Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Jepp: 1) Please keep critiquing games by building new ones :)...
Chris Kilgariff: Hey, This game needs to be a mobile phone...
Andrew: Just linked the book club to you, boosting your...
My Rogue Elf (below) uses swords and crossbows, but the game’s starting to get them mixed up. It’ll probably right itself if I ever get a new crossbow, which seems like a good reason not to.
If you’re playing it this weekend too, which Origin did you pick? Was it any good? The Female City Elf story is quite compelling, which is actually sort of a problem: the main story is nothing like as involving. I keep feeling like this is a slightly dreary sidequest I have to do before I can get back to the cause that interests me, so I’m feigning concern for the fate of the world.
I’m enjoying it mechanically, but the five or so hours I’ve played are a textbook example of BioWare trying so hard to be epic that they’ve failed to make it personal. I hope and half expect that something I give a shit about will happen soon.
Update: Just discovered you can not only see my character online, but read a bullet point summary of all the plot developments and major decisions I’ve made (spoilers for up to level 9) – they’re even time stamped. Scary.
Stormglass: I think I agree. I'm loving Dragon Age, but the story does feel a bit impersonal. More than anything I suspect it's the lack of a strong antagonist - Loghain is all right, but he doesn't really seem to be doing anything other than twiddling his thumbs in Denerim waiting for you to kick his door down. He's no Sarevok or Irenicus. Or even a Saren, really.
TheFool: Possible spoilers about general nature of the plot, although no specifics
Iunno, I think the plot so far is more akin to disaster novels than the usual pulp action/fantasy plots that bioware focuses on (yes, even BG). There is no villain (only halfway through or so, I think), just a world-destroying event that occurssemi-regularly, like a volcano or earthquake. The villain isn't a person but a lack of solidarity and co-ordination amongst sapient beings. Having all of this be one person's fault would be against the themes that they keep pushing in the game (problem happens, everyone too busy doing their own shit to really care). I mean, to an extent this is the case in every RPG but so far there's not even the "I need macguffin X to help you save the world!" bs excuse most games feature at least once or twice.
Short version: I'm hoping there isn't a true villain behind all this because it would undermine the story that I think Bioware is telling.
Jonas: I picked the human noble origin story, and it meshes really well into the main plot. Almost to such a degree that I would say it actually lends some personal relevance to the main plot - it's clear that saving the world and resolving my own character's story arc are closely related, so that origin at least works as presumably intended.
I've been enjoying the plot so far - I do wish BioWare would try to make a less epic story once (taking a hint from Torment would seem like a good place to start), but I'm finding Dragon Age's plot a lot more engaging than any of the Neverwinters, possibly because the origin I picked leads so well into the main plot.
Alex Hopkinson: Loghain is a Lannister, except not. But kind of. The Song Of Fire And Ice influence seems pretty strong (which is a good thing) - everyone's betraying everyone else in the most bloody way possible, the "throne" has exchanged hands several times in the recent past through rebellion from nobles, there's at least one notable bastard (literal definition) running around, everyone you meet is dead five minutes later and you have a Dire Wolf... I mean large dog...
TheFool: I think that Loghain is more like Stannis Baratheon than the Lannisters; a man who is so wrapped up in what he thinks is right that he won't bend to what's necessary in order to survive. He would rather die than sacrifice what he fought for
Tom Francis: The influence of pretty much everything is strong. I have to run to the dwarves, elves and human armies to convince each to join the fight against a greater evil? Why does that sound oddly familiar? The ultimate bad guys are humans whose hubris corrupted them into something monstrous? Man, those guys score a lot of roles. They could unionise.
The last thing I did before I stopped playing was go through a series of trials to acquire a world-saving McGuffin, so I'm not ready to cut it the trend-bucking break Mr Fool is.
My origin story has just cropped up again, to some effect, but only in a hallucination.
So far my favourite thing about it is that it gives you slightly more freedom than you expect in the decision-making moments. It's enough to make me think twice about the lunatic option, which I always want to try, because I'm starting to think it might let me break the game for myself.
Case in point, if you ever acquire the Horn of Korgin or similar, do not blow it. Does exactly what it says in the item description, and that's exactly as bad as you'd think.
Just discovered you can not only see my character online, but read a bullet point summary of all the plot developments and major decisions I've made - they're even time stamped. Scary.
http://social.biowar... ...play=story (Spoilers for up to level 9).
Added a new shot to the main post, too.
Ah, I haven't gone for the Ashes yet so I might yet be horribly disappointed. It'll probably devolve into another incomprehensible five day slugfest between species with incomprehensible accents.
I think that Pentadact is, unfortunately, correct that the plot beats are pretty much exactly the same as other fantasy RPGs so far, albeit with different flavor text. I fear I'm extending Dragon Age a lot of credit they haven't really earned plot-wise and reading more depth into the story than they've put into it, especially given the lack of depth to all their other plots.
However, I would caution against believing anything the Chantry says. Not because they're some evil church or something (they seem to be very kind to everyone other than mages) but because their entire belief system is based around The Maker REPEATEDLY damning humans because we hurt his feelings, either by not meeting his expectations or actually doing our own thing (which is what he damned the spirits for failing to do) instead of doing what he wants us to do. Basically it's the litany of a battered spouse explaining how it's really all their fault the latest trauma was inflicted upon them.
In fact, blaming the darkspawn on the mages argues in favor of my natural disaster interpretation of the Darkspawn. Lots of religions blame natural disaster on the sinfulness of humans, and something this horrible could only be the product of a truly corrupt culture...like the empire that the saintly founder of the dominant religious belief system crusaded against (they're not slandering, they just blame the natural target of opprobrium). Again, this could all go to pieces if some puppetmaster shows up with a plan to rule the world.
national: Jeez you guys really don't know who the antagonist is? Classic Bioware Twist #7: You are the villain!
TheFool: Well, at least it won't be my respected elderly mentor or my bro....oh, crap, I took the human noble origin and my brother's body was never found. DAMN YOU BIOWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARE
Tom Francis: Heh. I'm still waiting for the painfully earnest, virtuous girl who has psychic visions and swings both ways. She was in KOTOR, Jade Empire and Mass Effect, so it must just be a matter of time.
Jazmeister: It's probably an ex girlfriend that one of the writers hasn't got over. Those earnest psychics are the worst. Heart breakers, man.
Dr. Nerfball: I choose Never Winter Nights 2, an RPG by a debatably inferior company, to your Dragon Age. Possibly because I like NWN2 giving you *major spoilers* a goddamn castle to play with *end o' spoilers* Mind you, having not played it because I'm to poor to own it, maybe they do give you a giant castle in Dragon Age?
And on the topic of NWN2, seriously now, thank god they gave their evil cultists vaguely respectable get up, I mean, wasn't it orange and purple robes or some such they had?
Basically the point I'm alluding to here is that Bioware make horribly cliched RPGs, although I'm struggling to remember any in NWN1 other than your mentor being a major bit player in the whole villany scheme of things. Oh, and did it have a trial (awesometastic by the by) which had the best line I have ever heard from an RPG? No? I thought not! Linked the speech of it by the way. Sand is the best!
Also, if that didn't work: "Only that the dress that the ambassador is wearing is clearly out of fashion, a blatant attempt to distract the court from the matter at hand, and is more appropriate for a Docks prostitute than a diplomatic envoy. Thank you!"
TheFool: Minor spoilers:
You get a camp where you can donate goods for xp and can pay $7 for access to a courtyard with a loot chest
Stormglass: Well. NWN2 was just as cliched as any BioWare game, really, only without the polish. Love me some Mask of the Betrayer, though.
Jazmeister: Seems to me that these games are well-loved despite the cliches and stupid acting and daft voices.
It could be that we're used to scrunching our eyes up and imagining what games are really portraying, ever since Mario had facial hair instead of a face.
Does it do anything interesting with the dialogue, like Mass Effect tried to do?
Morph: The Mage origin story is just awful...
You go through a supposedly tricky 'harrowing' to prove yourself, but it's short and easy.
You have to help an apparently powerful wizard by going into some tunnels and killing some giant spiders. Do it yourself powerful wizard!
The main plot has you helping your best friend, despite your only interaction with him making you realise he is a whiny bitch who deserves anything coming to him. You have no real reason to help him (in fact, if anything the plot gives you more reasons not to), but to advance past the intro you have to. Sigh.
Sounds like the other origins are much better, though I'm not convinced the main game is anything exciting.
DoctorDisaster: In fairness, that MacGuffin doesn't save the world, it just saves Alistair's father figure. Or at least, that's what's advertised when you're searching for it -- I haven't finished the quest line yet.
But the tropes are definitely all in place. They're just more fantasy tropes than game tropes -- except of course for the Bioware-specific tropes. (If you ordered it online you even get an HK stand-in who is fast becoming my favorite character.)
But I think the twists on those tropes definitely put the story in a better light. I detest almost anything with elves in it; but here I think they're the most interesting race in the game. Despite being a Girl Talk-level mashup of about a dozen of the most popular fantasy cliches, Alistair is a genuinely likable character, and his dialogue is well-written enough that I take him pretty much everywhere.
Even the characters I expected to annoy the shit out of me weren't half bad. Liara I would have jettisoned through an airlock in half a heartbeat, but Leliana's questionable sanity makes her much more fun to have around. The golem I expected to be a lifeless DLC-worthy robot skating by on gameplay usefulness was actually the aforementioned HK-type, worth including on dialogue alone. Zevram... well, OK, he's irritating as hell. But he occasionally provides a bit of gay-flirt ego-boost. Sten I don't get, but I assume he'll eventually arrive at the "I have a personality" party.
More importantly, I have the option to jettison any of these people through an airlock! (Well, a camp gate anyway.) Truly, this is progress.
Jason L: It bugs me when people criticise stuff on the basis that it's cliched. If we're going to dismiss out of hand anything you can find on TVTropes, then I guess art and entertainment should board the first express to Dadaville. I think what that criticism might mean is that there are too many story arcs and they're too loosely associated with each other.
Jazmeister: It takes more than just having been done before to constitute a cliche, but really - is there any excuse for the carbon copying of sections of plot or a set of mechanics? If you can't think of something interesting, you're producing pulp - stuff that isn't designed to be new or interesting, just slop for the trough. There's a place for that stuff, but it isn't in an 'of the year' list, that's for sure.
What if Portal had 30 hours of the same puzzles on the end, or you got to the surface and switched the portal gun for an assault rifle? It's better to be short and fascinating, I think. We live in a society that doesn't need to settle for pulp any more than we need to settle for bread and water for dinner.
Tom Francis: If I use it as a criticism, which I would of some aspects of Dragon Age, I mean that some essential element is too familiar to be interesting. I wouldn't pan a shooter like FEAR for being cliched, because while the plot is over-familiar, your abilities and the feel of the combat aren't. In Dragon Age, I don't necessarily need the combat to grip me, but the plot and setting ought to.
Can't have a discussion about cliches and Dragon Age without linking this chart and the response: http://hellforge.gam... ...iche-Chart
Urthman: Please tell me those blood splatters somehow look less ridiculous in the game than they do in every damn Dragon Age screenshot.
(Or at least that there's a way to turn them off -- which if true raises the even more troubling question of why anyone would play the game with them turned on when they look so utterly stupid...)
Stormglass: There is indeed a way to turn them off, thankfully. They're very overdone.
Dante: "Heheh. The painfully earnest and virtuous girl who has visions and swings both ways? She's in there, I just missed her:"
Yeah, I wondered why she wasn't mentioned.
In fairness though, there seems to be more than a little Joan of Arc to her, which makes her a little different.
Jason L: Fair enough, that litany just read to me like 'I judge this plot to be a Fellowship Special with a dash of MacGuffin Hunt, O the ennui, next!' Amusingly, I would have had no such objection to the meaninglessly vague 'It is not written well."
EGTF: There's a way to remove the blood splatters in the game - you have your dog lick you. I am not joking.
[MAYBE A SPOLIER ALERT COMING POSSIBLY]
And now I think about it, as he ingests such blood doesn't that make the dog a Grey Warden too technically? Ok that wasn't a spoiler as such as it happens pretty early in the game, but that ceremony turned me off Duncan and the Grey Wardens. Also makes me think of which sod became the first GW by thinking to drink the blood in the first place.
"That demon I just killed. I'm totally going to drink its blood."
"Doesn't that normally kill people?"
"Nah nah, watch me I'll be fine. This is a good idea. I bought the DLC for a whole new class."
[POSSIBLE SPOLIERS ENDED TILL FURTHER NOTICE]
I'm tempted to start a character and see how far I can get by picking all the game breaking choices. But for now, I like the illusion of free will in my decision to advance the plot.
DoctorDisaster: @Jason L -- the thing is, while the game's plot is ridden with cliches, the writing is actually very good. The dialogue is fantastic, the characters are vibrant, and the moral choices you're presented with are much more interesting than the "cake or death" stuff you'll find in most games. The world itself is based on well-known tropes, but finds fairly novel ways to subvert them and surprise you. No complaints in all of this.
The main plot itself, however -- and we're talking purely about the sequence of events here -- is pure tried-and-true heroic fantasy. There's little if any novelty in it. However, as long as you recognize that it takes a backseat to the rest of the writing, it shouldn't impede your enjoyment of the game.
Inferno: Niggling things that really get in my way that I'd like fixed in this game:
Lack of ability to tell an INDIVIDUAL party member to hold ground. - It's all or nothing and often in hold ground even when told to attack your guys will stand around like idiots but it is certainly not fun to have to keep telling someone on low health to run away agains and again because thye keep going back into the fight. - canging their tactics mode every single time isn't too great either.
Lack of ability to STACK orders - Playing as a rogue it's really quite annoying to have to tell my character to run behind the enemy before attacking, especially when you pause them game set everything up but have to unpause and pause again a second later to select attack. Then having to repeat this every other minute in a fight grates.
Spell and ability targeter - if your guy/gal has no target you can choose who to hit with a spell, which is very cool. If they do have a target then you cannot choose who to hit, they'll only cast it on that person. I get that this is helpful for when you're not pausing but having to make them change target just to cast a spell on tthem really annoys me.
Pretty much everything else apart from the way it ALWAYS zooms to whichever character you select I'm really enjoying so far.
Chives: If you do the move command after the attack command, the character keeps their target and just attack.
Saves you from unpausing and pausing every few seconds anyway
MartinJ: Anyone else eventually come to a point in every RPG where the story gets so interesting and involving that you just want to see all the cutscenes from that point instead of actually playing that game?
Feeling like that with Dragon Age after the Redcliffe story arc, right now I'm in the dwarf city and I just feel myself rushing through to get to the good stuff.
This happens to me every time with every good RPG though, or generally games with excellent stories.
dual_barrel: Pentadact, I was wondering: did you play the Baldur's Gate series? As this game is more in line with it.
Stormglass: @MartinJ - I sort of felt the same way, although I think it's because some of the dungeon sequences are just too Goddamn long.
Tom Francis: Martin: yeah, I think it's exacerbated in Dragon Age by the sheer number of quite time-consuming fights in between the interesting story bits. I liked the Dwarf place, because it was mostly story.
Dual: Nope. I was kind of hoping Dragon Age would show me what I'd been missing, but it's probably not fair to equate them.
Stormglass: I'd definitely recommend Baldur's Gate even if Dragon Age doesn't end up clicking with you. It holds up very well. The story of BG2 in particular is BioWare's finest work, although I'm not sure how much of that was Black Isle since they were also involved.
Certainly it manages to feel both more epic and far more personal than Dragon Age does.
Dorian Cornelius Jasper: @Morph:
The Mage Origin story is kind of clever, I thought. The Pride Demon from the Harrowing was telling the truth: "True tests never end." The entire Mage Origin story basically takes the moral behind the Harrowing and runs with it. (How well it works may depend on how well or poorly you catch onto the theme in play.)
While some of us were attentive enough not to fall for it, as you no doubt have judging by your opinion on the quest in question, there were apparently more than a few players who were anguished and frustrated at the idea that they would have to betray their friend to the headmaster (who, in that scene, comes off as less than trustworthy) in order to progress the plot.
Of course, these were also the people who didn't figure out they could also advance the plot by doing the spider-killing busy quest you complained about.
Frankly, I found playing as a mage pretty interesting. Not quite as tied into the politics as a Human Noble, but with interesting ramifications across the adventure as a whole. Magi in Ferelden tend to get singled out, and not without cause, but I've found it the most interesting choice in the long run--even over the Noble, who seems to be the "default."
As an aside, a properly-made Arcane Warrior Mage spec is really quite powerful and versatile. Off-tank, melee DPS utility mage. Makes a much better Paladin-type than a Templar-spec Warrior, too.
DoctorDisaster: You guys liked the dwarf section? I started it and got so annoyed that I just left, hoping there would be a cave-in or something. Maybe I didn't give it enough of a chance. Essentially I was approached by two people who both said "I'm blindly in the tank for this one guy you know nothing about. You should back him in the battle for succession. BUT FIRST you have to do a quest to prove your undying loyalty to him!"
Is there a "fuck you both, I prefer people who don't demand blind obedience from perfect strangers" option that I missed? Some way of actually meeting or assessing the candidates before you make an arbitrary and irreversible decision?
MartinJ: Agreed, the dwarf part seemed incredibly bland. And the dungeons there are probably also the most boring ones, especially how long it is, and filled with long, boring tunnels full of NOTHING.
Also, the final boss is a bitch.
EGTF: @DoctorDisaster That's sortof the point that you don't get to meet the candidates. It makes you instead form an opinion from gossip on the street, and make a wild choice. So from straw man arguments and caricatures you have to choose whom you want to support without testing them. This was extra difficult as a Dwarf Commoner as your sister was married to the shit of a prince. On another level, Harrowmont is the kindly "good" choice but he doesn't represent progressive change in the dwarf community. Instead it is the power-hungry evil back-stabbing git that actually wants to abolish the caste system, even if it is just to look good in the history books. Sure it's a game, you won't get to see your choices have any impact but it's nice playing make believe.
Reminds me of the bit in "Mort" where the evil guy is killed, but this turns out to be a mistake as he would be the one who united disparate kingdoms together and brought peace.
Jazmeister: @Ed It doesn't help that being a good ruler is essentially a job (or a skill), and nothing to do with whether or not you're a dick.
This is why voting is broken and we should be ruled by computers.
Bret: Didn't you see that one episode of Futurama?
Computers make lousy rulers. I say we just reelect Nixon's head in a jar.
Stormglass: The dwarf section was my favourite part of the game, honestly. The fact the game forced you to make an uninformed decision was a little frustrating, but other than that I found it the most interesting section, overlong dungeon included.
Well, up until the last half-hour or so, anyway. Everything after the second-to-last boss felt incredibly tacky.
Dorian Cornelius Jasper: The dwarf politics are probably most interesting if you play a Dwarf, either origin. But as the others say, it's most rewarding to dig into the city, hear what people have to say, and make your decision based on your own morals.
The relatively honorable candidate who's willing to prop up a decaying and inherently unjust caste system or the completely dishonorable candidate whose only saving grace is an actual, sincere (if also sincerely self-serving) willingness to reform said system.
It's probably only interesting if you're willing to invest a bit of yourself into it, but considering it's a *Bioware RPG* you can't really blame the developers from expecting at least that much of the player.
All for One: Some of the more interesting points I've noticed(SPOILERS):
-In the mage origin Jowan says he only hasn't USED blood magic, when you ask if he knows it.
-At the end of the city elf one you can accept the bribe, but it's such a nasty thing to consider that even the villan (who offered it) goes "Really? You Sure?" a few times, and you also lose the ability to save your cousin from jail.
It'd be nice if it was actually possible to fail the harrowing via dialogue options to the end boss.
Playing as a dwarf lets you play the whole short thing all the time, seems whenever someone mentions anything close so short you get the option to make a fuss over it.
-The banter between morrigan and pretty much everyone else and shale/wynne.
DoctorDisaster: Well, I guess I was missing something. All I'd heard from the commoners I bugged about it was "Oh I love X, he's the best!" with no explanation. I've got the Mages, Redcliffe, and the Dalish on my side now, so I suppose I'd better get back to work on the dwarves anyway.
Tom Francis: You can go double-agent on them, ingratiate yourself with both and say you'll report on one to the other.
1stGear: @All for One: Whoa, hey, actual meaningful consequences in a Bioware game?! Definitely not, sir! All consequences will be restrained to a meter going up and down somewhere! Dear God, how could you even suggest such a thing!
Honestly, its the most frustrating thing about all the credit Bioware gets. I'm only through the Circle Tower and there have been tons of places where a slip-up in dialogue could have led to a non-standard game over, yet actually testing them just leads right back to the railroad plot, only Alistair likes you less now or something pathetic like that. It becomes even more disgusting when this "dark fantasy" game allows you to cop-out of genuine dilemmas. The worst example is in Redcliffe when...*SPOILER*
You have to decide between Isolde or Connor. But the game just lets you say "Oh wait, we can go to the Circle Tower and gets the Mages to come and solve our problem and hand out candy and gumdrops!"
Gee, thanks Bioware, I was feeling conflicted there for a moment.
MartinJ: I killed the Mages, so I couldn't do that.
Dante: Regarding Connor, you can only do that if you've done the Circle first, otherwise you have to make a serious choice.
As an aside, you can also persuade the first enchanter to fight the demon for you, which is hilarious as he's twice your level at that point and destroys everything with ease.
Tom Francis: I hadn't done the Circle when I did Redcliffe, but I was given the option to go there and see if they could help. I role-played the decision, and reasoned that it was a huge unknown, necessitating a huge delay, involving a wily demon who'd already killed hundreds, and so ended it on the spot.
Didn't let Isolde do it herself alone, either, because any mother in that situation would just run off with the kid. I had the sense the game was trying to tell me "She won't," but fictionally I wasn't buying it.
Alistair bitched about my decision later, so I forced him to wear my wedding dress, sold all his possessions, and permanently assigned him to campfire-guarding duty.
MartinJ: Damn - I sold my wedding dress, otherwise I'd totally to that as well. He's already assigned on campfire-guarding duty, though, along with the Chantry rogue girl. (Since I'm a rogue myself so she doesn't make much sense as a tag-along)