project Beast” thing has me on the edge of deciding to buy a PS4.
  •  How well does TowerFall play on an arcade stick?
  • Gunhound on Steam is out of left field. I’d been eyeing the PSP version on PSN for a while.
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N7 Day: Conflicts And Missed Opportunities

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Not that EA’s gonna do anything about N7 day (I don’t think so anyway), but I guess it’s as good a time as any for me to voice my love/disappointment relationship with the Mass Effect franchise. More specifically, I’m stating my love/disappointment relationship with the second and third game.

I like Mass Effect a lot. I’d say it’s one of my top franchises this console generation just in terms of how much the games kept me engaged. The first Mass Effect is definitely one of the games that kept pullin’ me back the most over the course of this console generation. I think I have more time logged on that game than any other on Steam (something like 140 hours) despite how flawed it is. At the same time, I still can’t figure out if I like Mass Effect 2 more, it being my 2010 game of the year.

Like some other people, my main disappointment is that we never got, gameplay-wise, and actual sequel to the first Mass Effect. Going back to play it, it’s the only game in the series that fully feels like an RPG, even if most of those RPG mechanics by themselves are flimsily pulled off.

I can understand people’s complaints with the unruly Mako, the random planets and other locations to discover all being copy-pasted, and the horrible inventory system. For some reason though, I still immensely enjoyed the experience all those things combined to form. It all came together to give me the feeling I was actually exploring the galaxy, something that really no other RPG I’ve played has done, at least no modern one. A lot of the exploration was even pretty much as good as what you usually get with western RPGs. The various caves and derelict space ships were really just random dungeons in a sci-fi setting. Most importantly, Mass Effect’s sequels should have been refinements on those mechanics. That’s part of why people make sequels.

They could’ve made the Mako control much better than it did in the first game. Instead of Mass Effect 2’s linear shooting gallery locations BioWare could have made denser areas to explore with a new-and-improved Mako (like that game’s Overlord DLC quest) with more unique “dungeons.” Most easily, they could’ve fixed the damn inventory system instead of chucking it altogether.

That’s what really let me know BioWare pretty much gave up on making an RPG with the second and third games. Both of them are basically third person shooters with WRPG storytelling. The thing is, Mass Effect 2 does a really excellent job at that WRPG storytelling if you ask me.

I can’t figure out which among the first two games I like more because the second game made the world feel a lot more interesting and had more engaging characters, even if the main quest was bland (and tiny). I feel like Mass Effect 2 has the most well-written side quests in the series (including the loyalty missions). It was my favorite game that year mostly because I wanted to keep revisiting those stories and characters, despite the fact that it was also a poorly-done action game made by an RPG house that didn’t really know how to make action games.

Strangely enough, I actually think BioWare finally nailed the action game part with Mass Effect 3. That game, with its flimsy quest system and rushed exploration, really did go full action shooter. I honestly think Mass Effect 3 is a pretty good third person shooter with well-designed enemy AI and combat arenas, but that’s kind of all it is. Even the multiplayer maps are recycled from the side quests (or maybe the other way around), but I hear great things about that multiplayer and intend to try it out some day.

But despite the second and third Mass Effect games still being great in their own right, I still get mad when I think of what could have been. Mass Effect could’ve developed into something really special when it comes to RPGs. Instead BioWare figured their fans didn’t want full-blown RPGs anymore. That seems to be the whole trend behind the company these days and I fear the same thing happening to Dragon Age.

Dragon Age: Origins was a pretty good throwback to the days of the Infinity Engine. Dragon Age II tried to be a hack n’ slash with RPG elements, and it looks like Dragon Age: Inquisition is trying to balance the two, but I’m not convinced BioWare can yet.

Okay, the company has gone at length about how the tactical RPG combat system is still in there, but it was there in Dragon Age II as well, just unnecessary. A lot of the Inquisition footage I’ve seen suggests BioWare is still trying to make a hack n’ slash. The problem is, no one has really figured out how to make a game that’s a great hack n’ slash and a great party-based RPG at the same time. A ton of Japanese RPG studios have tried throughout the years. Maybe Namco’s Tales games are the best attempts at the party-based action RPG.

Who knows, maybe if BioWare nails it with Inquisition (it’s got a lot of people optimistic) it can channel some of that knowledge back into Mass Effect. At the very least I wanna see what that franchise looks like on the Frostbite 3 engine.

BULLETS:

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Hopes For Dragon Age Inquisition

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BioWare’s PAX Prime 2013 presentation of Dragon Age Inquisition seems to have gone over really well, showing a real turnaround from the criticized Dragon Age II. I however am still only cautiously optimistic of the developer’s claims heralding a return to the gameplay of Dragon Age: Origins.

If you watch the gameplay videos from the PAX floor, people are cheering almost all the way through it. On forums I’m already seeing a lot of vehement Dragon Age II haters get hyped for Inquisition, so BioWare is definitely doing something right.

For starters I’ll admit that even in the off-screen videos the graphics look really impressive — real next-gen stuff. The large hubs the game takes place in also look really expansive.

People seem to be the most excited for the gameplay though, but what I saw in those videos actually doesn’t look extremely different from what was in DAII. BioWare made a big deal about how Inquisition is gonna bring back the zoomed-out, strategic combat mode of Origins, showing some stop-and-start tactics in the Inquisition videos. The whole demonstration clearly showed off a back-and-forth switch between that style and something more like a hack n’ slash action RPG. That’s nice, but DAII never actually ditched the tactical combat style.

You could pause and give your party members specific commands in every version of DAII. BioWare even showed off videos and screenshots back in 2011 to try to placate PC fans of Origins. The problem was you never NEEDED to fight like that in DAII. On normal mode the combat sequences were so easy that you could just run around with one character slashing up enemies most of the time while your AI companions handled themselves. Pausing and applying any kind of strategy to the situation always felt like overkill, and as soon as a second wave spawned in any plan you put into action was out the window. BioWare needs to assure me this won’t happen again in Inquisition.

Other problems with DAII’s combat include how you could basically only customize equipment for the main protagonist, and how apparently the spells weren’t balanced for friendly fire, which was disabled in all but the highest difficulty mode. BioWare has said that friendly fire will basically be its own toggle, and that full party customization is back, but we still haven’t seen anything suggesting how Inquisition will be balanced. Origins really did require you to carefully plan out every battle to avoid getting pounded. I’m still not sure Inquisition will have the same level of challenge.

I already know Inquisition is going to be better than DAII just by nature of the development cycle. DAII’s problem was it came out 16 months after Origins — you could tell it was rushed because BioWare was caught off-guard by the success of Origins, which is still the developer’s most commercially successful game outside Mass Effect 3.

BioWare has acknowledged the fans they lost with DAII though and I’m sure they’re aware of how poorly it sold compared to Origins. The three-year development cycle of Inquisition alone should probably ensure it’s at least better than DAII.

Still, I’m worried about BioWare’s transition from an RPG developer to an action game developer, which doesn’t seem to have stopped since Mass Effect 2. That game and Mass Effect 3 really did try to be third person shooters with light RPG mechanics in their combat (outside the remaining RPG story structure). The last time I went back to play the first Mass Effect I was surprised at how much it felt like, well, an RPG. DAII replaced the menu-based attack system of Origins with a direct button-to-action system similar to Kingdom Hearts or Phantasy Star Online (even the UI on consoles looks a lot like PSO). Most of the combat you see in the Inquisition demonstration looks even more like that, almost like it’s trying to be a hack n’ slash game for general console audiences. I’d go into a talk about the viability of classic menu-based RPGs in today’s market but that’s probably for another time.

BULLETS:

  • The image above is fitted to be an iPhone 5 wallpaper by the way.
  • Nice fan film of Splinter Cell Blacklist multplayer: http://t.co/61wD9yIQ8v
  • Apparently Triceratops might never have existed: http://t.co/JkLTyEW2Ik
  • The release of the Mac version of BioShock Infinite seems to have gone by totally unnoticed.
  • More hope for TimeSplintters Rewind: http://t.co/jBOmDSRNz5
  • Diablo III is out for consoles now (I think), but did people forget there are next-gen versions coming? I didn’t like the early screenshots I saw for the PS3 version.
  • This is how you do replayability people: http://t.co/mNaDerDq24
  • Has any JRPG world map ever actually been a sphere or globe: http://t.co/429xwfpVBO
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BioWare and the Frostbite 3 Engine at E3

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For a few specific reasons, EA is one of the companies I’m actually more interested to see show their stuff at E3 this year. Most notably I’m interested in their next generation game engine and what BioWare might do with it. I haven’t really seen a massive amount of chatter going on about it.

When EA and DICE unveiled the Frostbite 3 engine along with Battlefield 4, they went on about how the new tech is gonna allow for “more human storytelling” in games, even going so far as to paint the 17-minute gameplay demo as some heart-wrenching story. Pretty much everyone wrote that off, knowing that for BF4 this pretty much just means prettier explosions and maybe larger and more destructible environments. Does anyone really care that BF4 is gonna try to have a story?

If there’s one company within EA that can actually use prettier graphics to enhance their storytelling, it’s probably BioWare, who are already confirmed to be using Frostbite 3 for Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Say what you want about their recent games, but BioWare is one of the few developers in this industry still able to write stories with characters I actually care about. The main reason I even play Mass Effect and Dragon Age to be honest is to interact with each game’s characters.

Think about it: in what other games from EA do you spend more time looking at a character’s face as they move their mouth? Any improved visuals tied to characters and facial animation will definitely see the most benefit in BioWare’s games. On current generation hardware games like L.A. Noire are already trying to combine core gameplay mechanics with narrative by requiring players to read characters’ increasingly realistic faces. Who better to take advantage of this than BioWare? We pretty much already know Dragon Age III is going to be at E3 next week.

Yeah yeah Dragon Age II wasn’t as good as Dragon Age: Origins, but I think at the very least the next game will be better than that. DAII turned out the way it did mainly because of its rushed development cycle. The game only came out 16 months after Origins. Assuming DAIII comes out next year, it’ll have been three years since DAII’s release. I think they’ve learned not to rush the game out this time around.

Whether it’ll actually be as good as Origins was in terms of gameplay is another discussion. I’m really just anticipating what BioWare’s storytelling is gonna look like through the lens of DICE’s new engine.

It’s also looking like we’re gonna see quite the gang of dark fantasy RPGs at E3 going into next year as well. On top of DAIII, The Witcher 3 is going to be shown behind closed doors, and Dark Souls II is already advertising around the convention center (all three games running on new engines too).

BULLETS:

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