Realism in Role-Playing

I’m very early into Dragon Age II and I’m already losing interest. The kicker is—I’m not sure if it’s really Dragon Age’s fault.

Dragon Age I/II are both “high fantasy” games. We all have different ways of defining high fantasy and low fantasy and “grim” fantasy. Wikipedia has definitions if you are so inclined to read them. I find that as useful as the introduction to understanding poetry in Dead Poet’s Society. Just rip it right out.

I prefer my fantasy games and fantasy role-playing grounded in reality.

That doesn’t mean I am anti-elf or anything like that. You can make your world as fantastical as you want and I’m in, but it needs to have a proper context for human behavior – assuming your game world has humans in it.

Let’s start with an early scene in Dragon Age II and yes, this has spoilers of a sort so if you haven’t played it and can’t stand the thought of a minor scene being spoiled, well, stop right now….

You are trying to figure out a way to get into Kirkwall. It’s a large city with guards everywhere trying to keep the riff raff out because it’s overcrowded with refugees after the Blight. You start smooth talking the guard/captain fellow and he’s considering letting you in or at least contemplating it after you start name dropping. These other folks (all walking around in heavy armor which is something else I always find silly in these games) start to get pissed off. They’ve been waiting for four days to get into Kirkwall and here you come up with your merry band and this guy is considering doing it!

Well, obviously there is nothing else to do but THROW DOWN!

Wait, what?

You mean to tell me these six or seven guys are going to ATTACK the group, in broad daylight, in front of the city gates, with umpteen guards sitting around watching it happen? The thought of death never crossed their minds I take it?

Continuing on, as the dead people, who simply wanted to walk into the city, lay in the streets, I try to get into the city. I team up with a mercenary who asks me to go kill some guys who owe them money. Wow, that’s quite the request but since I didn’t like the look of the smuggler chick (who was the other option to get into the city) I tell the merc that we’re in.

So, when do we leave? Cover of night? Do we have a disguise? Are we framing someone for this? I’m totally ok with cold blooded murder just give me the plan, man!

Oh…those dudes right around the corner? What…I just go up and start blasting them with fireballs? That is, I assume, highly illegal – and the guard is like…RIGHT THERE. This is out and out murder we’re talking about. I know these dudes are nasty and owe you money but come on…where am I, Deadwood?

Again, I’m poking fun at Dragon Age II when most RPGs do this.

But compare that scene with Assassin’s Creed II. If you kill a guard or get caught stealing money or even just walk around the rooftops and you’ll get chased down by the local authority. Makes sense, right? This level of “realism” goes a very long way in establishing your world as a believable one and right now Dragon Age II is as believable as a remake of Ishtar and it has nothing to do with it being a “fantasy” game.

I want the NPCs, especially the non-monster ones, to care about life and limb unless they have no other choice but to draw a sword or raise a firearm. Fighting in RPGs needs to be dangerous – life and death dangerous and I don’t mean just by raising the level of difficulty which usually doesn’t change the design but rather just adds a level of masochism to the equation. If it means less but more dangerous fights then so be it.

Perhaps the fights in Dragon Age II change as the game continues; I’m still very early on. But when I see people so eager to draw a sword and kill each other over seemingly trivial reasons it removes me from what I feel is such an important part of a game like this — when combat becomes less a thrill and more of a grind I start to think that I’d rather be playing Shogun 2.

Today in Legal News…

Let’s start with THQ and UbiSoft. Here’s a general breakdown of what’s going on:

UbiSoft: “Hey THQ, stop stealing our people! You stole away the creative director of the Assassin’s Creed franchise AND two other key team members. Stop that!”

THQ: “No.”

UbiSoft: “Jean-Luc, call the lawyers!”

And the result from a Quebec court: “The Superior Court of Quebec has granted the injunctions to the satisfaction of Ubisoft. This procedure aims to protect Ubisoft Montreal in a breach of contract situation, and to defend the long-term financial and creative health of the studio.”

THQ: “Damn it.”

Now on to Silicon Knights and Epic. In 2007 the developer of Too Human filed suit against Epic, claiming that the Unreal 3 engine wasn’t nearly as cool as Epic claimed it was and therefore the game’s development time was a hell of a lot longer than expected and that due to Gears of War, SK received little to no support from Epic during that time span.

To which, of course, Epic said, “That’s bull.”

Today’s “news” here isn’t that SK won anything but rather that the case has been given the green light to go to court, as two judges said the case “has merit” which means, in legal terms, zippo. However, SK president Denis Dyack has claimed victory telling Kotaku, “When Epic first went public about our case to the press, they said that our claims were without merit,” said Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack in a statement. “Two separate federal court judges have now disagreed with Epic, and have ruled that the case does have merit.” “Silicon Knights has always wanted to have our focus be on making great games, not litigation. This ruling will allow us to have our day in court, before a jury, and to shine the light publicly on Epic’s conduct,” Dyack continued. “We are very confident the jury will see the truth behind Epic’s actions.”

Magicka: Vietnam Release Date Set

Still having trouble wrapping my head around Magicka: Vietnam. This is either the most brilliant idea ever or just plain dumb. Now you’ll get to decide on April 12th for a whopping five bucks. If you are a real cheap bastard you don’t even need the DLC to play with friends as long as the host owns the Vietnam add-on.

Paradox asks: Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if wizards were allowed to roam the jungles of war-torn Vietnam, attempting to bring peace and stability to the region by casting spells on all opponents?

No. No I have not. But I’m willing to learn.

Kavcom to Bring Back Z in the Form of Z: The Game

Remember Z? I remember Z. Z was an action-y real time strategy game in the mid 1990s. This was during the initial rush to make a lot of generic RTS games and Z stood out by trying to bring the funny.

Kavcom is bringing back said game to various mobile devices later this year.

PR time…

Digital publisher Kavcom has announced the licensing of The Bitmap Brothers’ classic action real-time strategy title Z. Kavcom will bring digital download versions of the 2011 version – Z: The Game – to a range of formats including Apple Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, PC, Android devices and Blackberry Tab during 2011.

The 2011 modern reworking of Z: The Game brings with it all of the original’s great tongue-in-cheek humour and addictive real-time strategy gameplay, as well as some major interface improvements for touch-screen devices.

Z: The Game was given 92% and a Classic Award on release in 1996 by PC Zone magazine, which also commented: “It’s a brilliant strategy game. Like Command & Conquer, only harder, more strategic and more intense.” Z: The Game was developed by original creators The Bitmap Brothers (Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, Xenon) in conjunction with Kavcom.

Kavcom will be announcing the release date/platforms for Z: The Game and another major licensing deal soon.

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon Trailer

Barnes is our resident Resident Evil expert. So we’ll let him comment on this, but for now here’s a clip of a lot of infected and a lot of bullets flying around.

HISTORY™ Great Battles Medieval is Now Available

Yes, they have trademarked History.

Anyway, one of my favorite periods of history that doesn’t involve Greeks, Romans, Gauls, and angry elephants is the Hundred Years War. Lots of colorful characters in what was basically a “world” war at the time, at least from their perspective.

Today Matrix Games and Slitherine announced a new wargame set in this time period.

PR ahead…

Slitherine (www.slitherine.com) and Matrix Games (www.matrixgames.com) are thrilled to announce the release of HISTORY™ Great Battles Medieval for the PC! Now gamers can enjoy (a) the unique and intense blend of strategy and role playing set in the dramatic backdrop of the Hundred Years War.

David Heath, Director of Operations at Matrix Games, said “This game has it all, thrilling medieval strategy, role playing and progression elements that keep you coming back for more, beautiful, 3D battlefields, and a very friendly user interface.”

This is the Hundred Years War. Each man must stand tall. Each man’s mettle will be tested. But amongst all men there are leaders, there are those who will not be cowed. Can you be that leader? In this epic strategy RPG you will lead your army through (one of) the greatest of medieval wars and make (your own) history. live again

HISTORY™ Great Battles Medieval is a unique blend of Real-Time Strategy and Role-playing that allows you to develop your army; gaining experience, abilities and equipment to customize your troops. Success can never be guaranteed but to give you the best chance you must engage in careful preparation and be sure to equip your squads to meet every eventuality. In addition, a exciting Battle Card system will give you unique advantages which can turn the tide of battle if used at the right time.

In HISTORY™ Great Battles Medieval you take command as a general in control of English or French forces during the Hundred Years War. As the English you will fight under the Black Prince, Henry V and other heroic characters from history, and as the French you fight for the famous Joan of Arc and the King.

(You can purchase a download version or a boxed copy at www.matrixgames.com)

Spider-Man: Edge of Time is Your New Spider-Man Game

We knew already that details on the upcoming Spider-Man game would be released at WonderCon this weekend but Activision and Beenox decided to spill the beans early with a press release for Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Developed by Beenox, developers of the uneven but enjoyable Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Edge of Time features both the Amazing version of the wall-crawler and the 2099 version as they work to fix a busted time stream caused by the death of Peter Parker. Yeah, I don’t get it either. The story is written by Peter David, the guy who came up with 2099 in the first place, but as many games have shown us, having a comic book scribe on your title doesn’t mean anything. Iron Man, I’m looking at you. The press release talks about cause and effect gameplay where actions in one timeline will have repercussions in the next one, so that could be interesting but I must admit, from what little they’ve told us, this seems a lot like the multi-Spidey take that Shattered Dimensions used. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Keep reading for more PR nonsense, complete with my take on Bill’s redactions.

SANTA MONICA, Calif., March 31, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Activision Publishing, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) and Marvel Entertainment, LLC today announced Spider-Man™: Edge of Time, where Spider-Man faces (yet another challenge) one of his greatest challenges ever – saving Spider-Man. Developed by Activision-owned studio Beenox, Spider-Man: Edge of Time challenges the player to take on the roles of both classic Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 to correct a timestream gone awry and prevent a catastrophic future brought on by the early and untimely death of Peter Parker.

“The first Spider-Man entry by Beenox, Spider-Man™: Shattered Dimensions, was touted as one of the wall-crawler’s best Spider-Man games to date from both critics and fans,” said Vicharin Vadakan, Director, Global Brand Management. “Beenox is once again taking a fresh and different approach to bring a fast-paced and high-octane adventure and unexpected story to life in Spider-Man: Edge of Time.”

(Critically, Shattered Dimensions rates below the first and second Spider-Man movie games. The sales do too.)

“At Beenox, we are constantly listening to the fans and looking for new and creative ways to innovate the gameplay experience for them,” said Dee Brown, Studio Head, Beenox. “We want to create a totally distinct experience in Spider-Man: Edge of Time by working with Peter David on the story and creating this urgent, high-stakes experience where time is working against you and the fate of Spider-Man hangs in the balance.”

Spider-Man: Edge of Time is (an) a focused, action packed adventure set in two connected and evolving timelines, from the contemporary times of the Amazing Spider-Man to the corrupted future world of Spider-Man 2099, against the backdrop of a rich, tightly crafted narrative by acclaimed Marvel veteran Peter David (co-creator of the comic book series Spider-Man 2099). The game features all-new “cause-and-effect” gameplay, where players will see how the immediate and sometimes unexpected effects of their actions as one Spider-Man changes the timeline of the other Spider-Man. Spider-Man: Edge of Time is slated for release this fall.

Attendees at WonderCon 2011 in San Francisco, CA, can get a sneak peek and learn more about the game on the Activision/Spider-Man panel on Saturday, April 2, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 103.

Avalanche and Sega Announce Renegade Ops

Avalanche Studios, the developer of the open ended island safari action romp Just Cause 2, has announced Renegade Ops, a download only game for XBLA, PSN, and PC.

What is Renegade Ops, you ask?

It’s a twin stick shooter that uses the Just Cause 2 engine and is also coined as a “competitive co-op” action game for up to four players. As senior producer Andreas Thorsén told Eurogamer, “Players assume the role of characters in a mobile commando unit sent behind enemy lines to defeat terrorist madman Inferno.”

Madman Inferno?

Anyway, the game is about blowing stuff up, basically, and is set for a fall release and you can expect a trailer in the coming weeks.

Game developer: don’t tell me your game ideas

In one hilarious, well-written post on his Bamboo Cyberdream blog, game dev Shane Liesgang goes through the reasons why you should not tell developers about your amazing “it’s like Teletubbies meets Katamari meets Resident Evil” game idea – or any others, for that matter.

“I meet you at a party. Or a wedding. Or a bar. Doesn’t matter. Maybe we have mutual friends, or just struck up conversation over some humorous occurrence that we both witnessed. We’ll talk movies, football, the weather, and music. Eventually, you ask what I do for a living.

“I’m a game developer.”

“Oh, let me tell you — I have the best idea for a game.”
It’s at this point that our interaction has become terribly unpleasant for me. Let’s go through the possible outcomes here.”

From the overabundance of terrible game ideas to the insanely messy machinations of IP law, take it from Shane: you should go out, learn game design, learn programming, learn some basic art skills, and go make the damned thing yourself. If you actually do, our intrepid author stresses that he “absolutely would love to play your game.”

So take that, budding Will Wrights of the world: go forth with your creations. Just don’t tell anybody who could get into legal trouble about them.

Angry Birds Developer is Always Angry

No High Scores

Perhaps it’s just the way that games are covered lately but it feels like you can’t go ten minutes without Angry Birds developer Rovio getting all hot and bothered. Someone needs to take a minute in the time out chair and get a hold of themselves.

Now look Rovio, I understand where you’re coming from. Angry Birds has been downloaded 100 million times and you guys are sitting on a boatload of cash from the sales and here’s Satoru Iwata saying that cheap games devalue the industry. The problem is that I kind of see his point…

You could argue that a generation of gamers raised on 99 cent games can’t see why a game should ever be more than a dollar, or five bucks. Now, for many of those people that dollar game fits their needs, but when it doesn’t, will they be able to understand that offering a deeper experience than Angry Birds costs money? Cause, I like Angry Birds and I’ve played the hell out of it, but I wouldn’t consider it deep. Getting a new set of levels out, even if they’re themed, and some static, 2D artwork to convey the “story” is nothing compared to what it takes to pull off something like a Legend of Zelda game. The two should be priced differently because they offer much different experiences and cost a different amount to make. It doesn’t make one better than the other, just different.

Now, as for your comments about Nintendo being worried, well, you can be damned sure that they are. Nintendo isn’t stupid and to imply that they can’t change is an extremely ignorant comment because Nintendo’s willingness to go in the opposite direction than everyone else is why both the Wii and the DS sold as well as they did. The problem is that while Nintendo is great charting a new course for Nintendo, they are extremely stubborn in following someone else’s course, even if that path goes where most people want them to.

For example Friends Codes. No one likes them. They suck. They sucked on the DS, they sucked on the Wii, they suck on the 3DS, yet Nintendo continues to hang on to them because it’s what they want and, more importantly, it’s what they think their consumers want. The same can be said about demos. There are a lot of people who don’t play demos and that’s fine, but there are a lot of people, like myself, that use demos to evaluate possible gaming purchases. Nintendo knows this, but they don’t offer them. Why? Who the hell knows. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because they don’t want people deciding not to buy something based on a demo. A shrewed business decision, sure, but ultimately limiting. And don’t get me started on the whole Nintendo online purchasing thing because it’s a mess. An absolute mess.

So here we have a company that is seemingly dead set against offering some of what you would consider basic online functionality for current generation consoles and then here comes you, Rovio with your cheap, accessible, wildly successful game that not only can be updated on the fly but is so cheap that it doesn’t need a demo. Hell, on some phones, it’s free (thanks for that by the way). So yeah, Nintendo is worried because they see their death grip on the handheld market loosening with every flung bird and smashed pig.

The problem, as I see it, is not that you don’t have good points, but that you come off like such a colossal douchebag when making them. Now, I know that it has to be hard to be as successful as you are and be a mobile phone game developer because for as much cash as you have, I would imagine this industry doesn’t give you the respect you deserve. So yeah, I get that. The problem is that your comments don’t come across as someone who has had enough and wants some respect, but it comes off as “Hey, look at us, we’re filthy rich and if you don’t change to be like us then you’re all doomed. DOOMED!” Maybe that’s not what you’re trying to say, maybe it is, I don’t know, but that’s what it sounds like and that’s downright silly.

When consoles first grew to popularity and obtained the ability to show PC-like graphics, the PC industry was declared doomed. Doomed, dead, whatever. Did that happen? Of course not, because there were, and still are, people who prefer to play on PC’s. The same is true for consoles. I love Angry Birds, but when I have the time to sit down and play a game for more than ten minutes, it is not the game I go for. That’s just me though. Others have and will. My point is that there are consumers of all stripes, all looking to have different gaming experiences and gaming as a whole is better when everyone succeeds. As for your “$49 pieces of plastic” comment, last I checked, Apple wasn’t selling iPhones and iPads at cost, so let’s just get down off of that high horse, shall we?

So yeah Rovio, let’s calm down a bit and make sure that the way we’re delivering our message isn’t drowning out the message itself. Game publishers do need to figure out the best way to update their games to make them competitive with smaller games that offer more than less, and I want to see that happen. What I don’t want is for the notion to be ignored because the person delivering the message is the crazy guy yelling out on the street corner. Besides, dude, you’re like, rolling it. Next time someone takes a shot you should respond with a picture of you neck deep in Euros. That’d shut them up.