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I May Be Ruined

I am about ~15 hours into Mass Effect 2.

Everything is going swimmingly, although I am beginning to suspect (all) other games have been ruined for me in two very specific ways.

First, I am not sure I can go back to text boxes in RPGs anymore. It is not just about BioWare’s penchant for fully-voiced stories, it is about the equally gripping body language. Everyone has heard about the whole “93% of communication is nonverbal,” right? We are now at a point in game design when at least one company is capable of delivering on that 93% and I do not know if I can go back.

It isn’t just about the smiles, the winks, the nods, or the scare quotes by characters with only three fingers either. It is about the more subtle touches that keep my eyeballs glued to the story exposition. For example:

Asari Facepalm

I should have shot him in the foot when I had the chance.

The asari bartender in the background facepalms when Conrad speaks the part about his wife buying the ticket. I actually had some difficulty taking that screenshot because the time between the background facepalm and the camera switching back to Shepard is less than a second – I had to redo that part of the conversation twice to get the shot.

Think about that for a moment. Someone actually went through the trouble of programming a facepalm into a (presumably) throwaway, non-required dialog option, with less than a second of screentime. Understated is an… er, understatement.

Going back to strict text and using my imagination to fill in the blanks? I am not quite sure it will feel the same knowing that the blanks are literal blanks; unless the developers clearly make up for it in other areas of the game, I suspect I will recognize the gaps as deficiencies rather than “imagination opportunities.”

The second way I have been ruined actually came via The Witcher, and is very clearly manifesting itself in Mass Effect 2. Specifically, I now believe I can and should be able to romance anyone and everyone, simultaneously.

Romance All the Things

Romance All the Things!

I first noticed this tendency when I was flirting with the ship psychiatrist – whom should really know better – and became nervous that things might get out of hand before the entire playing field became available, so to speak. This was not a problem in The Witcher; in fact, you typically only had a single opportunity for “romance” at any given time, so it was a series of all or nothing encounters.

To be honest, this probably has more to do with my methodical nature in gaming than anything else. The baseline assumption I operate on is that I will only ever play a game once – I am looking to maximize my fun, not fill time, and 2nd playthroughs almost always lose out to the dozens of other games available. Ironically, this leads to counter-intuitive game behavior wherein I suck the very marrow out of a game’s bones, completing every sidequest and bonus mission long after such things have ceased being fun and/or make sense to do. Exploring every planet in every system cluster in Mass Effect 1, running Miscellaneous quests in Skyrim as a level 54 character with 100k+ gold, and so on.

As you might suspect, mutually exclusive romance options present a certain difficulty to me.

I do have a residual desire to play ME1&2 again as FemShep, which I would have done originally if not for the availability of romance options at all (that’s another post). The ideal romance scenario would be the “Deus Ex ending” one, wherein you could save right before the critical choice and I could reload to see each outcome. I am getting the impression that this is not how things will shake out.

Youtube exists, but it is just not the same.

Paradox of Voice Acting

It’s fascinating to me reading this Kotaku article about how BioShock Infinite’s Actors Berated Each Other to the Point of Tears to Get the Scene. Although I would agree with some critics that Bioshock 1 was worlds better than Bioshock 2, I was already pretty excited about Bioshock Infinite from its first trailer (assuming I can actually play it on my PC). Seeing the lengths (depths?) the voice actors go through to paint a scene makes me want it more.

But then… how important is good voice acting to begin with?

Games have had voice acting for decades now, and I am not entirely sure I can even remember particularly good performances. Sure, bad voice acting tends to stand out, if only because it pulls us out of the narrative flow. But is that not the paradox of good or even amazing voice acting? The better the voice acting is, the less we remember it. This lies is stark contrast to amazing soundtracks which you tend to vividly recall.

Perhaps this is some sort of physiological thing insofar as in these games we are not concentrating on how well the actor sounds, but rather what sort of information they are conveying – we remember the words, the story, the way the narrative makes us feel, but we lose their voice in the process. And maybe that in itself, the ability of spoken words to immerse you in the narrative instead of jarring you out of it, is the mark of quality acting. That just seems… cosmically tragic, as opposed to how other forms of art usually work.

Honestly, I am trying to remember any of the voice acting in games I have played.

  • War… war never changes.” Fallout narrator.
  • “James!” The wife of the protagonist of Silent Hill 2, but mainly for that one specific (but hidden) exclamation.
  • Thrall and Aggra during the Call of the World-Shaman questline. The dialog is pretty bad (aside from Thrall’s Fire speech clips), but the emotion got through. In fact, Thrall’s voice acting and dialog during the Flame segment is the best I have heard in WoW and many other games.
  • Well, I thought King Terenas’ acting was rather brilliant in WotLK’s intro and ending segments.

I am starting to wonder if I remember WoW’s actors more simply due to repetition than quality (although they have it too in the above examples); the Fallout narrator is the same from all the Fallouts, and each time he says that catchphrase. In any case do you typically remember quality voice acting in the games you play? Do you have favorites?


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