DAW2016: Bioware

BiowareLogo

DAW2016_logo

Developer Appreciation Week is here!  For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster.  The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios.  As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better.  That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole.  So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there.  If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.

BiowareLogo

This is going to be a difficult one to tackle, especially since I didn’t get a ton of sleep thanks to the tornado warnings.  However I am going to give it to good college try, and hope that the end result turns out at least not too shabby.  I first became aware as Bioware as a company with the release of Baldur’s Gate, or more so the existence of what I later came to know as the “Infinity Engine”.  I have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons since I first found a players manual abandoned in a locker on the last day of school in second grade.  Finding that book spawned a lot of things, not the least of which was trying to hungrily gobble up anything TSR related.  I played the “gold box” series of games, namely because I had read the novels behind a lot of the stories.  There was just something missing with the game, and while I enjoyed them at the time they never really felt that good.  The story that was being told felt limited by the meager technology, and while I was happy enough with the end product…  that only lasted until I had played my first Final Fantasy game.  Baldur’s Gate was the title that brought me back from my console days into once again believing that the PC was a great platform for role-playing games.

Subsequent games were released…  Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate II and even one of my all time favorites… Planescape Torment… all using this “Infinity Engine” I have to admit I got a bit of the wrong idea behind what exactly the company Bioware really was.  In my mind it seemed like Bioware was the tools company, and Interplay, Black Isle, or later the reboot Obsidian were the game creator.  It wasn’t until Neverwinter Nights was released that I really started to understand that Bioware was both the tools division and a lot of great storytelling wrapped into one package.  Neverwinter Nights was one of those revolutionary games for me personally.  While the original campaign was awesome… it was the inclusion of the aurora toolset that set my mind on fire.  At this time I was playing a lot of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot so I tried to replicate some of my favorite features of those games using the Neverwinter engine.  I learned the C Script language and figured out how to code things like randomly generated loot from tables when you opened chests or killed mobs.  I also eventually figured out how to create a token based system along the lines of the one that allowed you to purchase armor in the Darkness Falls dungeon.  The end result was this amalgam of the EQ Plane of Hate and DAoC Darkness Falls that I called the “Plane of Spite”.  While I never did anything really interesting with it, I loved every single moment of working on it and figuring out the inner machinations of this engine.

It was not really until Knights of the Old Republic that I hopped back on the Bioware fandom, and I remember being crushingly disappointed when I learned that the title was going to be Xbox Exclusive.  Thankfully later that year it came out for the PC and I was absolutely thrilled to be dissecting that game world as well.  I loved Neverwinter Nights for its technical precision, and the Aurora and Infinity engines for giving me this awesome framework to go out and explore worlds in.  However KOTOR was the first time from Bioware that I was completely stunned by the storyline.  Last week we went into a discussion on AggroChat about the best Star Wars stories, and by the end of that show all of us pretty much came to the consensus that Knights of the Old Republic was if not the absolute best story, it was at least among them.  There are moments in this game that had shocking revelations that I have never quite recovered from.  Even though the engine is dated, and the graphics look like crap compared to what I am used to… I can still play this game happily over and over just because it was so damned well crafted.  I’ve bought it for others, and even own the mobile port of the game.  I feel like this game more than any set the tone for the modern incarnation of Bioware.

I ultimately for one reason or another skilled Mass Effect at launch, and instead picked up the Bioware banner once again with the release of Dragon Age: Origins.  During this period of time I was raiding in World of Warcraft rabidly… but there were a few weeks where I completely dropped off the face of the planet, and it was thanks to this game.  I was just completely enthralled with the world and the setting, and the concept of the dark spawn and deep roads.  I am a Dwarf at heart, so I loved every single moment of Orzammar.  My first play through was as a Dwarven Noble, and I have to say after all of the subsequent play sessions that is still the one I cherish the most.  Much the same as KOTOR, it was ultimately the characters that set this game apart from the others I had played.  They felt so fleshed out and three dimensional, and I actually cared about interacting with them.  I am a huge proponent of smashing things with a big weapon, and games that allow me to slaughter by the hundreds… but it is significantly harder to find a game that makes me feel.  Dragon Age made me feel so much, and during this time I had a really interesting encounter.  One of my guildies invited me to tank for some friends of his, and when I popped onto voice chat we had some of the usual getting to know a new person discussion.  I mentioned that I had been playing a ton of Dragon Age… and it was at this point that they started grilling me about this character or that, or what decision I made where.  It turns out that I was ultimately raiding that night with a bunch of the writers, and you could almost hear them beaming as they proudly chimed in that they wrote this or that as I gushed about various details.

With the release of Mass Effect 2, I later went back and became an addict of that series as well.  I still wish that someone would make that into a Walking Dead style serialized television show, because the story that is being told is among the best science fiction tales ever.  It just seems a crime that the only folks that will ever see the story, are the ones who have played through the game.  Then you of course have the release of Star Wars the Old Republic, that my friends and I tore through rabidly when it launched.  I burnt myself out on that game but recently a bunch of us ended up going back and remembering just how damned well written all of the story arcs really are.  At some point soon I want to go back and finish where I left off which is the start of the Revan content, and try out the new experience fallen empire content that I have heard so much about.  For sake of time though I am going to wrap things up, because otherwise I could probably carry on for a dozen more paragraphs talking about all of the things from Bioware games that I love.  It is a great studio, and while I was scared that EA would destroy its spirit… I have been pleasantly surprised that the core values of the company and the creative might seem to keep trucking along happily.  I look forward to more adventures be it with Andromedia or the next great IP that we have yet to experience.

Man With the Hand

The Man with the Hand

The Struggle

The Man with the Hand
The Man with the Hand

For over a year now I have desperately tried to get into Dragon Age Inquisition.  The game starts really slow and throws your character in the middle of a conflict that I did not really care for.  Be warned that there are going to be a few minor early game spoilers here, but I am going to try really hard not to say anything super spoilery.  During Dragon Age II, you are constantly getting vignettes of Varric being in essence tortured and questioned by a figure that is identified as “The Inquisitor”.  In Dragon Age Inquisition (and the anime if you had chance to watch it) you are introduced to Cassandra Penteghast…. the same Inquisitor who you learned to kinda hate during Dragon Age II.  The thing is…  in truth I actually rather like Cassandra, but the initial set up of the game places me squarely on the side of some epic side-eye when interacting with her.  Not to mention that my character is apparently being blamed for some catastrophe as a result.  Then with a huge amount of narrative whiplash I go from being the pariah and prisoner….  to quite literally the chosen one of Andraste.  At no point did I want ANY of this…  in past games I have only feigned interest in Andraste to get Leliana to like me.  I am generally fairly anti-religion in games… and in this case especially since my preferred method of playing Dragon Age games is to play a Dwarf that believes we all spontaneously came from the stone and will return back there again someday.

Then on top of that… we basically find out that there is a war breaking out between the Mages and the Templar, and I am not terribly fond of either side.  The entire game seemed to focus on my least favorite aspects of the Dragon Age world… and somehow got rid of the parts that I loved.  I absolutely love the concept of the Grey Wardens.  I was all about drinking demon blood and fighting dark spawn, and I would have been completely happy if we just had more games where I fought lots of bad things to save kingdoms.  With Dragon Age II…. it took a big detour, but even then I got to fight self righteous asshole red lyrium Templar…. and was mostly okay with it.  The thing that carried me through that game were the characters that I got interested in…. but the problem thus far with Dragon Age Inquisition…. were the fact that I simply was not really feeling the characters at all.  I like Cassandra just fine, and Dorian and Solas were both growing on me.  Varric felt like a caricature of Varric from Dragon Age II…. which bothered me from the start.  Leliana changed for the worst, and was not the character that I came to adore….  lost all of the soft spots and became this battle hardened zealot.  Blackwall is cool enough but I already had Cassandra to tank so quite literally had zero use for him.  The only character I completely and wholeheartedly loved…. was Sera, but that didn’t really feel like enough.  Mostly the grouping did not feel like “my team” in the same way as the other Bioware outings did, and more so felt like a bunch of characters that I just happened to get thrown in the same room with.

The Turning Point

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A Better Horizon

As I said at the beginning of my post… this has been a struggle for over a year now.  I will sit down… play for a few hours….  not get drawn into the game and then log out once more.  With the new laptop I have been in the process of trying to play games that I for one reason or another struggled with.  At the top of that list was Dragon Age Inquisition, and last night I finally realized that I was sitting at a pretty major turning point in the story.  I had been putting off the assault on the breech, thinking that it might lead me down a path that would ultimately lock me into the “end game” in a same way as attacking the collector ship does in Mass Effect 2.  Sure I was only 20-30 hours into the game, but Dragon Age II was really short… so far all I knew the base game here was short as well if you simply steamrolled your way through the story.  Last night Dragon Age pulled a “Link to the Past” on me…  and bam all of the sudden I saw everything that everyone was talking about this game.  Essentially I now view everything that I did up to this point as largely “the tutorial level” and now it feels like the real game is finally beginning.  I have to tell you I am really excited to be “into” this game.

The game manages to pull together a sequence of events that not only cements your motivation and why you care about the events of the world…. but also serves to cement your team.  I went from feeling this was just a group of people that I was stuck with….  to being a group of MY people.  I am also completely bought into the Inquisition as an organization, because after last night I realized that I am the person shaping the fate of this organization.  I can make the Inquisition be this brutal force similar to its namesake…. or I can make it into an organization that cares about people and tries to save them in the process.  Bioware I am sold…. and I am ready to get started playing this game. What is frustrating about all of this is… Dragon Age: Origins had an AMAZING introduction… or at least it did if you played a Dwarf.  By the time I completed that opening sequence I was completely sold on the setting and the characters and ready to go out into the world and carve my niche.  Dragon Age II had a much rougher start, but even though it felt more forced and pushed down a single hallway… I eventually reached a point where it felt I was changing the world.  Inquisition though… feels like the worst of those two options…. where you have only the most vestigial of control over your own character as you are forced down a path.  Thankfully it seems that the skies are clearing…. and I am ready to step forth into the new world.

5 Settings Prime for MMOs

I know there are several folks out there that really hate it when an franchise gets turned into an MMO.  This is not a post for you in the least, so I will probably only serve to frustrate you this morning.  For me… I love MMOs, it is my favorite type of game, and comprises of the vast majority of games I play.  If you check my Raptr profile you will see that the majority of all the high consumption titles are massively multiplayer online games.  However every now and then there is a setting that feels like it screams to be an MMO.  These are the five settings I want most in MMO form.

5 – Rifts

Rifts cover

For those who have not been hanging around game shops most of their lives… this title could go completely unnoticed.  It never really had the big money marketing that for example Dungeons and Dragons had, but it represents a good chunk of my childhood.  I love the palladium system, not because it was some great feat of gaming.  Quite frankly the rules are pretty lousy if you get down to it and and extremely cumbersome.  What always drew me to the system was the promise of being able to create damned near anything you can think of.  Rifts took this earlier concept of the palladium system and infused it with so much personality.

Rifts sets up an earth where the magic has returned and caused leylines to blaze open across the planet.  When two intersect there is a chance of a dimensional rift opening and spilling forth all manner of crazy into our world.  This alone would be enough for me… but additionally they have set up all sorts of great opposing forces… the Splynn, the Coalition, the Federation of Magic, the Triax, the NGR, the list literally continues on and on as there are over 30 separate sourcebooks each filled with its own list of opposing forces.  Additionally there are some pretty amazing character classes like Glitterboys, Juicers, Cyberknights, Techno Wizard, Ley Line Walker, Psi-Stalker, and again these go on and on.  There is just so much world to wrap a game around, and almost unlimited content to explore for expansions.

4 – Shadowrun

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This is another long time dream of mine to see Shadowrun in a massively multiplayer setting.  This was a huge system as I was growing up, and while I never actually played a lot of it, I owned most of the books.  Similar to Rifts it is a setting of an alternate earth, where magic and technology clash.  Drawing upon the William Gibson novel Neuromancer it adds the element of the Matrix and cyber warfare.  I thought this could lead to some really interesting gameplay.  Where part of your party is physically running a dungeon while your decker is going along with you in cyberspace trying to remove obstacles from your path.

Recently the Shadowrun console games have been revitalized in the form of Shadowrun Returns… which is cool but I would much rather have a huge living and breathing world to explore than to do so in a top down tactical setting.  Once again there are tons of source books over the run of this system that could be drawn upon to keep the world going for years.  There is also a similarly long list of really interesting classes to play, with lots of different gameplay styles to explore.

3 – Mass Effect

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This one will likely never happen after the tale of Star Wars the Old Republic and how it struggled to find an audience.  But I think we all can admit that Mass Effect as a whole is a much better universe to explore than that of SWTOR.  The ME saga, or at least up until the very end is one of the better science fiction storylines I have experienced.  I would love to see a serialized television show chronicling the exploits of Shepard.  As far as an online universe would go, we would have to set the game significantly earlier than the events of ME1.  Essentially from that game forward there is an apocalyptic destiny set in motion, and that really does not give much room for growth.

In order to make this work we would need to set the game either before or after the main trilogy, and really don’t think ANY of the endings to ME3 gives us enough room to move within game wise.  As a result I would set the game a few years before the events of Mass Effect.  This should allow the game to evolve along the normal course of events that happen in the main trilogy.  Similar to the LOTRO game, you would be different characters in the same universe watching the events play out around you.  There are so many different cultures and opposing viewpoints that it just begs for a MMO to be wrapped around it.

2 – Fallout

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War, War Never Changes.  Every time I hear Ron Perlman utter those words I get this massive nostalgic wave of feels was over me.  I love everything there is about the Fallout setting, and have been a series diehard since I saved up the cash in college to buy the first one.  I missed the boat on the whole Wasteland thing, so I am hoping the Kickstarter will give me a taste of what that world would have been line.  I want a Fallout MMO so badly, but more than anything… I want one that CONTROLS like Fallout.  I want so much to like Fallen Earth, but I just cannot get past the control scheme, and it destroys the game for me.

The whole post apocalyptic wasteland is such fertile ground for an MMO.  Especially a huge sandbox setting like Fallout.  As far as classes go, I think you would have to do the same sort of open ended treatment that you already have in Fallout.  Mainly I would be happy with just allowing a persistent and co-operative version of the existing Fallout games.  There are already so many different competing interests in the wasteland, and I feel like you could pretty much plunk another game down at any point during the current storyline.  Mainly I just want to join the brotherhood of steel and wander around the wasteland in power armor like I always do.

1 – Elder Scrolls

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Okay I admit it… this is absolutely cheating since we all know there is already an Elder Scrolls MMO on the way.  However until it releases sometime next year, this one stays at number one with a bullet.  There has never been another series that has captured so much of my imagination as has the Elder Scrolls Series.  I love literally everything about the world.  The absolute vastness of it all, the lore, the Aedra and Daedra.  Nothing inspires me more than having a game with a fully fleshed out world and its pantheon of gods.  I think that more than anything is what glued my attention to Everquest and Norrath, and the complex relationship between the various gods in Tamriel makes that setting seem simplistic.

More than anything, I love the freedom of the Elder Scrolls settings to completely abandon my quest chain and wander off into the world exploring freely.  I love that there is always something to find hidden in this nook or cranny.  I love almost more than anything that there are tons of books in the games, each with their own story that only serves to make the world more rich and three dimensional.  You have some amazing races, each with their own deep background and other races that no longer exist like the Dwemer have have littered the landscape with their former greatness.  I just hope that the MMO version can gather up all this great lineage and give me vast tracts of interesting to go off and explore.  This is the game I am most looking forward to, and you can bet that when it releases I will pretty much forsake everything else at least for awhile.