A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Mass Effect

A Different View of XCOM

Yesterday I took advantage of a Steam sale to pick up The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and I’ve been playing it quite a bit. That said, I think I’ve almost beat the game and it’s only my second day of playing it.

I’ve noticed a few things about the games construction – mainly, it’s built with obvious inspiration from other games. Aside from the direct connection to the XCOM series and the obvious stuff that comes with that (Sectoid, Muton, Sectopod, Silicoids that don’t look like anything I’m used to, Laser and Plasma weaponry, the Vigilo Confido logo), there’s definite influence from Mass Effect (a squad of three people with different abilities and you can choose the two who go with you, as well as the dialogue wheel), but I’m also seeing a bit of Batman: Arkham Asylum in there (pretty linear storyline with a set progression of things you get to make your job easier) and a touch of Assassin’s Creed (mainly the later games where you can send assassins out to do odd jobs). The third person perspective is also evocative of the Mass Effect/Batman/Assassin’s Creed influence.

I’ve got a few small problems though. The main issue I have is that everyone seems to know what everyone else is talking about. It’s like everyone agreed to call the enemy communication network Mosaic, including the aliens. One of the major bad guys is named Axis. There was an Elerium-115 mine on Earth (which is a surprise to me and probably Doctors Shen and Vahlen in the XCOM Enemy Unknown game). Instead of this being a quiet background invasion, it’s full scale (as far as we in the United States know) and it feels… not rushed. Like, you have the time to walk around the base and talk to people and there’s no real sense of urgency except in the missions and even then I basically take my time. Much like in Mass Effect, every fight is kind of easy to predict since the battefield will be littered with cover objects. Oh, and the dialogues don’t seem to be scripted properly in some places… for example, the person you’re talking to will say one thing and the response just won’t fit right. Maybe that’s just me being weird.

A lot of things were nailed down pretty well. Combat is fairly robust (wish grenades were easier to use), the squad command system is pretty fluid and straightforward, the abilities do exactly what you think and tend to ignore terrain restrictions in a good way  when it really matters (the sniper critical strike goes through terrain but turrets have to be placed properly). The guns feel powerful and the ammo is plentiful.

A note on the weapons: I like the looks of them and stuff, but why do the aliens have laser weapons? XCOM designs them in Enemy Unknown. I shrugged my shoulders while I played, but still. Also, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough difference between weapons, and for that matter, the backpacks you get. Seriously, I got the Guardian Pack that lets you have more ammo and (I think) do more damage and I haven’t looked at any other pack since. They’re too spread out, the ones you find in the field, and they’re not significant enough. Mainly, my issue is, I have a problem with not seeing numbers or quality comparisons between items and it makes it difficult to care about the different pieces of equipment. I know this was released for consoles, but at least you got some ballpark comparisons in Mass Effect 3 when you were equipping a different gun or swapping out an armor component.

Oh, and why don’t we have some body armor? That’d be cool. Maybe medkits for the support soldiers? I’m just spitballing here really.

I remembered the early work they were putting into the game when it was supposed to be during the 1950s and mostly happening in suburbia (shifted to the 1960s in the final product) and I’m seeing all that stuff still there. The black globs are Silicoids, the big dish thing that shoots lasers was actually a boss for a stage, and the stuff leaking out of peoples faces and the like is some sort of alien disease they’ve put in the water supply. Pretty awesome seeing that now after seeing it way back during the initial development.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the game and I’m looking forward to playing the Hangar 6 R&D DLC later. I really hope someone revisits this model for the XCOM franchise, mainly because being able to walk around in my own base ala wandering the Normandy in Mass Effect and talking to people on my team is really freaking cool. All the throwbacks to the TBS XCOM games like calling the helicopter you use the Skyranger and the experimental ship you’ll use to take the fight to the aliens the Avenger. Pretty sweet.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. BTW, the voice actors for some Mass Effect characters are also in The Bureau. Namely, Brandon Keener (Garrus Vakarian) and Courtenay Taylor (Jack). No quote this week because I can’t think of anything super relevant.

Advertisements

For the Sake of Chaos

There’s a bunch of games now where you can be either a “good guy” or a “bad guy”. Like in Dragon Age or Mass Effect where you can treat people pretty poorly or in Star Wars: The Old Republic where you can fight for either the Republic or the Empire and then choose to be either Light Side or Dark Side with your conversation choices.

What an odd age we live in where we can consciously choose to be good in conversations and then walk a few feet away and hack innocents to bits in the name of a few gold pieces and some experience points.

I was playing DC Universe Online last night as a villain working for Circe (initially) and part way through the game I started to wonder why the “bad guys” were still being bad when there’s a supposedly global invasion by Braniac going on that threatens everyone. I mean, I understand the whole power struggle going on between the goodies and the baddies, that’s pretty straightforward, but why is Harley kidnapping Robin when there’s obviously more important things to do? Are the villains just more willing to take advantage of any opportunity for personal gain over the heroes? Furthermore, why are the heroes spending so much time dealing with the villains? I can totally understand the Gotham City PD asking for help with drug dealers by the docks, but why are the “main” characters so involved?

I suppose a fair portion of the game is building up your powers so that you’re on par with the major threats the heroes want you to deal with eventually. The occasional run in with the heroes is just them going about their business and responding to situations and “hey, you’re new so I’m going to give you a hand with Bane” or whatever. The villains though just boggle my mind. Circe takes on Doctor Fate and the Teen Titans in order to break Trigon out and unleash him on the world… but why? Is Trigon going to contribute more to fighting Brainiac than the heroes you beat up to free him? Can his contributions even be guaranteed? Or is this because Circe just loves to mess things up and really doesn’t care about the welfare of the world as a whole? If the world is a smoking ruin, would she still have any interest in it or does she have somewhere else to go to muck about?

It’s possible that I don’t really fathom chaos for the sake of chaos. I see the point after a fashion, but I’m limited. I enjoy rules and restrictions (after a fashion as well) but chaos at the expense of everyone and everything is wasteful to my eyes. It’s like the self destructive nature of the Sith Empire. When you sit down to play as an Inquisitor or a Warrior in SWTOR, you can see the issues at their core: you have an elite order who considers everyone but themselves expendable and, even then, considers anyone in power to be useless the moment someone else apparently exceeds their power. It’s exceptionally depressing to wear the mantle of a Sith only to realize that you can’t ever just kick back and enjoy life for a moment lest someone decide that you’re entertaining a weakness and has you killed. I feel like that’s the only reason I never truly enjoyed playing as my Inquisitor: all her “friends” feared her or were plotting to kill her once she let her guard down and so weren’t really her friends. I didn’t get that personal attachment to my companions that I had as a Bounty Hunter or a Smuggler.

Maybe I’m not supposed to understand it. Fear for the sake of fear? Chaos for the sake of chaos? I can comprehend causing fear as a tool. There’s that fear of punishment to keep people following the laws after all and in D&D, intimidate is a skill that can be a great tool in a variety of situations and relies primarily on fear to get things done. I can get behind a little chaos since 100% order is infringing and irritating but 10% order just isn’t enough.

Maybe it comes down to that adage about everything in moderation. A little chaos here and there isn’t too bad, but in the DC Universe you have these people dedicated to a life of making chaos for everyone: poisoning the water supply, stealing the money from the bank, blowing up the train tracks. They see it as amazing good fun, all that chaos, never seeming to recall that they also drink the water and deposit money in the bank and rely on the train for access. In Star Wars you have the Sith offing people just because they’re irritated or what-have-you. It’s certainly not as extreme in Star Wars as it is in DC and mainly because DC characters are exaggerations of these things. Superman is a paragon of do-gooding and the Joker is the king of chaos. Or probably more like the trickster god of “putting something toxic in your drinking water just so you’ll die with a smile on your face”. He’s niche like that.

Is it the whole “live fast, die hard” thought process? Living in the now, with zero considerations, for tomorrow we die? I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m not sure what my point was with all this, but these were some of the thoughts going through my mind last night as I was converting people labeled “innocent” into demons for Trigons’ army. Their screams really bothered me (as do all screams of pain), but I pushed past it so I could get onto other things. Regardless of my personal qualms with the goals set before me, I’m having fun with the fairly visceral gameplay of whacking things with a giant two-handed weapon.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “So that was Gotham’s East End. It’s a dark and dismal place… and I hope you enjoyed touring it!” – Booster Gold


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.


Cultural Immersion – My Time At PAX East 2013

This past weekend was the highly popular Penny Arcade Expo in Boston and I had the good fortune to attend. My impression of the convention? SPECTACULAR! AMAZING! I CAN’T WAIT TO DO IT AGAIN!

There’s nothing quite like being in a place where everyone is a gamer and everyone wants to have a good time. Everyone I encountered was on their best behavior and I have never heard so many thank you’s. The lines were some of the most fun I had. Once I got past the initial anxiety about striking up a conversation with someone new, I was able to just plop down and talk to anyone. Everyone in line is there because they have some sort of investment in the panel and in gaming and you always have something to talk about. For example, in the Mass Effect Retrospective line, just asking about their Shepard, you see everyone’s eyes light up and you hear the passion in their voice as they tell you some of their experiences.

It’s like I went to a convention with thousands of kindred spirits. I’ve never felt such a sense of belonging before and it was quite remarkable. There was no shunning, only willingness to understand. Like, when I explained to someone my preferences for the Star Wars prequels and Special Edition over the Original Trilogy, I did admit that I have a hard time separating the Expanded Universe from the movies, so I have this big picture view and the changes in the Special Edition just don’t have that big an impact on me. I saw comprehension from everyone who heard that and I felt relieved.

On Friday I hit up the Expo floor, visiting the Neverwinter booth and the Awesomenauts booth pretty early. Then I picked up a Red Vs. Blue shirt and attended the Rooster Teeth panel. Later I attended a panel talking about turn-based games and it was starting out slowly until there was a technical issue where the speakers were sharing a microphone that wasn’t in the room. The panelists kept trying to out speak the disembodied voice and it was quite hilarious. Afterward, I attended a panel dealing with types of gamers and found it pretty enlightening but overall pretty straightforward and easy to understand. For more information and how to figure out your gamer type, hit up Game on Girl and take their quiz. Then I hit up the LoadingReadyRun panel and stuck around for the extremely hilarious Game Show Night (which hit mature humor levels in record time).

Saturday was a pretty simple day. I arrived, got in line, attended the Penny Arcade Create-A-Strip panel (which you can see the NSFW fruits of the labor of Gabe and Tycho on their site now) and then when it got out, I immediately got back in line for the same room to attend the Mass Effect Retrospective. As with all things ME, I almost cried at their Retrospective Video. You can see the panel I attended here. Then I left and got into another line to attend a panel talking about behind the scenes at Firaxis Games. After a quick stop at FedEx to get a tube to protect my new awesome poster, I went back in line for the third round of the Omegathon (it was Jenga) and the Saturday Night Concert (it rocked so hard I felt it in my hair). By they way, there’s nothing quite like Paul and Storm live.

Sunday was an easy day too as I got into the groove of the convention. I attended a panel on gamers dealing with depression which helped immensely as it’s always nice to know we’re not alone with our problems. Then I queued up for a panel entitled: “You Game Like A Girl: Tales of Trolls and White Knights” and I had flashbacks to my wedding planning class in college where (aside from the Professor’s unborn child) I was the only male in the room. It wasn’t that bad as there was a significant number of males in attendance and the all female panel was very welcoming and encouraging to men. One person got up to mention that she would play Mass Effect 3 multiplayer on XBox Live and no one would revive her because she was a girl. Shocked, I immediately gave her my Origin name and told her I’d always help her if I could (she just got it for PC to get away from the unhelpful XBox Live environment). Yay, new friend! After, I went down to the Bioware Base and hung out until the convention ended. It was a lot of fun and I got Raphael Sbarge to sign my PAX Pass for me. Well, I also told him that he brought some of my favorite companions to life and that meant a lot to me. He seemed genuinely moved by that and we shook hands.

A quick little story about that night though: I had just finished dinner at the hotel bar and I went to leave and froze. The whole team from Bioware that attended PAX East was RIGHT THERE kicking back and having drinks. A guy came up to the bar to order a lemonade and I was all, “Psst, look over there… that’s BIOWARE.” “Oh, wow.” “Yeah, I have to walk past them to get to my hotel room.” “Good luck with that.”

Then I chose the Paragon choice and didn’t bother them as I made my way to the elevator. The moment the doors closed though, I burst out laughing. The whole convention was like that.

All in all, I met some fantastic people, made a few amazing friends (especially in the airport waiting to fly home, you know who you are) and I had a wonderful time.

Lessons learned: a satchel with snacks and a bottle of water was a brilliant idea of mine. A pen and a small notepad, also genius. I needed a hat because DAMN it was cold outside the convention hall. Next time get a closer hotel. Next time maybe bring someone to attend with because it’s pretty lonely eating alone. Try to get a bit more swag. Ask people their names more often (even if I will forget it pretty quickly if I don’t write it down… see pen and notepad).

Anyway, I’m back and I’ve got plans for a new Let’s Play after I do the Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge one. I think everyone should enjoy watching that one as I’ll probably be cursing up a storm. You’ll see.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “It’s not about being modern or retro or a Luddite or being hopeful or pessimistic about the future; it’s about clinging on to what makes sense of our lives, and what give our lives value, and what gives us a commonality and a feeling of belonging.” – Jack White of The White Stripes.


Deciding on a Game to Play

Now that I’ve finished my Bounty Hunter playthrough of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’ve been a little lost as to what to do next. I’ve got a lot of great recommendations from my viewers, but I’m torn. Here’s a few of the ideas for what to play next…

Planescape: Torment – brilliant idea. I’m just not sure if I’ll be able to put up with it long enough to beat it. I remember it being kind of hard. I’d be willing to buy this again.

Baldur’s Gate – also a great idea, but I’d have to buy it again and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that. I beat this back in the day.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – this time as a Male Jedi Knight or a Male Sith Inquisitor. That’s a great idea and extremely tempting, but there’s a spoiler concern I ignored when I did the Bounty Hunter that I’m feeling a lot more these days.

Mass Effect – this is another brilliant idea, but I would probably trim out all the side quests. Stick to primary story and stuff. I’d have to pay even more attention to what I was doing though because, well, things aren’t as clearly defined as they are in SWTOR. Hey, it’s either that or have a full 40-80 hours of gameplay put up on YouTube… and that’s just the FIRST game.

Lord of the Rings Online – not a bad thought, but I’m not willing to make a new character. I did the first part of the game TOO MANY TIMES. That’s my fault, but hey, that’s how it goes. If I do show anything, it’d just be me doing random things at level 66. I highly doubt that would be interesting.

The Secret World – I see the allure here of wanting to see a bit of Let’s Play here, but again, it’d be a spoiler issue AND I don’t own the game.

Civilization – Uh… no. *laughs*

Blood Bowl: Chaos Edition – I don’t like football enough, sorry.

Those are all the game requests. There was one for a series of snapshots of different games until Neverwinter comes out (uh, that’s going to be a while) and there was one request for reviews on books, shows, movies, etc. and that’s also a perfectly valid desire.

I’m leaning toward a couple of these and I’m far from making up my mind.  Maybe SWTOR, Torment, or some other game. Mostly I’m just thrilled that I have viewers that give a damn about what I put up. In the meantime? I guess I’ll talk to my camera.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “The difficulty in life is the choice.” – George Moore


Saving Games for Tomorrow

There was a recent Extra Creditz video on PATV that has had me thinking since I watched it. It talked about how there’s no preservation of video games like there’s now preservation of movies or books or paintings or what-have-you. There are games that have not only passed from public consciousness, but they’ve also disappeared entirely from the world.

This is a tragedy and it has to be stopped. So, I’m going to see if I can do something about it.

It won’t be today or tomorrow, but some day. I need to build myself up so that I can take care of this.

The games don’t just need to be preserved, the source code does, the art assets, the music, the scripts, everything needs to be stored and maintained. An environment needs to be created for students to study them, to learn how these pieces of art were made. This “Vault of Gaming” could in fact be a tremendous learning resource for our future game designers, artists, musicians, writers, programmers, and so on.

This is something I’m passionate about. Preserving gaming history for the future is important. There are games that had such an impact on me as a child that no one really talks about today. For example, take a look at Starflight and you’ll see other games that grew in its wake like Mass Effect.

There is art that is lost to time. I wish to act to save what I can. I’m thinking of eventually going back to school to get a graduate degree or two so people would take me seriously. I’m thinking of proposing this non-profit service to the Smithsonian or the federal government in some capacity. I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that this is what I want to do.

I’m passionate about games and, while I have no real talent at making them, I can certainly save them for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

Until next time.

– Elorfin

P.S. “Any great work of art … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world — the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.” – Leonard Bernstein


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