2/6/11

Holy Blog Posts, Batman!

Two in two days? How strange, I know. But I felt a little awkward after putting so much bad feeling into my blog the last few days and I wanted to share something a little more... normal, if not uplifting. So here are some random things I've been thinking about recently.

Kobold has been a needy creature lately, and he likes laying on my legs and cutting off the circulation to my feet. When we are in bed for the night, he'll curl up in a ball between Patrick and I, and then throw himself into our legs until he's hollowed out a sufficient spot and balled up all of my comforter underneath him. On the couch, he curls up on my feet and stares up at me soulfully as if to say, "Yes, I'm adorable. Scratch my belly?" This is good, because when we first adopted him Kobold was not a very social dog and we were afraid that he would never quite be at ease with anyone. We opted to force our love upon him, descending out of nowhere when he least expected it with belly scratches and loving pets and just plain old love. He usually responds favorably, though when he's feeling a little crank he'll wait for it to finish, get up, and move somewhere else.
Another thing we've been doing is taking him to the pet store with us, to get him used to socializing with other people and animals in an environment that is not his own. It's just a guess on my part, but I think that as a puppy Kobold was removed from his mother and litter at too early an age. With dogs, this can lead to aggressive social behavior, and much rougher play. Apparently without their mother around to bring them up right, I suppose, dogs react differently to strangers. Instead of approaching or backing away slowly, they might become very aggressive or even attack without provocation. At home, he barks up a storm, but runs away from strangers or people he does not know well. At the store, he approaches cautiously and barks much, much less. His general behavior around people has started improving, and that is great.
Without their litter, though, puppies don't learn how to play nice. It's kind of like how lions learn to hunt by playing with each other as cubs. Dogs learn the difference between play-bites and defense-bites at a young age by, well, hurting each other. We got around this by teaching him the same way he would have learned as a puppy. When Kobold bit us too hard while playing, we would bite him back. Nothing enormous or wounding, just enough that he realized, "Ow, that kinds of hurts. Guess I should back off a bit." And now he's become much nicer while playing, too. Good improvements all around.

I've been mildly obsessed with a game called Mass Effect recently. I borrowed ME2 from Bob last year when it came out without having played the first one and was immediately absorbed into it. I purchased the downloadable version of the first one and played through, and now I'm working on my second play-through of ME2.
It's produced by a company called Bioware, and they're known for the well-written stories behind their games. These are the people who have brought the gaming community Dragon Age, Shattered Steel, Knights of the Old Republic, and many others. The depth in their games is amazing. They like to make a codex that you can collect entries in that go into detail about parts of the world and its history. These are like encyclopedias of the game and I am always amazed at the wealth of detailed information to be found there. A lot of thought goes into the games, and it's a lot of information to process at once. Especially in a game like Mass Effect, where you're thrown into a galactic setting and have to take a lot of things for granted at first. As you fill out your codex (mostly by just exploring and poking things with sticks) you start to learn things like why the Turians hate the Humans, and why the Protheans are so important. There's a history and a reason to their settings, and it gives the world such a depth that I'm drawn in almost immediately.
But one thing that Bioware does makes me like their games so much more, and that is what I call the "deep-thought-instance." These are missions or situations that make you stop and think. The ones in Mass Effect need a little explanation and so I will try to fill in the necessary details without bogging you down with too much information.
The basic storyline is that you've just been designated a Spectre, or a warrior who works for the Galactic Council without actually working for them. You can do their dirty work your own way, without being tied down by political niceties like the Council members are. Well, there's this other Spectre name Saren and he's just gone rogue. Turns out, he's allied himself with something named Sovereign and they're planning on wiping out all sentient life, starting with the Council's home station, the Citadel.
Sovereign is a Reaper, which are synthetic creatures that truly are AI, not just a man-made likeness of one. The Reapers originate in 'dark space,' the place beyond the known galaxy where, as far as we were concerned, nothing living could survive. Periodically throughout the history of the galaxy, the Reapers have appeared out of nowhere and then systematically destroyed all sentient space-faring life, only to return to dark space again, leaving no trace of themselves beyond the technology they use to guide the evolution of the sentient species. So, understandably, we want them stopped. The Council thinks you're full of it, and tell you Saren is working on his own with the Geth (networked AI robots) for his own goals. Take him out, stop spouting lies about the Reapers.
So, with that in mind you set out to build a team and save humanity. You get yourself a totally rockin' crew, confront Saren when he attacks the Citadel, and then defeat him and Sovereign, foiling the Reapers' attempts to start their slaughter. The Council says fine, whatever. Go about your business. BTW, thanks for saving us. End Game One!

One of ME's deep-thought-instances is the implementation of a Paragon-Renegade system. This is choice-based and in certain instances you can decide whether to take the Paragon or the Renegade path. For all the good things you do (save the Council/rescue random people/saving the last remaining Rachni [space-bug-aliens]) you gain Paragon points. This is represented by a charm score. Having a high Paragon rating means that you can do things like talk your teammate down from killing you during a plot-important mission. If your score isn't high enough, you shoot him in self-defense, and lose a very valuable team member. For the bad things you do (let the Council die/kill your teammate/kill the last Rachni) you get Renegade points. When your intimidate score is high enough, you can talk your teammate down from killing you. Really, the difference between the two options is all in how you accomplish your goals. But the game gets hard if you don't put one over the other, so being wishy-washy isn't a good way to save your team.
In the second game, the Paragon-Renegade system changes and instead of placing points and buying levels in either option, you are presented throughout the game with little icons during certain scenes that tell you you have an option open. These are what guide your rating, and so it's much harder to bring one up over the other. I generally stick to the Paragon options because I find it much more effective to have people on my side rather than dead, but there are a few Renegade options I can't pass up. The Krogan that wants to take over the galaxy and is ranting about how all the other races are going to suffer and weep before him... well, he just happens to be standing right above a tank of highly flammable gas. The mercenary that is repairing the gunship they plan on using against a guy I want on my team? "You're working too hard." And I taser him in the life-support system.
But that's where it becomes iffy. You can import your character from the first into the second, and all the choices you made in the first game matter in the second. Did you save the Rachni queen? She manages to get you a message saying the remainder of her species have retreated to a distant system and they are recovering from near-extinction, and when the time comes they'll be by your side against the Reapers. How about the Council, did you let them die? Well, the new Council isn't happy about that and are very unwilling to listen to your story about the Reaper threat. And your teammate, did you manage to talk down Wrex? Good because when your new krogan crew member needs help, Wrex is going to be a big asset. Better be real sure of your choices in ME2, there's a third one coming out this fall.
So now you can see why the Paragon-Renegade thing is really interesting to me.

There are some other deep-thought-instances in the second game that are some really heavy stuff. The Krogan race, an extremely aggressive and warlike people, are pretty much entirely capable of taking over the galaxy if they wanted to. In an effort to avoid that, some Salarian scientists develop something called the Genophage. This is falsely assumed to be a sterility plague, but it affects birthrate, not fertility. One in one thousand Krogan babies survive birth. One of your crew was a scientist who worked on modifying the Genophage. When it was discovered that the Krogan were adapting and overcoming it, the Salarians began to alter it. During his loyalty mission (a mission where you assist your teammate with a personal matter and therefor gain their undying loyalty) Mordin confronts a fellow scientist who also worked on the altered Genophage. There is a lot of talk about the morality behind releasing something like that on the Krogan. Mordin talks about his time working on the new version, and how he was very careful in how they implemented the modified Genophage. The goal was only to control the population boom of the Krogan, not to wipe them out. He made sure that the Krogan population would stay at a certain level. Is that right? They've 'killed' hundreds of millions of Krogan with the Genophage, but by doing so they've averted an enormous galactic war that would have cost just as many lives.
And then there's Jack. As a child, she grew up in a lab facility where scientists did terrible experiments on her and flooded her with drugs in order to increase her biotic (psych) powers. They tested methods on other children before they implemented anything on her, and the kids who survived were pitted against her in an arena where they conditioned her to fight. What reason could people have to do this? What on earth was going on in their heads that any person could bring themselves to commit such atrocities on anyone, let alone children?

Mass Effect is really good at making you think, and I wonder if things like this will ever catch on? Will more video games start making you really think about the consequences behind your actions?
(For the record, I save the Rachni queen, and the Council. )

But it's drawing near time for me to leave for work and wrestle the crowds of football fans into submission.

"We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it."
~Sovereign

2 comments:

Roxie said...

Good luck against the football hoardes. I can see where the game-playing could come in handy at work. Gird on your armor and face down thr Krogan hordes!

Donna Lee said...

When I was in college (before computer games) it was a game called Guns or Butter. It was about decision making and consequences but was played with large groups of people who simulated countries. It was also thought provoking. Those are the kind of games I like, where people explore themselves.