Daily Archives: November 6, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Lampshade

God I’m sick of Dragon Age: Origins, splashed all over every blog, games site and forum like arterial spray, the last thing the world needs is some “first impressions” type rubbish. So… sorry, but I’ve been caught in The Event as well.

The Good
It’s bloody good. Duh, etc. I was trying for feigned indifference for a while, or even deliberate contrariness with the sheer amount of coverage it’s getting, but (from the first few hours, which were going to be a few minutes just creating a quick character), yes, it’s good.

The Bad
I’m sure nobody wants to wade through yet another gushing review, and frankly it’s more fun to rant anyway; none of this stuff is exactly “bad” per se, it doesn’t significantly detract from the good-ness of the game, but it was such an easy post title.

Microtransactions/DLC: without delving into the whole question of whether launch day DLC is a way of draining some extra cash from players for features that should’ve shipped with the game anyway, or a viable, entirely optional, way of companies making more money to plough into game development, I saw The Warden’s Keep involved “extra storage” so had no option but to go and buy it straight away. Which involved having to buy some Bioware Points. Now I can understand Nintendo/Microsoft/Turbine Points when there’s a whole array of stuff to buy (obfuscate actual cash cost of items, allow the company to vary exchange rates and offers, force you to buy odd quantities of points so you have some left over giving an incentive to top up and buy more stuff, etc etc), so I guess this is just the start of a big old Bioware Store that might make more sense, but at the moment, unless I’m more vastly mistaken than a man who thinks Hillaire Belloc is still alive, there’s precisely one thing to buy: The Warden’s Keep, for 560 Bioware points (there’s also The Stone Prisoner, but with a code for that in every box it’s really just a way of getting some money out of second hand game sales). So from the game you have to go off into a web browser, and get asked “How many Bioware points would you like?”, and you tick the “For what possible reason would I want any quantity other than 560?” option (at least 560 was an option, rather than them only being sold in multiples of 600 or something), buy the points, go back to the game, refresh your Points Balance, exchange those points for DLC, and then you can download the stuff. Like I say, makes sense as part of a move to a Bioware or EA-wide ecosystem, seems rather pointless at the moment (I thought Steam was a waste of space when it was just a delivery method for Half Life 2, look at it now…)

Blood, blood, glorious blood: if you hadn’t guessed from the blood-splattered logos, splash (in a very literal sense) screens etc., there’s a bit of blood in the game. An attempt to convey the visceral and brutal nature of melee combat in a genre that tends to a romantic and sterilised view of a dagger in the guts? The result of watching Flesh for Frankenstein a bit too much (lord knows what Dragon Age would look like in 3D)? Either way up, combat itself is satisfyingly bloody (I think I saw a beheading at one point, but was zoomed out in a tactical view and going after a caster at the time so I’m not entirely sure), but the game tries to carry this over post-combat, making it very obvious in cut scenes. After the very first fight with some rats in a pantry my character picked one up, rubbed it all over his face, flung its internal organs at his companions, filled a small paddling pool with viscera and rolled around in it, visited The Big Red Ink Factory That Makes Red Ink where an unfortunate incident caused one of the machines to malfunction, spraying all and sundry with red ink, and was on his way back to the adventure when somehow a Karo Syrup tanker driven by Bruce Campbell collided with a Red Food Colouring tanker driven by Sam Raimi, engulfing him in a tide of yet more red gloop. Then he wandered out of the pantry and had a bit of a chat with the cook, who was entirely unperturbed by the blood he was dripping across the floor, and slightly shocked when I revealed there’d been rats in the pantry. Mind you, the shower and dry cleaning facilities in Dragon Age are absolutely top notch, as within the space of a couple of minutes he and the team were absolutely spotless again. I dunno, I mean I’m all for making things a bit more brutal than “oh prithee I am stabbed, farewell cruel world, I die!”, but it’s just trying too hard really. It’s somewhat less jarring when you’ve been involved in a lengthy series of tough battles, but even so the whole “Blood splattered! Clean! Blood splattered! Clean!” switch needs a bit more work. There’s probably a bunch of options to control this stuff, I should go in and check it out, but was too engrossed in the adventure at the time. In fact, if the character creator’s anything to go by, there are probably sliders for “Blood Quantity”, “Spurt Distance” (ooh err missus), “Plasma Viscosity” etc.

The Lampshade
One line of dialogue did stand out just a smidge. After the aforementioned first battle with some rats (possibly ten of them, I wasn’t counting), your companion sticks a lampshade on his head, waves a red flag and shouts “Hey, that was just like the start of some tale of adventure IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN WINK WINK METATEXTUAL IRONY EH EH?”

All right, that’s paraphrasing slightly and on another day I might’ve seen it as a charming knowing wink, but they’d actually woven the “kill ten rats” trope into the introduction quite nicely so I hadn’t even thought of it before Captain Lampshade shone the spotlight. Though maybe that was just me being dense.

Wallet death by a thousand microcuts.

Not all microtransactions are created equal.

Turbine have seen the light with DDO: a large proportion of the items that you can buy in the store you can also earn through playing the game; from basic +1 Items of Slight Betterness to the sigils that allow you to continue past each of the limit caps at levels four, eight, etc. You can earn all of these items through playing the free game. The things that they generally hold back on are the adventure packs, classes/races and those items which make you level up faster; these are held back for obvious reasons, although even these can be earnt through playing the game and earning favour which can be converted in to store points.

How is Blizzard approaching the issue at the moment? So far they have a small store, with a couple of pet vanity items which – after mounts – are some of the most sought after fluff items in the game. Except on RP servers, where it’s usually a dress that makes your character’s boobs hang out and leaves little imagination in the buttock region either. And that’s just the male characters.

The important difference for me is that there’s no way to earn the WoW vanity pets in the game, and I think that’s a mistake when your game also requires a monthly subscription to play. Blizzard seems to have swung entirely to the other end of the scale with their pet store, catering to the More Money Than Time folks, and ignoring those who are of the More Time Than Money variety. This seems especially silly when Blizzard could make a nice grind for the vanity pet items and keep people invested in their game, both in terms of time and money, while offering those who baulk at the real world price of these trivial vanity items a chance to afford them in their own way, which, given the cost of a monthly fee, would work out about the same if you made the grind a daily affair that lasted a month.

Of course at the moment Blizzard offers these pets only as an additional cost to the game and, knowing the WoW community, that will probably cause a lot of ill will, probably more than it really warrants, but I think Blizzard are indeed being greedy and foolish with their first foray into a forthright game store.

SoE are looking to create a subscription for Free Realms, presumably because they aren’t getting the returns that they were hoping for from the game store, but again some of their better vanity items require you to pay or go without; it’s surprising how many people will baulk at paying for something when they are forced to, yet pay exactly the same price, for exactly the same item, if they have the option to earn it in the game, but can take a shortcut by paying for it now.

With DDO, Turbine have mastered the psychology of microtransactions; others would do well to learn from them.