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7:40 AM on 03.28.2012

Mass Effect: The Spin-offs vol. 1 (No Spoilers)

No spoilers for Mass Effect 3's ending! Safe to read for most people.

Everybody knows that Mass Effect 3 is the end of Shepard's story – Bioware has been saying this since they announced ME3. Everybody also knows that ME3 is not the end of EA's production of games and products within the Mass Effect universe. Whether Bioware is involved or not (frankly, whether they are interested or not) EA is going to publish more games that make use of the richly developed setting that is the Mass Effect universe.

Because you're reading this on the internet, there is a good chance that your reaction to that reality falls somewhere between starting to compose a 'boycott this' post and spontaneously rage-chewing the arms off your chair. Frankly, when they announce “Mass Effect Wars” the RTS and “Medal of Honor: Turian Infiltrator” I'll be right there with you.

Until then, it is more productive to accept that EA is going to be EA and act in the interest of its shareholders by putting out more products that leverage the Mass Effect IP. In fact, the best thing you can do is start thinking about how these games could be made in a way that won't eventually justify chair-biting. So I spent a little while brainstorming some reasonable game proposals, and uh, here is one.

The game proposal that I think would work the best would be to build a character action game around Jack. Jack, the powerful biotic (that is, space wizard or ersatz force user), would be a strong personality to wrap a game around. A dynamic action game, not built on shooting or RPG conventions would be distinct enough from the core Mass Effect trilogy to make it a clear spin-off that can stand on its own, safe from accusations of just being cut content. The Mass Effect universe has a wealth of strong characters, but I think that Jack is one of the most distinct individuals who could also support a game in a non-Bioware genre (I mean, I love Mordin, but I don't see a non-ME style game built around him off the top of my head).

Jack was abducted as a child and was subject to horrendous biological and psychological experiments with the goal of making her a living weapon for Cerberus, a terrorist human-supremest organization. If you've played the games, you know that Jack escapes as an adolescent, slaughtering everybody else in the facility. Cerberus succeeded in greatly amplifying her biotic abilities, but only managed to turn her into a terrible person, rather than a leashed human weapon. Not at all another square-jawed space Jarhead taking orders over the phone, Jack would be a breath of fresh air. In fact, she would be a little more like Kratos; self-directed and not always reasonable or justified. Also bald.

Hand it to another dev team with high action chops, build it on an engine tuned to fast and fluid action, and amp up the in-game depiction and functionality of Jack's biotic abilities to meet what we have been shown in cut-scenes.

In cut-scenes, we see powerful biotics wrapping themselves in a biotic field in order to jump and fall great distances, build massive barriers to resist gunfire and explosions, and create shearing force powerful enough pull the arms off a YMIR mech. In-game, the Vanguard class to which Jack belongs gets the 'biotic charge' power, which is headlong rush directly at an enemy that boarders on being a teleport.

With all of that taken together, I can easily picture an action-oriented game somewhere in the range of Vanquish to Ninja Gaiden that features Jack only occasionally armed with her shotgun. Instead relying on a toolbox of biotic powers as she warps around a combat scenario -- holding up barriers when shot at, super-jumping out of the way of danger, and just fucking destroys people (criminals, mercenaries, and especially Cerberus forces) who get in her way. Because this is a stand-alone game, I would be game for graphic telekinetic dismemberment and a much more raw tone to reflect Jack's personality, as opposed to the mostly bloodless world of the main trunk ME games.

In regard to narrative I would set the primary A to B continuity to start at Jack leaving the Normandy at the end of ME2, to finding purpose and a constructive role for herself in the situation you discover her in ME3. The theme would be her digesting the growth experiences and drastic events of Mass Effect 2, perhaps making something like an apology tour, whether she actually engages the victims of her excess and recklessness or just reflects on what brought her to those extremes.

Much of the gameplay would take place in flashbacks based on her backstory and anecdotes from ME2. Obviously, you need to cover the brutal treatment and gladiator pit-like training, and eventual escape from the Cerberus project lab. You also need to address her capture and maximum security confinement, which is the situation in which she meets Shepard. From her shipboard dialogue, we have other colourful events outlined including spending time in gangs, a cult, crashing a space station into a moon... All of which could be fleshed out into exciting and dynamic action sequences.

The richness of Bioware is in their character writing and the construction of interesting and well thought out universes (their success or failure in game scenarios is more subjective). Making an RTS or FPS which doesn't leverage direct control over a major established character is a mistake that EA should avoid (but probably won't). These are the easiest and least imaginative spin-offs, but they would be a mistake.

Mass Effect 3's Galaxy at War mode obviates the need, and even the place, for a multiplayer-focused shooter, at least for the first wave of spin-off products. EA owns or deals with many competent shooter studios, so they could set a developer to the task tomorrow if they wanted. Making a conventional FPS is most obvious and least inspired thing EA could do, and I feel pretty confident it would be a PR loser for them. Too many shooters on the market already, and slapping the ME license on one would be greeted with skepticism and resent by a playerbase already suspicious of EA/Bioware's handling of the main franchise.

The temptation to make an RTS game must be pretty great – especially in light of the studio EA renamed “Bioware Infinite” is already working on a Command an Conquer game. We've seen this before with Halo Wars, and it went over like a lead balloon. Mechanically, making an RTS out of the ME universe would be difficult. Halo has a better, if still anaemic roster of skirmish fighting units, and they struggled with balance and believability. Fact is, console RTS games suck, and this kind of game would need to be multiplatform to recoup development costs. Blizzard's StarCraft franchise is the only current success in the RTS field, so between StarCraft expansions and the forthcoming C&C game, a Mass Effect RTS would flounder.

I think that EA has to avoid these kinds of obvious and easy projects when the look at their spin-off options for the Mass Effect universe. Something more like my Jack character action game would be a better solution. EA can succeed by showing respect to the existing relationship between players and important characters in the ME trilogy, by avoiding cliched and crowded genres, and by creating a game solid enough to stand on its own – a game enhanced by the license, not carried by it.   read

4:31 PM on 03.25.2012

Disappointment: BRINK

What I want to talk about is Brink. Yeah, maybe you remember it coming out this past May, maybe you've already forgotten it. The general reception among critics and players was poor scores and bad initial impressions. But I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed in Brink. I want to single it out as a game which failed to deliver on its unusually large stockpile of potential and promising ideas – Brink is the game of 2011 for which I would most like to see a sequel.

Brink was a disappointment, but in a year of third sequels and an age of CoD-clones, it was perhaps the most original new take on the competitive FPS genre in 2011. Brink disappointed expectations set up by its marketing, and as-shipped it was plagued with serious technical problems. The glitches and performance issues were mostly addressed by patches that showed up too late to salvage the game's reputation or buttress it against a precipitous player-retention rate. A properly handled sequel which expanded upon Brink's many promising ideas while restoring public confidence could be a fantastic game, as well as the shake-up the online FPS world desperately needs.

Brink was developed by Splash Damage – if your bonafides are in order, you'll recognize them as the cats who made Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. My brother and I had gotten pretty deep into Enemy Territory's beta/demo, which predated the release of TF2 by years, and delivered class-based, objective multiplayer that was exciting and dynamic. Splash Damage started as a mod team that graduated to working as contractors on games, and had made multiplayer and DLC maps for a number of titles. Wolf: ET was their first big release, but it was a free-to-play (before it was cool) online shooter under an existing IP. Brink was the team's first major-publisher backed, original IP-based crack at the real retail games market. When the first details of the project came out, including Splash Damage's role as developer, I was quite excited to see what would come of it.

Brink, believe it or not, was announced officially on the 29th of May, in the year of our lord two-thousand and NINE. When it was revealed, the release was targeted for 'Spring 2010”. It did not release until May 10th, 2011. If you haven't had your morning coffee yet, that is a full year or delays from the projected date. Remember as well, if they announced it Spring '09, they probably started work on it in late 2007 or early 2008, because that is how the industry works. Splash Damage teamed up with the publishing arm of Bethesda to release Brink as their first retail game, and when you consider the year of delays and their freshman nature in the big leagues, the disconnect between aspiration and final product is not surprising, but still disappointing.

The lengthily pre-release hype cycle made promises that were not delivered, and failed to clear up popular misconceptions about what the game was going to be. I didn't follow the hype too closely (I have a very limited apatite for marketing, even in things that interest me) but I had gotten the impression from early interviews that the game was going to feature some form of open-world single-player with dynamic goals and a Dark Souls-like ability to bring in players to aide you or join a friend's game.

I don't remember the specifics, but just before the game released I found out that this wasn't the case and I was disappointed that they had dropped some of the most interesting ideas, but I was still interested in Brink as it was to be released: a class-based, objective multiplayer game. When the game rolled out, it became clear that I was in a minority. There was a large population of people who seemed to also think the game was going to have a 'real' single-player aspect, rather than a comparatively simple bot-match mode. People were really upset about this. I suppose if I had discovered that expectations of a deep single player mode that had been set more than a year before release were not borne out after buying the game, I would have been more upset as well.

Players were greatly irritated by the gulf between what they had expected from hype reels released in 2009 and the final product delivered in 2011. This was the fault of the marketing and developers not setting proper expectations or dispelling incorrect assumptions. I picked up that the game wasn't going to feature a robust single-player experience before launch, but clearly a large (and loud) majority missed that and expected a game more in-line with earlier marketing and developer interviews. I imagine the Splash Damage team had loftier goals that had to be cut back when faced with the reality of making a full retail game for the first time, but by failing to message this to the customers effectively they engender a lot of negative feeling for the game when it released.

Of course disappointed expectations and negative feelings from inflated marketing were just one element of a troubled launch, Brink faced serious technical problems at release as well. The console versions shipped broken, I don't remember what all the issues were because I had it on PC, but I think the 360 match making was busted at least. On the PC side, users with certain hardware configurations were unable to play the game, or suffered massive graphical glitching. People without those problems found the game to run poorly – even on beefy computers.

My computer was pretty much brand new when Brink released, and it torpedoed the recommended specs, but I had to turn off some of the bells and whistles like SSAO and motion blur to get the game to run reasonably – in this regard I had a better experience than most users who faced problems with GeForce drivers and some specific ATI cards ranging from non-booting games to full-screen texture glitching. Memorably one particular map would consistently lose all sound after a minute or so, leaving everybody playing in uncomfortable silence.

Joining games on PC was a laborious task, made worse by limited filtering options. Once connected, it definitely seemed like the netcode was poor – it did a bad job smoothing out connection problems and suffered from very dodgy client-side prediction (which made shooting and dealing damage feel inconsistent and excessively weak). Out of the box, the online experience was evocative of my time playing Q3A and UT, like they didn't want to license the 'good' middleware for hiding latency or something. I have only a basic understanding of what goes into netcode to begin with, and no knowledge of what decisions or resources the Splash Damage team were limited by, but my subjective experience was not uncommon, and if felt like the online experience was a holdover from the turn of the century – strangely bereft of a decade of progress and improvement.

So the game had a rough launch week, with reception problems because of an over-long, over-promising hype cycle and incompetent information control, and mechanical problems because of a host of connectivity and graphical problems. The communication problems did not diminish the fact that the game, though more limited than anticipated by many, still featured many inspired ideas and solid gameplay. The technical problems were all issues that could be patched. While the launch week looked rough, given time, one might assume that it could patch the glitches and stand on the strength of its online play.

Sadly, this was the “Fist of the North Star” moment for Brink – as an effectively multiplayer-only game, its buggy and problematic launch, and tepid critical response meant it was still walking and talking, but almost certainly “already dead”. Launch period coverage focused on the bugs and glitches (and rightly so), while consumers grumbled at the lack of a fully fleshed single-player campaign and a small number of maps, creating a pervasive anti-buzz for the game at just the moment it needed to build a critical mass of players.

It doesn't matter that those technical problems were in fact addressed within weeks by a series of patches and some driver hotfixes. It doesn't matter that the multiplayer maps were large, multi-stage affairs with creative pathing options and possibilities for inter-class teamwork. Because people held off on purchasing, or took a bath on their purchase after their first impression, Brink did not rally the necessary population of invested players that an online shooter needs to be sustainable.

For me, the failure of Brink to capture an audience large enough to keep the game vital and varied was one of the most disappointing aspects in a collection of more and less tangible disappointments. Disregarding the shortfalls between aspiration and execution, anticipation and realization, once patched up, the game was a solid online shooter which harkened back to some earlier conventions, while introducing a host of admirable new ideas. It presented a welcome breath of fresh air in a market dominated by modern military shooters derived from Counter-Strike and Modern Warfare. Splash Damage, the publishing arm of Bethesda, and any marketing firms they contracted fucked everything about Brink's launch up such that the patches were too little, too late, and the game was doomed by not reaching critical mass.

Steam tells me I played Brink for a little more than 60 hours. I had a lot of fun, but by the end of the month, I was having to connect to German and French servers to get a game going at the weird times of day I play (what with nightshift work and all). When the new maps and raised level cap were released as the “Agents of Change” DLC (for free, by way of apology), I ducked back in for a little, but that popular-interest swell didn't last, and neither did I.

That is how Brink failed, but the inability to live up to customer expectations, or to gather a reasonable playerbase for enduring online play are not why the game was a disappointment. Lots of games over-promise and under-deliver, lots of games dry up online against the withering competition of titans like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Brink disappointed because the game was, for all its faults, promising and unique in terms of artistic design, scenario building, and execution of gameplay design.

At the very least, Splash Damage/Bethesda should license the scripting and know-how behind SMART, the 'parkour' traversal system, if only as a public service. After Brink, no first-person game should get away with forcing you to circumnavigate a waist-high box or 'Mario jump' over a handrail (that is, an unsupported, standing, leg-only, impossibly high jump, seen in everything from Counter-Strike to Halo). The great sense of physicality in Brink's traversal, from the 'home base' slide to the Prince of Persia style ledge-grab puts other games to shame. Not every game needs to let the player wall-run-rebound like a ninja, but when most FPS games make you feel like a camera on a dolly, it is distracting and lazy.

If the launch of Brink had gone smoothly, and if customer expectations had been set properly, I believe the game would have been far more successful than it was. Rather than ending up in $10 bins within months, I am certain that if game shipped as it existed post-patch would have justified additional DLC support and fostered a strong community. I believe that Brink should get a second chance in the form of a sequel – perhaps with the assistance of a more seasoned co-developer (or at least some poached staff), Splash Damage could expand on the appealing fiction and setting of Brink, and further develop the overlooked depth of their class-based objective gameplay, and redeem the disappointing Brink into a fertile franchise.   read

11:44 PM on 01.10.2012

What I Want in 2012: E3 2012

What I want to see most in 2012 is what the platform holders and big developers/publishers bring to 2012. And not in a sincere, hopeful, or optimistic sense either. I think this longer-than-typical console lifecycle is going to leave E3 2012 presenters shrugging and scratching their heads over which announcements they can justifiably make a fuss.

I want to see what they are going to do when the natural rhythm of the industry says we're due, if not overdue, to start a new console generation, and when almost all of the flagship franchises of this generation have filled out their trilogy structures and come to a narrative endpoint. It is going to be an awkward series of presentations at best, and a great source of wahjah and douche-chills at worst. My prediction is that E3 2012 will be a disaster (at best, because at least that will be entertaining) or the most boring games industry trade show in years (at worst because the only thing worse than an overtly bad tradeshow is a giant waste of everybody's time and attention).

How much of E3 2012 will be Mr. Caffeine and Cammy Dunaway awkwardly over-hyping things people care nothing about? What more can be said about motion control, be it Kinect or Move after so many tradeshows? Is Sony really going to push the same 3D for a third year in a row? Besides the games we already know are coming fall/holiday 2012, what could publishers possibly bring to the table?

I think E3 2012 is going to feature a lot of presenters acting very excited over things that would has been a footnote or also-ran in the last few years, and going over like a lead balloon to the audience. Companies are going to show up, build booths, and schedule keynotes, but what are they going to say? Nothing important. This generation of games has played out, and by June most of the anticipated sequels will be out or just around the corner, and who wants to try to start a new franchise when new consoles are on the horizon? At the same time, those new consoles are not going to feature at E3 2012. So software people and hardware people are going to get up on stage and shrug – it is going to be must-see-TV for the schadenfreude set.

The early days of this current generation gave us the franchises that have defined the life of today's consoles. The thing is, at this point, nearly all of those franchises have reached the point at which they have told the stories they needed to tell, they have reached the end of their narrative arcs, so they're pretty much done – for this generation at least. This is a symptom of our current unnaturally long console cycle – publishers will take a risk on new IP at the beginning of a new generation, two or three sequels later, those IP are done with their storytelling, and the developers are aching to work on something else – and in previous console cycles that was about the same time it was time to start a new IP for the next generation's launch line up. Not this time, and it is going to present a problem for announcements at E3 2012.

Just to refresh your memory, major exclusives like Gears of War, Resistance and Uncharted were rolled out early and have been the series used to argue stupid-baby-console-wars. Gears of War is done, wrapped up with a bow, and Uncharted 3 did not blow away Uncharted 2, least of all from a story perspective. Major multi-platform series have also played out their arcs on the current consoles, or will finish them in their next release, like the Modern Warfare games, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed. MW3 was the big wrap up for the MW-verse, and critics have as much as said that if the next CoD game is just more of the same it will no longer be sufficient. Mass Effect 3 is to be the end of Shepard's story, and the next Assassin's Creed game better advance the plot in a dramatic way – its 2012 now, for one thing, and two side-sequels have tried fan's patience for the brand. E3 2012 is going to be light on big new game announcements because most of the franchises are finished, or are awaiting a final instalment that had or will be announced before E3.

If any of these established franchisees want to try to stretch another game out on this generation they're running a significant risk of over-staying their welcome. Halo 4 is a good example. Bungie was so sick of making Halo games that they quit, but MS seems to believe the brand can't just take a break. Halo 3 concluded Master Chief's story, and Reach took it up to the limit on the 'games based in this world' axis. The HD re-release makes three conventional FPS Halo games on the 360, which really seems like enough. With Bungie's exit on one hand, three games including an HD rehash on the other, it really seems like Halo should be finished on this generation of hardware to me. If 343 Studios wants to make Halo 4 staring Master Chief, it really seems like the thing to do would be to save it for the next system, to found a new trilogy on new hardware – to save the impact of a new Halo game until it can underline the importance and potential of a new console. I feel like releasing another Uncharted or Mass Effect (beyond 3, of course) on this generation would look similarly slimy, and I think most publishers are savvy enough to recognize this

So while I don't think we will see much in the way of huge announcements for the franchises we know and love at E3 2012, I think the looming inevitability of new consoles might also having a chilling effect on big reveals for new IP on current hardware. If you were the developer with the idea for a great new franchise, or the publisher who has to take the chance on an unproven idea would you want to be among the last big games on a console generation on its way out, or try to strike gold as a standout new franchise on hot new hardware? While I strongly doubt we'll have any useful news about new hardware at E3 2012, it takes a few years to make a game, especially to start a new IP from the ground up – the industry is going to be collectively holding its breath for the new consoles – if a company has a hot new idea, they're going to save it unless they need to turn a game around fast for money reasons. With that in mind, I think we can expect more HD re-releases and licensed games to fill the gaps until the new hardware announcements finally do come, whether late in 2012 or most likely E3 or other events in 2013.

I'll admit to some optimism here though, some smaller titles that didn't blow up for one reason or another in their first release might take this twilight period of the current generation to take another kick at the can while the big guys wait for the next generation. If the studios haven't been closed down (as with Blur, sadly) we might see follow-ups announced to games like Brink and Alpha Protocol – games which had good ideas but rough launches for one reason or another. We might also see new games from smaller names that don't have the budget or stable to wait another year to announce their next game or shove out some kind of filler in the meantime.

So this long-assed console cycle is putting a crimp in franchises by outlasting their current narrative arcs, but not allowing them to make a next-gen jump. The lack of new consoles is also chilling the roll out of new big ideas as well. So what we need are some new consoles, right? Dig this, we're not getting a look at new consoles this E3. I was hopeful, there were early indications, but all signs and portents in the last two or three months have suggested that it isn't going to happen. I love the excitement and anticipation that comes with a new console generation, but on the balance of what we know and what we can intuit, it seems very unlikely that Microsoft and Sony will have new hardware to announce and hype at E3 2012.

In the case of a new new Xbox, there is little fiscal motivation for Microsoft to announce new hardware at this year's major tradeshows. Despite its advanced age, the Xbox 360 has been posting crazy-bananas sales figures over the last two years. The audience is expanding on the 360, not shrinking, which makes it difficult to justify unleashing new hardware, which could leave many of the recent adopters from the profitable-but-less-devoted segments of the market feeling quite put out.

There have been rumours of first draft CPUs taping out for the next MS console, but those are unsubstantiated, and 'taping out' is such an early step in the process of designing a CPU, it suggests the next Xbox is still rather early in development. So early that if MS wanted to show anything at E3, it would only be bullshit target renders and speculative tech demos only, and with their current product still rolling strong, I don't think they need to take that risk. CES is happening now, and the Tested crew is covering it in their usual all-out fashion. On Monday night's livecast, they had Michael Pachter as a guest and Pachter told the panel and audience that he had pushed MS about announcing a new console and that they had told him a flat “no console announcements in 2012” - a flat disclaimer, not a “we're not talking about that now” or “we don't comment on rumours or speculation”. Pachter's accuracy in predicting the industry may be held in low regard by most fans, but I doubt he would lie about something said to him on a live show that was watched by thousands, and will be archived in video and podcast formats in perpetuity.

Sony is similarly unlikely to instigate a new console war at this E3. Their home console hasn't been blowing up the sales charts in quite the same way as the 360, but sales have been still healthier than a casual observer would expect for a four-to-five year old box. Sony is also currently launching the PS Vita, so they are already dealing with one launch, even if it is a portable system, they would have little motivation to open another front for themselves by spinning up the hype machine for a new home console at the same time. Sony also appears to be in the middle of an internal shake-up, with reports that Kaz Hirai, SCEI Chairman and father of the Playstation, would be kicked up to Grand High Chief of all-Sony. Those reports were challenged by Sony a few days later, but just in a 'not right now' manner. A significant power shuffle is not a good time for a new console roll-out, which is a massive undertaking of risk and commitment.

As I write this piece, a new story on Dtoid popped up saying that “Sony isn't planning to announce a new console at E3”. Which pretty much puts the kibosh on new console headlines at E3 2012.

Nintendo disclaimer: when I talk about major platform holders in this context, I mean Microsoft and Sony. Nintendo will be showing something related to the Wii U, but I don't care. First off, they already announced it, and what they showed was a load. When they announced the Gamecube and Wii, I was like “Oh...hmm... well, they are Nintendo, I'm sure they know what they're doing”. After seeing the Wii U so far I'm not extending them that credit this go-round. I'll gladly watch Nintendo's keynote at E3 2012, but I won't be expecting inspiration or excitement – I'll be waiting for the Wii U to have its “Wii music demo” moment, or to have its “Bullshit renders later proved to be bullshit” incident. Call me a hater if you want, but I grew up a Nintendo kid and nothing would please me more than a return to relevancy for the once mighty “N”, I just can't look at the Wii U and picture that future.

E3 2012 is shaping up to be a train-wreck. Seeing a keynote train-wreck is my second favourite thing to seeing a raft of exciting announcements and new hardware detail. Because I don't think we can expect the later, we better get some popcorn and get ready to watch the fail-pile.


11:56 PM on 12.20.2011

It is 2011, and I ordered CDs in the mail, WTF?

I ordered my Skyrim soundtrack back on Nov. 9th, and checking my email this morning after work I learn that it started shipping to me on Dec. 13th. So that's cool, I'm not even upset about the month-plus delay. I take it as normal that, as a Canadian, anything I order from the US will take an unreasonably long time to arrive, and I'm sure producing the discs and packaging, and signing them also contributes to the slow turnaround.

In case you didn't know, the soundtrack is a 4-disc collection presented in a nice box (not just a multi-disc jewel case), and early orders will be signed by the composer, Jeremy Soule. You can scope it out at DirectSong, which is a storefront operated by the Soule brothers themselves. I think it is pretty awesome that they sell their own soundtrack discs directly, being a niche interest and all, and I'm sure they get better returns this way than they would with a proper label and traditional distributor.

But why would I buy the soundtrack when I already almost never use my CD player, and could probably also just unpack the .BSA archives and pull the music out of the game directly? Good question. One answer is I was a little bit tipsy when I ordered it - and while this is true, I'm mostly joking because I thought about whether I should buy the thing on and off for a week or so.

Really, I have the PC version of the game from Steam – and I bought it back when it was initially offered so that I could get the sweet TF2 loot (my heavy looks dope in the helmet), but also because as a mega-fan of Oblivion, I had been reading the infamous "TES5 Speculation" thread on the official forums for nearly a year before the 2010 VGA announcement of Skyrim's existence so I was eager to make it a reality and pre-purchasing was part of that. One side-effect of this was that in November, waiting for the game to release, I had already paid for it months earlier, and had disposable income at hand, so I was anticipating the game, but I didn't have to spend $60 that week to get it (the two ideas otherwise going hand-in-hand). Ordering the soundtrack, in a way, was spending the money I felt like I would have spent on the game, although that is crazy to articulate ...and obviously stupid, there it is.

Of course having pre-purchased the game through Steam, on November 11th, the game files would unlock and decrypt and I would be off to the races in Skyrim - but with no physical box to put on my shelf. Now I'm all for digital-only, no clutter media consumption in 99% of cases, but I've always kinda liked having my Oblivion case on my bookshelf - I spent so much time with the game, I might as well have a physical token of that experience in my personal space. I was not interested in a huge plastic dragon because that just isn't how I roll, so although I wanted the art book, there was no reason to get the CE - and if I wasn't going to get the CE, there was no reason to buy a boxed PC game. Getting the nicely packaged OST will give me something to put on my shelf, even if I'm going to rip the CDs as soon as I get them and might never actually play them in a conventional CD player (I still have one, I even dust it once in a while).

But the primary reason I bought a $40 soundtrack printed to a physical medium I have no use for, and shipped agonizingly slowly across the border, is because I fucking love Jeremy Soule. The music he wrote for Oblivion and Morrowind accompanied hundreds of hours of some of my favourite gaming experiences. I put the Morrowind soundtrack into Oblivion to fatten the experience (yo dawg, I heard you liked Jeremy Soule in your TES games so...). Just a few bars of "Sunrise of Flutes" or "Wings of Kynareth" and I'm back in the Jerall Mountains.

I have had the Morrowind and Oblivion soundtracks for about five years - and I've kept them in heavy rotation on a regular basis - and to be blunt, I stole them off the internet. I could justify my piracy, if I cared; back then I was a cash-starved student, and I could have as easily pulled those songs from the game files, which I legitimately owned, torrenting the albums just ensured good bitrates and pre-filled ID3 tags - it may not have been on the up and up, but I always felt it was a lighter shade of grey, as far as these things go. I've made playlists over the years of the softer music from TES3 and TES4, and played them though headphones or from my PC as I go to sleep (being a difficult sleeper music helps shut up my brain so I can sleep). When I started using iTunes to manage my music I found I had to reset the play counter on these files occasionally because they threw my '25 most listened' all out of sorts otherwise (maybe I'm a little anal).

Buying the soundtrack, straight from Jeremy Soule's own store, allows me to level my karma- after enjoying his work in-game for years, and having had the aide of his music in getting countless good nights' sleep with copies of the soundtrack that I did not directly pay for, throwing the dude a few bones directly seems like the proper thing to do. For all the satisfaction his compositions have brought me over the years, I feel like $40 and waiting patiently for more than a month is the least I could do.

TLDR: I bought CDs I'll never play for symbolic value, having enjoyed Soule's body of work for so long that I felt that I owed him a direct gesture of gratitude. Also I wanted a physical totem to Skyrim because I bought it on Steam.   read

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