Dragon Age: Facebook

It was only a matter of time. In the run up to Dragon Age II, a new themed Facebook game called Dragon Age: Legends is being launched by Bioware. And you can sign up to the beta today. It’s going to introduce us to the region of the Free Marches, the primary setting for Dragon Age II. In the same vein as the web-based game that was released in the run up to Dragon Age: Origins, playing the game will give some unlocks for the main game when launched.

Dragon Age: Legends is only due to release one month before Dragon Age II, sometime in February 2011.

Screenshots, forums and a blog are linked to from the Dragon Age: Legends site, which is a little sparse so far, but one to watch.

[Funnily enough, Spinks and I were chatting about Dragon Age II the other day while both placing our pre-orders, and at the time we expressed how much we’d liked the web-based game (Dragon Age: Journeys I think was the name) and how we hoped they’d be another. Good timing, Bioware.]

Solving the birthday dilemma

Arb and I are both very excited about Dragon Age 2, partly because we both loved the first game and partly because both of our birthdays are in March – conveniently for the game’s release.

So the announcement of the new signature edition, available to pre-orders, gave us both good ideas for potential birthday presents.

Do you have any ideas what you want for your birthday next year, because I had a thought …?

DA2? I was thinking of getting that for you too

We could both pre-order and get signature editions for each other

<<pause>>

Shall I just order one and get it sent to myself, and then you can do the same and we’ll pretend we paid for each other?

Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, the signature edition costs more than the regular edition on Amazon. (I’d assumed that all pre-orders would automatically be signature edition but nope.)

Day One: San Diego Comic Con 2010

Zombies at Comic Con 2010

Three days with no sleep standing in line for the Tron panel ...

It’s been a crazy day and a half, since I’m rolling the preview night into this write-up. Preview night, for me, basically means having a look around the Exhibit Hall, meeting people I wanted to try and catch and getting the atmosphere soaked up before the real work starts. In other words, I didn’t go to watch the actual preview this year, which was the TV show Nikita. Not that interested.

We all got Warner bags this year with our registration stuff. They’re huge, and they have different designs on and people used to queue at the Warner booth for them, so it’s been nice this year to just have one handed over. My friend got Human Target and I got a Batman one, so I grabbed the Human Target one, while he engaged in a game of bag-trading that saw him work through Clash of the Titans, Batman, Scooby Doo, Chuck, Fringe and finally The Big Bang Theory. But I’m happy with my Human Target one. The Exhibit Hall is huge, it’s just huge. And it runs the gamut from comic artists and book publishers, to games companies, along with the obvious film and TV presence. And people queue. They queue for swag, they queue to buy exclusive items, and they queue for autographs. And I hate queuing! So I go pick up the easy swag on the first night and see what else I might want. I did score lots of goodies from publishers, including a copy of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, and a bizarre book-related jigsaw. Also a Twilight iPhone cover.. hrrm, I shouldn’t mention that, right?

In all fairness, this year I wanted to check out games more, but they didn’t seem to all be ready to rock on preview night. So I might have to head back there. City of Heroes: Going Rogue had some terminals up, but no way to bag the in-game ghoul costume (and since I don’t play the game, in-game play didn’t really go it for me, but it looked pretty). DCUO was there (for the person who asked), but I didn’t check it out – they had lovely lanyards and my friend snagged one somehow.. we shall return. Then we went to see Super Hero Squad Online, as I’d promised to go hug the CM (long story, follow twitter ;p). My friend took the controls while we chatted and I have to say, I’m totally sold on it. Yes, it’s kiddie, but it’s gorgeous and the housing is honestly the most FUN MMO housing I’ve seen – complete with Hulk throwing sofas around the room to let off steam. So, that was a bit of a surprise to me, only because I’d never really considered it.

So we wandered, we got swag, we met friends from last year, and then we went to check if there was a line for Tron the next day. There was. And I’m a fool. So we took spots and settled in for a freezing night in a line. At least there was cover this year, as it rained. Also the Hilton sent us blankets, pillows and water. Was still freezing though!!! So let’s ignore the night in line, it’s not that interesting, but I had excellent company which helped.

And it was Thursday, the first full day of the con and I was near the front of the Hall H queue. First up was Megamind, a superhero/villain 3-D animated film starring Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, oh, and Brad Pitt. The first three showed up, with Ferrell in costume. I’m not a huge fan of any of them and they didn’t disappoint, I found it quite a stodgy panel, with nothing quite as funny as they wanted. But, and it’s a big but, the film looks awesome and fun and is definitely on my radar now (not least cos they gave us all watches!).

Next up was Tron: Legacy which was as awesome as expected. They showed 8 mins of footage, they showed the new trailer, the entire main cast were there and made interesting comments (the panel is almost certainly on YouTube by now, so honestly, I’m not going into details). They recorded us yelling De-Rez, and other terms and they’re hoping to insert it in the film, so whee, I might be in Tron: Legacy!! That’s a cool give-away and a half. But when they packed up to go early, it was obvious Disney had more in store for us. Firstly we got a 3-D Johnny Depp Pirates teaser trailer, the next one will be about Fountain of Youth, and he’s so great in character, again, I know the footage is online, so go seek!

Then, Guillermo Del Toro came out to reveal his next project is Haunted Mansion for Disney. And they’re rebooting it, forgetting Eddie Murphy ever existed and making it scary and cool. Hrrm. I’m not a massive Disney kid, Haunted Mansion to me was an ok ride in the theme park… so colour me a little disappointed that he left The Hobbit for this. But – the first 999 in the hall got a signed, numbered Haunted Mansion poster (signed by the artist), so yay for swag?!

We left the Hall post Tron and went to find food before heading back to pick up our Haunted Mansion swag. I had wanted to dash to the 38 Studios reveal, but frankly I hadn’t eaten in over 12h and I was HUNGRY. Got to see the Westboro Church protest and counter-protest and headed back to the Convention Center. I did manage to catch the last 15 mins of the panel, but mostly when they were wrapping up. Luckily they have the game’s website up now, so all the info will be there. There was a reason I headed to that room though, and that was for the other panel that was on my must-see list – a Quantum Leap retrospective. But first I saw through the Aqua Teen Hunger Force panel, which was frankly a little bit awkward. Still, it was over and people enjoyed it!

Then I settled down for an hour with Scott Bakula discussing the impact of Quantum Leap with someone from TV Guide. It started off with the show’s credit sequence which almost made me well up and then Bakula took to the stage. He got a standing ovation, which both surprised and pleased me, and I totally joined in. And it was just a magical hour of him speaking and clips from the show, including the final minutes of it. Shockingly, perhaps, he annouced that a Quantum Leap movie was ‘on’ again and that producers were getting on-board and it should all go ahead this time. He did say that he and Dean Stockwell would be in it, but not as the main characters anymore. I’m not surprised at that, but glad that the project is underway and they all seem to be happy about it and on board to star in it regardless of characters!

And then I went to see Dragon Age II…

((If you’d like to see another take on Day 1, Geeks are Sexy went to some of the same panels as Arb but also went to the Scott Pilgrim one instead of Quantum Leap.))

Return of the Inflatable Sword

dragon age 2 header

So, last year at Comic Con, one of the things I missed was Dragon Age and the chance to have a play on it. In fact, I skipped the computer games entirely because my main focus was going was to watch TV and film panels.

This year is slightly different and I’m trying to correct mistakes, so, when I had a gap in my ‘schedule’ I decided to leave the Convention Center and check out Dragon Age II.  In fact, as I walked across the road away from the Convention I was even handed a ‘come play Dragon Age II’ postcard, so even serendipity was on my side. I kind of ignored the fact there was also Dead Space 2 in the same location, so sorry about that folks – it’s not my cup of tea so I didn’t pay it too much attention (though I did get an inflatable weapon from them also!).

Ah yes, the inflatable sword swag – something I brought home from last year. They had inflatable swords advertising Dragon Age and I assumed this was just leftover stock, so I grabbed another couple – but these are branded Dragon Age II, so they just must know how much we all loved them. In addition, there were some blood splatter tattoos advertising the game, and showing a good sense of humour about one of the things people (myself included) mocked about the original game.

I should say now, don’t expect any pictures of the game or gameplay – we signed enough of an NDA to cover that, but I did specifically ask about blogs and twitter and that’s all fine, I mean, they obviously want us to spread the word. There was a queue to get in to Dragon Age II, and no queue for Dead Space 2. Make of that what you will. 12 people were let into a room at a time to get some hands-on experience, plus a couple who could stand around and watch, which is the option I took, since I just wanted to SEE the game.

We were treated to a little overview first, explaining some of the main changes and how they’d all come from customer feedback from the first game. The graphics are sharper and use a slightly different style (I thought this would be fairly minor, but when you see the game in action it is genuinely a lot more beautiful!). Fighting is punchier and looks a hell of a lot more responsive – mages now have a cool death blow animation equivalent to jumping up and stabbing things in slow-mo, blood is less ridiculous but still flies around a lot, and some of the spell and fighting effects are just gorgeous – we saw a warrior and mage taking on some hurlocks and an ogre, each showing off their special attacks.

There’s a couple of big differences which I think will prove quite interesting, but obviously which we can’t really see in a short playtest. First of all, the hero is voiced! No more silence. Apparently, this is going to avoid situations such as a silent response to diatribe in a Landsmeet, and the little clip we saw of it was great, but it’s still a very hard one to judge. But, they do have it so you’re not just repeating a dialogue option, the options paraphrase what your char will actually say. Oh, and while we’re on dialogue options, they now have icons next to them that give you a hint how they might affect things (it looks like there are only a handful of icons to get used to though, and I quite like the idea).

Secondly, the narrative structure of the game has changed. The game covers a much longer period than Dragon Age, and is told by a couple of (not necessarily reliable) narrators – the tale of The Champion (that’s you, that is!) and who s/he was. This allows Bioware, and the player to play key points in the life of the character, with each being able to have a massive influence on the rest of the story. Your character escapes Lothering and heads north, and you know becomes The Champion of their new locale (Kirkwall, or something with Kirk in, anyway – sorry, this is all from memory). And the world is on the brink of war by the end of the time period being discussed. So you get to see how this Champion became who they are. I was dubious, but I quite like the idea now. Bioware said it helped them actually show a longer and more fulfilling timescale, and avoided things like an epilogue that just told you what happened years later, now we’ll be able to play so many flashback sessions that we get to see our character’s full story.

The section of playable game was chosen to show off some of the fighting and a little of the dialogue, but it was pretty short. I thought it definitely looked like the combat flowed more and I liked what I heard of the voices and what I saw of the new art style. In fact, there really wasn’t much I didn’t like about the changes and I’m now really looking forward to playing the game, due out in Spring next year – in perfect time for my birthday!

Gaming News: RealID was merely a setback, Dragon Age 2 announced, Firaxis hit by layoffs, E3 Game Critics Awards

I’ll start with my one and only World Cup joke, in honour of the World Cup finals: France, the only national side with 21 strikers.

Incidentally, Paul the Psychic Octopus now has his own facebook page (we assume under his real name).

WoW players love their pseudonyms

Blizzard this week announced that new Starcraft 2 and Cataclysm forums would require all posters to display their real names, as currently shown on their battle.net realID. Following widespread backlash from the community, they later withdrew the part about displaying real names in favour of a forum id.

Normally “Company A announces X. Company B then unannouces it 3 days later” would not be news. But the big story here is in quite how loud and unanimous the feedback from players against this change really was. There were crazy huge forum threads (I think the Blizzard IT team who kept those forums up all week under the heavy load are the unsung heroes of the piece), posts and comments all over the blogosphere, and reports in numerous national media. I am not sure that anyone would have predicted that quite so many people felt so strongly about their pseudonymity. I certainly would not. On a less pleasant note, some protestors also publicised information about Blizzard/Activision employees including addresses, details of family/ kids etc. I can’t condone this, but it undoubtedly was effective.

I do notice though that in many of the media pieces, they mention that gaming forums often use ids. Whilst failing to mention that this is thoroughly mainstream practice online outside facebook and many of the selfsame publications allow people to register with ids to comment on their own news stories.

We have assumed for awhile now that the spread of real names across the internet is inevitable. If nothing else, the facebook generation who were introduced to the internet via facebook will consider it normal. But now I wonder. There are certainly advantages to pseudonymity, many of which have been raised in this week’s discussions.

Anyhow, there is no doubt more to be said on the topic of internet privacy, as well as how to clean up gaming culture for the mainstream. The only arguments I have little time for in this debate are those who claim that it isn’t important.

Dragon Age 2, now more Mass Effectish

One of the other stories which caught my eye this week was that Dragon Age is apparently Bioware’s biggest selling title. I would have expected to see Mass Effect/ Mass Effect 2 in that position, and if you look at the actual article, Rob Bartel’s quote is:

“last November it was the single most globally successful title we’ve put out to date”

Last November was before ME2 was released. So – yeah – draw your own conclusions.

Anyhow, this week Bioware announced Dragon Age 2, a sort of sequel to the first game which features a different protagonist, different continent, updated graphics, and possibly very different style of combat. I hope the trademark blood spatters stay in though.

Unlike the original game, DA2 won’t offer the option of multiple character origins. Players will play Hawke (a character who, like Shepherd, can be either male or female) and the game tells the story of his/her rise to power over a period of 10 years. I do love that Bioware takes a different storytelling style with each DA release with the first being a classic ‘callow youth goes on adventure and saves world’ story, then Awakenings where you have to establish a power base around your keep, and now a 10 year epic tale.

Some commentators have said that they think the new DA2 sounds too much like ME in style for their tastes, and that the hero won’t feel as though it belongs as much to the player. We’ll have to wait and see.

Layoffs at Civilisation Developer

Firaxis laid 20 developers off this week, presumably a sign that they haven’t yet started work on Civ 6.

E3 Game Critic Awards announced

Every year, a poll is taken of critics from various publications to see which games or hardware presented at E3 most impressed them. The winners for this year’s awards were published this week.

I don’t see anything here that is either surprising or exciting (except maybe that Portal 2 beat SWTOR for best PC game). The critics liked the DS3 a lot. Games which got a shout out include Civ 5 (best strategy), Portal 2 (best PC game, best action/adventure), SWTOR (best RPG), Rage (best console game, best action game, best graphics).

I’m assuming here that ‘Best Action Game’ means best shooter, and I don’t really get why they don’t call it best shooter. But what do I know?