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We’re moving!

April 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Good news, everyone!

I discovered that I’ll be able to host a webpage through my internet provider – this will give me more flexibility in my blog, and more widgets available. I’m looking forward to using the Unity plugin to embed some games into my blog.

Head over to the new site at http://lyrisstudios.com/barry

I’m still cleaning it up, but I’ll keep adding more polish to it every day.

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Mass Effect 2

April 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m almost ready to start the endgame of Mass Effect 2. Finally. This game is long.

I decided that I’d explore all the content on hand – all missions available, all DLC, buy as much stuff as possible – but I’m ready to be done with it.

I think a big part of that is just that ME2 is so compartmentalized. Every mission is independent of every other mission, and can be taken in any order. On the one hand, this is great, allowing them to insert new content and for players to engage in that content however they want. On the other hand, it creates a situation where the galaxy doesn’t seem to reflect what I’ve done, and characters don’t really acknowledge past missions.

Sure, there are a lot of lines where characters have a passing reference to something they did before, but I’m thinking more of linear games where the sequence of events and the party composition are entirely controlled by the game. Where characters can say “I thought we’d be safe after clearing out that dungeon last week” because they know that, at this point of the game, you cleared out a dungeon last week.

Mostly, it gives the opportunity for more character arcs. I don’t really feel like Mass Effect 2 has character arcs. More like character lines – there’s a start point and an end point, with a loyalty mission connecting the two. Shepard doesn’t really have a great arc, either – his/her attitude can chance between two lines of the same conversation, if you go between Paragon and Renegade choices. Shepard’s main character arc is a literal arc, showing your progression in Paragon and Renegade points.

It’s still a good game, and I’m loving it, but there’s definitely still room for more structured, linear experiences in the RPG genre.

(I also managed to sequence-break once. I had an adventure in Project Overload, driving the Hammerhead around a base. Then, a few missions later, I landed on a planet and discovered the Hammerhead for the first time.)

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Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Tips

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve been playing quite a bit of Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode, and I have a few tips to share. All just based on my observations.


Credits Uber Alles

You can gain XP just by participating in multiplayer, but you can only advance so far. Level 20 isn’t an instant-win. Credits are your real measure of progression, so make sure your multiplayer efforts are designed to maximize your credits.

Focus on surviving Bronze challenges. If you can do that, see if you can survive through wave 6 of Silver. Once you start beating Silver, see if you can survive through wave 6 of Gold. But if you can’t survive that long, don’t feel bad about retreating to a lower difficulty. You’re just being smart and maximizing your effort-to-reward ratio.

Open Recruit Packs

Recruit Packs only come with low-quality items, but they come with a LOT of them. A Spectre Pack might grant you 10 consumable items and a level 3 boost. For the price, you can buy twelve Recruit Packs, which will give you 24 consumable items and 12 level 1 boosts.

The boosts aren’t as powerful, but the important thing is that you have a LOT of them. Enough to equip a boost in every match, and to equip the boosts you WANT, not just the ones you happen to have on hand.

Equip your equipment

In particular, ammo powers are great. I had a lot of fun with level 1 Disruptor ammo, which caused any Cerberus agent I tagged with my sniper rifle to go into electrified convulsions (and be easy prey to a follow-up shot).

Read your ‘Training’ power

Every race has a slightly different ‘Alliance Training’ power. Turians get weapon stability naturally, and others get more or less weapon damage and power damage. Make sure your race and class match your play style.

It’s okay not to shoot

In a recent match, my three teammates were repelling an attack, unleashing a hailstorm of bullets down a hallway. Rather than join in, I chose to turn around and watch our flank. It meant that for 30 seconds or so, I was just looking at walls, not shooting or using powers. And that’s okay. I trusted my teammates to handle the main fight.

You need a trick for more damage

On Silver and Gold, shooting your enemies in the torso just isn’t going to cut it. You need a trick to boost your damage. Maybe you focus on setting up or executing biotic combos or tech combos. Maybe you take a Revenant and maximize your close-range shredding, or learn to use a sniper rifle effectively so you can reliably hit the head. Even better, you might coordinate with a partner, such as an Asari locking a target with Stasis so a Krogan can line up a heavy melee hit.

Vanguards and Krogan become a liability, but you can work it out

Melee-focused classes love being in the thick of enemies, furiously lashing out with attacks. Unfortunately, this means that their shield can vanish in an instant, and once they fall, they’re in the middle of a horde of enemies. On Silver and above, this happens unacceptably quickly.

Learn your limits. If your team is effectively sniping targets from a window, you do not need to Biotic Charge down there and mix it up. If you’re dealing with a cluster of enemies, target your charge at weak targets and enemies on the edge of the cluster. It doesn’t help to bravely charge and kill a Geth Hunter if you place yourself right between two Geth Pyros.

A Krogan can be patient, softening approaching targets with their shotgun before finishing them off with a headbutt. Krogan are great at covering hallways, where enemies are funneled in a narrow line. In order to do this, they need to resist their urge to charge forward after a kill, but instead retreat back into position, ready to attack the next target that comes forward.

Also, don’t get locked in a single strategy. So many Vanguards just Charge>Nova>Charge>Nova. Learn to quickly assess the battlefield in that moment after a hit. If you don’t see a target in range, why Nova? If you’re in the thick of things, is there a way you can Charge away to safety?

 

I’m loving ME3 multiplayer because it rewards intelligence. Spend more time thinking and less time hammering buttons, and you’re on the road to success!

Journey

March 18, 2012 1 comment

I played through Journey this week, and then watched my wife play through it. It’s an amazing experience, and definitely one worth exploring.

The whole thing is a bait-and-switch, really. The gameplay – the journey – isn’t the point at all. The whole game is a construction designed to create a shared experience between two complete strangers. (And if you don’t play it online, you’re really missing the point.)

The journey of Journey is beautiful, but not particularly revolutionary: there are highs and lows, a tense climax, and a joyous conclusion. But what I’ll remember are the companions I met along the way, and the fact that we experienced these things together. We explored and experienced, uncovered mysteries together, sang joyously to each other as things went well, and chirped curiously as we uncovered strange new areas of our journey.

I don’t mean to discount the game design, though; it works by keeping the difficulty even and the progress steady. It’s hard to get more than a few seconds behind your partner, so it encourages you to stop and wait for them to catch up. And seeing that moment of loyalty – seeing someone standing and waiting for you, wanting to be with you before they continue – is very powerful.

My wife had a particularly good companion. I remember one moment, where an accident sent her flying far away, injured. Her companion was nowhere to be found, and for a moment I thought the two games had disconnected. But then we saw the little burst of light that indicated her companion was calling out to her, and spotted the little red shape in the distance. They rushed over to each other, and huddled together for warmth, making little calls to each other.

It really became emotional when she declared that she was ‘Bird’ and her companion was ‘Bell’. Giving the characters names made it more personal, as we excitedly commented on the game in progress – “Hi Bell!” “Is that Bell? It is!”

All this comes from a game with very limited ways to interact with your partner. There’s no text, no emoticons. There’s one button which lets you call out. Any communication you do is based on context – how close you are to your friend, how loudly and frequently you call out to them. That limitation is important; it just wouldn’t be the same if you were voice-chatting back and forth to solve the puzzles.

In conclusion, it’s definitely worth the $15. There have been some complaints about the length of the game – only about 2 hours – but any more length would just feel like filler. It really does make the best argument for holding games on the same level, artistically, as film: you pay your $15, sit down for two hours, and go through a carefully crafted series of emotions and experiences. Is Journey any less of a worthwhile use of your time, just because it asks you to hold a controller and explore its story at your own pace? Of course not.

Mass Effect

March 11, 2012 2 comments

It’s not going to happen, but think there’s room for a remake/update of Mass Effect 1. Give it the Mass Effect 2/3 combat system, maybe some hybrid between planet scanning and the Mako…

Mostly I just want to be able to take a character across all three games. I know I’ve chosen my camp with the PS3, but still, it almost feels…culturally important to have that continuity of character. Like if Lucasfilm said “Star Wars IV, V, and VI are coming to DVD and HD-DVD, and Star Wars V and VI are coming to Blu-Ray!” (Wait, Lucasfilm might actually do that.)

Alternatively, Bioware could give us an updated tool to create a character for the start of Mass Effect 2, including more decisions from ME1. Since the story is concluded now, they don’t need to hide which decisions are important or not anymore. Either that, or allow players to transfer a save file from ME1 on PC to ME2 on PS3; you sell more copies of Mass Effect, and that’s a win.

It’s all very unlikely to happen. And that’s sad.

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GDC 2012

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

GDC has an interesting feel for me this year.

It’s the first time I’m attending as a legitimate member of the games industry. Last year I was working for Kabam, but Kabam was still a foundling company with one game to its name, and I was new into the position of Community Manager, still with one foot in customer service. This year I’ve got a real position, I’m part of a hierarchy, I’ve got two years of CM experience. I actually have a niche where I can talk the language.

It’s the first time I’m attending and fairly satisfied with my career. Two years ago I was unemployed, and last year I was dissatisfied and looking for other options. This year I don’t feel the pressure to network, and if a party is too loud and just not my style, I can leave.

It’s the first time I’m attending casually. Previously, I took time off from work, or made special plans to attend. This year I’m working down the street, walking to the conference, and back, and not really making a big deal out of it.

It does look like I’ll be able to spend all of Friday at the conference, so I should be able to get one big dose of inspiration from GDC. That’s always important.

The Lorax and Mass Effect 3

March 6, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m seeing some parallels between recent big-media releases: The Lorax and Mass Effect 3. Both seem to be bending their ideals without necessarily breaking them. The Lorax, an environmental parable, is hawking SUVs, and Mass Effect, a deeply story-based and canon-focused game, is trickling out DLC weapons and items (which, by nature of their being optional, make it harder to define a ‘canon’ Mass Effect).

Not that I blame either property, but I do think it shows that the larger you grow, the more external pressures and obligations you have affecting your core identity.

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