Recap of Summer and Third Year

Hello!

My penultimate year of my undergrad has now officially begun.  I had big plans for the summer and it didn’t really go exactly as planned.  I ended up shooting out a whole bunch of goals I wanted to reach for the longest time and didn’t exactly create a way to reach many of them.  I guess my main goal was to actually write them all down so I could see what I wanted to accomplish.

I ended up doing a lot more reading and game design work since it was a lot more interesting at that time.   Programming wasn’t really one of my main goals, I would much rather script in Unity.  Its so much easier.  Also I am super lazy and Unity was the faster and more immediately rewarding choice for me at that time.

Summer 2012 – Recap

The biggest accomplishment that I can show on this post of my summer is a design blog post (Long one) about my experience of the Mass Effect  trilogy.  The post is broken down into 3 main parts: Story, Gameplay and Review.  I don’t go into detail about the gameplay, because I felt that there was not much to say about it that has not already been said.  The gameplay is without a doubt very fun throughout the franchise and only gets better through each game.

The story however is deep and engaging.  It is also a clear controversy with the obvious fan backlash and media attention that caused.  I find that as a good thing in many ways, games are slowly evolving as a art medium that is not only appreciated and analysed by a small population anymore.  The backlash shows that people are expecting developers to create true forms of art instead of slapping something on last minute to appease the publisher.

Third Year

Finally our group situation has been sorted out and I am very happy to say that I was able to be placed in the group that I desired.  Kevin, the always productive member of our team.  Branden, the lazy but great programmer.  Now I have the privilege to work with Branan and David.  Branan is a very hardworking and experienced 3D modeler (something our team really needed) and David is another Jack of all trades like myself and Kevin.

We already have a game that all of us seem ready to start making.  We have decided on a pirate themed RPG.  With ship combat, devil may cry style action combat and a lush and interesting world filled with characters.  Also polish, lots of polish.  We are not going to have another blocky game with bad collision and trees that can be walked through.

Overall I am super excited for this year and I can’t wait to stop writing this and finish my character design!

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 reaches several boundaries of narrative perfection in video games.  Even with the fan fallout in the past year with the dissatisfaction with the endings (which I will address later) I still believe that the entire trilogy is a staple of the video game industries finest work and one of the best games I have had the honour of playing. I will attempt to blog about my experience and review of this series and why I really liked it.  There will be fairly large spoilers to address the main points of the game, but the game has been out for long enough for hardcore fans to have played it.

Story

Mass Effect
Mass Effect (Thane, Miranda, Shepard, Grunt, Jack)

What is Mass effect?  I wrote a post at the start of July to address this, click here. SKIP this if you have played all three games.

Mass Effect 1 – Introduce players to the world, lore and setting of franchise.  Show off their unique gameplay twist of shooter and RPG elements with a great narrative backbone that helps drive the plot and keep characters interested and involved with the progression of the story.  Very player driven and focused on player progression.  You start of as a soldier (Commander Shepard) in the Earth Alliance Military program and end of as a Council Spectre fighting for the Safety of the Galaxy.  At the end you learn about the true enemy of the series and a threat so large that it puts the lives of every sentient being in the Galaxy in Jeopardy.  The Reapers.  Saren, the primary antagonist of ME1 is eventually found to be a indoctrinated puppet of a Reaper named Sovereign.

Mass Effect: Reaper

Mass Effect 2 – Two years after the events of ME1, a ‘new’ threat approaches.  The Collectors, a group of insect-like humanoids that are abducting human colonies an harvesting them.  The Galactic Council is still refusing  to believe the oncoming threat of the Reapers, an extremely advanced race of synthetic-organic life that wipe out all advanced sentient life every 50,000 years.  Commander Shepard’s job throughout this game is to defeat the Collector threat and discover its origin.  He does this by assembling a powerful team of Aliens and Humans though various galactic missions funded by Cerberus, a survivalist-paramilitary group focused on Humanities ascension through any means.  At the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard finds out the true identity of the Collectors,  they are indoctrinated versions of the Protheans being used as slaves by another Reaper, Harbinger, to harvest humanity.  The Protheans were the dominant intelligent race prior to their extinction by the Reapers.  They had left Prothean beacons and other forms of intelligent archives that were used by the current races (Asari, Turians, Salarians and Humans) to advance their own civilizations.  The defeat of the Collectors spurs the attention of the Reapers who were hiding in the darkness of space, now heading for the Milky Way.

Mass Effect: The Collectors

Mass Effect 3 – Reaper War.  The threat of a Reaper attack is as true as possible when they invade the Galaxy and attack Earth among other planets.  Shepard must retreat to build an army big enough and strong enough for a final counter attack to take back Humanities home.  Depending on the player’s actions on several missions, other races with either ally themselves with Humanity’s rebellion or fall to the Reapers inevitably.  Humanity recovers Prothean schematics of s super weapon known as the Crucible that has a possibility of ending the war.  The rest of the game involves a coordination of Shepard creating an army while Hackett develops the Crucible.  In Shepard’s journey, he is faced with the attack of both the Reapers and the Illusive Man, leader of Cerberus.  The Reapers are focused on the harvesting and destroying sentient life whereas Cerberus’ goal is to control them.  Eventually Shepard and Hackett lead a final attack to take back Earth with the finished Crucible.  Shepard is faced with an end-game decision to control the Reapers, destroy Reapers and all synthetic life, or harmonize with the synthetics and synthesize into a new race of synthetic and organic life.

Mass Effect: Dialogue Wheel

 

The story is progressed through the use of dialogue wheel.  Where the right ride of the wheel involve moral and immoral (positive and negative) choices and the left side allows for deeper Paragon and Renegade choices and can open up more dialogue options.  Shepard must build his reputation to unlock more advanced choices in dialogue by either being moral or immoral throughout the story.  Sometimes there are clear lines between Paragon and Renegade, but there are times where there is a third choice that can be seen as the ‘grey area’ of understanding. There are also quick-time events that give the player a chance to be impulsive and make a clear Paragon or Renegade choice.  This can be between a positive social interaction that develops your relationship with another character, or shooting an annoying NPC for rambling.  You can also punch a reporter in the face for slander.

Gameplay

Mass Effect 3: Gameplay

A unique blend of shooter mechanics with the twist of RPG attacks, party creation and different character classes allow Mass Effect to be a truly unique game for every player.  The entire game is built around the player actions and player decisions.  I personally played as a Soldier for ME1 and ME2 and a Vanguard in ME3. Soldiers are very basic and powerful characters with the ability to take down every enemy with pure force and destructive power. Soldiers focus on gunfire and combat powers. Engineers are tech specialists that revolve around manipulating their environment and disabling their enemies.  Engineers can use drones, hacking and other tech powers. Infiltrators are Engineer-Soldiers that are suited to a stealth play style.  With several tech powers and the use of tactical cloaks to become invisible, Infiltrators are the ninja’s of the ME series. Adepts are ultimate biotics that affect the physical world with the power of their mind using raw biotic power and mass effect fields.  They can warp, throw, pull and manipulate the mass of their enemies using dark energy. Vanguards are the complete offensive Adept-Soldiers that use quick brutal force to dispose of their enemies.  Using their biotic charge and nova abilities, they can instantly close in on any enemy and deal damage in a high risk high reward play style. The great part of the Mass Effect franchise is their attempt to make the game unique to every player.  Each battle can be attempted in hundreds of ways depending on which squad mates you bring into battle and what character class you play as.

Review

The difficult part.  Explaining if the game was good or bad.  By now you can probably tell that I loved it.  I thought MY ending was satisfying granted there were a few plot holes that can be highlighted in one of the many videos explaining why they hated the endings.  I don’t believe that Mass Effect should be reviewed as a whole game or if each ending should be placed side by side and analysed for their differences.  Mass Effect is not Skyrim, its not a game where you play for 100% completion for every possible ending and every weapon.  It is a user experience, meant to be played and enjoyed and the ending you receive is tailored to your play-through.

Before playing Mass Effect I was watching a lot of sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica. For those who are unfamiliar, that show’s premise revolves around a war between Cylons and Humans.  Cylons are a race of self aware Synthetic beings like the Geth in Mass Effect. Cylons willingly rebelled against their Human creators because they believe humanity is flawed.  This is in essence why I liked Mass Effect so much.  I was able to understand the story because I took the time to read the codex’s involved myself within the story because I found it interesting.  I was actually role playing.

Mass Effect is a story about a war between synthetics and organics.  From the first game the main enemies you fight as you progress through the game are the Geth, the synthetic race of networked self aware A.I.’s.  As you progress further into the game you gain a better understanding of the synthetic mind that the developers have created and depending on what kind of person you are, you either hate them or you like them.  Thus the choices of destruction and control.  The game puts you in charge of the lives of trillions and entire civilizations like the Krogan, Racchni, Geth and eventually the Reapers.  So when people begin to argue over things like “oh how did squadmate ‘x’ get to the Normandy at the end of the game when ‘x’ was in my party in the final battle?”.  These are overhead, minor plot holes that divert and dilute the entire endgame experience.

Should this game be defined by its ending as being a good or bad game to play? First of, I think the fact that people who are angry about the endings means that they were so invested and involved with the story that they feel cheated that they were not satisfied.  I think this is in part of the way the endings were shown graphically.  If people look at the literal choices, they do look like this:

Mass Effect 3 Endings – Literal

This is the best way to describe what people felt going into the game and how they felt leaving it.  This is in part a problem from the marketing team and producers.  They made it seem like they were going to be 16 completely different endings depending on every single choice the player had made through the game up until the end.  People were even more angry when they saw 3 similar things happen throughout every ending, only with a different colour explosion in the end.  I feel like the endings do need to have more differences between them.  Even though the DLC added a special 4th ending that is essentially a giant failure of the mission, there should have been other endings that were completely different from one another.  For example, there should have been a complete happy ending where we see the aftermath of the squad and the galaxy.  Throughout the game the NPC’s and your squad talked about their dreams and goals once this war was over, it would have been nice to see that graphically.

The other problem was the war assets.  One of the major elements of the game, creating an army and getting a military readiness rating was not used properly at all in the climax.  In ME2, during the final mission, the player made serious choices in the battle that impacted the lives of their crew.  When people died the player felt responsible.  In ME3, as soon as the battle for Earth began, the player lost control of the battle.  Players were simply a high ranking soldier for the entire battle up until the end where they make a huge decision.  It would have been a lot better for the designers to incorporate some sort of system where the player can see their war assets and this entire army that they spent the game creating in action, where they can place units in areas and see those battles take place.

Sad Shepard is Sad

The reason why people feel cheated, is because the battle plays out almost the same in every single play through.  You never see the Krogran army your recruited actually affecting the war, or the giant dreadnoughts fighting the Reapers as you would have hoped.  It’s almost as if the last game went in a different narrative direction of the other games.  ME1 and ME2 had you find and recruit deep and interesting characters to join your squad.  ME3 was all about Shepard, there was very little interaction with your squadmates which sucked.  This gives players very little closure in the end, I was personally very attached to my squad.  Seeing the final cut-scene of the fate of the Normandy and your squad seemed very out of place and out of character, its almost insulting.

Finally, the final ending.  Right when the fighting stops and Shepard is introduced to some new character at the very end of the game that offers you the three final choices.  I find that this may have been the design teams only way of agreeing upon a conclusion to the game, but the end product was done very badly.  When the player is faced with the answers to all the questions they had, they answers were not satisfying.

Mass Effect – Reaper Reasoning

The other issue with the ending was the fall of the protagonist and the decisions that were taken away from the player at the end of the game.  At the very end, the decisions and dialogue options were very minimal, throughout the game we have questioned and fought for everything.  The designers made Shepard stand in the final showdown, half dead and almost about to give up.  It should have been at this point where Shepard stood as his strongest in this final hour and became the galactic hero the player has built him up to be.  Rather then getting pigeon holed into three final choices and forcing to pick one, accepting this final fate.

Just a side note: The whole reasoning between the war of the Reapers and Organic life was because synthetics and organics will never get along.  However in the game, Shepard single handedly creates peace between Geth and the Quarians so that they live happily in co-existence on their planet.  This is also shown with the relationship of Jeff and EDI, the unshackled A.I. that Shepard educated.  Instead your only choice is to remove all shred of organic in your life to synthesize with the other synthetic race.  The whole game you fight for diversity of alien life and in the end you give up and choose a homogenized race?  I still wonder if questions like these were brought up during development, and addressed otherwise I would be disappointed in the ending.

Overall, the ending on this series is still a controversial one for me, who has accepted the ending and is fairly satisfied with it.  I’d rather not look at it in terms of politics of EA forcing Bioware to make the ending like this to open up doors for DLC or if the development team got lazy and didn’t have enough time.

End of June Update

HELLO!

 

It seems like I am spending more time with organic lifeforms then the cybernetic ones lately.  I haven’t found a good chance to sit down and play around with Unity/Maya.  I find myself getting distracted and meeting with friends and time eludes me.

 

However I have made it back at some random hours in the night and instead of passing out I write a random blog post about something I found interesting.

 

In terms of what I accomplished this month… I got a good amount of gaming done.  I beat Mass Effect 2 again to prepare for ME3 playthrough and I recently re-acquired Resident Evil 5 and I’ve been having loads of fun re-living the fun late night co-op missions me and my old high school friends made.  I ended up skipping on the gym today so I would find time to write this blog, and its already almost 9pm :O.  Time flies when you are having fun :D.

 

The plan for tonight is to polish up two blog posts, set up Unity and go back to some Javascript tutorials.  Lets see how July works.  Hopefully I’ll get more time to do Game Dev and less time for People Dev.

 

Also ESPAINA~~~~~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Suck it Italy.

Game Opinion: Art Games & Games That Make You Think

Good Evening Reader,

I didn’t think these games were going to make an opinion on me, but they did and here we are.  Our professor tweeted a link a few days ago to a blog containing 10 indie/art games that are worth the play.  I am going to do a little review on some of the ones that impacted me the most.

Once Chance

This game was amongst the shortest of the ones I have played.  The controls were very simple, the real meat of the game was in the decisions you make as a player.  You are a scientist that “thought” he cured cancer but instead put the world in danger of extinction.  You have once chance in 6 days to save humanity.  While I felt the decisions were fairly obvious in order to save the world, they were actually very difficult.

In games like Mass Effect or Fallout, in order to be good or evil the choice’s are like night and day.  Where in this game the choices were much more real and difficult to pick from.  For example, if you choose to skip out on work and go spend time with your family you can still find a cure.  However if you were like me and decided the world was bigger then your family, you would have gone home to see your wife dead.

This game actually had difficult yet meaningful choices and the whole point was that you only have one chance at the game.  However you can just clear your cookies or “Ctrl+Shift+N” on google chrome to play the game again.  But the idea of only one chance to play the game adds to the severity of your decisions.

A Mother In Festerwood

Son Dies at 26 😦

This was an interesting game.  Minimal controls (mouse cursor) to move a lady.  Art style was too my liking (anything with pixel art I will most likely enjoy) and the game idea was very simplistic.  All the player had to do was to move their avatar (the mother) around their child.  If you hit the child he moves toward the house and is safe.  If he leaves the safety of your house he gains fighting experience but he might die.

What was really amazing was all the unknowns and the restricted freedom the player had.

Restricted freedom:

  • Free to let your son do as he pleases
  • Freedom of movement in a space around the house
  • Freedom to watch or play the game

The unkowns:

  • What happens if my son goes out in the wild?
  • How long does it take for him to grow?
  • Why does my son keep running to the wild?
  • Am I playing this game right?

After a while I began asking myself questions when I stopped and said, “look what this game has done to me.”  After a few minutes of play, I might have been in the “flow”.  I began asking questions as if I was the actual mother of this child.

During my first playthrough I ended up confining the little guy in the “safe” spot until he was about 16 years old.  After that he left to the wild and killed a few monsters.  When he was about 26 he was on his was back home and he died.  I first laughed, then the screen of his death popped up and I felt a bit uneasy.  I played as this virtual characters mother to see him die at a fairly young age.  The eerie music helped convey this feeling as well.

For the next game I decided to give my son freedom.  That ended badly.  When my son was 4 he decided to try to kill a troll and died.  Irony.

For the next game I tried to be both a supportive mother and give my son freedom.  So I ended up turning him into a mama’s boy until the age of 18 because he managed to slip away from me.  He never came back home and ended up dying again at 26.

I learned quite a bit from this game.  First I learned how such simple mechanics can get you to symbolically think about things like being a mother and how it feels to be in their shoes.  I also realised how terrible of a parent I would be.  When I get a chance I will try to get one of my parents to play this game and see how they do.  The game had points when I was frustrated being that child’s mother.  When he was trying to go kill a dragon I remember shouting, “Idiot! You are only 16 stop going for the dragon!”  This feeling of parental frustration is most likely similar to the real life version.

I have played the game a few times after and I have not yet passed the 30 year mark, can anyone beat that or am I just a horrible mother?

American Dream

My Nice House

This game I really enjoyed.  I am about 90% positive that I was in the “flow” considering I played this game for about half an hour without noticing.

Again, this game had very simplistic controls but the end message or feeling that I got out of it was great.  The player only has the freedom of using the arrow keys and ‘z’ for actions.  You play as someone with one goal: make a million dollars.  Essentially the game revolves around you buying items for your crappy apartment and trading stocks.  The game mechanic is fairly simple: buy low and sell high.  This is basic business.

How this game manages to invoke a feeling is actually really cool.  The idea of making lots of money is sort of a secondary objective.  It was actually very easy to make money using common sense and the “buy low, sell high” mechanic.  The key to making lots of money is to fill your house with lots of great furniture so you can throw parties in it.  When I first started, I decided that was stupid and thought that it was better to invest my money in the market and make more money.  By the time I had bought all good furniture and threw a party I saw someone gave me a recommendation for a stock.  So the next day I took that persons advice, cautiously, and bought on stock that he recommended and also bought another stock I thought would be good.  The next day his stock shot up through the roof and I knew what the game was about.

After this point I ended up spending all my money on furniture to wait for a stock tip at this party and spent loads of money maxing out that stock.  Immediately the amount of money I was making skyrocketed.  This game was pretty much telling me, “if you want to make money you must make friends that can help you.”  On my own I can generate a decent revenue, but those tips generated so much more revenue.

This whole “party” system was a bit of a cheat.  On my second play through I ended up throwing a party everyday and made a million dollars in about 30 weeks.  The first time it took me about 70 weeks after using the tips on my 60th week.  I ended up becoming a bit of a robot just using the tips I got at the party.  Sure I reached my goal faster, but I didn’t do it by myself.

That was why I really liked this game.  Depending on how you play the game, you end up feeling two different things.  You could feel a sense of pride by making a million dollars honestly, or feel like you didn’t really achieve anything and you cheated your way to a million dollars.

The End Of Us

It is really difficult to write about what I felt when I played this game.  After writing and deleting for a while I have decided that this game is essentially a metaphor for lust.  What this game does great at, is providing a lack of context but creating huge meaning by the movement of your “comet” and the NPC comet.

When the second comet flew into the window I thought it was an enemy at first so I tried to attack it.  After a while I saw that it was harmless so I left it alone and started swerving around with it.  Once it started collecting all the stars in the window I saw it as a threat and started to attack it again to gain all the stars.  The ending was the most confusing for me.  I don’t know if I was supposed to feel sorry for the other comet or if I had won the game.

This is a very simple game, but I still cannot wrap my head around what exactly its meaning was.  I have a few other ideas but I feel like they are just wild guesses.

Summary

Overall out of the 10 games I believe I played all but the ones above were the ones I felt were the best.  As for an honourable mention the game Distance deserves a mention. Its essentially a long distance dating simulator with minimal options.  The only reason why I found this one interesting is how they portrayed the actual dating.  While it did not invoke any huge feelings for me, I did connect with the game on some points but the game was too short to build any strong emotional bond to anything.  Also the game took place in the third person point of view so that the game can be played by both men and women.  I thought this was a pretty interesting design choice rather then picking male or female.

Thank you for reading
– Moose