Month: January 2013

Characters can save every story

I think we can all agree that the Mass Effect games were just freaking awesome. Really, everything was neat: the graphics, the sound, the dialogue, combat (at least in part two and three), the ship…alright, not everything was awesome. Some lines were cheesy, some weapons redundant and the whole story was just so cliché and boring.

Wow, wow! Calm down! This is my blog, and on it I can say that the story of ME wasn’t that great. Really, don’t be so shocked and take a closer look at it. If you just look at the plot, it’s nothing special or new. It’s a typical tale of a hero who rises to the challenge of saving the galaxy, facing all kinds of really big threats (like over-enthusiastic fan boys). The narrative doesn’t do anything refreshing or daring, and is filled with material from a first-year college course on cinematography. So why do I praise these games then? Well, it’s because of the characters and how they make the story damn awesome!

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Geek Jitsu – The will for willpower

“Green Lantern Corps Poster” by Heartattackjack

It’s Wednesday once again, and you know what that means! Indeed, it’s time for another installment of Geek Jitsu, where I teach my readers the art of staying healthy while staying geeky. In today’s episode, we’ll discuss the thing that will keep you going during your drastic change of lifestyle. No, that’s not the protein shakes you’ll be popping or the pictures you will be taking of your ever-shrinking belly, but the same thing that gives Hal Jordan his superpowers: willpower (forget about the damn ring, it’s all a matter of wanting to shoot green beams of power)!

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The three coolest boss encounters of my life

Bosses, ladies and gentlemen. They have this dangerous allure about them, and facing them all by yourself is always a challenge. Once you’re eye to eye with one of them, it feels like you are an incompetent little kid, who just happened to stumble his way here with sheer luck. It’s like…wait, what? No, I’m not talking about the boss at your office who keeps throwing dossiers at you and has you running around the place, fetching coffee for him. I’m talking about the real bosses, those from the video games we play when we’re not in the office (of course, a good office clerk would never even think of playing a game during working hours…)

To honour these challenging encounters, I’m counting down my top three boss encounters from video games. So make sure you have enough health potions and that your save file is up-to-date, we’re facing the big ones!

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Innovation in Ingress

Phones are no longer just devices to call one another. Wait, that’s old news? Well excuse me for trying to find at least some way to start this post. Psh, grumpy little readers. Alright, let’s get to the point then: I got an Ingress invite, and I want to tell you about that. You happy now?

Anyway, Ingress. Yep, the ARG developed by Google has reached my smartphone as well, and after a dozen crashes (which are the fault of my phone), I was able to complete the tutorial and join the Enlightened (because it sounds cooler than “the Resistance” and green is awesome). So far, it looks like a nifty little game, which my phone doesn’t allow me to play. Fortunately, I should be the owner of this little beauty by the end of the week, so then I will hit the town and paint it green.

It looks like a somewhat more innovative ARG so far, but I’m curious to see how it plays out. According to the Intel map, my hometown has quite some Portals which are fought over bitterly. I’m eager to join the fight!

In the mean time, I’m curious to hear about your experiences with this little game so far. Anything a freshly Enlightened like me should know? Any wisdom you have to share? Hit me up, as I prepare to bring the Shapers to this world…

Strange Sunday – Animals!

“corgi rogue” by reiley

My love for furry, little critters knows no bounds. I grew up with dogs, owned a guinea pig and even a group of adorable rats. If it’s a mammal and has big eyes, odds are high that I want to hug it and hold it close. Not really manly, I know, but that’s just the way it is. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who things animals are awesome, as their important role in fiction shows. Many authors and game designers go even so far to have four-legged mammals walk on two feet and have them act rather…well, human. Those strange people known as “furries” even go out of their way to make costumes to look like such a anthropomorphized version of a critter. Our love for animals and how we give them a place in our “art” seems strange to many, and that’s why I’m highlighting it in this week’s Strange Sunday, to discuss with you the stranger ways of using “anthros”

Heil Lassie
Alternate history is a popular sub-genre of fantasy, and it’s actually a genre where humanised animals haven’t been spotted all that often. A shame, if you ask me, because replacing humans with furry counterparts is a way of teaching people about history in an interesting way. As a kid, I rarely watched Alfred J. Kwak, a children’s cartoon that I absolutely didn’t care for back then. Years later, when I was in high school, I stumbled upon a few episodes and checked them out. And what do you know: there’s a crow in that show who turns out to be the feathered version of Adolf Hitler. It’s an interesting approach to show children such a villlain, and most adults will recognise him immediately.

Why not take this a step further? How about a Victorian era setting, in which the British Empire is run by two-legged collies, who struggle with the rebellions of the Persian cats? Or a game about a planet of highly advanced monkeys who...oh wait. Anyway, combining alternative paths of history with furry protagonists might turn out rather interesting.

My furry friend
Animals don’t have to be the main characters, of course, and their intelligent versions could just co-exist with humans. This is something that is explored in Exalted, where tribes of intelligent animals live besides or wage war with their two-legged neighbours. It’s also a core theme of the Ghibli highlight Mononoke Hime, where gigantic wolves and boars fight for the survival of their forest, while humans encroach on it.

Imagine a game where animals work together or against humans, and you’ll imagine a game with additional possibilities. Themes of racism and cross-species friendship become interesting plot hooks, and trying to place the intelligent animals in the setting becomes a writing challenge of its own. See if you can find out where a tribe of telepathic and magical mantis-people fit in…

That’s it for this weeks Strange Sunday. Now, if you excuse me, I have to look up that write-up to play a Corgi in a D&D campaign…

Breaking the chains of factions

Earlier this week, Ghostcrawler (the well-known CM of WoW, acronyms ftw!) teased us with a very interesting tweet about adding an unannounced feature during Mists of Pandaria’s run. The entire community has been thinking and writing about this, and some of the ideas that have been proposed actually sound interesting. One thing that I haven’t read or heard yet, however, is a feature that had been discussed a while back, and that I would love to be inserted into the game: races not restricted to one faction.

You see, I can understand the idea behind implementing different factions in a multiplayer game. It’s cool to be part of a team, and having these teams compete against each other is something many players enjoy. But what I don’t get, from a rather logical point-of-view, is why membership of a faction should be limited to a handful of races, and why I shouldn’t be able to join forces with my enemy to take down a greater threat. It defies logic, and it also takes away some great storytelling opportunities. However, since Blizzard has given the Pandaren the possibility to join both factions, I wonder if the same thing shouldn’t be offered to all races, in a way identical to that of the fluffy bears: you finish your starting zone, and then you pick which faction you want to swear allegiance to. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Instead of just having you choose your faction freely, it would also be great to group with members of the oppossite faction for PvE content. RIFT has added this possibility shortly before launching its first expansion Storm Legion, and in The Secret World, the only thing you can’t do alongside other factions is PvP (which I guess is kinda logical). Cross-faction communication and gameplay would add an additional layer of gameplay, and I can already hear thousand roleplayers cry out in joy when they could finally talk with Orcs or Worgen.

Bottom line, thinking “in a box” is nice and well, and also important for any kind of PvP, but if Blizzard would join other titles in opening those boxes a bit, I would be more than pleased. I would even be so damn pleased that I would give them another expansion to implement player and / or guild housing. Seriously, Blizz, what’s keeping you from that?!

Three game soundtracks that are music to my ears

sephi sing

You know what really bothers me? Every time a new game hits the shelves, everyone talks about its awesome gameplay or awesome-o-saurus graphics, but I rarely hear people give their praise about the music of a game. Sure, there are some aficionados who mention it, but in general, music seems to be a second-class criterion when it comes to judging games. I want to set this wrong right, so today, I’ll give you my three favourite game soundtracks. Hook up your headphones and set your volume to eargasm, we’re gonna bring music to those ears!

Number 3: Mass Effect 2
As I have told you in previous posts, the Mass Effect trilogy is one of my all-time favourite gaming epics. It made me bond with several characters (shout-out to my homeboy Garrus), and had me actual care for the fate of the galaxy. One of the reasons for that was the sometimes bombastic, sometimes enchanting soundtrack. Out of the three games, the one soundtrack that really hit me in the feels was that of Mass Effect 2. With tracks like “The Normandy Reborn” and “End Run”, it still gives me the urge to step aboard that damn cool ship, listen to Joker’s puns and shoot up some Reapers.

On a sidenote, one track that makes me think of ME2 but that isn’t on the soundtrack, is the track used in this badass trailer of the game. It’s one of Two Steps From Hell’s masterpieces, which should also have more than the million fans they already have!

Number 2: Dragon Age: Origins
Yeah, sue me for giving the second spot to another BioWare title, but it’s not my fault their sound department makes epic music. Dragon Age: Origins is one ride of a fantasy RPG, and if you haven’t played it yet, you should be castigated for your sins and then play it. Before you do so, however, hear me out why the music of the game is so delightful.

When making epic music for an epic game, the mistake many composers make is to have it sound just too epic. I know, that sounds weird, but it’s hard to explain. It’s like the music loses its supportive, carrying function, drowning out the actual scene it is meant to make perfect on an acoustic level. Luckily, Inon Zur is one heroic composer, and the pieces he wrote for DA:O are marvelous. If you want to hear the (in my opinion) best ones, check out “Dragon Age: Origins” and “The Deep Roads”. 

Number 1: Final Fantasy VII
Oh geesh, bring on the goosebumps! It’s hard for me to give my feelings for this game and its divine music a suitable written form, but I will try anyway. Gosh, just thinking of this soundtrack gets me all hyped.

Next to making some of the greatest RPG’s that have ever been inserted into consoles, Square-Enix is also known for hiring the best composers and musicians alive. Their in-house musical genius is Nobuo Uematsu, who has been responsible for most of the music you hear in the Final Fantasy series. The peak of his talent shows in the soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII, a game that has left his mark on the genre and is still called one of the greatest games ever made. If you ask me, that is an understatement.

Next to being one of the greatest digital adventures I have ever experienced, FFVII is also a musical highlight. When the movie sequel Advent Children was released, a great part of the soundtrack was remade and reborn in an even greater way. While watching the movie and fanboying all over the place, my ears were almost unable to really comprehend the greatness of the music I was hearing. The new versions of masterpieces like “One-Winged Angel” and “Aerith’ Theme” made my skin shudder in delight, and my heart pound faster as I was re-united with the heroes from a game that had touched me so deeply.

Really, if you want to hear the perfect example of music not just supporting, but uplifting a game, play FFVII and listen carefully. Be careful though, you might be humming the “Victory Fanfare” after every success for the rest of your life if you’re like me.

So that’s my top three of epic gaming soundtracks. If you think I missed any great musical piece, or if you would like to share your opinion, hit me up in the comments. While you’re doing that, I have to clean the tears from my cheeks after being reminded of Aerith’ death…