Mar 202011
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Okay, Mass Effect 2. I think I’m finally into you. Your combat system isn’t so much growing on me as I’ve learned to just suck it up and deal with you, and your storyline becomes increasingly interesting. I’m glad I decided to return to you this morning.

Speaking of returning to things, Mike and Scott resumed their work on the radio project. All went well, right up to the exact moment it didn’t. Then it wouldn’t do whatever it was supposed to do, and they have no idea why. That sucked, but it did mean that they finally stopped for dinner. For entertainment, we popped in Mike’s Starcade DVD that I tracked down and bought for him for Christmas. Info dump for those who can’t be bothered to click the Wiki link: Starcade was a game show back in 1982-83 that was all about video games.

Mike loved this show, watched it every day, and has talked about it fondly for years. So getting this was a huge deal. It only has five or six episodes on it, but when you consider that those are five or six episodes that he hasn’t seen since, you know, the early 80s, even that number is pretty exciting. We haven’t watched it yet, but apparently tonight was the night.

And … wow. They are very special. Not the fashions so much (though those too are very special, but when you lived through it you get sort of inured), nor the video games, but the prizes! One of the prizes was – are you ready for this? – a portable record player.

I’ll repeat that: a portable record player. Think iPod, but it’s a freaking battery-powered record player with a strap and headphones that is intended for you to use to listen to your vinyl albums while on the go.

Guys. I can’t even begin to fathom how this was supposed to work. Think about the mechanics for a second. I know it has a strap and all, but it’s a needle on a movable arm. Do you constantly have to hold it perpendicular to your body to make it work? How can you even move without having it scratch all over the place? Did some enterprising young urban kid purchase one of these and go jogging with it, thus giving birth to Scratching?

Think I’m making it up? You cannot make this shit up.

And we’re only on the second episode of Starcade. I think this may be the greatest thing in the history of ever.

ETA: Oh! Oh! How could I forget this? Also, I saw footage of the Journey video game. Yes, a video game about 80s arena rock band Journey. IT IS MAGNIFICENT. The thing has little black and white cut-outs of the band members’ heads pasted on generic little pixelated bodies and OH MY GOD. It’s like a fucking JibJab, people. BUT COMPLETELY SERIOUS.

I want more of this show. I need more of this show. What other treasures await me? I MUST KNOW.

  • Phoenixanew

    Oh wow. And the record is just hanging out waiting to be all scratched and messed up. As I was reading I was picturing something akin to what the guys who sell peanuts at baseball games, or the old fashioned cigarette girls might have carried.. not that. Amazing.

    I apologize for being slightly off topic, though you did mention it at the beginning. I just bought an Xbox 360 and downloaded the Mass Effect 2 demo. I’m at a loss as to how this game is described as an RPG. All I saw was a shooter that gave me dialogue choices. The character setup mentioned leveling, but it seems to me like most games have some kind of improve as you go system these days, so that in and of itself doesn’t equal RPG to me. And the dialogue choices branching out the story in different directions is intriguing, but still doesn’t equal RPG (at least in my mind). Is there some other element I couldn’t see in that brief demo?

    • Ultrace

      I guess I would have to respond to this and ask what makes the role-playing game, if “mprove as you go system” and “dialogue choices branching out the story” don’t qualify. Not trying to be snippy or anything, but conversing with people, making dialogue choices and levelling up to improve your stats are staples of the RPG genre (which has spread to influence a great many games, as you say.)

      In truth, you may find the original Mass Effect slightly more RPG-ish (at least when you get into the story) due to planet exploration and such, but it’s still got a similar feel.

      • Phoenixanew

        The fact that those elements have bled into so many other games at this point, it’s hard to still call that an RPG. Snake gets armor and weapon upgrades throughout a Metal Gear Solid game, that doesn’t make it an RPG. Heavy Rain seems to be all about making choices and those choices effecting the outcome of the game – but no one seems to be calling that one an RPG.

        When I think RPG, I think Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc. You get a party, you equip them with items, you control them as a team, they each normally have their own unique abilities or you can assign jobs to them, etc. There’s also often the tactical elements in turn based game play, though there are of course also “action RPGs” like the the Zelda games.

        I know a lot of people refer to Mass Effect, Fallout, and I think also Dead Space as RPGs.. I just feel like as soon as you put a gun in my hand and make me alternate between pulling the trigger and duck and cover, I’m playing a shooter far more than anything else.

        It’s worth noting that I don’t normally play shooters at all because I’ve never gotten the hang of the game play, be it first person or third. I’m starting to wonder if people call these types of games RPGs because the other popular shooters out there like Call of Duty are basically mindless with no story to them at all. Considering how popular those types of games are, that’s a scary thought for me.

        • Jet Wolf

          I think I get what you’re saying, but I’m not entirely sure how it can be argued that games like Mass Effect aren’t RPGs. You have lengthy, meaty stories in a world (or galaxy) fleshed out and populated with a myriad of differing and distinct characters, accomplishing goals and fighting enemies for experience that you use to customize and enhance your character.

          I think that may be helpful, actually. What would we consider the core components of an RPG? Obviously this is only my opinion, but stripping down my above description into targeted bullet points I’d have to say:

          1. Story focused
          2. Fleshed-out characters
          3. Avatar leveling system

          If you have all three of those, in my opinion you’ve got an RPG.

          Reading your comment here, it may simply be that you don’t enjoy non-fantasy RPGs? I mean, some settings are just gonna give you a gun, yeah? It doesn’t make sense to have a futuristic sci-fi setting with people running around slicing at each other with swords and casting magic missile. :P

          Or maybe, hm. It may be more accurate to focus on the combat. It’s real-time versus turn-based, and that does give the fighting system a dramatically different feel. But I still think it’s a valid system for the genre. Its heart is still the same: play the story.

          So to get back to your original question, I’d say yes, you’re totally missing something. It sounds to me as though the demo is trying to give you an overall sense of the game, but maybe failed to play to its strengths to a discerning gamer.

          Given how cheap it is at this point, I’d probably recommend you pick up the first Mass Effect. (You’d want to play part 1 before part 2 anyway, trust me.) Rent it or even borrow it if you can. Take a weekend, really sit down with it from the beginning. If you’re just terrible at the combat, crank the difficulty to casual, which is specifically described as being for people who don’t like the combat portion and just want to get on with the rest of the game. If you’re a fan of RPGs and good stories, you owe it to yourself to give it a chance.

          • Phoenixanew

            It’s true that I’m not used to playing these type of games. My gaming prime was the SNES, and I can’t think of a single non-fantasy RPG made for that system other than Earthbound, which still had plenty of fantasy elements.

            The moment I realized this was one of those games where you have to use the right analog stick to change direction and the left analog stick to move, I groaned. When you combine those two plus one button to aim and another to shoot, I never do very well. I put the demo on casual and as such I don’t think I was ever in any danger of dying, but I could see myself getting frustrated the further I go into the game as the difficulty increases.

            The demo basically gives you a very quick recap of what happened in the first game, and then you spend most of it waking up on the base post revival. All the dialogue choices were basically on whether or not you trusted the people you were talking to. Not exactly very engaging. It’s possible they assumed the majority of the people playing it had already played the first game and therefore didn’t need much in the way of explanation of the story so far.

            I DO love a good story, it’s generally just the mechanics of these games that prevent me from getting into them. I’ll have to see if anyone I know has a copy.

            • Jet Wolf

              I think it’s worth checking for sure. I’m not good at shooters either, far from it, but I never found the combat in Mass Effect to be so frustrating it pulled me out of the game. ME2 did for a little (its combat system feels different from ME1), but once I sat down with it for a little while, I got better with it. It may be a similar case with you – once you go with it for a little while, it could click.

              Or maybe it won’t. Which would be really unfortunate I think, but it is what it is yeah?

              And yeah, the ME2 demo you’re describing doesn’t sound great. It was probably geared more toward exciting the people who were already going to get the game rather than bring in new people. I can’t say for sure as I didn’t try it, but sometimes demos of the big games are dumb like that.

        • Ross

          “When I think RPG, I think Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc. You get a party, you equip them with items, you control them as a team, they each normally have their own unique abilities or you can assign jobs to them, etc. There’s also often the tactical elements in turn based game play, though there are of course also “action RPGs” like the the Zelda games.”

          But Mass Effect has all those elements. Well, except turn-based combat. Maybe they weren’t shown in the demo?

          • Phoenixanew

            A couple guys started following me. One of them told me to select some special attack he had.. but it wasn’t explained well and I didn’t really know what I was doing, it happened so fast.

            Yeah, I think it’s just a terrible demo.

            • Ross

              Well, perhaps not “terrible” — it sounds like the demo is basically the opening sequence from ME2 — but that sequence would showcase the combat side of the game a lot more than the RPG side.

              The other factor, perhaps, is that if you imagine a dial with “Traditional RPG with shooter-like combat” on the left side, and “Shooter with some RPG elements thrown on top” on the right, then the first ME game was far over to the left — but for the second game they moved the dial somewhat to the right. Not all the way, by any means — I think it’s still an RPG by any description — but enough so that all the reviews noted it. The inventory system was drastically simplified (over-simplified for my taste, but truth to tell it did need it) and the skill trees were noticeably pruned.

              Rumor has it that for the third game in the trilogy they’re going to try to split the difference.

              But my favorite feature of the ME series is how much the choices you make shape the story — and if you want them to, those choices persist from the first game to the second, and from the second to the third: you can import save files from the previous game into the next one, and it extracts all the plot-relevant decisions you made and adjust the story accordingly. The third game — in which they won’t have to worry about all the possible endings feeding into the next game — is supposed to take this up to eleven; all your choices over all three games are supposed to add up to dramatically different outcomes.

              Seriously, this is (IMO) the best feature of the series, and they do it impressively well. In the second game, I think I talked to, or at least heard from, every single character I interacted with in the first game who was still alive.

              • Jet Wolf

                I really like how it’s doing this in subtle ways as well as overt. I won’t name names for the sake of spoiler, but I loved how I went into a store and eavesdropped on a conversation that was only possible for the participants to be having because of something I did in the first game. I could so easily see going back and replaying the entire series a different way once we finally finish them all.