Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

Wherein Bioware faces my terrible ire

Posted by nfinit on December 7, 2009

So, at this point I’ve given up trying to rationalize any game other than Dragon Age Origins as my 2009 Game of the Year– as I mentioned a couple updates ago it’s rare for me to put five hours in a row into any given game at one sitting; with Dragon Age I’ve put 10 hours in a row on at least four separate occasions and I’m now at the point where I’m holding back on playing the game any more simply because I don’t want it to end, something I’ve not done since the bittersweet final chapter of the first Suikoden game. That said, I know full well that once I take out the Big Bad I’m going to instantly re-roll and play again as an evil elf ranger wench hell-bent on revenge against humans and dwarves and probably most elves as well and nailing anything that gets within range of her crotch.

In short, this game is So. Fucking. Good. But it’s very much still a Bioware game, and despite being the unquestioned masters of the Western Role Playing Game they keep doing shit that annoys me. Indeed, the annoyances Bioware refuses to exorcise from their litany of gaming sins goes above and beyond what I list here, but I’m lazy and need something to write and am putting off writing what’s looking to be a truly dreadful Wallet Abuse update.

1: Can we just get rid of the cut scenes already?

Look, we’re less than a month away from 2010. Haven’t we reached the point yet where game developers can tell the stories they want to tell without removing the player from the universe they actually inhabit? I think it’s time we started demanding that if the player does not have some form of input on the events taking place in a given scene then that scene does belongs in the movie that the developer would have rather have made in the first place.

I could rattle off a hundred infuriating examples off the top of my head, but since this is focused on the sins of Bioware I’ll point to the climax to Bioware’s flawed masterpiece, Mass Effect. During it there is a cut scene where your ship, The Normandy, deftly carves its way through the alien robotic demon fleet, dodging sizzling blasts of laser fire and shrapnel from untold scores of shattered starships into the gullet of the enemy mothership and through the other side. It was thrilling; it was magnificent; the player had not one iota of control or input through the entire sequence and thus it wasn’t a game, it was a stunning bit cinematics done in the Unreal 3 engine. Would it have been asking so much to have given the player some control over this scene? Why do I have to sit back and watch as a passive observer? I mean yes, it was fun to watch the first couple times, but by the third play through I was spamming A so I could get back to the point where I was actually controlling my character.

Y’know, other forms of media don’t have to put up with this foolishness. I’m an avid reader; I’ve yet to read a book where halfway through the climax someone’s glued a DVD to the page with the expectation that I’m to watch the next fifteen minutes of the book. When you’re at a movie theater you’re not periodically asked to retrieve a DS from under your seat and play a level of Meteos so you can access the next line of dialog. There’s not a point in the Them Crooked Vultures album where John Paul Jones cuts in between tracks and instructs the listener to visit and download the chords to play rhythm bass for the next track. Why do we continue to put up with this in games? Can’t I just play my fucking videogame as a fucking videogame and not as some sort of horrible retarded monster of two ill-fitting art forms?

Capcom actually did a great job of this with their quick time event system in Resident Evil 4, where the player was asked to interact in a series of button prompts or run the very real risk of being killed during the cut scene itself. Of course, the industry being what it is this idea was summarily ridden into the ground and now every ones hates the idea. But I think the system could still work– at the very least developers could take a look at Half Life 2 and ask themselves if the game ever really needs to be removed from the perspective of the gamer in the first place.


I didn’t realize exactly how badly Bioware’s addiction to load screens had become until I stumbled upon a 8×10 single room apartment in Dragon Age: Origins that required a full 30 second load time to bring up, loot the only thing in the room that could be interacted with (a desk drawer standing in the center of the room), and then wandered back out the door right into another thirty-second load as the game brought up the area I was originally in. DA:O is not alone in this lunacy– anyone else remember how in Mass Effect the Normandy had two levels to the ship, separated by an elevator shaft that maybe extended a dozen feet, yet required a minute of load time for the elevator to traverse those four paltry yards?

I don’t understand the point of this– In Dragon Age: Origins, why wasn’t that room just an adjunct to another, larger building? What did the developers accomplish by taking you out of the game for a minute to loot a single lousy book out of a single lousy dresser drawer? In Mass Effect, why did the developers find it necessary to litter the Normandy with two dozen static NPCs that have no impact at all upon the story line and not just put your crew in those spots and not force the player to load an entire new level whenever trying to accomplish the singular task of selling loot?

The funny thing about Mass Effect was how prevalent those loading elevators eventually became– it seemed like 200 years in the future that all interior design would follow the example of the Wok forest villages of Endor. Bioware has since gone on record as saying that they regret the loading elevators and that they would not make an appearance in Mass Effect 2, that they would be replaced with Dragon Age Origin’s static load screens– My suggestion would be to largely eliminate most loading screens entirely and just stream the levels off the disc as done in open-world games such as Grand Theft Auto 4– these games also feature and abundance of NPCs and spoken dialog, yet you only really notice the load times in the rare occasions where the player builds up enough speed to overtake the game’s ability to load the level into resident memory. It’s not like Mass Effect or Dragon Age were towering masterpieces of graphical fidelity– surely something similar could be done in a traditional WJRPG. At the very least Bioware needs to be smarter about where they find it necessary to load rooms in the first place– instead of a marketplace with a half-dozen separate rooms to load for each merchant or quest giver or bar you wish to encounter, why not just put all these guys out into the streets, or pile them into a larger indoor mall-like area? How is anything gained by forcing a load time every time we wish to interact with a merchant? Speaking of which:

3: Stop dicking us around on inventory

This is actually something the industry is starting to get right, as best observed with Torchlight’s excellent system of enabling the player to sell their loot from anywhere, but it’s something Bioware continues to screw up on– Namely, if you’re going to fill your fantasy/sic-fi/mystical oriental world with us less trinkets stop making it such a pain in the ass to actually carry said trinkets about with you.

Namely I speak of Bioware’s incessant need to keep the player tethered to merchants by strict rationing of inventory slots. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the typical WRPG world weren’t filled with so much  junk that keeps finding its way into player’s packs– and it’s not like we’re kleptomaniacs who keep stealing everything that’s not nailed down; this is the byproduct of mostly useless cruft that for whatever reason finds its way inside treasure chests and freshly killed enemy corpses. If you’re going to have a hard limit on the amount of crap you’re going to allow the player to keep on their person, either allow us to sell from anywhere or give us something useful to do with this detritus instead of just throwing it on the dungeon floor and hoping you’ve not forever cast aside some game-breakingly good warhammer because you need that inventory slot for a batch of nature resist potions.

4: The Hallmark Movie Channel Sex Scene Problem (or: chicks don’t actually wear bras in bed)

Whenever a Bioware game is released there’s invariably a lot of noise made in the mainstream media about whatever scandalous sexual escapades have been included in said game that will invariably warp the minds of our precious, saintly clean children, turning them into future child molesters or worse, Liberals.

What’s never mentioned is that these sex scenes are about as illicit as a Hannah Montana music video. I’m not kidding about the part where chicks keep their bras on–the only real danger these sex scenes may create is a fundamental misunderstanding of how sex works and a spike in fabric burns.

If this is the best Bioware can get away with in the big bad world of 2010, maybe it’s best to not insult everyone’s intelligence and keep the raunchy bits under cover– or hey, maybe better yet, since we all have instant access to streaming German porn anyway, let’s drop the pretensions and just remove the silly things in the first place. Your character makes the moves on another player, there’s a tasteful fade to black, all participants are shown again with mussed hair and mysterious bite marks on their person.

Look, I’m not a prude– I mean, I loves me some streaming German porn– But let’s stop pretending that anyone still cares about this sort of thing. Modern console tech allows for semi-realistic portrayals of onscreen sex. That’s great. Now unless you’ve got the balls to allow us to control these scenes and are willing to show us everything (as SCE Studios Santa Monica has done in their excellent God of War series), why bother? You’re not impressing anyone By promising us tawdry scenes of elf-on-dwarf-on-human-on-elf actions and delivering what amounts to two people in their swimsuits dry humping for ten seconds.


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