Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Making Villains is Tough

So, for those of you that didn't already know, my dream is to create an RPG someday.  No, not a rocket propelled grenade, or a pen 'n paper game.  I mean a video game like Chrono Trigger or Morrowind.

Anyways, my biggest obstacle in coming up with ideas is the story itself.  Every story needs a conflict, and most conflict requires some sort of antagonist.  So, I sit and try to come up motivations for what would make someone an antagonist.  Problem is, I end up feeling bad for it.  My thought process goes a little something like this:

"Okay, lets call this guy Dr. McEvilPants.  He wants to take over the world."
"But why does he want to take over the world?"
"To... create an ideal utopian society."
"What's so bad about the current society that he has to fix it with an iron fist?"
"He lost his wife and child to the plague and nobody stepped up to help them."
"Oh my goodness!  Poor Dr. McEvilPants!  Why would such a thing happen?!  What kind of cruel god would allow this?! D:"
"I'm sorry, Dr McEvilPants!  I take it back!  Your wife and child are okay! :c"

And so on... I guess I gotta be a little more antagonistic to come up with antagonists. ;_;

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Unscientific Method

Guns are cool.  Wizards are cool.  You know what would be double the coolness?  Wizards with guns!

With that being said, what on earth is the deal with fantasy games often including a "misfire chance" for technological devices?  Deadlands, Pathfinder, World of Warcraft, here's looking at you!  I know filling a metal tube with explosives and sharp objects and lighting it on fire isn't the safest thing in the world, but entreating otherworldly beings and manipulating eldritch forces doesn't exactly sound any safer.  Why is it in such games that wizards never have to worry about their messing with unseen forces backfiring, but firing a goddamned handgun is a crap shoot?  If anything, you'd think the scientific approach would be safer!

Don't tell me it's for "game balance."  That's a load of crap.  If throwing a fireball using your own personal store of energy is 100% safe and balanced, why isn't using a gun to shoot someone with resources you have to replenish yourself balanced?  Both are a ranged attack.  Just one involves waving your arms like a maniac and chanting Enochian backwards while cross-eyed and the other involves pointing and pulling a trigger.  Just once, I'd like to see guns in a fantasy game and not have them be unsafe, bizarre, unreliable relics.

And don't even get me started on the dogmatic idea of guns not belonging in fantasy!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Batman and Bastion

Downloadable content is a relatively new concept.  Back in the day, you bought a game and that was the entire game.  If you wanted more, you had to wait for the sequel.  Nowadays, if a developer has a little more to add to a game that doesn't warrant a whole new game, they can package it as Downloadable Content and let you add it to your game for a reasonable price.  This is in theory, anyway.  Some developers seem to just downright abuse the concept.  Memorable examples in my mind include Bethesda's "Horse Armor" DLC for Oblivion and BioWare releasing a DLC for Mass Effect that consisted of nothing but extra character skins.  Do developers seriously think a minor cosmetic tweak should cost money?  Seems like a ripoff to me, but then again, developers aren't exactly holding guns to people's heads and forcing them to buy these overpriced DLC packs, so caveat emptor.

With that in mind, I find Rocksteady's recent handling of the Catwoman DLC to be downright disgusting.  The Catwoman DLC was an addition to Batman: Arkham City that allowed you to play as catwoman for certain segments.  Brand new copies of Arkham included a code to get the DLC for free while people who bought used copies had to buy the DLC on their own.  This is not a brand new concept, as games like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins have included small DLC codes in new copies to encourage buying new and contributing to the developers instead of to secondhand game stores.

Arkham City takes this to an extreme, however.  Mass Effect 2's new-copy bonus was a minor character with little to no impact on the game's story, a few new weapons and armor, and a boring, dialogue-less side mission.  Dragon Age gave you a neat looking suit of armor for buying it new.  They were neat bonuses, but you weren't exactly missing a whole lot if you skipped them.  What do you get for buying Arkham City new?  You get the other half of the game!  Arkham City is split between Batman and Catwoman gameplay segments, and you only get to play the Batman segments if you buy used and don't shell out extra money to buy the DLC.  This isn't some minor change either.  Every time you load the game without that DLC, the game gleefully informs you that Catwoman is missing and bugs you to buy the DLC.  Arkham City is littered with little pink Riddler trophies that zap you and tell you to play as Catwoman to collect them.  After you beat the game, you're treated to the sight of "Press this button to play as Catwoman... NOPE! No DLC!"  Buying the game used excises half the game and rubs it in your race constantly.  Seriously, Rocksteady.  What the hell?  I had full intention of buying the full game, but my local gamestore only had it used.  If I'd have known I was supposed to pay twice just to play the full game, I would've bought something else.

As it turns out, I did buy something else.  After selling the game back after beating it because I had no desire to ever replay it or buy Catwoman, I used the money to go buy myself Bastion.  Bastion is the first game by studio Supergiant Games.  In Supergiant's words, their goal is "to make games that spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid."  After playing Bastion, I'd say they succeeded.  Bastion's gameplay is very reminiscent of old action RPGs like Secret of Mana or Zelda, but with its own features to keep it unique.  The narrator tells the story based on your actions in the game.  Normally, I stand by the motto "Show, don't tell," but Bastion's method of storytelling worked quite well for me.  You'd think it'd be hard to feel for characters with no dialog, but I, oddly enough, felt more attached to the small cast of characters than I have for fully voiced characters in higher budget games.  If you're an "old school" RPG gamer who thought the games industry died with the SNES, I would recommend giving this game a shot.  If you're not, give the game a shot anyway!  You won't be disappointed.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Good, The Bad, and the Skyrim

Like most of the human population of the western hemisphere, I have had my nose buried in the game Skyrim.  Now that I've finally torn my eyes away from the game, here's a few things I liked and didn't like about the game compared to previous games in the series.

The Good:

The leveling and stats system has been greatly simplified.  Normally, I've hated this in each progressive Elder Scrolls game, but I think they did it right this time.  In previous games, your character's stat growth was determined by what skills you improved to gain that level.  This lead to downright bizarre and tedious meta-gaming in order to neglect skills that you'd use a lot and grind skills that you normally wouldn't bother with in order to keep your stats balanced or at the levels you wanted.  Skyrim throws that all out the window and just does away with character stats entirely.  Now you're free to just play the way you want and not worry about whether your Endurance stat is too low because you've been stabbing things too much.

The game finally lets you stick it to the empire.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I always chafed at being Uriel Septim's unwilling pawn in Daggerfall, Morrowind, and Oblivion.  Now, the game actually gives you a choice in who your character answers to.  For once, you can actually take part in a rebellion and throw off the empire's yoke and see visible results.  You even get the chance to reject an order from the Blades for once.  Even if you think the empire is the best thing for Tamriel, having a choice in the matter really helps you feel like you're in control of your character's destiny.

The game's NPCs feel a lot more "real" than in previous games.  Call me weird, but giving random NPCs with no relevance to the plot unique lines instead of making them all talk about mudcrabs goes a long way for me.  At one point, I had a quest where I had to go extract some dark elf blood from a corpse.  My first thought was to go to Windhelm and slaughter a random NPC in the Grey District.  Well, I walked in there and found a dark elf NPC.  I tried talking first to make sure he wasn't plot relevant and all he had to say was that farming was alright work even if he had to put up with his brothers getting preachy about social injustice.  This, oddly enough, made me rethink my plan of random NPC murder and I ended up leaving him alone.

The removal of item repair was a huge plus for me.  Breakable items always just felt like needless micro-management for me and just seemed like the kind of irritating money/time sink reserved for MMOs like World of Warcraft.  Sure, items falling apart is realistic, but realism isn't necessarily fun.  If I wanted pure realism, I'd go outdoors instead of playing a video game.

Skyrim removes a mechanic from Oblivion that I commonly refer to as the "psychic death scream."  In Oblivion, if you murdered a guard out in the middle of the woods on a dark night while invisible with no other witnesses for miles, the guard's death would just magically place a bounty on your head, as if all the guards were part of a communal psychic entity and the dead guard would relay the cause of its death to the other guards in the Cyrodil.  The same happened if you were a member of a faction.  If you were part of the fighters guild and another fighter meets their death at your hands, the entire fighters guild just magically knows the instant it happens and expels you, regardless of whether they should realistically know about the murder or not.  Skyrim fixes all that.  Now, being a stealthy, but murderous, player pays off.  Need to eliminate some pesky guards so they don't witness your crimes?  Kill 'em with stealth!  Tired of that guildmate snickering at you?  Stab 'em in the back when nobody's looking!

The Bad:

Unkillable NPCs make their return.  They are easily my least favorite part of any sandbox game.  Allowing players to kill NPCs is supposed to make you feel like you can do anything, but nothing kills this feeling faster than seeing a character shrug off explosions and arrows to the face just because they're supposed to ask you to fetch a sweet roll.  Being able to brutally murder Random NPC #13 in broad daylight may be cathartic, but it's kind of random and pointless from a roleplaying perspective.  Sneaking into Castle Dour and stabbing General Tullius in his sleep, however, makes a lot more sense.  Unfortunately, trying to do that just results in Tullius shrugging off the fatal wounds and acting like nothing happened, because your freedom to shape your destiny only extends as far as the game's leash.  Not only does this make no sense from an in-character perspective, but unkillable NPCs also cause all sorts of absurd gameplay problems that are more irritating than challenging.  If you get into a fight in a town, chances are that an unkillable NPC will see you and try to enact some vigilante justice.  Unfortunately for you, this results in an unstoppable force trying to kill you until you run away.  This isn't challenging.  It's just annoying.  The most egregious example is one of the final Dark Brotherhood quests where you're tasked with killing a pirate captain on board her own ship.  You'd think that the stealthy approach is encouraged because your character is a squishy under-armored assassin, but the real reason is that even a greatsword swinging daedric armored combat monstrosity doesn't stand a chance against the crew because random crew members are inexplicably immortal!  Stop holding our hands, Bethesda.  In Morrowind, giving the "Oops, you dun goofed" message when you killed a plot-important NPC worked just fine.  Don't halfass the Killable NPC mechanic.  Either put everyone on a level playing field or don't bother with it at all.

For a beautiful game with epic scope, Skyrim feels dreadfully short compared to previous games.  This may just be retrospect, but it felt like the questlines went by much quicker than their equivalents in the previous Elder Scrolls.

What on earth is with the drastic escalation of mortality in each game intro?  Daggerfall had you start out as a friend of the emperor who was sent to investigate the haunting of Daggerfall, but gets shipwrecked on the way.  Morrowind starts you out as a prisoner on a ship who immediately gets a pardon and membership in the Blades.  Oblivion starts you as a life-sentenced prisoner who only gets out due to luck or destiny.  Skyrim starts with you on the freaking chopping block.  Following this pattern, the next game's going to start with you dead!  For a series where most of your adventures are on behalf of the empire, the writers are doing a piss-poor job of making me want to help them.

What's the deal with the level-scaled items?!  The min/maxer in me cringes every time I get a quest reward and know that the reward could've been better if I had just faffed about in the woods and levelled up to the max before accepting the reward.  Call me crazy, but I don't think players should be punished for completing a quest early.

After the whole drama with Zenimax claiming ownership of the word "scrolls," I feel a little guilty about giving them my money.  Not really the game's fault, but it still bothers me.

The Skyrim:

In spite of playing into some of my pet peeves with games, Skyrim was still an excellent game and a worthy addition to the Elder Scrolls series.  I'd recommend giving it a shot if you can.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's okay to disbelieve!

No, seriously.  It's okay!  I'm writing this because an anonymous BC in the Unification Church asked me for support in asking questions of the church's leadership.  Questions about Rev. Moon's extramarital affair or what the hell the church does with all those bags of money.  I am writing to say this:

It doesn't matter!  Who cares who some 90 year old Korean guy slept with?!  What does it matter what the church does with all that money?!  If you are at the point in your life of faith where shallow tabloid gossip worries you, then it's time to take a look at what you truly believe.  If the idea of the church being corrupt and criminal even occurs to you, you probably no longer believe in the validity of Rev. Moon's role as the messiah.  If he's a false messiah, why the hell does it matter what sort of things he does?  A false religion is a false religion, no matter how crooked or nice it is.

This isn't just a message for that anonymous BC, though.  This is to all of you still in the Unification Church who just don't believe anymore.  I am trying to tell you that it's okay to disbelieve!  Yes, it's a wide scary world out there, but the first step is being honest with yourself.  Don't beat around the bush.  Don't candy coat it.  Just say what you truly feel.  Like this:

"I don't believe in the Divine Principle!"

There.  Was that so hard?  What do you gain from sweeping your feelings under the rug and living a lie?  Are you afraid of losing your community of brothers and sisters?  Here's a secret:  They're not going to abandon you for leaving the church.  And if they do?  Then they obviously weren't your friends and you don't need them anyway!  Are you afraid of disappointing your parents?  Tough bunnies.  You are more than just the genetic result of two people.  You are a unique and beautiful human being with your own wants and needs separate from your parents.  It's okay to love and care for your parents, but at the end of the day, you need to remember that what they truly want is for you to be happy, even if they may not agree with you on how to achieve that lofty goal.  Don't let anyone else, not even your parents, tell you who you really are.

It may seem scary,  downright terrifying, but in the end, you'll be able to look at yourself in the mirror without shame.  You won't have to halfheartedly get up at some godforsaken hour of the morning to bow to a photograph of some person you never knew.  No more hours spent reading dry, long winded speech books you don't really care about.  No more depriving yourself of food for some imperceptible spiritual change.  Any choice you make will be because YOU believe it is right, not because Rev. Moon said it's right.

I know what some of you reading this are thinking.  "Jeremy, you massive troll!  Why can't you respect my religious beliefs?!"  I'm not trying to attack the Unification Church here.  I'm trying to attack personal dishonesty.  I want to eradicate spiritual death.  If you still love True Parents and want nothing more than to grow up and get blessed and have lots of pretty blessed babies, more power to you.  I'm writing this for the people who don't want that.  The people who clasp their hands and space out instead of praying.  The folks who sit in the middle of ahn-soo and think "What the fuck am I doing?"  The fellow who glances at an attractive passerby and thinks "Oh, if only it were allowed."  I'm here to say, "Go for it.  You are not alone"  Be yourself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Long Time No Blog

Whoooops.  I haven't updated this blog in quite a while.  At some point in May, I got offered a position as moderator on the Minecraft Forums, and since then, I've somehow clawed my way up the ranks to administrator.  So, I've had my hands full of dealing with the Minecraft Community instead of blogging.  I'll try and keep this blog updated from now on, though.  It'll probably be a lot healthier for me to try and do stuff that isn't Minecraft-centric all the time.

Not much else going on in my life.  Haven't had much to do out in California outside of manage the forums.  I'm hoping to find a group to play tabletop RPGs with, but all I can find so far is DnD 4th Edition.  Call me proud, but I still refuse to play 4E.  After all I've been through, gotta draw a line somewhere.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Big Whoop

So, Osama's dead.  A diabolical, evil mastermind has bitten the dust.

What about the rest of them?  The world still has organized crime.  Little girls are still being sold into slavery.  Corporations still control our lives from behind the scenes.  Drugs are still being trafficked.  People are still being shot at.

Killing one man doesn't fix the world.  I don't see the point of celebrating.