Gaming Interlude: The Long Dark.

I can hardly call it a game review yet, because I haven’t gotten that far. But, after playing it again for a few hours today, it’s dawned on me that this game needs to be mentioned. It needs to be discussed, experienced.

It needs to be shared.

I spoke about my recent infatuation with Indie Games and how I’ve begun to look at them with a new pair of eyes. As it came on sale in Steam’s Black Friday dash, I realised that The Long Dark might be worth looking into. One look at the trailer and hearing Jennifer Hale’s voice immediately told me that this game was going to be different. A Guinness world record holding voice actress wouldn’t bother aiding a development that was subpar. Or that was the justification that I used to myself when I pulled out my credit card.

Made by independent studio Hinterland, The Long Dark is still in development and only available on Steam’s Early Access. The game, that only has its Sandbox mode enabled so far, costs about $20, though if one keeps an eye out, you might able to find it on special. I paid about $13 for it, but a mate of mine got it for as cheap as $10. My discussion of the price is hardly relevant though, because even uncompleted, this game is still worth it and I’d have been satisfied with my purchase regardless of whether the developers evolved it further or not.

What pulled me to the game was the tone. Even in the first trailer one could feel the isolation of the protagonist, the vast land and impossible task of surviving dwindling in the distance with the threat of wolves, dehydration, starvation and hypothermia mere moments away at any given point in time. The Sand Box mode has got no story, simply one goal and that is to survive the cold night.

I thought that it would be easy, but I was mistaken.

Even with the graphics not being AAA style, let-me-see-that-blemish-up-close, detailed it comes to life in a way that threatens to overwhelm all of one’s senses. The difference between footsteps on tar and snow, on ice and gravel. The breath that moves before you as temperatures threaten to fall further than your insufficiently clad body can deal with. The wind, the darkness. The silence. It’s summer in my country at the moment and even I can feel the breath of cold air on my neck and the need the shield my face from the snow as I move the character forward. The Long Dark is a fest of immersion.

Still being in development, it is not without its flaws. I find sometimes that attacking wolves would levitate either to the left or right before they attack me. That makes them particularly hard to avoid or shoot. I’ve encountered one or two objects that I can’t pick up and I really want the developers to consider actually putting something worthwhile in a locked storage unit that I risked life and limb to open. I also think that the wolves are glitchy in general and needs to be tweaked because they are damn hard to kill. The mechanics of the wolf attacks just doesn’t work and sadly, guns and ammo are very hard to come by. I’ve spend hours exploring the Coastal Highway without finding one sniff of a rifle. That part can be frustrating because inevitably, the protagonist will have deal with the dark beasties.

But, these complaints are but a bitter drop in the ocean of satisfaction. I love this game, I love the isolation, the loneliness, the sombre tones and realisation that one is the only person in a frozen wasteland that echoes of lives scattered around like frozen corpses. I look forward to seeing what the developers will be doing in the future but even if it is absolutely nothing I will come back face the darkness again and again and again.

Who is Femshep?

If you’ve been following my tweets you’d have noticed that I’ve been tweeting quite often of Femshep, the character associated with the epic game series Mass Effect. You might’ve recognized this tag, or you found yourself thinking: What is this woman on about? Why is she so obsessed with this character?

Well. I’m glad you asked.

Femshep is the nickname for the female Commander Shepard, the main character/protagonist of the Role Playing Game franchinse from Bioware – Mass Effect. For those of you who are not that familiar with gaming, it basically means that she’s the woman who’s back you are constantly staring at. She’s one of two main characters of the series, the other one being Broshep or Maleshep, her male counterpart. When you start your game you can decide whether you want to play as a male or as a female and this choice effects not only who you romance but sometimes on the odd occasion who people respond to you. Broshep is voiced by actor Mark Meer and modelled after actor Mark Vanderloo. Femshep was voiced by Jennifer Hale and modelled after… Nobody. You see, up until now, Femshep had been the ignored and forgotten child of the franchise. Bioware once claimed that only about 18% of all gamers played as the female counterpart of the series, which probably meant that they felt justified not to spend that much time on her… But, I still think those percentages are wrong.

You see, Femshep is popular. I’ve seen it in fan fiction and I have monitored (and from my own experience I should add) how passionate the fans of our female heroine could get. After the release of Mass Effect 2, there became a slow but steady outcry to Bioware to use FemShep in marketing too. We wanted her to be acknowledged. We wanted Jennifer Hale to be acknowledged. You see, this woman, this voice actor is one of the best around. Not only has she now earned herself a space in the Guiness World Record books as the most prolific voice actress (ie – she’s been in more video games than your average Joe and Jack…) but she was also nominated for the best performance by a female voice actor by the Spike Video Game Awards in 2010. She’s, in a word, awesome. Which is why it’s been so disappointing to find that only Mark Meer had been used in marketing up until now. Now, please – I realize that there are people out there who feel about BroShep the way I feel about my FemShep. I’m not saying that he’s bad, I’m just saying he’s not right for me and for numerous other fans out there.

The thing is that you get involved with Mass Effect. You stand there with this woman and make difficult choices. You fight against impossible odds. You find yourself having to make a choice between who of your friends to save and who not to. You can destroy nations, save cities and face down evil overlords. And, all the while you’re doing it alongside this woman. You’re doing it with Jennifer Hale and it’s only fair that she gets acknowledged for the amazing work that she’s been putting into this series. She’s done just as many recordings as Mark Meer. Why not split the marketing 50/50? Heck – if they marketed her more from the beginning, that 18% might’ve been very different…

And, this year it will be. Although the marketing had not been split 50/50, Bioware listened to their fans and said that they would make a trailer in FemShep’s honour. We were going to get a trailer. And, we couldn’t wait. Today, the 10th of February, has been dubbed FemShep Friday (and if you’re on twitter, use the #femshepfriday hash tags!) in honour of the trailer’s release. Today. After all that waiting, after all that anticipation. After thinking that it was going to appear at the Spike VGA’s (and then disappointed) we were now going to finally catch a glimpse of our heroine in action. I am beyond excited. I feel like a dog that had just caught a car that he had been chasing. For months. Every time I go onto twitter and I see the fan’s support for both FemShep and Jennifer Hale I feel my heart swell with pride.

So, today is our day. Today, is the day where the fans of Mass Effect and FemShep can celebrate and thank Bioware for listening us and for supporting us. Today is Jennifer Hale’s day, to honour the amazing job that she had been doing, for the part that she played in making this game so wonderful.

Today is FemShep Friday, and I will show my support. And give my thanks.

And, watch that trailer when it comes out.

And the Winner is…

And adding onto my previous post I can now happily announce that the winner of Mass Effect 3’s default FemShep is our favorite GINGERSHEP!
After a week long voting campaign the red headed FemShep beat her competion like a red headed stepchild, doing all of us gingers proud. In March 2012, the galaxy will be saved by a pale faced, green eyed beauty. FemShep will appear on the Collector’s Edition of the game and will appear in her first trailer of the series. I feel that it is high time that Bioware gives her some credit. They say that only about 18% of all players play as FemShep, but I find myself unable to believe that statistics. I think there are many more out there.
The statistics looked as follows: GingerShep won with 19,576 votes, with the black haired femshep coming in at 12,838 votes. Dirty blond/brunette Shep had a meagre 5,574 and our blond pop star had a mimiscule 5,436.

Well done GingerShep, well done. 🙂