Thursday, 28 January 2010

Somehow I managed to be a nice bad guy

As I said earlier this month, I’m trying to be evil on my first play through of the original Mass Effect, just because I am nice in all other games. I thought I was doing really well, until I realised that I was using my evil for good.

Whilst running around, being deliberately brief with everyone and blaming them for whatever just went wrong, I have also found myself pandering to their every whim. If they said jump, I would give a callous response to the tone of ‘up yours’, before giving an eager hop and asking for another order.

For example, whilst wandering around a space station I came across a fellow who was down on his luck as the military would not release his dead wife’s corpse, thus denying her a proper funeral. I probably said something like, ‘she had it coming to her’ and thought that was the evil thing to do.

Somehow though I still managed to find the guy responsible, who to his credit had a fairly good reason for not releasing her body, and then I pushed him up against the wall, demanding he give the corpse back to the grieving husband. Whilst trying to be the meanest guy ever, I still managed to do the morally right thing.

What I should have done would be to tell the husband an outright ‘no’, before going to retrieve the corpse for myself, attaching strings to each limb, and then making it dance around in a rather morbid puppet show for all to see. Unfortunately the dialogue options were slightly restrictive for a response like this.

It is clearly against my gamer nature to be evil. Whilst being unpleasant to everyone, calling them names behind their back and trying not to be helpful, I would still end up cooking them all a roast dinner somehow, not entirely understanding how or why it happened.

I’m determined to not be good in Mass Effect, I want to see what happens when you push evil to the limits. I guess I should just run through crowds screaming at the top of my lungs in the future, in a vain attempt to avoid agreeing to do things for people. That’s certainly not the good guy mentality, but it hardly shouts ‘evil genius’ either.

Update: Well, looks like I've managed to balance this out with a spot of acid assisted genocide of an alien species. Go me!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Levelling up

Career progression is usually an unappreciated grind of doing the same task so well that after a little while, you are given more mundane tasks in exchange for a pat on the back and a few more pesos. The same experience is usually found in MMOs, but where as most people have to work hard as a necessity, players of these also do it in their spare time for fun.

Having recently started on Aion and experiencing this grind first hand, I really struggled to comprehend why I couldn’t stop logging in and making my hands do manual labour to increase the value of the pixels projected on my screen.

I found myself questioning just what the hell I was doing; sure I am mashing small animals in to a light and fluffy XP paste to fill up a progression bar at the bottom of the screen, but why?

Finally achieving that next level makes you more powerful, gives you access to a few more things and possibly gives you more e-hard on. Unfortunately though it also resets the bar you worked ever so hard to fill, and makes the bastard a bit longer. Where’s the satisfaction in that?

It’s a bit like getting to the top of a ladder, after an entire day of climbing it, to find a prawn cocktail and a note saying ‘climb the ladder over there for a fillet steak’. True enough you see another ladder, as the note indicated, but it stretches even higher in to the sky and each rung has a liberal sprinkling of broken glass and salt.

The moment of satisfaction is very short lived.

The trouble is that in most level driven games, this is the overwhelming feeling. It’s weird how addictive they can be, considering that 99% of the experience is working up to that single moment of excitement before doing it all again. It’s all very sadomasochistic. MMOs are the equivalent of women in high heels treading on your sensitive areas to give you kicks (you know, if you like that sort of thing).

Of course this feeling only continues as long as you don’t get bored, driven insane or reach the pointy ceiling we all know and love as level caps. When the game shakes you down and writes all over your battle scarred body that there is no more progression to be had.

So far in my relatively seated life I have yet to experience what it is like when you are told ‘no more’ by an MMO. I imagine it’s a bit like what would happen when you get to the end of a rollercoaster, only you don’t get off, there’s just an infinite track that extends in to the distance. When you have nothing in particular to aim for what do you do?

I suppose it is why I liked Eve Online so much as there were no levels to cap, so to speak. You would buy and then train a skill which would have a completion time (like 1 hour, 12 hours, 54 days, etc) meaning you only needed to grind for money. With so many skills to train and no limitations on who can train them, it is pretty much impossible to run out of areas to perfect.

The one problem with this system is that it took a heck of a long time to get the really good stuff, and even when you did get there, it was usually only a very specific type of really good stuff, unless you took even longer, tedious training sessions. The sky is the limit, but only for as long as you are happy to pay for game time.

So, levelling up is a pointless pursuit of unhappiness with rewards that in no way reflect the effort you put in to getting them. Why is it then, that it is more more-ish than crack cocaine dipped in barbeque sauce? I haven’t the foggiest, but it seems to be a winning formula. Crafty little dev teams…

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Being the bad man

Whenever I step in to the boots of someone else in a role-playing game that asks for my moral input at various stages, I always try and deal with the conundrums how I imagine I would if I was there, only with less breaking down and crying in the corner. Then again, thankfully I don’t ever imagine I will have to choose whether to save my friends or a church full of people from getting murdered so I should be okay.

It does mean though that to some extent I usually only play one half of these decision pushing games. I always pick the nice path that tries for the best outcome. I never harvested little sisters, I set them free, I’ve helped spaceships out of trouble, instead of sadistically watching their demise, and I didn’t blow up Megaton, I shot the shady character in the face and defiled his corpse with bullets. As you can see, I’m the nice guy.

I want this to change, at least once. I want to see what it is like on the other side of the tracks, I want to steal sweets from children, I want to make old ladies hold doors open for me! With this in mind I tepidly went in to Mass Effect, which I picked up for the price of a pint during the Steam holiday sales.

I created my character as being the ruthless soldier, raised in the military who sent wave after wave of his own men to their deaths to get the job done. That sounded nice and hard man-ish. I then walked around and was rather brief and unpleasant with everyone before being sent down to a planet to shoot things.

That’s about as far as I am at the moment, or rather, as not far as I am, but I do intend to keep going through. I must admit though, I am fighting with myself over this a bit. Is walking around being mean and dismissive to everyone just being counter-productive?

I can understand it in games such as Black and White, where it is genuinely funny to become evil and raise a creature that devours villagers, throws trees at people for fun and demolishes their homes in a heavy shower of faecal matter. However, are morality systems in some games just tacked on to change the story and have very little affect on the simple gameplay mechanics?

I suppose it is a very difficult thing to balance when designing a game but I feel that good/bad pathways should do a bit more than just play a different cutscene when everything is over. I was a bit disappointed that Bioshock didn’t make more of its morality system. Whether you were nasty or nice, at the end of the day you still pretty much ended up with the same resources and just a different video conclusion. It would have been nice for a bit more impact, like possibly more animosity from the Big Daddies if you ran around, ripping the parasites out of the chests of the small girls they were assigned to protect?

In my opinion, moral decision making in games is still in its infancy and there are probably a lot of exciting things still to come. I will admit now that I am not the biggest RPG player in the world, so I might have overlooked things a bit, but harsher outcomes on your moral decisions would definitely be welcomed by me.

Alpha Protocol is looking quite promising in the way that you can choose whether to be a sleuth James Bond or an angry Jack Bauer type. Your play style and actions are meant to affect a lot on the way through, like the presence of guards in certain areas if you were caught doing something naughty on a previous level. I just hope it offers a bit more than the vanilla good and bad. Anyway, back to Mass Effect.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Merry 2010

Slowly and sometimes painfully un-flexing my thumbs from their hunched over nub fumbling pose they are locked in to, fresh from a Christmas gaming marathon is starting to become a bit of a scary tradition. It’s a bit like my hands groaning that they have to go back to their real job, only the commute is a lot easier and they don’t have the same level of responsibility as their host does.

Christmas is the time for family, food, drinking and very often gamers who get to catch up on some of the titles they missed out on, or even get some new gaming toy to sink their coffee stained teeth in to. Personally I’ve been enjoying Arkham Asylum and Modern Warfare 2 (and its utterly pants storyline that makes as much sense as farmers freezing their cows for a steady supply of ice cream).

The time for wasting the days on games has now had to be curved slightly as another year rolls on and we all set optimistic goals for ourselves, hoping to out do our efforts from the previous 365 days. Of course there will still be plenty of time to play games, and what a line up that 2010 has in store for all of us sofa dwellers.

In a couple of days the highly raved about and absurdly mental witchy shoot-slasher, Bayonetta finally gets it European release. It seems a bit like a cross between Devil May Cry and a sweat induced nightmare that often accompanies the flu, but in a good way. Besides, I bet nobody can boast that they already have a game about a witch who has the swiss army equivalent of hair, which forms her snug body suit and can summon the most un-christmassy of demons.

We also have Splinter Cell Conviction slinking its way to us through sewer systems which has been looking brilliant ever since its re-emergence and ditching of the old ‘angry hobo’ theme. If it plays even half as good as we all hope it will then there will be many happy jigs to be jigged indeed.

I could go on listing games I am looking forward to like APB, MAG, Crysis 2, God of War 3, Alpha Protocol, Army of Two Two (or 40th Day, as the dev team realised the obvious hurdle they set up when it came to naming the sequel), but I’m sure you have read it all more times than you have had to stand in the rain.

Hopefully with the horrific beating the game delay fairy gave us all last year we should be seeing a pretty constant stream of good games in 2010, always having something just on the horizon causing our bowels to leak pure excitement.

Happy new year everyone. May your wishes come true, jobs stay secure and games be played.