The Witcher coming to Netflix

Before The Witcher was a series of games, it was a series of great books/short stories. Well, at least the ones that were translated to English back when I was reading them were great. I need to go back and read the ones that have been translated since then.

Anyway, now we’re getting a TV adaptation of The Witcher. Just to be clear it seems like this series will be based on the original source material, NOT the games. I’ve never actually finished a Witcher game so I can’t honestly say how true the games are to the books.

The good news is that the author of the original material, Andrzej Sapkowski, will be a creative consultant for the series, and executive producers are Sean Daniel and Jason Brown, who are the executive producers of the absolutely awesome SyFy show The Expanse (which is based on books by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing together under the pen name James S. A. Corey).

I have a good feeling about this. We know Daniel and Brown know how to take a written story and make it into a great TV series, and we know the author is involved, and it’s going to be on Netflix so it probably won’t be stretched or squashed or watered down.

The bad news is, I can’t find any info on a release date, so we’ll have to be patient I guess.

What MMO devs can learn from The Witcher (and other SP RPGs)

So as mentioned in my last post, I’ve been playing my $5 copy of The Witcher and really enjoying myself. In a lot of ways I’m playing it almost like an MMO. I spend a lot of time wandering around harvesting herbs, or “grinding mobs” by hunting at night for experience and loot I can sell for Orens (the game’s currency).

One of the problems I often face when stepping away from MMOs and into single player games is that I forget to save. Years of MMOing has driven the “Quick Save” concept from my brain. Luckily The Witcher autosaves every time you enter or exit a building. So that’s something single player devs can learn from MMO developers: don’t make the player have to worry about bookkeeping tasks like saving.

But this post is about the teaching the MMO devs. The world of The Witcher feels more alive than just about any MMO feels, assuming you take the PCs out of the MMO. Obviously a SP game is never going to have the odd and weird interactions you’ll have with other people in an MMO, but the NPCs in The Witcher seem so much more alive.

Imagine Stormwind or Qeynos with no other players in it. What do you see? NPCs that either stand in one place or patrol along a set path, day or night, rain or shine, saying the same thing over and over again. They act like what they are: automatons. In The Witcher when it starts to rain, all the townsfolk scurry for cover. Not only that, but they’ll grumble or joke about the weather. I did a double take when an old codger ducked under the eave of a house and looked out and cackled “Ha! The neighbor’s laundry is getting soaking wet!”

To be fair, I won’t be playing The Witcher for years and years; if 3 years from now the same codger was saying the same thing every time it rained, it wouldn’t seem as amazing.

Now I know WoW has started to dabble in this kind of behavior via phasing, but generally you have to do something to trigger phasing. In The Witcher, even quest NPCs will move. At night they’ll be in their homes, during the day on the streets or at their place of business. Now the devs weren’t a slave to this ‘realism’ and you can barge into an NPC’s house in the middle of the night and talk to them about a quest and they won’t freak out. Having to wait until morning to talk to them would probably be too much realism.

Last is point-of-view. In The Witcher you play Geralt, the titular Witcher. And you always play the game as him. But when there are cut scenes, you’ll sometimes see the world through another character’s eyes. This can add richness to the overall experience.

[Trivial spoiler ahead]
Fairly early on in the game you meet a barmaid and save her from thugs. She is so grateful, and you so exotic and charming, that she agrees to meet you to “reward” you. She chooses the place: a (supposedly) haunted abandoned mill beside the river. You won’t be disturbed there. Assuming you make the appointment, you and she head into the mill for a bit of non-interactive nookie. At that moment the point of view changes to some folks who make their home across the river from the mill. They hear these faint moans coming across the water and assume it’s the ghost. One comments that there’s never a witcher around when you need one. The scene cuts back to the doorway of the mill where you can clearly hear the young lady’s cries of passion. (Yes, The Witcher is an M-rated game).
[End spoiler]

Now that moment took longer to read about than it did to experience and it might not translate to a blog post very well, but in the moment, playing the game, I found it really funny. We’re always playing these heroes charging through scene after scene but rarely do we get to see the repercussions of our actions. I know most MMO players are notoriously impatient and I’m not urging devs to stick in a bunch of video cut-scenes and their accompanying loading times, but the odd quick in-game cut scene showing your character from someone else’s point of view could really help to flesh out your adventure.

Story is a whole ‘nother blog post. I’ve actually been surprised in The Witcher, and have stayed up too late playing not because I wanted to make the next level, but because I wanted to see what happened next. Your average single player RPG doesn’t have a plot that could rival even a very pedestrian novel, but these stories are still better than those in most MMOs. As a best case scenario an MMO might have an interesting story that it takes you weeks of play and lots of groups to unravel, and spreading it over that much time tends to diminish things.

Anyway, that’s my mutterings for tonight. It sounds silly but the first time the NPCs in this game reacted to weather I kind of stopped and stared. And that was when I realized I’d been away from SP RPGs for a little bit too long. 🙂

Taking a breather

I am excited about Rift. Or at least, I was excited about it. I think I still am. We’ll see.

But Rift isn’t out for another month or so. After the last beta I found myself a bit adrift. I’d been playing Aion and was entertained by it, but I knew it wasn’t something I was going to play long-term so it started feeling a bit pointless. My renewed enthusiasm for WoW had wilted away. I thought about Guild Wars, Star Trek Online, Champions Online, LOTRO, EQ2, FF XIV… but in every case playing felt like a waste of time because I knew come Feb 24th I was headed to Rift.

So finally I decided to just take a break from MMOs. I do this from time to time. This time out I picked up The Witcher, a game I own on DVD but which I’d repurchased on Steam for $5 during the holiday sale. I’ve tried to play The Witcher several times but it never really stuck, but this time it has (so far). I think the Enhanced Version that Steam sells is more enhanced than my DVD version with all patches (including the ‘enhanced’ patch) or something. It just plays better for me now.

The funny thing about me and MMOs. When I start spending time away from them, they start to seem a little bit silly. I get progressively more dismissive about the genre the longer I’m away. I see arguments raging over builds or classes and I start feeling like people put an inordinate amount of somewhat negative energy into something that ought to be fun (negative from my point of view; I’m sure they’re not feeling it in the same way). The pinnacle of my “MMO withdrawal” is when I get to this obnoxious “holier than thou” place of sneering condescension towards anyone who is wasting their time playing an MMO when they could be enjoying other things like, oh, beer can collecting or shoe-lace repair.

Then invariably I wake up one morning with a burning desire to log into an MMO and my love for the genre re-ignites and I sheepishly resubscribe to something.

But until that happens I’m kind of bastard to be around, if you’re an MMO player. At least at this point I’m self-aware of the process.

Since Twitter is the place I most often talk about MMOs, I’ve stepped away from there too. I’ve been feeling frustrated with Twitter anyway; I felt like conversations kept devolving into rather pointless arguments that were ultimately caused by the 140 character limit. I’m still using Buzz and I have some automated tweets hitting Twitter, plus my daily ITworld post promotion. And I bop in now and then to make sure no one has @ed a tweet at me that I need to respond to. But time-on-site for Twitter has gone from probably 12 hours a day (I mean time a twitter client is open, not time I’m actively paying attention to it, of course) to maybe 12 minutes.

This has freed up a lot of time and in some ways life feels a lot more relaxed. I also accepted, without really thinking about it, the “Reading Challenge” for the year. My goal is to read 30 books (2.5/month) which I thought was somewhat ambitious until I saw my friends setting goals of 100 or more! But for me 30 books is a reasonable challenge (I’m already behind) so I’ve been devoted some of this Twitter-freed time to reading.

I’ve also got some personal stuff going on with my mom being sick and my brother and I trying to figure out how we’re going to pay for her care, so that’s put a full stop on spending money on gaming. I already paid for Rift and I’ll still spend the cash for a 6-month sub (assuming I bounce back to being an MMO fan by then) but it has meant not being tempted by titles like DCUO and sales on single-player games. Resisting the temptation of buying a new MMO always feels pretty good; so often in the past my curiosity has driven me to purchase games I almost knew I wouldn’t like all that much. And actually looking at my huge backlog of unplayed or barely-played single player games makes me feel pretty silly about feeling a ‘need’ for new games (games that I know will be available for a fraction of their new cost in 4-6 months).

So that’s where I am right now. Playing The Witcher (and dabbling in other SP games), waiting for Rift and trying to decide what I’ll do there (the guild I had lined up is turning out to be not as good a fit as I’d thought it would) and staying away from Twitter and the too-frequent aggravation I allow it to cause me. And learning a lot about Power of Attorney, reverse mortgages, early withdrawal of life insurance and all the unpleasant ways that the health system you spend your life paying into will turn its back on you when you really need it.

I’ll be back my socializing self when I’ve gotten past this miserable bastard phase I’m going through. 🙂

The Last Wish (Book Review)

The Last Wish
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

I first discovered Geralt the Witcher via the computer game The Witcher. Some of the mechanics of that game bothered me enough that I still haven’t played a lot of it, but I played enough to become intrigued by the main character.

I knew he was the creation of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski who was a bestselling author in his homeland, but it was only recently that I found this translation to English. As far as I can determine, this is his only work readily available in English, though a second volume (Blood of Elves) is on the way.

Anyway, to the book itself. Once again we have a selection of short stories woven into a novel; this seems to be a trend in my reading lately! In The Last Wish, this mechanism isn’t hidden though. Instead we have one ‘meta story’ that introduces and launches the various stories in a manner similar to The Canterbury Tales (I’m using that example to compare frameworks, not authors). This wasn’t immediately obvious to me; hopefully if you read this review before you read the book, I will have spared you a bit of confusion.

Geralt is a Witcher; an individual who has been mutated by magics and alchemy into something more than human, and who has been trained from a very young age to fight monsters. Geralt’s world is an interesting melange of magic and science, but not of technology. We never see machines at work, but scientific knowledge seems to be more advanced than what we normally see in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world. This gives Geralt’s world a unique feel.

It took me a while to realize that Geralt was traveling through familiar fairy tales with a dark, adult and slightly modernized twist. For example, we see Sleeping Beauty as a banished princess who becomes an outlaw during the struggle to reclaim her rightful place on the throne, while those who would oppose her spread rumors about the debauched lifestyle she shares with seven gnomes.

As a Witcher, Geralt lives a mercenary life. He kills monsters for money, not for glory or fame. He tries not to kill sentient monsters if he can avoid it (that description extends to people) but violence has a way of following him. Witchers tend to be reviled in this world (until such time as they are needed, when suddenly they are sought out with much enthusiasm), so his is a mostly solitary life, though later in the book we meet his unlikely friend, the troubadour Dandilion.

Reading the The Last Wish, I feel like I was peering at a fantasy world through a narrow slit. What I saw was wonderful, but there’s the sense that the world is much, much bigger than what we see through Geralt’s eyes in this one volume.

A final note; if you pick up the book and open it to page one, the first thing you’ll read is a sex scene. It isn’t exactly explicit, but it’s reasonably steamy, and it is not indicative of the book as a whole. Geralt does have his fair share of intimate encounters, but they’re not the focus of the book and I think in some ways that first two page chapter sets an inaccurate tone for what’s to come.

View all my reviews.

Weekend Recap

Weekends just fly by, don’t they? I get home from work on Friday night, turn in a circle 2 times and its Monday morning. Magic, of the darkest, bleakest kind.

Gaming-wise, I was all over the place this weekend; I’m not even sure I can remember everything I did. I signed up for Wizard 101 and played that for a while. I did some mellow deed grinding in LOTRO on one character, and some solo questing on another.

I played more Fable 2, which is proving to be as much fun the second time through as it was the first. I’m a lot more erratic this time, trying things to deliberately put my character off balance. I’ve stolen from shops here and there when they’re left untended (which is a lousy way to make a living, btw…they don’t have a lot of cash-on-hand). I’m a lot less hesitant to fight and kill. I slap male villagers who try to flirt with me (I’m playing a woman this time through), causing some townsfolk to fear me a little. My inner-13 year old can’t resist stripping my hero in the middle of Bowerstone to see which NPCs love her more, and which hate her more, when she’s in her undies. The jeweler turns out to be gay and likes it a lot when I strip, to the point where she’s ready to marry me. I don’t have the money to buy a house yet though.

I also checked back in with The Witcher, which I’m both enjoying and finding a bit frustrating. It feels pretty slow-going (probably a lot of this is psychological as sometimes a week goes by between sessions) and I really really wish I could remap keys and moreso, mouse buttons. The right mouse button fires your selected spell, and the middle mouse button activates mouse-look. In every MMO I play, I set the right button to mouse look. So I keep firing spells when I really just want to look around.

But, the mood of the game is delightfully grim and I’m playing it as “honest” as I can. I had an encounter with a woman being accosted by a group of thugs as she made her way home from the tavern where she works as a serving wench. I gave them fair warning, but they were spoiling for a fight. Soon enough they were all dead. Then I offered to escort the young lady home to her grandmother’s. We were accosted by barghests several times, and I drove them off several times, but then the lass fell too far behind me and when we were attacked, I didn’t get back in time to save her and sadly, she was killed.

This being a single player game, I could’ve reloaded my last save point. But I didn’t. I want to, as best I can, live with the consequences of the mistakes I make. I won’t re-start from the beginning if I die, mind you: I’m not *that* hardcore. And I’m sure there will be some “primary quests” that I have to successfully complete in order to drive the story forward. But otherwise… living with the consequences.

Anyway, The Witcher is pretty decent so far. I wish they hadn’t put a Poker-Dice game in it though (what we used to call Bar-Dice when I was young) because I spend far, far too much time gambling instead of adventuring!!!

Let’s see, what else? Oh right, I played some LittleBigPlanet. I kind of feel guilty about this one…it’s a great game but I just don’t find myself getting around to it very often. I think I really need some kind of narrative to draw me along in a game, and honestly LBP has no narrative. It’s just a big playground. And as previously blogged, I played a game of Hinterland on Saturday night. Oh, and Nile Online throughout the weekend.

See what I mean? I was all over the place, and that was BEFORE the 2 expansions launched. I’m pretty content in letting Warhammer lapse for now; it just wouldn’t make fiscal sense to be paying for two subscription games, based on how erratic my gaming habits are these days.

So what about everyone else? What’d everyone play this past weekend?

Cleaning up

Haven’t done a ton of gaming so far this weekend so haven’t had a lot to post about. I did fiddle around with Nile Online a lot yesterday, but that meant checking in on my city every couple of hours. I’m still enjoying that game quite a bit.

One of my PS3 hard drives was getting pretty full so I spent some time cleaning that up. I watched episodes three through six of Qore, the online magazine on the Playstation Network. It’s an entertaining product, but I’m still unconvinced its worth the price, *unless* you’re all about getting into betas. If it gets you into one beta you’re really jazzed about, then the ~$25/year is probably worth it. (My math there is that the product itself is probably worth $15/year and getting into a beta you really really want to get into is probably worth $10 to you.)

In Warhammer, I put all my characters except my Witch Hunter to bed, mentally. I cleaned out their mailboxes, organized their inventory. In the case of my Shadow Warrior I pushed him to the next Rank so he could wear a cloak I’d sent him from another character. That way he’ll look a bit snazzier when I come back to him in a month or two. Everyone is in a camp now, drinking ale and waiting for my return. Everyone, that is, except my CoW character, who I’ll continue to play right up to the cut-off day, though honestly knowing the account is going to expire soon makes that feel a little sad. At the same time I’m already a little excited about the improvements that will be in the game when I come back to it.

Probably next weekend I’ll fire up the EQ2 account so I can get re-familiarized with things before the expansion lands on the doorstep. Hmm, actually that doesn’t bode well for playing Warhammer next weekend, so maybe this will be the last week for my Witch Hunter.

I played some of The Witcher last night. I bought this game a year or so ago and it wasn’t too good, but they released an “Enhanced Edition” a couple months back and offered a free “upgrade” mega-patch to all registered users of the game. I started a fresh game just before the Fall tsunami of new game releases hit. I’m not very far into it but my conscience has been nagging at me not to lose track of it. I started playing it once on release, then restarted for this enhanced version. I know myself enough to realize that if I totally lose touch with the game and have to restart a third time, I never will.

And it seems like a pretty good game now. It feels a little like a cross between Fable 2 and an MMO, actually. It has a skill-based progression (though with ‘generic’ experience so you don’t sculpt your character via actions like you do in Fable 2), action-ish combat (left click to melee, right click to fire a spell, melee chains via timed button presses) like Fable 2, an alchemy crafting system similar to what you’d find in an MMO (with you getting components from foes you slay), NPCs offering side quests and an apparently huge, MMO-sized world. Anyway, we’ll see. I need to get back to Fable 2 today!

So what’s everyone else been up to this weekend?