Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ME2, pt.11: Casual Observations

I was lucky that my girlfriend decided to try ME2 because she has never plays mainstream releases for the PS3, 360, or Wii, and it was interesting to watch what got her interested in the game, and what she went through playing it.

As I mentioned before, her reason for trying the game in the first place was partly because it had a strong social component to it, and partly because of the novelty of sleeping with other characters. She gets her hands on a shooter now and then but is still intimidated because she feels unskilled. The social component is not only interesting, but far less intimidating.

Learning Curve
But ME2 has a surprisingly rough learning that I probably wouldn't have noticed without watching her play. It assumes a lot of its audience. The catchup intro from previous game is poor (the wall of text that goes by too quickly), it asks you you to make choices (class, advancement options) without indicating recommendations for various skill levels, and the control scheme is rather difficult for a new player to get a handle on.

Regarding the controller, by the time the first mission was over, she had been asked to hold down (a) RB to pause and bring up a menu, (b) target characters by moving RAS while paused, (c) move LAS to select abilities menu options, (d) press A for each one to "prep" them for you and your team, and then (e) release RB to execute. This is not a trivial request of a new player, and the fact that LB has a similar menu with different functionality plus hotkey slaving, and holding LB or RB performs different actions altogether just adds to the confusion. In most combat scenarios, controls were confused, and she only seemed to exhibit mastery over them (after friendly coaching) in the last quarter of the game.

Does pausing a shooter to make combat choices help a shooter be more emotionally engaging? Is it absolutely necessary when featuring a squad? My instincts would be to trim. And I wonder if giving your allies one unique power instead of a suite of overlapping ones would be helpful; to make button requirements less demanding, combat choices more immediate, ally choices more important, and juxtapositions of personality and function more interesting. But it probably isn't as simple as that.

On a final note, it was sad to see her begin the game interested in sex, try to get sex, and wind up through seemingly harmless conversation unable to do so with any other character, with no conversational recourse. Mission failed. Everyone was friendly only, and she complained that her only option with Jacob at the end of the game was to initiate a friendly fist-bump. From a male perspective... the idea that a female Shepard couldn't get laid if she tried is frankly kinda baffling.

In the end, the net experience was a plus, the game was challenging enough on easy to keep her attention without making her give up, and the story (though much of it was skipped) was interesting enough to keep her entertained. Go BioWare. I'd love to see her try other mainstream games, especially ones more character-focused. The next most obvious targets are perhaps Heavy Rain and Dragon Age.


  1. very interesting angle this time around Mr.Tew!

    I had a somewhat similar experience watching my wife get immersed in 'Fist Full of Boomstick' (though I assume it has nowhere near the story investment of ME2) back on the standard XBOX. She never gets into games, but something about lopping the heads off of zombies with cheezy tag-lines in pursuit of closing time vortexes (vortecie?) hooked her till the end.

  2. Very interesting! I think she'd like Dragon Age since the controls aren't as hard and can be completely understood much sooner in the game, although they aren't entirely transparent at first to new users. Also, if she wants a successful 'digital conquest', there's a lot less coercion that needs to be done to entice the other characters.

    Although I've played other RPGs with an audience or passive watcher, Dragon Age was the first time a game of mine has become a major entertainment attraction to other people. My mother and sister especially have been really into the story and dialog options and appreciate a "driver" to take care of the mechanics and fighting while they can help choose the character arc and interactions. No longer simply 'passive' watchers who'll enjoy a pretty cut scene, they are actively enjoying the progress of the game and feel just as involved in the consequences and actions taken. It's been truly interactive group entertainment.

    Haha It's at a point now where I'm not allowed to play too far ahead unless I'm just managing my inventory or doing weapons and armor allocation. Although we've played games together in the past, this has been a really fun experience, mostly due to the customized nature of the game itself. I'm wondering if we'll try Heavy Rain the same way. I like that a game has become just as entertaining and chat-worthy as any network show.

  3. Its quite a paradox coz a couple of girls I've spoken to about the game are also more tuned in because of "ze sexiness!" ;)

    While nerds like myself are all hot an bothered about mining for minerals and getting my space prospector on.

  4. Geoff: I guess we never know what will hook them

    Gonz: super feedback. I'm more curious about Dragon Age now, though it was already on my short list (Heavy Rain is sitting on the table in the living room atm). I'm completely fascinated by the idea of your family watching Dragon Age like episodes of a TV show, and you as the skilled pilot. Others have watched me play games, but never so intently. It's interesting to watch how dialogue gameplay makes games appear more accessible, partly because as a gamer, I've never been a big fan. Normal gameplay isn't an obstacle to my enjoyment, and dialogue choices often snap me out of my illusion of control. To top things off, I find myself wondering how good a linear story from BioWare could be, where all of their talent is leveraged against one fantastic string of story, and all of their resources pumped into making it compelling. As a case in point, strip away ME1 of all of the jeep missions and side distractions, which were half-baked, and give me twice as much straight-and-narrow story, which was really impressive, and I might have been much happier. All of this is to say that none of it matters if people won't play it in the first place, and that the focus on dialogue makes games that otherwise seem inaccessible interesting again. Powerful stuff.

    CalKi: why can't others see the hawtness of prospecting?