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Thursday, Feb 4, 2010
It's the perfect example of casting to type for great effect, and it's why you pay extra for star power.

Yes, I’m blogging about Mass Effect 2 again. And I probably will next week too. I played through the whole game in four days, mostly in one very long Friday session of about 12 hours. I love this game, and I think it does a lot of interesting things, some of them maybe even ground breaking. Casting famous actors in lead roles is not by any means ground breaking and, indeed, might in some cases be seen as more of a publicity stunt than an artistic choice. Or maybe just a way for game developers to hang out with their favorite sci-fi celebs (I’m looking at you, Halo ODST using the cast of Firefly). Of course I have no idea how much publicity-minded planning played into casting Mass Effect 2, but I do know that some of those decisions had strong effects on how I experienced and even played the game.


There are a ton of sci-fi film and TV stars in Mass Effect 2, and I think they all do fine work. I’m concentrating here on those performances that made a difference for me in how I played the game or at least how I perceived it’s story. I know that one should take each performance on its own merits and not let past, unrelated efforts influence my impression of the piece at hand, but come on, that’s not how people work for the most part. Many stars are stars precisely because they bring along some good will and associations with them from role to role. Daniel Day Lewis manages to disappear completely into his characters, but he’s a rare talent. George Clooney, on the other hand (who I like a lot), knows how to expertly exploit his own range and tweak the overall feeling of a cool, confident, leading man to match the needs of his current film. When you cast him in a movie, you do so knowing that he brings a lot of presence to the characters that a director then doesn’t have to work quite so hard to establish.


Tagged as: mass effect 2
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Thursday, Jan 28, 2010

I’m now deep into Mass Effect 2, and so far, I’m liking it a lot. I played the first game release week as well and liked it fine at the time, but I replayed it recently and enjoyed it more the second time around. I think in part that was because I was more familiar with the fictional world that Bioware has created for its sci-fi series. The more I knew, the more engrossing the story became. With that experience in mind, I decided to read the novel, Mass Effect: Ascension before diving into the new game. I’ve only read a handful of video game novels, but I liked that the author Drew Karpyshyn was also a designer on the game because it signaled to me that the book’s events were likely to be fully integrated into the canon of the games.


Mass Effect: Ascension takes place in between the events of the first and second games and features as one of its main characters Kahlee, who also featured in the other Mass Effect novel, Revelation. Here she finds herself at a facility for training young Biotics (those with psychic powers) and is particularly focused on a young girl named Gillian, who is autistic and has the potential to be a powerful Biotic.


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Friday, Jan 22, 2010
DiRT 2 is a racing sim that does everything it can to appeal to the Burnout crowd.

There has always been a divide between fans of racing games. One side prefers racing sims like Gran Turismo, which emphasize the technical details of racing; the other side prefers arcade racers like Burnout, which emphasize speed and have a low learning curve. But the past few months have seen two racing sims come out that try to make the experience more enjoyable for those that prefer the arcade style: Forza Motorsport 3 and DiRT 2. Despite the similar features in each, and the bevy of assists in Forza 3, I believe DiRT 2 does the better job appealing to gamers of my ilk, who have always preferred Burnout over pretty much everything else.


The setting helps. By taking races off their enclosed concrete tracks, the tracks feel less formal. Yes, they are still enclosed, but there’s a rebelliousness to racing on the dirt, mud, and gravel as if Dirt 2 is upping the ante on other racing games. This feeling is reinforced by sporadic puddles and ramps. This isn’t your everyday race track; you’re fighting the environment just as much as the other racers. It doesn’t immediately look like the kind of race that would demand precision braking, it looks more accessible. Driving though such an obstacle course is fun in its own right, so even if a rookie is in last place there’s still enjoyment to be had. Never underestimate the allure of a ramp.


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Thursday, Jan 21, 2010

Dark Void ships this week, and for a certain kind of person (science geeks like me) one of the big selling points, aside from the jet packs, is that it includes famed genius inventor Nikolai Tesla as one of its main characters. The sad thing is, like Leonardo Da Vinci in Assassin’s Creed 2, Tesla is shunted off into a supporting role, the genius inventor who creates all the cool gear that the heroes use to fight evil. Sure, Ezio’s a cool cat and fun to play, but when do these inspired inventors get their time to shine? While Half-Life‘s Gordon Freeman is nominally a research scientist, not only does he not talk, we also don’t see him doing much science. But I think that the world is ready for the brains behind the bad-ass gear to lead the fight. We’ve got Iron Man‘s Tony Stark out there blazing the trail in comics and movies and people like the Mythbusters doing it in real life.


I’ve put together a list of some real world scientists and inventors who deserve games all on their own, people who’s historical lives were as interesting as Tesla’s or Da Vinci’s and who would offer thrills and chills aplenty for any gamer.


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Friday, Jan 15, 2010
Dragon Age: Origins improves the oft maligned mechanic of random battles in a way that improves the RPG experience rather than breaking it.

Role-playing games have changed greatly over the years. They’ve become more accessible, more forgiving, and more popular. One of the more radical changes to the genre has been the elimination of random battles. In most modern RPGs, players can see their enemies, monsters exist in the actual game world instead of an imaginary battlefield, and the genre is better for it. In retrospect, the random battle was a terrible mechanic, frustrating, relentless, and ever-present; they were a chore. So, it’s surprising that they play such a major role in Dragon Age: Origins, many gamers’ pick for the best RPG of 2009. Instead of just removing this annoying mechanic, Dragon Age: Origins twists it into something new and better, something that improves the RPG experience rather than breaking it.


Random battles never happen when you’re in control of your character, only on the world map. You get your first look at the world map a few hours into the game. It’s a literal map, with places of interest highlighted, and when you select a destination, a trail of blood droplets fall onto the paper that mark your progress across the country. This is the only time a random battle can occur: the drops stop, you hear swords clash, and you enter the battlefield. By confining these fights to the world map, Dragon Age ensures that they never become the annoying interruption that most people remember. They only happen when we’re inactive, when we’re watching instead of playing. This also encourages exploration, since we’re free to run around any environment as much as we like without fearing a constant barrage of unseen enemies.


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