Posts Tagged ‘Bioware’

Looking back over some of the posts on the blog I see that I wrote several anticipating the releases of The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, including one called “Everything we know about MMORPGs is about to change. . .or is it?” which looked at the way both games were claiming to bring revolutionary innovations to the genre. Given that both games have now been out for a while and I’ve played both of them it seems only appropriate to ask: how well are we coping with the Revolution?

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Today I would like to start a discussion on the artistic integrity of games with 3 topics in particular in mind: revised endings, HD upconverts, and extended editions.  When I say revised endings, I’m talking about the Bioware idea of trying to revise the ending after having already released the game.  HD upconverts and reboots refers things such as Age of Empires II’s new HD edition that was recently released on steam.  Extended Editions I find to be something of a misnomer because in this case my example is the extended edition of Anna which I would argue is not so much an extended edition as the developer releasing an entirely new version of their game and saying “Wait! Wait! Give us a second chance!”  I have very mixed feelings on each of these.  They have merits, but there is a question of whether the change is too much and thus irrevocably and sometimes even negatively affects the game.  Let’s go through each of these and then see what kind of discussion we can generate. (more…)

"Why, Oh Why?" by Cayusa. CCLicence.

Sometimes you get a situation where all the worst aspects of our current new media environment collide and form a perfect storm of hideousness.  So when you take Reddit, add in a sprinkling of Twitter and stir it all with a bunch of rabid gaming fanbois you might expect something truly appalling to emerge.

Way back in the gaming Dark Ages (2006) a woman who was then a senior writer for Bioware gave an interview in which she expressed the opinion that game developers should build in an interface option that allowed players who were more interested in story and character interaction to skip the boring combat portions of the game in the same way that most story-driven games allow you to rapidly skip through all the story and dialogue in order to get back to ripping out entrails with a pike.  It is a pretty inoffensive proposal, all things considered.   She never says that games should be less combat-oriented, or that stories should play an even more prominent role, simply that there should be an option that allows for the gameplay preferences of a particular group.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been encouraged lately by the thought that even though the world of game design has, on the whole, proven stubbornly resistant to learning from its mistake (mainly due to a collective memory that makes an ADHD ant appear to be a fount of oracular wisdom) some improvement is nevertheless possible.  I’ve been quite impressed with the Bioware’s preparations to try and ensure that the launch of the massively hyped Star Wars: The Old Republic will not be an unmitigated disaster.

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In a recent developer blog, Colin Johanson, Lead Content Designer for Guild Wars 2 asserts that their new dynamic content system will fundamentally change the MMORPG genre:

MMOs have become extremely popular, but the genre has done little to evolve over the past decade. Generally MMO players explore an unchanging, persistent game world, leveling up by performing quests which do not change the world in any way once completed. It’s time for the genre to take the next step, and explore the idea of a truly dynamic, living, breathing persistent world where the player’s actions really make a difference, and everything that occurs in the game world has cause and effect.

I’ve really been enjoying the Guild Wars 2 developer blogs.  I like the use of the cartoon strips to poke fun at some of the hoary practices of traditional MMOs (in the blog providing an overview of the combat system, for example, players are all set to pitch into a bar fight but then are reduced to standing around trying to calculate their relative damage and attack stats; I wept bitter tears of recognition).  The GW2 developers’ analysis of the problems with current MMOs is considered and, for the most part, accurate.  The design they are proposing in response sounds great; everything about it (with the unfortunate exception of it being set in a fantasy realm, but I could possibly suck it up and deal with that) sounds like exactly the kind of game that I would love to play.

However, I don’t have a lot of faith that this kind of game will prove sufficiently popular to last very long.

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The rise in popularity of Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) has been a boon for game studies scholars.  Not just because it has meant that we have more great games to play, ponder, and write about (of course, the better the game, the less likely we are to get round to the pondering and writing phase, but that is an issue for another day).  And not just because the obvious complexity of these worlds is enabling scholars to think about them in interesting ways; as, for example, testing grounds for economic (Castronova) or sociological (Bainbridge) theories.  It is because the development of an MMORPG has become a quintessential part of the product and is therefore highly visible in the way that is not the case for other genres of games (even though the visibility for those games is a lot greater, in many cases, than in previous years).  Increasingly, members from every major section of a development team are writing occasional and sometimes regular developer logs that describe not just the “features” they are working on but articulate the goals the team has for the game and the writer’s theoretical approach to their particular specialty.

There are some straightforward commercial reasons for this.  Making the development process more transparent is a way of building the brand.  Unlike your average console or computer title which will typically be forgotten in a couple of months or, with better games, a year or two at the absolute outside, developers and publishers of MMORPGs hope that their brand will endure for many years.  The development phase also, therefore, plays a vital role in setting the parameters for the kind of player community the developers hope to see after the game is launched, and the kind of relationship they hope to have with that community.

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