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10:33 AM on 02.10.2012

Fable Family Matters

My husband and child disappeared the other day. Not my real family, but my little RPG family I had set up in the land of Albion while playing Fable 3. When I beat the game, I had purchased every single piece of property available and was making loads of money that I had no intention of spending since I had also purchased every item in every shop. I had achieved the best possible ending and saved everyone in Albion and had finished all the quests that I had intended to finish. I knew I wouldn't bother with the long collection quests but I was quite satisfied with the way I ended the game. I had intended to merely walk around for a bit, and then turn off the game for at least a few months, possibly never to boot it up again.

Then I got the family notification that my husband Elliot had a gift for me. I happily transported back home, checked inside my well-decorated house. Neither husband nor child was to be found. That's all right, they sometimes roam around the marketplace. I walked around a bit and still couldn't find them. That's when I started to get a bit nervous. After 10 minutes I went to my mini-map and relocated them to another house. They still didn't show up. Then I moved them to a different town. Still nowhere to be seen. Then I moved them back to the original house. Not there. But the heart notification is still blinking on the bottom corner of my screen. Finally I give up and search for Fable 3 glitches, and lo and behold I discover that if you so happen to place your family in certain “unsafe” areas of the world when beating the game, they will disappear and never come back. They will still show up on your quest log, but there is no way to see them in-game again. I researched possible solutions but only read posts about the bug still being unfixed. This bothered me a lot. Then I felt even more bothered that the disappearance of my RPG family would disturb me that much.

Elliot was a unique character unlike my Fable 2 husband, whose character design was so repetitive I sent him off crying once because I accidentally asked one of his clones to bed instead. I didn't particularly care so much about what happened with him but I cared about my dog, so when I saved my dog in Fable 2 I wound up saving my family as well. But Fable 3 was different. I saved Elliot from being executed at the beginning of the game, and then when we finally reunited I convinced him to ditch his fiance and come back with me, then proposed to him, and I set up a luxurious home in Bowerstone where we had one child. He would occasionally give me gifts, including a large portrait of himself that was worth +1500 value to home furnishings. I only had to make the simplest single-button interactions with him to keep him happy. It is one of the shallowest NPC interactions you can find in a video game, but it still bothered me that he went missing in the end.

Maybe it's because the point of an RPG is to create an experience that is truly your own. Maybe it's because I like things that I put time and effort into to remain there. After all, I cared enough about the game to make that extra tedious effort to save pointless NPCs in Albion. Maybe it's because all of this is due to a ridiculous glitch that undermines a lot of what I had done during the game. It would be different if story-wise you lose your family – that is unavoidable and something the writers wanted to happen. But through a glitch? I'll put up with the many other bugs in the Fable games: disappearing navigation trails, NPCs talking over each other, a dog that can't walk straight. But losing your family? Never again, Lionhead.   read

11:37 PM on 11.13.2011

Playing as Catwoman made me want to punch the wall

Batman: Arkham City is one of my favorite Xbox 360 games ever. It has fantastic gameplay, graphics, is loaded with side missions and has superb voice acting that caters to my love of Batman the Animated Series. It also has one of the most frustrating game levels I've played in recent memory. It's not NES TMNT impossible, but gameplay-wise made absolutely no sense to me. Gameplay spoilers if you haven't played through all Catwoman missions.

One of the things I appreciated about Arkham City is that for the most part, you start with all the gadgets and moves you had from Arkham Asylum. There is no Metroid-like quest to reclaim all your items. You start the game as a bad-ass. My biggest problem early on in combat was there were so many moves and gadgets available that I couldn't remember them all and felt overwhelmed. The opposite was true for Catwoman. She has 3 tools available eventually but is very limited compared to Batman, which makes sense of course as she isn't the billionaire vigilante. It takes her 3-4 whips and leaps to get where Batman can get in one move. She doesn't have detective mode so she can't see breakable objects or the total number of henchman or whether they are armed or not. But she runs faster and her combat has a more frenetic pace to it. And she can climb upside-down on the ceiling which Batman can't do. I enjoyed her missions because it was a nice change from Batman's.

Then I got to her final mission which requires her to take down Two-Face in the museum where he is surrounded by 6 armed thugs. Simple enough. I silently take down 2 guys and then wait for them to be discovered so I can focus on Two-Face. Then I notice there are 6 guys still walking around. Did I count wrong? Like I said earlier she doesn't see the count of bad guys in the room so I thought it was highly possible that I miscounted. I take out another guy. Still 6 guys walking around. I choke another guy. Still 6 guys. Then I realize to my dismay that the thugs infinitely spawn so I stop trying to take them out. I'm just gonna focus on Two-Face. I wait until he's not surrounded and then I pounce on him. He falls like a normal thug so you can't hit him while he's stunned on the ground. But unlike a thug you can't perform any sort of ground takedown. By the time I realize this, Two-Face's henchman have shot me to death, which is to say I got shot around 2 times.

So I think I should add that in addition to her other limited abilities, Catwoman also has less health and body armor than Batman. Oh, and while Two-Face is taunting me on the death screen the hint shows up that Two-Face will constantly replace his thugs so I should focus on Two-Face. This death screen will be my worst enemy by the time I'm done with this game.

So I try again, but this time after hitting Two-Face once I pounce away atop a gargoyle far, far away from Two-Face. It doesn't make a difference. The thugs spot me right away, shoot and I fall to my death. Most likely the thugs saw me because of the many jumps it takes me to reach the first gargoyle. So there is no hiding on the gargoyles after you are discovered either.

Then I try to do a combo of taking out 2 guys and attacking Two-Face while the rest are far away, but each time I get shot to death. I should add that Two-Face will occasionally change positions after you attack him and one of them is very inconvenient to reach and escape easily. After many more deaths I finally settle on my final tactic: study the movement of the guards and take them out so they never realize someone went down and therefore no thugs replace them. I'm not going to admit how many hours this took (a lot), but finally I'm able to take out all the goons and then it's just Two-Face and his last guy on the bridge. I silently take down the last guy and am almost done before Two-Face notices me. At which point he then fires his rocket at me.

So I think I should mention that in addition to all the other bullshit going on, Two-Face will constantly fire his rocket launcher after you are discovered. If you get hit, you die. But when he accidentally shoots one of his men, they get stunned and then get back up. Anyway I beat him up until finally Catwoman anticlimactically punches him in the face.

So let's analyze the combat aspects here. As Batman I could have knocked 2 guys unconscious, disarmed 2 other guys, sonic-bataranged another guy and then frozen the last guy AND I would have been able to take more gunshots to the body while taking down Two-Face. But this is the SOLE level that the developers decided to add the condition of constantly respawning enemies? Did they want to make some cruel difficulty spike? Catwoman has fewer gadgets, less health, less armor, and slower getaway stealth moves and this is where the hardest level in the game was located. And this is the final main story mission in the game if you downloaded the Catwoman DLC before starting the game. If you can't get past this point then you won't be able to return to Batman to wrap up your side missions. It was a long time before I returned to play as Catwoman.

It's a small complaint out of the overall package of awesomeness that was this game. I loved that Catwoman was a playable character in this game (ALMOST right out of the box) and appreciate the style differences from Batman. All I ask is that in the next game she get a kevlar catsuit or catarangs or a final boss level more befitting her abilities. After all a girl shouldn't have to break a nail being Catwoman.   read

2:23 PM on 08.16.2011

Why Commander Shepard Rules, Blonde or No

If you're the owner of an Xbox 360 or PC I hope you've had the pleasure of playing through two excellent games in a planned trilogy called Mass Effect. PS3 owners will only be able to play ME2 and ME3, but even if you miss out on the first game you should still get hooked on its sequel. If you have, you'll know that the game's story progresses along based on your decisions, allowing for a very personalized game. Your decisions result in different outcomes, characters that perished in the first game based on something you did will not show up in the sequel, and your squadmates may argue with you by throwing out something you told them in the previous game. It's a glorious experience. Along with that, the character you play, Commander Shepard, is able to be male or female, so regardless of which gender you pick, throughout the game Shepard's dialogue is fully spoken and other characters will refer to you in conversations as he/she as appropriate. As a female I don't mind playing the male hero in video games (Halo, Gears of War, Legend of Zelda, etc.) but when I was browsing the Xbox 360 platinum hits for a new game in 2009, I looked at the back cover of Mass Effect and was drawn to the words “customize your character." It didn't explicitly say that you could be male or female, and a male protagonist graced the cover, but the possibility of playing as a female was the deciding factor in making me purchase the game.

And I'm glad I did, because I got hooked on the story and the universe that Bioware created. I would still love the game even if I could only play as a male, but being able to play as a female felt empowering in a way, no doubt that was helped by the excellent voice acting by Jennifer Hale. I felt like I was Commander Shepard. I appreciate Bioware taking the effort to have both, because based on the games' executive producer Casey Hudson in an interview at San Diego Comic-Con, only 20% of players choose to to play as female (otherwise known as "Femshep"), so all the extra work of having to record the dialogue for 2 main Shepards, along with the times Shepard is mentioned as he/she by other characters, along with having different love interests for each gender is a treat. Maleshep has been in the promotional materials for the first 2 games, but finally with ME3 there will be promotional materials for both genders since the fan devotion for Femshep has been so strong.

Since this is the first time that Femshep will be displayed in trailers and other advertising, Bioware recently ran a poll on Facebook on the Mass Effect 2 page to see which Femshep model fans wanted as the default in future promotional material for Mass Effect 3. Even though the game was never marketed with a female lead, the default face when you start a new game as a female has been the same, but she is not one of the 6 models available. The one blonde Shepard available is miles ahead in voting compared with the other models, although all the (heavily eyelined) faces look pretty similar. I've seen controversy over this choice and how this poll basically turned into a beauty contest, which is unfortunate, but I don't think this could have been avoided. I don't know who voted, whether it was a general mix of all Mass Effect fans, or males who never play as Femshep, or only people who play as Femshep. But I don't think that any pick could have avoided some sort of outcry. We've been without a promoted Femshep for 2 games, so people who have been playing as her have their own idea of what she should look like. This is the opposite for Maleshep, since his same face has been plastered over trailers, commercials and screenshots for years.

My own Femshep is a red-head who looks nothing like me (apart from the eyebrows) or any of the voted Femsheps, but I based her look on the character's history I selected. She's spent her whole life in space because both of her parents were in the military, so she's pale with freckles (from the few times she's had to land groundside on a planet for a mission), she has red hair because, well, it just looks so good with her shiny red and black N7 customized armor, and she doesn't wear a lot of makeup because she's too busy leading her team and kicking Reaper ass. I've seen a lot of other Femsheps online that people have created, and some of them are downright gorgeous and I'm amazed at how diverse they all look, but I'm still attached to mine because I created her and she's been with me throughout 100+ hours of gameplay.

Ideally I would have preferred people to submit their own Femsheps and a story on why she looks the way she does, but this would have had overwhelming submissions and I don't think there would have been a good way to narrow this down efficiently. I personally voted for #3, currently in 3rd place, who looks nothing like my Shepard but she was closest to what I would envision for a default female: less makeup (relatively), practical ponytail and ethnically ambiguous. Shepard #4, currently in second place, I objected to because she has a red stripe in her hair. When does Commander Shepard have time from saving the universe to dye her hair?? But I knew the blonde #5 (the traditionally pretty one) was going to win, and if it's not official yet it will be soon. Sure Bioware could have removed the option of any blonde at all, but that's going too much the other way, and from a marketing standpoint, gamers who aren't familiar with the series will take a look at the cover (or the trailers), and if blonde female Commander Shepard is what gets them playing the game as a female then she'll have done her job. Personally I'm very excited to finally hear Hale's voice used in a Mass Effect game trailer. And as others have pointed out, even though the blonde will be the default, you can stick with your own Shepard or create a whole new one. Look at Maleshep; he's based on model Mark Vanderloo so he's no average-looking guy either.

In the end, Shepard can be whoever we want him/her to be. I'm glad that we get the opportunity to play as Femshep and that fans are so passionate about Mass Effect and Shepard that this even comes up as a discussion. Just the fact that Bioware wanted fans' input on the look of the character for marketing purposes shows how far Femshep has come. Mass Effect is a richly detailed universe and there are so many opportunities to make the game as you want it to be. Maybe there are some who are content to pick the default Shepard because they don't care about they way their hero looks (and is that really a bad thing?). In the end, Commander Shepard doesn't just act the way you want him/her to act, Shep can look whatever way you want, and my red-headed Femshep will be saving the galaxy again just fine.   read

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