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.