A Light in a Sea of Greys: Analysing Atris and Knights of the Old Republic II (Pt 1: Basics)

Atris the Betrayer

Don’t judge a book by its colour.

The Sith Lords gets both a lot of praise and a lot of flak for its moral complexity, and its challenge to the stereotypical good/evil Star Wars conflict.1 One key part of this challenge, as well as its examining of the problems with the Jedi Order, was Atris, a relatively minor character in retrospect but nonetheless an important one. Initially trying to evoke an imagine of a pinnacle of goodness, of being true Jedi, it becomes clear almost immediately that she’s not really any of these things. At the end of the game, the idea’s practically kicked in the teeth. If she is true Jedi, she is every problem with the Order made manifest.

In a lot of ways, Atris is pretty similar to Trias the Betrayer from Planescape: Torment, a Deva (pretty much an angel) and theoretical being of Lawful Good — who ultimately proves himself a liar and, uh, a betrayer, “twisted by the Planes”. This is probably intentional: Kreia herself is a reinterpretation of sorts of Ravel Puzzlewell, if a noticeably different character.2 Also Atris is actually Trias with the letters rearranged and originally she could become Darth Traya. Darth Traya, lord of betrayal. Trias the Betrayer. Of course, I do love a good excuse to go on about Torment. If nothing else, it’s a exploration of a similar idea.

To start with, I’d like to look at how the promotion and her basic character design both re-enforce and in some cases subtly undermine this image, before getting into the events of the game proper (partly because getting all the screenshots and so on is going to take forever). Continue reading


Aveline Vallen: Analyzing a Tank

Aveline's tremendous legacy in the Dragon Age universe is forever cemented and eternalised through Varric's series of trashy pulp fiction.

Aveline’s tremendous legacy in the Dragon Age universe is forever cemented and eternalised through Varric’s series of trashy pulp fiction.

I have been busy. Has really put a halt on my progress in making posts and all that. Now, I previously looked at the design of Cassandra, another Dragon Age companion that at least initially seems very similar in character to Aveline. In this case, I’d like to explore some of the other ways of expressing a character, such as their role in gameplay. It’s gonna have to be a short and fairly shallow-depth post, I’m afraid, because you know busy.

Aveline is a character I particularly love, and I don’t know how shared a feeling that is. Oh, sure, when she’s mentioned I usually see it positively, but often she seems overlooked in favour of all those crazies Hawke meets and also Varric. It’s true that perhaps on paper, she’s not initially that original of a character. She’s another woman who happens to be badass and be strong enough to batter doors down — intriguing from a certain feminist perspective, but ultimately kind of flat character. There is, however, more to Aveline, most famously her… interesting perspective on romance (it’s better than it sounds, trust me).

Of course, in my case, it may have helped she reminded me of Vimes. Continue reading

Character Design: Cassandra Pentaghast

Concept art for Cassandra. Of note: angular face, armour, and heart symbols.

Concept art for Cassandra. Of note: angular face, armour, and heart symbols.

Since I’m on a bit of a Dragon Age mood right now, having just beat the third game (not Game of the Year material in my view, but good characters nonetheless), I figured I’d have a look at the design of one of its poster children: Cassandra Pentaghast.

Of all companions, Cassandra may be the one most heavily featured in the media, pre-release. She and Varric adorned pages, the first revealed companions, and while Varric was popular enough I imagine he was somewhat sidelined as “the returning companion”. Cassandra, for all her earlier appearances, was free to be its face. It may also be worth noting she is one of three companions (the others being Varric Tethras and Solas) you have to recruit.

And, yes, she owes this somewhat for being the first face you’ll see in the game, as well as how she’s probably the most obviously related to Inquisition‘s theme of faith (not a theme I find always done well, not even in the game). But likely it is due in part to her striking design. Sharp, powerful, and, to be blunt, unlike the stereotypical depiction of a fantasy woman she’s not running around in the nud.

I’ve seen some criticise her for not being “attractive” (she is an optional romance in the game, after all), though that seems to completely miss the point of her design. For what it’s worth, she is to me a fairly attractive figure, but that’s not the point of her design (cynically: it may be a sidegoal, however). What is? “Authority”, mainly. Continue reading

Goodbye, Chantry: Dragon Age II Film Scene Analysis

Video recorded by “Carlos Torres”, screenshots taken from video.

Video games aren’t films, it’s true. They have their own little techniques, and I would welcome anyone who wishes to examine them. But many have called some video games “cinematic” — and it just so happens most of BioWare works, particularly those post-Mass Effect, are one of those lot. Some even tote cinematic…ism as a goal. BioWare have cinematic designers, and they are well-renowned for their cutscenes.

But, if they were films, how successful would they be? Let’s look at the finale-beginning scene of Dragon Age II. I’ll be glossing over segments that change depending on choice, as well as some stretches of the scene.

I’ll admit, this is a curiosity on my part, and I may not analyse to the full possible extent — getting screenshots for this is almost work enough on its own. If you disagree with anything I’ve said, or notice something else, you’re welcome to comment in the, uh, comments. Free, independent thinking! In general, it’s probably good. Well, unless you’re in Oceania or Par Vollen. Continue reading

Dorian: Dragon Age Tarot Card Analysis

Promo shot of Dorian. Note the white clothes and snake on his back/shoulder. There may be a quiz.

Promo shot of Dorian. Note the white clothes and snake on his back/shoulder. There may be a quiz.

BioWare RPG Dragon Age: Inquisition uses tarot cards to symbolise, among other things, each party member. These change depending on choices, story progress, etc., and are full of symbolism up the wahoo.

But what does the symbolism mean? Or, in this case, as we turn out attention to flamboyant mage Dorian Pavus, “What the fuck is up with that snake?” These are questions we hope to answer in… oh, look, the title’s up there already, guess this intro was needless. Continue reading