KOTFE: The Battle of Odessen

So the final chapter of Knights of the Old Republic has come, and somehow, I expected it to feel a little more … final.

First, my review: I liked this chapter. Thoroughly. Unlike some of the previous chapters, some which felt like stalling and some which felt like three hours of walking in circles, and even unlike the previous chapter which had all of the action and plot moments I craved — but delivered nothing of the romance I longed for — this outing provided both the action and character development to sate me.

There were lots of character moments and moments of reflection, and the game didn’t make me grind through a million sky troopers to get to Arcann. It provided some minor bosses to slow me, but not frustrate me – and it even pulled out some new fighting mechanics to make the final showdown seem fresh.

KOTFE battle of odessen

What it did not do, however, was provide a thorough wrap up to the previous sixteen chapters. At the end of the chapter, some things have changed and there are some nice revelations, but when I zoom out I see that all of the same players are in the game and not much has changed for my character directly. I expected a little bit more of a shake up in the final chapter to help me feel like I’m progressing.
After the chapter is completed there doesn’t seem to be any new things to do around the base either, which was a bit of a let down as we wait for the new DLC.

Getting into the spoilers:

With the tables abruptly turned and Scorpio now heading up the Eternal Empire, we see Vaylin and Arcann barrelling towards Odessen, since, as we all know by now — for Arcann it’s all about Daddy. He cares nothing for the throne itself and would throw the entire Empire away for the chance to confront his father — even if his father is a force ghost stuck inside a snarky, power hungry Sith lady with a space wife and no hair.

How do the siblings know about the alliance on Odessen? The god in the machine has literally told them. There is no truer deus ex machina than this, folks. Scorpio has seen fit to thrust the bad guys on the good guys and see what happens. I gotta hand it to Bioware, I didn’t really see this coming when I recruited this shiny gold bot, and I like her character motivation — to grant free-will to all of the droids fashioned in her design who she considers her children. As a brief aside, this plotline (aided by the letter that finds its way to me afterwards recounting the story of a Gemini droid who gets off her ship to stare at the sun setting over an unfamiliar planet for two hours only to get back on the ship and fly off) was moving to me. I like this idea, and I hope we don’t have to destroy all Scorpio has worked for. I’ve always been a sucker for this trope in science fiction and I hope the writers get to play with its implications in the next DLC.

Back to the chapter. What’s left of the Eternal fleet, plus the flagship carrying Vaylin and Arcann, are heading towards Odessen and with them the possibility of the total annihilation of the planet because if there’s one thing that spells Star Wars, it’s a planet blowing up.

The most romantic three words in SWTOR

Our first character moment (starting the chapter off on the right foot I say) comes before we go over the plan. Lana and my aforementioned sith, Gossamyr, stop to chat before heading to the Gravestone. I choose the flirtatious conversation option which results in vague insinuation that flies directly over Lanas head. It’s ridiculous and adorable, which I swiftly point out. “Lana, you’re missing the point here.” The point is that we should be making out and when Lana finishes blushing we do. It’s funny, her character has changed a lot since we first met at the beginning of Shadows of Revan.  I miss her unhinged adoration and insistences that the force was bringing us together. We did a lot of making out back then, and I remember Lana as more of a giddy school girl. She’s not like that any more, and I was hoping that over the course of KOTFE we would see her relax a bit. But people change and Lana has that typical Bioware ‘hardened’ thing going on — like Leliana if you let her get her hands too dirty.

he may be an asshole but hes our asshole

Next is Koth, who takes Gossamyr aside to thank her for everything she’s done for the Zakuulan people. It’s a really sweet moment and his insistence that her actions are the reason he stayed with the alliance feels genuine. I’m not sure what kind of monster you have to be to see some of these characters say goodbye, but to have Koth come out and say thank you feels earned. I don’t always like Koth, his values tend to clash with my sithiness, but I’m grateful for him in this moment.

Next, we’re on the Gravestone and Theron is excusing himself to go man the guns. I often wonder what life is like for Theron-mancers. Does he always up and leave you? Do you get special cut scenes of him looking wistfully into the distance to make up for the fact he’s not actually *there* when you’re being murderized? I guess this is where you guys would have your second kiss, but I’m like “See you dude don’t *uck up!”

In any case, Lana, Senya and Gossamyr head into the ship while two chosen crew members cover shields and gun sabotage.

KOTFE Senya Lana Gossamyr

Vaylin quickly says hello. She makes it clear that while Arcann may have daddy issues, hers are all centered around Mother. She challenges Senya, and Senya splits the party. I really like Senya, she’s badass and I mean it when I tell her “You don’t have to do this alone.” It’s another nice moment.

Lana and I head through the ship, facing off against skytroopers and knights of Zakuul. There are a couple of named knights that must be defeated and they act as serviceable minor bosses but don’t prove too difficult.

lana beniko kiss battle of odessen

Just as we reach Arcann, a large contingent of skytroopers and knights arrive. Lana insists that Goss go on alone and face the emperor and gives a nice little retort to Gossamyr’s concern, “don’t insult me.” She’s not worried, but since this is the last chapter — I kinda am. She says something about how it’s Gossamyr’s destiny to defeat Arcann, and it’s her destiny to get her there. Gossamyr gets to say what’s in *my mind* (and heart, I’m a sap after all) “We’re destined for more than that.”

lanas sacrifice

I’m not tearing up, you are.

Some strategic doors slam closed and suddenly it’s Arcann and Goss.

Arcann wants to talk to daddy and Gossamyr is not feeling it. She’s pretty sure that she kicked the emperor out a while back even if I’m not so sure. Arcann has his doubts and when he corners Gossamyr with a swinging light saber a blue glowey force shield stops his blade. Now no one’s sure if Valkorion is showing up, but luckily we actually learned something in Visions in the Dark and the training of Darth Marr and Satele Shan summons this crazy shield (??)  for Gossamyr to absorb Arcann’s force powers (??). I love that Bioware is finding new ways for us to battle our bosses which makes the gameplay feel refreshing and different then what’s come before, but I also don’t like change sooo…. I’m also not ashamed to admit I ran in circles for a bit trying to figure out what I was supposed to do before I noticed the three temporary powers that had popped up.

KOTFE final showdown

Now here’s where my expectations fall down just a little bit. Making the first real ‘dark side’ decision in awhile, I choose the option to outright kill Arcann. Again, this feels earned and just — but just as the previous 16 chapters are about to come to fruition, Scorpio starts attacking the flagship so she can finish Gossamyr off at the same time as Arcann. The flagship starts to combust, and Gossamyr leaves Arcann to his fate, having seemingly been crushed by falling debris.

It feels distressingly similar to all of the previous times we’ve faced the emperor’s kids. Dream sequences, boss fights that end in both parties leaving only to fight again — I expected more from the finale. Arcann’s fate is clearly undecided at this point, which leaves my bloodlust unsatisfied.

Lana calls on the com and tells Gossamyr to get her butt off the ship and I’m like, darling you’re alive! But there’s no dialog option for that.

Goss hops a ship and while she’s doing that — Senya is looking through the rubble for her son. She pulls Arcann out and he appears to be dead. Vaylin shows up (why are they just encountering each other now?) and Senya bemoans her mistakes as a mother, asking Vaylin to come with her and be redeemed. Vaylin refuses and leaps at Senya, but Arcann was listening to mom’s confession and force throws his sister away. Senya takes this as a sign that Arcann can be redeemed and escapes with him on a shuttle, leaving Vaylin to escape on her own.

KOTFE difficult decision

In her own shuttle, Gossamyr has the option to go after Senya and Arcann and possibly shoot them down. I chose to let them go, I like Senya too much — but I have no clue if they escape either way. I feel like they’re too important to die at this point. Now this is an actually difficult decision. Despite the fact I’m not sure if the consequences are as real as I’m lead to believe, I agonized over it for a few minutes before *not* pulling the trigger. The aforementioned bloodlust left me wanting the anticipated explosion, but my affection for Senya’s badassery won out.

Koth is the only one outright mad with this decision and he throws a tantrum as soon as we’re landed. I roll all my former goodwill towards this character up into a ball and chuck it at him as he leaves.

The last scene in the chapter involves Vaylin approaching Scorpio on the Eternal throne. Scorpio willingly offers the throne to Vaylin, claiming it was never her intention to rule the empire. With all her talk about her children, and her offer to teach Vaylin as she takes the throne — it seems like Vaylin has chosen a new maternal mentor.

This is a finely crafted moment of payoff after Senya’s betrayal — the dialog and expressions are excellent.

Our enemy has shifted, not disappeared. Our enemy is perhaps more powerful with Arcann’s confused motivation out of the way. They know where we are, they know who we are and they know what our goal is. I look forward to see what role Senya and Arcann play in the announced Knights of the Eternal Throne.

I predict that Arcann may have a redemption arc in the next DLC, perhaps becoming an ally of the alliance (or appearing to do so). With Senya seeming more and more like a tragic figure, her actions both redeeming and unredeemable — I’m thinking she won’t survive to the end of the story. I also predict more returning former companions and hopefully Goss will be reunited with her space pirate husband at some point soon. What role does Valkorion have in all this? It’s hard to say — but they’ll have to amp up the feeling of vulnerability for the player character if they want to give his possession weight.

KOTFE finale battle of odessen

So that’s it for now! What did you think of Knights of the Fallen Empire?

 

KOTFE: The Gemini Deception

Finally, a chapter worth playing.

Forgive me for forgetting — or at least ignoring– the fact that chapter 14, Mandalore’s Revenge, preceded this one. The only thing 14 gave us was this adorable creature:

Torian Cadera mandalores revenge.jpg

I admit I had no idea he was a returning character, I am even more excited to continue my new bounty hunter play through.

Ultimately, I’m more interested in skipping ahead to Chapter 15: The Gemini Deception.

15 picks up running  where 14 dropped us. We’ve managed to capture a droid that may give us control of the Eternal Fleet. This time, the whole team is a long for the ride. With the previous chapters all about building an alliance and developing relationships, the game shines when you get to take everyone roaring off into battle. With Senya, Lana, Theron and Scorpio by my side — I feel like a powerful badass at the front of a punk rock girl band (sorry Theron).

KOTFE girl band

I’m calling them ‘Theron and the Face Melters’ but I’m open to suggestions.

We board a ship and at least in this chapter the enemy, and the goal, seems clear. We need to take out the cybernetic ‘captain’ — a Gemini droid based on Scorpio’s design. I get to tease her over who will come out on top, and it seems I’ve boasted too soon as the group is immediately separated and I end up rage quitting the game in the first boss fight. Usually I’m pretty adept at these, but I don’t usually team up with Scorpio and she seems ineffectual. That’s who I’m blaming anyway.

A few days later I pick up the game again and after a few attempts manage to get past this stupid robot and his endless stream of cronies. Ultimately I’m most impressed that this is the first of three challenging boss fights in the chapter.

gossamyr scorpio gemini deception
The ship itself is an exciting new location with hidden treasures in the form of grenades and sky-troopers I can reprogram. There are glass floors and complex, interesting things going on behind every partition. In one chamber, there are red lights and sky-troopers floating above in an assembly line. There’s a whole sun chamber room that tries to light me on fire. There’s a hole I have to drop through and an exiting escape from a malfunctioning elevator.

It’s a great location filled with menace. Unlike other chapters which involved running back and forth between locations only to gave to kill the same re-spawning bad guys over and over  — this chapter flows neatly and succinctly from the start to the ultimate betrayal. There’s death, hard choices, even a few twists and turns I didn’t expect.

theron shan lana beniko gemini deception

At the end, the only thing missing from this chapter is romance. It seems since pledging myself to Lana our relationship has gone the way of a dry soup packet sitting lonely in a drawer. I am forced to add water where I may to create something pasty and unappetizing. A wistful look here, standing close to each other there — it’s all I have to go on.

making out with lana circa gemini deception

They’re actually making out in this picture. 

Ultimately, I enjoyed the Gemini Deception more than the last three chapters combined. I am left wondering about a few plot dangles, but I’m sure they’ll come together in the next and final chapter of Knights of the Fallen Empire.

I am already looking forward to the next expansion announced for the fall, hoping against hope Bioware will have learned from this first foray into episodic gaming and will come back to the fans with more of what we want — and less of the generic runaround.

 

 

GDX Edmonton Highlights: Narrative in Games

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Sunday at Game Discovery Exhibition Edmonton, (GDX). It was a mad crazy weekend, followed by an insane week so I’m sitting down now to write some thoughts about the conference.

The second panel I was able to attend was the Narrative in Games panel. Moderated by Matt Dykstra, the panel included Bioware lead writer Patrick Weekes and lead editor Karen Weekes, Beamdog writer Andrew Foley and Madsoft writer Corina Dransutavicius.

It’s always a pleasure to attend panels that bring writers together! I took a lot away from this one. General take away on how to break into the game writing world — go find Dave Gross, who was the pivotal connection that got Patrick and Andrew their jobs.  Actual take away, go join writers groups, stay connected with other writers.

Other highlights:

General writing advice:

  • Write what you want to read, not what you think is ‘literary’. Patrick talked about when he lightened up his writing and started writing for his own entertainment, his work started to sell.
  • When reading, watching movies, playing games — pay attention to the points where you zone out or get bored and eliminate those points from your own writing.
  • Reader (and player) trust is important, gain their trust by using foreshadowing. Readers need to know they’re getting themselves into a tragedy before the tragedy strikes otherwise they won’t trust you to grant catharsis. Important to remember that when writing games vs. prose: you don’t win or lose a movie or a book, but gamers want to win.
  • Andrew Foley gave six rules of writing I was not fast enough to jot down, but the sixth rule is: “show it to someone who will pay you for it.”

Writing for Games:

  • The critical path in a video game = everything the player will experience as part of the story.
  • Bioware focuses on characters first.
  • Bioware writers use a shared language of films and TV shows to communicate tone and mood. If this were a movie, which movie would it be? Mass Effect 3 is World War 2 in Space. Geth and Quarian story-lines were imagined around Das Boot and other submarine tales.
  • For Corina, working with an indie studio is different. They often start with a game mechanic, and think of a story that can bring that mechanic to life. Consider; how do we justify this cool mechanic through story? How do we make sure this is explained in a way that makes sense and is fun?
  • Every line of dialogue has a voice over description that explains how it should be read, where the emphasis is, what’s the context.
  • When you’re writing a PC, it’s a character that doesn’t exist until the player makes it exist. How do you include enough options for the player to feel like their character is unique? Bioware does this in a classic tabletop RPG way: good, chaotic good, neutral, chaotic neutral, evil.

Dragon-Age-2-Dialogue

  • Patrick: give every minor character and NPC one thing that speaks to their life outside the story. (Ex. an NPC whose function is to provide a fetch quest, but the context is that his daughter is getting married and he needs the item for the wedding.)  Important to note, if that NPC is a diverse character, don’t make that one thing about their gender identity or race — that’s tokenism. Make it about their life.
  • Player agency is key to writing for games. How are you going to make the player feel in control even if they’re not? They need to control the exploration, or the destruction/building of the world.
  • At each step in your story, ask yourself if the player will know what to do and where to go from here.

Feature image from the GDX website. 

Highlights from GDX Edmonton: Inclusion in Games

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Sunday at Game Discovery Exhibition Edmonton, (GDX). It was a mad crazy weekend, followed by an insane week so I’m sitting down now to write some thoughts about the conference.

The first panel I attended was Inclusion in games, moderated by Emma McDonald, the panel included Bioware vets Sarah Hayward and Sarah Beck, programmer Sagal Adam, Designer Bree Emmerson and activist Emily Dutton. All of these amazing women gave fantastic advice.

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Some of the highlights I jotted down:

  • Emily Dutton kept it real, if you don’t have a queer person on your development team — go talk to one. Consultation is key to portraying characters outside your own experience accurately and with respect.
  • If you fall back on stereotypes, representation can be more harmful than good.
  • Tokenism is another harmful type of representation. If your diverse character is a prop to advance the plot, doesn’t have their own motivations — if the plot happens to them — they might be a token inclusion.
  • Sagal — Gamers are diverse, providing diverse representation is a part of providing safe spaces.
  • Character customization allows a connection between player and avatar, including options to make the avatar diverse makes players feel  like developers see them. Changing the colour of the avatars skin doesn’t have to change the story.
  • Some of the panelists spoke about playing first person shooters and having a jarring reaction to discover they have man hands or a mans body because they’re immersed in the first person experience.
  • Sarah H: the whitewashing of the industry correlates to games emulating Hollywood’s ‘square jawed masculine’ marketing.
  • Direct more advertising money to the diverse games already out there.

The take away:

Gamers, be hungry, get your desires for diverse games out there and be heard by developers.

(Photos from the GDX website) 

KOTFE: Profit and Plunder

New chapter #13 of Knights of the Fallen Empire, Profit and Plunder, opens with some continued saltiness between companions. No one likes each other here, and it makes sense because hey, wasn’t it just yesterday we were all on different sides? Not only that, but everyone knows lack of money is the number one cause of fights in relationships and apparently we are, in fact, underfunded. Plus, there’s the matter of Kaliyo and Aric Jorgan missing in action since we sent them on that quest last chapter (you know the one… they’re doing… something important). Everyone is worried, and we need something to keep us busy.

lana and koth in profit and plunder.jpg

Forgive my lack of detail, I was booted from the game several times during the first twenty minutes because of connection problems on my end and played it in small chunks over several days so my memory isn’t perfect.

At some point Hylo Visz, Alliance smuggling expert and all around bad ass, suggests we hire on a friend of hers. Turns out the friend is former Bounty Hunter companion Gault Rennow. Bounty Hunter is another class I have yet to play thoroughly and this was my first introduction to Gault. He’s an entertaining fellow and I look forward to continuing my Bounty Hunter play-through. Similarly, Vette, former Sith Warrior Companion, is hanging out with Gault and it was an equal pleasure to run into her. Now, wouldn’t it have been nice to have Andronikos with them. In any case…

outlander and gault in profit and plunder.jpg

Gault’s plan is to commandeer the treasury ship of the eternal empire. It’s a pretty sweet plan. We pick up his crew, facing a few pointless droid opponents in what felt like a pretty contrived combat scenario, and then meet up with Senya and Scorpio to discuss. Senya is going to wear Vaylins face and Scorpio is going to pose as her companion droid or some such, they’re  waltzing onto the bridge and Scorpio is letting us onto the ship. Once Gault, Vette and I are in the Vault, we’re going to set off a ‘De-materializing bomb’ or … something made up like that, which magically turns all the bars of gold into gold vapor we can suck out through a tube.

vette in profit and plunder

It all seems pretty simplistic, and no surprise Gault doesn’t have a clear get away plan. It all goes off without a hitch up until that escaping bit.Annoyingly, Vaylin shows up and once again we avoid her rather than fight. The boss of the chapter ends up being a nameless, faceless skytrooper who does that thing half the bosses do where they put themselves in a defense bubble and hit you from afar while you fight a bunch of mini bad guys, then gives you a limited time to reduce his health in between waves. The combat was dull, but the location was pretty cool.

outlander in profit and plunder

We end up rescued by Hylo Visz herself, and it’s nice to see her actually get to do something. Not sure if it was a surprise to anyone whose played as a bounty hunter, but I was tickled pink to find out that Hylo and Gault were former ‘partners’ in every sense of the word.

chapter 13 profit and plunder 1

When they’re done making out, we head back to the alliance base where we’re given the chance to gain or loose influence with our companions. Turns out I don’t understand Gault enough to gain any approval here, but Vette and I are fast friends and I manage to make Theron and Senya happy at Scorpios expense.

Theron lets me know Aric Jorgan and Kaliyo have returned. Sad news though, the rest of Havok Squad didn’t make it and Aric is pissed. He’s blaming Kaliyo and I guess this is the magical “consequences for your actions” that we keep hearing about. I backed them both and forced them to work together, trying to make everyone happy, and now I’m feeling responsible. There’s a niggling feeling at the back of my mind reminding me that this is probably the result no matter what dialogue choices you made last chapter, but I still feel bad. That said, I manage to get out of the proceeding conversation by being equal parts sensitive and tough as nails, approval all around.

aric jorgan in profit and plunder

And that’s that.

Again, no romance content with Lana, and no mention of my pirate husband Andronikos. We’re getting down to the line, only a couple of chapters left, and I’m feeling increasingly dis-interested in the story. At the moment there aren’t any real consequences, the bosses have been pretty easy and the chapters feel short. I finished this one in about an hour. The biggest problem for me though is that the story doesn’t feel customized at all. I’m legit worried about replay-ability once I get my other characters up to level 60.

On the plus side, the addition of the Eternal Championship Arena seems pretty solid. I attempted it a couple of times and the bosses seem challenging and original. When I talked to Bowdaar, there was some legitimately customized dialogue where I explained I too was once a slave. It felt good for my unique origins to be acknowledged.

Well, what did you think? Leave your opinion in the comments!

Why Diverse Games: “Ask Why”

Today I’m interviewing another awesome gamer who responded to my call for interviewees. She would prefer to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.

K: What do you think makes you a ‘gamer’?

E: For me, a gamer is someone who is passionate about video games. For me it also means I spend an ungodly amount of time gaming; whether that can be considered a pro or con depends who you ask.

K: What attracts you to videogames over other forms of entertainment?

E: Books, movies, plays, and art – all of these are mediums for telling stories and creating incredible worlds, but video games allow you to be an active participant. You aren’t just watching a story unfold, you’re immersed in it. In many cases, you also have a direct impact on your environment. That’s not something you can find anywhere else, and that’s what makes games such an exciting and invaluable medium.

K: What effect do you think inclusive representation has on storytelling in games?

E: I struggled answering these questions, not because they’re difficult, but because (as someone who happens to be straight, white etc.) I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer them.

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The archetype of the straight, white, male gamer is an archaic one.

What I’ve realized, like you, is that representation in media for people who are marginalized by society can prove very meaningful. For instance, I have a brother who happens to be transgender and characters like Krem and Dorian in Dragon Age: Inquisition really resonate with him (Krem on the basis of also being trans, and Dorian for his personal quest). Yet, there aren’t a lot of trans characters out there – despite the fact a lot of trans people play video games.

Video games have so much potential as a medium for storytelling, and they bring people together and can have such a positive impact on our lives – if increasing diversity can help them do that, it’s absolutely something that should be encouraged, not stifled. The archetype of the straight, white, male gamer is an archaic one. People of all backgrounds are gaming nowadays and games themselves should reflect that.

K: How does inclusivity in games affect you as an individual?

E: I’ve always had pretty moderate views regarding representation in the gaming industry. That is, I like when I’m able to play as a woman and I love seeing well-written female characters, but it’s not a requirement for me. I think, overall, the gaming industry has come a long way from the days when the only women in games were damsels in distress or lone icons such as Samus or Laura Croft.

As a woman, being able to play as my preferred gender – particularly in RPG’s, where player choice and customization are so vital – has a notable impact on my experience. Not being able to play as a woman won’t ruin the game for me (some of my favourite games have male protagonists), but it’s nice when it’s an option.

Editors note: This is a good point E. It’s absolutely true that not all games need to have diverse casts. Sometimes, video games are still about someone else’s experience, even if we’re participating in it. Firewatch for example, is Henry’s story. When you’re playing an RPG however, it’s your story! That’s why I think RPG’s are leading the charge on inclusivity.

K: Have you ever refused, or would you consider refusing to play a game based on a problematic portrayal?

E: One of the reasons I’ve never expressed interest in the Grant Theft Auto series is due to criticisms I’ve heard about sexism within the games. Whether or not that’s true, I haven’t ascertained firsthand, but I have been dissuaded from playing them.

K: What might next steps be for the game industry in regards to increasing representation?

E: The real struggle now is diversifying games in other ways (outside of women in games). You don’t have to look too hard to find a number of well written straight, white female characters. They’re still not as prevalent as their male counterparts of course, but progress is progress. It’s another story when you’re looking for women of colour, or LGBT+ women.

I also think it’s important for developers to listen to their audience. If a significant portion of that audience reports feeling alienated, the developers should ask themselves why. Why are they feeling this way? What can developers do differently in the future? How can they make their games appealing to a wider variety of people? If they care about their games, they will also care about who’s playing them.

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If they (developers) care about their games they (should) also care about who’s playing them.

Editors note: I definitely agree that as audiences educate themselves, they’ll hopefully become more vocal and developers will listen. A great example of this came from Blizzards Overwatch game and the controversy over the ‘butt pose’ for Tracer.

K: What games are you playing now or looking forward to the most?

E: Right now, I’m most looking forward to The Legend of Zelda: Wii U, Pokemon Sun & Moon, and Dragon Age 4!

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I want to say a special thank you to E for answering these questions. They’re not particularly easy, and I also feel like I’m under-qualified to speak about representation.

Although E regards her views as moderate, many individuals simply haven’t formed opinions at all. They might play hundreds of games and never think about what they’re consuming and how it affects them on a deeper level, or how that media affects others.

I’ve heard from a lot of straight, white male gamers (including my husband), about how this is a subject they’ve never put much thought into. The purpose of this series is not to shame any individual or group, but to provide different experiences and views to help us all think more critically about the media we consume.

Every voice matters, we’re all learning and we’re doing it together.

If you’re interested in sharing your views through an interview or other contribution, send me a message via my contact form or tweet me @kjewellwrites.

You can always join the conversation using #whydiversegames.

Short Fiction: Garden of Nothing

There isn’t a lot of good to be had in the wastes.

Not a lot of gentle, not a lot of care.

There’s a wealth of harm. Rough edges, sharp corners, dirt and grit. Sand ground into your skin, under your eyelids, in the backs of your teeth. How do you get clean when the dirt is inside you?

When I meet another traveler it’s a careful dance. A glimmer of blue eyes peeking out between sheathes of fabric, framed with dark, grime crusted skin. The clothes are like mine – brown, layered, worn but practical. Packs strapped on with belts, carrying everything on our backs from water to shelter.

We’re crossing within five feet from one another in the semi dark and maintaining eye contact the whole time. This person is as likely to shank me and steal my water as I leave, as he is to let me go. I want to shout after him as his form retreats. I won’t harm you – I’m so lonely it’s killing me faster than the radiation is. I want to run after him and throw myself at his feet. Take everything I have but say my name before you go. I haven’t heard my name spoken aloud for so long.

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I say nothing. I do nothing. I watch him wavering above the sand until he is faded into the haze like a mirage.

Night is cast in harsh relief by the searing light of day. I set up camp in a rusted out car, draping the carcass of the cabin in fabric to keep the sand and sun out, and settle into the bench in the back seat.

As I stare at the torn fabric of the roof, metal dark beneath, I feel the years recede. The bombs, the wars, the radiation burns – all fade away. I am twenty-five again and my skin smells like lavender soap.

I remember the sound of my daughter’s voice, high pitched with youth, small rounded words that jumble together in unpredictable ways – why don’t pencils have arms, mom? I remember filling my chest with laughter and shooting milk out my nose. Straw blonde hair like spun gold, wisps of it that smelled like baby powder. She always drew flowers on her arms in marker. Red, green, purple. She was always a garden.

Then I’m waking up, a heavy weight on my chest, hands around my throat.

I’m struggling. Bucking back and forth. It’s the person I passed from before. The scarf has fallen from her face and I can see the angular grime crusted features of a woman there, a smear of clean skin around her chapped mouth. Black hair drapes over her shoulder in a braid and without thinking, I push forward under her weight and bite down on it, pulling as hard as I can away. She shouts, knees me in the stomach. I get my feet under her and kick her off.

She flies backwards out of the car, the fabric I draped over the door tangling her limbs for a precious moment while I bail out the other side. I fall into the hot sand and crawl two paces, scrabbling to my feet and breathing hard. I can hear the woman cursing on the other side of the car. I have to go back, my water and supplies are still inside and without them, I won’t survive long.

I scramble back, but she’s beat me there. Hunched over my pack in the car, pulling it apart.

My white bone knife finds the soft space under her rib cage and I plunge it in and out as fast as I can. She screams, twists, and I kick her again out of the car. She falls hard into the sand, crawls a few feet and then doesn’t move again.

I scrub the blood off my hands with sand, rubbing my hands raw with the grit of it until there’s the red of my skin and nothing else.

Her pack is half buried just over the crest of the nearest hill. Not hard to find. I tear into it, stuffing usable items into my own. At the bottom is a folded up photo of the woman, dark hair short and patchy on her head like it’s growing in from bald. She’s got her arms around a dark haired toddler, eyes baby blue and as big as saucers, hands in his mouth, cheeks red as roses.

I take the time before the sun rises to dig a hole.

I place two smooth rocks over the womans eyes. Her hands grasp the photo of her son to her breast. With great care, I gather fists full of earth. The sand fills the harsh crevices of her face, softening the edge of starvation and loneliness. Before it disappears, I kiss the soft rounded shape of her forehead.

There isn’t a lot of good to be had in the wastes.

I try to plant gentleness where I can – but nothing grows.

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Thanks for reading.

 You can always get in touch with me through my contact page, or on twitter @kjewellwrites

Why Diverse Games: “Do Your Research”

Today I’m sharing an interview with a fellow gamer (and Dragon Age lover) Elizabeth. She’s got some great insights! Here she is to introduce herself in her own words:

E: My name is Elizabeth, I’m a white, bisexual woman in my twenties, and the very first gaming device I ever had was Nintendo 64 followed by a Game Cube and a Nintendo 3DS for my 16th birthday. Pokemon Stadium and Quest 64Quest 64 were my first introductions to video games. Considering how horrible a game Quest 64 was, I’m surprised I decided to stick with it! I didn’t purchase an Xbox 360 until the Xbox One had already been released, since I had to buy it for myself on a retail salary. I did, however, recently buy a PS4 and I’m super excited to finally play Sony exclusives.

K: What do you think makes you a ‘gamer’?

E: It really depends on your definition. For me, a gamer is someone who plays many types of video games. Focusing on one genre would be like calling yourself a wine connoisseur but only ever tasting white wine. It’s OK to have a preference, I’ll admit I’m far more into RPG’s than I am first person shooters for example, but gaming is much more than just one game, or one genre. I feel like limiting yourself does a disservice to the variety of games out there.  So, I guess what makes me a gamer is that I enjoy a wide variety of games, from GTA to Journey.

K: What attracts you to video games over other forms of entertainment?

E: I can’t really think of a reason why I prefer games over everything else. Storytelling probably. The storytelling power that games have is entirely unique, and the interactivity keeps me involved and invested long past the point where I stop caring in books or movies. Games also have a unique ability to make me feel like I just blew that building up. I live vicariously through the characters, which is harder to do reading, or watching in a theater.  It feels like I’m a part of the story, rather than just a bystander.

K: What effect do you think inclusive representation can have on storytelling?

I think the simplest answer is that it creates a wider spread of stories. You can only tell the story of a rugged, middle-aged white man surviving the apocalypse so many times before it feels as predictable as a rom-com. Different characters and different backgrounds, bring individuality to the story before it begins because they have a different world view and perspective.

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“You can only tell the story of a rugged… white man surviving the apocalypse so many times…”

K: How do you think inclusivity in games affects you?

E: I feel a little silly, but sometimes I forget that ‘oh ya, that’s probably a viable career option for me.’ Seeing a woman in a role or position of power reminds me that things are changing and I can be whatever I want. Even in the zombie apocalypse.

K: Have you ever refused to play a game because it included a problematic portrayal or lack of representation?

E: Honestly? I don’t know. I hesitated for a long time to play GTA V, because I’d heard bad things about the way women were portrayed. While I understand and agree with the criticism, I’m not going to be putting the game down any time soon. I suppose I would have to take it on a case-by-case basis.

Editors note: I think this is a fair stance Elizabeth, I know it’s one I often adopt. Sometimes the treatment of a group is so reprehensible you can’t ignore it, but often in games it’s a very subtle thing and the most important thing we can do is just be aware of what we’re consuming.

K: Do you generally feel like you are given representation in popular culture?

E: As a white woman, yah, generally. The media still has a ways to go in terms of properly written female characters, but seeing someone who looks like me is quite common. As a bisexual woman? Not so much. I can name three bisexual women off the top of my head, two of them are from the same show and one of them has had both her love interests killed off.

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K: How about in video games?

In certain circles. Bioware has a ton of Bi characters, and while there are some problems with the portrayals, they’re still characters I can identify with and see myself in. Outside of Bioware, however, I couldn’t name you another bisexual character.

K: How do you feel when you do see accurate representation in a game?

E: The very first time I fell in love with a character in a video game was when I met Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins. He’s the first character I’d ever met who treated his sexuality and sex in general with an attitude similar to mine. It’s a validating feeling, to see yourself in a character, because someone wrote that. Someone knew that people like me exist, and they felt that my story, feelings and thoughts were important enough to be given life, and shared with the rest of the world.

K: What might the next steps for the game industry be in increasing representation?

E: Diversify writing teams. Having more women, PoC and members of the LGBT+ community writing will lead to an automatic rise in diversity.

Next, please, do your research. Take note of the harmful tropes and avoid them. If Bioware could stop making (nearly) every single multi-gender attracted character some sort of societal deviant, that would be fantastic. I want to see representation where bisexual people are the good guys, where we’re not reduced to sex machines, and we’re not the default ‘safe’ sexuality (editors note: sometimes referred to as ‘player sexual). We are important; our identity is unique and special. Bisexuality isn’t a pretty label you can slap on a character and call it representation.

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K: What games are you playing now or looking forward to the most?

E: I’ve been doing a lot of catch up to be honest. Saints Row 3 and The Last of Us, but the game I’m most looking forward to is The Last Guardian.

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Thanks Elizabeth for answering my questions!

If you would like to get in touch with me for an interview, you can always do so through my contact page, or @kjewellwrites.

Why Diverse Games: Lisa Lindsay Art

I’m fortunate in life to have met some fantastic people who are passionate about gaming, and even a few who are currently in the industry.

Lisa is a professional game artist and illustrator with over seven years of experience. She has contributed to more than 16-shipped titles including StarForge, Office Jerk and Atari’s Asteroids Gunner. She also participates frequently in Global Game Jams. In her spare time, Lisa is working on personal projects including a comic about women in Mexican wrestling. (Adapted from her member profile on boneshakerpress.net)

K: What do you think qualifies you as a ‘gamer’?

L: I would say that anyone who plays games can identify as being a ‘gamer’. Even though these days I can only play an hour or two of games each week, I still identify as a gamer because I’m very passionate about games and the industry.

K: What attracts you to video games over other forms of entertainment?

L: Puzzle solving, interactive storytelling and unique experiences. Games like Zelda, Portal, Professor Layton and Braid are my jam; I love problem solving. On top of that, when gameplay is paired with strong storytelling, games can become a really impactful medium. You can see this in games like Heavy Rain where you change/affect the story, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons where the story is paired with the game controls in a very moving way. Then, there are unique experiences like The Stanley Parable where you aren’t even sure if it counts as a game anymore. OR the experience I had with Mario 64 as a kid, when I got the wing cap for the first time — magical.

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K: Do you generally feel like you see yourself represented in popular culture?

L: Not in the main stream. I really notice it when I go to work on a new cosplay and realize how few female characters there are that I feel drawn to, and are modest enough for me to be comfortable.  There are a lot of great indie comics, however, cartoons and games that have great representation for women and minorities.

K: Are there disparities between representation for women in pop culture and in games?

L: While mainstream culture has its issues, there seems to be more room for exploration there (or at least there are more tropes to choose from). The gaming industry is still quite young and I think that there is a lot more blatant stereotyping that isn’t happening as much (or as obviously) in mainstream media.

Editors note: Lisa, I really like this point. It’s like the gaming industry is just a little bit behind the film and TV industry, and the stereotypes and tropes that we used to see in films but have been mostly phased out or replaced at this point are still being used.

K: What effect do you think inclusive representation can have on storytelling in games?

L: It’s not about minorities needing to be represented in order for them to play something, and it’s not about checking off a list so you know if your game is ‘diverse enough’. We can still make games about straight white males with sexy female counterparts. What it’s really about is offering new experiences.

That might mean exploring cultures other than our own or simply offering a glimpse through the worldview of someone else — I think society as a whole can only benefit from these new and different experiences. It’s about allowing storytellers the freedom to pursue those stories since, currently, creative storytellers are being told not to write about these different experiences because they won’t make as much money.

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K: How do you feel inclusivity in games affects you personally?

L: Nothing makes me sadder than seeing games targeted at young girls that are strongly stereotyped and poorly developed. When a game has a woman in it and it’s no big deal — not made to feel like a mind blowing plot point — when it feels like, hey, why not make this character a woman? It’s the greatest thing ever.

Chell in Portal (and GLaDOS for that matter), was quite a revolutionary experience. She was an ordinary girl, not sexualized (she wears the same thing a male test subject would wear), and she was the point of view character. It didn’t change the gameplay or the story, nor did it remove male gamers from the experience.

All I want is to play a game about a princess who saves herself! I loved the Princess Peach parts in Paper Mario 64 and I wish I could get a whole game of just that! It’s probably a game I will have to make myself, because I know in my heart there isn’t a lineup of badass princess games coming to the shelves anytime soon.

Editors note: Lisa this is a fantastic idea, let’s go make a game.😉

Lisa: It’s actually a game idea (well, a theme/story idea) that I’ve been dreaming about forever – and working on a bit – but I so badly want it to exist that I share it with everyone, instead of keeping it to myself.

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K: Have you ever refused, or would you refuse to play a game if it included a problematic portrayal or if it completely excluded a group?

L: No, at least not so far.

K: What might the next steps be for the game industry in increasing representation?

L: I think the industry is on its way. I’m seeing games like Life is Strange and Telltales The Walking Dead in which the protagonists are part of a minority, but we could definitely use more. Part of it will come as a result of hiring diverse writers and other employees. More representation inside a company will produce better representation in games.

Another piece will be how we receive these games as an audience. Right now, a game with a white male protagonist is a safe bet, it’s bankable, and a game with a minority protagonist is a risk. If a game with a minority protagonist can prove just as popular/successful, then more big companies will be brave enough to produce those games. Also, can we start making games targeted at young girls that don’t suck please?

I think if the game industry (and since I’m a part of the industry I hope to be part of the solution too) doesn’t cut corners and writes believable characters instead of going the easy route with stereotypes and tropes, that’s going to go a long way.

Also, how about exploring some new ideas? We have a few games out there where you play as a dad as part of the story, but how about a game where you play as a mom?

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K: What game are you playing now or looking forward to the most?

L: I finished Undertale a while ago, but I can’t help always bringing it up when I have the chance because it’s fantastic. I am currently playing Psychonauts and the new King’s Quest, and I’m really looking forward to playing Stardew Valley and The Witness after that.

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Thanks Lisa for answering these questions of mine.

You can find more of Lisa, and see her awesome art first hand at lisalindsayart.com or lisalindsayart.tumblr.com. Reach out to Lisa at @lisalindsayart on twitter, or, if you’re interested in art and making art professionally check out boneshakerpress.net.

If you want to get in touch with me for an interview, you can always do so through my contact form or @kjewellwrites.

Illustrations in this post by Lisa Lindsay Art 

KOTFE: Visions in The Dark

I’m a huge Star Wars: The Old Republic fan, I’ve been playing it for several years and I have a few OC’s in the game that I love very dearly. What I haven’t loved? The new expansion that claims to be returning to “Bioware storytelling” and “choices that matter”. Knights of the Old Republic, Chapter 12: Visions in the Dark became available recently and it was another disappointing outing for my beloved Sith Inquisitor Gossamyr and her team of rag tag force wielders, Jedi sympathizers, gunslingers and smugglers.

When KOTFE is doing things right, it’s really right. There have been some excellent highlights since I started playing these extended chapters. The amount of female badassery, for example, spread between NPC’s like Lana Beniko, Senya Tirall, Scorpio and Vaylin is particularly impressive, especially when paired with a female PC.

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In fact, I quite liked the first 5 or so chapters of KOTFE, meeting new characters, recruiting to your cause, coming to the new alliance base — it felt like the first third of Dragon Age Inquisition, complete with feelings of real vulnerability and the triumphant reveal of your new home. The latest chapters, however, have been somewhat lackluster.

First, the original 50 character levels of SWTOR were focused on multiplayer. You could tag along with your friends and experience different stories. In KOTFE the multiplayer experience is noticeably missing and the main story missions are all restricted to one player. It’s a good thing too, since with only one linear story the replayability is greatly reduced.

Secondary were the cut-scenes and stories themselves. Originally they were short, spaced out and the stories were different depending on the characters class, giving SWTOR an almost endless feeling of replayability despite often tedious fetch quests littering the in-between. Each class had a different cast of characters that would come together to feel like a family, a team, and each class would have different romance options for your character.

In KOTFE, they’ve eliminated a huge deal of the workload by creating a story that is the same across all classes. No matter your choices, your light or dark alignment or your original story — all characters now find themselves funneled into the same seemingly endless string of cutscenes. The huge cast of supporting characters has been whittled down and there are some faces noticeably missing from each original class story.

Most noticeably, from the romances. KOTFE introduces three romancable characters, two of whom you’ve met in previous expansions and might have already begun a flirtation with. Lana, Theron and Koth are your new choices and your previous romances are never spoken of or eluded too except for a single letter and a few early references. This is particularly troublesome to me because Gossamyr, my Sith OC, was married to a space pirate named Andronikos Revel. That said, Gossamyr  started a flirtation with Lana — whilst in full view of Andronikos — during the previous expansion Shadows of Revan. Now, Lana and Gossamyr are in a real relationship but there’s no sign — or mention — of Andronikos. According to what I’ve seen of the few relationships restored through returning characters, if Andronikos ever does return it will mean breaking up with either him or Lana, which doesn’t work with my character even a little.

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I digress, I’m most salty about the romances.

Other problems with the new expansion, story wise, are that it’s confusing, oh and rather hard to care about.

I’ve just spent seemingly countless hours leveling up my character and now the new plot is removed from everything I was doing previously by both a 5 year time skip and a jump to a different galaxy. Where the previous stories centered around The Empire and The Republic, I now find that both have been destroyed in my absence and I have to care about this new political power I know nothing about.

The truth is, I worked really hard to become Darth Imperius and get a seat on the Dark Council and I couldn’t care less about your Immortal Throne, thank you. Not to mention KOTFE is trying to convince me all the other worlds — the ones I spent so much time traversing and know off by heart — are destroyed or taken over by Zakuul, but it’s rather confusing, and immersion breaking, that I can still travel to any of those worlds and see them exactly as I left them.

In any case, here’s where I’ll get spoilery about Chapter 12.

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