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.


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


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.

Looking Forward: Mass Effect 3

I’m definitely looking forward to Mass Effect 3. As of this writing, I have about a week to wait for it to come out in the U.S. and I’m getting more excited by the day.

I stopped writing about Mass Effect 2 because I was doing it a bit much, but it’s still one of my most favorite games. In a way, I’m a little worried that Mass Effect 3 will possibly trump its predecessor and that I’ll go on and on about ME3 for a while. Alas, I suppose that’s the price of doing business.

Recently I had the good fortune to play the ME3 Demo on my trusty laptop. It runs exceptionally similar to ME2 (which I appreciate to no end). I feel I’m going to have to get used to the expanded melee combat system and the newly in-depth skill ranking system. Further, I think I’m going to need to become a bit more aggressive in how I approach enemies. The issue stems from the enemies using much more intelligent strategies as well as having more equipment. There are these guardian soldiers that attacked in the demo using these massive metal shields. I tried a couple of tricks to little success, such as just shooting at them, trying to find a weak spot for my bullets to exploit, and rushing in and trying to beat them to death with melee attacks. I think the only way that particular guardian died was because I made him turn to face me and Liara shot him in the back.

Oh, by the way, your companions appear to be much more clever and self-supportive in the new installment.

For now, though, I’m waiting patiently. I’m playing Mass Effect 2 and setting up my own FemShep for a second path through ME3. I’m playing Star Wars: The Old Republic off and on (I’m looking forward to update 1.2). I’m playing lots of Star Trek Online as the new Feature Episode reaches its fourth part this upcoming Saturday.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “[P]atience can’t be acquired overnight. It’s just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.” – Eknath Easwaran


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 – 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


Discussion – Player Character Gender

There are a great many games out there that allow you to choose your gender when you’re generating your character. In the game Mass Effect, Shepard can be male or female and you can import him or her into the sequel so you maintain your preferences. Some games have genders specifically picked out for what you want to do like in Diablo II where the Sorcerer is female but the Paladin is male. Still, there are other games where you’re stuck with the gender chosen for you like in Assassin’s Creed where you’re male or Tomb Raider where you’re female.

When playing games, I typically play a male character. I find it easier to identify with a male character, to put myself in their shoes, and wherever possible, that male character is an extension of myself. Coincidentally, I’m a male, so this is understandable.

The reason I’m bringing this up? Well, I was reading the news post that Tycho posted on Penny Arcade this past Friday. In it he mentions that he always plays females. He states his reason being: “These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them…” This makes perfect sense to me.

Let me put this another way… I play games to insert myself into the world and experience the world through some sort of extension of myself. I try to make characters that are like me or that I can identify with easily because that helps me to feel like I’m a part of the world I’m participating in and attempting to make a difference in. It helps me to become invested. I believe that Tycho is looking for new and strange experiences and in doing so he’s looking to, well, enrich himself through them. Neither is more right than the other and both are important to us. I very much respect his approach to gaming and readily admit that, from time to time, I have also built a female character or have played as a female character either through a desire to experience something very different or because the game forces me to (not in a bad way though).

When I’m playing games with my character-who-is-an-extension-of-myself, I become a part of the story, I become a member of the cast, a part of the team, and when I step away from the game, the experiences that I accrued while playing are a part of me. It gives me a great sense of being there, of connectedness… and that’s what I look for.

Until next time,

– Elorfin

P.S. “It reminds me of when I first saw Samus Aran’s face in Metroid: Prime, my face, flashed inside the visor, saw my eyes, which were her eyes, blinking at the brightness. These are truly alien experiences for me, and I’m exposed to them and enriched by them because I didn’t have to fill out some questionnaire before playing the game to make it aware of my sacred boundaries. I wasn’t given the option to check the “No Homos” box, or to choose an elf with a less bewitching accent. Instead, I was dropped hip-deep into the Inferno Round of a moral quiz show. I just want to shake these people sometimes. Hey. That feeling, the one that you’re feeling? That is the game.” – Tycho, Penny Arcade


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 7: Effect

We all want to feel like we make a difference in the world. Some of us more than others. A great game allows the player to feel like they’ve had an impact or effect on the game world. Decisions that change the world around you slightly and almost imperceptibly happen every day without realization. In games, these decisions are a bit more pronounced, but no less important to the game world.

Older games were static. You shot Badguy A in Room 1 and Badguy B in Room 2 had no idea. As games became more complex, the Badguys would assist each other if they were in close proximity. Just like in the Splinter Cell series or some of the more modern First Person Shooters.

Games like The Sims, Sim City, Civilization, and Black & White are all god games where you’re this overseer in the heavens and the world you play in lives or dies at your whim (in the case of The Sims series, they do rely on you very heavily for survival). That’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is games like Wing Commander where if you win or lose a mission, it changes the story and the experience. I remember dreading getting chewed out by Captain Eisen for accidentally letting a couple of Kilrathi escape in Wing Commander III when my fighter got beat up. We’re also talking about games like Fallout where your decision to hire a water convoy from the Hub can cause the Mutants to discover where your Vault is earlier but can extend the amount of time before the water in the Vault runs out.

These decisions are small versions of the effect I’m getting at. I wish I could cite Dragon’s Age for effects on the game world, but I’ve never played it (my laptop would probably slap me silly if I tried). Games allow us to act out events that have a lasting effect on the world we’re in. If it’s just moving the story along or if it’s actually making a decision that has complex ramifications for the other people near by, it’s meaningful to the players and allows us to become attached to the world we play in. I know that in Chrono Trigger, I became attached to the world and the characters in my party because of the trials we all went through, the decisions we made, and the events we experienced. In so doing, we changed the world forever… at least until the New Game +.

It’s almost similar in a good book or movie. You sit there and become involved in the world put before you and you almost feel like you’re there participating. In the case of games, you’re the catalyst for change. Is it change for good or for evil? That’s up to you. Personally, I’d like to hope it’s for the better.

We all want to cause meaningful change to the world around us. In games, we can do that easily, quickly, and with drastic and dramatic results (which are frequently entertaining). As a small aside, I know that when I play games with a choice network (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, etc) I take note of the good decisions and wonder what makes them so good. Further, I attempt to comprehend the motives behind what I’m doing. Maybe I’m reading too much into the game, but it helps me identify with the main character more and so I become more immersed in the game and more interested in creating good effects. When passing someone getting a shake down from some thugs in the streets of upper Taris, I’m more likely to intervene and save a life than I am to just walk by. I try to take that lesson from the game into the real world and become a better person for it. Hey, no one said you can’t pick up a thing or two from the games you play, right?

Until next time, choose wisely.

– Elorfin

P.S. “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

P.P.S. “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.” – Aristotle


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


What makes a great game? – Part 4: Context

In part four of my little series here, I’m going to touch on the thing that really brings us to games: context. It’s the purpose behind the game, the message, the point, the topic, the issues at hand. It’s a major piece in why people play games (especially me).

When I pick up a game, a lot of things go through my mind. What’s it about? What’s the style of play? What’s it look like? Will this be fun? Wait, let’s go back to that first question: What’s it about? Yeah, pretty much every time I look at a game or book or movie or what-have-you, the primary question is something along the lines of “what’s the point of this?” and “what’s it about?”

Why (in part) does a Star Wars game sell so well? Because it’s about Star Wars. Well, maybe that’s a superficial explanation of it, but it serves pretty well. Let’s try a different approach with some of the games I’ve talked about here recently.

X-COM: What’s it about? It’s about defending Earth from invading aliens. The primary goal is to beat the aliens so that they leave us alone. A secondary goal is to justify your continued funding by the governments of the world so you can achieve the primary goal.

Civilization: What’s it about? It’s about building a civilization up from nothing to a world power. The primary goal is to be the best civilization with a secondary goal of achieving milestones (like researching technologies and constructing wonders of the world) before any other civilization does.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony: What’s it about? It’s about the coming of age of Alex and his discoveries of the world as he attempts to become the next Dragonmaster (you could argue that it’s about Luna, but I’d have to explain why and it’s a massive spoiler, however old the game may be). The primary goal is to win the game with secondary goals being to achieve certain points in the storyline that progress it in chunks.

Take a look at games like Solitaire and Bejeweled and similar browser/casual games and you’ll note that they’re all about just winning the game. There’s never a point where you miss the fact that you’re just playing a game. A truly great game contributes to a sense of immersion via their context. Sure, powerful music, acts of heroism, and a sense of making progress contribute to having a good time, but without a context behind them, it’s just a game as opposed to an EXPERIENCE.

The difference between a game like Solitaire and a game like Mass Effect is really the experience. Solitaire is all about the cards and beating your last high score (I swear I’ll never beat a 735), but Mass Effect is all about taking charge of a bad situation, figuring out what’s going on, stepping up and dealing with it. Is it a game? Yeah. Does it feel like a game when you’re playing it? Sometimes. Would you rather play Solitaire or feel like you made a difference in the futuristic world of Mass Effect? I’d say yes. Swap out the latter game if you say no (for those of you who don’t like Mass Effect for whatever reasons) until you say yes.

To conclude this bit on context, I offer this: I believe the reason the context of a game is so important is because we need to feel like we’re spending our time wisely. Games are an investment in a wide world of entertainment. We are bombarded with a wide variety of choices and I know that I need to feel like I’m doing the right thing by picking one form of entertainment over another (even when none of the answers are more right than any other). Personally, I hate how much time I’ve spent on Solitaire and other context-less games, especially when I have so many games WITH context around.

Ask yourself if you feel like you’re spending your entertainment time wisely during the next game you play. I do it pretty frequently. I believe I might write more on this with something of a breakdown on what gives games context next time.

Until next time, keep on… um… contextualizing? *laughs*

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 3: Progress

A quick aside before I start this piece: I’ve recently read that a new X-COM game is in the works by 2K Games (the people who made Bioshock). Well, it’s actually called XCOM (no hyphen) and it’s going to be a first-person shooter, so obviously the fans of the original were and are a bit steamed that they’re not getting a dedicated remake of the original. I’m hoping for something cool, but I’m worried I won’t be able to play it due to the motion sickness I tend to get from first-person shooter style games. You can check out their minimal site promoting the game here and the article I read regarding this is here.

Now, the thing that keeps me coming back to games on top of great music and heroism: a sense of progress.

Most games, if not all, give the player a sense that they’re making progress somehow. In a first-person shooter, your progress is typically measured by the number of levels or zones you’ve completed (or the fact that every area behind you is devoid of enemies) and sometimes by the development of a story. In a role-playing game, your progress is typically measured by the progression of the story, but also by the levels/skills/equipment gained by your character or party. In puzzle games, the puzzles get harder to complete. The list goes on. Without this sense of moving towards something, I know that I get very frustrated. Personally I find certain games to be very pointless, but allow me to explain this particular perspective.

When I perceive a game as “pointless” or “a waste of time”, I’m typically referring to the lack of a story or some sort of measurable progress. Solitaire is a great example of an entry into the  “pointless” category. Likewise with a lot of casual/browser games like Bejeweled and so forth. Yeah, I supposed the game sometimes gets more difficult in a fashion or deeper in some way, but how does Bejeweled compare to say Mass Effect or Bioshock or Wing Commander? Well, partly, it doesn’t, but as an expenditure of time, I’d rather spend my time experiencing the full story of Mass Effect as opposed to wasting hours trying to beat my top score of 735 in Solitaire (yeah, I can’t seem to do it). I’m not saying I DON’T waste time playing Solitaire (it keeps me busy while I chat online or watch streaming television programs), but I’d rather spend my time in a more productive fashion (if playing a game can be called “productive”).

Making progress is an everyday thing that kind of occurred to me earlier today while pondering what else I could talk about in this segment. I mean, I measure the progress of reading a book by how much is left to read and how much I’ve already read. I measure the progress of eating food by how much food is left to eat and how full I feel. I measure the progress on this article by seeing if I feel like I’ve said all I want to say at that time (I reserve the right to bounce around and add and edit). So it’s only natural that a very obvious sense of progress is applied to our forms of entertainment.

I really do believe in the “to each their own” perspective with video games (among other things). By that, I mean that everyone has a different preference for gameplay and in styles of progress it’s no different. I prefer having a clearly defined personal progression (levels, experience, skills, so on) and I look forward to character development and storyline progression. I have friends that don’t care so much for the story as for the number of kills they can rack up before it’s time to quit. I have other friends that appreciate the leveling mechanic, but could take it or leave it because they just want to have a good time. However you play it, every game needs some sort of satisfying progression mechanic to make the player feel like he’s doing well or accomplishing something with his time (and money). I know that earlier today I felt great satisfaction reaching level 8 in D&D Online on my new favorite character and that I’m doing pretty well fending off the alien invaders in X-COM Apocalypse when I played on Saturday by how I’ve been aggressively intercepting UFOs before they have a chance to drop their troops in the city. We all want to be successful and an obvious marker of that is a sense of progress.

Of course, you get the occasional spanner in the works there. By that, I’m referring to Wing Commander. The creators put a winning story and a losing story into the game. If you lose a mission, it’s not the end of the world, but you’re put on a slightly different path for a bit. If you lose more than one mission, well, you’ll probably see some cutscenes I’ve never seen except as movie files on the net. This is a type of progress and some people intentionally fail these missions to see the movies for themselves. It’s something they implemented in all five of the primary Wing Commander games (don’t recall if they did it for the expansions, but they probably did). The issue with this winning track/losing track thing is that the game takes a lot of extra development and most developers would rather spend time on ONE story rather than on WINNING STORY vs. LOSING STORY. More’s the pity because that adds a level of complexity to the progression mechanic. In the end though, I can easily say that I get way more satisfaction stopping all the bioweapons in Locanda and being able to save Flint’s home than being forced to protect the evacuation of the system. For more on this story, I’d recommend looking up Wing Commander III: The Heart of the Tiger. I also recommend visiting the game guides for the Wing Commander series because you can actually see the differences in the missions when you win versus lose. Oh, and for more Wing Commander goodness, I recommend my browser homepage.

A great game that displays all three of the components I’ve discussed thus far (Music, Heroism, Progress) is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In this game you have the epic Star Wars music to back you up, you have incredible moments of heroism and places where you can be that guy or gal who saves the day, and several markers of progress in the levels of your characters, the number of locations you have left to clear out (or the number of places you have cleared), and the story where you can go light side or dark side. It’s a great example of a quality experience, at least according to my own metric that I’m building here. There are other games that have more varied reasons within my current structure (Final Fantasy Tactics, Unreal Tournament, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, etc) but I’m not going to go through all of them right now. Besides, I think I might have another couple of things to add to my What makes a great game? series.

Until next time, keep moving forward (even if it’s the losing track)!

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 2: Heroes

So, we’ve discussed a bit on music and today I found myself asking the question: “Why do I play games?” This can extend into why I watch certain television programs or movies or read certain books, but I’ll hold it to games for now. In part, I think I play games to be the hero or at least be a party to something heroic.

This day and age we’re surrounded by “everyday heroes” in our police, firefighters, military, etc. These are all well and good and generally awesome, but I have to ask, are there any classic heroes any more? By classic, I refer to the knight in shining armor stereotype (yes, I know it never really existed, but stay with me on this). How about the Jedi Knight, the superhero (or team of superheroes), the wandering samurai, the battle-hardened special forces team that saves the Earth from certain destruction time and again? These examples all come from the classic heroes of old like Hercules and so forth. So, I suppose the stories have been updated, but why do I want to experience the story of a hero?

It’s possible that living the story of a hero through an interactive and immersive experience allows me to feel like I’m a hero too. That my life is more than just sitting in front of the computer or console. Games allow us to experience fantastic events vicariously. By assuming the role of the hero, we become invested. It’s more or less what I call the “one more turn” syndrome (updated to be the “five more minutes” syndrome).

Heroism gives us hope somehow. I’m not entirely sure about the why’s and wherefore’s but that’s my experience. When I’m witnessing the actions of a hero (either AS the hero in a game or reading about it or watching it in a movie or show) I have a feeling that everything will work out for the better. That somehow, the hero will pull through. In a way, the hero is the safe emotional investment (depending on the hero’s creator, Damn You David Willis!). You can frequently rely on the hero to be there tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The hero usually grows, overcomes great adversity, and triumphs over an ultimate enemy of sorts. All the while, I remain enraptured. I want to do that. I want to be there.

Let’s look at some of the games I like:

  • X-COM UFO Defense – team of unnamed heroes (well, generic names, but no one stands apart from the others)
  • Final Fantasy VI – team of heroes, each with a special ability that makes them valuable
  • Lunar: Silver Star Harmony – again, a team of heroes, but the story revolves around Alex becoming more and more of a hero as the game progresses
  • Mass Effect – you’re Shepard, the actual shepherd of your flock of teammates and what you says goes where your personal motives and play-style dictate the direction of the game
  • Wing Commander – you are the hero, the pilot that saves your carrier time and again and over time the crew rewards you with trust and a compelling storyline and a reason to continue to protect that beloved carrier
  • The Monkey Island Series – Guybrush is something of an unlikely hero, but when he first arrived, he knew exactly what he wanted: to be a mighty pirate; he got it and THAT is what being a hero is all about
  • Dungeons & Dragons – a place to build up from nothing; going into a hero, D&D is a reflection of work ethic, attention span, and a firm grasp of the rules (aka, the world you work in)

Lastly, I’ll touch on Star Wars. Star Wars as a universe of movies, books, and games, encompasses a wide variety of heroes. You have the vanilla hero (Luke Skywalker) that starts as a nobody, but rises to to occasion and to great heights of heroism. You have the rogue-type hero (Han Solo) that starts out as a mischief-maker and winds up proving himself in the face of real danger and becoming a better person because of it. You have the headstrong princess (Leia, of course), who stays strong the whole time but appears to learn that strength must be tempered with patience and mercy, and of course, the occasional sleight of hand that she picks up from the rogue. Hell, there are degrees of reluctant heroes and anti-heroes and on and on.

I believe games speak to that inner being that so desperately wants to be the hero. No matter how wonderful or terrible your life is, a game can speak to you and bring you to a world where YOU are the hero, YOU are the center of the story, YOU make things happen and YOU are the most important person in the room. For those of us who go through life ignored or trampled, a game can give us the self-esteem and inspiration to push forward in our daily life or give us enough satisfaction with life that we don’t need to push so hard to get what we want on a daily basis. All by letting us play pretend for just a little while.

I’m not sure if this stayed on point the whole time, but essentially, I love to be the hero. I love to ride to the rescue, I love to prove that being prepared solves a ton of problems, I love to vanquish monsters and champion causes. Games let me be the knight in shining armor, the Shepard in N7 armor, and the Jedi in knight’s robes.

To tie this in with the music from Part 1, when the music lends itself to the moment where you show your heroism, where the music starts that crescendo, the trumpets sound,  and you defeat that dragon or Reaper or Sith… well, it’s no wonder I keep going back.

Until next time, keep playing the hero, and maybe it’ll stick!

– Elorfin

P.S. Yes, I know the stories of heroes are tales where the characters and events most likely did not exist. There are no actual fire-breathing dragons in the world and metaphorical dragons, however real and problematic, don’t really measure up to the mythological dragon we fantasize of defeating. Still, when I try to answer the classic question that schools ask schoolchildren (what do you want to be when you grow up?), I hate to say that astronaut, firefighter, or policeman doesn’t cut it any more! *laughs*

P.P.S. On a more psychological note, playing the hero in a game is quite possibly a way of addressing the feeling of unsuccessfulness in some aspect of life. By feeling satisfied in entertainment, one achieves some sort of parity between that and regular life. The more one plays the game and strives to save the day in a fictional setting, the more the player might need something similar in the real world. Just a theory. I know I play games in part as escapism, but also because they’re just plain enjoyable and I love a good soundtrack and a good story and… well, I’ll touch on it more in later posts!