BioWare hinting at new Mass Effect-game?

November 17, 2010

Out of nowhere, Electronic Arts decided to tease a new, yet unknown, BioWare-title. The only bit of stuff we have so far is a short video-teaser that shows no more than a rather generic military-guy and his gun. However, upon further observation, there are definite links between that teaser and the Mass Effect-franchise. As user Zenith pointed out by using a screencap of the teaser and a screenshot of Mass Effect 2, the gun-model that can be seen is almost identical. Not only that, but you can also see some hexagon-structures being used in the design of the unknown game. Following the teaser-video, BioWare released two binary-codes that translate into “55.845”, the atomic mass of iron, and “-128,5F”, which is -89,2°C, the coldest temperatur ever measured on Earth at Vostok, Antarctica in 1983.

That´s all the stuff we have gathered so far. Maybe BioWare releases more clues. At best, this marks the approaching reveal of Mass Effect 3. However, some kind of spinoff set during a previous event is more likely. Hopefully it isn´t some new franchise. There´s too much awesome stuff to tell and do within the ME-universe, and no matter if this is a ME3-announcement or not, it´ll be a long wait for the final part of the trilogy, so a spinoff to ease the wait would be welcome.

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Relevant Continuity in Video Games

November 13, 2010

When reading a book-series or popular movie that is sure to see some sequels, you´ll most of the time get a fine, continuous piece of story. Even though each book or movie is fine by itself, the follow-up will make it clear to the audience that what happened in the past is relevant for the present time. That doesn´t hold true for video games.

Most video games are fully enclosed products, standing on their own. That is fine as long as a publisher doesn´t decide to turn that single game into a recurring franchise. Even though nowadays video games have become big, epic and, unfortunately, very cinematic experiences, they don´t really try to tell ongoing stories. Instead, they welcome you with the same main character and have you start a whole new mission. What happened in the previous game is but a page out of a book, it bears no more relevancy to the new plot. Part of that is also that video game makers aren´t daring enough with changing the main character. Having him develop both in terms of looks and behavior depending on his past adventures. It´s always the very same dude/girl. Be it Uncharted or Tomb Raider, Mario or a hundred else franchises – never do you get to know the bigger picture, never happens something of permanent relevance.

Each game exists as an individual experience

 

There are examples of games that successfully achieve such relevant continuity throughout their various installments, but these are rare and even then often rather shallow. Most prominent example would be the Mass Effect-franchise. Of course, being a western-rpg it is easier to include permanent developments since it is the players decision of what to do or not to do. Also, Bioware has the franchise planned as a trilogy from the beginning, so there is no uncertainty about how to proceed with what you have. Two other good examples, surprisingly, come from Nintendo. As much as story is not a big part of Nintendo-games, both Metroid and Zelda succeeded in creating a big overarching continuity that bears relevance to future and past games. Be it Samus destroying the home planet of the Metroids, later on fighting Mother Brain and then herself aka SA-X – each game takes its prequels into consideration. On a less pronounced basis, the same is true for The Legend of Zelda. This series´ fans are famous for their timeline-talks, and while I personally wouldn´t take pre-OoT-Zeldas into such talk, Ocarina of Time definitely started a continuous story that saw relevance even in the latest console-title Twilight Princess, showing scenes of Ganondorf and what happened to him in the aftermath of OoT. And then there´s the Triforce-mythology that overarchs each and every series-entry. Even the upcoming Skyward Sword seems to relevantly further the whole franchise´s continuity by showing fans the origins of the Master Sword. One very popular Konami-franchise also is known for its continuous story: Metal Gear Solid. Hardly a surprise, when this franchise´s focus is story foremost, and complaints about its individual installments´ uber-long cutscenes are common occurrence. You could also name the Kingdom Hearts-franchise, though I wouldn´t include it here. Other than the other mentions, KH feels like Square Enix is making up sh*t for each new game, further fucking up the whole series. And let´s not forget Assassin´s Creed, where Ubisoft just like that makes up another game only because of the franchises success. Killing an originally interesting story by thinning it out by filler. Oh well.

References to previous installments keep developing a sense of continuity

 

I´d really love to see video games being treated more like books/movies in that regard that their stories and characters keep developing instead of just creating new missions for a never-changing hero. And just in case someone wants to call me out for mentioning the Mario-series in a text about story: The Paper Mario-games have great, franchise-fitting stories. Continuity would work there just as well and maybe finally give Luigi the development he deserves. Luigi > Mario.


Part of Immersion: A concept for nextgen-npcs

October 11, 2010

In an effort to come up with a concept that allows for even greater immersion than current video games, I thought of a process of combining different mechanics into a single one. The most important parts to achieve a great level of immersion are environment, perspective, and character-character-interaction. Today, I´ll be writing about the latter.

NPCs, the non-playable characters, in video games often are the weakest part of a game.  Even if we take a game with supposedly fantastic npcs, such as the Mass Effect-series, it is limited to only a few characters, while the majority of on-screen npcs cannot be interacted with. They might say something as you approach them, but you aren´t given the option to actively talk to them. That is the currently best the industry has to offer. Typically, you cannot interact with npcs at all. Popular examples for such games would be Grand Theft Auto 4 or Assassins Creed 2. There are thousands of people (aka npcs) in these games, and all you can do is ignore or hurt/kill them. Now, some might say that it isn´t financially feasible to design each and every npc as a fully interactable being, but not only am I going to write about a concept that could work around heavy costs, there´s also an example of game that did make the majority of npcs capable to interact with.

 

Tons of people to NOT interact with

 

First of all, said game is Vampire Masquerade: Bloodlines, one of the best RPGs for PC. Even though it´s quite old by now and combat is clunky, this title lets you initiate talk with seemingly every npc you can see. No, not literally everyone, but the ratio between interaction and non-interaction is so high that you get the feeling of being able to talk with everyone.

 

A quite nice level of dialog-options, but hardly anyone to use them on

Now, as for the concept I came up with. Imagine you have like 20 or such different character traits. Funny, friendly, cold, success-driven, old-fashioned, romantic, asshole, evil, sexist, playful, happy, sad, motivated, disenchanted, arrogant, shy, and so on. Let´s then imagine that each and every npc randomly features one to up to three of these traits that build its personality. However, that doesn´t mean that a npc is static in behavior/personality. Every npc would have access to ALL 20 traits. It´s just that 1-3 of these form the current expression of a npc´s personality. Due to this structure, you could talk to each and every npc in a game like GTA4 or AC2 and engage in a  conversation with them a la Mass Effect. All it takes are these 20 fleshed out traits and, of course, a lot of lines for npcs to choose from. However, unlike having to work on 100,000 characters individually, it only takes a tiny fraction of the effort/money to create. Thanks to the access to all different traits, you could talk to and transform npcs´ personality. Get a friendly person to insult you, talk an arrogant bitch into sleeping with you, or persuade a killer to give up and turn himself in. To make it even more interesting, there could be hard-wired traits amongst others that cannot be changed. So a “cold, sexist, asshole“-npc with the “sexist“-trait hard-wired could be turned into a “friendly, sexist, playful“-npc. It would make the concept all the more realistic, since everyone of us is made of traits that follow us through the whole course of our lives.

That´s it, my concept for a whole new level of immersion regarding npc-interaction that keeps costs reasonable. I´m not all that confident to see games using the above any time soon, since killing npcs seems to be still the most fun thing for the majority of gamers. But there´s always hope that at least one developer/publisher will attempt something different. Until then, the mindless npc-genocide continues.  At least I am killing giant, reptilian monsters in MH3!


Top 3 Most Wanted-Spin Offs

September 20, 2010

Some days ago I talked to a friend on IRC and he started talking about cool ideas for spin offs. He later even started a whole topic on a popular gaming-board about it, which got lots of replies from people with more or less great ideas. Of course, you cannot start such a theme without getting my left side of the brain running wild, so here are the Flying Fisch´ Top 3 Most Wanted-Spin Offs.

3.) Mass Effect: Quarian Mission

The Quarians, an alien race in the world of Mass Effect, are the most interesting inhabitants of that universe to me. Wearing neat-looking suits, never showing their face, and being masterful technicians as well as capable tacticians in battle. What I´d imagine for this spin off would be a game that focuses on action-missions, leaving out all the non-linear exploration of the main series, but still keeping several crucial decisions that result in different following missions and different game endings. Even though the game-controls wouldn´t be too different from what we know, there´d be more focus on stealth and long-range combat, since typical Quarians aren´t strong close combat fighters. A sniper rifle would be your main weapon. Missions would vary from big groups, to smaller groups, to missions that you´d have to do all on your own. The story for this spin off could be anything from dealing a blow to enemy Geths to even doing a stealth-attack against Cerberus and finding out what they´re doing with the acquired human reaper (assuming that´s the canon ending of ME2). The game would give a lot of insight into Quarian behavior and be more straight forward, while still keeping an element of choice that is integral to the Mass Effect-franchise.

2.) Metroid: Galactic Federation vs Space Pirates

This is a dream of mine ever since that cutscene in the beginning of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The game would let you play as either a Federation Trooper or Space Pirate, meaning the game would feature two campaigns. On the Federation-side, you´d experience a more typical shooter-experience than when playing as Samus Aran. Your armor would be weaker, no charge beam shot and no space boots. But you´d have machine rifles shooting rapid energy blasts and be fighting alongside comrades. You could give commands to your team members, which could consist of different kinds of troopers, such as PED troopers or demolition troopers. You yourself would be carrying a PED, a Phazon Enhancement Device that would grant more power for a limited amount of time. Without all of Samus´ super powers, it´d be a much more down-to-earth experience, featuring more of the horror that are the space pirates and unknown planets. Missions would vary from exploration, to rescuing someone to blow up pirate bases, or defend a colony against a pirate attack. All that while environmental dangers would pose a threat, too. And then there´d be the Space Pirate-campaign that´d be completely different. Here, you´d be controlling a single Space Pirate, equipped with some energy blaster, missiles and, most importantly, a jet pak and invisibility device. Gameplay would be totally different in that you could now reach whole new places and do missions stealthy or not so stealthy. Mission goals could range from stealing important items/information to killing higher up persons and readying the approach of a larger pirate-attack. To make this a really fun, long-lasting game, there´d be coop- and multiplayer-modes, off- and online. I can´t imagine a more fun multiplayer-shooter than Federation troopers against Space pirates, each with their own tactics and combat options. And meanwhile, you´d learn more about the world of Metroid without everything relating to Samus Aran.

1.) The Legend of Zelda: Shad´s Journey

My favorite NPC in Twilight Princess by far. Shad is one of the guys of the resistance group that you meet in Telma´s pub. He´s that guy that later helps Link to get to the sky temple by deciphering ancient texts and even using a spell to active Link´s Dominion Rod. When playing Twilight Princess, I always felt that the resistance group could have been given more show time, better fleshing out – especially Shad. His design is too awesome for such a hardly seen side-character. When I wish for a spin off featuring him, I imagine an action-adventure that is less about killing enemies and more about exploration. That´s not to say that Shad shouldn´t be able to fight monsters when needed, but the game should never force the player to go into battle without other options. After all, Shad is more of a bookworm than a heroic fighter. Controlling Shad would feature in-depth climbing options, necessary for the emphasis on exploring environments, be it steep stone walls to get to an ancient temple or the inner walls of a temple itself. Or just a high bookshelf. The story would be about Shad trying to find a way to reach the Ooccas´ sky temple himself, since he couldn´t follow Link at the time of Twilight Princess. Afterall, he continued his deceased father´s studies and still has to fulfill them, at any costs. It´s what he dedicated his life to. Shad´s adventure would give more insight into the world of The Legend of Zelda and offer a different gameplay experience that is based more on exploration and magic than combat and saving the world. And maybe Shad could become a more fleshed-out character himself – his great design cannot go to waste, after all.


RPG and…RPG

May 25, 2010

In a recent argument on the web, fans of RPG-games heavily argued about what makes an RPG an RPG. That typically developed into the usual WRPG vs JRPG-discussion. Each of these, western and eastern RPGs, feature very different contents, focus on totally different key aspects. But what is it that makes us call them “role playing games”?

Most popular example on the WRPG-side is Mass Effect 2, the second act in the ME-trilogy, released earlier this year. The argument started when some people criticized Mass Effect 2 for having abandoned most of its predecessors RPG-traits and devolved into just another action-shooter. It´s needless to say that JRPG-supporters hopped onto that opinion. That lead me to thinking about what it actually is, this…”role playing game”.

In my opinion, role playing means that I am actively playing part in a game. For example, where in a shooter like Call of Duty I´m just following scripted events, in games like Oblivion or Mass Effect I´m actively influencing how the game proceeds. I can change it. Make decisions. Some bigger, some smaller. That´s what role playing, to me, is about: Creating your own adventure by playing a role within the game.

JRPG-fans now seem to have a completely different view at things. There seems to be a connection between the term “RPG” and these typical minigame-like combat-systems that JRPGs have. And stats. And grinding. And random encounter. And so on. Here, RPG describes game mechanics. However, there´s also some JRPG-fans that would explain “role playing” to mean “playing the role of a pre-defined character”. Like “you cannot influence anything, you are just playing this character and guide him though his role”. Both of these views are heavily flawed as far as I see it.

Tying certain gameplay details to the term RPG is turning the term ad absurdum. RPG means role playing game. There is absolutely no connotation of what kind of game mechanics that means. Secondly, calling the guiding of a pre-defined character through a set story role playing also ridicules the terms meaning. If that´s what a RPG is, then almost all games out there would be RPGs. See Call of Duty. It still can see how someone could use the term RPG in that way, coming from tradition. But where it gets really ludicrous is when people try to take away that term from a game like Mass Effect 2.

I think I´ve never before played a game where MY decisions allowed me to experience an adventure that individualized. When a player reaches the end of ME2, everything up to this point will have been his personal experience. There is an overarching story, sure, but it is all the different attitudes you can choose from that really bring your Shepard to life. It´s true that ME2 left a lot of ME1´s typical RPG-mechanics, and I hope we´ll get back some of them for ME3, but at the same time, ME2 was such a great role playing-game in the very meaning of this term that I couldn´t care less. In ME2, I became Shepard. I influenced how I talked to people, how I proceeded the story, how I changed the story depending on my very choices. I think I wrote that in my ratio-article about ME2, but ME2 really felt like a “true” RPG. Because IF there is any kind of game mechanic that should be associated to the term RPG, it is choice.


Return of the hottest blue alien in the universe

September 4, 2009

Now hotter than ever before.

The writer of the comic-series Mass Effect: Redemption that will tie into the the Mass Effect-games, Mac Walters, will attend at PAX convention in San Diego on September 5th from 2:00pm to 3:00pm. The mentioned comic-series will see its #1 on January 6th, 2010. Until then, visitors of PAX will be able to get one of the following signing card.

masseffectcoverone

The card features the cover art for the first issue of the comic, showing Liara Tsoni, the blue alien chick from Mass Effect 1. When she was already hot in the game, the comic artist surely knows how to bring her out best. For now, enjoy this beautiful piece of Mass Effect-art. I know i will.


The Limitation of today´s games

August 16, 2009

There are people that are totally happy with today´s gaming world, but there are also guys like me that aren´t happy about nowaday´s offerings. All in all, i think there are two kinds of gamers. Those that play to kill time, and those that want to experience something.

The first kind of gamers is totally happy with the games we have. They hop in, play a game, finish it, and take on the next challenge. The second kind, though, can barely find anything that satisfies their needs. An experience can only come from a consistent game world, but such games are rare. We play Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3 or Zelda, but that´s it then.

What the above games have in common is that they try to create a believable game world. Not only in terms of visual appearance, but also in terms of interactions. Which brings us to the kind of games that puts the majority of today´s games:

Assasin´s Creed has an incredibly well done world, but your interaction possibilities are extremely limited. Jump, run and kill. You cannot talk to people, you cannot buy stuff at the market, you cannot do anything outside of the actions the developers thought of. Or Mirror´s Edge, where you have great movements from first person, but that´s all. Not coherent world to explore and such. We can then go over to GTA4, which offers a great realisitc town…but has the same problems as Assasin´s Crred.

The overall problem is that most games limit themselves to very specific ranges of actions. One allows for great movements, others for great interaction, others for deep conversations. For what they are, they offer great fun for the kind of gamer that just starts a game to entertain himself.

The second kind of gamer, though, wants it all in one. Let´s get it over with the biggest counter point to this: Costs. Sure, to offer all at once is more costly, but isn´t the result worth it? I´m on my 7th playthrough of Mass Effect, all thanks to the sheer amount of options i have. My most wanted is Alpha Protocol that will allow even more possible actions, be actual action or conversation.

Overall, i feel like we´re stuck at a certain level, where games will remain the same until we start combining them into something greater. If it´s too cost-intensive, then maybe some time in the future we´ll work something out. In the end, i´m glad that there is a very small amount of dedicated developers that tries to create games that have it all. But it´s unfortunate that you have to wait years for games like those to be released. At least i hope that those who are happy with this console generation can now understand a little better why not everyone is feeling the same.