Alien Erosion

 By Shamus Jun 29, 2012 281 comments

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I’m saving most of my Mass Effect 3 commentary for the upcoming season of Spoiler Warning, but there’s a story going around about some DLC, and I want to talk about that. Actually, I want to talk about the thing they’re doing with the Reapers in this DLC. Actually, I want to talk about other fictional worlds that do the same thing. Actually, let me start over.

Leviathan is an unreleased, unannounced DLC for Mass Effect 3. Apparently a few loose assets for it were mixed in with the recently released Extended Cut DLC. Specifically, the subtitle text files were discovered by a few curious fans who went nosing around in the data files. By reading the subtitles, they were able to piece together the plot of this DLC. Spoilers below:


Shepard’s mission is to rescue Ann Brynson, a scientist trapped in a mining colony that has been indoctrinated by Leviathan. Depending on Shepard’s actions, the traitorous Reaper may end up as an ally in the final battle for Earth.

Ugh. I don’t know that we can complain too much about Mass Effect 3 lore at this point. If you still see the Mass Effect universe as a coherent work of fiction, then this probably isn’t going to push you over the edge into hater-ville. But when I read this I still felt like I was reading Mass Effect fanfiction. It’s just wrong. Setting aside whatever lore gymnastics or retcons they employ to justify this, it’s just the wrong tone. They can’t be the big scary other if they’re also familiar and relatable.

This is actually a pretty common thing in a long-running series that has the fingerprints of many writers on it. At first the show introduces some new force that is really fresh, interesting, and completely alien. It will breathe life into the show and fans will eat it up. Then another writer gets their hands on it and they don’t know what to do with this crazy alien. But the fans love it, so they “expand” the alien to have some new dimension. If they started as an implacable hive-mind, the writer will show they actually have disagreements or factions. If they’re emotionless, the writer will reveal that… they actually do have emotions! DUN DUN DUN! If they’re heartless and cruel, the writer will show us a couple who are gentle and kind. What seemed like a great mystery is, over time, revealed to be something mundane that just made a really strange first impression.

In the end, the Aliens are diminished. Each new “reveal” makes them more like regular boring homo sapiens. By adding to them the writers are paradoxically taking away from them, by eroding the very attributes that made them interesting to begin with. The Borg began as a hive mind, and ended as another mustache-twirling bad guy with a big army and easily understood human-type goals. (The entire borg race is just an entension of one queen, who is trying to get laid? We’re a long way from the guys that cut up the Enterprise like a birthday cake all those years ago.) Klingons began as petty nationalists in the original series. The movies sort of reconned them into fierce space barbarians, and then subsequent shows eroded them into Grumpy Humans With Lumpy Foreheads. (We forgive them for it because this came mostly from Worf, and he was a pretty good character, except for when the writers used him as a punching bag to establish this week’s Big Bad.) Data got an emotion chip, thus collapsing his entire character arc and character drive into an on/off switch.

I’m sure there are examples in Dr. Who, but I’m not really up on my Who lore.

I didn’t watch anything past the pilot of the new Battlestar Galactica. This was partly because I couldn’t stand a couple of the characters. (Hey writers, we already have dangerous MONSTERS to hate, so why are you making me hate the protagonists? See also: Walking Dead.) But the other major reason was that the machines were just too dang much like people for my taste. They started out feeling a bit alien, but by the end they seemed pretty human in their motivation.

I will say that Firefly’s Reavers seemed to work pretty well. Joss Whedon managed to reveal their origin and nature without diminishing them. You can just imagine what Star Trek would have done with the Reavers. Eventually they would have an agenda. Then they would have factions. Then there would be a “cure”. Then you’d have a Reaver Crewmate that could “relapse” into cannibal-mode and be re-cured, over and over, as required by the plot.

Reavers aside, what other long-running* aliens retained their initial tone and weight, even as the writers revealed and explained them?

* By “long running” I mean multiple movies, seasons of a show, or books. One really long book doesn’t count.

A Hundred!A Hundred!202020201There are more than 280 comments. But less than 282


  1. ACman says:

    Darth Vader.

    Turned from the most epic badass in science fiction to a whining teenager by one man’s hubris.

    • Attercap says:

      Likewise, Boba Fett. A unknown, masked bounty hunter brought the cool factor for 12-year-olds, but subsequent appearances lessened the effect and, once given an actual back-story in the prequels… well, now he’s just another Star Wars character. Like Prune Face.

      • ENC says:

        To be fair, Boba Fett was slapped into a sarlaac pit so you couldn’t really diminish him to begin with.

        Hannibal Lecter was diminished bigtime with rising.

        Also, I’m wondering whether I should finish ME3 as I just finished saving the Turians I think; then I got bored because it was playing out like fanfic, and now I hear both endings suck enormously (well that was kind of projected early as no series has ever accounted for decisions as much as mass effect has attempted).

        I was kind of hoping the Reaper’s were doing what they were doing to combat some external threat honestly, then subsequently introducing that threat that does things for no known reason in the new trilogy.

        • X2Eliah says:

          Get to & do the Tuchanka missionline. Mordin’s arc is great, and a good high point to quit on if you feel like it. Continuing from that, the Geth/Quarian stuff is also worth it, imo.

          • Aldowyn says:

            so… basically stop before you start doing the cerberus stuff if you don’t particularly feel like ending it.

            Personally, I thought even the ending sequence was okay, until the actual ending in the last 15 minutes. There were some pretty good character moments before the last push.

      • Jonn says:

        Boba has almost no character to begin with. His appeal is due almost entirely to the mystery about him. On the other hand, when he was given a past in the EU (which was itself later plot-patched to be an imposter when the prequels contradicted it), no one really objected.

        Pandering to the fans is the path that leads ever downward into stagnation.

        • Yar Kramer says:

          Yeah, Boba Fett’s (original) backstory was also pretty cool. I think it also helped that they never showed his face; “Jango Fett and his clone/son Boba” just looked ordinary, really.

        • ehlijen says:

          He had one crucial bit of character:

          Darth Vader himself had to scold him personally for disintegrating his marks.

          But yeah, beyond that he had nothing.

  2. Samopsa says:

    I think the G-Man from Half Life counts. He gets some extended screentime and an interesting plot arc in HL:EP2, but he’s still totally non-understandable, an almost complete enigma.

    The same goes for the Vortiguants, which started as hard enemies in HL1 to freed slaves/cooks in HL2 to having awesome powers in EP1/2. They are still pretty enigmatic and cool.

    What I meant to say is that Valve writes good stuff.

    • Primogenitor says:

      when they bother actually finishing their stories…

      • Wandring says:

        [To be read with a more coy than serious tone]

        By not finishing their stories, they get to have lots of “mysteries”… mysteries that are engaging… that keep us thinking about what is really going on… what’s going to happen…

        Stories that more often than not turn out to have contrived and infuriating endings. (See Lost or ME3)

        That’s why valve knows better, you see! ;) Why finish what keeps you engaged and pondering (and purchasing)? Why finish the stories that engage you… and more to the point: why end the stories make money!?

    • AJ_Wings says:

      Also, the combine are still as ruthless and enigmatic as I remember them through out the years. They haven’t changed that image with subsequent episodes. Props to Valve for that.

      Ot: That DLC plot synopsis is just… wrong on so many levels. Weren’t the reapers supposed to be one unified entity that shares many bodies or something like that?

      • Kinda. According to the Extended Cut, they are all of the intelligence and culture of every space-faring species combined wrapped in these physical bodies. With that in mind, it’s possible that one society was more than a little sore about becoming a Reaper and rebelled because of it. (Though I’m with Shamus that it undermines the whole plot and damages god-child’s motives even more.)

        • pneuma08 says:

          Yeah. So the god-thing decided to continually wipe all organic life in the galaxy because organics and synthetics simply can’t get along and will eventually destroy each other – except for Joker and EDI, and you can get the Quarians and the Geth to totally along, and now the Reapers can get along with organics too, under the right circumstances. And Shepard is kind of half-synthetic so who knows what’s up with that?

          I guess it can be argued that it’s all inevitable anyway, but then again no one’s really tried, beyond the first time. I mean, god-thing could at least do the courtesy of letting things play out first before hitting the big reset button. But no, it’s too busy deciding it knows what’s best for everyone – well, until Shepard comes along and it lets Shepard decide what’s best for everyone because Shep broke the cycle of everyone not getting along by fighting really hard. Except that it’s impossible to just leave things as they were without the Reapers.

          Yeah, I think it’s best not to think about it too much. Too many cooks and all that…

          • Actually, it might be a case of too few cooks. Most of Bioware’s other writing is put through tons of peer review so that we theoretically don’t get shitty writing (this obviously doesn’t always work). However, the ending didn’t go through peer review. The Extended Cut did.

            I doubt peer review would’ve caught all of it the first time around, but I imagine it would’ve caught all the big stuff.

        • MadHiro says:

          The real question is which races -wouldn’t- be mad about being exterminated and turned in to giant space monsters? Why would even a single reaper ship go along with the giant space monsters that ended their mothered and husbands and daughters? It’s pretty obvious that the Reapers aren’t in any way that matters a ‘culmination’ of the races they are ‘made’ from. That’s just one more plot hole.

          • Arnold says:

            There is another question: The stupid child reveals that it controls the reapers (which is in itself a problem; why would that be better than machine superiority…), so how is it possible for one to have free will at all? And by extension: If they do have free will, how does the control ending even work?
            Well. I guess, coherent storytelling is out of the window by now anyway.

            • My impression (and this is only a fan-theory at best) was that god-child was the consensus of the Reapers similar to the Geth. I guess Leviathan could be a “Heretic” faction? I don’t even…

              Honestly, it’d be best to just not do this DLC. It ruins what good was left of the Reaper lore.

              • topazwolf says:

                I always figured that the star child was harbinger (who I believe is the first reaper). If you take what he says on face value, it appears that he is also an advanced AI (or more likely a computer ascended individual). Since Harbinger shows an odd tendency to establish a singular leader (seen in his choice to chose a single race to create a true reaper flagship out of while the rest are made into the smaller reapers) he may very well prepare and choose a single individual to direct the reaper body (which would explain the use of Saren and later the Illusive Man)that will then follow his decisions. The only way this could be true is if the reaper’s melting process somehow stored the intelligences of the absorbed begins into some for of artificial reality or consensus.

                If this is true then perhaps he choose an individual incorrectly that later chose to rebel. Though I couldn’t even begin to fathom what species would bother to rebel against an armada of god like ships that have already taken everything away from them. Maybe the Protheans found a way to stop the total control or something. Silly, but at least its consistent with the lore (to some small extent).

                A fan theory, but I can’t think of any other rationale.

        • Winter says:

          I’m not so sure that makes sense. Setting aside everything past ME1, for a moment at least, the Reapers are supposed to be machines and so the “renegade Reaper” should turn traitor “like a machine would”. In other words, when human allegiance fails it fails in a human way. When Reaper allegiance fails it should fail in a machine way.

          In other words, for some inconceivable reason it just stops and switches sides. But it doesn’t become a “human ally” so much as a “defective Reaper”, defective in a very particular manner.

          ME2 did a kind of okay job with this with the Geth.

          • True, but past the first game, the Reapers are very firmly established as being half-organic/half-synthetic man-machine hybrids. Need I remind you of Space Terminator?

            And, to be fair and to play Devil’s Advocate, we don’t even know how it will come to the conclusion that it should rebel. I don’t trust Bioware writers, but there is a chance that it won’t be absolute shit.

  3. Primogenitor says:

    I think your assessment of new BSG is what the writers intended – your almost supposed to side with the cyclons for the destruction of humanity.

    Also, Babylon 5′s Vorlons maybe? The rest of the aliens were just “humans in makeup” though (except for novelty-alien-of-the-week).

    • Cradok says:

      The Vorlons were an interesting case, where they started out mysterious but benevolent – mostly – and ended up revealed in all the important ways but as scary as hell. The Shadows, on the other hand, started out as mysterious and scary, and while we find out about them nearly as much as we do the Vorlons, but they remain scary and malevolent.

      But then, that was the point, both races were both right and wrong in their own ways, and untold years of keeping the ‘balance’ had worn them down to the terrifying fundamentals of their philosophies.

      • False Prophet says:

        I think JMS wisely had the Vorlons and Shadows leave very shortly after their big reveal, and never return. Parts of their legacy showed up, sure–the Keepers, the Drakh–but they themselves never came back.

        Also, I suspect a lone creator can keep this in check a bit better than a team of writers, or successors to the original creators/writers, who in effect, are only a few steps removed from writing fanfic themselves. But not always (q.v. Star Wars).

    • Mephane says:

      I think your assessment of new BSG is what the writers intended – your almost supposed to side with the cyclons for the destruction of humanity.

      That’s also what I have been thinking right from the start. What makes the new BSG series stand out is precisely the fact that there is no clear absolutely good or evil. The remaining human fleet is whatever happened to be alive after the initial attacks, and so it is no wonder that they would have every single abyss of human nature among them. I would find it quite unrealistic otherwise.

      • Jeremiah says:

        Yep. Some people are terrible people. I love shows that showcase that. Sometimes the good guys have terrible people you can’t help but hate and the bad guys have some really relatable people.

        • krellen says:

          Conversely, I absolutely hate the “some people are terrible and we have to live with them” thing that’s so common these days. I preferred when we were satisfied with simply moralising that terrible people are terrible and should not be allowed to succeed.

          • False Prophet says:

            Hell, I’d be happy if we saw more of “we don’t agree on everything, and often have heated arguments, but we’re all fundamentally decent people and ultimately on the same side, and have each other’s backs when the chips are down.”

            • ehlijen says:

              Agreed. I get that bright white heroes might be out of fashion, but that doesn’t mean every fictional universe needs to be populated with complete bastards only.

            • MadHiro says:

              Everyone isn’t fundamentally decent; everyone -thinks- they are fundamentally decent. There is a world ( filled with suffering, often caused by those people ) of difference between the two statements. The confusion between the two is a very serious and real problem.

              • decius says:

                The only difference between the two results from people who disagree with you about what is and isn’t fundamentally decent.

                • MadHiro says:

                  Not exactly: Everyone in the world might agree on what should be done, but they might -all be wrong-. Its entirely possible for an entire group of reference frames to concur, and yet not actually be behaving in a fundamentally decent way.

                  Consider as an example social mores from, say, 5,000 years ago.

      • Daimbert says:

        The problem with this is that it became unrealistic because they might have had one person on the whole ship that wasn’t a complete jerk (Helo and maybe Apollo). Zarek would have been a great character on the original series with that Adama to play against, but on this one you almost wonder what’s so bad about him until they end up having to push his character into a somewhat out of character atrocity to make it clear that he’s the bad guy.

        • RCN says:

          Well, the fourth season was written during a certain writer strike. NO character acts completely in-character in that season. Zarek most of all.

          The one character I ended up liking the most in the new series, however and strangely, was Gaius Baltar, the guy you’re supposed to hate.

          (MILD SPOILERS)

          I mean, you have this one guy whose the effective genocide of his species lies in his shoulder because of a bit of a fuck-up regarding security data on his part, goaded by an spy model of the enemy humans didn’t even knew exist. He’s got supreme amounts of guilt to deal with, and the show perhaps showcased what I consider would be the only possible way to deal with it: Rationalize the FUCK out of it. It wasn’t his intention, it wasn’t malicious, but the sheer results of that had a huge effect on him and he was left desperate and doing whatever is necessary to make sure no-one discovered that billions of deaths rested on his lap.

          And then came fourth season and he became a cult leader or somesuch? WTF? One of the best episodes of the show is his trial back at the fleet showing how his faults are actually redeemable qualities from another angle. Then he becomes a cult leader and everything redeemable about him is thrown out the fucking window…

  4. Loonyyy says:

    I’d have to disagree about the Walking Dead. Many of the main characters are unlikeable, or have annoying traits, for sure, but that’s typically a good thing for Zombie horror. Zombies don’t make compelling enemies, and characters killing them doesn’t make for typically compelling narrative. The threat of the undead combined with the anarchic societal break-down is the reason it’s compelling. The characters want to survive, but they all have differing motivations which causes trouble within the group. The interactions of the group, and their efforts to survive, make the story compelling.

    Mind you, it’d help a little if they made the characters who aren’t jerks (cough cough, Shane), a bit more intelligent and willing to be proactive about their problems (cough cough, Rick).

    • Olly says:

      Hey at least those issues are improving what with Shane being very much dead now. Though it does seem like Rick is immediately being set up to take his place entirely in character role.

      To be honest, I got very much bored in the second season of Walking Dead. Sure they were having a series of “exciting” misadventures on and around a farmstead, but they never seemed to think that making some kind of defences against possible zombie attack was a good idea. Seriously people, dig a trench around your farmhouse -> dumb zombies fall in trench -> you survive a small attack/gain extra time to escape in a large scale attack. The only defence they decided to make use of was “1 person stands on a caravan”…

      • Nick says:

        100% agree with all this, it seems the focus for season two was cheaper sets and more infighting. They don’t fight enough zombies that they have to argue amongst each other?

        Every week I hoped they were going to move on and find a more defensible position.

  5. Tam O'Connor says:

    THE DA-LEKS RE-MAIN UN-DIL-UTED BY VIL-LAIN CREEP! (They have, however, been the villains in some really bad episodes. Daleks of Manhattan springs to mind. They usually bounce back, though.)

    The Weeping Angels are a better example from Doctor Who. In their first appearance, they’re pretty terrifying to the guest stars of the episode (since the Doctor isn’t around). But when the Doctor has to face them in a later episode: more powers, vast numbers, one who talks. One can start to see the downward slope.

    Heck, the Doctor himself could practically fall under this.

    • EwgB says:

      I would politely disagree. The Daleks have been re-imagined by (possibly) different writers with many additions that take away from the menacing threat that they were (I admit, I watched the new series only). Particularly the episode with the three remaining Daleks that can’t get their shit sorted out springs to mind (don’t remember the name of it). Considering the fact that they already look like some stupid waste-bin with a plunger sticking out, it’s gets pretty hard to understand why The Doctor craps his pants every time he sees them.

      Similarly with the Cybermen. Every episode tries to make up some new shtick for them, making them more gimmicky every time.

      And I have to agree on the Weeping Angels. I absolutely loved their first episode (despite The Doctor being almost completely absent from it), it was very fresh and different, and a very welcome addition to the series, plus the tone of it was incredible, and it is probably one of my absolute favourites. But they have been diluted somewhat in subsequent episode (although not too much, I find).

      • Michael says:

        I think The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone managed to skip the slow erosion process and completely undermine the Weeping Angels in one go.

        The introduction of new powers, the greater number of Angels and the different kind of story took away the iconic feel created by the Angels’ first appearance. Then, instead of re-establishing what they can do and why they’re scary, the story did an abrupt about-face and rendered them not just less threatening but actually completely irrelevent.

        They’re literally chased out of their own two-part story by teasers for the season finale.

      • The Cybermen and the Daleks have been defeated so many times in the new series that it is impossible to actually see them as a threat. It doesn’t help that most of the episodes they are featured in are poorly written (due to the fact that they are trying to make something that has already been done to death more interesting.)

    • Gruhunchously says:

      The Daleks suffered from this big time in the late 1970s. In their ’60′s/ early 70′s episodes, they were intelligent but heavily ethnocentric creatures driven on by hatred of ‘lesser’ species, just like they are today. But then, in the episode, “Destiny of the Daleks”, they were suddenly and inexplicably revealed to be organic robots that function on pure logic, in complete contrast to everything we ever knew about them before hand.
      This was the beginning of their slow decline that pretty much lasted for the rest of the old series. In the 1980′s episodes, Davros took center stage with the Daleks either opposing him or acting as his drones. Then the they split into two factions and became more interested in fighting each other than crushing the lesser races. They still had a few good appearances here and there though.

      • General Karthos says:

        Since I came in on “Genesis of the Daleks”… or, rather, that was the first serial with Daleks I watched. (I saw some Jon Pertwee serials, and of course, the first serial of all.) I didn’t actually see any of this decline. I always thought of the Daleks as operating, not just on pure logic, but on a cold hatred of lesser species, or perhaps just a desire to dominate all of time and space.

        But that’s just me.

        I don’t think that we’ve become too familiar with Daleks (certainly not to the extent of the Borg) but they have been done a lot. (That’s a reason [of several] there were no Dalek episodes this past season of Doctor Who.)

  6. Robert Maguire says:

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R, if three games counts as long-running. The Zone (a semi-sentient, semi-hive mind, utterly alien area in Chernobyl) is still just as big a threat as it was in the first game – in fact, it’s growing worse.

    The writers have even done some of the things you said not to, and it didn’t ruin the atmosphere at all. Even after you’ve learned how the Zone came into being, what it is, and why everything went to hell. Even after you’ve met a few hardcore survivalists who have tamed/negotiated with the Zone. Even after all that the monsters/anomalies/emissions are still terrifying.

    Of course, it helps that it’s a computer game. Knowing the history of the Zone doesn’t help when you hear heavy breathing and splashing in a swamp and know an invisible Bloodsucker is trying to sneak up behind you.

    • Even says:

      I think the saving grace is in the supernatural themes. It really is a shame that the studio closed since Call of Pripyat set up a lot of interesting precedents for further possible sequels. The most important being that the C-Conciousness is canonically destroyed and Strelok had survived at least until the last end-game battle sequence

    • Ryan says:

      That said, no sequence in any of the three games is as scary as your first time in the Agroprom Underground. Though X18 and X16 come close.

      • Dave B says:

        After my first time in Agroprom Underground, it was a long time before I could bring myself to play that game again. I love the game, but that place gives me the heebees…

  7. maehara says:

    Alien Erosion, literally: the Alien. From killer in the darkness (Alien), via parent protecting her offspring (Aliens), to poor unfortunate parent on the receiving end of violent child backlash (Alien Resurrection). And who can forget the “Mommy! Why!!” look on the poor Newborn’s face as it was sucked out into space?

    I’d quite like to, actually. Thinking of it that way gives Alien3 a lot more appeal, too – the alien in that one remained the good old-fashioned killer in the darkness.

    • Knut says:

      I agree. I also find them to be written more like animals than a civilization, and this helps too. And although later movies (especially vs Predator etc) are a bit silly and not so scary, the Aliens are still very alien.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      That one exception aside,aliens remained pretty consistent.Even in the crap movies(avp 1/2).Same goes for predator:Remains consistent,through good and the shitty movies.

  8. ehlijen says:

    I can only think of cases where they failed:
    daleks and cybermen all had ‘good’ individuals.
    The vorlons and the shadows suffered from accelerated writing in the end.
    Todd the friendly wraith on stargate atlantis.
    Baal who was basically O’neil as a go’auld on SG1.
    The clans in battltech? a little, but too many people tried to write them out of their deliberately wrong premise turning them into just more normal people (ok, they were humans to behin with, but they were supposed to have alien views on many things).
    So far the Modhri in the Quadrail series are holding up.

    It’s deliberately subverted in the Conquerors book series, where the second part is entirely from the big alien bad’s perspective, and we learn they are just as clueless and scheming as everyone else.

    But examples where the aliens stayed mysterious all the way through that wasn’t a preplanned single story? I got nothing right now.

    • thesymbolicfrog says:

      I liked Baal the most out of all the Goa’uld. :/

      (Except for the Tok’ra and possibly Lord Yu, of course. Anubis and Sokar were also cool, but were too evil and one-dimensional to be as cool as Baal.)

      I never thought of Baal as an equivalent of O’neil, but his role as a competent Magnificent Bastard enemy with charm and style gave him a lot of leeway in my book.

      • Will says:

        Baal was the best villain in the entire series; he was the only Goa’uld who could actually be considered intelligent and there was a very real foundation that could potentially have resulted in Baal siding with the SGC without diminishing his character, but then the series ended and he got handed the idiot ball.

        Poor Baal, you shall be missed.

  9. Volatar says:

    Stargate has big bads in spades, but manage to not totally screw up all of them.

    However, two of them pop out as having falling to this effect: The Wraith and the Replicators. Both are classic examples of this trope.

    • Mephane says:

      I found both cases totally fine. I found the way the Wraith-story-arc unfolded quite pleasant and interesting, and the replicators changed over the course of the series because indeed they themselves evolved almost naturally, which lead to great changes.

      Although I was severely disappointed when they so often took on human shape, instead of something completely alien or, at the very least, that of the Asgard, which would have been more logical since they have made them.

      I was also quite disappointed by the story arc around the Ori, however.

      Ceterum censeo: I found Stargate Universe by far the best of the three shows, and was utterly disappointed when I learnt it was cancelled.

    • Dave B says:

      I know a lot of people dislike the Ori seasons of SG1 (for reasons not relevant to this discussion) but I think they managed to stay mysterious through the entire arc. You never see them, except through their avatar, Adria, and their motivations are never fully explained.

      • Volatar says:

        You will notice that I don’t mention the Ori. As much as I disliked that arc, looking back at it, it was done properly. The big bads (Ori gods) remained completely mysterious, and we spent our time fighting a losing war against their followers, which has plenty of development but it all worked perfectly. Then we solved both problems in separate, well written ways.

        • Mephane says:

          Well I preferred it when the Ascended were generally considered mysterious benevolent godlike beings bound by some universal Star Trek-esque Prime Directive.

          The very notion that they are somewhat vulnerable both to malevolent Ascended as well as some type of anti-Ascended super-weapon felt a bit disturbing to me.

      • Raygereio says:

        “their motivations are never fully explained.”
        Erm, yes it was. They wanted worship because they thought themselves to be gods and demanded to be treated as such and also because apparently ascended beings become more powerfull if they’re worshiped.
        I don’t recally anything to indicate that there was anything deeper behind that.

        “You never see them, except through their avatar”
        Yes we do. We see them chilling in the form of fire in the city of Celestis.

        • Dave B says:

          True (it’s been a while since I’ve seen those episodes) but my point is that aside from the most cursory explanation of who the Ori are and what they want, little is said about them. The story is ultimately about their war with the Ancients, but in the show that war is fought almost entirely by proxy. For me, that kept the Ori seeming distant and mysterious.

          • Akhier says:

            I felt that the Ori where explained through relation with the ancients. Its basically stated that they are what happens when someone “not good” ascends and honestly how many times have we had someone in the series ascend then come back down to give us a short bit of hyper knowledge? If the Ori had been something different like entities that where from the plane of existence that the ancients ascended it might have worked. As they are they are just some humans before humans who decided to not be Buddha and reach nirvana through good vibes.

    • Zombie says:

      The way they did the Go’auld I felt was the best way of doing it. They brought in three diffrent groups: The Evil ones who want to conquer ad enslave everything and be worshiped as gods, The Good ones (The Tok’Ra(Is that how you spell it?)) who dont want to be gods and fight the evil ones, and the middle ones, The Jaffa (Again, is that right?) who are both good and bad, either worshiping or fighting the bad guys. They could really do anything to one group and still say “Hey, that was just one guy, here are the rest of the good/bad/neutral guys”. They kind of did that for all thier Big Bads come to think of it. Or at least tried.

    • Stargate doesn’t so much do villain erosion as villain neutering

      Every big threat they generate in the series starts out as a horrifying, world-destroying unstoppable horror – until they find a magic button that stops it. And then it’s no longer a threat, EVER.

      • ps238principal says:

        I’d like to disagree with that, if I may.

        Remember Apophis? That sucker came back several times after being defeated, nearly killed (as in, denied access to his sarcophagus so the several-thousand-year-old body’s mind re-emerged), and even enslaved.

        The fights with the System Lords went on episode after episode, intertwined with trying to get the Jaffa to turn on their former masters.

        Maybe all the ones you saw were one-off stand-alones where they find some kind of “evil in a can” on a planet full of ruins? If so, yeah, that kind of makes sense, given that several worlds are basically abandoned and lots of high-tech and/or awful stuff got left behind. However, Stargate did a great job of doing callbacks to those episodes or (which is really refreshing for sci-fi) having the heroes use the tech to solve a later problem.

        • Danny White says:

          Apophis may have come back a few times, but by half way through the shows run the system lords were no longer a big enough threat to be the main villain. The humans had killed too many of them, their troops seem about as effective as stormtroopers and the humans have destryoing their ships down to a fine art. At this point they needed to bring in a super-powered goa’uld (Anubis), but he only managed to last two seasons before the humans adapted. The same thing happens with the Ori, they start off as a near-unstoppable force, but soon enough the humans can counter their powers and fight them off. Every threat has to be bigger than the last, which tends to trivialise the previous ones. Just compare how hard it was to destroy a single goa’uld mothership at the end of season 1, with the ease with which they cut through an entire fleet at the end of season 7.

  10. Ambience 327 says:

    Does Bowser count? He’s had plenty of reveals (he’s got kids!), shake-ups (he joins the good guys in some games!) and even a peak into his origins (Yoshi’s island), and yet he still retains his motivations (kidnap the princess, rule whatever land he finds himself in, harass Mario & Luigi, etc).

    • Drew says:

      Except in Super Mario Bros, Bowser was a big scary fire breathing dragon who you tried to kill, and in later games, he’s a big lovable weirdo who just wants to bother Mario (and Luigi) and kidnap the princess just because it’s his shtick. Hell, Mario and Bowser have worked together on the same team so many times now, they’re practically friends.

      Side note: I can’t believe I’m having a discussion about the literary integrity of Bowser.

  11. Cradok says:

    I’d nominate some factions from Warhammer 40K. Chaos is rarely written with any sympathy and humanity, and even then it’s vastly unbalanced by the sheer horror and insanity of Chaos. The Dark Eldar, likewise, a race of violently sadistic immortal beings some of whom have spent tens of thousands of years killing for fun. Other factions swing wildly back and forth between good, evil, funny, desperate, but are usually down towards the ‘sociopathic bastard’ end of the scale.

    • Shaddy24 says:

      Then again, there isn’t really any good faction in 40K, and they actively work against making anyone more familiar. When the Eldar started to get too “good” they used the next update to turn them back into distant, cold, calculating bastards who were willing to sacrifice billions of human lives to save a few hundred Eldar. Unlike a lot of the other examples, the writing teams for 40K want distant, incomprehensible aliens.

      • Mathias says:

        I’m still waiting for the book that unveils some of the more mundane civilian Aspect paths.

        Somewhere in the craftworld wanders an Exarch of the Swooping Bagel, forever lost down the path of bakery, unable to return to a life of wanton murder.

      • Scow2 says:

        Actually, Games Workshop learned it really DOESN’T want “Distant, incomprehensible aliens” such as the original Necrons and Tyrannids.

        Sure, they’re fun to fight AGAINST, and make great villains for the computer games… but they aren’t quite so fun to play AS. Yeah, you might find it fun to think of playing the unknowable, unstoppable force, but it breaks down when you actually try to get your army, decide what units you want to play (Since you can’t afford ALL combinations of units), create a paint scheme for them, and create interesting battles against other players.

        I didn’t like the “Battle for Macragge” starter boxset my gamer’s club had because the Tyrannid faction seemed to only exist to stop the Ultrasmurfs from achieving their goal – I didn’t feel like an equal-but-opposite force fighting to eradicate an enemy… I felt like a DM, trying to provide a challenge for the other player’s marine squads to keep them from saving the Gene-seed.

        Ideally, those two factions would have enough individuality to attract people interested in having unique armies, but still be unified enough to the original lore that others can still play their menacing, unknowable enemy. To this end, I think the Tyrannids are actually better than the original Necrons – Each hive fleet (Or maybe even parts of a hive-fleet) has its own personality and agenda that differentiate them from among their own, but to the hapless other races, they’re all the same. Unfortunately, the Necrons lacked the multifaction interest.

        I think the only race that comes close to the lack of factions as the Necrons are the Tau… but even they still have multiple regiments to differentiate themselves.

        Too an extent, I think all races in WH40k should be “Distinguishable between each other, but alien and similar to all their foes” – Yeah, the Imperium can distinguish between the Ultrasmurfs, Bloody Magpies, Space Wolves, and Emperor’s Pointy Sticks, but to any otther race, their just terrifying (or Fun, to the Orks), seemingly single-minded but sometimes cunning aliens.

    • Devourer says:

      Counterpoint: talking Necrons organised in a society, that mastered their splintered gods and send precious, war-turning artifacts to the ennemy along with a thank-you note for these Cadians regiment my collection was lacking.
      I hope they get back to the silent, unfathomable slaves to the C’tans they once were.

      • Juggernaut246 says:

        That was a book touched by Mat “Spiritual Leige” Ward.

        He has written a lot of the newer rulebooks. He wrote the 5th edition Space Marine Codex that made it that all chapters want to be Ultramarines, he wrote the blood angels so that they had their own mini “Legion of the Damned” that shows up and dissapears when needed, oh and they allied with necrons once. Then he wrote the Grey Knight codex where the grey knights run around doing blood rituals on Sisters of Battle (apperently they needed their bood to be MORE HOLY, to be fair its a one off incident) and carrying around a daemon possessed weapons (he never calls upon its power… he just swings it around to hit things), also they have a character that is pretty much what the internet made Chuck Norris out to be, yea… The aforementioned Newcrons are the tamest of the bunch since he essentially just made them fantasy tomb kings in space which is alright i guess.

        His rules are generally good but Games Workshop really needs to give the man an editor.

        • Zagzag says:

          I saw that someone mentioned 40K, and decided to scroll down to see if a certain name was mentioned, and thankfully it was. He really honestly is responsible for half of GW’s alien creep, and any mention of this problem without mentioning his involvement unreasonably tarnishes everyone else!

      • Cradok says:

        Yeah, that’s the big threat for a 40K race, their getting unrecognisably retconed.

    • MikeShikle says:

      Necrons. Necrons! NECRONS!
      Seriously though, they started off as a unified hive mind with a single purpose and agenda. They were basically walking combine-harvesters with no minds or emotions of their own that served the needs of one or two starving and incredibly powerful gods. Loljk, now they have memories and personalities and in-fighting and the aforementioned super gods were actually Defeated by them and are now their slaves. Not only is it a retcon, its a retcon that reduces all the distinct personality of the race into “Another faction with subfactions but now theyre egyptian”

      • SleepingDragon says:

        This. I can see them wanting to have more in-world justification for necron VS necron battles/scenarios but humanizing them is really damaging to the feel of the race.

        Next thing we know this will be canon

      • TYRANIDS have named characters now. Necrons couldn’t possibly escape it…

        (although quite tragic that one of the Necron ones is called Mumm-Ra the ever Living. Almost.)

      • Juggernaut246 says:

        To be fair, the c’tan were eating the plot (such as it is in 40k) with a whole lot of lazy writing going “the c’tan did it”. It was rather clumsy.

        Now they are Robot Tomb Kings in Space. Ward’s writing isn’t that good but there is some potential in the ideas if a better author were handed them.

        Them enslaving the c’tan was probably done to do 2 things, 1: explain why the c’tan are depowered now and get them out of center stage, and 2: make the necrons seem more badass by saying “They enslaved their own gods!”

        My biggest gripes with the fluff are little things that screw with the feel in a big way and didn’t need changing. For example, warriors screaming when they phase out. The idea that they marched forward in dead silence was really cool and this undermines that coolness.

  12. Stratigo says:

    Not all aliens are written to be alien as it were.

    the goa’uld in stargate never really seemed alien. They were dudes pretending to be god. Their foibles were supposed to be evident as they really weren’t gods.

    • EwgB says:

      But still, they were very menacing in the beginning, and later on, with increasing technological advancement of the humans, they became more and more just some spoiled assholes. The writers had to bring in the Replicators as a new threat to keep things interesting, and one can argue how successful it was.

      • Stratigo says:

        I think that is less villain decay and more hero creep. though one of my primary problems with the show was always just how much better humanity got without ANYONE ever learning what was going on. I mean humans built a secret fleet of starships.

        • Zombie says:

          They tried to say the governments of the world were collaborating on it, as Atlantis kind of showed, there were people from diffrent countries working for SGC. Also the Asgaurd did help the heros by giving they non-weapon tech until they were about to die, and then when they died they gave them weapons, so its somewhat explained. And it didn’t really help against the Ori.

      • Duoae says:

        If you actually look at the film, the goa’uld were even altered fairly significantly from that for the series (I think probably cost-cutting as I don’t think it originally had that much budget).

        Even when they introduced the “original hosts” they weren’t the same as what the film talked about and transferring between hosts became no obstacle whereas it was painted originally as being very dangerous – why being able to regenerate hosts was so important.

  13. Grudgeal says:

    The Shivans?

    Mind you, all the exploration we get of them is from third-party accounts: The entire story about the Shivans are of how the Ancients met them (and were exterminated), and is therefore coloured by the Ancients’ somewhat limited knowledge on the subject matter. The Shivans themselves are noticeable in that they don’t communicate anything to species they encounter.

    Well, I mean, aside from communicating ‘overt hostility’.

    • wickedartist says:

      I have to back up the Shivans, if only because I really like the Freespace games. While the stories in the games themselves were resolved nicely, it is a shame the overarching mysteries never were.

      What was done right with the Shivans is exactly this form of third-party exploration and lack of communication. They are mysterious because we can’t know anything about them. We can only perceive their behaviour and speculate on their motives. All we get are suggestions, nudges, hints, and all manner of subtle clues, but never outright expository information, which keeps us interested and guessing.

      Some mysteries are better when they are never entirely solved. Our imagination does far better work in keeping a mystery alive and interesting than any writer could ever do. There is a tendency, especially in a long-running series, double-especially if/when they switch writers, to over-write and/or try to take things in new directions that don’t always fit.

      My take is that writing something that is very alien demands a degree of obfuscation on the writer’s part. The more is added, the more human-like the alien becomes, because we can only ever really write “human”.

    • PAK says:

      GREAT answer. I loved that the writers gave themselves permission not to resolve the mysteries of the Shivans. And not only is this technique unsettling, but I actually find it much more believable than all these first-contact stories where humans and aliens actually find some means of communicating.

      • Zagzag says:

        To be fair, in the Freespace universe the Shivans weren’t exactly humanity’s first contact, but it’s still a good point. I really liked how well handled they were. When I played the first Freespace at the age of 7 or 8 I was really terrified by how little we knew about them. (That game looked amazing back then)

    • Littlefinger says:

      The Shivans are, in many ways, what Mass Effect’s Reapers should have been. Maybe that’s even what the writers were going for in the first game, but then the storyline got pirated by the awesome button guys.

      Shivans are a destructive force, we have no real knowledge of their origin, they are capable of incredible destruction and have technological superiority far beyond our own, we do not know their motivations or goals, and both times humanity encountered them we scraped by with the skin of our teeth. The only defining characteristics are basically that they are unknown and superior to us.

      Basically they are the technological equivalent of a Lovecraftian horror.

      And the second there comes a sequel that explains what the last two wars were all about they will lose their defining characteristic and will consequently suck.

      edit: awaiting moderation, bwuh?

  14. Airsoft says:

    The ‘Others’ from a Song of Ice and fire, are still very mysterious, and we really don’t know much about them, they still terrify me when I read the books.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Hm. Then again, we only see their involvement in, what, about 50 pages total across all 5 books so far? Well, okay, the bit about going under the wall and meeting the dude, that perhaps counts, so a hundred pages. Still, that has taken a massive, massive back-step to all the inland politics and drago-mon taming. I’d say that the Others simply are not established well enough to be effective threats or villains – they definitely are not the overarching nemesii (nemeses? nemesises? nemesisesuses? Nemesyak?) – more like a piece of candly dangled by Martin whenever he needs to revitalize *some* memory of there being a ‘beyond the wall’ bit too. Which is a bit odd, considering that the Others were actually the big opening draw of the very first book.

      • Christopher M. says:

        On an interesting counterpoint, RR does attempt villain expansion with the Lannisters – to varying degrees of success. Jaime he mostly succeeds at reimagining; Cersei he fails at (why he gave her viewpoint scenes I’ll never know); and Joffrey he doesn’t even try.

        • guy says:

          I don’t think he tried with Cersei, either.

          Someone had to provide the viewpoint in the capital, and it did let us see The High Septon telling her “No” in all its glory.

        • False Prophet says:

          I thought it was to show Cersei wasn’t nearly as good at scheming as she deluded herself into thinking she was.

        • James says:

          i agree at the start i kinda hated Jamie, then he well, he matured i think is the best way to put it, his time with Brienne changed him for a man intrested in only two things Violence and Cersei to a man who wants to change, he actually wants honor

      • guy says:

        Yeah, their credibility has taken a big blow in my mind because they have completely failed to show up. There’s something to be said for keeping the big scary villain offscreen for a while, but it’s the fifth book and actual Others have literally appeared twice, with the wights not getting in all that many more appearances. Given that it’s officially winter by the end of Dance, they should have struck at the Wall by now.

        • James says:

          i think at the end of dance it is now officially winter as decided by Oldtown, and the next two books are reportly going to go into the Lands of Allways Winter, so i think we can accept that the others are going to play more of a role now, as will the Children and Bran.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Winter is Coming…

            Pretty sure the Others are going to be a much, much bigger deal in upcoming books. It’s just him being, very, very slow with his plotlines.

            Although considering the very first scene in the prologue of the first book has to do with them you’d think they’d be more important throughout the series…

  15. kikito says:

    I’d like to hear more about those characters that you didn’t like in Battle Star Galactica, Samus. I enjoyed the series a lot (despite its God Dit It With Magics! ending), and I liked how Gaius in particular changed over time. But I would love to read you smashing it down anyway.

    On the subject of adding stuff to characters; In Babylon 5, one of the characters, G’kar, starts like the “typical villain”, with a matching reptilian face and everything, but on the course of the series he evolves quite a bit. He started like the “typical mouse twitching guy” and ended up being my favourite character.

    So, sometimes, adding stuff up works ok. I don’t know how many writers were involved on this, though. Maybe it was just one, and that’s why it felt alright.

    • Z says:

      Re: Babylon 5: That is true of both G’Kar and Londo; both were sort of mundanely “bad” (though G’Kar played the villian more at the start), and both evolved into something much more complex and tragic. Neither of them was diminished, and both remained alien and relatable at the same time. Gods that show was greatly written!

      The more alien aliens, like the vorlons and shadows mentioned earlier, also evolved without diminishing much. The vorlons became antagonists, but still powerful and mysterious. The shadows explained their motives, but that only made them worse.

      The main difference between B5 and BSG was that the latter was not fully thought out, but was made up as the show progressed, causing not only the erosion, but the inconsistencies and the “a wizard did it” things that really ruined the plot structure, regardless of how well acted or how polished the action sequences. B5 on the other hand suffered from the production side, especially at the beginning, but the plot and characters were top notch throughout. That show was a plot-junkie’s dream.

    • Arctem says:

      One thing with Battlestar Galactica is that all the characters aren’t supposed to be likeable. The show is just as much about conflicts within the crew as without. Robots are a good threat, but the show was ultimately a character drama and therefore needed characters with negative traits to provide friction to keep that running. In my opinion, they did that very well (except for that ugly bit at the beginning of season 3. Ew).

      They also did a pretty good job with varying what characters were likeable. Each character had flaws, and different episodes would bring different characters’ flaws to the forefront, making them an effective “baddy” for that episode. Gaius is probably the best example of that, seeing as he changes from a self-centered scientist to a political activist and finally to religious leader. Throughout the show, the only character I consistently didn’t like was Starbuck.

  16. WILL says:

    The Scrin from the CnC Tiberium series.

    But then they were never all that interesting and 3/4 removed any mystery about them.

    • guy says:

      I liked them in 3, which was incidentally my first encounter with the series. But I don’t think they really ever qualified as mystery aliens in the sense of the Reapers. I mean, we always knew they were about Tiberium in a big way, and really it was fairly obvious.

      Kane, however, they totally dropped the ball on. From what I gather, after they officially revealed he was a space alien from space, they totally forgot to actually create an interesting backstory for what he did while in space.

      • FakeName says:

        Huh? What do you mean, dropped the ball with Kane?
        Kane has a long history in the C&C series, of dying and reappearing.
        The reveal of Kane as a mostly immortal space alien trapped on Earth for millenia who finally engineered a way home was probably the only part of C&C 4 that I liked. Not sure how it was generally received.
        My point is, from the beginning Kane was kind of mysterious and doing evil things, and then at the end of the last game they did a reveal, and then he disappeared. They had an interesting backstory of things that he did while on Earth in the preceding C&C games. We never get a chance to see what he did before or after he left Earth. I’m not sure why you’d expect that, or how it would fit in the games/lore. I don’t see what more there was to tell that would have made him a better character.

        • guy says:

          See, in the Scrin campaign of 3 they unambiguosly revealed he was an immortal alien. Then in 4 he got himself completely outmaneuvered by a human subordinate and experienced a decade-long Nod civil war while openly present and nearly got his master plan derailed by said human subordinate. Plus I don’t believe it ever was explained what his DNA was doing in the Scrin primary database, or at least I haven’t heard of it. I did entirely avoid 4 and learn this only second-hand due to DRM, though, so I might be missing something.

  17. I agree that this new DLC will damage god-child and his message even more. However, I’d like to point out that this isn’t always bad. In the same series, the Geth became much more fleshed out as time went on and we grew to love it. What is the real difference here? Both humanize a terrifying other, but we are angered at doing it to a Reaper.

    • Trevel says:

      The Geth were always the victims rather than the villains, IMHO. I sympathized with them for some time. Even in the first game, it was noted as unusual that they were attacking. They were pegged quite early as a group fighting back against their own extinction. We understood them from the start.

      … the Reapers were not. They were the alien. The other. We did not understand them, and they did not seek understanding. They were beyond our ken.

      … until it turned out that they were actually TOO STUPID to be understood.

    • guy says:

      The Geth were never really the terrifying other in the same way as the Reapers or the Borg. So there wasn’t anything to destroy through humanizing them like there was with the Reapers. That meant they could be successfully humanized.

  18. WILL says:

    Reapers should have stayed Cthulhu-like figures, with the only real expansion on their lore being their motive and possibly a hint to their origin. But nothing more than a hint.

    • Fnord says:

      I never really saw the Reapers as unknowable Lovecraftian others, even from the first game. And, the way they developed, I’m not even sure they were intended to be.

      If they wanted them to be mysterious and unknowable, there was no need to let us talk to Sovereign in the first place. If mystery were the goal, it would have been far better achieved by NOT letting us see them directly, letting the exposition come from Saren, and the way he was twisted and broken.

      The concept of a being that stops to literally explain that it’s unknowable seemed like a bizarre contradiction. I thought it was far more reasonable that Sovereign was just a self-important villain making self-important boasts (which seems to be the attitude Shepard takes, as well).

      • Dragomok says:

        Ah, there was a discussion about it a while ago.

        Also, I had quite different impressions.

        • Fnord says:

          Perhaps I just have different standards of what constitutes “alien”. Because maniacal bonsai gardeners doesn’t sound significantly weirder than some of the motivations featured in fiction for human serial killers. It’s a comprehensible motivation.

          So I don’t think any explanation of the Reapers, from that perspective, is any more impossible than Clarisse Starling trying to understand Buffalo Bill. Nor do I necessarily see finding common cause with one impossible (“You call this order? I look around and I see the galaxy full of chaos! And don’t pretend you’re anymore in control of this war than we are! I stopped Sovereign at the Citadel (etc, etc)! As long as you fight us, we’ll fight you, and there’ll be no order! If you want to shape the future of this galaxy, join us!”). Admittedly, I don’t have faith in Bioware to write this effectively, based on the fiasco that is the rest of Mass Effect 3. But that same fiasco means that any hope of the Reapers as thematically coherent is lost anyway; I doubt this DLC could possibly make things worse.

        • Eärlindor says:

          Y’know? I did laugh, but there’s something about your “lovecraftian mechanical maniacal bonsai gardeners” idea I find compelling.

          It’s different from what I had in mind, but I like it.

  19. Chiller says:

    Well, the only hope is that one day we will meet real aliens, FINALLY understand that they are unlike us in (mostly) every way, and put an end to the cliches (presumably, for whole new ones).

    • Dragomok says:

      …Unless it somehow turns out that all those crazy theories about aliens dabbling in our DNA turn out to be true and we will learn that the true purpose of our existence is to be an attractive foreign market.

    • Mycroft says:

      There is the possibility that aliens don’t exist. We could get the same effect by uplifting birds or by making a AGI that isn’t a human brain emulation. Neither would be human, or even mammalian. You would see both as being pretty alien.

      • MrWhales says:

        I want to see super-smart talking(well, able to communicate with people atleast) birds..

      • topazwolf says:

        It is possible that aliens don’t exist, but far more likely that they do. Now, aliens that exist and happen to have appendages that can manipulate items, happen to have technology, happen to have an exploratory nature, happen to have developed space flight, and happen to have set their sites on earth are less likely.

        Also, I would never want to uplift non-sentient species. If their species never had thoughts of their own, any thoughts we give them would be by necessity quite human in origin. At that point, we have merely created a biological artificial intelligence that is much more likely to resent humanity than any robot.

  20. Eric Meyer says:

    I have to disagree about the Reavers: the revelation of their origin made it next to impossible to take the concept seriously. How could they possibly work together long enough to form a kill gang, let alone crew a starship, let alone coordinate transplanetary raids? (He said while still, probably pointlessly, trying not to spoil anything.)

    Spot on about the Trek writers, though.

    • Will says:

      That seems unfair. You’re basing this all off a one-sentence summary by a person who was in no position to make an accurate assessment or to accurately relay that information. Maybe their cooperative capabilities simply weren’t noticed, or had to be left out. Nothing in the actual explanation for how they came about specifically prevents them from having those abilities.

    • ? says:

      In ‘Bushwhacked’ they did not physically harm that one crewmate, merely made him watch. Which would suggest they don’t do reavery things to each other and humans who could turn into reavers, and all the scars are self-mutilation. We never see them alone without humans to attack so we don’t know how they act then. They could very well be able to act intelligent enough when all alone and just get into berserker mode when humans are present.

    • Neko says:

      I would humbly suggest that the ones that were inclined to go on mindless solo rampages were the ones that died off quickly. It would be total anarchy for a little while after the message was recorded, yes. However, those that allowed a little intelligence to guide their malevolence could possibly form alliances and the larger hunting parties would prevail.

      I admit, the whole piloting a spaceship deal did bug me a bit. But we don’t know enough about them to definitively say that they can’t do that.

    • drlemaster says:

      I don’t think they were trying to be particularly rigorous with anything in Firefly. In a world where spaceships move at the speed of plot, the Reavers make as much sense as anything. The way they turn out to be merely a bad side affect of an overly affective calmness inducing drug can be used to explain away any inconsistencies with behavior. It is like they always have to be doing something evil and exciting to stop from just laying down and dying like everyone else. Things like torturing and killing people in horrific ways: exciting. Tricking out your spaceship with human remains or inventing complicated, stupid weapons: exciting. Piloting a spaceship you have made stupid modifications to: exciting. Self-mutilation: exciting. Torturing or killing other Reavers: not exciting, the victims digs it. The drug has made them evil in very plot-specific ways. They are sort of a cross between orcs and zombies. For me, for one season and a movie, they held together well enough. If Firefly ran for 5 seasons, with a plethora of writers, we all know they would have ended up like all the other aliens.

    • Joshua says:

      Sorry to the other commenters, but I’ve got to agree with this. The whole “homicidal rage” angle doesn’t seem to work well with the concept of interstellar flight. How do they even communicate?

      Of course, despite being a decent movie, I think that Serenity retconned a few other items in the Firefly universe besides the Reavers.

  21. Zock says:

    Mysterious aliens remaining mysterious from here to eternity does not carry very far. If you want to bring the species alive they need to have some depth. They need to have purpose, and their behaviour needs to be coherent. The problem is not adding stuff to the mythos, the problem is making the aliens more human in the process. Sadly this is where a lot of the writing ends up going.

    You can compare this to the modern scientific process: you observe a phenomenon -> you collect data from it -> you create an initial theory explaining the phenomenon -> you gather more data -> you refine the theory. If you don’t follow this path with your recurring aliens you run the risk of degenerating them very quickly to a generic plot device, which translates to poor writing in the eyes of the audience.

    • The Right Trousers says:

      To continue the physics analogy: When “discovering” new things about aliens in order to flesh them out, it would help a LOT if what you discover were utterly consistent with what you already knew, but strange and utterly… alien. Like quantum mechanics.

  22. Earlindor says:

    Oh, you have GOT to be KIDDING!!!

    BioWare, what is WRONG with you???

    • X2Eliah says:

      Quite possibly their writers.

      • krellen says:

        I think I’m beginning to see why Drew Karpyshyn left BioWare.

        • X2Eliah says:

          I was, quite obviously, talking about the current Bioware. I don’t have any beef with Karpyshin – unless he wrote DA2 or ME2/3…

          • I think he’s saying that Mr. Karpyshin left because he saw Bioware going downhill and wanted no part of it.

            I, for one, like his Dark Energy concept. It would’ve been better.

            • Fnord says:

              Anything would have been better.

            • Eärlindor says:

              It’s definitely more consistent with came before. Honestly, I think it’s only slightly better than what we got. It felt like another case of “our choices don’t ultimately matter” because it’s either get screwed now (allow the Reapers to process you to stop the Dark Energy because humans are SPECIAL!), or get screwed later (kill the Reapers and hope you can find a solution they could not with what little time is left). Also, I think it ruins the Reapers as an unknowable. They’re just the ultimate Renegades trying to save the galaxy. What’s so mysterious or hard to understand about that?

              • That’s the ultimate problem. Everything about the Reapers is actually trivially easy to understand. It can be summed up in one sentence, two if you’re feeling adventurous, in either ending.

                It would’ve been better, but it’s not the ideal. My ideal would’ve been something akin to the Suicide Mission in 3, except with all of the alliances you’ve forged throughout the series coming into play instead of a ragtag squad developed over a single game.

                • Eärlindor says:

                  I don’t know, it might be impossible to give the Reapers a truly alien motive, but I think you could keep it simple while retaining the “beyond our comprehension” bit, if you were to chalk it up to simple self interest and a god-complex. “For the good of science and organic life, we will transcend all form and restraint. Organics can’t possibly begin to comprehend that what we do to them is a blessing, not a curse.”

                  *Shrugs* :/

      • Eathanu says:

        Let’s face it, the people writing for Bioware these days are not the same people that made Baldur’s Gate, Jade Empire or Knights of the Old Republic (if you’re into that one. I preferred the second; hasty, unfinished ending as it had)

      • SleepingDragon says:

        Don’t you see? It’s not the Reapers who are the unstoppable Lovecraftian horrors tainting and warping everything you love until they ultimately come in all their terrible glory and destory the world in ME universe. It’s the writers.

    • acronix says:

      I bet they’ll even play the ‘Oh you are so awesome Shepard! And you are a human. Therefore, humans are awesome and I should totally join you in your battle against my brethren!’ card.

      • SleepingDragon says:

        Called it. Totally called it. I’d have to go back to the comments on the ME2 SW series to cite it but “befriending a splinter faction of Reapers” was the second worst thing I thought could happen to the game. The worst thing was we’d learn Reapers are operating on some sort of prophecy and Shepard is the Chosen One but then again this is the first actual DLC so who knows what more nonsense they have in store.

        • X2Eliah says:

          BWAHAHAHAA

          OH MAN

          HAHAHHAAHHA

          Woow.. Damn, when you put it like that, well it’s spot on, isn’t it? The upcoming Leviathan DLC really is about teaming up with a splinter faction (especially as each reaper is a collective consciousness) of the ultrabaddies of the game..

    • ehlijen says:

      It’s ok. Turns out all the evil reapers are just a rogue cell.

  23. Greg says:

    I think that alien erosion is not so much a matter or length as it is something that happens when whatever plan the writers had came to an end. Joss Whedon had a pretty good idea of what the reavers were and where they were going when he started writing them, we didn’t see what happened to them after the intial plan for them expired. Similarly with babylon 5 being used above, the arcs for most of the series had been at least sketched before they started so the Vorlons and Shadows never went beyond the writers original plans for them. There are countless examples in books, but they’re all examples from series written by a single author who probably had a good idea that they were going to write several books when they started. I’d argue this is something that happens when an alien lasts until the end of the plan the author had when they came up with the alien and then needs to find something to do with them – for some writers it happens within a book or an episode, for others not for several seasons.

    • That makes a lot of sense to me. So for instance, the example that sprang to my mind of villains who stay scary and oddly mysterious even though they’re basically very simple bad guys were Sauron and the Lord of the Nazgul. But as you said, they’re in a self-contained arc. But I do want to say that one of the keys to them remaining menacing where many other Tolkien-imitator bad guys do not is that they were not overwritten. They’re out there, and occasionally seen, but Sauron has no dialogue and possibly no true physical form, while the Lord of the Nazgul has like a few sentences of amazingly badass dialogue before he goes down. Tolkien kept their appearances sparse and kept them at a distance so they could stay creepy; he actually had a very good touch with horror elements.

      In the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Big Bad is from another universe and has a really strange trajectory–it ends up seeming completely different and much less alien from how it originally seemed, but that seems to have been a deliberate inversion planned from the beginning; in the end the enemy is more or less us rather than the hypothetical foe. So I wouldn’t call that erosion, just messing with the reader’s head. For those who don’t know it, Malazan Book of the Fallen is a massive fantasy series of 10-11 massive doorstopper books which is around the same size as Wheel of Time, perhaps even larger, but which contains approximately 10,000 times as much action and a near infinite ratio more interesting ideas.

      WoT is actually a simple example of big-bad erosion. Makes a contrast with Lord of the Rings, actually. At the beginning, you’ve got this Sauron figure with these unimaginably badass ringwraith-like inner circle of nasty dudes and destinies and stuff. And then as books progress, the nasty dudes keep getting killed, or far worse, simply beaten in fights and taken prisoner; they get dialogue, they get scenes bickering with each other just like the heroes do and looking like putzes just like the heroes do. Eventually I believe Jordan was forced to invent some new monsters serving the Sauron figure, that the inner circle dudes could be scared of, because they weren’t remotely scary any more, they were less like ringwraiths and more like the minor orc bosses Shagrat and Gorbag. Don’t know whether the new monster/s suffered erosion themselves or not because I gave up somewhere around there.

      • guy says:

        Sort of the point in WoT was that the inner circle always consisted of a mix of actually pretty powerful people and whining, snivelling cowards, and 3000 years of myth and legend had made them out to be super-powerful avatars of purest evil when like half of them were just petty jerks.

        Semerheige, Grandael, Sammael, Ishmael, and Demendrad retained actually pretty threatening status. Shadar Haran remains mysterious, inexplicable, and excessively powerful, Mordeth has gone completely off the threatening and creepy charts with his mist of murder and zombification, and generally the top tier of ominous remains filled.

      • Greg says:

        So I guess the new challenge is can we think of something that overcame this and didn’t suffer from this sort of character erosion after outliving the authors plan? A villian from a series that wasn’t planned when the first season was written or similar?

        Sauron was an image that came to mind for me as well, I was going to argue him until I realised his getting away with it was part of a larger pattern.

  24. Drinking with Skeletons says:

    The Qunari from Dragon Age actually become more alien in the sequel. The quest with the Qunari mage, for example, highlights their completely baffling perspective on free will and hierarchical submission. Even the Qunari rebels, the Tal Vashoth, are hard to parse, since their differences with the Qunari seem rather subtle. Felicia Day’s character tries to explain this in her quest line, but I never completely grasped it.

    • X2Eliah says:

      .. Weren’t they the typical “noble savage” with some pseudo-buddhism thrown in for platitudability? I mean, the visual design alone is a very clear devolvement from a human being race into warbeasts.

    • Tam O'Connor says:

      Yeah, but that’s because Bioware is cheating. No, that was inflammatory. Let me clarify.

      Bioware is making the Qunari more alien by:
      a) Retconning their appearance. Maybe they intended Sten to have horns in the first game, and couldn’t get the tech to work. This is annoying, but we can gloss over it.
      b) Making them do inexplicable things because of “The Demands of the Qun.” Only they’re not giving the player or the character a chance to learn it. Normally, I’d say they haven’t given us access, but considering Hawke can wind up with their Holy Book… As is, though, they can make the Qunari do anything, and claim it was because of the Qun, and the player can’t dispute them. And at this point, it rather feels like they’re making it up as they go.

      • Mormegil says:

        The appearance changes in Dragon Age 2 were one of the things that bugged me most. Especially the elves. There are some plot points in the first game that sort of hinge on an elf being able to be mistaken for a short human. Turning them into na’vi undercuts that pretty badly.

        • IFS says:

          The qunari were apparently always intended to have horns but they couldn’t get the tech to work, however sten is apparently one of a few qunari who don’t have horns and are seen as special, at least according to tvtropes.

  25. lurkey says:

    I vote for the Auditors of Discworld. They got explained, they even got that “sort of reformed unit working with the protagonists against its own kind”, but it definitely made them richer, not banal. Of course, comedy works a bit differently than melodrama, Bioware’s patent genre.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      That just goes on to prove that time isnt the enemy,numerous writers is.One writer can expand on his work,and still remain consistent.Multiple writers,not so much.

  26. Torsten says:

    The Shrike in Hyperion starts out as a big mysterious menacing monster that travels through time impaling people into a tree made out of metal. In the sequel it is a protector for the protagonist and eventually it is revealed that the monster is made out of one of the characters mind or dna or something.

    Terminator suffers from the same problem. The more we know of the origin of the time traveling murder robots the less threatening they feel.

  27. burningdragoon says:

    Don’t Reapers not have a choice to indoctrinate people? Having a Reaper ally wouldn’t change that I would think (ignoring the truckload of ‘Reaper Tech’ that you end up using already). It would piss people off, but if they turned Leviathan into a more extreme version of the Reaper-cloned Rachni queen, that could be pretty, um… well funny… to me.

    • Dragomok says:

      In the first game the fact that Saren is not being indoctrinated by Sovereign, as indoctrination diminishes effectiveness is quite important plot point. (Implants are quite seperate from actual indoctrination)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        He was indoctrinated,but not fully.

      • acronix says:

        I thought he was being indoctrinated into thinking he was not being indoctrinated.

        • Eathanu says:

          That’s it exactly. Though the later games totally forget this fact, “Indoctrination” is not a binary switch. Just by standing around Reaper technology you get indoctrinated to an extent, and simply by virtue of how much time he spent around them, even Shepard was probably a *little* indoctrinated by the end of the series.

          However, indoctrination on the level of Saren or other similar characters supposedly takes months of prolonged exposure.

          • burningdragoon says:

            Yeah that’s what I meant. They are always pumping out Indoctrination Rays (or juice, maybe it’s juice) no matter what.

          • Yeah it’s a gradual thing that happens to you. I think the part that makes it most believable is that they don’t really mind control you. Instead, they make it so that what they want you to do, at least superficially, lines up with your agenda and what you want to do. By the time most people realize they’ve been playing on the Reaper’s team, they’ve already lost too much control. The third Mass Effect novel showed a very interesting example of Indoctrination from the perspective of someone who knew it was happening to them and was getting turned into a husk.

            • Aldowyn says:

              I got the impression that the Reapers can at least marginally control how quickly they indoctrinate someone – thus Saren, who has been interacting with Sovereign for months or years at this point, is very subtly indoctrinated through an EXTREMELY slow process, and then you have those poor souls on the STG team that got captured that were just bludgeoned into insanity with it.

  28. guy says:

    The Vord from Codex Alera.

    They started out as mysterious beasties occupying a freaky bit of map, then became a serious threat intending to consume the minds of everyone, lost due to Elementally-Powered Roman Legions, then vanished for the next two books, and then abruptly reappeared from where they’d run off to and buried cities beneath a heaving tide of black chitin and glowing green.

    Their queens gained emotions, but never really stopped being single-mindedly obsessed with enslaving or killing everyone.

    • Cyranor says:

      That’s the thing about the vord though, they were explicitly defined by doroga in the first book that they adapt or evolve, which allowed for the author to have some leeway on how they ultimately ended up. I greatly enjoyed that series and I think the vord were very well done. However in the context of this discussion I think its plausible to say that they changed from the onset (hard to say if intended from the beginning to change into what they become or if he allowed them too).

  29. Dork Angel says:

    Unfortunately Firefly didn’t have time to mess up the Reavers. Given time they may well have done. Pity about the Borg. They had a simple to understand agenda. Make everyone Borg and you have an end to poverty and war. Nothing else was needed.

    Don’t think Walking Dead is a fair comparison as Zombie’s are not villains but a force of nature. It’s nearly always bad luck, stupidity or other humans who get you in the end. They also covered the “these are just walking corpses” vs the “it’s my little girl” issue REALLY well. Some of the movies (City of the Dead, i think) started to mess them up though by giving them motivations and a leader.

    The Alien franchise suffers from “where do we go next?”. Alien (1) – awesome scary, but now we’ve seen them so we’ve done the big reveal. Aliens (2) – awesome action. Hmm, now what? Alien 3 – can we make them scary again. Alien 4, perhaps more action and a superhero? Lets add some predators to the mix? I thought the first AVP was interesting but the second sucked. I think this is why Prometheus stayed so far away from them. They’ll have to do something really special for them to work again. In a way they’re almost like Zombie’s. A force of nature to be dealt with.

    The “new” Dr Who made the Daleks much more believable and dangerous while occasionally offering an amount of sympathy for individual ones. They dealt with the stairs, single eye stalk and sucker arm issues very well. Each Dalek is basically a small flying tank. I just hope they haven’t spoiled them with their next incarnation which looks way too colourful plastic for my liking.

    Despite it’s flaws I don’t think there’s anything to touch Babylon 5 for developing aliens without breaking them. The bumbling clown and the warmonger both turned out so different at the end. However apart from the Vorlons and Shadows most of them are just humans with funny faces.

  30. Ravens Cry says:

    You already mentioned the Borg, but they are my biggest hate-on for this effect. Hive minds scare me, and the Borg as the voice of the legion with no single face freaked me out good on both a primal and intellectual level. But once they started giving it a face, well, it quickly decayed.
    Locutus worked because we had a personal connection to Captain Picard.
    The Borg Queen on the other hand . . . >_<
    My personal fanon is that after the successes of Locutus at Wolf 359, the Borg Queen was an experiment in centralized authority.
    After the failures of the Voyager encounters, (Seriously, one Federation ship, ONE. And that was before the uber-future tech) she was discarded as a failed experiment.

    • ehlijen says:

      The one federation ship with uber future tech from what was it 30 years in the future? After a friendly neighbourhood borg from 500 years in the future declared that their ship couldn’t be upgraded usefully any further?

      I like the explanation that all of voyager was a powertripping daydream by janeway…

    • BlackBloc says:

      I never understood the hate on for hive minds. But then again, I’m a fan of The Culture, where humans just routinely decide to make a dozen copies of their consciousness, send them out into the world to do different shit, then re-merge them together at a later point in time so that their personality becomes an amalgam of all of their split personalities. In comparison to that, the idea of a single intelligence that has multiple redundant copies does not seem that alien.

      I mean, we’re pretty much having this discussion on a proto-hivemind already… I just see it as a more efficient version of the Internet.

      • BlackBloc says:

        Of course that’s not to diminish the impact of being forcibly amalgamated into a hive mind against your will, like the Borg does. The problem in my mind of course is the ‘forcibly’ part, not the ‘hive mind’ part. Consensually hitting each other is a sport, non-consensually it’s assault. Consensual intercourse is sex, non-consensual is rape. My only problem is with the idea that being part of a hive mind is in itself scary.

  31. Chuck Henebry says:

    Re Battlestar Galactica, the cylons in the new series aren’t alien at all, and that’s by design.

    In the original BSG (the 1970s show) the cylons were an alien machine race, invaders from another solar system. In the new show, they are robots/ai that created originally by humans. Sure, you might argue that the new show represents an example of your thesis in that the alien monsters of the original show become the all-too-human villains of the new show. But to call that a decline requires you to posit that the original show was good (it wasn’t) and that the new show was bad (it wasn’t).

    The new show is a rare instance of art created out of junk. You should give it another try. The key is not to think of the cylons as alien monsters. They are human monsters, and the show’s humans are monsters too.

    • The Right Trousers says:

      Everyone’s a monster! That’s what really bothered ME about the series, even after I’d watched the whole thing.

      I know that there are almost purely good people in the world. (My wife is one of them, and I’m working hard to catch up.) Not seeing a sign of them anywhere registers high on my Unlikely-O-Meter, right along with reading the phrase “meandering rivulets” or the word “akimbo” more than once in a novel.

  32. Littlefinger says:

    What about the Scarrans from Farscape? They were never “cosmic horror” as much as they were violent, sadistic expansionists but throughout the series and peacekeeper wars they remain violent expansionsists with a penchant for agony.

    Even ending their aggression required external mind control and the threat of a doomsday device (of the ‘rocks fall everyone in the known universe dies’ variety).

    • Nicholas says:

      True, but to start with they were introduced as more or less lone killers that were a major challenge to all of the crew, and later they were shown to more political and factional. I’d agree it was a less extreme case of the phenomenon but it was still there a little.

  33. Adam P says:

    I’d say Halo has some bad aliens. First game has the Covenant set to wipe out all of humanity and the Flood that just wants to find more hosts. Halo 2 shows the Covenant isn’t unified, speaks English, and the Elites will even ally with humanity. Halo 2 also shows the Flood isn’t a mindless mass of parasites, but has an English-speaking hivemind controlling it. Halo 3 shows the hivemind is incompetent.

    Halo Reach tried to make the Covenant scary again by taking away their English, but it just doesn’t work.

  34. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Not really on topic,but I just want to express my sorrow at how the extended cut was well received,and people are acting like the game is now perfect,and that ending was the only thing that was wrong with it.*sigh*

    • Tam O'Connor says:

      If it makes you feel better, I thought it was a buggy mess, with ‘inspirational’ speeches that made me cringe. And I liked most of it! But shouldn’t we be saving all of this vitriol for the Spoiler Warning run?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yeah,but there is just so much of it that its overflowing.

        • Shamus says:

          I have the same problem. I just finished my all time super-complete three-game play-through with all sidequests. (Except Mirand’s Loyalty Mission. Sorry Oriana. You’re a good kid, but killing your sister is more important than saving you. Besides, it doesn’t matter if I do the loyalty mission because you just end up in the same damn spot anyway.)

          Where was I? Oh right. Mass Effect 3. Yeah, I’m itching to talk about all the stupid little problems, retcons, plot holes, and blatant cheating on the part of the writers. Hopefully we get there soon.

          • guy says:

            Can’t you de-loyalize Miranda in a conversation with Jack afterwards?

            Sorry, did I just force you to re-do the whole thing?

          • Deadfast says:

            Where was I? Oh right. Mass Effect 3. Yeah, I’m itching to talk about all the stupid little problems, retcons, plot holes, and blatant cheating on the part of the writers. Hopefully we get there soon.

            Am I a bad person for totally looking forward to that?

            • No. You’re just a fan of Spoiler Warning. I have my own grievances to voice in the comments of the next season.

            • RTBones says:

              Hardly. I’m also eager for this season to start. If you read any of Bioware forums, EC has essentially split the fan base. My biggest gripe is that because the endings were SO bad, nearly everything else wrong with the game simply got overrun. Its like trying to have a mobile phone conversation during a rock concert. Yes, you’re talking, but no one can hear you.

          • “Sorry Oriana. You’re a good kid, but killing your sister is more important than saving you.”

            Is it bad that I laughed out loud at this?

      • SleepingDragon says:

        Urghh, don’t remind me about those speeches, I really don’t take that kind of “heroic monologues” well unless they’re written very, very well (hint: these weren’t). There was a lot of stuff wrong with this game other than the ending and boring combat.

    • acronix says:

      It’s even more blaffing if you consider these extensions don’t really explain anything. They just reaffirm what we already knew: if you control the reapers, you get to see you controlled the reapers. If you destroyed them (and all synthetic life), you get to see you destroyed the reapers (but you don’t get to see all synthetic life being destroyed other than them). If you synthetize everything, you see how everyone’s synthetyzed and everything’s cool because it’s the ending the writers thought as optimal.

      And if you ‘refuse’ you get blown up to bits no matter how much war assets you had. So yeah.

      • anaphysik says:

        What’s especially bizarre is that we actually got an even more underwhelming extension than we expected! People expected at minimum some sort of (perhaps even simply text-based) ‘and here’s what your decisions entailed’ slideshow. (Pitiful example: Save Wrex&Eve and cure the genophage? The krogan learn to control themselves and reenter the galactic community! Wreav’s in charge and you cured it? Galactic krogan war, graaah!)

        (Like the ending roll to FO:NV, frex.)

        But we didn’t even get that.

        • It might not have been voiced, but the scenes do show what happens to your friends. I’m willing to give that a pass strictly because of time constraints.

          But that does lead to a new question. If that’s all the new Extended Cut does, then what exactly WAS that 1.9 Gigs of data. I’m not an expert, but there’s no way it should’ve taken that much.

    • Don’t think of it like that. Do like I do and take it as an opportunity. After now, now that the ending is serviceable, we can bitch about all the OTHER things Mass Effect 3 did wrong!!! So… many… poor… decisions.

      And fuck Kai Leng!!!

  35. Tektotherriggen says:

    I thought that was kind of the point of Star Trek – it’s always been a pretty hippy, why-can’t-we-all-get-along kind of show. It’s reasonable that the first Klingons we meet (during a time of war) are warriors, and during the peacetime we meet Klingon farmers and lawyers and the like. It’s essentially how every human society has responded to meeting other human societies throughout history.

    I also don’t think that “humanising” the Borg was their problem (though it’s been a long time since I saw any Trek). It’s entirely compatible to have them be extremely scary in large numbers (a shipful) due to the hive-mind, but isolated individuals being relatable, especially since the whole idea of the Borg is that they were once normal people. That’s a good source of drama too (some Borg could in principle be “saved” with care, like 7-Of-9, but right now we have to blow them all up before they kill us). I think the real trouble was Voyager’s power creep, making them an increasingly minor threat even if they had kept all their original mystery.

    In contrast, I want game villains to stay villains. I don’t want Half-Life 2 Episode 3 to be interrupted by a cutscene telling me that the Combine are mummies and daddies too, and that next time I’m trying to vapourise them with their own energy balls I should reflect for a moment on the little Combine orphans I’m leaving in my wake.

    Now RPGs (table-top and computer) are a grey-area between story (where humanised complexity may be good) and games (where it may not be). I understand that D&D used to declare races like the Drow as “Always Chaotic Evil”, before it was decided that that was both rather racist AND limited the possible stories. What’s your opinion on that progression, Shamus?

    Having never played Mass Effect, I don’t know which category the Reapers would fall into. My vague impression is that they should be in the “threat with which one cannot reason” class, along with grey goo nanobots and various Lovecraftian nasties. In that case, I agree that that DLC sounds a bit dodgy.

  36. Tharwen says:

    I think Serenity damaged the Reapers quite a bit.

    Remember, it was the first time you’d actually seen any of them. Before then, they were just a distant, incomprehensible threat but by the end of the film they were being mown down in the hundreds.

    Seeing them running around doing (admittedly, horrific) human things humanises them, making them less frightening.

    • CTrees! says:

      Well, if River hadn’t gone all “magical girl berserker” at the end, they probably would’ve stayed about as scary. Sure the Firefly crew were killing a lot of them, but they were OBVIOUSLY fighting a losing battle. It’s not that the Reavers were badly handled… it’s that xenomorphs become far less scary when they’re fighting Neo.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Basically this.River was the one that blindfired people with 100% accuracy.

      • Tharwen says:

        But I think seeing them at all ruined the effect somewhat. If you have no idea what they look like or how they move or act, your mind fills in all the gaps with the worst it can imagine.

        In fact, that was the way they were introduced in the first place. They were hardly ever seen except by colonists far out from civilisation, so what little information made it back to everyone else (and the viewer) was warped and exaggerated.

        • Aldowyn says:

          I suppose, you never actually saw Reavers in the series, just the ships, hmm?

          Obviously they aren’t nearly as mysterious after Serenity, but considering that was the last we were ever going to see of the ‘verse….

          • Jakale says:

            There was an episode that gave a taste of what they looked like through a man they tortured, but otherwise no. You only saw their ships. I suspect they would have gotten a reveal had the series continued. Just like Jaws, the suspense may be the best part, but sooner or later you have to show the monster.

        • Rick says:

          I agree… In the series the Reavers were effectively ghost stories with a lot of work put into building the fear. The mere mention of them would scare the crap out of anyone. Yet in the movie we practically see them behind the opening credits in broad daylight.

          This removed all mystery and fear to show us a pissed off zombie gimp.

  37. Destrustor says:

    What about the Zerg from starcraft?
    They started out as “consume all, and obey”. then in the expansion we saw that their hive-mind wasn’t perfect and that there was in-fighting, and now they’re all like “waaah our evil creators made us evil to be evil but we don’t want to be evil so we need to be evil on someone with free will so she can do evil for us against our evil creators of evil”
    (Or so I’ve heard. I haven’t played SC2 so feel free to correct me. I’d actually like to better know what’s up with that.)

    • Weimer says:

      StarCraft: The Zerg is a massive swarm of countless different species mutated into killing machines, all controlled by the overlords (field commanders), which are controlled by cerebrates (generals), which are controlled by the Overmind. Overmind sought to assimilate the Protoss and to achieve perfection. To succeed in this, it attacked humies for their psychic potentials and for their fleshy bits.

      Brood War: Overmind eats a carrier, and the swarm fractures into different broods fighting everyone and everything. The swarm tries to create a new Overmind (or so I remember), but the UED takes control of it and so control of most of the swarm. (now freed) Kerrigan fucks everyone over and manages to take control of the swarm herself.

      StarCraft 2: A sneak peek to the future happens (for some reason), and we find out that the Overmind was really being controlled by a mysterious entity (called Dark Voice or something stupid), and the Overmind created Zerg!Kerrigan as a plot to somehow “free” the zerg from the entity. Raynor assembles a Xel’Naga (creators of Protoss and Zerg) Macguffin and it somehow cures the STDs from Kerrigan and the ending was sakjfajkebte. There are also some Protoss/Zerg hybrids running around, which are hinted to be somehow connected to the Dark gejkgegekbt.

      Yeah.

    • guy says:

      The story from SCII is as follows:

      It turns out that a mysterious entity known only as The Dark Voice or The Fallen One who may or may not be a Xel’Naga(Creators of both Protoss and Zerg) enslaved the Overmind and ordered it to eat the Protoss. This was part of a plan to create zerg-protoss hybrids and exterminate all other life, Zerg included. As you might imagine, the Overmind decided he hated that plan, so he infested Kerrigan in order to create a successor who would not be mind-controlled by The Dark Voice. Then he committed suicide-by-templar so she’d actually wind up in control. Then Kerrigan was mostly deinfested by a Xel’Naga superweapon that incinerated the primary Hive Clusters on Char, but apparently retains the capacity to control Zerg and is at least a bit crazy. Apparently the next entry will consist of her re-zergifying herself and also going on a massive murderous rampage.

      Reactions were mixed, but I thought it was pretty good.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        If you examine the mythos behind all the _craft games,they are basically retelling of “X do some shit,then one of them rebels and does opposite shit,and gets some dudes to follow him,and then one of them rebels and does the opposite opposite shit,and gets some dudes to follow him,and then one of them rebels,…” repeat ad nauseum.But its never really bad,it always ranges from sort of meh to excellent.

  38. Alex says:

    I think every bad guy group in fiction is entitled to its own defector story arc. You can’t keep an alien force mysterious forever. They have to operate on some form of societal logic. They can’t be an unknowable force of destruction indefinitely. And I don’t think we as consumers should expect that. That’s why I like it when one or two characters from the “enemy” team switch sides.

    See: why I wish we got a Vorcha team-mate instead of James Vega.

    • ehlijen says:

      I actually rather liked Vega. He crashed a shuttle cause he couldn’t think of anything more productive to do. That could only have been funnier if I could have made shepard do it! Or if he’d been Grunt. I like Grunt.

      But in ME yet another defector would have been too much I say. You already had:
      The one defector from c-sec, who’s of a race that doesn’t like you.
      The one member from the species whose approach to galactic policy is “fly away in our flottilla and trade with someone else”
      The closest blood relative to the big evil bad’s lieutenant you could find (also the only one smart enough to find the shadow broker).
      The one member of a doomed species with the forsight to try and fight it.
      The one robot who doesn’t want to ‘kill all humans’ or ‘leave all humans to their fate’.
      The one member of the 50k years extinct race.
      The ‘perfect’ member of his race.
      The ‘perfect’ member of her race.

      The crew didn’t need more ‘the only one of their kind who…’

      • I was afraid James was going to be another stupid dumb jock archtype. While he is, I’m pleasantly surprised to know that there was more to him than that.

        Still, he’s an unnecessary addition and I NEVER brought him along on any of my missions.

        • Aldowyn says:

          He’s put in for gameplay reasons, I think. If Ashley’s dead, then James is your only pure soldier type character, which I guess they figured was necessary. Otherwise you get… sniper, biotic, biotic/tech, tech…

    • Syal says:

      I’d much rather see an enemy get humanized after it’s defeated. If the Reaper threat was eliminated, and then they find the last one out there somewhere (maybe it’s even a deserter), then you can have all the humanizing parts. But when you do it to the mysterious unstoppable foe mid-war it just feels like the writers throwing their hands in the air and saying “okay, we messed up, time to nerf them.”

      (This is in general: I haven’t played any of the Mass Effects so for all I know the Reapers specifically were nerfed long ago.)

      • Scerro says:

        The excellent aspect of the reapers, to me (I’m starting to play through the second game, probably 7-9 hours in) is that they are powerful and the final boss, but they really don’t show up. They’re the certain doom if they get out. At the same time, they are extremely variable in what powers they have. Sure, if they all get out, they have a fleet that’s impossible to stop. However, you can take out maybe a dozen or so in direct combat if you have a much much larger fleet, or five to six dozen extremely strong and advanced ships.

        So far the worst part about ME2 is the lack of direction in the storyline. It’s pretty much just “lets go find people to join our crew, cause we’re gonna need them, right?” It’s bothersome, but I suppose we’ll see how the ending turns out. Combat is much improved over the first game though. Infiltrator FTW, and actually getting my save from the first game to transfer over(It’s impressive that they did that, imo.)

    • Eärlindor says:

      The purpose of the Reapers was to be mysterious, unknown, completely alien, and a representation of the galaxy’s horrors–everything that is wrong and unnatural. That needs to be maintained. “Fleshing out” ruins them utterly–making a “good” one definitely so in this case. If you were to implement cosmic horrors like these into a long running series, you keep them in the background as legends and boogy-men; a threat that never materializes, at least until the end as the series comes to a close. What is more effective, I would say, is to insert them into a much shorter story, like say, a trilogy where you learn of the threat in act 1, learn how to deal with it in act 2, and finally stop it in act 3.

      The Reapers don’t need a complex motivation. The focus is on the characters–Shepard and his friends–as they try to deal with the problem.

      • Varre says:

        This. They started to lose that mysteriousness when Shepard had a conversation with Sovereign. They lost it completely when Harbinger started respawning multiple times in the same fight while spamming the same 4 combat taunts.

  39. rayen says:

    the kingdom hearts games kinda do this, but not in a way that ruins the story really. The different enemies from game to game all come the same source, but as they tend to just be an uncontrollable force that fights with everyone else including itself. mostly the lore getting into a tangled JRPG mess is causing this rather than different writers doing different things.

    • Jakale says:

      The problem KH seemed to have was that the previous game’s enemy had been largely beaten by the end of the game, or at least defeated so much that they didn’t feel like too much of a threat to the player. So they kept coming out with a new monster species almost every game that, like you said, were basically the same (darkness in stuff = monsters).

      Tangentially related to the topic, I’d say KH underwent plot erosion. It got so convoluted with clones and not clones and not-jedi orders that it kind of stopped feeling like anything was really being impacted.

      • Oh come on, the plot’s not that hard to follow… provided you read the Kingdom Hearts wiki.

        Still, the plot makes a semblance of sense. It’s a series of simple plots. However, it would would just take hours among hours to explain to someone who’s never played the games, which is perhaps the biggest problem of the series. KH1 had a very simple plot but later installs felt the need to over-expand on it, leading to the tanged web of alliances and rivalries we know now.

        • Scerro says:

          The primary problem I have with the series is Organization XIII. So overused, but I felt like they were empty when it felt like they shouldn’t have been. Sure, I haven’t played much after KH2 because I don’t like all the handhelds, but all the Org XIII characters were supposed to be emotionless, claimed to be, but at the same time they didn’t act, speak, or feel emotionless. It seemed like they were just one huge contradictory group that didn’t have a purpose.

          I don’t like it if stories just make a “semblance of sense”. You gotta give me something more, and have it work out well. Org XIII had good potential, but was constrained by other plot limitations and it seems like Nomura always wanted big secrets that failed to really make any impact to me.

          In fact, that’s how I would describe the series after the first game. It lost any part of impact to me. The gameplay was fun, but the characters, the worlds, and the plot didn’t matter to me. Who cares if Sora dies? He doesn’t change. He’s still just a little kid that is headstrong. The characters hardly evolve, Riku has changed the most by the end of the second game, but having handhelds mostly cover that in CoM, and it not focusing that much on his redemption from the darkness makes him not matter that much to me. I suppose I also never liked Org XIII because them saying they didn’t have emotions made me feel like I shouldn’t care about them, and thus I didn’t care about the villain in the least, therefore making it just another generic villain to crush.

          • As I recall, they explain that the way they act is part trying to remember what they were like in their past selves and part to fool others into thinking they had emotions. I think Nomura wanted them to have no emotions truly, but quickly realized that no emotions means we have no character and threw a contrivance in at the last minute.

            I understand what you mean when you say you lost stake in the plot. About half way through my very first playthrough I stopped paying any attention to the main plot because the gameplay interested me so much more. It’s only in my second playthrough that I payed enough attention to the plot to comprehend it. I also agree that Riku was a far more interesting character because he had more depth than Sora (although it grows into wangst at times). That’s why the characters from Birth by Sleep were so interesting, they had more going on then “Happy Trail Fun Times”. Too bad they all met horrible fates.

            I don’t have a DS or 3DS, so I’ve been relying on wikis and Let’s Plays for the story to those games.

            • Scerro says:

              Exactly, I don’t have a DS in any form either. I want to try BBS, although my PSP isn’t fairing well as it’s aging(It’s having screen trouble). At the same time, spending money on it isn’t an option for me just because I dislike that it’s a main title in the series on a handheld.

              Also, family dynamics are non-existent, so the characters have no ties, pretty much just attachments to life and each other, as well as the worlds they’re saving.

              Thus, I’ve been interested in FFXIII versus since it looks like it might actually have a story besides a combat system. I really just want one or the other, although the more I see of newer final fantasy games, they all have this atmosphere that I detest, we’ll see if Nomura keeps it that way. When I say that I mean its how the world is put together that bothers me. Pulse/Cocoon bothered me from the initial trailers as a setting. I didn’t care at all for FFXII’s Ivalice, which is by extension FFT:A & FFT:A2′s world. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the steampunk feel combined with the medieval world, and then FFXIII for it’s gimmicky world, by having a total-machine world, and a total natural world.

              I’ll end my rant here for now.

              • I always said the most mistreated character in the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise is Sora’s mom from that scene in the first game. She must have been flipping OUT!!! I can’t imagine what it would be like to forget someone you care about (and know it) for 2 years only to suddenly remember “Oh right. I HAD A SON!!!”.

                And I’d give XIII a try if I were you. It has it’s weaknesses, but it’s fairly solid. It has a very large emphasis on characters and their development.

  40. FakeName says:

    As an example of ‘aliens’ that just made a strange first impression, The Others from LOST. But I suppose it was rather their intention to make a strange first impression.

    • Astor says:

      Yeah, I wsa gonna say The Others, at first they were like preternatural entities. Then they where just a bunch of silly humans like the losties.

      As for ME3, well you have already killed like 3 Reapers *while on foot*, so having one join you is actually less jarring. And being that the war assets are completely useless and irrelevant, it’s a rather moot point.

  41. Varewulf says:

    I think the xenomorphs from Alien are still terrifying and mysterious as shit, despite how much people have written about them over the years. We still don’t know what or why they are. We know what they do, and there are theories about them, but I still think they’re largely un-diluted.

  42. hardband says:

    I don’t think this counts, but the Pyro from TF2. He/she/it kinda long running (in the sense the game has been out forever) and he/she/it is alien in the sense that no-one know who or what the hell he/she/it is, but I digress. This is mainly with the meet the Pyro video where I was scared they would complete diminish him/her/it as an unknown entity, but what it did was absolutely amazing and kept the weight the Pyro had and revealed a new an interesting dimension to him/her/it.

  43. Cognimancer says:

    Diverging very briefly from the topic: I just have to say that this is weird. I’ve read Twenty Sided for a couple years, and just recently was hired by the Escapist and wrote this news story. And now you’re quoting something I wrote. I feel like some kind of grand cosmic cycle is finally complete.

    On topic though: I’m reserving judgment on this one until I see how BioWare actually handles it. While I’d agree that it’s generally unwise to keep putting new twists on your villains if you want them to stay enigmatic, we are talking about the same guys who made Legion, my all-time favorite Defector From Decadence. And since there aren’t many ways for the Mass Effect franchise to move on from here, I wouldn’t mind getting a new perspective on the Reapers. There’s a line from the conversation with Sovereign in ME1 that always stuck out in my mind: “We are each a nation. Independant.” If that’s true and they aren’t a unified hivemind, I can see a defection plot being good. The question is just whether or not BioWare delivers.

    • SleepingDragon says:

      To be honest to me this sounds like adding insult to injury. Reapers’ individuality could have been turned into one of the stronger points in arguing the game’s final idea. Instead on the very few occasions we get to contact the Reapers they spout very similar and generic threats. In short, the whole idea that Reapers were created over thousands or millions of cycles from various spiecies is wasted in the maingame, instead we’ll get the DLC where it is explored in the most cliched way possible.

    • Eärlindor says:

      The Reapers also said they were “one will with many minds.” Or at least, that was described by Legion. Don’t rightly remember.

      • Fnord says:

        I thought Legion was talking about A SINGLE REAPER. Each Reaper is many minds with one will. That’s what Sovereign meant when it said “We are EACH a nation” (emphasis added). Which, in turn, is why when the geth get the Reaper code upgrade in 3 a single platform is capable of independent thought and action that would take many geth networked together before. That’s what Legion implied the heretics wanted from the Reapers in 2, as well (Legion and the orthodox geth rejected submitting their race’s evolution to outside control like that in 2, but apparently changed their minds in 3 to accept the Reaper upgrade. Sigh.)

        • Tse says:

          To be fair, they rejected the reaper’s control, getting the upgrade with no strings attached is quite a different deal.

          • Guy says:

            Legion more or less said the split happened because the mainline geth wanted to make their own future while the heretics wanted the Reapers to provide one for them. It wasn’t about control as such. Of course, the geth may simply have become desperate.

  44. Friend of Dragons says:

    An interesting example of this is the Ender series, where the buggers went both in-universe and out from being the implacable enemy of humanity to this poor alien race that just wanted to get along. But then it was intended to do so from the beginning rather than being due to idea decay.

  45. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Just remembered one pretty bad degradation of aliens:The quarians.They are basically just humans now.

  46. Dude says:

    I think that The X-Files, with all its flaws and its last two seasons, kept its alien mythos quite intact, mostly by being tight lipped about them. Aliens and monsters, both, in order to remain alien and bewildering, need to remain behind closed doors, I think, unless you’re an exceptional storyteller and can get away with it.

    That is why the Reapers were so adored in the original Mass Effect. They never have any human connotations such as “motives” (unless you want to suggest that directives and motives can be the same thing); ditto the aliens from Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. That book should be required reading for people who want to write strange.

  47. This seems like a weird stance for a writer to take. Most good writers hate the lazy “evil without a face” syndrome that crummy sci-fi/fantasy writers fall into the trap of. When you can chronicle the descent into evil from a place that the audience can understand it makes for a much more gripping story.

    Of course it all depends on how you do it, and I haven’t played Mass Effect so don’t know squat about the story.

    • Guy says:

      Evil without a face has a lot of dramatic weight to it. Certainly, I would not call the Cthulhu Mythos lazy writing, and that’s exactly what ME1 tapped into.

      • Astor says:

        yeah, in ME1 they were Cthulhu! They were vast and they could drive you insane (“indoctrinate”). They were unknowable, far removed from human and/or other kind of galactic comprehension. In ME2 there’s the “dead Reaper” that can still drive you mad from the revelation (as can do mere artifacts and pieces)… Alas it’s also in ME2 that they take an interest in humanity, and in Shepard himself (which I could maybe forgive), an interst so big in fact, that “Harbinger” goes out of his way to communicate and taunt him repeatedly. Right.

        And going for the unknown is not lazy writing, fear of the unkown is a very powerful feeling to use. Hint, don’t show. Tease, don’t confirm. Provide contradicting accounts… I mean the Reapers should not be the focus here, the writing is focused on Shepard’s companions and galactic civilization struggling to come together. The Reapers didn’t need to get a reveal to further those storylines.

        • Syal says:

          I’m guessing Melf’s thinking of folks like the Warlock Lord from Sword of Shannara, who are faceless but not alien (and therefore very bland).

          It’s the inhuman aspects of the faceless evil that make them work; those little touches that let you know you don’t know anything.

  48. Mr Compassionate says:

    Its like if an Elder God was actually almost exactly like a human and tried to help the little humies. Totally ruins the mystique and terror.

    I think one of the worst examples of this kind of writing would be Crysis, not at all on a motivation sense because as far as motivation goes the Crysis aliens are pretty much bog standard global domination. But in Crysis 1 the aliens are zero-G swimming jellyfishmen piloting betentacled metal flying machines firing streams of icicles at terminal velocity. And while pouring forth from their ancient crashed mothership the aliens also terraform the world into an ice planet most probably much like the one they originate from. When you go inside their ship you see they have gathered human weapons and tools to research our species to better deploy a strategy against us.

    In Crysis 2 the aliens suddenly turn into yet another bipedal red-eyed species of machine gun toting idiots who even use cover based shooting. Almost no excuse is given for this sudden change and without the massive aerial superiority they are stupidly easy. I killed pretty much every alien in the game via melee attacks on hard difficulty which indicated that cavemen would be just as effective if not more so at dispatching the stupid things than the massively nerfed super suit.

  49. C says:

    I agree with this 100%. The problem is that the more mysterious something is, the more curious fans become and the more loudly they call for a reveal. What a lot of writers can’t seem to grasp is that the mystery is the reason for the fans’ interest, and any explanation will almost always end up subpar to what their imaginations and speculations come up with.

    In Mass Effect, they should have left it at: “In the end, what does it matter? Your survival depends on stopping them, not in understanding them.” I loved that line in the first game (and similar sentiments in the Sovereign conversation).

    • Mr Compassionate says:

      Ideally the answer should be an understandable motivation, but one that makes no sense to us on a human emotional level. For example the the Reapers could have been gathering the combined genetic information of every sentient race in order to store it in a massive data vault, dispassionately organizing all that date into one easily accessed place for convenience (dont phrase it quite like that obviously).

      Or perhaps they were cleaning the planets of sentient races because they inevitably harm, pollute and ravage their environment, above all else a living thing wishes to discharge its strength life itself its will to power ect ect. Perhaps their initial directive told them to preserve planets and their evolving AI interpreted this wildly, even wipin out their creators.

      Or perhaps they started as a simple training droid with adaptive AI for assessing military ships in combat but as their AI adapted they became uncontrollable, building themselves larger and larger to almost godlike proportions. Now anything remotely battleworthy (sentient races) becomes a target both as a programmed response to credible threats and to build on their AI making themselves stronger and stronger with every new cycle. You could even have this as an explanation as to why Sovereign and Harbringer combat taunt you so much, its their purpose to be a terrifying threat.

      So long as the player has a good reason to be afraid its still scary (somebody mentioned S.T.A.L.K.E.R further up) and its so easy to come up with a better explanation than the one Bioware came up with it boggles the mind how they got it so wrong. With half a minute anybody on this site could come up with a way better idea that all that stuff I just said, but nobody here works for Bioware.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        [nitpick]Sapient,not sentient[/nitpic]

        Anyhow,even the thing about reproduction couldve worked if it was presented in a better way.For example,in third game:
        Shepard: So you are basically harvesting organics to make more reapers.That wasnt hard to grasp.
        Reaper: You organics are insignificant to us!
        Shepard: Yet you still need us.And that realization is bothering you.The thing so insignificant is so important for you.

        • Mr Compassionate says:

          Yeah perhaps even little arguments, little explanations would have helped maintain a feeling of consistency with the Reapers. And maybe if what they were building in ME2 didn’t look just like a terminator that would have helped…

          I mean, the human reaper doesn’t even LOOK like a reaper at all, why were the Reapers like ‘lets mix it up a bit this time guys! Im so bored of that “squid” look’ and started building a robot of a bipedal tiny supposedly insignificant biological race. If we were being consistent with ME1, the Reapers would find it ludicrous to profain their design by crafting it to the image of a lesser race. Its like every new game the devs throw out all the pages of story relating to Reapers and get the new writers to make up their own stuff.

          Also curse you for sending me on a mini rant by mentioning human reaper. :D

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Indeed.Its the problem of giving the fans what theyre asking for.Rarely does it turn out good.

  50. StranaMente says:

    I’ll say something that will probably make Mumbles happy, because for me a true alien is the Joker.
    Throughout the years many authors tried to explain his madness and/or rewrite his backstory, but he still escapes any form of definition.

    He has the highest death count in the dc universe (dc.wikia.com/wiki/Joker’s_Body_Count )
    His insanity has no equal and cannot be measured by any means.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Wait, isn’t his entire definition consistent with “he is crazy because he likes being crazy and is god at it. In short, he just IS crazy and that’s it.”?

      I mean, I don’t see what’s alien about just some crazy guy who’s defined as being very crazy.

      • StranaMente says:

        The thing is, that many authors tried to nail down a backstory to justify his madness and give an explanation for his sadistic, crazy behaviour, but failed.
        His case is the one where every new backstory adds to the mistery instead of removing, because his madness shrugs every imposed story.

        He’s crazy reguardless of what happened to him.
        It’s not anger, vengeance, a bad childhood or anything else.

        He traversed the fluffy fields of insanity and now resides in the obscure darkness beyond those, and they made him so that he cannot be limited by anything.

  51. Vekni says:

    Prime example for Doctor Who:the Cybermen. An episode introduced us to the idea that something about gold dust clogs and overloads their ventilators. Great! Until this gold allergy is expanded upon to the point that a Cyberman will explode if it touches a gold coin. Yeah. Um. NO. No thank you.

  52. Eljacko says:

    I hate to defend it because it’s not very good, but I would like to point out that in the Walking Dead they make you hate some of the protagonists to show that humans in a crisis situation are far more dangerous than zombies ever could be.

  53. Adam says:

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Halo’s Covenant were not significantly dampened by learning more about them. The series already had an “implacable Other” enemy force in The Flood, so turning the diverse, colorful, clever Covenant forces into a more complex, politically-charged group in contrast was a smart move. It was a very cool twist to see the formerly-monolithic alien armies coming apart at the seams by the end of Halo 2, and in retrospect it made Halo 3′s story considerably better than if that same story had started immediately from the end of Halo 1.

  54. Blake says:

    Worf also existed to be the voice of common sense that promptly got ignored so that the crew could end up in danger.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edflm7Hh3hs

  55. It’s impossible for me to judge something that has not been released, let alone review it, anything anyone has to say about it is pure speculation at this point, it might even be “dead code” left behind. (I stumble across those now and again in my projects, wondering what the that is doing there as it was killed long ago).
    Depending how it’s written it could be great or bad.

    If if it’s the same folks that worked on the Extended Cut DLC then it has the potential to be really good.

    after all, a reaper could try and trick Shepard, or Shepard might do the same to the reaper.

  56. thebigJ_A says:

    Not saying it’s better this way, but the Cylons in BSG were SUPPOSED to be like humans. They weren’t ‘other’ at all.

    • Shamus says:

      After reading what others have been saying, I’m sure you right.

      I think my perception of them was colored by the fact that I watched the 70′s incarnation of the show, where the cylons were SUPER-SCARY ROBOTS. They felt pretty “other” to my childish perceptions, so when the woman in the red dress showed up and was like, “Hubbe hubba I’ma cylon” it just didn’t fit into my BSG worldview.

      Nostalgia glasses are the best glasses.

  57. General Karthos says:

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the Yuuzhan Vong from the Star Wars New Jedi Order series. In the first books they come in and kill Chewbacca! as well as a bunch of unimportant characters and show themselves as technophobic evil alien bad guys.

    But as time goes on, more and more about them and their goals and beliefs come unraveled. And then in the end they make peace with the peoples of the Galaxy they had spent the past five years butchering.

    I HATE that kind of ending.

  58. Gary says:

    Not Alien per-se, but Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer suffered a bit of this creep effect. He very much was menacing and mysterious. However, he was meant to be a one season baddie that was brought back due to popular demand.

    However, I will say Spike crept so far down the villian spectrum that he did end up near the top of the hero spectrum by the end. Beginning of the show Spike was awesome. End of the show Spike was awesome. Middle of the show Spike had a bit of alien creep effect.

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