In 2006 and in conjunction with the BBC, UK based Red Redemption launched Climate Change, a browser-based strategy game in which players takes on the fictional role of the President of the “European Nations” and try to impede global warming. The game is a clear predecessor to Red Redemption’s latest release, Fate of the World. A strategy game in a similar vein as Climate Change, players in Fate of the World lead the Global Environmental Organization (GEO), the fictional body that manages all the chaotic political economies of the planet. Overcoming the regional and global problems that beset mankind demands a heightened mastery of the game system and enough patience to withstand increasingly severe and widespread dilemmas. Fate of the World is far from easy, and its difficulty offers its own unique risks and rewards.
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Chapter 2: “I FEEL ASLEEP!!”—Guard, Metal Gear
“Shit,” Randal whispered to himself. “What the hell?” He wiggled the analog stick on his wireless game controller, pressed all four colored buttons and pulled all four triggers. His avatar wouldn’t move. She just stood there. He wondered if it might be the batteries, but no, he could still bring up the console’s menu screen. It looked like the game had frozen. They hadn’t had a game-freezing bug in over a month, and a new one this close to shipping meant someone was going to get their ass handed to them. He made a note in his log and turned off and then restarted his machine. Then, for the first time in too many hours, he stood up, stretching his arms above his head, cracking knuckles, and exposing a sliver of white, not too terribly flabby belly below his logo-free, plain blue t-shirt. Looking at the clock on his PC on the desk next to him, he exhaled a long breath. 5:30 was quitting time in most of the world. Not here of course, not this month. It was crunch time, and he’d only been here nine hours, the day was hardly getting started and free pizza wouldn’t arrive until 7:00.
He checked his office e-mail, leaning over the back of his chair and poking at the keyboard. Memos, meetings, jokes, alerts. The usual. He unclipped his phone from his belt and checked his personal mail. More alerts, more jokes. Something from Adult Friend Finder listing 35 hot singles in his area. He opened that and scrolled through quickly, but none of the new faces caught his eye. He winced inside when he saw one of the familiar ones and erased the e-mail. He took the time to confirm in Outlook that he would in fact be attending tomorrow morning’s optional (but not actually optional at all) Production Feedback Meeting, or “bitch session” as everyone referred to it outside of company e-mail threads. He glanced back at the console and saw that the game was back up and ready to go. At least it no longer mattered to him exactly how long it took the machine to boot. His first job in the industry had been as a day-hire, sitting in a lab with a stopwatch turning Xboxes on and off over and over again and timing how long it took them to fire up and load Halo. Somewhere in the building there were probably poor shlubs doing something just as brain-numbing for $8 an hour, but he wasn’t one of them anymore.
Just like any game, conversation can be a pleasure, but you need to consider a few basic rules, boundaries, and the like in order to effectively achieve goals—for one, not alienating the other “players”.
Which is one of the things that I like about the Dragon Age series, its ability to integrate having a conversation into the gaming experience itself. While Bioware’s other series, like Mass Effect, also create a game-like quality to conversation itself, that other series tends to isolate conversation, favoring developing relationships with characters on a one-on-one basis.
So, in case you haven’t heard, they’re all bisexual.
You may also have heard that the romantic subplots of Dragon Age II are somehow dominating the discourse surrounding the game, presumably directly after whether it’s any good or not. (To which the answer is no—and yes. See my review for more.) This, too, might have been predicted considering the extent to which BioWare RPGs often get discussed with respect to their romances, but in this debate surrounding this release, we find a curious intersection between issues of systems and mechanics and issues of writing. To whit, is Dragon Age II “punishing” the player for rebuffing a romance he doesn’t want, and do we as players need to get over our search for happy, equitable solutions?
One of the great strengths of a game like Dragon Age is that it wisely shied away from strictly good or evil choices with a few exceptions (I think it is safe to say that letting a demon keep possession of a child is probably an evil choice, for example). The world of Dragon Age thrives on grey areas for your Grey Warden to find himself navigating, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the various political situations that seem to get in the way of stopping that whole “Blight” thing that seems so urgent. It is a cynical view of a cynical business, and where the game really shines is in its absolute refusal to give you any one safe choice. These aren’t paragons of virtue; they’re generally people with goals that may seem noble but are really just interested in plays for power or else they are despicable people who happen to have noble goals. As a disclaimer here, I should explain that I played through the game as a dwarven commoner, and that particular origin influenced at least one of my decisions a good deal more than I thought it ever could.