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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

In a game with morality choices, would you choose the Good options if the results were often worse?

Most of the games I can think of that had moral choices ended up rewarding you the most if you chose the Good options. In Bioshock, for example, you could either “harvest” the Little Sisters for extra upgrade currency, or you could Cleanse them for a smaller reward. As it turns out though, if you end up Cleansing the Little Sisters they would start dropping off care packages containing ammo and extra upgrade currency, such that you might even come out ahead by going the Good route. The choice also ends up reflecting the tone of the ending, but it luckily skews towards Evil Ending rather than Bad Ending per se.

In thinking back to Bioshock, I started wondering if I would have been more inclined to harvest the Little Sisters if they did not “sweeten the deal” with the gift baskets later. I would like to say “No,” but I also feel like the “Pick the Good option and get bigger reward later” is such a ingrained gaming trope that I am beginning to question which inclination came first. Would the promise of a “better” ending be incentive enough to make Good choices, even if the game proper was made more difficult thereby?

Or to go all the way: what if the only reward of a Good choice in a game was the personal satisfaction of having done the right thing? In other words, what if the player was punished in some way for choosing the moral thing to do? An example could be sparing a bad guy, only to have them return and kill an NPC teammate later. Would the average gamer behavior change? Would the moral players feel better about their choices, or worse?

Sometimes I feel like I want to be a game designer just to screw with people.

So, About Those Extended Endings

Three months to the day ago, I decided to write a post called What I Want to See from Bioware, vis-a-vis the proposed Extend Cut of Mass Effect 3.

And now I have seen those endings. All four of them.

That is your warning, kiddos. Spoilers dead ahead.

In that prior post, there were a number of things I was looking for from Bioware, in Best Case/Worst Case scenarios. The biggest one was the Normandy scene at the end, which made no goddamn sense whatsoever – it essentially ruined the endings for me all by itself. What I wanted to see in the Extended Cut was:

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best Case: an explanation of how the crew (EDI and Liara, in my case) got back on-board the Normandy, what the Normandy was doing while I was on the Citadel, if they knew/suspected Shepard was alive or dead, and why they were running away.
  • Worst Case: ensure that the crew with you on the final mission don’t show up in the final scene.

Mission accomplished. In a big way.

Yes. Yes he did.

In the interests of being somewhat objective, the “answer” they gave to where your crew members were at was… a bit hard to swallow. With Harbinger easily knocking out tanks and fighters left and right, it seemed quite out of character for him to let the Normandy land, for people to be evacuated, for there to be time enough for one last tearful goodbye, and then an escape back into orbit. If the Normandy was capable of landing, why not just drop off a bunch of people at the beam itself?

I am willing to entertain the notion that Harbinger would not care about Normandy picking people back up, as long as they were not being moved closer to the beam, although that seems a bit weak.

Outside of that gripe? Smashing success on the other points. I laughed out loud when Hackett said what he did in the screenshot above; partly from the unexpected bluntness, and partly from the beginnings of a catharsis I had been missing for the last three months.

The next section of that prior post was about Indoctrination:

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best case: Settle the Indoctrination debate once and for all. If Indoctrination is real, include a true final battle scene, potentially followed by the same sort of choices.
  • Worst case: Remove the breath scene.

As far as I am concerned, the Indoctrination theory is kaput. It was actually kaput months ago, but the mini-epilogues following each ending serves as final nails. In the scheme of things, Indoctrination was a better ending than what we were originally given, but these new ones supersede the old in a good way.

The breath scene is unfortunately still in the game, but since March I have come to understand that the Destroy ending is actually truly Renegade. Ironically, all those Indoctrination videos had led me to believe that Control was bad and Destroy good, (i.e. the real ending), when that really was not the case. It is true that “nuking the site from orbit is the only way to be sure,” so to speak, but condemning all synthetics to death, including EDI, when other options are available is undeniably Renegade. Control may not seem like the way the Reaper threat should be handled, but a Paragon Shepard would take that chance. The consensus says: these units do have souls.

The final section was general plot holes:

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best case: Shore up these plot holes via Codex entries, FAQs, or at least acknowledge they exist.
  • Worst case: leave everything vague and unsettled.

Many of the points I raised regarding the Citadel were answered by the expanded Catalyst dialog, if a bit weakly. Not the biggest one, though. Why the Reapers did not simply reassert control of the Citadel immediately upon emerging from dark space is probably one of those “Why didn’t the Eagles just fly Frodo to Mount Doom?” questions for the ages.

The Endings Themselves

Talk about night and day compared to the previous ones, eh?

Should have shipped like this.

The amusing thing to me, is how my very first extended ending was the new one.

Unintentionally.

After slogging through the Cerberus base and the London battle and the unskippable post-beam dialog, the very first thing I did when I regained control over Shepard was shoot the Catalyst in the face. His Harbinger-esque “So be it” response took me aback, as did the unexpectedly poignant “Failure” ending. I remembered that time-capsule scene with Liara, and was even touched by the knowledge that though we had failed, the cycle was eventually broken by the next generation of intelligent species. Whom, while still looking suspiciously like asari, nevertheless had the gumption to actually take Reaper threat goddamn seriously. “Was that so hard?” I asked the monitor afterwards.

I played through all three of the other main ones, and was immensely satisfied. It is still Synthesis – aka the Green Cupcake – all the way for me, but I felt that Bioware did an excellent job at handling the Control ending as well. They all felt a bit… Deus Ex. In a good way. I have no idea how they will rationalize additional post-ME3 games in the Mass Effect universe, at least without holding Destroy up as canon, but I suppose we will all jump off that bridge when we come to it.

Months ago, a friend asked me as to whether I would purchase any future ME3 DLC. At the time, I replied “It will depend on how Bioware handles the Extended Cut.” Although I am extraordinarily happier with the series now than I was back in March, I am not sure that I want to revisit Shepard and crew again. Say what you will about the writing or “cheap emotional tricks” or whatever else, but this series truly has affected me in ways few games (or books, or movies) have.

I forgive you, Joker.

I am thankful for the experience, of course. I just know that the longer I stay in Manse de la Shepard, the less likely I am to enjoy all the other experiences out there. It is hard enough handling regular post-game depression, without also having to question why I am not a better man in real life.

I am only half-way joking.

Mass Effect 3’s Ending DLC Coming Tomorrow

I do not want to sound ungrateful or anything (at least until I see the expository scenes for myself), but… err, Bioware? Telling us on Friday that the ME3 Extended Cut DLC will be out on Tuesday comes across as somewhat guilty. You know, when you were a kid and tried to sneak in the one bad thing you just did into a stream of all the other random things in the hopes that Mom wouldn’t notice.

“AND THEN I PLAYED WITH BOBBY IN THE BACKYARD, AND THEN WE WENT TO THE CREEK, AND I CAUGHT A FROG BUT IT HOPPED AWAY, and I broke Mr. Wilson’s window, AND WE RODE BIKES TO THE PARK BUT IT WAS GETTING DARK SO WE CAME BACK, AND WE PLAYED POGS AND I TOTALLY WON THREE TIMES.”

I haven’t been giving the ending DLC much thought beyond casually musing how, at this point, Bioware could probably get away with not releasing anything¹. It has been more than three months, after all, which is the equivalent of 10 years in the modern news cycle. Mass Effect really isn’t A Thing to me anymore, especially after I sort of capped out of interest in the multiplayer.

Listening to this (low-budget) PR interview though…

Have you ever started dating an ex again? You remember how much fun you had together, how much everything just clicked. And then you also remember how (badly) things ended last time, getting a little steamed all over again with events long since past. The video basically evokes that, to me.

Anyway, the scab is coming off tomorrow, or whenever it is I am able to sit down and make out with ME3 again. Maybe never. Realistically, as soon as humanly possible.

¹ I don’t actually believe they could get away without addressing the ending. Not because fans “deserve” a better one, but rather because I have no doubt Bioware would like to sell some actual story DLC. I imagine that the market for story DLC to a 3+ month old RPG is likely limited to the very people most pissed off by the ending.

The Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

It is official:

What can fans expect from the Extended Cut DLC?

  • For fans who want more closure in Mass Effect 3, the DLC will offer extended scenes that provide additional context and deeper insight to the conclusion of Commander Shepard’s journey.

Are there going to be more/different endings or ending DLCs in the future?

  • No. BioWare strongly believes in the team’s artistic vision for the end of this arc of the Mass Effect franchise. The extended cut DLC will expand on the existing endings, but no further ending DLC is planned.

What is BioWare adding to the ending with the Extended Cut DLC?

  • BioWare will expanding on the ending to Mass Effect 3 by creating additional cinematics and epilogue scenes to the existing ending sequences. The goal of these new scenes is to provide additional clarity and closure to Mass Effect 3.

It is coming out this summer, and it’s free. Mission Accomplished.

Also of note is that there is some free multiplayer DLC that should be launching on Tuesday. I have officially spent more hours playing ME3 multiplayer than ME3 single-player, so this is of interest to me. It is pretty clever of EA/Bioware though, in that undoubtedly all of the new content (other than maps) will likely be need to be unlocked via the random packs purchased via in-game credits… or Bioware Points. All of the goodwill of free DLC, along with all the subsidization of microtransactions.

Regarding the nature of the Extended Cut, Kotaku dug a little deeper, and provided some more details. Namely, that A) Bioware is shifting its DLC plans to make sure this comes out first, B) it will include cinematic sequences (!) and epilogue scenes, C) Command Shepard isn’t (likely) to have any new/revised lines of dialog, D) “‘should be able to grab a save file before the endgame and experience the new content from there.’ (Keep a pre-endgame savefile, folks!)” E) Indoctrination theory is probably kaput.

Some general endgame details.

 

Regarding the latter, it was Liveblogged that they said:

“The indoctrination theory illustrates again how, um, committed the fanbase is…” don’t want to comment either way. Don’t want to be prescriprive — fans interpret their own way, plus DLC coming. “We want the content to speak for itself, and we’ll let it do so”

That does not particularly sound like a response from people who intentionally wanted it all to be a dream. Ironically, since Bioware will essentially be designing the epilogue based on fan feedback/questions, it is entirely possible that they may fit in Indoctrination-y wiggle room. I hope not, but we’ll see.

This exchange was also interesting, for different reasons:

[…] His question – when citadel is moved, what happens to everyone on it?

Answer: One of the things in the citadel codex is that anyplace -inside- the citadel has emergency seals, and some exterior areas have emergency seals that can keep atmosphere in. Even if the Citadel is destroyed (which it may or may not be in ending), “is not like the entire things blow up.” People on (in) the arms may well still be alive. No reason to assume 100% casualties

Err… okay. Not exactly sure how it makes a lot of sense for the Reapers to be in control of the Citadel for X length of time and not handle all the armed civilians (my Shepard encouraged the formation of a militia), but perhaps that goes a ways towards this making sense. Incidentally, I actually have a serious problem with the breath scene being “canon,” but I suppose we will have to see how things pan out this summer.

P.S. This comparison between Mass Effect and Lord of the Rings highlights why all this was necessary to begin with. You know, if my writing about it constantly for the last three weeks wasn’t enough.

Bioware Cupcakes

Best ending line in a gaming news article goes to Kotaku.

The short version of events leading up to that article is that, similar to the (shut down) Child’s Play charity drive, a group of gamers decided to “protest” Mass Effect 3’s ending by sending Bioware 400 cupcakes… each one identical, aside from red, blue, or green frosting. The cupcakes arrived, and then this happened (emphasis mine):

Writing on the company’s forums, Chris Priestley says that while “we appreciate creative and thoughtful” acts of feedback, “we decided ultimately the reason that they were sent was not done in the context of celebrating the work or accomplishment of the Mass Effect 3 team.”

As a result, instead of eating them all up, BioWare donated all 400 cupcakes to a local youth shelter. Where, presumably, after picking their colours and finishing their last bite, the kids were left wondering whether their choice had really been that important, and if somebody could please come in an explain what the hell just happened.

I’m sure that, one day, I won’t find these stories so goddamn hilarious. Today is not that day.

In other news, I have added a new section to the site called “Currently,” as in Currently Playing/Reading/Watching. I do not expect it to become relevant to the blog proper, but if you enjoy occasionally seeing what other bloggers are up to (as I do), there you go.

[ME3] What I Want to See from Bioware

Yeah, yeah, I thought I was ready to move on too.

The two things that have really been getting my goat, though, are the Ending Apologists and the Art is Inviolate camps. In truth, they are two sides of the same coin, neither of which seem capable of acknowledging the possibility of ME3’s ending(s) being half-assed. So, I feel compelled to offer counter-rebuttals to their rebuttals, in the form of massive spoilers after the following unbearably cute picture I have bastardized for my purposes.

So, stop reading and start finishing Mass Effect 3, dammit.

Spoilers below this line!

Before I get started in earnest, whenever I use the term “plot hole,” I am referring to the definition provided via Wikipedia:

A plot hole, or plothole, is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot, or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot. These include such things as unlikely behavior or actions of characters, illogical or impossible events, events happening for no apparent reason, or statements/events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.

The Normandy Scene

What. The. Fuck.

Exhibit A.

More than anything else in the game, the Normandy sequence at the end almost completely and totally ruined the game for me. There is no logical, thematic, or even artistic reasoning for what occurred.

Okay, let me back up. There are two things that this sequence accomplishes:

  1. Establishes Implies that there is no escape from the Red/Blue/Green explosion. As in, no corner of the galaxy is safe, there won’t be pockets of Reapers hanging out, etc.
  2. It looks cool.

The thing that I want to note though, is that up until this point – beginning from when Shepard stands up post-laser – I had it in my mind that I was going to have to replay the final mission again. Why? Because I had taken EDI and Liara with me, my two favorite characters, and I presumed they were dead. They had to be… otherwise, where were they?

So imagine my surprise when I see this:

Exhibit B.

The Normandy sequence is the very definition of plot hole. Why was Joker flying away? How did he know to fly away? How did crew that was with you at the beam suddenly appear on the Normandy?

There have been various (tortured) “explanations” I have seen. For example:

Q: How did Normandy end up caught up in the Mass Relay explosion with the people who were on earth?
A: There are clearly some parts of the ending scene that the player doesn’t see. There’s two segments where Shepard blacks out between first running for the beam and his final choice. There’s also a clearly defined scene skip between him rising on the platform and ending up where he meets the ghost child thing. These skips give room for an arbitrarily long period of time for Normandy to escape. Given that Normandy made it that far it seems that this is a reasonable series of events:
1. Somehow off camera(Shepard doesn’t see this happen) the two squadmates you choose get separated during the run for the beam.
2. Everyone gets blasted by the Reaper on the way to the beam.
3. The radio calls go out saying Shepard, along with the rest of the Hammer team is dead, that nobody made it to the Citadel
4. The Alliance fleet calls for a retreat, intending to regroup somewhere else.
5. Normandy picks up the crew still on Earth, then flies out to the Mass Relay, takes it
6. The Crucible, along with the slower ships in the fleet see the Citadel arms open and figure(correctly), that this means Shepard actually survived and opened it.
7. The Crucible docks.

First of all, the necessity of any explanation is proof of a plot hole – who sees the Normandy sequence and goes “yeah, I expected that to happen”? Nobody. Secondly, it has never been established that Shepard is the only person who can open the arms of the Citadel. What that means is that even if the crew “gets separated” or assumes that Shepard is dead, they still should have continued their own individual attempts to make it to the teleport beam.

But, fine, let us assume that the other two crew members were knocked out, and woke up only after Shepard got up and teleported. Why did they not make their way towards the beam then? If the Normandy was capable of making a safe landing to pick up the crew members, whether said crew members were conscious at that point or no, the Normandy could have dropped off additional troops at the beam. Indeed, if the Normandy picked up the crew before Shepard woke up, we would expect them to drop off more troops at the beam (if not search for Shepard’s body). The only excuse explanation I can see for why none of this occurs is an assumption that Shepard woke up first and the beam turned off after Shepard took it (but not before Anderson “followed”).

For now, let us assume that the Normandy had sufficient time and opportunity to pick up the crew members on Earth between the time Shepard opens the Citadel arms and when the Crucible is fired. The fact that the Citadel arms opened and the direct communication with Admiral Hackett proves that the Alliance knew Shepard was both alive and on-board; this disabuses the notion that the Normandy was fleeing to regroup, or for any rational reason. If anything, I would assume that Joker and crew would be waiting around to pick Shepard up, having the only ship capable of doing so.

“If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”
– Albert Einstein

Incidentally, unlike many others, I am not actually assuming that the Normandy was taking a Mass Relay in that final sequence. It seems to me that the visuals would have looked the same if the Normandy had engaged its normal FTL drives – the explosion only looks like a “beam” because of the Doppler effect of FTL travel. In other words, I can imagine that the sequence itself would have occurred if Joker was trying to avoid either the initial energy explosion from the Citadel, or the secondary explosion from the Mass Relay.

That does not explain why Joker was trying to avoid it, nor whether the damage the Normandy took was because of engine stress or whether all spaceships took similar damage off-screen (e.g. possibly wiping out the space fleet).

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best Case: an explanation of how the crew (EDI and Liara, in my case) got back on-board the Normandy, what the Normandy was doing while I was on the Citadel, if they knew/suspected Shepard was alive or dead, and why they were running away.
  • Worst Case: ensure that the crew with you on the final mission don’t show up in the final scene.

To be honest, it wouldn’t make more sense to see the other crew members, given that everyone was on Earth and fighting to the death. However, it is that much more plausible to see others exiting the Normandy rather than the very people at your side.

Kill the Indoctrination Theory

First off, I want to make it clear that I find the Indoctrination Theory extremely convincing. Indeed, it “solves” a lot of the problems I have with the end of the game, and makes a certain amount of lore sense.

At the same time, it also proves the Bioware writers are terrible.

I get it now! Shepard was Master Chief all along!

That notion might not be immediately obvious, but it can be summed up by this quote by Shamus, in the Mass Effect Ending Deconstruction article:

And no, I’m not a believer in the “indoctrination theory“. I think that would be better than the ending we got, but I don’t think it it was ever intended by the writers. This theory involves an incredible level of subtle symbolism, which goes against just how ham-fisted the rest of the story is. To wit: If these writers thought Shepard was indoctrinated in the last stage of the game, we would know it.

Milady also has a recent article on the same subject, entitled The Intentional Fallacy:

[…] To me, the theory is disproved due to a fault in consistency. The unreliable-narrator hermeneutics is not supported by the work’s tone and structure. Mass Effect had until then never attempted any plot exposition that was not direct (like showing videos of the Cerberus scientists at various locations degenerating because of indoctrination, instead of silencing the facts and allow for the player to draw her conclusions based on the environment; that simply had never been done), and surely Mass Effect had not had any dream-like sequences, any instance of unreality, ambiguity. Shepard’s dreams are merely dreams, by what we gather from our previous experience of the game.

In other words, if Bioware intentionally had Indoctrination in mind (har har), they would have wrote it into the story more. I understand that that sounds like a backhanded dismissal of the very evidence brought up in support of the Indoctrination Theory, but I get where Milady and Shamus et tal are coming from. Remember the TV show Lost? Do you honestly believe the writers set out to make a sickeningly cliche religious allegory starting in Season 1? Of course not. In fact, it was pretty clear they were making shit up as they went along until the end of Season 3, when they announced that there would only be six seasons total.

There is also the fact that Indoctrination negates the last half hour of the game. In other words, Commander Shepard starts breathing in the rubble, gets up, and… what? Heads back towards the beam, gets teleported, and still has to open the Citadel so the Crucible (still orbiting Earth) can dock? Or do you suppose that while Shepard was “dreaming” the ending, the Catalyst actually opened the Citadel arms and fired the Crucible with Shepard’s remote orders? I don’t see why he would.

And then you start seeing conspiracies everywhere.

Personally, Indoctrination actually makes the ending worse for me. When I was presented all three choices, I actually chose Synthesis. While many Indoctrination supporters list that as being “what the Reapers were after all along,” that is not really the case. The Reapers were trying to preserve the existence of organic life in the face of an inevitably synthetic-only future – synthesis allows both organic and synthetics to coexist, by removing the difference between them. There is no creator to rebel against.

Even if we assume that Reapers are examples of said synthesis… so what? If everyone is able to keep their own form, as implied both with the ending and the very existence of Shepard (has he/she not already been synthesized?), what is the problem? The Reaper method was bad because you were killed, liquified, and otherwise extinguished as an individual. If you were capable of retaining individuality and agency… what are the downsides?

Oh, right. The downside is that Bioware put in that goddamn “breath scene” only in the Destroy ending, making it a choice between beating the Reapers and living, or doing the right thing (IMO) and dying.

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best case: Settle the Indoctrination debate once and for all. If Indoctrination is real, include a true final battle scene, potentially followed by the same sort of choices.
  • Worst case: Remove the breath scene.

Pave Over the Other Plot Holes

This is really kind of a catch-all category.

What happened to the people aboard the Citadel when it was captured by the Reapers? How did the Reapers gain control of the Citadel? If the Reapers were capable of capturing the Citadel, why didn’t they do it earlier? I mean, Christ, if the entire Reaper modus operandi was to warp to the Citadel to decapitate the galactic leadership… err, why did they change their plans this time around? Just because they couldn’t warp right there doesn’t mean the galaxy is that much less screwed when the Reaper armada shows up manually. Hell, Reapers show up at Earth, Shepard heads to the Citadel to get help, and then finds that the Reapers are already there. Game over.

Of course, this rabbit hole is probably bottomless.

After all, if the Catalyst is in the Citadel the entire time, why does he need the Keepers to do anything? Why not just turn the Citadel radio dial to WRPR 106.1, Reaper FM? How is it possible that the plans for the Crucible have escaped Reaper attention across countless millennia? How is it that countless different species even knew what they were making? As Shamus later states:

Case in point: The crucible is the ultimate weapon, derived from Prothean ruins, yet it was never mentioned or hinted at in any of the previous games. None of the beacons talked about it. Vigil didn’t bring it up, and I’m willing to bet the Prothean squadmate (a DLC character) doesn’t mention it either. This is because it wasn’t planned at the outset. It’s a late-story asspull done by writers who never had a plan.

It is one thing to leave story hooks for future titles; it is quite another to leave plot holes so big you could fly a whole new trilogy through them.

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best case: Shore up these plot holes via Codex entries, FAQs, or at least acknowledge they exist.
  • Worst case: leave everything vague and unsettled.

Conclusion

I do want to make one thing abundantly clear: I still love the Mass Effect series overall.

I just think it should be acknowledged that “artistic integrity” does not mean that the ending was not half-assed, or shouldn’t be changed based on (fan) feedback. If it was Bioware’s story when they wrote it, it will still be Bioware’s story when they rewrite it, regardless of the reasoning behind the revision.

Is there something you would like to see in the DLC? Would you prefer Indoctrination Theory debunked, proven, or left ambiguous? Would you even be interested in DLC set before the final battle, e.g. taking back Omega, etc?

Bioware “Addressing” Mass Effect 3’s Ending(s) via DLC

Dr. Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, has a blog post up regarding Mass Effect 3’s ending and resulting controversy. The money-shot (literally), is this paragraph:

Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April.  We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received.  This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.

My first, immediate reaction? Summed up by this picture I saw on the Kotaku forums:

Burn Level: Legendary

Between the wording of that paragraph and the extent to which he stresses that the team was “surprised” at the “passionate reaction of Bioware’s most loyal fans,” this news does not exactly inspire confidence. Implicitly, it sort of disproves Indoctrination Theory, yeah? And even more depressingly, it implies that the team of writers who had crafted this brilliant narrative up to that point felt like the Normandy bit at the end made a single goddamn piece of sense.

I think I need to make a post dedicated to narrative/artistic integrity at some point, if for no other reason than to try and hammer out my own feelings on the subject. I felt post-ending DLC worked well in Fallout 3 (regardless of whether it was based on fan reaction or not), but at what point does this become indistinguishable from game companies selling us the final chapter to incomplete products? If Bioware changes the ending, is that them “caving to pressure?” Is a revised ending still the inviolate artistic expression it was before? And what if the new ending is actually good? Will you be able to, as a player, re-immerse yourself without the nagging feeling of patronization?

While I do some soul gerrymandering on the subject, don’t miss Kotaku’s “Why I’m Glad Bioware Might Change Mass Effect 3’s Ending for the Fans” article, or Forbes’ awesome “Mass Effect 3 And The Pernicious Myth Of Gamer ‘Entitlement’” take-down (thanks to Liore for pointing it out). They sum up my general feelings on the subject, although… well, suffice it to say, I’m the kinda guy that got annoyed that the Oracle was played by a different actress in Matrix 3 (and how they handled the transition) even though the first actress died IRL.

Moving Past Mass Effect

First, I apologize in advance for another “blank” entry.

As someone who typically plays games that are old and on Steam sales, I can appreciate the frustration of people who are waiting on ME3 and yet are inundated by spoiler-laden posts on their Readers/blogrolls. In fact, I do not even like friends telling me they liked or disliked an ending to anything – my mind immediately starts analyzing the kinds of things my friend likes/dislikes (“Hmm, he wasn’t a fan of FF7’s ending…”), and extrapolates possible ending scenarios from there.

If you are such a person, or don’t want ME3 spoilers generally, last chance to bail.

Yeah, we kinda do.

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us… We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”
–Franz Kafka

Since finishing Mass Effect 3 Monday night, I have been in turmoil. Post-game depression is fairly typical for me, and endings like this one are a sort of double-whammy.

Rohan described the break as being “pre-beam” and “post-beam,” but it actually started earlier for me. The invasion of Earth itself was curiously… off. What should have been a momentous emotional occasion was, well, not. Where was the stirring music? Fires and Reapers and silence. For a while, I was actually worried that there was a bug preventing any music from playing.

Once back aboard the Normandy, things started feeling right again. This was Mass Effect, this was what it was about. In fact, it was not until ME3 specifically that I even felt I knew what the series was about. Interstellar war was one thing, but what I cared about was landing in a situation, and being the right man at the right time. Shepard was not setting out to dictate galactic policy, Shepard was not some god-figure who arbitrates which species lives and which dies. He (or she) simply happened to find himself in that position, at that turning point in history, and does the best that he can.

It is in that context that I felt the post-beam sequence was fine, for what it was.

Through the prism of the ending, I felt that Shepard the character got the closure he needed in the hours leading up to the end. The romance section put it in sharp relief: I was so worried about getting “locked-in” too soon that I accidentally past the point of no return without anyone at all. When I reloaded and made my choice, the stark difference between my feelings of the game – based simply upon those two scenes, one alone and the other with Liara (sorry, Tali) – drove home the fact that I love this series, no matter what happened.

Ever read The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan? As of today, the series is one book away from completion, and I have become so invested in the final outcome that I can barely stand it. But… what kind of ending should there be? The one I want, or the one I deserve? What if the ending is simply terrible, like how I felt ME3’s was at the time I was experiencing it?

With Wheel of Time, that answer is largely moot. There was one point in Winter’s Heart (book 9), one perfect moment, when everything in the narrative came together for me; a great character catharsis, independent of any kind of grand action event. I remember sighing, and a tension I did not even know existed, releasing. No matter what happens in Book 13, no matter what the Wheel weaves, they can never take that moment away or cheapen it.

I am coming to understand the same with Mass Effect.

Bioware cannot take away the feeling of immense depth with Mordin, when the Salarian stereotype fell away to reveal a reservoir of guilt for necessary evils; a doctor moved to inflict harm, faced with impossible choices. Bioware cannot take away my own feeling of guilt when I heard Kaiden’s “Belay that order!” command repeated in the forest dream sequence; a sacrifice I readily accepted at the time to save a woman I had feelings toward and ultimately passed over. Bioware cannot take away EDI and Joker and all the other hilariously poignant moments in the entire series, but ME2 in particular. Bioware cannot take away the bromance with Garrus, or the absolute struggle I had in choosing whether to intentionally miss that shot or not.

Here, here.

So, if you struggled as I have, or struggle still, I have a recommendation. Listen to To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra. Listen to it again. Then read this Kotaku article. Then remember every time you felt this way before – maybe Cowboy Bebop, maybe End of Evangelion, maybe Saving Private Ryan – and try to remember the last time you have felt so wounded by a video game. Have wanted something different so bad you could taste it.

And then… try to let go. If you are anything like me, I am having an exceedingly difficult time wanting to.

Good game, Bioware. Good game.

P.S. Epilogue: For what it’s worth, I still believe Bioware should have handled the ending better (and I am aware of the “secret ending”). The tone and recycled outcomes were one thing, but the incongruent Normandy bit was quite another. At first, I railed against the notion that Bioware was planning on going the “if you want the true ending, it’ll be $9.99 DLC” route, and the implicit dream/indoctrination sequence that implies. But the precedent already exists: Bethesda did just that in the Fallout 3 “Broken Steel” DLC.

The difference being, of course, that Fallout 3 was immensely cathartic in wrapping things up at the end, straight out of the box.