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12:20 AM on 01.16.2014

Gaming Hall of Fame: The Witcher 2 – Assassins of Kings

I’ll praise this game til I die. It is, in my opinion, the best fantasy RPG to come out in the last generation and is up there with my favourite RPGs of all time. Our relationship started out quite poorly to tell the truth, it wouldn't install on my old computer so I couldn't play it at all. Then when I finally got a new computer I tried several times to ‘get into it’ but after several hours of playing it just hadn't hooked me. I think I had 3 games with 2-3 hours of playtime on them, but on my fourth attempt at playing it I cracked through the rough surface and was absolutely hooked by it until I finished it. This is testament to the complexity and depth of the world.

Let’s start of by talking about the world and story. I compare it to being dropped into the middle of Game of Thrones, especially if you haven’t played the first game. There are a lot of characters who you don’t know, and you are bombarded with names, locations and factions, hell you don’t even really know who you are. This is what I found so hard to comprehend in my first few playthroughs. But when it all clicks, my god is it amazing. Once again I will liken it to Game of Thrones; there are assassinations, rebellions, subterfuge and all out war. The main story line is very good too; if a little slow to start. Once you get to the end of Act 1 you just can’t put it down, and I would say it is the most gripping main story of any game in recent memory. As a completionist I usually like to do all the side quests and make sure I have the best armour and what not, well not in The Witcher 2. This sounds like a bad point, but really it’s not it is proof of how compelling I found the story to be.

The thing I found most interesting and brilliant was the decisions you make and the outcomes of those decisions. The outcomes of your decisions are so realistic and the best decisions don’t have any good outcomes. And the greatest part is knowing you could have avoided the bad situation entirely if you hadn't done something stupid before. One event in particular springs to mind in which I let my emotions take action which put me at a serious risk, and then you have to deal with the consequences of you actions. This is what I find most amazing about the game and no game before it has made me have serious feels towards characters like The Witcher 2 did.

The combat is pretty run of the mill, you have six spells and two swords that work better depending on who you are fighting. You roll around to dodge and you can also parry, it is the least exciting part of the game in my opinion and I hope that it gets fixed up for The Witcher 3. The graphics are superb, especially for a pseudo-indie game. On its release it was the “I can run (insert game here) on full graphics”, it runs really well on my computer and I've heard good things about the console version too. To this day I regard it as one of the best looking games on PC. The art style is quite gritty, which suits the world very well; non-humans lives in filthy ghettos and humans aren't all that much better off.

The experience is honestly brilliant, and if you haven’t finished it I urge you on to buy it or finish that playthrough as you will not be disappointed. It is a game I recommend to everyone, even friends of mine that don’t enjoy RPG’s love this game. Anyway that’s me done, here’s hoping to The Witcher 3.   read

7:06 PM on 12.08.2013

Gaming Hall of Fame: Warcraft III

When you think of your favourite games of all time it's a pretty tough choice of what makes the cut and what doesn't. And harder still is deciding what is number one, right? Well for me this is completely wrong, when I think of my favourite games ever Warcraft III is the first one to pop into my head and is an easy number one. The game didn't really innovate on the RTS genre, just perfected it, and that is all I would ask for. In this blog I will try to summarise why I love this game so much, which is not an easy task. Without further adieu we shall begin.

Let's start with the core single-player components. First of all the Warcraft lore has to be some of the best out there, it's a fairly basic fantasy world but all of the characters have interesting histories and stories. The campaign (Reign of Chaos & The Frozen Throne) spans nine chapters with a little over 90 individual and unique levels. You play as every race and are able to experience the world from each perspective. Each faction has a unique play style and the chapters have a different feel, from the questionable and down-right treacherous actions of Arthas to Thrall's mission to bring his people to salvation. Each level is unique and objectives range from escorting and defending to RPG-like explorations and then to outright conquest and capture. This makes each level of the campaign feel like something new and doesn't get boring like many other RTS campaigns. In addition the single-player experience has very good AI for skirmishes up to 12 factions and a wide range of custom maps (more about this later).

Now onto the multi-player components. The game has two types of multi-player: LAN and (online). I must say this game is one of the most fun to LAN, you able to do team or solo skirmishes or to work co-operatively or competitively through a wide range of custom maps. The online component of this game is absolutely brilliant. It has ladders, ranks, tournaments, unlockables, guilds & friendlists, competitive solo & team play and the crowning jewel - custom games (more on this next). The competitive scene allows you to play solo against one or more opponent and team based play with friends or random players, and it is still very active today with tournaments still running over 10 years after the game's inital release.

Illidan - The Betrayer

Now onto one of the greatest 'modding' communities in gaming history. The custom maps made by players range from tower defence's to complex and time consuming RPG's to fun mini-game's to survival map's to arena's to shooter's. This game literally has it all. The most famous and arguably the biggest and most influential mod of all time is obviously Defence of the Ancients (DotA). The 'simple' map made from the Warcraft III map editor that spawned a multi-billion dollar genre. Three people that changed esport history and are responsible for spawning the biggest gaming tournaments ever and one of the most popular genres in modern gaming. DotA earned quite the reputation from both Warcraft III players and the general gaming public for being a challenging and punishing game and has sold millions of copies of Warcraft III just to play that one custom map. That's not all Warcraft III custom maps have to offer, there are popular zombie apocalypse servers that save your progress, there is some of the best competitive and cooperative tower defence games and in-depth MMORPG-like maps with persistent characters. There is something here for everyone, actually everyone.
Now none of this would be possible without the brilliant map editor that Blizzard put with the game. To call it a map editor is kind of insulting to this piece of software, it is the most robust and in-depth map editor I have ever experienced. You don't just create levels with this you make heroes, items, abilities, cutscenes and worlds, hell I even made an entire custom playable faction. Even as a younger and dumber self I was able to have a lot of fun using this tool. I created a pretty good RPG called Prison Break, in which you start in a cell have have to dig out. Once you escape you find the prison pretty much abandoned and overrun with monsters. It was fairly good, it had an economy, secrets, cutscenes, bosses, class-system and custom spells and items. I think the fact that I was able to make something half decent is testament to the tool, it has an extreme amount of depth yet is easy to use. 

The graphics still aren't half bad, and they recently updated it to support 1080p monitors which is pretty neat. The games cartoony art style ages pretty well and the building and character designs are just brilliant. The cutscenes, in true Blizzard style, are nothing short of perfection. Everyone who played Warcraft III remembers the Arthas' Betrayal custscene (see below) and rightfully so, because it is chilling. Also the music in Warcraft III is fantastic and they did a really phenomenal job with it. All of this makes the game an incredibly good visual and audio experience that hasn't aged that badly.

Everything previously mentioned makes Warcraft III my favourite game by a good stretch. The gameplay is basic enough for non-RTS players and complex and detailed enough for the most hardcore RTS fans. The story is great with brilliantly done cutscenes and music, paired with interesting and timeless graphics. The modding scene gives this infinite replayability and is great to play with your friends and by yourself. If you haven't played this I feel you owe it to yourself to try it as it is a brilliant experience.

Thank you for reading, I will probably make more of these as I get around to it.   read

10:27 AM on 11.24.2013

Story Telling in Video Games: The Good and The Bad

In our very wide and diverse chosen media we have a lot of different ways to tell stories. And, in my opinion, we have the best platform to tell interesting stories. However a lot of games seem to have lost their way. The obvious example of this is the modern military shooters: the Call of Duty games and the Battlefield games. These are very notorious for telling bad stories in a bad way. This raises the question, "what is the best way to tell a story in a video game?" There are two major types of story telling in video games: branching/choice driven story telling and linear story telling. 

Let's take a look at a good branching story, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. The Witcher 2 is one of my all time favourite games for almost only one reason, the fact that the choices I had to make made me stop and think. I won't ruin it though there is one choice in particular that involves putting myself at an extreme risk or blaming an in-game friend (that I had made). I can recall only a few games that make me stop and think about the consequences of my actions, what happens after this? The choices in The Witcher 2  are never black or white, there isn't a good or bad decision every choice is a mixture of the two. What this results in is not only realistic story telling but a greater connection to the characters in the game, you can't save everyone, so the people that you do help mean even more to you. Back to the example I detailed earlier, it was based on another previous choice I had made, if I had thought more about the previous choice I wouldn't have even been in the trouble I was. All of this results in not being just a story but YOUR story, it is this level of choice and the realism of these choices that puts The Witcher 2 at the top of branching story telling in my opinion.

An example of branching story that is not as effective (to me at least), is games that feature a clear right and wrong. The games that come to mind are Fable and Mass Effect, though they are not the only ones. These games do not have bad stories, I'd say the opposite, though the way they tell the story is questionable to me. Dialogue in these games is often black or white (or red/blue/green :P). And even worse than this is the immediate response from the game. In Fable for instance right at the start, you can give the little girl her teddy, or not. These choices don't make you think, compare that to the long-term effects of choices in The Witcher 2. The other problem with black and white choices are you often just stick to the one archetype, you become the ultimate incarnation of evil or the paragon of the righteous. And this results in a disconnection from your character, it's no longer YOUR character it is THE character.

Now onto linear story telling. Linear story telling has a lot of negative stigmatisation regarding it and a lot of people think it is a bad way to tell a story. I can't disagree more. Bastion is a great example of linear story telling, there is almost no choice in the game. There are two choices right at the end and you choose which levels you want to do first, that is the extent of the choices. You are thrown into the world with no cutscenes, and little background information. Although even without cutscenes it still tells a brilliant story, even in it's first 17 seconds. You know that this is an aftermath (of something), you play as The Kid whose world has been turned upside down and that The Bastion is your salvation and where the survivors are. All of this without interrupting the player, without a lengthy 'once upon a time' opening. Bastion is unique in its story telling through the narration, though it is not the only linear game to tell a great story. Narration is definitely not the only means to tell a story, engaging gameplay and fantastic music can both be used to convey a great story. These games never feel tedious in their story telling, and can carry boring mechanics.

Now onto bad linear stories, I won't go too far into this as I am sure you are all aware of how bad these are. It is because of these games that linear story telling has a negative reputation. An obvious example of bad linear story telling is Call of Duty. The gameplay is often interrupted by cut scenes and instead of playing these awesome moments you are forced to watch with no way of interacting. It's at that point where you have to wonder why even be a video game, why not make a bad movie?

What is the best way to tell a story? Well I think linear story telling cannot go much further other than invent fairly unique ways to tell the story, like Bastion did. Branching story telling however has a very bright future. The dream branching story will have highly personalised responses which will be great for character attachment. All choices will have negative and positive consequences, like real-life. I can envision there not even being preset choices and maybe a return to a more text based idea where the game interprets what you are saying and the characters respond in a realistic way.

Well that's all, hopefully the future of story telling in video games continues to grow in the right direction. Thank you if you read this far and leave your discussions and feedback.

-dannaz   read

8:14 AM on 11.10.2013

Gaming and Over Hyping: A Diablo III Interpretation

So Diablo III has been getting a lot of hype recently, obviously about the expansion. Now the purpose of this blog isn't whether Diablo III is very bad or just bad. Though it is instead on over hyping and the negative effects that this has on gamers, yes that means you. 

I guess I will start with an anecdote. Now there was once a time when I was a younger and more ignorant kid and I would over hype myself on almost every game, though the game that turned me over the edge was Red Dead Redemption. My friend and I were ridiculously excited for Red Dead, we would talk about it all the time in the classes we had together. Talk about the adventures we would have and all the features of the game. Before the game had even come out we knew almost everything about the game and things that we had even made up or read online that wasn't true. Then when the game was eventually released, I just thought Red Dead was 'meh'. Now this seems ridiculous, and I don't believe this is something that is true of everyone, or even many people. 

My greatest disappointment, and I only have myself to blame.

Though what I do believe is true is that some people are watching gameplay and trailers of games that are yet to come out, for no reason. They read about it and the news surrounding the games development and even plot. If I go to the Watch Dogs E3 trailer I see that it has over 3,000,000 views. Now not all these people that watched the video are over hyping themselves and some might be just curious about the game. Though I'm guessing a lot of those people that watch the video are going to buy Watch Dogs anyway and are watching the gameplay for no reason. So why do they do it? I don't know why, but the results of it can end up in not enjoying that game you were so excited about.

"So real", super-stylized Watch Dogs.

When you over hype yourself there are four possible outcomes (I put it into an easy to read table). So when you don't over hype yourself and a game is good then this is the best outcome, you played a good game that "took you by storm" and was a positive experience. When you play a bad game that you didn't over hype yourself all you did was waste your money, this is not ideal but not the worst either. However when you over hype yourself and the game is good the experience turns out to be OK, like what I experienced with Red Dead Redemption. And when you over hype yourself and the game is bad, this is when it gets ugly, you waste your money and you feel cheated. This is the case with Diablo III and quite recently, ROME II.

Super scientific table, need I say more?

So this is where the problems arise, now a lot of people get quite angry when I 'defend' Diablo III. Don't get me wrong D3 wasn't a very good game, although I don't think it is the worst game. I didn't come into D3 with high expectations, I knew it was made by new developers and I was weary of this. I didn't watch any gameplay footage and didn't read any news about it, all I knew is that I was going to play a Barbarian. Now so when D3 came out and it was't great, I was pretty neutral in the whole thing. I spent 300 or so hours playing D3 so I definitely got my moneys worth and that was 'OK'. Now that Reaper of Souls is coming out and I feel the same as when D3 was coming out, I'll get it but I don't really care. So when it comes out, and if it's good I will probably have a good time, and if it's not good then whatever, it really doesn't matter. Unfortunately for all the people that over hyped D3 they won't get the expansion and if they do they will hate it without judging it objectively.

The game most people will hate, for no reason but themselves.

First impressions stick, this has been found in research time and time again. And when the first impressions you receive are hand picked from the publishers who want your money they are going to do everything they can to get you to buy it, and after that they don't really care. This is where trailers come in, now everyone knows cinematic trailers don't mean much but people seem to think gameplay trailers are the actual game. Remember that Final Fantasy XIII 'gameplay' trailer that was nothing like the actual game? This makes peoples expectations so high and when they get the game and it's nothing like that they feel cheated and rage about it on forums. 

Looks exactly like the game, right?

So I suppose the point of this whole thing was to try and help you to help yourself. Don't watch trailers, don't read about the story or setting, don't read about gameplay and skills and don't looks at the 'in-game graphics'. It doesn't help you at all, all it results in is you getting hyped over something you don't really know anything about except biased trailers, you see what the publishers want you to see. If you want real opinions on games wait and listen to someone you trusts opinion once they have played it (and read Destructoid reviews obviously). Don't fall for marketing tricks because all that results is disappointment.

Recent example of 'gameplay' that is nothing like the game.

If you read this far thank you :D Please leave your comments and feedback as I may write more blogs like this one in the future.

-dannaz   read

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