Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Horror! Day 1 DLC

You know how occasionally I’ll write something, and then people will come and call me a BioWare apologist and say that I have my head stuck too far up BioWare’s collective asses for my opinion to have any validity at all?

Pretty sure today is one of those days.

I’ve had a lot of arguments with a lot of people over the past couple years about the concept of DLC and whether or not it’s ethical for a company to charge for additional game content. My argument has always been that a company has the right to manufacture and sell their product any way they choose, just as I have the right to not buy it, and that once I get the game I paid for any obligation the developers may have had to me has been met.  I am no more entitled to additional game content free of charge than I would be to sequels.

I’m seeing a lot of turmoil on Twitter and Tumblr over the fact that BioWare is going to release DLC for Mass Effect 3 on March 6th, the same day the game launches. Entitled “From The Ashes”, the DLC includes a new, and very intriguing companion character. I believe that the DLC is included “free” with the Collector’s Edition, but for those people who did not order the Collector’s Edition it will be available for $10 from the Xbox Live Marketplace, Origin, or PSN. However, I did absolutely no fact checking before I wrote that down, so it’s entirely possible that I just made it all up.

Yeah. Conscientious and thorough, that’s me in a nutshell.

Imagine you go to the store and buy a bag of marshmallows. As you’re checking out, the cashier reaches into the bag and pulls out ten marshmallows.

“What the fuck are you doing?” you’d say. Because, seriously, this woman’s been handling money all day, and you know how germy her hands are. You don’t want that shit on your marshmallows.

“These marshmallows are deluxe content, you’ll have to pay another three dollars if you want them in your bag.”

And then your brain would explode because none of it would make any sense. If the marshmallows were in the bag when you picked it up, why would you have to pay for them again?

That’s basically what some people think is happening with Mass Effect 3 and day one DLC.  Coming at it from that point of view, I can kind of almost see their point.

One tiny problem:  their entire complaint is based on a misunderstanding. The content that they’re so furious over having to pay for was never  intended to be in the core game.  The only reason it will be available on launch day, as I understand it, is that releasing DLC is a much simpler process than producing an entire game on a disc. That requires, you know, packaging and stuff.

In other words, these are not the marshmallows you’re looking for.

“But the content was always intended to be ready at launch, it was advertised for the Collector’s Edition, so I should get it for free” is an argument that just makes me laugh. I ordered the Collector’s Edition, which costs $20 more than the standard edition, because of the extra content. I did not get that content for free. I fucking paid for it, and in my opinion, so should anyone else who wants it.

At the end of the day, DLC is very much like Barbie clothes. It’s nice to have and fun to play with, and maybe if you have a large collection your friends will all be jealous and want to come use your stuff, but you don’t need it. You can enjoy the games you play and have a full and rewarding game experience without it.

In Which I Am An Ignorant Jerk and Then I Write Fanfiction (Which Makes it All Better)

With Mass Effect 3’s release right around the corner, I am having an enormous amount of difficulty thinking, talking, or writing about anything else. Therefore, any posts between now and probably November 27th (give or take a week) are likely to be related to Mass Effect or BioWare in some way. Just so you know.

I have an enormous number of faults as a human being, but the greatest (that I’m willing to admit to) is my tendency to be a stubborn, arrogant asshole. I will get an idea in my head and commit to it as though it were embedded into the very fabric of reality. According to my friends, there are times they only tolerate me “because you figure it out eventually.” And then I apologize for being an ass.

Today is an apology kind of day.

There was a time, before Mass Effect moved into my brain like one of those zombifying fungi insects get, that I secretly felt that fanfiction was a lower form of writing. It wasn’t something real writers indulged in. (I ALREADY SAID I WAS AN ASSHOLE. I’m really, really sorry.)

I had never actually read any fanfiction ( I had standards, after all *eyeroll*), but obviously I was an expert in what “real writers” do. After all, I hung out with writers a lot, and I occasionally started a story I was unlikely to finish.

I was a pretentious git, but it took me a long time to realize it.

The first step on my road to enlightenment occured when I was finally exposed to good fanfiction.  The only fanfiction I’d seen had been pieces so awful that people had sent them to me as a joke. Since I’d never seen anything better,  I just assumed that it was all like that. You know, just like how all fantasy novels are exactly like “The Lord of the Rings”. (<- sarcasm.)

That attitude lasted until I noticed that nearly everyone on my social networking sites was gushing over a fic called  “Manipulations“.  I got curious enough to check it out- because God forbid I be the only one that doesn’t know about something on the internet- and I was totally unprepared for what I found.

You know how they say that drug dealers give away the first hit for free just to get people hooked? I have no idea if that’s true, but that’s pretty much what happened with me and fanfiction. That one taste (which, granted, was like 5o chapters and five hours of reading)  was all it took to make me a hardcore addict. I didn’t tell anyone at first, ashamed of the hours I spent alone, scouring fanfiction.net for a new Mass Effect fix or just one more hit of  Dragon Age.

It wasn’t long after I’d started reading fanfiction that I found myself writing it.  I made a lot of excuses about why I wasn’t technically a fanfic writer; things like  “I’m just writing Mass Effect stuff as a practice exercise. It’ll give me a chance to work on voice and plot without all that pesky worldbuilding,” and “Well, because the overlying plot is already established I can focus on my dialogue progression in smaller scenes,” and even, “I doing this so I can practice writing sex, because, um… yeah.”

I abandoned that pretense when I  realized that I’d been writing fanfic in my head every time I played a BioWare game.  Every one of my Wardens and every one of my Shepards had unique personalities  and relationships that seemed to develop somewhat beyond my control.  When the game ended, my mind spun with the scenarios that could follow, the places the story could have gone, the places I could take it.

Putting those stories on paper was not what made me a fanfic writer; it was simply the last step in a long process that began the first time I played a game where what happened in my head was just as important as what happened on the screen.

I still sometimes feel awkward about writing in this medium. I think that’s largely why I don’t share my pieces very often (besides the fact that I tend to get distracted and not finish them). I feel like I’m saying to the creators of the worlds I’m working in, “I’ve been sneaking into your backyard to use your swingset- but look how high I can go!”

On the other hand, I don’t feel like fanfic writers are stealing from other writers or exploiting their worlds; writing fanfiction is an act of love.  When a fanfiction writer pours out new stories, they’re saying “This world I visited inspired me, it made me feel and it made me dream, and those feelings and dreams were much too big to stay in my head.”

Although sometimes they’re just saying “I think it would be super hot if those two characters (or three, or maybe all of them) had all the sex.”

These days I’m really embarrassed by my old attitude. I know how stupid it is to say that all fanfiction is badly written; it’s just as ridiculous to suggest that it’s less valid than other types of creative expression. I’ve spent too many hours stuck to my computer, reading and dreaming, to hold on to those fallacies.

So, fanfic writers, I owe you an apology. I was an asshole, and I was wrong.

I’m sorry.

(While I was writing this, I asked my daughter not to distract me because I was writing.

“What are you writing?”  she asked.

“Just something for my blog.”

“Oh, you’re just BLOGGING,” ” she said dismissively.  “That’s not REAL writing.”)

Review: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Story Mode)

Look at these badass motherfuckers.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably admit that I really like all the Assassin’s Creed games. The settings draw me in, the stories engage me, and the codices…. I can’t even begin to express how much I love the codices.  Knowing that I’m already biased, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I really enjoyed Revelations.

Revelations picks up right where Brotherhood left off. Our old friend Desmond has somehow gotten his brain stuck inside the Animus. He’s trapped on in island in a sea of fog, accompanied by a completely crazypants Subject 16 and a running commentary from Animus operators Rebecca and Shaun.

Unlike previous games, where the Animus was the gateway into the memories of Desmond’s ancestors, the player now accesses those memories through a portal on Animus Island.  Other portals on the island lead to Desmond’s own fragmented memories in segments that play something like “Portal meets Tetris”.  I couldn’t play these missions, unfortunately, because the first person perspective made me  nauseated. (I don’t handle first person perspective well; I tend to get motion sick.) These segments have replaced the Subject 16 puzzles from earlier games (which I also rarely finished because I am just not freaking smart enough, and also I’m lazy).

When you access the first of Ezio’s memories you hit the ground running,  accompanying Ezio to the ancient Assassin settlement at Masyaf. (If you played Assassin’s Creed, you may remember Masyaf as the Assassin’s headquarters where Altair was trained. Or, if you’re like me, you remember it as “that place where they really should have had the fucking horses at the top of the road are you fucking kidding me I have to walk all that way AGAIN?!”)

The game begins with the standard tutorial, “Press these buttons to climb and this button to jump NO NOT THAT WAY goddamn it try again”. (I die a lot in all the Assassin’s Creed games because I can’t seem to learn the difference between “up” and “backward”.)

When he leaves Masyaf, Ezio travels to Constantinople, where he meets the head of the local Assassin order.  Ezio immediately takes control of the assassins for no real reason I can determine. From here the game follows Brotherhood’s formula; buy property, make money, buy more property, make more money.  You also get access to your assassins at this point, and  can immediately begin to train and promote them. (You can also to use them to make a point when the guards start getting too uppity; the point being “I can make a shitload of arrows come out of nowhere by whistling, do you really want to fuck with me?”)

There is no enforced pacing, so I ended up buying property and training assassins for several hours and then completing the story missions all at once. This created a pretty lopsided experience for me. For example, I acquired the best armor in the game at the very beginning of the story, so when I unlocked new items by progressing through the game it was disappointing rather than satisfying.

The imbalance in gameplay also affected how I experienced the story, which seemed much shorter than it actually was. I can’t blame the game for the way I chose to play it, but I think it would have been a better experience overall if properties had become available in a measured manner over the course of the game, similar to the way that armor and weapons do.

I have a tendency to get attached to fictional characters, and Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio tops the list of game protagonists that tug at my heartstrings. The journey we get to follow him on is exceptional, because it isn’t very often that we get to follow someone through almost every stage of their lives, seeing both their failures and successes, their darkest moments and greatest victories. We get that opportunity with Ezio.

There’s no question that this is a different Ezio than we left behind at the end of Brotherhood. The passion and fury that defined and drove him in the earlier games seems to have burned away; my first impression of him was that he was tired. Worn out. Still fighting the same fight he has been since his family was murdered, but no longer so sure that there’s any real purpose behind it.

He broke my heart, y’all.

Playing this game was a bittersweet experience for me. It’s said to be the last time we’ll travel with Ezio or Altair, and I suspect that’s the biggest reason it took me so long to finish it.  I’ve gotten attached to these crazy old Assassins and I didn’t want to say goodbye.

Or, in this case, requiescat in pace.

.

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Completely Arbitrary Rating: A-

Things I liked:  Ezio’s hidden blade is modified into a “hookblade”, which introduces new attacks and allows him to travel around the city on ziplines. The ziplines are both super fun and very useful. Abilities and weapons are introduced far earlier in the game than in previous Assassin’s Creed experiences.

Controls seem to have been improved, although that could just be me finally figuring them out after four games; either way, I accidentally jumped off things far fewer times than in previous Assassin’s Creed experiences. Buildings were also far easier to scale, requiring much less creative thinking to find your way up. (I actually don’t like the reduced difficulty, but I know a lot of people who ragequit because they couldn’t find a path up something.)

The amount of information in the codices is, as always, my favorite thing about these games. They really appeal to the history geek in me.

Things I hated:  “Den Defense”, the new tower defense portion of the game, triggered if Ezio’s notoriety meter filled.  The only good thing about Den Defense was that it was completely avoidable simply by keeping an eye on your notoriety; unfortunately the meter was a lot easier to fill than in past games and harder to empty. Apparently the guard in Constantinople don’t believe in using “Wanted” posters, because tracking down and ripping up posters was not an option. The only way you could lower the meter was either by assassinating a dignitary (and they were only available if the meter was already full) or bribing a herald- and the heralds were not always willing to be bribed.

Another aggravation was the fact that renovating property gave a huge amount of notoriety, which made no sense at all. I finally decided Constantinople had a really, really strict neighborhood association and Ezio insisted on using the wrong color paint.

The biggest complaint I have about this game, though, was the lack of horses. Granted, there wasn’t really a lot of open land in which to ride horses, but they’ve always been one of my favorite parts of the Assassin’s Creed series, and I missed them.

Glitches:  A couple of times I was informed that one of my assassins had died in the course of a mission, only to find that they were still listed as active assassins I could send them on missions or call on them to drop from the sky and kill guards.  I loved this, though, because I found the concept of Zombie Assassins both hilarious and terrifying.

Replayability: Assassin’s Creed games are always highly replayable because you don’t have to start at the beginning of the game to get to those bits you really wanted to experience again. You can select the memory that you want to relive, or that you failed to get 100% synchronization on, and just do that one mission.

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