Tag Archive: bioware

I’ve always wanted to do an LP. And I always wanted to host it on this blog, if for no other reason then to give me a reason to actual update this thing on a regular basis and not my current “whenever I feel like/remember it’s here” approach I have right now. But I’ve been stuck for a long time on deciding all the possible elements of style I want to do. Do I want to do a video or text based one? Do I want to do a comic relief idiot LP or an informative one? Do I want to play a game I hate or a game I love? Should I play a game I’ve never heard of or played before, or a game I know so well I can play it in my sleep (and occasionally wake up to discover that’s what I’ve been doing.) I gave it a lot of thought and decided that I’m actually really over the whole caustic critic and angry, rage-filled nerd thing. That inside me  I’m more passionate and excited about something I love over something I hate. On top that while it’s possible to enjoy a bad movie, there are actually very few games that posses an “it’s so bad it’s good” quality to them. The fact that games are interactive means you can’t just sit back and laugh at the terribleness, you have to be engaged and that means putting up with sluggish controls, broken gameplay, and frustratingly brainless AI. I’m neither a sadist nor a glutton for punishment, so if I’m going to subject hours of my life playing a game, recording footage of screenshots of it, and delivering my experience in an enjoyable fashion, it damn skippy be something I actual like. And unless you have some kind of rare mental condition that creates an intense inability to read blog titles, you already know the game I decided on so without further ado I give you my favorite game of all time; Planescape: Torment.

You may have heard of Planescape: Torment. You may have heard of the small but passionate cult following it attracted it declaring it to be the pinnacle of story-telling in an interactive format. You may even be one of those people. If you’re not one of those people, then this is for you. Planescape: Torment is set in the unfathomably awesome Planescape setting, the last official published campaign setting by TSR for old school AD&D back in the dawn of time (circa 1993). It’s an awesome and outlandish setting brought to life by increadible art work by Tony DiTerlizzi (click his name for his website) and intelligent, philisophical and through-provoking themes and ideas that created a capital “M” mature world for a game that is usually about slaying unquestioningly evil necromancers.

Any PC gamer worth his salt better know this one. Black Isle was a big name back in the 90’s and was responsible for a little title I’m sure you’ve heard of called Fallout. They worked closely with the cRPG titan BioWare to create several D&D games using the Infinity Engine. They were also a subsidiary of Interplay, another oldschool publishing giant that sputtered and died out in 2003, with Black Isle being one of those unfortunate enough to get caught up in Interplay’s death spasms. You can find many of it’s key figures today working at Obsidian, another cRPG company that tends to get looked over by BioWare and Bethesda.

It may have been out of print for two decades now, but this is still the system that many a veteran at the table top swears by to this day. AD&D is the longest running iteration of D&D, having a wealth of awesome support by the now long defunct TSR, and the second edition alone had half a dozen awesome campaign settings, including Planescape and Dark Sun. Because of it’s long run AD&D supports a lot of rules and mechanics that are horribly out of date, such as randomly generated character statistics, critical fails, and a lack of any kind of unified game mechanic. Planescape: Torment uses AD&D’s second edition as a basis for its rules, and while the computer will handle most of the work for us behind a digital DM’s screen, to those new to the hobby and uninitiated in the old ways we will see a couple of things that don’t make any sense like negative Armor Class being a good thing and something called THAC0.

You’ve said a lot here, but you haven’t said a damn about what this game is about.

Oh right, sorry about that. We’re going to be playing as a horribly scarred, dreadlocked, cave-man looking amnesiac who also happens to be immortal. The entire game revolves around this mystery and we’ll be piecing together the life of our nameless protagonist to discover the truth of his curse. There is no evil bad guy to beat, instead it is an introspective journey of one very unusual man. Imagine if Memento were a video game, only we have the power to eventually will people out of existence.

That sounds cool, but what makes this game so special?

Planescape: Torment follows the tradition of it’s setting by tracking down every single tired, cliched, convention about fantasy RPG’s and buries them 50 feet in the Arizona desert. There are no elves, dwarfs, wizards, or dragons. Our protagonist is an ugly-looking brute instead of a mopey, pretty-boy, there are no swords or conventional fantasy weapons of any sort, we use magic tattoos instead of armor, and the most important stat is the one that has no mechanical combat benefit what so ever. Speaking of combat there’s hardly any, our nature as an immortal means we can never actual die, and it has mountains of dialogue that pose more of a threat than any fight will ever be.

This all makes Planescape: Torment a very divisive game, if you ask someone who loves Torment to make a list of all the things they love about this game, and ask another person who hates it to make a list of all the reasons why they hate it, you’ll find yourself with two copies of the same list. Torment never sold all that well when it came out, because it went against the dungeon-crawling celebration of clicking known as Diablo II.

This is still an Infinity Engine game, so will there be companions/romances?

Hell yes there are companions and they are all awesome.

– Morte: A floating, wise-cracking skull is our first companion. Somehow manages to be the most normal of the bunch.

– Dak’kon: This githzerai zerth is a long way from home and can’t go back. We can play storytime with him to get new spells.

– Annah-of-the-Shadows: Our first romanceable companion is a fiery tiefling gutter-rat with a horrible attitude and OH GOD THAT ACCENT.

– Ignus: This wizard bit off more than he could chew and is now condemned to being a living conduit to the elemental plane of fire. Naturally only casts fire spells.

– Fall-From-Grace: The second romanceable companion is a chaste Lawful Neutral succubus. Is the only priest in the whole game.

– Nordom: A bat-shit insane robot/tv monitor. We’ll already have one Fighter/Thief by the time we get to him but we’ll keep him around because he’s voiced by Dan Castellaneta.

– Vhailor: This guy is so dedicated to justice that he doesn’t’ let a little thing like death keep him down. The beefiest fighter in the whole game is a pain to get to and oddly enough makes the ending harder.


In Defense of BioWare

I want to say something about fans. Actually I’m going to let someone else say something about fans because he said far more elegantly than I ever could.

“Fans are clingy, complaining dipshits who will never, ever be grateful for any concession you make. The moment you shut out their shrill tremulous voices the happier you’ll be for it.”

This sentiment basically sums up the way fans have reacted to final installment of what is probably the greatest science-fiction story of our generation and definitely the most ambitious video game project ever undertaken. You have a massive company filled with some of the most creative and talented people in the industry pouring their lives into a project that took over half a decade to complete, and the fan reaction is to angrily throw it back into their faces and demand a mulligan, free of charge. This is insulting and it’s made me think twice about my decision to enter the industry, if the reward for my effort is to be told to do it again on my time and my dime.

By now you can probably guess I’m talking about the ridiculously over blown backlash against Mass Effect 3 that most of the Internet I frequent has jumped onto as their new bandwagon of choice. Frankly I’m kind of disgusted and ashamed by it, not because of their opinions, because having an opinion even if I disagree with is perfectly fine, but the petty, entitled way the fans have decided to go about it is just shameful. Now personally I didn’t have a problem with the way Mass Effect 3 ended, I think it’s a good ending, it might even be a brilliant ending, but even if I didn’t like it, that still wouldn’t invalidate all the fun I had with it up to that point. Tali would still be my favorite character, Garrus would still be hilariously awesome, and the sight of the massive Reaper getting curb stomped by the mother of all thresher maws would still have been awe-inspiring.  We are looking at a masterpiece of the medium, a glimpse of the heights games can achieve, and I for one am going to take a stand in favor of it.

First of all Mass Effect 3 has a good ending. Most of the complaints I’ve seen don’t make any kind of sense to me, and it seems to be that people are confused and angry and aren’t really asking themselves the question I did once I finished the game: “What is BioWare doing here?” First of all it should come to no one’s surprise that Mass Effect 3 is the ending to Mass Effect. I can’t count the number of times BioWare promised/warned us about this. Maybe we just didn’t believe it. After all remember when Halo 3 was going to be the last Halo game? Or when Metal Gear Solid 4 was going to be last the Metal Gear game? We’ve been promised endings to popular IPs that never come for so long I don’t think it’s truly sunk in yet that Mass Effect is over. This is why I hear so many people saying that Mass Effect 3 has ruined the franchise, this complaint is total nonsense. Mass Effect 3 ended the franchise, which is exactly what BioWare promised they would do. If a man asks if it’s okay to punch you in the face and you say it’s okay, do you then get mad at him for punching you in the face?

Then there’s the complaint I hear that the ending didn’t bring closure to the series. This is also total nonsense and as Penny Arcade argued on last Monday, Mass Effect 3 is the ending to the Mass Effect story, that the ending isn’t when you beam up onto the Citadel or get asked to choose between a red explosion, a green explosion, or a blue explosion. The ending starts when the Reapers show up and blow up Vancouver. And honestly there’s so much closure throughout this game it’s insane how much effort they put into it, there are scenes that probably cost them thousands of dollars that you’ll never see because of a decision you made in another game. In my story I won Tali back her homeworld while Legion sacrificed himself to end the war between his kind and his creators. I helped Miranda put her past and her father behind her for good. I watched Jack turn from a violent criminal into a responsible teacher. I ended the Genophage and gave hope to the krogan, united under my buddy Wrex. Liara gave me a gift that I don’t understand but knew that it meant the end of our friendship. Ashley became the second human Spectre and saved the Council from a traitor. Everyone of these is an ending to a story that started a game or two ago so how can you say there is no closure to the series? Then there’s that final, controversial decision at the end, and each one will change the Mass Effect universe in a completely different way that it would functionally impossible to continue the story. I don’t know about you but that’s what I call closure.

Mass Effect is a trilogy because it’s a three-act story. Functionally each game isn’t its own separate story, but an act in a much larger story. Each installment neatly fits into the three act structure. In the first game the threat of the Reapers is discovered and the dramatic question: Can Sheppard stop the Reapers, is posed. In the second game you go around collecting all the tools and forming the bonds that will be needed to answer the question, which is what is supposed to happen in the second act. And finally the third act is where all the events of the second act play out and the dramatic question (can Sheppard stop the Reapers) is answered. If Mass Effect was going to have a bad ending, it’s one where the answer to the question is: No. That’s an ending that would have sucked, that would have demolished everything the players worked for, where if no matter what you did the Reapers won and everyone died. The only way Mass Effect could have had a bad ending, is if it had a prototypical Bad ending. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t even have a prototypical good ending either, which is good because let’s face it, if players were presented with just a Good ending, or a Bad ending, everyone would have chosen the Good ending, and so the whole point of player choice would have been rendered meaningless. The choice between either an exotic Asian massage or being repeatedly punched in the gut is not a real choice.

Instead Mass Effect 3 gives players three different endings. Yes the videos that play out once the choice is made are 90% the same, but the implications of what would happen to the galaxy are all radically different. There is no right and wrong choice and the answer you have is the answer to a question that lies at the core of Mass Effects’ theme. This question has been asked in some variation across all three games: is subservience preferable to extinction? Is it better to be at the devils right hand, then in his way? In the first game the villain Seran argued yes, in the second game we saw the consequences of what that subservience would have been, and in the third game, where we leave the Earth and stand above it, looking down at it from the domain of a god, we are asked to answer that question. But not in terms of the organic life, because saying yes would have been in direct violation of Sheppard’s character, which would have also made for a bad ending. Instead the question is asked in the terms of the Reapers. The ending to Mass Effect 3 completely turns the core theme of the game on its head and asks you to answer it given the new context. Is it better to destroy the Reapers or make them your slaves. And you know what? If the Reapers were to answer that question it would be yes, and they would want you to say yes too.

The fact that Mass Effect 3’s ending gives the answer to the core theme of the game to the players is why I think it’s a good ending. But if this one particular fan theory is correct, then Mass Effect 3 has a brilliant ending. As I hinted at in the last paragraph at the end of the game players have the option to control, destroy of coexist with the Reapers. For the Reapers, given what we’ve been shown over the past two games as to how they think, they would say that subservience is preferable to extinction, and would do everything in their power to prevent Sheppard from killing them, even if it meant that serve as slaves. The whole MO to the Reapers isn’t to wipe out all organic life, but to prune it, to shape it into Reaper form or a form the Reapers can control. They see themselves as intergalactic gardeners. But Sheppard, and by proxy the players, sees them as threats to all life everywhere, one that has to be destroyed. If only there was some way the Reapers could change the way a person thinks and sees the world and get them to come about to their side of thinking.

Oh right, they can. This is why the indoctrination theory makes way too much sense to be ignored. After all there was something wrong about the ending, and I think it was intentional. I mean, why BioWare give us a Renegade interrupt to save Anderson’s life? Why is it when the game shows us the destruction option it’s color coded in red, the Renegade color, and when it shows us the option to control the Reapers, it’s color coded in blue, the Paragon color? But in the last game the option to destroy the Collector base was Paragon, while the option to save it was Renegade. Because the Reapers are trying to indoctrinate Sheppard, which at this point is their last line of defense, and instead of telling us through cut scenes, the sinister effects of indoctrination are being showed to us through game play. This means that BioWare is intentionally taking the conventions of the game’s mechanics and turning them on its head to demonstrate the fact that an outside force is trying to make you do something you would never willing do on your own.


            Look people, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t declare that games should be considered art and then shoot down any ending that requires an in-depth analysis to understand. Because that’s really the only difference between BioShock and Mass Effect 3, BioShock came out and told people what it was doing, while Mass Effect wanted you to stop and actually think about it yourself. If games are going to be art than this is what that’s going to look like, because interactivity and the conventions of game play are what make this medium unique, they’re what make it so different from any other medium and they’re why games do in fact matter.

So BioWare, let me do something that I don’t think you’ve heard at all from anyone this week: let me say thank you. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into crafting this masterpiece, this exemplar that reached for the stars and showed us a glimpse of the future of games. You have legitimately added something to the substance of our culture and I’m grateful that I get to live in a world that this exists.