Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All My Boyfriends

I have a problem. It’s not a particularly serious one, except it does kind of prevent me from dating people. You see, I play lots of RPGs. And RPGs have these awesome characters with well-developed personalities and histories, and they tend to be snarky and flirty, and before long it’s over for me, and I’ve fallen in love with yet another fictional character.

Go ahead and mock me, but I enjoy swooning over my sweet fictional boys. Dating is complicated. Being in love with fictional characters is easy (if really pathetic, I know).

Obviously I prefer some of the romance subplots in games over others for various reasons, and I find the BioWare romances to be the best. So I’ve decided to go through the romance-able characters in my favorite BioWare games (plus Obsidian Entertainment’s KotOR2, which has some of the awesomeness of BioWare’s KotOR1) to rank the pros and cons of each one in a handy list, in the order in which the games came out. (Spoilers for Baldur’s Gate II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect ahead.)

Baldur’s Gate II – Anomen

Pros: Loyal, angsty past

If you actually can get past how rude Anomen is to you (see Cons), he winds up being very loyal. He sticks by you no matter what and does his best to defend you against any of the myriad of things that attack you. He’s also got some angst, which is always a plus for me. What can I say, I love a good tortured past in my fictional boyfriends.

Cons: Egotistical jackass, just plain mean, moody

Unfortunately, Anomen is a huge jackass. In some of the early romance conversations, he flat out says that you need protecting because you’re a girl and gets pissy if you ask him why the hell he’d think that, especially since the PC is the child of a god and could kick his ass without breaking a sweat. He wants to become a knight, but he’s got a temper that he can’t keep in check very well. He’s constantly yelling at you then apologizing later. Not a very stable guy. He also has a really bad relationship with his family and takes no responsibility for anything ever.

Boyfriend grade: D-. Total jerk, doesn’t appreciate the PC half as much as he should, and probably needs counseling.

Baldur’s Gate II – Haer’Dalis

Pros: Flirty, nice, fun

While Haer’Dalis wasn’t technically a love interest in Baldur’s Gate II, I heard a rumor that he was supposed to be included as one but was cut due to time constraints, and I believe it. He flirts with the PC often and is generally a pretty nice guy. If you have Aerie in your party, that whiny pathetic ex-winged elf girl, Haer’Dalis will begin a romance with her where he helps increase her self-esteem and actually turns her into a slightly tolerable character!

Cons: Not totally human, talks like a weirdo, fakes emotions

Haer’Dalis is actually a tiefling, meaning he has some fiend blood in him. Not necessarily bad, but kind of weird. He also talks in metaphors and Shakespearian flowery verses, and speaking as someone who’s been talked at like that before, it gets obnoxious and is not as cute as the speaker thinks it is. He’s also an actor and even admits that he feigns a lot of the emotion he says he feels, which eventually leads to his breakup with Aerie.

Boyfriend grade: C-. Maybe okay as a short-term boyfriend, but definitely not up for any serious relationships.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – Carth Onasi

Pros: Flirty, angsty, romantic

Ahh, Carth. Hated by men, loved by women. This Han-Solo-esque pilot definitely has that angsty past I love (see Cons also), and once he starts trusting you a bit, he turns into a big flirt and a real sweetheart. He’s also hugely romantic and seems to care deeply about the PC, after they work out all their issues anyway. Carth also remains loyal to the PC after she leaves him behind to head into Unknown Space a year after KotOR, and he keeps on with his duties as a Republic soldier while he continues looking for her and hoping for her return years later.

Cons: Whiny, really paranoid, very difficult to earn his trust

Carth has a really awful past that he kind of whines about all the time. But hey, if your mentor/BFF betrayed you and destroyed your planet, got your wife killed, and had your son abducted/raised by Sith, you’d be pissed and out for revenge too! He has trouble trusting people and it takes AGES for him to get close to the PC, and then he wants to kill her after he finds out she’s actually ex-Jedi ex-Sith Lord Revan. Awkward! Fortunately he gets over it.

Boyfriend grade: B+. As long as you aren’t a recovering Sith Lord, he’d be a pretty perfect boyfriend.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – Juhani

Pros: Idolizes PC, sticks to the Light Side because of her

The Juhani “romance” isn’t a true romance in the same way that Carth’s was, as it’s made clear through the dialogue that the female PC’s feelings for Juhani aren’t the same as Juhani’s are for her. Despite this, Juhani idolizes the PC, as she was the one who saved her from becoming a slave on Taris and helped her become the Jedi she is today. After a momentary fall to the Dark Side and being redeemed by the PC, Juhani does her best to strictly adhere to the Jedi teachings and stay firmly on the Light side.

Cons: Turned to the Dark Side at one point, wild mood swings

She did, however, “fall” to the Dark Side after she attacked her Jedi Master, who provoked her into it. Seems like questionable teaching, but hey, those Jedi can be weirdos sometimes. She gets really upset about her past and the bad stuff she’s gone through sometimes, but quickly calms down.

Girlfriend grade: C. The hero-worshipping thing could wear off, plus a Jedi having such mood swings could be dangerous.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – Atton Rand

Pros: Sarcastic, flirty, smart

Atton Rand, yet another Han Solo wannabe, is one of two love interests available for female PCs in KotOR2. He’s definitely got sass and is really sarcastic, flirts with the PC a whole bunch, and is really smart – after all, he does figure out how to keep Kreia from reading his thoughts (most of the time, anyway). In the cut ending for KotOR2, there’s a chance he can get fatally wounded attacking Darth Sion, after which he’d finally confess his love for the Exile. There was also the chance that he could survive and leave Malachor V with her on the Ebon Hawk. Unfortunately, since both of these endings were cut from the game for time, I have no idea about the circumstances or how they actually happen.

Cons: Kind of messed up, ex-Sith and former Jedi-killer

Atton has a dark past – he actually joined the Sith and was on an elite team that hunted down and killed Jedi. One of the Jedi he encountered told him that he was Force-sensitive, and he killed her for it. So, yeah he’s a little psychotic. Fortunately, this incident made him leave the Sith, and he seems to feel really guilty about it, so I guess that makes it a little better? But still, I wouldn’t want to date someone who used to be a murderer, no matter how charming they are now.

Boyfriend grade: B-. He is REALLY charming and sarcastic, which I love, but he did murder Jedi in the past, which is creeptastic.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – Disciple (Mical)

Pros: Sweet, loyal, kind

Mical, or Disciple as he’s called throughout the game, is a historian and servant of the Republic who joins up with your team if the PC is female. He is nothing but sweet throughout the game, and though it’s obvious he has a crush on Exile, he doesn’t really do much about it and there isn’t much flirting.

Cons: “Friend-zone,” kind of boring, secretive

I see the Disciple as a guy stuck in the friend zone. He’s definitely interested in Exile, but is just too “nice” (and probably too naïve) to actually make a move. His personality is always just that – nice – which kind of bores me. Though I admit I haven’t really played through the game with Mical in my party very much, I think it’s because there was just never really anything about him that really stood out to me. And as nice as he is, he’s still secretive, as he works for Admiral Carth Onasi and reports on what Exile’s up to, and never actually tells her so, weirdly enough.

Boyfriend grade: C+. Probably a great guy to take home to your parents, but not very exciting.

Jade Empire – Sky

Pros: Charming, loyal, snarky

Sky, that charming rogue voiced by the ever-awesome Cam Clarke, is pretty awesome, but I kind of see him as Carth v1.5. He’s less whiny, more flirty, and more snarky, but the main point in his angsty past is just one of the three big things that Carth went through, so I can see why he whines less. He’s a mythical China version of Han Solo, very suave and sarcastic and confident. Also this is the first BioWare game where we get a kiss scene for female PCs (male PCs got smoochies in KotOR), so yay!

Cons: Kind of similar to previous characters, still mourning wife/daughter, hesitant to commit

Like I said above, Sky is a little bit weaksauce. He’s a nice enough guy but his personality isn’t as deep and he’s not as well fleshed-out as a lot of their other characters – honestly, it seems like they took what worked with Carth and just toned down the whining. Personality-wise though, he is still mourning his wife and daughter, who were murdered by slavers. He’s driven by a desire to avenge them, which you accomplish about ten minutes after meeting him. Easy peasy! After losing his family, he’s a little hesitant to commit, and doesn’t tell the PC he loves her before she goes in to “save” her master, who winds up killing her. He regrets not saying it, and once she comes back to life, they finally get together.

Boyfriend grade: B. If you can get him to commit without getting yourself killed, he’d be a pretty solid guy.

Jade Empire – Silk Fox

Pros: Badass, independent

Silk Fox is the first actual female-female romance in BioWare’s games (since the Juhani romance was pretty one-sided), just as Sky is the first male-male one. She’s a princess in disguise, finding out information and kicking ass while pretending to be Silk Fox; she knows nobody tells the real truth to a princess, so she goes out to get it herself. After the game’s over, she becomes the Empress, and if you wind up with her, she shares her power with you and defends you to anybody who’s critical of your relationship.

Cons: Not very affectionate, bossy, can be kind of mean

Being a princess, Silk Fox (or Sun Lian the Heavenly Lily) is used to getting her way. All the time. You have to be careful what you say to her, since even as Silk Fox, she’ll get pissed off if you don’t talk to her with the right amount of respect. She definitely takes charge once she joins the party, and is a real jerk to your childhood BFF Dawn Star.

Girlfriend grade: B-. Probably busy being Empress, and she won’t like any of your friends.

Mass Effect – Liara T’Soni

Pros: Sweet, compassionate

Liara is a “young” (100ish) asari who you rescue from being trapped in some ruins. She pretty much falls in love with you after your first conversation, which I attribute to her basically being a teenager, thinking she’s in love with everyone she meets. She is really sweet though, and surprisingly compassionate – she doesn’t blame Saren for the things he’s doing and actually feels kind of bad for him, after you discover the power of Indoctrination, anyway. This might be because her mom also fell victim to Sovereign’s Indoctrination, so she can understand what happened a little better.

Cons: Naïve, young

The fact that Liara falls for you instantly was really off-putting for me. I guess I like having to work a little harder to win the hearts of my NPCs. But like I said above, this is part of her character – she’s really young, so I think it’s more of a hero-worship thing than her actually being in love with you.

Girlfriend grade: C+. She’s nice, but she could get really clingy really quick, plus she’s really young, so who knows how long it would last?

Mass Effect – Kaidan Alenko

Pros: Charming, thoughtful, romantic

Oh Kaidan. Where do I start? To begin with, let me say that it didn’t help when I realized that Kaidan and Carth are voiced by the same person (I heart you, Raphael Sbarge!). Then when I saw that he was way flirtier and sweeter than Carth, and had an Angsty Past but didn’t whine about it, I was totally sold. Kaidan is as flirty as he can be without breaking regulations (since you’re his commanding officer), and always tries to keep these regs in mind so that neither of you get in trouble. The conversation before the space!sex scene is one of my favorite convos ever, hands down, because he’s just such a sweetheart about everything. The relationship he and Shepard develop is a great partnership, where neither one relies on the other too much, but they can always count on the other being there when needed.

Cons: Very self-controlled, sometimes overly protective

During his biotic training, Kaidan accidentally killed a (jackass) instructor who hurt his friend and pulled a knife on him, leaving him very wary of ever not being in complete control of himself. He’s not really one for “letting loose,” and I assume he doesn’t drink. He’s usually good about letting Shepard be the commander, but near the end of the game he tries insisting that something she has to do is too dangerous and tries to stop her.

Boyfriend grade: A. Pretty much can’t top a soldier who’s sweet, thoughtful, and has an angsty past he’s totally recovered from. I guess this is why he’s fictional. Sigh!

Well there’s my list. Anyone who wants to argue my grades/pros/cons, please do so! I’m the first to admit that I’ve definitely got a type and it totally influenced my grading, but I’m definitely willing to be debated on some of these (I’m sure Mical and Liara have more good points than I’ve listed here). Or if anybody has a favorite fictional boy/girlfriend that I didn’t include, I’d love to hear about them! :)

(This article was also published on GamingAngels, check it out!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Post-PAX Awards

This year, from September 4-6, I attended my very first Penny Arcade Expo up in Seattle. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I did my research, looked up videos, read articles about the past years’ conventions, but I still was like, “oh my god, there are gonna be 60,000 other nerds there, this is going to be a MADHOUSE.” Of course, because I’m prescient (superpowers, yo), I was right, and it was a madhouse, but it was also AWESOME.

Basically, for those of you who have never been or don’t care about PAX but are still reading this, the Penny Arcade Expo is a ridiculous video game convention, where companies bring their sweet new stuff to show it off, and gamers get super psyched about it and get free t-shirts and posters and buttons and various other swag. It’s a great opportunity for game developers and their fans to actually interact with each other.

PAX was a blast and I had the chance to see some awesome games that will be coming out, some sooner than others – any word on a release date yet, Star Wars: The Old Republic? :) But everything at PAX succeeded in different ways, and it’s the right thing to do to recognize that our differences make us special. So I have decided, on this occasion of my recovering from PAX Pox (Swine Flu), and in the spirit of the VMAs being tonight, to present the awesome companies who made such great showings at the Penny Arcade Expo with some awards that I have so cleverly come up with. (I don’t think I need to remind everything that this is my opinion, and therefore no one can argue with it. Obviously.)

Best at having an insanely long line that takes forever to get through

Tie – Left 4 Dead 2 and Dragon Age. I got in the Dragon Age line pretty much first thing on Friday, and it took me an hour and a half to get through. It was 12 360s and everyone got to play for half an hour. Game was awesome, line was brutal. It got worse Sunday – I’d say two or three times as long as the line I waited through. I also really wanted to try out Left 4 Dead 2, but the line was always nuts for not many available consoles, and I was never patient enough to wait through it.

Best swag for beating your roommates about the head without permanently disfiguring them

Inflatable swords. My roommates and I have had far more swordfights than girls our age probably should, but it’s been awesome, so thanks, Dragon Age and Divinity II! There have been some epic battles in our apartment and it is awesome.

Best way to entertain the long lines in the main Queue Room

Beach balls. Before one Main Theater event that I was in line for (and I’m sure before others as well), the entire crowd started counting each time someone hit the beach ball back up in the air. I believe we got up to 30ish several times before it fell, to many “boooooo!”s and disappointed “ohhhhh!”s.

Best at having ridiculous gratuitous booth babes

Grats, City of Heroes. Your booth babe was gorgeous, and her superhero costume was awesome, but it would’ve been nice if it covered her butt a little better. I don’t know how she sits down in that costume. Sure, the “hot chicks” will draw the lonely nerd contingent to your booth and maybe to your game, but you know what else will? Making a good game that people want to play.

Best free shirt that makes you look like a huge dork but also like a badass

Star Wars: The Old Republic armor shirts. The TOR/BioWare people either didn’t bring enough of these shirts or their booth was insanely popular, or both!, because I think they were gone the first day of PAX. Not only did they come in girl-cut, not just unisex, props to TOR for remembering that girls like having shirts that fit right, but they also look super cool. The image on the shirt makes it look like whoever is wearing it has on the armor of two classes that have been announced for TOR – I believe the boy shirts were Jedi armor, and girls’ were bounty hunters.

Best surprisingly awesome trailer we all thought was going to be super lame

Fairy Tale Fights. While waiting in the Main Queue Room before the Expo hall opened Friday morning, whoever was in charge of the big screen typed that they were going to show a trailer for an upcoming game. The trailer started out cartoony, cute, happy, puppies flowers rainbows, you know the deal. Everyone rolls their eyes. Then these sweet little characters get out swords and start lopping each other’s heads off and blood is spurting and going everywhere, and the crowd cracks up. So congrats on your sneakily badass trailer, Fairy Tale Fights!

Best shirt that makes me laugh way harder than it should

A piece of cake saying “I am nutritious.” with text underneath, “The cake is a liar.” Why do I laugh so hard? Why?

Best way to distract the entire audience listening at the Saturday night concert

Playing Minesweeper on your mac and holding it up so the cameras can show it to everyone else. One thing I learned at PAX is that, during slow songs, we don’t hold up cell phones to replace lighters – we hold up Nintendo DSes to replace cell phones to replace lighters. One person near the front even took it a step further, booting up his Mac laptop (I’ll refrain from judging) and holding that up instead. He then started playing Minesweeper. One of the many moving cameras focused on it, and the entire crowd was enraptured.

Best introduction for a special guest

Wil Wheaton, in his “official capacity as the Secretary of Geek Affairs,” presented Jonathan Coulton with the Presidential d20 of Geekdom and listed off his many accomplishments and contributions to geek culture by using lines from his songs. Among my personal favorites: “whereas Jonathan Coulton is not unreasonable and will not eat our eyes,” “whereas Jonathan Coulton is so into us, though he’s way too smart for us,” and “whereas Jonathan Coulton makes the first of May extra special.” You can watch the entire video here:

Best game at all of PAX, don’t doubt me, not even joking

Skee Ball. The Omegathon, a six-round elimination tournament with twenty gamers all competing to win a trip to the Tokyo Game Festival and $5,000, I am told always culminates in a surprise game that they don’t think anyone will have practiced in advance. This year, the game of choice was Skee Ball, and even if the machine itself was a little old, and had to be reset after every game, and they actually had to insert quarters to play it, Skee Ball is the best.