Archive for April, 2012

If anyone is of a mind to pick it up, GameStop is currently offering Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II and a small DLC for $19.99. You need to use their client to download it, but they even went so far as to discount me the sales tax and it certainly beats the $20 that Steam wanted to charge me for just one of the games. No idea of how long they’ll hold that price, but they’re pushing their digital download service, so have a bunch of games at 75% off.

In spite of my complaints about BioWare of late, I’ll play almost anything if you give it to me cheap and won’t have much cause to bitch about it if it turns out to be a turkey (you get what you pay for, after all).

As reported at this morning, Eidos-Montreal made a haul at the 2012 Canadian Video Game Awards with “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”, including Best Console Game, Best Audio, Best Game Design, Best Writing and Best New Character, although it lost out to “FIFA Soccer 12” from EA for Game of the Year.

The Canadian Video Game Awards recognize Canadian game designers, and there was some serious competition in there this year. Deus Ex beat out “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations” for all of its awards except Best New Character. AC:R won in the Best Visual Arts category. I’m thankful that I didn’t have to do the judging. Both are very strong games, as were many of the other nominees.

Kudos all around to the Eidos-Montreal and Ubisoft teams.

Stumbled across a petition addressed to Namco Bandai asking them to either ditch their plans to release their PC port of “Dark Souls” on GFWL in favor of releasing through Steam or to at least release it through both. My only experiences with the GFWL client software were with “Halo 2” and “Fallout 3”. “Halo 2” wasn’t too bad once you managed to get the game started, but my FO3 experience was so bad that I eventually resorted to turning GFWL off entirely and have successfully avoided any GFWL games since.

I haven’t signed the petition since it involves a game that is way down on my “want to play” list, but the link will take you to the petition if it’s on yours (the PS3 and XBox versions have decent ratings on Metacritic). I suspect that the release conditions are already a done deal, though. Companies usually don’t make these kinds of announcements if the contracts haven’t already been negotiated and signed.

On a side note, I remember Bandai as a toy company that made the most awesome 1:48 scale model tanks. No idea what they’re up to today (aside from game publishing, obviously), but if their game quality is anywhere near the quality of their models, maybe I need to move that game up the list.

In the speculation of my last post, I seem to have overlooked the truth of ZeniMax Media’s filing of six applications for trademarks for “Fus Ro Dah!”. I’m sure that they’re just trying to protect their brand (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but the wide variety of items addressed by their applications would seem to indicate otherwise. And here I would have thought that they’d have gone for “arrow in the knee”.

The rumor mill abounds with speculation regarding the next generation of consoles, most notably the PlayStation 4 Orbis and the next XBox (currently being called “720”, but who knows? Microsoft certainly isn’t saying). Both are supposedly due out in the next year or two. Best guess would be that a 2012 release probably ain’t happening and Microsoft has categorically denied that they will be demoing any new console at E3 this year. The next-gen Wii is supposed to be out for the holidays this year, though.

One “feature” that is generating an excessively large amount of heat in next-gen discussions is the idea that next-gen consoles will not support used games. I can certainly understand why that would be an issue of concern from both the publisher’s and the players’ perspectives.

From the players’ perspective, used games net them a bit of a discount toward the purchase of another game. It’s also a good way to get a real turkey of a game out of your library with the ability to recoup at least a little of that ill-spent money. The presence of outlets that deal in used games (GameStop, most notably), would seem to make that a win-win for both parties. But the publisher is kind of cut out of that deal.

From the publisher’s/developer’s perspective, being able to prevent players from trading games means more money for them, at least in theory. The publisher and developer make their money on the sale of new games, but they are completely cut out of the sales of used games, since that transaction is strictly between the retailer and the player. So tossing a bone to developers in the form of no support for used games would seem to match up with their wants, but doesn’t add up in the real world.

A work-around that seems to be more common with current games is online content. If you purchase the game new, then you get access to some online content (multiplayer, for example) as part of the original purchase, but it does not transfer to a player of your used game. The player of the used game will need to pony up a few bucks to get access to that content. My suspicion is that this approach will become the norm for games rather than the “exclusive license” that some other types of software might favor or even a hardware lockout from the console makers.

As for the rumors regarding the possibility of such a lockout, I don’t see it happening. Let’s suppose that I am a console maker and I include such a feature in my console. Let’s also pretend that gamers really don’t like that feature. All my competition has to do is not include that feature and that sale is almost a slam-dunk for them. They make money and I don’t, so it is not in my best interest to do it unless everyone does it. And if everyone does it, it would be in my best interest to stop doing it. But it would be in the interest of the game developer/publisher to tie some critical content to a particular user account, since that would mean the used game would run on the console, but some of the content would be inaccessible until a few extra bucks were coughed up.

Another work-around is digitally delivered content rather than physical media. I’m seeing a serious trend in that direction on the PC through services such as Steam, Direct2Drive (now GameFly, but I still think of them as D2D), Origin and others. Why bother buying from a brick-and-mortar store when you can buy digitally? No drive, no standing in line, no sales clerk hassles, no typical installation headaches. Click to start the download, go do something constructive while the download finishes, play. But the catch is that there is no physical media that can be traded in, so there are no used copies available.

Whether that model will work for consoles is still up-in-the-air, but it’s feasible as long as the console is hooked to a fast internet connection and has a hard drive to store the game files. For my money, digital distribution is a bigger threat to the used games market than any potential console lockout. And it has a longer shelf life than regular physical media since it can be put in the “bargain bin” whenever the publisher or distributor might want to churn out a few more sales without the necessity of shipping the media.

Looking into my crystal ball (admittedly foggy and I’m not wearing glasses), the idea of consoles not supporting used games seems a bit ludicrous. It’s bad business for everyone. More likely for the future will be more online content tied to individual user accounts and more digitally distributed games. So rumors based on Kotaku stories and various doom-and-gloom stories predicting the imminent failure of GameStop are just that – stories good for scaring the little ones around the campfire, but hardly things that rational adults need worry about.

As reported at GamesIndustry International last week, EA is still defending itself against the inclusion of same-sex relationships in some of their video games, most notably “Mass Effect 3” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic”. Not a word, apparently, about inter-species relationships or the gooey gore you get from a successful “Carnage” strike or that abortion of an ending. Just same-sex relationships.

If EA wants to put same-sex relationships into their games, that’s cool with me. They were beaten to the punch by a lot of other games, though. The earliest one that I recall was “Singles: Flirt Up Your Life,” developed by Rotobee and Deep Silver back in 2003 or 2004, but I’m sure there were others before them. And if you’re terribly upset by same-sex relationships, might I suggest a very simple solution: DON”T BUY THE GAME IN THE FIRST PLACE!! It’s not like it didn’t come with a fairly good description of what the game entailed. If a game offends you that much, don’t play it.

In deference to this Fruit Loops section of the audience, I’d like to formally announce that I have transgendered my FemShep, terminated her/his relationship with Garrus and am now ardently pursuing Ashley. Am I in a same-sex relationship or am I in a straight relationship? It made for some interesting conversations with Garrus at the beginning of ME3, let me tell you, since I had romanced him in ME2. But that’s OK, though. I intend to reward him by quaffing a few and missing my shot at the can when the opportunity presents itself. As for Ashley, well… She’s got a much nicer rack now.

Probably old news, but Overhaul Games has announced plans to release an iPad/Mac version of the classic “Baldur’s Gate” game. More info (what little there is) can be found at their website:

This is something that I’d consider coughing up a few bucks for. I’m not a Mac kinda guy, but if they can work around my big ol’ fingers, the iPad app sounds interesting. “Make way, evil! I’m armed to the teeth and packing a hamster!”

In a press release Thursday, BioWare announced a free (until April 12, 2014) DLC for Mass Effect 3, entitled “Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut”, due sometime this summer. Casey Hudson, ME3’s Executive Producer, promised “to provide the fans who want more closure with even more context and clarity to the ending of the game, in a way that will feel more personalized for each player.” All of this will be provided through additional cinematics and epilogue scenes. The BioWare panel at PAX East fielded a few questions in this area without straying too far from the official line. One fan was kind enough to upload their camcorder video of the panel discussion to YouTube, although in five pieces and not including the Q&A session at the end. Remember, these folks are not addressing the DLC beyond what was in the press release, so the lack of the final 10 minutes or so isn’t crucial. Most of the relevant stuff about the DLC happens in the first 10 minutes or so.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5

Another fan was kind enough to upload the full hour, again at YouTube, but the audio is pretty poor. It’s audible, but you’ll need to really crank up the sound and/or use headphones to hear it clearly and even that is iffy.

After all of the finger-pointing, name-calling, hand-wringing and assorted post-release hoopla over ME3’s ending, I’m not sure whether I’m in the “Oh, noes!” or “whatever” camp, but I’m certainly not ecstatic over the announcement. Add to this a series of threads on BioWare’s forums to the effect of “Do you feel sorry for (insert group or name here)?” and it gets even murkier.

Perhaps a bit of recap might help. I stand by my original assertion that ME3 is an outstanding game, provided one ignores the last few minutes. There are a few things that I found to be a bit less than satisfying, but it works well on many levels from the start until about 5 or 10 minutes from the end. To that extent, and with the understanding that I’m excluding the last few minutes from that assessment, I have almost no heartburn with what BioWare released. It’s only those last few minutes where I’m taking exception.

I’m not even up in arms over the Day-One DLC nonsense. For those who might not know what that’s all about, the “From Ashes” DLC was released concurrently with the game (for about $10). It introduced a Prothean squad member, Javik, and a mission to recruit him. All of Javik’s in-game assets were apparently on the original game disc, so players essentially paid $10 for a mediocre mission pack that simply unlocked what they already had. Bad marketing and suggestive of a very poor view of the customers, but not the most egregious of things that a gaming company could do. Just very indicative of a “let’s see how many different ways we can get players to part with their money” mentality. Considering that the entire economy is aimed at separating customers from their money, it’s not even unusual. It’s just tacky.

As far as the game itself and from a story-telling standpoint, there were only a handful of possible conclusions to the Reaper story arc. Shepard was either going to be successful in destroying the Reapers or not. “Not” might include some other means of removing the threat, but my initial guess would have been that “not” would be synonymous with “failure”, so I would have predicted that the successful ending would have been the destruction of the Reapers. All three of the endings effectively remove the Reaper threat. Whether that removal is permanent or temporary (according to story canon) depends on your final choice in the game.

Since this was to be the final game of a trilogy chronicling Shepard’s adventures, then Shepard was either going to survive or not (survival of squad members was probably going to depend on how you played the game). While a happy ending might have been nice, Shepard needed to be definitively and finally removed from the ME universe. Some heroic final sacrifice was not only within the realm of possibility, but almost certainly required. In fact, had the game gone to credits right after that final scene with Anderson and we simply assumed that the Crucible worked its magic and Shepard peacefully bled out, I probably would have been somewhat happy with it. I don’t like my characters dying, but sometimes that’s what needs to happen in order to make the story work.

As an alternative ending, I would have found some dark humor in Shepard being appointed humanity’s council member to replace Udina and could almost hear Claudia Christian’s voice in the background: "I feel like an old war horse, trotted out after a parade so all the kids can point at it" (my first Shepard to complete all three games was female). Or perhaps something along the lines of “Ulysses” would have done the job (Ashley’s not the only one who reads Tennyson). Any of those would have worked with Buzz Aldrin’s post-credits scene and we would have had a satisfactory ending, or at least mostly so.

But where were the wildly different endings? On both play-throughs, I ended up with three “pick your favorite color” endings. Since I did my best to acquire every war asset that I could during both play-throughs, I’m assuming that all other possible endings are “worse” than the three that I got. I’ve seen video of one ending where the Destruction option was the only one available. In that video, London (and presumably the rest of Earth) is incinerated and Shepard is blown to bits, so I’m pretty sure that I saw the “best” endings. OK, “ending” since the cinematics are almost identical.

BioWare is adamant that this Extended Cut DLC will not add any new endings to the game, so it would seem that we’re pretty much stuck with RGB as canon. The question is whether that can be improved or clarified through the addition of cinematics and epilogue scenes. My initial inclination is to think “not”. As one poster on the BioWare forums so colorfully noted, a turd is still a turd, no matter how much sugar you put on it.

So, if we’re stuck with RGB, then what can be done to provide clarity and insight? How about dropping that whole Star Child thing? Aside from a bit of exposition and presenting the color choices, it served no useful purpose and was probably the biggest “WTF?” moment in the game. A BioWare forum poster managed to dig up an obscure Codex entry from ME1 which might overcome the charge of deus ex machina commonly leveled at it. But it’s an awfully flimsy thread for tying up this monster.

How about we do something about that final Normandy scene with Joker trying to outrun the shockwave (or whatever that glowy thing behind him is) and then crash-landing on some jungle planet where the squad members who were with Shepard just a few minutes early somehow manage to safely disembark. That bit never made a lick of sense on multiple levels. First, if the Normandy has FTL capability, how is it unable to outrun an explosion which, in normal space, cannot go faster than light? Second, how did the crew members who were with Shepard just a few minutes earlier in London manage to get on board? Third, why was Joker running away at all? I don’t remember anyone sending him a “Get the ship out of there” order. All in all, it was pretty cheesy.

Since we have been told “no new endings”, I suppose that those two ideas are out of the picture.

Some of the more vocal fans on the forums are still ranging between dismay and outrage over the whole mess. I’m taking the more philosophical approach to it. BioWare says that they have listened to the fans. Since they would have had to be hiding under a rock or something to not know what the fans were upset about and why, I’ll take them at their word on that. BioWare has decided that they will not change the existing endings. I’m not thrilled, but that’s the decision, I don’t see them changing it and what will be, will be. So with those two points settled, what else is left but to wait and see what comes out in the DLC.

I’m trying to be optimistic about it. These are the folks that cranked out 2.99 really solid games (yeah, I’m still not giving them an ounce of goodwill for the ending). Not just solid games, but games that have developed an enviable fan base. The players love the characters, love the universe and (again, excluding the last few minutes of ME3) love the games. They have proven themselves willing to buy sequels, DLCs, souvenirs and trinkets, you name it. I don’t believe that their feelings about the ending will cause that to change. After all, you don’t passionately fight for something that you don’t care about. In the end, I think the vast majority will simply come to accept the ending. After all, it is what it is and either we learn to like it or go find another game.