Month: January 2013

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…

Story matters

As I ventured forth into the continent of Pandaria, curious to see what this new land had to hold for my warrior, I noticed that Blizzard decided to change the way quest achievements were tracked. Instead of rewarding you with some e-peen points after finishing a certain number of quests in a zone, you work off a list of quest “storylines”, and are notified as soon as you finish one. Once you have rounded up every storyline in the zone, you get a nice achievement, showing everyone that you helped all those in need in a part of Pandaria. It’s a nice change from the old way, but next to giving you an easier way to tracking your quest process, it also shows how even the behemoth company of Blizzard has laid their focus on storytelling in their flagship title.

Of course, this way of tracking quest achievements is just a minor part of their new focus on the story of Pandaria. The use of many cutscenes and spoken dialogue helps to immerse the player into the setting, making him a part of the story. I’m a big fan of this focus on the plot that many contemporary MMORPG’s show. Considering the roots of role-playing games, story is a big part of the role-playing experience, but for years, it was taking the backseat in most online titles.

A cynic might claim that this is nothing but a simple reaction to the demands of the market. While struggling with many other issues, the storylines of Star Wars: The Old Republic are considered the best in any MMORPG, and Guild Wars 2 also puts the personal story of your character into the center of the game. My favourite The Secret World almost drowns the player in symbolic and enigmatic storytelling, and looking at the positive reactions all these games get for their attempts at being more than just a grindfest, it seems like the people simply demand a good story.

I mean, who can blame them? Years of simply hacking away at monsters with but a notion of lore and motivation have dulled us, and we want to know why our digital alter egos venture forth to be heroes. We want to the stories we know from offline games online, to share them with our friends. We want to form our own band of daring knights and sorcerers, and fight against evil out of a strong, personal motivation. In the end, we want to know why we had to kill those ten rats, and how that helped achieving our character’s goals. This focus on story and the narrative aspects gives us the means to do just that, and I hope that it will be a part of MMORPG’s that will receive lots of love in the future.

My top 3 favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction

“Martial Arts in the Sunset” by MINORITYmaN

Ah, martial arts. These two words alone conjure a myriad of images. From the old, wise sensei teaching his students secret techniques, to the tough practitioners who turn their bodies into lethal weapons through rigorous training: everyone has his own image of the martial traditions in his mind. Martial arts are a by now a staple of fantasy fiction, and have been portrayed in different ways in the media. I grew up with mutant turtles trained in ninjitsu, and cartoons these days teach kids that martial arts give you the power to bend the four classic elements.

Of course, most of these portrayals have almost nothing to do with the real deal. The martial arts of our world, while often steeped in tradition, are anything but supernatural. Yes, to master them, one most devote much time to them, but seldom do they involve spiritual journeys and fighting demons from beyond. Two years ago, I started to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and so far, it hasn’t given me any superpowers (unless you consider a healthy lifestyle one). However, I’m a sucker for supernatural martial arts, and in this post, I want to share my top 3 portrayals of martial arts in fiction with you. So don your gi, sit down in the lotus position, and read this countdown patiently, grasshopper!

Number 3: Jade Empire
BioWare has this special touch when it comes to making great RPG’s. While recent titles received quite some critique, the older games are true pieces of art. One of these is Jade Empire, an epic RPG set in a medieval Chinese setting, where the fist and wicked sorcery rule the land. Characters in this game learn supernatural martial arts, to fight against the evil that threatens the land.

While the premise is identical to the hundred of Chinese action movies you can find in the discount bin of your favourite DVD shop, what made this game stand out was its fluent and impressive combat system. Shifting from one style to another was fluent and easy, giving combat a really dynamic twist. Additionally, the styles your character could acquire were really distinctive and creative. Each style had their own cool animations, and all of them really fitted into the setting. It was delightful to simply see your character pulling off those moves, and I will forever remember it as the single RPG that made martial arts look rad!

Number 2: Tekken 3
Back when I was a little Chindividual, Tekken 3 was one of my favourite PS1 games. While I never mastered the depth of it, it was good enough to vent your aggressions and to beat up your big brother in some way. Each character had his own distinct style, and they all played different. From the half-demonic Jin to the kung-fu cop Law, Tekken 3 even offered you a chance to play a fighting wooden puppet. Most of the martial arts portrayed in this game was actually pretty down-to-earth, except for some subtle lightning animations and special glows. Though I’m not a big fan of fighting games, Tekken 3 still knows how to knock me out with its fighting swagger!

Number 1: Avatar
No, I’m not talking about that boring movie. I’m talking about the cartoons The Last Airbender (please forget the horrible movie adaptation) and Legend of Korra. In both cartoons, martial arts are ways to bend the natural elements of fire, water, air and earth. People who have a knack for it can learn one of these styles, and are then able to manipulate their chosen element through sweet-looking moves.

While many people wouldn’t call the bending of the shows actual martial arts, their movements are clearly inspired by styles from our world. It makes me happy to see a bunch of creative people turning these into a something so spectacular. While the fists of the characters seldom meet, they use their martial arts to force their will upon the world around them, directing it as if their bodies were divine instruments. It’s epic, cool and simply entertaining to see, and that’s why it’s my number one on this list.

So there you have it, my three favourite portrayals of martial arts in fiction. Do you think I missed any? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!