Friday, May 25, 2012

Screenshot Friday!

This is my Dragon’s Dogma character, Gaia. She makes the cutest 'oh no!' face and has the most adorable sprinkle of freckles across her nose. She also has a gaping hole in her chest that’s been sewn up by magical influences, but...don’t worry about Gaia. She’s been through a lot in the last three years, facing innumerable adversaries and apocalyptic environments across such fabled lands as Ferelden, Tamriel and Amalur. Gransys is merely her most current challenge, and I believe that she (and I) have what it takes to fight the unspeakable foe and save the land...again.

I love character creators. Instead of being forced to develop a relationship with a predetermined protagonist, the player is allowed the freedom to explore options that help build a more tangible connection between him or her and the in-game avatar, forging an instant bond between the controller and the controlee. This seems to be the norm in most RPGs nowadays, even if the main character is already partially preset, such as Hawke and Shepard in BioWare’s franchises. When I started playing Dragon Age: Origins for the first time, I delved deep into the facial construction options and body type manipulators and created Gaia. I chose human mage as my race/class, gave her some fetching green eyes and a staff to yield in battle. And she and I have been together ever since.

Originally, Gaia was a feisty redheaded mage who loved a gentleman named Alistair, seduced a saucy elf named Zevron and saved Ferelden from an arch demon. When I moved on to Dragon Age 2, Gaia spent her years in Kirkwall earning the legendary title ‘Champion’ and defending mages with her partner Anders (this didn’t turn out so well), which turned her hair a beautiful silver but left her stronger than ever. When Gaia moved to Tamriel, she learned how to handle both her spells and a quick-bladed sword, and mastered a tongue-twisting ancient language, to relieve Skyrim of its ‘dragon problem’. In Amalur, Gaia entered the land of the faery to put an end to a civil war between the winter and summer courts, losing her destined fate in order to gain the respect of a nation. Gaia is all of these things, and Gaia is part of me, as we have evolved and developed together. She has become my common character across different discs, developers, publishers, scenarios and settings. And there is something very comforting about this, in knowing that through a tabulated character creator I can gain access to someone familiar, and in knowing her from previous times, I know her now, and I always know how to proceed with her training and appearance, her demeanor and dialogue choices. And she always wins the day, no matter what the obstacle.

I am finding myself quite in love with Dragon’s Dogma. Its pawn system is very different than anything I have played before, and my favorite part so far is finding player pawns in the real world and sending them back with items and equipment. The ultimate gift-giver. My created Strider pawn, Enkir, is sort of grouchy (two character creators-I am in heaven), but every time I hand him a poisoned arrow, he never fails to hit his mark.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Song of Blah and Whatever

I’ve exposed myself to too many Songs of Ice and Fire in the last nine months or so. What started as a genuine interest in an engaging television series has now slumped into near apathy via a lifeless video game. When I first started watching Game of Thrones on HBO, I was excited to find a world of fantasy that seemed interesting and contained characters with real life names such as Jamie and Joffrey over things like Xananaduity or Ziftenagra, a trait in hard fantasy that normally steers me away. Set in a world that I usually describe in video games as 'Englandish' during ‘fantasy medieval-like’ times, which coincidentally, are two of my favorite topics when reading romance novels, I watched the ten or so episodes last summer and enjoyed it enough to seek out the books. The first in the series, A Game of Thrones, was delightful, all of the characters and scenarios laid out in the same timeline and format as the show, only with added descriptive text in between. But then I read the other four one after the other, leaving almost no time in between each 1000+ page tome, and the world of Westeros, although still engaging, is now starting to feel less cohesive and more chaotic, characters crashing up against one another instead of seamlessly weaving around each other in a graceful dance. Plus, I’m super mad right now. No spoilers, but damn you Martin.

And then the second season of the television show started in April and things took another turn for the worse. Instead of following the canon faithfully, now HBO seems to have taken some of the suggested themes of sexuality and violence and ramped them up into full color visuals. Instead of asserting that a character is wicked, wicked bad in words and innuendo, now we get to uncomfortably watch them base themselves in violent or explicit acts which add nothing to the show other than making the viewer a little green and squirmy. I liked the show when it flowed nicely, and now it’s jumbled. From reading all five books, I feel as though I have gained enough insight into the world of Westeros to see when the volume needs to be turned up on some scenes and toned down on others. But HBO likes the nudity and the blood. They transformed the cutest little Southern vampire book series into the raunchiest television show I can think of, True Blood. And that’s just fine for fans of the TV series – heck, I even love True Blood as a show in itself, totally unrelated to the paperbacks. But something about the current season of Game of Thrones has rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because instead of detouring from canon completely, they are trying to blend together the written story and some liberal translations in an 'entertaining for viewers' sort of way. And even I, someone who has read the second book, feel that season two is a tad confusing, and feel sympathy for those who have not absorbed the written materials, as they may have trouble following along. The ‘game of thrones’ is apparently, ‘who is that dude and where the hell is Sean Bean’?

Even after finding myself in a state of over-consumption and with a waning interest in the topic, I still decided to give the new video game version a try. I’m not sure what the opposite of ‘a breath of fresh air’ is, but it certainly applies in this situation. For someone teetering on the edge of Westeros indifference, playing Game of Thrones will add that extra push into apathy, leaving you longing for a previous time when everything was tall grass and dragon eggs, pure white snow and fuzzy direwolves instead of (hinted spoilers, but not really) dead horses, unending blizzards and blackened castles. The game attempts to follow the same basic structure as the book series, with two characters inhabiting subsequent chapters and telling their own interactive stories. The writing is terribly tedious and deals with such cliché topics such as ‘BETRAYAL’ and ‘THE LONG LOST SON’. Although it is set in Westeros during the time of our beloved book series, these two all new characters lessen the experience, as there is nothing familiar to cling to as you are drowning in ennui while listening to people talk about 'THE POISON' and 'THE WILDLINGS'. I didn't make it past the second chapter, so I am unsure if Mors from the Night's Watch and Alester from Riversprings ever join forces, but I imagine their tales entangle at some point. I suppose I could wiki that, but...nah. At this point do I even need to say that the combat was terrible? It was terrible. I was not sad to seal it up and send it back to Gamefly in favor of cracking open Dragon’s Dogma, the most perfect game ever (right now).

I do believe I am going to take a break from the world of Westeros, as there are plenty of books to read and games to play in the time between now and the next book release, which could be in 2015 or never. Focusing on one media should make it easier to invest, and contains far less content to digest. I may continue watching the HBO series, but only the intro credits as they are fabulous every time. Wheee! The tiny gears and wheels spinning up into Winterfell!