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.
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.