All About PotHeel
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Obsidian. The name conjures up a variety of images, some negative, some positive. One image is that of the safe pair of hands, the developer who can be handed the reins of any major license and produce a work that rivals or even exceeds the original effort. On the other hand there is the somewhat more popular image, that of well-wishers who haven't heard of bug-testing.
It is interesting now to look back at the evolution of Obsidian, given that they are now arguably at the strongest point in their history. With Project Eternity an unequivocal success and the reported possibility of a new Star Wars game helmed by them along with a promising South Park game, it is safe to say that their future is secure for the time being. In the past, this was often not the case.
The company rose from the ashes of the once famous Black Isle studios who, under Chris Avellone and Feargus Urquhart, developed some fine RPGs, notably the Fallout series. Obsidian quickly became the studio that developers trusted with their D&D inspired licenses, in particular Bioware. Obsidian were given charge of KOTORII and Neverwinter Nights 2 while Bioware focused on Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. In each instance Obsidian delivered a thematically brilliant and nuamced plot packed with interesting characters and entertaining dialogue, even if the core gameplay was only as strong as that of the preceding game, and often more buggy.
After two expansions for Neverwinter Nights 2, they developed Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege III. Obsidian have remained a remarkably busy studio since their inception, however has this impacted the quality of each individual game release? Bugs are representative of a lack of playtesting, which takes time. It may be the case the Obsidian, pressured by various publishers, have not given each individual project the necessary care. Either that or it may be due to the discrepancies of their particular development style, the focus on story and character may be at the detriment of gameplay.
KOTOR II is probably the best representation of what Obsidian is and what they can achieve. When the game was released back in 2005, it was a critical and commercial success. The plot introduced a number of new characters and showed us a Star Wars universe more layered than any we had seen before. I was among those who purchased the game on day one, having been a fan of the previous iteration in the series. I was impressed by it, however something didnt feel right. First and foremost, the bugs were unbelievably bad. At the time I wasnt yet acquainted with the dark side of PC gaming, so KOTOR II was a baptism by fire. It took me five years and the Lost Content mod to complete the game, understandably my feelings for the game waxed and waned during this period. It is a testament to the quality of the underlying product (and my insanity) that I persevered and found something to love.
Whether a result of a rushed development period or wrongly assigned priorities, KOTOR 2 is riddled with bugs. It is only with effort that this game can be truly appreciated. Earlier I mentioned the Lost Content mod, if you are a fan of this game it is well worth checking out. When this game was released a great deal of content was cut to meet deadlines. LucasArts were notoriously dickish, they certainly trod all over Obsidian. The Lost Content mod is a fan project designed to restore all the lost content, surprisingly. The mod brings back a number of cutscenes, fixes the ending and even adds a new planet among other things. It is accomplished and gives KOTOR 2 a layer of polish that it sorely needed.
The story of KOTOR 2 is the story of Obsidian: great expectations, organisational shortcomings, publisher bullying and buggy releases. Despite this all, Obsidian have flourished. With their games they have established themselves as firm fan favourites, whether they can maintain this good favour is yet to be seen. Their Project Eternity on kickstarter raised a great deal of money. It has given them the opportunity to make the game that they always wanted to make without the pressure of a publisher breathing down their neck. If the game is still ridiculously buggy upon release, will they still be as adored?
Regardless, their future is bright and it they should never be written off, they are a strong development house who have made some of the most original and downright fun games of the last ten years, for that they should be appropriately commended.
So it's been a while since the Sandy Hook shootings. The customary things have happened, national outrage has been expressed, sympathy has been offered to the victims and a suitable scapegoat has been selected by the political community to avoid any real notion of change.
Let's just dive in, shall we?
The U.S.A is a special country. Large, wielding large amounts of both soft and hard power, they exert a large influence on the world. Despite this power, it seems that there is nothing more that some Americans fear than America itself. This fear is understandable (to an infinitesimal degree) as the U.S.A was born in revolution. The "founding fathers" created a constitution that is revered by many (despite a staggering number of niggles and inconsistencies), enshrined in which is the right to bear arms.
Back in the days when democracy was a privilege, invasion was just around the corner and autocracy was the norm, it is understandable that one might want to arm the populace. Look at the success that the Spanish populace achieved against Napoleon through guerilla warfare as an example of what normal civilians could achieve in the fight against an invasion force. While interesting, that was then, this is now. There is not a single country on the planet that could match the U.S.A for armed might. In 2013, it is surprising that owning a firearm is not unusual in the slightest in the USA.
An inevitable by-product of allowing the populace to be armed is the exposure of nutters to assualt rifles. Colombine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook. These names are all culturally significant, bitterly short obituaries to the many victims of each incident. They are only three from many. In the modern world, the USA stands out through its abnormally high homicide rate, since 1960, more Americans have died as a result of armed homicide than in every US war ever.
How is this dealt with? At each shooting there is sadness, despair and hand-wringing. Politicians, in particular the NRA lobby, will seek to blame anything but the gun. Which brings me to my point: the Sandy Hook killings have occurred, so what is to blame? Videogames apparently.
The NRA, in their loopy never-ending quest to defend the xenophobic and ridiculously armed, have laid the blame for the shootings square at the feet of the videogame lobby. Their argument is this: while guns may kill people, it is people who pull the trigger. This is undeniably true, the gun doesnt choose what it is used for after all. However what inspires the desire to pull the trigger in the first place?
Games are currently being blamed. Before that it was movies, before that, music. As successive generations of children become parents outraged at the difference of the new to the old, they will blame whatever they do not understand. It has now effectively been proven that violent videogames do not inspire violent behaviour in young children, indeed they can lower it, as they provide a valid outlet for anger. Violence has always occurred, wars and murder occurred in the past with the same worrying frequency that they do in the present. Whatever inspires the human mind to commit mindless atrocities is buried somewhere in the subconscious, it is slightly insulting to the intelligence to claim that murder is specifically the result of one particular medium of entertainment.
The issue therefore comes around again. If murder is a fact of life, shouldnt the issue be the weapons that the individual is allowed to wield? A madman may murder two, maybe three with a knife, but with an assault carbine he can kill dozens and maim hundreds, case in point the recent Norwegian shootings.
Ultimately, I'm not trying to pass judgement. If someone can own a firearm responsibly and defend themselves with said gun, then wonderful for them. However, a society that allows the mentally disturbed and criminal incredibly easy access to overwhelmingly deadly force should take a long look at itself. Something needs to be done, people either need to get up or shut up.
Peter Molyneux. The man's name alone provkes a flurry of responses, some positive, most negative. He is criticised as a liar, a charlatan, a purveyor of snake oil. Is he really any of these things? Lets take a look at the facts.
Populous, Syndicate, Theme Park, Dungeon Keepers 1 & 2, Theme Hospital, Black and White 1&2, Fables 1, 2 & 3 and The Movies. These are all well-respected and well loved games that have exhibited excellent production values, immersive design and engaging gameplay, all the while maintaining an experimental approach. From any other developer this record would ensure a hallowed image and rapturous attention wherever he travelled. In Molyneux's case this seems to count for naught in the eyes of many.
Look at the reaction to his recent kickstarter campaign for new gameGodus. The sum requested, £450,000, was barely met in time, a stark contrast to the mountains of money thrown at point and click nostalgia merchant Tim Schafer when he made a similar request. Many criticised it as a vanity project, some expressed surprise that he didn't simply sell one of his many mansions to fund the project. Most ignored him.
To merit such a reaction, what is his crime? Hyperbole. Molyneux is in posession of a childlike enthusiasm, this can cause him to promise things that he cannot deliver,Fablebeing the most notorious example. Whether Molyneux is the devil incarnate or not, the reaction to his failed promises portrays modern gamers in an interesting light.
2012 was a interesting year for many, especially for Bioware, who felt compelled to alter the ending of their superior space shooter seriesMass Effect. The reason for such a move? Fan indignance over the lack of blue babies. Bioware were relentlessly hounded by many, to the extent that they were willing to sell their artistic vision short. These same fans now refuse to support Molyneux on the grounds that he failed to deliver what he promised. Are gamers now spoiled children? Unfortunately the evidence seems to point to that being the case. The industry is at a point where it is poised to mature, however their are a certain number of individuals who are determined to resist this no matter the cost seemingly.
Mass Effect, regardless of the ending, was a superlative series which delivered countless hours of enjoyment to millions.TheFableseries did the same, each adventure was well crafted and thoroughly enjoyable, an excellent example of game design. Gamers are in danger of becoming Kathy Bates, torturing artists for not complying with their own collective interpretation of excellence. If the industry is to be allowed to mature, artists must feel as though they can sell their visions to a receptive audience.
If a man like Peter Molyneux cannot be given a second chance, if gamers cannot accept excellence in place of perfection, then what hope does the artistic sector of our industry have? Publishers sell sequels every year because they are safe in the knowledge that they will sell, they stifle creatvity, for this the fans are partly to blame. If artists are forced to comply with what the publisher thinks the audience wants, then where will new IPs come from? The publishers have watched the reactions of disgruntled gamers with fear, independent projects face a more difficult time now than ever before.
Hopefully we can collectively learn to act with a little more maturity, then perhaps the burst of independent projects that so many seem to desire can come about.
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