Opinion

The "Skyrim Paid Mods" fiasco

In the space of four days, a game that is lauded as one of the best games ever made has gone through an intense upheaval. That game, of course, is Skyrim.

As I mentioned in Games Corner on Sunday, Valve introduced a new feature into Skyrim for PC - the ability to sell game mods. This fundamental shift in how the modding community has operated for 3 and a half years brought about quite the reaction.

While the idea of modders making money from their creations is a great idea in an idealistic world, introducing this kind of scheme into an established community was the wrong way to go about implementing the idea. Players were up in arms over the fact, taking to all manner of social web outlets to vent their frustration. The massive upheaval caused the founder of Valve, Gabe Newell himself, to post an AMA on Reddit where people could ask him questions directly about the whole deal.

Gabe's general tone underlies exactly what you would expect - Valve was optimistic that this could be a program that would be beneficial to everyone. Valve makes money providing this outlet to consumers, developers find another potential revenue stream, modders are able to get paid for their hard work (hopefully prompting more professional mods to be created) and players get even more content that is of a higher standard.

What has ended up happening, however, is a whole different story. Mods that were previously free had become paid, some people were ripping mods straight from other modders and uploading them as their own for a fee, the waters between who should get paid for what mods became murkier. Some modders who were opposed to the idea of paid mods were uploading their own new and interesting creations - 3 of which are still the top three suggested mods to try out:

Lets just say, people weren't happy.

Fast forward to early this week and a steady stream of stories are being pumped out by gaming news outlets - comments on the problems surrounding the paid model, the pros and cons of paid mods, prominent figures thoughts on the whole debacle - it was a massive topic up for debate within the gaming community as a whole, not just the modding one.

Then the plot twist. Bang!

Paid mods are no more.

After taking in the massive backlash caused by this initiative, Valve & Bethesda decided to rollback the option to sell mods on Steam. Everyone that spent any money on any mods would be given a refund. Credit where credit is due here - Bethesda and Valve listened to their fan base. 

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So where does that leave us? Well, back where we started, for one. All mods are now free again and everything is back as it once was. But is it, really?

The very thought of charging for mods of video games has brought a new dynamic into the mix when it comes to mods. This has been a glass shattering moment for modding communities net-wide - what has always been a purely about the passion is now tainted with the background thoughts of commercialism. I very much doubt that every person who has put 100's, if not 1000's of hours of painstaking effort into their creation will think "yeah, all mods should be free forever!" I wouldn't be shocked if we see a new, 3rd party store pop up somewhere on the web peddling premium mods for a premium price.

This might not necessarily be a bad thing - Garry's Mod wouldn't be what it is today without a paid model - but it does need to be implemented in the right context, with the right game, with the right community.

With this debacle now firmly on the right side of the bell curve, the story of "Skyrim paid mods" will surely settle - at least for a while. Enjoy your mods while you can kids - the web as you know it might change sooner than you think.

The thrill of cheesing a video game

When I look back at my most memorable gaming moments, I see a myriad of wonderful times - that moment when everything clicked and I understood everything in Bioshock Infinite, that elation at finally collecting that 120th star in Super Mario 64. Aside from those general achievements that any person can achieve though, it's the thrill of outsmarting a game at it's own mechanics that stand out most in my time playing video games.

A video game, boiled down to it's very basics, is a set of rules. Look passed the beautiful graphics, the amazing story, the tight controls, and you will see a certain set of rules you must obey in order to actually play the game. Do this. Go here. Fight this person. Collect X of this item. If your attack is higher than the opponents defense, you win.

These rules, however, can sometimes be... bent.

In my latest dive back into old favourites, I decided to run through Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for 9th time. I had a ball weaving my way through the story, figuring out my forgotten strategies, leveling up my characters. Then I made it to a certain level in the game and remembered that I needed to perform a specific action in order to unlock an important character further down the road.

Without going into all the nitty gritty details, I needed my main character to have a speed stat of at least 27 in order to perform this action without dying. His current speed was 24. When leveling up, he has a 35% chance of his speed stat increasing by 1. Not fantastic odds. That coupled with the fact that him gaining 3 levels before performing this action is nearly impossible... It seems it couldn't be done.

Well... I did say nearly impossible...

After working through all the math, retrying the level at least 4 times, save-reseting several times before a level up - I actually managed to get the main character's speed stat to 27, perform the action and have all of my characters live in the process. After 4 hours of working my way through this level, I'd managed to swing all the odds in my favour to do what I set out to do - even though, if I'd technically played the game the way it was supposed to be played, it never would have happened.

"Cheesing", as you have probably guessed by now, is the action of exploiting a games' set parameters, bending the rules to make them work for you. The word has hit critical mass recently thanks to a tiny indie game that you may have heard of called Destiny. If there was ever a game where bending a video games' rules was widespread throughout a player base, Destiny is it.

It seems that Destiny, as a game, is less about the story, the missions, the loot - and more about finding ways to break the game itself. Loot caves/stairs, hiding spots on boss fights - if there's a way the system can be bent, Destiny players will find it. And they love doing it.

There's an immense sense of satisfaction you get when you work out a way to bend a video game's rules to your will. When you technically work within the guidelines that were set for you - even though what you have done is not at all what the developer intended. It makes you feel smarter than the average gamer.

As if cheese needed another good thing going for it.

 

Have some wonderful memories of times you've bent the limits of a game to your whim? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @lawnch1.

Make your own game in an afternoon with Twine

Ever wanted to make your very own video game, but knowing how long it will take to actually do puts you off? Well, let me introduce you to Twine.

Twine is a small tool for creating interactive stories. It's completely free to use, for personal or profit. It's available for Windows and Mac, as well as having an in-browser option also available.

Twine is a tiny but powerful program, ranging from the ability to make simple stories - literally text pages one after another - to elaborate interactive experiences with text, images, choices, RPG like statistics and more.

I was introduced to this program from both the tweets of indie dev Zoe Quinn and several articles over at Offworld, intriguing me to check out this avenue of game development. As Zoe mentions in some of her tweets - when you can literally make a game and publish it in an afternoon, how much lower can the barrier to entry be?

My experience with the program so far has been, in a word, excellent. There are no hassles with setup and you can begin creating straight away. It is a good idea to check out both tutorials on YouTube as well as the ever helpful wiki located on the main Twine website for tips on where and how to start. These resources are great for learning the basics of how to get started with Twine.

If you are familiar with basic web programming, such HTML/CSS and/or JavaScript, the kinds of experiences you can create with Twine increase exponentially. Using these web programming languages allows you to not only change the colours, fonts, styles and everything visual about your game, but it also allows you to add in scripts and macros to enhance your game further - adding in timed events, for example.

Currently being held by Porpentine is the Twiny game jam - a small jam in where your task is to create a tiny Twine with less than 300 words. This is a great initiative to help budding young devs and veterans alike come up with something small in a few short hours. Props to Laura Hudson with this story on Offworld for alerting me to this jam and helping me finish my very first Twine game!

You can check out my little text adventure right here, in your browser or even on your smartphone, if you want an idea of a basic game that can be made very easily with Twine:

Click here to play Player Choice on your phone or Browser!

I've already had a ton of fun with Twine, and plan to continue to build games using it. If this sounds like something you would be interested in trying out, I encourage you to do so. If you do, please share them with me on twitter @lawnch1 so I can check out your creations! 

Twine - an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories

Four unsolved mysteries in the 6th gen Pokemon games

Pokemon is pretty straightforward, right? Go on a Pokemon journey, collect 8 badges, save the day, become the champion. Right.

Wrong.

Being games that have always had a fairly large and relatively open world to explore, every Pokemon game has had tons of little side quests and interesting stories spread out through the various regions. Each generation, this has lead to a variety of mysteries that were left unsolved for months after the games came out, from the infamous untrue strength-truck-mew mystery in gen 1 to the elaborate Regi quest in gen 3.

With the intersection of the internet and the ability to connect with other like minded gamers around the world easily, these mysteries and urban myths became simply puzzles with a definitive answer. All it takes is an internet search and the answer is provided for you.

So what were Gamefreak to do in order to keep up the air of mystery surrounding the pokemon games? Well, in the latest generation, they have managed to come up with some interesting mysteries that, even 18 months later, still remain unsolved by gamers worldwide.

 

Generation VI

Before we get into the mysteries I have for you today, I will lay out a bit of an explanation first - Generation VI (6) of the pokemon games consists of both Pokemon X & Y (XY) as well as Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (ORAS). Even though ORAS is technically a remake of the generation 3 games, it has its own timeline, story, graphics etc. It lines up with the story of XY in the same way that Black & White 2 line up with the original Black and White, therefore they count as a single generation.

Alright, lets get into it!

 

XY And ORAS ghost girls

Possibly one of the most well known mysteries surrounding XY was the appearance of a ghostly figure in a certain building in Lumiose City.

As seen in the video above, When you ride the elevator to the second floor of said building, the music stops, the screen flashes to black. Upon re-brightening, a mysterious figure appears behind you, proceeds to float passed you, saying 'No, you're not the one...'. After she disappears, the music comes back and you are free to roam around the empty room. This only happens once, the first time you enter the floor - after that, the floor just continues to be empty.

Many have speculated that this 'ghost girl' is looking for a trainer with a specific Trainer ID (A unique code given to each player at the start of the game). As of the time of writing this, it has been 18 months since this game was released - and no one has come forward with a specific ID that has worked.

To add to the mystery of the XY ghost girl, a new figure was found in a whole different building in another city entirely. She has the same sprite as the ghost girl, won't actually look at you when you talk to her, and says the following:

Coincidence? Maybe, but doubtful.

With the release of ORAS, many had thought that Gamefreak had forgotten all about the ghost girl in XY. That was until a few days later, when people started making it up to the Pokemon league's second challenger.

If you missed it in the video, the girl appears sitting on the chair in the background when talking to Phoebe, for a single frame as the screen fades to black. The camera proceeds to then take the view of the child, walking over to your character while Phoebe is still talking. The child is then able to be seen over the players shoulder prior to the actual battle commencing.

Again, you can only see this ghost girl the first time you play through the Pokemon league - after that, you never see her again.

Apart from these two main ghost stories, here are several other little ghost related tidbits:

There is a girl in Mt Pyre of ORAS, with the same sprite from XY, who says this to you:

In Mauville Hills, there is an apartment up for rent (which you unfortunately can not access) that has a slightly different response on the intercom / statement on the wall next to the door than other vacant apartments on the floor:

What does all this mean? Are there actual people ghosts throughout these Pokemon games? Are they all related in some way? Are they there just because the devs wanted to mess with us - or is it something more?

We still don't know the answer - and we may never find out.

 

The Power Plant in XY

Part of the main story in XY leads you through a power plant in the dessert to defeat the baddies and foil their evil plans. The area is quite simple however - you only need to go through a few doors, the path being pretty straightforward.

What was quickly discovered however, was that there are several entrances to the power plant throughout the dessert, all with locked doors barring the way. Out of the five entrances to the power plant, only the one is accessible - the others are locked off for the entire game and never open up.

Why even have these doors if they never become accessible? Why say they are locked if they can not be unlocked?

Many people, myself included, have tried all sorts of ways to open these doors, to little avail. Was it possible that the new keyring Pokemon Klefki could unlock them? Alas, no. Was there a pass in ORAS that could be transferred across to unlock them? Not one that has been discovered - yet, anyway. Did the devs have bigger plans for these areas, but didn't get time to finish them - so they decided to just lock them off?

Some have since wondered if these areas were going to be the areas that housed some as yet unreleased Pokemon. Which leads me to...

Hoopa & Volcanion

With the release of XY, the number of Pokemon available was boosted to a whopping 718. That is a lot of monsters to collect!

However, several months after the game had been out, hackers had finally found a way into the code of the game, and in doing so revealed three more completely unannounced Pokemon - Diancie, Hoopa and Volcanion.

Out of these three, Diancie has since been released via an event into the world, but the other two remain elusive as ever. The only way to get these Pokemon is through hacking the game.

Since its discovery, many have speculated that Volcanion will some day soon be released as an event into the XY games - in the form of the player being given access to the rest of the power plant. This would be similar to the whirl islands of generation 2 - in order to find the legendary Pokemon, you would have to work your way through a maze of tunnels right to the very bottom. This seems potentially likely, given that it has been reported that the event will include the player being given a Plant Key.

Personally, my theory on Volcanion is a little bit different. The volcano in ORAS, Mt. Chimney, is a key fixture in the game - it stands above everything when you are soaring through the sky. Apart from the obvious fact that Volcanion's name is pretty similar to the word 'volcano', part of the description of the Pokemon in the OR and Y video games is 'It's said to live in mountains where humans do not tread.' Sounds much more like the insides of a volcano rather than a human built power plant, no?

The last of the three unreleased Pokemon, Hoopa, has a whole 'nother back story, with some interesting tidbits. To get the full scoop, I suggest reading Patricia Hernandez's article on Pokemon's unsolved mysteries - skip to 'Where do the legendaries come from?' to read all about the theories surrounding Hoopa and it's potential involvement around all the other legendaries that can be found in ORAS.

The TL;DR of Hoopa is that it could be the Pokemon that is bringing the legendaries to ORAS through inter-dimensional portals. Like I said, it makes much more sense if you read the long version.

The relationship between Archie, leader of Team Aqua, and an old Legendary Pokemon

While all of the above mysteries are relatively well known in the Pokemon world, this particular one is one I discovered myself before finding out about it online, so I'm pretty proud of that.

In what we can assume is Shelly's room (Shelly being one of the team aqua admins, under Archie) there is a picture on the dresser that can be read.

The full message, when the picture is interacted with, reads: 'There is a picture of a boy with a shaved head, a girl with black hair, and a Pokemon with three notes attached to it's head. "The 7th day of the -th month, -002. With Arc-ie and -rachi."'

Given that this can only be Shelly's room, you would assume that the black haired girl would be Shelly herself. Shelly's devotion to and relationship with her boss, Archie, is a pretty good indication that it's fairly likely that the bald boy is him. This leaves the Pokemon with three notes on its head. So what Pokemon has 3 notes attached to its head and name ends in -rachi?

Whether this is a little easter egg or something else is completely unknown at this point, but it seems likely that the there is definitely something more to this.

The date mentioned in the photo could be any number of dates, but a few certain numbers add up. In Japan (home of Pokemon) 7/7, or the 7th of July, is the day of the Tanabata festival. Traditionally, this has been the day that Gamefreak has released events for obtaining Jirachi in Japan in other Pokemon games. Additionally, 2002 is the year that the original Ruby and Sapphire games were released in Japan.

Jirachi, according to it's varying pokedex entries, is only awake for one week every thousand years; will grant any wish during that week; and will fight even while it stays asleep if it senses danger. I can easily see this tying in with the ORAS story. Maybe we'll see on the 7th of July.

 

That rounds out my four interesting and unsolved mysteries that I would love to get answers to for generation VI of the Pokemon franchise. What other mysteries do you know of that you'd love some answers to?

 

The Unusual Reasons why Dragon Age: Inquisition is the game of 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a AAA video game made by developer Bioware that is both standard and completely different to any other 'normal' AAA video game - and that's a marvelous thing.

We've all read the reviews, seen the streams and heard all about why it is the game of the year. I'm hear to talk about some of the things you may not have heard about DA:I - things that you may not have read elsewhere, or even experienced yourself in your own play through. 

 

It actually worked out of the box

Yes, I was the one lining up outside my local EB store to pick up the deluxe edition of Inquisition at 8am. As excited as I was to take it home and pop the discs in to my PC, ready to install, I was nervous. What if it crashed? What if there was some game breaking bug that stopped me from doing anything important? With 2014 being the year of 'The Broken Game' (I'm looking at you AC: Unity) coupled with the fact that this was the first time I'd ever pre-ordered a game that wasn't from Nintendo, I was ready for anything.

To my happy surprise, I was greeted with a clean install, and was happily roaming the world of Thedas within the hour. There were no real issues where I got stuck (that is a lie, there was one issue, but that was my fault, so it doesn't count). Reviews mentioned several bugs in pre-release code, but this day one patch had worked a treat.

It's the small things

The stories that Bioware create are already legendary. The Mass Effect universe is a well crafted futuristic look at existence that is comparable with Star Trek and Stargate (that's right, I went there) and the Dragon Age world of Thedas is a fully fleshed out medieval story chock full of rich lore and political intrigue. But while these stories often involve world changing conflicts, the big stuff often takes a backseat to the stories of the people.

One particular superb piece of game design that I come across in Inquisition is something I'm willing to bet 90% of people either missed or didn't even consider.

In one specific area of Orlais, Emprise Du Lion, there is a town with a river running through it that has been frozen over due to certain circumstances.

While roaming around this area, I was collecting all resources I come across, as I often do with RPGs. a trail of elfroot plants led me to a red lyrium deposit to destroy, so that was cool. "Clever design", I thought. At this point I noticed something slightly over from the deposit, so being the adventurous type, I decided to check it out. It turned out the be two decaying bodies, lying on a blanket of sorts. There were two lootable items in the vicinity - a pocket diary and the body.

Pocket diary - "I'm going to ask Ondrine to marry me. I've got it all planned. I'll take her to the ridge overlooking the valley, and we'll open the bottle of wine father left for me. I think it's time. I know she's been waiting for a while; I wanted it to be perfect. There will always be a war somewhere. There will always be sadness, and wondering where our next meal will come from, but we'll have each other."

Body - item, diamond ring.

Even at this point I thought "wow, that's incredible. this didn't need to be there at all, but that's pretty cool."

As I went to take the ring (loot can be sold for coin of course) I noticed that the ring had a description accompanying it - 'An inscription on the inside of the ring reads "may our love be eternal. -B."'

I ended up standing there for 5 minutes, thinking about the situation. This cliff could just have nothing on it, and it wouldn't look like it needed something there. Yet, one of the designers had thought to put this little thing here, a few images and some text, and there was a whole story here. A young couple, looking to find the joy in a life surrounded by war. They would have lived in the village down below the peak. They died here, just before he could propose. I left the ring on the body.

Whoever the dev was that put this little piece of story in to the game - I want to meet you and buy you a coffee.

Fever dreams

Often when I get into a game as heavily as I did with Inquisition - I clocked 40 hours in the first 4 days here - I wind up having weird half-waking dreams about said game. They are often fever like - I end up waking up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat at times, feeling anxious, can't stop thinking about the game, and I end up having terrible sleep as a result.

With Dragon Age: Inquisition however, everything was different. I still had dreams - when it's close to the only thing you do from waking up to going back to sleep, it's to be expected - yet, they were actually nice dreams. If I'd wake up from them, it would be in the morning, with a smile. I actually got better sleep than I would normally while playing this game.

Time is your friend, not your enemy

DA:I is a fantasy game that gives you a massive bunch of stuff to do and says "here you go - do whatever you want." While this is pretty common in open world games, Inquisition deals with this in such a way that you never feel like you 'need' to be doing anything. The game is kind of like a tree - the main story is the trunk, but there are so many branches going all over the place that you can climb wherever you want, and return to the main part any time you like.

Want to go dragon hunting? Sure. Want to sit and relax in the tavern, drinking with your buddies? Why not. You would rather go play in a forest for a while, even though you are right in the middle of a particular storyline in the desert? No worries, come again soon!

Even with the war table mechanic built in to the game, where you can send your advisers off to do your bidding, you can deal with it any time you like. The timing of the missions is in real time, so if you want to send them off for long missions and come back tomorrow, you can. If you are out in the field hunting down Venatori for Dorian and Cullen says he's ready to report in, he will wait patiently for you to return at your convenience. You can do what you want, when you want, however you want.

The banter. Oh, the banter.

As is typical Bioware fare, your characters will not only have complex relationships with your character, judging your actions depending on their perceptions of the world and their own beliefs, but they will also chat amongst themselves at any given time. With 9 characters providing both 2 way and 3 way banter conversations, there is no way they will run out of (often amusing) things to say before your adventure concludes.

All creatures great and small

Much has been said about nearly every character on nearly every website that has talked about this game. But while the standouts of the game are your advisors and companions - I don't think I will ever forget Bull, for as long as I live - This game puts stock in every single character you come across, even if it is an NPC with only a few lines.

Sutherland's company is an excellent example. As Sutherland is just some random NPC that you come across, you don't think any more of it, but the rabbit hole goes deep with this guy. I was quite proud to have this guy around. Even though he doesn't have anything to do with you as a companion, by the time that part of the story was through, I was (and still am) hoping there will be some kind of DLC surrounding his company.

The Chargers are also some of the most interesting characters in any game. I'm always a sucker for ragtag groups of people, but this bunch takes the cake.

Even the Quizquisition guy is great entertainment (you'll understand when you find him).

The voice acting is not only superb for all of the important characters, but for the lesser ones as well. One particular dwarf character that you only come across in a side quest of one of your companions (therefore you may not even encounter at all) was fantastically voiced. It is easy to see that every voice over in this game was recorded with care and love for the world.

The variety of accents these characters possess is also incredible. Look out stereotypical American/British impersonations - the diversity here blows other games out of the water. From Cass to Leliana to the Empress Celine to Josephine, this game keeps things fresh all the way.

Equality

Lastly, even though it is mentioned everywhere around the web, the character diversity here is the best I have ever seen in any game. Particularly in 2014, we have seen a real struggle in the games industry surrounding women in gaming - so when it comes to this game, it is extremely refreshing to not just see the fact that women are represented in all sorts of positions of power, but that it isn't a big deal. I noticed at one point that in the war council, where the heads of the inquisition were meeting, 4 out of 5 of them were women - and there wasn't anything strange about it. No cracks about the guy being around all these ladies; no in-your-face notions that this was a 'women power' thing; it was just natural. Even the scouts that you meet up with at each camp out in the world, wearing proper armor, were often women. There were both woman and men in all sorts of positions of power, and plenty that also were not, and it was Equal.

Minorities of gender, race and sexuality are also represented here - but they aren't just thrown in for good measure. Every character has a reason to be there - its not "hey guys, I'm gay!" - it's just a part of the character, naturally accepted, not a defining feature. Equality is the best word to describe it. The way Bioware has handled trans characters is also a first for a AAA studio - and a massive step in the right direction.

 

True high fantasy at its greatest

Though I ended up playing quite a variety of games throughout 2014, Dragon Age: Inquisition will be my most cherished experience for the year. It felt like a game tailor made to my tastes, and I enjoyed every second.

If you're asking yourself, "should I play this game?" - I think you already know the answer.