Archive for March, 2010

Avatar Review

Because, who didn’t want to feel like walking on fire at some point in his life? I didn’t. Nonetheless, here it is. The next FREE DLC for ME2. After downloading and installing the 473 MB, I had to type in my account details AGAIN, as if the game had forgotten them in the meantime. You can never punish people enough, who bought your stuff. Lesson #1. Look it up.
Once the first mission begins, characters are mute, no voice work was done to talk about how cool the Hammerhead is. The same is true for planets, when searching for the “anomaly”. For the Firewalker DLC missions it’s just the white dot. As soon as Shepard sits in the vehicle, a “malfunctioning” tutorial begins. It displays the buttons to push for jumping, mining… But they are wrong. I’m using the default settings, so that can’t be the reason. It took me a few moments to realize, that the game is misleading me. I finally got the correct default buttons from the options menu. V for mining, E for jumping… That’s really weak. The Hammerhead has no bar displaying its health, it only starts beeping when under fire (and pressing M doesn’t bring up the radar as it does on foot). So it’s hard to say if it will explode immediately (until it does), or if everything’s fine. Which triggers the next awesome feature: it’s not possible to save during Hammerhead missions. Really! Quicksave is “dead” and the option in the menu is just grey. So, if the situation should occur, to be destroyed, it’s always necessary to begin the mission from scratch. In all other missions the game even auto-saved, to offer points for resuming…
This DLC comes with the feeling that it was made by modders, who were really inspired by the game or totally missed the Mako (and couldn’t take his absence from the game anymore), but hardly that it’s a product of the actual developer. Errors like the wrong tutorial overlays, that are impossible to overlook, quite some time after the release of the main game, simply scream with what dedication this stuff is put together.
It’s true that I hate DLC in general, but there’s just never a great DLC to prove me wrong, every time I play one it just confirms my opinion.

//Update #1

Apparently the wrong key bindings are “normal”. Even if the bindings were never altered, players are supposed to reset them after updating to 1.01.

– It is recommended that players reset their keyboard mapping to default values to ensure proper vehicle control.

1.01 changelog

What’s also weird, is that the squad has to be selected for every mission, although it’s only possible to exit the vehicle, if the mission allows it and not if/when the player wants to (like it was with the Mako in ME1). If the squad is unusable anyway, why select one?

Even if I wasn’t so enthusiastic about it at first, I finished it, I didn’t want the download to be wasted. This pack really leaves me behind clueless. It’s only 5 missions and the Hammerhead isn’t usable outside of those. Once these missions are done, the vehicle is gone again/it’s like before its installation. As it is right now, it doesn’t even really feel like a true part of the game. It’s just a little gimmick. You can’t even walk into the room it’s stored in, although the lift describes on which deck the Hammerhead is located. The term half-assed comes to mind.

The DLC Keep just never stops to suck!

At least Google would have put a beta in the title.^^ No seriously, I’ll just note some things and try to update as I go/play along. Similar to DAO.

Different from earlier reports, Awakening does, in fact, import “stuff” from DLC content. [Update: According to some reports the DLC items do vanish like the FAQ says and my experience could be a “positive bug”.] That includes simple items, like the Helm of Honnleath, but also talents like the additions from Avernus’ research. But this is where it already starts. All talents have a description, when they are selected with the mouse cursor. Pretty helpful, considering the numerous different parts. In the talent screen every group has a headline – Avernus’ research skills, are now featured with “(Class name not found)” and completely without text (in journal and quick slot bar = everywhere).

In Amaranthine, one of the quests is to “support” either the smugglers or the city guard. Since the smugglers await the player directly at the entrance to the area, it’s likely that most players will accept their quest first. Siding with the city guard will not entirely close the smugglers quest (although they are dead at that point). Because the quest marker annoyed me, I decided to still talk to the merchant at the inn, to see what would happen (after the quest was done with for the city guard). Sadly I saved after this and noticed only hours later, that the city guard hates me now, because they think I sided with the smugglers. It overwrote the actual occurrence. Though this could have been avoided, if I would have been more careful (e.g. more save games), this angered me quite a bit. Lacking an earlier save game, I had to continue my game with this unfortunate outcome.

Quests with sub plots often feature certain quest symbols in the journal, for every aspect of the quest. Once they are done, the quest symbol is checked and once all parts are checked, it’s moved to the finished part of the journal. In one of my last quests the marker didn’t change, even when the task was properly finished. It got moved over to the finished section with the incorrect display. Yes I know, nothing dramatic, but it’s always the little things (and the amount of them)…

This error was already one of my favorite annoyances in Dragon Age, the glittering, but nonetheless empty, containers. This bug got pumped up a little in Awakening. Though it often occurred that empty containers glittered, the glittering stopped after selecting it. In Awakening it’s possible, that chests start glittering again. And no, I don’t think it’s “done” by simply memorizing which containers were already looted, since it’s possible a container was filled up again by finishing a quest, or pressing a button somewhere. Just assuming it’s the bug again, could mean leaving valuable loot behind.

//Update #1

From here on it seems to go more and more in the direction of bugs that weren’t in DA and came new with Awakening. What always disorients me a little, is that the map now looses its settings. The behavior in DA was, that the map stayed at the zoom level last used. The (seemingly exact same) map in Awakening resets itself every time it’s closed. I like to use the map quite frequently, is there still a quest marker, or is maybe a part of the map left unexplored… So I get this bug all the time. :(

//Update #2

The character approval system in Awakening is, of course, identical to DA. There are still gifts to raise it. There is only one difference, no romance option. But despite that fact, the status of some characters switches to “Love” at some point. I don’t know if that qualifies for being a bug, but it’s at least misleading for people who didn’t read the FAQ, they just might search for an option that’s not in the game.
Also, the way it is now, it makes the impression it was planned, but cut.

//Update #3

Several weapons describe backstab damage for weapons restricted to warriors or even mages (who can’t do that anyway). That’s sloppy.

//Update #4

Part of the game is, to collect people and initiate them into the order. I’m talking about the joining ritual known from DA. This ritual can only take place, after the mission is over, in which the character was met. Sadly, after all the characters are gained, the main story progresses without the option to complete the joining for the last recruit. The option is no longer there and the game moves on. So this person never really becomes a grey warden. This misery could only be circumvented, if a certain character would be recruited last, who doesn’t need the ritual. But again, no one playing the game for the first time, would have that knowledge.

//Update #5

Statistics are fucked up. Variables like “most powerful foe slain:” stay empty. I guess I’ll never know now which character killed which boss. Quite a shame. :P

//Update 2011/03/18

Almost one year later, I played it again, to create a new save game, that would include all the decisions I would want to import into Dragon Age II. Therefore it’s impossible to overlook, that nothing has changed. Naturally I was running the latest patch – haha – where 1.04 was out last year already and their patch cycle ended long before anything significant in Awakening was improved. So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise, that I encountered a whole new range of other glitches, in this second playthrough.
My first such encounter was of the same type the above mentioned smuggler/city guard bug and achieving all warden joining ceremonies were. Quite early in the game some nobles assemble at the keep and stay there, until the warden talks to Seneschal Varel and asks him to throw them out. I didn’t do that right away, instead I started the quest “A Brewing Conspiracy“, in which the warden will kill some folks, that are still standing in the keep upon return… It’s impossible for players to finish/close all these quests correctly, without knowing their outcome beforehand. That’s seriously uncool. As a result the quest “Defending the Land” never completed (I didn’t notice serious consequences in the epilogue though).
In the Velanna questline inside the Wending Woods, the entire team will be stripped of their equipment. Once they are freed, everything can be acquired again, step by step. This time, the warden’s equipment never showed up again, although I searched every corner for it – twice. Luckily I did this quest early on, so it wasn’t all the best equipment yet, that was gone from the game – I could manage to get some equally good items during the next adventures (and Awakening isn’t that hard, that players would depend on the best stuff). Still, gathering the most powerful artifacts is an important part of RPGs.

Different Outfits

The Alternate Apperance Pack will let you dress up Thane, Jack and Garrus in some different outfits. You can get the outfits for 160 BioWare Points (about $2)

http://www.ggmania.com/?smsid=28707

I guess from here on in it’s only a matter of time until they start selling ring tones…

Beginning with Firefox 3.6 (I think) Mozilla implemented a plugin check into the browser, because security holes in plugins might just be the most exploited software in machines browsing the web today. A welcome addition, actually. A browser consists of so many pieces, that none of the current update checks involves them all.

The 2 screenshots above show 2 different versions of the flash plugin. Beta 2 (10.1.51.66) and 3 (10.1.51.95) of 10.1.

The update check now only reads until the 51 part of the version number, assuming everything’s fine. But it’s not. Everyone who used this check on older betas, didn’t learn about the newer release from this page.
I don’t know if they fixed critical bugs since beta 2, but that’s not the point here anyway. A check, that doesn’t recognize the full version number, is unfortunately useless and cannot be trusted.

Home > Oops

Apparently not everyone is allowed to be mad in the mid of the week! :P A good time to realize, that the game is available for half in retail. :) I guess it’s good to be spared by madness. ;)

The Game Test

I often frown on “testing” games. Why? Because I’m convinced it’s only possible to simply play them and write about it. “Testing” sounds so academic, it promises something that’s actually just… bullcrap? How academic can having fun become? Would something still be funny, if it had to live up to certain standards? Sometimes, maybe.
Whenever I hear someone talking about game testing, I have these images in my head, of a guy wearing a white lab coat, sitting in front of a PC, but before he starts playing, he switches on all kinds of machinery and calibrates various devices. Wires and sensors are everywhere and are connected to everything. Also, most objects are covered by blinking lights, standing next to some oscilloscopes. Just when he tries to start gaming, a glimpse behind his back is possible and there are test tubes with dangerous looking chemicals inside them. Is this getting close to what actual game testers do? No, of course not, that’s ridiculous! It’s still just a dude in front of his machine, be it console or PC, who PLAYS. Nothing more! Stop trying to make some weird kind of profession out of it, that it’s just NOT.
Good players know their stuff and if they want to (or have to) write something down, in regard to their experiences, it’s only good if all the information is correct and contains details people should actually know about the game and not if they call it game testing done by a veteran game tester, while the “test” is so bad and just off, that readers have to wonder if the author played the piece at all, or has only heard of it by rough description, maybe over a noisy phone line or something. If given information is plain wrong, readers might notice this anyway, it’s just the more frustrating, if the page claims to practice these pseudo-academic, game testing mumbo-jumbo shennanigans.
Testing requires the ability to measure something quite precise. You can test a car’s brakes and see how long it takes them to bring the car to a full stop. That’s some hard data to write down on a sheet. For a game that’s a lot less likely. Measuring frame rates is always a possibility, but who cares, everyone who meets the system requirements will be able to play, they are written on the package (even more superfluous for consoles). Even the most obvious part can hardly be evaluated, the graphics. Telltale’s graphic engine for their Sam & Max games is “ultra-old” and one can only wonder, how the game would look like in Unreal 3.5 (or similar “high-tec”), but it doesn’t matter, for the comic style they are aiming at, this engine is perfect. It creates the exact game world, that’s necessary to breathe life in the crazy characters that live there and the whacky environments they live in. So, are these graphics now bad, although they happen to look exactly like their creators want them to?
Another fundamental problem I have with tests, is that they often try to evaluate the gaming FUN. But how is someone else supposed to tell me, if a sequence will entertain me? All of this is completely subjective!
Therefore, the only reviews I deem useful, are those that just iterate what actually happens during gameplay. And being told about eventually show-stopping bugs is always a valuable bit of information to have, e.g. before a purchase… Maybe an appropriate comparison with other titles, that are similar, helps out and some screenshots. This will enable most vivid players, who already have a connection to this scene, to imagine pretty closely what they can (or have to) expect. How many casual players will seek out elaborate texts on games? Isn’t that for itself the opposite of casual? If you want to be great, spice it up with other goodies, like links to the publisher/developer/patches/mods/videos/screenshots…
This is useful and can help determine if a superficial interest was justified or not. Not this bizarre method, where strange criteria were thought up, that a game had to live up to. This usually makes the most sense to the tester himself, because only he has understood his system fully, but if a text is supposed to please only oneself, why come up with such complex schemes? This is the moment to send it all back to hell and realize, that, in this case, it would have been better to simply write, what one wanted to say in the first place.
Proceeding like this, is even good for possible critics, because they’ll realize the reviewer only wrote down his experience and didn’t try to make it appear as more than it really is. At this point, the smallest crowd that can relate, are similar players. I don’t think the same is true for some “tests”, that there really is a clear target audience.

When is a game great? I could list many reasons, but here I will list one that only a select few can claim: Games must be truly special, if people still write fresh articles about them, even many years after their original release. Therefore, in addition to my collection (of then recent articles) from last year, I can now add a new (3 pages) candidate from The Escapist. And now I’ll enjoy reading it.

If you like movies that require involvement and the ability to make sense of the onscreen action by combining all the available elements, than Triangle is for you. I’ll admit that it probably contributed to my liking of the movie, that I expected nothing. Still…

Quite the change from the introduction with Salina’s shaved legs, right?^^

The whole text is based on the first/unpatched version. Which is somehow self-evident, but it has been a draft since February and was obviously released weeks later, so… things (sometimes) change.

Though I got my problems with prequels (I usually believe that at some point a story is just done and having nothing left to add but to go back in time might be a hint), AFdZ pulls it off quite well. Forgrimm and Kladdis (2 heroes known from before) tell the story and even comment on loading screens. That’s a very nice touch. I don’t think they could have wrapped it together more elegant.

After Drakensang I wanted more (apparently I wasn’t alone – yay!). I was really happy when I learned they made another one. Luckily the/my waiting period was pretty short, since I played 1 long after the (official) patching cycle ended. I don’t know if this is actually correct, but when AFdZ was announced first, I read it was supposed to be a pure expansion. In time it became a full title. Whatever the real background, AFdZ certainly deserves this status. It’s a lot more than just more/new maps for the same engine. The majority of changes can safely be described as improvements, no matter if they were intended as such or added for other reasons. The characters no longer hold their weapons in their hands all the time, as if they were in a fight, or waiting for a fight… That was really weird when running around in a city and just talking with different vendors or looking for quests… The drawing of weapons works now as it does in Dragon Age. Better even, because it doesn’t just auto-draw/holster when necessary, but also offers a manual option – the game enforces no restriction.
Next is the quick travel. Every world map has certain hotspots, once explored, they can be reached by mouse click from all other quick travel locations. This maybe doesn’t sound like much, but really takes most annoyances out of quests. But to fully get how great it is and to feel actual joy, having walked through the woods, to do all the errants for the witches in 1, is a requirement.

All the dialogs are full audio now, personally I had no issue with reading the texts (I also never saw a problem with the rules, because they are so neatly explained at a simple right click), but many players seem to perceive a lack of audio (in all places) as some kind of drawback. Maybe that’s why BioWare voiced even the Codex entries in Mass Effect… Anyway, it adds to the amount of effort put into the game and the voice acting is quite good.

Coming with the title is a ship (Thalaria), that serves as mobile base for the player and his party. The ship contains chests for every single party member and can be upgraded with the necessary equipment to craft own items (weapons/bows/alchemy). Because the ship is naturally coming along (has always an own quick travel spot) and is therefore never far away, it’s much more comfortable to use than Ardo’s house in Drakensang, that had lots of spots to store loot, but at the same time, put everything left behind clearly out of reach during upcoming quests.

The biggest and most welcome perk is most likely the “open world” alteration, where all locations remain accessible. Nothing was as unsatisfying as this in 1, being cut off and shut out. It doesn’t matter if all quests were finished, it isn’t even important if all quests were discovered in the first place. The world map allows a return at any time (while not on story quests). They were very consequent with this change in game design. Places even progress, after story quests are done there. New people arrive, dialog options adapt to the new situation, sometimes new quests await… As if this wasn’t great enough, a Mass Effect 2/GTA is pulled here, because the game doesn’t necessarily end with the main story. After the ending credits it’s possible to return to the ship, to hunt down overlooked quests and the like (and people are once again aware of this in dialogs!). No pressure is added, where none should be. Cool!

Sometimes people criticize a lack of party banter in these games. I don’t see it. While they don’t talk all the time, the discussions of party members revolve around the task at hand, where those in Dragon Age usually just relate to certain characters and could be triggered any place and any time (and are). This helps create the illusion that fellow travelers are aware of the situation and care about it. I consider it a strength.
I further disagree on arguments that this game wouldn’t be on par with other genre giants. Drakensang might not utilize the Unreal 3.5 engine (I personally think the Nebula engine is absolutely beautiful and is perfect for creating a role-playing world) or feature a bunch of Hollywood actors for voice work, but its quests easily belong to the best the entire role playing genre has to offer. People who disagree here, should play more than one RPG. Quests are still the backbone of every good RPG (I won’t describe the other aspects again).
Apart from all this the game sparkles with the usual (compared to part one) love for detail, countless items can be purchased, found or possessed in whatever ways remain, while being animated and portrayed in the game world as well in the character pictures at the right side of the screen. What I already missed in Drakensang was, that, while it’s no problem to buy countless clothes, there are no quests making use of this rich game world. There never was a quest where it’s necessary to wear any “special” clothes from the local tailor. You know, some undercover action or requirements for a shindig… And yeah, I do remember the mission with the mercenary armor at the end. This doesn’t count, because it’s utilizing none of the shops, is given directly to the player and is still armor – as opposed to the countless normal clothing available. I get it though, that no optional quests were made with this complexity. It’s just the hunger for more, created by the fact, that there seems to be such an imbalance in some possibilities of the game world. The same is true for some character feats. Distributing skill points to “subterfuge” is a complete waste (used a total of 4 times in the whole game), or etiquette (used one single time) is even worse.

The game has some bugs, but in a huge project like this one, it is to be expected. I read that a patch is already on the way and since they “killed” all the obvious bugs in 1, it can be expected they will do the same for AFdZ.

Next in line is already queued. I’m glad that they seem to have a nice run there. This time it’ll almost definitely be released as an expansion. It’s dedicated to Phileasson, a famous DSA character I never heard about before (I only play the PC games).

DAO: Irresolutening

* Dragon Age had ‘developer achievements’ for all kinds of things, such as successfully crashing the game.

* 12,212 of those Achievements were awarded to developers during production of the game.

gameinformer.com

Too bad they had no achievements for content bugs (yet another connection with ME2, there’s no fix for Conrad “The Fan” being always imported as the consequence of the renegade choice). This time I’m really irresolute if I should get it, on the one hand I would welcome to continue playing, but on the other, I don’t want to “reward” their behavior, that they have no problem releasing DLC (e.g. Return to Ostagar) and even real expansions (Awakening), but don’t fix content/story problems that exist since the release. Patches are important too (but don’t bring in cash…)! It’s weird, having the next piece out, when the first one is still a little unpolished.
The biggest reason I can think of right now, to buy Awakening, is to “give feedback” (yeah I know, will hardly be realized as such), that players (=ME) want real (classic?) expansions over DLC crap.

//Update

Just after I wrote this a new patch came out.

Dragon Age: Origins 1.03
Patch details:

You do not need to download patches prior to Patch 1.03. Downloading Patch 1.03 contains all previous patches. Downloading Patch 1.03 will provide you with all patch data available.

* Various changes have been made to code and resources to support the Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening expansion pack. Most of these changes do not affect Origins itself.
* Some players were experiencing increasingly long load times. A major cause of this problem has been fixed.
* At higher levels, non-player characters now receive a bonus to armor penetration. This mitigates an unintentional imbalance with well-armored high-level characters, since armor penetration previously did not scale as aggressively as armor itself did.
* Elite-rank enemies (lieutenants) can no longer be shattered. This preserves the intended tactical design of many combat encounters.
* Portraits for summoned creatures (like a ranger’s wolf) were displaying improperly while in the party camp. This no longer occurs.

http://social.bioware.com/page/da-patches

Still, it doesn’t invalidate my assessment, since it once again doesn’t deliver any content fixes, though I really don’t want to downplay the magnitude of the “long load times” fix. That’s definitely a huge step ahead. Another negative aspect remains, would this patch still have come out, if it wasn’t also in preparation for Awakening?

Digital Comic Shops

While I already missed them for some time, I stumbled over two shops that offer almost exactly what I dreamed of. The most obvious drawback they suffer from is: As expected (who wants to reach customers these days), too few publishers support the platforms. No IDW Publishing (with a few exceptions), Dark Horse, let alone Marvel. Sadly those hold countless of the great ones. It’s another one of those “in a perfect world” scenarios.

TOLD YOU SO

Great Scott!