Tag Archives: BioWare

Trailer Roundup: BioWare, The Sailor’s Dream, and More

Trailer Roundup: BioWare, The Sailor's Dream, and More

Have you listened to The College Dropout all the way through? It’s Kanye West’s debut album and I just blew through it for the first time. “Last Call” is crazy, right? I mean, it’s nearly 13 minutes of his goddamn life that stands in stark contrast with the person we know today. He portrays himself as a guy who knew he was talented but struggled to find a break and kept getting rejected, but we see him every day as a person completely detached from reality and, quite frankly, a rich ass.

That really has nothing to do with video game trailers. I just thought maybe you guys would want to talk about it. Or maybe something else. Whatever you have on your minds, I’m up for it. It could be about these trailers or maybe the bad day you just had or maybe the wicked salsa you made yesterday. I’m here for you.

Also I want that salsa recipe. You know who you are.

Assassin’s Creed Unity

Do you think they don’t have a colon in Assassin’s Creed Unity as some subtle play into the idea of unity? Just wondering. You already know the deal. We’ve heard these promises before of better control and more fun combat, but whether or not it’s a good or bad Assassin’s Creed game, I’m actually super excited to wander around 1700s France in this crazy quality. A full year to design one of the major landmarks. Crazy!

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege

One of the quotes in the trailer says that Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege was one of the biggest surprises of this year’s E3, and I agree wholeheartedly. The trailer at Ubisoft’s E3 press event was cool but left a lot of questions up in the air. Playing it, however, answered many of them, though still managed to raise more delectable questions. Expected to release 2015 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

The Sailor’s Dream

With the hopes that developers Simogo can pull out a quality iOS game once more, I’m rather intrigued by The Sailor’s Dream. It hopefully won’t scare the shit out of me like Year Walk, but the writing alone in the trailer got me good. Save for the last one that it fades out on. That came across as cheesy, but my curiosity certainly is piqued. Look for it late 2014 on iOS.

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

I wonder why Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 succeeded so hard. It has reached Final Fantasy VII levels of spinoff material. It’s my favorite of the series, but I wonder how word of its quality spread with such a convincing visage. It’s a hard enough sell to make people play an RPG let alone one that averages 70+ hours. Oh well. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth releases November 25, 2014 for Nintendo 3DS.

Shadowgate

I was never huge on Shadowgate. I’ve certainly played it—just as I’m sure most of you have as well—but it never clicked all that hard with me. Feel free to judge me as this reimagining accrued almost 3,500 backers and roughly $137,000 on Kickstarter, so chances are you remember it more fondly than I do. New puzzles and fancy graphics, though, so it could be worth remember that it comes out August 21, 2014 for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.

BioWare Teaser

Details are sparse on BioWare’s new project. We don’t even have a title yet. So far it’s just this live action trailer and mostly worthless words from press interviews. World building, contemporary stories (whatever you want that to mean), etc. It’s a cool trailer, but something more tangible needs to be revealed for a meaningful reaction. I do like that there’s some ARG stuff going on, though.

Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom

Do you think there will ever be a good Adventure Time game? While Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! was more or less agreeable, Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! was mostly hot trash. I wonder if it’ll take as many tries as South Park to hit South Park: The Stick of Truth-level. Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom comes out this fall for Steam, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo 3DS.

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Concept Art Roundup: BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and More

Concept Art Roundup: BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us, and More

Concept artists are kind of the unsung heroes of game development. Well, so are the programmers. And the designers. Everyone, really, but concept artists are tasked with the nearly impossible on a daily basis: craft something unique and fresh and amazing from nothing. The lead’s idea or whatever conglomerate concept the leads decide on is nothing more than words. “Post-apocalyptic mega city” or “ethereal sandscape of dreams and nightmares” or “cyber medieval space castle” are provocative words, sure, but they elicit a wide range of responses.

All those wildly varied ideas that flit in and out of existence in everyone’s minds have to be simultaneously consolidated and honed through the hands of a concept artist. Given them an idea, point them a direction, and watch them go. They’re like one of those windup toy monkeys with the cymbals except each tinny crash also brings about an amazing piece of art. Both rough and refined, raw and kinetic, these bits of visual magic inspire an entire team of modelers and designers and engineers and other artists to explore a space that was previously nonexistent.

The most amazing thing, though, is that a lot of it is on the Internet now. Code takes years to go open source and design docs rarely make it out in any state less guarded than a GDC slideshow, but art is thrown out into the world as soon as (and sometimes before) the game releases. Portfolio sites, art repositories, social networks: they all house visual treasures beyond measure, and we’re going to look at them. Hard.

I’ve sifted through said sources and dug up some neat pieces that came up this week. There’s a lot of BioShock Infinite stuff from a fellow named Ben Lo, a concept artist at BioWare who cooked up things like The First Lady airship and Finkton Docks. One of his pieces was even selected into the 2011 Into The Pixel gallery, an annually cultivated collection of art from all over the industry by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

Next up is Maciej Kuciara. Kuciara is a concept artist currently working at Naughty Dog on The Last of Us. He also worked on Crysis 2, so I’m guessing he’s probably really tired of coming up with wrecked, empty metropolises overtaken by foliage and monsters. Kuciara also works on films like the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending and Sergey Bodrov’s The Seventh Son, so don’t be surprised if you recognize his work in other places.

Billy Ahlswede (portfolio link might be NSFW) is currently a senior character artist at Sony Online Entertainment, drawing up the dudes and dudettes you’ll be playing for EverQuest Next, but his past is probably more interesting: character artist at 38 Studios, the Rhode Island development company backed by former baseball pro Curt Schilling. 38 Studios, if you don’t remember, was the center of the entire May-June news cycle due to its massive bankruptcy and blowout scandal last year. Hundreds of people lost their jobs and their MMO Project Copernicus got canned. Ahlswede thankfully managed to land on his feet and began to showcase some of his work. Sad to see people get laid off, but Copernicus at least looked pretty neat.

Prior to the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, Alex Figini worked almost exclusively on the MotorStorm series. With all five MotorStorm games under his belt, it’s a little surprising to see him branch out immediately to an established sci-fi world like Mass Effect as a concept artist for BioWare, but it fits him like a glove. Illogically luminescent buildings, structures that could only exist with advanced technology or a disregard for safety, and creepily clean-cut environment are all there, so I’d say he nailed it. I guess it’s not surprising given what he draws in his spare time.

This last one isn’t wholly connected to video games, but you know what? I don’t care. I loved Wreck-It Ralph and the Paperman short that preceded it in theatres is easily one of my favorite seven minutes of anything. Part of that can be attributed to Helen Chen, a visual development artist at Disney. She also worked on Frankenweenie but all I really want to do is watch Wreck-It Ralph right now so excuse me while I cut this paragraph short kbyeeeee.

I’m thinking of turning this into a regular thing. What do you guys think?

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Flat Is Boring: Far Cry 3’s Topographical Success

Flat Is Boring: Far Cry 3's Topographical Success

West Texas is an interesting region. It’s very much full of amazing things like the Guadalupe Mountains, the Monahans Sandhills, and Caprock Canyons. The problem is that they are pretty much Mewtwo-levels of rarity. They are Loch Ness sprinkles on a very flat and boring sundae. Unless you are into arid climates, pumpjacks, and massive irrigation equipment, there’s just about enough to keep you interested for a grand total of four seconds (which, coincidentally, is the amount of time it takes the average person to realize regret).

Flat, for the most part, is boring. If West Texas isn’t proof of that, look at music. There’s a reason why dynamics are lauded and stale vamps are derided. It’s why musical snobs generally hate on pop music; it’s all constantly at 11. It’s the same with movies. Michael Bay might as well be the LMFAO of cinema. Always loud, always ostentatious, always flat. There’s no drama because from beginning to end; you can see the clear path of the story because there are no obstacles hidden by the hills of the rising tension. It’s boring! It just so happens that the explosions tend to make up for the storytelling shortcomings.

Far Cry 3, on the other hand, is anything but flat. I don’t mean from the story side of things. Sure, it has some twists and turns (and eventually sputters out), but I’m talking about the actual topography of the game’s setting of the Rook Islands. Far Cry 3 is just lousy with mountains and hills and waterfalls and long-dead volcanoes hiding huge underground springs. And below the water’s surface, you’ll find shipwrecks, hidden treasures, and tunnels leading to more tunnels leading to who knows where.

The simple act of exploring the world of Far Cry 3 is interesting because of how varied its landscape is. It is the exact opposite of West Texas. Invert the ratio of flat to neat and you have the Rook Islands. Very rarely will you come across a flat, open expanse, and that is normally occupied by an enemy outpost or something equally unique and man-made, which makes sense. If you were inhabiting a wild island, where would you build your village? On the side of a mountain? Of course not. You’d build it where it’d be most stable, so even in the boring parts of the map, there is still stuff to be done.

All of the features of the Rook Islands feed into the fun to be had with actually playing the game, too. Much like how Uncharted 2‘s multiplayer introduced verticality to what would have otherwise been another standard fare shooter, Far Cry 3 takes usual flat plane shooter layouts and makes them interesting. You can go above enemies and below enemies (certain skills even encourage and reward doing so). You can go over them just to get around the side of them before ending up behind them. The wide open landscape of the tropical setting makes the natural layout open to your every whim. You can Bethesda your way up a seemingly insurmountable slope just to get a vantage point the designers hadn’t thought of. You can hide behind a tree high in the hills above an outpost before raining fiery terror on the fools below. You can even dive off a waterfall to sneak into a camp from behind. The topography of the world plays into every outlandish circumstance you can dream up.

Contrast this with other shooters where every path is deliberately placed before you. There’s the main corridor with two side hallways. Or maybe there’s a single walkway but with catwalks above and below the railing. This may seem like the same kind of variety, but it isn’t. It’s still linear. All you are doing is adding extra highways that still lead out to El Paso and Lubbock. When you just need to get from Point A to Point B, it doesn’t really matter how many roads you add to the infrastructure; they’re still roads.

The example from this past year that I like to bring up is Mass Effect 3. Don’t get me wrong; Mass Effect 3 is easily the best-playing Mass Effect of them all and definitely is a good game, but its shooting sequences are so linear, it’s almost painful. Well, it’s not the linearity, per se, that is afflicting but rather that it tries to disguise its flatness, but its facade is easily broken. In many instances, you’ll come across ramps that lead up to other singular pathways. Why is the ramp there? No real reason. It just happens to make you feel like there’s some topographical variety to the maps.

You’ll also often encounter instances where you’ll be walking along a catwalk and find a ladder. Where does this ladder go? Just to a second level that parallels the first one. It’s almost pointless to even include that.

Mass Effect 3 does have its moments, though, such as when you are clearing out side mission bases. That’s when you don’t really have any particular place to go or do except survive, and it seems like that’s when the level designs really shine. There are platforms over trenches leading to bunkers that open up to ladders so you can look out on the main room where you and enemies will funnel into choke points and so on and so on. There is such great variety in these missions that it boggles the mind that no one bothered to try extending it to the rest of the game. I mean, I understand why they didn’t, as you have to move the player from place to place for story progression, but it still makes the relative drops and jumps in battle arena qualities all the more apparent.

Far Cry 3 rarely has that problem. Only in some of the story missions where you are locked down to indoor scenarios and straightforward cave tunnels does the open world fail, and it fails simply because it stops being an open world and those combat and traversal options evaporate. That tall pitcher of iced tea has dried up to faded glass with cracking Disney character decals on the side. Otherwise, the expanding glens and rolling hills and sheer cliffs make for a topographical puzzle. Now you can set up the chess board as you want before you dive into the battle. More than any single skill or weapon, your ability to utilize the world is the single greatest advantage you have in Far Cry 3.

Flat is boring. No matter how many roads you add to West Texas, they cannot make those windy, dusty, cow-smelling flatlands any less flat, and that’s what most games try to do. They’ll take their plane, add some extra streets, and call it good. Far Cry 3 does more than that. It takes all the amazing Guadalupe Mountains and Monahans Sandhills and Caprock Canyons and makes an entire map out of them. It takes topography and makes it a toy—a puzzle, even—and shows that flat is boring.

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Player Agency: Narrative Versus Personal

Player Agency: Narrative Versus Personal

Player choice has actually been a fairly large trend this year. In fact, I wanted to make this a Year In Review post, but there is one particular aspect of player-driven narratives that I want to talk about over the general, emerging trend of growing controller-side agency. There has been a whole host of games that can mold and shift as players make choices such as Dishonored, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Silent Hill: Downpour, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, and so many more, but there are two specific titles I’d like to talk about: Mass Effect 3 and The Walking Dead.

NOTE: there’s a good chance I may delve into slight spoiler territory for both of these games. I won’t go into heavy specifics, but if you have yet to play either one of these and want to remain 100% totally clean as opposed to just mostly clean, then maybe return to this after you’ve played them. That, or hit yourself in the head with a big book until you forget what you’ve read here.

Mass Effect 3 has had a tumultuous year. I’m past my knee-jerk disdain for the game—just as I assume most people are—but there is still a lot about it that bothers me. I may think it’s a perfectly fine game at this point, but nothing will help me get past the dissonance between the urgency of a crumbling Earth/galaxy and Commander Shepard having time to eavesdrop on people on the Citadel and deliver unto them long-lost relics that are easily found among battle-worn rubble.

Also how some of the Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 callbacks and character stories happen with one too many scoops of serendipity and one too many nicely tied bows on top. Also how incredibly useless it is to have to run from Reapers when you scan planets. Also how things included post-release as DLC should have been included as part of the original build because the stuff that happens with From Ashes and Leviathan are literal game-changers and are vital to elevating your enjoyment of Mass Effect 3.

But I digress. Though Mass Effect 3 is mostly a fine game and is undoubtedly the best-playing of the trilogy, the biggest problem was the ending. I don’t mean that the choices at the end were a little awkward or that it came across as lazy and rushed to simply tinge the cutscenes different colors (I really kind of didn’t mind it), but that there was so little of your input taken into account. It makes sense from a story standpoint about cycles and whatnot, but the final choice, regardless of which choice, pretty much negates everything you’ve done in the past two—now three—games.

Two of the largest running threads of the current Mass Effect universe are going to be basically undone for all the work you’ve done and relationships you’ve forged. Everything you’ve done for Legion and the Geth; Mordin and the Genophage; and the Quarians and the Migrant Fleet is pretty much moot once you finish the game. There are definitely some interesting thought experiments based on your choice, but that’s all forward-thinking (and somewhat inconsistent depending on if you played the extended ending). It kind of nullifies the hundreds upon hundreds of hours you spent shaping and saving the galaxy, and without the information imparted to you from the DLC, it’s also a bit of a deus ex machina resolution, which is historically the worst kind of resolution (next to 800×600 (badum, chssh! No? Okay, tough crowd)).

Once again, it kind of makes sense in context of the big reveal at the end, but you have to wonder: was this planned all along or did Casey Hudson & co. come up with it somewhere along the way? I have a feeling it was something of a mix of the two, but it does highlight the problem with player agency: at a certain point, everything must be accounted for. Eventually everything must be fully broken down into discrete endings or dovetailed into a manageable handful of possibilities.

The problem with the former is that it demands a lot of resources. You’ll have to branch out into an incredible amount of what-ifs and develop new gameplay scenarios, stage more motion capture for the new cutscenes, write and record new dialogue, and so on and so on. It will cost a lot of time, money, and manpower, not to mention cut off pretty much any possibility for a sequel unless you alienate the majority of your fans by choosing a canonical ending. The latter, however, is much more difficult to pull off. It requires elegance, trickery, and foresight from the very beginning. You have to plan for the dovetail and you have to plan on ways to make each and every catchall feel unique when it really isn’t.

And let’s face it: Mass Effect really went for it. It’s laudable what BioWare attempted, and had they pulled Mass Effect 3 off without angering half of the entire world, it would have gone down as possibly the greatest finale to one of the greatest trilogies ever made. Like, in any medium and any industry. That’s a lofty goal for anyone, but to pull it all off with just two years to work on it? I mean, I don’t think three years would have made it into The Perfect Game by any stretch, but maybe some of the more controversial and niggling bits would have been more cleanly resolved.

But player choice can be utilized in a different way: personal relationships. It’s just as hard to stick the landing on it, but it’s also much more manageable in terms of scope. Whereas Mass Effect had every action of Shepard influencing every corner of the galaxy, guiding the story into one of several bins at the end of the line, The Walking Dead focused on interpersonal choices. It’s narrative choice versus personal agency, and it’s a profound change in how branching storylines work.

Narratives operate within the realm of logic. Things have to make sense. As humans, we see dominoes fall every day; one falls, hits another, and that falls ad infinitum, and that makes sense. And that’s what stories are: a series of dominoes that fall in proper order based on the assumption that physics works. In the case of stories, physics is the rules of the world (via sci-fi or fantasy or whatever) and the dominoes are the actions and consequences. When something breaks this contract of how the movie world correlates to the natural world, we freak out. We get mad. When there’s a gap in the dominoes but they still fall regardless (deus ex machina, plot holes, etc.), it is egregious to us because logic—the same logic based on the same rules we’d established before—is broken.

The Walking Dead, however, focuses on personal relationships that you can forge and is much better off for it, and that’s because relationships don’t always operate on logic. I mean, sure, some of the choices we make will inform the flow of the overall story (like who lives and who dies), but that all feels incidental and totally perfunctory to how you shape your relationships with the survivors and (especially) with Clementine.

In the beginning of the season, most of my decisions were made with little to no thought. If anything, they were all utilitarian and made little consideration for my personal involvement in the affair. It worked, but then I developed a very strong, very odd false sense of loyalty to Kenny. I honestly have no idea where it came from. Maybe it’s because I saved Duck at that first farm and didn’t want to see the life I chose over another wasted or because it was always Kenny versus Larry and Larry was a dick or maybe it’s because Clementine and Duck were kids and kids need other kid friends. I don’t know. All I know is that loyalty made me make some very stupid decisions. And I came to hate him for it.

I then decided to go it alone, become that cold utilitarian once again. But that didn’t last long. I formed another strange, dumb bond that was torn in so many directions that I often felt like that I was going to get ripped into a million pieces and never manage to put everything back together. And it was all completely illogical. I can’t explain it to you even if I tried. I’m a human being like that and I sometimes make decisions with my heart instead of my head, and the heart is such a winding, twisted maze of enigmatic impulses and desires that I couldn’t possibly decipher it all.

And that’s how The Walking Dead succeeds. In the end, the entire season offers just about as much agency—maybe less—over the entire plot as Mass Effect 3 does, but because it offers you the ability to feel like you can intimately shape your personal relationships, the overall product is much more believable. You don’t have to fight against two other games (or four other episodes) of conflicting plot points or contrived mission outcomes. All you have to worry about is how your emotions feed into your decisions, and since that doesn’t operate on the same logic that makes you feel uncomfortable with how much time Shepard is taking between leaving Earth and attempting to save it (THERE’S NO TIME FOR DANCING OKAY MAYBE JUST ONE SONG), the lack of true influence on the story is forgiven.

The plot moves without you, but the relationships are yours to take and mold. Whether those decisions and changes are ever material to the world of the game doesn’t matter because they are real in your heart where thinking and logic don’t necessarily have purchase. But when your choices attempt to control the dominoes of a real world and its real consequences, we can see beyond the veil and see how it all breaks down. We are disillusioned instead of invigorated.

And then choice isn’t really choice at all.

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The Shepardman’s Creed

This is my Shepard.

There are many like him, but this Shepard is mine.

I’ve always found Systems Alliance Commander Shepard—Vincent “Ragamuffin” Shepard in my case—to be like a reflecting pool; whatever I put into him was what I got out. He was an irrepressibly empathetic man and yet emotionally unavailable. His responses were always curt to the point of being rude, but something in his eyes told you he understands you.

He understands you in ways no one has in a long, long time. He understands when you need a quiet shoulder, just right for leaning, and when you need your ass kicked into gear. He understands you as if he didn’t have a war to fight because no one else will. He understands you with the clarity and insight of a man condemned to death in the waning light of hope and faith.

And this is a hope that will lead millions against a force of billions. His hope is one not of means and ends with justification found somewhere along the way but one that can be found deep inside of everyone, locked away in a cage of cynicism and doubt. His actions defy his words and betray him as the truly connected man that he is, yearning to tell those closest to him that he loves them.

This was my Shepard.

Mass Effect 3 has seen fit to take him away from me. I’ve spent five years slowly crafting the physical and intangible attributes of my Shepard after hundreds of hours of wheeling through dialog choices, kicking people through windows, and filling in his back story a little bit more each time I talk about his adventures aboard the SSV Normandy. There are hundreds of thousands of other Shepards out there, most of which probably look just like mine and might have even gone through the exact same experiences as mine, but this Shepard was special to me.

And now BioWare has wiped it all away in the emotional and personal attachment cleansing of the ME3 tsunami. There is a moment in the opening sequence of the game where Shepard puts a full stop on his escape from a burning Earth with Admiral Anderson to confront a lost and lonely child. This young boy, hiding in an air duct, is scared and sinks further into the cold and metallatic unknown as Shepard attempts to talk him towards his N7 arms and into safety.

The child, however, chooses to crawl away, leaving Shepard in a daze, knowing he’s left a child to most likely die a horrific death at the hands of Reaper forces (which he eventually does as the shuttle that the boy scurries aboard is promptly asploded upon takeoff). There’s a great remorse here that the game regularly revisits in Max Payne-ish dreamscape sequences. This even becomes a talking point with another character later in the game.

When this happened, I was in the moment. It all seemed right and powerful and hit just as the the writers had intended. When the high wore off and I was back to watching loading screens on the Normandy’s incredibly inefficient elevator, it began to strike me as…odd.

My Shepard would never have stood for that. He has just enough no-nonsense in him that he would have hauled that child out of that vent, snatching him from the darkness like a prize from a crane game.

Then it started to dawn on me that other Shepards might have diverged even further. Another might have gone with the kid to ensure his safety, following him all the way to the escape shuttles. Another cold and heartless individual might have thrown a grenade in after him just to make sure he can’t be harvested.

There are so many ways this particular and apparently formative encounter could have gone and BioWare, in the face of two other games and five years of fostering player agency (authentic or otherwise), has made the decision for me.

You see, every Shepard has similar qualities: stellar combatant, popular with every sex and race, and fully capable of asking cursory questions to keep a conversation going. What he doesn’t do, however, is make decisions without my say-so. He’ll ask propulsive questions like “the Protheans, sir?” or make void-filling comments like “that sounds rough,” but he’ll never add accelerant to the equation. He’ll never be what I don’t want him to be.

But now the controls have been taken away from me and every other player. We have been given our Playskool steering wheels made of plastic and primary colors while the grownups make the real decisions. This Shepard has gone from being my intergalactic war hero, replete with every quality that similarly comprises me, to an empty shill telling a story that is no longer mine.

My Shepard without me is useless. Without my Shepard, I am useless.

But this is not my Shepard.

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