The Power of Sound Effects

As someone who is a big fan of Subnautica, I often keep up with updates to the game, usually via various Youtubers who cover the game extensively.  Without spoiling too much, a huge portion of the end game is in development right now (when this article was written anyway).  Since it’s a key story point, it’s being tweaked to be as impactful as possible.  Animations, voice acting, textures, and tons of other aspects keep being overhauled to present the most satisfying moment that could be achieved.  However, in some of the more recent updates, one additive that added a ton of impact caught my eye: the sound effects.

Sound effects are one of those aspects of creative media that often get overlooked.  Whether the sound effects are audio or implied to with words, they make a huge difference despite being minor additives.  Unfortunately, in numerous indie industries, they can often be underused.  While certainly you run the risk of oversaturating a piece with sound effects, they are still an essential that should never be neglected.  To hammer in this point, let us examine why the sound effects make a difference in two industries: gaming and comics.

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Side Quests: Making Interesting “Fetch Quests”

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Dragon Age: Inquisition (specifically the Hinterlands).

 

The week before last I analyzed side quests and how you could make them more compelling than the generic fetch quests one might see in a grind-like MMORPG.  At the heart of the matter, I illustrated three ways one could make them interesting, namely: having side quests add to the story, having side quests with worthwhile loot, or having side quests with an enormous gameplay challenge.  In regards to story, I discussed certain aspects in Dragon Age II and how some of its side quests vastly change outcome of the story.  However, today I would like to expound on this point some more, and also tackle fetch quests which I didn’t talk about fully in that post.

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Side Quests: Interesting vs. Boring

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Dragon Age II and Kingdom Hearts.

 

Anyone who has played any sort of mission/quest based game is familiar with side quests.  They’re those pesky optional quests that the player can choose to complete or not.  Some are simple, such as delivering a package to the NPC in the next town.  Some are challenging, like cave diving for a treasure.  Then there’s also the invariably hard and cruel ones that have you defeat some optional boss that takes every ounce of your being to defeat.  In either case, side quests come in a variety of flavors and vastly help to buffer the gameplay time.

However, not all side quests were created equal.  In fact, some can be outright snore fests.  Take, for instance, pretty much any optional quest in an MMORPG.  In general, these fall into one of a few categories: kill a certain number of creatures, collect certain ingredients/items, or deliver something to an NPC.  MMORPGs are very formulaic when it comes to this matter.  While these side quests do earn you experience points (exp) and virtual money, they have little else to offer the player.  They are, essentially, what makes a lot of MMORPGs grind-fests as it were.  Single player games can often be guilty of the same thing, especially for the RPG genre in general.

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Another Argument for Mechanic Transparency: Dragon Age II Edition

Warning: Semi spoilers ahead for Dragon Age II.

 

Enemy waves are no new concept to video games.  They have been around for years and will probably remain for as long as they offer value to players.  While from my experience their existence can be a bit polarizing, it’s hard to discount them completely given the numerous amounts of players that like the challenge.  That being said, there are cases in which its execution is flawed at best.  One such instance that I wish to discuss today appears in Dragon Age II, where a lack of transparency makes the experience somewhat infuriating.

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Why I Find Dragon Age: Origins Quests Tedious

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Dragon Age: Origins.  Also, this is a very game specific opinion piece.  If you aren’t familiar with the game, you may not understand this post very well.

 

As I continue to traverse in my little free-time through Dragon Age: Origins yet again, I am reminded of a consistent fact: I hate the Fade.  For those who need a refresher, lore wise the Fade, or the Beyond to Dalish elves, is a world of spirits, demons, and dreams.  Gameplay wise, the Fade is a major component during the “Broken Circle” quest line, as at a certain point you get transported to this nightmare-scape by a demon.  It is, in my opinion, a nightmare to play through as it involves numerous loading screens, numerous fights that are overly difficult if you are a rogue or warrior, and a bunch of other small annoyances.  However, as I examined my dislike for this sequence, it occurred to me that many of the main storyline quests in Dragon Age: Origins are equally tedious to me.  Why would that be though?

Then it hit me: three of the four major storyline quests have false endings and terrible boss pacing.

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When Game Mechanics Break Lore Pt. 2

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Dragon Age series.

 

Welcome to Part 2 of this discussion about game mechanics breaking lore.  Yesterday, I talked about how the Blood Mage and Spirit Healer specializations were heavily tied in via the lore and story of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II.  However, as I hinted at the end, things began to go downhill when Dragon Age: Inquisition joined the franchise.

Like its predecessors, Dragon Age: Inquisition utilizes class specializations for character builds.  As technology and know-how has come quite a long ways since the first of the series, companion characters within Dragon Age: Inquisition will actually comment upon your choice of specialization.  Like when Dragon Age II entered the franchise though, mechanics were changed in an attempt to improve the game’s entertainment value.  For mages, the specializations available in Dragon Age: Inquisition are Knight-Enchanter, Necromancer, and Rift Mage.

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When Game Mechanics Break Lore Pt. 1

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Dragon Age series.

 

As a writer and lover of world design, one of my favorite story aspects to games is their background lore.  Whether it is elves, aliens, or simply just some regular old human history, I greatly appreciate the amount of detail and depth it adds to any game world.  Even if the lore does not always play a part in the plot, I believe it is an important element if you want to have an immersive, fictional world.  Especially for those who enjoy exploration aspects, it makes the exploration more worthwhile and adds many hours of gameplay.

That being said, it can be a double edged sword.  Whether you’re writing for a game, a novel, or anything else, keeping your lore straight can be vitally important.  When it comes to having diehard fans, they will always be quick to point out when new lore makes an error.  While the severity of errors varies (from a simple typo of a year to a totally new event that doesn’t fit established history), they can potentially ruin the immersion.  These sorts of mistakes remind the explorers that these worlds they invest their time into are not real, which speaking personally, is a huge downer.

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Those Small Game Details Pt. 1

In the recent days, I started a new character in Dragon Age: Origins.  For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a Western RPG that is focused on your choices altering the epic story that is present.  Its particular highlight is its origin stories, where you can play through one background story depending on the race and class you pick.  This is probably going to be the 5th or 6th time I’ve played through the game, so this certainly isn’t my virgin experience with it.  My first play-through back in 2009 was a Human Mage, which I chose because, frankly, mages are my favorite class.  That being said, I did want to experience the other origins/character background stories, so subsequent characters had to be warriors or rogues to fulfill that end.

This time, for my new character, I was struck with the desire to create an Elven Mage.  As mentioned, this is not my first ride, so going through the game I know what to expect generally speaking.  Once I got to the sequence where you must climb the Tower of Ishal, however, I was struck by a sudden and surprising detail.  Once you arrive at the tower, the game provides you with two NPCs so you have a full, four person party to deal with the combat.  With my warriors and rogues, these NPCs have always been one mage and one warrior/rogue.  With this play-through, I was taken aback by the fact both NPCs were warriors/rogues.  Yet, it makes perfect sense!  The mage NPC is there to balance out the team more.  Since I am the one who is a mage this play-through, there isn’t a need to throw one my way for the balance.  It was a small detail, but one that really left me in awe since I did not know it was a possible permutation.

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