Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Cast of Many, a Party of Few

RPGs present an interesting problem for game designers.  They need a large cast of characters representing a wide range of personality types to tell an interesting story.  The interaction between characters is key to making an interesting story.  After going through massive amounts of work to hand craft each character the player will still end up with only a few of those characters in their active party at any time.

Most RPGs have a fairly small party size.  The standard seems to be 3 or 4 active party members at a given time.  Compare this to the amount of characters to choose from and you'll quickly realize that many characters are being left out.
Final Fantasy I might have done something right in this respect.  At the beginning of the game I created a party with the classes and names I wanted which then was my active party for the entire game.  I've grown to appreciate every one of my characters because they are constantly in my active party.

Think about how this compares to most other RPGs.

Dragon Age: Origins only lets me have 4 characters active at a time out of 9 or so.  At least the developers included the modern advancement of giving all the characters the same xp even when they aren't in the active party.  That way no character falls completely behind.  Then again, some of the character designs are lame.  Did anyone actually use the dog during their entire playthrough?  A character with no dialogue and very limited abilities is not interesting to play.

Mass Effect 2 had a bunch of interesting characters, but some ended up having abilities that were much more useful than others.  Most of my playthrough involved a static party of Miranda, Mordin, and my Shepard simply because their abilities worked great together.  I would have loved to use more characters because they all have a unique personality, but every time I tried to switch it up my party would feel weakened.  I would inevitably end up going back to my default party so that I could win battles in the game.

My favorite part of Final Fantasy XIII was when my entire roster of characters was separated into duos that with limited class selections.  It meant that I got to play as all of my characters and each time I switched between parties there were new and interesting choices to make about my available classes.

Because of the Materia system, Final Fantasy VII is the closest I've seen to an interchangeable party system.  I can turn any character into whatever type of Materia user I wanted.  At the same time, the entire party shows up for all of the big scenes in the game so no character feels disconnected from storyline events.  Those two design decisions go a long way towards making it one of the most respected RPGs ever.

Almost every RPG on the market today suffers from a wealth of characters, but not enough opportunity to utilize them all.  Has anyone else felt a disconnect from their characters because of the way a game was designed?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The 5th Time's the Charm

 Dammit! Not Again...

I'm on my 4th Xbox 360, which is bad enough, but now my current console stopped reading discs.  Neither DVDs or Xbox 360 games will even acknowledge that they're in the disc drive.  I'm out of warranty with Microsoft and I'm out of warranty with the Best Buy where I bought it (by 2 months).

In all of my previous 360 console deaths I had a warranty with Best Buy, so I would take it in and they would give me a brand new console.  This time I'm out of luck.

That means I can either pay $100 to Microsoft so that they can maybe fix it in 2-3 weeks, buy a new console for $300, or try to do some home repairs.  You bet I'm going to try the home repairs instead of sending my 360 away.

It still works great for streaming Netflix and other videos from my PCs.  All of the games on the hard drive work too.  The only thing that stopped functioning is the disc reader.

I'll dive in and try the old Playstation trick of cleaning the laser head.  If that doesn't work it'll be time to pony up the $300 for a shiny new console.  Seriously though, I don't want to spend more money to get my fifth Xbox 360 system.  It's ridiculous.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Note to Self: Play More Games

I've had a busy couple of weeks and I haven't been gaming as much as I'd like to.  I always prioritize real life responsibilities over gaming, but that hasn't been my problem these last few weeks.

My problem has been that I've been reading about games instead of playing them.  I'm keeping up with all of the blogs I follow and still manage to read every Joystiq post.  I think I need to take some of that time and actually start playing again.  Final Fantasy I, Dragon Age: Origins, and StarCraft 2 are all calling my name.

I'm not going to take time away from playing with my daughter or spending quality time with my wife, so something else needs to go on the back burner.  I'm pretty sure that needs to be keeping up with google reader.

I don't have a lot of free time right now, so I need to spend it wisely.  Anyone else ever run into this problem?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sometimes Long is Too Long

I've hit the wall with Dragon Age: Origins.  I just want it to be over.  I love the gameplay, I like the world, I'm enjoying the story, but I've been playing the game for 66 hours now and I'm still not at the end.

Why do games have to be this long to be considered worth our money?  RPGs especially suffer from length problems.  How often have you played a quick RPG?  RPGs need to be a little longer to tell a story, but when I'm pushing 70 hours in one playthrough there might be a problem.

Portal told an amazing story in less then 5 hours on my first playthrough.  The game concept and story execution resonated with me on a deep level and the developers didn't need 70 hours of my time to accomplish that.  It was a first person exploration/shooter but there still has to be middle ground between 5 hours and 70.

I'm going to be a trooper and make it to the end of Dragon Age: Origins but at this point it's mostly because I want it finished by the time Dragon Age II releases in March.  My enjoyment of the game is low.  I'm ready for that final boss any time now...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Reading: Patrick Rothfuss Edition

 Patrick Rothfuss is one of my favorite upcoming authors.  His first book The Name of the Wind and is a must read for all fantasy fans.  In anticipation of his new book releasing in early March I thought I would link to one of his awesome gaming posts/comics.  Also, be sure to check out the video this week, it is truly epic.
  • Patrick Rothfuss on the art of the game.  The comic at the end of the post is especially awesome.
  • Syp at Biobreak has interesting stats on the average age of gamers.
  • A cool short story that one of my fellow bloggers drew my attention to.
 Don't miss this epic Skyrim video.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Green Mushroom Turns One Year Old Today

A Green Mushroom is officially one year old today!  That went by fast.  I didn't know if I was even going to survive the first month of blogging, much less an entire year.  I must say I'm proud of myself and I'm very happy with what the site is becoming.

In the first year I've had 40,077 pageviews from 17,664 visits and at least 11,975 unique visitors.  That's simply amazing to me.  My posts are thoughts I'm writing down for myself because I enjoy gaming, but you internet citizens keep coming back to see what I write.  So, thank you readers!  I love your feedback, comments, and discussions.  Thank you for finding and returning to the site over the course of this last year.

When I set out, I wanted to write about gaming with a side of media analysis.  My goal was to average about 3 posts per week.  I currently have 225 posts on the site.  This means I've actually averaged 4.33 posts per week, something I'm very proud of.  The month of May (when I posted every day) certainly helped.

I'd also like to acknowledge some amazing virtual friendships I've made over the past year.  These bloggers all touch on the same subjects I do and they've engaged me in many interesting and insightful conversations in comments and via twitter.  If you've never heard of their sites you should go visit them right now.

You can see all my other favorite bloggers in the sidebar to the right, but these 5 have been my core conversationalists and deserve some thanks.  They keep commenting and tweeting and absolutely rock for it!

My plans for the next year are to continue my posts, keep in touch with others in the blogging community, average two posts per week, and get some more themed content on the site.  I'm lowering my expectations to 2 posts per week because I finally have a full-time job instead of a hodge-podge of part time and freelance work.  Hopefully I'll post more than that, but I'm trying to stay realistic with my goals.  I'm hoping to do more content along the lines of my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide.  Something with a theme that people will find helpful or interesting.  I think my Final Fantasy Project might be the next post series along those lines.  Now that I've been writing for a year I also want to do a page of my top content.  I'll include all of my favorite posts and topics in one place.

Once more I'd like to say thanks readers.  You're all amazing for reading my ramblings multiple times per week.  I couldn't ask for more... except that you keep coming back for more.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Quick Quote

Ran into a quote that reflects my last post nicely.

"Hey, after this expansion this is still WoW, and I’m kinda burned out on WoW"

That pretty much sums up the feelings of a lot of people who are leaving WoW at the moment.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Subscription Dead, Goodbye WoW

While I don't quite feel like this, I am never the less done with World of Warcraft.  At least until the next expansion.

I had fun working through all the new content with my main.  I did every Cataclysm quest except for Uldum (I thought the desert was boring).  I beat every Cataclysm dungeon on normal mode and almost every one on heroic mode.  I didn't do any raiding, because at this point in my life I just don't care about raiding in the least.

I made some alts and experienced the shattering of the old world.  I took them through questlines and through low level dungeons, some of which were nicely re-done.  My Paladin alt leveled solely via the dungeon finder after level 15 which was a new phenomenon for me.  My Priest ran a lot of the new quest content to see how much had changed.  It made me appreciate the tighter quest chains in the shattering.  I had a good alt experience overall.

Despite the fun and the criticisms that I had in Cataclysm the main reason I'm done is that WoW is the same old game.  There are new levels, zones, quests, and raids but the gameplay hasn't changed that much.  I love a variety of experiences therefore I'm done devoting so much time to WoW.  I'm branching back out and playing other games that I love again.

Goodbye World of Warcraft, maybe I'll see you next expansion.  Or maybe not.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Return to Dragon Age: Origins

When Dragon Age came out I poured 46 hours into it in the first few weeks but then I just stopped.  It was such a long game that I lost motivation to complete it.  After getting the itch for old school RPGs I decided it was also time to dive back into Dragon Age: Origins.  If you've never heard of the game think something along the lines of a Mass Effect in a fantasy setting with super gorey and brutally difficult combat.

Dragon Age is brutal in a good way.  It's a real test of skill, the likes of which is rarely seen in today's games.  When I originally played I did normal difficulty the whole time and would end up stuck on fights for upwards of 20 tries.  This time, if I get stuck, I crank the difficulty down to easy and kick some ass.  Then I bump it back to normal after the fight.

With this in mind I said to myself, "Fuck it, time to kill a dragon."  What a fantastic idea.  An epic and bloody battle ensued and I emerged a dragon slayer.  Awesome.

 This game loves it's blood

The story in Dragon Age is interesting even though the dialog can be cumbersome.  Overall the dialog system still bugs me.  Choosing options from a list completely breaks the flow of conversation.  In that respect the dialog wheel from Mass Effect makes this game seem way behind the times.

Not to mention that conversations have a tendency to go on forever in Dragon Age.  It's a long game, and the conversations often drag.  I can usually tell where the conversation is going within the first 30 seconds, but it often takes upward of 5 minutes to actually finish the conversation and get the characters to come to the same conclusion.  This play through I started skipping dialog (esc key ftw) which is something I would never do in the Mass Effect series.

Part of my original problem with Dragon Age is that I'm a completionist.  That isn't the game's fault, but it makes me want to complete every side quest and find every item of interest that I can.  Being a completionist is definitely the reason that I was only two thirds of the way done with the game but had 46 hours invested.

I love the battle system in DA:O.  I had forgotten how fun it can be.  Most fights require me to pause the game regularly and think about the specific actions that I want my characters to do.  The combat hits a sweet spot between turn based strategy and real time strategy.  It's exciting to think about what they're going to do with combat in Dragon Age II next month.

Mostly, I'm just having fun with the game.  If you've never played it, I still endorse it as a game worth your time.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Final Fantasy I Party Composition

While I went with a fairly traditional looking party for my Final Fantasy I playthrough I still had the option of combining the classes any way I saw fit.  It makes me wonder how well some weird party combinations might work.

The six classes to choose from are Warrior, Thief, Monk, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage.  All of them get upgraded to an advanced class when they get access to the crystals.  After playing through about a forth of the game with my Warrior, Thief, White Mage, and Black Mage a few interesting party compositions came to mind.

The main composition I want to know about is an all Warrior party.  Warriors take almost no damage from attacks and dish out a ton of physical damage every turn.  There's no mana management to worry about until they upgrade to Knights later in the game and obtain some minor white magic.  I really think this is a viable party.

At the other end of the spectrum a magic heavy party might work too.  I think a Red Mage and three Black Mages might suffice.  Four Black Mages would have no survivability because of their weak defense and low hit points, but a party front loaded with a Red Mage or two would stand a much better chance of succeeding.

Another popular party I've seen on forums is three Warriors and one Red Mage.  I'm guessing the Red Mage is there to pick up the undead killing spells and some heals.  Undead seem to be the Warrior's only weakness because they randomly paralyze when they attack.  I bet this composition would work really well.

It makes me wonder what other crazy party combos might work.  Here's a nice visual representation of all 126 of the possibilities.  This many party possibilities is a novelty for old school RPGs and I'm impressed that a game from 1987 has such interesting party customization options.