The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Press control-C to cajole

Matt mentioned that he’s playing Dragon Age: Origins, and now I am, too. And I just played through a scene in the game that I thought was worth reporting:

So you come to this village that’s being attacked every night by waves of shambling undead; they emanate from the dark castle set on high cliffs above the town. Many villagers have been killed, and those who remain are huddled in the church. Everybody is freaked out and fatalistic. They think tonight’s attack is going to be the one that finally wipes them out. It’s grim.

So you promise to help, of course (and you need to get into that castle for your own reasons). But here’s where it gets interesting: Instead of fade-to-black and then the big fight, you spend the next portion of the game exploring town, convincing and cajoling villagers to help you:

  • The blacksmith wants to drown his sorrows in booze and wait for the end to come; you convince him to repair the village militia’s battered weapons instead.
  • Three selfish mercenaries have boarded themselves up in a house to ride out the attack; you browbeat them into the joining the fight.
  • A skilled archer is skulking in the shadows of the inn; he feels he has no stake in the battle. You uncover his secret and blackmail him into joining.
  • The knights remaining in the village want blessings of protection from the church. But in a twist, the church elder is all like, “Are you kidding me? Blessings won’t help them fight.” You convince her that anything that helps morale, even if it’s just an illusion, is essential.

And so on. There are supplies you can discover and traps you can lay. But here’s the important thing: You can fail at any of it! You can say the wrong things or overlook people altogether. Or you can choose to skip it all—to face the undead horde friendless and alone.

Rio Bravo or High Noon. It’s your choice.

The nuance and humanity of this section really surprised me. So did the flexibility. There was not the usual feel-good fait accompli; not all roads led to a band of brave villagers fighting at your side. You could pretty easily screw things up and alienate people!

And this whole complicated little episode is, of course, like 0.5% of this entire game. It’s still too early to render judgment, but so far, Dragon Age is on track to be the best-written, the subtlest, video game I’ve ever played.


Awesome David Bailey reference.

A reference FROM David Bailey, not a reference TO David Bailey.

(Robin knows which one I mean.)

I love the Rio Bravo/High Noon moral axis, and use it all the time.

(The answer is always, ALWAYS Rio Bravo.)

I hadn’t really considered looking into this, but now I’m intrigued…

Also, check out this preview of Heavy Rain:

The most interesting bit is near the beginning where ‘you’, as a parent, try and ‘fail’ at certain actions in order to make your kid feel better. Seems fascinating.

Michael Abbot had a really good take on the game, I thought. He is pretty critical, but just. Don’t get me wrong, fantastic game. The week it came out I pretty much disappeared, it felt like playing Baldur’s Gate all over again. BUT, if you really want subtly, then try Fallout 3. There is self-reference, critique, cultural commentary, and intertextuality. The time spent on Fallout and its expansasions, which are often critiques on the game itself, are some of the more interesting RPG playing I have ever done.

Hmm. I actually downloaded FL3 FO3 when it came out, but couldn’t get past the initial sequence, down in the vault. I was just too bored! And like Bioshock, the whole thing seemed so BLUNT.

I’ll give it another shot, though!

“…and its expansions, which are often cri­tiques on the game itself…”


Once you get out of the vault, the game really shines. It’s real glory is in the details and side quests. The main mission is pretty solid, but it is the little things make the FL3 world feel full.

Also: what you noticing about Dragon Age is definitely its glory. I always love how in certain circumstances, doing the good thing often made the situation more complicated. The moral high ground was not always the easiest.

Dragon Age is great, but I’m still frustrated by BioWare Morality Syndrome, where every “moral” choice is artificially constrained to ensure that neither choice is satisfying. It’s like they’re trying to hit you over the head with “there are no perfect solutions” but it always ends up making you feel like they forced you to choose between two arbitrary outcomes and then punished you no matter which one you chose.

That said, it’s nice to be killing dragons with swords and magic again.

Hahaha, I didn’t have the Bioware context to recognize that—that’s really funny. Lesson: “WE LIVE IN A FLAWED WORLD OF DISAPPOINTMENT.”

Tim Carmody says…

You know what would be awesome? A Bioware video game based on The Wire. Because that’s the exact same moral universe David Simon’s Baltimore is in! Also, the ability to work from multiple perspectives (cops, dealers, junkies, port workers, politicians, journalists) would be dynamite.

Oh hell, I would play the shit out of a David Simon video game. “You don’t get to win, shitbird! We get to win!”

Absolutely. If they gave it the Bioware treatment, it’d be better than Grand Theft Auto, Dragon Age, and those crummy Godfather and Sopranos games put together.

This is my favorite video game idea since Lego Hamlet. 🙂

Also, here’s the arc. You start out as a middle schooler in West Baltimore. (Essentially, you’re Michael.) You could hook up with a drug or stick-up crew, join the boxing gym, take a job at the docks (your aunt lives in SE) or end up in the police academy. Or you could hit the books, go to Hopkins or City College, and become a teacher, politician, or journalist. Or you could end up an addict, scraping to stay warm, get fed, get a fix.

And you can mix and match! You could be a cop (Kima) or dealer (Stringer) who goes back to school. As a cop, you could be like McNulty, Carver, Landsman, or Rawls. As a dealer, you could be like Prop Joe, Avon, Stringer, or Marlo. Moral possibilities abound!

It does seem that in the context of gameplay, unless you’re hankering for a tougher fight, the game is driving you toward Rio Bravo as well? The only BioWare game I’ve played to any great extent was Jade Empire, and I was disappointed with how they tried to hide the good vs evil morality as “order vs chaos”, and I found the moral options far from subtle. They were typically along the lines of:

You meet an old beggar. Do you:
* Give him a little gold
* Give him everything you have
* Kill him

It’s usually quite obvious whether you’ll get order XP or chaos XP for the choices. :

P.S.: Anyone care to explain why “Fallout 3” is abbreviated “FL3”? 🙂

Seen this trailer for the forthcoming game “Heavy Rain”? Looks like an inventive & evocative means to “storymaking” in gamespace.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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