Thoughts on Out of Beta’s recent blog post

Recently my friend Clockwork (his character is Bryce in our comics) posted a blog that we often re-publish on our own website (with

Someone named Tobold posted a response.

This person has an opinion and they are more than welcome to it.  I disagree with this opinion however…

To summarize, Clockwork thinks that the quality of games can suffer if you structure them around making money rather than being a good game.  The response took his opinion to an extreme, accusing him of only wanting game developers to have enough money to keep the lights on.

I dislike people who take things to an extreme simply because they disagree with someone’s opinion.

There is one thing this Tobold person says that I think makes his argument very shaky.  “If a game comes out at a certain price with a certain amount of content, you should decide whether that content is worth that price. Whether the development studio is profitable or not should not figure in that decision.”

My question is this: How do I know if the content is worth it unless I experience the content beforehand?

Even if I had a demo of the game, these demos will never include the ‘extra downloadable features’ this discussion is about.  By including them, they somewhat defeat the purpose of downloadable features.

We can debate what companies can do until the sun comes down and never agree.  I am just going to cut right to the point.

Tobold’s opinion would work just fine if we were discussing buying a car.  Video games are considered art by the United States Supreme Court, so the economics of art should apply to video games.  If Tobold would step back and take a look at how the economy works for art, he would realize the error of what he’s saying.  The price of art is never determined by the maker, but by how much money people are willing to pay for it.  This makes Jimquisition and ClockWork’s opinion not an attack on the choices of a company, but an opinion of people trying to put a price on the art they are considering purchasing.

Quality is really the determining factor for price in the art world.  Its about time investors and developers caught on to this fact.

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Out of Beta: Phantasms of Commercialization

Monday, January 19, 2015

Phantasms of Commercialization

So while I was ranting about a quote from Jim Sterling’s video about Evolve’s DLC the insightful Talarian asked:

outofbeta twitter

Sadly the question requires more than 140 characters to answer so I delayed for time and scrambled over here to hash something out. The question makes a good point, it’s difficult to say when something was cut because the developer ran out of time because theoretically the developer would throw everything in if time and money weren’t a factor and when it was a feature that was simply planned to be added later.

The triple-A video game development model is an entirely commercial thing, but we players like to indulge in the illusion that developers are cool people who aren’t trying to attach to our wallets like a mosquito. Many of them aren’t, but the modern reality of keeping a game studio open means the studio has to figure out ways to pay its bills. So every studio has to at some point ask itself how it’s going to get a return on their game. That was never in question, we live in a commercial world. However, some of those take it a dozen steps further and stop making it about “Lets aim for the stars and make the next WoW!” and take it to “So how can we maximize profit off the sheep players?” The trick is not making it obvious where on that spectrum your company lies. When you are using every possible means to generate revenue from players, we get suspicious.

I think it comes down to the intention of the developers when they are making the choice as to whether or not include a piece of content. If the developer is genuinely out of money to dedicate and needs to release, I see no problem with cutting content that they simply can’t pay for. If they are being held to a strict release date and can’t postpone any further I am also less critical. Though in “the olden days” plenty of developers would postpone releases to finish a game; these days it seems marketing and corporate controls when things get released, not whether the game is finished and tested (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed: Unity).

However, if the developer has already finished the majority of the content piece and will have it ready for release soon after and hold it back purely to sell it for more later, then I start to get a little annoyed. What constitutes an acceptable time period or amount of content is entirely subjective of course. I mean, in the case of Evolve they are literally increasing your eventual cost for content if you fail to pre-order. Now in some situations ordering something before release can be good, but in most of those the quality of the product is highly likely. The video game industry on the other hand has routinely been shown to release shoddy products after large amounts of hype to encourage pre-orders.

Planning to expand your game in the future isn’t a crime, but at the same time, charging people an upfront fee that is only getting them a relatively small portion of the intended total content (with a penalty if they do not pre-order) breaks that consumer illusion that the company isn’t seeking to exploit us. Your price model should reflect that intention, which should mean charging a smaller initial fee.

Developers should aim high. At the risk of sounding idealistic there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the next WoW or LoL, but there is a difference between trying to make something great and trying to nickel and dime your customers. Where that line lies is subjective, you the player have to decide whether you are getting the value your money is worth.

Posted by Clockwork at 10:06 PM

via Out of Beta: Phantasms of Commercialization.

Out of Beta: [Dragon Age Inquisition] Origins gave me a character, Inquisition gave me a husk

[Dragon Age Inquisition] Origins gave me a character, Inquisition gave me a husk

One of the key differences I’ve encountered when playing Dragon Age Inquisition was the feeling that my character was just a stand-in for myself rather than me stepping into the shoes of some figure in Thedas. In Dragon Age: Origins the player experienced a brief tutorial/backstory event, determined by their race/class, that explained how your character ended up in the Gray Wardens. The experience primed me on how my character might view the world.

Each intro gave the player a different experience and outlook on society in the setting. After each I felt like I had a grasp of how my character might react to various situations. My city elf, fresh from a scumbag human noble’s attempt at prima nocta, had little patience for the human king, while my recently deposed human noble found hope for revenge for his family. With each I felt like I was playing a character who had a story, goals, opinions, and feelings. Yet even though each one gave a framed view of the world the player could still decide how they would react. For example, my City Elf could choose to still believe in the good of humans, or become resentful at the injustice she faced.

In Dragon Age 2, this was toned down because the player was set in the role of Hawke, but the introductory sequence did give you some impression of who Hawke might be. Oddly enough, in their attempt to make the player feel more connected to a character they achieved the opposite result and left Hawke feeling a little hollow.

Inquisition did away with the introductory sequence and instead dropped you into the shoes of a race/class combination with a brief backstory. Now I understand that Inquisition’s storyline required the player to be in the dark, but as a result I had no framework with which to build my character. I was placed into a hollow shell, meant to be filled, but in a game where there are choices that are much more wrong than others the RP potential is sacrificed on the alter of min-maxing. Now we can say that the player is making that choice, but it means the game is, at times, punishing them for playing a character.

Were I a new player to the series, I would not understand the experiences of the various races. A new player won’t have much grasp of how the Dalish elves view Thedas after only a few paragraphs, nor the somewhat alien philosophies of the Qunari. In an attempt be more of a blank slate, the game’s setting loses it’s engrossing appeal. Origins encouraged me to play new characters to experience Thedas from their perspective, while Inqusition does not offer anywhere near that experience. There is little reason for me to replay the story; we all get to the same results anyways. They toned down the setting so much that I think it lost it’s life. Perhaps some players like that blank slate, but for me it disconnected me from the experience.

As I said, now my hollow husk of a character just picks the options that seem most likely to appease my companions because their approval as become a form of min-maxing. Instead of someone with conviction and drive, I become sycophant to my companion’s opinions. The binary approval system walks hand in problematic hand with the lack of character building. But that is a topic for another time.

Posted by Clockwork at 4:45 PM

via Out of Beta: [Dragon Age Inquisition] Origins gave me a character, Inquisition gave me a husk.

Romance in Dragon Age: Inquisition is deserving of criticism

WARNING: SPOILERS

(Edit: Made some grammar edits… because no matter how many times I try to edit myself before I publish something, I always catch problems only after I’ve published it.)

One of the reasons I love BioWare games is that they include romance stories.  At first, in Knights of the Old Republic, it was a very lame side quest that took up little time, what you did in the game did not really effect the romance story and visa versa.  It was there to acknowledge your character and the other characters around you had sexual organs that were functioning properly.  In the Mass Effect games and the Dragon Age games, romance became more involved.  Who your character was and the choices that your character made effected who you could romance and how these romance stories played out.  The best example of this is when my human noble married Alistar and became queen of Ferelden.  While there is a lot to praise about Dragon Age: Inquisition in regards to its romance storylines, there is also a lot to be critical of.

First, I feel the need to point out WHY be critical of romance storylines in the first place.  Many people, like my father and brother, discredit romance stories because all too often they are exposed to the vast amounts of horribly written romance stories that are little better than literary porn.  Its easy to assume all romance novels are that kind of drivel.  I admit, there is a lot of drivel but its only because romance stories are probably the hardest kind of story to do WELL.  People who actually write good romance stories are few and far between.  The only author my mother and I regularly return to is Nora Roberts.  Up until a few years ago, Dad and Bear always gave my mother and I shit for religiously reading her books.  ‘Bodice Rippers’ they USED to call them.  That is, until Sir Terry Pratchett set them strait.

Sir Terry Pratchett came to Seattle, Washington several years ago on a book signing tour.  (For those of you who do not know Sir Terry Pratchett’s work… I’m sorry.  You are less of a person.)  My father went to get his copies of ‘Thud’ signed in order to give them to my Mom on Christmas.  When it was Dad’s turn to meet his idol, he asked Sir Terry Pratchett to sign the book ‘I’m better than Nora Roberts – Sir Terry Pratchett’

How did this great man reply to such a request?  ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.  I love Nora Roberts.’

Sir Terry Pratchett signed the copy of ‘Thud’ with ‘I’m as good as Nora Roberts – Sir Terry Pratchett’

My father and brother are too stubborn to admit they might have been wrong.  The prevailing culture discounting romance novels is so powerful that if they admitted they were wrong, somehow, apart of their masculinity might be lost.  My mother and I used to be teased whenever they saw us reading a Nora Roberts book.  He intended to add fuel to that fire but his plan backfired.  He gave US a weapon in this argument no one can beat.  Nobody beats Sir Terry Pratchett.

I admit, there are a lot of books Nora Roberts writes that are based on a formula.  She publishes these books on a regular basis, and while well written, once you read enough of them its hard to discern one story from the other.  While she publishes these formulaic books, she also works on the books she actually cares about.  THESE books, trilogies like the ‘Sign of Seven’ or ‘The Circle’ are fantastic works of fantasy fiction, deserving of far more praise than they receive.  If they were written by any other author, they would probably given a lot more credibility in the geek community.  Another one of my favorites is ‘Tribute.’  In this book, the primary male lead is a comic book artist and an active member in the geek community.  I find to be ‘Tribute’ particularly fascinating because Nora Roberts is not a geek, but like any passionate author she did a lot of research on the geek community.  When I was reading it, I felt like the character she created was apart of my world.   She did a fantastic job, and its very interesting to read about my community by someone who has carefully observed it, but is not actually apart of it.  It is true that these stories make romance a key part of their construction, but I don’t see this as a bad thing.  Romance stories are very entertaining when they are done well.

It is unfortunate that the worst romance storyline in Dragon Age: Inquisition was the one I played first.  Solas’s romance storyline is so poorly executed it reminds me of the ‘romance’ from the Knights of the Old Republic games.  Most games I play don’t include romance, so if the other romances were similar to Solas’s storyline then this conversation would be more along the lines of ‘what they could do better’ rather than ‘wtf were they smoking?’

Real romances in the real world have three different aspects: intimacy, commitment and physical attraction.  Usually to have a good romance story, you need at least two of these three aspects.  (Very rarely have I seen all three brought in, and its even more rare to find a romance story that brings all three aspects in and does a good job.  Props Sid and Izumi from Fullmetal Alchemist.)    Romance requires the writer to get the viewer emotionally invested in the relationship while keeping it entertaining and including at least two of the three aspects of a real life relationship.  From what I have seen thus far, Bioware did a fairly good job.  You eat cookies on the roof with Sera, you drink with Iron Bull after killing a dragon and you get Varric to write the next edition to the trashy romance novel for Cassandra.  You can play chess with Cullen and there is even a scene when you play poker with a group of your friends.  These scenes are crucial for any good story about relationships (romance or otherwise).  The player involves themselves with their lives, their trials, their failures, their worries and the shit they gotta deal with.  Your relationship changes with them based on the actions you take, which is a perfect way of adapting a romance/friendship story to a video game like this.  I particularly enjoyed Iron Bull’s story because it delves into bondage.  You begin your relationship with him by establishing a healthy master slave relationship.    You can keep this casual or you can push the issue and your relationship becomes far more serious.  Love blossoms, intimacy is semi established as you are both friends with him and intimately involved.  I would say the story is weakest in the intimacy department.  Eventually your relationship becomes very committed but in how a Qunari would define the relationship.  For a video game, its the best romance storyline I’ve experienced.

Anything you need to know about the Solas relationship story is expressed in the comic.  There is no other interaction with him aside from discussing a few stories about his journey into the fade.  That’s it.  Maybe it would have been acceptable in Knights of the Old Republic, but putting that ‘romance’ story next to other stories like Iron Bull’s?  They really thought they could get away with that and nobody would say ‘hey um… you guys realize this romance story sucks right?’

Why does it suck?  Well for starters, there is no sexual encounter.  While I could theoretically enjoy a romance story without a sexual component, it would have to be very well done in other areas in order to make up for it.  Lets face it, we are sexual creatures and sex is entertaining.  I’ve read many forums discussing Solas, and lots of people say ‘I don’t need a sexual component for Solas, just a little bit more content!’  I think this is horse shit.  I want to see Solas ass.  In order to remove the component of physical attraction from the story, you would have to include intimacy and commitment.  Commitment can’t be established because Solas must eventually leave the Inquisitor.  If there is any commitment to be had, then it has to come from the Inquisitor.  As the Inquisitor is a player character, you can’t rely on the Inquisitor to provide a key component to anything.  Choice means commitment may or may not be apart of the story.  That leaves you with Intimacy.  In order to properly establish intimacy, you need a lot of entertaining scenes where the characters are interacting, bonding and otherwise doing shit together.  Intimacy is about trust, respect and friendship; all of which Solas could never fully give to the Inquisitor without revealing his true nature.  Intimacy at its core, is the ability to talk to your partner without fear of judgement.  This requires trust, and trust can’t be formed by keeping secrets.  A form of suto intimacy can still be established but, I can’t think of an entertaining way to do it without the sexual component.  There is just too much commitment and intimacy missing to leave out sex and still have the story be entertaining.  Worthwhile? Maybe, but not entertaining.  Not compared to riding the Iron Bull.

Despite its challenges, there is a lot of potential left in the Solas romance.  There is a promise of more story involving him at the end of the Dragon Age: Inquisition primary storyline.  Bioware has also said they are going to continue to add content.

If I were them, this is how I would do it.  Solas is only interested in elven women and the only elves you can play are Dalish.  This offers a way to establish intimacy provided the Inquisitor is open and willing to learn from him.  They could spend more time in the fade together.  Solas could introduce her to his spirit friends, show her his favorite memories and become a teacher if the Inquisitor wants to learn more about her heritage.  This provides ways to bond, without revealing much about the man.  What keeps the inquisitor and Solas from having sex in the fade while dreaming?  Eventually the inquisitor could ask things like ‘why do we never have sex in real life?’ or ‘You show me so much but you never reveal anything about yourself?’  This could, and should, culminate in real life sex between the Inquisitor and Solas.  You could make it hard to achieve, only if Solas has a very high approval rating or if you said the right things in all the scenes with him up until that point.  This would offer the player a reward, offer choice (which is very important in a Bioware game) and it would give Solas a reason to say what he does in the final break up scene.  ‘I’ve been selfish’ means nothing when he and the Inquisitor have done nothing!  There was a theory that poised breaking up with the Inquisitor is also apart of his inherent nature as an Elven god, not to control the lives of mortals.  He could come to this conclusion naturally, realizing how much love the inquisitor has for him during a culminating sexual encounter in real life.  Nothing drives up entertainment in a romance storyline than drama, so lets create some real drama while we are at it.  Lets make him leave his friends in the fade too (He already did so with Cole), leaving the Inquisitor with new friends and all of them are feeling his empty presence.  Upping the stakes further, lets get the Inquisitor pregnant.  Why not?  Other Dragon Age male characters have had the opportunity to reproduce, so Bioware could kill two birds with one stone here.  Getting pregnant ups the drama (which ups the entertainment value) and it allows a female player character to reproduce for the first time in a Dragon Age game.  Enough time can pass between storylines where she can give birth, or you could have a pregnant character adventuring.  BioWare LOVES doing things that have never been done before.  This would be a perfect opportunity.

This is just my idea of how the romance storyline with Solas could go.  So many possibilities are not taken advantage of.  This romance plot line sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other romance and friendship storylines with other characters.   Not only are other storylines more involved and entertaining, they introduce concepts and ideas that are controversial.  To name a few; Iron Bull introduces bondage and the idea someone can be attracted to anyone, Dorian is gay, Sera is a lesbian and Iron Bull’s second in command is a transgender male (born a female, but really a male).  You can’t introduce controversial and diverse stories with other characters and leave it out of another storyline in the same game.

I love the fact that they are adding romance storylines into video games.  After I play through these other romance storylines, I intend to criticize each storyline as compared to other good romance.  I hope that one day, Romance stories will be seen as important and entertaining aspects worthy of attention, praise and criticism.