Monday, February 18, 2013

Disclosure Alert, Week 1

I mentioned in my last post I was doing a Let's Play of Alpha Protocol with a couple of friends. I think I'm going to be doing weekly posts about the LP and AP in general, although I haven't decided Mondays or Fridays yet. In any case, here's the first one!

AP is an interesting game. In the last episode of the past week, Yancy spends most of the episode in a tutorial - for dialogue. Not many games have a dialogue system that could even attempt to take that long explaining it.

Most of Alpha Protocol's mechanics are uninspired at best and totally broken at worst, and the terrible port doesn't make it any better (NO HOTKEYS?), but the dialogue mechanics are what drew me to the game in the first place. The game becomes all about manipulating others' opinion of you to get them to act in a certain way.

Many games have dialogue mechanics where dialogue choices serve as tools to overcome an obstacle rather than just progression through the story, but very few of them encourage deliberately manipulating characters in all your interactions with them throughout the entire game in the same way as Alpha Protocol does.

In any case, stay tuned to to see the episodes as they come up! (The first of this week's episodes should be coming out sometime this afternoon)

Friday, February 15, 2013

What I'm Working On

Hey everyone, Aldowyn here. So this post is meant as an update on everything that I'm currently working on and as an introduction for new followers (Hi new followers!)

The main places you can find me are currently here (although I should post more, I'm currently going for one content post a week) and on twitter. I do have a youtube channel as well, but I don't currently have anything going on. There's a few other places you might run in to me - if you see someone named Aldowyn, it's probably me, feel free to ask! Actually, feel free to ask in general - if you have a question you'd like to ask me, just send me something on twitter or leave a comment here!

As for a bit of personal information, I'm a current college student aspiring to become a game designer. I enjoy pretty much every type of game, but the ones I enjoy analyzing the most tend to be RPGs, especially dialogue and character heavy ones. I'm especially interested in mechanics that attempt to model complex social interactions, which also show up in strategy games like Civilization, Crusader Kings II, and the upcoming At The Gates (more on that one later, for now I'll just recommend you check out the kickstarter.)

My main active project at the moment is a Let's Play called Disclosure Alert, which is on Youtube at the channel DisclosureAlertShow. It's a multiple-host Let's Play of Alpha Protocol with a couple friends of mine, anaphysik and newdarkcloud, modeled after Shamus Young and co.'s Spoiler Warning. We're currently on a short, school-mandated break (4 tests in 8 days, sorry!) right after our first week. Check it out if you're interested in branching RPG and dialogue mechanics, seeing me surrounded by trolls, or if you're bored and want something new to watch.

I was also on a podcast recently with GameCritHulk and others (including newdarkcloud) where we repeatedly sighed and complained and otherwise talked about various corporate failures over the preceding week. You can find that here.

As far as upcoming projects, I have a video series on game design that is in the works, although I can't actually get it out until I have a decent set of headphones with a good microphone. I don't have much to add other than what is already seen on my previous blogpost on the project. I also have an XCOM series currently only at the idea stage, again waiting on a chance to get a decent microphone, which you can read about (and volunteer for) here.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Editorial: Day 1 DLC

 Now, before I get started, I want to stress that this is an EDITORIAL. This is my opinion on the subject. Yours is probably different. Feel free to voice your own and critique mine, I'm sure it's got its own logical fallacies somewhere.

Kotaku published an article earlier today with the headline 'Dead Space 3 has 11 Pieces of Day One DLC', and the subtitle 'Start saving those pennies, folks'. Now, at this point a lot of people are already raging. "DAY ONE DLC, RAAAGE, WHY ISN'T IT PART OF THE GAME BLAHBLAHBLAH". The implicit (and sometimes explicit) connotation is that day one DLC is somehow 'ethically wrong'.

I disagree. It CAN be, but it isn't inherently. DLC, especially Day 1 DLC, should be 'extra', and not required in the main game. Just because it was done before the game was released doesn't automatically mean it HAS to be sold with the game itself. What would make a game with Day 1 DLC different than a game made by a slower team who made the same DLC after release? You're not buying their time and effort before launch, you're buying a product that you reasonably expect to be complete. Of course, you have to define 'complete', so let's do that.

The problem arises when the DLC is not 'extra', when it's a core part of the main game. This is (supposedly) the difference between Zaeed from Mass Effect 2 (who I recall very few people complaining too vociferously about), and Javik from Mass Effect 3, whose non-inclusion in the base game actually caused some people to boycott the game. (Controversy started early with Mass Effect 3). People thought Javik would 'complete' the themes, narrative, or whatever of the game, and thus people thought he should have been on the main disc. I'll agree with that sentiment. (Assuming he IS vital to the game, but that's another topic)

The way I see it, there are two main types of DLC (possibly more but I'm only discussing two). One is purely game-y stuff - like the weapon packs both Dead Space 3 and ME2 and 3 have. The other is 'actual' new content, like most of the DLC for Skyrim or the story-based DLC in the Mass Effect series.

As for the first, I think it's fine to leave that out of the game as long as it's not designed to be an integral part of the game. It's easy to have weapons that are a little OP or offer some slightly different pros and cons than those in the base game and not miss them at all in the base game. It's also definitely possible to have a game that's unreasonably difficult or limiting without the progression those weapons provide. Most F2P microtransaction models work on this principle - totally fair in a F2P game, since that's how they make money, but in a game you've already paid for, weapons like this should only be to provide you with an 'extra edge'.

The second is dodgier. There's a much fuzzier line between 'extra' and 'necessary' content with new mechanical and story content, since in either case they should be integrated into the content already present. Many people were extremely upset with Javik's exclusion from the main game because they believed he would be quite important to the progression of the main plot, while Zaeed was quite obviously totally extra.

In any case, my point in all of this is that it's not as black and white as many people seem to think it is. You are NOT obligated to everything that is developed before release. You're obligated to a finished product. If the exclusion of Day 1 DLC content makes the game not work properly, mechanically or narratively or whatever, THEN it's 'wrong'. Otherwise... get off your high horse. You don't have to buy it (the game or the DLC) if you don't want it.

P.S. I know all this Dead Space 3 stuff is making people mad, especially all put together, but I have yet to see something that is GUARANTEED to make the game unplayable without it, or even inferior. If the balance is the way it SHOULD be, then all this extra stuff should be essentially OP while allowing you to have a normal balanced experience without getting any of it.

That said, it's very possible for them to go the F2P route where it's almost impossible to advance without buying new content, but I hope they aren't THAT dumb. We can also hope they don't make it particularly intrusive. I will admit it's pretty much impossible to tell ahead of time, but this is prime 'vote for your dollar' territory. Assuming you actually want to play DS3, go buy it, and then if it turns out they DID screw up the balance, make a stink and get a refund instead of buying the extras. They'll pay attention.