Saturday, 27 February 2010

Have EA finally done something that all gamers won't be upset about?

I think that something really big and world changing has just happened. Maybe hell froze over, the planets aligned or George Lucas choked to death on a Jar Jar Binks action figure. Whatever the heck has happened, it was something powerful, as I might, dare I say it, actually start to think positively of EA.

Long have I ranted externally and internally about how they are a company out, would you believe it, to make profit from their customers! I have usually been a gunner on the front lines, spouting anger at their poor choice of DRM and completely pointless and endless releases of The Sims expansions that give people a few new tables and hats.

Lately however, I think they have started to get things bang on, and are letting other people cock up. Yes, we’re all looking at you Ubisoft.

For example, their approach to anti-piracy measures in Mass Effect 2 using the Cerberus Network is brilliant. In a nut shell, the Cerberus Network is an online component for Mass Effect 2 that lets you download new content for the game, such as new characters, weapons and missions.

To access it you need a code that comes with the retail copy of the game. If you pirate it, you will of course not get the code to join the network, and lose out on a lot of the content (which admittedly, there is not a huge amount of at the moment).

Now, this might have upset those who acquire a second hand copy of the game, but fear not, as you can buy a unique code to join the Cerberus Network for around a tenner, meaning you will not miss out. The true genius in this however is that pirates will be able to buy the code to access the new content for their copy, therefore becoming less unlawful, and instead, some kind of pirate/customer hybrid. A pustomer if you will.

Offering incentives, such as the Cerberus Network to try and combat piracy, I believe is the best way to go about it. That way you are not challenging the pirates to break your ridiculously intrusive software safe guards that usually upset genuine paying customers.

I can appreciate that for one man to start truly appreciating EA, it would take something more than this. Well, how about some free content including five missions and a vehicle (please let it handle better than the angry shopping trolley with a wonkiness fetish we know as the Mako).

As the friendly people at Eurogamer reported yesterday, the new pack is called Firewalker and will be available over the Cerberus Network free of charge in late March. How lovely is that?

Please keep it up EA, as I’m sure a lot of people will agree, you have a lot of upset gamers to make up with. Remember what happened with Spore? You hurt us.

Friday, 19 February 2010

I was so excited, I coughed up my spleen

Well, my Mass Effect total space bastard experiment has come to an end for now as I’ve just finished Mass Effect 2. Don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling anything in this blog, I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun for you, but my Commander Shepard probably would. In fact he’d tell you all of the possible endings, then kick your wardrobe door off, urinate on your favourite jeans and then murder your favourite pet.

I generally succeeded in keeping up my total streak of evil. When someone asked me to do something for them, I’d usual find a way of saying yes that was counter productive and got a lot of people killed. It was fun and I enjoyed being bad.

My main concern all of the way through was if I would actually survive the end of the game, being this completely self involved, mercenary space dick who would sooner sell his grandmother to pirates than remember her birthday. After completing it last night I am happy to report that I will continue my dick-ish streak in to Mass Effect 3.

The most brilliant thing about Mass Effect 2 though, in my opinion, was that I knew there was a possibility that my twisted embodiment of Commander Shepard might not make it all of the way through. This is no spoiler as the game box and various adverts all make you question your survival chances in the game. The developers even went as far as calling the final mission ‘the suicide mission’, just to really brand the point on both brain hemispheres that your adventure might end more abruptly than you would like it to.

Not knowing what would happen to my character or crew meant that every time control of the characters was placed in the hands of cut scenes, all of my internal organs would jump up and down, writhing inside of me, wondering which bump, scrape or flesh wound would kill who.

It was probably the most exciting, tension filled, final mission of my gaming career thus far, and the sheer exhilaration of it all was nearly enough to make me vomit pure chunks of astonishment, peppered with flecks of dismay and relief.

Many games will say they have multiple unique endings, but not many can claim to be as dynamic as Mass Effect 2 manages to be. The game remembers all of the judgements you made throughout your play through, and then uses this as a rule book as to who gets a bullet sandwich, and who can dance away to live with even more of your charming self another day.

I just hope that the threats of your poor judgements having a serious impact in the third game of the trilogy are carried out properly and noticeably. If it just leads to hearing a few additional sound clips of how irresponsible I was to let her do this, or how it was ‘monstrously wrong’ to solve all of my disputes with some fancy shooting, then I will be severely disappointed.

BioWare have set expectations high for number three, but judging from what they achieved in their latest game, I have quite a bit of confidence that they will pull it off. Just let me continue to kick unarmed people out of windows and rummage through the wallets of the various corpses lying around and it will all be fine.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Playing a role

I’ve never been a huge RPG man. There usually isn’t enough blood, guns or projectile limbs to hold my relatively one tracked mind, but trying to spread my gaming interest wide, I let the odd one through the net to try and tease my senses with an erotic feather dance of dialogue options.

Just lately, as I’ve made no attempt to hide, I’ve been going through Mass Effect and thoroughly enjoyed being the biggest prick in the universe. I was short, to the point and generally believed in sacrificing other people for the greater good. So ruthless, so efficient, so hilariously unfair.

But to what point did I play the role, as the name RPG strongly infers I should be. Yes, I influenced Shepard’s dickish tendencies and unhealthy lust for the homicidal solution to everything, but it didn’t feel like I was in total control of the decisions. I was the puppet master with a list of instructions, not the man on screen reacting to the situation.

To me, the term ‘role playing game’ infers more control and consequences from your direct actions, rather than selecting something to say from a list of good, neutral and bad dialogues.

Whilst not branded as an RPG, I feel that the Half-life series puts you in a role to be played a whole lot more directly. Everyone talks to you, everything is done by you and you have total control over everything Gordon Freeman does. Sure, this makes you a mute because you can’t input speech, but with the game not pushing any character motivation upon the player, you are free to fill in the blanks of what drives Mr Freeman. It just reinforces that you are playing as the crowbar swinging, science abusing physicist whose bad day at the office sealed his fate.

Now compare this to a Final Fantasy game or indeed Mass Effect, and it seems quite obvious how much narrative is laid out in these titles, simply leaving the player to choose which maze to weave through when it comes to NPC interaction and moral decisions.

I know that the Half-life games are fairly linear shooters, but when playing them, you feel a lot more involved in what is happening as the character you are playing doesn’t dish out any dialogue indicating a prior knowledge of the area, or which path to go down. He only knows what the player does.

It is entirely down to the person wielding the mouse to explore the dark tunnels and come to a conclusion for themselves. This is the sensation that makes me feel that I am playing a bigger role than just funnelling a conduit character model around a map.

Perhaps being the silent protagonist is the main force behind this feeling. Half-life, especially the original, is quite famous for having very little character interaction, with only one way conversations to the player being possible. The trouble with this is that when an RPG wants to spawn a realistic world full of choice and dilemma, it needs to be filled with people that have speaking parts, rather than a few hundred aliens that want to hump your face in to oblivion.

I guess we need to decide if a role playing game is about making a choice from a pre-prepared list, or consciously making the choice to go there ourselves, without a prompt, even if there is only one path to follow. The definition set by the current RPG market definitely hints at the former, but choosing from A, B or C, just doesn’t seem like taking the role of a game character, that jumping blindly into option Z does.