First off. Concert series is OVER. No more hysterical breakdowns, running to the Conservatoire in mad panic at 2 in the morning to practise, yelling matches, split fingertips, bow poking, pinching, piano banging or hurrying to the luthier for spare strings. At least for a while.

It was a long month and a half, away from home. There were ups and downs, tears and laughter. It was a performance built on days and days of practice, flirting, drinking, joking, crying, ranting, retyping entire pieces on Sibelius, proofreading, listening to professionals and feeling inadequate. But I got the solo performance, my pianist got his, and we got the last spot in the chamber concert (the order is determined by judge panel, with the best going last).

Anyway, Sunday evening, after we were all done and we were sitting in the living room drinking celebratory wines, the question came up.

"What did we do so right to get all the best spots?"

"... technique?"

"It's not like Gabrielle can play Tchaikovsky and no one else can."

"Dunno. We rock as a team, though."

"Yeah, well, you seriously think the judges went 'oh they rock as a team'? Classical musicians aren't that focused on rocking out."

"... I have no idea."

Was our performance fluke? Maybe. Maybe not. I have no idea. It's hard to pinpoint what we did so right. It can't be just one thing; one judge might have loved something about us, while the other judges might have hated it. There isn't a magic formula, so I have no idea what it was about us that got us the last spot.

Anyway, I was thinking about novels, games, and why they sell. Books are easier to identify, since they're one medium, but game involves four; combat/gameplay, music, story, and visuals. For example, Icewind Dale rocks in terms of combat/gameplay and music, but story is okay and visuals are less than laudatory. FFVII's gameplay seriously vexed me (turn-based combat stinks), visuals was cutting edge then but not so now... I'm sure there are many who disagree, which once again shows there is no magic formula. So what sold Dragon Age: Origins so much?

Gameplay? It's not that different from other RPGs out there. The spells don't have spectacular effects, there aren't many combo moves, there's no pirouetting in the air and not much special combat implementations. I found DA2 to be better in terms of combat. The crafting was okay, but nothing to be spoken highly about, and in terms of sneaking Kingdom of Amalur did a far better job. Visuals. Well, I liked the facial customisation for females, but males weren't very well done. I had to go into the toolset and make a preset, then load that into the game to get the face I wanted. And the sceneries aren't that pretty (Guild Wars II looks prettier in my opinion). And they certainly didn't hire Vivienne Westwood for costumes. Pink pantaloons are generally fashion no-nos. The spell effects weren't that good either.

Music. Inon Zur shall never beat Jeremy Soule. 'Nuff said.

Story. Now, here most agree that DAO rocked. But what was so good about the story? A lot of endings kind of suck as novels. For example:

  • Warden dies: Protagonist is dead. Realistic, but kind of a "... why?!" ending.
  • Warden lives: well, that's fine and dandy, but either A: Warden's best friend/lover is dead, the guy who tried to get Warden killed is dead and is hailed a hero, or there's a baby somewhere that has a soul of a god and has Morrigan as a mother. That worries me.

It's different reading a story and writing your own. When you read it, you want a clearly defined resolution, all choices made and concluded. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo left, Sam had a happy family life (then left), Pippin and Merry were hailed as heroes, Legolas and Gimli became best friends 4eva then sailed off, Aragorn was hailed as the king, Boromir's dead, and Gandalf... well, he's a maia, so he doesn't count. We got closures. In DAO, we didn't get much. The main hero disappears into thin air, and everyone else kind of fades in the background. So as a novel, it's not really a good way to end. It leaves the reader going "... um, that wasn't a very satisfying ending."

So I wonder: do the development team know what they did so right? I doubt it. Was it a fluke? Probably not. But I think there isn't a magic formula, and like a musician, or a nose (the person who makes perfumes), or a cook, they just did it with their senses and no calculations, and without that particular person with the good sense, the series will flop.

What made DAO successful to you?