Experienced Points: The BioWare Romance Trap

By Shamus
on Aug 4, 2015
Filed under:
Column

We brought up this topic in the podcast this week, but here I wanted to give the subject a full column of its own.

Having said all that (assuming you actually went and read the column) I’ll say that’s probably only half the problem. The other half is that AAA action videogamesI’m not commenting on games dedicated to the topic. I don’t play them and have no frame of reference for appraising their quality. aren’t an awesome medium for doing romance. And even when it works mechanically, writers tend to be rubbish at it.

I was going to round this out with a list of action videogame romances I like. Here is what I came up with:

1. The Secret of Monkey IslandPLUNDER BUNNY!.
2. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
3. I guess the romances in KOTOR were sort of okay.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] I’m not commenting on games dedicated to the topic. I don’t play them and have no frame of reference for appraising their quality.

[2] PLUNDER BUNNY!



A Hundred!A Hundred!7207 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?

From the Archives:

  1. Neil D says:

    I kind of liked the semi-almost-non-romance between George and Nico in the Broken Sword series. Refreshing to have something a little more complicated than the usual girl-falls-for-the-protagonist-because-why-wouldn’t-she schtick.

    P.S. Typo in the first footnote.

  2. Siliconscout says:

    Hey Shamus.

    Great column!

    FYI you have a typo in the footnote though “sommenting”

  3. Karthik says:

    “This would naturally push the character designs towards a “Fast and the Furious” approach, where everyone on the team is young-looking, sexy, and available. That runs counter to the sci-fi theme of strange aliens and characters from all walks of life.”

    I just started replaying Mass Effect 3, thinking the distance of a few years would help me think about the game differently, and perhaps even enjoy things I missed the first time. But that second line, “that runs counter to the sci-fi theme”, is pretty much my observation about every aspect of the game so far.

    But anyway, on the issue of romances:

    (i) We did have characters from all walks of life in Mass Effect 2. Mordin, Zaeed and Legion come to mind. But Mass Effect 3 and Inquisition are worse in this regard, so you’re right about the general trend.

    (ii) I wonder how much of the preference for bipedal human-like companions is driven by the need for “romance options” and how much it is a structural/engine limitation. It’s a much shorter trip to young & sexy once you’re most of the way there.

    (Case in point: I remember there were pretty loud requests for an Elcor/Volus companion, or at least as NPCs on the Normandy back in 2011. Apparently the animation and related systems were deemed too expensive.
    And this time I’m playing with the From Ashes DLC, and groaned audibly when Javik was revealed to be a bipedal, human-sized, English speaking, assault rifle toting, cover taking dude in a costume. I can see why they had to go this route–assuming they wanted a Prothean squad member–but it retroactively ruined the enigmatic mystery of the Protheans for me.)

    • Raygereio says:

      I wonder how much of the preference for bipedal human-like companions is driven by the need for “romance options” and how much it is a structural/engine limitation.

      The latter. Really.
      Having all aliens conform to a generic bipedal model allows the developers to reuse animations and various models such as environment (chairs, desks, etc). And all aliens having roughly the same height makes camera work for ingame cutscenes a lot less of a headache (depending on the tools available).
      And there’s offcourse gameplay and level design to think about: I mean how would you incorporate an Elcor into the combat model?(*) And all the levels would have be designed around “can an Elcor move here?” which would get silly fast.

      I’m not saying you couldn’t have non-bipedal & non-humansized aliens. You certainly can. Even as a squadmates. But it would not be a simple task and I don’t blame Bioware for having shied away from it.

      *: I actually could see it working as a setpiece battle with an heavily armoured Elcor serving as mobile cover.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I would love it if they went full on Saints Row 4 and included Hanar, Elcor, and/or Volus romance options. Bioware, that’s how you do comedy. In case you were wondering.

        And get inventive. What if the Volus romance looks like beach volleyball?

      • INH5 says:

        This becomes really apparent in ME3’s multiplayer, where the especially small (Volus) and especially large (Geth Juggernaut and Krogan Warlord) characters can’t take cover (though Volus are short enough that they can just stand behind chest high walls) and any weapons that they equip are scaled down/up for no in-universe reason so they can use the same stock animations as the human sized characters.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well one would presume that using your standard trigger would be kind of odd for a person with different sized hands.Not to mention holding the weapon would be just as awkward.

          • Andy_Panthro says:

            Xenonauts does bring this up, the alien weapons have to be researched and redesigned to human specifications in order to use them. I think you can use the alien weapons if you pick them up during a mission, but with penalties to hit and so on that make them a poor choice.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      It’s a losing battle to try to give romance options with every possible type of character that the player might want to do it with. It starts out with Volus and Elcor, but where does it end? Pyjaks? Varren? Vorcha?!

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Mass effect:Yeoman kelly’s adventures

      • Syal says:

        It ends with the Rachni Queen, because it will have achieved perfection.

      • To be honest, it might eventually get to that point, and not really because of player demands.

        I believe we’re seeing, if not a plateau, a standard basis for game engines to the point where assets from previous iterations are still usable, at least in part. Eventually, realistic-looking models aren’t going to be enough to fill content, and RPGs will have ridiculously huge amounts of romance, crafting, costume customization, collectibles, cooking games, hats, etc. just to make players feel like they’re getting something worthwhile.

        Note that the writing will still probably suck, but hey, you can’t have everything.

  4. Wide And Nerdy says:

    That’s why I’ve always maintained if they’re going to do romances, they should make them all open to both genders. That way they can achieve the necessary variety with far fewer characters and come closer to making everyone happy. Either do a pure narrative driven romance or make all romances available.

    I would really have liked Traynor to be an option for both characters. Finally had a character thats really my type. And yes I could simply play FemShep but thats different.* If the romances are there for fan service, there’s no point in committing to specific preferences for characters.

    *Lets not get into the “but Femshep is the better character anyway” debate. Its a distraction from my point.

    • Raygereio says:

      If the romances are there for fan service, there’s no point in committing to specific preferences for characters.

      That’s the problem with them though: Bioware romances have become just fan service. Having everyone be player-sexual just exacerbates that and turns the whole thing even more towards a power/sexual fantasy.
      Also I can’t help but feel having character be player-sexual diminishes them. Sexuality is a part of who people are. Flipping it to whatever the player wants them to be, in my opinion turns them into nothing more then virtual sexdolls.

      I actually appreciated it when my male-Shep tried to put the moves on Traynor like a little creep and she responded with a firm “Not into you”. Though I think I would have appreciated it more if Traynor reported Shep for sexual harassment.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        It doesn’t exacerbate the problem, it complements the design decision.

        And I hold to what Penn Jillette once said “That’s the least interesting thing about me.” Apart from what society has insisted on imposing on it* (both attacking and defending), preference is as incidental as skin color. That you have those desires and that bond is far and away more important than the gender of the person you have them with (for story purposes at the least).

        *We’re talking about a fantasy setting and a progressive sci fi future, so the society impositions don’t exist apart from the Tevinter mage breeding issue.

        • guy says:

          The thing is, while the romances are all ultimately pandering, having everyone be romanceable by any player character feels like pandering. Which ruins the fun.

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            Making a good rpg- even tabletop- is all smoke and mirrors. An rpg is always going to be more limited and shallow than it needs to appear to be. There’s a lot of stuff that would be a lot easier to pull off if modern Bioware at least tried to make their contrivances, invisible walls, and false choices less obvious.

            If someone with some tact tried their hand at it, player-sexual NPCs might actually work, but Bioware is so blunt about it…

            • guy says:

              I think one of the big issues with doing it is that it can very easily feel incredibly lazy. I’ve actually played a JRPG, Fate/EXTRA, which has a variable-gender protagonist and fixed romance options, and it is fairly obviously written for a male protagonist. Not just that the romance options are mostly female*, but everyone reacts to various interactions like the player character is male. Well, that or they’ve noticed how a female one blushes and stares a lot. But it’s basically pretty clear that the writers took the male script, inserted some “by the way, we’re both female” lines and swapped pronouns as needed, most obviously when a guy busts in on the infirmary to yell at two girls about how this will inevitably lead to forbidden trysts.

              It doesn’t necessarily have to be that obvious, but it’s fairly likely that it’ll either show or further the romance plot-main plot separation by just not having characters discuss the romance. This is less of an issue in more tolerant settings, but I’d still expect characters to at least comment.

              *Basically, you’re playing a mage who summons someone to help them fight, and there are two female mages as romance options plus your choice of companion from the male Archer and the female Caster and Saber. Though this Saber** was a guy in a past life and makes dramatic speeches about how beauty has nothing to do with gender.

              **There’s a lot of Fateverse works, and Servants get called by their character class in all of them, and the female Sabers all have the same appearance because it’s the artist’s (and the fans’) favorite character design. This one has green eyes and wears a red dress instead of platemail over a blue one.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            It ruins the fun for me when they put in an option who is a hardcore gamer and an awkward nerd, then make her femshep only. It almost feels like Bioware was trolling. You’re going to ruin someone’s fun.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            Also, heaven forbid that they pander. Pandering is about giving people what they want. Pandering errs in the right direction. The opposite of that is Spec Ops, a game that dares to lecture you for buying and playing it.

            • Otters34 says:

              Given how there’s basically none besides Spec Ops: The Line which do that, I don’t see a problem with its snipes at players. Just about every other video game in the last forty years or so has had something to do with player empowerment, even ones that eschew normal power systems like the Myst series or puzzle games. Play pretty much any video game from the last twenty years alone and you’re bound to play some who’s more powerful, beloved or cunning than your opponents (whether or not the game’s narrative side admits it). Unless you’re playing Dreamfall, in which case WELP.

              Pandering can be nice and a fun distraction, but if that’s all there is it’s like only ever drinking one kind of those weird vegetable juices weirdos drink. It gets old and dull after a while.

        • Daimbert says:

          It doesn’t exacerbate the problem, it complements the design decision.

          The problem, I think, is that the romanceable — and, by extension, all — companions are losing their distinctiveness as being real people with real interests in order to make the romances work better. Taking away another thing that distinguishes them and makes them people — their specific sexual interests — in order to make the romances easier to achieve exacerbates that, as it takes that away and leaves them even more a hollow shell that looks good and will eventually have sex with you if you want them to.

          Look, let me compare at least MY Leiliana romance in DA to romance in TOR. In the former, if my character wanted to romance Leiliana, she had to a) take her out in the party and b) had to act in ways that she approved of, which meant having to be, well, generally nice. Yes, you could get some gain from giving gifts, but in general you needed to earn the romance through in-game actions and conversations. The effect of this was that my self-centered, bitter and cynical City Elf had to, well, act nice in the world, and in carrying on from that eventually BECAME a better person, someone who did sometimes see the good in people and was willing to help people, not just to get Leiliana, but because she now had indeed BECOME that sort of person.

          In TOR, for various reasons, you don’t have to take your companion with you into the world. You can pretty much build up full affection — friend or otherwise — through giving gifts and then talking to them on the ship. Thus, they don’t have to impact how you act at all. You can take out your light-side companion and be evil the whole way, and if you give them gifts they’ll forgive you and all will be well. So there’s no reason to adapt how you act, in general, to what their personalities are. Even if they really shouldn’t be your type, the romance can and will happen anyway.

          So instead of making that worse by ensuring that you ARE their type because you’re the player character, what we should do is expand the limitations based on who they are. Some of the characters will like you more or less based on WHO YOU ARE. If you want a specific romance, then you have to build and be a character that they would like, acting that way in the world. And to make that work, it has to be okay that some of the companions won’t like that character very much, and that they won’t be romanceable by THAT character. In my DA run, I think it really was only Leiliana that actually had high affection for me, but that didn’t stop them from helping out because, well, the mission came first.

          Games like DA and ME can do this because they can give a reason for the characters to join and stay and even, after a while, respect you even if your personalities don’t align at all. But today everyone wants to be able to do everything and anything on one playthrough, and that causes issues as well; no one wants to wait for the next run through to get that other romance.

          • James says:

            I think your latter point about TOR which is correct also comes down to how you play.

            when i played i started out as a darkside / power first sith, my guy wasnt sadistic and i didnt take all the dark side options but it was always about power first, and gradually that changed. he met a girl and it became about protecting his friends and himself first and power after that, he didn’t suddenly turn heal and become a paladin, and he certainly doesn’t like the Republic oddly i’ve somehow managed to maintain neutral DS/LS all the way to lvl 55. i think i might have hit DS Rank 1 at some point though.

            All my characters are like this, an Imperial Agent who is all about the mission and the empire above everything else. a Jedi who is about freedom and peace but is very willing to kill to defend his allies and himself.

            This is also not how i used to play, i used to metagame hard. now i prefer roleplaying its more fun, even if it locks me out sometimes.

            • Daimbert says:

              I agree, and I do generally role play my characters. In fact, I’m going through multiple classes and they’re all linked, and mostly light side. I started with a Sith Warrior who was the honourable warrior — liked to fight, but did it honourably — to his brother the Smuggler — left for the Republic after being fired for being drunk on the job, so not all that nice and a bit bitter, but came around later — to the Inquisitor who was a technomage and working to combine the best elements of the Republic and the Empire, with the rest being related agents to that end.

              The issue, though, is that the relationships in theory work against the roleplaying. There are a number of characters that won’t like that approach, and so if I take them with me they take hits to their affection. But it doesn’t matter, because I can always give them gifts and they’ll forget all about it. Sure, it takes longer and more resources, but all my characters are doing is sitting on the ship and running missions for me to get companion gifts, so it’s just a matter of time.

              Don’t get me wrong; I LIKE that about TOR and think that in the MMO context you can’t do any better (since you need your companion to cover mechanics with your character, and so can’t really just take them out because you like them and lower the difficulty if it’s too hard). But in a single player game, you really should make it so that these choices matter more, and so that some companions will like you and some won’t based entirely on who you are, without the player having to do that manually.

        • M. says:

          “And I hold to what Penn Jillette once said “That’s the least interesting thing about me.” ”

          In the context of computer programming or magic tricks or badminton or whatever, yeah. But in the context of romance, surely it would be one of the most interesting things.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            If this were a dating sim sure. But these are games primarily about other things. The romance is often a device for other elements of the plot. I.E. you’re about to go on a mission tomorrow that could get you killed, so lets be together tonight. That’s a story that works for any combination of people.

            So I stick by the quote.

            • M. says:

              “I.E. you’re about to go on a mission tomorrow that could get you killed, so lets be together tonight. That’s a story that works for any combination of people.”

              In the abstract, it can. But in the specific case, it’s not “any combination” of people, it’s certain specific characters with specific personalities. And put it this way: a character so generic that their sexuality has absolutely no effect on their personality or behavior _in the context of a romantic relationship_ is not a character that’s going to be interesting enough to be worth romancing in the first place.

              • Wide And Nerdy says:

                I very much disagree. I think people are less interesting when they let their sexuality heavily influence their personality. Straight or gay. You’re letting something basic override whats special about us as people, our minds. Its something billions of people do. Billions of boring people. Interesting people are interesting for reasons that have nothing to do with sex.

                But maybe thats the INTP in me.

                EDIT: Let me put this another way. Eating. Eating has a lot of culture built around it, we spend a lot of our time doing it. We eat both for survival and enjoyment. Yet in action games when food is an important plot point, the issue isn’t “can we get cake” or “which pizza should we order” its “can we get food” or possibly something like “this may be the last meal I ever eat.” We don’t generally define people in video games by what they eat because their preferences on food have little to do with who they are (even the more unusual or divergent stuff like being vegan seldom has bearing on the plot). The only time a person’s choice of food is generally important is when they like eating people.

                • Daimbert says:

                  I disagree, because in a lot of the best games of the type — the later Personas, for example — what food and things people like can be an important part of defining them as people. Shinji’s ability to cook and Fuuka’s lack of it in Persona 3. Chie’s love of meat in Persona 4. And so on. Not all characters need to have food as part of their personality, but it often helps characterize them if they have something like that, and sexuality can be one of those things. A universe where it doesn’t matter at all and none of them even have types just removes one more thing that can be used to make them a person instead of a cardboard cut-out.

                  • Trix2000 says:

                    And it doesn’t have to be something they wear on their sleeve, either. Maybe it just influences their actions towards certain other characters, or maybe they actually don’t like the way they feel and try to deny their own urges.

                    It doesn’t have to be “I’m Bi so that means I’m always open to bone you”, but rather “I’m Bi but I’m sorry, I’m more attracted to Character X than you” or “I’m gay, but I’m not actually looking for a relationship right now even though we’re compatible”.

                    I feel like a character who’s actually NOT into the PC at all but has a bunch of dialog built up to allow the PC to try it (and eventually get turned down… or maybe something more complex, even bad?) would make a far more interesting character in the long run. I just worry about the sort of people who would reject the premise of such a character with “I can be friendly and kind to them a ton, and we’re compatible… why isn’t the game giving me my romance?”

                    • Mike S. says:

                      As I recall, Samara is potentially like that in ME2. (Basically “I like you, thanks, but that part of my life is over.”) There’s also some of that where orientations are incompatible: Jack and female Shepard in ME2, Traynor and male Shepard in ME3. And I think both Aveline and Donnic can think the PC is into Aveline in DA2, whether or not that’s the case.

                    • Wide And Nerdy says:

                      You can sleep with or be with Samara in Citadel DLC. Also Javik.

                      Vega will shut you down. Joker gets weirded out a bit and intimidated. EDI only has eyes for Joker. Jacob will dump you (which some people think sucks but at least its different). Zaeed and Kasumi you can’t even ask about it. Mordin would sleep with you if he was ever curious about sex with humans (describes you as an ideal specimen). Thane will die of terminal illness so there’s another interesting spin.

                      And yeah, Traynor will actually invite you to a private chess match. If you’re male, she really does just want to play chess and laughs at you for missing the obvious clues (though given Bioware’s history, you couldn’t at all have blamed a player for thinking she was bi up till this point). On the one hand, you could say that scene couldn’t happen if she was bi. On the other hand, you could just as easily have her point to a ring and laugh. It would be the same scene and she’d be the same person.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      You can sleep with or be with Samara in Citadel DLC

                      Because of course you can.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      Given the specifics of the situation in ME3, if Traynor were married or in a serious relationship, she wouldn’t laugh about it, and it would probably have come up sooner. At least, one suspects the fate of her husband or wife in the ongoing apocalypse would get mentioned sooner in her list of concerns than her toothbrush.

                    • Wide And Nerdy says:

                      @Damien

                      Is it really that hard to conceive? In the first game she’d birthed three monsters. By the time you get to the romance in the third game, she’s witnessed her remaining daughters exhibit heroism and self control. This might have restored some of her faith in others, and she did say in ME2 that she found Shepard compelling. And Shepard was there in each case.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Hard to conceive?No.Predictable and pandering?Definitely.

                  • Wide And Nerdy says:

                    Have you got any examples other than Persona? Its kind of a weird series.

                    Though as i think about it, you choose what you eat. You don’t choose your sexual preference. If anything, your culinary preferences say more about you than your sexual ones. You can make a point to develop refined tastes, stick with steak and potatos or gorge on junk food but these are things you have some control over.

                    If you like fine wine, perhaps you’ve travelled, you’ve lived in france where the good stuff is cheap, you’re middle class and simply want to appear cultured, or you’re well off and expected to develop such tastes. If you like junk food, that could indicate immaturity, irresponsibility, or possibly emotional issues. But if you’re bi? What can you guess from that apart from whats true by definition?

                    • Daimbert says:

                      I’ve mostly encountered it in JRPG games and especially in the ones with dating sim elements, but it’s mostly beside the point: in order to make the characters feel like unique, independent characters, you need to give them unique traits so that interacting with them is different than interacting with the other characters. Eating certain things or at a certain place does that. Them being potentially interested in a relationship with the PC is another. I don’t want to reduce characters to being “the gay one”, but having them react differently to different PCs is a good thing and gives them a unique flavour.

                      But this relies on people accepting that based on the character they create they may not get what they want, based on things that they can’t know — without consulting a guide — when they create their character. I don’t mind because I both consult guides to decide on what character I want AND am okay with needed to play a good game again in order to get another outcome (or live with what I got), but others may not be.

                    • Scourge says:

                      I think it was in Shining Force 1 or 2 or something.

                      You were able to invest into the cooking skill. Your allies had different likes, food wise. If you gave them food they liked they would heal more and receive other positive effects.
                      Food they didn’t like would heal them less.

                • I don’t like the food analogy, because eating food is something everyone does to survive. While some may argue that one will die without romance, you’ll die far sooner without caloric intake.

                  But I don’t see why romances shouldn’t have some set requirements. Think of them like quests: If a character is attracted to certain aspects of a person (let’s just use D&D stats for the heck of it), having their eye out for someone with a STR of at least 15, an INT above 10 and a minimum CHA of 18, then you should have to at least meet two of those to try and talk them into ignoring the lack in another area. Kind of like how I think Skyrim dropped the ball on the guild quests by allowing anyone to become the badass of whatever guild no matter what their skills/build said they were. The romance could even be a bit more abstract. Perhaps they’re fairly open to just about anyone with a pulse, but if you’re working with Faction X, you’re out of the dating pool on principle alone.

                  Further, I wouldn’t mind seeing romances handled like factions. If I’m dating NPC Ralph, Susan won’t start dating me because I’m already in a relationship. Zubrex, however, thinks the more the merrier, but I might have to quest or use skills to get Ralph to go along with it.

                  BTW, that complicated example sounds intriguing, but it’s all so you can open a locked door. :)

          • Mike S. says:

            Exactly. If a character’s approach to love and sexuality isn’t interesting and distinctive, why are we spending so much game time on it?

            As Bloodsquirrel notes, it’s mostly illusion. But as with all RP elements, I really want the game to do a good job of hiding that. If it feels mechanical and perfunctory, it’s not interesting. (See also the very transactional gift-based courtship of the DA games, or worse, SWTOR. “Here’s thirty identical ammunition cases. Now, tell me about your childhood trauma!”)

            • Daimbert says:

              Yeah, that got a bit weird … but also kinda funny. I took all the skills that gave you gifts, and so with my Warrior I kept sending Quinn out to get nice things for Vette because I needed ranged DPS and not the healer, so Vette was always with me. With my Smuggler, with Risha — who stayed on the ship — it was more “Go get yourself something nice.”

            • Alex says:

              (See also the very transactional gift-based courtship of the DA games, or worse, SWTOR. “Here’s thirty identical ammunition cases. Now, tell me about your childhood trauma!”)

              Thirty cases of ammo? Somewhere in the universe, a childhood bully just felt a chill crawl down their spine, and they don’t know why.

              • Mike S. says:

                “I feel a disturbance in the Force, as if some little dweeb had just armed for rancor, made friends with a galactic-level badass, and was about to come gunning for me.”

            • I love it when people play the first game in the series and talk about the entire series as if it were identical. Origins was the ONLY DA game to have substantial gifts. DA2 had a single gift per companion that opened up some additional dialog–it wasn’t romantic in nature. DA:I has a couple of quests that RELATE to gifts, but they’re entire quests. They’re certainly not “superficial” in the way Origins was.

              • Mike S. says:

                Fair enough. Chalk it up to the fact that I’m still on DA:O in my planned replay of all three games, and so it loomed larger in my mind. I’ll admit I’d thought DA2 used a similar system, but I haven’t replayed that since the first time so I’m sure I just misremembered.

                (I’m torn between looking forward to seeing the game in light of my better understanding of the rivalry system, and of the game’s events’ consequences in Inquisition, and dreading all the time I’ll be spending in That One Warehouse, That One Cave, etc.)

              • Daimbert says:

                Actually, it didn’t even have substantial gifts, at least when compared to TOR. You couldn’t just max affection by giving them things, while you can in TOR.

                • guy says:

                  Well, the collector’s edition has one of those DLCs that’s basically a cheat code, which has gifts that move the influence meter so much it breaks scripting. There’s gifts for +/- 50 influence for each character, and you can get two copies of each plus some generic minor gifts.

              • Joe Informatico says:

                And–getting a bit tangential here–DA2 had the option of rival-romances with all the romance options. “I hate you–but I want to bone you.” How many other games even have that as a possibility? Once again, DA2 tried to do too many different things within too short a development cycle, suffered fan backlash as a result, and between that and the ME3 ending fallout, BioWare is now stuck with doubling-down on the fanservice.

              • Wide And Nerdy says:

                The stuff you have to get for your date with Cassandra is funny and endearing. Its nice to see this unsophisticated facet of her character. She was definitely the best romance in my book (I know a lot of people like Iron Bull but to me that was mostly hijinks, I felt Cassandra’s romance blended the humor and romance better.) My second favorite Bioware romance after Tali.

        • Taellosse says:

          It’s dangerous to make sweeping statements in any direction. For some people, yes, their sexual orientation is almost incidental to their personality. For others, it’s a central, defining characteristic. The same is true for other traits, both divisive ones and those that aren’t, such as race, gender identity, biological sex, body type, grooming habits, hobbies, and countless others. Everyone is a nexus of a thousand traits in different concentrations and emphasis.

          Which is why, when Bioware did exactly that in DA2, it worked pretty well for some characters (Isabella and Fenris) and not so well for others (Merrill and Anders).

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        The romance options in DAII, where the problem I think was worst, actually rather disturbed me. Especially when I ended up inadvertently in two or three of them. I don’t want to be surrounded by psychophants constantly trying to jump my bones. It’s a hostile work environment!

        They might also have helped their cause by doing more to distinguish “good friends” from “lovers.” And for that reason, Varric and Aveline are probably my favorite characters from the game.

        I’ll also add that all of that romance subplotting came at the expense of other plots these characters could have been in.

        • Mike S. says:

          I was so relieved they didn’t make Varric romanceable in DAI. I’m sure there were people asking for it, but I like actually having friends.

          • Well, you find out in DA:I that Varric is kinda With Someone already.

            What really makes the character interactions (not just romances) problematic in Dragon Age games is that they keep trying to make it so that you can NOT recruit people. If you can have 40+ start states for every single cinematic interaction, the cost of making that interaction SKYROCKETS. Interactions with Solas, Cassandra, Varric and the 3 advisors were SO far superior to any of the other companions because you were guaranteed to have them at least up to a certain point. Cole’s interactions basically take place regardless–I never had him in my party. Dorian and Iron Bull, and Sera are at least interesting characters. Vivienne and Blackwall were so underutilized it was painful.

            • Mike S. says:

              It’s a real problem, but I don’t know where the optimal balance lies between player choice and story depth. The fact that they’ve committed to doing lots of close sequels doesn’t make it easier. (Do more games separated at the distance of KoTOR and SWTOR, and you could just throw in easter eggs without it mattering so much at that distance who specifically accompanied the hero to the big event.)

              I love seeing my choices acknowledged two games later, especially the more obscure ones (e.g., Shepard getting to do stuff because they’re an Engineer, the least popular class in the game), but anything that requires covering a dozen different contingencies is going to be harder, and the problem multiplies in each game. And there are going to be more points at which they arbitrarily cut off branches to make things easier. (Killed Leliana in DA:O? Too bad, she got better.)

              • I think what they could do is keep the Advisor idea so they have some people who are GUARANTEED to be around in some capacity, and then focus their zots on deeply tying the FEW optional characters into multiple plot points. It would add a lot of replay possibility to the game, particularly if they do it in a smart way where both options (companion present, companion not present) are big, it’s not just a “if companion present, 30 seconds extra dialog”. No, have the scene play out in an entirely different way if they’re present or not. Then recruit/not recruit becomes a big decision–as it should be, as the characters are a BIG part of the game.

                Just by doing that, they’d turn their biggest roadblock into their biggest asset and the decisions you make about characters would DRIVE the plot instead of simply being a sideline.

                • Daimbert says:

                  As long as it doesn’t have major mechanical impacts or stops you from getting good/best endings, otherwise you end up being forced to recruit the character you hate and would never associate with just to get the better ending. (Kreia from Sith Lords is the ur-example for me of a character that not only did _I_ hate, but all of my characters would hate as well).

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            I wish there had been more friends stuff with Iron Bull. Thats what I was looking forward to with him, not romance. I wanted a good drinking buddy and if I recall, you get one or maybe two scenes like that with him (three if you do Varric’s card game but since he’s optional he’s not well integrated into that scene).

            As for Varric, I would have liked more friends stuff with him too but interacting with him was weird. I’d played Hawke and Varric had gotten familiar with me where we were buddies. Then this game happens and I know Varric but he’s looking at me like I’m a stranger because I’m playing a new guy. And we never quite develop the same friendship because I’m playing this stupid Chosen One religious icon. And yeah, Varric is kinda with someone already, didn’t care for her. I felt like that mystery should have stayed a mystery. A character that supposedly legendary works better off screen unless you put a lot of time into earning it.

            I mean cmon! It was “the story I’ll never tell”. It should have stayed that way.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      So you see that the issue is bioware trying too hard to pander to everyone,and then you argue they should pander even harder?

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        They’re trying to pander in too many ways, rather. They need to decide what they want to deliver on and make sure it can work together. Romance is something Bioware is known for at this point, specifically they’re known for including options to suit a wide variety of preferences. My suggestion is about improving on this aspect that they’re trying to deliver on.

        The other things Bioware did in DAI to pander or address complaints were more specific to that game and not necessarily things that are core to the modern Bioware brand.

        • It’s more that they try to allow people to not recruit some of the companions that gets them in trouble. If they were always sure that the companions would be at least present, it’d be a lot cheaper for them to do more in-depth interactions.

          Sadly, in DA:I they kinda skimped on interactions with non-companion characters. There aren’t many, and they only show up once where you can talk to them in most cases.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            You’re right. But I was thinking more about things like them building all these landscapes because people were tired of the recycled DA2 maps. Well that was fine on its own but Bioware didn’t have enough of the good stuff to fill it with so they just loaded up a lot of the areas with stuff to do.

            I’ll grant you, I could really see the effort they put into trying to make the game not feel boring and samey. You have closing rifts, acquisitions, establishing camps, taking keeps, rebuilding bridges, fighting dragons and giants, reestablishing trade routes, the astrariums, the shards. But they overcompensated so hard on the landscapes that all that stuff they put in them still ends up stretching the time between story beats too much and making the game feel grindy. There’s too much of a disconnect between most of that stuff and what the story is supposed to be about.

            All of that clashes with their overcompensation for the other fan complaint: That DA2 didn’t feel epic enough and you weren’t important enough. So they made you the Chosen One.

            In fact, they made you too important to be doing a lot of the stuff you’re doing in the field. So the demand for more clashed with the demand to be more important and epic.

  5. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I think a lot of DAI’s issues trace back to trying too hard to meet all the demands of the fans, not just romance. Like creating all the landscape and filling it with stuff that pads out and waters down the story. Or, as a poster yesterday mentioned, discarding the slice of life Hawke for another Chosen One (who is more Chosen One than any previous Bioware characters) or increasing the stakes too much because the last game wasn’t epic enough. Or adding back tactical gameplay but in a new engine so that they couldn’t work out all the kinks.

    • Mike S. says:

      That’s a defensible compromise given limited resources, but it’s not my preference. To me, making everyone romanceable by every permutation of the hero makes the romances feel more generic and mechanical. That Traynor actually has a sexual orientation, or that Solas is only interested in elves, gives those characters an illusion of agency– they’re not just waiting around to fall into bed with whoever winds up in the Chosen One’s spot. I liked the Tali/Garrus thing if you don’t romance either for the same reason.

      (Even though I’d really prefer that they’d stuck to the more realistic ME1 situation, where the asari were the only ones who routinely dated outside their species, with specific rubber science justification. I’d rather have seen more varied reproductive behavior along the lines of the salarians.)

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        You could do that by adding some choice dialog to make it sound like whatever choice the character goes for, that character just so happens to prefer their gender. I.E. Your femshep likes Ashley, she makes it known she was always only into women. That way you could achieve variety and agency.

        For the vast majority of Bioware’s characters, there’s no specific narrative reason for them to have one preference over the other. Dorian would be an exception for the breeding issue. Solas could arguably be an exception given what we learn about him. But the rest, there’s nothing about their characters that makes it important for them to be one way or the other.

        If we can retcon the gender of the player character and the survivor of Virmire, this is trivial.

        • Adeon says:

          The other nice thing about this is that if you lock down which romance option the player is pursuing early enough you can Schrodinger-Orientation the non-romanced characters to whatever canonical orientation you want to avoid the player-central sexuality issue.

        • Mike S. says:

          Sure, it’s absolutely doable. (That’s my interpretation of character sexuality in DA2, for example, though as I understand it David Gaider has said that they’re all “actually”– whatever that means– bi.) But it means that it’s not practical to write characters with strong interests that interfere with the romance path.

          Sure, you could have Solas loudly declaim his elf-exclusivity if the PC is an elf or romances someone else, but never mention it when he’s magnetically drawn to the Qunari or dwarf Inquisitor. But then it can’t be especially central to his overall character, since it has to be easily excised. (Or Bioware commits to a bunch of redundant “I’m normally only interested in elves/women/cephalopods, but somehow you’re an exception” for every character.)

          There’s never going to be an option that makes everyone happy, and if Bioware decides to have everyone oriented towards the player I get it. But I’d personally rather have different characters available depending on the choices I make during character creation.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            Bioware could reserve the exception for cases where the preference is critical. Point is, for most stories, its really not all that important. Especially in the action genres.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Right, after the flack from DA2 and ME3 (some definitely justified, some not, and some–like Film Critic Hulk oftens says–was probably people subconsciously feeling those games didn’t work in some way, but not being able to articulate why, and so latching on to more superficial complaints), BioWare seems stuck in overcompensation mode.

      Hawke wasn’t a Chosen One able to stop powerful obstinate people from doing stupid things? Well now the PC is a Super Awesome Chosen One with magic rift-closing powers and the Power of Life and Death over NPCs!

      And no more attempts at moral nuance making you decide who are the lesser of two assholes: mages or templars. We’ll just make the bad guy the Satan of Thedas–you definitely want to stop him from destroying the world, right?

      Players were forced to play standard defined human Hawke? Well this time, you can be anything! Even a Qunari, no matter how little sense it makes to the plot!

      You were stuck between hanging out in Kirkwall and going to the same 4 dungeons over and over again? Well everyone seemed to like that Skyrim game–now you have a dozen huge open areas you can run around collecting herbs and ore for hundreds of hours!

  6. SlothfulCobra says:

    I feel like trying to tell a proper love story works best if the player character has some life of their own instead of trying to remain “immersive” as an extension of the player’s viewpoint since real romance requires a commitment from both people, that just can’t be there with a silent protagonist. God knows the bulk of Bioware’s characters just rely on telling you a story about how they developed rather than taking you through that journey anyways.

    The alternative is to go the whole dating sim route, like what Harvest Moon does, and focus on providing wish fulfillment to the player in some form, and actually dedicate huge chunks of the game to courting a significant other. They require a huge amount of dedication from the player instead of it just naturally happening as the story moves along.

    Bioware kind of does neither. Instead, you just listen to character’s stories, and if you listened and were nice enough, they throw themselves at you. Which leads to really awkward things if you don’t care about romance. I was being nice to Liara because I killed her mom, but she interpreted it way differently. I don’t know how KOTOR’s romance subplot works out, because apparently Bastila got annoyed by my goofing around, but I do know that since I didn’t romance her, I had to kill her at the end of the game; I couldn’t convince her that she could come back from the dark side. Of course, that in turn gave me enough dark side points that I couldn’t wear the fancy endgame light-side-only robes (I was already on the edge before from grape-paladining through the game), and I had a devil of a time fighting the final boss without them.

    • Hal says:

      I remember very little about the KOTOR romance subplot, but I remember it being awkward. Light-side Jedi are generally “love and romance lead to passion, which leads to the dark side,” so Bastila generally resists your advances. Then it culminates in her basically saying, “Oh, to heck with it.”

    • “Instead, you just listen to character’s stories, and if you listened and were nice enough, they throw themselves at you.”

      Actually, this isn’t true any more. There are definite flirt options, and if you don’t flirt, there’s no romance. (And you can back out at any time even if you DO flirt.)

      If you flirt and then are like WHOA AMBUSH ROMANCE, well, then you have no-one but yourself to blame. :P

      Also in RL people are inclined to randomly attribute niceness to attraction, you know.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    While it’s easy to blame BioWare for this mess, it’s worth noting that they got here simply by giving fans what they asked for. I don’t think anyone is in the wrong here.

    I disagree.Trying to pander to everyone and covering all your bases means you are watering down the main character.Its much better to focus on one thing and do that one thing splendidly.Contrast geralt with shepard.Yes,you may not like geralt(and I still dont,even though Ive been playing witcher 3 for over 100 hours),but he at least has a personality,his dialogue feels natural for someone who is like that,and it is a product of his extremely rich background.And you dont even have to read a single sentence from any of the books to get why he is the way he is.On the other hand,shepard is a talking brick.Be she from earth,space or a colony,renegade or paragon,or even male(if thats your kink),she is still the same lifeless puppet(despite her excellent voice actress).

    Bioware is to blame for pandering to all the fans,instead of finding what they are good at and focusing on that.Yes,its great that they are trying to be inclusive to minorities,but they shouldnt do it at the expense of their work.And lets face it,they do know how to write gay characters by now,so why not make a game where the protagonist is exclusively gay?Sure,they would alienate a bunch of people,but at least they would be able to make some amazing art,instead of this watered down drek.

    • Shamus says:

      “Bioware is to blame for pandering to all the fans,instead of finding what they are good at and focusing on that.”

      I agree. I like to imagine this “You must please everyone!” attitude is something imposed by EA, but there’s no evidence of it. It’s really just a case of abandoning their artistic soul so they can make a product.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        If you look at their posts on the forums, I feel like some of it is them personally.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        I think it’s one thing to be a financially independent artist who just goes and does their thing, screw everyone.

        It’s a different thing to know that your financial future (and possibly your job and by extension a few other things) depend on how many people like the thing you make. I’m sure Shamus can testify for that, can’t he?

        …and this is unfortunate because I’d much rather have something that isn’t 100% up my alley but made well and with conviction than somebody attempting to guess what “people like me”* are likely to go for and then attempting to emulate that… chances are that the thing that’s done well will have me adjusting my preferences.

        *I don’t actually know anyone like me, even I myself am not quite like me.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I don’t think Shamus’ situation is comparable. The scale of his operation is such that he can afford to be much more niche in his appeal than Bioware can. But that only reinforces your point which I otherwise agree with.

          And its not even that people are just flat against it. But if two games are similar (and many modern triple A games are) but one appeals more to my tastes, I’m going to buy that game and then maybe get to the other one later. When its deeply discounted most likely or I can buy it used denying the publisher a sale altogether.

          They can’t just make a game you want to buy, they have to make a game that as many people as possible want to buy at launch. That means making sure you hit the important bases.

          But Shamus’ solution is practical, scale back your production (at the very least, your graphics so that you can scale back the art budget) so that you can afford to appeal more to a niche.

        • Shamus says:

          I was thinking of the old MrBTongue video about “We make money to make games” versus “we make games to make money”.

          If money is your goal, then you’ll want to maximize money even at the expense of the art. If art is your goal, you’ll only compromise as much as you need to pay the bills.

          Like:

          “We’re making basically enough money right now, but we can make slightly more if we take this one really cool character and turn them into paid DLC.” If you’re in it for the art, there’s no way you’d want to do that anymore than a director would want to cut the best scenes from his film. If you’re in it for the money, there’s really no reason not to.

          To put in another way: Under financial stress, both companies will behave similarly, but in times of prosperity they will behave in radically different ways.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            I agree, though I think that line may be fairly blurry because the decision whether you are prospering or not is not very easy: Are you doing well but nervous that this might end soon (so you need to earn as much as you can to be safe)? Even if you make loads of money, are you a publicly traded company which is under pressure to increase revenue or else you’ll be bought by competition?

            I think the only people who can definitely afford to stay calm and do whatever they damn well please are either “small” companies like Valve who are not on the stock market and presumably swimming in cash, or individual artists who have already “made it”. What do David Byrne or David Bowie care if almost nobody likes their next album? They create what they want, and if nobody beyond the fanbase loves it and it looses them some money, then so be it! If you’re Bioware… well, turns out they actually were bought by another company at some point… Even if they were swimming in money: If you’re one of the employees who has some say in where a new game goes, you might still lose your job (or stop progressing in you career) if it does not do as well as it could.

            I think the Pixar thing, where everyone is very actively encouraged to criticize everyone else, is extremely precious and extremely difficult to achieve and maintain. I think that’s something which not just Bioware is missing, but probably most companies, ever.

    • Daimbert says:

      And lets face it,they do know how to write gay characters by now,so why not make a game where the protagonist is exclusively gay?Sure,they would alienate a bunch of people,but at least they would be able to make some amazing art,instead of this watered down drek.

      I think here you’re getting into the difference between the two broad main approaches to an RPG: are you playing a defined character and roleplaying their story, or are you playing as a character YOU define in an overarching story? Western RPGs have always taken the latter approach, while JRPGs tended to take the former approach. Each have their merits and their demerits. The JRPG approach that you advocate does indeed produce better stories, but at the cost of it feeling railroady and of not really having any control over the world and the character. On the other hand, the Western approach often makes telling a solid story with solid characters difficult because the storyteller has no control over who the main protagonist will be, be it evil, good, neither, jerk, naive nice person, etc … but the player gets to decide, as far as they can, who that character is.

      Bioware tries to straddle the line, and often fails, while games like the Elder Scrolls series seem to abandon story altogether in favour of customization. But ultimately, neither approach is better than the other, and it isn’t the case that one produces better art than another. You could argue that Bioware’s current “cinematic” approach lends itself better to a more defined character, but that can be countered with the argument that their approach works BECAUSE it’s really the character you define in that epic story, and not a character that is defined for you doing it.

      Add in issues of inclusiveness and we start to run into the issues you complain about. But I don’t think this is the fault of Bioware’s approach, or of their desire to please the fans. If anything, it’s an example of letting politics and art mix, coupled with the idea that the fans are NEVER satisfied.

      • Trix2000 says:

        I still feel like there’s room to write a real romance in a more open-protagonist game, provided the ‘options’ are written as actual people with their own preferences and approaches to the idea of romance.

        Like, say, this person likes the PC a lot but isn’t actually interested in being romantically involved, and will turn you down if you go that route.

        Or this other guy is being flirty and grabby all the time but initially seems repulsive (maybe the player isn’t interested due to orientation or something else), which for some people would turn them off but for those willing to give the guy a chance/listen may actually find he’s pretty decent, just… isn’t great at showing his emotions. Maybe the player instead is straight with him with their non-interest and in time manages to convince the guy just to be a friend.

        Or someone who will readily get into bed with you (and perhaps anyone) on demand but takes some real empathy/exploration to get to know the real person. To bring some actual romance to what would otherwise be an empty ‘relationship’.

        In essence, it’d be like making people like they could be in real life – actual individuals – which would shift the focus away from the concept of ‘romantic options’ and move it more towards natural character interactions leading to reasonable conclusions. I suspect not everyone would like this method – it kind-of requires the possibility of pursuing a supposed romantic option over time only to be disappointed by them saying no – but from my perspective it would make the characters that much stronger.

        And heck, it can still lean a bit towards letting the player have their relationship in the end… but I like the idea of things not so cut-and-dried as “talk to person and be nice/helpful to them, and they WILL fall in love with you if they’re compatible”.

        EDIT: Oh, and I just thought of another good case – what if the person you are interested in and putting effort into wooing turns out to be more interested in someone else on the team?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          It was already done like that back in baldurs gate 2,planescape torment and hordes of the underdark.You know,back in the day when you couldnt just unlock everything on your first go no matter what character you create.

          • Trix2000 says:

            They might have been better than more recent fare in some ways, but I don’t think they really explored the space well enough. I’d rather it not be so focused on ‘romantic options’ and more on ‘characters who have their own thoughts and feelings on romance’ (and not just involving the PC).

            Though as much as I think this us up to the designer/writer to realize well, I think a good chunk of the ‘problem’, if it can be called as such, is our own heightened expectations of what we should be able to accomplish in a game – romance or no.

            Which is not bad, per se, but I feel like it limits us to really exploring the depths of what game storytelling can do.

        • Daimbert says:

          I still feel like there’s room to write a real romance in a more open-protagonist game, provided the ‘options’ are written as actual people with their own preferences and approaches to the idea of romance.

          I DEFINITELY think that’s the case, and think that in an open-protagonist game you get the benefit of having it be what the player thinks their character would do. But it is more difficult to tie that in with the main plot … but that reflects the difference between set protagonist and open protagonist games, which is what I was mostly going after here.

      • “The JRPG approach that you advocate does indeed produce better stories . . .”

        *snerk*

        Sorry, couldn’t help it. No JRPG has even managed to appeal to me, ever. But I suppose this could be true if your notion of a “good story” comes down to a bunch of twits chewing the scenery.

        • Daimbert says:

          Having played both extensively, in terms of overall plot and characterization, JRPGs more consistently produce strong plot and characterization, in my opinion, than Western RPGs do. I can list Persona 3, Persona 4, Suikoden III, Suikoden V, Shadow Hearts, Shadow Hearts: Covenant and others as games that had engaging stories with very memorable characters. About the only Western RPGs that I’d put at that level are KotOR and KotOR2, which are themselves games that use a more defined protagonist than the ur-example of that open-protagonist style, the Elder Scrolls series, which tend to have VERY forgettable main plots. And as for chewing the scenery, I don’t see how Western RPGs have that much better voice acting.

          JRPGs may not be a style you favour, but I don’t see how that supports your contention about their purported lack of quality.

          • Strong != better. And it’s not the voice acting that’s the problem, usually, it’s the WRITING. I haven’t played the games, but I’ve had plenty of people send me videos of cut scenes saying “ZOMG SO AMAZING THE FEELS” and I’d get about 2 seconds in to an overwrought speech that ought to come out of a romance novel written by a 15-year-old girl and rolled my eyes so hard my retinas almost detached. I have strong feelings about that sort of thing, not least because I’m helping a friend of mine edit his young adult book series. It gives me the screaming meemies. Yes, YMMV, I won’t criticize anybody for enjoying it, but that doesn’t make it GOOD writing. It lacks, how you say, SUBTLETY.

            I agree about Elder Scrolls in one aspect but not in another. Bethesda can’t write their way out of a paper bag in this newer stuff (post Morrowind) but one thing they DO that almost no one else does is to have some really excellent (shockingly so, at times) environmental storytelling. Like in Fallout 3 where you can find the couple that died in bed with their arms around each other. Little set pieces that speak profound meaning without words. There have been many, many times in Bethesda games when I’d come across a little scene, realize gradually what “happened”, and just get the shivers. Their writing might be a mess but that ain’t the whole enchilada with them, not by a long shot. And the thing is, they make no effort to shove this stuff in your face. You have to go out and FIND it yourself.

            And, seriously, only KotOR and KotOR 2? How about Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, (particularly the two major expansions), Neverwinter Nights 2 (particularly the epic level expansion), Fallout, Fallout 2, Arcanum, Morrowind, Pillars of Eternity, the Divinity series (I haven’t played all of it), Gothic, Gothic II, Risen . . . I won’t even go into Dragon Age and Mass Effect as some don’t seem to like those, but come on, there are a ton of examples to pull from.

            • Daimbert says:

              Okay, before this turns completely into “JRPGs vs Western RPGs”, let me reiterate what my point was: there’s a contrast between games where the main characters are tightly defined and the plot focuses around this tight characterization, and games where the main characters are defined more by the player and so the plot works around those definitions. This is a continuum, but JRPGs tend more to the former and Western RPGs to the latter. The Elder Scrolls series tends to be the ur-example of the latter, and games like Final Fantasy tend to be ur-examples of the former.

              Given this, my comments on each hold. What you said that you liked about the latest Bethesda games — terrible stories, but good environmental or incidental stories — is EXACTLY what you’d see in those sorts of games, where the story and characterizations EMERGE from the gameplay itself, and are not things the designers put in there themselves. Thus, forgettable main plots, but wonderful emergent stories from small elements that the player can react to. And what’s great about the JRPG games, in my opinion, is what’s been talked about here: the romances and relationships are tightly integrated with the plot, and all the relationships are therefore important to it.

              So, turning to your comment:

              I haven’t played the games, but I’ve had plenty of people send me videos of cut scenes saying “ZOMG SO AMAZING THE FEELS” and I’d get about 2 seconds in to an overwrought speech that ought to come out of a romance novel written by a 15-year-old girl and rolled my eyes so hard my retinas almost detached.

              Given the approach, simply looking at a video of a cutscene is the WORST way to get the “feels” out of a JRPG-style game, because the emotion isn’t in the cutscene itself, but is in the entire set of experiences that led up to it. While some may indeed have bad writing — like parts of the Western RPGs you recommend have as well — the reason you wouldn’t notice is because, at that point, you CARE about the characters and know the entire history behind it, and so even if objectively it’s overwrought in context you don’t notice. The key IS that you can’t pull it out of context because it is supported by the entirety of the story; that’s what you can do when you define the main character and let the story drive everything.

              Again, I’m not saying which APPROACH is better. I’m pointing out the differences in experience and what can be done that each offers.

              Yes, YMMV, I won’t criticize anybody for enjoying it, but that doesn’t make it GOOD writing. It lacks, how you say, SUBTLETY.

              I’m really not sure what you mean here; in my experience, subtlety or lack thereof has not been the difference between the JRPGs and the Wester RPGs I’ve played. And on that note:

              And, seriously, only KotOR and KotOR 2? How about Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate 2, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, (particularly the two major expansions), Neverwinter Nights 2 (particularly the epic level expansion), Fallout, Fallout 2, Arcanum, Morrowind, Pillars of Eternity, the Divinity series (I haven’t played all of it), Gothic, Gothic II, Risen . . . I won’t even go into Dragon Age and Mass Effect as some don’t seem to like those, but come on, there are a ton of examples to pull from.

              I can only recommend this based on the games I’ve finished. I’ll give you Torment and the Fallouts, but the stories in the Baldur’s Gates failed to motivate me to keep playing them, and the Dragon Age and Mass Effect stories don’t rise to that level of strong, integrated plot. And I won’t give you Morrowind because in playing it I got lost, bored, frustrated, and literally rage quit (attacked a guard, died, never reloaded). This does not mean that the story is bad, but I think I’ll go along with Chuck on them and say that their big thrill is in what YOU can do and what YOU decide, not in the overall plot … which would rather prove my point.

              In summary, my view is this: On the one hand, you have stronger stories and characterization and character integration at the expense of it being less personal and having less choice and control over your character vs a strong sense of it being your character in that world at the expense of a more generic plot and less integration of characters into the main plot. Both work, and which you’ll prefer really is YMMV.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Just because you got bored with a game because of its gameplay does not mean its story is bad.For example,I will never play witchers 1 and 2,because the gameplay(and some other stuff) in those two are frustrating me to no end.3 I am happy with,and judging by what others say,the writing in the first two is on par with it,so I know they have good stories.I just will never play through them.

                As for the whole jrpgs are story vs wrpgs are environment…ehh,theres plenty of exceptions in both categories to make the rule very flimsy.But what the main character is,and how much freedom they get to dick around is not any indication as to how strong the main story will be.Hordes of the underdark* starts you with a pretty much empty sheet with token backstory,and you get to do whatever,but it has an amazing main story.Final fantasy 13 is basically plays itself with its defined puppets,but it has a retarded story.

                *Technically you start defning your blank characters in shadows of undrentide,but while I like that expansion,hordes are the peak awesomeness.

                • Daimbert says:

                  Just because you got bored with a game because of its gameplay does not mean its story is bad.

                  Who said that I got bored with it because of the gameplay? That might be true of Baldur’s Gate 1, but not Baldur’s Gate 2. But in both games, the story wasn’t enough to drive me forward and want to keep playing. I had no interest in seeing how the story turned out. That is indeed a reflection of the story.

                  And note that I’m not saying that the stories are BAD. Just that they aren’t “strong”, in the sense that they have a strong plot that drives you forward and makes you want to see what happens next. I might be being unfair to BG2 (I didn’t make it very far into that game) but I got a fair bit into BG and it wasn’t that memorable.

                  If you’re referring to Morrowind, it was the lack of defined STORY that got me lost; I had no idea what I was supposed to do, left town, ended up in some backwater with no idea what to do, and got so bored and frustrated with that that I quit the game.

                  And yes, these are all general rules. But I maintain that it’s far easier to create an overarching main story and link characters into that when you define the relation of the main character to that. In many JRPGs, for example, the main character is what you’d call a “blank slate”, but they are limited in what they can do by the plot and who they are is critically tied to it. In games like the Elder Scrolls, that’s not usually the case. Thus, games with somewhat fixed protagonists tend to fit into deeper stories, while games with open protagonists tend to fit into stories where the player has more control.

                  And, of course, nothing says that every attempt has to work, you know. So citing an example of a JRPG with a bad story does nothing to impact the rule.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    I was referring to morrowind.As for baldurs gate,whether a story grabs you or not doesnt make it good or bad.There have been plenty of stories that didnt grab me,but that doesnt necessarily make them bad.

                    But I maintain that it’s far easier to create an overarching main story and link characters into that when you define the relation of the main character to that.

                    That is true.It is easier.But easier is not the same as better.

                    And, of course, nothing says that every attempt has to work, you know. So citing an example of a JRPG with a bad story does nothing to impact the rule.

                    Yes,it does.Especially when there are tons of them.I merely gave an example for contrast.But if you were to take all the jrpgs and wrpgs,I doubt you will find a significant difference in ratio of good vs bad.What you are more likely to find are people/companies with a good track record.

                    • Daimbert says:

                      You seem to have missed this part:

                      And note that I’m not saying that the stories are BAD. Just that they aren’t “strong”, in the sense that they have a strong plot that drives you forward and makes you want to see what happens next.

                      So references to good, bad or better at this point are nitpicking over my initial phrasing, it seems to me.

                      That is true.It is easier.But easier is not the same as better.

                      It being easier means that you’re more likely to FIND it in those cases than in the cases where it’s harder … which is pretty much what we’d find if we look at that. Seriously, between you and Jennifer this thread has become more about bashing JRPGs than about addressing my initial point, which you, at least, seem to actually AGREE with.

                      EDIT: Or, maybe, more about trying to defend Western RPGs, which is rather pointless since, well, I LIKE and PLAY them. I like JRPGs more BECAUSE of the typically stronger story focus, but as I said at that point you’re really into YMMV.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I disagree with the notion that having a defined protagonist is better for the story.Its better for the character and their interactions.The two influence each other,but arent completely defined by the other(as mass effect 2 and 3 show,you can have strong characters with a weak story).

                      Mind you,that defining doesnt have to be complex:Saints row lets you play a sort of defined psycho,even though she can look like anything you please(even up to the point of having a dick).

  8. Dev Null says:

    That piece of artwork from the top of the column is really strange. Why does she have an ostritch egg shoved down her shirt?

  9. jawlz says:

    I actually thought that the romances in Baldur’s Gate II were implemented well, and that it’s basically been downhill since for Bioware game romances. In BG2, you didn’t have a camp where all dialogue/interaction took place, so you’d end up having conversations with your party members (the non-romanceable ones along with the romanceable ones) just in the ordinary course of your adventures, with a few events tied to when you would have your party rest/sleep.

    The game also did a better job at having party-members talk to eachother (and having multi-member conversations, as opposed to just PC and 1 NPC) than subsequent Bioware games.

    • Otters34 says:

      Agreed, Baldur’s Gate’s writing of the relationships was like actually going through the kinds of trials, complications and weirdness of relationships with real people. They do it similarly in the latter Persona games, and it’s golden there, too.

    • Xedo says:

      Additionally, it’s a small thing, but I always felt like the romance characters felt more important/had agency in BG2 because they stop the game to talk to the player, rather than the player choosing when to talk to the party member.

      Ditto for the banter between companions. The fact that the game pauses to let them speak, rather than the DA/ME mechanic of having them chat and trade quips in the background while running around, gives them a lot of weight.

    • Zekiel says:

      I loved the BG2 romances, but the Aerie one at least was the classic Bioware romance-as-therapy thing. I seem to recall the Jaheria and Viconia ones were better though. Jaheria was awesome.

      I do recall experiencing the denoument of the Viconia romance (which wasn’t sleeping together) at the bottom of a dungeon just before killing a dragon since there was obviously a flag set wrong on the map (normally romance dialogues wouldn’t occur in dungeon environments) which rather robbed it of its poignancy!

      • Jonathan says:

        Dragon fights get classified as outdoors (vs. “in dungeon”). Walking into…well, I won’t spoil it for Shamus but the rest of us known where…almost always triggers a LoveTalk dialogue.

        Jaheira’s was so complicated that it’s a tad buggy. I usually use Cluaconsole to speed things along a bit.

        I think Viconia’s is my favorite. She may be crazy and evil and a bit hormonal but she still manages to do it consistently. Aerie is too flighty (ha ha) and whiny, and Jaheira is too bossy much of the time.

        Anomen…well, I don’t like the guy but it works. At first he’s a bragging annoying idiot, but looking back it’s easy to see that he’s trying to cover his insecurity and uncertainty. Despite being at least 25, he really goes through the “almost there” to “manhood” transition over the course of the game.

        I was going to mention the other interesting interactions (Haer’Dalis & Aerie, Keldorn & Anomen, etc.) but then realized that I could list quite a few for each character – and I know for certain that there are still some I haven’t seen.

        Shamus, if you play BG2 – keep Yoshimo in your party for the whole game your first time through. Use him as a backstabber, archer, and trapper, in addition to his thieving skills. He’s not built for melee.

  10. Dreadjaws says:

    I think the worst kind of this type of romance is from actually one of my favorite games from the previous gen: Sleeping Dogs. You have about three or four ladies you can romance and each gives you a bonus if you do it. Problem is, if you want all the bonuses you have to romance all of them. That leads you into being a cheater, which is later found out by one of your squeezes.

    Leaving aside the obvious problem with that, you can’t really do much with your romance options. I think each girl gets only one, maybe two extra scenes and then you never hear from them again.

    Sad, because otherwise it’s an amazing game.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Given one of the themes of the game was the chameleon-like psychology of Shen, and the idea of losing your identity -I actually rather liked that touch. It showed enough of his personal life to show how easy he is in switching rolls. But the same is true of all the girls, with the possible exception of Not-Ping.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        Yeah, but the problem is that it’s basically mandatory, not optional. The game giving you the chance to cheat? Fine, I wouldn’t go for it, but it’d be a nice addition. But basically forcing you to get a bonus you can’t get otherwise? It sort of misses the point.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I disagree. Wei Shen is a character with a defined personality. He has a very defined sense of justice, but a somewhat flexible sense of right and wrong -which makes him great for undercover work, but also worries his handlers, both police and criminal. It’s a major recurring point in the game.

          Of course he would cheat, especially for some minor advantage like a collection of pictures, some hacking expertise, and word on where the triads stash their goods. It’s exactly what he does to Winston. It’s the basis of his entire job.

          None of these relationships are real, they are things he steps into because it is his job and his nature. It isn’t you, it isn’t me, but it is Wei Shen.

        • Ringwraith says:

          Oh man, don’t get me started on Persona 3.
          Persona 3 does the “build up relationships with people to get bonuses” thing, which is fine, except every female character has to be romantic relationship… for no reason at all. Which makes it super-awkward.
          Persona 4 fixed this aspect, allowing a choice, although still allowed you to date everyone, but there was one point that’d make you feel like a horrible person if you did.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Man how I wish alpha protocol was a better game.It does relationships perfectly,without succumbing to the “romance is the ultimate relationship” trope.

    • INH5 says:

      Oh, Alpha Protocol’s system has issues too. For one thing, whether a character is romanceable is entirely dependent on your Reputation with them, so it’s possible to romance a character even if you never chose any of the flirty dialogue options, simply by picking the platonic dialogue options that they like.

      Though with SIE that makes perfect sense.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        True.But keep in mind that romances in alpha protocol have very little to do with emotions(at least from the protagonist),but are rather just another tool in your vast spying arsenal.

        • Zekiel says:

          Yes. This is one of the things I found fascinating about AP – that unlike almost every other CRPG I could imagine, you weren’t actually choosing dialogue options which demonstrated or chose what kind of character you were (i.e. the classic Bioware kick puppy/save puppy choice) – you were choosing dialogue options as the most expident way of completing your objectives. So it was entirely reasonable to pick opposite approaches in different conversations since it wasn’t supposed to be about playing a consistent character.

          • Ringwraith says:

            The tutorial acknowledges this immediately stating the main character has a knack for manipulating people and telling them what they want to hear.
            Still one of the better examples of super-short descriptions standing in for dialogue choices too, as you don’t need to know anything other than Aggressive/Suave/Professional/Slam Head into Bar as your options, and they’re all timed so dialogue flows without pauses, so they need to be.

  12. sudowned says:

    I thought the (observed, not participated-in) romance in Gone Home was pretty great.

  13. Falterfire says:

    Kinda surprised to see no mentions of Fire Emblem yet. I mean, Awakening’s ‘romance’ system wasn’t exactly amazingly complex (It was literally ‘stand next to people to advance’) but the combination of mechanical impact of characters liking each other more, strong writing, and abundant options (There’s literally hundreds of thousands of words of support conversations there) meant that it handled it better than any other game I’ve played.

    • guy says:

      I thought about mentioning it, but it’s got the isolation from the main plot thing squared. For one thing, every character can romance a wide variety of other characters (and the Avatar can romance literally every opposite gender character except Morgan) and can do so at any time. Plus, the structure means that there’s only one romance-specific conversation each, except for whoever married Chrom, and it can happen at any point in the main plot.

  14. Bloodsquirrel says:

    This column is pretty much what I’ve posted on comment threads here before.

    The only thing I disagree with is that Bioware was “just giving fans what they want”. The romances and the path they took with them was very much driven by author appeal. Bioware has a much less accommodating history with fans in every area where what fans wanted diverged from Bioware’s “artistic integrity”.

    • Mike S. says:

      I’d say those are different issues. The artistic integrity thing generally came down to not making major changes to a released game. (I wish they had, but I can’t really be surprised that they didn’t.) But Bioware spends lots of effort fighting the last war when it comes to making the next game.

      The development of romance options does seem to be a matter of addressing in the next game the complaints about the last one– letting people romance formerly unromanceable characters, adding differing orientations and sexualities, etc. Likewise, for better and worse Dragon Age: Inquisition is clearly the result of trying to avoid the fate of Dragon Age II. (I’d say they threw a lot of babies out with that bathwater, but they certainly weren’t standing their ground stubbornly.)

      And I’ll bet that whatever’s wrong with Mass Effect: Andromeda, the ending isn’t going to look anything like ME3’s. (Though as with the DA2 example, this probably also means getting rid of the creative bits– in ME3’s case not having it all come down to a boss fight.) While I have a lot of trepidation about what we’re going to get, I’m absolutely certain it will be an effort to please as broad a cross-section of their fanbase as possible based on their metrics of what those people want.

      • INH5 says:

        But Bioware spends lots of effort fighting the last war when it comes to making the next game

        Exactly. See the Citadel DLC, which is obviously a response to the most common non-ending-related complaints about ME3 on their forums: not enough party banter, not enough characterization and romance scenes especially for the ME2 squadmates, and the whole thing was just too damn depressing.

        Well, they addressed everything except for Tali’s face. I still have no idea what the hell they were thinking with that.

        And I’ll bet that whatever’s wrong with Mass Effect: Andromeda, the ending isn’t going to look anything like ME3’s. (Though as with the DA2 example, this probably also means getting rid of the creative bits– in ME3’s case not having it all come down to a boss fight.) While I have a lot of trepidation about what we’re going to get, I’m absolutely certain it will be an effort to please as broad a cross-section of their fanbase as possible based on their metrics of what those people want.

        I wouldn’t be so sure, since Andromeda is being made by a different studio, specifically Bioware Montreal which also made Arrival, ME3’s multiplayer, and Omega. Given how the setting is as far removed from the events of the original trilogy as possible (I expect the backstory to be something along the lines of “we found a wormhole to Andromeda just before the Reapers arrived, and we sent a bunch of ark spacecraft through then closed it on our end to prevent the Reapers from following”), I expect this to be treated as a series reboot, and I won’t be surprised if it ends up being largely marketed to people who have never played the series before.

        But you’re absolutely right that it is highly unlikely to have anything like ME3’s ending. While EA may have been hands off before – in fact I’m certain they were hands off in the past since ME3’s ending goes against everything EA could ever want – I’m sure that after the ME3 disaster they gave a directive to Bioware to not screw up like this again. Actually, I wouldn’t put it past them to start asking the writing staff to either run everything by them before it gets put in the game and/or use focus groups to test the story content. So if anything the story might just end up being generic and boring.

        • Mike S. says:

          I had roughly the same thought re how they’d set up the situation. (I was thinking ships displaced to Andromeda while fleeing the Battle of Sol right as the relays went wonky at the end of ME3, so they have the entire ME history as their backstory but aren’t affected by the ending.)

          And I think that they always bank on many/most of the players being newcomers. Even if that strikes me as really weird for a game as continuity-dependent as ME3. They distributed an infographic a few months after the game came out that said that about 40% of players got the Long Service Medal– i.e., imported from a previous game or played ME3 twice. That means 60% didn’t.

          (Some of those switched systems and just didn’t have an import, but some who did just played the third game more than once. I’m betting it shakes out to a majority being new to the series.)

          But their current marketing indicates that they clearly want to maintain a connection with existing fans. There’s zero reason to put the Mako front and center except to say “remember that thing you loved? or hated? but at least really associate with the game’s better days? here it is!” (It’s not as if people unfamiliar with Mass Effect are likely to be looking for a driving game IN SPACE.)

          Ditto the prominent N7 logos, which are otherwise meaningless. And kind of an odd thing to cling to two and a half million light years from Earth. But with no Normandy or Citadel or Shepard, it’s a straightforward graphical element that anyone who knows Mass Effect is at least familiar with.

          Whether they’ll succeed in evoking the essence of Mass Effect in a completely different galaxy, with a new cast of characters, under a new studio remains to be seen. But they’re at least trying to send the message that they will.

          • INH5 says:

            The reason I think the exodus to Andromeda will happen either before or early in ME3 is because they’re obviously moving the action that far in space and time in order to avoid invalidating player choice. Otherwise they would just pick one of the RGB endings (almost certainly Destroy because that’s just a lot easier to write game stories in than the others) and develop the setting from there. Before ME3 all of the player choices were relatively small scale and could pretty safely be ignored, but even before the ending of ME3 you have stuff like whether the genophage was cured or what happened to the Geth and the Quarians at Rannoch. Even if the setting only includes a relatively small number of refugees or (considering that Andromeda has been described as taking place far away in space and time from Shepard’s journey) their descendants, those things would absolutely have to be addressed. Considering that a krogan can be seen in the background of the Andromeda teaser trailer we know that the genophage being cured or not would have a major effect on the setting, for example.

            Having everyone leave for Andromeda before Shepard has a chance to make those galaxy shaping decisions allows the game to neatly sidestep all of those issues.

            With regards to the portion of ME3 players who were new: the same infographic shows that 36% of players made peace between the Quarians and the Geth, which I’m pretty sure is impossible unless you import a save and meet a number of conditions. But then it could just be that players who bring their save file over are especially likely to be completionist sorts who meet all the necessary conditions. Also, I believe that all of the statistics only pertain to the players who finished ME3, so if you were to factor in the players who didn’t finish I imagine there would be an even larger majority who didn’t play earlier games.

            The statistic that really has me scratching my head is Liara’s measly 54% survival rate, since the only way she can die is if you have her as a squadmate on the final mission and have a low enough EMS that your squadmates get fried by Harbinger (and even then I’m not sure if that was something that was added in the EC or was already there but the EC just made it obvious). Or I guess she dies along with everyone else in Refuse or Low EMS Destroy, but that doesn’t explain why Garrus and Vega have survival rates that are so much higher.

            But the thing to keep in mind about the current marketing is that the game still won’t be released for more than a year, so the only people likely to care at this point are the long time fans. When we get closer to the release date and EA’s marketing muscle really ramps up, I expect that it will be even more focused on attracting new players than ME3’s marketing was. Granted, I expect the game to make some effort to appeal to the old fans (for example, I expect the backstory to include excuses for all of the fan favorite species to end up in Andromeda), and the Montreal studio hasn’t totally avoided this kind of thing in the past (see the “humans are a blight” preacher’s cameo in the Omega DLC), but I think there are good reasons to doubt that “giving the fans what they want” is the #1 design priority.

            EDIT: Also, using a side effect of the Crucible firing as a justification for the Milky Way races ending up in Andromeda would invalidate the Refuse ending, so it still wouldn’t fully accomplish the goal of not invalidating the ending choice.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Yes. I concur.

  15. Hal says:

    Having seen how romance subplots have played out as time goes on, I’m rather happy with how Skyrim handled the matter. That is, there was no romance. You want a spouse? Great, you’re married. Now they just hang out in your house all the time and tell you how swell you are. Simple, minimal, and didn’t distract from all of the adventuring you were trying to do.

    Also, while we’re on the subject of Bioware romance, Commander Shepard is a giant slut.

    • Mike S. says:

      Skyrim’s marriage and kids thing seemed so perfunctory I wasn’t sure why they bothered. Bioware’s romance plotlines may be a bit disconnected (though ME3 did do a lot better at having characters talk to each other and comment on what you were doing), but in and of themselves they’re at least actual stories.

  16. Exasperation says:

    The extra romance scene in Monkey Island if you steal the idol of many hands before completing both of the other two tests was wonderful.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      At least up through the third game, the Guybrush/Elaine relationship is one of my favorite in gaming. I don’t know that I’d use it as a model for anything. It ultimately seems to boil down to Guybrush wants to be a pirate and sweep the pirate queen -despite being the governor -off her feet, and Elaine finds his persistence endearing.

      But in that universe, it totally works.

  17. Daimbert says:

    I’m a very big fan of the romances, and my interest in TOR perked up when I heard that it would have them, and I wish there were more choices. So I suppose I’m the sort of fan that’s causing the problem. However, to me I see them as being a personal story to go along with the main story, and a way to learn more about the companions and, through that, to learn or define more about the character I’m playing, by deciding which I’ll pursue, which I’ll befriend, and which I’ll ignore. I like the personal stories and the way that I can bring my character to them and see what happens, and learning about the companion characters outside of the main plot and outside of plot relevant details, and so not just learning things that will matter to the plot, but things that WON’T, but just let me understand them better. Ultimately, at most I want it to matter at points in the plot, with different comments or actions available depending on the status (for example, settling the dispute between Miranda and Jack or Tali and Legion by being able to appeal to their relationship with you instead of to logic or reason), but I don’t want it to impact the plot TOO much.

    So, in short, I like them as flavour, and I’d rather they improve the flavour than just give me more choices.

    Also, I think people need to think of these things as more “It’s a flavour/customization of a character that _I_ DEFINE” instead of as “It’s ME choosing what _I_ want”. In the ME series, I played as a female Shepard and did all female (ish in ME) romances (didn’t quite get the payoff with Kelly). I played a female Grey Warden in DA and romanced Leiliana, one of the most satisfying gaming character experiences I’ve ever had. In TOR, my mains are almost all male, so I’ve done the romances with female characters (Vette is my favourite, but Risha worked well, too). In KotOR, I did both Bastilla and Carth on separate playthroughs. None of these characters were really me, but I enjoyed the romances anyway, and liked seeing the different ones in the game even if I personally didn’t pursue them (Morrigan, for example). If you want it to be you, then you run into the issue that we’re all pretty different from each other and it’s hard to find a set that satisfies most people, and so you have to add more and more choices to capture that. If you see it as you defining a character that MIGHT be you, then if you play as yourself then maybe none of the available options appeal and so in that playthrough you don’t get a romance, but with a different character you do. We can’t get ideal personalization — at least not yet — so demanding it is probably not going to work out well, so we should push for what we can get and alter the character we play if we want more than that.

  18. boota says:

    i don’t completely agree the notion that a heterosexual man can’t enjoy having their shepard being a homosexual, for the same reason i have no problems with playing as a female main protagonist (granted, i often at leasat once choose to roleplay as a male who is very similar to me when the option is there, but i also often choose to do other playthroughs.)

    i feel that a problem with romance in games often can be attributed to developers trying to fit something that is very much not a system into a game system when in reality who we love, why and how we do and show it probably the most non-systematic phenomenom in human culture. for some opposites attracts. for others being similar is absolutely crucial for a relationship to work. sometimes a great relationship just stops working after years of dedication to each other. some can be together for an entire life no matter what happens.

    (I would argue that the reason for many cultures and religions having very rigid rules about romance and sexuality is due to this simple fact: we don’t know how it works and when it goes wrong there is not much that that can rival its potential effect on us and the people around us, so we create arbitrary rules and morals that don’t work for anyone in a futile attempt to protect us from having our hearts broken.)

    We are often even unable to define what the goal with our romantic endeavors are with much more than an “i want to be more with her than anybody else” or “I just want to see that person happy” or “i just want to be happy with that person” or “i just want to bone him so hard”. they’re all valid reasons to be romantically interested in someone. And most of the time we probably don’t know which one it is, even when we think we do.

    So what we end up with is a game system created in an attempt at portraying something where neither the creator nor the player doesn’t even know what the goal is supposed to be or how the portrayed phenomenom works. And that could be fine. Most urban planning games don’t do a very good job of portraying how urbanity and urbanization works. Neither in the details or in the broad themes do they create something that even resembles what’s interesting or important with the subject matter. it doesn’t really matter, though, because most players never heard about sociospatial dialectic, ecocentric vs technocentric ecological sustainability or discussions on gentrification. We usually don’t know what goes in to providing a city with electricity and water or how traffic flow is affected by infrastructural changes either.

    And to be honest, we shouldn’t have to know these things in order to enjoy a game. So when the player is distanced from the subject matter, the creator can take some artistic liberties as long as the player gets to feel that the simulation works the way they should. (This is why COD 4: MW is a better war game than ARMA. One makes you feel like a special forces soldier who kills whatever is in the scope of the weapon. The other one will make you walk a whole lot between checkpoints.)

    But when it comes to romance this doesn’t work anymore. Because odds are that if you’re older than say… 12, you’ve been or are in love. So love and romance are things that we can relate to. And it’s definitely something where we can tell that the simulation portraying it falls flat.

  19. slipshod says:

    Gotta say, I’m surprised Witcher 3 didn’t make your list. I thought the writers were brilliantly accommodating. Not only could I choose Triss over Yennefer, I could wrap things up with the latter in a classy and even canonical manner. All despite the fact that Yen was obviously supposed to be the main love interest.

    • Trix2000 says:

      Not to mention there’s real consequences if you try to pursue both.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      It is a bit weird, considering Shamus actually mentioned Witcher 3 as a good example on this week’s Diecast. But maybe this column was already in the bag when they recorded.

    • Shamus says:

      Don’t get me wrong. I love how Witcher 3 handles sex, and romance, and that it can tell the difference between the two.

      It didn’t make the list because I’ve only experienced one of the romance paths (Yen, who actually gets on my nerves) and the whole time I felt like I was missing important context.

      So, it’s not so much a knock on W3 as the fact that I’ve only seen one of the available romances, and I doubt I’d ever go that particular route again.

      If I can get the time, I really want to go through the game again and give the Tris story a try.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well if you do her optional quest after the main,you do get context as to why she is like that towards geralt(somewhat).

        • MichaelGC says:

          I was certainly tending in the direction of not being a huge Yennifer fan – until she needed help cleaning up. That’s just a matter of her own personal convenience, rather than being important to the search for Ciri. So, she apologetically asks for help, instead of issuing another impatient command.

          A quite brilliant moment, I thought, in a game full of QBMs.

          • slipshod says:

            Assuming that by “cleaning up” you mean her romance side quest, I actually saw it as quite a brilliant moment of failure. I had stumbled upon Yen’s diary about the djinn well before I got to the actual quest. Roleplaying as Geralt, my conclusion was that Yen wanted to tame the djinn as a last resort against the Wild Hunt. Then we get to the thing, and I find out that it’s about some nonsense I said in the past. Once again, Ciri missing, Wild Hunt on our heels, and a source of fantastical power in front of us. Of all of the wishes she could have made, especially after constantly harping about “hurrying up” and “will make any sacrifice,” she reverses a love/eternal bond spell. WHAT? The only redeeming quality of said quest was that it gave Geralt an easy, plausible, and polite way to extract himself from his relationship with Yen. Not to mention excellent tagline: careful what you wish for.

            • MichaelGC says:

              No-no, no: I mean ‘cleaning’ quite literally! :D It’s during the main quest: someone makes a mess, and as she has a task to attend to, she can’t help with the cleaning herself. (It’s not a major moment by any means. Well, during a main cutscene; not itself major.)

              That said, I had essentially the same reaction to everything you have in your spoilertext. I forgave the game the second time around, mainly because the quest itself is great, but it is more than a little shoehorned-in given everything else that’s going on. (I do see it as more of a pacing or timing problem than as a character flaw, though.)

      • slipshod says:

        Shamus: From what you’ve said about 1) previous experiences with and lack of interest in the first two games and 2) Dandelion’s search exhausting you, it makes sense that you went for Yennefer. She’s introduced as “the one true love,” so it would be natural for someone starting with W3 to romance her. Furthermore, Triss means more Novigrad, and I’m guessing you were ready to move on after finally locating the bedazzled buffoon.

        I lost interest in Yennefer right after finding her and meeting her. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I’ve completed a decent portion of W1 and just a bit of W2, so I never got to the memory recovery bits, nor the parts of the game that establish Yen as someone of importance in Geralt’s life. Triss, on the other hand, I had adventured with and considered a comrade.

        So the decision made itself. Especially when Yen turned out to be somewhat of a pompous brat.

  20. Mukk says:

    I think it depends on the kind of RPG we are talking about. If the character is a blank slate that I can do whatever with, I would be frustrated if I didn’t get to make choices about the character’s sexuality. If the character is already predefined, as in many games, I don’t have much problem with not making choices about who the character is interested in.

  21. Incunabulum says:

    In case its not been mentioned already – FO4 is doing romances now.

    Any PC can romance any of the (human) companions.

    Generic romances written by Bethesda. I already find their inclusion in games to be annoying, more so with the modern ‘Bioware Romance’ that is more distraction from the story and a poor excuse for a hentai dating sim then ever before.

    Now, the people who wrote the Thieves’ Guild quest in Skyrim are going to write a whole bunch of generic ‘romance’ plotlines?

  22. I actually found a surprisingly good romance in another Bioware game people might not expect – The Old Republic. No, not KotOR, but the MMO.

    They’re focusing on story a lot more these days, and the romance my main character has with one of the newly-introduced characters has been really well-written, mainly because their romantic involvement is only one aspect of their individual lives, and more importantly only one aspect of their relationship (which is also founded on similar goals and ideals as well as friendship).

    As for other games, I was always happy with my Liara/Shepard relationship across all three games (I feel like they put more into her than anyone), and I think both Traynor and Thane are standouts when it comes to romance.

    • lurkey says:

      Kind of opposite experience here – IMO, MMO format is as detrimental to Bioware’s romances as it is to Bioware’s storytelling in general. Not only they’re more shallow than usual, lack of nuances makes for some…amusing implications. Say, Lady Sith Warrior not as much romances but bluntly harasses a very obviously unwilling and uncomfortable dude into a “relationship”, male Sith Inquisitor and his teenager apprentice reminded me of the Nameless One and Deionarra (interestingly enough, lady Inquisitor’s romance is surprisingly normal – given how the character herself is slightly insane and the dude in question is hardened criminal), Republic trooper romances their subordinates and Jedi/Padawan thing is downright creepy.

      Not saying it’s not fun to play a sexual predator or creep (it’s totally fun! :D), but I have a sneaking suspicion it maybe possibly probably not working as intended…

  23. Jonathan says:

    Shamus, you need to go back and play Baldur’s Gate II.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      Everyone needs to replay BGII.

      I definitely do, because it’s been a good few years now and I can’t remember just how good it is. Mind you, the past couple of times I tried I went for BG1 first and was disappointed. There’s a lot of great moments in BG1, but BG2 is by far the better game, consistently good (as I recall).

      • Supahewok says:

        Shamus has never played BG2. IIRC, he finds the gameplay too frenetic and the AD&D rules too obtuse. Which is a shame, because BG2 is really the prototype for every single Bioware game since, and still one of their best. But if you don’t know 2e AD&D, you need to read the 200 page manual, which noone in this day and age wants to do.

        He mentioned this back in April, I think, to explain why he wasn’t eager to play Pillars of Eternity. Which I don’t think he’s ever gotten around to, even with Josh egging him on.

        But your saying everybody needs to replay BG2 is spot-on otherwise, I hear its siren call even now…

        • Jonathan says:

          Frenetic? It has a pause button and at low levels your characters only get one attack per 6 seconds each.

          The engine handles thac0 calculations, and makes it clear what options are or are not available for a given race/class combo. You want your base stats (str/dex/con/etc) high, your AC & saves low, and everything else (+s on weapons, damage) high.

          BG2 is how I was introduced to D&D.

          • guy says:

            Personally, my problem is that hit points are so low; the pause button doesn’t help much when a single hit can drop a frontline fighter at low levels.

            • jawlz says:

              That’s one of the reasons that Baldur’s Gate II was better than the first one – it took place with mid-level characters (IIRC, you started out at level 6 or 7 depending on your class). That got you past the first few levels where all characters are a paper-cut away from perma-death, and was before the really high levels (~14+) where the game mechanics start breaking down.

              I can see not wanting to go through Baldur’s Gate I for the low HP reasons, but by BG2, your characters can stand up to a few hits before they go down.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Even simplified,that system was still crappy.And real time with pause is not for everyone.Also,the weird decision to have time pause when you open the map,but continue when you open the inventory was weird.And there is the fact that the game runs sped up on modern machines.Which is why the enhanced edition exists.

            • Jonathan says:

              I haven’t experienced sped-up BG2, but my PC is 5 or so years old and runs XP. That may not count as “modern.”

              Real-time with pause in BG2 works a lot better than how it was implemented in KOTOR/KOTOR2, or NWN. I think KOTOR’s system was designed for consoles…

  24. Fictrix says:

    Don’t forget NWN2: Mask of the Betrayer and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

    Mask actually made it one of the central themes so that it wasn’t just tacked on as an option. Anyone who played it might remember the “only love could be so cruel” line towards the end explaining why you’ve been forced to suffer through your current circumstances. One of the things it got right was that the friendships (or even the downright evil acts you could inflict on your companions) didn’t play second fiddle to the optional romance.

    The rejection options were done well and reinforced the themes, instead of resulting in your companions suddenly throwing childish hissy fits. This was actually the option I picked, since I never made any advances and one of the companions approached me as we were reaching the finale. I pointed out we were both being possessed by dead souls who were enacting their ancient romance through us, and the feelings weren’t actually ours. Really neat moment, and led to a really good ending.

    Fate of Atlantis had hilarious banter. Reminds me of the Anastasia animated film.

    In both instances – to use your phrasing in the article – the option was put there in service of the story instead of in service of the player. I’m worried that many games feel the need to include all the options now because it’s something they have to check off a standard RPG list. Obligatory end boss fight – check; “good” and “evil” options with Victorian Era moral bribery options – check; inevitable betrayal – check; romanceable NPCs – check.

  25. Vermander says:

    I think it would be interesting to have a game where the PC starts out already married or in a relationship. Maybe as part of the character creation process you get to specify a few things about your spouse (their gender obviously, maybe a bit about their background and a few very broad details on how you met.) That way you can skip all the awkward “approval” mechanics.

    Your partner will obviously be present at your home base, and might contribute to some of the missions, but they won’t be a part of the core team (much like your three advisors in DA:I). The decisions you make throughout the game will either strengthen your relationship or drive you apart. Maybe at some point you might even start getting a little too close with one of your teammates and decide how you want to handle it.

    I’d be curious to see if the Bioware folks are better at writing people already in a relationship than people falling in love.

    • Mike S. says:

      Adventure fiction really seems to abhor stable relationships. For every Thin Man, there are probably a dozen dead spouses (either in the backstory or killed in the opening reel), another dozen crises (sometimes the danger re-bonds the couple, sometimes an affair is teased or entered into, sometimes they’re just the ball-and-chain forever ineffectively trying to stop the hero for Doing What Needs to Be Done), and a hundred single protagonists who can fall in love over the course of this story, only to be miraculously free to do the same in the next installment.

      I’d like to see more established relationships. But given the need for sequels, I’d fear the writers eventually taking the easy way out.

      (Remember when Peter Parker and Clark Kent were both married, for years? Because they don’t.)

      • Vermander says:

        I can see a lot of interesting ploy hooks deriving from your choice of spouse. Maybe if you (as a human) choose to marry an elf you constantly have to deal with racist jerks who don’t approve of your interracial union. If, on the other hand, you choose to marry a nice human girl (or guy) they might have a powerful family who expects you to be their puppet.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Most fiction period abhors stable relationships, except as the presumed reward for success: “And they lived happily ever after. Take our word for it. Because we’re not going to show you the day-to-day compromises they make to ensure their relationship lasts, or how they’re going to pay for Junior’s education, or what they’re going to do about Grandma getting sick, or who’s taking the girls to dance class that week.”

        You see them in the domestic sitcom and a few other comedy subgenres, where the foibles of marriage or monogamy are fodder for jokes. When you see them in action/adventure fiction, it’s usually because one half is essentially sidelined from the main plot, e.g. the dutiful wife who keeps the home fires burning while her man of action saves the world. They might just be the reason Why We Fight or they might have a subplot that supports their spouse/SO on the home front (e.g. Queen Gorgo in the film version of 300). But you rarely see a long term relationship presented as an effective domestic partnership. Even with The Thin Man, in the original novel, Nora Charles was basically a Stand By Your Man spouse supporting Nick, the typical Dashiell Hammet hardboiled tough guy, from the sidelines. It’s only in the films that she gets fleshed out.

    • lurkey says:

      The dude in “Two worlds” starts married, and for quite some time too, given how one of his remarks on monster encounters is “Looks like my in-laws” :-)

  26. Ravens Cry says:

    I like Manny and Meche’s romance in ‘Grim Fandango’. (Not an action game, but if we’re going to mention Guybrush and Elane . . .)

    • Tom says:

      Speaking of Tim Schafer/Lucasarts games, the romance in Full Throttle is nicely done too – strictly speaking, it’s entirely predictable within the context of the story (and realistic too), but narratively speaking, it’s way unpredictable because NOBODY EVER MAKES GAMES WHERE THE ROMANCE ENDS THAT WAY! (Well, OK, I can think of one other – Planescape Torment, although the romance option actually felt extremely hamfisted and tacked-on in that one, glaringly so in light of all the other masterful writing it was probably shoehorned into at the last moment, so it doesn’t really deserve a mention).

  27. RCN says:

    The part that bothers me in the recent Bioware RPGs is that every character seems like a sack of hormones and flirtation… WITH the player character. But they seem to have absolutely no chemistry between each other. It just starts to weird me out, sometimes. That’s when they don’t all hate each other guts but seem to stay at the party only for the player’s sake.

    Dragon Age: Origins was particularly guilt of this. Shale hates everyone and that’s fine, it is basically her defining characteristic to hate everything that’s not the player character. Morrigan teases and hates everyone else as well (when she’s not busy hating the player on top of all that), and while she’s basically the only companion to have Sten’s respect, she openly loathes him in return. Zevran is the only one who seems to even show romantic interest outside the player character, but even that is mostly teasing an old lady about her bosom. Leliana at least is curious about the other party members, but everyone instantly rebuffs any of her questions with hostility. What are these people even doing traveling together? The only two companions to seem to enjoy each other’s company are Alistair and the Dog!

    But at least that’s better than Mass Effect 2 and 3 where if two squadmates have no arcs together, they might as well not even be aware of each other’s existence. At least in ME1 they’d have the occasional banter at the elevator, but that’s all but gone in the sequels.

    I can barely remember where was the last game where your companions actively seemed to interact positively with each other…

    • Vermander says:

      Earlier in this thread there’s a bit of discussion about how the companions in Dragon Age 2 hung out together when the PC wasn’t around. Sometimes you’d stop by a character’s home and find out one of your other friends was already there, or they’d mention other misadventures they had when you weren’t around. This was especially true for Varric, who pretty much got along with everyone. In the next game he and Casandra started out hating each other, but they were more or less friends by the end (especially when he found out she was secretly a fan of his books).

      DA:I also has lots of scenes where characters express admiration or gratitude to each other and there are at least two separate sets of characters who will form romantic relationships if the PC isn’t interested in them.

      Mass Effect 3 had a little of this too. You can catch Garrus and Tali making out in the engine room and Wrex comes to respect Moridin so much that he names one of his kids after him. And that’s not counting any of the party scenes in the Citadel DLC.

      • RCN says:

        Hmm… to be fair to Dragon Age, I’ve only played Origins. I just couldn’t stand Dragon Age 2’s… everything. What got me into DA:O was the tactical and complex nature of combat and storytelling. When I started DA2 the combat was stripped bare and the writing at the start was horrible so I never touched that game again.

        But the thing remains that in ME2 and 3 there’s barely any interaction between the squadmates unless the Squadmates had story reasons to interact (Tali and Legion being basically the only case). There is a moment here and there, but overall it feels these people are not even living in the same ship.

    • James says:

      In ME3 Kaiden and Tali will have a conversation about Omnitools (just as your boarding the dreadnaught above Rannoch). and i wanted more like that more of two characters talking about something outside of Shepard.

    • Zaxares says:

      That’s not actually true, RCN. If you listen to their dialogues, Shale eventually does form a friendship with Sten (it’s mutual. He calls her “kadan” which is the strongest term of endearment among Qunari) and Wynne. The latter so much so that, if you encourage Shale to embrace her past, Wynne agrees to accompany Shale to Tevinter in an attempt to find a ritual that will reverse the golem transformation. She also does eventually form a friendship of sorts of Leliana, although it’s fairly low level.

      Morrigan is the only character who’s acerbic and nasty to everyone, although as time goes on it becomes fairly obvious that this is a defense mechanism for keeping people at a distance. She flirts shamelessly, but she only goes through with it for a very select few. She’s wielding her sexuality as a weapon, and I know some people in real life who do just that too.

      I do agree that with Bioware romances, it does feel like most of the romantic interests are just falling into the player’s lap, but I think that in itself might be what players want. To feel that they are so charming and alluring and irresistible that people fawn over them. It might be unrealistic, but I think few people would enjoy a game where their attempts to romance others get rejected over and over because they’re too ugly/too violent/too magey/too unstable a lifestyle. Games, in the end, are about escapist fantasies.

      But back to the original article, while I can somewhat agree with Shamus in that romances should serve the story where possible, I’m very wary of going back to the days when games were written only to cater to the masses. Bioware is still one of the very few RPG makers (or even game makers, period) that will put openly gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender characters and alternative romances into their games. If left to their own devices, developers would gladly go back to the days where it’s one heterosexual option for each gender (because it’s cheaper and appeals to the broadest customer base), and we’d have a lot of people on the fringes who once again feel left out, always reminded even in games that they’re outsiders and will never be part of “normal” society.

      • RCN says:

        Did not know that. For one, it is redundant to bring Sten and Shale along at the same time, as both have the same tank role (unless you’re using Shale as a totem, to which I ask WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?). Never triggered this conversation between the two. All of Sten’s banter with other party members I heard basically boils down to “your questions annoy me, please stop talking.” While Shale’s usually wander into “it’d be so easy to kill you, but my master wouldn’t approve. Shame.”

        It still bothers me that the player is basically the only possible romantic option. Nice to know that Garrus and Tali can get a romance (I never knew that), but outside that what do we have? The foursome with Liliana, Zevran and some random pirate? Really? It’d be nice if the games shown more proof that your companions have a life outside the player character and that they actually know each other.

        Maybe I should suffer through DA2 if this talk about the companions interacting more with each other is true.

        • Vermander says:

          Dragon Age Inquisition has even more interaction between NPCs (assuming you don’t get that party banter bug) and lots of instances where you walk in on companions having conversations or playing chess. There are also opportunities to ask party members (in private) what they think of your other companions. They’ll tell you who they do and don’t like and why. For example Solas plays a major role in Cole’s storyline and wants to help him in any way he can, but Sera, who has no interactions with Cole in the main storyline, thinks he’s creepy and disturbing and wants you to get rid of him.

          There are also at least two sets of characters who hook up behind the scenes, though you only hear about it in conversations or in notes and clues.

          Not sure how much you’d like the game overall though. To be honest, I was never interested in the tactical aspects of any of the Bioware games. I usually play on the easiest difficulty setting and use the combination of characters I find most entertaining. My default party in DA 2 had three rogues (including my Hawke).

        • Zaxares says:

          In DA2, if neither Isabela nor Fenris (two of your companions) are romanced, they will enter into an intimate relationship with each other. It appears to be purely physical though, not an emotional one. Likewise, another companion, Aveline, has a pretty solid side-quest arc that revolves around her trying to court another NPC. (And while the PC can attempt to flirt with her, she always turns you down.) There are a couple other NPCs who have similar attractions to each other, although the game doesn’t go into much detail about it.

          I will say that the characters in DA2 are truly standouts in an otherwise mediocre game though. Some of them start out as antagonistic to each other, yet end up becoming fast friends. Others start as being friendly, but one person’s growing obsession with their pet cause ends up isolating them and driving away their friends.

  28. Atle says:

    My favourite video game romance came from Defender of the crown.

    “Then, late one night …”

    https://youtu.be/obkum0AjIrs?t=14m00s

    • MichaelGC says:

      And best of all: the huuuuuge tracts of land! (Seriously: often the grateful Dad would just hand over the whole of Wales, or whatnot.)

      One thing about Defender of the Crown still bothers me slightly. Did you ever pull off a successful joust in that game? Has anyone ever pulled off a successful joust in that game?! IS IT PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE TO SUCCESSFULLY JOUST IN THAT GAME?!?! GAAAAAH!!

      OK, ‘slightly’ was a bit of a lie.

      • Atle says:

        It’s a long time ago, but I’m quite sure I did. But I had to chose the guy with strong jousting in order to do it. I think I could never even knock a single opponent off the horse with anyone else.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        I struggled for a while but eventually got the hang — after some practice, I never lost at jousting again.
        You need to have the tip of your lance in the right position (just below the opponent’s centre of gravity), then hit the button while pulling it up (i.e. push your opponent back while lifting the lance), thus lifting him out of the saddle. Of course you need to do this when you’re at just the right distance.

        I played on a C-64. I’m told that it was more difficult on an Amiga because your enemy got bigger in smaller steps, so it was more difficult to recognize the moment when he was at the correct distance (or something).

        • MichaelGC says:

          Makes me happy to hear it wasn’t actually impossible! Although, I did find these Google results amusing:

          Search: defender of the crown joust
          About 97,700 results

          Search: defender of the crown joust impossible
          About 164,000 results

          That’d make for an interesting Venn diagram…

      • Daimbert says:

        On the C64, I was so good at jousting that I would call tournaments and conquer my enemies just through that … unless I missed, of course.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          yep, as soon as I had gotten the hang of that, the entire game became a lot shorter…

          • MichaelGC says:

            I was doing fine with ‘possible’, just about, but that this could be a viable strategy is rather boggling the mind! :D (Not doubting either of you for a moment, of course: it’s often difficult to give up a childhood truth (even, or perhaps especially, an incredibly unimportant one!).)

            • Zak McKracken says:

              as I said, I think the difficulty varied between platforms — which were you on?
              On the C64, it took someone to explain it to me, plus quite some practice. Wouldn’t have figured it out otherwise.

              Also: OMG, I just saw the comparison between the Amiga and PC version video… wow. The C64 was definitely closer to the Amiga than to the PC. What a crappy, crappy gaming platform the PC used to be… I remember when my mother got that 8MHz 80286 and my brother and me concluded after short testing that it must be a way slower machine than our (0.8MHz) C64 because the same games looked and sounded so much worse and ran so much slower.

  29. Zak McKracken says:

    Another lesson this story might teach: This is what happens if you confuse players’ feedback with critics’.

    If you don’t observe a story/game/movie very consciously, you’ll come out disliking a particular scene or character or the ending, but really you’re just noticing plot holes you wouldn’t have seen if the story had not fallen apart in a completely different way than you realized. If the creator had improved the one scene you mentioned, you’d have stumbled across another one and so on.
    I realized that after seeing the RLM critique of the star wars prequels — the movies had never quite worked for me but I had not realized that it wasn’t particular scenes or characters, but rather something that was fundamentally wrong about the whole thing which you just don’t really get while seeing it for the first time and being too swamped by details to realize that the big picture makes no sense.

    => I think if all your players complain about something, that something may not be the actual reason why they are complaining, and there may be a much more elegant way of dealing with the problem than just doing what the players tell you to. A game collectively designed by the Mass effect (or any other game’s) fan base may look a bit like the Homer mobile.

  30. MrGuy says:

    I don’t necessarily agree that the reason for this trend is “giving the fans what they want.” I think it’s the result of a tectonic shift in gaming towards everything being open world.

    The reason you could have some level of timing, pacing, and chemistry with Alyx in HL2 is because your relationship (like everything else in the game) followed a largely structured path. The relationship beats can happen at a chosen rhythm. Importantly, they can happen in “small moments” when the plot isn’t doing something big.

    Giving the player control over the flow, content, and direction of the game (which is the essence of an open world) means you don’t have the ability to have pacing and timing – when missions can occur in any order, and can potentially be skipped, then you can’t tie anything that has to happen in an order or with timing to them easily.

  31. Disc says:

    Fall-From-Grace from Planescape: Torment is probably my favorite one, if you can really even call it romance in the traditional sense. It’s just so different.

    Liara from Mass Effect comes second. When romanced from the first game and with the Shadow Broker DLC added to it, it’s arguably the best written romance in the whole series.

  32. poiumty says:

    “I was going to round this out with a list of action videogame romances I like. Here is what I came up with:

    1. The Secret of Monkey Island[2].
    2. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.
    3. I guess the romances in KOTOR were sort of okay.”

    A very poor list, obviously due to your inexperience with both Japanese visual novels and Baldur’s Gate 2.

  33. Classic says:

    Item that probably should be explicitly mentioned regarding the “fairness” of the romance distributions:

    It’s not just homosexual women that are interested in or titillated by the lesbian(-like) romance options. The “common knowledge” is that there is a particular demographic which consumes those “stories” with gusto.

    Though, I can see why you wouldn’t want to bring that up on the Escapist.

    • guy says:

      And the same principle holds for the male homosexual relationships.

    • Christopher says:

      Yeah. I’m a man, and I’m in that 18% Femshep statistic.

      But to be fair again, I ended up romancing men in the DA games because I liked those a lot more than the women. This also came up on the last Diecast, though I don’t remember if Rutskarn actually went for Zevran or not. It’s hard to look at statistics of players and judge what gender they are from what they choose, is what it comes down to. Although at only 18%, I think it’s possible to make an educated guess about the overall playerbase.

      • guy says:

        Well, that’s assuming on average people play as their gender, instead of picking male shep because he’s on the box art or they assume the game is designed around him or because it’s one fewer click during character creation. I’m actually genuinely curious how much of a factor that last one is.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      This is part of the reason why talk about “representation” irks me, as a bi man. Look at the numbers for ME3 Shamus posts in the article, seven options for straight male, four for lesbian, and then two for both flavours of sausage enthusiast, one of which is shared, and only one of the male options strikes me as particularly appealing and look more like they’re aimed at straight women, and I’ll have to fight Mumbles for my pick, anyway.
      I’m perfectly fine with that because it’s just economics, the margins are tight at the top and niches are better served by low budget, specialised stuff, but the way it’s pushed by some people as if it’s done for my benefit when it’s pretty obvious the marketing machine has a different demo in mind just annoys me and makes me feel a little exploited, and not in a fun way. Not that it isn’t appreciated, but it’s not the big thing it’s sometimes touted as.

  34. Marty Runyon says:

    Because of you I had to watch Romancing The Stone again. I hope you’re happy.

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