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1:20 AM on 10.07.2010

Rest in pieces mein Wanzer. We killed you.

Unlike the last three Front Mission releases, I didn't buy the newest title as soon as it hit store shelves.

As far as Iím concerned -- as well as my RPG obsessed friends -- the Front Mission series is dead.

The newest title, Front Mission Evolved, takes the strategic, turn-based mech-on-mech action into third-person shooter territory.

I never -- never -- thought I would type a sentence that had the words front, mission and shooter in it.



Front Mission Evolved looks snazzy, but it seems to be just another ho-hum shooter.


After much bickering about Square-Enix and how they have betrayed fans of politically charged, strategic mech action, I realized something.

We are to blame.

Now, I donít mean Front Mission fans who went out and bought each title and loved customizing their little gun-toting Wanzers (the games version of a giant mech), but the gaming community as a whole.

Most gamers I meet who werenít weaned on the RPG heavy Super Nintendo and PlayStation 1 are most likely first or third-person shooter fans.



Front Mission 3. Part of a very happy childhood.


Heck, sometimes we donít even have a choice. What are some of the most successful games recently in terms of sales and mass market appeal? Call of Duty and Halo.

Role playing games -- turn-based strategy ones specifically -- have taken a hit when it comes to appeal on our shiny red-ringers, fancy blu-ray do-it-alls and arm flailing gaming machines.

Dragon Age: Origins is one old-school RPG I have put over 400 hours into on current gen systems. I thank BioWare endlessly for the game every night before I go to bed. Critics thought it would be too old school, but it worked -- much like anything the developer touches.

Aside from that though, RPGs donít seem to perform so hot unless they have the appeal of Final Fantasy or put in shooter mechanics.



Any game featuring Yoshitaka Amano art is a winner.


According to BioWareís Big Brother-esque stat tracking, most Mass Effect 2 players chose the shooter heavy soldier class when picking apart Collectors in their ďRPGĒ quest. In fact, itís probably the only RPG in any of my shooter loving friendsí collections.

I donít mind that ME2 is like that; I love the game.

If I were Square-Enix, I too would have capitalized on the shooter craze that seems to have defined the current generation of gaming on the Xbox 360 in the West.

Itís economically dangerous to release old-school RPGs on home consoles nowadays -- just look at Valkryia Chronicles.

And honestly, Front Missionís problems began way before the shooter craze.

It should have been kind of obvious that the series was in trouble after the PlayStation 1ís Front Mission 3.

Back in 2004 I bought Front Mission 4 for PlayStation 2 on launch day and bulldozed through it and loved every minute of it.

In just four months -- yes, four months -- I could have bought 10 brand-new copies of the game for the same price of a copy on release day at Best Buy.

Ouch.

After that, gamers missed out on Front Mission 5: Scars of the War for PS2, Front Mission 2089 for DS in addition to a slew of others from earlier in the seriesí lifespan like the all important second game in the series.



If people would have bought Front Mission 4...


In a perfect world, Square-Enix would continue to release "true" titles on the DS or even consider the PSP or digital downloads for new releases. I would even take an iteration of the series on iPhone.

However, when I was in Japan in 2008 for college and saw a cardboard cutout advertisement for 2089, and realized It wasnít even reported on in the U.S., I wondered if America would never see another proper Front Mission game.



C'mon Square! I'll buy 10 copies if this comes to America!


Front Mission Evolved could be another spin-off, and maybe the next real title is on its way. Over the years the series has produced a side scroller, RTS and multiplayer online game. So, all of my tears shed over the thought of an over-the-shoulder shooter ruining Front Mission could be for naught.

If Front Mission Evolved is a good game I might buy it. Iím not holding my breath, though.

Thereís really only two paths this series seems destined for. On the one hand Front Mission Evolved is a success and Square-Enix focuses on the more action-heavy gameplay in future installments and thatís that.

Or, the game tanks and we lose everything Front MissionÖforever.

I guess Iím a bit of a pessimist and resistant when it comes to change, but I want my little mechs on a square grid; there are already enough ho-hum shooters on the Xbox 360.

At least these guys have given gamers like me the happiness Square has denied.   read


11:59 PM on 09.21.2010

Gaming on the iPhone has me Hooked.

As someone who grew up with technology and always had the latest gaming systems (Iíve waited in line during system launches in good olí Wisconsin winter weather) one would think Iíd be a little more accepting of it.

However, Iím more akin to my grandfather when it comes to new technology; Iím very slow to adopt it and try to put it off for as long as possible.

The new tech gadget that I have finally adopted is the iPhone 3GS.



My attitude toward the phone had always been similar to the rise of online gaming for consoles with games such as SOCOM for PlayStation 2--I just donít care for these new things changing my established order in life.

I eventually accepted online gaming with the release of Xbox Live for Xbox 360, and am constantly on there gaming with friends and downloading new games on the Arcade service. Itís a blast and a part of my gaming lifestyle.

Oddly, the iPhone has become a staple in it as well.

Iíve never used a phone for much more than anything besides, well, sending and recieving calls.

Aside from that, my phone seconded as an alarm clock and calculator and I only played one game on a phone before.

The iPhone has changed everything.

I canít stop gaming on it. When Iím done playing big releases such as Dragon Age: Origins or Halo with friends, I like to crawl into bed and take a few moments to engage in a short session of iPhone gaming.

The fact that the platform is a phone is deceiving. I try to make myself believe that games on a phone can only be casual at best and Iíll be bored or done within minutes at most.

Now I get done with these gaming sessions to find my clock to display times well past my bedtime.



Games on the iPhone are cheap, and many of them are well done. One of my favorite games so far is Beneath a Steel SkyĖRemastered. Itís a remake of an adventure PC game from 1994 with art drawn by Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons.

The remastered version with touch controls and the added bonus of portability make the $3 purchase an easy one.

Iíve spent massive amounts of time sifting through iPhone games to find other remastered games, ports or brand new titles to play. Like all systems some are winners and some are stinkers.

Downloads can be free or up to $10. Itís an easy choice to plop down a few bucks for a game I can take anywhere.

And thatís another huge plus about this new gaming platform Iíve embraced.

As a big fan of portable gaming Iíve experienced and owned just about every handheld known to man.

Most of the time I donít even use my handhelds as portable devices on bus rides, plane rides or in during lunch breaks at work like it is intended for.

I usually sit at home and game on my handhelds because I like the games enough to keep my eyes fixated on their tiny screens, but also because I donít think they are that portable.

The Nintendo DS can take a beating, but Iíd still rather not carry it around all the time, case or no case.

The PlayStation Portable is out of the question for brining anywhere for fear of damaging its screen.

The iPhone to me is truly a portable system.

It is a bit larger than some phones, but it is way smaller then Sonyís and Nintendoís handhelds.

I can actually slide the thing into my pant pocket or coat pocket.

The much more sophisticated iPhone cases put my mind at ease if I accidentally drop or bump it into something while occupied with whatever game Iím playing.

Now Iím not saying the iPhone is better than what Sony or Nintendo offer--far from it in fact.

However, having some truly unique games like Trees of Doom coupled with ports of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force is quickly making my iPhone eat up gaming hours usually set aside for the more mainstream systems.

With that in mind, gaming on Appleís device can only get better. Keeping up with the new iterations of the phone, however, is something my checkbook canít embrace just yet!   read


10:17 PM on 09.03.2010

David Gaider Answers Dragon Age 2 Questions at PAX

David Gaider did a little Q&A today at PAX--streamed via Ustream Live on BioWare's website--and showed viewers his eyebrow waggle while answering some burning questions about the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins.



After starting out with an explanation of his Inception like dreams featuring his Dungeons and Dragons characters, Gaider--lead writer for the Dragon Age series--got down to business.

Poster Question/Comment: I'm deadly scared of the new dialogue system.

David Gaider: I can see how thatís a concern. The point is the interface doesnít really change. In Origins there were six entries in any given dialogue. With the new interface itís pretty much the same, just laid out differently. [Writer's note: The new system is similar to the Mass Effect series' dialogue wheel.]

Player VO [voice over] makes it different. Player VO has benefits. If weíre going to do a cinematic game itís best to go all the way and let the person be a personality in the gameÖotherwise you end up as a silent participant.

Weíre allowing you to craft a place in the story like your followers.

P: Will you write any DA2 books?
DG: I sure hope so; I hope I get the chance to write something new.

P: Is this Mass Effect 2 with melee weapons?
DG: Dragon Age: Origins wasnít very responsive.

Weíre not trying to make the action frenetic, but we want the ability for when you press something, it happens. People get nervous by the phrase action RPGÖthey go right to Diablo. There are many variations to that. We still have the same concept that still makes Dragon Age, Dragon Age. Itís about hard choices and characters playing important roles. Itís a dark heroic fantasy; weíre not changing that.

P: Will we get a tool set?
DG: If we do it, and we're not making promises, it's going to be a little bit after release. If it comes it will probably come as an update to the Dragon Age: Origins toolset.

P: What was the deal with the glowing red eyes in the [DA 2] trailer?
DG: Itís blood magic.

P: Is the nudity level bigger or smaller?
DG: I hope you mean more or less. I think itís about the same. But obviously, weíll see. There are some things we are doing that might be considered more risquť.

P: Whatís the deal with Flemeth?
DG: Youíll see Flemeth in DA2 more than once. As to the part that she plays, Iím not going to tell you. If I did that be a spoiler, and I donít spoil my own writing.

P: How long did it take to grow your sweet goatee?
DG: It took a week and a half to grow.

P: How long is DA2?
DG: Longer than Awakening, shorter than DA:O.

P: Will we ever see the Old God baby?
DG: Like I would answer that.

P: Do you have an overall story arc for the DA series?
DG: Yes.

P: Is the empress of Orlais hot?
DG: According to our concept art she is!

P: If Ferelden is medieval Europe, what are the Free Marches [Writer's note: This is where DA2 takes place]?
DG: You could maybe say that they are the Holy Roman Empire--only in the way that it was made up of a lot of states.

P: How significant is Morrigan to the DA universe?
DG: Very significant. So is Flemeth. So is Hawke.

P: Does EA influence the writing in DA?
DG: They say what their goals are, and we implement those goals. In terms of do they come down and say donít use that word or these phrases? No, no.

P: Do you have to use a four-member party?
DG: You can use the naked crazy guy option [Writers note: Gaider said to check the DA forums for what that entails].

P: Will Justice return?
DG: Thatís an excellent question. Maybe.

P: Will we ever find out what happens with Fiona or Maric?
DG: Yes.

P: Will we see our played [Grey] Warden in the future?
DG: [Immediately met with a "canít answer that" from the marketing team ;)] Heíll be involved in the future.

P: Will there be more spells?
DG: Weíre focusing on spells that are upgradeable. Going for a smaller number with greater breadth.

Random Asides

Inon Zur will return to compose Dragon Age 2. As for characters making reappearances, so far Flemeth has been confirmed. Gaider couldn't name anybody else, but he did say Origins, Awakening, and DLC characters would make an appearance.

Your main Grey Warden won't make an appearance in the sequel; however, decisions that affected the world and characters in Origins and Awakening can be imported.

"The effects go from small to large," Gaider said.

Also, it sounded as though Alistair will make an appearance. Spoiler: Gaider mentions he may be a king or he may be a drunk depending on player actions in Origins. Keep in mind however, that was given as an example of what could happen in the sequel from past decisions.

Gaider also did the writing for the next--and final--batch of Origins DLC: Witch Hunt.

He used his poker face to shoot down some girl on girl Hawke romance options.

The new art style aims to give the races a unique look.

"We want races to have a more distinctive look," Gaider said. "Sten for instance, looked human to some. While we are changing the look, we're not throwing away what we have.Ē

There will be blood...err; there will be Dalish. Dalish apparently feature prominently in DA2.

Awakening had a word budget. That is why fans didn't get as much party member dialogue as they would have liked, and also why random objects initiated it.

Anyone with questions for Gaider can follow the biofeed twitter tomorrow for details on how to participate in Saturday's Q&A.   read


3:31 PM on 08.24.2010

Game Rating Tips for Parents



Since there is a meth forum this week to help curtail and hopefully eradicate the use of the drug in my small Alaskan community, I thought Iíd write about something that may be beneficial to parents.

My topic is video game violence. Actually, itís not so much about the violence itself, but how parents can keep their children away from it.

Video games of today are different than they used to be. Little pixels that may or may not look like human beings used to die when falling into pits full of crocodiles or when bumped into by a turtle in a bright red shell.

Most of the time a quirky animation would follow an even quirkier sound signifying a character had fallen and the player must restart a level.

Games today are much more graphic.

An increase in technology along with the average age of gamers has prompted the gaming industry to evolve.

The game Brothers in Arms: Hellís Highway, is about as graphic as Saving Private Ryan. And while it falls short of duplicating the grotesque images in the movie, it does show realistic images of war, features blood and mutilated bodies.

I wouldnít want my child to see Saving Private Ryan at a young age, or play a game with similar images either. However, I constantly sold Mature rated video games to parents of young children during my college years working at Target.

Oftentimes there was a young child and confused mother or father making the purchase. I would explain what the ratings meant, and what would be in the game to the customers, but the child would just roll his eyes and parents out of frustration would buy the game to be done with the whole ordeal.

Parents can avoid this.

I donít have kids, so I donít know what itís like to raise them. I did grow up in some of the best years of gaming however, and I have worked retail enough to see this common mistake parents make.

A lot of parents work from 9 to 5, cook, clean, run errands and who knows what else. Iím sure some of them donít want to be burdened with an unhappy child at the checkout counter in a store while purchasing a game.

Just say no if the gameís intended for a Mature, 17 and older audience if you donít believe your 13-year-old is mature enough to blast aliens apart. But that again is only half the battle.

What do all of those crazy ratings mean?

If your children are gaming on the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii or PlayStation 3, the rating that needs to be seriously considered for bad content is the M rating.

The M, means Mature, and is intended for gamers 17 and older. These titles can contain intense violence, blood, gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Those descriptions are quite vague. For instance, intense violence can mean realistic depictions of physical conflict, blood, gore, weapons and death. Games such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty may carry this tag.

Understanding the ratings is the best way to be an informed shopper and avoid a grumpy kid in the check out lane.

Take some time on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) Web site. The ESRB is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association.

The body assigns computer and video game content ratings. Parents can go to http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp for a nifty printer-friendly guide to bring along with them while making purchases.

Having this list will make understanding game ratings much easier.

The ESRB also implemented rating summaries for games in July 2008.

Titles released after this date can be searched for on the Web site for more detailed content information.

For example, Halo 3: ODST is accompanied by a couple paragraphs describing the specific types of swear words and gun battles that take place. It also describes how the blood within the game is from both humans and aliens, and is often splattered on walls.

The summaries usually include the most important descriptions of content that the ESRB used to decide a gameís rating.

As a side note, itís not a good idea to rely on a storeís staff when buying games unless it is a specialty store like GameStop. (Even then, I have heard from a friend who works at GameStop that workers will do anything to make a sale...including lying).

If a parent wanders in for some shopping with questions, the clerk may not even understand what content exists in the game Mass Effect 2 as much as the confused, non-gaming parent.

I remember when a Target coworker sold a PlayStation 3 pack-aged with Metal Gear Solid 4 to a kid that looked about 10.

The mother asked if it was a violent or bad game. His response? ďOf course not, itís just a silly game about being a spy.Ē

ÖRight.

I also recommend doing a quick search on YouTube to see gameplay videos. It takes all but five minutes to load up a video and see what content awaits your children.

After being a gamer for years and knowing gamers, I am pretty confident saying violence in games doesnít turn someone into a hate-filled person ready to hurt others.

If that were the case Iíd be a professional soccer player and princess rescuer from all the FIFA and Super Mario I play.

Some children, however, are more impressionable or less mature than others. Itís important to recognize what a child can and cannot play, and understanding what content is in the games you buy.

Dtoid probably isn't the right crowd for this, but maybe this post will help a parent out.   read


4:01 PM on 08.23.2010

Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures Public Beta Open

This is more of a just letting you guys know type of deal instead of writing it out nicely for you to read. I'm sneaking onto Dtoid at work, and to be honest, if it ain't the Old Republic, I could care less. But maybe some interested folks will want to sign up for this!




Taken from the press release:

WHAT:
Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts are looking for video game enthusiasts of all ages and fans of the Star Warsģ: The Clone Warsô animated television series on Cartoon Network, to be the first to get hands-on in the open BETA testing for Star Warsģ: Clone Wars Adventuresô. Get a sneak peak of the highly anticipated free-to-play online virtual world and provide feedback to help put the finishing touches on the final game scheduled to be released later this year on September 15.

The ultimate virtual destination for a new generation of Star Wars fans, Clone Wars Adventures is an action-packed virtual world where players can go online to experience fun minigames, daily activities, events, rewards, lively social environments and competition. Clone Wars Adventures lets players duel iconic adversaries with their own custom Lightsaber, speed through the galaxy in a custom Starfighter, defeat enemies and take down starships.

Clone Wars Adventures is a free-to-play game, but players who want to take the galactic action to the next level can purchase a monthly Membership subscription for $5.99, while a variety of epic items can also be purchased through Station Cashģ micro-transactions. The Clone Wars Adventures Galactic Passport is scheduled to be available at thousands of retail locations in North America later this fall and will include a 90-day membership, 500 Station Cash, the ability to unlock the Togruta playable character, a Yoda monitor topper, and more.

WHEN:
Clone Wars Adventures BETA registration is open now. Prospective Jedi masters and Clone Troopers can register for BETA and test their Lightsaber skills, helping to fine-tune the game for launch this September!

WHERE:
For the opportunity to participate in the program visit the game website www.clonewarsadventures.com and click on the BETA registration link.   read


11:06 PM on 08.19.2010

Random Musing on the Cheesiness of Monday Night Combat



First off, I fricking love Monday Night Combat. I didn't think I would when I first saw it, but after downloading it the day it hit Xbox Live Arcade and playing until 4 a.m. when I had to be into work at 8 a.m., it's safe to say I'm hooked.

If you haven't picked it up yet, head on over to the reviews section of Dtoid and read Mr. Sterling's review. It is pretty spot on in terms of what the game offers.

However, a lot of reviewers have pointed out the annoying announcer as being a drag. And you know what, he really is.

After visiting the official site for the game I've been thinking about something. The game obviously wants to throw in some humor and premise. Unfortunately, it comes off as cheesy and bare. The announcer is annoying and the mentioning of players being clones in the future is only briefly visited. And don't even get me started on Pitgirl and her blatant "use for sex appeal" marketing bullshit.

But all of that would have been excusable had I not read the great, creative back story and bios on the Uber Entertainment site.

Here's just a sampling to whet your appetite:

MNCís Head of Biomedicine, Dr. Karl Pickering, puts it this way: ďWe at Monday Night Combat believe strongly in the three Cís: character, commitment and cloning. We also believe in the three Bís: breeding, bionics and bioengineering. Possibly the Bís should come first. Whatever, Iím not a goddamn dictionary.Ē

Anywho, I would have loved more of the humor from the site stuck into the game. Sure, it may have bogged down a game that is meant for someone to jump on quickly, blow some shit up and then go to bed, but I think it would have been a great addition.   read


10:49 PM on 08.18.2010

David Gaider Interview Part IIIĖCharacters and Games as Art



Writer's note: This is the third and final part of my interview with David Gaider.

David Gaider is a senior writer for BioWare, and has worked with the company since 1999. He was lead writer for Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening.

The Edmonton, Alberta based writer has worked on Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. He also penned both Dragon Age novels The Stolen Throne and The Calling.

Currently, he is working on Dragon Age 2!

The interview was conducted on August fifth.

ďHeís an assassin droid, what the hell am I going to write for him?Ē



You were talking about before how characters are really important to you in books, but what are some of your favorite video game characters that youíve written?
Oh, wow, letís see. HK-47 was a blast. He was funny just how he worked out too because we had both droids T3-M4, and HK-47 in Knights of the Old Republic that didnít have any dialogue. I had some extra time so James Ohlen said, Ďwell, could you write some dialogue for this characterí? I kind of complained at first, I was like (sigh) ĎHeís an assassin droid, what the hell am I going to write for him?í I think I wrote him in a week and the reaction to him was phenomenal but I sort of had fun with it. The characters I write just to have fun seem to be the ones received the best.

I remember Alistair actually is one on Origins I really enjoyed writing just because, most people donít know this, but we had an entire version of Alistair where he was this grim, veteran warrior. Older and just a very serious type who was very distrustful of you and he wasnít much fun. Nobody was liking him because he was being so distrustful. We really wanted to set this up as a romance interest as well as a good buddy for a male player and it wasnít working. It was really touching on that Carth (A KOTOR character Gaider also wrote) vibe a little bit much but he really hit a bad note with the male players. So, it came down as one of those revisions where we just couldnít fix him. Thereís something fundamentally wrong here so I had to go back and go, Ďalright how about I just have a little bit more fun with him and maybe the player will too.í And so I did. Even though it was painful to make the decision to start all over, it really worked out well I thought. I think Alistair and the fact that heís fun really came across. He was quite a popular character.

Beyond that, off the top of my head, ummÖJolee Bindo from Knights of the Old Republic also a lot of fun. Deekin the Kobold bard from Neverwinter (Neverwinter Nights) was probably my favorite part of that game (laughs).

ďIíll probably get flak for it but I always pictured Shale as this sassy black woman sort of trapped in a body of a rock.Ē

On Morrigan and Shale



Shale was another character where I had to go back to the drawing board. It did touch on HK-47 a little bit, but to me itís very much a different character. HK-47 was sort of a heartless killer and he was funny in his heartlessness in sort of a Bender of Futurama kind of way. Shale is just this sort, I know Iíll probably get flak for it but I always pictured Shale as this sassy black woman sort of trapped in a body of a rock. That was the image that worked for me when I was writing (laughs). I really enjoyed Shale as well.



Morrigan was different. Morrigan was hard to write. Itís funny. When I first started writing her I was going to thisÖI donít know if youíve ever read this comic series called Sandman? Thereís a character named Delirium who was one of the Endless. When I first started writing Morrigan I was making her like Delirium in the way she talked and kind of out there. She never knew what planet she was on necessarily. And again, that wasnít working. Then I went to a sort of more of a hard-edged and it was hard to find that place where OK, for the person whoís romancing her, they have to feel like they got through that armor where nobody else could. And I think I found it and that was very gratifying to find, but it was a hard character to write. A very, very hard character to write.

Do you have an opinion on the video games as art topic?
You know, I think itís kind of a silly question. Because of course, video games are art. Is it art that everyoneís going to appreciate? Ah, no. What art is there that everyone appreciates? Something that some art critic says is the most fantastic art in the world, half of everyone else in the world could look at it and go pfft, what the hell am I supposed to enjoy about that? Video games offer an opportunity for us to have these stories that interact withÖyou know, paintings for instance. You look at them and you can appreciate them. But video games, itís art that somebody can experience. Itís different. Itís not something that everyone is going to grasp immediately. And I also think that itís a very young medium. In terms of the potential to tell stories, weíre just sort of scratching the surface. There have been some wonderful stories that have been told. I mean, you look at something like Planescape: Torment. Tell me that isnít art. I mean, sure, there are parts to it somebody might consider juvenile. Somebody might look on that and go, Ďwell thereís combat, youíre killing things, whatís artistic about that?í You know, donít get caught up in the forest for the trees. There is a forest there, and that is totally art and that is something we should aspire to. Like I said, weíre scratching the surface now and I think given less limitations, where we get to that point where the technical limitations arenít so much of a limitation anymore, we can achieve something even greater.   read


5:47 PM on 08.17.2010

David Gaider Interview Part IIĖCreativity and the Novels



Writer's note: For a brief introduction of Mr. Gaider visit Part I from yesterday.

What influences you creatively?
Oof, thatís a big question. There are a lot of things that can influence me. I read books. I mentioned off hand on the (BioWare) forums that George R. R. Martin novels were a big influence, but that was mainly because I think at the time, this was five or six years ago when I started working on Origins, I was a little burnt out on fantasy and George R. R. Martinís booksÖI found them influential because he did fantasy in this different way. Iím sure there are other authors who did something similar to him, but it was the first one I had seen where he took fantasy and put this more realistic spin on it and it focused more on the political elements as opposed to these are the big operatic high fantasy that Iíve read before. I thought that was really different, and I like things that are really different. Like Battlestar Galactica, the new series that played for awhile, takes something that has been done before and they put their own spin on it. I think that was sort of my piece of Dragon Age, which I like to call my own.

My vision for fantasy was take an element of the genre that people have seen before and on the surface it will look familiar, and put another spin on it. Put something on it thatís a little bit different, that tries to do something that people might find intriguing. Thatís what I tend to look for when Iím reading books. Joe Abercrombie actually does a series that I finished recently which I found was really quite excellent and did the same thing. It sort of avoided some of the high fantasy and the stuff that he included was very well done.

(On fantasy clichťs and characters)

ďI tend to be inspired more by characters than even by the overall story.Ē

I think that some fans like to go and make a big deal of clichťs. They seem to categorize clichťs as anything theyíve seen before, ever. I think there are good things about the familiar but one personís clichť is another personís archetype and I think that if you do an archetype badly, then yeah, itís a clichť. Itís possible to do archetypes well and present them in a fresh way and have things even if someone thinks things didnít end well maybe there is something in that story that they can grab onto like the characters that they like. I tend to be inspired more by characters than even by the overall story. If there are characters that are particularly intriguing or something I havenít seen before, or maybe the interplay between characters; Iím a big fan of dialogue, duh (laughs). If thereís really good dialogue in something I really find it fascinating.Lion in Winter. The Lion in Winter is a movie that was done that is quite old now. Itís probably my favorite movie of all time and that rests almost entirely on the dialogue in the movie being absolutely fascinating. If thereís good dialogue in anything really Iím drawn to it.



What do you think about the video game medium and its story telling ability?
Well, how do I put this? It has a lot of limitations that you donít necessarily deal with in other mediums. Like in a book. Iíve written a couple of novels now (Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne and Dragon Age: The Calling) and it is very interesting that when it comes to a book, anything thatís in my imagination I can put down on paper and there it is. Whereas in a video game you have the physical limitations. You have limitations in technology, limitations of what you can actually show.

You canít do everything you want to. Iíve had lots and lots of times where I had this plan for a story and it just ends up that we canít present it in that way. In a book I can say they hop on a horse and away they goÖwhoo, Iíve got horses, itís easy. In the game itís, OK, this horse isnít this big part of the story, but itís a really cool element to have, but we need horse models, animations for riding and suddenly you have finite resources and itís well, how important are horses or whatever other element youíre talking aboutÖhow important are they to the story youíre trying to tell. You really have to focus on the gameplay you need to present and resources you have. So, in that part itís limited.

The part that it has where itís excellent is the interactive part. You donít get that in other passive entertainments. In those youíre watching a character, but I donĎt think you would identify as strongly as in a game where youíre the one whoís directing the action. You have agency, whereas in a movie or a novel you donít have agency and I think that changes the nature of the entertainment substantially and thatís where the opportunities come in. Anything which sort of gives the player more immediacy in their agency like the part they are playing, they feel more of an element from it. And itís not necessarily an element of choice. I know thatís intrinsic to an RPG, but I think stories are possible in games other than RPGs. Lots of games have stories. I played a game called Uncharted 2 recently, which had a great story, and it didnít matter that I was making choices. It was still presented in such a great way that I felt that I had agency, and thatís always going to be an allusion to an extent, but the fact that I felt it and got involved in the story made me feel more entertained than if I had been watching a movie.

What did you like better, working on the video game or writing the novels?
(Laughs) Wow, letís see. Thatís a tough thing to quantify. I mean, working on the novel did allow me more freedom. Itís a different experience just because in a game itís like I donít get to decide everything, I have those limitations that I spoke of. When Iím working on the novel I just get to say, I want to do this, and I can do it as long as I can just put the words on paper, itís there. That was very different to me, especially when I had been working in games at the time for eight or nine years already. So youíre very accustomed to working with those limitations and here itís like OK, you create a book and itís really freeing.



On the other handÖif itís a game at least if something didnít go quite like I wanted it to I know itís not entirely in my power. In something like that I shift blame; that was the designers fault, totally (laughs). But, it is a group effort. Itís both a positive and negative. Itís a positive in that together we were able to create something that no individual person could of course, but it also means that both the responsibility and the rewards are shared.

ďDown to personal preference though, I think I liked working on the book just because itís mine.Ē

In the book if something doesnít work out I mean that happens too. Especially my first book that I wrote. It was my first time attempting such a thing. Sometimes itís just like I donít know how to get this to be quite what I wanted whereas I see the reaction to it and I could have done something differently and itís all my fault. Itís quite a different experience when you put a game out there and itís a group effort.

Down to personal preference though, I think I liked working on the book just because itís mine. Sure itís BioWareís world, but this piece of it was more purely my vision. I think that was really fun.

Would you ever write any more books?
Oh sure, sure. A lot of it is time. The game weíre working on now, Dragon Age 2, has a pretty short development time so that doesn't leave a lot of room for writing novels never mind, you know, sleeping (laughs). But if I had the time, yeah.



ďRight before a game goes out weíre literally at a point where all we can see are the flaws and think Ďoh god, theyíre going to hate thisÖíĒ

I think the first two novels I wrote just sort of whetted my appetite. Itís the same when you put out a game. When we put out a game, after weíve done it thereís that whole legion of shoulda, woulda, coulda that you feel. Right before a game goes out weíre literally at a point where all we can see are the flaws and we think Ďoh god, theyíre going to hate this,í and they never do, or most of them donít. At that point weíve built up this accumulation of flaws or mistakes or things that got cut or missed opportunities and it become a little overwhelming. You lose a little perspective.

Having put out those novels I feel the errors in them just like in the video games. Once theyíre out itís like uh, itís terrible itís horrible, how can anybody read this. Thereís been a lot of positive feedback on it, but at the same time I see what I can do better. Iíd like to keep developing that skill. It is a different skill. Itís very different from just writing dialogue or structuring quests to actually writing prose. My personal opinion is I did pretty well but I can do better and Iíd like to do better. So given the opportunity, Iíd like to do that.

One of my favorite parts of the books was Maric. Would we ever see him in a Dragon Age expansion, stand alone game or downloadable content? Is that something that could possibly happen?

Well, itís a little bit problematic just because if I put a character from the novels in the game, it has to be presented in such a way that anybody who didnít read the books, which is quite a different audience size between the video game and the books, it have to be in such a way that someone who didn'tí read the books would understand who they were and in a way would that actually satisfy the person who did read the books? They donít need a basic introduction to Maric for instance. The person who read the book already knows that, theyíre looking from something extra. They would see that as a rehash of what they already know. So would that do anything for them? I donít know. Does it do anything for the person who doesnít know anything about the books? Again, hard to say, this is a new character for them. Is it better than any other new character? Hard to say. I really enjoyed playing Maric but thereíd be limitations, maybe it might work as a cameo so someone who read the book would get that extra from it, but it really doesn't impact much on the person who didnít read the book, so I donít know. Itís tough because I really grow attached to these characters and I really want to use them, but I have to recognize that the two worlds arenít necessarily going to mix that well, but if I ever had the opportunity to do it, yeah I would love to. Some of those characters I think arenít done yet in my mind.

Tomorrow...Part IIIĖCharacters and Games as Art   read


6:26 PM on 08.16.2010

David Gaider Interview Part IĖWorking for BioWare and the Writing Process



Writer's note: David Gaider is a senior writer for BioWare, and has worked with the company since 1999. He was lead writer for Dragon Age: Origins and Awakening.

The Edmonton, Alberta based writer has worked on Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. He also penned both Dragon Age novels The Stolen Throne and The Calling.

Currently, he is working on Dragon Age 2!

The interview was conducted on August fifth.

How did you become a writer for BioWare?

It was kind of a weird way actually. I didnít even know that BioWare was in Edmonton. This was back when they had released Baldurís Gate one, which I had heard of, but hadnít played. I had a friend who worked at BioWare, he was an artist here, heís not at the company now. BioWare at the time was looking to hire some new writers and designers and they said to the people who worked here, Ďif you know anyone whoís written something or created something game related to completion, maybe you hand it over and weíll check them out.í I had written this game that this artist friend of mine was playingÖand so he gave it to James Ohlen (longtime BioWare designer), without actually telling me he was doing so. James contacted me and it was out of the blue. I hadnít applied or anything. It was very bizarre, and I came in for an interview and I was actually managing a hotel at the time. I actually turned down the job at first. I thought, Ďoh, game development company in EdmontonÖthat doesnít seem very stable or anything.í

I went into work at my hotel the next Monday and my boss had flown in from Mississauga, which was unusual, and told me that the management company that I worked for had been bought out. What they do is they let all of their general managers go and that happened. I walked off the property that day and went Ďoh, maybe I will try that job.í I phoned them back and asked them if the job offer was still good and they said yeah. It just kind of worked out. It was very fated I guess. Itís not a path into the industry that I would recommend (laughs). I get e-mails all the time asking Ďcan you advise me how to get a writing job at BioWare, like how did you get startedí? Iím like, I donít think my path is even available to people.

What is it like working for BioWare?
I certainly donít feel like a star or anything. Thereís a huge team responsible for a game, right? Iím just one part of the machine. I feel appreciated, sure. I think they believe that Iíve done some good work for them. I feel grateful for the role Iíve been given. Iím now in a lead position.



Itís a fun job. Itís still a job. There are days where you want to slit your wrists (laughs), especially when there are cuts and such. Some of them can be really heartbreaking. When you have something that you pour your creative energy into, sometimes things donít go the way you planned and so then itís not fun. And then some days itís just drudgery but then thereís other days you realize who else has the chance to do this stuff? You work at a job where you can turn to the person next to you and have some bizarre conversation and you stop in the middle of it and youíre like, nobody else gets to do this so thatís kind of awesome.

(Gaider veered onto this topic during the question)
On Dragon Age: Origins finally hitting stores and filling eager gamersí consoles.
It was sort of a justification. Before it came out there was a lot of people that said Ďoh, itís a little too old school for modern audiences.í It did really well, so there was a lot ofÖyou kind of want to call some of the people up and say I told you so. I think the result speaks for itself, right?


What is the writing process like? There are different writers working on different characters and different scenarios. Do you guys kind of all come together at different points and share what youíre working on?

We tend to work in the same room. Right now we have whatís called the writers pit where everyone on the same project is sort of in the same room so writers can bounce ideas off of each other. Thereís a lot of writing to do so we do split everything up so you have an area of responsibility. So, it be like hereís this plot or this area that you as a writer are responsible for. It depends on the phase, right? The initial phrase is all about coming up with the concepts, what is our overall story. We have to break it down sort of into whatever the quests involve and make sure that the quest design is solid. The writer is not alone in that. There are several other disciplines in design that get involved and helped design the quests. The writer just sort of takes an overall responsibility for it but we donít write them ourselves.

I think some people picture it as top down, like the writer says this is what Iím writing and everybody else in the company sort of runs around to implement our vision. Thatís not quite the way it is. The overall vision is the responsibility of the lead designer. The other disciplines like the combat designers or level designers have their two centsÖlike weíd like to try this or can we do a quest that focuses on this gameplay element. Once youíve got that broken down itís a matter of the writer putting together the dialogue for it. We try that out and see if itís fun and revise and then try it out again and then revise. You end up throwing out a lot of stuff you worked on. Sometimes it just isnít working, and it ends up getting cut. Thatís always heartbreaking.



How much freedom did you have with writing different aspects of the game?
Some. As lead designer I have a little more freedom. If someone is a senior writer I would give them a plot with a general plan and they would be responsible for going ahead and breaking it down into more detail. They donít have the freedom to create their own charactersÖsome of themÖbut the major ones, no. They donít get to decide the major plot. A more junior writer basically gets handed a much more detailed plan. Theyíre more responsible for implementing that.

As a lead writer you get a little bit more freedom as in Iím given parameters as in this is what we need the story to be or the lead designer talks to me about the overall vision for the story. We toss ideas back and forth. And then in the end, once I understand the parameters that the gameís story has to be made with, I create that. So, inside those parameters I actually have a lot of freedom, so that part is gratifying. Itís not a case of me deciding I want to write this story. In that respect there is not much freedom (laughs).

Tomorrow...Part IIĖCreativity and the Novels.   read


7:38 PM on 08.13.2010

Hydro Thunder Hurricane Review



Hydro Thunder Hurricane is like Las Vegas in a way. Iíve never been there, but I imagine eye-catching glitz and fast-paced fun that is over all too quickly.

Hurricane nails all three of those perfectly.

At its core the arcade inspired game is about driving fanciful speedboats through courses laced with environmental hazards and shortcuts galore.

All racers have to worry about are four controller inputs: acceleration, break, boost and jump.

The colors and effects from the game pop out in Hurricaneís eight courses. Particularly cool is how water will splash onto and drip across the screen while racers whip around the water.

The visual eye candy may be a big plus for the game, but itís really the course designs that set this game apart.

Courses range from racing around sewers in Seoul to an Area 51 facility and alien planet.

Each track has its own distinct feel and hazards to deal with like statues smashing down axes in the way of drivers or a Loch Ness monster impeding the way to first place.

The fanciful design allows for multiple paths and shortcuts to the finish line.

In Seoul, a water fountain launches boats to a hidden area. In other courses itís a matter of boost jumping over a wall or crashing through a hidden gate that will help racers gain the edge.



To keep gamers interested Hurricane features an unlocking system for gaining new boats, courses and events. Itís as simple as placing first, second or third on any race or event to gain points.

Constantly unlocking new things keeps that Ďjust one more timeí feeling hard to break.

When the first console version of the original Hydro Thunder came to Dreamcast, the best way to play it was with my brother sitting next to me.

We never complained about the original only hosting two player races, but Hurricane opens up a whole slew of welcome multiplayer options.

Not only can up to four players play together on the couch, but up to eight can also compete against each other over Xbox Live.

Normal races are available in multiplayer as well as the two new modes: Ring Master and Gauntlet.

Ring Master is a time trial mode where racing through predetermined rings gives you an extra boost and missing them adds time to your final score.

Gauntlet is similar except that the gimmick is a course filled with explosives waiting to blow away your dreams of a fast finish.

However, things end a little too quickly.

Gamers will no doubt have countless hours of fun as they play until 4 a.m. online, but the content itself runs out too quickly.

There are only eight courses to race on in every game mode. While they are perfectly crafted and I find myself playing my favorite two for hours at a time, itís really disappointing to not have more courses.

I want more crocodiles jumping at me. I want more thousandĖfoot tall waterfalls to jump off of. I want more everything.

Hopefully this will be rectified with downloadable content, but itís kind of a shame considering the game already cost $15.

Racing game fans who remember the good old arcade days of annoying announcers and loud speakers built into the arcade cabinetís chairs will no doubt eat up this title.

Itís a fun, simple game with loads of replay value for those that have a group of friends to share a couch with or have Internet access.

The good: Hydro Thunder is back and better than ever!
The bad: Eight tracks are not enough.
Watch out!: Falling rocks, random explosions and giant statues of the gods of Asgard all try to impede your way to the finish line.
Score: 9 out of 10   read


9:04 PM on 08.12.2010

Mega Man and Proto Man collectibles now available

The English versions of both the Mega Man and Proto Man Kubrick and 1Up Be@rBrick sets were made available earlier this week on the Capcom web store.





Each set costs $40 ($36 if ordered during the sale), and only 500 are available exclusively from the Capcom Store. http://shop.capcom.com/store/capcomus/home

Interchangeable parts allow for both an angry Mega Man (no doubt thinking about how many painful deaths he will endure in his next adventure) donning his helmet, or a more relaxed version (perhaps the Mega Man from Mega Man Legends who gets to enjoy an easier adventure and save points) without his helmet.



Proto Man also has interchangeable head pieces.



  read


8:22 PM on 08.12.2010

Mountain Dew will provide more than just fuel for late-night Reach sessions

Mountain Dew has revealed its plan to supply gamers with more than a caffeine high for popping strangers off via headshots come September.



The popular soft drink will join up with Microsoft and Doritos to celebrate the launch of Halo: Reach . Starting on September fifth, gamers will have the chance to partake in a promotion to win exclusive Xbox 360 and Dew prizes.

It isn't entirely clear if they will be won via codes under bottle caps or if it will be similar to downloadable (DLC) content offered by Dr. Pepper for Mass Effect 2 and other EA published titles.

In years past Mountain Dew has offered some nifty prizes for collecting points from caps, and it would be nice to see some exclusive Reach swag. Something akin to exclusive DLC helmets or armor wouldn't be a bad reason to pick up a Mountain Dew, either.

A new type of Game Fuel, or even the same Game Fuel released to promote Halo 3 and World of Warcraft, would have been even more welcome. It's probably for the best that I don't get sucked into marketing and not rot my insides with death milk...err, soda.

For now keep your eyes peeled for Dew and Doritos packaging branded with spartans.   read


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