Concerning Failcake

Dragon Age’s story is the condensation, in yummy game form, of the old proverb about wanting to have cake and eat it too. You can’t. It’s quite refreshing to see how at several points in the storyline your actions and choices not only do matter, but also to come across situations that are not built around success or failure, but rather just what kind of failure you prefer and how many levels you want of it.

It’s not unfair. It makes perfect sense. Sometimes stuff just doesn’t work out and if this is true right here and now in our comfortable, padded real world existence, then it’s even more so in the dark times of a land torn by internal strife, a demonic invasion, magic and politics running rampant. You will lose. At many junctures. The choices are basically about what you’re more keen on losing.

So far, story wise, it’s been a rewarding change of pace from what we’re so used to; stories that go out of their way to please everyone and written around the ideas of success and reward. When all choices point towards success, they are soft and you’re only choosing what flavor of success you want. Being served failure on a plate, several times during the game, not only makes for this nice change of pace, but also go a long way into reinforcing how believable that world is.

One of the biggest pitfalls in your common, garden variety vanilla fantasy setting is not how can we rationalize the existence of magic, how can our characters travel hundreds of miles in minutes, how much stuff can that single backpack really hold or how can you work in space goats with dimensional ships; it’s instead how everything tends to success, including the actions of the so-called heroes populating that world.

Dragon Age’s story, which is not without its holes by the way, is not an equation that tries to balance success on one side with failure on the other. It’s more like walking a tightrope with failure at both sides. Success is straight ahead, but the choice steps have to be careful. And that makes it all the more refreshing. If Dragon Age had been an MMO we would already be talking about the death of the softcore fantasy setting.

Easy with the talky, guys

Introduced my wife to Dragon Age: Origins last night. Here I was hoping for something that would impress Ms. “I’ve got books by Tennessee Williams and Dylan Thomas in my collection and you don’t”, but it didn’t go so well.

She really disliked the talking intermissions. Or rather, she disliked how frequent and long they were. Also disliked the interaction via multiple possible answers, I imagine because she couldn’t completely gauge the result of the choices before selecting a response. And I can’t say I blame her too much. On the length issue, I mean. There is such a thing as too much sometimes, particularly when the player actually wants to get down to, you know, adventuring, and not having to listen to merchants say their 5-10 second peace every damn time you want to access their goods.

Now, I understand this is story-driven, and the vehicle chosen to deliver that story is voiced NPCs. That much is fine, and actually experiencing the level of narrative in DA:O fills my geeky heart with a joy I cannot explain. You don’t get this kind of steak often, and the voice acting sauce it comes with is supreme. But, that said, the inconvenient truth behind this is that there is a ton of it, whether you like it or not. Voiced NPCs work great but only up to a point where they start becoming an annoyance for many players. I think future titles *coughstarwarscough* have to be mindful of this and teach their NPCs how brevity really is the soul of wit.