Time flies when you’re having fun

Time is a relative thing, especially in games. Specifically: if I’m enjoying something, it flies, and if I’m not, it crawls. This is true of most things in life, but it was brought home to me by some of the comments on yesterday’s post.

I probably wasn’t clear. The Fade/Circle of Magi thing isn’t taking me any longer to complete than any of the other long plot sections (if you’re OC about doing everything like I am). It just feels like it’s taking twice as long. That’s not helped by the fact that, knowing I still have a node boss to slaughter and buddies to free, I really can’t be arsed to fire the game up and slog my way through it.

(If anyone thought I was ranting generally about Dragon Age yesterday, this should set the record straight. I am finding the Circle of Magi bit in the Fade to be excessively long to play. I do believe a few design ideas were overused, which increases this impression of painful repetition, but that doesn’t equate to a sudden “Dragon Age sucks!” ruling.)

In games, a slog is bad. A romp is good, but can easily become so rapid you stop experiencing the game and end up merely experiencing the speed of your progress. The trick is pacing a game so that the player still feels as though they’re romping but is also going slowly enough to feel like they’re experiencing a LOT of stuff. This applies to MMOs just as much as it applies to single player games. I expect most MMO players have had at least one conversation with another player where content was experienced entirely differently by each (“zomg so SLOW and BORING!” vs “wow, that went by so fast I almost wish I could do it again”).

An added design problem is that pacing differs for each individual. We don’t all play at the same rate, do all the same things, or spend the same amount of time admiring scenery and dungeon art. It takes work to provide a smorgasbord of content that the content locusts can NOM NOM NOM their blind hungry way through, but that the … let’s call them content slugs can enjoy much more slowly and completely.

Okay, Content Slug just doesn’t cut it, especially since I’m one of them. Will have to find a better term.

 

Dragon Age: Fade to Tedious

I think this means my honeymoon with Dragon Age: Origins is over. This post is subtitled: Murder Your Darlings, from the writing principle that if you ever write (or design) something you think is way great!!11oneone then you should probably delete it, stat. Or at least make it much, much shorter.

* * * WARNING: Contains some spoilers * * *

 

They're like sheep. Sheep with magical powers!

Over the weekend I finally started the plot section that involves freeing the Circle of Magi from whatever it is some silly mage has unleashed upon it. You know what mages’ greatest weakness is? Their geek-like inability to ever believe anything can go wrong. “What, one tiny slip and the whole world will go up like a Roman candle and everyone will die horribly? 99% chance that this will happen? Noooo worries, we’ll just trust in the 1% — the odds are in our favour!” Actually, as a species they tend to remind me of Sir Didymus in Labyrinth, only less fuzzy and forgivably cute.

Stupid mages.

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Dragon Age: more screenies

In the last couple of weeks I’ve fit a little more Dragon Age into my schedule. Yeah, I should probably have been doing NaNoWriMo stuff, but life’s been stressful enough without it, and my limited spare time has been devoted to having some fun instead. If nothing else, I’ve discovered I still can write and that’s really what the whole thing was about, for me; I’m not guilt-tripping about having stopped at my not-quite-10k. I’ll pick it back up when things are a little less crazy.

So what, you all say? Quite right too, so back to Dragon Age. I’m still on the fence about spoilerish stuff, but I have been taking a ton of screenshots — 250+ of my own, not counting the ones the game itself takes — and I figured I could share a few of those. I’ll do what I did last time and keep them small, so if you don’t want to know anything about the game, don’t look and don’t click! (I’ll put a break in the post on WordPress, but I don’t think RSS readers cooperate with those. So scrunch your eyes up and scroll on past if you want to avoid anything remotely spoilerish!)

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Dragon Age: Origins – the last two

Last weekend I found another few hours to play, and decided to finish off the last two Dragon Age: Origins — the human noble and the dwarven noble.

I started off with Taizu, human noble warrior who — cough cough — doesn’t look anything like the other members of her family. There was no particular intent to make her look Asiatic when I sat down, but that’s how she ended up in the character creator and given her looks and class I named her after one of my favourite early C. J. Cherryh books, The Paladin. In the first screenie below you’ll see Taizu’s whitebread — if very noble whitebread — family, and below that you’ll see Taizu herself, with her mother. I kept wanting to ask Mater if she had something she wanted to tell me.

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The human noble origin is, in many ways, the most standard in terms of both RPGs and fantasy fare in general, just as the Daelish elven one was the most D&D-like (explore dark underground temple). What that doesn’t mean is that either are bad. Dragon Age does a great job at taking fantasy and RPG tropes and using them both well and, when appropriate, humorously. Much has already been said about having to kill (ten-ish) rats in this origin, so I won’t bang on about it here.

Taizu’s story is somewhat cliched, but it’s still very involving and I found myself empathising with her much more than I expected. She’s a warrior, but she has to stay behind and “watch the castle” (aka do nothing useful or fun) while big brother and Dad get to ride south to help in the war with the Darkspawn. It doesn’t help that Mum, who was once “quite the swordmaiden herself” — in her own words — has now settled down to being a noble chatelaine, and isn’t very sympathetic to Taizu’s requests to be allowed to go off to war and/or join the Grey Wardens. (Duncan is there, of course, as he is in all the Origins.)

Very early on Taizu had to go fetch her supposedly misbehaving Mabari Wardog out of the kitchen pantry, which was a nice touch. Ferelden noble culture is based on those hounds, and in most of the lore you get to read that isn’t written by a Ferelden native, Fereldans are described as being only a few short steps past barbarianism. (Of course, all the cultural and historical lore in DA:O is very evidently skewed by the perspective of its writers, which adds another layer of depth to an already complex package.) Civilised or not, Ferelden nobles love their dogs and anyone as exalted as Taizu and her family apparently are wouldn’t not have some of these. I’d already found that out from playing previous Origins, and it was another example of how consistent the game is in general.

Taizu_003

There’s not a whole lot else I can say about this Origin without giving spoilers. The human noble Origin plot isn’t, as I said, particularly difficult to predict, but it’s excellently executed and paced. There’s a great mix of furious fighting and pathos, and no punches pulled when it comes to the wanton murder of innocents. There’s a reason this game has an M rating and it’s not just the silly gore. The only downside of this Origin is that I was so involved in the story that I didn’t even recognise Tim Curry voicing Arl Howe. At least, I’m pretty sure Arl Howe was in this one. Hopefully I’ll get to meet him again later in the story.

By this time I was getting pretty tired of having to stop playing a character every time they started to get interesting, so I was glad to get to the final origin. I’d seen the spousal unit play this one — Dwarven noble — out of the corner of my eye, and since the Dwarven casteless origin had left me kind of meh (more the setting than the story) I wasn’t all that fired up.

So I made Kaitou more out of a sense of duty to you lot than out of any real enthusiasm. She’s a rogue, mostly because I’d only just finished a warrior origin and because and given the choice between fighter and rogue, I’ll always pick the rogue. Also, I wanted to see how a non-warrior type would play out in the Dwarven noble origin, which seemed on the surface to be rather biased towards being a fighter.

Kaitou_001

(For those who care about such things, “kaitou” means — or so the internets tells me — sharp sword in Japanese, and it took me a while of going through words until  found one I liked and wasn’t too un-Dwarven. Just now, while double-checking this assertion, I Googled “kaitou” and apparently there’s a slew of anime and game characters already called this. Goes to show that there’s just no being original with character names anymore. Sure, I could have used a “standard” Dwarven name but I’m pig-sick of those, just as I am of “standard” elven names.)

Anyway, I figured I’d blitz my way through this Origin and finally be able to pick a character for good and move on with the story. I hadn’t counted on yet another bloody good introduction, this time replete with political maneuvering and intrigue. Dwarves in DA:O aren’t the standard greedy-but-jolly types you’ll tend to see elsewhere. They’re greedy for sure, but they’re certainly not all jolly and they have the most restrictive caste system this side of medieval India. If you’re not born it, you’re pretty much SOL. And even if you are born it, you’re SOL if you don’t know how to play the game… and Kaitou isn’t the sharpest political player in the deck, at least not at the start of her Origin (not the way I was playing her, anyway).

I’d also not counted on her faithful Warrior-caste friend, who shows up in Scene 1 and is by her side right up to the point the shit hits the dwarven fan. When I first saw him I thought he was a glorified minder and Kaitou thus instantly disliked him, but he turned out to be amusing, loyal, and full of hard common-sense that stopped Kaitou from putting her foot in it once or twice. Despite plenty of opportunities for it in the other Origins, this was the first time I actually felt one of my characters might want to get something romantic started in DA:O, though the opportunity didn’t really arise. Most of the time we were too busy trying to make sure we weren’t about the get stabbed in the back or ambushed from the front.

It’s difficult to post any meaningful screenies from this Origin without giving spoilers, so again I’ll ad a few as thumbnails and you can avoid them if you please. They’re not captioned or anything and I don’t think they’re too spoilerish, but you never know. Click at your own risk etc etc.

Kaitou_002Kaitou_003Kaitou_004

Kaitou_005Kaitou_006Kaitou_007

Kaitou_008Kaitou_009

I won’t reveal who I ended up deciding to play onward (it wasn’t who I was expecting, that’s for sure!) — that’ll be for next time, whenever that is, and provided I can write anything without giving too much away. There’s so much story in this game that it’s almost impossible to say anything without, er, saying anything!

I’m very impressed that I found each of the six Origin stories entertaining. Some were more to my taste than others, but that’s down to personal plot preferences and playstyle, and there’s enough variety in the backgrounds that I’m pretty sure anyone can find a character they’ll enjoy playing, unless they’re dead set on making a Dwarven mage, which just ain’t gonna happen.

While I don’t usually like to grade stuff or even give recommendations, I will say this: if you’re still on the fence about this game and if you’ve got the wherewithal to get it now, do so. Otherwise you’ll be dodging spoilers for the next few weeks/months, which may lessen your enjoyment. On the other hand, if you’re not bothered by spoilers then it’s no big deal to wait, especially since a few useful things (like a chest in the party camp) are being patched in as we speak. Not that I’ve applied any patches after last week’s silliness, but sooner or later I’ll get round to it.

 

 

 

 

Dragon Age bonus items: warning, Will Robinson

sadpandaThis is a pretty specific thing, so it’s difficult to give warning without spoilers, but here goes. If you’re playing a noble dwarf and you’ve got any kind of bonus items (like the Memory Band, those Skill/Attribute tomes, and other stuff), you might want to either use them for the one-shot items or not get too attached to them for the rest.

The spousal unit just realised he’d missed out on using his. How he realised is because I opened my big mouth, so I’m currently writing this from under the desk as he throws things and howls with rage. Well, maybe not quite howling.

It’s only a game after all, but it’s irritating to be 12 hours into the campaign and realise you didn’t use items when you could have and now you don’t have them at all anymore. Come to think of it, those wearable items would be gone regardless, meaning that anyone who plays the Dwarf noble caste Origin story is going to get similarly screwed.

While this is probably relatively minor in the context of the game/progression as a whole, that would still irritate me and it’s a bit of a glaring oversight.

EDIT – as Winged Nazgul pointed out below, this workaround will return the downloadable items to your inventory. I didn’t get the Memory Band back, but I can’t recall what gave that in the first place and besides all it does is give a 1% XP bonus; while that probably adds up to a fair amount over the course of the whole game, it’s not a big deal to me not to have it. Five or ten percent and I might be singing a different tune. Anyway, thanks againWN!

WORKAROUND:

  • Save the game
  • Quit to menu
  • Desactivate dragon armor dlc (and any other item-giving content)
  • load the game and FORCE LOAD
  • Save in another slot (just in case)
  • reactivate DLC items previously turned off
  • Load the new save
  • You should have the armor in your inventory.

Dragon Age: Origins — Two lousy hours

(WARNING: Minor spoilerishness ahead.)

Porphyry_001Some of you are sick of hearing about Dragon Age: Origins. I’m looking at you, KIASA boys! Well, suck it up. It’s a great game and to make things worse I’ve only had a few hours to play it since I got it; okay okay, not counting the most-of-the-afternoon I spent on the first session. Since then, however, I’ve been neglecting NaNoWriMo and DA:O. Stupid real life. Stupid stuff that happens. Sometimes I wish I could be 17 again — as long as I get to keep my experience and brains. Physically 17, yay. Mentally 17, god help me no.

So uh, where was I? Ah yes, Ageing. I managed to get a little playtime in yesterday and got through the Origin for a low-class Dwarven warrior. That’s her to the left, of course, and Spinks was right — dwarven lasses are really rather cute. And clearly in possession of superior Gillette shaving power, even when completely down and out. Girl’s gotta have some standards, I guess, even if she is letting a total slimebag pimp out her sister.

Porphyry_002

That’s the slimebag in the middle. I was very interested to see that Porph’s sister (and other family members) all had the same red hair as she does. Did the game do that? Was it just total coinkidink? I’m almost tempted to start that one again with a different character just to see what they look like.

The Go Dwarf Brigade (you know who you are!) is likely to string me up for this one, but personally I find it hard to see what’s so damn amazing about dorfs. This might be because I’m rather dwarflike in real life, and I play games at least partly to experience a different condition — why be short and round when I can be tall and disproportionately skinny? Besides, I’m really, really bored of big stone underground dwarven cities with lava in them. YAWN! Been there, Ironforged that. Some may think it’s daft to care about whether one is indoors or out when it’s just on a screen, but I’m funny that way. So if I had a hard time connecting with this Origin story it may be more to do with me than with any failings in the story.

In fact I’m sure it is, because the story is the most M-rating deserving of the three I’ve played so far, and it’s rather good. It’s not filled with twists and turns and unexpected events, but that’s become pretty bloody hard to manage in fantasy and thus, for what it’s trying to do — which is to rip your character out of their comfortable or miserable life and send them off to the equivalent of the Ferelden Foreign Legion — it does very well. I’ll add these screenies as thumbnails so those of you who don’t even want to be picture-spoilered can’t see too much; the rest of you can click through.

Porphyry_003Porphyry_004

Porphyry_005Porphyry_006Porphyry_007

I like my Dwarven warrior gal, she’s feisty and she takes no shit from anyone — and she has the axes to stick in your skull to prove it. Maybe now that she’s away from the underground city and the whole smothering over-Dwarf atmosphere I might have a better time of it.

But that was only three of the six Origins, and so your dashing reporter saved and started yet another character. See how I work my rampant altoholism into a blogging virtue? As Dennis Hopper would say I am one suave f***.

Anyway, next up I thought I’d go back to the Elves, so I started up a City Elf rogue. Needing a contrast from feisty-cute, I made moody-emaciated Goth. Here she is in the miserable hovel she shares with her widower dad:

Threnody_001All I really know so far is nothing more than you can find out from the blurb, which is that there’s to be a wedding and that my character is somehow involved. (Okay, I know a bit more than that by now but I’m not going to spoil it.) I’ve already seen that the range of dialogue responses is quite large, from the “Oh yay, I’m so brainlessly happy!” to “Grrr, I won’t do this (whatever it is) because I’m a miserable bitch AND I’m feeling emo today. So sod off!” with a selection in between.

One thing I’ve noticed with almost all the Origins is that there really are choices. I’m not entirely sure to what extent they influence the plot of a given Origin since you do after all have to end up in the wider world and at a specific place, but they do provide at least the illusion of choice and even just that is rather nice in an intro phase. I’m quite sure now that the decisions my characters make after the intro will have a long-reaching effect on how the game turns out in detail for them. More importantly for me, choices help you to establish who your character is by deciding what they’d do in given situations, and that’s the essence of role-playing in what is, after all, an RPG. Sure, it’s a little multiple-choice still these days, but Dragon Age: Origins does a pretty good job at masking the mechanics behind a tapestry of high-quality dialogue and acting.

I’m looking forward to the next two hours I can rip, blood-spattered and screaming, out of the fabric of my life!

Dragon Age: Origins Toolset available for download

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What?! Three posts in one day? I think the world is about to explode. That or I’ve been kidnapped by Syp and replaced with one of his evil automatons. You decide.

Anyway, the Dragon Age Toolset is now available for download. Note that you’ll have to have a copy of the game registered with the site before it’ll let you at the download link. The file is not quite 500 meg, and that’s all I know right now because I’m still downloading it.