Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Bioware, MMO's and my hopes and fears for the Old Republic

Hi all,

I'm a total Bioware fanboy. As far as I am concerned they produce the best games I have ever played. I also enjoy MMO's, particularly Rift and World of Warcraft and I love Star Wars. So Bioware + Star Wars + MMO = Nerdgasm amarite?

Well yes and no.

The thing is you can put three awesome things together and get a lump of turd. At the moment if I am frank I don't know what to think. Whilst I am expecting awesomeness I am also bracing myself for a huge let down. To make it clear here are the main reasons why it will be awesome followed by the 3 reasons it will suck donkey.

Awesome the first: It's Bioware baby!

Screw Valve, forget Blizzard and goodbye Infinity Ward; there is only one game studio on the planet who have never made a misstep as far as I am concerned. That company is Bioware. This is the company that produced Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic and my personal favourite Mass Effect. Their games are like crack to me, I just can't get enough. They provide a style of game that is perfect as far as I am concerned, user friendly gameplay, fantastic plots, memorable villains and the best characters in any games that have ever been published. I can't think of any character that is quite as awesome as Minsc except possibly Mordin Solus. They can't possibly screw this up right?

From what I've seen no. The companion characters look awesome and I look forward to running around with a rocket launcher wielding Jawa. 

Awesome the Second: A return to the Old Republic

Star Wars is great and all but there's a load of Lucas inspired bullshit in there as well. Ewoks, Jar Jar Binks, Lucas' continual tinkering with the original trilogy (seriously stop that shit) and of couse the immortal "I love you because you're not sand" speech from Episode 2.

The Old Republic setting has none of the Lucas bullshit, only the core stuff that people actually want to see. Jedi vs Sith, smugglers, scoundrels and galactic war on a massive scale. Seriously, that's the stuff of Star Wars and Bioware have proved before that they get this.

Awesome the Third: Fully voiced storyline.

Holy crap dudes! An entire MMO with cinematic cutscenes, distinctive characters and fully voiced quest givers? Sign me up right now! Oh there's more? Quests that change depending on your choices in dialogue? Alignment to the Dark or Light side that's not dependent on faction but rather actions? Companions that can go off and do stuff for you whilst you sleep or go to work furthering the storyline whilst you do other things?

If all this is true, wow, just wow...

But like the light side there is also a dark side: Reasons it will suck:

Suckfest the first: An MMO? Seriously?

Massive is fine, Online is fine. It's the Multiplayer bit I don't like. I have no idea how this game is going to work but I do not want to see something like this:

Luke: How did my father die?
Obi Wan: A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and mur...
WOKKIEBOI: LF2M for Caves of Ossus!


The problem with MMO's is there is not roleplaying involved, just numbers. The general idea from most people who play is to treat it as a game to beat. That's all well and good but Bioware win because of their immersive plotlines and intricate characters. I remain to be convinced that the Bioware style will survive 13 year old tossers shouting bollocks on chat.

Suckfest the Second: Old Republic now, Mass Effect later.

This may be paranoia on my end but it's noticeable that the launch of SWTOR has put back Mass Effect 3. This does not make me a pleased lapin.

It may be Bioware's usual "it's ready when it's ready" stance but that's not a good precedent to set.

Suckfest the Third... Seriously though, an MMO?

I can see it now. I finish installing the game, create my character and step out into the bright galaxy of a movie series that defined my formative years. I can feel the excitement rise as I examine the interface, looking around for my first quest giver. Boldly I stride forward ready to make my mark on a galaxy I have loved since I was a child.

What will I be asked to do? Duel Sith Lords? Rescue a princess? Break a planetary blockade? I click my mouse with a mixture of eagerness and reverence...

And they ask me to kill 8 wamp rats...

Seriously, none of that shit Bioware...

So will this turn out to be a spectacular realisation of greatness for Bioware or will it suck arse? Are you girding your loins for awesomeness or are you biting your lip in fear of what may come?

Your opinion is always welcome in the comments.

Your frustrated Jedi

Fall of Camelot

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Why I hate Michael Bay's movies. (Swearing involved here folks)

Hi all,

It's been a while since my last blog post, in my defence I'm in America. (or I was when I started writing this originally, sue me.)

I hate Micheal Bay. I really, really hate him. For those of you who may not know who Michael Bay is let me explain.

Michael Bay is a Hollywood director of some of the most profitable movies of recent years. He is responsible for Armageddon, Bad Boys, The Rock, Pearl Harbor and the cinematic excrement that is the Transformers series. It is my concerted and firm belief that this man is responsible for some of the biggest pieces of turd ever put on celluloid. His films are sexist, racist, obsessed with fetishising the military and worst of all they are popular.

"Oh Mr Camelot" I hear you cry "they are just big summer blockbusters. Popcorn movies don't have to make you think, they just have to entertain you." to which I reply, shut up, sit down and let me tell you why you are wrong.

I accept that summer blockbusters don't need or want deep philosophical stuff in them. The latter two movies in the Matrix series for example suffered from an attempt to be too clever and ended up just looking pretentious (not to mention the end of the second movie was actually pointless making the whole movie a tremendous waste of time). However, Bay's movies actively denigrate the concept of being intelligent. Anyone who is supposed to be clever in a Bay movie is seen as weird and geeky and is often portrayed as the guy who loses it big time. Armageddon is the worst for this, lauding a bunch of ignorant rig pig pricks over NASA and when they get on crap CGI Asteroid who loses his shit? Yep Steve Buscemi, the guy who was pointedly mentioned as being the most intelligent of the lot. This leaves Bruce Willis to save the day in the most overblown way possible.

Actually this is a symptom of a much larger theme in Bay's movies. The rampant hate for authority, particularly civilian authority. Every Bay movie features the individual struggling against some kind of organisation. It's like the Ayn Rand inspired scribblings of a bad sixth form English student. It's ignorant and boring at this point. The only authority Bay has any time for is the US military but he treats this with an almost fetishistic appeal that borders on totalitarian. Also it is the individual military characters that he is interested in and there is always a point in a Bay movie that the military character(s) have to act on their own authority or disobey orders. Again the hate of authority coming into effect.

Then we have his treatment of women in his films or rather the treatment of the boob and arse carrying frames because that's all they are in a Bay movie. Compare this with James Cameron, for all his faults he always has strong female characters in his movies. Bay never has this, his female characters are there to look hot and pout, pine for their menfolk or provide comic relief in the case of older females (I'm still in fucking therapy about the doped brownies bullshit in Transformers 2). The lack of any realistic female characters is frankly laughable. Even Paul W. S. Anderson can do a kick ass female character for fuck's sake. It's not hard.

Then there's the over production of his movies. Bay is in love with slow motion, odd camera angles and jump cuts to the extent that the film becomes plastic and unreal. He also uses only two colours in his movies teal (orange) and blue because they are opposite on the colour spectrum and thereby provide a good contrast. His movies do not feel real because they exhibit an overproduced cinematic style; one that divorces itself from reality. It is as if Bay wants to make films that overwhelm your senses thinking that in some way this makes them memorable when in actual fact the relentless pace of his movies does the exact opposite.

This relentless pace does irreparable damage to characterisation in his movies. Bay mistakenly believes that dialogue and character building can be done in short snappy sentences and brief scenes. Everything is rushed in his films because he does not trust his audience to have an attention span. That leads to cliched characters and stilted dialogue because the characters have no time to develop a personality. A good director finds some time in his movies to slow the pace in order to frame the frantic pace of the action. Bay just barrels ahead like a juggernaut.

Bay's racism is evident in a lot of his movies. The horrendous "wigger" stereotypes in the second Transformers movie are the most obvious example of this, however he's been doing it for a while. The guy who betrays the honour bound Colonel in The Rock? Yup the black guy. John Tuturro in the Transformers movies? Jewish guy who lives with his overbearing mother. The Cosmonaut in Armageddon? Yup crazy and living in a crap space station, because it's, y'know, Russian and all their stuff is shit. Oh how we laughed. In the absence of time to develop an actual character Bay just uses lazy racial stereotypes because that's easy.

All of this brings me to the crux of the matter. Bay makes easy movies. No subtlety is involved, no craft, no skill. The point is he is appealing to the dumbest person in the audience. He just wants to overwhelm you with sound and image because I suspect he does not have the talent to employ subtlety. Either that or he knows that he doesn't have to. If you can just put a souless and relentless parade of banal action together and it still grosses a billion then why try?

This is the problem. People look at the money that Transformers and the like make and they realise that the more basic a movie is the better it plays overseas. There is a reason that Baywatch is the most viewed TV show in history because everyone understands tits. Similarly Bay's over produced, relentless and earsplitting drivel can be understood by anyone, be it a moron in a western multiplex or someone who speaks no English in a small movie theatre anywhere in the world.

I am resigned to his success by know so I have taken a vow never to endure any more of his orange and blue cinematic vomit. I urge you all to do the same. Not because I believe it will spell the end of Michael Bay (because it wont) rather I implore you to avoid it for your own sake. Watching a Bay movie is the equivalent of admitting that you don't care about cinema, that you would rather watch spectacle than nuance. Do yourself a favour and watch something else, something that involves you on an emotional level, something that deserves merit. Trust me, you are better than Bay's bullshit

Your resident hack praying that Michael Bay will crawl off into a fucking hole somewhere and stop inflicting his bullshit on us all.

Fall of Camelot

The five best tips for running pre written adventures

Hi all,

Nowadays I only run prewritten adventures. I have found that I don't have time in my day to come up with a coherant plot and stat up opponents for my players to face. A good prewritten adventure takes all the hassle away.

That said you can easily fall into the trap of thinking that you need not do any work. Thinking like that can get you into trouble fast. So here are my five top tips for running prewritten scenarios.

1) Manage player expectations. A prewritten adventure will have it's own style, so make sure you let your players know what characters will work and what characters will fall flat. For example, an adventure may start at sea but 90% of it may take place in a dungeon where sea based skills and abilities will be useless. It's therefore important that you let the players know this.

Tied in with this is making sure concepts fit the campaign. If the campaign calls for eco warriors try to steer the players away from corporate stooges. Likewise if a player has her heart set on playing a total coward in a game where you become superheroes, it may be an idea to steer her to a different concept (or at least a modified concept). Communication is the main thing, without it the players may feel railroaded and by extension resentful.

2) Preparation is still key

So the plot is written for you, the NPC's statblocks are generated, everything is there for you so no work is needed right?

Wrong. I'm not saying that running a pre written adventure doesn't take out some of the grunt work of creating a game but nor does it mean that you have nothing that you need to do. The trick is not to memorise the whole thing but to get the flow of the plot as written. That way you can make the game flow to your style. Be confident in how the plot works. Ask yourself how the players get to a certain point and then make sure you give them the opportunity to get there. However...
3) Find the break points

A wise man once said that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Well the same can be said for RPG's. Of course it's feasible to allow your players to go completely off the rails and do something random. If the players want to spend their time running a bar rather than follow the plot then sure, knock yourself out if that's what you want to do.

That said by buying a prewritten adventure you have a perfectly acceptable plot that you have paid good money for. My contention is that you should try to run according to that plot wherever possible. Does that mean you should follow a plot religiously? No, and I will cover that in point 5. However if Bob the Lich is the enemy of the campaign it's a bit disappointing if the players don't end up fighting him.

To that end you have to find the break points. These are the points in an adventure where the writer will make an assumption about what the players will do and if they don't do it then the campaign can't continue. The trick is to identify these points before they come up and have a contingency plan in place in case the players don't do that.

A good example is in Paizo's Legacy of Fire Adventure Path *obvious spoilers here folks*. The first adventure has one of the players become semi possessed by a friendly spirit. This is contingent on a particular monster hitting a PC and said PC failing a saving throw. If they don't become possessed then as written the plot comes to a shuddering halt in the second book because they wont find a secret passage without said spirit's help.

As a GM you have a few options here. Fudge things so someone automatically gets hit and fails the save (that's what I did btw) or have the secret door automatically found by the players. What you do is not important what is important is that you identify these problems before they occur.

4) Messageboards are your friend

Messageboards are an odd little thing. I love posting on them but I often find the vitriol and ignorance expressed on them to be a pain in the arse to wade through. The fact that I often am responsible for some of the vitriol doesn't exactly help.

However messageboards are a great resource for identifying issues with prewritten scenarios. Reading about what people are saying about an adventure gives you a great insight into the issues you can encounter when running it. It can help you identify problem encounters, plot issues and break points and the responses can help you mitigate problems before they occur. Use other's pain to your advantage.

5) Personalise and alter

The last point and the most important. You know your players better than anyone else, what they like, what they hate and what helps you to all have a fun game.

Everybody's game is different even when it's a prewritten adventure. Running as written never works unless you adapt it for your players and their PC's. Find ways to include your PC's more closely in a plot, give them ties to important NPC's, implement their backgrounds into the plot. They will have much more fun if you do this. After all the story is about the players, they should feel intrinsically linked to the plot.

Also if there is an encounter that you don't like or you feel would work better in a different way then just alter it. The players will react better to interesting encounters than cookie cutter opponents. In addition no one likes annoying pointless obstacles. If an adventure has encounters that are not a threat but take up time (such as a Guards and Wards spell that isn't being monitored by an NPC) just handwave it. No one wants to sit rolling dice for no reason when they could be getting on with the plot.

I hope you find these tips useful. Let me know if you feel that this list could use an extra entry.

Your resident Games Monkey

Fall of Camelot

I'm back baby!

Yeah I suck

I know my rants haven't been on here for a while. If you are wondering why I haven't posted a new post recently then you need to get out more.

I will endeavour to add some new posts over the next couple of days. Thanks for being patient.

Your resident fat lazy useless bastard

Fall of Camelot