Dragon Age: Inqisition — Bioware, Why Did You Do This?

I’ve talked about Dragon Age: Inquisition before, but not here. In fact, I don’t think any of those articles still exist anywhere, but that’s just as well because now, I think three years later, I really have to tear into this game.

I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition the day that it released, only to learn that Bioware’s Minimum Specifications actually meant something this time around, and that the game absolutely would not even launch on a dual-core CPU, even if it was technically capable of running the game. This infuriated me, but I bit the bullet, ordered a new motherboard, a new CPU, and new RAM. About fourteen days later, everything arrived and was installed, and I finally was able to sink my teeth into this game that I had eagerly awaited since the end of the phenomenal Dragon Age 2.

I was so unbelievably disappointed.

Prior to that, Bioware was the last developer that I trusted, the last big name developer from whom I would buy a brand new game at full price. Everyone else had betrayed that trust with non-working titles that routinely crashed, were extremely unoptimized, or bore misleading specs. Dragon Age: Inquisition destroyed my trust in Bioware, not just because of the dual core thing, but because the game itself is an abject trainwreck, and I honestly find it hard to believe that anyone likes it. So what’s wrong with it? Well, get comfortable.

Dragon Age: The Single Player MMO

I hate Quest Systems. I hate them so very, very much. They were designed for use in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games to allow players to fulfill tasks while making no changes to the world beyond character-specific boolean flags and dialogue options. They were necessary, because no MMO can handle fifty different characters running around and doing stuff that actually permanently changes the world state.

For example, in Final Fantasy VI, the player goes to the Floating Continent, and the world is basically destroyed. If this was a multiplayer game, only one player could do that, and every other player would be trapped with the consequences. Obviously, this won’t work. To get around this, two things were done: quests and respawning enemies. It does other players no good if Player A receives a quest to clear a cave of kobolds, does it, and then no one else can ever do that quest, because the world state has changed, and that cave no longer has kobolds. So each player is able to do the quest, and the kobolds respawn indefinitely. The world never changes. Only dialogue options do. A level 100 character can return to the cave and wonder, “Why in the world are there kobolds here? I killed them all when I was level 2.”

This is an acceptable break from reality for MMOs. It’s a clever way of handling an enormous problem. However, it is a bit cheap. Various MMOs have done different things to get around this. Blizzard disastrously attempted “phasing,” which was implemented rather poorly and turned entire zones into basically single-player areas.

But then something even more disastrous happened.

Lazy developers realized that they could take the same system and put it in single-player games, which would allow them to create basic templates that consisted of a few variables, fill in hundreds of possible variables, and simply write dialogue for the variable combinations. Basically, they realized they could take one “Who,” one “What,” one “How many,” and one “Where,” and generate hundreds of different answers for each one, stringing them together with short, boring, generic excuses.

Lord Tyrennius wants ten bears killed in the region of Alcren.

Lady Merian wants one silver necklace.

Game design made easy.

Then all they had to do was create a few dozen generic titles or other statements from NPCs that would give the illusion of an adaptive world. After killing the bears for Tyrennius, there would be a 3% chance for an NPC to say, “Hey, didn’t you kill those bears?” Even though the bears probably respawned, it gave the player the illusion that they had changed the world, that they have achieved something. Again, for MMOs, this is fine, because actually changing the world isn’t an option.

Some games even took this as far as creating an infinite number of quests, like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. There is no greater example of quantity over quality than a game that has an infinite number of generic quests. And oh yes, they are generic. Procedurally generated worlds and quests sounds cool in theory, but the result is something totally non-descript and generic.

Take Minecraft for example. If you’ve seen one Minecraft world, you’ve seen them all. Sure, you can create billions upon billions of worlds that are different from one another to varying degrees, but after just one of these, players have seen everything there is to offer. The same is true of Skyrim‘s quests–once the player has done one of them, they’ve seen everything the game has to offer, and after that it’s just a matter of how many times they can repeat it until they get sick of it. This is why I have never completed Skyrim, and probably never will. Invariably, I get tired of doing the same freaking quests over and over, with only slight differences. Oh, I’m clearing this cave for the Companions instead of the Blades. Oh, yeah, that totally makes it different…

To be fair, Dragon Age 2 also utilized a quest system, but there are a few things to note. First, every quest was hand-crafted by the developers, and it shows. Every bit of dialogue in that game is expertly done, and expertly acted. Beyond that, though, even with areas being repeated ad nauseum throughout the game, the story changes enacted by the quests (which are far more sweeping than people will realize until a second or third playthrough) are large in scope. Beyond that, the quest system was built directly into the overall plot. Hawke needs 50 gold to pay for the excursion into the Deep Roads. It’s an excuse plot, but it’s better than just “Oh, there’s a quest, I need to it, because it’s a quest.”

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

It should be alarming to people that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning actually began development as an MMO, and was converted into a single-player game when the developers began running out of money, and yet its gameplay is identical to the gameplay of Skryim and Dragon Age: Inqusition. You go from one area to the next doing quests, and only dialogue changes. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning at least had the self-awareness to lampshade this by weaving a repetitious cycle of fate into the plot. With Skryim and DAI, it’s just there. It’s just lazy.

Skryim maintains its excellent because it does have a lot of possibilities for players to get into totally unscripted things–emergent gameplay, it is called. Like when I accidentally wandered into a keep of bandits and got my horse and Lydia killed, whereupon I turned into a werewolf, killed everyone, and ate them. I didn’t have a quest for that. I didn’t need one. The game itself created the circumstances and motivated me to do it by giving me attachment to Lydia and my horse. The game didn’t have to tell me with some generic ass quest, “Go eliminate the bandits in this keep.”

Something almost similar happened when I was playing Dragon Age: Inquisition not long after its release. I came upon some templars who trapped mages inside a house, and then set the house on fire, killing the mages inside. Furious, I pounded the templars into the ground and killed them all. And that was it. That was the end of the encounter. I couldn’t bury the mages, I couldn’t seek out and punish templars (because they’re randomly spawning). I couldn’t interact with the encounter in any way except by killing those four or five templars, and then it was over. It was so limited that I think it was probably a randomly generated event, to be honest.

That’s freaking bad game design. You can’t put me firmly on one group’s side–and after the events of DA2 (we’ll get to this in a moment), I’m absolutely with the mages–and then hand me a freaking tragedy like that, and then shrug and continue on, because there’s no quest for it. It’s like Egoraptor said in his Ocarina of Time video. I don’t need you to give me some asinine story reason why my character wants to go up Death Mountain. I want to go up Death Mountain. It’s what I want to do. That’s why I’m playing the game, because I want to go on an adventure and explore stuff. But no, Ocarina of Time had to grind to a freaking halt until Link had the right motivation to want to go up there. My motivations don’t matter.

Isn’t Dragon Age: Inquistion supposed to be a role-playing game? If that’s the case, you would expect that my desires, as the player, would be my character’s desires. But no. That’s not the case. My character needs quests, plot reasons. My character can’t find and decimate the templar stronghold because they burned some mages alive because I’m outraged by it and trying to role-play the game as my character. Instead, my character has to wait until someone gives her a freaking quest that makes her want to do it. And if no such quests exist, then my wants go unfulfilled.

Give us dynamic worlds. Give us the chance to role-play in role-playing games. Stop spending obscene amounts of money on graphics, and stop adding in hundreds upon hundreds of generic, basically identical quests. Instead, spend that money on creating a living, breathing world that I can actually impact. Not one where I trigger the next cutscene by doing the right Story Mission. Screw that. Don’t take me on a fucking tour; let me play the game.

Plot

But my biggest problem with Dragon Age: Inquisition is the plot. Oh, man, what went wrong here?

The plot of DA2 was incredible. Bioware took me on the Hero’s Journey, where Hawke had the role of hero thrust upon her mostly without her intention. A series of events lead to another series of events that lead to another series of events, and it culminated in one of the greatest and most underrated role-playing games of all time. Never before have I been so firmly in a character’s shoes. Never before have I loved a character so much. And the plot, how it built so slowly, and then exploded in this extraordinary climax…! Damn. I was on the edge of my seat through all of Act 3. I flew through Act 3 in a single night, anxious, nervous, itching to see how the rest of it played out. And I was not disappointed.

The Mages Circles were dissolved. Ferelden fell into chaos. Mages rebelled. The Chantry fell apart and created Seekers. It was full-blown war, and it was easy to see, once the name “Inquisition” was announced, what was going to happen in the next game.

The game would fix almost entirely on the Mage/Templar war, and the Chantry would be undertaking an inquisition to round up and kill all of the mages. The player would probably select one of the sides throughout the game, and fight slowly to restore order, either culminating in the freedom of the mages or the return of the Mages’ Circles. It was going to be epic, filled with religious symbolism and making callbacks to the Spanish Inquisition, with people being drowned to see if they were mages…

And then Corypheus happened. The entire plot of Dragon Age 2 wrapped up in a single quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition while the game was instead shifted into yet another “You’re the Chosen One–Jesus and Mohammad rolled into one. Now go and save the world from yet Another Big Bad with questionable motives who wants to destroy the world.”

It’s so heavy-handed that I have to wonder if Bioware, angry at the fans for their reaction to Dragon Age 2, trollingly said, “Oh, you guys want to be yet another chosen hero, saving yet another fantasy world from yet another big bad who wants to destroy it? Fine. You’re literally the Chosen One in this game. The freaking Herald of Andraste. You want that? Then we’re going to give it to you, dipshits.”

Because that’s what Dragon Age: Inquisition is. It is almost immediately derailed by the player literally being the Chosen One. They call her “The Chosen One” in the game. I’m almost positive I remember being called “The Savior” a few times. “The Herald of Andraste,” certainly. Several times.

There’s no way to identify with such a character. It’s not possible. I don’t have a glowing thing in my hand that makes me special out of everyone on the planet. I’m not literally the one person who can do something. See, Hawke wasn’t either. Hawke wasn’t special. She was the one who did the things, but that was just circumstance. She wasn’t destined to do those things. She wasn’t the Chosen One. She was just some person who happened to be there when it happened and who did whatever she thought was best. She was just trying to survive and lift herself up. We can all relate to that.

None of us can relate to honest-to-God Chosen One.

Instead of being what anyone expected of “an inquisition,” the entire game devolves into being about the Chosen One using her Chosen Ability that literally no one else has to be the Chosen One and save the world from a Big Bad who has some godlike aspirations. The Inquisition isn’t about the Mage/Templar war that was interesting, relatable, and unique for a fantasy setting. It’s about putting together an army to close these Magical Rifts that the Big Bad created.

It could have been so much more. Instead, it’s a series of generic quests through regions that are identical to any MMOs–in fact, you’ll notice that the starting areas have a huge concentration of quests (just like MMOs), while later areas have far fewer quests. This is entirely typical of MMOs, as well, because more players will play the starting areas more often. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they originally planned for DAI to be an MMO, because it’s identical to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning in every conceivable way. And the plot, instead of being this awesome, relatable thing with a newly relatable character, was another generic Save the World from another Big Bad.

So how could anyone like this crap? It represents everything that is wrong in modern role-playing games. It sacrifices role-playing in the name of the Quest System. It sacrifices a dynamic world for lots of generic, boring quests through non-descript and uninteresting locations. It cast aside the masterful and amazing setting that it had crafted through the previous game and instead became identical to the plots we’ve been seeing since Dragon Quest on NES. It sucks.

Score?

1 Dragon Quest out of 10 Dragon Age 2s.

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How To Fix Civilization 6

civilization_vi_cover_artI’m absolutely shocked by the extremely positive reception that Civilization VI is receiving. Those familiar with me know that I have a long history with the series, and have been playing since Civ III–apparently, whenever you attempt to criticize one of the games, you must point out how long you’ve been playing the series, and if you can’t at least claim to have started with 3 then your opinion becomes invalid. This is rather like how people can’t criticize Final Fantasy X unless they started with Final Fantasy VII or earlier–on that note, I started with Final Fantasy. No number. Beat that.

I am doing a full review of the game for Cubed3, and I’m going to post what I have so far here, but I’m going to be a bit more honest afterward. Anyway, here’s the yet-to-be-finished review. Please ignore the BBCode:

[i]Civilization VI[/i] is a game where players attempt to build cities while a psychotic AI declares war on the player, marches its troops up to the city centers, and then politely stands there while its army is bombarded to death. Much has been said about the awful AI, but given that diplomacy is such a critical part of the game, it’s nothing short of disgraceful that the AI-controlled players seem to have no idea how to play the game.

 

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints that, before the one hundredth turn, every single civilization on the player’s starting continent had declared war on the player. In a few games, enemy civilizations were [i]introduced[/i] to me—they hadn’t yet been discovered—by declaring war on me. “Oh, hello there, Brazil. It is a pleasure to meet—[i]we have had enough of your insolence![/i]” None of the games in the series have had intelligence that could remotely qualify as “intelligence” by even the most under-achieving programmer’s standards, but this reaches absolutely remarkable levels of [url=http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArtificialStupidity]Artificial Stupidity[/url].

 

Diplomacy as a gameplay mechanic is such a cool concept, but it continues to elude Firaxis on how to implement it. Not only is the AI horrendously stupid, but the only options presented in diplomacy are trade deals and war declarations. This is such an enormous step backward from the ability to tell rival civilizations not to build so closely, not to send their missionaries, and things of that nature. Again, the Community Patch Project rightly expanded the options of the predecessor, such that they were as extensive as those found in Civ IV, but [i]Civilization VI[/i] represents a gigantic step backward from even vanilla CiV.

 

It’s difficult to convey, but in one game I built a second city to claim a natural wonder I’d found. The very next turn, England contacted me to request that I not build cities that close to them. That was no problem, as I generally expand empires circularly, as opposed to growing in one direction. Everything seemed fine—diplomatic crisis averted—until the next turn, when Victoria declared war on me, saying that she could not tolerate my behavior any longer, and sent almost one whole warrior to conquer my capital. She proceeded to send an entire warrior to punish me for several turns, at which point I grew tired of her nonsense, surrounded London with archers, and eliminated her from the game. As my archers rained doom upon her city, she contacted me just about every other turn offering me a peace deal, and there was still no button to say, “You brought this upon yourself. Now die with dignity; I’ll not receive your diplomats again.”

 

AI lunacy knows no bounds this time around, and that’s not getting into the glitches, bugs, and other oddities that gamers have now come to expect from new, expensive video games. Perhaps the most interesting of these is when Gandhi is contacted by Gandhi to declare that Gandhi will no longer put up with Gandhi’s aggressive behavior, and that Gandhi thereby declares war on himself. For bonus points, this can happen with any civilization, and to the player, though there appears to be no in-game effect. Aside from that, it’s not uncommon to end a war and immediately be contacted by the loser stating that they’ve noticed the army on their borders, and they’d like to know if this means war. The best cases are when a nation on the other side of the world declares war on the player, and then offers a peace deal a dozen turns later offering up a bunch of gold. It’s bad in ways bizarre and embarrassing.

 

The focus is said to be on the multiplayer experience, but it was notoriously prone to desyncs and crashes upon launch, and the game, for this reviewer, has always been best single-player. Maybe the AI doesn’t always offer the best challenge, but there are few things more rewarding than starting a new Civilization game on a lower difficulty—to get accustomed to the new systems—and gradually work back up to King or Emperor. For years, I was stuck at Lord difficulty in [i]Civilization V[/i], and then I made the breakthrough of managing my city specialists; the next thing I knew, I was up to Emperor.

 

1UPT (One Unit Per Tile) worked very well in this game’s predecessor, although there were some flaws that had to be ironed out. It was up to the Community Patch Project to fix the civilian traffic jams that irritated everyone, but this time around the civilization traffic jams appear to be there by design, not by accident. Missionaries and apostles are the worst offenders, though there were many occasions throughout the reign of CiV that it was necessary to declare war on someone because their missionaries stood blithely in the way. Given the religious fervor on display by nearly all the world leaders, it’s sure to be a problem through every playthrough.

About to get my head kicked in on CiV.

About to get my head kicked in on CiV.

 

One advantage the predecessor had with 1UPT was that movement costs were clear and easily understood. Planning an attack against a city surrounded by jungle on one side and mountains on the other took tactical work, and it was fun for that reason; it was a genuine and fairly real-to-life representation of why the United States didn’t stand a chance in Vietnam. Building roads across the empire didn’t just connect cities; it was crucial to allow armies to get where they needed to be in a reasonable time frame. Much has been written about the changing of Workers into Builders, how roads are constructed by Caravans, and other gameplay changes, but there were always going to be such changes to the formula; it happens every game. Remember when each city was a mess of roads because every tile had to be connected to the city for its resources to be used? Change is fine. The real problem here is that it’s almost guesswork, moving armies across the world and over various terrains, and the caravan-constructed road appears to have no effect on movement cost.

 

It was once feared that culture and policies were doomed to become an alternative technology tree and that, based on the trends of [i]Civilization V[/i], everything was ultimately going to “become a technology tree.” Civics policies certainly did so, and each civic gives the player a few civic policy cards that can be activated. Government types have returned, too, and different government types, in addition to providing their own bonuses, allow for different combinations of cards to be used. For example, the Classical Republic government allows for two Economic Policy cards, but no Military Policy cards. It’s a neat, modular system that provides lots of ways to ensure that the government is maximized for the land and people.

 

Cities no longer occupy a single tile, and this is certainly a change for the better. It’s “the” feature of [i]Civilization VI[/i], just as 1UPT was “the” feature of CiV. Rather than simply building a Barracks, one must select a tile within the city’s borders and build an Encampment upon it, after which a Barracks can be built in the Encampment. As a nice touch, units then constructed by the city then appear on the tile that contains the Encampment, rather than the City Center, which makes tile selection all the more important.

Graphics have changed from the realistic style of V to a cartoonish style heavily reminiscent of [i]Civilization IV[/i], largely regarded as the apex of the series. The UI is the best yet for a Civilization game, though information can be a bit hard to find. Whether one likes or dislikes the style will be a matter of preference, but the Fog of War is absolutely terrible. Rather than lowering the brightness on tiles not currently within view of a unit, here they are colored brown and bereft of distinguishing details, a look that is drawn from medieval maps. It looks absolutely [i]terrible[/i] to have a sea of brown wash over the land like it’s [i]Dragon Age: Origins[/i].

mess

 

The terrain is more important than ever. It became extremely important with the advent of 1UPT, but now it’s of critical significance—[i]the[/i] deciding factor in the game. Placing districts upon a tile obviously means that tile cannot have a refinement constructed by a builder, and there are interesting ways that the districts and improvements work off each other. A bit of logic is all that’s really needed to take advantage of this, though. Don’t throw an Encampment right in the middle of a bunch of Farms, for example. Rivers, it has been noted, are important once again, instead of simply being the early game movement hindrance they were in the last entry; in Civ IV, of course, rivers were vital for forming free trade routes between cities. In CiV, they were an irritant that slowed movement through the early game and then dictated whether the city could build a Water Mill. That’s basically what they do here, except it’s more complex than the Boolean question of whether the city center is on a river.

 

The district concept doesn’t change the gameplay nearly as much as 1UPT did, and the result is that this feels like the sort of addition that would come via an expansion. Whether the player builds a Barracks or designates a tile to be the military district and [i]then[/i] builds a Barracks isn’t very different from simply building the Barracks. It’s a cool idea, and the synergies between the terrain, districts, and improvements offer plenty of possibilities for maximizing productivity, but it doesn’t actually represent a fundamental departure from how cities are constructed.

In fact, the whole District thing is pretty much the meat & potatoes of the game. Beyond that, it’s just Civilization V with worsened AI and changes to city-states and religion. Well, I say “changes” to religion, but it wasn’t really changed; the only difference is that you can now only construct religious units like missionaries in a city where you’ve made a religious district and plopped a temple or something there.

It was when I was building my third Commerce District that I realized what was going on. This isn’t anything even remotely new; it’s just a slightly different way of doing it. See, in ages past, it was always best for the player to have a few specialized cities: one that focused on culture buildings, one that focused on economic buildings, one that focused on military units, and, most importantly, one that focused on production. There’s an obvious flaw in the system here, isn’t there? That’s right, because Production is a generic resource that is used to build economic buildings, military units, culture buildings, and pretty much everything else except missionaries. And that is where Civilization 6 screws up.

The only way they could have made this District system truly shine is if they added a few new currencies to the game. Why not? There are already several: Science, Production, Food, Culture, Gold, Faith, Great Person Points, and probably some others I am not thinking of at the moment. The obvious flaw in this problem is that an industrial city–that is, a city that focuses heavily on production, subsumes all the others. Production is king, because production is literally used to build all the other things. What good will it do the player to have a bustling Cultural District if it takes 57 turns to build the next cultural building because the city’s a cultural powerhouse, not a production powerhouse?

A city that focused on culture, for example, will have a bunch of culture buildings that it has built over the last 60~ turns to produce 31 culture per turn. That’s a bit high, but whatever. It’s not important. If that city comes under attack because some long-standing ally like Genghis Khan decided to straight-up betray you–as he tends to do–and your army is going to take 5 or more turns to get there, then that city is gone. All of that culture will do nothing to cut down on the 24 turns it takes to build one freaking Crossbowman. If, however, it was  Production City, then it would be able to produce those 7 culture buildings in 35-40 turns and would be able to produce the crossbowman in 3 or 4 turns. It’s the core of how the game is designed: Production is King, because Production is literally what allows the player to increase everything else. Production is at the heart of it.

Need to build a Market to increase Gold? Then you need Production to build it. Need to build an Amphitheater to increase Culture? Then you need Production to build it. Need to build a University to increase Science? Then you need Production to build it. Need to build a Crossbowman to pick of Gayghis Khan’s army? Then you need Production to build it. This is the nature of the game, and, as I said, I’ve been playing Civilization since my senior year of high school. Before that I was busy playing in a rock band and dating the hottest girl at the school, so you’ll excuse me for not nerding it out with Civ 1 and 2.

With each new release, I begin at the lower difficulty settings to familiarize myself with the new mechanics, and I work my way back up to Emperor or Deity–whatever the hardest difficulty is named. I’ve got a video somewhere of me easily claiming a Domination Victory on Emperor in Civilization V, and that’s no small feat, considering the entire Happiness system of V is meant to discourage Domination Victories. Of the victory possibilities, Diplomacy is the easiest by a huge margin; without even trying, it’s easy to become Allies with most of the city-states in the game by the time the United Nations is formed, and every time the vote occurs the two civilizations who ranked highest receive 2 additional delegates; it becomes a matter of three or four more sessions, at the most, before the Diplomacy Victory is won. Cultural Victory is probably the hardest to pull off, but primarily because it’s so freaking boring and tedious.

The point is: I know how to play Civilization games, and I’m damned good at them. I love Civilization V the most because it finally added a tactical layer to the game, making it much more in-line with chess in being a combination of strategy and tactics, and yes–I’m even including Civilization IV: BTS in that estimation. I think a lot of people who say that Civ IV is the best would be very surprised if they went back to it and tried to give it another go. It’s terrible compared to V. Don’t get me wrong. BTS was perfection itself when it was in its prime, but we are a long way from that. The ridiculously overpowered religion dictating all diplomatic efforts was a particular problem, never mind the Stacks of Doom.

Civilization VI aims to prevent this problem of Production being King… by forcing players to specialize cities whether they like it or not. I still ended up with an Industrial District in every city, because otherwise build times were absolutely ridiculous. It comes back to that point above: What is the reason for having a Cultural City if it takes 25 turns to build the next Culture building, if I can specialize it in Production and take 17 turns to pump out all the cultural buildings?

There isn’t one. It’s just a broken gimmick and a half-baked idea.

The only way it could have worked is if:

  1. The new currency Conscription was added to the game. This is basically Production,but it can only be used to build military units and military buildings, in the same way that religious units can only be purchased with Faith. Valor, Bravery, Conscription–whatever Firaxis wanted to call it. This way, there’s actually a point in specializing a military city. It would produce more Valor, and since Valor is used to build military units and military buildings, it doesn’t hurt the city to specialize in it instead of Production.
    1. As an addition to this, obviously, military units could still be constructed with raw production. The Encampment District would specifically allow x per turn Valor to be generated, and additional construction of buildings could be done with either Valor or Production. Districts, of course, are built only with Production. Each Armory increases the Valor yield of the city by +2, each Barracks by +1, and so on. A Swordsman can be built with 180 Production–or however the hell much it costs–or with 5 Valor Points. The same rule would still apply that only one unit can be constructed at a time–the city couldn’t build a Swordsman with its Valor while building a Commerce District with its Production.
      1. Or why couldn’t it? Isn’t that the point of building the Districts, after all? This would actually be a fantastic way of handling it, and giving the Districts actual utility versus being boolean triggers that allow the production of specialized buildings as they are now. Why can’t I use the new Valor resource to build my Musketman while the City Center uses its Production to build a Commerce District on the other side of town? However, Production could not be split: one could not use 30% of the Production to build the Swordsman and 70% to build the Commerce District; each currency can only be used for one thing at a time. This makes the Districts far more valuable, as not only would it be faster to build a Swordsman with Valor, but using Valor to build the Swordsman also frees up the City Center to use its Production to build something. Come on, Firaxis, how did you guys not come up with this?
  2. The new currency Artistry was added to the game. This is basically Production, but it can only be used to build cultural buildings and cultural units. The game is not comprised only of Great Generals, and neither is Planet Earth. There should probably be normal Artist, Musician, and Writer units that can be used in much the same way as Missionaries, except that they generate one-time cultural bonuses or one-time tourism bonuses. Obviously, all of these units would be stackable with each other, but not with themselves. We don’t want to increase the roadblocks, traffic jams, and choke points. An Artist can occupy the same tile as an Archer and a Missionary.
    1. Similar to the above, the Artistry being produced in the city’s Cultural District could be used to build a Musician or a Concert Hall while the Valor in the city’s Military District could be used to build a Swordsman or an Armory and while the City Center could be using its Production to construct a new Holy District.

The Culture Tech Tree needs to be completely reworked so that it’s… not a tech tree. C’mon, Firaxis. This was the concern we expressed when we saw the Civic Policies of Civilization V! This is precisely what we said: “It’s cool, but we’re worried that culture is going to become just another tech tree.” And voila–the next game releases, and culture is just another tech tree, and tied strangely to government systems and civic policies. I realize that the connection between government systems, civic policies, and culture has been in place for a very long time, but it’s time to separate the things, especially now that Culture Victory is a serious thing. There is no logical relationship between a people’s culture and their governmental systems or their civic possibilities. I realize that you need a gameplay currency that allows for the progressive unlocking of governmental systems, and that it didn’t go over so well when they were tied to technology as they were in the past, but that should tell you that you’re barking up the wrong trees.

As an anarchist, I would actually argue that you’re looking at it backward, as governmental systems are the primary stifling force against cultural growth, but that’s another matter.

I don’t have an alternative system for the Civic system here in VI, but please get rid of the tech tree that it has become. That was exactly what we were worried would happen after Civilization V. I’m sure you can still find posts about it in the CivFanatics forum.

Map clutter has to go, too. Holy crap, why is the map so freaking cluttered? It is borderline impossible to tell what anything is, and I had resources sitting on my map for hundreds of years going unused because:

  1. I’m honestly not sure whether there’s even a benefit to grabbing yet another resource of tea or cows. In previous games, this information was presented clearly and unambiguously. “Build a pasture = +1 Production.” It’s a no-brainer, even if I had a billion cows already. And even though I never build mounted units, except the occasional Knight, I have dozens upon dozens of horses.
  2. The map makes it terribly unclear whether the resource has been improved or not.
  3. And never freaking mind searching the map for non-descript icons washed in the hideous brown of the Fog of War to see if there is some coal or oil I could grab. Who on the development team came up with that? “Hey, let’s wash the entire Fog of War in shit.” “What do you mean?” “I mean let’s take all the color and replace it with the color of shit.” “Wow! You deserve a promotion!”

Civilization V was a bloody mess at launch, too. It was, in fact, the last game that I bought on launch day, until Dragon Age: Inquisition came along and reminded me keenly why I stopped buying games until they’d been patched a few times. After lots of patches and a few expansions, Civilization V proved to be an excellent game–my favorite in the series, though I think I have fonder memories of IV. If you take my advice and add some new currencies to actually give value to these districts besides making them pointless gateways to other buildings, then I think Civilization 6 could go on to rival Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword. And fix the Fog of War. It’s ridiculous.

But that’s all the Districts are now: gateways that determine what type of buildings can and can’t be built in a city. They’re methods of forcing specialized cities onto the player, even though nothing was done to curve the awesome power of Production–and thus every city gets an Industrial district and becomes specialized not in Culture but Industry & Culture, not in Military but Industry & Military, and not in commerce but Industry & Commerce. It’s a gimmick that limits what the player can do, rather than giving the player new ways to improve.

And that is the very definition of “bad game design.”

 

 

Publishers, Developers, and Consumers–Don’t Be a Tool

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many areas, and there are many more serious places where I’ve seen this. The most serious one I’ve seen in recent years was in regard to NSA spying, where a horrifying 50% of Americans supported the NSA. They don’t realize, it seems, that in life it is a matter of us versus the government, and that they have clearly not sided with “us.” Which is particularly odd, because they are a member of “us.” It doesn’t really matter if one personally approves of the NSA or not–that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not part of the government; you’re part of the people, and you should side with the people. It’s really that simple.

In regard to video games, I’ve noticed an alarming tendency of gamers to take the side of developers and publishers. This comes in many forms. The one I’m dealing with now is that I am being blamed for what is clearly a glitch in Final Fantasy VI on PC: http://plays.tv/s/Kbq334Jv4lmP

Let’s just think for a moment. After I made a post in the Steam forums discussing how much I love Final Fantasy VI and how easy it would have been for Square-Enix to make me give it a 10, and pointed out that I simply can’t do that now, the responses I got met one of a few clear types:

  • It’s your hardware/drivers.
  • You don’t meet the system requirements.
  • Don’t go looking for glitches and bugs, and this won’t happen.
  • Why would you give this version a 10 anyway?
  • Go away.

It’s primarily the first that I want to focus on, because that is the go-to response we get from developers and publishers any time there is an issue with their game. Nevermind that this is almost completely irrelevant to a game that doesn’t use 3D Hardware Acceleration because it’s a 2D sprite game with everything pre-rendered. The System requirements for the PC version of Final Fantasy VI are laughable:

  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 8.1 
  • Processor: Pentium 4 2.4 GHz 
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM 
  • Storage: 950 MB available space

Does anyone out there truly believe that I’m not sporting something superior to a Pentium fucking 4 and 2 GB of RAM? As it happens, I’m running on an AMD six-core at 4.2 GHz. For that matter, I’m in the town of Zozo. Do people seriously believe that I made it 4 hours into the game with invisible sprites, CTDs, and other major issues, and just suddenly decided I couldn’t handle it anymore? Did it seriously occur to no one that this is an issue that just appeared, and that drivers and hardware therefore cannot be the issue in this pre-rendered sprite-based game?

They’re parroting that response at me because that is what they’ve been trained to say–and they don’t realize it, because humans are very easy to train, especially when they don’t realize that it’s happening.

A few years ago, I watched a friend be trained by his Ford vehicle to use his seatbelt. It used an irritating sound that went off any time the vehicle was cranked and the seatbelt wasn’t clicked, until he finally got to the point where he fastened his seatbelt first thing upon entering any vehicle. He had been trained. Thankfully, he did realize that he had been trained, but we aren’t usually aware of how we’re being trained.

When you contact a developer or publisher to tell them you have a problem, their response will always be a request for you DXDiag, a reinstallation of Runtimes and other packages, as they do everything possible not to fix the issue but to make you into the source of the problem.

This is, with almost 100% frequency, what I’m running into in regard to this glitch in Final Fantasy VI. It’s my fault; I did something wrong. I, the owner of an I.T. consultant firm, a VB.Net, Java, Python, Ruby, and C++ programmer, did something wrong. I, the person who once wrote his own drivers for the HD4350, did something wrong. It can’t possibly be that Square-Enix was just being Square-Enix and released a glitchy, buggy game prone to CTDs and game-breaking bugs.

I don’t blame them for this, to be clear. They aren’t bad people, and they aren’t really wrong; just misguided. They don’t see things for how they really are. In reality, there are two sides here: the consumers, and the suppliers. Know which side you’re on. Because even if you disagree with the other consumers, they are doing things that will benefit you.

Emulation rights is a great example. I know tons of people who are against emulation and blatantly conflate it with piracy, shown here:

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

Consumers have already fought this battle–we fought it in the 80s when VHS gave us the right to record broadcasts and view them at a later time of our own choosing. The courts basically decreed that publishing meant “to make public,” and that, by publishing, the publisher relinquishes most of their rights over it. This makes… total fucking sense, and that it makes sense is the reason I continue to be surprised the judges made that ruling.

It’s like if I wanted to stand on a street corner performing with my acoustic and singing–if someone wanted to record it to watch later, what the fuck right would I have to stop them? None at all. If I’m doing something publicly then it’s largely up to the public what they do with it.

No emulation is not closely associated with piracy–it’s only so associated by fuckwits like you, Fish-E, who can’t think without the publisher’s permission to have a given thought. You have the legal right to modify your games in whatever way you want in order to make them playable in a way that is convenient for you. We fought for and kept that right in the 80s. Try to keep up. Ripping a game to your computer to play it with an emulator is absolutely no different from recording a broadcast through VHS. What you’re saying is, “Because some people use VHS tapes to make illegal copies of movies, VHS itself is associated with that, and deserving of a ban for discussing.”

No, you fucking moron, and you don’t get to conflate two disparate concepts like that. We have different words for them for a reason. “Emulation” and “piracy” are different things. That’s why we have two different words–to describe these two different things.

As it happens, I’m in favor of both, and fuck the publishers and developers. I’m not here to make EA, Square-Enix, Ubisoft, and WB money. I’m here to enjoy my life.

I will not:

  • pay full price for an incomplete game. See Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim GOTY Edition.
  • pay for a game that I don’t know works correctly. See Civilization 5, Final Fantasy VI.
  • pay more for a game than I think it is worth.

I happen to use piracy largely to try out games, as glorified demos. I never felt that Skyrim was worth $60, plus the price of all that DLC. It had too many problems: it was shallow–oh, so shallow–glitched, bugged, and barely working. I paid $40 for the GOTY Edition not too long ago, and I feel it was worth that.

Last year, I paid $60 for Dragon Age: Inquisition on launchday, even though it cost $10 more than it had any right to cost, in what was clearly a bald cashgrab by EA. It almost the last on-or-near-launch-day purchase I’ve made. Since, I’ve bought a few other games on or near launch day, but, curiously, they are all Nintendo products. Nintendo, I have not and will not pirate your games until you give me a reason to, and I say with a sincere clap and genuine approval that you have never given me a reason to.

I’ll get into the problems with Dragon Age: Inquisition–like the fact that Bioware evidently doesn’t know what an “inquisition” is–one day. For now, let’s just say that purchase bit me in the ass, and that I did not get $60 of entertainment out of that World of Warcraft Wannabe. Prior to that, Bioware was one of the few companies whose games I wouldn’t pirate, because I knew that I was going to get a high-quality product. Dragon Age: Inquisition destroyed that faith.

So if developers want people to stop pirating their games and to stop waiting for GOTY Editions to purchase them, then all they need to do is release working, complete products. Sectioning off parts of the game to sell later as DLC? Nope. Not gonna pay for something that should have been included in the game already. Nintendo has started doing that, with Mewtwo being locked behind a paywall. The really messed up part of this is that you already have the characters and stages if your game is updated–you’re just not allowed to use them until you pay Nintendo an extortion fee. That’s my issue with DLC and multiplayer: if something is on my system, you can’t fucking tell me that I can’t use it. Because at that point you did give it to me, whether you want to admit it or not, and I don’t give a fuck what legal shenanigans and word games you can play to convince another lawyer that you’re correct. I’m talking basic right and wrong here and simple ownership rights, and the fact is that you gave me that DLC in the last update.

The entire gaming industry is a FUBAR mess, and it’s not helping that a large portion of consumers have no idea that they’re being Uncle Toms for developers and publishers. With indie developers, I get it. They’re small studios, and they don’t have the cash flow to keep their studio going. But then you have them saying things like:

“Just pirate it,” Notch said in response to a fan who couldn’t afford Minecraft.

Team Meat actually presented the argument, as I am, that piracy is good for example–the indie studio behind Super Meat Boy. I’ve actually had multiple people bitch at me for using pirated versions of Minecraft and Super Meat Boy. That’s right–these people are such Uncle Toms that they’ll be an Uncle Tom even when the developer itself doesn’t give a shit. People bitch about me pirating Minecraft and hurting Mojang when, prior to being purchased by Microsoft, Mojang themselves didn’t give a shit.

lolwut

lolwut

These Uncle Toms remind me of this dumbass image. It is “extremely offensive”? To who? No one fucking worships Isis. And if they do, they’re retarded, so fuck them anyway. I laughed hard the first time I saw this image floating around Facebook as people expressed how “offended” they were on behalf of this non-existent deity that no significant portion of the population believes in.

Since we're getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now...

Since we’re getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now…

Yes, if you believe that Isis is a real goddess with an actual existence, you’re retarded, and fuck you. Of course, I’m an atheist and think this about most religious beliefs, but the pagan ones that dust off old, defunct gods and believe in them anew are definitely a bit more retarded than others.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a lot, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 is finished downloading. lol–I already had a pirated version. And I just bought it on Steam. Half of my purchases on Steam have been for games that I’ve already pirated. It’s just different to play a game legitimately. I don’t know why it is, but it is. Team Meat is correct; I am correct.

So know whose side your own. Are you an Uncle Tom? Or are you a consumer?

Long live the Pirate Bay.

Why Can’t Games Work?

I hate Apple products. I hate everything about Apple. But I’ve gotten a new appreciation for their old tagline of “It just works,” because… PC games don’t. It’s gotten to the point where I prefer reviewing Indie and low budget games for Cubed3, because they are so much more likely to work correctly than AAA games. It’s completely unacceptable. I’ve been saying for years that console gaming is fucking retarded because they’re nothing more than gimped, uncustomizable, unupgradeable PCs, but developers’ total inability to release working games on PC is really making me do a double-take at console gaming. Their games can be pretty fucked up, too, but it seems like PC has a higher “this game doesn’t work” rate.

I’m currently reviewing Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition for Cubed3, and I’ve gotten about 2 hours into the game. This isn’t the first time I’ve played Darksiders 2, but it is the first time I had to play it, to review it, and I’m not particularly excited about that because the non-definitive, and therefore inferior version that was sold for years, bored the fucking hell out of me. I never even got past the first world.

Detour: Definitive and Complete Editions

I recently purchased Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition on Steam for like $5. By all rights, this game shouldn’t exist. I remember when DLC was first discussed by PC gamers a decade ago, and we expressed the worry that they would release games as incomplete, and would then sell us DLC that completed them. Now they’re doing exactly that, and they’re not even trying to hide it. Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition means literally that everyone who purchased the game had to buy all the DLC to have a complete experience, and that’s not okay. DLC should complement the experience, not complete it.

We’re not arguing semantics here, because look at Batman: Arkham City and how the Catwoman sections were treated. Parts of the main story, critical to completion of the main story, were sectioned off and sold to players. We’ll come back to this topic one day, about why in the world developers think they’re entitled to be paid twice for one copy of a product, but for now let’s just bask in the glory that is the fact that we were sold an incomplete game for full price, and then had to buy shit on top of that if we wanted to complete it.

Complete Editions are tacit admissions that we’re getting fucked over, robbed, and cheated by games that are being sold to us incomplete. Definitive Editions are bald-faced admissions that we were, until this version, being sold an inferior product. None of this is okay. I don’t care how developers and publishers–and confused gamers who don’t understand whose side they’re on–think that this is okay. It’s not. Back to the main point.

Ah, That New Game Smell

A few weeks ago, I was looking into starting my YouTube channel for DiMezzo Gaming–and I’m still going to do that, but it’s going to be a little while. I don’t want to launch too many things at once. The first video will be me standing there. Something shorts out off-camera, electricity buzzes are heard, and then grey-black smoke wafts upward. I wave the smoke into my face with a gesture, close my eyes, and euphorically say, “Ah… That new game smell…” I’m still going to make this video, but it’s going to be a few weeks. Between house shopping, car shopping, reviewing for Cubed3, talking with literary agents, launching this site, and running my I.T. firm, I’m a tad busy right now and can’t devote the time to YouTube that would be warranted by opening a channel.

It was Tomb Raider that spurred this idea, though I don’t recall now what issues I was having with it. Oh, yeah, I do. It wouldn’t run for more than ten minutes. The framerate steadily dropped until it was running at 10 frames per second. Despite my joking about framerate, I actually do care a bit about it. But it’s consistency that I care about, and it doesn’t really matter to me if a game runs at 30 or 60 frames per second–as long as it is stable at that rate. Tomb Raider (I’ll update this post when my Cubed3 review is posted; it’s with the editors right now, and they’ve got quite a backlog of reviews from me) is not stable.

Mega Man Legacy Collection was completely unplayable, showing me only a black screen and what might have been a Wingdings font in white. Research indicated that installing a particular Windows 7 update would resolve the problem–and it did, but it should never have been necessary. I intentionally refrain from updating my Operating System; I own a tech firm, after all, and no one has seen more damage caused by Windows updates than I. Even with this update, it still crashes a lot.

Then there are games like They Bleed Pixels, which work flawlessly. And who could forget the legendarily awesome Super Meat Boy, which also works flawlessly? Even this stupid piece of shit works. There is also the glorious Orcs Must Die! 2, so incredible that it has spurred me to take part in my first-ever preview series. All of these games work.

Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition doesn’t, and it doesn’t seem that I’m the only person with this problem. I have no idea what’s causing it; it did work just fine. But now it doesn’t. So you can imagine what kind of review the game is going to get. I show no mercy to games that don’t work, and Darksiders 2 was never particularly good in the first place. I held nothing back on SDK Paint, and I’ll hold nothing back on Darksiders II. Because the asinine argument about hardware and software types making compatibility a problem is not valid and has not been valid since 1999.

We have two types of CPU, two types of graphics card, 3 types of RAM (that matter: ddr2, ddr3, and ddr5), and one type of sound device. Everyone is sporting AMD/AMD or Intel/Nvidia. I’m in the former group; I love me some AMD. But hardware is no longer an issue, and it hasn’t been in a very long time.