Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dragon Age: The World and Its Dialogue

       I must confess, I'm relatively new to Bioware games. I had heard about the Mass Effect when it was released and had several friends who are die hard fans of the series, but I did not play the first game until January of this year. I was immediately hooked and power played my way through the first to games so I would be ready for Mass Effect 3 when it came. My point being, that the Mass Effect series lead me to seek out other games that Bioware produced and I stumbled upon the Dragon Age games about the middle of April. As with Mass Effect, I had heard about Dragon Age but I never really gave the game too much attention until I decided to seek out other Bioware games. So I started to play the first game, Dragon Age: Origins (DA:O) the week before finals which of course meant I was unable to get too far into the game before I had to set it aside.
In chapter 5 Juul discusses coherent and incoherent game worlds and how boundaries within the world of the game are handled, stating that "It is a hallmark of a coherent world game that the bounds of the game space are reasonably motivated by the fictional world" and "one type of incoherent world game is the game with several rounds which have no clear connection" (166). I would claim that the DA games have coherent worlds. In DA:O the player is shown travelling to new locations on an overhead map. In Dragon Age II (DA2) is set within a city and the area immediately surrounding. There are multiple entrances and exits in most of the areas of the city, and while you can fast travel, the place where the player enters an area is directly affected by where the player was previously located. I have yet to encounter an invisible wall like those one experiences in The Elder Scrolls games where they say you can not proceed past this point for whatever reason. All the boundaries are marked by the landscape and I easily accept that I can't scale proceed past certain points, where as in games such as the Elder Scrolls I will be looking at a big open plain, maybe some ocean, or some other landscape that looks like it should be able to be traversed but the game will not allow me. The use of  untraversable landscape to create the boundaries in DA is therefore less likely to remind me that the boundaries are there do to limited amount of storage space and/or design and I'm more likely to just accept the boundary as a genuine in world barrier that prevents progress and not because the game is not coded for that area.

Now that I have discussed the world structure a bit, I want to expound upon how the dialogues function within the game, and I think this is the most appropriate time to mention dialogue given that Juul approached the subject of fiction within games and how the fiction fits in with the rules.While I don't consider the DA:O to have a particularly deep story I did however enjoy the way dialogue options are presented to the player in his or her interactions with the other party members. Because it was made by Bioware, dialogue choices within the main plot line usually have the same flavor as those found in Mass Effect: the goodie goodie choice, the more neutral with occasional chance for profit choice, or the more cut throat excessively aggressive choice, but the decisions have a different presentation of the dialogue choices. However the dialogue with the party members when not completing the storyline is noticeably different. The responses that one provides in conversations with these party members garner loyalty, disloyalty, or no change in feeling towards the player. If a party member hates you enough, they will leave and you do not see them again. Only one character will return for the sake of the plot, but will immediately leave once that character's purpose has been fulfilled. The conversations can be anything from small talk, hostile, or even flirty. The party members have drastically different personalities and the kind of reasoning or thinking that would be agreeable to one member can be seen as offensive by another. There are very few true good, neutral, or bad discussion choices. Unlike Mass Effect the emphasis is not on the moral choice, but on how the other party members will react to your choices. While the player can choose to play a character with certain moral stances, the morality of the character is not the important focus of the decisions, but the affect is has on others, most noticeably seen on the characters within your party.

In DA2 the mechanics of dialogue become more like those in Mass Effect, with a dialogue wheel instead of a list choices. The wheel explicitly lets you know what choices are nice, neutral, greedy, aggressive, or considered flirty. A bit different than DA:O, DA2 uses a friendship/rivalry system for determining how the party members interact with the player. The friendship and rivalry scores do not determine if the party members leave. The loss of a party member is determined by main dialogue options or by the members that are in the current party which has a maximum of 4 characters out the 8 possible characters. The player's choices of dialogue with the party members is less important because while the interactions may be different, the end result of the interactions seem to be universally the same. Regardless if you are a friend or rival with a party member, they will stick with you. They just stick with you for different reasons but the end result is generally the same. While interactions with party members are important, unlike the first game, it seems the game encourages a more personality based game play. I use the word personality instead of morality because the sides the player has to choose between at throughout the game usually have no higher moral choice. For example, at the end of the game the player has to choose to side with either the templar's or the mages. The mages are suppressed because of their magical powers due to increased susceptibility to demonic possession yet not all give into possession and use forbidden blood magic. The Templars are in charge of keeping the mages under supervision and within the Circle, which is the place mages are required to live. Their job is to kill any mage who has become possessed or uses blood magic in order to protect others. The player chooses to either to side with the mages who apparently do have several possessed and blood magic users or to side with the templars which are lead by a power hungry woman who attempts to eradicate all the mages in the Circle because they are all potentially a threat. Either way the player chooses, innocents on both sides will die and there is no true morally higher ground. Juul briefly mentions games that use complex story developments like this and claims that even though the story may be complex, it is the result of simple actions (189). While the choice may be difficult and seem complex, the actual action of choosing a side is simple and the complexity comes in contemplating which side to join

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