Thursday, May 11, 2017

Time for another action scene from "Chaser"

Been slacking on this due to the depression mentioned in the previous post as well as a few dozen other everyday-life things hitting all at once over the past few months, so it's way past time to get back to promoting some of my work. So, without further ado, here comes another excerpt from my novel, Chaser, followed by a few updates on other stuff I've got going on. In this little snippet, the protagonist and her parents have joined the security team on the jumpgate construction station orbiting Io, and are in the middle of dealing with a squad of assassins who have slipped onto the station.

The pod slowed as it approached the hatch leading to the adjacent section. It eased up to the dock and came to a halt with a slight nudge. We took the elevator down to the fourth level, the hydroponics section. Two steps took us from shiny metal surroundings to a setting resembling a park resting on metal grates with vats of nutrients underneath, taking the place of soil.
"I don't come here enough," Omega muttered. "I just now realized how much I miss trees. It's been almost three years since I had real ground under my feet."
Our surroundings were definitely pretty, though that made the reason we were here all the creepier. I slid my helmet's visor down and scanned the area for heat sources. Nothing stood out from the background yet.
[How close are we?] Omega took a quick look behind us before resuming his visual sweep of the "park" ahead.
[The latest anomaly occurred three minutes before you went through the same door, but there's been no activity since then. Looks like your target's decided to make a stand.]
[We've got contact,] Asuka cut in. [Stand by.]
Before that had a chance to sink in, Omega nudged my shoulder and nodded at something off to the left. A red outline appeared in my HUD, showing me what he saw–a large, bulky humanoid shape moving toward us from the right. He'd pointed me in the wrong direction to avoid tipping the guy off that he'd been spotted.
The figure crouched behind a tree and aimed what appeared to be a sniper rifle at us.
We whipped our plasma rifles toward him and hosed him down. The nice thing about this type of gun is that it'd take a prolonged burst to burn through a wall or the hull, so we didn't have to worry about a breach. The only thing we really needed to worry about was what sort of weapon he had–whether he was packing something that could punch a large slug through the wall or floor, as well as three or four others beyond it.
For a moment it looked like we wouldn't have to find out. The outline lunged aside as a hail of plasma bolts seared into the wall behind him–and several drilled straight into his chest, partially melting his armor but not burning all the way through. Molten globs of it dripped off, sizzled through the grate under his feet, and plopped into the nutrient vat with a lingering hiss.
He hit the floor and rolled behind another tree, giving us a few seconds to find our own cover. In the corner of my eye, he popped back out and lined up a shot. A flash burst from his rifle's muzzle, and part of my armor's right shoulder piece glowed. Luckily, the armor's crystalline layer refracted the beam, but some of its intense heat still came through to my skin. I ducked behind another tree and pulled my wings in.
What the hell was that, anyway? Couldn't have been a simple laser to do what it had just done. It would've had to be a hell of a lot bigger than a sniper rifle. Whoever these guys were, they must've had some serious connections to get their hands on something like that.
[Boiler, you okay?]
"Yeah." I tugged on my still-hot shoulder piece. "Ow! Mostly okay."
A thing that looked like a hockey puck rolled past me and bumped into the wall before toppling over. I scrambled away from it, stumbled and picked myself up, and ran like hell. A nearly blinding flash washed over everything and a shockwave hit me like a freight truck. I vaguely remember reeling across the floor before being knocked stupid. Every sound was muffled and distant.
I opened my eyes. Everything was a blurry mess. I blinked and shook my head, and when my vision cleared, I found myself staring at the ceiling. A few more seconds passed before I realized that was because I was flat on my back.
I moved my arms and legs a few inches, being cautious in case I'd broken any bones. I rolled onto my side and pushed myself up slowly. Plenty of pain, but nothing that seemed bad enough to be shattered bones or punctured organs.
[Boiler? Are you okay?]
Voice in my head...no, the comlink. Shit. I shook my head again. Come on, snap out of it.
[Boiler! Talk to me!]
"Yeah, I'm here. I...he used some kind of grenade."
Clanking footsteps vibrated the grate under me.
"Aw, fuck. Hold on." I looked around, turning my head slowly to be sure it wouldn't snap off, because it sure as hell felt like it might.
[Omega, you okay?]
[Yeah, I'm in one piece.]
[Check on Boiler, make sure she's not hurt.]
[Sure thing.]
More clanking footsteps, this time from the right.
The first set seemed to be coming from the smoke in front of me. Through the smoke, I caught a glimpse of a huge hole in the floor, and flickering lights from the level below us. The smoke directly in front of me whisked aside, as if parting for something passing through it, but there was nothing...
It was only then that I realized my hands were empty. My rifle had gone flying off somewhere, and I wouldn't have time to draw my pistol. And there was no longer an outline showing me where the assassin was the link with Omega's eyes must've been cut off. Now I wouldn't even see the bastard pull the trigger.
The footsteps on the right increased their speed. Omega burst out of the shadows and tackled him, carrying him to the hole in the floor. Parts of the guy's armor blipped in and out for a second after the impact. Both of them fell through and slammed into the deck on the next level.
I got my feet under me, staggered over to the hole, and peeked over the edge. Omega appeared to brace his palms against the air itself. Then, suddenly, a man in heavy armor appeared out of nowhere, twitching and grunting, under him.
"What the hell?" A muffled voice groaned.
"Low-level EMP generators in my arms." Omega popped the latches on the guy's helmet and yanked it off, revealing a somewhat tiger-looking anthro. "I've got plenty of other built-in toys, so I suggest you roll over and put your hands on your head."
I sighed and spoke into my comlink. "Taura, looks like we've got this wrapped up. How's Asuka doing?"
[She's already bagged one. Morrison said she cracked the bitch's helmet wide open with one punch.]
I whistled softly as I sat on the edge of the hole and prepared to drop down beside Omega.
[Heh,] he said, [you just might have some competition for Top Badass around–whoooaaaaa!]
The cat-dude snapped his legs up, braced his feet against Omega's chest, and launched him down the corridor. The assassin did a backflip from his prone position, and barely a second later he was back on his feet.
I shook off the sudden surprise and heaved myself off the edge, landing right in front of him, catching an armored fist right on the end of my nose, and ending up flat on my back again. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even remember actually falling. Metallic hands grasped my shoulders, lifted me, and just as my eyes regained their focus, the bastard slammed me into the wall.
I raised my fist, planning to crash it down on his head, but before I could drop the hammer on him, he spun and threw me into the opposite wall. The back of my head struck metal and I almost blacked out again. Omega tried to pry him off me, but couldn't budge him. Must've had strength-boosting armor. The struggle with Omega did draw his attention away from me for a moment, though.
I sucked in a deep breath, leaned over, and roared directly into the assassin's right ear. He screamed, flinched, and clamped his hand over his ear. I cocked my fist back and drove it into his face, knocking him off his feet. Before he could recover, I threw myself on top of him and pounded his face a few more times.
"How d'ya fuckin' like that, cockbite?" I picked him up and slammed his head into the floor.
"I think he's had enough," Omega said with a chuckle. "He can't answer any of our questions if you turn his head into a lump of soft cheese."
"Yeah, yeah. Help me take his armor off."
"Sure." He kneeled beside me and we popped the rest of the latches on the guy's armor. Omega looked at me a few seconds later and cocked his head. "You okay?"
"My face hurts." I raised my hand to touch my throbbing nose, decided it wasn't such a good idea, and continued removing the armor.
"Looks like he broke your nose."
"Oh, that's just fantastic. Back to the med-bay again."


Chaser is available from Amazon, now only $1.99.

Now for an update on my other books, which I should've gotten to a long time ago. Due to almost nonexistent sales, I decided to take all my other books (except Reactivated, which is still on Kindle Worlds) off Amazon and the other sites. That's not the end of them, though. Load, Fifteen Minutes, Project Revenant, Elsewhere, and Game Over will be getting another rewrite and polish, and then I'll be submitting them to publishers. To be honest, I've often felt like giving up during the past few months, but I just can't. Not after putting more than a quarter-century of my life into this. If I pull the ripcord now, all that time was wasted. So instead of trying to make a go of it as an indie author, I'm giving actual publishers a try again. And trying not to be too pessimistic about it.

I'm getting into the home stretch on the rewrite of Load. I've got an eye on several publishers, and will soon need to decide which one to send it to first. Then I'll go right into Fifteen Minutes.

Meanwhile, not too long ago I managed to finish a new chapter of Harbinger, and will be getting back to work on Freelancers next. Haven't made any progress on Uncharted Territory in the past few months, but will be resuming work on that, as well.

And after more technical difficulties than I can count, I managed to finally get started on a series of videos for my YouTube channel, a sort of "Let's Play" of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Here are the first two entries in the series, with more to come soon.



Also in the works is a Let's Play of Star Trek Online, starting with its recent "Agents of Yesterday" expansion and a new player character created for this video series. If all goes well, the first video will be uploaded within the next day or two.

And that covers everything, for now. Hope the excerpt from Chaser caught your interest. If it did, head on over to Amazon and grab a copy for your Kindle for only $1.99.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Some Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda

So ... gradually pulling myself out of another depression, during which I got almost nothing done in the past week or so. I did finally finish Mass Effect: Andromeda, and I gotta say, it was a hell of a ride.
I really don't get all the negativity the game's been getting. It does have its flaws, and the problems with character animation has been well documented, though a recent patch has improved it a lot. The game has been getting a lot of hate, from complaints about game-breaking bugs to people simply stating, "It sucks," as if their opinions are fact. For me, it wasn't quite a home run, but it's a good, often great, game with characters I really liked and had a hell of a lot of fun watching, listening to their conversations, etc. Maybe a lot of people just decided to hate it because Mass Effect 3 was an almost total pile of shit, and I was in that camp when the game was first announced. I just assumed it'd be terrible because ME3 had become my gold standard for bad storytelling.
But the trailers and interviews and whatnot gradually changed my mind. The developers seemed sincere about wanting to make this a good game, and clearly put a lot of effort into it. So I decided to give it a chance. And I'm glad I did.
I didn't have the same experience with game-breaking bugs that many people seem to have had. The game crashed twice in 100 hours of playing, both times on the same side-mission. That's it. That's the only serious trouble I had, aside from one point where Ryder got stuck while trying to climb up a cliff, and I had to reload. And even then, the reload dropped me just a few feet from where I got stuck, and I was able to go on from there. Maybe it's because I played it on a PC. I dunno. Could be there's something about consoles that cause more problems. Or maybe hardware on PCs that couldn't handle the game.
Or, possibly, some of the complaints are exaggerated or completely made up.
I did have some issues with frame rate dropping and a few other things, with my previous graphics card. I decided to upgrade again to the one that was recommended for the game. Which, on the AMD side, was an RX 480 with 4GB. While looking for a good price on one, I found a 580 with 8GB for a lower price, and went with that. Still had some frame rate dropping with all the graphics set on Ultra, but once I turned it down to High, it still looked good at 4K and ran smoothly.
Story-wise, it probably could've been better, but I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. Had some frustrations with the combat at the lower levels just because I suck, but once I leveled up a little and got my hands on better weapons and armor, I started having a much less rough time of it. I still absolutely hate the way the screen zooms in when I right-click to aim the weapons, because Ryder's body ends up blocking a quarter of the screen and it's impossible to see enemies approaching from that side.
Another problem is the lack of a mini-map in the corner of the screen, like the previous Mass Effect games and other games such as Grand Theft Auto V have. With the mini-map, you can see the red blips representing enemies approaching from the side and sneaking up behind you. Mass Effect: Andromeda has a bar at the top-center of the screen that's not exactly intuitive, at least not if you're used to the mini-map. Blips and waypoints at the far ends of the bar are actually behind you, but if you're not accustomed to the navigation bar, they look like they're just far to the right or left. It got quite frustrating, wandering around in circles like an idiot trying to find a waypoint off to the side when it was actually behind me.
Also, when trying to use the ability mapped to the "1" key, I keep hitting the "~" key which pops up the console and prevents me from even moving because when trying to move, I just end up typing in the little box up in the corner. And at higher resolutions, it's really hard to see when it pops up because it's tiny and there's so much else going on on the screen.
I also despise the puzzles you have to solve to activate certain Remnant technology. I ended up having to look up the solutions in walkthroughs, or use decryption keys found in the game. I just thoroughly hate puzzle mini-games.
On the positive side, I didn't find any of the side-quests tedious at all. With the first Mass Effect game, I found most of them to be something I just slogged through to get to a more interesting plot-related mission, but with Andromeda, all of them held my interest and I had no problem taking the time to do each one.
The characters were the high point for me. They're just fun. My fave's Vetra. My initial impression of her, from the few seconds she was on-screen in one of the trailers, was completely off the mark, but she turned out to be awesome in a whole different way. Unlike many turian characters in the previous games, she's friendly and casual right from the beginning, and is often downright adorable. So is her sister, Sidera. The romance subplot with Vetra is sweet and packed with "d'awww!" moments.
The two human team members you meet at the beginning of the game, Liam Kosta and Cora Harper, are actually interesting, unlike the human squadmates in the previous games. Kaiden and Ashley were so uninteresting that I didn't even care which one lived and which one died during the "big decision" moment in the Virmire mission in Mass Effect, though Kaiden was at least nice enough to be likable, whereas Ashley was kind of a racist asshole. Jacob seemed a friendly enough guy in Mass Effect 2, but was kind of bland, and Miranda was so cold, arrogant, and hostile until she defrosted after her loyalty mission that I never even wanted to speak with her. Liam was kind of a dick to the other squadmates, going out of his way to pick fights with them (and they all verbally raked him over a cheese grater, which was glorious), but in conversations on the Tempest he came across as friendly and very down-to-earth. And his loyalty mission was often hilarious and was one of the most fun parts of the game.
Drack was even more fun than I expected him to be. Badass, sure. At first glance, he seems like a typical krogan, but once you talk with him a few times, you see a whole other side to him. For instance, when one of the failings of his species is pointed out, instead of getting pissed off, he laughs and says, "Fair enough." PeeBee is not even close to the typical aloof asari. She's hyperactive, an adventurer, and likes to goof around. And Jaal isn't at all what I expected, either. I figured he'd be a stoic Proud Warrior Race Guy, but he's anything but stoic. It's a nice departure from the way a character like that is usually portrayed. His reaction when he found out what the kett really are was just heartbreaking.
And the ending. Unlike Mass Effect 3, this didn't derail into a load of pretentious, nonsensical, rocks-fall-everyone-dies horseshit. I thought it was thoroughly satisfying. It was the kind of ending ME3 should've had. There were a couple of blatant DLC/sequel hooks, and I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes from here.
Screw the haters. This is a good, solid game, and it's a step in the right direction after the previous game.
I'd started recording my first playthrough to post on my YouTube channel, but had serious technical problems with the recording software -- bad enough that I had to scrap the idea and just play through the game without recording anything. I've tried at least a dozen different programs for recording gameplay, and the only one I'd ever gotten to work was Fraps, but then I started having trouble with it, as well. Once I finished the game, I decided to try recording a NG+ with ReLive, and it actually works, aside from the image freezing every few seconds, seemingly at random. I'm still trying to determine if the problem is in the game itself, my computer's hardware, or in the settings.
I posted the first episode on my channel last night:

Anyway. Yeah. It was a good ride, and I want to see where it goes in upcoming DLC and sequels.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Another contest entry

This month there's another contest with a copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda as the prize. This one sounded fun, so I decided to give it another try despite missing the target in the two or three of these contests I've entered before.


So, here's what I entered.

My headcannon is that the Normandy crew started up a tradition to unwind between missions: Movie Night. And after watching certain really old vids, some of them keep quoting lines for days afterward.
Joker: "I wouldn't say this thing thinks it's Satan. I'd say it is Satan!"
Zaeed: "Well, Satan ... is in DEEP SHIT!"
Shepard: "We're gonna need bigger guns."
Garrus: "Very, very big FUCKING GUNS!"
... Which prompts Dr. Chakwas to wonder if a round of psych evals is in order. XD
Hahah ... and if anyone's wondering what movie they're quoting above, it's pretty much the last gasp of the 1980s-style bad (yet in this case, awesome) action movies.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda's Second Cinematic Trailer


Another cinematic trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda was released recently, and since it's way past time I posted something here, I'll offer up a few things that have been percolating in my head since the first time I watched the trailer.


So, just a general note first. Looks like we're back to typical-action-movie-trailer territory again. Not that that's really a negative. The trailers so far have been a pretty good mix of action-movie stuff, gameplay, and story and character reveals. But it has one really terrible, clichéd line of dialogue, when Ryder says, "We're about to change the rules!" I really hope that's not what the rest of the game's dialogue sounds like.

Now, on to a few specifics.

Here, we have a cool shot of the Ark Hyperion approaching the Nexus. What's interesting is that the Nexus appears to still be under construction here and in following shots. It was partially built before being sent to the Andromeda galaxy, where construction would be finished, presumably using resources mined after arriving. It's possible that some of the game's missions might involve assisting in its construction, or at least gathering resources and delivering them to the Nexus. That'd provide some nice variety to the missions, as long as it doesn't get too "grindy."


Next we've got a shot of a planet and ... what the hell is that black shit surrounding it? Probably a weapon or some other sinister thing made by the kett, though I kind of think it'd be more interesting if it's a natural phenomenon or something created long ago by someone else, that's just running loose in the galaxy and is a menace to everyone.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, it reminds me of the Death Cloud, a planet-killer used by the Shadows on Babylon 5. Something like that would be ... challenging to deal with.


There's a voice-over of Alec Ryder, the player character's father, saying this planet is "New Earth, if we're lucky." From what I've heard so far, one of the main plots in the game will be the exploration of Andromeda and the search for a habitable planet, presumably one that's also rich in resources. One of the previous trailers stated that the galaxy's inhabitants are fighting constantly over resources, which aren't exactly plentiful ... which made me raise an eyebrow when I first heard it. The Andromeda Galaxy is more than twice the size of the Milky Way, so I can't help wondering why it's so poor in resources that everyone is fighting over them. One possibility is that, without the Reapers that wiped out all technologically-advanced life in the Milky Way every 50,000 years, Andromeda's galactic society could've been around for a very long time, maybe long enough to use up most of the galaxy's resources and splinter into feuding factions.

I'm wondering if finding a suitable planet will be one of the endgame goals, or if we'll find out that there aren't any left. That'd be a hell of a note -- travel 2.5 million light years, spend 600 years in cryonic stasis, arrive knowing it's a one-way trip ... and then finding out that there's nowhere they can settle permanently.

But then, that galaxy is more than twice the size of ours, so I wouldn't expect to explore all of it in the first game. New sectors or quadrants will likely open up in future games, if any more are made. Something I think would be cool is, if more games are developed, we could play as a Pathfinder on each of the turian, salarian, and asari Arks. Like, in this one, we play as the human Pathfinder, and if the next game has, say, the turian Pathfinder as its player character, and if the game imports your save from the first game, then you could interact with your previous character and he/she would be the same model you played after customizing him/her in the character-creation stage. And then any games that followed could do the same thing. Might be too complicated to program, but it'd be a fascinating way to approach this if it becomes a series.

Anyway, next we get a shot of the Nexus with an Ark approaching it, and here we can see the scale of the station. The Arks hold 20,000 people in cryo, if I remember correctly, so they have to be enormous. But you can see how the still-under-construction Nexus makes the Ark look like a fly that's about to splatter on the windshield.


 A bit later, the Tempest drops into normal space directly in front of what is probably a kett ship and ... wait a minute. Look at that thing. The ship has a fuckin' frowny face. Why does it have a fuckin' frowny face? I'm never not going to see that, now. Just like I can never watch Battle Beyond the Stars without staring at the huge tits on the front of that ship.


At least the ship looks like it's actually alien. I don't find it scary or intimidating thanks to the emoji on the front, but at least you can take one look at it and realize, "Yep, that's not one of ours."

The "mouth" is probably a launch bay for these ships. And I have to say, the T-shape design is something I haven't seen before, so credit where it's due. The devs have designed plenty of alien stuff that, as I've said a few times, actually looks alien.


Then we get a look at the Tempest's pilot, Kallo Jath, as he says the ship is pinned against ... I think he calls it "the Scourge," but I had trouble making it out. It might be that black stuff with glittery things in it, in the image up above, but here it looks like it's on fire. Not clear yet whether that's its function -- surround a planet and explode, maybe burning off the atmosphere or scorching the surface -- or if it's damage from weapons fire.



Next we hear a low-pitched, booming voice, and it's obviously the Big Bad. That's pretty clichéd, too, but I really like the "Oh, shit!" look Ryder gets on his face here. Commander Shepard never reacted that way to an enemy, but then, Shepard was in the Systems Alliance, so he/she already had the training and experience to deal with overwhelming threats without freaking out. Ryder, on the other hand, isn't really military and has inherited the Pathfinder job after something happened to his father, so it makes sense that he's a little nervous here. Also, this is a good way to set him apart from Shepard, rather than repeating the same type of character we played before.


Then we get our first look at two more members of the team, Cora Harper and Liam Kosta. What I've heard about Liam is that he's idealistic and from the bit at the end of this trailer he seems pretty friendly, which is kind of a breath of fresh air in settings like this one. I've seen so much of the "everyone snapping at each other and distrusting each other" thing that it's always nice to see characters who don't fall into that pattern. Also ... and this is probably a weird thing to say, but ... I really like his hair. In the previous games, everyone had short or close-cropped hair, or none at all. It's good to see more variation because it's just more visually interesting. And it makes sense due to the Andromeda Initiative not being an Alliance or military program. I'm hoping there'll be a wider range of hair styles in the character creator, to make Ryder more of an individual.


As for Cora, I immediately found her last name interesting. The Illusive Man's real name was revealed a few years ago to be Jack Harper. That could be a coincidence, but I doubt it. The Andromeda Initiative seems like exactly the kind of project that Cerberus would want to infiltrate and influence for their own purposes.

But then, having Cora be a mole or a saboteur would be the obvious way to go, and personally I'd prefer as few ties to the previous games as possible. I'd be okay with it if it's just part of her background, maybe something that comes up in a few conversations, where she reveals that she wanted nothing to do with Cerberus and its agenda. But making a big subplot out of it might be problematic.

Next we get a close look at the owner of the booming voice, and ... yeah. Combine that with his threat of "Surrender or burn" and ...


... it's no wonder Ryder looks like he's about to piss his pants.


But that leads to another look at Vetra. She only gets a single line of dialogue in the trailer, which is tragic, but her voice is perfect. Don't know who her voice actor is, but it fits the character. And she just looks like a badass. I've pretty much decided already to bring her along on every mission she's available for.


Next we get another glimpse of Peebee ... and I'm so thankful that's just a nickname. I'd never be able to take her seriously if that were her real name. I'm guessing her initials are PB and her name might be really long or difficult to pronounce, so it's easier just to call her "PB." Anyway, from what I've heard, she sounds like a fun character. Being "socially blunt" should get her into all sorts of trouble.


Next we see another distinct planetary surface while Ryder speechifies about being explorers, not soldiers. And that's another thing I see as a positive -- in so many stories like this, the protagonist is a soldier. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that when it's the go-to type of character, it's kind of refreshing when the heroes are something different.


Then we get another quick look at the villain, Archon, and he's appropriately creepy and sinister.



And then we get this, which is a cool shot of the team, though it would've been better if Vetra had been included. On the down side, this is the point where we hear that horribly clichéd, we're-gonna-kick-their-asses line, "We're about to change the rules!" I dunno, maybe it's the tone of his voice or something, but ... it's the kind of thing you'd hear in a direct-to-video action movie from the 1990s.


Next we get our first good look at another species native to Andromeda, the angara. Don't really have any information on them, though one of them, named Jaal, will join the team.



This is an interesting design for an alien species. They remind me a bit of the Twi'leks and Togruta from Star Wars, except the angara kind of look like they evolved from an aquatic species.


What follows this is a few quick shots of Ryder and Drack kicking ass, and Liam taking no shit. Standard action-movie stuff, but that's always fun as long as it isn't of the "We're about to change the rules!" or the "We fight or we die!" variety.


Finally, another kett ship chases the Tempest out of some exploding stuff. Again, that's a really cool design for an alien ship. It really adds to the "we're not in Kansas anymore" feeling of being in a completely different galaxy.


Couple of quick notes about Alec Ryder and another team member who didn't appear in this trailer, but was featured in the latest "mission briefing" on the Pathfinder team: SAM. First, the game starts with Alec Ryder as the Pathfinder for the Hyperion, but something happens to him early on, which thrusts Scott/Sara Ryder into the Pathfinder position. The obvious way to go would be for the father to be killed, either in an accident or by the story's villains ... which is why I hope they don't go that route. It's been done so many times, you can see it coming a mile away. I'd prefer something like, he's separated from the others, or disappears, or is badly injured, forcing his son/daughter to step up, but then he's able to come back and have a significant role in the rest of the game.

What I'd find really interesting is ... suppose he comes back, sees his kid handling the Pathfinder duties, and decides to provide advice and support instead of taking charge again. The father following the kid's orders would set up a fascinating dynamic that we don't see very often.

But then, there may be a good chance that he'll stick around for the whole game, or most of it, at least. It seems unlikely that they'd hire Clancy Brown just to give his character ten or twenty minutes of screen time and then kill him off. It'd be such a waste.

Another thing about Alec Ryder that I really like is that he's a scientist as well as an elite soldier. Too many times, soldiers are portrayed as clueless about sciencey stuff, so this is refreshing. He actually created SAM, who is a full AI. Finding out that SAM was an actual artificial intelligence was a surprise because creating AI is illegal in the Milky Way. Which also makes me wonder if this is a sign that Cerberus had some involvement in the project, since they created EDI and don't give a damn if it's illegal.

EDI turned out to be a welcome aversion of the "AI is a Crapshoot" trope, and her character development was one of the very few things about Mass Effect 3 that was actually good. So I'm hoping for something similar with SAM. The AI who decides to kill all humans is something that's been done so many times before, I've grown tired of seeing it again and again. Also, the conflict between synthetics and organics was already done rather thoroughly in the Mass Effect trilogy (though it was completely botched at the end), so I'm hoping they're moving past all that crap. It'd be nice to see SAM developing in a similar way to EDI, becoming part of the team instead of turning on everyone. I'd also like to see more AI characters, which seems likely. If the Ark carrying the humans has an AI, the other Arks probably have their own.

I'd also love to see some of the geth coming along for the ride, as well. A handful of quarians, too. It'd be easy enough to write them into the story. Given how things turned out with Legion, I can come up with several ways the geth and the quarians can be included, right off the top of my head. And it'd be nice to see them quickly learning how to coexist and work together ... possibly motivated by the understanding that this is it -- they can't go back home, there's no net to catch them, and if they screw up severely enough, it's all over. I'd prefer something like that to just rehashing the same thing from the previous games.

Anyway. I'm still cautiously optimistic that this game won't be a debacle like Mass Effect 3 was. From everything I've seen and heard, BioWare seems to be trying, this time. They appear to be putting in a genuine effort to tell a good story. They've gradually won me over, so I'm giving them one more chance.

I'm planning to either pre-order Mass Effect: Andromeda or buy it when it's released. The first playthrough will be just for myself (though I may take a few screenshots and post them, if anything really noteworthy happens), to see the story without any pressure and see for myself whether it's actually good, and also to start figuring out what to comment on when I record a playthrough for my YouTube channel. Right now, the plan is to do one playthrough as Bro!Ryder and then another as Sis!Ryder, to see how the dialogue and other things change from one to the other.

At least March 21 isn't too far off, now, so the wait won't be much longer. Then I guess I'll see how it goes.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Another Mass Effect: Andromeda Contest Entry

[dork] ;)

I decided to enter MassEffectFollower's December giveaway contest ....


The comment I posted:
Aside from the exploration and meeting a whole new cast of characters, what I'm looking forward to the most is Vetra. She was only onscreen for a few seconds, but that was enough to leave a hell of an impression. This is all speculation, of course, but her pose when she was leaning on the rail in that one shot suggested that she's not only tough, but also calm, sure of herself, and confident in her abilities to the point where she doesn't feel a need to telegraph it. Which would be a refreshing change from characters who are always boasting about how badass they are and walking around threatening people.
I could easily see Vetra just going about her business, being attacked suddenly, and just casually taking the enemy squad out, then immediately going back to thinking about something mundane, like reminding herself to do the laundry later, or something, as if it barely registers for her that she just beat the holy horsepiss out of a dozen mooks.
Or, imagine a scene with her and Ryder walking through a crowded outpost, talking about nothing important -- when suddenly, seemingly for no reason at all, she spins around and punches a rando in the back of his skull. He hits the ground like a sack of wet shit while Ryder freaks out and yells, "What the HELL?!" Vetra then plucks something from the guy's hand, holds it out to Ryder, and says, "He lifted your wallet. So, where were we ...?"
If Vetra turns out to be that kind of character, or even similar enough, it'll be worth the price of admission all on its own. But whatever kind of personality she ends up having, I'm eager to have her in my squad. :D
Especially if she's a romance option. <3 
[/dork] XD

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Some Thoughts on the Mass Effect: Andromeda Gameplay Trailer

So here's something that's been on my mind for a while. And this time, it won't take me two months to talk about it.

A week ago, the official gameplay trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda was released. I've got some thoughts about it, but first, here's a look at the N7 Day cinematic trailer from last month, which I never got around to talking about.


Honestly, I really don't have much to say about this one. The previous couple of trailers (discussed here) had a sense of wonder and exploration and discovery about them. This trailer, however, doesn't. It looks and sounds like the typical trailer for any run-of-the-mill action movie. It had a few cool moments, but overall it wasn't that compelling, and I'm not exactly hooked on the idea of the mission turning into a disaster right out of the gate. I think it'd be nice to see a bit of things progressing normally for the characters, so we can see what they're like in everyday-life circumstances, so it'll hit a lot harder when everything turns upside-down on them.

Also, it'd be really nice if trailers would stop using variations on that HONNNNNNK! sound. We've had several years of that thing in damn near every trailer. Isn't it time that sound be retired?

Anyway. Then we got the gameplay trailer last week, and the sense of wonder and adventure was back, for me at least.


Additionally, there's been a few tons of information coming out since N7 Day, and for the most part, I'm getting a good vibe from it all. I do have a few minor concerns, but more and more lately, I'm finding myself giving BioWare the benefit of the doubt. From the interviews and Q&A sessions with lead writer Mac Walters, I'm getting the impression that they've learned their lesson from the Mass Effect 3 debacle and are putting their best effort into making Andromeda a good game. They've even stated that this game will be a complete story and not the beginning of another trilogy. I'm feeling pretty good about that, since their previous attempt at an epic trilogy turned into a pooch-screw at the end. I'm okay with the devs taking their time with this game, rather than rushing out a half-assed job like ME3, and concentrating on this one story, then maybe making another game later on if they can come up with a solid story.

Another bit of info I like is the Andromeda Initiative's launch date. According to the official website, the program started in the 2170s and the Nexus and the Arks launched in 2185, after the end of Mass Effect 2 but before Mass Effect 3. The ships will take six hundred years to reach the Andromeda galaxy, and there won't be a way to return or even communicate with the Milky Way, so that's a good way to side-step the entirety of the third game and start over from scratch. We won't have any of that crap tainting this story.

Now, on to some specifics.


Well, that sure is pretty. If nothing else, this game looks fantastic, and some of the environments show that a lot of imagination has been put into them. As I kept saying in my post on the previous trailers, most of them look like genuinely alien places.

Here's a few more gorgeous screenshots.








Those are beautiful. Now I've got a new collection of desktop wallpapers to cycle through. What remains to be seen is whether equal effort was put into the story, because that's the most important thing. Without a good story, the prettiest imagery in the world won't matter. But again, from what I've learned over the past few weeks, I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm planning to buy the game and do at least a couple of playthroughs for my YouTube channel, but even if I weren't, I'd be very tempted to pick up the game anyway.

I usually play as a female character when the option is available, but I think in my first playthrough I'll play as the male Ryder just so I can name him David and go for the obvious joke.


Now I'm wondering how many other people are going to do the same thing. Probably a lot.

Next we get a glimpse of the hyperspace tunnel/warp jump/whatever else it may be called -- maybe just FTL travel within the Helius Cluster, or maybe the travel between galaxies enabled by the experimental drive the Nexus and Arks are equipped with. That leads to a new system to explore, and then we get a look at the Tempest's galaxy map.




One thing I really like is the progress meter at the top of the screen. It's nice to be able to see whether or not you still have objectives to complete. That was one of the things about the missions in Mass Effect 3 that made things more difficult than they should've been -- the way the game kept track of what had and hadn't been completed yet was ... flawed, shall we say.

Next, we get a look at the Tempest approaching a planet that appears to be orbiting a black hole.


What I like about this is that it's a type of astronomical phenomenon we weren't able to explore in the previous trilogy. The mass relay network was set up to let ships travel to stable, safe star systems, and none of them opened into hazardous regions such as those near black holes, newly-coalescing planets, pulsars, and whatnot. (Well, except for the Omega-4 Relay, but that one probably doesn't count.) Since Andromeda won't have a relay network (as far as I know, at least), there ought to be all sorts of volatile places to explore.

Next up, we see the Tempest landing on a planet, followed by ...


This lovely lady in the center of the trio. <3


Now, I never really liked the design BioWare came up with for female turians ... they just didn't look like they were quite the same species as the males. I would've expected a bit more similarity. Not only that, but given the need for protection from the radiation from Palaven's sun, you'd think being "bald" would be an evolutionary disadvantage, since turians needed to evolve a metallic carapace to protect them from said radiation. So the idea I came up with was that maybe the "bald" ones evolved in the polar regions of Palaven, which would likely get less solar radiation, and wouldn't need the additional shielding provided by the "fringes" or "spikes" or whatever they're called, that we've seen on the males previously. Which would mean that there are also bald males somewhere, but we just haven't run into any yet.

Also, other slight differences between the two could be the turian version of ethnicities -- slit pupils instead of the more roundish ones we've seen on the males, differently-shaped mandibles, and so on.

Either way, though, it's nothing I can't adjust to, and with Vetra, here, BioWare seems to have made some refinements to the design that I actually like. Part of it is possibly the "thing" I have for really tall, muscular women ... as you can see in the next shot, she's quite statuesque. Though it's possible that Sis!Ryder is below average human height, turians were always meant to be very tall. So are krogan, such as the dude on the right in the image below, and Vetra looks at least as tall as he is. It'd be a nice touch if the devs made her exceptionally tall to give her a little more individuality.

But even though she appears to be quite tall ...


She doesn't look fragile. One of the things I noticed immediately -- and really like about her overall design -- are her upper arms. Look at those pipes. And her upper body in general.


Vetra looks like she works out frequently. :D Not only that, but from her pose in the above image, she's giving the impression that she's not only tough, but calm, sure of herself, confident in her abilities to the point where she doesn't need to telegraph it.

A friend and I were talking about this yesterday, and he called my attention to it by pointing out that it'd be interesting if they wrote Vetra that way -- badass, but feels no need to broadcast it to everyone. No need to act badass, but she simply ... is. I really like that idea. It'd be so refreshing to see a character who is secure enough that she doesn't need to strut or boast like so many of the characters in the Mass Effect setting often do. Imagine her just going about her business, then when the shit hits the fan, she casually takes out the enemies and immediately goes back to thinking about some mundane task, like she barely even registered that she just beat the holy horsepiss out of fifteen mooks. If Vetra turns out to be that kind of character, or even similar to that, it'd be worth the price of admission all on its own.

Oh, and I'm hoping she'll be one of the romance options. It'd just make a fascinating story in itself, if it's done right. Particularly given the issues with turians being based on dextro-amino acids, while humans and most other Milky Way species are levo-based.

Next, we see a bit of scenery as Ryder jogs through what appears to be a marketplace. We see quite a few krogan, another turian woman, and a couple of new aliens off to the left, no doubt native to the Andromeda galaxy.


Here, we see a guy talking to a turian, and she totally looks like she's trying to ignore him. XD


Here, Ryder is being escorted to one of the local big shots by a pair of krogan. I chuckled at the annoyed look she got after one of them shoved her. Again, the room they're in looks really good, particularly the lighting.


The conversation quickly goes south and the big shot tries to have Ryder removed at gunpoint. This is where we get our first look at the new "interrupt" system, and I think it's a big improvement. It has a timer so you'll know how long you have to choose whether to use the interrupt or let it pass by. The previous games didn't have that, so you never really knew exactly how much time you had to decide. The new system also tells you what kind of action the interrupt is -- in this case, "disarm." It'll be really nice to have some idea of what action Ryder will take if you push the button. The previous games didn't have that, either.


Then we see Ryder take that action, and I love that smirk she has after she takes that dude's gun away.


And here's where I go off on a bit of a tangent. I'll try to keep it brief. I brought this up the last time I commented on a pair of trailers for this game, but the subject keeps coming up, so here it is again.

Yet again, there are people ranting about how "ugly" this character and others are, and again, I just don't see it. Some of the animation looks like it needs work, but Sara Ryder's default appearance looks just fine to me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So default-Ryder isn't a supermodel, but there's no reason she should be expected to look like one. She's more like someone you'd meet in everyday life, and I've got no problem with that.

I dunno, maybe I'm looking at this from a writer's perspective. Someone who looks perfect and has no blemishes just doesn't strike me as interesting to look at. On the other hand, let's take a look at my GTA Online character.


Maybe a lot of people would think she's ugly. I think she's kinda cute, but more than that, she looks like someone who's got some amazing stories in her past. Those pockmarks on her face suggest she's had a rough life, maybe had quite a few close calls and narrow escapes (or maybe just a skin condition) -- yet she's still smiling and appears to be generally happy. And there's got to be a hell of a story behind those creepy, solid-black eyes. As a writer, that's the sort of thing that holds my attention.

Anyway. This is just one of those things that irritates me. Moving on ....

Next we see Ryder scanning a crime scene, searching for clues. Some sort of murder-mystery subplot, looks like. This could turn out to be quite fascinating, adding some nice variety to the gameplay. We've seen the scanning before, in the 4K Tech Demo video, but here it's being put to a more specific use.


Also, the cause of death sounds horrifying.

Below, we have a look at the Nomad. I like its look, and I just hope I can drive it without crashing it into everything in its path, unlike the Mako. I liked the Mako's durability ... and nothing else about it. I know it's more the fault of the game's driving mechanics than anything else, but that thing was so frustrating to drive, I didn't shed a single tear when I found it among the Normandy's crashed remains on Alchera. I shed a few for the Normandy itself, though....


Next, we see the jump-jetpack in action, just before Ryder does a biotic charge and a bit later we see it again. Handy little gadget. Looks like it's useful for sideways-dodging moves, as well.



The rest of the trailer is fairly standard action-movie type stuff showcasing various weapons, which I don't really have much to say about. There's one, however, that I found interesting. It appears to be a knife or dagger or a really short sword that's charged with either biotic energy or something similar to an electrical build-up.



I'm kind of a sucker for things like this. I'll probably keep trying to use it and end up being shot full of holes or burned to a crisp over and over.

And then there's what appears to be a shotgun that fires lightning bolts! WANT! :D


Anyhoo. Overall, this is looking pretty good. I'm willing to give it a chance. There's still no release date other than "Spring 2017," but I'm okay with that. I'd prefer the devs take as much time as they need to get everything right and make the game as good as they can make it, rather than rush it out the door for a quick buck.

And as I've said before, I want this game to be good. I want to be able to enjoy a new Mass Effect game again. So until spring, or whenever the actual release happens, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.