Coffee Talk #318: Random Thoughts on Dragon Age II

My Dragon Age II review has been submitted to Machinima, but I wanted to take some space to discuss the game with all of you. I also wanted to post random (and sometimes stupid) observations that…

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, Sony possibly getting GeoHotz’s PayPal records, the Verizon Thunderbolt going on sale today, or the Chicago Bulls chances of winning a championship, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

My Dragon Age II review has been submitted to Machinima, but I wanted to take some space to discuss the game with all of you. I also wanted to post random (and sometimes stupid) observations that were not appropriate for a proper review. So let’s get to it! Here are a bunch of scattered thoughts on Dragon Age II. Spoilers ahead!!!

– I fought the temptation to name my character Ethan. This would have made him Ethan Hawke. In my head, people in Thedas would constantly ask him, “What was it like boning Uma Thurman?” Instead, my rogue was named RPad Hawke and my warrior was named Raymond Hawke. I’m planning to play as a female mage for my third run. I’ll most likely name her Ether Hawke, which plays on Ethan Hawk and is a tribute to dear friend.

– A lot fanboys have complained about the game’s story, saying that it’s too small. I think those people are idiots. Certainly this chapter of Dragon Age is more focused and centers on Hawke’s adventure in Kirkwall. Taking away some of the freedom of the original allowed for tighter storytelling. Furthermore, this focused tale has expanded the world of Dragon Age. It’s obvious that something bigger is in the works. Flemeth is on the loose. The conflict between mages and templars is worse than ever. The chantry is searching for the Hero of Ferelden (Dragon Age: Origins) and the Champion of Kirkwall (Dragon Age II). I’m expecting something grand when it all comes together. Hopefully there’s room for the Scourge of Antiva, the Vixen of Orlais, and That Guy from Seheron.

– There are a lot of English, Irish, and Scottish accents in Kirkwall. In my head, I kept hearing WWE Sheamus. He hangs around The Hanged Man pub and threatens people by screaming, “Buy me a drink or I’ll kick you in the Kirkwalls, fella!”

– The game’s characterization is topnotch and the banter between companions is brilliant. The writers did a wonderful job at making you lust for the pirate wench (Isabela), shake your head at the innocent mage that plays with blood magic (Merrill), want to slap the ex-slave (Fenris) for being a dick, and more. The most impressive characterization was the 180 the writers did with Anders. He was fun, foppish wise-cracking sidekick in Dragon Age: Origins Awakening. Although he still spouts a sharp joke every now and then, circumstances have made him darker and brooding. His actions in the game’s third act were shocking. You wouldn’t have thought that the guy you met in Awakening would be capable of doing what he did in Dragon Age II, but the writers did a fine job and making it believable.

– There are a lot of bisexual characters in Dragon Age II. Most of the companions with romance trees can be courted by male or female “Hawke” characters. I applaud BioWare for allowing numerous heterosexual and homosexual romances for different kinds of gamers. It’s modern and progressive. That said, I’m a bit surprised that the company didn’t keep pushing the envelope to allow for an incest angle between the Champion and his sibling. Hell, Marvel did it in Ultimates.

– It was great seeing so many characters from the first game and Awakening. Alistair, Zevran, Leliana, Flemeth, Bodahn, Sandal, Nathaniel, and several others appearances. Some other characters are mentioned by name in the dialogue. One of my favorite lines was the bartender talking about the dwindling pigeon population in Ferelden, which was obviously the work of pigeon-stomping golem Shale from Origins. It was cool that Alistair could be a king or a drunk depending on the choices you made in the first game. It was fantastic learning about Flemeth’s contingency plan. DA2 had a lot of great nods to gamers that played the original.

– Speaking of Sandal, I think I’m going to join the growing number of Sandal conspiracy theorists. There’s something about this enchantment-inducing dwarf with a (supposed) mental disability that’s…not quite right. It’s funny how he was in the middle of the madness at Ferelden and Kirkwall. It’s funnier that when nobody is around, he can dispatch a horde of darkspawn through a method he describes as “not enchantment”. He’s off to Orlais next, so perhaps the third game takes place there…or perhaps he’s the maker, come back to the world to reshape it through a series of drastic events. Yeah. That makes the most sense.

– I honestly think all the people bitching about this game are doing it just to bitch. It’s a great RPG. I’m going to play it at least four times. I don’t do that with bad games. Yet if you believed everything you read on the Internet, this is the biggest affront to Western RPGs in the last decade. It’s not a perfect game, but I think it’s getting unfairly knocked because it’s more accessible than the original and some hardcore gamers can’t stand change. I also think it’s getting knocked because it’s from BioWare; if the same game came out and it was made by a different developer then fans and critics alike would be heaping praise on it.

Anyway, those are some random thoughts on the Dragon Age II. I’ll post my “real” review when it runs on Machinima. For now, let’s chat it up (please)!

Coffee Talk #317: Bothersome Review Minutiae and You

What do you guys and gals think of missing small details in reviews? Do they ruin the review for you? Is it irrelevant since it has nothing to do with reviewer’s opinion on the game?

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, Rihanna’s hotness, your favorite chicken wings, or your favorite Little Rascal, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

A couple of weeks ago, RPadholic bsukenyan sent me a link to a Pokemon Black/White review. It contained a small comment that made me dismiss the review, even though it had nothing to do with the review’s quality. Check it out:

Somebody at Game Freak must love bridges because there are numerous huge bridges to cross.

Hardcore Pokemon fans know that Game Freak director Junichi Masuda is a bridge otaku. He completely lit up when I asked him about his fascination with bridges during an interview I did for G4tv.com. I don’t expect most gamers to know about Masuda’s love of bridges, but between a writer and an editor, this stupid line should never have made it to the review.

More recently, I read this review of Tactics Ogre. It also had a line that made me wince:

On the surface Tactics Ogre looks like any other tactical RPG (with an uncanny resemblance to Final Fantasy Tactics), with grid-based, turn-by-turn combat featuring a multitude of classes and weapons.

An uncanny resemblance to Final Fantasy Tactics?!? I don’t see what’s so uncanny about it. Before Yasumi Matsuno’s team made Final Fantasy Tactics, they made the Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle. He directed, designed, and wrote all of those games. The art and music teams were largely the same. It’s uncanny for a small development team to make games that resemble each other? Really?!?

In both cases, the lines had nothing to do with the reviewer’s opinion on the game. As a huge fan of both series and developers, the lines made me think less of the reviewer and editor. What do you guys and gals think of missing small details in reviews? Do they ruin the review for you? Is it irrelevant since it has nothing to do with the reviewer’s opinion? Kindly share your thoughts in today’s Coffee Talk!

Insomniac’s Click Division Focuses on Mobile and Social

At SXSW 2011, Insomniac Games announced Insomniac Click, a division of the company that will focus on mobile and social games. Chief Creative Officer Brian Hastings called mobile and social gaming “a pragmatic necessity” in a recent blog post. It’s also telling that this announcement was made at SXSW instead of PAX East — a very shrewd move since the former draws a broad audience while announcing at the latter would have been preaching to choir.

Here’s more from Hastings on Insomniac Click:

Insomniac Games is proud to introduce our newest division: Insomniac Click. It is dedicated to creating new games for web and mobile platforms. Insomniac Click is an expansion of the company rather than a shift. With the exception of myself, everyone working in the group has been newly hired specifically for their expertise in this space. All our existing teams are still 100% dedicated to making unforgettable AAA console experiences with our proprietary blend of double rainbows and awesomesauce.

I’m thrilled about the move. I can’t wait to enjoy some Insomniac magic on the iPad 2 or on Facebook. Companies like Epic and id have raised the bar on mobile games, while BioWare is doing some fantastic work on Facebook. It’s fantastic that the companies we love on consoles are extending their reach to mobile and social platforms. They kind of have to…even though some people hate these platforms. Ha!

What do you think of Insomniac’s foray into the land of mobile and social gaming?

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Coffee Talk #315: Mobile & Social Games Are Like X-Men

During my GDC 2011 networking (i.e. drinking and talking with people), I noticed an irrational hatred for mobile and social games. There was a small, but vocal, percentage of people I spoke with that hate…

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, crazy earthquakes and tsunamis, the iPad 2 launch, or legal issues derailing Floyd Mayweather’s career, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

During my GDC 2011 networking (i.e. drinking and talking with people), I noticed an irrational hatred for mobile and social games. There was a small, but vocal, percentage of people I spoke with that hate this segment of gaming for no good reason. They were spread over a variety of jobs in the business too — developers, publishers, marketers, journalists, etc. After one fellow mentioned that he didn’t know why he hated mobile and social games, I replied, “So they’re like the X-Men? You hate and fear them for no reason?”

Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t like mobile and/or social games, that’s fine. The negative feelings I encountered were much more active than that — as if these kinds of games hurt the business or they weren’t “real” games. I really didn’t understand the sentiment. Why waste energy on actively hating mobile and social games? Isn’t it easier to focus on the games you like instead of expending negative energy? It seems silly to me.

Just to check myself, I wanted to get your thoughts on mobile and social gaming. Do you actively hate them? Do you not like them? Are you excited by the new and exciting things they bring to gaming? Or are they just kind of there and you ignore them? Share your feelings like a Care Bear and explain your stance (please)!

What Are You Playing This Weekend?

The Decision has been made! I’m going to hold off on playing Pokemon White. This weekend is all about Dragon Age II for me. I’ve only played a little over five hours and I’m loving it. Yes, I understand that a lot of features have been simplified in order to broaden its appeal, but I think that a lot of reviewers have blown things out of proportion. The gameplay is easier in some ways, simpler in others, but the storytelling and characterization are fantastic thus far. I’m curious to see if I’ll change my tune over the weekend.

How about you? What’s on your weekend playlist?

Coffee Talk #314: What’s the Hardest Game You’ve Played?

Imagine a verbal entertainer, some game designers, and some marketing guys drunkenly talking about games during GDC 2011. The topic of the most difficult game of all time comes up. Some guys bring up…

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, crying with the Miami Heat, Lady Gaga dropping her Target deal because of LGBT issues, or Yemen, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Imagine a verbal entertainer, some game designers, and some marketing guys drunkenly talking about games during GDC 2011. The topic of the most difficult game of all time comes up. Some guys bring up Ninja Gaiden, others mention Battletoads, and a few swear that nothing tops Mega Man 9.

Pretend you were hanging out in the group. What was the most difficult game you’ve every played? Did you enjoy the brutal difficulty? Or was it just pissing you off to the point that you had to win? Any of you ever hurt your hand because of a difficult videogame?

Coffee Talk #313: The Decision 2011

Two of my most wanted games of 2011 are out and I’m not sure which one I want to play first. I’m going to start one and give it my full attention…but which one?!? It’s time to make a LeBron James “The Decision”…

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, bi-winning, Charlie Sheen conquering new media, or discovering your Nexus S is actually a limited edition model, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

What a wonderful week for being a gamer. It’s so wonderful that I don’t know what to do. Two of my most wanted games of 2011 are out and I’m not sure which one I want to play first. In the red corner there’s Dragon Age II — the sequel to one of my favorite games this console generation and the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate (which I beat 18 times). In the blue corner there’s Pokemon White — the latest in a series of incredibly addictive RPGs with a ridiculously deep layer that most people don’t know about (so deep that I played Pokemon Pearl for more than 650 hours). I’m going to start one and give it my full attention…but which one?!? It’s time to make a LeBron James “The Decision” decision.

Big videogame releases overlap all the time, but I don’t remember the last time two games that I wanted this much were released in the same week. Has anything like that happened to you? Have you ever had to make a “The Decision” (I love using this term) about two of your most anticipated games? What were they? Which game won out? I can’t wait to hear your “The Decision” stories!