Archive for the 'RPG' Category


A Shepard of Black or White in a World of “Grey”

So I just finished Mass Effect 2.  The gripe train is ready to leave the station.  Today though, we’ll be talking about the Paragon\Renegade system.

(WARNING: This will contain spoilers)

The two meters of rage

So ever since Dragon Age, Bioware has been on this dark and edgy kick lately in trying to include morally ambiguous situations in their game.  Which is fine, doesn’t thrill me but as long as it’s executed well I don’t have any problems.  Except that the game punishes you for not going fully one way or the other.

Here’s what I mean.  You amass a large crew of varying alien races.  Tempers are going to flare as this diverse population butts heads and old grudges come to a boil.  Fine.  There are two of these situations where after completing two loyalty missions for the characters, they end up in a catfight that you need to mediate.  NPC conflict?  Sweet.  So far so good.

Except you can only resolve it in the best way possible if you have either a perfect paragon rating or a perfect renegade rating.  Which would have nutted me if I didn’t do some ahead of time research.  RAGE.

Some people have claimed that they have resolved these conflicts with less than a perfect rating.  AFAIK, this was not the case for me or for many other people.  In other words, if you already used up most of the content playing situations case by case instead of lock-stepping to a single tune, you are screwed and people are going to die in the final mission.  I actually replayed some missions 5-6 times over to keep checking if I needed anything less than perfect to resolve these conflicts.  For those players wondering, to stop Miranda and Jack from fighting, and to convince Zaeed to stay despite screwing over his revenge plans, I needed a perfect paragon score or so close to perfect that I could barely see the margin between my bar and completion.  I ended up having to scour the galaxy for every last bit of Paragon points, and even then I barely managed to top out my meter right before the final mission.

What bothers me also is that these character conflicts are literally thrown in the player’s face.  NPCs interact with each other so little outside of the scripted scenes that its hard to gauge how bad the animosity is before it’s too late.  Which strikes me as bad design.  Since the mechanic is never introduced to the player in a gentle manner, the player has no idea what to expect.  Bioware really should have done a better job at showing the build-up between NPCs and that only mediation from the PC is keeping things in check.

However, what makes this entire paragon/renegade system irritating is that the player is unable to play things case by case in a morally ambiguous world.  They *have* to play entirely in one shade or the other to achieve the best possible outcome.  This strikes me as cognitive dissonance.  It also strikes me as a veiled attempt to coerce the player into playing through the game 2-3 times to make up for the brevity of the main campaign.  It’s a cynical assumption.  But the inclusion of a new game+ feature not included in past Bioware games, as well as achievements for  completing this game twice, makes me suspicious.

Really Bioware, why bother with the entire “work with the morally ambiguous to do good” story if you aren’t even going to allow the player to explore that nebulous region?


this is not the might and magic I once knew

What part of this deserves to be called Might and Magic?

My issue with this isn’t so much that the gameplay looks bad or anything like that.  It’s mainly the contrast between my childhood memories of this long standing series being juxtaposed with this. . . “reboot”.

It’s like a friend from middle school reappeared on my door step with a boob job, sex change, face lift, and decided to do that ulzzang thing.  Honestly, did they really have to use the IP like this?  How much of a marketing benefit do they think is going to come from “reinvisioning” the series like this?


Levels in RPGs: An Anachronism?

As a design concept in RPGs they’re practically ubiquitous. But why the hell do we need them?

Sure they provide an easy measure of progress for the player, but is it really worth the cost of pigeon holing ourselves into this design concept? Are there really no disadvantages to such a system? Today I’m going to argue that there are good reasons why we should get rid of the entire concept of “levels”. This post will be mainly be referencing MMORPGs rather then single-player RPGs.

1. Levels create “video game adultery” or social ostracization

Let’s say I’m playing with a group of people. If we want to play together so that everyone gets something out of the content that we are doing, we need to stay within the same level of each other. In order to do that, we would have to play at around the same time or gain roughly the same amount of experience so that we can all experience the same content while also enjoying the fruits of doing so.

But once someone falls behind, or someone sneaks ahead of everyone else, the group is placed into a dilemma. Essentially the onus is placed on someone to spend more time or less time in the game so that they can once again play with the others. Should they fail to do so, it is inevitable that a sort of social ostracization takes place where the person who is not in sync with the rest of the group’s levels is forced to find another social circle or put-up with playing less or more. This becomes a real problem for those who cannot play as much as their real life friends and cannot “hang out” as it were with the rest of his or her crew.

2. Levels encourage linear design

Yes, shocking. I am arguing against linear design. Note that this is a condemnation of linear gameplay design, not against a linear narrative.

At first glance, an MMORPG might not appear to have linear design built into it. But that’s only at first glance. If one begins to look at mob levels, quest levels, etc, one quickly realizes that an MMO creates a linear sort of gameplay by using geographic regions to split players up. While games such as WoW provide multiple areas for a given level range, the end result is that one can chart player progression through areas as a straight line.

The problem with this approach is that content becomes obsolete. Once a player has leveled beyond the level range of the content, the area is effectively “useless” from a progression standpoint. There is no reason for him or her to continue to be in that area. They can only travel to a region that provides for their level range. Even if they have never explored that region before, if they are outside that region’s level range, it is still effectively useless. Furthermore, once a player gets to the current max level, there are only several areas where he or she can spend her time.

3. Levels place mechanical\time requirements on content

By this I mean to get through content, at a certain point, things like average group level become an issue before even player skill or group composition can really come into play. If one’s team has a high enough average group level, they can plow through the content in question without having to worry about anything else. Thus in a sense the ultimate requirement in the end is not thought, knowledge, or skill, it’s really time invested in the game. While this provides almost no barrier to content whatsoever (spend enough time at it and you’ll get through anything), I believe that it makes gameplay dull and boring after a certain points. Once the “mechanical” requirements of a character are taken care of, the player does not have to think at all while playing, and can just play like a robot.

Some Final Thoughts

There are obviously counter arguments to everything that I have written. While I could some of them now, I’m on my lunch break right now. So I’ll address the biggest, and most basic issue as to why it’s hard to replace the concept of “levels”.

Currently in RPGs in general, we interpret the concept of growth of having only one direction: straight up. The idea of causing a player’s character to retrograde is not an attractive one to say the least. So in the end the only a character can truly develop is making the numbers increase.

What I’m trying to say is that in a sense, RPG design suffers from a philosophical issue at its core. Progression is “fun”, but we only know how to interpret it in a single way because of the reliance on numbers to define characters and character progression. As it stands in most RPGs, according to the computer a character is merely an excel spreadsheet of attributes, equipment, and skills. We haven’t found a way to measure and dole out progression in any other way.

So is there another philosophy of progression? I have no idea. Honestly this could all just be hot air. I need to think on it some more.

More on these thoughts later, my mind doesn’t work that well on five hours of sleep.


The MMO Trap

So you’ve spent a quality amount of time with your MMO character but you’re starting to feel unsatisfied and are thinking of quitting. Then you think to yourself “But I’ve spent so much time with this character. . .”

STOP. Take a break from the game. If you’re feeling hardcore, delete that character now, unsubscribe, and remove the game from your computer.

If the game ever feels like an obligation, that’s when you need to take a moment and re-evaluate why you’re playing. A game is meant to be fun. Why chain yourself down with virtual obligations when you more pressing ones in real life?

I don’t play games if they aren’t fun for me any longer. Bottom line. This is why I have never played any FPS competitively and am so reluctant to join guilds on MMOs. Anything that could make my gaming experience feel like I’m somehow responsible for playing is poison in my mind. It destroys the purpose of play entirely. If I practice to get better, it’s because I want to get better, and that I find that increasing my ability within the game is fun. Not because I need to because I’m part of a team. This is not to say that I am unwilling to join organizations based around a game, I will if I think it will be fun. But if I ever find that it ends up not being fun I will leave without much regret, no matter who I am playing with.

This may sound rather selfish and all, but this mentality has allowed me to drop MMOs I’ve played for extended periods of time without much trouble. As long as you remember that games are about having fun, you won’t have to worry too much about an addiction. Unless you associate getting your virtual hamster pellets to be more fun and important than accomplishing real life things. Then you might have trouble.


A More Human NPC

I came across this description of a public defender while reading an article on the book Defending the Damned: Inside Chicago’s Cook County Public Defender’s Office :

The public defender assigned to represent Oliver is a brash, ostentatious lawyer named Marijane Placek. Placek might evoke grudging respect from readers for her prowess in the courtroom, but she’s hardly a sympathetic personality. She is icy, sometimes even rude, to the families of murder victims and is openly contemptuous of police, judges, and prosecutors. She seems to tackle her job with few guiding or undergirding principles: She supports the death penalty, for example, but fights to spare her clients, even those who have pleaded guilty, from getting it. (It was Placek who defended Joan Tribblet in what the attorney rather crudely calls the “Kentucky Fried Baby Case.”) She tells Davis she chose to be a public defender for no other reason than that, at the time, the position paid more than what a starting state’s attorney was getting. She thrives on whiskey and steak, throws lavish parties, and proudly sports an abrasive personality.

Although Placek occasionally gives obligatory nods to notions of fighting for justice or sticking up for “the little guy,” her motives seems to stem largely from a bruised ego: She’s a full-figured woman who has spent much of her life fighting ridicule and low expectations. “She wanted to be a winner at all costs,” Davis writes, “to turn upside down the way she was perceived and treated in the courtroom.”

I was instantly mesmerized by this description the moment I read it.  The sheer power of the personality of this blows away any NPC I have met in a RPG.  This person feels human, eccentric without being comical, and deeply intriguing.  Why can’t I play with complex characters like this in RPGs?

It could be argued that games don’t have the kind of narrative space to allow for this kind of character development.  But in my mind, it is possible if certain things are done.  Like creating side quests that are not completely devoid of NPC and PC avenues of growth and interaction (more on this pet peeve at a later date).

I would love to see more characters like this in the future.


Current Goals

1) Finish Darwinia Mod by the end of August/Early September.

2) Continue pre-planning\working on design-doc for the NWN2 module that is next on the list.

I had a week of free time after my summer class ended, but building a new computer and Bioshock ate up quite a bit of time. So now I have three more days left.

Berkeley is fun like that.

Hopefully I can blitz through most of the scripting and testing this weekend so I can get started on jigsawing the various Darwinia levels I have into a campaign (which requires more scripting and testing, whee). After that comes the polishing and then I can release the mod.

July 2018
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