BG:EE – The Friendly Arm Inn

Beamdog sent over a patch to the PC version of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition tonight. Unfortunately the client doesn’t give you much info, but over in the forums are some patch notes. Looks like it’s almost all bug fixes, but while I was there I noticed a warning: Intel Integrated Graphics are NOT supported in BG:EE. That’s going to be a bummer for a lot of laptop users and I hope they can find a way to make them work.

As for me, firing up the game for Day 2 was quite enjoyable now that the initial learning curve is behind me, and I am already used to the graphics. Mind you I’m still learning things but tonight was more playing and less figuring stuff out, if you know what I mean.

Our Hero, Traellan of Edgewood, and his childhood friend Imoen were en route to the Friendly Arm Inn when I realized there was a lot of unexplored area that I was leaving behind. “I always explored the whole map.” Angela noted and me, ever curious, had to concur that this made good sense.

It made good sense until we encountered a hungry Dire Wolf, anyway. Thrice the foul beast slaughtered our merry, but much too small, band. I’m still getting the knack of things. Imoen has a wand of magic missile but using it tended to draw the wolf’s attention and she’s a slight thing that can’t take much punishment (Thief – she has 8 hit points!) Even though Traellan wears the badge of a Fighter he’s still not all that tough either.

After the Gods of Reload brought our heroes back for a third time, I decided to leave exploration for later, and we pressed on, sticking to the relative safety of the roads.

Although we met a few odd individuals along the way, the trip was more or less uneventful, though Trae’s head was spinning with fatigue by the time they staggered through the gates leading to the Inn. Inside were a motley bunch of revelers and it didn’t take us long to decide that the skulking half-orc Dorn was best avoided, and that the Druid and Fighter who were old friends of Traellan’s father made for better traveling companions. With introductions made, Traellan rented Merchant’s Rooms so that he and Imoen could get some much-needed rest before setting out in the morning.

And thus ended tonight’s session.

More than this happened, but I’m trying to leave out certain surprises for now, in case others like me who haven’t played wind up reading this. I actually think I’m already farther than I’ve ever gotten in the game in the past!

Also apologies in advance for switching from “he” to “I” and back again. I do that kind of “internal role play” thing when I play a game like this, so in my mind, I am Traellan and vice versa.

Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

I have a confession to make. I never played much of Baldur’s Gate when it came because I, uh, didn’t like it very much. ~ducks the incoming volley of rotten vegetables~

Honestly it was so long ago that I don’t even remember why I didn’t like it. I just know I tried to get into it a couple times and never did. I admitted as much when I was offered a review copy of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition for the PC, but the marketing person I was talking to and I thought it might be interesting to see if anything about the game can change my mind. Also I have Angela hanging around me and she adored the game when it first launched (and she’s waiting anxiously for the iPad version to release).

So the first thing you need to know is where to buy it. As far as I can tell you can only get it via Beamdog which is yet another PC digital distribution service vying for your dollars. The PC version costs $19.99. The good news is that if you don’t want another digital service client installed on your machine you can just download the game the old-fashioned way, or so I’m told. I used the client.

The game should be out on iPad later this week, and Andorid and OS X in the weeks and months to come.

So what’s Enhanced? Well the game runs full screen on modern machines, for one thing. I believe there was a patch to allow Baldur’s Gate II to do that but it was never made for the first game, at least not in a way that made things easy for casual players. They’ve added a new tutorial which stands apart from the game, and there’s now a kind of endless dungeon mode if you just want to practice your combat. There’re a few new NPC characters to potentially join your party. In the tablet versions these are DLC but they come included with the PC version. You have Rasaad yn Bashir, a calishite monk from the far south and the first Monk NPC in the game. Then there is Neera the Wild Mage, a half-elf from the High Forest. She’s the first Wild Mage NPC. Last up is Dorn Il-Khan, a half-orc Blackguard bent on revenge. Blackguard is a new ‘kit’ for the Enhanced Edition and the player can choose to go that route as well. Blackguards are apparently kind of anti-paladins.

The old 3D cut scenes are gone, replace by hand-drawn animations. There’re new portraits and a couple of new voices to round out the Enhanced Features.

I decided to run through the tutorial first. I’m going to be honest with you; even though the game is “Enhanced” it does still look dated, and it took me a while to get past that. If you don’t have at least some tolerance for ‘retro gaming’ you might struggle with this one. The tutorial is fairly long and for the most part not very exciting but it does use a bunch of NPCs you’ll be meeting up with later. You can create a custom character for the tutorial and if you save your game, you can later Import that character into the main campaign and with the character comes a bit of gear you’ll pick up while learning to play. Every little bit helps; Baldur’s Gate is one of those games that reminds us how much easier games have become over the years. I managed to die in the tutorial!

I’ve barely gotten started on the real game; I spent most of my evening running around CandleKeep doing odd jobs for people. Baldur’s Gate is a huge game and kind of slow to get going. On the other hand I found myself being bothered less and less by the dated graphics and started to really enjoy reading all the lore sprinkled throughout the game. When you right click on a shortsword to get it’s stats, you don’t just get some numbers; you get a few paragraphs about the weapon as well (you can ignore these of course).

What made it even more fun for me is Angela’s reaction to a lot of the quips from NPCs. Heck even I remembered some of them. The Innkeeper proclaims: “My hotel’s as clean as an elven arse!” and half-way through his comment she’s quoting along with him.

I took a first tiny step on what will be an epic journey if I stay with it; a journey not only though the Forgotten Realm but through the history of gaming. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition feels old, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve gained an awful lot in the gaming world in the years since the original was published, but we’ve lost some things as well. I really enjoyed the feeling of rediscovering a piece of gaming history.

I’ll see how long that feeling lasts, and I’ll try to document my travels through the game here at Dragonchasers.

RPG and MMO players: What does Grinding mean to you?

One of the more charged terms in the lexicon of gamers is GRINDING.

MMO players almost universally hate grinding, though there’s a certain breed of single-player RPG gamer that enjoys it. But what exactly IS grinding?

I think it means different things to different people and I think that leads to some confusion when we’re talking about games. So I’m hoping we can have a discussion about this. Let’s hear what YOUR definition of grinding is.

I’ll get things rolling:

To me, grinding is when a game forces you to kill the same mobs in the same place over and over again in order to progress. In the worst sort of grinding, there’s no quest or other reward involved: you just need to kill the same monsters over and over again to get combat experience to take you to the next level (or until a mob drops a required item) in order to move on. So kill, wait for respawn, kill, wait for respawn.

Substitute in similar monotonous tasks for grinding in crafting.

The best (worst?) example of grinding to me is any circa-2005 Asian MMO where you’d get 1 quest every few levels and in between you’d have exactly 1 type on monster that you’d have to kill at each level and no way to move forward except sitting there and killing that 1 mob every time it popped.

Conversely, if a game gives you a series of quests that require you to kill the same mobs, I see that as the ‘best’ kind of grinding since the monotony is broken up by returning for quest rewards that hopefully make you stronger. If there are alternate quests you can do instead, I don’t even consider this grinding (or maybe grindy) since you have other options that will let you move forward.

So that’s my long-winded definition. What’s yours?

Will the hivemind allow a true Wasteland sequel?

I’m a supporter of inXile Entertainment’s Kickstarter fund to get Wasteland 2 made. I remember Interplay when Brian Fargo was running the show. I remember playing games like The Bard’s Tale and Stonekeep and yes, Wasteland.

I contributed $75 — more than I’d pay for a finished game — because I wanted some old-school RPG goodness. (The same reason why I’m so excited about Legend of Grimrock) I contributed because I read the pitch and focused on passages like:

Were going back to the original and building from there. No first person shooter, were going top down so you get a tactical feel for the situation. And were not ditching the party play to turn it into some hack-and-slash bloodfest. Its turn based, tactical, with a storyline that will be deeper and broader.

Were determined to keep the gritty, grim and satirical writing. Were going to pitch those moral dilemmas at you. Youre going to be faced with the consequences of your actions.

The problem is that I ignored (or read with naivety) the passages like:

With your collective vision, the game that was the godfather to the popular Fallout series will become a reality. Not only will you fund the development, but youll have a voice in how the game goes together. We will have forums up for design discussion and soliciting your ideas for what will make Wasteland 2 rock.

This is your chance to influence the kind of game you want to see. With fan funding, you drive the direction of game design and development. If it is important to you, it is important to us.

I forgot that when it comes to gaming, I’m on the lunatic fringe. I really do want an old school RPG, but if inXile really listens to the fans on the very active forums, or to new-school gamers like Joystiq’s Rowan Kaiser [see “(Don’t) Give me that old time RPG combat” where Kaiser comments on what Wasteland 2’s combat ought to be], what we’ll get isn’t what I am imagining.

And that’s probably a smart business decision for inXile. Sure Kickstarter can fund development of the game but presumably they’re going to want to sell a few copies of the finished title to people who didn’t Kickstart, too. If they really build the game I want, they probably wouldn’t sell more than a few thousand copies.

And no matter what, I simply don’t have the hours to spend every day trolling their forums and arguing down the new-schoolers and pushing my old-school mentality. I actually wrote to inXile with my concerns: that basically I hoped we weren’t going to end up with a game designed by committee. I got a nice email back meant to re-assure me but I’m not sure it did. They told me they were using the forums to determine what features the fans felt strongest about so they could focus their energy accordingly, but that they have come core tenants that will not be modified by the forums.

So once again I feel like I ought to be on the forums stomping my feet and shouting for turn-based combat, for deep stats and in-depth character building, shouting against the kids who want the game to be Diablo with mutants or something.

In the end, I’m still confident inXile will deliver a great game, so I’m not too worried. I love Kingdoms of Amalur for instance, and it’s about as far from old school RPG as you can get.

But I’m still looking for an old-timer (in actuality or in spirit) game designer who wants to really create an old school RPG with modernized graphics. Someone determined to build what he or she wants to build, and not let the hivemind scribble all over the design doc. That person has to be out there and I want to help fund him or her.

Atlus slashes prices on RPGs and SRPGs for PSP & Vita

Atlus sent out a marketing email announcing new price cuts on a bunch of their PSP games. These are all on PSN and (I’m taking Atlus’s word on this part) they’re all Vita-compatible.

Title Reduced Price  Old Price
Persona $19.99 $39.99
Persona 2:Innocent Sin $29.99 $39.99
Persona 3 Portable $19.99 $39.99
Riviera: The Promised Land $9.99 $14.99
Yggdra Union $9.99 $14.99
Knights in the Nightmare $14.99 $29.99
Hexyz Force $14.99 $29.99
Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble $14.99 $39.99
Crimson Gem Saga $14.99 $29.99
Class of Heroes $14.99 $39.99

Nice to see Atlus has our RPG needs covered while we wait for some native Vita RPGs to hit the market.

All titles can be found, says Atlus, in the PSN store.

And no, I’m not getting a kick-back from Atlus for taking the time to format that data! 🙂

I am role-play

If you know me at all, you probably don’t even remotely think of me as a role-player. I never sat around a table playing D&D, and in MMOs I’m pretty quiet as a general rule. I tend to keep to my own company, in games and in ‘real life’ as well.

But the truth is, I’m a pretty hardcore role-player. I just never externalize it.

What spurred (ha! watch this) this self-revelation was playing Red Dead Redemption last night. I’d been riding a horse that was divinely gifted to me (aka I saved my game while horseless and suddenly an equine companion appeared). These magic horses are better than walking it, but they’re not too fast. So I decided to get myself a better horse.

I rode up north of Armadillo where I knew there was a herd of wild horses. I choose one that seemed pretty fast. Really I can’t tell how fast they are, but in my mind’s eye, this beautiful mare seemed faster than the rest. I went after her. I was still fumbling with the lasso controls so it took me a long time to rope her. [The (now obvious to me) trick is to keep the left trigger held down… as soon as you let it up you ‘release’ the lasso and your quarry gets free.] I chased her all over the area. She almost got away a few times but eventually I got a rope around her neck and managed to break her. She settled down nicely, I gave her a reassuring pat on the neck.

At that point, I spotted some herbs, so I climbed down and picked them. When I looked up, it dawned on me that I now had two horses. My old faithful companion who wasn’t too fast, and this new speedy wild mare. I whistled and old faithful came running up. This horse had been with me a long time. He was loyal enough that he followed me around like a puppy. What was I to do with him?

I needed the faster horse, though. I climbed up on the mare and looked at my old companion, standing at the ready. Loyal as always, waiting to serve his master. Maybe get an apple as a reward.

I thought maybe I could lead him back to town. I took out my lasso and tossed it at him and missed. The lasso spooked him and he tore off across the prairie. I watched him go, a little bit relieved that he was no longer a problem, but a little bit worried about what would happen to him.

Then I chuckled at myself for being so silly… what would happened to him is that he’d de-spawn as soon as I left the area, of course. I headed back to town on my new horse..but still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d betrayed a loyal companion. I found myself wishing Rockstar had given us a way to stable horses, or even to give them to a good home. I’m sure Miss MacFarlane would have room in her stables for a loyal, trustworthy steed!

So that’s my style of role-playing. Sometimes I wish I could turn it off, but I just can’t, even when I want to. It’s why I can’t often bring myself to play ‘evil’ in games; that feeling of malice clings to me long after I stop playing if I’m at all immersed in a game. If the game has anything to hang a role-play hook on, I stick to following my moral compass as much as possible.

Bioware announces Return to Ostagar DLC for Dragon Age: Origins

So it seems someone else may have survived the Battle of Ostagar, but this person was captured by the Darkspawn (rare, but it does happen. Bregan was captured, after all). Now this individual has escaped and he or she is looking for help from the Grey Wardens.

Yeah, that’s pretty sketchy, but thus far Bioware has revealed only a few details. We do know the just-announced Return to Ostagar DLC for Dragon Age: Origins will cost $5 and should be out ‘this holiday season.’ In it, you’ll head back to Ostagar for some payback, the chance to find the king’s arms and armor, and get another chance to recruit BarkSpawn into your party (actually my dog is named Milo but so many people seem to name theirs BarkSpawn, I coudn’t resist).

Hopefully we’ll get more details soon. Stay tuned!

Payback time!

News alert! Dragon Age is big!

A busy weekend kept me from playing as much Dragon Age as I suspected I would, and it came after me not touching the game in any significant way in the last few days of last week (due to other commitments, not lack of desire).

Tonight I finished one… ‘chunk’ of the storyline. Trying to avoid spoilers but if you’re playing you know what I mean. You’ve got a bunch of X items you have to take to various places to do some things. 🙂 Anyway, I finally finished 1 of them. My save game is at 20 hours. There are 4 (or 5?) of these chunks, plus side quests, DLC quests… there’s a LOT to do here.

What’s amazing is how it feels like they’ve tucked games within games. A section I just finished had gameplay quite different from anything I’d done up to then. And when I say “section” I don’t mean 10-15 minutes. It took me a few nights of playing to get through it. Wonderful stuff.

I had hoped by now to be covering the modding scene and things of that nature, but it looks like it’ll be a while before I get to that.

On the bright side, the modding community isn’t going as crazy as I thought it would. I installed the tools and took a quick look at them and they were somewhat daunting, so I’m sure modders are still getting comfortable with them. With luck by the time I finish plodding through the game, there’ll be some quality modules available.

One thing I’m not going to do, is rush through the game. I’m enjoying myself far too much to cut corners; I’m going to savor every minute.

In the meanwhile, it never hurts to check out the list that Bioware maintains.

I hope everyone is enjoying the game as much as I am!

Dragon Age is not perfect!

So I’m about 16 hours into my current game, with enough in other characters that I can probably safely say I’ve put 20 hours into Dragon Age: Origins so far. I’m growing ever more sure that this is my personal Game of The Year, which frankly surprises me given how much I enjoyed Infamous and Uncharted 2.

But no game can stand up to 20 hours scrutiny without revealing some imperfections and Dragon Age is no exception. Of course, no game is perfect. The title of this post is intended to provoke.

Anyway, here’re two things I’d like to see changed/added to Dragon Age: Origins.

First up, inventory. We’ve got a fairly limited amount of inventory space, and I’m not 100% sure why that is. Plus, there’s no way to put something down (unless I’m missing something); if your pack is full and you want to pick something up, you need to destroy something you’re carrying. When I’m in a large area with no vendors and no way out and my inventory fills up, it can be a little annoying. Granted there have to be some limits. But I hate that I’ll have to throw away, for example, a kite shield in order to make room for a silver ring.

Why not let us pile up extra gear somewhere in the corner of an area, so we can come back for it later (there could even be a chance that by the time we get back, someone or something will have rummaged through our loot).

As a sort of corollary to this issue, here’s a more controversial issue. I’d like to have a different inventory system. The way things are now, you get X inventory slots and every item (or stack of items) takes one 1 slot.

I get why they did this: to keep things simple. But Dragon Age isn’t a simple game. Now don’t be alarmed, I’m not calling for a “Tetris” inventory system. Rather, I’d assign a number of “burden points” to every carryable item, and then I’d give the party a set capacity for burden.

An example might make this more clear. Currently you start the game with 70 inventory slots. Instead of 70 slots, give the party the capacity to handle 700 encumbrance points worth of stuff. A ring would have an encumbrance value of 1. A shield would have an encumbrance value of 10. A plate chestpiece might have an encumbrance value of 20.

So now when you’re at capacity and want to pick up a ring, you can throw away a shield and get the ring and have some extra room to spare. Or you could throw away a salve and swap in the ring and still be capped. On the other hand if you find some plate armor you want to lug around, you’re going to have to make a number of sacrifices to fit that in.

Honestly that’s a “thinking out loud” idea. But I do think it’d be nice if we could drop items. This isn’t an MMO where we have to worry about lag from items being dropped by hundreds of parties, after all.

Until we get changes to the inventory system, you can head to Spinksville where Spinks talks about a mod that gives you some storage space in camp. That’ll at least help you squirrel away all those rings, statuettes, bottles of wine and other giftable finery you’ll pick up in your travels (but that each take up the same space as a piece of platemail).

Second, I have a feature request. I want a combat review camera. I love the combat system and I love the spectacle of combat. But I feel like I miss a lot of cool stuff because my back is turned, so to speak. This is particularly true while playing as a rogue, since you’re in the middle of battle and constantly moving to get in some back stabs. It may not be as bad for mages or other ‘back line’ characters.

Too frequently something will happen in a battle when I’m not looking. Suddenly two of my party will fall and I’m not sure what caused it. Or a Tactic condition will be met causing a mage to cast a spell that levels half our enemies and I’m not really positive which spell it was.

Enter the review camera. This gizmo lets you rewind time to the start of a battle and then gives you a free floating camera that lets you observe (passively…I’m not talking about a retry) the combat from whatever angle you feel is best. You can watch from the position of that enemy mage who lurked in the shadows until we sent our hound after him, for instance. Or you could just fly around the battle, watching it from all angles; maybe even add a feature so you could save “films” of epic battles in this way? Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to edit ‘combat films’ and then save them in an online album to show off to friends?

Anyway, that’s enough for today. Can’t wait for the weekend to arrive so I can put in more serious Dragon Age hours. Sneaking in 30-45 minutes on a week night is almost worse than not playing at all!