Sunday, March 20, 2011

28 days later..

Here I am, fresh as a daisy, after a considerably productive week off work, blogging for the first time in nearly a month. 28 days to be exact. I know, I know. Well, it's a two sided truth. That break I wrote about taking not so long ago, finally happened. Work had paired me down over the past month and since I hadn't taken a break since last September, I was too busy counting down the days until my week's leave to worry about anything else.

A somewhat unintentionally extended hiatus since the release of Craggy Island in January, has produced polar opposite results. On one end of the scale, I forgot how easy it was to slip into lazy-mode. My PC and consoles have taken a beating of epic proportions, I'm over 50 hours into Dragon Age 2 and STILL not finished, more on that later, and my wallet is a bit worse for wear too. I've been burying my head a bit, to be frank, but I guess it's not as bad when I can admit it.

On the other end of the scale, I've had 9 days off and I'm starting to feel much fresher and stress-free. I've had a busy week, much to my own device, starting off with a day trip to Belfast last Saturday. Much of the rest of the week was spent out at lunch, in the cinema, out with friends, out with my brother, a fair amount of shopping (28th Bday on Friday, pardon the title pun) and a trek around Ikea that lasted 5 hours. I've enjoyed it, even with spending far more time out of the house that I'd be used to, but the change of scenery and breakup of normal everyday routine, has aided in superficially extending my time off.  My room looks entirely different now too. I spent Friday afternoon rearranging everything, which makes me question my reasoning for how I had it before, considering how much roomy it feels now and it's hardly recognisable. The purpose of the Ikea trip was to try and find some wall shelves. I got two in the end, along with a bunch of other knick-knacks, including a whiteboard and fancy flower pot (Ikea does that to you..) The kitchen is also overflowing with all things 'Daim'. My room feels much more like a little office or workstation now, and I was also toying with the idea of getting a sofa bed to go the whole hog. Maybe down the line.. Anyway, a I like to move things around now and then, helps me stay fresh.

So whats next? I am ready, but the truth is, I have no idea. Recently I got back in touch with an old friend of mine. He's in a similar situation to me with similar plans of going back to college. He's a brilliant 2d artist and we've lost many a night together, discussing game designs and crazy plans of world domination. We have an old design document that we pieced together back in 2004, detailing a game which is *frighteningly* similar to that of Minecraft. Literally identical in fact. Shame we didn't possess the skills or knowledge to make it! We'll see where the road takes us, but one thing is for sure, a substantial addon for Skyrim is target numero uno, come November. What we do before then is up for discussion this week, so keep your eyes peeled.

I'll keep this one short, I have a couple of things to do this evening (like book a 2 week holiday to Greece) before I get back to work tomorrow, but expect something more substantial next week.

My thoughts on Dragon Age 2 quickly then. It has been a topic of hot debate across the interwebs over the past week, with a massive divide in the Bioware camp turning their forums into a war zone of flaming, forum bans and cries for the closure of the studio. Absolute madness really. Dragon Age 2 is a great game. It's flawed in many respects, but it's still a great piece of entertainment. It was clearly rushed to market, with the recycling of locations being the most obvious of the lot. 6 more months of development could have pushed this to great heights, but as it stands, it's created a solid foundation for a rather brilliant 3rd outing.

My Knight in Shining Armour

I'm a big fan of the gameplay, the writing is mostly brilliant and the characters well realized and distinguished and the more linear direction and art style make for a much more personal experience. The banter between party members is sensational, most of the games best dialogue can be quoted from here, while Hawke turned out to be a somewhat uninspired, in contrast to Commander Sheppard. Boss fights are epic, Bioware took a page from WoW's book there, no question, but the general encounter design, leaves a lot to be desired. Random groups of enemy spawn from random directions, with little to no tactics, is a staple throughout the game. It has often felt cheap, particularly on Nightmare (bloody Assassin's..) and there are a few annoying mechanics, such as the constant knock-back on anything but a tank, that does little to ease ones frustration. However, when the combat flows and encounters are under control, it's bloody awesome. I also had no problem with the streamlined interface and UI after a while. Also for what it's worth, I'm playing on PC, with dx11 and the high-res texture pack, with all details to max.

Bloody Epic Fight

It has all the signs of a rushed development. The end of the fiscal year falls within a fortnight. No doubt EA wanted to buff its yearly numbers and clearly pushed Bioware to release. I love the new direction, but I sincerely hope that Bioware listen to the genuine criticisms (hard to find amongst the sea of bullshit) and take them on board going forward. These sort of shortcomings are not acceptable by today's standards, particularly from a Studio of their calibre. As I've said, a rather solid foundation has been laid and the huge potential the series is obvious. There must have been 50 occasions throughout the game where I immediately thought 'WHY didn't they do this, or that", which in my opinion would have made the game indefinitely better. So while I'll see it as a missed opportunity, I also see a chance for them to capitalize on the core changes and mechanics they've gotten so right, as risky as it was.

Until next time.