Monthly Archives: September 2010

Morality/Play – Being a Baddie in RPGs (aka Evil Is Stupid)

Warning: Contains Spoilers for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.

It's like a choose your own adventure!

I’m a good girl. Well, at least in my gaming I trend towards playing a lawful good type character. Most RPGs have some sort of morality decision: play one way and you are a good guy, play it another and you are a bad guy. Pretty straight forward. Typically I play a defensive type of player with a heart of gold, even if I steal your stuff.

But once I am done my “nice guy” playthrough of a given RPG, I try it the other way around and I attempt to break out my bad guy persona, but I find it difficult. My good character tends to be VERY good, my bad guy still is a bit good. Why is that?

I wonder if my reluctance to play a bad guy is cause EVIL IS STUPID.  There are two flavours of bad guy. First is the all out baddie. But let’s face it. This type of Bad Guy just doesn’t seem to have many smarts. They leave the Hero in a death machine –  and then leave, secure in the knowledge that the Hero will escape dramatically die painfully. They weave these intricate webs of deceit, yet can’t seem to understand that if they invested a tenth of that cash into the most conservative investments they would have more money than they know what to do with. You could sacrifice a one thousand year old, loyal,kick-ass warrior for a devious, murderous, sexual predator who is liable to kill off members of your crew. Thankfully, these guys are so stupid that you never play AS these characters. Whew.

Second type of baddie is the “renegade” type of baddie as personified by Commander Shepard in Mass Effect: assuming, of course, you take the Renegade route. This baddie will still ensure that the day was saved, but they are going to shoot to kill, punch out annoying civilians and probably commit a war crime or two. But still, it’s all in the name of saving the day.

Except…

Except when they take on every little request and problem that the masses throw at them. You know these side quests. I think of them as “Kitten in the Tree” requests. You are walking by the market when “sniff, sniff… Mister… sniff sniff. Please help. My Kitty is Caught in a Tree!” (Go Save Kitty? Y/N) Of course this is more of a space heist story, so the parameters are adjusted accordingly, but the premise still sticks.

The only difference between the “paragon” (i.e. good guy) reaction and the renegade is that the renegade might be more rude, and may extort a higher reward, but the kitten still makes its way down from that tree. Granted, instead of patting Little Susie on the head, you may punch her in the mouth. But still, this seems to ring hollow. Doesn’t a renegade have better things to do with her/his time?

A true renegade is going to push past the little girl and continue – you know – saving the world from the big bad. But in gaming, there is no benefit to doing that. I only get credit (experience/resources) from doing requests. I can’t get a reward for a non-action, even if a non-action, like not helping save kitty, makes sense to the story and character. And some of these  save the kitty quests are really silly. I am supposed to be assembling the best team in the universe and I offer to find some bigot’s lost credit card. Really? My renegade Shepard is going to spend his time on that?

I wonder if there is a better way. Here’s one idea:

What if as a paragon, I could do all these kitty in tree requests and earn EXP. As a renegade I do none of these. Obviously reality is a blend of the two. My paragon would have an easier time of it through combat scenarios in the real mission. I have gained good karma by helping others, therefore my load is lighter. Fewer grunts to mow down, rooms that are empty. My renegade, on the other hand, would have more combat to get through in the main mission and earn the corresponding EXP.

Basically the payoff is this: more side quests means easier combat. Fewer side quests means more combat. It kind of works: Live by the sword, die by the sword. What goes around, comes around.

Obviously this is fairly simplistic. You could make the kitty in the tree missions interesting, since they often are kind of neat, and you could make some of the combat only scenarios really cool too. Make it more fun than simply more grunts in a room. Certain stretches in combat could be almost puzzle based or something like that. There could be cool and unusual enemies awaiting the renegade Shepard.

What I like is that you can REALLY play the game differently. Currently, with Mass Effect, the only thing that the Paragon and Renegade changes is story events, not gameplay. Some people really like side quests. Some find them a waste of time. This way players can really play the type of game they want to. Two different playthroughs would really be different.

This is one idea. Another is to write it into the story where the universe is more ambiguous. In Fallout 3 and Fable 2, your quest is  selfish: find your father, take revenge for a fallen family member. Yes, you save the day, but the motivations are initially selfish and can be twisted further.

This is a hard one to tackle. How do you make a story that makes sense to be both a bad guy and a good guy?It’s one of the challenges that gaming is sure to figure out in the long run. But what about right now? What games do you believe really make sense to evolve a character as either good or bad? Which ones are doing it right?

Friday Show and Tell – Your Week in review

This site features a lot of criticism on gaming. Sometimes we have to stop and remember that gaming is super fun.

Post here and tell everyone what you did in gaming this week that made you go “Squee!” Or if you are in the mood, share something you are looking forward to in the week ahead. Or share a gaming related blog that you think is awesome: tell us why we should all go take a look.

Want to see something here are YellingatPixels? Let me know!

Basically: this is your thread. Share away!

Why I Love Bungie (Just not Halo)

Guess which one is me? |Hint: I'm not the one holding the sword. (Courtesy of Bungie.net)

One time, I was sitting not really watching the TV, and I got a craving for a burger.  I said as much, and my husband looked at me, “Babe,” he said, “There was just a Burger King ad on… get it together.” Yep, I am susceptible to marketing. At least I acknowledge and admit it. I revel in it in a way. Go ahead. Sell me your crap. If you can’t sell to me, you can’t sell to anyone.

When it comes to game developers, the one that I love the most, with respect to how they market their product, is Bungie. I really wish I loved Halo.

I have played a bit of Halo 3; it was my first FPS. I had fun with it, but I am more of a Call of Duty gal, should I choose to play an FPS, which isn’t often. But whenever a Halo games comes out, I am always a bit miffed at myself. Why can’t I just get into Halo? Cause Bungie, the company, always gets me excited for their product.

I will leave the Halo Reach reviews to people who know what they are talking about. The ladies and gents who can actually *make* a kill in Halo, those are the ones who you should be reading about map balance, weapons, gameplay and whatever.

But here you can get a perspective of the rest of the package and why Bungie  just kind of reeks of awesome.

Forge: Games Move from Social to Social Media

So, Halo really took on-line FPS and raised it a million notches. It was suddenly the go-to game in the genre that almost defines “Hard Core Gamer.” Games weren’t something that you did alone, suddenly we have clans and people making real friendships with their XBL buddies. Games became social in an on-line community. Then Halo 3 introduced Forge, and pushed this concept further.

Forge does two things. First, one can create (well, alter) maps to your own liking. Two, it allows people to share their creations with one another.

Camcorders are cheap. Get one  and viola! Combine that with YouTube and anyone to make and share a movie, and so anyone can be a director and producer. Blogs allow anyone to be a published writer. Forge allows anyone to be a game designer.

Granted, not every Forge creation is a winner, just like every blog you see isn’t gold either.  The point behind social media is not that everything out there is great, but the challenge lies in finding that diamond in the rough. Social media can also spark creative synergy. Something I write here can create an idea in a fellow blogger and so on. A map quirk can create an idea in another would be forge designer. And on and on it goes.

With Forge I can create a new map,  share it with the world. Make gaming a bit more social, and a bit better.

I like it.

Theatre: Games as Sport

The second thing Bungie did right was Theatre. Theatre allows you to record and replay games. You can invite friends to view your “film” too. It’s quick and it’s easy.

And it too has the potential to make gaming better.

Theatre allows for quick and easy “taping” of a game. Sports was revolutionized once coaches figured out that by taping games one could a) see and learn what the other guy did and b) see and learn what your own guy did. Theatre allows for the same thing.

This just isn’t for MLG players. I have used it to see what I was going wrong in my games (hint: I was dying a lot. I should try not doing that). A friend would invite me into Theatre and show me basics of Halo gameplay. By seeing the silly things I was doing, I could improve.

Theatre, once again, makes it easier for people to share what they did in their games. Did you do something awesome, funny or just kinda stupid in game? Post it up on youTube or Bungie.net share it with everyone. This, again, is using social media in game format.

Forge shared user created maps, Theatre shares gameplay.

Bungie.net : Reach out to the Fans

Forge and Theatre are in-game add ons as social media. The game itself is self promoting. Bungie has not forgotten the plain old internet either.

Bungie.net is a site that allows Halo fans to come together. While I admit to not being an expert on the ins and out of the site, I do know that Bungie features gamers and cool things that Halo fans do. I can easily find anyone’s stats. (Guess my K/D ratio and get a cookie. hint: it’s REALLY bad). I can see amazing kills of the week (courtesy of Theatre) and tons of other stuff.

To top it all off: I can always tell if I am playing with a member of Bungie: watch for flaming helmets! They have basically put a badge on themselves identifying themselves in-game as members of Bungie. This allows gamers to know that they are gaming with the people who made the game they are playing. They reached out to gamers where gamers are: in game.

Final Thoughts

Basically Bungie took a great, but standard FPS, and using the principles of social media, made it even more social. The good  news is that no matter what Bungie decides to do, they can take these principles with them.

Anything else you would like to see from Bungie that is NOT strictly gameplay? Any other ways you think developers can use social media to make the game more fun?

Do you Trust Advance Multi-Player Reviews?

Halo reach

Well, see the problem with multiplayer advance reviews is.. umm.. see... you just aren't enough of a jerk. (image courtesy of IGN)

In case you have been living under a rock: Halo Reach has dropped and the reviews are kinda sorta positive. Like mind-blowing, bust-a-nut positive. But does that mean you actually trust these advance reviews?

This is not a slam against the game reviewers or their sites. These are presumably honest men and women who are big enough to get advance copies of the game. This means that they have proven themselves, and that means that they are generally not cheaters.

We should also take reviews for what they are: one person’s opinion at one point in time. The “one point in time” thing is what concerns me. AND as I mentioned, the fact that these people who are reviewing, are NOT the type to be cheaters.

When reviewing an advance copy, the reviewer is in a rare situation. She or he is playing multi-player with a very select group: in this case a group of pro reviewers. It’s almost like playing a custom game with friends: you play with you know, and these people all have the same goal: in this case to kick the tires and see what the game can do.

The problem comes once we compare this scenario to real life. Once the game hits the tray, it’s thousands, if not millions of games being played that first week. It’s the mass of cheaters who are really good at finding, and exploiting weaknesses in the game. It’s the sheer number of hours being put into the game from so many different  shows us where the problems are in-game.

The advance review of multiplayer will tell us some things about the game, but it can’t tell us if the true multiplayer experience is one worth having. In short: it’s not the expertise of the reviewer that will tell us the worth of multiplayer, it is the drooling masses that will expose the problems.

Engaging the Enemy: Discourse about Gaming

I was thinking of writing a piece about Medal of Honour, what I thought of the controversy, and so on. It’s brilliant insight, moving and inspiring – makes angels weep. But I canned it.

Rather, it occurred to me that this really is same old, same old. We have had these discussions whenever a controversial games comes out, and usually the arguments break down the same way. They are so much the same that I think there are some general “rules of engagement” that we should know and understand before mucking it up with people who think gaming and gamers are the work of EVIL or just other gamers who may have a difference of opinion.

1. Cut Down on the Rhetoric. She says all the while acknowledging that the previous paragraph is full of it (sly wink). The gamer stereotype is that we are all 14-year-old LOSERS who live in Mom’s basement. If we are the ones who can argue critically, and intelligently we will have won half the battle. So this means not attacking the person making the claims, but the claims themselves. Don’t be  alarmist, be realistic and balanced, even if, especially if, the other guy isn’t.

2. Acknowledge that there are still issues in gaming. No medium is perfect. It’s okay to be less defensive and acknowledge that there are some issues that we, as gamers, still face. Some of these issues are not easy to rectify overnight and if we sweep them under the rug, then we actually look ill-informed, or maybe even a bit Polyannaish (Oh everything is FINE here…) Coming across as balanced is the mature thing to do.

3. Make sure you are actually arguing against a point or a person that you can “pinpoint”. Okay… I am sure if you look at previous blog posts, you will find places where I don’t do this. I try to avoid it, but I’m not perfect. If you are just arguing that everybody says “this” without any evidence to show that everyone does think that way, no one can actually debate with you. No one can engage, and it weakens the debate.

4. Avoid the strawman argument. Ug. This one bothers me. It’s when you do one of two things. Either a) take the most ridiculous “point” on the opposition, exaggerate it, shoot it down and then say “HA! see! the whole argument is stupid.” or b) like point #3, you argue against no one or an opinion that you make up and thus, are able to shoot it down easily. Just be aware and don’t do this.

5. Enjoy the Debate. We live in a much different time than when movies, television, books and other new forms of media came into being. Today we have the 24 hour news cycle that must be fed. We have social media meaning that everyone can, and will, engage and give their opinion regarding everything and anything.

These are positives. People have different opinions. Be open to learning. Hell, be open to the fact that yo may not be right. This is how we grow as people. If you aren’t having fun, or you aren’t learning, it’s time to shut down the computer.

6. If you think that the other person is an idiot: stop, and acknowledge that they probably aren’t as stupid as you think they are. Look, you aren’t that smart, I’m not that smart. We are both average. Most people we meet are average. People we argue against are of average intelligence: that’s kind of how average works. If you go into a debate believing that the other person is stupid, you will argue “down.”  Instead, argue “up.” If you have to, pretend that the other person is just as intelligent as you, and then make your argument better, rather than dumbing it down, or being condescending. 

7. When talking the big “isms” check your privilege.  Privilege is something given to you by society that you don’t really earn. If you are born to affluent parents, you get certain privileges. I am a fairly pretty white girl: I don’t have a hard time getting a cab. So when the debate turns to racism, I make an effort to watch myself. I have never been the target of racism (that I know of) and so I have to be more aware of what people who have been the target of racism are saying in the debate.

So if you are going to argue against the “isms” (sexism, racism etc.) just make sure that you acknowledge if you have or haven’t been the target.

8. Be educated on your Terms. Know what you are talking about. For instance: I can’t censor anybody or any thing. I am just some chick with a blog. Only the government can censor. I *can* (if I so choose) use my free speech and call for the censorship or boycott of something. That something can in turn can call for my censorship and for people to boycott me. And around and around it goes. Point is this: individuals can’t censor, only governments can. Having these terms in order will make your debate better.

Sometimes, especially when the debate turns into a legal issue, there are more factors in play than we can acknowledge. If the answer seems easy, and it still isn’t fixed, it probably isn’t as easy as a fix as you think it is.

9. When in Doubt: Don’t be a Dick. Break out those rules we learned in Kindergarten. Do I have to expand? 

So:what rule am I missing to make this an even 10? Are there any boards that are better or worse at having interesting and civil debates? Gaming boards are (sometimes) not known for polite discourse: when have you seen things go off the rails?

One positive I can think of was in my old community. I was asked by one member to explain why and how a thread went off the rails as badly as it did. I ended up translating the discourse so that both parties could understand what the other person heard or understood as the debate continued. I was happy that one party saw that he didn’t understand, and asked for help from “the outside” to gain understanding.

The bad debates, for me, are always the ones where people just trash the other side without acknowledging that there may be something there, or that they may be missing a piece of the puzzle. Seen lots of that! 

But what about you? Let the flame wars begin!

PAX Prime: Your Thoughts?

So, what got you excited during all the PAX hoopla?

You know, the one thing I did hear that interested me, that I wasn’t expecting, was the Call of Duty announcement. Tell you the truth, this may not have been pat PAX per se, but my gaming news has come via twitter during 3AM (and 1AM, and 4AM and 5:30AM…) feedings, so the details are sketchy.

From what I understand in the next Call of Duty, there will be an option to play multiplayer against bots instead of random people. Me likey. I can upgrade, but I don’t necessarily have to play “out in the wilds.” This makes sense to me. Some people prefer to play with friends, and now we aren’t necessarily hobbled by developers forcing multiplayer upon us. Then again, for those who love true multiplayer, you can do that too.

Do you think this will change the “true” multiplayer experience? Will this mean a higher concentration of true MP fans playing in the MP rooms or will the demographic remain essentially unchanged? If there is a demographic change, will this mean an increase the skill level of people playing MP? Or will this mean more jerks in MP. Cause after all it’s no fun to make racial slurs at a bot. Thoughts?

Are you worried that playing against bots will mean more cheating? Or will there be less cheating? Personally, I think that there will be cheating no matter what. Finding exploits and taking advantage of them is a) part of gaming and b) in a way beneficial. We see what messed up last time and can improve on the next go around. 

Anyway you slice it, this gameplay gives me as a gamer more options to play the game the way I want to play. And that’s what really matters.

Maybe my readers (all 3 of you) can help me out here. I haven’t been able to get an answer on is about the new Dragon’s Age (DA2). My at-work gaming buddy noted a while back that it seems as though the new DA2 is basically be a re-skin of Mass Effect. Now, we both LOVE Mass Effect (ME), but he says that if DA2 is the same combat as ME, then DA2 went from a “OMG! PREORDER!” to … meh… maybe I’ll catch it in the bargain basement (or I’ll lend it to him… I’m just so nice that way…)

Has anyone heard about the details of the combat in DA2? Is it the same as ME? If it is, does that matter to you as a gamer?

Now the big news at PAX was an actual working demo of… Duke Nukem Forever. This game has been in development forever, and finally a working demo. The demo features Duke Nukem peeing and typical Duke humour. He gives the middle finger and says the would still “hit” a tri breasted alien.

I don’t know about this title. It seems like it is serving up a plate of nostalgia with a heaping side order of plain, old, immature fun.  But can nostalgia and silliness break into the saturated FPS market? Probably not. But then again, I am not the target audience here.

So, did anything at PAX catch your eye? Please Share!

Gaming vs Sports and the Main Stream Media

Bloggers. Triple Sexy.

In my other life, the one at home, we are a household that consists of a sports fan (my husband), two gamers (myself and our  daughter) and one as-of-yet-to-be-determined – Dougie was born last Wednesday.  Baby pictures? Well if you insist.  

Although we have diverse passions, my husband and I both genuinely support each other in what the other person does. And I like sports, so, I try to keep as plugged into the scene as much as I can.

Last week there was a conversation via Twitter regarding Main Stream Media (MSM) vs. Blogs and Bloggers over at Pension Plan Puppets – a large sports blog dedicated to the Toronto Maple Leafs (that’s hockey). In the sports world there is a heated debate: should blogs and bloggers get “accreditation” i.e. be allowed into the dressing room and be in the scrums post-game. At what point should a blog be treated like MSM?

The argument “for” bloggers gaining accreditation is that bloggers obviously fill a niche that the MSM has not been able to fulfill; it can be argued that bloggers often give more insight and analysis than the MSM. Bloggers will also say that while they may not report to an editor-in-chief, people will pick up on which bloggers have substance, and which are just rumour mongers and hacks. They aren’t accountable to an editor, but to their audience. In fact, many bloggers are associated with a larger organization, and so are accountable to someone.

Bloggers are not just dudes in their Mom’s basement. Some of these bloggers have honest to goodness journalism experience and can probably do just as good a job as any other reporter, but for whatever reason, the blogger has chosen to be a blogger. Yes, bloggers may have bias, but often they are very open with their bias. You don’t go to a Toronto Maple Leafs humour blog to read keen insight into the Habs’ training camp.

The argument “for” accreditation: Bloggers are the new wave of citizen journalism. MSM are dinosaurs. 

The argument “against” the accreditation of bloggers is that, well, bloggers are just dudes living in their Mom’s basement. Okay, that’s unfair, but there is some truth there. Bloggers are often not professional media types and may not know how to handle themselves in some situations. They can lie, or they can just ask/say/do stupid, unprofessional things theoretically without consequence. They don’t need to follow the same rules as MSM, such as verifying sources and fact checking. MSM are answerable in part to outside oversight – Ontario Press Council  for example – while bloggers are merely answerable to their pageviews. Create controversy and crap stories and voila! Pageviews.

Another argument against accreditation comes from bloggers themselves: why do we NEED accreditation? Do we need to be the guy who goes into the locker room to get the “Well, I owe all this to my Team, they are the best bunch of guys.” type stock quotes, when we could be the guy poking fun at professional athletes?

As per Mainstream Media: Bloggers are potentially unprofessional hacks who have no oversight. and they live in their Mom’s basement.

So I am reading the debate; sitting back while MSM mix it up with bloggers; watching the bloggers unleash the Twitter Hounds is always a good time. The odd things is, gamers will never have this debate. In gaming, we HAVE no main stream media.

My newspaper devotes more space to birding than to gaming.

Entertainment Tonight and the like go on and on about Hollywood releases, but never mention gaming.

If I want to get gaming information I can get a subscription to a magazine, so yes. There is gaming MSM, however, like some paper publications these are going the way of the dodo. I can also get a few cable channels that devote their time to geek endeavours. But nothing like ESPN, TSN, Sunday Ticket and the like. And definitely nothing like the 24 hour news machine (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and the like)

I think the closest we may have to MSM are sites such as IGN. They get and post all the gaming news, reviews and previews. But this type of journalism can hardly be called mainstream: there is no print version. And there is that do-it-yourselfness that comes with a gaming news site that the MSM finds unappealing.  There are many people, who, much like straight bloggers, do this type of work in their spare time. They push gaming news stories further by finding them, linking to them, retweeting them and so on. Like blogs, they are a labour of love and passion. Good (and lucky) ones get noticed (check the blogroll…) bad ones don’t.

I would suggest (although I don’t have the numbers to back me up) most of our information and insight, comes not from gaming MSM, but from blogs. In fact, blogs ARE our MSM. Kotaku is a blog. Some would argue that the game news sites that I mentioned previously are in fact, blogs. The most important parts of these sites are not necessarily the content, but the “post your comment” button.

The downside is that sometimes our media, well, isn’t that professional. From cheering in the pressbox, to freaking out over free crap at E3, to pictures with booth babes, and plain old journalistic screw ups, there are things that game bloggers do that would make MSM journalists hang their heads. There is a sense that all gaming sites do is push around the same old links.

So what is the upside to all this? I can get news and insight anywhere I can find it. I enjoy exploring many different opinions and seeing what is out there. As a consequence of gaming journalism being blog-heavy, the publishers and developers for the gaming industry is probably the most open with social media than almost any other entertainment stream. We are on the bleeding edge of social media. There are developer blogs, gaming personalities on twitter, heck: if you don’t want to start a blog, but want to write an article you can do that too. We are an example how it can be done right.