The essence of RPGs Part 1

There are three RPGs I will be looking at; Deus Ex, Mass Effect and The Witcher. All three of these use very similiar design concepts. These games aren’t exactly hardcore turn-based RPGs, they are modern Action RPGs. Deus Ex, Mass Effect and The Witcher use the essence of Role Playing Games to modify the strategies applied to action scenarios. The way that they do this also has a metaphoric effect on the narrative.

Temporary Preemptive Nouns

Many Role Playing Games have variety in the enemies they include. Different enemies require different nouns for the player to use against them. The three games I’ve chosen also expect the player to preemptively determine what enemies they are going to face, so that they can load up on the right equipment. Whether that equipment be; potions, blade coatings, suits, ammo-types, temporary weapon upgrades or certain bits of armour.

Deus Ex has enemies spanning from opinionated terrorists to automated machinery. The preemptive choices of weaponry are made according to how “human” the enemies are. It is suggested that; human beings are subjected to non-lethal means of dispatch. Of course in Deus Ex the player can choose whether to kill the terrorists or not, but it is still dependent on what the player sees the enemy as. Does the player see the NSF as blood-thirsty terrorists or humane freedom-fighters. It is also a comment on the theme of trans-humanism, because the player can choose to use either bullets or EMP to take down an augmented enemy.

Permanent Adjectives (Part 2)

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Morality and/or Ethics Points

Mass Effect uses Paragon/Renegade points to track and stabilize the character development. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic uses Light/Dark Side points to track and stabilize the story development. Both of these games also use the morality points mechanic to metaphorically describe the story concepts of both games.

The morality points acquired throughout the two games are tracked in an accumulative bar. In Mass Effect the two sides of the scale (Paragon and Renegade) are treated in two exclusive meters. In Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic the two sides are measured in the same meter and the points earned negate each other. If you gain a dark side point, the meter moves down and if you earn a light side point, the meter moves up. This means that in Mass Effect you can choose both sides and that in Star Wars: KOTOR you can only take one side.

The morality meter for Star Wars:KOTOR.

Film critic Roger Ebert once said; “if you can go through ‘every emotional journey available,’ doesn’t that devalue each and every one of them? Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices.” The morality points feature helps to keep the player’s actions consistent. In both Mass Effect and KOTOR, the player can only perform certain actions if they have acquired enough points. This encourages the player to choose one side and stick to it.

Mass Effect‘s morality points can be used to increase the protagonist’s persuasive skill. Points are gained by either taking aggressive actions or by taking passive actions. Paragon points contribute to the protagonist’s ability to charm, whereas Renegade points contribute to the protagonist’s ability to intimidate. The player isn’t confined to choosing one side, but the game does recommend it. Mass Effect is a game about a charismatic soldier called “Commander Shepard”, who has to summon a group of elite soldiers to help him defeat a major threat. Shepard uses his emotions to inspire those around him to fight by his side, either through intimidation and discipline or through charm and mutual respect.

KOTOR’s morality points can be used to increase the protagonist’s proficiency in the force. Light side points are gained either by being emotionally unaffected by events or by being politically neutral. Dark side points are gained either by getting emotionally involved in matters where ethics are in question or by losing neutrality. Light side points contribute to the player’s ability to utilize the stabilizing power of the force in combat. Dark side points contribute to the player’s ability to utilize the chaotic and dangerous aspects of the force in combat. The player may choose to change sides at any time in the game, but ultimately they are either destined to restore peace or doomed to fall victim to the temptation of chaos and emotion. In Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, the player has the choice of either ignoring their own personal emotional desires and utilizing that neutrality to remove the unstable elements without bias or blind rage, or embrace the chaotic nature of their emotions and point that chaos in the direction of their enemies.

Mass Metaphoric Effect: the Geth Uprising

“If you don’t use it, you lose it!” -Every Personal Trainer’s favourite phrase.

The story of the Quarians and the Geth Uprising is about how our technology can turn against us and in more ways than one. The story of the Geth Uprising is the same old AI uprising story and the story of the Quarians is really similiar to a current argument regarding social networking.

That's a QUARIAN!

That's a quarian.

The Geth are a race of non-intelligent machines invented by the Quarians for cheap labor. One thing that made the Geth unique is the Neural Network, which allows each individual Geth to communicate with each other and send information. Unfortunately for the Quarians, the Geth became sentient through connectivity, a single unit is brainless, but through numbers they become intelligent. Everything after that is pretty much the same old story of AI rebellion except a bit different.

That's a GETH!

That's a Geth.

The Quarian reaction was a rush to destroy all Geth, before anything happens. The Quarians lost the war and were forced to abandon their home-world. Their home-world was the only one clean enough to support their fragile immune systems. Most of the bacteria that was on the planet was actually beneficial to their immune system. After being forced off their planet, they fell back to ships that did not contain these bacteria. As a result their immune systems went even further into atrophy. Now the Quarians have to constantly wear suits to protect them from any harmful bacteria. They cannot interact with anything physically or directly, cannot show their face and filters in their suit remove tone of voice. This video is a bit more descriptive:

Why this is important. Currently there is an argument as to whether social networking is good for society and one of the main points for the negative side is that it entices people to not interact face-to-face. Social Networking ProCon.org One of the other main points against it is that this lack of face-to-face conversation will degrade our skill of doing so (like atrophy). Skills like; interpreting body language, detecting hormones and even detecting and transmitting sarcasm. That is why in the video above, Tali is shy.

“Uuuumm… is the far cry of the chronic masturbater.”Two and a Half Men spoken by Charlie

The Quarians were killed by, what is literally a sentient communication network. Eventhough this seems like a rather grim view of social networks, but the story also shows the benefits of social networking, because the Quarians have the most democratic society in the Mass Effect galaxy.

Zaeed Massani: Revenge is Evil

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” -Mahatma Ghandi

This contains spoilers regarding the bonus character in ME2. In Mass Effect 2 there is a bonus DLC character called “Zaeed Massani”, a veteran mercenary with a grudge against a former business partner. His loyalty mission involves assaulting a refinery on the planet Zorya in order to kill Vido Snatiago (the person Zaeed has a grudge on). Although the actual objective of the mission is to liberate a refinery that is controlled by the Blue Suns mercenary group.

Zaeed Massani have a outburst of rage.

Zaeed is discussing why he has a grudge against Vido.

Zaeed has a grudge against Vido, because he helped Vido start the Blue Suns mercenary group. Vido betrayed Zaeed and even turned his own men against him. After touching down onto the planet and going through most of the guards, the player reaches the front gate. At which point the player and Zaeed are confronted by Vido and some mercenaries. At which point Vido starts to mock and taunt Zaeed. Zaeed responds by shooting at some pipes behind Vido(that happen to be filled with flammable gas). Vido survives the blast, threatens Zaeed and makes his escape. Zaeed then increases the amount of fuel in the pipe in order to blast the gate open.

Vido Santiago staring down at Zaaed Massani.

This is Vido.

Unfortunately Zaeed’s actions have had serious repercussions, the blast in which he started causes the refinery to go into a critical state. The refinery is filled with fires and many of the slave workers in the refinery are trapped inside. Zaeed’s response is “Vido dies whatever the cost!”

Why is this important? This story has an identical plot premise and storyboard to the background history between Captain Anderson and Saren. Saren and the Captain went on a mission to a refinery and in the end Saren blew up the entire place. If you ask me, putting a vengeance crazed mercenary at the same level as the main antagonist in the first Mass Effect was intentional, to show how dangerous revenge is. Saren was motivated by racism and sadism. Zaeed was motivated by revenge in its thickest concentration (the name of the mission also happens to be called “Zaeed the Prince of Revenge”).

This is an example of the really good writing that always brings me back to Mass Effect, I played the first game 4 times and have played the sequel 6 times.

Heroic Icons: Commander Shepard is Crazy

“Ahh yes, the reapers. The immortal race of sentient starships allegedly waiting in dark space. We have dismissed that claim.”

The differences between the plot in ME1 and ME2 make a huge difference to the way the story is portrayed, how the player relates to Shepard and the game-play. As I said in the earlier post Mass Effect 2 gives you more freedom.

The story in ME1 is centered more around Commander Shepard and his/her belief in the Reapers. An apparent myth that only Shepard, Shepard’s loyal team and Saren believe in. The plot gets portrayed accordingly. Despite the fact that the plot is so EPIC, it is only delivered that way through dialogue in ME1. Because Shepard is considered a bit of a crazy sensationalist, what actions he takes don’t do his words justice. This is why the game-play and plot proceedings aren’t that epic in ME1, until the ‘shit hits the fan’ and the Citadel gets attacked(then the action gets amped to >9,000).

The switch from RPG to Complicated Shooter in my opinion was a good choice. In the first Mass Effect the game-play has a weaker link from the player to the protagonist. So that the link between actions and words becomes more vague. The will of the protagonist still remains with the player though, meaning that you are willing to do something, but not having the resources to do so. This is metaphoric of the player’s link to the character and the whole RPG style of game-play.

Mass Effect 2 however demands something that puts the player deep into Shepard’s boots. Without the Council watching your every move you have more freedom to be yourself. The plot is portrayed a bit more visually and through actual occurrences in the plot (getting out of the smoke screen). The game-play is more of an action shooter, allowing for a better link from player to protagonist. It also an incredibly kick-ass game compared to the first. The first was also more of a methodical and philosophical title, perfect for an RPG game-play infrastructure.

I’m not good at conclusions so… The End.

Heroic Icons: Commander Shepard Part 3

As I said earlier, the psychological profile affects whether Shepard is Paragon, Renegade or Neutral. But after a bit more deliberation, I realized I made a mistake. The “War Hero” option is the Paragon option and the “Sole Survivor” option is the Neutral option. I realized this because, the morality points are added to Paragon if the player chooses it. This actually makes a lot more sense, because usually when the player completes a mission with a really good result the paragon conversion option that follows basically says; “I’m just doing my job.” Which implies that a lot of skill is required.

“I wish every soldier had your definition of just doing my job” -Admiral Hackett

The differences in Renegade and Paragon are a lot more defined in Mass Effect 2. In the first Mass Effect the line is a bit less clear. This makes a lot of sense, because the plot situation in ME2 gives you complete freedom, whereas ME1 is more about making a good impression. Having complete freedom definitely makes your true colours show. Isn’t that right Shepard?

Shepards Renegade ScarsThe freedom gives you the ability to exert your power, whether you abuse it(Renegade) or use it for ‘good'(Paragon).

 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” -Abraham Lincoln

Heroic Icons: Commander Shepard Part 2

“…That strength is what kept you alive when everyone else around you was dying. You alone survived. You will continue to survive. (or) It is that strength that people are drawn to. It is why you lead and others follow, without question. You will need that leadership in the battles to come. (or) You never hid your strength, either. It serves you well. Terrifies your foes. Few will dare to stand against you. -from the same poet

Like Gordon Freeman, Commander Shepard has a history that justifies his position and importance and at the same time has knowledge limited to that of the player. So, what is Shepard’s excuse?

Commander Shepard’s is constantly vilified by the Council in the first Mass Effect and characterized only by his actions. Commander Shepard’s pre-service personality is also wiped completely clean by an event in early service. The early service history options regard psychological profile and how Commander Shepard uses his/her strength. The blue dialogue activates when the player chooses “Sole Survivor”, meaning that Shepard survived against near-impossible odds when the rest of his team died. The purple dialogue activates when the player chooses “War Hero”, meaning that Shepard held off an assault successfully without sacrificing team members. The red dialogue activates when the player chooses “Ruthless”, meaning that Shepard sacrificed his team to complete the mission. All of these options set Shepard up to be the perfect hero (or so to speak).

“Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy?” -Human Ambassador

The “Ruthless” and “Sole Survivor” early histories are enough to permanently change anyone’s psyche. The “War Hero” option puts Shepard in a position of such fame that personal history is irrelevant. Even the memories of upbringing, that are so vital to Shepard’s success are long forgotten. For example in one assignment, you will receive if you chose “Earthborn”, you will meet an old friend that Shepard can’t remember. The old friend claiming that Shepard can’t remember him, because of his lack of importance or because of the shit that Shepard went through. This is a rather smart excuse for lack of prior knowledge from the player.

Some of the actual love interest choices in Mass Effect are only available, because Shepard is an epic hero.

In Mass Effect 2 Tali says this when asked why she likes Commander Shepard, “I mean, a young woman gets rescued by a dashing commander who lets her join his crew and then goes off to save the galaxy? [sarcasm] How could she possibly develop any kind of interest in him? [/sarcasm]”

Next post will go a bit further into Paragon and Renegade.