Tag Archives: Mass Effect

Six Of The Greatest Computer and Video Games Ever

Ever since I could hold a dial contoller and make the lines go up and down on a pong machine I’ve been playing computer games. Not that that qualifies me at all to make any kind of judgement upon what makes a good game or not, it simply shows that I’m getting old and still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

So anyway spambots, I have been thinking long and deeply about some of what I consider the best of gaming… EVER!!! Obviously as I write this in the middle of October 2010 it may not be valid for very long… Indeed I might well have changed my mind by tomorrow, but here goes:

6) Mass Effect 2 – This game truly is a work of genius. Just about the only adventure game I’ve ever played where I actually gave a stuff about what NPCs had to say. I must have sat through hours of dialogue and not got bored, wore out the continue button, fell asleep or went off in search of food once. Remarkable. In addition, I don’t think I got lost in game either, saving literally tonnes of virtual shoe leather. Good adventures? This is how it’s done!

5) Modern Warfare 2 – The second sequel on our list proves the point that video games are utterly unlike videos. For those of you who are 20 years old or less a video is an archaic device used to store films and movies. They were big plastic bulky things, and if you were posh you could put them in covers that made them look like books from the side. Anyway, most movie sequels are about flogging the dead horse in a vain attempt to cash in. Game sequles are about taking a game and making it better. MW2 happens to be just about the greatest FPS game, technically and especially playability wise. Single player – great, multiplayer – amazing, co-operative – a right laugh. Yes PC owners whinge that it doesn’t have LAN support. It’s best played on a console where the playing fields are level and victory cannot be bought at your local PC component store.

4) Grand Theft Auto 4 – I know a guy from eastern europe who happens to be called Niko. He also looks like the protagonist of this great game. Fortunately he has never tried to carjack me or rob a bank. I did pay him to help paint my house and assemble a bathroom though, and I would say that maybe he’d be wise to keep his options open for a career in crime. Regardless, GTA4 is amazing. The attention to detail is fantastic. Even if breaking the law is not your thing you can spend hours watching the TV, going to shows and surfing the internet in game. It’s seriously hilarious. The game proper though is a great high quality adventure into the seedy underworld of Liberty City, with enough freedom to keep you playing for days. It’s the jewel in the crown of Rockstar Games, but also recommended are the similar Grand Theft Cowboy (Red Dead Redemption) and Grand Theft School (Bully).

3) Gears Of War 2 – Want a game with sex drugs and rock n’ roll? Pfff… that’s for wimps! Get up close and personal with one of the most brutal and excitng games you’ll ever play! Once you’ve hacked, slashed, blasted and sawed your way through an excellent single player or co-op campaign, you then have the further fun of brilliant multiplayer options. Gears of War 2 has a serious ace which will keep you hacking, slashing, blasting and sawing for years to come. What? Two words – Horde Mode.

2) Bayonetta – What the heck is this doing at number two? I’ll tell you what, it’s a veritable feast of awesome. Everything about this game is absolutely stunning and I’d say that even if the main character was a fat bloke called Dave who walks around with his wang out. Visually it’s incredible, aurally it’s amazing and it all glues together with such seamless effortlessness and flow to produce the ultimate beat ’em up. Give typewriters to an infinite number of monkeys and eventually they’ll produce the full works of Shakespeare. Give computers and hallucinogenic drugs to an infinite number of programmers and I don’t think they’d come close to producing something this crazily amazing.

1) World Of Warcraft – The greatest game ever made. Seriously. Hmm, I am beginning to doubt my own sanity. But just look at it, Warcrack is so immersive that it’s very hard to find a regular player who hasn’t had some kind of addiction to the game. It’s phenomenal once you get into it, all you need is a PC with GameBoy type specifications and a smattering of social skills and you are off into this crazy world of adventure which can and literally will suck your life away. The repercussions of Warcrack will become apparent in a few years as a generation comes of age lacking in qualifications and suntans, having squandered the best years of their lives holed away in basements doing the safety dance and grinding their Hodir rep. Good? – definitely. Addictive? – dangerously!

Things Not On This List:

1) Old games – Populous was great. Notice the WAS. Resident Evil was incredible. Again notice the WAS. They’ve all been redone, a million times better on far superior hardware. Only a true masochist or someone living at the bottom of a swamp would think that Elite is still the best space opera game ever. Groundbreaking, yes, the best game ever to grace the BBC Micro, sure. Possibly the best game on the planet by a long way on it’s release. Take off your rose tinted spectacles, play it on an emulator and see how it pales in comparison to games you can even get on your mobile phone.

2) Nintendo – Run by plumbers? Never played any of their games in any serious measure (well not since they refused to add blood to Mortal Kombat on the SNES, a bit like doing a wrestling game without the spandex). I do own a Wii, which is revolutionary in terms of game controllers but its a kind of fun thing for social gatherings. I don’t rush home from work to get in a round of Wii Sports Golf. Oh yeah, Goldeneye 64 was the best game of it’s day, but see ‘1) Old Games’.

3) Any Other MMO – Warcraft is far more popular. Admit it, you invested 3 months in levelling a toon in a game people only play when the WoW servers run maintenance.

4) Sonic The Hedgehog – Haha not a chance you spikey freak!

6 Inch Move Review – Mass Effect 2 – Beware of Spoilers

Over the weekend I managed to complete the exceptional Mass Effect 2. As friends can attest I am quite a fickle gamer and therefore if I actually finish the single player campaign of any game it is heralded with fireworks and other celebratory effects. It is this singular fact alone that shows how remarkable the original Mass Effect was when I went through it three times! Once I had finished that game I was super-excited for the sequel, already knowing that this was going to be a trilogy. Of course, shortly before the release of Mass Effect 2 my Xbox took a dump and red-ringed while I was playing Fable 2 (I finished it eventually after getting a new Xbox 8 months later). Once the new Xbox was here I wasted no time in buying Mass Effect 2, it had also massively dropped in price by the time I picked it up too, every cloud…

After having imported my Paragon Shephard from the first game I fired things up, I knew a few bits and pieces from having watched the trailers but in the main the storyline was unknown to me. I loaded up the game, saw the Normandy get decked, enjoyed the awesome moment of walking out of a burning ship into the noiselessness of space and then the moments with Cerberus. Now that I have completed the game I have to say that I am very happy with the experience, I like how it integrated the choices I had made in the previous game and the fact that you come across your old team members really was a series of joyful reunions. You can tell a lot about a game if you actually engaged with and identified with the characters, books are more normally the medium for this to happen but it is great to see video games with this much detail lavished upon them where you feel a genuine connection far beyond the code and pixels.

I enjoyed spending my time recruiting and talking to my team, the old and the new alike. I performed every single loyalty mission and did every single sidequest that came up before doing the final mission. Unfortunately I haven’t got anything other than the autosaves after completing the game so I need to go through the final boss fight again and make sure to save this time as I played around a bit after the final curtain. I want to make sure I have the save in the right place when Mass Effect 3 comes around so I can import again.

Throughout the game the storytelling is fantastic, if you are playing this game for the combat side of things I believe you’ve got the wrong game. Bioware’s real strength comes from creating a believable world in which you can live through the actions of your party. I have loved Mass Effect’s world since the opening mission on Eden Prime in the first game. It was nice to see some old enemies from new perspectives in the sequel too. Of course there are the Bioware staple options of pursuing romance within the game (though no lady on lady action as was possible in the first game) but the campaign plays out beautifully. Nothing takes forever to do, in some cases the missions even feel too short, I remember things taking much longer in the original but this really is a minor criticism about a game that is executed so wonderfully. Everytime I landed for a mission it was a real decision to choose who was coming with me, there is a lot of diversity in the characters and they have some pretty useful abilities so depending on what you expect to face on a mission can have an impact on what you want to take along. I did tend to default to the same people with slight variations but overall I took more of the different team members in this one than I ever did in Mass Effect 1 where I took Tali and Liara on pretty much every mission once I had recruited them.

I like the addition of the Paragon and Renegade action triggers, I’m on my second play through to see how the Renegade ends up different and am enjoying being a badass for a change, although personally I find it easier to identify with an altruistic character, rather than one that is horribly self-centred. Sometimes things aren’t all that clear though as when I have chosen options that seem the most Paragon like I accumulate some Renegade points alongside the big hauls of Paragon from within the same conversation. I was very pleased to survive the final mission and not lose a single team member from any of the assignments I gave them, I imagine that will have an impact on the final game.

One thing that did frustrate me was the fact that your old romantic relationships have been completely closed off. While meeting Liara for the first time (the romance I pursued with my ME1 Paragon Shephard) there isn’t much you can do, what with Liara being focussed on kicking the Shadow Broker’s ass. Sure the story picks up two years later but you’d have thought that a relationship would last a bit longer but this is purely down to personal perception and I am not in charge of the characters nor how Asari deal with the death of a lover considering their longevity.

Everything is nicely setup for the final chapter of the game, I’ll be picking it up on release providing this Xbox is more compliant that its predecessor. What I am also hoping is that Mass Effect avoids the horrible fate that seems to afflict some game worlds these days of being transferred into the MMO market. I love Mass Effect and the story, however, porting it online where you’d have a veritable horde of Shephard wannabes I don’t think would work, at least not for me as a consumer. I’d like to see that Mass Effect stays as a single player RPG title, luckily Bioware are very good at these kinds of games and while The Old Republic is taking KOTOR into the MMO market I hope that we don’t end up with their sci-fi magnum opus going the same way. I love the experiences I’ve had so far and look forward to finishing the series and closing off a wonderful gaming journey.

Mass Effect 2 – 5/5 as far as I am concerned. Brilliant!

How Many Tauren Can You Fit on a Mesa? – 6 Inch Move Explores Level Design

While we are primarily a tabletop wargaming blog we sometimes offer up other topics, from music to video games and anything else that really falls under the “art” bracket, because really, that’s what all these things are. Now, for today I have something to express that I have been thinking about a lot recently, however, being a lowly IT Manager I am completely unqualified in the arena that I want to talk about. Good job this is the Internet then, where people with no qualifications on the subject matter can offer forth their opinion in a spirit of wisdom and understanding. It’s almost like being a critic, but without the wisdom and understanding part.

Referring back to an earlier post where I talked through virtual worlds, whether literary or audio-visual and their ability to suck us in with an immersive experience. In the video game context that I want to use the primary method for this is the level design. No matter how awesome the story, if the environment around you doesn’t feel right then things start to jar. However, some poor environments can be overlooked if a good story makes use of what is there. I reckon that we therefore need to start off with an example; look no further than perennial MMO giant World of Warcraft, a virtually seamless world where you can walk from one end of a continent to another without seeing a loading screen. Certainly one of the features that has endeared me to the game over the years, I don’t think at the time of release any other MMO allowed you to go through the game world in such a seamless manner, I came from EQ where you’d warn your guild you were “zoning” if they were going to be talking about stuff while you switched areas and had to load.

Even in such a seamless environment with varying climates as you walk around the place there are a few things that stick out to me. Azeroth is a living and breathing world, filled with magical creatures beyond count and home to a vast array of humanoid species. So, let me ask you, do you really believe that each of those civilisations can acutally live in large numbers in their capital cities? Hopefully you can see what I mean, while cities like Silvermoon, Stormwind and Ironforge seem like they could harbour a large number of people, the designs and layouts of the others do not make that impression, at least to me. I cannot believe that the entire civilisation of Tauren can live on such a small pinnacle of rock as Thunderbluff is. I would imagine that there are thousands of Tauren for a world as big as Azeroth, sure they have outposts here and there but none of those look like they are habitable either. I think quest hubs are a great show of bad design, they are there to show a collection of people who never move and just serve up quests. None of the camps that I can think of from the top of my head actually look like people could survive in them. If you look at a game like Vanguard or Age of Conan the cities there really are sprawling and you can imagine a good number of people living in them.

For me, badly laid out towns, cities and villages break my “immersion” I am reminded that I am playing a game and even though these fantasy worlds make their own world I will still apply preconceptions from real world examples when I am playing. If I do not register a place as fitting within those parameters then my suspension of disbelief is broken.

Another game where this comes into relief is Mass Effect 2 that I have been playing recently. Here is a game with a fantastic world with a Codex that breathes huge amounts of background into the universe with believable characters and a moving story. I find it very easy to engage with the Mass Effect series and Bioware games in general. However, at certain times the level design leaves a lot to be desired, while in general each of the places that you visit you can imagine expanding beyond the areas that you can physically walk around, sometimes the way you are guided through specific areas and seem to be “on rails” sours the experience. In ME2 I have recently been completing the loyalty quests for my crew, I only have Jacob left to do, having successfully completed all the others on my first male Shepard, the Paragon option I use. I like these quests because they expand upon the characters history, they are short so they don’t detract from the main mission and you can quite happily spend a little time just hammering these out and seeing what happens and what options you get. Yet some of the levels you go around just seem out-of-place. While you are walked through a lot of areas to get to objectives things you can see in the periphery work in their favour, going through the Migrant Fleet fighting Geth feels like you are on a ship, however, going through the “labs” on Tuchanka doesn’t feel the same.

I put this, rightly or wrongly, down to the quality of level design. As I said before I am not a level designer, I have no creative input into these processes but as a gamer I know what feels right and what doesn’t. Generally not all levels are going to be stellar in terms of their quality but it’s one of the most unfortunate aspects of gaming that you get involved in a story or a world and you come across something that rips you back into your seat and reminds you that you are a fleshy human sitting in a chair in a living room or study plugged into a video game. Not that I have a problem with our world, it is certainly a unique creation filled with wonder, we humans just end up trapped into a very small part of it.

I’m also not espousing that all games should have a huge and open world where you can go anywhere or do anything, I kind of like being walked through things in Mass Effect, it means you are always headed towards your goal and not getting lost. However, I’d like to think that eventually we can get to a point where a world really feels lived in through all its environments, this may be one of those holy grails of gaming when we talk about immersion and there are certainly games that give this a good go.

Video Games – Studios of Renown

As I move slowly through the 4th decade of my life it’s interesting to look back and see the path that I have trod and the things that have happened along the way. I was born way back in the seventies and have therefore seen the rise of the micro-processor and the wonders of the home computer. Having witnessed first hand the changes that have swept through industry during the previous twenty years or so I was enjoying comparing how things used to be when I was at school growing up to how I view things now.

One common theme is that there always seems to be a few stand-out studios that really seem to just own the video game space. While I am sure that there are many that people could list, from my own personal viewpoint I may see things differently. While names like Infinity Ward and their Call of Duty series now own the FPS space I remember back to the nineties when if something didn’t come out of id Software you pretty much knew it was going to suck. The Doom series and then Quake really pushed forwards the FPS market and there were a lot of FPS games around at those times. While there are some nowadays I feel the choice is a lot more restrictive than it used to be, but more than likely it is just that I am not playing those types of games that much anymore.

However, from my dim and distant gaming past there is one name that stands out as a shining beacon of yesteryear a studio that was absolutely brilliant in what it did, a studio that produced games that I actually went and finished in some cases, but I remember my shelves filled with their titles. Let us bask in the glory of…

I spent many an hour trying to figure out exactly what you were supposed to do in Populous. But if you look beyond that first title we see some of what I consider the greatest games of their time. While development and the power of PCs moves ever onward I think we lose out nowadays as many of the game types and the innovation of the last decade of the 20th century are consigned to history. I remember titles like Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet and Syndicate blowing me away. Bullfrog were one of the seminal studios of the era, producing new and interesting games that you weren’t seeing anywhere else. Ocean were producing flight-sim after flight-sim, id were the masters of the FPS, Lucasarts were consistently producing good games in-house (Tie Fighter, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, Sam & Max, Monkey Island) and we, the gaming public were awash with a whole heap of games that you wanted to play. Whether I am just less involved with the gaming market due to my advancing age, or whether things really have changed I just don’t see things the same way these days. There appears to be a lot less innovation in games, less of the little gems that you weren’t expecting and turned out to be really excellent.

We seem to have moved from some genre-blurring games to very specific titles, we still have FPS, RTS, RPG and the now ubiquitous MMO, but we lose a lot of the adventure titles and space simulators that I loved. I do think the MMO market has something to do with this reduction in variety as we were very much stuck in the single player and maybe LAN multiplayer as I was growing up.

While Bullfrog stole the show (for me) during my formative teenage years there is a studio today that I have to say excels in nearly all it does. You may also be surprised that I am not picking Blizzard for this accolade, sure they did Diablo, Starcraft and unleashed the world’s most successful MMO from their Warcraft franchise. No, I have another company in mind, and while they specialise in one arena only, they do it with aplomb.

There we have it, for me these guys are probably the premier development house in gaming at the moment. Their vast repertoire consists of the most accomplished (literally and critically) RPGs over the past fifteen or so years. From their beginnings with Neverwinter Nights through the massive selling Knights of the Old Republic through to the current best-sellers Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Bioware have breathed life into a genre that provides alternatives to the current domination of MMOs. While The Old Republic will see them also trying to take a slice of this cake I look forward to their trademark attention to detail.

I am currently enjoying Mass Effect 2, carrying on from the character I used during my first completion of the first game. What amazes me are all the little touches, the vast quantity of information available, not only when visiting an uncharted planet but the wealth of material in the Codex. This was also in Dragon Age, you felt a part of that world, it sucks you in and immerses you. I truly feel that these are like visual novels, they suck you into the story and you are unwilling to put it down, constantly playing just to see the next “chapter” play out. Very few games for me will pull me in like this, sure there is the grinding of levelling in MMOs that I can get into and beat out a rhythm but to actually want to keep playing to see the story pan out, that is a rare treat I feel.

While I still lament the demise of Bullfrog and their innovation I appreciate the supreme skill that Bioware bring to their games, this excites me about the possibilities for The Old Republic, I love Star Wars and having a Bioware tag on it already makes it stand out, Galaxies was a good games before the NGE destroyed it and I know I am not the only one to feel that way. A Star Wars MMO is certainly something I look forward to diving into again. Bioware for me are the current top of the pile for games developement, while we seem to have moved to a place where the studios only develop one specific kind of game now that doesn’t mean we don’t see the bar being raised and I look forward to seeing what the future brings.