Writing the Right Way: Three Areas Where Bioware can Improve

Most every major developer in the world of video games has a skill sets their company apart. Want to play a polished game with years of development clearly invested: go Valve or Blizzard. Want a cooky sandbox-style game that plays with morality in a delightfully childish way: contact Peter Molyneux (whatever company he happens to be a part of). Feel like you’re in the mood to play an NFL simulator: well, too bad because EA Sports still holds exclusive rights so it is Madden or nothing. Everyone has strengths. With Bioware, the company has made its reputation on immersive, choice-driven stories. The company exploded into the public spotlight with Knights of the Old Republic, a Star Wars game that featured the greatest twist since Empire Strikes Back.

Since then Bioware has built worlds filled with entangling plots, diverse characters, and morality systems. Of course, the games themselves have evolved over time – and Bioware has made improvements accordingly. Real-time combat has replaced turn-based strategy and advanced animation allows for characters to express more personality. Storytelling is also able to be much more seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, although Bioware’s style has been to use non-playable cutscenes to attain a cinematic quality. How have the stories themselves been? Great! Stellar really across the board, give or take a few complaints. Yet as with any company, there is room for improvement. Here are three areas where Bioware can succeed at even higher levels:

1. Villains

For all the impressive companions that the Bioware writing staff develops, the villains… leave a little to be desired. Not to say that every enemy has been a bore by any stretch, Master Li (Jade Empire) and the Illusive Man (Mass Effect 2 & 3) are definite highlights. Yet for every interesting antagonist, there are two others that just do not work. Kai Leng, the Archdemon, and Corypheus are all prime examples of one-dimensional villains. The player understands that these people are evil because… there needed to be a villain in there somewhere? Motivation breathes relatability and frankly, a lot of Bioware villains just seem to be jerks. A good villain is hard to do well and there needs to be gray area to allow the player to see things from their perspective, even if they do not agree with it. In certain cases, Bioware has tried to give a villain dimension.

Kai Leng looks like he leapt right out of the pages of fanfiction.
Kai Leng looks like he leapt right out of the pages of fanfiction.

The greatest example is Teyrn Loghain, one of the main antagonists in Dragon Age: Origins. Early in the game, the player is trying to help the king win a battle against the darkspawn (the bad guy of the game). The player has to light a torch, signaling Loghain to come in and help with all his men. Here is what happens:

Apparently, Loghain had deemed the battle lost and blames it all on the player. Of course, he clearly did everything he could. Just look at him try and… what a dick. Yes, for all Bioware’s efforts – this attempt did not work. The only thing they succeeded in doing was creating an immense feeling of satisfaction when the player finally had the choice to kill Loghain. As you can imagine, many people chose to do so. Not that this is not an achievement, but given the depth of character writing Bioware exhibits, it is a shame to see so many cardboard cutouts when it comes to the bad guy.

Anders might be the best villain Bioware has ever created. He is certainly the most relatable in the sense that he is a good guy for most of the game.
Anders might be the best villain Bioware has ever created. He is certainly the most relatable in the sense that he is a good guy for most of the game.

2. Character Consequences

A lot of Bioware writing has creates consequences to be sure. The main one I am highlighting is best shown in Mass Effect 2. For those out there not in the know, the plot of Mass Effect 2 involves summoning a team of experts to take on a highly dangerous suicide mission. Seriously, this mission is super dangerous – like 99% chance of failure. No one really has any hope of… what, everyone lived? Oh, okay then.

People can die. Can, but don't have to.
People can die. Can, but don’t have to.

Perfection is not perfect. Saving everyone does not breed the best storyline, in fact it can create some real problems with a lot of leftover characters (just look at how they had to handle things in Mass Effect 3). Sure, having an achievement for surviving with everyone is nice but really – it’s dumb and it takes away from the realism and the intensity of the story. Make the player make choices that will get people killed. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs as they say.

Better example: imagine there was a way to play through Telltale’s The Walking Dead without anyone dying. How much less engaging and emotional of a story would that be?

There is no way to save Carley. That’s what makes it memorable.

3. More Mature Relationships

No, I don’t mean more sex. Bioware has come a long way with this but there is still almost a juvenile obsession with the player’s love life. It can be amusing and make for some great scenes but – with everything that is usually going on in these games, why do people really care? Also, why is it only the player character who ever enters into a relationship? Why not two party members? Yes, Mass Effect toyed with this concept a little but more could be done.

The kiss was the first climax in Bioware relationships.
The kiss was the first climax in Bioware relationships.

Also, the game places an unhealthy standard by claiming that the sex scene is the climax. As a player, you romance a party member, have sex with them and – that’s it. You’ve won, right? That’s totally how relationships work in real life. It reduces the problems and emotions involved. There are a lot of avenues here like having the player already begin the game in a relationship.

Bioware did this in Mass Effect 3 but it did not feel genuine. Even if the player’s love interest was on the ship, they stayed in their own area and did not really ever interact as a couple. This could have been more due to programming difficulty and time limitations more than anything else. Still, Bioware has pioneered a lot of relationship mechanics in games, it would be nice to see them take the next step in making it more believable, and less about getting laid. Not that there is no place for certain scenes like that:

10 Video Game Universes that Telltale Should be Exploring that Would be More Interesting than Borderlands

Telltale Games might be the equivalent of HBO in the video game series. That analogy could be a little poor, I do not think Telltale has the money or the fame of HBO, but they do have the best stories. Their game, the Walking Dead Season One is the best adventure game in recent times and could be a contender for the best ever. And Telltale has not stopped there. Since their explosion back into fame (after the abysmal Jurassic Park: the Video Game, which will be seen very soon), Telltale has expanded. They are currently producing two story games with two more on the way. The Wolf Among Us( from the Fables universe) is currently unfolding like an excellent crime novel with the player joyfully inhabiting a sheriff who happens to also be the Big Bad Wolf, and the Walking Dead Season Two continues all the gut-wrenching, no-winning scenarios that made the first game have such an impact. Later this year, Telltale will expand with a Game of Thrones adventure that will no doubt be filled with the sex, betrayal, and political intrigue that makes the show worth watching and the books worth reading… Telltale is also making a Borderlands adventure game…

Now I’ve never played either of the Borderlands games but I have seen enough of them to gleam that that is not a series known for its story. It is known for quirky characters and quirky guns and shooting said quirky characters with said quirky guns. Fun, to be sure, I look forward to playing them one day (I love the song that begins Borderlands 2), but I feel that Telltale is wasting their potential in terms of source material. The following are ten video game universes that would make for better fodder for choice-driven adventure games:

10. Earthbound

I’m not going to say much more about this one since I already touched upon it in an earlier article. Needless to say, Earthbound is one of the most charming role-playing game experiences to be found in earlier gaming, and it is a sad fate that it has vanished from the modern video gaming world. Since Nintendo seems to rather suicide to revival, I wish they would give the license to Telltale. At least we could finally hear Ness and Lucas brought to life, outside of punching noises.

Imagine how rich this universe would look in 3D.
Imagine how rich this universe would look in 3D.

9. Jade Empire

That’s right, forget Mass Effect and Dragon Age, Bioware’s worst original series would still make for better story fodder than Borderlands. If I were to describe the Jade Empire universe, I would liken it to a poor man’s Avatar: the Last Airbender. Nevertheless, there is sufficient mystery and mythology to make a worthwhile game. Heck, maybe Telltale could finally make the “philosophy” system into actual philosophy, as opposed to light side versus dark side.

Two philosophies: in one, you help an old lady cross the street, in the other you murder her and her family. Sounds like legit life perspectives.
Two philosophies: in one, you help an old lady cross the street, in the other you murder her and her family. Sounds like legit life perspectives.

8. Star Wars

Speaking of light side and dark side: come on. I know this is technically cheating (Star Wars is a film universe first) but there is such a rich history of Star Wars games that I feel it counts. From Knights of the Old Republic to the adventures of Kyle Katarn, Telltale could pick any time period they wished without impairing the story options. They could even set it during the prequels and give audiences the first good prequel plot (that’s right, I went there – go cry, George Lucas).

It has been too long since the last Jedi Knight game.
It has been too long since the last Jedi Knight game.

7. Warcraft

I’m going to blow your minds real quick: Blizzard already made a Warcraft adventure game. No, I’m not talking about World of Warcraft, I’m talking Warcraft Adventures. Never heard of it? That’s cause it was never released. Now, Blizzard games are great in every area except one: story. What’s the one thing Telltale excel at: story. Sounds like a happy marriage to me.

Man, the art design for Warcraft Adventures looked amazing.
Man, the art design for Warcraft Adventures looked amazing.

6. Prince of Persia

Assassin’s Creed has replaced Prince of Persia in terms of gameplay, no question. However, if one were to play the first modern Prince of Persia game again, one thing would become apparent: there’s a story there. Not just that but it’s great, it has compelling characters and a time travel mechanic that would be very interesting to incorporate into a choice-driven adventure game. Prince of Persia has no future against Assassin’s Creed, but maybe if the series were to change its identity, it could re-attract its fan base.

5. Wolfenstein

What better backdrop for an adventure game than World War II? What better World War II series than Wolfenstein? What better name for a main character than B.J. Blazkowicz? I’m not kidding, that’s his name. It’s supposed to be a serious game. Awesome.

Mecha Hitler cannot be in enough video games.
Mecha Hitler cannot be in enough video games.

4. Dungeon Keeper

EA has done wrong by Dungeon Keeper. This newly released mobile game: they can go fornicate themselves with an iron stick. Dungeon Keeper, the first game in particular, was one of the most in-depth sandbox games ever made. Despite the fact that none of your minions talked, they all had a personality. Imagine if they did talk and you played a wonderful adventure game as the bad guy?

So many possibilities.
So many possibilities.

3. Saint’s Row

I know, you’re saying what? Let me explain: this would be the parody game, the game to mock all other adventure games. Saint’s Row has already established itself as the parody series, have you seen the intro to Saint’s Row IV (it’s amazing). Telltale is at the height of the adventure game market, meaning they have earned the right to poke fun at themselves and the industry. No better way to do that then getting personal with the Third Street Saints.

I feel that this could be the title for the game.
I feel that this could be the title for the game.

2. Oregon Trail

Think about it, think about what made the first Oregon Trail game so amazing. Anything could happen: someone in your party could get sick, bit by a snake, or drowned in a river crossing. You could lose the trail for a few days or get helped by Native Americans. You could shoot so many animals (SO MANY). Now imagine an Oregon Trail game where you got more direct control of your party and they were all flushed out characters. Oh, and your choices dictate if you survive or not: bitchin’.

Shoot all the buffalo. How fun (and sadly historically accurate).
Shoot all the buffalo. How fun (and sadly historically accurate).

1. Bioshock

Why should Ken Levine get to have all the fun? Irrational Games is gone but Bioshock can live on. It was the story that made those game so memorable in the first place. Who better to continue the legacy than Telltale Games?

 

Maybe Telltale will prove me wrong and Tales From the Borderlands will be riveting. I hope it is. They will be able to take all the credit (or all the blame) for whatever story they come up with though. Maybe that was the point of it all along.