Episodes of Adventure: Game of Thrones Episode 1

It’s been two weeks since I played the first episode of Game of Thrones – A Telltale Games Series, an episodic game based on the world of the TV show. Episode 1 was released back in December 2014, Episode 2 on February 3. Much the same way that I listened to the audiobooks, reserving them for treats, I’m putting off playing Episode 2 for as long as I can so that I can savor it more when I finally do get to it. If you gathered from that statement that I liked it, you win.

A tree, but no elves... Oh yeah there are.

Sigil of House Forrester

In fact, I really liked it. Similar to The Walking Dead Telltale adventure game, GoT is a personal crisis and decision making simulator. The game succeeds when it gets you to buy in to the reality that the choices you have to make are 1) meaningful to you and 2) consequential in the world of the game. In a typical RPG, I might save my progress and go left to see what’s in one direction. Then I’d reload using the old save to take a right turn instead to see what’s in that direction. Once I see which way is best, that’s the direction I take and save. Contrary to that practice, in GoT I owned my choices and took whatever consequences came. The characters in the game world responded to my consistency or lack thereof. Wondering what would have happened if I went left instead of right becomes part of how I feel about the character I’m playing and how the story is told. It adds to the role-playing that takes root in my imagination when I attempt to play my character in a way that makes the most sense for that character.

I’ve spoken with other players reluctant to get into Telltale adventures because they see behind the illusion of choice into the mechanics. They can’t buy into the reality of the game worlds and characters. They’re doing it wrong. They’re playing the game seeking the optimal paths through the story when the point is to win, but to get the most moving experience. That happens when you let the game get to you. Instead, they’re trying not to make the wrong choice that leads them away from the optimal story path. Perhaps the optimal story path is the one that most people pick or perhaps that’s the one where keep your favorite characters in your party and alive. Keeping on that optimal path involves seeing spoilers and save scumming. That’s self-sabotage!  I understand the temptation and sometimes it may be driven by immersion, but don’t blame the game if you’re if you break your own immersion to “win.” The game is only at fault if it’s OBVIOUS that your participation irrelevant to character or story development. However, the most stunningly obvious moments in my experience with the Episode were when story elements, circumstances, and motivations began to shape themselves into a dangerous choice. The sense of tension I felt when knew I’d be asked to decide or act is was practically physical.

Anything I want? I want to live though a whole G. R. R.  Martin series.

Young Lord Forrester

It’s the weight of those moments that have made this installment good. I don’t want to oversell it, but I did experience excitement.

A few more thoughts.

This Episode is told from the perspectives of members of a previously unmentioned minor noble house that remained loyal to the Starks all the way up to Robb’s very last wedding feast. Players meet the first character outside the hall of the Frey’s just before things get interesting. For better or worse, the game starts with multiple quick time events as the character fights and dodges his way to safety. This is the way the character is most often played. This was also the biggest negative point of my experience with the game. There were some action choices that I made early on that were merely due to my not realizing realizing that I had to control the game with arrow keys. The second playable character in Episode 1 is introduced unsympathetically from the perspective of the first character. Fortunately, once you’re driving him, you realize that is will be the character who will make decisions about how to rule his endangered lands. He’s really just a kid with a lot of new responsibilities. Telltale hasn’t force you to play as a brat. The final character is an attendant to Margaery Tyrell at King’s Landing. She is tasked with supporting her Northern family under the thumb of the Lannisters. She gets to tangle with Cersei and Tyrion. She is easily more likable than Sansa. As the Episode plays out, you see how each character’s actions play into the circumstances experienced by each other character. The ripples here cause great waves there.

Look ma! No wolves!

Forrester Family Portrait

After a little warm up period, playing GoT was like controlling three people crossing an extremely precarious rope bridge. By the end of the episode, I was convinced that no step was safe. I felt like every good intention could be subverted and every lie might explode in my face. Best of all, as one should expect in a work derived from GRRM, tragedy was spontaneous.


The next episode will be from a different game. I don’t even know which one yet.


Character Assessment 5 APB: Reloaded

APB Reloaded: Only Their Love of Violence Rivaled Their Love for Each Other

In previous Character Assessments, I’ve mentioned perhaps two MMO’s that I believe to have implemented the best character creation tools that I’ve had the pleasure of using. The first, the super hero-fantasy from Cryptic, Champions Online, will be covered in a future post. For now, I turn my attention to the game that I initially thought would be my personal WoW-killer back in 2010, Real Time Worlds’ All Points Bulletin and GamersFirst’s APB: Reloaded. Bankruptcy and rebirth was the game’s fate. I didn’t do the beta or keep up with the forums pre-launch, but I watched the development of the game through RTW’s video podcast. Reasonably justified or not, I was convinced that the game would be solid. On launch day, I bought a box copy during my lunch break. That was June. By November,  RTW was being liquidated and only a few guys were left in their offices to keep the servers up in hope that someone arrive to pony up the cash to pay their creditors.

Plenty has been said about the original release, most of it negative, ignorant nonsense. Fact is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had high hopes that given a enough time, RTW’s attempt to bridge the gap between immersive MMORPGs and pure PVP shooters would flesh out into something huge. One very effective weapon in their arsenal that everybody who’s played APB can agree on is that the character creation tools and other customization options were amazing. Smartly, Gamersfirst did nothing to add or take away from the process and I have no expectation that they will attempt to improve on RTW’s foundation. Therefore, a review of the current games tools is a review of the old game’s tools. And in the tradition of these Character Assessment posts, that’s all I am going to review.

You’re Going to Kill Innocent Bystanders Either Way. Tons of them.

I considered recording my own video of the character creation process in APB just to demonstrate some of the elements in APB that most other games overlook, but making a video would be just one more excuse not to finish this post. [So here is some 3rd-party assistance A, P, B.] Anyway, a couple of the things that most character creations interface lack, but that APB includes, are camera control and animation freezing. Putting together a face in three dimensions is benefits greatly from having a full range of camera positioning all around the subject. While most games allow players to spin the character, APB also allows players greater freedom to choose the angle they want to work from.

A Mohawk Should Look Good From All Angles

Character models are animated during the creature process so that players can see something approximating what their character will look like in action. This is common in MMORPGs, but APB goes just a little bit further than the others by allowing players to freeze the model’s movements to better prevent surprise oversights once their character is finally in the game. These two features by themselves spoil other games for me. About the only thing that the suite lacks is light control.

When a player first gets into character creation, they may be underwhelmed because the suite opens up in Quick Mode once the player decides to be a criminal or an enforcer. In Quick Mode, players have a limited number of selections to make, but the random button produces an extremely wide range of results. Even though I love to jump right into crafting a character, I find it faster to randomize until I land on a configuration close to what I want before switching to Advanced Mode to refine it.

I’m Young Al Sharpton!

Quick Mode Options:
Gender (Only 2; how old fashioned.)
Skin Tone (4, chalk to charcoal)
Age (4 age ranges)
Body Shape (4)

However, Advanced Mode is another animal. Thanks to APB, one of the tools that I always hope to see when I log into any MMORPG for the first time are sliders as opposed to numbers or other selectors for the attributes of my character. I don’t like picking from presets nearly as much as I prefer to use a slider to find the right setting between two extremes. Usually, sliders in character creators are just selectors. The SWTOR character creator, for example, has a mock-slider for all parts of the character build where the player must choose between specific options that can’t be modified. Instead, APB has sliders that allow players set their character’s features anywhere within a range. Obviously, things like hairstyles have mock-sliders. However the various lengths for front, back, and side portions of the hair will have real sliders for length and tilt. It is hard to put in to words just how awesome it get a feature exactly in the sweet spot you’re going for because the game tools allow you to take control. [Here’s another video!]

The APB character creator even improves upon the basic slider, which only goes up-to-down, left-to-right. The game has what I’ll call a slider map that allows the player to move up-to-down and left-to-right at the same time. For example, skin tone is on a normal left-to-right slider moving from very pale to very dark. Meanwhile, skin pigment uses a slider map with the top right extreme being a reddish hue and the bottom left being somewhat green. The top-left is extreme is neither reddish nor greenish and the bottom right being very greenish and very reddish at a the same time. As the player moves the cursor through out that map, their character will immediately take whatever attribute is assigned to that motion. It a tool I have seen in no other game.

Protecting and Serving My Hair

Advanced Mode Options:

30 hair styles
234 hair colors
Facial Hair (20 styles)
Body Hair

22 face aspect areas
Face Height/Depth (slider map)
Forehead Detail (4 Types with intensity slider)
Ear Shape (7 Types)
Ear Size (slider map)
Ear Orientation (slider map)
Brow Shape (12 shapes)
Eyebrow Shape (23 shapes)
Eyebrow Color (234 colors)
Cheek Detail (13 types, intensity slider)
Cheek Definition (slider map)
Nose Shape (22 shapes)
Nose Height/Length (slider map)
Nose Bridge (slider map)
Nose & Nostril Width (slider map)
Mouth Width/Height (slider map)
Lip Attributes (7 overlapping sliders)
Lip Size (slider map)
Lip Detail (4, intensity slider)
Jaw Width/Height (slider map)
Chin Attributes (3 overlapping sliders)
Chin Height/Length (slider map)
Chin Detail (6, intensity slider)

Green Mohawk Added Later

Iris Color & Size (46 colors)
Pupil Shape (6 shapes)
Eyelash Length (slider)
Eyelid Position (slider map)
Eye Area Detail (7 types, intensity slider)
Eye Socket Position (slider map)
Eye Attributes (7 sliders)
Eye Tilt (slider)

Weight (slider map)
Height (slider map)
Muscularity (slider map)
Hips (width slider)
Breasts (size and position sliders)

Skin Tone (slider map)
Skin Pigment (slider map)
Age Marks (2 effects, intensity sliders)
Wrinkles (slider)
Veins (slider)
Freckles (4 types, intensity sliders)
Moles (5 types, intensity sliders)
Scars (10 slots, 2 colors, intensity slider)

Mohawk Girl’s Going to Shoot Your Brains Out Because Her User Lacks The Skill to Arrest You

Eyeshadow (25 types, intensity slider)
Eyeliner (16 types, intensity slider)
Blusher (5 types, intensity slider)
Lipstick (10 types, intensity slider)
Face Paint (2 types, intensity slider)
Nail Polish (39 colors, 3 custom slots)

The number of options might seem overwhelming. That is because APB comes closer than any other game, RPG or otherwise, to being able to duplicate a photograph in  3-D gamespace giving the player that sense of ownership over their unique creation. [I’m eager to try out Skyrim considering how good Oblivion’s character creator is.] While APB comes closest, it doesn’t make it all the way there for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the lighting during character creation is nothing like the lighting anywhere else in the game. Until a players get acquainted with the tools and practices trial and error,  the faces that they work so hard on may turn out monstrous in-game. There is no way to save configurations, so if a player decides delete their misbegotten horror with the intent of starting over, they will have to start from scratch. Alternately, players can modify their character’s appearance at any time for in-game currency in the Social District.

Dynamic Lighting F$#%@ Everything Up

Additionally, body types are limited to height, weight, and muscularity. Male characters can be very muscular and very fat. Female characters can be kind of muscular or just little out of shape[– sexism]!  No characters will be noticeably shorter or taller than any others. Only some hairstyles may be modified and none to the point where the changes will be distinct from another player with the same hairstyle. Despite the number of available hairstyles, there should be even more because I suspect that half the hairstyles will never be used by anybody. Finally, not every configurable attribute can be modified independently. For example, modifying one Lip or Eye attribute modifies 3 or 4 others, which can be somewhat frustrating. Giving the game engine less variety to render is understandable as my GPU certainly gets hot playing APB. However, these design choices compromise the control that the developers tried to hand over to players in other aspects.

Be that as it may, once I have become happy with of any my APB characters’ appearances over the couple of years, I grew pretty attached to them. The look of a character is constantly evolving in APB because of clothes that can be unlocked and designs which the players can create add to clothes or use as tattoos. Many players join clans and share designs to create uniforms. Part of the roleplay of the game is that criminals and enforcers in San Paro are aspiring celebrities so building a brand is implicitly encouraged. Really successful players will see statues with their image go up in the Social District. Clans will see their logos on billboards there as well. That said, the fate of most “successful” players in APB (win streakers) is to be killed by 6 other players when the server flags them as high threat.

FYI: There Ain’t No Zoom In This Game

I’ve a had a strange relationship with APB in the time that I’ve spent following the development, playing the original game until the servers were shut down, checking in on GamersFirst, and finally playing the revamped game. My opinion of the original release was enthusiastically positive and I was a dedicated player. My opinion of the current version is generally negative because the game now promotes few incentives for players to use the creativity tools included with the game and there is a greater focus on the cash shop. It’s telling that most of the videos on Youtube for this game were created Summer 2011. I believe that the game has become less well-rounded and less ambitious. Although, I don’t know how to reset my expectations from the original game and give Reloaded a fair shot.

But I digress; this is a review of APB and APB: Reloaded character creator only. Since it is one of the deepest systems I’ve ever used, it merits high marks.

Character Assessment Grade: A

You can certainly have fun in this game too, but you needs some make it interesting. There are sandbox aspects to the game that are easy to disregard, but the guys in this video aren’t missing out:


Thoughts on Current MMORPGs

In light of the news about Zenimax Online officially announcing that they are preparing Elder’s Scroll Online for a 2013 release, I got to thinking about my current feelings towards massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Conventional gameplay in the genre has grown quite stale and I am getting bored. Continue reading