Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why Pandas?

I've had pandas on the mind for much of the past week. First there was the news of the baby panda born last week at the National Zoo in D.C., with live webcams streaming footage of the mother and tiny infant (did you know that newborn pandas are about the size of a stick of butter???). Then there was the devastating news of the baby panda's death early this week. The thought of the staff hearing the mother make a "distress vocalization", shutting off the cameras, the vets rushing in to do baby-panda CPR etc. but failing to revive it...so tragic.

All the while, the websites I frequent are playing ads for Mists of Pandaria on 15-second loops. Not being a WoW player, I've mostly ignored the ads. Don't need to think about something that doesn't matter to me. But today I finally allowed myself to think about them long enough to come up with the obvious question that had been hanging hidden in the back of my mind: Why Pandas?

I dabbled in Warcraft II back in the day, and I know a bit about World of Warcraft, so I'm somewhat familiar with the races of that World: humans, elves (night and blood), orcs, dwarves, trolls...basically your typical fantasy fare. I don't recall hearing of any anthropomorphic Earth animals in World of Warcraft prior to this. So why the hell have kung fu pandas invaded WoW? Really, what went wrong? Why are WoW players being punished with fuzzy teddies?

Suddenly amused, mystified, but too lazy to put a lot of effort in finding the answer to my question, I headed over to Google to do a quick search. I thought about writing something clear and specific, like "why wow is introducing pandas in mists of pandaria". But then I thought, No, this is such an obvious question about such a famous internet sensation, I cannot be the first person wondering this, this is what I want to know and this search should work, and typed in simply
why pandas
Sure enough, the first hit I got was a very nice discussion of the topic at IGN. Question answered with minimal effort. I won't explain it here, so head over to that link if you're curious.

Having also been bombarded recently by ads for Bing claiming that people prefer Bing search results to Google 2:1, I tried doing the same search there, and was disappointed to find that none of the first page search results were related to Pandaria. Yes, it was a poor, lazy search, but Google knew what I was thinking. It can be kind of creepy, actually (like the time I typed in "What spe" and Google filled in the rest of my question: "What species is Yoda?" WTH you read my mind!).

I wasn't really going anywhere with this post, so I'll just leave you with a panda video. Why pandas? Because they're adorable! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dragon Age III announced and other BioWare news

Yesterday in an open letter, Executive Producer Mark Darrah officially confirmed that BioWare is working on a Dragon Age sequel. We kinda already knew they were developing it, but at least now we have a title:
Dragon Age III: Inquisition
The title makes sense given the way Dragon Age II left off, and I'm pretty excited to see where that story will go. Unfortunately, Darrah gave few other details about the game, revealing nothing about the story other than what that single word in the title offers.

Kotaku has a good write up of what we do and don't know about Dragon Age III at this point. We do know that they heard player feedback from Dragon Age II and they will not be using recycled environments. Thank goodness. You can make us enter the cave from different corners and block off hallways, but it's still the same damn cave. What we don't know that I'm most anxious to learn is who the player character will be. The Hero of Ferelden? The Champion of Kirkwall? Someone else? Dragon Age: Origins seems to be the favored game, giving them reason to bring back the Grey Warden, but then not everyone's Warden is, uh, still around. If they bring in a new player character, it may make the series feel too disjointed, though if done right it could work. I wouldn't mind being Hawke again, but the lack of choice in her race and background makes her less unique than the Hero of Ferelden. The dilemma reminds me of how I felt after KotOR and KotOR 2, wondering which protagonist they'd have for KotOR 3. Well, we know the answer to that question, now.

In any case, Dragon Age III seems set up for some epic storytelling. The "Inquisition" title implies a focus on the chaos surrounding the Chantry following the events of Dragon Age II. But there's always Flemeth, and Morrigan with maybe a scary baby, lurking in the background.

In other BioWare news, BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk both announced their retirement from BioWare today. They're moving on to other projects in other fields (social impact entrepreneurship and craft beer, respectively), having achieved what they wanted in the gaming industry. They founded the company in 1995, and starting with Baldur's Gate they've been creating outstanding, beautiful games ever since. BioWare remains my favorite game developer, so I'm sorry to see them go. But I'm hopeful the BioWare team they've put together is strong enough to keep churning out great games that I'll enjoy for many years to come.

Lastly, BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn announced that the BioWare team is working on a whole new fictional universe:
While Casey [Hudson, executive producer for Mass Effect] continues to oversee the development of our new Mass Effect project, he and his leads are putting together their vision for an all new game set in a fictional universe, built from the bottom-up with all new gaming technology.
I love the universes BioWare created in Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I can't wait to see what they come out with next.