Monday, May 23, 2011

That Accessibility Complaint

I see it time and time again where hardcode fans complain when developers try to make a game more accessible to others. I often think we forget that accessibility can actually be beneficial; however, I'm not going to say that it's always worth it. For instance, take niche games like Hyperdimension Neptunia that are created for such a select crowd that even marketing them to the mainstream would be utterly useless. But here's the thing, the companies making those niche games are on a much lower budget, so it makes sense just to target that one specific fanbase and cater to them. Now here's where I draw the line, a lot of complaints have surfaced over Dragon Age II. BioWare has expanded as a company; it's clear even with the Mass Effect series, they are no longer making their games for one type of audience or gamer. Honestly, I don't see this as a bad thing, since the more people that play BioWare's games - the better - and that's not just in a business sense. It's the fact that they are acknowledging they no longer have one audience or player in mind. It was like when there were complaints at the option for a gay romance in their games. The keyword there is "option," and it's not an invalid one to include in a game at that. As a society, we are one big melting pot, full of different personalities and preferences, but you know what's great? How games can bring together so many different people across one medium. What does this offer? A wider variety of perspectives, passion, and overall support and dedication to a particular game or series.

I think, in any game, it's important not to consider just one type of audience or player (unless it is clearly the point of the game, see games like Demon's Souls). There's a danger of isolating prospective players in any shape or form. For years, as a female gamer, I've accepted I'm not the target audience of the majority of games. It's like asking for admission into the secret club, they'll let you in as long as you play by the rules. And for years I've done it out of my share love of games. The problem now? That more females than ever are gaming. You'd think there would be more attempts to include them in the process, and yet, I just don't see as much effort as I'd like. Brink is the latest example of a game to isolate more than one audience. For the purpose of this post, I'll just state the obvious: not having an option for subtitles in a game is completely unacceptable. There are people out there who are hard of hearing; heck, there are people out there who are deaf, and I know for a fact a great deal of them play games. So why exclude them in this day and age?

I'll end this post with acknowledging that I do see a great deal of flaws in Dragon Age II, but I also see a lot to admire. I'll also attest it's a better game and more fun to play than half of what is on the market today. To compare it to a game that had a ten year development cycle just doesn't make sense. The majority of companies do take criticism seriously. They want to sell their games; they make to keep their fans happy and invested. There's no doubt in my mind that BioWare will address the overused landscape ordeal. I'm also confident to those hardcore fans who were expecting something more along the lines of Origins, will at least get something more balanced toward your tastes. However, I just don't support the elitist mindset of "these are my games, how dare any player less experienced try to find enjoyment in them or have a chance to be let into my world." BioWare opened doors in Dragon Age II, and maybe they did close some as well in that process, but I'm going to predict that in the third game there will be less closing and even more opening. So, let's just not berate them before they even finish the project.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mass Effect 2 - You've Won Me Over

I've always been a little resistant to WRPGs, not because of where they come from, but I've pretty much been swept up in JRPGs for as long as I can remember. I never had a reason to look elsewhere. However, when the PS2 era ended, the JRPGs weren't coming in waves like they used to - well for consoles anyway - and lately I have found the ones we have received to be less than stellar; not to mention, the stories and characters aren't stepping outside of the box. See my recent editorial on RPGFan if that's a topic that interests you. Anyway, so back to my journey into Mass Effect. I had been looking for something to captivate me - a game I didn't want to end, because it had me so swept up in everything it had to offer. I have always been resistant to Mass Effect, mainly, because I'm not a huge sci-fi fan, which is funny considering I love the Xenosaga series. Well, I started with the first game, and it didn't entirely hold me. There were things I liked about it, but I am all about my characters, and while they were interesting, I never felt attached to them. Enter Mass Effect 2 - and that's the moment where it all changed.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't want my journey to end; I could sit there and play the game for hours, and not only get lost in the world, but the well-developed characters. There were some I disliked, but there was always a reason for why they were the way they were, and BioWare did an excellent job about making that known. Well, except Zaeed, I hated him all through the game and felt he was one of the weakest additions to the game. Miranda was a close second, but her loyalty mission shed some light for me. In all of this, where it most succeeds is that the suicide mission mattered, and like hell it did. I cared about all the characters (except Zaeed) so much that I felt it was my duty to bring them all back alive, and I did after my second attempt. But the point is, I haven't cared so much about a game in quite a while, and it was extremely refreshing. I also loved all the choices throughout the game whether it be dialogue or strategy, it all mattered, and KimShep is one tough Paragon cookie.

So what does this mean? It means I'm so stoked for the third game, which will also be the last one. I'm a little conflicted because the conclusion marks an end to my KimShep's story. I have no doubt BioWare will put their intelligence and creativity toward another, hopefully new IP, but damn, the person I've been through my KimShep, I'm going to miss that. I can only hope that in the midst of the large final mission that the characters don't take a backseat like the first game - they were the most endearing part of Mass Effect 2. My standouts were my romance partner, Garrus, Mordin, and Thane. I also hope the weight of your decisions in the second game carry over to the third. And what am I most hoping for? My Kaidan and Garrus love triangle to pan out - they better fight for KimShep's affection.

Anyway, for all those years I spent trying to avoid Mass Effect because I thought it was too "sci-fi" for me, I deeply regret it. This has been a lesson to myself as a gamer and journalist, don't judge games for what they appear to be on the surface, and don't worry that hype and praise will influence your enjoyment of them. If anything, I've learned I have to step outside my comfort zone or I'm never going to experience these precious little gems of awesome. Furthermore, JRPGs, I still have mad love for you - you can start coming out of hiding now, I'd like to find love in you all over again.