Mass Effect Retrospective 2: Details versus Drama

By Shamus
on Jul 19, 2015
Filed under:
Mass Effect

I really love the first Mass Effect game. I wouldn’t have written this 120,000 word series if the game didn’t resonate with me on some fundamental level. I replayed it while writing this series, and was struck by just how well it holds up. It’s the lowest scoring of the three games on Metacritic, I’m sure it sold the least, and it seems to have left the smallest impression with fans in terms of memes and quotable moments. But for me it’s an experience I can’t get anywhere else: Large-scale, big-idea sci-fi space opera that’s grounded by technical detail and bolstered by careful, intricate worldbuilding.

Also, it has one of best best videogame soundtracks, ever.

A World by Worldbuilders

I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite Citadel in the game.

If you’re like me and you enjoy asking “What do they eat?” then this is probably the kind of game that will scratch your itch. No, the “food” question isn’t terribly important in a far-future spacefaring society like this one where food problems are basically solvedAlthough Eden Prime is identified as a farming planet and they actually do address ideas like food production and supply lines in the first game.. But the designer did answer a lot of similar questions about how this world works: Where does energy come from? How does government work? What are the different cultures like and how are they shaped by the environments that nurtured them? Given how obnoxiously big space is, how do people get around?

These kinds of questions are why I love sci-fi. Yes, I enjoy a good laser battle or lightsaber duel as much as the next nerd, and I do have room in my heart for the science-fantasy worlds like Star Wars, where it’s all about the characters and not so much about the fussy details. But hard sci-fi stories like Mass EffectNo, Mass Effect isn’t remotely “hard” sci-fi when compared to (say) books. But when compared to most action videogames? This setting is practically made of diamond. really scratch my itch. The details of the setting make them uniquely suitable for asking hypotheticals about what society would really be like in a exotic world of life-changing technology. It gives the world a texture and authenticity that I can’t get anywhere else.

People like to contrast Star Trek and Star Wars as examples of “Science Fiction” versus “Science Fantasy”. But this can be confusing because both properties are fiction and you get into annoying arguments about how fantastical your fiction is. I mean, don’t “fiction” and “fantasy” mean kind of the same thing?

Details versus Drama

You’ll get to shoot aliens in a minute, Shepard. But first let’s talk about galactic history, Council politics, the Spectre program, and the difficulties and importance of human colonization in the Attican Traverse.

I prefer to think of these two genres as “Details First” versus “Drama First”. While “fiction” and “fantasy” are synonyms, Details and Drama are often opposed over the short term, because nothing sucks the drama out of a scene like having someone stop and explain to the audience why that gizmo that worked so well last time can’t help us this time. Conversely, nothing will torment a “Details First” nerd like hand-waving the established rules of the world because some character happens to be believing in themselves a little harder than usualThe Force is probably the clearest example of a “Drama First” element. It’s a nebulous thing, driven entirely by character development and dramatic tension. Force powers get stronger as the plot reaches a crescendo, because it’s driven by the vaguarities of emotions, wisdom, purity, love, hate, or whatever. It’s a mechanical story element that runs on drama.. Sooner or later a writer is going to run into a situation where they need to favor one over the other, which will make it clear which things are most important to this particular universe and its author.

An example of how the two differ:

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, C3P0 gets blasted into pieces by a group of stormtroopers. His friends find the pieces in the trash and put him back together. In doing so they learn about the stormtrooper ambush.

I LOVE the visual similarites between the Geth and their creators. Also their talking sounds super-cool.

In Mass Effect, Tali kills a Geth and grabs some data from its memory banks. Her explanation establishes that:

  1. Geth memory banks are wiped out upon death.
  2. Tali is a Quarian, the race of people who originally invented the Geth. This gives her expertise that other people are unlikely to have, which is why she was able to recover this data despite rule #1.
  3. Even with her expertise, she can only recover tiny fragments of memory, which explains why everyone else can’t just go around blasting Geth and then downloading their brains to see what they’re up to.

Presumably C3P0 has some sort of memory banks. He certainly talks about them often enough. But in Star Wars they didn’t fuss around trying to find an adapter that would let them download his brain and find out what happened to him. They didn’t plug him into R2D2 for a scan. They didn’t hook him up to some other computer. They just put him back together and they didn’t find out what he knew until he was able to physically tell them, because the business with directly accessing memory banks would have been wrong for Star Wars. It would have been too technical, and required explanations that would have burned screen time and would have required the writers to establish rules that would need to be followed later.

C3P0 isn’t a device, like a spaceship. He’s a character, like Chewbacca. He’s amusing when he’s exasperated and experiencing difficulty, so the best use of his character is to have him experience a lot of undignified personal hardship. Having him dragged around like a fussy, over-anxious dismembered corpse lets the writer leverage his best traits for comic relief.

Most people don’t realize this, but the Geth don’t have USB ports, and their wi-fi password is REALLY good.

The same “drama first” approach to writing wouldn’t play nearly as well in Mass Effect. Saying Tali got the info “because that’s just how Tali rolls” would have felt like a lame cheat, and nitpickers like me would immediately begin asking why we don’t put Tali to work dismantling all the Geth brains Shepard has been liberating from Geth skullsOr whereever they keep them. Doesn’t actually look like they have a lot of room for anything other than that flashlight in their noggin.. Sure, Tali’s dialog establishes her as quick-thinking, technically knowledgeable, and (at least in this case) a bit lucky, but it also establishes the ground rules for how the Geth computer memory works and why we can’t just read their brains after we kill them.

In both cases you have writers who conveniently provide exactly the information they want at exactly the moment it suits the purposes of the story. Both stories are fantastic, but these two universesDon’t go dragging the Star Wars books into this. They’re likely all over the place with regard to tone and genre. run on different rules and require a different approach to resolving difficulties.

This doesn’t mean that a details-first story can’t have any drama at all, of course. It’s details “first”, not details “only”. After all, without drama, what’s the point? This is supposed to be entertainment. It just means the writer has to make sure that the drama follows the established rules of the universe. The foundation of details rewards people who examine the story and suggest all those places hidden just off-stage. In their own way, details enhance drama by constraining the writer and limiting their ability to resolve seemingly intractable problems with a deus ex machina.

Jenkins, you idiot! This is a cover-based shooter! Sort of.

In a details-first world, if you say that “megashields are impervious to hand blasters”, then you can’t hand-wave that rule at the end of the story when the hero uses a hand-blaster to shoot through megashields by saying, “Well, he’s the hero and he’s just a really good shot.” In a drama-first world, you probably wouldn’t waste time explicitly saying something like “megashields are impervious to hand blasters” because that would eat up precious screen time and the audience probably doesn’t care. A character might say something like, “I can’t shoot through that with THIS!”, but that leaves all kinds of room for interpretation. It’s a character defining what they can do, not setting a rule for the universe as a whole.

Worlds like the one in Mass Effect 1 are hard to do. It’s easy to lose track of the details and riddle the thing with annoying and distracting plot holes. And sometimes writers get carried away and simply bury the audience in exhausting technical details. Balancing the need for good pacing with the needs for a coherent technical background is immensely difficult, which is why I’m grateful that BioWare made the effort.

An Episodic Structure

Vrrrrrmmmmmooooww-ow-ow-ow.

Mass Effect 1 feels episodic, almost as if it’s a season of a television show. The pilot episode (Eden Prime) presents you with a several interconnected mysteries: Saren’s goal, the mystery ship (Sovereign), and the Prothean artifact. Each subsequent episode has you visit a new location and meet new people. You solve some local problem, and in doing so you get another piece of the puzzle to help you understand the overall mystery.

The other thing I find interesting about the location structure of Mass Effect is how similar it is to Knights of the Old Republic. You have a brief section aboard the (Endar Spire / Normandy) followed by the tutorial area. (Taris / Eden Prime.) Then you go to the area of MASSIVE WORLDBUILDING AND EXPOSITION DUMP (Dantooine / Citadel) where you become a (Jedi / Spectre). Then you’re finally free to move around in your own ship and choose to do three mandatory locations in any order. Once those are done, you have the stakes-raising chokepoint mission on (Leviathan / Virmire). Then you go to the hidden mystery world of (Rakata / Iilos) where the BIG SECRETS ARE REVEALED, which leads to the final battle on the (Star Forge / Citadel).

It’s not an exact matchup. Taris was massive compared to Eden Prime, and KOTOR has an extra location to visit between the chokepoint and the endgame, but the similarities are still really blatant. (Jade Empire also has a similar structure, but it doesn’t map quite as neatly as the other two.)

The process of landing on a new planet, meeting the locals, and then unraveling their local conundrum is a very “Star Trek” way of doing things. This is still an RPG and the story is still driven by side quests, but this “planet of the week” structure saves us from the nested nonsense of your typical RPG where you have to:

find a net…
to catch a chicken…
to impress the butcher’s wife…
so she will return the stolen cow to the dairy farmer…
so the dairy farmer will point you to a cave…
where you can defeat the bandit leader…
and rescue the King’s daughter…
so you can get access to the royal library…
where you can find the map…
so you can find the location of the artifact…
so the sage can use it to reveal the prophecy…
so you can learn the location of the Nega Sword…
so you can… etc

You’re never seven levels deep in some nested sub-sub-sub-sub quest where you’ve totally forgotten how your current task relates to the overall goalAlthough the Witcher 3 makes the case that this kind of structure can work, as long as you’re willing to spend the money on characters, cutscenes, and dialog.. Feros doesn’t feel like pointless busywork that’s distracting you from the business of Reaper-fighting, because Feros is its own place with its own arc. The story on Feros would be satisfying even if it was removed from the overall story in a way that (say) chasing a chicken to to recover a cow to fight a bandit leader wouldn’t.

In the next entry we’re going to start working our way through these episodes and looking for what makes Mass Effect so special.

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Footnotes:

[1] Although Eden Prime is identified as a farming planet and they actually do address ideas like food production and supply lines in the first game.

[2] No, Mass Effect isn’t remotely “hard” sci-fi when compared to (say) books. But when compared to most action videogames? This setting is practically made of diamond.

[3] The Force is probably the clearest example of a “Drama First” element. It’s a nebulous thing, driven entirely by character development and dramatic tension. Force powers get stronger as the plot reaches a crescendo, because it’s driven by the vaguarities of emotions, wisdom, purity, love, hate, or whatever. It’s a mechanical story element that runs on drama.

[4] Or whereever they keep them. Doesn’t actually look like they have a lot of room for anything other than that flashlight in their noggin.

[5] Don’t go dragging the Star Wars books into this. They’re likely all over the place with regard to tone and genre.

[6] Although the Witcher 3 makes the case that this kind of structure can work, as long as you’re willing to spend the money on characters, cutscenes, and dialog.



A Hundred!A Hundred!2019239 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?

From the Archives:

  1. Grimwear says:

    I can’t wait to read more of this! ME1 was always my favorite of the Mass Effect games, though I never played 3 since I refused to buy the day one dlc and considered a Prothean teammate to be plot crucial seeing as how Protheans were the be all and end all of ME1 and the reason why Shepard was so important to the plot….until he wasn’t. Suddenly he was important because he was Space Jesus and a beacon. Or something. Hail Hyd-Ceberus.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ugh,that dlc….Its really incredible how they managed to do something so heinous.And yet,it flew under the radar because of that god damn ending.Me3 is one rare beast that manages to hide its problems behind a single huge problem.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        People keep saying that Mass Effect 3 was a fantastic game right up until the ending. I always found it a mediocre game. When it did things right, it was brilliant, but when it did things wrong, it was atrocious.

        The problem is that the ending was such absolute crap that people tend to overlook all the horrible things the game did, gameplay, story and marketing-wise. They hid important main-plot-related story and characters in DLC (something they already did on ME2), they make a point to ignore all the player decisions that don’t follow their own established idea for the plot (even though it’s a franchise that thrives on player input) and they make characters behave like idiots when they can’t figure out how to reach a certain place in the plot.

        Sometimes I suspect they purposely made that ending terrible so people would focus on it and ignore the rest of the problems, and they could get away with treating customers as petty for complaining about such a “little thing”. Kinda like that upcoming Fantastic Four movie. No matter how absolutely crappy it looks, whenever you complain people are going to think you’re mad because the Human Torch is black now, and they’ll call you racist.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          They hid important main-plot-related story and characters in DLC

          Its even worse than that:Because javik was made as a dlc,everything tied to him was made unimportant to the overall story.So this thing that would be of epic importance in me1 was now made into something not less important than a random character theyve introduced just for this game.This thing that was built up since the first game got turned into “oh yeah,this guy is with us as well”.

          • Orillion says:

            I think Javik worked perfectly, myself. If you didn’t get the DLC, he didn’t exist, simple as that. And a lot of people probably prefer the game that way: Protheans are dead, end of story. If he was in the game, he was “unimportant” for the same reason Shepard would be unimportant in the next cycle if he were thrown in stasis: whatever else he may be, he’s a soldier first, and most importantly he’s already failed without even knowing why. There’s no wisdom to be gained from that, no insight, so Javik ends up being this character who you want to get all of the answers from, but who offers none at all.

            • Grimwear says:

              Why even have him then? Or have him as a Prothean? He sounds so useless may as well make him a human named George and he can be Jacob 2.0. It’s literally o hey you know the Protheans which were used to introduce the Reaper threat and are the foundation of knowledge for our space opera trilogy? Ya eff them they suck and no longer play any important role. But we’ll give you a Prothean squadmate just so you think they may be important. But he’s not…at all. Thanks for your 10 bucks come back next week when we give you a Elcor squaddie who’s a mutant and plays and talks just like regular humans.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Which would be fine if not for the whole first game revolving around prothean language and their artifacts.

            • I dunno, it still suggests a vastly different kind of story to the tone promised in the first game. Imagine a story set in WWII, where Allied scientists discover and thaw out a neanderthal native to the region and time the Nazis claim was the home of their supposed Aryan super-race, and then the Allies hand that Neanderthal a rifle and send him off to fight Nazis. That’s not a BAD story, but it’s undeniably a pulpy story more interested in rah-rah caveman versus nazis action than in unpacking differences in hominid development.

              This clashes with the first game, where there was an entire mission dedicated to giving Shepard the ability to THINK LIKE A PROTHEAN, because without that talent, it was IMPOSSIBLE to comprehend the Prothean messages stored in the beacon. And then the third game’s plot revolves around deciphering a vast Prothean blueprint. Sure, if Shepard were in Javik’s shoes he couldn’t tell alien scientists how to construct a cold-fusion reactor, but he could explain human scientific notation, the metric system, the human alphabet, certain safety features common to weapons, and so on. To say that Javik would be less useful to those proceedings than to the ground war with small arms is… dumb as hell.

              Not necessarily bad!

              But as dumb as a Neanderthal fighting Nazis.

          • INH5 says:

            The story behind this is that Javik was originally going to be in the main game, but his recruitment mission wasn’t complete (as in, it was still in the greybox stage of development) in time for release, and the game had already been delayed once. So they moved him to DLC and replaced his role in the main plot with the Prothean VI on Thessia.

            For what it’s worth, I’ve read the leaked beta script, and the writing for Javik wasn’t very good, and if anything would have made Kai Leng even more annoying (given that Kai Leng was going to kidnap Javik on Thessia).

        • I think much like how ME1 is the least popular of the Mass Effect games, ME3’s popularity highlights the fact that if you give people enough action and shoot-’em-up that scratches that combat itch, they’ll overlook or ignore plot almost entirely.

          It’s the Fallout 3 vs. New Vegas thing all over again.

          It’s also the same with blockbuster movies: Spectacle will win out over story again and again, even in science fiction, where (in theory) the audience has a built-in craving for well-crafted suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, it would seem that so long as your visuals are stunning, you’ll be rewarded far more than if your plot inspires a sense of wonder and holds together better than most.

          I know Shamus sort of poo-poo’d Star Wars vs. Star Trek, but I do think the comparison really does show off the level of ridiculous that Star Wars goes to,* almost completely removing the “science” in “science fiction.” Look at just something as simple as the population of the Death Star in order to have enough people such that our heroes weren’t trudging for weeks through empty corridors. Then, think about the materials, power needs, and just the sheer engineering hand-waving you’d need to make a Star Destroyer work, let alone the Death Star. This is exemplified in the hilarious SDSD Freudian Nightmare. Even as ridiculous as Star Trek can (and does) get, it at least makes the godlike macguffins a little less over-the-top, reserving the “we do the impossible twice before breakfast” stuff for entities like Q or long-dead civilizations.

          Getting back to Mass Effect, I’m not surprised the first game had the most world-building, especially since they had the Codex. The Codex entries were likely from the game’s bible, rewritten to sound more like an interesting info-dump rather than a technical document. Once you had the setting down in game one, there was little incentive to muck about with it in game two, which sucks, but that’s the way of things.

          * Though ‘Trek has gone the way of hand-wavy magi-tech in the latter portions of TNG, parts of DS-9, a lot of Voyager, and only really became more sci-fi with the fourth season of Enterprise. I highly recommend watching Enterprise’s final season, if you can stomach the acting, minus the awful Berman & Braga finale. It was the best-written Star Trek in a long, long time.

          • INH5 says:

            The reason behind this is very simple: a large chunk of the audience just doesn’t care about story, and another large chunk cares about story but doesn’t care about little world details. A lot of video game players will just skip through all the cutscenes to get to the gameplay. A lot of movie viewers just want to relax after a long week and watch some cool action scenes strung together by a simple story, then go home and never think about the story again.

            With movies, there’s the added complication that an increasing portion of movie revenues come from international audiences, who come from a variety of different cultures and a large portion of whom will watch dubbed or subtitled versions of the movie. Different cultural values can greatly change how much someone enjoys a story, and a poor dubbing or subtitling job can make serious dramatic moments seem unintentionally funny. But to quote cracked.com, there is one thing that everyone in the world can understand and sympathize with, no matter what their culture or ethnicity: the need to run away if you are being chased by giant robots.

            And I think this is a major reason why Star Wars was so successful and has endured for so long. It takes place in a world and culture that has no counterpart in the real world, so everyone who watches it will feel equally out of place (Lucas himself said that he wanted viewers to have the same experience as one might have while watching a foreign film). It keeps the story simple and draws on universal human emotions. And I think that the implausibilities you mention actually help this because the ludicrous scope makes it easy to quickly and effectively establish things about the universe. Not everyone will enjoy a long sequence of expository dialogue about the balance of power in the galaxy, but everyone who watches the opening of the first Star Wars will instantly understand that the the guys with the ridiculously large space ship are the big cheese around here.

            One minor quibble I have with what you wrote is about the issue of the Death Star population: that assumes that the population is evenly spread throughout the station, but one could speculate that the overwhelming majority of the space is taken up by systems and infrastructure and the populated parts seen in the movie are only a small portion of it. After all, the human population of the Earth has an average density of 13 humans per square kilometer, but places like Tokyo and Manhattan are pretty crowded.

            • Star Wars (the original) is looking more and more like a foreign film every time I see it. It didn’t at the time, but now it strikes me as odd that the Death Star had no women of any kind on board apart from Princess Leia. I mean, putting aside whether or not the Stormtroopers were still clones, recruits, or a mix, you’d really have to work at it to not have a female technician, officer, or torture-droid syringe-calibrator. Not to mention that the universe was populated by pale-skinned people. This isn’t me being PC or whatever one wants to call it; it just looked strange, as if the movie was made by aliens and all they had to go on for humans was an Icelandic softball team or something. “They all look the same to us.” :)

              As for the Death Star, comparing it to Earth doesn’t work for me, as the Earth isn’t a construct. The blueprints show level after level, and if there were nice, big unpopulated areas, then why the heck did our heroes sneak around near heavily-trafficked places when all they needed to do was get from point A to point B? Then there’s the fact that Death Star II is even bigger.

              It’s the Rule of Cool writ large with not even a lampshade on anything, because it doesn’t care. It’s like having a castle atop a flying mountain, because a wizard built it; that’s all you need to know. The difference is when someone calls it Science Fiction and you start to apply even rudimentary physics, properties of scale, how much raw material you need, etc. I mean, I’m kind of surprised they just didn’t turn an uninhabited planet into the Death Star and cut out the need for building all the scaffolding.

              • Veylon says:

                “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”

                Star Wars came out in 1977. Return of the Jedi came out in 1983. The time period between the first one and World War II is about the same as between the last one and now. This means that everything that happened between World War II and the original Star Wars Trilogy is closer to the time of the films than the films are to our own time.

                It makes more sense to lump Star Wars in with the likes of Rebel Without a Cause and Ben Hur than is does to try to attach it to our own time.

              • INH5 says:

                As for the Death Star, comparing it to Earth doesn’t work for me, as the Earth isn’t a construct. The blueprints show level after level, and if there were nice, big unpopulated areas, then why the heck did our heroes sneak around near heavily-trafficked places when all they needed to do was get from point A to point B?

                There are lots of artificial constructs that only have a small portion of the volume suitable for human occupation. Fighter jets, for example. Or oil rigs, especially if you include the parts that extend down through the ocean and into the ground.

                And because this is a space station, any large unpopulated areas wouldn’t have life support or corridors or turbolifts, because there would be no reason to make those areas suitable for human occupation. There are lots and lots of scientific and engineering inaccuracies in Star Wars, but this isn’t one of them.

                It’s the Rule of Cool writ large with not even a lampshade on anything, because it doesn’t care. It’s like having a castle atop a flying mountain, because a wizard built it; that’s all you need to know.

                You’re right, but I think calling it “the Rule of Cool” does a bit of a disservice. These things aren’t just there for coolness, they serve specific dramatic purposes. The extreme scale of the Star Destroyers and Death Star serve as a constant visual demonstration of how much power the Empire has. Blasters make the battle scenes seem fantastical and exciting instead of reminding viewers of all of the unpleasant images that they associate with real guns. Lightsabers connect the Jedi and Sith to historical images of knights and samurai, and allow for fights where the opponents get up close and personal instead of shooting at each other from across a room (this is the same reason why action movies very often contrive some excuse to have the hero fight the main bad guy in hand to hand combat during the climax).

                • I have to disagree at least a bit with the Death Star not being firmly in the “Rule of Cool” territory. If you wanted a weapon to kill all life on a planet and make it uninhabitable, mass drivers would do a better job for far less energy expenditure than the Death Star’s energy beam. It’s far more horrific when you think about it as well, since it’s hardly a ‘clean’ death for those on the planet, depending on how many or how big your rocks are.

                  • INH5 says:

                    Oh yes, the fact that the Death Star makes planets outright go kaboom is absolutely because that looks much cooler than inflicting the equivalent of several dinosaur killing asteroid impacts in quick succession. I also imagine that the former was quite a bit easier to depict using the special effects technology available when the first movie was made.

                    Because it is apparently the job of Expanded Universe writers to explain absolutely everything in the movies that anyone might have ever wondered about, some books came up with the justification that all major inhabited planets have “planetary shields” capable of stopping any sort of orbital bombardment less powerful than a Death Star beam. While that is a plausible extrapolation of the technology depicted in the original movies given things like RoTJ’s shield around the entire Second Death Star, it is obvious that Lucas’s only justification for it when making the first movie was that planets going kaboom is awesome.

                    • Richard H says:

                      Other Expanded Universe authors also determined that, if you put a few hours into it, you could mostly sterilize a planet’s surface with a carpet turbolaser bombardment. (It is unclear that they got the scale right, fittingly.) Of course, if you’re looking for a terror weapon, the real reason you make the whole planet go kaboom is so that you can tell people, “I can push this button and just make you all go away,” rather than saying, “If I wanted to, I could burn you all off the planet in a few hours.” It’s not efficient or anything, of course, but it’s the kind of threat that is supposed to make their annihilation a trivial action.

              • Joe Informatico says:

                The weirdest thing that struck me during my recent Star Trek: TNG rewatch is how familial relationships in the 24th century still revolve around late-20th century heteronormative nuclear family units. No queer identities whatsoever (there are examples in later TNG and DS9, but almost all of them are handled pretty poorly), few examples of polygamy, and then only in frankly offensive episodes–even among the Ferengi and TNG-era Klingons, hardly exemplars of sexual equality, there’s no indication any man, regardless of power or status, has more than one wife, or concubines–no polyamory (other than the implied open relationship Troi and Riker have, but that always felt more like Friends With Benefits If We’re Both Otherwise Available), no divorce or stepfamilies (the closest are Worf’s adoptive parents, who are awesome BTW), and typical of WASP-dominated American TV, the only family relations that ever come up are between siblings, or parents and children, and occasionally grandparents and grandchildren. No one has any aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or cousins.

                And this was an SF television series made in the late 80s and onward. Golden Age and New Wave science fiction novels and short stories had been more open to alternative sexualities and domestic arrangements for decades before this. It reminded me of an essay J. Michael Straczynski wrote when Babylon 5 started, where he said TV science fiction was always a good 20 to 30 years behind what was happening in SF literature.

            • Jeff says:

              The reason behind this is very simple: a large chunk of the audience just doesn’t care about story, and another large chunk cares about story but doesn’t care about little world details.

              This depends on your definition of “the audience”.

              The fans of ME1 certainly cared about story and world details, because otherwise they wouldn’t be fans of ME1.

              • INH5 says:

                If you read the official Bioware forums, you’ll be surprised how many people are only there for things like character interactions and romances. And note that I said “audience” instead of “fans.” Even with gameplay as crude as the first Mass Effect’s, there will be plenty of people who only buy it to shoot robots and grind up levels and stuff and will only pay a little attention to the story, then forget about it after they’re done.

          • Khizan says:

            The thing about ME1 is that the gameplay is utterly atrocious by modern standards.

            Combat? Your power cooldowns are atrociously long; I started off firing one power a minute or something like that. And if you use the cool power class, you get to start with a BB gun, so good luck with that. That aside, it’s terribly clunky, the cover system is even worse than ME3’s awesome button, you’ve got a ton of skills to learn, so that utility conflicts with shooting your freaking weapon, and there’s a metric buttload of useless modifications to clog your inventory with.

            Outside of combat? I hope you like running. The dialogue, the plotting, the story, all that is awesome. The problem is that all these awesome set pieces are ten minutes worth of corridors and elevators apart from each other so that you hit the Citidel and the next few hours of gameplay are mostly spent jogging through corridors.

            To contrast, the storyline in ME3 is much worse but the gameplay is so much better. You start off shooting well, which is huge; no more having to skill up your weapons to get a reticle that’s small enough to reliably hit what you’re aiming at. When you play an Adept you can totally smash everything to death with biotics, the Vanguard gets to rush things to death and shotgun their faces in like a futuristic Viking berserker, and the Soldier’s bullet time mode makes sniping and headshot and stuff practical even if you’re completely crap at shooters.

            And outside of combat, when you’ve got somebody to talk to or somewhere to be, they don’t tell you that it’s a 5 minute jog and a minute long elevator ride to it.

            Which is the better story? ME1, definitely. Which is the better game? ME3, no question.

            • Dreadjaws says:

              Gameplay-wise, ME3 is, without question, the most accessible one. The better one? That’s certainly up for debate. In my opinion, ME3 is inferior to the other two in almost every way. Specially because many parts of the game that should be left to gameplay are left to cutscenes instead.

              ME3 is easier to pick up and play than the other two. That doesn’t make it the better game by any means.

              • Trix2000 says:

                It’s really subjective, just like almost any version of ‘better’ when applied to creative media.

                • meyerkev248 says:

                  I will say that I had the most FUN playing ME3. Vanguard is a god of death, and I actually managed to play… really any campaigns as a non-Vanguard (Seriously, how boring would an Insanity Infiltrator run have been in ME1?)

                  But there’s nothing quite as power-fantasy as Casual Vanguard. In any game ever.

                  /It also helps that I pulled a couple all-nighters before starting my ME3 run to get homework out of the way, and then did my first run-through in another all-nighter. Turns out one of the first things to go is the part of your brain that goes “This makes zero sense” and it gets replaced by “That was awesome”.

                  • Richard H says:

                    I did an Insanity Infiltrator run in ME1. (Full disclosure: was a L50-60 playthrough on that character) I suspect it’s the easiest class, too, at the higher levels. It involved a lot of Marksman/Invulnerability cheese and sniping from outside of activation range with explosive rounds. Amusingly, when I got to ME2, I actually had to land shots on the first try with the Infiltrator because of the cloak, so I *hated* it. (I usually lined my shots up half a second after bullet time ran out.)

                    I definitely found the combat in ME3 to be more fun than the combat in ME2. Not the scenarios, necessarily, which are largely forgettable in any of the games, but that the powers went together in ways that I actually wanted to play around with to see what I could do with them.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Amusingly, when I got to ME2, I actually had to land shots on the first try with the Infiltrator because of the cloak, so I *hated* it.

                      Really?It wasnt that hard for me.Especially once I got my hands on the widow and just raining death on anything.Though the part with the biotic bubble was a pain.

                      However,the most fun I had with infiltrator was not with the sniper rifle,but taking tali with me against robots and making the enemy fight each other.

                    • Richard H says:

                      (reply to self because of nesting)
                      As it turns out, I’m terrible at shooters. My favorite TF2 classes, for example, are Medic, Heavy, and Engineer, because I don’t need to be a very good shot for any of them.

                      So, lining up a headshot within 2s? Yeah, no, takes me 3, at best. Might as well roll Soldier, then. I got pretty good at managing muzzle climb with center-mass shots, though.

          • Ranneko says:

            ME1 is the least popular game because it is the oldest. Bioware was smaller and less notable when it produced ME1 than when it produced the later games. It is totally reasonable that most of the audience wouldn’t go back and play the earlier games. It is inconvenient and as a result of an iterative design process generally a worse experience to go back and play the early games in a series before playing the later ones.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          I just remember that “the writer will do someting” game, and what about this: They didn’t have a good ending, or they did have something planned but something went wrong and they couldn’t get the necessary assets together. So they had to come up with something and so the star child was born. And some of the things which they would have used otherwise but now didn’t fit in anymore were recycled for the DLC.

          I’m very sure that most things wrong with story-telling in games are largely not because people don’t unterstand storytelling but because the story plays second or third fiddle when it comes to the logistics of making a game. I mean, even in movies they sometimes change important parts around because either some shoot didn’t work, an actor dropped out, some producer or other complained, or the test audience couldn’t take a non-happy ending (stupid test audience!).

        • Ringwraith says:

          Mass Effect 3 is best when it’s doing the smaller moments spiralling off the its main plot of a piecemeal galactic war that’s going badly.
          The actual core plot is one of its weakest parts, and it just starts reaching critical mass at Thessia because of the immense amount of stupid that gets hammered in there, but it was boiling away long before that.
          Although Horizon isn’t half bad, I’ll admit. The whole exploiting people’s fear by bringing them to a ‘place of hope’ is a horrifying example of opportunism.

  2. topazwolf says:

    Fun fact, I just recently reinstalled my KOTORs and started playing them. I had forgotten how absolutely fantastic they are to play. It really feels like I have a purpose and things to do unlike most of the more modern RPGs I’ve been playing.

    Looking back, Mass Effect had definitely lost something in the feel of the gameplay and story.

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      I actually didn’t like Mass Effect at all until my second playthrough(and then I loved it), and I know for a fact that it was because I was comparing it to Kotor. In Kotor every planet you went to was filled with life, and characters and societies to explore. In Mass Effect:

      Eden Prime was just a combat zone.
      Noveria was a small office building, followed by a massive combat zone.
      Feros was one small area of clearly odd people in peril, followed by a massive combat zone. (Yes there was a small second group but you couldn’t really do anything there.)
      Therum was just a combat zone.
      Ilos was just a combat zone. (Even Rakata had multiple villages of people to talk to.)

      The best part of Mass Effect was meeting all of the species and people on the Citadel. Then I get to travel the galaxy and…..shoot things…

      Even the missions that felt like they should be different, like retrieving Wrex’s armor was just shooting. “What?! This criminal Garrus has been chasing for years surrendered? We’re actually taking him in ali- oh no he pulled a gun now he’s dead too.”

      Noveria is the best example: The lab there is similar to Manaan in that you arrive after everything has gone pear shaped. Sure there are allot of people there, but Manaan had an entire city before the lab, full of people going about their normal days, with a complex society and political structure.
      And to make matters worse on Noveria, depending on the order you do things in you may have to end up shooting everyone there too!

      I spent hours of Kotor exploring places full of people, talking to everyone I could and learning their stories. In Mass Effect I spent hours on the Citadel, and then shot things for the rest of the game.

      tl;dr
      I thought the planets in Mass Effect should have been more talky less shooty. Or better yet have more places where everything hasn’t already gone to pot.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        Replaying Mass Effect again, it struck me how sterile everything looks. It all feels disproportionate, with huge rooms with tiny furniture tucked into the corner, and not much of it looks like any actual place where sentient being might live and work. Feros is a good example; we don’t see much of the colony at all, just an outpost and a ship, and the Exogeni building just looks like a bombed out ruin with no indication that it was ever an research complex. It’s really jarring having played stuff like Deus Ex:HR (or even Deus Ex 1 for that matter) and the Nu Fallouts, both of which have much more detailed environments.

        Still love the skyboxes on those uncharted worlds, though.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        I felt that became a bigger problem with each installment of the franchise. Too many problems are solved by putting bullets into things, when not all of them needed to be. That’s why, whatever issues they had, I found Samara and Kasumi’s loyalty missions in ME2 to be a nice change of pace. They involved social interaction, as well as detective/sabotage work, and not just shooting things. For a second, it looked like Tali’s loyalty mission might do something similar, and become a legal drama–but nope, more shooting things.

  3. The Rocketeer says:

    I’m sure “vaguarities” in that third footnote is a brectically cromulent word, but… did you mean “vagaries,” maybe? :P

    • Shamus says:

      Huh. I’ve been using this word for years, and I’ve heard other people use it, but I never looked it up. Turns out it’s semi-obscure slang: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=vaguarity

      Well… every day’s a school day.

      • MrGuy says:

        I seem to recall “Every day’s a school day” being used in a really cool scene in a movie I liked, but couldn’t recall the exact reference (thinking “The Departed”?)

        So I googled ‘”Every day’s a school day” movie quotes’

        The second entry is a link to the Spoiler Warning episode from the Walking Dead season of the same name.

        I may not have a point here.

    • DaveMc says:

      I had the same reaction, and searched up the same urban slang link Shamus just cited … I kind of like “vaguarities”, it sounds like the kind of vagaries delivered by the claws of that rare jungle cat, the vaguar.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamoose,you really should write an article titled “What do they eat?!”,just so you could link to it in posts like this.Maybe write one where you list games that fail the question vs games that answer it.

    • Majromax says:

      Perhaps I’ve been hanging around here too long, but I think that “What do they eat?!” would be a great title for a medium-form critical series that examines hand-waving in the worldbuilding of disparate games.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      At some point you could make a case for him creating a codex of points he commonly builds on to make others.

    • evileeyore says:

      See… I’m rarely bothered* by Shamoose’s “What Do They Eat?” question.

      The one that I always ask, and almost every game fails at some point**, is “Can I Climb That?”

      * Yeah, I notice it. In some games it’s a bother (like Fallout 3 and F:NV) but in something like Mass Effect where the focus isn’t on survival I likely wouldn’t even notice.
      ** A few recent games have come a long, long, long way to never having me find the answer is “No”. Unfortunately the Chest High Walls still thrive in most games. Sigh.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    No, Mass Effect isn’t remotely “hard” sci-fi when compared to (say) books.

    Youve read only a handful of choice books if you think that they are remotely hard scifi.Heck,even some of the best sf authors like Asimov have written sf as soft as tissue paper.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I mean, don’t “fiction” and “fantasy” mean kind of the same thing?

    Pretty much.The rule to distinguish the two that sounds like the best one to me is “If the work tries to explain the workings of its magic,then it is science fiction.If it just shrugs and doesnt explore it at all,its fantasy”.Though that rules pretty much breaks in cases where the explanations are mind bogglingly stupid(like voyager not being able to find deuterium in space),or where the technology is not explained because its considered standard(like hyperspace,robots and such).

    • mechaninja says:

      Major Rayner Fleming as a starship captain seemed like a great idea to me, but the writing on that show always made me want to scream at people, so I had to stop watching it. I don’t remember the deuterium issue, so I figure either I missed that episode or else that was one of the things I tried to drink away.

      • What’s worse is that Voyager had a premise that screamedfor a head writer that had an ongoing arc in mind and would shepherd the show in that direction. Unfortunately, it kept with the usual pattern for all of ‘Trek, including DS-9 (until it saw Babylon-5 eating its lunch and discovered continuity when it was having its final season) which was to just let whoever write this week’s episode and have whatever they wanted happen, so long as the “reset button” was firmly pressed at the end.

        Not only does this mean the events of each episode are nigh meaningless, it means that characters have no consistency, especially Janeway. One week, the prime directive is the end-all be-all. The next week, it’s time to make confetti out of the PD while we give phasers to cavemen. Even Kate Mulgrew thought the gyrations her characters’ personality underwent from script to script were ludicrous.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    and their wi-fi password is REALLY good.

    So it is like 1234567?!Those fiendish bastards!

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    After all, without drama, what’s the point?

    Weeeellll…..there can be enjoyment without drama.For example,Clarkes rama book is almost completely devoid of drama(I mean there is drama in the sense “This is a new unexplored territory”,but its rarely in the focus,because its replace by awe and wonder),yet it is miles above the fanmade sequel which is just dripping (moronic) drama.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Reminds me of a brilliant ‘super-short summary’ I once saw for one of the best SF books ever, Excession:

      1000s of years ago it appeared and nothing happened. Now it’s back and nothing will happen this time either

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I don’t know, the whole time, there’s the mystery of Rama’s robots: could they turn hostile? Are they intelligent? Can we learn about them or their creators? And the windbike guy takes a chance when he explores further down the cylinder, since they’re unsure they’d be able to recover him in the event of a crash. And the whole mission is one of urgency, since they only have a few days before Rama leaves the solar system. That’s why I didn’t care for the addition of a second, literal ticking timebomb with the nuclear bomb at the climax–the main plot already had enough urgency built into it. That felt like a scene added for a future movie adaptation.

      I think Rendezvous With Rama‘s drama worked better for its time, when the mere act of exploring the unknown was still pretty dramatic: when RWR was published, it was only a year since the last manned moon landing, and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau was still a popular TV program. But it was right at the end of that era. Post-Star Wars, which married spectacle and drama so effectively, a story could rarely stand on story alone.

      (NB: I haven’t read any of the Rama sequels)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        (NB: I haven’t read any of the Rama sequels)

        Oh how I envy you.I picked up the first sequel because I didnt know at the time it wasnt written by Clarke.Boy was that a mistake.

        Brief summary:
        Its about a bunch of douchebags who go to visit the second rama,and instead of being in awe of this amazing thing,they start killing each other because money.Also sex.And then it ends with two of them remaining on rama to repopulate it,which apparently is what happens in the other sequels.

  9. 4th Dimension says:

    A highly relevant thing to the discuassion about Drama or Rules first fiction are “Sanderson’s laws of magic”.
    http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-first-law/
    http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-second-law/
    http://brandonsanderson.com/sandersons-third-law-of-magic/

    He writes “Hard” magic settings where the rules known to the users of magic are explained to the readers and as such the writer is constrained by the rules to make better solutions to his problems and not resort to deus ex machina solutions.

    As for Mass Effect 1, looking back I really liked that the Codex was prominent and important to understanding the universe, other games never made me feel it was as important. Also Mass Effect made great effort at worldbuilding and explaining your role/position in it. I liked that I wasn’t Space Jesus but just another Spectre from a non Council race to boot.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Let me guess it’s in moderation due to the links? Or the spam filter hates my guts.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes.

        (Ha,I love when comments break like this)

        • 4th Dimension says:

          Wait, WHAT? The comment I replies to is avaiting moderation but the forum still displays this comment?!?

          * checks it in Firefox *

          Wow. I see your comment as a proper reply to mine, while everyone else will see last two comments as unrelated.

          Anyway untill the main comment gets unspammed let’s just say my comment was about Sanderson’s laws of (Hard) Magic which basically describe what you Shamus described how story is stronger if the author is able to put constraints on the plot.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      He references Orson Scott Card’s book on writing and sci fi which I’ll vouch for as he does. Its a good companion piece for Shamus’s series.

      Or for a counterpoint MrBTongue’s video on Magic. * Which challenges the notion of magic having rules. Though I think his views could be reconciled with Anderson’s and Card’s. And he extends this exception only to magic.

      *Start around 5:30 for the most relevant part.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Actually,he doesnt challenge the notion that magic should have rules,he challenges the notion of said rules being known to the audience.

      • Rule consistency is important in any story, especially in one with sci-fi or fantasy elements. Your tale of magical spaceships or android wizards can be as fever-dream silly as you want, so long as whatever rules or boundaries you set down aren’t broken for no apparent reason.

        A simple example from Star Trek: In the original series, “The Great Barrier” referred to some kind of radiation belt that surrounded our galaxy which was supposed to be nigh impossible to break through. Sure, that’s laughable, but hey, it set up a problem. Flash forward to Star Trek V, which had numerous flaws, but one of them was that “The Great Barrier” was now surrounding the core of the galaxy.

        This isn’t to say that if the book has stated that magic cannot kill that it’ll never happen, so long as the way this rule is “broken” fits with the rest of the rules. Maybe I can’t use magical energy to put a hole in someone, but I can levitate this boulder and drop it on them. Consistency is key.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          That’s only true if the plot is of primary consideration. Then yes, you’d prefer your heroes didn’t “cheat”, or pull some solution out of their ass, or rely on deus ex machina.

          But if character or themes or something else is the higher priority of the story, then rules be damned. E.g., a lot of ancient Greek tragedy, especially by Euripedes, relied on deus ex machina. But the audience wouldn’t have minded, because all Greek tragedy was based on historical events, or myth and legends–i.e., the audience already knew the story’s main beats and how it ended. It was how the playwright interpreted the characters, or which themes they chose to highlight, that distinguished one version of the story from another.

        • MrGuy says:

          Rule consistency can be in direct tension with the need for the hero to overcome all obstacles, even ones that seemingly can’t possibly be overcome. Raising the degree of difficulty raises the stakes, thus amping up the tension, and increases the cathartic release. Doing the impossible is a pretty standard trope.

          The big problem with rule consistency is that there’s a tension between the fact that it can work for a standalone story, but it’s a huge issue for multi-story or episodic worlds. Allowing a rule to be bent or broken can be a powerful device local to a given story, but it breaks the world for all future stories in it, because now that we know that rule can break, we no longer expect it to hold.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            Its about where you break the rule too.

            If magic hasn’t been able to kill in a series, then breaking that rule at the beginning of a new book can be the basis of a great premise that shakes up the setting*. How to people react now that they know magic can be used for killing? How do we adjust?

            Similar for conveniences. As How Not to Write A Novel points out, you shouldn’t solve a hero’s problems by having them find a convenient briefcase full of money but finding the same briefcase at the beginning of the story can be a nice way to kick off the plot.

            *For that matter, having magic suddenly be able to kill at the end of one book thus saving the hero can work if your audience already knows there will be more books and they’re invested enough already in the setting to see how this development changes things in future books.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              But thats not really breaking the rule.If something was impossible,yet you do it,and then provide an explanation(short or long,doesnt matter)as to how is that now possible keeps the consistency of the work.The setting changed,and here are reason as to why.But if you break the rule with no explanation,thats when all goes to hell.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        Ehhh, these are two different sides/views/types of magic. LOTR magic is seen from POV of country bumpkins, the Hobbits who know nothing about the magic and thus it’s wonderous for them. Thus there are no rules since we never meet any other wizard and they never on screen discuss it so it can stay wonderous and mysterious. Also take note LOTR magic does obey the first law, since it’s verry rare occurence in LOTR where magic solves a problem that couldn’t be solved with other more conventional means.

        On the other hand once you have your main character be a mage and his friends are mages and they solve problems with magic all the time, and the magic is common, it’s no longer wonderous mysterous LOTR/legend magic but more person powered magitech. As such it needs limitations and rules so we can know what the characters can or can not do. These limits in turn are used to drive the dramatic tension.

        All in all these are two radically diferent approaches to magic and how it’s viewed.

        By the way the writter doens’t need to explain everything about magic, after all he doesn’t have enough space in the books for us to undergo wizard training. We only need to know the limits, and especially HARD limits.
        HARD limit is a limit that stems from the Laws of Nature/Magic themselves and as such they should be unbreakable as IRL natural laws. It’s things such as materials not affected by magic and such.
        Soft limits ane character/lore limits. They can be pierced at a culmination of a dramatic act. These are things such as being told that the Hero can not use his mind to raise more than 50kgs of weight. There are no HARD limits preventing him from doing so it’s all on him. And it’s fine if he manages to break that rule at the culmination.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          IT professionals who complain that “a computer couldn’t do that thing it did in that movie” might not blink when firearms in the same film do things they can’t do in real-life. A medical professional who rolls their eyes at the 2000th time they see a defibrillator used inappropriately in a TV show might not even notice that the courtroom scene is full of procedural errors–but a lawyer would.

          It’s just puzzling that we brush aside the actual rules of our world every day to enjoy our entertainment, but somehow fantasy and SF, of all things, must be held to a higher standard?

          I observe a phenomenon with stories I call Specific Focus. The harder the writer or the story works to ensure the details of one or two areas are correct and authentic, the more the contrast reveals how lacking the story’s other areas are. Technothrillers are notable for this: the author will go to great pains to ensure, for example, IT, or military hardware, or police procedures are detailed and specific–and populate their stories with stock characters, stereotyped situations. Also, the parts of the story outside of the author’s expertise ring hollow. Whereas a story that isn’t as laser-focused on “getting things right”, but is content to go for “authentic-feeling”, can be forgiven for lapses in realism here and there if it ultimately sells a good story.

          • What happens often, and I mentioned this above, is that stories will break their own rules. It’s not that something is entirely unrealistic, it’s that the writer will ruin tension or the very premise of their narrative by basically contradicting themselves. This applies to characters as well as macguffins, so don’t start in with the “but the characters are what’s important, etc., etc.” stuff.

            In sci-fi/fantasy, the reason there’s such focus on the tech or magic or whatever is because that’s what the stories themselves often focus on. Matter transporters are 100% fiction and come with a whole host of questions (the most famous of which is if you’re killing and cloning everyone you send through the thing), but they’re nifty, they solved problems, and they can be used to move the story along. BUT, if one story says a P-class star makes using the transporter impossible, then if they have a story near a P-class star and the transporters are used, it’s a problem for the viewer.

            It’s as if a heist story focused on the world’s biggest diamond, and then near the end, someone drops the diamond and it shatters. The heroes make off with their smaller diamonds and sell them for a little less than the one they had originally, but they got away with it and are ready for their next adventure. Never does the script note that this isn’t how diamonds work. It’s wrong. It’s a problem. It doesn’t have to be a real-world thing to be written badly, and for sci-fi and fantasy, your macguffins have to be explained because the viewer/reader is often unfamiliar with them. Rules and functions are set up and that builds the audience’s expectations and potential points of tension. If they make The Wizard of Oz II and it includes a shower scene full of not-melting Wicked Witches, pointing it out isn’t being nitpicky, pointing it out is noting where the writer didn’t do the research or ignored previous narrative.

            The same can be said of characters. If a character does a face-heel-turn when their child is put in mortal danger, but later they plot to have said child killed, that’s a problem for the viewer as well. If two people risk everything to be together, fight through huge odds to win through, putting their all into becoming a couple, and then they decide to shake hands and pull out some dating apps… There had better be a darn good explanation or it’s a rubbish narrative.

            Star Trek Voyager is a great example of a show with all of the problems: The tech isn’t consistent, the plot isn’t consistent, the characters themselves aren’t consistent. It doesn’t have to be sci-fi/fantasy to have details matter. I think you’re using genre fiction as a kind of scapegoat for detail freaks when by definition genre fiction has to explain itself more from the get-go in one way or another whereas “real world” stories about everyday people don’t have to do so much legwork.

          • 4th Dimension says:

            AHA you thought I wouldn’t check back on this thread to see if there are any comments, but sadly for you boyo my life is a sham and I have all the time in the world to rechecks this thread daily.

            Anyway you don’t seem to understand what we have problem with.

            It’s “okay” if someone writing romance doesn’t know enough about midicine and screws up the difiblirator scene. It might break the suspension of dibelief of a few medical persons and we’ll nitpick it but it won’t cause a massive story breakage because the story doesn’t hinge on the god damned difiblirator. I’m even willing to believe that the story happens in a universe where difiblirators work as described.

            BUT if you are writing something and you state a rule, and than you nonchalantly break it later in the story with NO explanation we have a problem you and me. Now you are breaking rules not out of not knowing better but because you don’t care about the world. And that hurts us the readers who are trying to immerse ourselves and that breakage is aking to someone fingerstraching the blackboard.

            Also we might have a problem if you are breaking the focus of your genre. If you are writing a military techno thriller we expect a certain level of detailed knowledge of modern weapon systems and their employment. And if you can’t do that DON’T write the god damned MtechThrill that requires knowledge you don’t have.

            Basically dont set up a trap, put a large neon sign next to it saying it’s a trap and then step in it and tell us not to laugh at you. When I say You by the way I mean the writter not you personally.

            Also I agree with ps238principal.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Similar-but-different: Asimov’s Laws of Robotics.

      • That was by design. Asmiov was tired of the Frankenstein-like story where the robot goes on a rampage for no reason.

        Instead, he gave it a sensible set of rules to govern behavior (assuming the Positronic Brain was a mechanical equivalent to a living mind) and made his stories from possible problems and conflicts with these laws (often from people trying to modify them). The “limitations” made for much more interesting tales.

        • MrGuy says:

          Not that it invalidates your point about the Hollywood “all robots will rise up against their masters because they’re evil” trope, but…
          In the actual book Frankenstein, the creature (which is not named Frankenstein) goes on a rampage because it has human emotions and desires companionship and affection, but is universally rejected by everyone solely because it looks different. The creature is pretty much the antithesis of “just naturally evil”…

      • MrGuy says:

        And sort of related but way stupider: The Seldon plan.

    • Alec says:

      Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is an excellent example of magic as a set of understandable rules. Magic use is understood by the audience as well as any character because we’ve been with through the hero’s journey/s learning those rules.
      However – as Jordan so aptly demonstrates in the fourth book’s ancient flashbacks, there’s nothing happening here with magic that couldn’t be accomplished, story-wise, with technology.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        Well Jordan was one of the writers that influenced Sanderson. After all when RJ died it was Sanderson that finished the series so it’s expected that they shared teh aptitude for settings with rules.
        Also WoT for all it’s slowness is quite an echievment in terms of worldbuilding and the number of characters it has, what is more RJ had background infoon basically all characters even including the background one off ones which he used to model their responses to events in the books.

        Another interesting thing with WoT is that WoT starts as Drama First books where “magic” is wonderous scary and strange mostly because the first book was purposfully written to sound like LOTR. Another reason for this is that at the beggining most of the POVs are from the country bumpkins for the first time out in the world. And as they learn more and as some become mages the genre shifts from Drama First to Rule First.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is still an RPG and the story is still driven by side quests, but this “planet of the week” structure saves us from the nested nonsense of your typical RPG where you have to:
    .
    .
    .

    You mean:
    Find the mage…
    who tells you to find a sage…
    who tells you to find a dwarf…
    who tells you to find some girls…
    who point you to finding a female bard…
    who tels you to find the hunters…
    who die,so that you have to write a play…
    in order to find a shapeshifter…
    who can then mimic the hunter…
    in order to send the male bard to a place…
    where you get to chase him to a house…
    where you can finally rescue him…
    just so he could tell you “Your princess is in another castle”?

    Incidentally,the new patch 1.07 makes the game far more enjoyable.Even though it doesnt shorten that quest chain.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The real problem with mass effect 1 is its gameplay and its opening.That first long battle on the train is what made me stop playing it the first time I got to it,and if you guys didnt do your spoiler warning then,I would never go back and play the game through.So,thank you for that.But I think that is the reason why it has the lowest score of the three,and its understandable.Its the modern equivalent of fallout 1:Amazing lore,characters and story locked behind a nigh impenetrable wall of crappy gameplay.Though it does have some advantages over the other two(no bullets,mines and mako),its still way behind them in terms of gameplay.

    • evileeyore says:

      “fallout 1:Amazing lore,characters and story locked behind a nigh impenetrable wall of [b]crappy gameplay[/b].”

      My face is frowning as hard it can.

      • Supahewok says:

        You’ll want to use >< mate.

        And I'm with Daemian. I dislike feeling constrained by the time limit if FO1, and combat is atrocious. A turn based game involving more than 3 combatants should never give the player control over only 1 character. A ways into the game, you've got your character, let's say a party of 3 other characters, and anywhere from 3 to 8 enemy combatants in an average fight. So, the player gets a chance to do something in a range of 1 out of 7 rounds to 1 out of 12 rounds. That is fundamentally flawed game design, particularly when your companion AI has no qualms over friendly fire.

        The SPECIAL and skill systems were great, and were implemented into the environment alright. The dialog and narrative were first class. But the combat was atrocious, and the main reason why I never finished either FO1 or 2. The much-maligned Tactics gave you control of the whole party, which actually raised the bar for combat from horrible to alright.

        The main reason why FO:NV is my favorite Fallout game is because its the only one that keeps the combat, dialog, and skill usage all above the rank of average, which makes for an amazing game.

        And for the record: turn based strategies are some of my favorite games. Temple of Elemental Evil, Fire Emblem, XCOM, Pillars of Eternity, they’re all high up on my favorites, and I’m guessing so will JA2 when I get around to it from what I hear of it. FO1 is a terrible turn-based game.

        • ehlijen says:

          The point of that combat system was that you were you, and your party members were not.

          I didn’t play it until I got a more powerful computer than it required at the time, so I don’t know how bad it was at release, but I never minded the wait times.

          I actually thought that by explicitly not giving you control over anyone else, the game reinforced the feeling of being an outsider to the world you were exploring and I thought that worked well.

          However, I hated the companion system in FO3 and NV where it feels like your friends are always either trying to steal gameplay away from you when they run off to start and win fights off screen, or to grief you when they run off and get knocked out somewhere off screen.

          At least in FO1 and 2 your companions never started fights for you and you could always see what they’re doing (unless the ai got them trapped very far off screen).

          • BenD says:

            ‘You are you, and your party members are not’ is not a good enough reason for this atrocious sit-back-and-watch combat style. FO1’s combat is neither visceral not tactical; what exactly about fighting DOES it simulate? Tedium was not a feature of any fisticuffs I’ve ever been in. I strained to avoid combat through what of the game I could stand to play (eventually it felt like it was going to force me to solve problems with guns, and I said ‘later’) because it kept interrupting a nice interactive adventure story with a failed small-scale battlefield tactics game. I’m glad it didn’t bother some folks but it was absolutely unforgivable for me and, I assume, many.

  12. I’d like to note how KotOR is a refinement of Neverwinter Nights’ storyline. Many quests are almost copies, others are some refined. I think it’s only a few that are new to KotOR. It’s been long since I played NWN so I don’t remember more than less than a handful parallels. Quarantined Taris is quarantined Neverwinter. The old machines of Dantooine is present in almost equal form somewhere in NWN. Bastila is Aribeth, both of whom I hate with all my guts (the best moment in both games was killing them)… when I played KotOr I was surprised how many quests were reused/refined from NWN. KotOR, though, is much better, as they cut much side questing, specially those sidequests more disengaged from the main story, so one keeps having the main storyline in mind and having fun. In NWN they go to too many sidequests that are unconnected from the main line (or so I remember it now) that it soon became a grind for me. Before ending the first chapter I was talking to NPC, click answers without even reading, knowing it all boiled down in the end to “enter dungeon, kill everything that moves, pick every chest, return to quest giver to click through answer to get reward”. That never happens to me in KotOR, it kept me interested in listening to every word from NPCs and know what is I was going to do and for what end.

    So it looks like Bioware had a structure for their videogames that they reuse as much as they can, giving enough variation as not to be a blatant copy (save for NWN/KotOR). Or starting point from which they work and move more or less away for each new game, would probably be better worded, as the first may easily be a too hard, and hence incorrect, way to put it.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You should definitely play hordes of the underdark.You get to do much,MUCH worse things to aribeth in that one.Just pick an evil character and enjoy all the suffering you get to cause to people around you.

      Anyway,the main problem with vanilla nwn is that its main story and lore were terribly bland and forgettable.Thats why the expansions and kotor surpass it so much.

      • John says:

        I have, on occasion, tried to do a semi-speed run of the original NWN campaign. It hasn’t worked so well. The original NWN campaign is a lot like three or four less interesting KOTORs stacked on top of each other. In the Neverwinter and Beorunna’s Well sections of the game, you must complete all four planets–I mean areas!–to progress. If you want to speed things up, all you can really do is ignore the optional area-specific sidequests (some of which are really, really long dungeon crawls). In the Port Llast section, however, you don’t actually have to beat all the areas because you can get some of the plot tokens you need by surviving certain ambushes. It’s been a while since I last tried it, but I think you might be able to get away with clearing just one area. (I am not about to go check.) Luskan is similarly flexible in that you only need to defeat one of the two High Captains. I wish the rest of the campaign was more like those two areas.

      • GTB says:

        It was a tech demo with a pre-made example game. Because Aurora was so general-purpose, by design, it ended up making for a bland game I think. (though a very easy to use toolset)

        It wasn’t until later when people really started experimenting with the toolset that you started to see some really cool, complex stories. I get what they were doing, but they would have been less disingenuous to market the thing as a toolset with a pre-made campaign rather than an AAA rpg that also had a toolset.

        …I still really like the toolset, 13 years later. I wish the nwn2 toolset hadn’t been so glitchy.

        • John says:

          I’ve messed around with the Aurora toolset a little. It’s very, very easy to create a room or an area and populate it with enemies. It takes a lot of work to write and test the scripts required to make an encounter interesting. I think that explains most of the original campaign.

    • drkeiscool says:

      I feel it should be noted that the original plans for the NWN OC were much more deep and complex than what we got:

      This is the only link to it I can still find (since the NWN Vault on IGN died), but Rob Bartel said the doc isn’t a hoax.

      The postmortem on Gamasutra for NWN might be a good read, too.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      To use Shamus’ terminology, both Early and Classic era BioWare games (up to Jade Empire, ME1 and DAO) tend to use the same basic structure of Intro section-tutorial area-Exposition Dump Area/Hub where you become The Chosen One-Three or Four Mandatory Locations in any order-Stakes-Raising Chokepoint Mission-Final Battle.

      Patrick Weekes responded to that clichés chart I linked to by saying a big advantage of the 3 or 4 mandatory mission areas is they could cut one if it wasn’t going to be ready in time for launch with minimal effect on the final product. He also tried to justify it using the Hero’s Journey/Monomyth that didn’t sit well with Film Crit Hulk.

  13. Svick says:

    Force powers get stronger as the plot reaches a crescendo, because it’s driven by the vaguarities of emotions, wisdom, purity, love, hate, or whatever. It’s a mechanical story element that runs on drama.

    It’s interesting that Force doesn’t work like this at all in games. I wonder if a game with Force that was somehow drama-based could work.

    • wswordsmen says:

      I am going to say no. Games require the players to interact with mechanics and mechanics can only be interacted with after they are explained. Force powers that change with the drama would mean that the powers only change at points where an explanation of the new mechanic would wreck the drama.

      We have seen times where mechanics have changed w/o the player knowing and they are almost always criticized for it. Metroid Other M did this with unlocking the Super Bomb and I have yet to hear one good thing about that sequence.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Doesnt one of the force games allow you to do epic stuff in cutscenes,like manipulating a huge ship?That seems dramatic enough to me.

      • venatus says:

        I think your talking about the force unleashed. were one of the “boss fights” was to literally pull a star destroyer out of orbit and crash it onto the planet.

        but the force unleashed games were kinda made with the idea of dialing up the force powers up to 11 so I’m not sure how well they fit into discussions like this.

    • IFS says:

      “We’ve attached mic support to the game, so that when the game detects the player swearing or yelling sith powers get stronger.”

      Sounds a bit like something Peter Molyneux might come up with…

      • spleentioteuthis says:

        Monitor player vitals and the more measurably calm and unemotional they stay the stronger their jedi powers will be.
        And in sith mode you have to let the anger flow through you to increase your blood pressure to power up. It’s the self-regulating difficulty level of the future. Brought to you by Hypertension Games.
        Throwing your controller at a wall also gives sith powers a huge tantrum buff at the cost of quite literally losing control.

        • Scourge says:

          And now I am imaging this as an MMO.

          The cool, rational people are the healers. DPS are the rage people.

          “Dude, we need you to do DPS in the coming raid.”
          “I can’t.”
          “Please!”
          “Alright, I won’t take my blood pressure meds today.”

          • 4th Dimension says:

            I’m now imagining the DPSer as the Beserker from that Monthy Phyton movie about Vikings where he is calm weak and constantly being annoyed by his mild father who is also a beserker UNTILL HE SNAPPS IN RAGE!!!!

    • Mephane says:

      But most games with magic/superpowers/etc have this to some extent. Usually towards the grand finale, the protagonist gains some macguffin that suddenly increases their power tenfold, or grants them an immunity against something that was utterly deadly.

      • Svick says:

        I was looking for something more built into the mechanics of the game, not just giving the player a MacGuffin to defeat the big bad.

        • Christopher says:

          Bayonetta usually have regular punches and kicks but makes big fists or legs appear at points during and at the end of different combos(like big demon versions, appearing through summon circles). For the really big boss fights, she would let down her hair and every punch and kick produces that huge attack. That’s a way I could see force powers(or powerup-based heroes like Saiyans) work in a story context. Powerful finishers normally, but for EVERY move once things are serious.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      The Angry GM has a good rant on why it wouldn’t. Not in games, anyway. Maybe if it’s some kind of LARP or tabletop game with friends or a GM you trust where people are willing to fudge the rules in favour of a good story, you can work that sort of thing in. But I don’t see it working in a video game without building in a mechanic for drama or emotional state. And then it’s effectively like a Limit Break or a Power Meter in a fighting game.

    • MrGuy says:

      This is really only how the Dark Side works, canonically. The Light Side is supposed to be about quiet, focus, and stillness, not emotion and anger.

  14. Alex says:

    “Conversely, nothing will torment a “Details First” nerd like hand-waving the established rules of the world because some character happens to be believing in themselves a little harder than usual.”

    Unless it’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I won’t pretend the series is perfect, but the good half revolves around people achieving impossible and awesome things like spontaneously inventing teleportation because you really, really want to go punch somebody in the face through sheer force of will.

  15. Dragmire says:

    Huh, I never noticed that the images used in these articles have hover text. Also, I like how the images are used to make the text easier to digest.

    Good article Shamus, keep up the good work.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yeah,Shamus started using rollover text on images regularly about a year ago.So now you can go back through all the articles and reading all those snippets.

  16. Annikai says:

    Mass Effect 1 being a bit like Star Trek is probably why I enjoy the first game so much. I remember when I bought the game, I modeled my character off of James T. Kirk (my favorite captain until I watched DS9 because The Sisko). It was pretty great. I would go around explore strange new worlds and it felt like I was an explorer. I got so into doing side quests and seeing what each planet had to offer that I was massively over leveled. To give you an idea, remember that planet (not the one you get Liara) where there was a huge driving section that required you to do vehicle combat. After I finished the game I remember going online and seeing people complain about how they had to stay in the car or get killed. I didn’t understand that for awhile because I kept fighting them out side of the car. Frankly they died faster to my shot gun than to the car’s turret. On top of that it felt like I could role play as Kirk. I could do mostly Paragon decisions until certain things would trigger Kirk’s renegade side. You know things where his sense of justice would say screw the regulations I have to do something.

    And that is why Mass Effect 2 and 3 (which I haven’t finished but I am working on it now because of this series) were such disappointments. I didn’t feel like Kirk any more. The renegade options were to regularly chaotic stupid to turn into something he would reasonably do. Planet exploration became a simplified resource finding minigame that they then made even simpler. And the planets all became short missions removed from the exploration and information gathering that I enjoyed in the first game.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      So what you are saying is that me1 is like the original series,2 is like voyager and 3 is like enterprise?Shame they skipped tng and ds9 then.

      Oh and fighting stuff outside mako is great.It also gives you way more xp.And as an infiltrator,you can do it from miles away,with no danger to yourself.

      • Scourge says:

        The mako does give a 75% xp penalty after all. of course nothing stops you from just shooting them to half death and then finishing them off on foot. Like a certain trasher maw on an unnamed planet.

    • INH5 says:

      Personally, I never felt like an explorer in ME1. Once I realized that all planets apart from the main plot ones were extremely simple procedurally generated maps and that all of the sidequests took place in one of 3 stock maps, I quickly lost interest. I think that of the games in the trilogy ME2 did the best job of making the player feel like an explorer, not because of the tedious and pointless mining minigame, but because of the various side missions you could run across. Sure they were all short simple, but every one of them had a uniquely designed map and scenario so there was actual stuff for you to discover, and some of them did some interesting stuff. I still have fond memories of that sidequest where you landed on a wrecked ship and had to explore it while it teetered over the edge of a cliff. There wasn’t much to do, but the atmosphere was excellent.

  17. Ilseroth says:

    I actually spoke to an Ex-Bioware employee recently that worked there for about 8 years… turns out while Mass Effect 1 has a nice big EA sticker on it, the development on it was entirely complete prior to the EA takeover. That being said, he also said that EA didn’t have any real major influence in his time working as a designer (he worked there during the transfer period.)

    Though we spent most of the conversation talking about Jade Empire, which he informed me sadly did *not* sell well, due allegedly to the fact it arrived at the end of the consoles life cycle. It apparently was the first game he helped ship so he was excited to talk about it.

    • Raygereio says:

      turns out while Mass Effect 1 has a nice big EA sticker on it, the development on it was entirely complete prior to the EA takeover.

      Was this ever in question? Mass Effect was first announced back in 2005. EA acquired VG Holding Corp. (which was the owner of the studios Bioware & Pandemic) in 2007, which was also the year ME1 was released.

      That being said, he also said that EA didn’t have any real major influence in his time working as a designer (he worked there during the transfer period.)

      Several former and current Bioware devs have said the same thing.
      The thing is that gamers tend to praise the poor, innocent developer for everything that goes right. And blame those dastardly, conniving publishers whenever something goes wrong. The truth though is generally more grey then that. And really more often then not the majority of the blame can put on the developer’s shoulders.

      John Riccitiello was CEO of EA from 2007 to 2013 and before that was pretty to have been involved with EA’s purchase of Bioware since a private equity fund he set up invested in VG Holding Corp. He said in an interview in 2008 that EA’s past post-acquisition tactics backfired badly and that EA messed up in how they handled studios like Bullfrog, Origin and Westwood.
      Looking back at comments from Bioware devs I’ve heard, I got the impression that EA tried a more hands-off strategy with Bioware. And yet it still backfired on them.

      Though we spent most of the conversation talking about Jade Empire, which he informed me sadly did *not* sell well, due allegedly to the fact it arrived at the end of the consoles life cycle.

      I think the fact that Jade Empire wasn’t part of an established franchise (like Star Wars of Dungeons & Dragons) and didn’t have a big marketing campaign to generate hype for it didn’t help either.

      • INH5 says:

        Looking back at comments from Bioware devs I’ve heard, I got the impression that EA tried a more hands-off strategy with Bioware. And yet it still backfired on them.

        I think the ME3 ending controversy proves this more than anything. The ME3 ending was a lot of things, but it was absolutely not safe, conventional, or likely to appeal to a mass audience. It goes against everything that EA would want. If EA was willing to let Bioware go ahead with that ending, they probably would have been willing to let them do just about anything.

        Of course, after the big controversy I wouldn’t be surprised if EA is more hands-on with ME4, at least to exercise veto power over anything that could potentially blow up in their face. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if they already did the same thing with DA3, but I don’t know much about that game’s development.

        EDIT: And I think that a lot of the changes that are often blamed on EA such as the move to more shooter mechanics and the emphasis on more cinematic set pieces has a simple alternative explanation: the developers wanted to appeal to a larger audience and make more money, especially after Jade Empire sold poorly and demonstrated that their standard formula might not be able to work outside of an established franchise. The streamlining of later entries in the ME series is just an extension of the trends started in ME1, as seen by the partial implementation of shooter mechanics and a dialogue wheel instead of a larger text box.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        “I think the fact that Jade Empire wasn’t part of an established franchise (like Star Wars of Dungeons & Dragons) and didn’t have a big marketing campaign to generate hype for it didn’t help either.”

        Clearly they should have told Fox News about the threesome potential. That could’ve helped.

    • jd says:

      “while Mass Effect 1 has a nice big EA sticker on it”

      It’s got a nice MS “sticker” on it, since MS published the original version of the game when it was originally released as a 360 exclusive. If you’ve got a copy with an EA logo, it’s a later port or rerelease. My copy doesn’t have an EA in sight, though.

  18. wswordsmen says:

    Humans didn’t colonize the Terminus Systems in the first game (it was actually a big lore change in the second). They colonized the Attican Traverse, which is on the border of the Terminus Systems.

    You inspired me to replay the first (and best game) so I just heard the conversation you were talking about 2 days ago.

  19. ogg says:

    Very interesting looking forward to more.

  20. My version of “What do they eat?”, when playing a sci-fi or fantasy game, is “Where are the children?

    It’s immersion breaking (and a bit creepy) when an otherwise fully realized game world is completely lacking a miniature version of its main inhabitants. Eggs, larvae, babies, kids, whatever. Without any viable offspring, how can a society survive for any length of time?

    I find it even MORE immersion breaking when there’s a) no offspring, and b) all of the inhabitants seem to be of one gender (usually coded as “male”). Then I inevitably feel as if I’m on a penal colony, even if that’s not what the writers intended.

    • Raygereio says:

      In the vast majority of the areas in the ME trilogy, the presence of children would be the weird thing. Why would children be running around in military and research bases, or in the council chambers?
      There are only a handful of areas where the presence of children would make sense. And I kinda feel Bioware can be forgiven for not spending resources on modelling, texturing, animating & VA’ing something which would essentially be nothing more then background that’s going to be ignored by most players.

      As for the women. My standard response to that is: Why must alien species conform to the concept of sexual dimorphism? Take two dogs. Without looking at their genitals can you tell if it’s a male or female of the species? And dogs are a terrestrial species.
      Heck, why should aliens even have two genders that are human male & female equivalents? Or have a concept of genders at all? Alien species ought to be alien, not reskinned humans.

      • wswordsmen says:

        The answer to why they have genders at all, and why they have to be two is that sexual reproduction allows species to adapt faster to their environment by mixing traits from different successful individuals. However there is no benefit from going beyond 2 genders.

        There isn’t a good reason humans should be able to tell the difference between the two genders though.

        • Shamus says:

          I would have loved it if someone had thrown out a line that half of (say) the Turians we meet are female, but Humans can’t tell the difference and they find it easier to just let humans refer to them as “he”.

          Another good one would be the Volus. In their pressure suits, they probably can’t even tell the gender of their OWN kind. You could easily give half of them a female voice (or not, actually, since their voices don’t need to work like ours) without needing to make a new model.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            It wouldve been funny if at half point of the first game garrus said something like “Back when I was giving birth to my second child…”

          • Chris says:

            Alternatively, all Volus could have the same voice – they could manufacture those suits to the exact same specs. Maybe the females’ voices register on multiple different frequencies, so humans couldn’t tell if the Volus they were talking to was female without another alien letting them know, or something. (I’d had loved a one-off line from Garrus about his ears ringing after you finish talking with a “female” Volus..)

            Its interesting when video-games miss the more unique methods of making aliens feel ..alien. I mean, the aliens in “Earth:Final Conflict” were pretty human looking from a special effects makeup perspective, but the voices drove home that they were something different.
            Frankly the fact that all these aliens communicate with humans so effortlessly is a bit immersion-breaking for me. Wheres my Babel fish at? :)

          • Dreadjaws says:

            I think the closest thing to this is that background conversation in ME2 in which is revealed (or at least implied) that the Asari look to everyone as a being similar to their own race. The reason they look humanoid to us is that we, as players, are human. Turians, Salarians, Vorcha and all other races see them as similar to them.

            • venatus says:

              except I really don’t think that’s what they were saying. if you listen to the conversation each of the species lists different attributes present in the asari that they feel makes them look like they’re race. and the attributes they mention do match up with what we as the player sees.

              I really think it’s a stretch to say that asari look different to different races and I think that conversation was an attempt by the writers to sort of “explain” why all the races are attracted to the asari by indicating that the different species notice different features more prominently.

            • Slothfulcobra says:

              Well I really like the idea of the Asari somehow exhibiting the traits of every alien species (maybe with their alien psychic powers somehow altering others’ perception), there’s not really much to support that in the material. A bunch of drunk guys in a bar arguing about why the dancer is hot isn’t much to go off of.

              The only available explanation for the Asari’s female humanoid form is that the writers wanted some alien space babes one way or another. I remember the explanation for the Syreen in SC2 being so much better.

              • Boobah says:

                The ‘explanation’ for the Syreen was a handwave; pretty much ‘Isn’t it weird that we’re basically identical?’ Aside from the psychic powers, blue skin, and the greys being completely uninterested in the Syreen. But definitely including fertile offspring.

                Mind, they do (kind of) explain why all the Syreen you see are female; the Syreen space forces were almost exclusively female and when their homeworld developed a bad case of super-volcanoitis pretty much everybody not in the space force was burned, buried, and/or asphyxiated.

          • Nixitur says:

            I think having them speak pretty much like humans is a bit of a wasted opportunity in general. Their speech patterns, the intonation, their humor and generally large parts of their cultures are basically the same as the humans’.
            Daemian linked the G-Man monologues and I think they really drive that point home. Yes, he technically speaks the same language as the humans in this world, but his tone, the janky intonation and speech patterns really make him extremely memorable and clearly mark him as “alien”. Mass Effect basically just gave the aliens a funny accent and called it a day.

          • Scourge says:

            To paraphrase Terry Pratchet, “Half of the courting ritual is finding out the gender of the one you want to woo”

            I really like that idea.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Gods themselves does explain (somewhat) why 3 genders might be useful.Of course,those appear in a universe where the laws of physics are quite different than in ours,so such a thing would probably not work here.

        • Mr. Son says:

          “However there is no benefit from going beyond 2 genders.”

          Hokay as a biology fan I need to state that this is SUPER not true. There’s a reason slime molds have hundreds of sexes. If you’re not in a situation like vertebrates have, where the gametes are different sizes, then the development of a third sex in a species increases the number of viable genetic combinations. And once you have a third it’s easy to get a fourth started, and so on.

          You’re more likely to encounter species where either everyone is a single sex, or there are dozens of sexes, than the dual situation we landed in here on earth.

          (If someone with a stronger Bio education than me wants to correct any of this, please do. I prefer having correct facts.)

          • Henson says:

            I’m not a biology guy at all, but I suppose the difficulty would be in all the different sexes of a complicated, multicellular species being able to breed with each other. With two sexes, it’s seems easier to facilitate a breeding mechanism between sexes; you can breed with half the population. How complex would it be with four or five sexes? Would different sexes be able to breed with more than one sex? If so, what would be the mechanism for doing so? (sex organs, etc.) If not, would the species really be able to survive such a selective system?

            I suppose the simpler organisms, like the slime mold you mentioned, don’t have this problem, as their mechanisms for trading genetic information would be much easier.

            • Mr. Son says:

              Hm. Presumably all sexes would be able to breed with all other sexes that don’t match. That’s the simplest system, and that’s how it works in the species we know about. If the species fertilizes externally, this really isn’t an issue (slime mold spores simply have to meet, then settle in an area they’re fit to colonize), but if the species fertilizes internally then all sexes would require genitals compatible with all others, because as you say, a more complicated system (sex A can breed with sex B, which can breed with A or C, but C can’t breed with A) would be much more delicate and probably wouldn’t survive selective pressures.

              I suppose one could imagine a system like some invertebrates have, where the donating partner gives genetic material in a ‘packet’ that the receptive partner can then use for themselves, rather than a mammal-like system where it’s inserted directly.

              • Syal says:

                I’m still wondering what the advantage of two sexes is over one hermaphroditic sex. Why have dozens of sexes when you can have one, and go from breeding with half the population to breeding with all of it?

                • Mr. Son says:

                  My favorite book on reproductive biology is Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, but I can’t find my copy of it, or I’d share what she had to say about the matter.

                  The bit I can recall is that the benefit from jumping from 1 sex to 2 is much smaller than the jump from 2 to 3+.

                  • HiEv says:

                    Perhaps there might possibly be some benefit to it, however it’s exponentially more difficult. Not only do you have to coordinate the mating of 3 or more genders at the appropriate time (a process that’s difficult enough with only 2 genders), but then you have to somehow mix those genes together, when our chromosomes are really only set up in a way that facilitates the use of 2 genders, since the chromosomes all come in pairs.

                    Nature seems to have settled on 2 genders being the optimal combination of simplicity and combinatorial variation.

                • MichaelGC says:

                  It helps drive variation, and that’s useful in various ways – e.g. a more-varied population is less likely to all succumb to the same disease. And you wouldn’t get enough variation if the entire population had always been able to interbreed. (It’d be OK if you started with lots of variation, and then made it so all could have children – like in The Culture – but there’s no biological mechanism which could give rise to such. Apples don’t fall far from the tree, ‘n’ all.)

              • Henson says:

                Well, if I remember correctly, external fertilization is mostly done when gametes can travel through a medium freely, like in a liquid. Hence, fish and amphibians fertilize externally, while reptiles don’t. But, the Salarians don’t have more than 2 sexes, since their reproduction is basically a few women laying all the eggs and selecting only a few males for reproduction. (Incidentally, it’s interesting to think how a Salarian society would differ based upon this very biological basis; like, would they even have sex drives?)

                The other thing is whether an open-air environment is less stable and hence less safe for laying soft eggs. If the solution is a harder shell, how would gametes be able to effectively fertilize without endangering the eggs to corrosive substances/organisms? How would external fertilization work in a gas environment?

                It seems like the best bet for a sentient species with several sexes would be the Volus. Hell, who knows how anything works in an ammonia atmosphere!

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Where are the children?

      In little lamplight,of course.

    • I know people ask a lot of this sort of question, “why only male & female?” “why no children?” “why does that species have just one gender?” when everyone knows the answer:

      Models for characters are expensive, and the fewer you have to build, the quicker/cheaper your game will be made.

      It’s a cop-out, true, but it’s also the primary reason so many games have two models plus “creatures” and that’s all. It’s like when people like me were complaining that the original Star Trek had so few non-humanoid aliens, not knowing why that was impractical.

      As for kids, Mass Effect finally did add a kid in the third game. Look at how well that turned out. :)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The model restriction is fine,as long as other games dont show that its not an insurmountable obstacle.Especially now that witcher 3 made a huge world with models for males,females,kids and then for dwarves and then for fat people,and then for people missing limbs.

        • Of course, and I’d note the odd look of the nearly all-male Asscreed French Revolution game.

          The Witcher 3 might be a question of where money is being spent. When I say “the models are too hard,” I should also add “for the time & money that the company has budgeted to the devs.” If the costs are unrealistic or they’re blowing more on marketing than on coding, then it’s “too hard” but for bad reasons.

          Which could segue into how the animation and bump-mapping of characters in Mass Effect 3 was a giant step backwards in spite of all the cash they supposedly spent on the game itself.

        • Raygereio says:

          No one said it’s insurmountable.
          The point was that budgets aren’t infinite. Creating those models, textures & animations requires time & resources. That’s money from the budget that could have gone elsewhere. For example to paying the salary of a famous voice actor.

          These sort of things boil down to how large your budget is, how much of it can be spared for creating those assets and what the project’s priorities are.

      • Mephane says:

        Model and voice acting restrictions are completely irrelevant when dealing with alien species. They need not even have any visible or audible differences between the genders, or one that humans would be able to recognize. It is basically just a bit of extra work for the writers to figure this all out and provide the appropriate dialog.

      • BenD says:

        This misses the point. We’re not asking for the questions to be answered with more money (models) but with cleverness (text, context, even lampshading). Why are there no children in the obviously civilian areas of Citadel and Omega, for example? They don’t need to ADD children. They need to answer the question.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      Those questions can all be folded into why is everybody the same height? The answer to which being that the modelers were lazy and decided to only make one body for each species aside from humans, who they knew they couldn’t get away with.

      It’s especially weird with the Salarians, since the codex says that they’re actually a matriarchal society, but the females are just not around.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        I allways assumed that their society was sort of like insect with males massivelly outnumbering the females, and the females while ruling the society are off limits to nonSalarians and strangers.

  21. Vendo says:

    Wow, I already love this blog and I can’t wait for the next part of this! This is some real quality stuff! Could you make a Pushbullet channel for notifying people of new posts?

  22. Deager says:

    Fun read. Looking forward to more. In not too long you’ll be dissecting my favorite part of the entire series, which happens in ME1.

  23. Nimas says:

    Shamus, with regards to how the Witcher 3 made the search for Dandelion work (sort of) was actually brought up in a recent Extra Credits video (and one of my favourites they’ve ever done).

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkIKbTiuJ9A

  24. SlothfulCobra says:

    This is really making me remember just how fun it was to run around in the world of ME1. There were a lot of conceptually interesting things.

    It’s just such a damn shame that the shooting and getting shot seemed so dull, because that’s what most of the missions boiled down to.

  25. Gruhunchously says:

    I really like this description of the ‘Details First’ vs ‘Drama First’ dichotomy. It’s not a perfect match, but I think it’s a good explanation of the difference between Old Doctor Who and New Doctor Who, and why exclusive fans of one have difficulty getting into the other.

  26. Christopher says:

    Really appreciate how your article helps me look at my feelings. When playing ME1, I thought the opening was painfully slow and boring, not helped at all by the combat system being pretty bad and the sidequest areas all being copypastes of the same three or four rooms. By the end, however, I was really excited by the plot turns on Virmire and beyond. On the other hand, while ME2 made a mess of the main story, it also didn’t focus on it for most of the time and I really liked the missions and how they tied to a specific party member. I didn’t love all of those characters(they’re too little Justice League and too much League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for my tastes), but with the focus on them along with the better gameplay, I had much more fun from beginning to end.

    I know about the concept of “hard” vs “fantasy” sci-fi, but I never thought about the “drama vs details” part of it and how it relates to the Mass Effect series. Reading this article has made me look back at my frustrations and notice how I just like one thing better than the other. It’s obvious in retrospect and it’s not the same opinion you have(I don’t even remember any of the music, for that matter), but you’ve made me look at Mass Effect a different way, and made me feel more happy about it. Thanks! This series is cool.

  27. Sleepy the Bear says:

    “Also, it has one of best best videogame soundtracks, ever.”

    Shamus, are you going to elaborate further on what you love about the soundtrack? I mostly associate the Mass Effect 1 soundtrack with the Virgil theme, the bouncy Mako exploration theme, and the damn death music – none of which I particularly enjoyed. I found I preferred the second games score, in particular the music added for Overlord. Perhaps because Mass Effect 2 had clearer themes that recurred for big heroic moments, whereas I think Mass Effect 1’s score occurred more in the background?

    As for hard sci-fi books, Alistair Reynolds’ “Inhibitors Trilogy” covers very similar ground to Mass Effect. No FTL travel, some ruminations on artificial intelligence, post-humanism, etc. On the whole they were pretty good, even if things did kinda fall apart in the third volume (More similarities!).

    • Sleepy the Bear says:

      I realized that my request/demand that Shamus (and the commenters) defend their musical taste is obnoxious and silly. Especially given how personal musical preference can be.

      One upshot of thinking about the series music is that I realized that the music follows a similar trajectory to the gameplay/story throughout the trilogy. The first game has a mostly electronic score that is adored by fans. Yet as the games progressed the music has also moved towards more mass appeal and more conventional sounds.

  28. Neko says:

    Did you ever read all of the Codex entries? Because for me at least, that’s where I stopped enjoying the “details-first” aspect of ME1 (And ME1 is my favourite of the three). I’m not sure why exactly – I have a feeling the UI was to blame. You’d uncover something new that triggered a codex entry, but there was no easy way to “oh yes let me see that right now”, you had to fumble through menus and dig up each new one as you came across it – so I stopped bothering.

    I think what would have fixed it – for me, anyway – would be having lots of “lore books”, Elder Scrolls style, scattered around the place. Things to look at while having a nosey around on other people’s computers.

    • krellen says:

      I read them all. The Codex was what made me really love Mass Effect, and why Mass Effect 2 was such a disappointment.

      • Ringwraith says:

        Honestly, apart from the weird UI downgrade for the codex, what irked me about it in successive games was they would take primary ones from previous games and shove them in secondary category, so they lost the voiceover they already had, despite often being completely the same.

  29. INH5 says:

    Personally, I prefer Drama First to Details First. When I was a kid, I was a much bigger fan of Star Wars than of Star Trek (though that likely had something to do with the fact that the better modern series of TNG and DS9 wrapped up when I was a pre-teen). Most of my favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories start with a simple set of rules then build a compelling story from there. However, I do like more complex and detailed world-building at times, and what I consider most important is that the styles are consistent.

    Unfortunately, I think that even the first Mass Effect game broke this consistency at times. Take, for example, how the game handles space battles. The Codex has multiple long entries on how space battles work, including a note that space ships typically fight each other at ranges of hundreds of kilometers. But then at the end of the game we actually see a space battle, and the ships all fight from well within visible range like something out of Star Wars or Star Trek. The reasons for this are obvious: at realistic ranges only one ship could be on-screen in any shot, which would not only be very boring but would make it extremely difficult for the cutscene to convey relevant information to the player.

    It isn’t just sci-fi movies and shows that do this. Top Gun has all of the dogfight scenes take place at absurdly short ranges for modern jet fighters, sometimes within the minimum range of the missiles that the fighters launch. At one point during filming the director actually asked the pilots to act out aerial combat scenes at realistic ranges, only to find that the resulting footage was totally unusable because you couldn’t actually see anything when watching it. But at least Top Gun didn’t include an expository line pointing out how modern jet combat usually takes place at a range of several kilometers, with bogies being visible as tiny dots in the sky at most.

    It’s clear to me that what happened here was that the person writing the Codex was interested in creating a detailed sci-fi world while the people making the space battle cutscenes were interested in creating dramatic scenes to serve the needs of the story. The fact that at no one higher up on the food chain ever stepped in to decree that either the cutscenes had to be changed to fit the Codex or the Codex had to be changed to fit the cutscenes suggests some major issues with disorganization and clashing views for what different people at Bioware wanted the game to be like. And I think that these issues are the root cause of a lot of the problems that the series has.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      That battle at the end wasnt a typical battle however.Sovereign didnt plan to annihilate the opposing fleet,but rather to fuck merge with the citadel.So the closeness of that battle actually does have an explanation in universe as well.

      • INH5 says:

        Yes, but after Sovereign gets inside the Citadel and the arms close around it, the Council and Geth fleets continue to engage each other from well within visual range, as do the Alliance ships if you tell them to save the Council. The focus of both fleets is the Destiny Ascension, itself a space ship, so there really is no reason apart from “you wouldn’t be able to see anything if the cutscene used the combat ranges described in the Codex” for the ships to be that close to each other.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          What else are they going to do at that point?Wait until they get back to extreme range?

          Also,as was mentioned in the codex,missing with superluminous bullets is a dangerous thing,especially in close quarters,so they cannot afford to miss.

          Not to mention that both fleets were waiting to see if the citadel arms would open.

      • Zaxares says:

        Not to mention that the main guns of space ships in the MEverse fire hyper-velocity slugs that impact with the force of thermonuclear bombs. The Geth fleet was primarily made out of frigates (and possibly some light cruisers), with Sovereign being the only notable capital ship. By quickly closing with the Citadel Defense Fleet, the Geth fleet neutralised the firepower advantage of the CDF by making it impossibly to fire their main guns without possibly also being caught in the explosion radius (not to mention the possible horrific civilian casualties with constant nuke explosions going off near the Citadel).

        • 4th Dimension says:

          About the nukes issue, that doesn’t hold true in space. In space there is no medium that can propagate the shockwave of the blast, so the blast boils down to radiation (including light) and any pieces of the target and missile that get scattered. Also these are kinetic impactors so there is no gamma and other radiation burst during detonation, so emmision would boil down to light + microweave IR radiation. That should be easy to stop by the Citadel’s materials.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Well of course they broke it, because as you say if you display realistic Space egagements you would have to restrict yourself to displaying bridges of the crafts and some sort of map view, since at their engagement ranges the combatants are dots. I’m allways annoyed by that but I don’t blame the directors of that scene too much. I get much more pissed out when they start jettisoning military hierarchy.

      Fiction can do well with normal worldbuilding, but unless it’s actuall military SF they allways screw up the military side of things since they like the stupid trope of Screw the Orders I know better.

      Hmm now that I have watched that scene, it makes some sense you know. The Sovreign and his Geth escort fleet jump in through the Gate that is right on top (close) to the Citadel. And than Sovreign sweeps right on inside ignring the incoming fire. As such it was impossible for the combatants to get to the proper ranges since the Citadel fleet was vainly blocking the Sovreign and he was determined to simply push through.

      On the other hand I don’t see much of a reason (except cinematic) for why the Alliance did not engage the Geth fleet while sitting on the Gate, and why did they move in to a pissing range of Destiny Assention. Allso when they fought the Sovreign inside the arms they seemed pretty blaisse about the posibility of stray rounds hitting inhabited arms of the Citadel. The soft side of the arms, the outside is armored.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        On the other hand I don’t see much of a reason (except cinematic) for why the Alliance did not engage the Geth fleet while sitting on the Gate

        Probably surprise,because we do see geth start firing practically the same second they leave hyperspace.It takes a while for the alliance to start returning fire.

        and why did they move in to a pissing range of Destiny Assention.

        Because the geth ships were close to it,and missing them would mean probably hitting the ship they were trying to protect.I mean you answer this yourself in the next sentence.

        Allso when they fought the Sovreign inside the arms they seemed pretty blaisse about the posibility of stray rounds hitting inhabited arms of the Citadel. The soft side of the arms, the outside is armored.

        They actually were not.They were close enough that it missing was almost not at option(due to their proximity,sovereigns size and immobility),and there dont seem to be any stray shots in that video.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          First point: Alliance came through knowing there were hostiles on the other side of the gate.* So they souldn’t have been surprised to be fired upon. Now it’s possible they were moving away from teh Gate so to avoid colisions with the rear of the fleet but I doubit it, and we have no info how Relay Gates do in lane collision avoidance.

          2nd and 3rd: Destiny is a military ship, the biggest dreadnought in the Citadel fleet and at that point it was allready holding off the entire Reaper Geth fleet on it’s own. Any rare stray FF wouldn’t matter much.
          On the other hand if any of the shots from the fight inside the arms hit the arms, hundreds if not thousands would die. Also you have the Sovreign firing back at them who doesn’t give a damn if he hits on accident some Organic Meatbag’s home or not.

          Also as for the video not showing misses, it’s because it’s a videogame so we don’t see the targets of all the shots, and director’s probably don’t get how many different things can cause for a weapon to miss, least of which are enemy action of active and passive defences.

          * Now thingking back on secont thought, considering that in ME1 only way to cross the gulf between stars were the Relay Gates (later ME titles retconed it by allowing you to use ship engines to travel to nearby stars which ruins some of the ME1 hardness**), thus any attack coming to a star system you want to defend needs to come through the gate, and thus the gate is a chokepoint and enemy can not sense the targets through the Jump I find it interesting that Gate Forts and such defences are never considered.

          ** Ship propulsion since it works on Ezoo principle can only propel the ship up to lightspeed, but for crossing interstellar distances even that is too slow. Hell a trip to some of the outer planets in our solar system would take hours, and years to reach closest star to our own. Thus mysterious Gates that nobody knows how they work and are a Precussor remaint are an excellent solution to that worldbuilding problem. You don’t break the physics, you let the Precussors take the blame, and build them up as an amazing civ.

          • INH5 says:

            Actually, non-relay FTL has been a part of the series since ME1, and it’s shown not just in the Codex but in the galaxy travel interface. Also in the plot of the game itself, since to get to Illos you have to travel through a relay that is in interstellar space as a result of being blasted out of its star system by a supernova. ME2 only introduced a mechanic that tracked fuel.

            Apart from that, everything you wrote seems to be on point. Like I said before, it is clear that the person writing the Codex and the person directing the storyboard process for the space battle cutscenes had very different goals, and no one ever stepped in to help them reconcile with each other. How hard would it have been, really, to just delete the paragraph in the Codex talking about typical space ship combat ranges? In fact, why does the Codex go into so much detail about space battles in the first place, seeing as how they are never a part of the gameplay? Everything the player needs to know for the sake of the story can be summed up in two or three paragraphs.

            • Zekiel says:

              One of those paragraphs presumably being “Space combat is usually conducted at point blank range because it looks damn cool” :-)

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Because extra lore is cool.And once more,that entry talks about typical space battles.This one wasnt a typical space battle.

            • 4th Dimension says:

              Soo, what is the codex explanation for how does the ship generated FTL work?

              • INH5 says:

                You can read them here. The secondary entries at the bottom of the page go into a lot more detail.

                • 4th Dimension says:

                  According to this ezzo makes the lightspeed increase allowing for faster travel. I don’t like this explanation at all now.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Why not?If eezo is giving negative mass to stuff around it,technically it would turn photons into tachyons,thus increasing their speed to above c.

                    • 4th Dimension says:

                      That MIGHT work, but the Codex entry itselt actually says

                      “Faster-than-light drives use element zero cores to reduce the mass of a ship, allowing higher rates of acceleration. This effectively raises the speed of light within the mass effect field, allowing high speed travel with negligible relativistic time dilation effects.”

                      So no negative masses but mass effect field magically raises the light speed.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Effectively.That doesnt mean it actually changes the speed of light,it means it affects the object itself in a way that counteracts the effects of traveling at c,which would be the same effect as increasing c.Just how the sun is effectively traveling across the sky.

  30. RTBones says:

    ME 1 is my favorite of the series. Its also the least mature mechanically – particularly when it comes to inventory management and driving the Mako. Cover was at times a bit wonky (for me, anyway). Yet I could overlook all of that because I got sucked into the characters, including Saren, the setting, and the story. Apart from the niggling mechanical-isms of the game, about the only thing I wish was different about ME 1 is that the planets were more like the Citadel – i.e., more talking to people.

    • Zekiel says:

      Oh goodness the inventory system. It was so horrible – I cannot believe they thought that was workable. One of my favourite changes for ME2 was that they basically got rid of it.

      Strangely enough I found the Citadel pretty boring. Everyone else seems to think it was wonderful, but I just found it annoyingly big (and fairly empty) and pretty naff-looking.

      But I did REALLY appreciate that it brought home humanity’s place as newcomers and underdogs in the galaxy (something which the sequels of course basically rejected by making humanity Incredibly Important as usual)

  31. Zekiel says:

    Really enjoying this series! I’m slightly embarrassed to say Mass Effect 1 was my least favourite of the games – I just found the clunky combat frustrating, didn’t really enjoy the KOTOR-like game structure and was surprised to find the companions pretty boring (its OK – Garrus, Tali and Wrex all grew on me significantly with time).

    But I LOVED the plot – pretty much everything from Virmire onwards is awesome. And I really enjoyed the hard(ish) sci-fi approach. I’m still fascinated to know if the titular mass effect would work as a way to produce FTL travel in real life (if mass effect fields actually existed) – and if not, why not?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      They wouldnt,because eezo doesnt exist.

      Joking aside,changing the mass in a local area should not influence the object itself drastically(unless you use it on a whole planet),so theoretically you could go the speed of light if you were to cancel the mass of the object completely,thus turning it into a massive photon.So the only thing we need to do is find antigravity.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        And you don’t really need to cancel 100% of the mass, it’s enough if you can achieve 95% of the light, since any percent more and you face exponentially rising energy budget needs.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I wonder if a mass effect could be used to make the Alcubierre drive happen. Those engines are really big compared to whatever is accelerating the bullets in a standard mass effect gun.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          Ehh, I dont think so without much tampering. The ezzo doesn’t allow us to shape the spacetime as we want, which is necessary for Alcubierre. Ezzo simply adds the ability to change the slope of the spacetime around some point so we can reduce or increase it’s mass.

    • INH5 says:

      Supposedly the mass effect fields allow FTL by reducing the effective space ship mass to a negative number. As to whether that would work, I can’t tell you because from the little that I’ve read things get really, really weird when you put velocity values greater than C into the relativity equations. For example, the inertial mass of an FTL object is imaginary, as in the square root of a negative number.

      • Zekiel says:

        I thought they just reduced mass to zero, or close to zero – not to a negative amount. [The limit of my understanding of how the mass effect is supposed to work is that in e=mc^2, if you make mass zero, then energy can be zero too, even where c is still a really big number.]

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thats because those equations arent meant for superluminal velocities.If superluminal velocities are possible,then our equations will have to be changed,just how they needed to be changed from old newtonian model once we started using very fast objects(satellites).

  32. Kdansky says:

    Star Wars is Sci-Fi in as much as the Sahara is a lake.

    It gets frequently lumped in with actual SciFi (like GATACA or Space Odyssey), because there are “high-tech” gadgets (which you can replace with “magic” and the story works flawlessly), but in reality, it’s a pure fantasy story. There are knights wielding magical swords and using actual magic saving princesses from evil sorcerers. Nothing about this is SciFi.

    “What do they eat?” is one of the most important questions of actual Sci-Fi, which is about “Who are they?” and “What does society look like?” and not about sword fights.

    • INH5 says:

      So is every sci-fi story which features psychic powers also a fantasy story including, for example, Dune?

      • 4th Dimension says:

        There is a WAAAAAST gulf between Dune and SF, and while at first glance they do seem similar Dune goes to great lengths to explain how the society works and tries to potray “powers” as something semi plausable if the society has access to the Spice.

        On the other hand Dune’s story is more similar to the epics of spic fiction particulary once you take into account it’s religious bent.

  33. Neal Stephenson’s latest novel Seveneves is an example of “details-only” writing, actually. In the first half (more like 3/5ths) of the novel it’s not so bad, because the details are all regarding the desperate struggle for the survival of the human race. In the second half, he spends so much time describing cool space structures that have absolutely. nothing. to. do. with. the. plot. that he basically forgets to do anything interesting with his characters. It’s a spectacular failure of writing. The details aren’t there to serve the drama–the drama is there so he can pretend it’s a novel while basically just shouting “hey, look at all this cool research I did”. Yay. Go write a Wikipedia article, why don’t you. :P In fantasy novels this kind of thing is known as “world-building for the sake of world-building”.

    I think this distinction you’ve made between details-oriented and drama-oriented is a valuable one, though. I liked Mass Effect fairly well and flat out couldn’t get into the sequels at all. I have a high tolerance for drama orientation in fantasy but very little in what is supposed to be science fiction–although it’s still possible to make me absolutely livid with fantasy if you base your CONFLICT around contrived magical nonsense. If your characters start angsting over “oh magic works this way so I have to do this thing I don’t want to do” then Imma throw up in my mouth a little. It’s the equivalent of people having a big ol’ angsty fit because they can’t fly by flapping their arms.

  34. Phantos says:

    Also, it has one of best best videogame soundtracks, ever.

    That reminds me:

    I used to listen to a podcast that was talking about this. Another kind of high-brow, analytical type of discussion, not too far removed from something like the DieCast.

    I don’t like the first ME soundtrack. It all felt like someone was just pecking at the same key on a Casio, at different speeds. When I mentioned this in the comments, the main guy of the podcast Lost. His. S***. It was so surreal, seeing a guy I’d only ever known to make calm, eloquently expressed opinions resort to the most juvenile, spittle-firing nerdrage.

    He even used the “well other people like it, so you’re WRONG” argument.

    I guess people are really touchy about the beeb boops in ME1. To each his own, but I still say it all sounds like something by Gene from Bob’s Burgers.

  35. Leila says:

    Perform like a smiling cloud while you float around the globe within this one-of-a-kind rainwater ‘em up!

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