Romancing the Game: My Digital Loves

I didn’t even know romance was a thing in games until Alistair Theirin gave my Warden a rose. I had suspected he was sweet on her up until then, but that one gesture was above and beyond what I had experienced before – which was a big fat nothing because I didn’t know romance was a thing in games. I’d either missed a cue (I suck at flirting) or was too busy lining up a headshot to notice the availability of the character standing next to mine… or understand their intent.

Dragon Age: Origins changed a lot about the way I play games. I expect better combat mechanics than I did before, and seriously mourn the loss of the macros you could write for party members in that game. I tend to look for a deeper story now, and a world that feels bigger than it is. And I’m open to the possibility of romance inside a game, as long as it doesn’t distract me from the main quest, because when it’s well done, having someone to fight for works just as well in a game as it does in fiction.

To celebrate Valentine’s, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite game romances.

Continue reading “Romancing the Game: My Digital Loves”

Downloading a Vacation

I don’t often buy and/or play extra downloaded content for games. Basically, I’m cheap. I don’t want to pay any more than I already have. More usually it’s a matter of having spent upward of 150 hours exploring the world and being done. I want to move on to the next game. I also have this stubborn (and cheap) belief that if the content is important to the original story, it should have been included. For free. Continue reading “Downloading a Vacation”

Ooh, Shiny!

My first impressions of Dragon Age: Inquisition, spoiler free.

About every two years a game costs just a bit more than the cover price. A new video card is required, or your power supply conks out, or you need a new fan…or, in the case of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a new motherboard, processor (DA:I requires a quad core) and, sure, let’s grab some more memory while my wallet is open. So I had to wait a couple of weeks to throw myself back into the world of Thedas. During those two and a half weeks, I successfully avoided all spoilers but one. I kept reading about shiny hair. Apparently, despite the fact the WORLD IS IN PERIL, everyone has had time to apply product to their hair.

A devout role player, I selected a skull trim for my first Insquisitor. I often play nearly bald male characters because the choices of hair are always awful, not to mention the fact ponytails never stir in the breeze and a more elaborate ‘do just isn’t practical when the WORLD IS IN PERIL. So Maxwell Trevelyan entered Thedas with a smattering of freckles, deep blue eyes and a pleasing lack of shiny hair—only to confront Cassandra, whose hair reflected the light of a thousand suns. Andraste’s flaming sword, her hair was so shiny, it cast a glow upon Maxwell’s lips.

I soon realised that his lips would always glisten, regardless of available light.

The Frostback Mountains are cold. There is snow everywhere. Frozen lakes groan beneath the rime. I would have cautioned Max against licking his lips in such temperatures, but I never actually saw his tongue swipe his glossy mouth. Something else was making his lips shine. Sensibly, I could assume he carried a tub of rendered animal fat (no cherry Chapsticks in Thedas). He was rather a pretty boy and obviously preferred not to let his lips chap. But I was going for realism here. I couldn’t have Max halting the Inquisition to reapply his lip gloss.

In a desperate attempt to adjust the lumen rating of everyone’s hair, I turned to the ‘net for advice and stumbled across a very good, spoiler free article on Kotaku, Tips For Playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. There I learned how to adjust the mesh setting, thus stealing the blinding highlights from everyone’s hair. Unfortunately, the only fix for Max’s lips was to abandon him in Haven and start afresh. Seeing as I had spent two hours swearing at the combat system “improvements”—why, oh why do developers need to tweak the combat in each and every installment of the game?—I happily returned to the drawing board. Sorry, Max.

Say hello to Felix.

Felix Ingesson Trevelyan
Felix Ingesson Trevelyan

I dialed the “lip shine”—really, BioWare?—down to zero, chose a hair style that didn’t suck, dotted his face with freckles, because he’s kind of a ginger and that just happens, tweaked the inner and outer iris colour to achieve a green that’s probably not really possible in real life, and then played with his nose and chin until they looked no different from when I had started. Honestly, you could spend hours in the character creation section. BUT, to my dismay, you are given very little choice regarding class.

One of my favourite aspects of Dragon Age: Origins was the dual wield warrior. A DW warrior is the perfect example of why the DA:O character creation was so awesome. I generally like to play a rogue, with daggers, please. DA:O not only allowed you to train your rogue in a mind boggling number of ways, but you could also play a warrior who functioned very much like a rogue—less tricky, but with more hit points, which could be handy if you were the only man standing near the end of a fight. You could design a true scrapper, and that’s a role I relished through my umpteen playthroughs.

Leveling involved spending points—as it does in Inquisition—but those points could be spread over a number of skills that further specialised your character. You could make a stealthy/sneaky rogue. A persuasive warrior. A pickpocket and thief. Add enough points to dexterity and you could master dual swords. Two swords! Throw enough willpower behind a warrior and they refused to be knocked down in a fight.

The new system of character creation and leveling is easier, I suppose…

Combat has been tweaked again. I had a hard time maneuvering Max during combat, so much so that my party kept dying in the first boss fight, which occurs before they even splash the title of the game across the screen. Ridiculous, right? Now and again in my gaming career I have come across that one fight that stalls my progress for days. I’ve even had to abandon a couple of games there, knowing that I’ll never get beyond that point. To have that happen before a game truly got started was a little disheartening (no, I did not want to turn the difficulty down, generally I enjoy challenging combat).

I figured out the problem. The A and D keys on the mouse have been mapped so that your character looks from side to side. To actually move side to side, you need to click and hold with the mouse. Doing so while using a mouse button during combat is…hard. I’m forty-six, and I’ve just never been that coordinated. You can strafe using the Q and E keys, but teaching my fingers to dive up and to the side when they’ve been trained to WASD for years is beyond me. So, I remapped my keyboard. I now strafe using A and D and if I am struck with the urge to actually look side to side, I can use Q and E for that.

The difference is amazing. Felix suffered no more than a flesh wound up until four and a half hours into the game when I approached a rift I wasn’t quite ready for. My party died a horrible death. I did try to follow the on screen prompts for resurrection with the last remaining party members, then I tried to run. I was cut down without mercy.

I have yet to play with the party combat tactics. That’s next on my “to do” list as I start to engage in battles that require a little more than pointing and clicking. Then I’ll continue exploring this gorgeous new world.

Now that I’ve stumbled through the first couple of hours, I have very few expectations for the game. I’d like to see the story started in Origins brought to a convincing close, and that’s about it. I know Inquisiton will be fun because it’s a BioWare game and I usually find them both playable and entertaining. I’m delighted by the return to Ferelden, even though it makes me nostalgic for characters I role played on a forum four years. My writing partner, Jenn, and I talked about what our boys might be doing now, some elven years after the Fifth Blight. We decided they are happily retired and blissfully unaware of current events. Some characters deserve a happy ever after, don’t they? Speaking of which, Felix takes his name from my hero in our upcoming book Chaos Station (Carina Press, March 2, 2015). When I showed him to Jenn, she created his counterpart, Zander, who is her hero in our book.

Zander Damainos Anatolius Trevelyan
Zander Damainos Anatolius Trevelyan

These characters owe their inception to Dragon Age: Origins and the years of role play we participated in afterwards, so it seems only fitting that my first proper playthrough pays homage to that heritage.

Spotlight: Kelly Jensen – Author, Gamer, and . . . Fan Baker?

Jenn Burke is a good friend of mine. We’ve been writing and gaming together since 2009. That’s a lot of words and (and a lot of bloody, violent deaths). In the following interview, Jenn wrings a few more words from me (like it’s hard) by asking me about my favourite moments in gaming. I had a great time reminiscing with her and thinking about the future of games.

Spotlight: Kelly Jensen – Author, Gamer, and . . . Fan Baker?.

Story: This Is Home

Iain MacKinnon is an original character (OC) created for roleplay at the Warden’s Vigil role-playing community. I used to be one of the moderators of the board and the profile of another character, Serafina MacKinnon, captured my interest. Serafina had a twin and he was missing, presumed dead. I thought, ‘What if…’ and Iain popped into my head with a back story, a voice and a very cheeky smile.

For those unfamiliar with the setting of Warden’s Vigil, we are role-playing the aftermath of events that occurred during the game ‘Dragon Age: Origins’ by BioWare. Here is a brief description of the game from Wikipedia:

“Set in the fictional kingdom of Ferelden during a period of civil strife, the player assumes the role of a warrior, mage or rogue coming from an elven, human, or dwarven background who must unite the kingdom to fight an impending invasion by demonic forces.”

At the time Iain was introduced to the board, fifteen months had passed since the end of the ‘game’—Ferelden had a new king and the demonic forces had been vanquished. Iain missed the majority of the war. He was captured in one of the first strikes and sequestered in a dungeon. He endured six months of torture before escaping. That torture left him too weak to run far, however, and he was forced to stowaway aboard a ship to avoid recapture. He struck a bargain with the captain and after he regained his health, he served as a sailor to repay his debt. Nearly two years later, he returned to Ferelden.

This is the story of his return.

Iain MacKinnon, his family, the captain and crew of ‘La Stella Cadente’, the residents of Stormgard and the village itself are my creations. They are set in a world which belongs to BioWare. As always, my thanks go to BioWare for allowing fans to play in their sandbox.

The song ‘This Is Home’ by Switchfoot inspired the title of my story and their music is something I associate with Iain as a character.

Continue reading “Story: This Is Home”