A search for “voice of merrill” using Google – because I couldn’t remember Eve Myles’ name – actually returned nothing to do with the Bioware RPG character until I amended my Google-fu by appending “dragon age” to the search string. What it does turn up is a British mystery B-movie called The Voice of Merrill. You learn something new every day, and now I’m going to have to search out that film and watch it.
Strange how we make discoveries sometimes, and strangely apt that Bioware’s RPGs are part of the subset of games where you can still make obscure discoveries through accidental action, be it a conversation option which had unintended consequences, or by searching for something specific in a quest and stumbling across another quest line entirely.
So here’s to the grand RPG tradition of the out-of-the-way quest; the mysterious object off the beaten path; the good deed repaid in kind at an unexpected time later on; the stumbled-upon puzzle; and other such deviations from the course considered tried and true. And here’s hoping that our theme park MMOs never forget these traditions as they attempt to optimise game-play for an ever-increasing audience seemingly uninterested in the delights of discovery, only in the projection of performance and prominence among peers.
Good deed repaid in kind made me think of one of the little details that stuck with me from my first forays into Pirates of the Burning Sea: If you choose to save a character in one particular mission, he reappears as an ally to fight alongside you in another. I’m still waiting to see if sparing a bad guy in another particular mission will turn up again later for good or ill.
In Deux Ex, in the UNATCO headquarters near the start of the game, I did the usual “look in every corner of every room” activity that is sensible in games like that. My character was male, but that still included both the male and female toilets*.
A short time later, I had a briefing from my boss – who told me off for going into the ladies’ loo! I was not expecting that!
(* Deus Ex contained a LOT of toilets**. I suppose they had to make up for the almost complete absence of facilities in other games. My hobbit minstrel has been bursting to go for months now.)
(** Which was ironic, given that there was no “poop” command.)
It does seem mmorpg’s are moving toward an experience on rails, allowing for some truly cinematic moments that can be experienced by everyone instead of a more personal form of discovery where choice is part of the equation. Could you imagine a Star Wars where only a third of the viewers saw the light saber dual between old Ben and Darth Vader?
My favorite came in Planescape: Torment, the conversation with the other-planer(?)at the bar that was literally 5 minutes of text conversation choices that ended with a “You have gained +1 wisdom”. I was smiling like a 5 year old boy who had just gotten a Big Trac when that happened!
Maybe as development costs have sky-rocketed to make games ever shinier, as every ounce of content has a dollar figure attached to it, it’s seen as too much waste to chance any of it not being seen or exposed.
@Jonathan B: Good old Pirates of the Burning Sea, they really did get some things very right in that game.
@FraidOfTheLight: Oh crikey yes. There was the whole Old Man Murray walk-through of that first area, which was deeply splendid, but the game itself had some genius moments too.
I think I had to wait until level seventy-odd before my World of Warcraft character first got to go to the loo, somewhere in the Grizzly Hills if I remember correctly. A most excellent toilet, I really should have another go some time.
@Jim: There’s certainly a balance to it, gone are the days of Planescape: Torment’s marvellous in-depth conversations, I imagine. I think Bioware are probably pushing the limits of patience for the majority of gamers with their conversations in Mass Effect and Dragon Age as it is, which is a shame for me because I play for those conversations as much as anything.
“it’s seen as too much waste to chance any of it not being seen or exposed.”
It’s curious, because they’ll lock content behind raid progression that is still ignored by a not insignificant population of MMO gamers, but there seems to be a stigma attached to content that might be missed by people while levelling.
There’s also the fact that a lot of people don’t like making decisions that they can’t reverse. Players of Bioware games can always reload (to a certain extent) if a conversation doesn’t go their way, for example.
“It’s curious, because they’ll lock content behind raid progression that is still ignored by a not insignificant population of MMO gamers…”
I look at endgame raid content as the mansion on the hill: you will certainly never own it, but just the possibility keeps you working towards it. Leveling content is the bread and ale and cheese.