A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Mass Effect 2

Gaming Inside of my Comfort Zone

I was going back and forth yesterday on Twitter with a friend of mine and the concept of playing outside of one’s comfort zone came up. That said, I want to talk about playing INSIDE the comfort zone first, so I’ll get to the outside part next time.

There are a lot of games out there. The ones I feel most comfortable playing are the ones I can pick up and just run with without a second thought. When I sat down to play Dragon Age: Origins, for example, it was like pulling on a new pair of shoes that looked and felt extremely similar to my last pair. I still needed to break them in, but I was already familiar with the process and it was pretty quick since I wound up doing a lot of walking in a very short period of time.

So there are games that are, in and of themselves, within the comfort zone. For me, it’s a space flight simulator, a turn-based strategy game, a Baldur’s Gate derivative. These are the kinds of games I grew up playing.

Well, what about the games that don’t fit inside the comfort zone automatically? I can still be in my comfort zone even then, given the right opportunities.

For example, I love playing self-sufficient characters. My favorite D&D character was a Psychic Warrior who, with proper power choices, I was able to fight effectively, defend myself against a myriad of potential harms, and heal myself. To this day, I still play that way where I can. My Captain in Lord of the Rings Online is one such character. When I played Star Wars: The Old Republic as the Smuggler, I chose to be the Scoundrel and went straight down the healing tree. I did the same thing as a Mercenary Bounty Hunter and a Commando Trooper.

If I don’t have just one character, I believe distinctly in the balanced party. While Dragons Age is wholly within my comfort zone, I maintained a solid party of a rogue (for lockpicking primarily), a mage (for healing), a warrior (for tanking), and anyone else (for DPS). Yes, that restricted my play a bit, but it made decisions really easy when I went to make party choices. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I always had the four types of soldiers represented and then the two extra soldier spots would be where that particular playthrough was different from earlier ones. I’ve had those two spare slots taken up by a heavy and a support and an assault and a support before and that allowed me some considerable latitude in play style.

In Civilization IV, I set up the environment if I can so that my civilization is totally contained and secure before spreading out and taking new lands. I focus on infrastructure so that I can develop a powerful military at the drop of a hat and a few turns. In Star Trek Online, I chose a ship type that can take a lot of damage, then I proceeded to make it deal a lot of damage and be able to handle every situation that could come up. A long time ago when I played the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, I built a deck that was affectionately referred to as “Whatever you do, I stop and make you regret it” or something like that. Essentially it was a balanced deck that countered many things the other player could do and then could crack them on the knuckles for doing it.

For me, it’s all about the balanced approach. Mixed arms and combined tactics to provide a well rounded and quality experience. I suppose I’m the kind of guy who likes to dip into every style to ensure an approach that can respond to every issue that might arise. In some games it’s just the simple “just shoot them” strategy. In others it’s more nuanced. My particular comfort zone playstyle is a kind of go-with-the-flow thing and it totally works for me.

The real trick for me is finding that comfort zone in each new game I pick up. Sometimes I’m lucky, like with Borderlands 2 where I started playing the Mechromancer and was pleasantly surprised how it flowed with my playstyle. Other times I’m not so lucky, like with Neverwinter where I played a long time as a Cleric before realizing that the Guardian Fighter was where it’s at for me.

An odd little thing: the Mass Effect series started in, I think, 2007 (yup). When that game came out, I played it for a week straight and loved it. Truly loved it. Turns out, I’d played its predecessor, a little game from 1986 called Starflight. Now, it’s quite a stretch to go from Starflight to Mass Effect, but the ship shape was kind of similar, the ground vehicle was (aside from armaments) was remarkably similar, and the stories I developed for my Starflight crew in my head was rivaled neatly by the stories developed for the crew of the Normandy. Look it up. Starflight inspired Mass Effect. Mass Effect has essentially been in my comfort zone since I was 4 years old. How about that, huh? Oh, I beat ME2 and ME3 each in a week as well. I’m that kind of gamer, just can’t put a good game/book down.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding and playing inside your comfort zone. It allows you to kick back, relax, and just play.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. There are no quotes I could find quickly about the benefits of staying in your comfort zone because everyone’s trying to be all inspirational on the internet and encourage people to do stuff that’s new and “outside your comfort zone”. I maintain that you need to be aware of what your comfort zone is prior to stepping outside of it, hence why I started with this piece instead of the next one. If you know your comfort zone and you stray from it, you always know where it is for when you need to get back to it for whatever reason.


A Little Gaming Here, A Little Gaming There

I’ve finished Mass Effect 2 and I’m making steady progress through Mass Effect 3, but that’s not all I’ve played lately. I’ve also played some Splinter Cell: Conviction, ME3 Multiplayer, Mechwarrior Online, DC Universe Online, and Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol.

Once I’ve finished this playthrough of ME3, I’m expecting to cut loose on a few games, namely I’d like to get back into regularly playing Star Trek Online instead of occasionally looking at it wistfully while I do my schoolwork. Further, I’d like to settle into a bit of Neverwinter, some more Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I think I’d like to play some more Diablo III before the expansion comes out.

Oh, I’m very very excited about the upcoming expansion for XCOM Enemy Unknown. Entitled “Enemy Within“, it’s going to include new enemies, new options for soldiers, and I’m hoping some more council missions. I mentioned it in a P.S. a couple of weeks ago, but as it gets closer to release, I get more excited about it!

I’d also like to share my excitement about the new Tex Murphy game coming soon thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The game will be called “Tesla Effect” and takes place after the last game, Overseer. Check it out. I grew up with Under A Killing Moon and came to love its dry humor and film noir style approach.

Anyway, I’ve got things to do, so until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “All I’ve ever needed was a soft felt fedora, a well-tailored overcoat and a comfy pair of sneakers. Some people know what they like and they stay with it.” – Tex Murphy, Under A Killing Moon.


Busy Busy Busy

These days I’m keeping extremely busy. Balancing school and gaming is a challenge all over again.

I’ve been replaying the Mass Effect trilogy and I’m about halfway through Mass Effect 2. I can’t wait to be back in Mass Effect 3. Being the newest of the three, it’s got the most fluid combat system. Further, I keep misremembering side quests… well, misattributing them to Mass Effect 2 instead of Mass Effect 3.

I picked up Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol tonight on Steam and I’m simultaneously thrilled and impressed by the game. It has a super simple interface with rather complex gameplay mechanics under the hood. There’s something about a turn-based strategy flight sim amalgamation that thrills me. I think everyone should look into it.

Honestly, that’s all I’ve got to report right now. As I said, school’s keeping me busy and nothing spectacular has happened in Mass Effect (well, I’m picking the occasional Renegade option just to move things along sometimes).

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau


Thank you Bioware

I’m quite sure there’s plenty of positive feedback towards Bioware, but as I haven’t seen much myself, I figured I’d do my best to raise the level of discourse around the nets and say something regarding Mass Effect and how awesome it is, regardless of any perceived issues or faults.

Thank you Bioware.

You have built an incredible experience that has earned a place of honor in my life. Let me explain a bit here. There’s plenty of quality science fiction/space fantasy out there and I’ve been captivated by my fair share of it. I am a huge fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Wing Commander, Babylon 5, Firefly, and more. I have found Mass Effect to be entertaining, exciting, and enlightening. I have truly enjoyed the whole trilogy of games: every moment of horror, terror, excitement, urgency, tragedy, humor, victory, and loss. You have created an incredible story that I have enjoyed reliving and recounting time and again over the years.

I might be a strange sort of bird though. I loved the original Star Wars trilogy. Then the Special Edition was released and I loved that. Then the prequels and I loved them. I believe that the current vision that George Lucas has for the Star Wars saga is fantastic and I’m saddened by the verbal abuse he’s received at the hands of people who have no idea how to express themselves in a thoughtful and polite manner. Likewise for the ending of Mass Effect 3, I am fully in your corner. I have my questions about the ending that I noted in a prior post, but honestly, I’m okay with whatever you decided was a great ending. Regardless of how tomorrow’s extended cut DLC for ME3’s ending is received by some, I will enjoy it. It could be a wall of text answering questions and I’d probably be happy. The main reason for this? You’ve decided to give me a few more moments in a world I’ve come to care about, even if it is just cinematics or a wall of text.

You created a story that I care about deeply. You developed a trilogy with characters and events that I want to visit and experience time and again. You created something incredible and I don’t think you’ve received enough praise for that. Sure, you got paid and, probably in the end for some, it was about the money. Maybe my buying your games and DLCs was enough for you, but something tells me that money and sales numbers and press isn’t enough in the way of proper feedback.

So I write this: Thank you Bioware. However tomorrow’s DLC is received, thank you. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

I have to go get my game ready for the new DLC, so, until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. Yes, I did compare Mass Effect to Star Wars. As far as I’m concerned, it’s definitely up there with the great science fiction/space fantasy greats.

P.P.S. “Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.” – Mordin Solus


Thoughts on the Ending – Mass Effect 3

Fair warning, this post will contain significant spoilers.

Recently, there’s been a lot of fuss over the ending to Mass Effect 3. After having an opportunity to digest it, I was originally kind of okay with it, even though it kind of left me feeling a bit adrift emotionally. Then I saw a video that made me think. It was regarding something called the Indoctrination Theory and it inspired me to consider other things… from how Shepard was fighting indoctrination to asking how he became indoctrinated to pondering what happened or what would happen if the existing ending was the real ending like I had originally assumed. I’m going to discuss a few of these thoughts now, so please bear with me.

1) The child in the beginning wasn’t really there. During my first playthrough, I saw a young boy playing with a toy in a courtyard. I was like, “okay, symbolic of having no cares in the world.” Later though, I encountered him cowering in a ventilation shaft. I offered to help him and his response of “You can’t help me” made me say out loud, “How do you know that?” In retrospect, I remember the cutscene at the ending of the introduction where the child is near the evacuation shuttles as a Reaper arrives. No one interacts with the child, no one drapes a blanket over his shoulders or ushers him to safety or even helps him aboard the shuttle. That lack of assistance for a child is extremely unlike any human behavior I know. It is in our nature to assist our young, regardless of how deadly the situation is and even if it would do no good.

2) The mass effect relays were destroyed in the end. We are shown the destruction of a relay in the ending of the Mass Effect 2 Arrival DLC when an asteroid hits it. It wipes out the whole system it’s in, including hundreds of thousands of batarians. One of the hardest things to be a part of, in my opinion. If all the mass relays explode in a similar fashion, then doesn’t all life in all the systems with relays die? What happens to the galactic civilization we enjoyed? There aren’t any ships that seem to navigate from cluster to cluster (or nebula) without a mass relay and therefore a large number of non-self sufficient colonies are going to die from the lack of support. Also, the economy is destroyed. Further, even if this particular energy blast (red, green, or blue) made it so that they don’t explode and wipe everyone out, the economy and galactic civilization as we knew it is absolutely over. Without the mass relays, the ending is bittersweet at best.

3) If Shepard is fighting indoctrination, and the child at the beginning is part of it, when did Shepard start becoming indoctrinated? I have a few arguments for different parts in the series. Most recently, it could be that with the sheer number of Reapers, Shepard was initially indoctrinated during the invasion of Earth. We’re told, and we’ve experienced, that indoctrination is more easily affected with close proximity, so that rules that out. In the Arrival DLC at the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard is knocked out and kept in relative close proximity to a Reaper artifact that has indoctrinated an entire base of Alliance personnel. This is very likely to be the part where Shepard was affected the most and probably had the most significant effect on him during ME3. There is also the time aboard the derelict Reaper in ME2. Your exposure, however brief, could have moved things along a little. You could go back farther and argue that the Prothean Beacon in the very beginning of Mass Effect was possibly corrupted by Saren or by the Protheans who were indoctrinated and that you’ve been getting more and more indoctrinated throughout the whole series. Just a thought on those last two as I’m not sure they’re really the point where indoctrination occurred.

4) Anderson and The Illusive Man at the end are symbolic. I get that they could possibly be both sides of your psyche or something in this fight between the indoctrinated belief that you can possibly control the Reapers somehow and the strongly held, most logical belief, that the Reapers must be destroyed if we are all to be saved. The Illusive Man is definitely in charge at the end there as Shepard is broken and his will is getting kicked around like some kind of rag doll. Even I was thinking, “Damn Shepard, do you need a nap or something? How are you still going?” A good point is made though: how are you beat to hell and barely standing but Anderson is in nearly mint condition? I understand luck, but damn man… you’re LUCKY.

5) The Catalyst gives really crappy options. Initially, I just went with it, but when I had to finally make a decision between Control, Synthesis, or Destruction, I had a real hard time choosing. It had been proven to me by The Illusive Man that the Reapers couldn’t really be controlled, but I didn’t want to destroy EDI and the Geth. So I went with Synthesis and found myself regretting my choice ever since I was given the chance to think about it. Also, I felt it was really crappy that every decision essentially had the same repercussions: I died, something happens to the Reapers, the Normandy crashes, and galactic civilization as we know it comes to a screeching halt. That annoying little boy really pissed me off with his absolutely crappy solutions. Come on, you created the Reapers? Who created you? More importantly, if you’re so powerful, how come you don’t know that I was able to broker peace between us and the AI species of our time? Hell, they’re fighting the Reapers right outside our little conversation! Further, how in the hell would the Destroy option kill me because I’m “part synthetic”? Earlier in the game I was TOLD TO MY FACE BY EDI that I wasn’t synthetic enough to qualify as artificial life or something like that. As an aside, I’m kind of ticked that no one seems to have picked up on that conversation with EDI in Mass Effect 3.

6) The ending is an internal struggle against indoctrination. If that’s the case, well, I can see all the symbolism that has trained us to think a particular way during the series being used against us. The Control method is colored blue, and even though The Illusive Man (a man we have struggled against in some form for three whole games) is the one we’re shown attempting it, we still associate this unconsciously as the Paragon decision. The Destroy method is colored red, and even though Anderson (a man we trust and support wholeheartedly) is the one we’re shown attempting it, we still associate this unconsciously as the Renegade decision. In the whole series Paragon is blue and Renegade is red. If you look at it another way, view the final decision room from a top down perspective. You see three choices much like when you’re in conversations with people. The top right is Control and is colored blue. The middle right is Synthesis and is colored green. The bottom right is Destroy and is colored red. You, well, you start in the middle like the cursor normally does. It’s a dialogue choice and it’s designed this way purely to mess with you as the player.

7) This wasn’t the actual ending to the game and there’s still more fighting to be done. If this is the case, I’m all for it. Let me stand back up in the rubble. Let me grab my M-96 Mattock and start shooting again. Let me save Earth. Let me take it back. I’m still here and I’m not done yet. There is a strong question of the ethics in charging money for a DLC that continues the ending of the game or even just changes it. This is beyond the whole “people don’t like your ending” argument, this is a “you released an unfinished product and now in order to finish it properly, you want to charge people for it” kind of issue. I don’t mind paying for DLCs and I find that the extra couple of hours of gameplay that they usually offer encourages me to enjoy the game all over again (especially if the DLCs are semi-frequent and really awesome). I mind buying a broken or unfinished product and I particularly mind the idea of paying to fix said broken or unfinished product. DLCs are optional content that add to the context of the game, but they are first and foremost OPTIONAL and therefore are not REQUIRED to enjoy the experience set before you. Changing the ending or finishing the game can be argued to be both optional and required, so I’m going to leave that up to the internet forums that like to argue about these things to no eventual resolution.

Let’s wrap this up. I’m currently going through my second playthrough. I’m taking my time, I’m finding all the little bits and pieces here and there. Further, I’m keeping a much more open mind to the possibilities that there were messages in the prior games that could help inform me in ME3. In Mass Effect, the final fight against Saren proves that Synthesis with the Reapers isn’t a good idea and I definitely forgot this when I got to ME3. In ME2, the constant back and forth with The Illusive Man starts the argument that we really shouldn’t even try to Control the Reapers as it’ll just end badly. In Mass Effect 3, it becomes more obvious that the only way to win this is to destroy them. I’m going to do that. Also, multiplayer is quite fun.

I hope this article has helped somehow. I hope it makes you think about your preconceived notions about the series, that it makes you look deeper into your favorite stories, that you never stop questioning the world around you especially when you’re surrounded by a fabricated world of wonder created by others and for the sole purpose of entertainment. Take the Socratic method into your heart and wander the world, wherever it may be and however real it is or isn’t. I was swept up in the moment and I learned that I need to pay more attention than ever.

Thank you Bioware. You made an incredible game that you’re not entirely done with. I think you did this intentionally. Well, whatever happens, Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time and when all the DLCs have been released and you put this series to bed, I will dust off the original and I will go from beginning to end. I will remind myself of the journey and the friends and the choices I made and I will be grateful for the opportunity to do so. As with the Redwall series, whenever Brian Jacques came out with a new one, I would read all of them again. As I did this more or less with Mass Effect, your games have become akin to grand books. You have truly created something marvelous that transcends mediums. I give you my heartfelt congratulations and say that I look forward to what comes next.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. In the whole of the series, I played a self-sacrificing Shepard. Anything I could do to help those in or under my command, I did it. Yes, I got played by some mean-spirited souls and got screwed occasionally, but I helped more than I harmed. I made some incredible friends through the people who joined my cause and I cite them as the source of the majority of my enjoyment from the series. Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara, Jacob, Miranda, Zaeed, Mordin, Grunt, Jack, Kasumi, Thane, Samara, Legion, James, Javik, and EDI are all people of whom I can speak fondly. So too do I speak fondly of Joker, Anderson, Adams, Chakwas, the dynamic duo of Ken and Gabby, Chambers, Cortez, Traynor, and Allers. However fictional they may be, I have this to say of them: “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anaïs Nin. When it comes to my friends, I take this to heart: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” – Jesus, John 15:13.


Pre-loaded: Mass Effect 3

Thanks to being allowed to pre-load the game, Mass Effect 3 has been taunting me from my desktop since Friday afternoon.

It’s currently less than 15 hours to go until it’s available to start playing and I’m exceptionally excited about this.

Yesterday I watched a video on PATV (Penny Arcade TV) where the folks in the video were talking about the differences between Western RPGs and Japanese RPGs (or JRPGs) and that got me to thinking as to what drew me into Mass Effect in the first place and what’s keeping me here. When I play a Final Fantasy game, I always get to that point right before the end of the game where it’s the last chance you have to wander around and level all the way up if you feel like it and do all the optional stuff left in the game. That’s usually the point where I put the controller down and don’t pick it up again for a year or more. With Mass Effect, I get all the way to the end game and I make that final push after ensuring that I’m ready to go. It’s not about if my characters are ready to go as in the Final Fantasy games, it’s about if I’m ready to go.

Mass Effect holds my attention, it demands I push forward, it encourages me to step up and make that difference in the world that Bioware built. It’s a modern-day Knight Rider… Michael Knight on his Normandy, Shepard in his KITT. One man CAN make a difference Shepard.

Well, that’s a dawning realization if ever I saw one. You see, I grew up watching Knight Rider and now… deep down it its essence of essences, I’m playing it. So, in less than 15 hours from this writing, I will wait anxiously for my copy of Mass Effect 3 to decrypt itself… and I will be ready to make a difference in the universe one more time.

John Shepard the Infiltrator (my ME1 imported character who has a relationship with Liara) will be my first import from ME2. My second import is Cassandra Shepard the Soldier (who has a relationship with Garrus and who I took advantage of the Genesis DLC with and thus never played through ME1). I’m tempted to finish the third game where I have a relationship with Tali… all I have left is the Overlord DLC, the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, and the Arrival DLC.

I can’t wait. I’ve got to step up and protect Earth from the Reapers. No, wait, I can’t protect it… but I can take it back… and I will. I can promise you that.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Just once I’d like to ask someone for help and hear them say, “Sure. Let’s go. Right now. No strings attached.”” – Commander Shepard

P.P.S. “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite store on the Citadel.” – Commander Shepard

P.P.P.S. One of my favorite incidental exchanges in the whole game:

[While going up or down stairs in the Citadel]
Garrus: You ever miss those talks we had on the elevators? [Referring to the first Mass Effect game]
Tali: [perturbed] No.
Garrus: [slyly] Come on, remember how we’d all ask you about life on the flotilla? It was an opportunity to share!
Tali: This conversation is over.
Garrus: Tell me again about your immune system!
Tali: I have a shotgun.
Garrus: Mm…Maybe we’ll talk later.

Discussion – Awesomesauce Action Spectrum

As you can tell from my scientifically derived title, I’ve come up with a rather rudimentary scale for action games that shows a spectrum of difficulty for me. If I may, allow me to define a few things first, and then the scale.

So, the action category contains a wide variety of games. Just looking at the Steam Store, I can see: Scrolling Shooters, First Person Shooters, Third Person Shooters, Action/Adventures, and even some Role-Playing Games. I mean, case in point, on Steam right now are 22 single-player games with a metascore of 90 and above AND are under $20. Here’s that list:

Battlefield 2: Complete Collection

BioShock

Call of Duty

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Company of Heroes

Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition

Grand Theft Auto 3

Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Half-Life

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

Portal

Quake

Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II

Street Fighter IV

The Longest Journey

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell

Unreal Tournament 2004: Editor’s Choice Edition

Unreal Tournament: Game of the Year Edition

Now, ignoring iterations on the same game (because there’s not exactly an appreciable play difference between some games and their sequels) we’re seeing a few different types defined as action. You have your third person shooters in Splinter Cell, first person shooters in UT, Quake, BioShock, and a few others, there’s the sandbox third person shooter/RPG in Grand Theft Auto, a platform beat-em-up in Street Fighter IV, and… I don’t know enough to say anything about The Longest Journey, but I do know the graphics look a bit funky (it was released in 2000, so I don’t really know).

So, I made that list to make another list… here’s my spectrum of action games that I find fun, interesting, and captivating all in order of the difficulty it provides for me:

Mass Effect Series

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Assassin’s Creed series

Splinter Cell series

These four games/series share many common mechanics and are all third-person with varying levels of environmental navigation, puzzle solving and so forth. For me, I think when Mass Effect landed in my home it became akin to catnip and I never wanted to stop playing it (my first run through the original Mass Effect was so thorough that a second playthrough later that month actually put me to sleep, but ME2 didn’t have that effect on me because it was more action oriented – something that Steam doesn’t really notice and has put the original Mass Effect in the Action category, but not ME2, which is odd considering the faster pace of the game). Assassin’s Creed requires a certain level of skill and drive to complete each game and contains a variety of methods for handling every fight and navigation puzzle thrown at you. Batman is some sort of hybrid between Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed in the way that you can navigate the world in pretty much any way you want, you can fight however you wish, and (unlike Assassin’s Creed) you can beat the game in rather quick order thanks to having a lot of free time and three days (tops).

Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed, being made by Ubisoft, are exceptionally similar in gameplay. Hell, if you look at Prince of Persia too, you can see all sorts of things being used between the three games. Prince of Persia aside though, Splinter Cell is a more difficult Assassin’s Creed. For one, you can’t just walk out in the open in Splinter Cell and expect to survive your stroll across the room and for another, Splinter Cell is a stealth-based game that relies on you solving puzzles through a judicious application of stealth and stealth-based kills whereas Assassin’s Creed relies on you solving puzzles by using a judicious application of terrain negotiation and any weapon that comes to hand. Further, as Batman contains stealth mechanics and the ability to track enemies, the Splinter Cell connection is obvious here.

However, I did point out that my scale was built on difficulty for me to play. Mass Effect just came easy to me. I pick up science fiction based worlds very quickly (but I’m a big fan of that sort of stuff and there isn’t a lot of really truly good sci-fi that gets made into a successful gaming franchise). Batman was one of those games where I played it on the console, didn’t do too well, ignored it for a while, then on a whim picked it up via Steam and beat the crap out of it in less than three days. Easy, but I did have some issues with certain fights and the game really did a good job of creeping me the hell out.

Assassin’s Creed games have always been difficult for me. I’ve never actually finished the original all on my own (it was too slow paced and a lot of the side quests seemed kind of frivolous to me). I have finished the second installment and I’m about halfway through Brotherhood (even though I know how it all goes and so forth). Assassin’s Creed bridges the work/play dynamic a lot. Sometimes I just suck at the “being publicly stealthy” mechanic that AC has and it frustrates me and forces me to put the game away for a few months. Likewise with Splinter Cell. SC is a case of “too much stealth” sometimes. If you screw up once, you’re done for, whereas in AC if you screw up once, you’ve got a good chance of recovering from your mistake.

I greatly appreciate the four franchises I’ve outlined above in my spectrum. They cover different periods, different genres, and take different approaches from each other (more or less) while maintaining a high sense of self/world. If I had to pick, I’d take Mass Effect any day over the others, but I’m silly that way. I’m quite happy ME3 is coming out in March (reportedly) as I dunno if a 6th playthrough of ME2 would be capable of sating me again. Further, now I’m looking forward to even more the release of Batman: Arkham City and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Initially, I’ll just watch my friends play those last two, but once Steam gets its paws on them (and runs a sale of sorts possibly) then I may indeed jump in.

Until next time, keep enjoying awesome game experiences!

– Elorfin

P.S. My playthrough of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic continues! Considering that I’ve spent 30 hours playing it before, it’s going to be quite a few videos if I intend to finish the game and post it all online. Something like 180+ 10 minute videos. Sheesh, at least I’ll have plenty to post! Should keep me busy through the very near release of The Rise of Isengard expansion for LOTRO and the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

P.P.S. “Experience needs distance and what you write of at a distance tells not so much what you were like as what you have discovered since.” – David Wade


Discussion – The Urge to Replay

I’ve had this craving recently to dive back into a game that I’ve already beaten. I’m not entirely sure why though. Let me try to convey my thoughts on the matter.

First of all, I have plenty of games I haven’t beaten yet:

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Splinter Cell: Conviction

Lord of the Rings Online

Champions Online

Hellgate: London

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Spiral Knights

DeathSpank

SpaceChem

Police Quest Collection

Space Quest Collection

Roller Coaster Tycoon

X-COM Apocalypse

X-COM Terror From the Deep

These are just some of the games I have access to right now. I haven’t even touched the stacks of handheld games I haven’t beaten yet or even the console games I haven’t beaten. Seriously, I could focus on one or more of these and actually FINISH a few more games, but I have this craving to keep playing/replay certain games even after I’ve finished them. Here are the siren songs that keep calling me.

Chrono Trigger

Chrono Cross

Final Fantasy XII

Star Trek Online (I consider it beaten, but since they keep adding new stuff, I dunno)

Mass Effect 2

Republic Commando

I’ve successfully resisted replaying a few of those games lately by focusing on LOTRO, but Final Fantasy XII has been calling me exceptionally often lately. Whenever I look at my dormant PS2, I have this craving to play FFXII and I don’t really know why. I beat it rather soundly last time, but for some reason I just want to start a new game and pound the crap out of it again. It’s a massive investment of time though, so I’ve been able to resist it successfully. Resisting Chrono Cross is kind of easy though, however sad because well, I can resist it because it doesn’t have voice acting and I’m afraid the game might put me to sleep without enough stimulation. Strange, right? I know, but I once nodded off while playing Final Fantasy VI on the PSX and that’s my most favorite FF game of all time. I managed to whet my Chrono Trigger appetite recently when it came available on the Wii and I also own a handheld copy of the game (but it’s so much more fun to play on the TV).

Lately I’ve been having this strong desire to play a game where I can shoot things. Obviously, this rules out games like LOTRO and Chrono Trigger, so I’ve been giving sidelong glances at Splinter Cell: Conviction and Hellgate: London and a few other games with colons in their names.

I’m not sure about the details behind my desire to replay a game over finishing a game, but hey, that’s why this little site is here! To let me expand upon my random thoughts and help me discover what’s going on! I seriously think that I have a problem with finishing games because deep down I don’t want the experience to end. Further, I like replaying certain games that are quick and exciting or allow me to carry over information from a prior game. It’s possible (since FFXII doesn’t fit this mold) that I might have a strong desire to replay a game if I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the original playthrough. I did kind of give up on the extras in FFXII when I realized I just wanted to beat the game at level 70 or something as a result of losing to a stupid extra boss that was an hour or so away from a save point. I’ll never understand why they don’t put save points in front of every boss fight, however optional. FFXIII has save points galore, but I guess when you really need one it’s never there.

Anyways, I’m off to work some more on my Captain in LOTRO. I got him to level 50 last night and he’s currently working on upgrading his first legendary item to level 10 so I can go back and put a hurting on the Watcher in the Water. It’s a decent halberd I’m using, but I’d prefer different legacies. We’ll see what happens.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Congrats on finishing the game. Now get a life!!” – Eiji Nakamura in the “Programmers'” Ending of Chrono Trigger


Discussion – What’s in a name?

The hardest part of creating a new character for a game (new or old) is the name. Seriously. In the 10 or so years I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons, the name is the last thing I think of and it usually takes the longest to come up with. It’s really no different with MMOs and so forth.

Occasionally I get really lucky. I was walking through the store not too long ago with my friend and I was reading the labels off of things as I walked past (something I love to do). There was some packaged gouda cheese and it had a single word or phrase describing the flavor. So I saw “Gouda: Intense” and turned to my friend and went “Intense Gouda?” At this time, I was trying out Champions Online to see if I really liked it or not, so I was looking anywhere for a superhero name. We kept on going on about Intense Gouda until I finally said, “You know, that’s a great superhero name!” Thus, Intense Gouda was born on the Champions Online servers.

I have a pile of names I go to whenever I really need something in a game… I pull from books no one really reads any more (Enchanted Forest Chronicles anyone?) and I tap a couple of names I’ve been using for the last 10 years. When these fail me, I do my best to pull stuff together (Saxolfyr my Dwarf Guardian in LOTRO was one such name).

When a game chooses names for me… well, it’s almost a vacation. I don’t bother to change Shepard’s first name in Mass Effect, I keep the baseline names in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, and I kick back and enjoy the show.

On a side note (now that I’ve mentioned Mass Effect 2) I think I want to replay Mass Effect 2. Here’s why: I was shown the weapons from the Firepower Pack DLC and dear lord, I want to use them! Unfortunately, I beat the game very soundly (including the Arrival DLC) and I’ve got nothing left to do in the game! Maybe this play through I can finally grab those pesky side missions that require you to scan the planet.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “For those lucky enough to be baptised with a middle name, they don’t ever have to wonder what it would be like to be without one.” – Franklin P. Jones.

P.P.S. “Bending is my middle name. My full name is Bender Bending Rodriguez.” – Bender


Hunting the Muse

I’ve been building up the steam necessary to start writing again, but I keep getting side tracked. Lately, it’s been a variety of games and such that have kept me busy.

Star Trek Online: This game is ridiculously awesome and I wish I had the impetus to write a larger piece on it. Here’s the real issues with this game: the game feels small and empty a lot of the time. I could cross the entire universe involved in the game in a few minutes. Further, they have this automatic grouping mechanic for convenience, but no one has to say anything to anyone. There’s no built in voice chat and there’s no intention of including such software since, apparently, the developers believe that there’s enough third party voice chat software out there. Those are really my only gripes.

D&D Online: I’ve been playing this game nearly a year now and I’ve come to a conclusion about it… I know why this game is so much work compared to something like LOTRO or STO. Basically, in DDO, you don’t get experience per kill. You get experience for achieving certain things like finishing quests or reaching 200 kills in an adventure area, but you don’t get a handful of experience per kill. In Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, you get experience per kill. There’s a sense of progress, however small, in those games that is lacking in DDO. Now, I understand why it isn’t there in DDO… they’d have to change the entire balance of the game in order to adapt to such a mechanic. Regular D&D rewards you either after a fight or once you’ve rested (or in some situations, after the Dungeon Master believes you’ve gone far enough). I don’t know, I guess that’s part of why the game has lost some of its luster.

Lord of the Rings Online: This game recently went free-to-play. I haven’t really noticed a massive difference between the beta and the live version, but I played the first portion of the game so many times that I’m kind of bored of it. We’ll see what happens down the road when I get a second wind or something.

Master of Orion II: Impulse recently provided this for sale with the original game all for six bucks. Sweet deal. Anyways, MoO 2 is an amazing game that fits with X-COM and Civilization as some of the best gaming ever. Love the 14 year old gameplay. My first game of this (recently) was beat in the same day… yes, that’s MoO 2 for you, you CAN start and beat a game in the same day. If you know what you’re doing, of course.

Mass Effect 2 DLC: I recently downloaded the Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker expansions for Mass Effect 2 and I really enjoyed them. Shadow Broker was fascinating and it encouraged me to start a new game in an effort to see how playing through this particular DLC would effect the rest of the game experience. I still need to look into it more.

In other news, I’ve been catching up on The West Wing since it’s been off the air for a few years and I’ve always thought it was a good show. This is mostly in an effort to buy me some time away from the computer for my mental and ocular health. Anyways, like the title implies, I’m still looking for that muse of mine to come back so I can be my usual verbose self in more detailed articles for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of material that’s bouncing around in my head.

Until next time,

– Elorfin

P.S. “I invented something called The Oxford Muse. The Muses were women in mythology. They did not teach or require to be worshipped, but they were a source of inspiration. They taught you how to cultivate your emotions through the different arts in order to reach a higher plane. What is lacking now, I believe, is somewhere you can get that stimulation (not information, but stimulation) where you can meet just that person, or find just that situation, which will give you the idea of invention, of carrying out some project which interests you, and show how it can become a project of interest to other people.” – Theodore Zeldin

P.P.S. I use the word “recently” way too much.


What makes a great game? – Part 8: Characters

Characters are around us every day. They’re in what we see, what we do, what we hear and watch and read. Have you ever seen the commercials for the USA Network? Yeah, those are characters alright. Characters are how we identify with the story or event. We look at certain characters and think, “Hey, that could be me,” or, sometimes, “I wish that was me.”

Games have developed to the point where you can barely see past the deep and highly developed characters sometimes. Take a look at the latest Splinter Cell game, Conviction. This game is about a man searching for his daughter and anyone who tries to interfere with that will not live to see the next day. The story is full of moments of frustration, of anger, and of a strong desire for revenge. Sitting and watching Sam Fisher go through all these things, the player can feel sympathy and their own desire for revenge on behalf of the main character. Sam isn’t a young character either, as this is the fifth game he’s been the main protagonist. In fact, if you go back to the first game in the Splinter Cell series, there’s very little character development aside from playing a super black ops guy. As the series went on though, you began to wonder about this man you controlled and this last game with its serious story and amazing developments was just inevitable. The game of Splinter Cell: Conviction IS the character of Sam Fisher.

Characters can have a lasting impression on players. From my own experiences, I know that I’ll never forget Captain William Eisen for coming to the rescue on the TCS Mount St. Helens supercarrier when my little Durango-class BWS Intrepid was getting kicked around by the TCS Vesuvius and Admiral Tolwyn. I’ll never forget Winston “Vagabond” Chang and his incredible card playing skills or even Todd “Maniac” Marshall for his insane style of flying. In fact, the TCS Victory (“Better known as Tin Can Sally”) was a character in and of herself. Take a look at the Wing Commander CIC and the Wing Commander series of games for more.

Sometimes the characters don’t have to say a lot for you to even identify with them. Take a look at Chrono Trigger. The main character Chrono only ever says one word and I believe it was “Huh”. In fact, the dialogue in Chrono Trigger wasn’t the best or even particularly revealing of the characters’ natures. For some reason, I know that I kind of clicked with these youths and somehow belonged among them. I suppose this sentiment was common as Chrono Trigger is one of the most popular Japanese RPGs of all time.

I recall reading a book once where there was a secondary character that I was particularly fond of. When he clashed with the main character (as it was inevitable) my favorite secondary character was slain. I was crushed. Similar things happen in games today, like in Mass Effect where you’re forced to choose between Kaidan or Ashley in the later portion of the game and in Mass Effect 2 where if you weren’t thorough enough, you could lose all your friends and could even die because of a lack of support.

Characters help you develop an interest in the game. They pull you in and ask for your help. They give you a reason to come back and keep playing and they give you a sense that they don’t know what they’d do if you hadn’t come along. They become friends, enemies, companions to the end of the adventure. They might not like each other (see Miranda and Jack in Mass Effect 2 for a great example of this) but they’ll push past that if you ask them to (just tread lightly).

Games without a population just feel empty. Games without characters aren’t necessarily bad (see Solitaire or any number of casual games) but if you want a story, you need characters. If you want a GOOD story, you need deep characters. If you want a great game? You’ve got to have great characters.

Until next time, be a great character possessing great character.

– Elorfin

P.S. “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts and not on marble.” – Charles Spurgeon


What makes a great game? – Part 6: Immersion

Welcome to part six of my many-part series: What makes a great game? For consideration’s sake, I’ve retitled my article on Home to be part five of this series because I do believe it’s an integral component in the “great game” world. So, for today, we discuss something that has been getting better and better over time: immersion of the player in the game world. By this, I mean… well, it might be easier to give you a few examples…

If it pleases the Court, allow me to introduce example one: movies. Have you ever gone to a movie theater before? Most likely. The experience is all about immersing yourself in the experience provided by the motion picture you’re there to see. In fact, the point of the motion picture (as far as I know and as far as it matters for my point here) was originally to distract the viewers from their daily lives for a little while. Hence, the darkened room, the big screen that dominates the room and demands your attention, the easily available concessions, and the nearby bathrooms. It’s everything necessary to keep you busy for an afternoon, to keep you distracted by something that twangs your emotions, whether it be fear, happiness, sadness, or whatever. Admittedly, this is imperfect. There are crying babies, children (and adults) kicking seats, and wherever there’s close proximity to other people, there’s bound to be the occasional bout of violence/interpersonal issues.

The aside for this example: I remember going to see Air Force One in the theaters. Wow, that was a great flick and I’m a Harrison Ford fan, so the movie was going to be awesome anyways. I remember sitting there with my cousin in the front half of the theater (which was uncrowded) fascinated by the action on the screen. When those American fighters showed up to save Air Force One from the encroaching MiGs… man, I was into it. My cousin leaned away from me as if attempting to display through body language that he didn’t know me. I didn’t care. I still don’t, because that was a moment of success for whoever made that movie. They took me out of my world into their own, where Harrison Ford was a president who managed to hijack his own plane from the hijackers and barely made it out alive. I’d vote for him.

If I may continue, I’d like to direct the Court’s attention to example two: music. In this modern era of iPods and the like, music is very accessible. Have you ever just sat there with a piece of music, headphones or earbuds in, eyes closed, and let the music wash over you? Music has the amazing quality of being able to evoke or shift emotions in a person, if they allow it. Take a sad piece, and you can mellow the mood or stress the sadness of an event. Take a thumping beat and you’ve got a party (or a complaining neighbor). Music sets the mood for a lot of things, but if you just sit and listen and take it in, it’s an immersive experience all its own. Just don’t fall asleep.

The aside for this example: Have you seen some of the behind the scenes stuff for Star Wars? I don’t recall which one it was, but there was a point in the development of the original Star Wars movie released in 1977 where Lucas showed his movie to some friends like Steven Spielberg and the like and they hated it. Then, Lucas brought on John Williams to do the score for the movie and it became an incredible experience almost instantaneously. The version that Lucas had originally shown had no musical score. It’s the music that makes you feel for the characters and associate with them almost as much as the performance provided. It’s the music that sets the mood and let’s you know how to feel and when to feel it. If life had a soundtrack, well, it’d be a lot noisier out.

If it please the Court, I have a third piece of evidence to detail: books. Ah, the wonder of books. The idea that you can sit down with a collection of words and lose all track of time while devouring each one in turn is an attractive one. Many a reader has whiled away the late night hours reading books that captivate the imagination, encourage the intellect, and create a desire to discover a little more by reading just… one… more… chapter! Pick up a novel of daring and adventure and within moments you’ll be spirited away to a world far removed from your own. These worlds don’t just enthrall us, they inspire us to continue on.

The aside for this example: I’ve been reading for most of my life. I have over 100 Star Wars books on my bookshelf and while I haven’t read all of them yet, I’ve read and reread many of them. If you’ve experienced the stories in the Redwall series or the Wing Commander series, you and I have something in common. In High School and often in college, I had a novel on hand to read a bit here and there. The mark of a good book, and I have many good books, is when the pages have run out and the tale is told, you sit for a moment and think and feel just a little sad that it’s over… and sometimes you’ll move right on to the next book in the series or list or whatever, but sometimes you look at that book you just finished and you start it all over again. A good book is not only one that’s hard to put down until you’ve finished it, but it’s hard to look at again without desiring to read it. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I cannot live without books.”

With these three piece of evidence in hand, I direct the court to my final argument: immersion in games. Games are in a unique position to benefit from the same qualities that movies, music and books have. Allow me a moment to discuss a few small points first. Movies and games are inseparable from music. If you have a terrible score, the movie and the game both suffer. If you have a game without music, it’s probably done intentionally to emphasize the emptiness of the environment (or the game is so old, there was no music). Likewise for movies, sometimes the absence of music is done intentionally to convey the emptiness of the scene or to allow the viewer to focus on a particular item without distraction. Either way, music, it’s constant presence and its occasional absence, is an integral part of both movies and games.

That said, books: not so much. Movies and games are fully capable of existing without books to inspire them or to appear as a derivative. Yes, the ever popular “books based on movies/games” or the “movies/games based on books” frequently attracts the attention of the fan of one side of the equation. I know I was interested when the Wing Commander movie came out and, whereas it was an okay film on its own, it wasn’t what I expected from the game franchise I enjoyed. Of course, Wing Commander is a bit of an oddity. There are books based on the games, a movie based on the series of games, and books based on the movie. As opposed to the other way it could’ve gone with Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” being made into the Harrison Ford movie Blade Runner, which eventually spawned a computer game called Blade Runner several years later.

Where was I? Oh yes… so, if you grab a game like, oh… Mass Effect 2 (I know I know) you’ll get hit with a lot of stuff at once. Mass Effect 2 possesses the story of a book/movie, with the music of a movie, the entertainment of a game/movie/music/book, and manages to encourage you to come back a couple of times to enjoy it again. Just throwing that out there.

Let me put this another way: when I sit down to play a game, typically it’s a role playing game of some sort. I’m there to enjoy a complex story with antagonists, protagonists, characters I can identify with, characters I love to hate, story elements I’m genuinely interested in and so forth. When I play a game, I sit down with headsets on (if at the computer) and my attention goes into the computer. The music sweeps me away, the cutscenes give me movie-quality immersion, and the background elements are as detailed as a book. I might be an oddity of society, capable of getting into just about anything, but when I sit down to play a game, I’m all in. When I sit down with a book, a movie, a piece of music, I’m there to enjoy it and I’m there. If something ruins my immersion, whether by a slow book, terrible acting, or discordant sounds, or even by just an ugly, non-voice acted game, I have a hard time enjoying myself.

As an aside to this, I was in a conversation last night with a friend and I mentioned how I love playing older games, but if they don’t have voice acting, I have a hard time bringing myself to replay them because I’m so spoiled today by fully cast games. I WANT to play Chrono Cross again, I WANT to play Legend of Dragoon, but I fear I’m too used to modern style games. Septerra Core was an anomaly because it was released in 1999 with a full voice cast. I recall just a couple of years before that with Fallout where a fair portion of the game had voice acting, but if you talked to Killian Darkwater enough, eventually Richard Dean Anderson wouldn’t be saying the lines any more.

As a reward for making it through my discussion on immersion in the arts and entertainment world, I will leave you with a few links to bounce through.

First, to illustrate how motion pictures and music work hand in hand, well, it’s a television show, but Scrubs did this all the time with music and events. Yes, it’s Journey and it’s awesome.

Second, I’d like to direct you to a favorite book website or two. Redwall and well, anything by John Green.

Third, here’s a great piece of piano music by Yiruma called Hope. Pretty much, everything I’ve heard him play is amazing and moving.

Lastly, a couple of examples of video games and music and movies and the like. Oh, that last one might make you cry, fair warning.

Until next time, don’t stop getting involved in your chosen forms of entertainment!

– Elorfin

P.S. “True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read.” – Pliny the Elder


Mass Effect 2 – Impression, Final

Welcome to my first “Final Impression” piece. This means I’ve pretty much nailed what makes this game great and why I like it so much. Honestly, it came to me in the car today while listening to the soundtrack of Mass Effect 2.

First of all, looking back at the articles I’ve already posted here discussing the things that make games great and the things I look for in a great game, I can point out several things that line up properly.

Let’s cite the list thus far: Music, Heroes, Progress, Context, and I’ll throw in Home.

Music: Mass Effect 2 has an absolutely stellar soundtrack. Seriously, it’s some incredible stuff. Unfortunately, it was pulled off of YouTube recently (yay terms of use violations) but it’s fantastic. There are pieces that just excel at conveying the emotion laden environments, the stress of combat pressing down upon you, the danger lurking around every corner. When you listen to the soundtrack by itself, you’re there, experiencing every pulse pounding drum beat, the trumpets blaring as danger approaches, the strings adding tension. It’s a complete orchestral experience from top to bottom. Sometimes it makes me sad, sometimes it makes me determined, and other times it makes me feel complete unadulterated HOPE.

Heroes: You and your crew are heroes. Plain and simple. You fought alongside them, but you also stopped to talk to them and learn about them and help them with their problems, even with the larger issue at hand. As you play, they don’t just become Shepard’s friends, they become YOUR friends. At the end of the game, no matter what happens, you pray that everyone comes out the other end alive. These are friends you come to care about. Together you are all heroes. Some are heroes to each other even. In the company of such people, such great friends, for a moment I become a hero, standing tall amongst my fellows as we stare down the Collector threat. We are the defenders of our people and we will stop at nothing to defeat those that would attempt to destroy them. They are MY heroes and they are MY friends and I would do anything for them.

Progress: As you go through the game, you gain levels and skills, but also as you move through the game, the world opens up to you. Other quests become available. New worlds are brought to your attention for an opportunity at exploration. Not only do you gain the mechanical sense of progress, but your relationships with your fellow crew members develop the longer you play. There are many measures of progress and they each provide a different sense of satisfaction.

Context: You’re out to save humanity from an unknown threat. As the game proceeds, you discover the nature of that threat. No, not JUST the nature of the threat, but the who, the where, the why, and the how. Seriously, the game reveals everything you  might want to know at a very reasonable and digestible pace. Further, everyone has a vested interest in stepping up, whether it be for money or for revenge or just out of loyalty to Shepard. In any case, you have a really good reason for fighting who you fight… the bad guys are really rather bad.

Home: You have the Normandy. It’s your home, it’s where you and your friends really get to know each other, and further, the Normandy’s your baby. You get to upgrade her and take good care of her and when the crap hits the fan, you know you can count on the Normandy to pull you through. See the article I wrote on Homes for more on this.

It’s the combination of these elements and more that makes Mass Effect 2 a fantastic game in my book. I’ve played through it twice now and I’ve got a third run in the works. Out of everything I’ve experienced in the game though, I want to share this; there are two specific cutscenes that send chills up my spine: the first, is near the beginning of the game where you are introduced to the Normandy Reborn. Freaking awesome. The second, well, it’s one of those edge-of-the-seat fist-pumping-awesome cutscenes near the very end when you go through the Omega 4 relay. The combination of the above items and several I haven’t touched on yet provide such an experience that you KNOW you’re a hero, that you’re in the company of heroes, and you’re about to do something completely crazy and awesome and desperate and heroic and NECESSARY. As the main character, you’re NEEDED or there is no game, no story, nothing.

So, to wrap this up I’ll paraphrase Zaeed Massani:

[Let’s go] concentrate on being big goddamn heroes.

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 5: Home

Home is where the heart is. Home is where you hang your hat.

Cliche, but true. Home is that place we feel safe and secure, where we can rest, recuperate, relax. It’s where we reflect on what we’ve done, what we have yet to do, and for some it’s the only place we call our own. I’m going to touch upon a few of these “homes” I’ve picked up over the years in games (not specifically computer or console games though, as you’ll see shortly). Oh, yes, spoilers ahead. If you haven’t played these games yet, sorry. Deal with it.

One of the more recent (comparatively) homes I’ve picked up is the SR-1 Normandy. The nexus of all the events in the first Mass Effect game for the XBox 360 and PC, the Normandy was where I spent a great deal of time talking to my companions. In the ending of the game, she really shines. For the record, Joker is awesome. Spoiler warning for those who haven’t played the games yet (but if you haven’t, you should get around to it): the SR-1 Normandy meets her demise at the beginning of Mass Effect 2. It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I will forever feel horror watching her break apart, watching my home get destroyed by some unknown aliens. Pour one out for the SR-1 Normandy, boys.

The SR-2 Normandy managed to be a more than adequate replacement for the original. Just watch the spoiler heavy introduction of the ship here on YouTube. That ship and my crew have been through a lot together. At the end of Mass Effect 2, the ship is really beat up (more or less depending on how much you upgraded her). It doesn’t matter how many times I go through the end-game, I always sit on the edge of my seat as the Normandy takes a beating… but dishes out a more serious one. I feel that the SR-2 was much more of a home than the original mostly because of the random conversations you could hear just walking past people. Further, the interactions between the two engineers are absolutely hilarious as well as the interaction between Joker and EDI. I reiterate that Joker is awesome. Just putting that out there. Both Normandy’s gave me a sense of security, a place to catch my breath, regroup, and get to know my fellow crew members. It’s where romances flourished and moral issues discussed. Where loyalties were secured. The Normandy had better be in Mass Effect 3 or Bioware is in for a world of hurt. I look forward to my next unique trip to this particular home… but in the meantime, a third play through of Mass Effect 2 is in order.

Ahh, the Ebon Hawk. The fastest ship in the galaxy that I happened to “acquire” on Taris about 3996 years before the Battle of Yavin. In Knights of the Old Republic, I battled the Sith while discovering the location of the Star Forge. I built up a group of incredible warriors and lasting friends. In fact, I even benefited from her in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords when I “inherited” it from the Peragus Mining Outpost shortly before said outposts’ mysterious destruction. Except for a couple of times (invading Sith troopers, little gizka running all over the ship, the occasional Nar Shadda gang member) the Ebon Hawk was my place of refuge. It was where I could get grenades from Zaalbar, computer spikes from T3-M4, security spikes from Mission, or later, it was where I talked galactic economics with G0-T0 and helped Mandalore rebuild the Mandalorian people. The Star Wars universe was and still is a dangerous place and the Ebon Hawk was my one safe place in it. Got to love the Dynamic freighter.

Changing course just a little bit, the capital city of Naboo, Theed, became something of a home to me while playing Star Wars: Galaxies. It was where I got my start in the game and the universe and where I always aspired to hang out when I had a 56k modem. The hospital was always full of players needing wound points removed, the cantina was always full of entertainers and players looking for groups, the palace had quests, the hangar housed my starfighters, and everyone always knew where things were. Today, the legacy quest takes you straight through the city and the experience, while changed, is very similar. No longer is the hospital full of players, but the cantina is a recognizable waypoint on the path to getting the buffs necessary to survive many a quest, and you can still find people clustered out in front of the hangar, preparing to tackle their next space mission. There was a point not too far from the city (in fact, not far from the perspective of the above screen) where I sat and looked upon Theed in wonder. In 2003, the graphics cranked up, I saw a handful of waterfalls and, through the mist, the massive palace and just sat there for a minute going, “Holy crap, I’m there.” Why do I keep going back to play Galaxies every now and again? Because I can go THERE and see things that were once only in the movies or in the books and my imagination. However dangerous the wildlife outside the city of Theed, I always find a moment to look back in wonder whenever I’m there.

Shifting back to space craft for a bit longer, the Mon Calamari MC80 Star Cruiser Liberty was my home for the latter (and larger) portion of X-Wing Alliance. It’s where I spent many hours in the simulator tackling TIE Fighters to see how many I could swat from the sky in 20 minutes (got up to 186 after a lot of practice, with the first three minutes being 10 kills per minute). It was where I could stop, dry my hands, grab a drink, and prepare to dive into the next mission, the next skirmish. It was where I learned to make the X-Wing truly dance and where I learned to appreciate the raw speed of the A-Wing. The last of the Star Wars locations, I promise.

Speaking of flying, I spent a fair amount of time serving in the Confederation. Specifically, the Terran Confederation of Wing Commander. I count as my home every carrier I ever flew off of, especially the TCS Victory and the TCS Intrepid. I will, however, speak a little on each.

The TCS Tiger’s Claw, home for the first installment in the Wing Commander series. I didn’t fly from her until college, but the missions were as important as ever, required as much skill if not more than the later games. Safe speeds in an asteroid field were something I paid a great deal of attention to. I was thrilled to get the upgrade from the Hornet to the Scimitar, and even more so to experience the Rapier.

The TCS Concordia was where I encountered the extremely ornery Tolwyn (which gave context to my experiences in WC 3 and 4). Wing Commander 2 was a thrill to play, especially with all the controversy surrounding the Kilrathi pilot on board by the callsign of Hobbes. Later, when sabotage showed up and when I could finally prove to Tolwyn the existence of the Stealth fighters that trashed the beloved Tiger’s Claw, I experienced an amazingly deep and complex world where my home was constantly threatened by those pesky Cats.

I spent an inordinate amount of time on the TCS Victory. Better known as “Tin Can Sally”, I came to appreciate the varied pilots under my command and the amazing forward firepower of the Thunderbolt VII (with its “Sunday punch” torpedo). When Hobbes betrayed everyone, I was legitimately upset. I came to trust completely in Captain Eisen and reveled in an opportunity to show Flash exactly how we roll on the front lines of the conflict with the Kilrathi. I came to look forward to one day visiting Vaquero’s cantina and I valued the friendship of the cardshark Vagabond. Oh, and Maniac quickly became a favorite annoyance (“I bet you stay up late nights just polishing it huh?” “No, in fact, I get Majors to do that for me.”).

Wing Commander IV was an amazing ride that gave me two carriers to call home. The TCS Lexington wasn’t much of a home, so I’m not going to talk about it… mostly because it was my torpedo that took her out. I felt kind of bad about putting the girl down, but hey, Captain Paulson was a bit of a jerk about replacing Captain Eisen. Now, the BWS Intrepid, that was home for the game. When I wanted a lively discussion, I’d sit in on Panther and Hawk or watch Maniac and Dekker have it out. I loved flying the Banshee (Four lasers… where have I benefited from that array of weapons before?) and the Dragon was like a cheat code unto itself. The final cutscene where I flew into Washington, D.C. itself was incredible and I really felt sad that Tolwyn had fallen so far.

In Wing Commander Prophecy, I found myself calling the new supercarrier, TCS Midway, home. The fact that Maniac was still around was a bit of a plus, and humbling him was a bit of a pleasure. I still feel bad about not being able to save Dallas. This felt less like a home compared to the Victory and the Intrepid because there were only a couple of places to go on the Midway for a mere pilot. Specifically, in Wing Commander, there was the bar, the bunkroom, and the briefing room. Likewise (I think) for Wing Commander 2. Wing Commander 3 had 7 locations on the Victory I could visit (including the briefing room) and Wing Commander 4 had on the Lexington and Intrepid 5 locations each. Hm, I guess now that I think about it, Wing Commanders 3 and 4 were the anomalies. Oh well. By the time I was done with the Nephilim, the Midway and all her crew was home and family.

To round out the space faring ships for this truncated list, I introduce the USS Sovereign from Star Trek: Bridge Commander. The picture is of the Enterprise, but they’re the same class of ship. In Bridge Commander, I was originally in charge of the USS Dauntless, a Galaxy-class vessel similar to the Enterprise-D. After a short while, you’re transferred to the Sovereign and there you stay for the remainder of the game. You really don’t go anywhere in the ship aside from the bridge (a pity) but you come to rely on your crew after a fashion and find that your first officer isn’t so much of a cranky princess after a while. Fighting off the rogue Cardassian threat was an incredible introduction into the post-Next Generation/DS9/Voyager world of Star Trek. At least we didn’t have holodeck problems while we tried to figure out why stars were going nova a bit early.

Continuing on, I’ve included a location that I’ve never spent much time in, but I fought to preserve anyway. I’m referring to Vault 13 from Fallout. You spend the entire damn game trying to ensure the security and health of the members of the vault and in the end? You’re kicked out by the Overseer because you’re “tainted” by the outside world. *rolls eyes* That guy’s a real punk. Oddly enough, Fallout works perfectly on a Vista machine. Works without the CD too if you did a full install. Oh, and by the way, the Mutant threat? Closer to Vault 13 than anything else on the damn world map. *laughs* I remember reading somewhere that it was supposed to be the vault with the extra water chips instead of an extra Garden of Eden Kit. Whoops. By the way, the Vaults? Nothing but a terrible social experiment by the guys who built them. Yikes. Still, it was home back in the late 1990’s.

Another location that was introduced to me around the late 1990’s was Candlekeep. Located on the Sword Coast about halfway between Baldur’s Gate and the northern border of the nation of Amn, Candlekeep is one of the only locations in the Forgotten Realms where entrance can be secured by offering up a rare book. This was where I learned to play the game and I was grateful for the opportunity. This was also where I learned what THAC0 meant, as well as several of the ins and outs of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons system. It’s also where my character lost their adoptive father and started on their quest for vengeance and understanding. If you will, this was my actual first introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and today, well, I try to find excuses to visit Candlekeep.

Next on this list is another Forgotten Realms location, Silverymoon. Silverymoon is often dubbed “the Gem of the North”. It is one of the few civilized places in the middle of the rough and untamed wilderness that is the North of Faerun. It has a rich cultural life and is renowned as a meeting place for all races that are morally inclined towards good. Why is this a home for me? My favorite and legendary Dungeons & Dragons character, the Psychic Warrior Juan Moore, lives there. He and his party of adventuring friends settled in Silverymoon and are well renowned for their capabilities. I won’t go on for long on this place, but whereas we don’t spend a lot of time AT home, I don’t think we could’ve picked a better location. All the amenities we need are right there in Silverymoon or just a “short” trip away to Waterdeep in the west.

Lastly, another D&D locale, the city of Stormreach in the setting of Ebberon. In Dungeons & Dragons Online, this is the epicenter for all of your quests and it’s where everyone winds up anyway. Can’t play the game without running through the streets of Stormreach. I’ve been around the Harbor and Marketplace so much, I can probably navigate them in my sleep. Some of the lower level dungeons are ridiculously well known too. *laughs*

These are some of the places I’ve gathered throughout my years of playing games. I’ve spent a great deal of time in each of these locations and I’m attached to some more than others. If I had to pick my favorite Wing Commander carrier though, it’s got to be the TCS Victory. Out of all the others, the Victory is more of a home to me, I know the people, I know the place, I’ll scramble in an Arrow any time to shoot down attacking Kilrathi Paktahn bombers and I’ll be more than happy to take out the offending Skipper missiles. Plus, it’s the only game where I can fly the Thunderbolt… and I love love loved having SIX forward guns.

For our homes, we’ll step up and fight, and nowhere like in these places have I ever been given such an opportunity to protect the home that shelters me… but for the most part, these ships can’t fly themselves. It’s the crew, the merchants, the characters that help the locations have personality and cause the personality of each one to come forth. When Colonel Blair reminded Admiral Tolwyn of this in Wing Commander 4, Tolwyn replied, “Quite, quite right. It is the men, isn’t it?”

Now for a last word on home: “The pleasant converse of the fireside, the simple songs of home, the words of encouragement as I bend over my school tasks, the kiss as I lie down to rest, the patient bearing with the freaks of my restless nature, the gentle counsels mingled with reproofs and approvals, the sympathy that meets and assuages every sorrow, and sweetens every little success — all these return to me amid the responsibilities which press upon me now, and I feel as if I had once lived in heaven, and, straying, had lost my way.” – Josiah Gilbert Holland

Until next time, never be afraid to go home again.

– Elorfin


New post forthcoming

I’ve got an idea for a new article to put up here. After seeing the scene from Mass Effect 2 where the Normandy is launched, I’d like to bring up a short list of my “homes” in games. Specifically, I intend to talk a little about the Normandy, the carriers from Wing Commander, and a few other locations that feel like home to me courtesy of the games I’ve played in the past. I’ll throw up a few screenshots too. In the end, it’s that feeling of being home, coming home, leaving home, losing home that I’m trying to tackle.

In the meantime, I’m back from vacation and I’ve been playing Mass Effect 2 (still). This weekend I’ll be playing three incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons (DDO on Friday, 4th edition on Saturday, and 3.5 on Sunday).

Until next time, think of home and what it means to you.

– Elorfin

P.S. So far, the list includes: SSV Normandy, SR-2 Normandy, Ebon Hawk, Liberty, Tiger’s Claw, Concordia, Victory, Lexington, Intrepid, Midway, USS Sovereign, Stormreach, Silverymoon, Candlekeep, Vault 13, Theed. The list keeps growing and I keep collecting pictures to go with them.


Going on a Holiday

I’ll be out of town for the next week. Apologies for not writing much this month, but I’ve been busy playing games instead of writing about them.

I’m bringing along the old PSP with Final Fantasy Tactics, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, and D&D Tactics. I’m also taking my laptop with Civ IV and Mass Effect 2 (and a few others).

I’m actually enjoying the replay of Mass Effect 2. There’s something about the atmosphere of the sequel that makes it superior to the original where I don’t doze off while playing. I’m serious, I’ve caught myself nodding off during replays of Knights of the Old Republic (1 and 2), Mass Effect, and Neverwinter Nights. Bioware makes an amazing story, but I have a hard time stomaching replays of their games. Well, then again, most Final Fantasy games are once-throughs for me (except VI, but I’ve caught myself nodding off once or twice replaying that one).

Anyways, don’t burn the house down while I’m gone and be sure to feed the fishes. Wait… where’d those fish come from?

Until next time, keep awake!

– Elorfin