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Minor plot discussion of DAI, no significant spoilers

Butch:

http://kotaku.com/how-i-realized-my-dragon-age-inquisition-character-is-1678673801

Read that. No spoilers involved.

Now, this got me to thinking, and made me continue down a path I’ve been mulling:

I’ve said, half jokingly, that the person I want to romance the most in this game is “myself,” that is, my inquisitor. She’s awesome. What I took away from the article is that last bit “I felt like I stepped into the shoes of [someone] who already lived there.” Which is very much true. I feel like Evelyn has a life of her own.

Which is awesome. Even, nay, ESPECIALLY in a ROLE PLAYING GAME. I’ll elaborate.

See, we old guard RPGers, those of us who used to use paper and dice, like to think that characters should be OURS in big capital letters. But really, the most annoying players we’ve ever played with were the ones that took their characters and were just going to fucking shoehorn them into whatever world the GM had going. Cuz, fuck it, this is a role playing game and I’m going to play MY fucking role. Now, that’s sorta (but not really) ok in a live game, cuz a good GM will adjust. But it’s impossible on a computer. A computer can’t make those adjustments. If you go and play YOUR fucking CHARACTER it’ll jar. It won’t fit. So, when you play, say Skyrim or Fallout or, really, any of the greats (including DAO), you’re left with this choice: do I a) pick the option that best fits what Shepard/Hawke/the Dragonborn/the wanderer would do or do I b) say fuck it and do what I want even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense?

Both of those options aren’t great. With the first, you’re not really role playing. You’re playing a guessing game based on a character you’re given. With the second, you’re forcing the main character to do things that make no earthly sense.

DAI has, ever so subtly, blurred all that. They’ve, somehow, I’m not sure how, given you this incredible freedom to do whatever, whenever, but still given you an organic character, separate from YOU. I have tremendous control over Evelyn, but I am not Evelyn. Evelyn exists as a unique person (who I can have my own crush on), but there’s no real guessing as to what she should do. I’m in control, but she’s doing the thinking and feeling for us both. If that makes sense. Which I’ve been feeling all along, and it took this article to crystalise it in my head.

Which is yet another reason that I’m starting to think ******deep breath****** this is the best computer RPG I’ve ever played. And I’ve played many, many computer RPGs.

There. I said it.

Now I just have to find a time in this busy as fuck, sick kid infested, chore riddled and, admittedly, football oriented weekend to actually play it. Which I haven’t done since Friday. But hey, on Friday I did the next Hawke/Stroud bit. So that’s something. Right?

Feminina:

Interesting article. I noticed the way he said his usual pattern is always to try to play someone as much like himself as possible, only more heroic. I don’t know that I’ve ever really approached role playing games as a means to play myself. I understand the “as Paragon as possible” reference because that’s usually what I do, but more because I want to play someone I’d want to hang out with, than that I feel it’s ME. I mean, I do feel it’s me, I feel guilty when I do something in-game that results in the death of innocents or whatever, and I say “I did thus-and-such” when talking about it, but it’s not ME me.

One thing I’ve noticed they do really well in this game is relate to your specific character (at least in terms of race/class). I’m a giant qunari, so everyone I meet (except Iron Bull, of course) looks up at me when I’m talking to them. Because I tower over everyone! The game knows what I’m playing, and responds. Which is great, because I don’t have to constantly be telling every single person I meet, “hey, my eyes are up here.”

And of course there are the numerous conversation options scattered throughout that specifically address the peculiarity of me being the ‘chosen of Andraste’–I’m sure there’s equally specific dialogue about elves, mages, random human mercenaries, etc. That really helps it feel as if your specific character is a person in this game world, whom other characters recognize and react to and have thoughts about.

And I think that helps with the feeling this author and you are talking about, the sense that your character lives there and you’re just playing him/her, because the ways that people react to you reinforce that feeling: they react to you AS your character in a more complete way than simply responding to the last thing you said (which could feel like a choice YOU the player made, and therefore like a response to you rather than to the person you’re playing).

Other games have tried to do this (I remember Oblivion had it that no one trusted Argonians, so you would constantly get charged higher prices in stores and stuff if you played one), but I’ve never really felt it make a significant difference in how you went about the game’s business. (Of course, I never played as an Argonian.) Maybe it’s just the in DAI, they’ve hit on a really effective practical application of these general ideas for embedding a character in the world.

Which warden bit did you do?

Butch:

I went to the temple in the western approach, killed some dudes, found out the other dudes are in a temple that’s going to be a bitch to take. No choices. I think I set up the bit with a choice.

Can I/should I do the Orlais bit first? Or the temple bit first? Suggest.

As I am level 13 but eveyone else is either 12 or 11, I went to the Emerald Graves to poke around and putz and level. Shards and stuff. Took Sera, Bull, and figured I’d run with Solas for a while, get to know him, show him I’m not a bad person. Just started.

Yeah to “not ME me.” But then, I always romance women given the chance, always go paragon, etc. So that’s SORTA me….

There’s a LOT of choices about being a mage. You know more about the fade, for example. And it was a tough conversation when I asked Cullen (who is SO into me) “If I got possessed, would you kill me?” Cool, though. And when you go down the romance road, it’ll be interesting to see how they react to THAT (which they do).

And this having people react to you as your character is new, at least in a game where you’re given so much freedom re character creation. You see a lot of that in TW, but Geralt is Geralt. He’s “customizeable” in the same way Shepard was, so he’s not as concrete as, say, Joel, but it’s easier for a game to react to “you” when “you” are pretty set in stone. They react to your choices in ME or TW, sure, but not like this. THIS is bioware’s forte.

Feminina:

I did the Orlais bit before doing the next Warden plot step, so that way feels right to me (take a break from fighting demons with a big party!), but I’m not sure it really makes a huge difference. I guess if you’re feeling on a roll with the Gray Warden stuff, it makes sense to keep going with that and keep up the momentum…otherwise, take a break and attend a big party!

I read a short story once about virtual reality and one line was that it will never really work until we can “bring the meat” with us into the simulation…i.e., you have to feel PHYSICALLY present to get into it, or you’re just a ghost. DAI isn’t, obviously, working on virtual reality, but this discussion made me think of that idea, and how the game is trying to put some ‘meat’ on your character by making the other people in the world see and react to his/her physical qualities. They’re trying to give your character actual, palpable HISTORY in the game, people who know you (I had a series of war table missions relating to a band of qunari mercenaries that I’d worked with in the past, with letters addressing me personally, and that was awesome), physical attributes that people notice and have opinions about.

It’s not, of course, the same level of totally personalized interaction that you can get in a tabletop RPG with a DM who’s ad libbing the NPCs right in front of you, but it’s getting closer. And, as you say, in some ways this is easier than tabletop, since you don’t have to deal with other peoples’ perhaps-incompatible ideas about what they want to do with the character and the game.

Butch:

So, ok, they’re not mutually exclusive, ya? Cuz they’re both under “Inquisitor’s Path” in the journal. You can go down both paths, ya?

I think I’m going to poke around the graves, maybe the exalted plains or something for a bit. Breathe. Might avoid the hissing wastes for a while, though. The story will be there when it’s there.

And, really, more time to look forward to Morrigan.

Oooo! Neat story idea! Yeah, I had a thing where my character’s family (if you’re a mage, you come from a minor noble house before you were shuttled off the the Circle Tower) was squabbling and trying to improve their status based on their relationship to the Herald and I had to deal with it somehow. And that felt real. I mean, a minor noble house WOULD do that.

And they’re putting that meat on without it feeling forced. At least not to me. And, really, doing it in a way where you still feel like YOU are role playing. It’s a really good, really delicate balance of them putting meat on the character, but not DEFINING the character. Really, really hard to do.

It’s never going to BE the same as tabletop play. Computers are what computers are, and that’s that. The only way you’re really going to get a pure tabletop experience on a screen is just connecting people through some MMO device, but, really, that’s just D&D plus Skype, not a computer game.

Bioware was always, at some level, driven to create that D&D experience in a single player game. Shit, they came to prominence with Baldur’s Gate, which WAS a D&D game, right down to 3-18 stats and THACO. And it worked, in the way it worked. Indeed, it’s STILL one of the best RPGs ever.

I think, ironically, what made a pure D&D game impossible in the 2000’s was BETTER computers. Baldur’s gate still felt like moving minis on a table. A very pretty table, and animated minis, but it didn’t have PEOPLE with faces and all talking. Once we got to where there were faces, and acting, and burlap lingerie, they had to sacrifice many of the D&D aspects. (interesting that, today, many of the PC games that are going back to a very technical tabletop playing style, such as Divinity, Wasteland 2 and the Baldur’s gate reboot still keep that year 2000 Baldur’s gate look, not a modern one) The power of computing was too good for a “tablletop sim,” but not good enough to put the meat on. Now, maybe, we’re at that point. Certainly much closer.

Feminina:

No, Orlais and Wardens are not mutually exclusive. You can–indeed, must!–do both before you get to the thing after. Which one you do first is probably irrelevant to the larger story.

Did I mention I finally killed a dragon over the weekend? Well, I finally killed a dragon, in Emprise du Lion. It was a long slog, but workable with plenty of potions. I finally got Regeneration upgraded to include ‘proximity heal,’ which is AWESOME. Really helps out over a long fight.

“This potion is so great, it’ll not only make YOU feel better, it’ll make all your FRIENDS feel better if they’re standing near you!”

SOLD.

Immediately afterwards I discovered there are two more dragons right next door to the first one, and I decided to call it a day rather than carry on with the dragon-slaying right that minute. I’ll go back later with more potions. There are SO MANY dragons to go back to with more potions…

Butch:

I really, REALLY have to upgrade my potions. That’s something I always forget I CAN do, and really SHOULD do. Most games, you just start stumbling on “greater health poultices” when you get to a certain point. I’m sorta outgrowing my potions. Bravo on the dragon kill. I won’t even try for a spell.

Now if only they could do proximity effects with booze…..

That there are (a lot of dragons to go back to). I wonder if we’ll have to.

I just toodled around the Emerald Graves for a while last night. Rifts, shards, sidequests, etc. Might do that for a while. It’s a relaxing place. Lots of landmarks. Lots of logging stands. Listened to Solas basically lecture everyone. What a dick. Who romances him? Who even likes him? His banter with Bull and Sera makes me like Bull and Sera.

Feminina:

Yeah, I overlooked upgrading for a long time, but it’s worth a look next time you’re in the undercroft. If you obsessively pick plants, you’ll probably have all the ingredients, although it does use them up. I just finally added “and some wasps” to the Jar of Bees, because it took me ages to collect all the blood lotus I needed. But now…wasp city! I’ve got to throw those things more often.

There are still a lot of “unknown tonics” and “unknown grenades” on my list, though. I must be missing things in my looting.

I don’t know if we’ll have to kill all the dragons, or if it will be optional. I have one formal quest to kill one, and there are a few that are sitting on or in front of things I want to check out, so they’re on my list. Others I’ve seen have seemed more irrelevant to my larger mission of exploring things and saving the world, so possibly I could just ignore them. There’s also an overall quest to kill “all 10 high dragons” but it’s not part of the main story.

Butch:

I keep being screwed, though, cuz I burn through my herbs replacing the damn potions in the field. “Where’s my blood lotus???? Oh, right, shit, I used it.” Then I get to the undercroft and I’m, like, two short. So I go to get more, get into a fight, re-equip the potions (which takes herbs) and repeat.

Me too: Tons of unknown potions. Love the bees and the heal grenade, though.

Last night: Found a locked gate, and a dude who I killed with a key to same which unlocked a quest. Then I went to a camp to get Varric, cuz it looks like there’s red lyrium in there.

I sort of stumbled on these guys. I like that the game sorta mocks itself with Sera. We stumbled into this bad guy camp, a fight ensued, and Sera, at the end goes “We got ’em! We got ’em all! Wait, were those the ones we were after? We were after them, right?”

She also mocks the shards. “Oh, look, another stupid key for that stupid door that I could have unlocked no problem if it wasn’t all stupid magic.”

Gotta love her.

Feminina:

And then there are the weird rare herbs that you need for some of the upgrades, like prophet’s laurel and felanderis. It was weeks before I even SAW felanderis in the game. I can grow things in my courtyard now, which helps a little.

Replacing potions does eat into your stash. I’ll think “I pick this stuff all the time, I must have 300 of them! Oops…apparently I actually have 4.”

Butch:

YES! YES! That!

Though I’ve never had my credit card rejected, I imagine that’s what it’s like: “Um, Ms. Inquisitor? Yeah, we can’t…give you that upgrade.”
“But I have plenty of herbs!”
“Actually, ma’am…you’ve overspent.”
“But….but…..I can’t be out!”
“Ok, ma’am, come back later.”

Feminina:

So embarrassing.

“Look, couldn’t you just let me have the upgrade, and I’ll send you the herbs later? I’m good for it, I swear, I pick these things all the time, it’s just…you know…you get into a few fights and you need to hit the stash for a couple of potions…but I’ll be back on my feet in no time! I know where there’s this great region just COVERED in whatever kind of herb I’m short on right now, and I’m heading straight there, I just need a better potion for the road.”

But the upgrade table, because it is just a table, does not respond to any of your wheedling.

Butch:

The upgrade table is a cold, harsh mistress.

After I saved it from Haven! Fuck you, table! The barmaid wasn’t so lucky.

Feminina:

Ha! Speaking of dialogue, I got to the point where I heard that line we discussed before the game came out: “I will give myself sexual pleasure later, while thinking of this with great respect.”

In context, it pretty much works.

Butch:

No shit! Is it in a dialog, or random banter?

Of COURSE it works. It’s bioware.

Feminina:

It’s a dialogue scene, so no worries about missing it because someone happens to be carrying on a background conversation in the middle of a fight (as they occasionally do…it’s pretty funny when you’ve got a couple of people calmly discussing philosophy while blasting away at demons, but I do sometimes miss a comment in the bluster).

Context is key.

Butch:

It always is. But I bet it was funnier out of context.

Feminina:

Context is key to understanding, but mistaken context is key to funny.

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