Props to Kevin Fishburne for forwarding this Wall Street Journal article to me and bringing it to my attention. It’s a touching — and, frankly, amusing — chronicle of how Richard Garriott’s mother was able to attend her son’s wedding in France from the comfort of her own home.
When Richard Garriott de Cayeux threw a costume party the night before his wedding in Paris, his 82-year-old mother dressed up as an Indian princess and attended as a robot.
Helen Mary Garriott wasn’t strong enough to make the long trip from her home in Las Vegas. So Mr. Garriott de Cayeux went looking for alternatives. The one he hit upon was a portable robot about the size of a canister vacuum cleaner with a telescoping neck, binocular-shaped eyes and a screen for a forehead.
The staff at his Austin, Texas, computer games company Portalarium Inc. tested it out, then shipped it off to the wedding. And, voila!, his mother was in Paris — virtually.
And as if that weren’t awesome enough, the story gets better:
The next day, for the wedding itself, Ms. Garriott wore a blue dress and bluestone necklace, and held her cat. Her wheeled proxy cruised among the guests, allowing her to make conversation and watch the proceedings. Staff people helped the robot up and down the stairs of the French chateau where the ceremony took place.
Attendees autographed Ms. Garriott’s cardboard outfit. When her robot rolled to the middle of the dance floor, she was encircled by kids and family, amid disco lights and flashing lasers. She turned her robootie back and forth, the easiest move to maneuver by tapping arrows on her keyboard. Forward and backward movement, meanwhile, was a bit harder to coordinate because of the lag time half way around the globe, Mr. Garriott de Cayeux says.
“My mother was kind of being R2D2 in the center of the dance floor,” Mr. Garriott de Cayeux says, laughing. “It was my most special, fun moment of the whole time of her participating as a robot.”
The WSJ paired the article with a small gallery of images, showing a few classical depictions of robots in media, and ending with a handful of shots apparently sent in by Lord British himself. I’ve grabbed screenshots of these and embedded them below:
…we need to raise $1 million, but you’ll notice our funding request is $900,000 and that is because Brian Fargo has offered to fund the last $100,000 if need be. That’s a lot of money needed, but not when compared with the budgets of most full scale RPGs made today. The original game sold over 100,000 copies — on the Apple ][ and Commodore 64 platforms back in the day. If everyone who played it then backs the project at the most basic level, the game is on.
But we’re looking ahead to what we can do if you all back this project in force. At $1.25 million, the money will go primarily into making the world bigger, adding more maps, more divergent stories and even more music.
At $1.5 million, the world gets even bigger. You’ll have more adventures to play, more challenges to deal with, and a greater level of complexity to the entire storyline. We’ll add more environments, story elements, and characters to make the rich world come alive even more. We will even be able to bring Wasteland 2 to OS X for Mac lovers. And after $1.5 million the sky is the limit.
As I began writing this post, the project had already garnered $75,958 in support; having reached this point in the text, I’m happy to report that it has risen to $83,194 (a gain of over $7,000 in a matter of minutes!). If post-apocalyptic RPGs are your bag, Dragons and Dragonettes, click on over and toss inXile a few dollars in support of their goal. Putting just $15 in the kitty nets you a DRM-free copy of the game when it comes out, donating more gets you even more cool stuff. For donations of $5,000 or more, they’ll build a (presumably miniature) statue of you and include you in the annals of Wasteland history in that and other ways. ($86,481)
Now…just for reference, the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter page is still live (though with just a couple hours to go, amusingly enough). That crowdsourcing effort has netted over $3 million for Double Fine’s proposed old-school adventure game.
So, to pose a question that Infinitron Dragon put to me earlier this morning: which genre has the more generous (and the most) “old school” fans: adventure, or RPG? Which of these two projects will raise more funding overall, and which will have more donors? We’ll know in 34 days! ($88,436, by the way.)
Akalaupdate: Andrew has released images of all the towns in the game (Britain, Cove, Buccaneer’s Den, Fawn, Jhelom, Lord British’s Castle, Minoc, Montor, Moon, Paws, Skara Brae, Trinsic, Vesper and Yew), as well as the tileset (which is a hybrid of Ultima 3, Ultima 4, and Ultima 5′s tilesets). I have added this as a gallery component to the project entry.
I’m writing the engine for am 8-bit (Z80-based) computer that never had a version of Ultima released for it back in the day. It has 128K of RAM, a 256×192 pixel display (with two colours per cell – although I have a software workaround for that which extends it to 8×1 attributes in the view window), and no standard disk system (so I plan to do the whole thing as single load from tape). It has no video chip, so the screen is stored in main RAM. Oh and the extra RAM is paged in banks of 16K (hence the 128×128 map limit). I’ve solved the problem of the display size by reducing the view window to 9×9 (as per U6) and using a 6×8 font. You might well ask why I don’t do it on something more modern, but I enjoy the challenge. On the flip side there are emulators for the target machine available for just about any device you care to name (it should look lovely on the Nintendo DS).
As I said, this was all back in January. I took note of it then, but failed to follow up on it. It was brought back to mind when Andrew posted the “in progress” menu screen that he has made for the game:
See? Ultima 3.5!
Thus far, he hasn’t (that I’ve noticed) posted a link to a project website, nor has be posted downloads. Then again, given the platform the game is targeting, that’s really not surprising.
I’ll be adding a project entry for Pax Britannia in the next day or so, but in the meantime I have added a project entry for Pax Britannia. If you’re on Facebook, be sure to follow Andrew’s posts at the UDIC Facebook group for more information and updates as he posts them!
Mass Effect 3 has, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, been basking in the glow of critical praise since its launch, with the vast majority of the numerical scores assigned to it north of 90% (with a fair number of 100% scores being turned in, to be sure). Ten Ton Hammer’s review, which scores the game at a mere 77%, is probably the most negative review I’ve seen to date, and here’s what they had to say:
This game has too many plot holes for such a great studio and house of writers. The reapers can purge entire galaxies, instantly bypass Earth’s defenses and take over the moon before anyone notices, yet take their sweet old time purging one planet?
I love this series, and I still enjoy this game. But I don’t enjoy it because Mass Effect 3 is a great game; I enjoy it because of the scenario and characters built up over the last few years. Standing alone, Mass Effect 3 is a cover shooter with a few decisions and side quests to complete along the way while the Reapers take their sweet time incinerating Earth. As much as I love chilling with the old cast once more, I can’t believe I have to prove myself to the same clans whose asses I’ve saved over the past few games time and time again, and STILL people are like, “Reapers? Don’t know what you’re talking about Shepard.”
So while the writing and pacing may detract a bit from what should be the most epic of space conflicts, you’ll still have a good time blasting the hell out of aliens, robots, and your former employer. It just doesn’t feel like as big of a step forward as the second game was from the first.
The one other review I want to highlight quite specifically is PC Gamer’s, because a lot of what they say comports with my experience of the game thus far, and also articulates many of the same concerns that I have begun to have about it:
Mass Effect 3 tries for the best of both worlds: an urgent and galaxy-critical plot that directly involves the entire crowd of oddball personalities the series has built up. And it works.
Inside of 20 minutes, you have a crucial goal and a clear route to achieving it. And unlike the previous games, every sidequest and adventure along the way is connected to that. The war gives everyone a reason to need your help, and everyone you help has reason to join the war.
Each away-mission to these places is a substantial, satisfying fight against one of several different factions. The combat feels another notch more impactful than that of Mass Effect 2. The classes are stronger and more distinct: the Infiltrator bursts heads with every sniper rifle shot, the Vanguard can slam herself into enemies over almost any distance or obstacle, and the Adept flings crowds of enemies into the air and rips them apart with biotic combos.
You fine-tune these powers as you level up, deciding between, say, a longer cloak duration or the ability to use one power without revealing yourself. And the weapons you find and buy give you interestingly different compromises between fire rate and stopping force — tweaked further with mods.
But the most radical and effective change to the RPG side of combat is the ability to choose your own balance between weapons and abilities. Any class can now take one of each weapon type into a fight, but the more you carry, the slower your powers recharge.
The game does indeed force you to make use of its upgrade trees, and its weapon and armor modification elements as well. Granted, these aren’t sophisticated crafting systems of the sort that grace Reckoning or Skyrim, but they add a nice personal component to the loadout kit your Shepard carries into battle, and the mods and upgrades do require you to think about your combat style and what changes to your weapon would most benefit that.
The introduction of weapon weight, and the attendant penalty applied to power recharge times, also forces you to think about your play style. I’ve downgraded my soldier Shepard, who in previous games would have gladly rocked four or five weapons, to just the two she uses most: a sniper rifle and an assault rifle. The combat in the game is fluid (though I still prefer Reckoning’s), for the most part, and I’m enjoying what little of the story I have thus far experienced.
All is not roses, however:
The spacebar — previously only used for sprinting, ducking, taking cover, using switches, talking to people and vaulting over things — is now also used for diving away from cover too. It makes an already maddeningly imprecise system utterly ridiculous. At least half my deaths were from the spacebar not doing what I expected it to.
We’re on PCs. We have 128 keys. We can handle a separate button for taking cover.
I griped about the cover system previously, after playing the demo for the game. It hasn’t changed in the release version, and while I have gotten used to it and mostly tamed it, it still occasionally results in my Shepard doing silly things like moving between cover when I want her to charge forward, or tucking and rolling at odd intervals. That hasn’t got me killed as yet, but given what I’ve read about some of the new enemies, I figure it’ll only be a matter of time.
And then there’s the ending, and what affects it:
In singleplayer, everything you do accumulates ‘war assets’. When you finish the game, how many of these you have determines how good an ending you get: how well the final fight goes for your side. Success in co-op multiplies your war assets, up to twice their normal value. That means that if you only play singleplayer, or want to finish singleplayer first, you’ll have to grind the living hell out of its most tedious fetch quests to get the best ending.
These quests generally involve scouring the galaxy for a planet someone mentioned, scanning it, then returning to the Citadel. I did every proper quest I could find, but didn’t play multiplayer and skipped most of these empty FedEx ones. The ending I got… I won’t say how, but it could have gone a lot better.
In general, too, the end of the series is a mixed bag. Satisfying in some ways, nonsensical in others, and ultimately too simple. But the sheer scale of the adventure it’s ending – and the music, which is gorgeous throughout – gives it an emotional impact that goes beyond its plot payload.
It left me feeling incredibly sad.
This is a good time to move on to the next content I intend to link to.
I did every proper quest I could find in Mass Effect 3, made sensible decisions that didn’t conflict with my choices in the previous games, and brought people together. But I still got a gallingly bleak ending.
That’s because I’d never played the multiplayer. It’s a co-op mode where you and up to three other players have to survive waves of AI enemies and complete objectives. If you succeed, you get an increase to your Readiness rating — a percentage by which your single player War Assets are multiplied by. These are specific to each sector fo the galaxy, so if you have a lot of War Assets in the Terminus Systems, you’ll gain more by playing on a multiplayer map set in the Terminus Systems.
There are (I think) five areas of the galaxy, all of which start at a default readiness rating of 50%. I gather that the overall readiness rating is a simple average of all five areas, which means that you need to hit each area in multiplayer a few times in order to boost the overall galactic readiness rating by a respectable amount.
Here’s the part that is, as Tom Francis puts it, rather galling. Now, this assumes in part that IGN’s guide to the game’s endings is accurate in terms of what point values are required to hit each variation of the ending (lower point values lead to bleaker endings), but for now let’s assume they’ve got the general idea down. To achieve the best possible (or, at least, the least bleak) ending, you will need 5,000 effective points. In a purely single-player context, with galactic readiness locked at 50%, that means that you need to accrue 10,000 war asset points during the course of Commander Shepard’s final adventure.
Which would be great…but based on some research I did last night, it would seem that there aren’t more than 7,000 war asset points to be found in the game, and that’s assuming quite a bit; choices you made in the first two games may set you up to lose hundreds of points, with no way to avoid or circumvent this outcome.
Now, to be fair, I’m glad that this is the case in one sense; I have said before that I wanted BioWare to make my renegade character pay for being a genocidal asshat. It looks like he’s on course to suffer a pretty grim outcome as a result of various…choices he has made over the course of the last few years.
But it also seems that my pure paragon character, who is well-positioned to leave the galaxy a better, more unified place in Mass Effect 3 and who, with a few minor exceptions, is poised to maximize her war asset gains during the course of play, is also condemned to a grim ending overall…unless I mess with the multiplayer aspect of things, which is something that just fails to appeal to me.
It’s all rather…dirty. Presumably they’re trying to encourage you to try the multiplayer because to do well in it, you have to buy or earn unlockable items, and you can get these for real money. But they’re doing it by hurting your single player game, slapping a good playthrough with a bad ending as a penalty for not playing co-op. Even if you like co-op, it’s not unreasonable to want to play through the single player first.
There is one other hope, and that is the two iOS games that BioWare has prepared as companion apps for Mass Effect 3. There’s Infiltrator, which casts you in the role of a Cerberus operative and which involves doing missions that should, in theory, boost your galactic readiness rating (which is tied to your Origin account, which in turn is how these games link in to it). And there’s DataPad, which…I don’t really know what it does, actually.
And yes, I do find this all incredibly annoying. The “Day 1 DLC” controversy didn’t bother me…but this does. Fortunately, I do know of one sure-fire workaround, but it does involve the use of a savegame editor. Which I really do eschew the use of under normal circumstances, because I’d like to pass games on my own merit.
From Ashes is the at-launch DLC that came free with the Collector’s Editions of the game, and which is available to everyone else for $10. RPS took a look at it separately from Mass Effect 3. I won’t excerpt their review, because it’s impossible to avoid the limited spoilers therein, but in general I find their commentary to be something I agree with. The new character introduced in from Ashes circumvents a lot of expectations that the previous two games have built up, and provides some opportunities for both comic relief and dramatic tension with certain characters, especially the asari Liara.
But I can’t help but shake the feeling that From Ashes also represents something of a missed opportunity for BioWare. I’m willing to accept their story that this DLC was not removed from the finished game and that it was, in fact, developed during the gap between the internal final release and the public release of the game. But it still feels like something that should have a) been in the main game, and b) should have been expanded upon, especially given the main MacGuffin in the game.
If you get hit with the dreaded “face import bug” (and it really is only the face; plot flags import just fine), there is a pretty easy workaround for it. You’ll need to use this site to get a face code from the YAML file.
Then, start a new game in Mass Effect 2, import a previous save game, and then choose to customize the face anyway. Paste or enter the generated face code, and…well…you won’t get the same Shepard you imported, but she’ll be close. Skin colour will probably be wrong, as will hair colour, hairstyle and nose shape. But the general face structure should be good.
And then, as Sergorn Dragon quite astutely pointed out, you can make adjustments to the custom face, then click “Back” to return to the imported face, compare the two, then return to the custom face to make further adjustments. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes…and at the end of the process, Mass Effect 2 will be displaying the correct face code for your character. Which you can then copy and paste into Mass Effect 3.
And they are…mixed. Some reviews pan the game for lackluster voice acting or spotty controls, other praise it for graphics and the way it ties in to the main story.
I’ve got it on my iPhone, and I have played a bit of it. The controls are indeed a bit spotty, although not more so than any other mobile game. Graphically, it looks awesome, and…well, I’ll tell you about the story when I get further into it.
Honestly, the final boss in Mass Effect 2 wasn’t anything major, at least in the sense of being a terrifying opponent. As a revelation of what Reapers are, though, it’s rather interesting, and sets up the foundation for a fine up-ending of what these galaxy-destroying menaces are that Mass Effect 3 is able to capitalize on.
…a total remake of Black Isle’s original Icewind Dale in the NWN2 engine. In addition to sporting the entire campaign and all of Jeremy Soule’s original music, the mod allows for a full six-character party, just as it should. You’ll need the Mask of the Betrayer and Storm of Zehir expansions to install it, but that amounts to a very small entry fee these days
The module boasts a party editor, basic crafting, support for all the races and classes from Icewind Dale, and even support for NWN2′s online play (although this hasn’t been extensively tested).
I rather enjoyed Icewind Dale back when it first came out; I might have to give this module a look once I’ve polished off a couple other games in my queue.
Some interesting developments from the Nuvie ChangeLog, the Nuvie team is starting to develop what is probably the most sought after feature of all time, a full-screen mode similar to what was seen in the SNES version of Ultima VI. It’s still very much a work in progress, and a lot of features such as conversations are not yet supported full-screen, but they’ve already added a new spellbook GUMP which I think looks great.
Ultima VI in Fullscreen
Go check out Nuvie! I’m super excited about this development, since I’ve always felt Ultima VI‘s claustrophobic play area was the biggest drawback of the engine.
Scythifuge has posted an update to the Facebook page for his Exult-based remake of Savage Empire. In it, he talks about how real life has taken a bite out of his progress making pixel art, but that he hopes to soon wrap up a project for AgentOrangeGuy’s Ultima VI Remake for Exult. As well as work on mountain, water, and grass tiles.
I’ve been thinking about sprites lately even though work is relentless. Even when I have time to game I am getting bored so that usually means that it is just about time for another round of spriting (as is usual since the project began back in ’06.)
Hopefully when this happens I will wrap up a project for Agentorangeguy’s Ultima VI project & also a continuation of the mountain & water tiles. Also, I have experimented with new grass that is a lot different than the grass that can be seen in the pics. That is not to say that my earlier original grass won’t be used (whether in this project or another) but for the rainforest proper there will not be a lot of grass & exposed sunny areas would have tall grass that would function similar to the tall grass in “The Serpent Isle.”
In a follow-up post, he talks about where he sees the future of his project, and the hopes on completion.
In my mind’s eye I can see the game played from beginning to end. Time & team members are required to see it all come to fruition. I will always work on the project as time & inspiration permits.
Pax Britannia, as its creator describes it, is an Ultima fan game set between Ultima 3 and Ultima 4, which will presumably tell the story of Britannia’s unification and the breakaway of Fawn, the two Montors, and Moon. Your character in the game, summoned by Lord British as a diplomatic agent to drive the unification of Britannia forward, may be from Earth…but will not be the Stranger of the previous three games, or the Avatar of the games following.
The game is being written using a custom engine that Andrew is creating himself. As he describes it, the engine is “for a[n] 8-bit (Z80-based) computer that never had a version of Ultima released for it back in the day. It has 128K of RAM, a 256×192 pixel display (with two colours per cell — although I have a software workaround for that which extends it to 8×1 attributes in the view window), and no standard disk system (so I plan to do the whole thing as single load from tape). It has no video chip, so the screen is stored in main RAM. Oh and the extra RAM is paged in banks of 16K (hence the 128×128 map limit). I’ve solved the problem of the display size by reducing the view window to 9×9 (as per U6) and using a 6×8 font. You might well ask why I don’t do it on something more modern, but I enjoy the challenge. On the flip side there are emulators for the target machine available for just about any device you care to name (it should look lovely on the Nintendo DS).“
As far as media goes, Andrew has released images of all the in-game towns, as well as its tileset:
He has also let slip a few details about the character classes in the game (Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Thief, Bard, Druid, Barbarian, Ranger, Paladin, Illusionist, and Alcehmist), the magic system (a reworking of Ultima 3′s), and the party system:
You generate one character. There are 16 NPCs throughout Sosaria who may be willing to join your party. You can have up to 7 NPCs accompanying you at any one time. I know who the NPCs are and there will be some familiar if unexpected companions as well as the usual crowd.
RPGWatch reports that according to at least one source, the Bethesda Blog briefly leaked the fact that the next major Skyrim update will boost its visceral impact up a notch or two with the addition of ranged and magic “killcams”…which I would assume are special cameras that offer alternative angles on monster and NPC combat deaths.
The Game Developers Choice Awards were held last night during GDC 2012, and paid tribute to industry’s best games and game makers of 2011. Bethesda was the big winner of the event, scoring the night’s Game of the Year award for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, while leaving other studios to wonder why they even bother showing up to these things anymore.
Though, to be fair, Portal 2 took home a few awards, and Battlefield 3 won in the technology category (deservingly so).
IGN has the scoop on the upcoming DLC for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning:
The real Achilles heel of The Legend of Dead Kel is Dead Kel himself. Imagine a melodramatic LeChuck who’s missing his funny bone. He’s a forgettable villain whose cartoonish, senseless goals are established poorly, even within the small scale of the story.
This leaves his three main cronies pick up the personality slack. Not that we learn much about them besides the color of their blood, but their outlandish looks, weaponry, and skills make for fun, familiar battles.
Their lootable super-powered weapons nail both the “power” and “personality” notes. The hammer made from a giant spine is just delightful.
The main quest runs around four hours, excluding the wide range of side-quests to take care of along the way. The most notable of The Legend of Dead Kel’s contributions is Gravehal Keep, a housing fixer-upper. Like your stashes elsewhere in Amalur, this is your go-to personal HQ in Gallows End. Unlike the others, though, you can build new facilities within Gravehal Keep for various bonuses. Creating a stable gives you access to pets, for example. Taming a bear and spider gives you a health boost and improved poison resistance, respectively, and feeding them earns you even better buffs.
It’s a pity that the main villain of the piece sounds lackluster, though I’m a bit intrigued by the idea that the house — keep, rather — can be upgraded and used in ways that will more directly affect gameplay and character stats.
Mr. Dunn is the general manager at Big Huge Games, and Joystiq managed to catch up with him and pose a few questions about Reckoning, the possibility of a sequel, the much-hinted Project Copernicus…and the technology they’ve built for making games:
So what of the future of the franchise? Todd McFarlane, one of the major names attached to Reckoning, has said that a sequel is dependent on word of mouth. While Dunn won’t go into hard numbers needed to spur a sequel, he notes that publishers look for certain elements. “I can’t speak for EA at this point, but just from my experience, looking at where the studio is, we’re kind of in the perfect position.”
The studio owns all of its own technology — geared toward making open world RPGs — and the team has its first big project under its belt. “We came in on time and on budget, and so all of those things are really favorable for the studio, so we really have no real concerns at this point,” says Dunn, “we feel that we’re in a really, really strong position.”
I for one would welcome a Reckoning sequel. But I’m sure my saying as much comes as a surprise to exactly nobody who reads this site on a regular basis.
There are a couple of pieces of good news — including one piece of what might be big news — from the Forgotten World team. The first is that the team itself has grown, with a few well-known names signing on:
Axiom has joined our Forgotten World design team and brings industry experience in design and worldbuilding. In addition, Blu3vib3 (a major contributor to the Codex Wiki) has offered to write some fairly ‘pedantic’ books to flesh out Britannia in Forgotten World. In addition, Lord Eternal Dragon has just joined this past week. He brings industry worldbuilding and coding experience and will act in multiple capacities including tool development, worldbuilding/design, and some 3D modeling (buildings and simple objects). Progress on Forgotten World’s designs continues with significant developments in Trinsic amongst other much more widespread story details.
There is also this detail, which could prove to be tremendously significant in the future:
Also, it would appear that the nonfixed object writer code for our editor is functional now. We can’t find any more crashes with the resulting rewritten file, but we want to be sure that the rewritten nonfixed files don’t have bugs in them. As such, we are sending out a call for testers to replay and run around Britannia to let us know if you find the game crashing in unusual locations/ways on the surface map. All you have to do is replace the nonfixed.9 in your runtime folder with the nonfixed.9 found within this download…and report back to us crashes you find.
The nonfixed files that Ultima 9 draws upon are designed to be editable, but are evidently quite difficult to create from scratch. If in fact the Forgotten World team have cracked the secret of how to do so, that would (as Iceblade explained to me in an email) be a major stepping stone on the road to creating a full-fledged editing suite for the game.
Anyhow, I’ve added the new nonfixed file as a download to the project entry, so go…grab, test, try, and report back!
GameBanshee links to an article by Craig Stern at IndieRPGs, in which he doesn’t so much pose the question as explain the notable distinction between Western RPGs (WRPGs) and Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) as stylistic forms, and then argues that the distinction is a good thing.
The standard jRPG approach to character and item progression is exponential. The player begins with tens of hit points and attack damage, and rockets upwards from there, eventually ending the game with thousands of hit points and dealing several thousand damage per attack.
Items in jRPGs follow a similar curve, leading to something of a material consumption treadmill. Progression through the game involves constantly replacing old items and equipment with newer, more expensive models. That stuff you bought in the last town worked really well against wolves, but now you’re fighting giant toads, and they barely scratch them. So you buy the really expensive new models. And those work exceptionally well — until you get to the next area, which has enemies those weapons can barely scratch, and a town that sells a yet more expensive version of that same equipment. And so on. (I was pleasantly surprised to see the indie jRPG Deadly Sin 2 subverting this with its healing items, which actually remain useful throughout the whole game.)
Now, wRPGs love their leveling and loot collection too, but wRPGs tend to progress linearly in these areas. Characters begin the game doing about 5 damage per hit, and end the game doing less than 30 (up to 99 for exceptionally powerful and expensive spells). Health progresses in a similar fashion, as do magic points. This sort of linear progression is largely a consequence of wRPG systems arising more directly out of the systems of their pen-and-paper ancestors, which relied on dice and math that could easily be calculated by people sitting around a table and swilling beer. Needless to say, you aren’t going to roll 10,000-sided dice for damage in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Ultima fans have a bit of a horse in this race, since it’s arguably the case that JRPGs emerged as a distinct sytlistic form through an evolutionary process that can be traced back to Ultima 3. So whereas WRPGs of yesterera did indeed have their roots firmly planted in pen-and-paper RPGs, one could argue that JRPGs have their roots in early digital simulacra of those same systems; they are a layer removed therefrom.
Is the separation, the categorization, useful? It’s pretty easy to tell a JRPG from a WRPG with even a cursory glance; there is very obviously a sharp contrast between the aesthetics of each RPG type. A Western RPG and a Japanese RPG will differ, often quite sharply, in such categories as graphics, combat, general gameplay, and music, if not in many other ways as well. And to be fair, each style has its fans, and the fanbases of each style do not necessarily overlap. That’s not to say that there is no overlap, but it is to say that there is not 100% overlap.
It turns out I missed a couple of textures (jungle tree and sapling).
So I fixed that issue, and decided to alter another couple of textures (Enchanting table and Redstone Lamp).
As such, I’ve added his newer texture pack to the project entry, in place of yesterday’s. Download away!
Original Post: Andy Panthro has updated his Ultima texture pack for Minecraft as well, which means that his textures again support the latest/current version of the smash hit indie game. Andy’s texture pack combines textures from Ultima 6 and Ultima 7 primarily, in contrast with Zeph’s texture pack (which draws almost exclusively from Ultima 6).
Andy has made various minor updates to the pack, most notably a change to the Netherrack texture. You can find a screehshot at the project entry, as well as the updated download package.
Some notable commentary includes RPS’ thoughts on the game, which suggest that it might be a somewhat harder-core RPG, as far as combat and leveling up are concerned, than other notable offerings that have come out these last few months. And yet, still fun to play:
The spider-death is indicative of the kind of RPG that Risen 2 is. It retains that notion of baddies too tough to kill being just down the road, demanding that you spend a bit of time buffing up in the local area before you set off on your quest. After last year’s Skyrim and The Witcher 2 I found this a little awkward, but I imagine the effect will wear off after a while.
What hasn’t been awkward, so far, at least, is the general gist of the combat. It’s quite actiony and lightweight, somewhere between what The Witcher 2 was doing and what Amalur does, but immediately playable. Swish your sword about and hit the enemy, without any need to lock into a specific baddy. As your skills improve, of course, so your capacity to kill dangerous monkeys increases. Your companion gets stuck in, too, although I am not sure if she actually does any damage. What I am also slightly mystified by at the moment is how I supposed to differentiate between particularly baddies being tougher than others. It’s been a bit trial and error. What’s also been trial and error are the game’s traps, which you get a quick time-event style spacebar-hammering chance to avoid, and these have so resulted in my wearing my surprised face, and an instant death for the nameless protagonist.
Other reviews have labeled the combat as clunky, however…which makes me wonder whether the disparity in commentary isn’t due to the fact that things are very different between the console and PC ports of the game.
So, of course, today is the day before the official launch of Mass Effect 3. Those of you who preinstalled the game should find it unlocked for play…er…well, at some point today, probably quite close to midnight. Or it may be already enabled; I haven’t tried it out yet, myself. The email from Origin just said it would be playable on “the 5th”, which is today. Still, in the interests of completeness, here’s the usual round-up of BioWare-related news…which, yes, is rather Mass Effect-heavy. But you knew that was going to happen.
One hopes not, and one hopes that Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka were just joking about with Kotaku:
Me: I’ve seen armor from one BioWare game appear in the other. Do any of these games take place in the same universe? Are Dragon Age and Mass Effect in the same universe? Would that break a rule?
Ray Muzyka: I did wear my Dragon Age blood dragon armor for a good period of Mass Effect 2.
Greg Zeschuk: I don’t…Is Mass Effect the past or the future?
Muzyka: Maybe [Mass Effect hero Commander] Shepard enjoys the look. He just enjoys the aesthetic. He has a TV in his cabin. So he gets to play great games and decorates his armor with…
Me: So you’re telling me Dragon Age is a video game series within the Mass Effect universe. I like that idea. Shepard is playing Dragon Age.
Zeschuk: In the future, it’s the greatest franchise ever.
That said, it would be fun if Thedas (or, rather, the world on which Thedas is situated) were a planet that one could land on in Mass Effect 3. I’d love nothing more than to introduce some darkspawn to my M-96.
Of course, by the logic employed above (which seems to have something to do with cross-over armour styles between games), there should also be a planet Amalur in Mass Effect 3.
IGN praises the way the game wraps up plot threads from both of its predecessors, and also notes that vehicle control seems to be entirely gone from the game. No Mako, no hover-tank…no vehicle of any kind during normal gameplay. I know a couple people were wondering about that, so to those folks…there is your answer.
PC Gamer, on the other hand, highlights an area of concern:
Enter stage left Mass Effect’s controversial Galaxy at War system, a sort of social metagame hub where your success in ME3′s horde-based co-op multiplayer (and the Facebook games and apps) serves as a multiplier to your proficiency against the Reapers on the approach to the endgame. You’re presented with the forces you’ve amassed, including characters such as Samara and contingents of Asari Commandos and Mindbenders, and encouraged to shuttle them between Reaper troublespots. It’s a needless addition, but a forgivable one if it turns out to be fun. Shepard’s adventures tend to consume body and soul, so being able to aid the war effort while on the bus has a certain allure.
I will probably pick up the Infiltrator iPhone game, just because. I’m less sold on the accompanying Datapad app.
Mac Walters offers up some commentary on the means by which characters in the game can interact, and the different conversation types that can crop up. It certainly sounds like the companion interactions have been expanded upon from what I thought was the very excellent direction they were taken in by Mass Effect 2. If so…well, I look forward to chatting with folks on the decks of the Normandy.
Ms. Théberge is an associate producer at BioWare. I can’t embed the video, but AusGamers helpfully provided a transcript. There’s not really anything worth highlighting in an excerpt; the discussion ranges over topics like Galaxy at War, DLC, and character imports (if you’re importing from Mass Effect 2, you keep your experience and possibly a bunch of equipment).
But have a read, Dragons and Dragonettes; you may see something I’ve missed.
Georg Zoeller, the game’s lead combat designer, shares a few details about what’s in store for the in-game economy:
Massively Multiplayer Online games are built around living, breathing worlds that are always evolving, and Star Wars: The Old Republic is no different. In our upcoming Game Update 1.2, we’ll be introducing a wide assortment of new features and content, while also introducing a number of improvements and changes to the in-game economy.
As we work to create a more player-driven economy, you can expect significant improvements to Crew Skills, and an extension of Crew Skill gameplay, such as item creation and research, into the Elder-Game content. You’ll also see new items brought into the game, including new schematics, Legacy items, a new tier of Player vs Player and Player vs Environment weapons and armor, and the ability to extract base-mods from purple items, as well as many other changes and improvements.
Weekly patch 1.1.5 (which is now on the Public Test Server) implements a number of changes in preparation of the upcoming Game Update, including the much requested removal of light side / dark side requirements on color crystals.
As it is expected when large scale changes are made to an economic system, enterprising players often find interesting opportunities to benefit from their knowledge about the changes beforehand (for example by studying test server patch notes).
Player-driven anything is almost always a welcome thing in an online game, no?
[The game's] stringent scientific outlook, which gives the Mass Effect universe its Hard SF backbone, was there from the very beginning. A lot of research was done during the development of the original Mass Effect. “The entire writing team was constantly reading and researching and reviewing anything we could,” remembers Walters. “Everyone was thoroughly immersing themselves in science at the time, and where these things could really go.” After all, they had an entire universe to create.
It’s even got to the point where a procedure has evolved at Bioware to deal with those niggling situations when the science is at odds with story. “Say we want to introduce something new – be it a new type of ship or a new ability – and it doesn’t quite fit into the IP: we have someone who is our IP science guy. We’ll often pass off the idea to him and say, ‘How would you explain this in ‘our science’?’ He goes away and comes back usually a day later, scratching his head, with a few ideas, and we make sure it’s in there.”
While this exacting scientific aspect appeals to some, from personal experience Walters knows that the series also connects with those who have no interested in the special relativity whatsoever. “I have friends and what they love about it is the characters that they meet. They might be blue and have tendrils, some of them might be reptiles – and that’s definitely in keeping with the Sci-Fi genre – but what’s more interesting to them is the characters and what they’re experiencing. For them Sci-Fi is context, a background; they’re really in it for the characters and their relationships.
“Essentially, Mass Effect is a Hard Sci-Fi experience at the boundaries, and what’s in between is more of a lite Sci-Fi experience for people who want it to be that as well. And that’s the kind of fun of the Mass Effect Universe – it can be what you want it to be.”
If you actually poke around the in-game codex, there is indeed an immense amount of lore and “in-game” science to be found in its…er…pages. The writers at BioWare, from day one, worked very hard to establish a huge amount of backstory for the game, the better to make it seem like they were dropping you into a universe that had been around for a while. And for the most part, they succeeded at doing so, I think.
The first thing I noticed when I started playing Mass Effect was its aesthetic. It’s not the graphics, though, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s the lens. It’s all grainy and spotty. A quick trip to the options menu reveals something interesting: it’s intentional. There is a checkbox called “Film Grain,” and it begins the game turned on.
One of the last things I noticed when played the Mass Effect games was that it broke my definition of “role-playing game.” This is a definition that has worked for me for well over a decade. I can, using it, effectively separate controversial games from one another. Mass Effect was the first challenge my RPG definition (see below) has had to face.
The biggest thing most people seem to have noticed when playing Mass Effect 1 or 2 is the moral decision-making process. This mechanic, so common to role-playing games since Fallout and early BioWare and Obsidian games, was suddenly injected into a much different style of game, a cover-based science fiction shooter. It helps that Mass Effect is arguably the best example of the form: the Renegade/Paragon division flows naturally from the game’s setting, and the writers and voice actors are both in fine form throughout both games.
Although different at the surface level, all three of these aspects of Mass Effect point toward that same genre tension BioWare’s new options indicate. So just what kind of game is Mass Effect? I do not mean this in a philosophical, artsy-fartsy sense. I mean it in a straightforward, and traditional one: what genre is this game? And if you were really looking forward to the artsy-fartsy stuff, also this question: what does Mass Effect say about genre, and what does genre say about the game industry?
You know, Gamasutra picked the perfect picture of Casey Hudson to accompany this article…he looks positively trashed. Which I suppose any franchise’s executive producer would look like, if he spent too much time giving too much weight to the opinions of fans who mistakenly assume they are not unlike co-owners of their favourite game.
“Anytime you introduce something new it’s controversial. Because fans will say, ‘Well, we never asked for that’, you know, ‘We want you to keep doing exactly the other things that we’ve liked before.’”
The problem, he says, is that if you don’t innovate, you’ll also be accused of “doing the same thing all the time.”
And sometimes fans seem to contradict themselves, he says.
“A great example was the new characters that we added for Mass Effect 2. When we started publicly introducing these new characters that would join your team in that game, it was tremendously controversial because people didn’t want these new characters that they didn’t know; they wanted us to recreate the experience of Mass Effect 1 with those characters.”
“Now we’re having a similar challenge with Mass Effect 3, where characters that we’re introducing are seen as controversial because people only want their Mass Effect 2 characters, characters which, previously, were kind of met with resentment because we were adding them in the first place.”
While it’s arguably not a good idea to piss off your entire fanbase, it’s also not a good idea to invest too much energy in serving their every whim and demand. Doing either will only yield diminishing (if not outright negative) returns. Just ask Origin Systems!
Contra what the name might imply, this isn’t really about how your companions view you, and instead concerns how the Paragon/Renegade system that has characterized Mass Effect games thus far has been revamped for the third installment.
“In Mass Effect 2, if you wanted to get the hardest Charm options, you had to play an almost completely Paragon character,” Patrik Weekes explains. “We intended many of those Charms to be fun Easter eggs, but many players felt like they had to play pure Paragon to avoid being penalized by the loss of a dialog option. In Mass Effect 3, your Reputation score determines both Charm and Intimidate options, and that score is determined by adding your Paragon and Renegade scores together.”
That should let us choose to act as a Paragon one moment, and go Renegade the next, making decisions based on the situation rather than a need to grind for maximum morality points. Many important acts in Mass Effect 3 will increase Shepard’s overall reputation score without changing the Paragon/Renegade balance. In these cases “the bar on your screen will grow, but the Paragon/Renegade ratio will remain unchanged.”
Mass Effect 3 will have one overall reputation measurement instead of two separate bars. New conversation options will unlock as your actions push the bar past four progression points on the bar. “If you see that you’re a bit short of hitting a new line, and someone has just said something like, “Let’s head down to [that person's homeworld] and finish this once and for all,” it may be worth your time to go do a couple of side-quests first,” says Meekes.
I’m actually not sure I like this development. I mean, it’s a less restrictive way of giving players access to dialogue options that are reputation-dependent, but I actually quite liked how Mass Effect 2 didn’t allow you to access e.g. certain Paragon conversation options if you had played a mostly (or entirely) Renegade game to that point.
Why? Consistency. If I’ve been playing through the game as a Shepard who has been curt and flippant with everyone he meets, who has demonstrated no concern for sparing the lives of civilians in heated combat situations, and who has willingly defenstrated a disarmed Eclipse trooper…is my Shepard really going to be the sort who suddenly shifts gears and tells a prison guard that it’s beneath him to oversee the possibly frivolous beating of an imprisoned mass murderer? Or would my Shepard be…er…rather more forceful and blunt in resolving the matter?
On the other hand, this revision to the system sounds like it might let me play Shepard as kind of bipolar, which could be amusing.
So if you have tickets to the annual gaming conference in Boston, which this year will be held on the Easter weekend (April 6th to 8th), you’ll be able to find them there. Though again, that really shouldn’t come as surprising news.
It’s a quite beastly-long article, actually, running to three pages. But it does contain a few interesting snippets, including this one…which hearkens back to Origin’s way of making games:
The [Martian] ruins provide a great example of the new focus on more varied level design in Mass Effect 3. Shepard can climb up small barriers and ladders, jump across gaps, and generally explore the environment more thoroughly, and these tools allow BioWare to mix up the gameplay in interesting ways.
“Once we added all those tools to the toolbox, we challenged the designers to figure out ways to make the missions and the story unpredictable,” Hudson says. “In Mass Effect 2, often you would see where you’re going down at the end of the hallway and know, ‘That’s settled, that’s where I’m going.’ In Mass Effect 3, we constantly try to change your perception of what you need to do.”
Origin had this habit as well, that of building the game’s engine and functionality up as much as they felt they could before turning around and asking what sort of interesting story they might be able to tell with the well-oiled machine they had just put the finishing touches on. BioWare likely haven’t done so to the same scale, but it’s still nice to see hints of that same spirit where one can find them.
And hey…more variety in level design is always a good thing.
GamesRader publishes a list that, I guess, serves as a basic primer to the world of Mass Effect. It’s kind of a groaner of a list, though, including some very…er…basic facts like: “[the Council] really are twits, the lot of them.”
Personally, if I had to pick a favourite portion of the series to date, I’d probably pick Ilos, the ruined Prothean world visited near the end of Mass Effect, and then for several reasons.
From a level design perspective, it’s one of the larger areas in the game, and is layed out rather differently from anywhere else that you journey to in your quest to defeat Saren and figure out what the hell these Reaper things are anyway. At the same time, the design style used on Ilos takes cues from previous areas (especially Feros) where Prothean lore and architecture were strong background elements. Ilos, though, goes one step further, showing a Prothean world in a much more complete, intact state…if rather overgrown by vegetation. And you get glimpses of Prothean culture as you progress through the area, especially the odd Cthulu-like statues that I guess must have been depictions of the Prothean gods or…well, something.
And from a narrative perspective, Ilos exists as the bridge between the emotional high-point of the game (the escape from Virmire and, potentially, the culmination of the romantic subplot — if you were pursuing it) and the final, Citadel-spanning action sequence. But rather than just simply ferrying you from point A to point B in a very perfunctory way, it pulls back the curtain on some of the game’s bigger mysteries. It’s on Ilos that you learn that the Citadel is a trap, and how the Reapers strike at the civilizations of the galaxy. It’s on Ilos that you learn about the last of the Prothean people and how they attempted to save themselves…and then, when that failed, how they made one last-ditch effort to save the next races of the galaxy by breaking the connection between the Reapers and the Citadel. It’s on Ilos that you’re treated to the sorrowing image of thousands upon thousands of once-inhabited cryogenic pods, the last hope for the survival of the Protehan race…all of which are now tombs, sequentially deactivated to preserve the “best and brightest” Protheans to the last, until there were not enough Protheans left to keep the species going.
Oh, and as far as RPS’ follow-up question: my favourite character is Garrus. Garrus is awesome. I’d play as Garrus if I could.
Another question-and-answer session between fans and developers. Some of the rewards that will be introduced to supplement the Legacy system in the game are discussed, as are maintenance issues…among other things, of course.
GB: Were there any things you view as having…”fixed,” so to speak, when you moved from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3? Improvements that really make a big difference?
CH: Yeah. The overall gameplay has really come full circle. Commander Shepard is now really fluid in how you move around, get over cover, you can grab enemies, it’s very physical and visceral. Jumping and falling, you just have so many things you can do. But in addition to the action side, we also took a lot of feedback about how Mass Effect 2. It was a very valid point, that there was progression, but not a lot of intelligent decision-making about how you were progressing. And so we’ve added a lot of depth and decision-making into every step of progression, whether it’s your powers, deciding which kind of flavor you want at every stage. Every piece of your armor has stats on it, so that you can decide how you look, obviously, but each piece is also helping you optimize your gameplay towards a certain style. The same thing with your weapon. Now you literally see your weapon on a bench, you’re plugging in and out different mods that really help you play the way you want to play. You might choose entirely different things on one playthrough versus another because you’re actually making intelligent choices about how you combine all of these things.
If there was one criticism of Mass Effect 2 that I agreed with fully and without reservation, it was the subtraction of various roleplaying-type elements as compared to the first game. Though Mass Effect was, perhaps rightly, criticized for not having a particularly great inventory system, I for one missed having to compare armours, weapons, and mods for both on a regular basis. I missed reasoning through the implications of picking one ammunition mod over another, missed debating with myself whether the extra damage absorption of one armour set was worth the reduced resistance to biotics.
This doesn’t sound like a complete restoration of…well…all that. But it’s something, and it sounds like a welcome thing.
Para todos los que seguís visitando la web, y preguntáis si el proyecto sigue en marcha, la respuesta es SI.
Cambios bruscos y repentinos vividos en mi situación personal hacen más dificil una regularidad en las traducciones, pero tanto éstas como el manual van en la buena dirección. Aprovecho para actualizar también las estadisticas.
Which Google asserts means this:
For all of you who follow the site visit and ask if the project is ongoing, the answer is YES.
Experienced sharp and sudden changes in my personal situation made more difficult a regularity in the translations, but they and the manual are in the right direction. Also take this opportunity to update the statistics.
It’s good to know that the project is still in progress, even if it has been set back by that dreaded thing we all call “real life”. And as a reminder, may I just point out that if you are well-versed in the Spanish language, Shyrion would probably appreciate any offer of help you could bring forward.
After a little hiatus due to personal reasons and game playing (finished Skyrim and starting Deus Ex), I got round to do the next big step in the BackToRoots engine: monster scripting. That is something of the past since now monsters can have a Lua script attached to them and we have a few callbacks from the core engine to diversify the behavior.
As shown in the following post, monsters can now have particular behaviors not automatically handled by the core engine.
The first example can be seen here:
For the curious programmers out there, the Lua script for a slime to divide itself is really easy:
-- If a slime gets hit and is not dead, it divides
function gotHit (gameState, us, attacker)
isDead = LuaInterface_CharacterIsDead (us);
-- If not dead yet, we will divide
if (isDead == false) then
found, x, y = LuaInterface_CombatViewGetFreeSquare (gameState, us, 1);
if (found == true) then
LuaInterface_CombatViewSendText (gameState, "Slime divides!");
LuaInterface_CombatViewAddMonster (gameState, "Slime", x, y);
One important element that is clearly visible is the difficulty balancing. I have to work on that and, once I’m doing that, I probably won’t want slimes to always split if not killed as is done for the moment.
The next step is to handle Daemon summoning but, with the interface I just set up for slimes, it should be a matter of minutes to get it done. The only thing missing is to be able to request a summoning instead of just adding it for the slimes.
Zeph didn’t update them all that long ago, but he sent me another email this morning announcing that in the wake of the latest Minecraft update, he has produced an updated version of his Ultima-inspired texture pack for the smash hit indie game. This time around, he has added textures to some new blocks that were introduced in the latest version of Minecraft, and also added graphics for some things he hadn’t yet bothered with in previous releases (e.g. wood).
Oh, and he put together a new logo:
I want this on my Android device!
And also a new Mojang logo, because apparently that is possible too. Ultima fans will appreciate:
Mr. Skalski, as some may recall, was recently appointed to the role of “Ultima Franchise Producer” within BioWare; he is based out of the BioWare Mythic offices in Fairfax, Virginia. Stratics’ Sosaria Reels recently sat down with him for an interview:
And hey...it was a Leap Day interview!
At least for the first few minutes, the conversation focuses on Ultima more than on Ultima Online specifically. It’s a pretty wide-ranging discussion that covers a lot of ground, including planned updates to Ultima Online, the hassles and pitfalls of developing for two UO game clients, area revamps within the game, the challenges of player retention…and even a few things related to what else might be in the works concerning Ultima.
It’s just a short little video, and if you’ve followed news about the Creation Kit thus far there won’t be any surprises. For those of you who haven’t been paying much attention to it, though, it’s a pretty decent summary.
Seems like CD Projekt Red isn’t the only one betting on the future where consoles are concerned:
The requisition calls for future generation console programmers, who will work on an unannounced game for future consoles. Additionally, the listing asks for persons with “extensive experience programming and optimizing for the Xbox 360 and PS3.”
Nintendo’s Wii U is the only next-generation console to be unveiled thus far. Nintendo expects to release the Wii U this holiday. Bethesda said in September that it was considering development for that system, though no projects have been announced thus far.
A Bethesda representative told GameSpot, “Sorry, no comment.”
Notable fixes in this update include the fact that companions now also sneak — properly! — when your character is sneaking. Which, granted, would probably be helpful in some circumstances! A few control issues have also been resolved, and control remapping on Xbox 360 has seen some correction as well.
GameSpy does a comparison in several categories, including combat, character creation, world design, companions, and more. Skyrim comes out ahead — deservedly so — but Reckoning manages to keep up. And GameSpy makes the same point I came to yesterday: Skyrim is the fifth title in a mature series from a seasoned developer, whereas Reckoning is the first entry in what will hopefully become a series from a still rather young developer. That a reasonable comparison can be made is, I think, a good sign indeed.