Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Consider Mine Captured

So I officially gave up on The Force Unleashed over the weekend. Not permanently, mind you, but at least for the time being. Here's the thing. Apparently, the game was originally designed for consoles (think Playstation, XBox, Wii, etc.) and not for PC. But the company that made it wanted to cash in on us PC fans as well and so "ported" the original version into a more PC-friendly format.

I was not actually aware until recently (until I started reading up on on the forthcoming Dragon Age II, in fact) that this is actually a really complicated process. Designing a game for one platform (console or PC) creates all sorts of challenges when making a version for the other platform. Apparently this is the largest reason why there is usually a lag between the release of video games on the original platform and the release of the same game for the other platform. The creators have to decide if it is worth it to go through the trouble to update/change the game play mechanics required to release in the secondary format. This is why it is a huge deal that Bioware is releasing Dragon Age II across all platforms at the same time. There was a lot of work that went into making sure the game play experience was workable across consoles and PCs alike.

The Force Unleashed is a good example of how this complicated process can sometimes go wrong. To use the Force in the game on the PC version, you need to use a combination of keyboard keys and mouse buttons/movements. Most of the moves in the game require a specific series of buttons/keys be pressed in a specific sequence with just the right timing. I think overall the designers did a good job of making this work with a mouse and a keyboard, as opposed to with a singular game controller. But there is one spot where this seems to have failed spectacularly, and that is where I got stuck. Pulling down a star destroyer with the Force is a multi-step process that requires you to be very quick and and to be constantly moving your mouse in addition to pressing buttons and keys. This is rather a challenge when you think about how much room the average computer mouse has to maneuver in. You can only push it up so far before you have to pick it up and move it down to the bottom of your desk and start pushing up again. Unfortunately, this kind of screws up what you are trying to do in the game. Apparently, it is even worse if you have a trackball mouse, which, of course, I have.

So, basically, I have the worst possible computer set up of the PC version of the game, which is at a disadvantage already because this specific move (which is required to move forward in the game) really wasn't designed with a mouse in mind, and wasn't ported very well from console to PC. I spent a goodly amount of time on help-sites and walkthroughs and forums, and tried the tricks and tips they all suggested, but I still could not get that star destroyer out of the sky after multiple attempts. I tried using a different mouse, one without the trackball, but then I ran into the space issue. At this point, I am pretty sure it boils down to two things: I did not level up my character's Force abilities in the best configuration to get past this part quickly, and I am not quick enough to take down the waves of TIE Fighters in between attempts to pull the thing down (allowing it to move out of the required position, which means I waste time repositioning it when I could be pulling it down). To me, this says I just need to start over again and be more conscious of how I level up the next time around. I am going to do that, yes. But not right now. I don't think my hand will forgive me if I were to try.

My warrior elf from Dragon Age: Origins

For now, I am just going to put The Force Unleashed back onto the shelf and move on to the next thing. The next thing being all of the downloadable content for Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware recently(ish) released an "ultimate" edition of the game that included the original game, the expansion pack, and all of the downloadable content. This edition actually cost less than it would cost to purchase all of the DLC separately, and then my husband found it on sale, so he went ahead and bought it a little while ago.

Monday afternoon I decided to break it out, eager to play Witch Hunt, a follow-up adventure to the original game. After about an hour and a half spent wrestling with the game--which was telling me that all of the DLC was installed on my computer but unauthorized (It seems that there was some sort of glitch in the install script of the downloadable digital versions, which included ours since we bought it through Steam. Thankfully the Bioware message boards were quite helpful and once I finally gave them a gander I was able to find a quick and easy fix to get the DLC working. I am actually quite proud of myself for this, truth be told)--I was finally able to fire it up and dive back into Ferelden.

I love this game. It is so incredible. I think my favorite thing about the genre of fantasy is that it is designed to capture the imagination, to take you away to a completely different world where anything is possible. If you had told me even two or three years ago that I would be as enamored with a video game franchise as I am with, say, Stargate, I would have laughed you right out of the building.  But oh my goodness I am. I am not completely sure what turned me on to wanting to play this game, but once I found out about it, oh I wanted in. Before I ever got a copy of the game I found out IDW was doing a tie-in series of comics set in that world and went ahead and subscribed. By the time I finished the first one, I was absolutely determined to get the game as soon as freaking possible. (I had to wait a little while longer, but since I knew I had a birthday coming up, that made it a little bit easier to be patient.)

As soon as I finished playing the game, I hopped online to see if I could find anything about the sequel. I wasn't entirely sure I was correct that one was in development, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that one was, and was in fact due out in March. I preordered it that very night. I have eagerly been following the news about Dragon Age II, drinking in everything I can, bouncing up and down in anticipation. And it is so close now. So close. That is, in fact, why I decided to go ahead and play the DLC now, since it won't be the length of a full game and it will whet my appetite for what is to come in just a few weeks.

So, I started playing Dragon Age again on Monday. If you keep an ear to the geeky grapevine, you might have noticed yesterday when it exploded with the news that Felicia Day, who I adore, announced that she has been working with Bioware to create a six-episode web series set in the Dragon Age world, taking place, in fact, during the events of the new game. Holy frikkin' cow! I spent much of yesterday bouncing in excitement over this news. Felicia Day. And Dragon Age. Together!

There are all sorts of stories about the news. You can read a story about the series here. There's a celebrity gamer profile on Felicia Day here. Felicia blogs about her own thoughts on the project here. Oh, and Bioware now has a blurb about it on the official Dragon Age II site here. Felicia will also be on Jimmy Fallon's talk show tonight with a sneak preview of the new series, score!

In addition to ramping up my excitement for the new game, as well as getting me all giddy about the web series, yesterday's Dragon Age-related news had another little jewel of information for me. There is an official prequel book to the first game. Actually there are two of them. The reviews on Amazon suggest they (both written by the same author, who was one of the story developers on the game) are actually pretty spectacular. Gonna have to pick those up PDQ in order to sate my thirst for all things Dragon Age.

So, um, yeah. If the purpose of epic fantasy is to capture the audience's imagination, I can only say well done, Bioware, well done.

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