Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Nudity in Games?

Is nudity in games needed or is it just there to attract attention?
If it is not in a game it takes maybe a month at the most for the nude patches to arrive.

In some games that feature the ability to change the equipment of characters there are some underwear models that represent the naked character. In most cases these models look simple if not ugly, for females they are mostly bikinis and speedos or boxer shorts for males. If they are only there to represent the character without special armour or clothing, they are sufficient but if there are sex scenes with those models it makes them look silly and it might kill the immersion into the world and characters. In a fantasy world that tries the mix a realistic medieval world with elements like magic and fantastic creatures bikinis look out of place imo. To have a nude model there instead is more realistic or the art department has to design more accurate underwear that might fit better into the time. Sex scenes in underwear however defeat the purpose because they show an adult act but make it more appropriate of younger gamers by not showing nudity, that makes no sense because the scenes, in most cases, are there just to attract that crowd in the first place.

Nudity always has a purpose, in most cases it is there to attract attention and get a specific target audience to watch that film or play that game. If that purpose it not there and nudity is just part of the normal game world it changes the matter. By part of the normal game world I mean that it feels realistic in the given setting that there is nudity and not that the game world is full of nude people so that it is normal to be nude. In a realistic world nudity is something private or restricted to specific locations or occasions so permanent nudity is out of place.

Coming back to the topic of nudity in games, the nude patches mentioned above change some models to be nude without regard to the game world. The most prominent example that comes to mind is Tomb Raider (or Nude Raider) where Lara Croft jumps around in a low poly model that has a different texture but the same mesh making the models look ridiculous and just wrong. In more recent games nude patches introduced new models that had the "proper" curves and not just a new texture. The problem with those is the view of female anatomy is quite twisted so that the new models had rock hard breasts bigger than balloons, not sure who might like those. The first game where a nude patch had consequences apart from optics was one of the recent Elder Scrolls games (not sure if it was Oblivion or Morrowind) where the guards warned you to put clothes on or they would arrest you and other npcs refused to talk to naked characters.

So in conclusion nudity in games is not needed unless it feels realistic and the world reacts accordingly. If a player still wants his character to run around naked because he wants to he can do so but not all gamers need that.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Maturity of games? Not really!

There is a lot of talk about the maturity of games but what are the aspects that make modern games more mature and are they really something one could call mature?

As by my heading you might notice that I don't think that modern games are more mature, I am more of the option that the opposite is the case.

Let me clarify my thoughts:
What are the alleged aspects that make games more mature?
First of all there is the violence, then we have the sex and oh, there is even more violence around the corner.
I won't deny that sex is a strictly mature subject but does the addition of sex to a game make it more mature?
No, I don't think so. The same goes for extreme violence.
Both aspects are clearly not for minors but their inclusion makes a game not more mature.
The extremity of violence in computer games and films for that matter is quite shocking and frankly disturbing.
If there is not much else to a game then violence, it makes the game not more mature, it makes it rather dumb and not really engaging. So to spice it up sex is thrown in the mix and now it is much more mature. No, maybe from the view of a young adolescent but not for the target group. A game that feature both aspects on the side of an engaging story might be more mature but such a game is not published by now. In modern games sex is used to catch the attention of the adolescent audience that are not even supposed to play them.

The kind of game that sells today is something that features sexed up females and androgynous males who run around half naked killing everything around them and if they are not killing others they have sex like you wouldn't even see in a low budget porno flick. As I see it the interaction with a game world should be interesting according to the genre. Oh, yes, in a shooter the interaction is shooting things but there is always some kind of purpose behind the killing, as far as I know. Running around shooting things without a purpose and any sense makes for a quite boring game imo.

Ok, making accusations without some evidence is not good practice, so let's have a look at some recent games I played and some I saw game play footage that is there to attract attention.

The first game I want to comment on is The Witcher. It is set in a dark fantasy world where monsters roam the streets at night and the Witcher has to find and kill them. The interaction with the world is by dialogue and by hacking monsters down. The witcher's life is a hard one, he is an outsider, cursed to hunt monsters, but to balance out the hardship the witcher, Geralt, has to have a little fun at the side. So the player has the ability to to "court" women and have sex with them (without seeing the act). As a reminder of the encounter there is a picture of the half naked lady added to the journal. At first glance that looks not too bad at all but in the course of the game you kind of collect these pictures, the whole act is cheapened and women are shown as sex objects rather than normal people.

The next game is Dragon Age: Origins where the player can have relationships with women and men that even result in seeing the act itself. That was a bold move by BioWare and the game was rated M for its sexual and violent content. The bad thing about the game is the fact that the violence is omnipresent, the blood splatter animations are over the top, leaving the combatants covered in dark red paint after every small encounter and the hard work to woe a companion is cheapened by the fact that after having sex with one of them you can dump them and woe another one. There is even an achievement for having sex with more than one partner. If the act of wooing is too tedious there is also a brothel with various options to choose from, it is a little on the expensive side but money is not rare. The animations for the brothel are all the same with different partners but the companions get their own set of sex scenes. All of the animations look awkward and they are full of clipping issues. The game has not much variety in character models so the models of same gender and race are essentially the same. There are underwear models but having them preform sex in that underwear just looks ridiculous. There was an outcry that you are able to have homosexual relations but that is one of the positive aspects IMO. The game was advertised as a mature game in a mature world but it fell short  because of over the top and sometimes awkward animations and the fact that too many interactions with npcs consisted of killing them.

Dragon Age 2 saw the opportunity to expand on all those aspects and the result is even more ridiculous than in Origins. The combat animations are even more over the top and totally unrealistic in relations to the one used in Origins that for the most part looked believable. The sex in DA2 is even more laughable because there are no underwear models for some of the companions so they jump each other in full clothing (with weapons on the backs as well). There are no animations for the act as in Origins, thankfully.
The characters are designed to be every teenagers wet dream like Isabella running around without pants and most other women with a back breaking cub size. The male counterparts are moody and attractive like the ones you could see in Twilight but equally shallow as well.

There is another game that comes to mind, I haven't played it and frankly I don't want to. That game is BulletStorm, the new slay and splatter festival for all the "mature" gamers out there. The game is a shooter but not an ordinary one, no, you get points and achievements for mutilation of enemy bodies. The game play I saw in videos looked a lot like Serious Sam but unlike that game it will be taken seriously and show the future of gaming, damn, what a dark future that is...

We are now "blessed" with these fine examples of "mature" game and can only hope that some of the designers might wake up and make real mature games which deserve it to be called as such. But with a side glance to the trends in comedy and action films coming out lately I seriously doubt that any time soon.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Classes and social skills

Dragon Age like most rpgs uses classes for their characters to distinguish between the mechanic sides of roles.
As a result I need to design a set of classes for my mod that represent the sets of abilities my characters get.

For the main character it is the hardest because I want to give as much freedom to the player as possible. Realising that goal with a system that restricts different sets of skill or talents to different classes and not use a common pool of abilities where all the can chose from is maybe the hardest part of my idea to realize.

For my npcs it is easier because I will use existing classes or build new ones atop of them. My apprentice will become an alchemist which is an edited form of the original mage with some unique abilities. There will be a rogue that will get a new specialisation.

Back to the main character.
Since I will not need fighting skills or magic attacks from the start I have to design a set of abilities that are interesting enough to use. Dragon Age: Origins has too few abilities that are not combat related so I have to design those myself.

What kind of abilities do I need?
Mostly social skills, something special knowledge like street smarts for the rogue and magic theory for the alchemist and some that are for the main character.

The main class I will call "Enigma" with the background "Created"(Surprise!). The npcs have no background as mechanics so their background abilities must be part of the classes.
The class is called "Enigma" because at the beginning there are not really much skills or talents but the player influences the availability of other skills through his/her actions. These skills will then enhance the different styles of play. For example, a pacifistic character might get abilities to prevent the need to fight while a confrontational character will get fighting skills.
The character at the very beginning has no special abilities apart from maybe "attractiveness", which can help dealing with grumpy npcs. Wait? How? Well there are social studies that state that attractive people are better at getting help then unattractive ones. It is nicer to talk to someone who is attractive then the "filthy bum" from the bus station. It might be illogical but sadly it is the way social interactions work to an extent.
Another aspect that someone needs that is just created is the ability to learn fast and efficiently.

So we have the first set of abilities for the class:
  • Attractive: Your creator made sure that you look good and people have no problem talking to you.
    • Here is room for something like flirt, charm or the like, that might come in handy in conversations. The standard is persuasion which splits in Intimidate and Persuade but that is not enough for good role playing.
  • Fast Learner: You learn faster than normal people. 
    • The first thing to learn might be that language the people of Fereldan speak.
    • Here is room for more abilities like maybe "learning by imitation" which could be interesting. To watch someone do a specific task and gain insight that way. A nice way to learn to fight maybe...
  •  Help from Companions: Your companions can help you with their knowledge and their skills to find out more in conversations.
    • Since there will not be more than three companions there could be a skill for each one of them. It would be something like: 
      1. own dialogue option 1
      2. own dialogue option 2
      3. etc.
      4. (Companion 1 skill) 
      5. etc.
    • These skill are just for things the character is not able to learn for herself in the course of the game like the before mentioned "street smarts", "magic theory" or so.

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - The ToolSet

The toolset for Dragon Age is a large program with a lot of options and a lot of interdependency.
You can do level design in the same window with the dialogue editor so you have full control over all aspects of your modification.

With so much power comes (responsibility.. sorry, couldn't resist) a steep learning curve to understand all the aspects you need for a specific task. There is a wiki with some good starter tutorials, there are also some video tutorials for those of us who learn better the audio visual way (like me). But there are nor advanced tutorials there or anywhere else but you can ask questions in the forum at the Bioware Social Network.

It took me about half a year to get my bearings with the toolset and there are still parts of it that I do not understand at all. But for the most parts of my mod I know where to look and what to change.

The toolset has some bugs like every piece of software, some of them easy to find and to avoid, others can really creep up on you and you have to redo a lot of work. I might do some posts on aspects of the toolset or dragon age modding in general in the future, not sure yet.

In relation to my own mod, I have about 10 areas planned and maybe a hundred npcs. The easiest part are the visuals because I mostly use original designs from the game and be able to change them to my liking without much hassle with the morph and the creature editors inside the toolset. The level editor is a little bit more complicated but I don't need it that much with using original content. Rearranging some furniture or pushing a wall to the side is easier than building the level from scratch but even that is not that much of a deal with a little bit of practice once you are familiar with the usage of the tile sets and the difference between the camera modes(area vs. level editor).
The hard part is breathing life into those visuals and make them move around but I will get the hang of it in time, hopefully.

Development Blog: The Magic of Innocence - Part 0

Wait, Part 0?
Yes, because it contains the idea and no real development.
It is more like what do want my mod to be.

So here it goes:
At first I thought about taking my own fantasy world and tell a story in it, but since I am not a good artist and my 3d models are all too static and simple, I decided against it and instead thought up a story that could play out in Thedas, the world Bioware designed for their Dragon Age games.

One point was clear from the beginning, I wanted no dungeon crawl or hack'n'slay game play. With that in mind I had to push the world a little, so there is no blight at the door step and no war between mages and templars.
I wanted a time of peace but still the conflict between magic/science and faith/religion.
For that to be evident I located the story inside the mage circle tower of fereldan, also because I had the layouts from Origins and could start without hour spend in level design.

The story contains a young apprentice mage named Ben(real original, taking my second name ;P) who finds an old tome of powerful spells in the basement and is tempted to try one of them out. He wants to create a new life. He gathers the ingredients he needs and prepares the spell.

So much for the background story, now to the part that is more interesting, the game itself.
As the player you control a young woman that was just created in a magical ritual and thereby you are thrown in an unknown world with new things to experience around every corner (in theory).
The player should either be able to design the optics of the character or just thrown in the world with predefined looks. The mechanics like background and class are predetermined in both cases because none of the existing classes or backgrounds were appropriate to my ideas and going without a class or background might not be possible with the tools I have (the Dragon Age toolset and the published content from the original campaign of Origins).

I want the player to experience the world through the eyes of an innocent and give him/her the ability to shape a unique character from it. Every decision has to have consequences and those shall shape the rest of the game. Maybe it is a little too much for someone with no prior game design experience but I will face that challenge.

I read a lot of lore for the mod to make it not seem out of place and my idea fits into the setting so without giving too much away I will stop here and go over specific aspect of development when they arise.

One thing you might have noticed, yes, I am not a native speaker and yes, I am already full in the process of modding. I have just started posting in this blog so bear with me.

Dragon Age 2 and the death of role playing games for computers

First of all, this post constists of many spoilers for Dragon Age 2 or Dragon Age: Origins, so for everyone still interested in playing the games without predigested knowledge, stop reading here...

So, I played Dragon Age 2 some days ago and I was really disappointed by the lack of innovation and the overall changes they took in this game.
Not only did they shift the focus more to combat and farther away from the player and his decisions, they also crippled the story enormously.

It all starts of with the class system that was also in Origins. The classes have no real impact in the story and the role the character plays in his world. So why are they there in the first place?! To distingish between different styles of play?
In Origins, yes, the mage is more fragile and needs to be in the background trowing magic at enemies, the rogue is able to take a little bit more but still has to avoid getting hit too often and the warrior is able to withstand damage while wearing heavy plate armour and hold the ememies off with sword and shield.
They are there to distiguish between the different parts needed in a combat situation, ok, but they have little impact on the rest of gameplay apart from the rogue who is the only one able to open locked objects.
In Dragon Age 2 these distinctions are nearly gone because the mage is now able to wield his staff as a weapon and make the same damage on close range as on long range. The different types of armour still exist and there are even weapon restictions for the rogue that make no sense.
The classes are for combat in both games and have little to no impact of the character apart from different stats.
The little destinctions that were in Origins are gone in DA2 like the rogues ability to steal and the mages skill in herbalism.

With those aspects gone or crippled where are the mechanics for role playing?
In former games most customization was in the ability system and the decisions made there determined the stats and the mechanic role the character plays in the game. The loss of those mechanics changes the whole concept of play, the focus could shift to other part of role playing like the decisions and the interaction with npcs, companions or otherwise.
Unfortunatly DA2 has more focus on combat as Origins had and in Origins the focus was mostly on combat. So we have a game that has three classes that have no impact on combat roles and no impact in other parts of game mechanics and a game that only focuses on flashy, unrealisting combat.

The only thing that could help there is the players ability to influence the npcs by other means like talking. But DA2 adopted the dialogues wheel from Mass Effect so there are only some words to choose from and the character says someting different. The different choices are "goodie goodshoe", "sarcastically uninterested" or "confrontationally brutal"; nice! So if you for example chose to follow the path of the selfless helping angel (always "goodie goodshoes" options), you might think that you will get that experience but no the story unfolds in ways that just ignores the player's point of view and you get the feeling that "sarcastically uninterested" might have been the better option all over. Maybe it was the only option tested so the story was tweaked that way, I don't know. I as player grew more and more uninterested by passing hours and needed sarcasm to keep me going to experience the ending.

The game (DA2) is structured in different acts, the first is orientation and acclimatisation with the world and the game mechanics, the second act was finding out what goes on in the world and maybe climbing the social ladder, the next act is confrontation with a mayor threat (the Qunari) and its "solution". The game should have stopped there and it would have been ok but it added another act that pushed the conflict between mages and templars that exist in Thedas to the extreme and the character has to take a side and kill off the opposition unless they surrender. But how do you choose between two sides if their leaders are both psychopaths?! So I chose the side of the oppressed, the mages. The mages are feared because they can be possessed by demons and could "destroy the world" so they are guarded by the templars of the holy church... sorry, the chantry. These templars have to find demon worshipers and bloodmages (who practice an forbidden kind of magic) and kill them (simple and shortsided solution).
So in this conflict the character is thrown and now he has to decide which side he supports. The fact that there are templars mobbing mages and even kill them without provocation and mages on the other side that throw their teachings over board to vent their frustration through destruction and mayhem makes that a hard decision but the character is predefined and has a family so he already has a predefined point of view. He/she is a child of an apostate mage and has an apostate sister, so he(simplified because the gender also makes no difference) should side with the mages. He even can be a mage so why would one side with the templars?! But you get the decision and I chose the mages. So I tried to calm both sides down and avoid bloodshed but that is not the solution BioWare wanted, so I had to kill the templars and help the mages. And then I happened! The first enchanter turns on me even though I already sided with him and I have to kill him and the knight commander of the templars in a rediculous boss fight that made no sense at all. After that the game is over and all the land is in turmoil and a war between the two factions is inevitable. What?! Why is there war now and why am I the one who started it? This is even worse than the ending of Dawn of War, where the planet is destroyed after you fought so long to liberate it...

But why is that the death of computer role playing games?
Well, it was one of few interesting settings that existed in computer games and it was one of the last single player games that interested me. Yes, I know that Skyrim comes out in November but I fear that it will also be "awesome" like DA2 was. The decline from Morrowind to Oblivion was drastic enough.
The generation of crpgs is dying because it is impossible to provide the same depth and immersion in an online game like we could witness in WoW or others.
With the announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic as an online game my dreams of a Star Wars rpg that I might want to play died and even german role playing games like The Dark Eye switched to online games for their next release.

In conclusion I have to say that role playing games for the pc turned more and more into action games with some rpg mechanics so I have to get my role playing fix in p&p and play those action games for fun. Maybe...

First Post - kind of disclaimer

So, this is my blog where I will talk about things that tumble around in my confused mind. That said, all posts are my opinion and I don't want to anger anyone and if I do nonetheless, sorry.

What will I be talking about here?
Well, my hobbies which consist of role playing games, writing stories and playing computer games. In the near future, I will be at a game design school and at the moment I am working on a mod for Dragon Age, so I will post ramblings in that regard as well.

Who am I?
Long story short, just a pen&paper rpg geek with too many strange ideas in his head and no real outlet.

So why am I doing this?
Good question, maybe I needed a new way to write ideas down, maybe I am just following the times. Not quite sure myself, but maybe someone might read my ramblings and find them amusing or I just have an outlet to vent some emotions and ideas.

So, have fun,