Archive for July, 2012

On the (rapidly vanishing) RPG niche (addendum).

Posted in Grumblings on July 27, 2012 by chemiclord

As I was trolling the Bioware Social Network today (yeah, I kinda troll the whiners on that forum, guilty as charged), I remembered an element to the “RPG niche” that I shouldn’t have forgotten, because it is actually a major bone of contention for “RPG purists” as they feel increasingly turned away from major developers and publishers.

The push for multiplayer elements in games.

And it’s true.  Multiplayer is the next big thing in gaming, damn near everybody does it now in some form.  Even franchises that had traditionally been single player campaigns are implementing multiplayer features.

Hell, if you remember yesterday, I pointed out that Square/Enix has spawned two outright multiplayer only games out of their Final Fantasy franchise.  Games like Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect have introduced multiplayer options. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the Witcher 3 introducing at least a Co-op mode.

It makes sense.  People generally like multiplayer games.  Humans are in general social creatures.  We like playing games with others.  We like having other people to experience things with.  It’s why we prefer to travel in groups, and the solo traveler is sometimes regarded suspiciously.

Even roleplayers (this is not the same group as “RPG purists”… which will be in that promised rant at a later time), understand this.  They also like playing games with others.  You don’t see too many D&D modules with the DM by himself behind the screen, right?  That would be… kinda silly, and completely defeating the point of the game.

That game developers and publishers are leaning towards including multiplayer into their games should not be a surprise.  People want it.

The “RPG purist” however, seems to be a fairly anti-social critter.  Multiplayer elements to their games are a threat to them, rather than something to embrace.  They don’t like the idea of such elements theoretically taking time and money and other resources from their isolated and solitary game experience, and are quick to blame such multiplayer elements if a game does not meet the standard they set for it.

It’s the major reason they feel neglected, and why they are also very bothered by it… because they can see it’s not going away any time soon.

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On the (rapidly vanishing) RPG niche.

Posted in Grumblings on July 26, 2012 by chemiclord

One thing I have noticed over the last handful of months, is a sense of increasing anger and rage and hatred from “RPG” fans towards “casual” gamers, especially as more and more game developers and publishers are turning their efforts to catering to those “casuals” and less towards the “hardcore RPG” group that saw a lot of love at the turn of the century.  RPG purists feel that they are being ignored and dismissed by major “AAA” game companies as a rapidly vanishing niche.

Well… there is a reason for that.  Because they are.

What “RPG purists” (who are really purists in the same sense that video game RPGs are really RPGs… but that’s a rant for later) are looking for in games are increasingly not what the majority of gamers want to see; while said “purists” are bemoaning the fall of story and narrative in the video games that they fought so hard to see (replaced by “mindless shooters” like Call of Duty) and are nigh comically missing the point.

Yes, it does seem that companies are abandoning the RPG, and it’s not hard to see that on the surface.  In 1997, Squaresoft released Final Fantasy VII, and demonstrated to the general populous that yes, games CAN be driven by a narrative and not solely gameplay, and that yes, gamers can and even should expect more from a game’s story than “our princess is in another castle.”

And before some Final Fantasy VI fanatic completely loses their mind, I am not saying that FF7’s story was the best.  Not even close.  It was the one that finally pushed RPG’s into the collective conscious and set the expectations for narratives in video games.

Look at Square/Enix now.  It’s like they can’t run away from their roots fast enough.  Deus Ex?  That’s not the Final Fantasy I grew up with.  Hell, the Final Fantasy series is running like hell from the traditional RPG.  In their last four numbered titles (I refuse to acknowledge the existance of X-2. Like the last two Matrix movies, Final Fantasy X-2 never happened, got it?)… two of them (XI and XIV) have been MMOs and the third (XIII) played more like an interactive movie rather than a game.

Or how about Bioware?  They were supposed to be Squaresoft of this generation.  Baldur’s Gate… Neverwinter Nights… Mass Effect… Dragon Age… hell, they even made an entertaining Star Wars: Extended Universe game!  If that’s not the touch of a minor god, what is?

Now look at them.  Mass Effect couldn’t have slipped out of their RPG clothes faster if it had been named Sos and Victoria.  Mass Effect 3 plays like a shooter with RPG elements rather than the other way around.

Even the current golden child of “RPG purists”, CDProjekt Red, are facing grumbling from some fans that they’re about the follow the same route after the Witcher 2 turned towards a more action oriented combat system than the strategic system it used in the first installment.

How did this happen?  How could gaming be about to take such a tragic step back?  How could RPG purists have fought so hard to see gaming become a legitimate storytelling medium only to see it on the verge of falling back into the Stone Age of jumping over barrels to save your girlfriend from an angry gorilla?  How could we have possibly lost after coming so far?

The answer is that storytelling in games hasn’t lost.  In fact, it won.  It won long ago, to the point where game companies don’t even try to fight it anymore.

About the only way you can get away with not having narrative progress in your games is to sell it in the Apple App Store or host it on Facebook.  Anywhere else, a game simply must have a story to tell.  Even the “mindless” Call of Duty series has a single player story campaign.  They’re never very long… they often aren’t even all that good… but every single game in the series has one.  It’s certainly not because they want to put it there.  If Activision felt they could drop the story campaign and focus entirely on the multi-player battlefields, they would retroactively go back and delete in the previous patch.  But they don’t.  Why?

Because (and this may shock the RPG purists), they feel that a Call of Duty game without some sort of story that ties into their multiplayer campaign, gamers would not be the slightest bit interested… and they are probably right.  If for no other reason than to set the stage, CoD must have some narrative behind it.

Hell, we have reached a point where Nintendo feels compelled to give the vast majority of Mario games (outside of the ones that are programmed specifically for the nostalgia value) some sort of story line.  Let me reiterate: a game franchise based on a fat, Italian stereotype plumber getting pulled down a fucking drain pipe, feels they have to give those games some attempt at a logical narrative, or the game won’t sell.

Ladies and gentlemen, the war for stories in video games has been over for years, and game companies surrendered unconditionally about a decade ago.  In that sense, the RPG purist won the battle so resoundingly and with such overwhelming force that they never even realized the fight ended.  They’re still marching, looking for the enemy, not realizing they ground the enemy to dust just from marching forward.

Well, if that’s the case… then why are so many developers running away from what RPGs stand for?

It’s actually pretty simple.  Now that damn near every game on the market has some sort of narrative driving it, the battlefield has turned to gameplay, and that is frankly where computer RPGs have traditionally stunk to high heaven (sorry, FF6 fans, but really… even that wonderfully told story had a gameplay system that was painful to suffer through at times.  I really am sorry, but it’s true).

Believe it or not, most gamers really don’t like having to load up a spreadsheet to itemize seventeen pages of inventory, cluttered with inferior garbage they keep finding on the ground, scenario specific items that are useful for maybe one battle (and then never again), three stacks of 99 potions that stopped being effective the moment they hit level 20, but can never quite seem to get rid of because every monster in the game drops at least one of them, a page devoted entirely to “key” items that you can’t actually “use” (the game doing so for you at “key” points in the story), etc… etc…

Even inventory clerks don’t like bringing their work home.  Not too many people like playing Microsoft: Excel, especially for $60 when it comes pre-packaged on most PCs nowadays.

Side quests, mini-games, and optional dungeons are another point of contention.  For most gamers, it’s seen as a cheap attempt to make a game feel longer than it really is at best, and aggravatingly narrative breaking at worst.  “Yeah, Cloud, we have to get the Black Materia as quickly as possible before Sephiroth finds it and destroys the world!  What’s that?  You wanna go to the casino and fight arena battles for ten hours to get a new Limit Break?  Yeah, that sounds like a perfectly efficient use of our time!”

Or what about random item generation?  How the hell does anyone think that is a good idea anymore?  Certainly not gamers as a whole.  “Okay, I brought Tali because I know I need a high decryption to even have a chance to break into this locker… Sweet!  Nice job, my little quarian hacker goddess you!  What did we find… a Hydra II?  Really?  That was worth putting in that locker?  What retarded Blue Suns mercenary thought that was valuable?”

Hell, even World of Warcraft is seeing the writing on the wall, and steering players towards set vendor rewards rather than RNG loot tables.

Elements like these (and there are others, like how droll and tedious most RPG combat systems tend to be) are why the RPG niche is shrinking… they are things that RPGs have done for so long that “purists” feel they’re supposed to be done that way, or the game isn’t a “true” RPG.

Unlike story in video games, the general populous is not the least bit interested in RPG gameplay elements, because by and large, those elements are terrible.  They were things that most gamers put up with because they felt the story was more important than clunky mechanics.  Now that they don’t have to… they don’t want to.

Extended Cuts: The Continued Mass Effect 3 Debacle

Posted in Grumblings on July 13, 2012 by chemiclord

Whelp, I wanted to give myself some time to digest what Bioware tried to give me… and I really didn’t want to flood this blog with ME3 rants.

Then a couple weeks passed, and I found I had nothing else to say.  So… here goes.

SPOILER ALERT!!! (even though you really don’t care)

At least the endings provided feel like actual distinct endings.  Even though with the original version it was logically obvious that the end result was different, it is a very significant improvement to actually see and feel the difference.

A majority of the major gaps in the narrative were filled.  It now actually makes sense why many of the disjointed events happened the way they did, although it’s obvious many of them were rather jammed in forcefully or outright retcons of what had been originally presented (like how the Mass Relays take noticeably less damage in the Extended Cut).

Sometimes it worked great.  How your squadmates left the final charge for the Citadel Beam was remarkably well done at the very least, and heart-wrenching in its emotional impact at best (even if it requires a little bit of handwaving to make sense).  Other times, it fit… like why Joker was seen leaving the site of the battle.  Sometimes, it doesn’t work particularly well at all… the jungle planet scene now makes even less sense in the Extended Cut now.  How could the Normandy have been damaged so badly considering it out-ran the shock wave… and how could it have been repaired so quickly?

There were also elements to the story that I thought were vast improvements… the Catalyst now at least clearly demonstrates a rampant circular logic flaw.  You’re not supposed to agree with it.  It’s supposed to seem a little off, but it also doesn’t change that it is the only way to defeat the Reaper menace.  Datamined information in the Extended Cut seems to suggest that further DLC will alter the interaction with the Catalyst even further… so this is likely not the last we have seen of the issue.

There is even a new option that (in the dark recesses of my soul) I thoroughly enjoy.  Not because it’s a particularly good ending (it’s actually the “worst” in a narrative sense), but because it demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bioware was listening to their fans, and was more than willing to mercilessly troll the most entitled, whiny brats among them.  The “Refuse” ending is an absolute slap in the face to the whiners who demanded an option to reject what the Catalyst offered, and to bring the combined might they had mustered against the Reapers…

… only to watch that fleet get outright steamrolled by the enemy force that we had been told (both in-game and out) was impossible to defeat conventionally.  As an added jab, a producer at Bioware tweeted that the next cycle then used the Crucible the player refused to use in order to win.

And on top of that… attempting to shoot the Catalyst (like a lot of raging children proudly declared they did), promptly segues into that “lol u git rolled by Reapers, trolololololololol!” ending.

It’s a thing of beauty, and inexorably putting the stamp on the silly notion that Mass Effect was in any way the fans’ story.  I loved it, if only to drink the bitter, angry tears of the whining minority on the Bioware Social Network.  They deserved the nothing they got.

Now… onto what still is a massive, gaping, catastrophic problem with the entire ending sequence as whole.

Even with the Extended Cut, the solutions the Catalyst pose still don’t actually… ya know… solve the supposed problem.  Destroy only delays it (the Catalyst, however, readily admits to this, and even predicts that is exactly what will happen).  Control is merely passing the buck onto Shepard (yeah, it’s your problem now… toodles).  I’m still not sure how Synthesis is even possible, much less how it prevents synthetic life from being built in the future.

In fact, Synthesis actually comes out worse in my mind… because it makes even less sense than it did.  How is everyone now having organic and synthetic elements supposed to prevent the greed and avarice that spawns the need to gain any advantage they can to be superior to those around them?  Because that is really what is at the core of why we’re in this tech race towards the “singularity” that is the point of no return for the Catalyst.  The drive to have the fastest computer or fastest car or tallest building… that’s what drives innovation.  That’s what drives technological advancement.  How does Synthesis change that?  By forcing people to no longer have that drive?

Oh wait… the Catalyst says Synthesis has to be voluntary.  What?  How the hell does that work?  Does the green colored shockwave stop short at every living person and give them a questionnaire?  Does it set up Synthesis Hotspots where beings line up like at the DMV to change their plates?

Congratulations, Bioware, you have managed to make the most convoluted and head-hurting ending to one of your games even more convoluted and migrane-inducing.  You should be proud, I guess?

Secondly, the choice itself remains painfully inconsistent, not just with the pre-existing lore of the game, but even with itself.  The “sacrifice” of synthetic beings in the Destroy option still feel forced and jammed into the consequences for no reason other than to make Destroy less of a desirable option.  And if the Crucible affects all synthetic life, then why doesn’t Control give you control of those same synthetic lifeforms?  And Synthesis, no matter how much effort Bioware puts into it, outright refuses to make any logical or coherent sense to me.  It’s like the Adam Savage of video game endings:  “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”

I get what Bioware wanted to do here; to present a moral decision that had no “right” answer… and push the player to determine just what they valued more.  But I feel there was a simpler, and more internally consistent way to go about it.

To put it in the most summarized terms: The Crucible targets Reaper technology.

Okay… how is that different, you may ask?  Here’s how.

Destroy: The geth and Edi and other synthetic life forms are spared, and it destroys the Reapers.  Great… but now isn’t that a perfect ending with no cost?  Nope.  Wanna know why?  Know what else is Reaper tech?

The Mass Relay system.  Oh, and the Citadel.  Yeah… that thing you’re currently kinda standing on.

Yep.  You’ve destroyed the Reapers… and everything that came with it.  The galaxy has earned its freedom from the narrow confines the Reapers imposed on their development.  Now you’re on the hook for it all.  Good luck getting all those races home.  Or keeping them fed on the way.  Freedom can be a bitch, sometimes.  Depending on your EMS, the ending outcome can have varying levels of hope to it, from utter chaos to a prolonged rebuilding phase that slowly puts the galaxy back together.  Shepard’s survival could also come into play the way it does now.  It might not be easy… but even the biggest hurdles can be overcome.

Control: I actually think Control works for the most part, in fact, my altered Destroy ending comes from the logical extremes of what the Control ending provides.  The caveat however, I would include is one that is tangentially touched on if Shepard was played largely as a renegade, but I would put it in all of the variations.  EMS would also adjust the extremity of the conclusion, but the conclusion itself should be hinted at the very least… that your Shepard is starting to think like a Reaper… and that eventually he might decide that the Catalyst had the right idea.

Basically, the cost of the Control ending is the strong likelihood that Shepard will fall prey to the same circular logic error that haunted the Catalyst.

Synthesis: Burned alive in an arsonist’s fire.

Honestly, my ending to ME3 wouldn’t even have it as an option… but if it must be an option (and honestly it seems to be the preferred one for Mac Walters as it requires the highest EMS to open), drop the entire “voluntary” bit, and leave it as it was implied to be in the original… a forced evolution of every life form in the galaxy, whether they wanted it or not.  The moral abhorrence of such an option is more than enough to give most players pause.

So, there we have it.  My thoughts on the Extended Cut.  It’s an improvement… the endings are now, for the most part, tolerable, but it’s still not even close to an epic conclusion to the trilogy.

It’ll do, I guess… but at some point, “it’ll do” isn’t good enough.

On Being a Dreadfully Boring Individual

Posted in Grumblings on July 2, 2012 by chemiclord

It’s been damn near a month since I’ve written anything on this site.

I know this… but I tend to be a fellow that just doesn’t talk unless he thinks he has something interesting to say… and I rarely find myself interesting.

And I really don’t want to devote another post to Mass Effect 3, nor do I care all that much about recording my thoughts about the recent “Extended Cut.”  Maybe later.  I dunno.

Sorry for being such fail.