Mass Effect Retrospective 27: Everyone Has Read the Script

By Shamus
on Dec 17, 2015
Filed under:
Mass Effect

The finale of Horizon has Shepard’s team repairing the colony’s anti-air guns while under assault from the Collectors. The guns were a gift from the Alliance, but they weren’t working. Once EDI completes a calibration / hotfix, they give the Collector ship a pounding until the Collectors retreat.

After each main story mission, we head back to holograph land to talk to The Illusive Man. These conversations have a lot in common with the Kashley conversation earlier: The other person talks nonsense, your dialog choices aren’t fair, and when you choose one Shepard says something different anyway.

A Talk with TIM

PLEASE tell me you put a mind-control chip in my brain. I can`t bear the thought that I might actually be stupid enough to work for you.

PLEASE tell me you put a mind-control chip in my brain. I can`t bear the thought that I might actually be stupid enough to work for you.

Last week I said the Kashley conversation was a disaster and you could find problems with almost every line of dialog. The same is true here. So let’s do that. Here is an except of the post-mission debrief with The Illusive Man:


TIM:
Shepard. Good work on Horizon. Hopefully the Collectors will think twice before attacking another colony.

A minor point: The only reason their plans failed today was because Shepard fixed the colony's guns. If the guns had been working to begin with, then (based on what the game has shown us) they wouldn't have been able to stage the attack at all. This leads to all sort of questions about why the guns were broken, what the Alliance is doing, how this event impacted the Alliance vs. Colonists dynamic.

But you can't ask about any of that. This isn't a plot hole. It's just that if the player is trying to think about the problem of "how do we stop the Collectors?" from an in-character perspective, it's probably going to frustrate them that the most important and effective element doesn't even come up in conversation.

Shepard:
It's not a victory. We interrupted the Collectors but they still abducted half the colony.

TIM:
That's better than an entire colony, and more than we've accomplished since the abductions began. The Collectors will be more careful now, but I think we can find another way to lure them in.

What is "another" way to lure them in all about? Presumably he's talking about some trick other than the one he used this time. But it never comes up again and Shepard isn't allowed to ask.

Shepard: (Exploratory dialog on the left side of dialog wheel.)
I wondered if you had something to do with that attack. [Kashley] said the Alliance got a tip about me and Cerberus.

Kashley said the Alliance got a tip Shepard was working for Cerberus, so Shepard concluded that Cerberus had something to do with the attack on Horizon? What? I mean, they DID, but this is a nonsense leap of logic.

TIM:
I released a few carefully disguised rumors that you might be alive, and working for Cerberus.

This line is so jarring it makes me wonder if the writer ever had a handle on who knew what in this story. Why would TIM need to release carefully disguised rumors? At the start of the game - right after the tutorial mission - you arrive on Omega. Shepard is met by a lowly guard who knows Shepard's name, identity, and Cerberus affiliation. Not only that, but he laughs at the notion that it was hard to figure out. Also Shepard is flying around in a copy of the Normandy with the Cerberus Logo on the side. And Shepard is constantly railroaded into blurting out his Cerberus affiliation. And Shepard met with Anderson ages ago and Anderson already knew about it.

TIM is saying he released a carefully disguised rumor of facts that are common knowledge, and that rumor changed the behavior of both the Alliance and the Collectors.

Shepard:
I see. What were you trying to prove?

This line is automatic. Which is just as well. No amount of deep-branching dialog wheel could ever untangle the mess the writer just made. It's probably better to hurry along and hope the next round of bullshit distracts the player from this bullshit.

TIM:
I suspected the Collectors were looking for you, or people connected to you. Now I know for certain. It was a risk, but I couldn't just wait for them to take another colony. You understand.

TIM knew that the Collectors were looking for Shepard. He knew that they would know that Kashley is one of Shepard's close friends, and furthermore he knew that they would know that Kashley has been stationed on Horizon. He also knew that the Collectors would want to abduct her, because he knew that they knew that Shepard would find out that she had been abducted, which would incite Shepard into going after them. (Even though he's already doing that?)

Not only does the Collector reasoning not make the slightest damn sense, but TIM was able to predict their moon logic and counter with crazy assumptions of his own.

He knew that if he released a "cleverly disguised" rumor to the Alliance that the Collectors would intercept it, and that they would believe it, and that they would alter their plans in response to it. And he was right: The Collectors did do all those things.

Also, if the Collectors were here to abduct Kashley then why didn't they, you know, abduct Kashley? They nabbed half the colony but they couldn't find the only person wearing pink Alliance armor? Was this part of TIM's plan, too?

Shepard:
We have to make sure they don't abduct anyone else.

TIM:
I want the Collectors stopped for that very reason.

TIM, if you know the Collectors were going to hit Horizon, then why didn't you tell Shepard ahead of time so he could get the jump on them? Or if your rumor incited the attack, then why didn't you wait until Mordin's bug protection was readyI didn't mention it before, but nobody was sure Mordin was ready until after TIM began the mission.? I mean, I get that you don't actually care about these colonies, but how does Shepard showing up late advance your goals?

It’s like Shepard and TIM are interspersing lines from two different scripts. The Collectors are looking for Shepard, or people connected to him? Why? How would that help their cause? What would make TIM think that? How would this attack prove it? Couldn’t this attack just be the result of the Collectors continuing to do what they’ve been doing? Is the game suggesting that TIM releasing a rumor that Shepard was alive somehow caused the Collectors to attack the colony where Kashley was stationed? If TIM hadn’t released those rumors, would the Collectors have left Horizon alone?

This conversation doesn’t flow, it doesn’t feel like these two people are talking to each other, and you can’t follow-up on strange ideas that are just thrown out there without comment. The only way to make this work is to ignore the characters and make a beeline for authorial intent. You can see what the author is trying to say, even if the characters aren’t making sense in-universe.

Not Plot Holes, Character Holes

Shepard. My network of spies has infiltrated BioWare studios. Their intelligence suggests you`re going to be ambushed in the next scene. But don`t worry, you`ll escape anyway.

Shepard. My network of spies has infiltrated BioWare studios. Their intelligence suggests you`re going to be ambushed in the next scene. But don`t worry, you`ll escape anyway.

I know I have to keep saying this, but I am not complaining about plot holes. I am complaining about fundamentally broken characters and dialog. When I pick apart plots like this, some people think I’m throwing down some sort of challenge: “If you can invent some fan-theory or find a codex entry to hand-wave this, then the complaints Shamus makes are invalid!” Some people take the position that everything is fine, as long as there’s some room for us to patch over it in our heads. But these problems can’t be solved with fanfictionThe other major defense: Mass Effect 1 made the same mistake on a small scale, so you can’t criticize Mass Effect 2 for repeatedly making the same mistake on a massive scale.. If a scene forces you to invent new information to make it work, then the scene has already failed. The problem is that this entire sequence is just hopelessly muddled and everyone seems to be able to read the minds of everyone else. This dialog doesn’t work.

I am once again reminded of the Thieves Guild Quests from Skyrim, where author tries to do this complex “web of lies” plot and the whole thing falls apart because nobody’s behavior makes any sense in terms of their stated goals. In that story, the player acquires a book and then goes through a long process to confirm its authenticity. The player then presents that book to the guild as proof of some misdeeds. But the guild doesn’t trust the player and didn’t go through all those steps to authenticate the book. Yet they believe it anyway. The writer wasn’t thinking about these other characters and what information they might have. They were just chaining stock quests together.

The result is characters that don’t feel real. They don’t have worldviews and you can’t wonder about what they might be thinking at any given moment, because they don’t have working simulated minds as devised by a careful author. They just do whatever the story requires to drag us to the next scene.

Shepard. I`ve decided to brazenly admit how dangerous and unethical I am to increase the tension. You`ll still keep working for me, though. You understand.

Shepard. I`ve decided to brazenly admit how dangerous and unethical I am to increase the tension. You`ll still keep working for me, though. You understand.

When this happens in movies we usually talk about it in terms of characters “reading the script”. They seem to behave contrary to the information that ought to be available to them, and nobody else in the story seems to find this odd. While a lot of characters in this game seem to suffer from having “read the script”, TIM is by far the worst. TIM is barely even a character. I know he supposedly has this awesome spy network. But being a good spy doesn’t begin to explain these strange leaps of logic he’s making, and they certainly don’t explain Shepard’s understated reaction.

Obviously the game is trying to establish that TIM is extremely sketchy and willing to put human lives at risk to further his goals, but the game has already (and probably accidentally) done a pretty good job of selling the notion that it’s completely bonkers to be working for / with Cerberus, which is why most players don’t want to work for him in the first place. This entire conversation boils down to: “Surprise! This thing you thought was a stupid idea is actually a really stupid idea! BUT YOU HAVE TO KEEP DOING IT ANYWAY.” It’s why people get mad at the writer instead of the villain. TIM isn’t a character. He’s a plot device with a nice chair and a three-packs-a-day habit.

This conversation draws attention to the frustrating railroading and rubs the player’s nose in it, while not supporting or explaining the odd ideas it introduces.

The Collector “Trap”

JOKER: Commander, you`ve got a call from an Admiral Ackbar? SHEPARD: I`m kind of busy right now. Send him to voicemail.

JOKER: Commander, you`ve got a call from an Admiral Ackbar? SHEPARD: I`m kind of busy right now. Send him to voicemail.

So the Collectors park their ship someplace and power down to play possum. They send out a bogus message, making it sound like a Turian patrol disabled the Collector ship. TIM interceptsTIM’s dialog sort of makes it sound like “intercepting” a message prevents the intended recipient from getting it? That’s not how transmissions work, but whatever. You could blame this on the dialog being vague and hand-wavy. this message, recognizes it as fake, but then reports it to Shepard as if it were real. He’s concerned that if Shepard knows that he’s walking into a trap, then he’ll somehow telegraph that he knows. And then the Collectors will know that he knows, which will make Shepard’s raid… less useful somehow?

This is a setup that requires everyone to have read the script ahead of time.

Dear Collectors,

Did you know that TIM had broken the Turian codes, that he would be listening in on their broadcasts, and that he would specifically dispatch Shepard as soon as he heard your fake report? Was that a guess?

What if someone else shows up that isn’t Shepard? Shepard doesn’t own the only spaceship in the galaxy. What if the Turians hear the fake message? What if they send a bunch of ships? What if Shepard decides not to board you, but instead just starts shooting while you’re powered-down and helpless?

What if Shepard has one of those drive-core nukes like the kind he used to destroy the Virmire facility, and he just dumps that in your cargo bay and flies off? Actually, how stupid would Shepard have to be to leave his spaceship and personally board yours? Why would you ever expect this to work?

And considering that Shepard walked into the trap ignorant, how completely incompetent are you? Are we supposed to take you seriously as a villain?

Love, Shamus

This plan requires the Collectors to correctly anticipate how the Turians, Cerberus, and Shepard will react.

Dear Shepard,

Actually, why don’t you shoot the Collector ship before you board it? Or destroy it outright? Or dump a bomb in their cargo bay?

Love, Shamus

I’m not saying Shepard should do these things. I’m saying it would be nice if we had a little conversation where Shepard discussed options, expectations, and contingencies. It would make him feel more like a leader and less like a mook who just does whatever TIM tells him.

Dear TIM,

What could Shepard possibly do that would telegraph that he knows he’s walking into a trap? He’s approaching the ship of his supposed nemesis. These guys already killed him and blew up his ship once. Which means you should expect him to be cautious to the point of paranoia this time. What additional caution could he take that would qualify as “too much caution” to the Collectors?

If this guy is such a superhuman that he’s worth bringing back from the dead, then isn’t it worth trusting him to be able to do his job?

Moreover, shouldn’t the survival of the Normandy 2, Shepard, and Shepard’s precious team take priority over a single mission? Why not simply blast the collector ship to cripple it for real, and then board it?

What if the Collectors just fly away with Shepard the moment he steps on board? Sure, he’s a “hero, a bloody icon”, but he’s not going to personally conquer the entire ship on foot.

You are puerile adolescent fiction,
Shamus

Everyone Read the Script. Nobody Agrees on What it Said.

Aside: Whats the deal with these light up window-things? They don`t correspond to any windows we see from the interior. So what are they? Christmas lights? On a stealth ship?
Aside: Whats the deal with these light up window-things? They don't correspond to any windows we see from the interior. So what are they? Christmas lights? On a stealth ship?

So Cerberus sends Shepard into this known trap without telling him it’s a trap. I can’t even tell if the writer is trying to say this was a necessary risk or not. I mean, it doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t mean the writer understands that. So now we don’t know how to interpret this scene. Is TIM doing an “ends justify the means” by forcing Shepard into taking big risks for a big payoff? Or is the writer trying to show that TIM is a crazy idiot?

What story is the author trying to tell in this game?

  1. Cerberus has ruthless methods, but they really do want to help humanity. (Until they get indoctrinated in Mass Effect 3, anyway.)
  2. Cerberus is a bunch of evil stooges that are hated by all decent folk, but Shepard uses them to accomplish his goals.
  3. Cerberus is totally evil and dupes Shepard into helping them by pretending to care about colonies.
  4. Cerberus is a circus of idiocy and evil, and Shepard is a rube. They work at cross purposes and somehow manage to help human colonies anyway.

At various points in the story, you could make the case for any of these. But the author won’t just commit to one. When TIM basically admits that he’s doing something nefarious and Shepard replies with “I see”, is that because he’s actually convinced Shepard that this was the right thing to do, or is that because Shepard is biding his time until the moment he can backstab TIM? Does TIM think he’s persuaded Shepard? Does he care?

They put Cerberus at the center of this story, and then they failed to give Cerberus proper motivation, characterization, or framework within the world. What few things we do know about them are contradicted by the other things we know about them. It’s like a version of Star Wars where the story doesn’t make it clear if the Empire is evil, or if the rebellion is just trying to overthrow a legitimate and popular government.

The writer wants to take this details-heavy space opera of worldbuilding and structured rules and turn it into a broad action adventure. I get it. Fine. But broad action adventure requires clarity, and this story doesn’t even know what it wants to be about.

We’ll finish up this mission in the next entry.

Also: Next week is Christmas, so the Mass Effect entry will appear on Tuesday rather than posting on Christmas day. I really hope you have better things to do than read this stuff on Christmas morning.

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Footnotes:

[1] I didn't mention it before, but nobody was sure Mordin was ready until after TIM began the mission.

[2] The other major defense: Mass Effect 1 made the same mistake on a small scale, so you can’t criticize Mass Effect 2 for repeatedly making the same mistake on a massive scale.

[3] TIM’s dialog sort of makes it sound like “intercepting” a message prevents the intended recipient from getting it? That’s not how transmissions work, but whatever. You could blame this on the dialog being vague and hand-wavy.



A Hundred!2020205Many comments. 165, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Bas L. says:

    Great article, again. One thing that bugged me that wasn’t mentioned here is the aftermath of the Collector Ship mission. There’s another ridiculous conversation with TIM where he says something along the lines of: “I suggest you tell your crew that I didn’t just send you here for nothing”. Even though my Shepard wanted to quit Cerberus for the 100th time and didn’t like it one bit what TIM did, he was now forced to tell his crew that TIM isn’t so bad while I wanted to tell them the exact opposite….ugh.

    What’s especially jarring is that it would have been super easy to include one extra conversation with Anderson where he asks you to keep using Cerberus for your own goals and to spy on them for the Alliance. Then you could at least pretend that your Shepard is just playing nice with TIM in all his conversations while he is secretly spying on them. This also ties in nicely with some of the sidequests where you get a Paragon choice of sending data to the Alliance.

    Final decision to blow up the collector base could be accompanied by Shepard revealing that he was working for the Alliance all along.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Or just allow shepard to mention those files at any point in the main story.To kashley,for example.Or to anderson.

    • Mike S. says:

      Agreed. That the game isn’t going to have a whole parallel set of options where you turn in the Normandy at the Citadel and report for reassignment is understandable. But the option of spying for Anderson, with maybe a few more opportunities to give info to the Alliance or back Cerberus (with incentives in each direction) would have let them have a single plot without forcing Shepard’s loyalties.

      The odd thing is that there is that one sidequest where you have the choice to send Cerberus files on an op to the Alliance, give them to Cerberus, or keep them for yourself. Which, alas, is never followed up at all.

      (Much like that ME1 sidequest where you can give info to the Shadow Broker, or not, and are assured that the choice will be remembered. One line in Lair of the Shadow Broker might have been nice.)

      • Victor McKnight says:

        There are even dialog options in the game in which Shepard says “I am using [Cerberus]” or some variation thereof. This would have been a simple fix.

        More broadly speaking, this kind of thing is practically built into the “super spy” genre which Mass Effect dips into from time to time. Shepard is basically Space James Bond (complete with blowing stuff up instead of doing intel collection). Bond is constantly using lesser criminals and terrorists to go after his real targets. But apparently Shepard can’t even do that.

        I actually kept waiting for Shepard to reveal he was playing TIM all along. This is why the final choice at the Collector Base is where the series broke for me. Had Shepard said, “Sorry TIM, I was working for the Alliance all along and thanks to all the intel I gave Anderson, the Alliance will be taking the Collector base, not you,” I would have forgiven ever other sin in ME2 completely.

        Sorry Bas L. Neither of us got our wish.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    He knew that they would know that Kashley is one of Shepard’s close friends, and furthermore he knew that they would know that Kashley has been stationed on Horizon.

    And this is just pure bullshit.Kashley was on a SECRET mission,as stated by anderson.You couldnt reach them,either directly via the council,or indirectly via cerberus.So if only the council knew where they were,how did the collectors find out?Did tim tip them off somehow(lets just assume that he has spies everywhere)?So not only was he spreading rumors hoping that the collectors will hear them somehow,he also directly contacted them?Ugh!

    They nabbed half the colony but they couldn’t find the only person wearing pink Alliance armor?

    Well you know how it is with aliens:We all look the same to them.

  3. Galad says:

    “I really hope you have better things to do than read this stuff on Christmas morning.”

    Nope, no we don’t, keep ’em coming :D

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The other major defense: Mass Effect 1 made the same mistake on a small scale, so you can’t criticize Mass Effect 2 for repeatedly making the same mistake on a massive scale.

    Even if the scale was the same,this still wouldnt be a good defense because just because something is wrong with A does not mean its ok for the same thing to be wrong with B.Its the job of a sequel to try and fix the mistakes of its predecessor,not repeat them.

    • Abnaxis says:

      The underlying assumption behind the “ME1 defense,” is that if something is wrong with both A and B, yet you enjoy A and rage at B, then whatever wrongness you are describing isn’t really ruining your enjoyment of B.

      Once that’s established, the hypothetical naysayer is then free to accuse the critic of playing the game wrong, not playing far enough to get to the good part, or ignoring some tangentially-related piece of canon sequestered away in an audio log somewhere.

      • Mike S. says:

        Or alternatively, to explore what differences between the games might lead some players to find the same thing tolerable in one game and intolerable in another.

        “This one does it worse” is an entirely legitimate reason, though one that’s worth a compare and contrast to see if it holds up.

        It’s also possible that one game does other things differently, in a way that inspires charitable willing suspension of disbelief for a given player. With the key word being “willing”. As I’ve observed elsewhere in these discussions, once a game has lost the player, and that inclination to meet it halfway has vanished, each new offense tends to reinforce that.

        (And while that’s not my personal experience with the Mass Effect games, I’ve certainly had it happen with other works. I could probably still work up a good rant about a change in direction in DC Comics’ Legion of Super-Heroes that happened before a sizeable fraction of commenters here were born.)

        All that said, I don’t particularly disagree with Shamus about the way TIM is handled, or the constraints on Shepard’s responses here. That’s something that doesn’t have a close parallel in ME1, because there isn’t that sort of close-supervising questgiver. That game didn’t really bother to give you any idea how the information re Feros, Therum, and Benezia’s daughter got to Anderson.

        (They “have reports” about geth in the first two systems, somehow, though the Alliance fleet evidently isn’t responding to the second and third attacks on human colonies by the same enemy that devastated Eden Prime. Benezia’s estranged archaeologist daughter is the only relative or close associate either she or Saren has, I guess, even though they’re both major public figures? And Anderson is convinced that “the Conduit” is the key to stopping Saren even though no one has the faintest idea what it is.)

        But while that’s thin as gold foil and raises all sorts of questions, it’s also one perfunctory conversation that’s never really revisited, versus a continuing interaction whose weaknesses the player is constantly reminded of.

        • guy says:

          They do have the recording that indicates the Conduit is a key step in the plan to bring back the Reapers. Don’t need to know why to want to keep Saren from using it. Liara is in fact Benezia’s only living immediate family member.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        The “ME1 defense” is quite accurate for a lot of things though. Example:
        -I hate how EA made Mass Effect 2 just a shooter, Mass Effect 1 was a great RPG.
        Er, no. ME1 was a shooter, just an incompetently designed one from a mechanical perspective. Every mission save like 3 eventually boils down to a pitched gun battle. The fact that 2 actually DESIGNS the arenas for combat and not just with the world’s worst random dungeon generator doesn’t make it a worse game.

        If the thing you’re saying REALLY does apply to both games, there’s probably a bunch of other things you don’t like about ME2. Not saying you secretly like it, but this issue wasn’t the breaking point if it didn’t annoy you the first time.

        • Greg says:

          The complaint isn’t (usually) “I hate how ME2 was a shooter, ME1 was such a good RPG!”, it’s “ME1’s shooter mechanics were a single gameplay element that supplemented the talking, exploring and character-building elements, while ME2 retains the same basic mix of elements but chose to focus on the shooting to the detriment of the other three.”

          Most people didn’t play ME1 because they wanted a competent third-person shooter; the shooting was a focus but not to the same extent. So when ME2 admittedly makes the shooting far more fun but at the same time oversimplifies or bungles the other three elements, it doesn’t feel like a true sequel.

        • guy says:

          My opon the combat system is that I’d rather play ME2 but what I really want is better ME1.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “This straw man is valid because it invalidates this other straw man” is also an invalid argument.

        • Decus says:

          RPG is more than just the gameplay, though, and even for the gameplay ME1 was more of an RPG than ME2. For instance, customizing the guns yourself rather than ME2’s “pick between these pre-builts”. ME3 later went back to ME1 style there. There’s also the difference of “you have grenades to just end encounters”, compared to ME2s slow shootbang, covershoots action–encounter sizes were different too, by tens of mens. In ME1 you can actually just sprint right through some fights if you really feel like it or end them in seconds with grenades or powers since cooldowns were different, compared to ME2 where you must kill everything always and it’s always a cover-based shooter–you have no real choice other than to cover-based shooter. Again, ME3 sort of went back to that by making power cooldowns based on equip weight so if you wanted you could play a power-spam class and end things quickly–just more generally it had a lot more variety and RPGness in its gameplay design.

          I’d even argue that the lazy arena design of ME1 is about equal to ME2 in the end–it’s all the same in both games anyway. If you’re talking pure gameplay still, why should I care about minor differences between arenas if they give the same gameplay per encounter? They -look- different in ME2, which was nice and pretty compared to ME1’s sidequests, but in the end? Kind of wasted effort since I felt the same feeling of “these are garbage and I’m never doing them again” from both. If a DM is going to be tossing the same encounters with the same enemies at me in the same, predictable formations I’m not really going to care if they decide to describe the environment that won’t really be used differently each time. Both games are bad there, but luckily by the time you NG+ you have no reason to ever touch those quests ever again. Or, well, you never had much reason to touch them anyway really.

          From a gameplay perspective, ME2 is a game I’d never have fun going back to since ME3 is it but better in every way, but ME1 is different enough to still be interesting from time to time, when I want to make silly guns and such. I’d say that a lot of it boils down to “how much real choice/RPG is present in the gameplay”.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Now that youve finished witcher 3,maybe you should change these entries a bit to compare the two.Because witcher 3 also has a master spy in it,someone who “knows everything”.Yet if you hide something only you have found out from him,and then tell him later,he is all like “so thats what you didnt tell me”,and not “I knew it all along”.Dijkstra reads geralt to figure out he is lying,and not the script to figure out the whole plot.There are plenty of instances of stuff like that in witcher 3.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I really hope you have better things to do than read this stuff on Christmas morning.

    Considering that christmas in my country is in january,nope,nothing better for the 24th for me.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Two countries to the north actually.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        No, Greeks despite being Orthodox Christians use the newer version of the calendar and thus their Christmas is in December. Plenty of other Orthodox Christian Churches on the other hand still use the old calendar and their fixed holidays usually fall 13 days after Western Christian ones.

        In this case he is from Serbia and our Orthodox Church celebrates the Christmas on January 7th. As such December is just another working month (unless you are Catholic and are thus able to take days off). It’s the beginning of January when most of the things shut down and when kids have their winter vacation from school.

        Essentially every year we get annoyed by everything shutting down in the west including the entertainment during our normal working month of December.

        Oh as a fun side note. While the Christmas is not in December, Serb families observe the custom, the Slava, of celebrating their family saint protector with a feast on his day. And many of the more popular saints (like, no especially St Nicholas whose day is this Saturday) days are in December and January so there will be a plenty of hosting or visiting family friends and relatives.

        • Ardis Meade says:

          Today I learned new things. Yay, Internet!

        • James says:

          Its interesting to me that the Orthodox Christian faith still lives on despite Catholicism/Protestantism becoming the by word for the entire faith in the west.

          EDIT: Let me head something off, this is not in anyway meant to insult, or otherwise belittle any faith its just my musings as a history buff from england.

          • 4th Dimension says:

            We did take a big hit when Muslims (a catch all term for Arabs/Seljuks/Ottomans) took a bite out of the Eastern sections of Romanion and proceeded to those regions which used to be the center were converted over the centuries. But Balkans and Constantinople remained as a beacon up until the late 15th century when the rest of the Balkans fell under the Ottomans (Zeta present day Montenegro was last of the Orthodox Balkan states to fall in early 1500s).

            Ottomans were content to drive the Orthodox from the public limelight and cities and introduce quite a few of their own asshole policies aimed at the Christian population but mostly they didn’t have the zeal or the resources to try converting the entire population of the Balkans. Many did convert but many more stubbornly kept to their “Old faith”. Most of the time Ottomans recognized at least the Patriarch of Contantinople as the leased of the church and from the time to time they would resurrect one of the other two Balkan patriarchates (Serbian and Bulgarian).

            While the Ottomans were responsable for the conservation of the Orthodox faith during their occupation, Russians are largely responsible for the eventual resurgence. Basically as soon as they were able to stand on their feet after they defeated all others that wanted to end them they started expanding southwards and started supporting the Orthodox in the Balkans and tried to get the Ottomans to recognize them as the defenders of the Orthodox in the Balkans. While they were doing this often out of their own interests, they also provided the only country that was Orthodox and free and could finance things like seminaries and such which mostly weren’t available in the Balkans.

            As for the Western churches, Catholic nations were mostly the problem, since no Protestant nation ever held lands here. There was no official policy of forced conversion from them but there were many incentives for converstion. On the other hand until 19th century most Orthodox lands were held by the Ottomans with the notable exceptions of Orthodox in Croatia settled there to form borderlands/frontier against the Ottomans and enclaves of Orthodox on the southern Adriatic.

            Basically if you look at the maps the Orthodox form a thin patch between the West and the East since the East spent the majority of their time trying to get through us to the West. And in the end they conserved our faith like a museum will conserve a archaeological find. Thus many of the Catholic/Protestant/Reformed arguments seem weird to our theologians, and out theologian’s arguments can probably seem to them like a throwback to about a milenia ago. Like for example Orthodoxy not being one Church but a collection of smaller often national Churches and not having a central Patriarch boss of the all. The Constantinople one is recognized as the Universal Patriarch but he is more like a first among the equals. And this brings me back to the topic of the calendars.

            The church was supposed to switch to a new calendar, devised by a I think Serb astronomer, back during the beginning of the XX century. But by the time the ecumenical council was organized what with all churches having to send their delegations, the Russian revolution happened and the new calendar was recognized as correct but the Churches declined issuing any general declerations about which one should be used from now on since the Russian Orthodox Church wasn’t able to participate properly due to the Revolution. And to the majority stuck to the old system, while Greeks and I think couple of the other Churches switched to the new one.

            Now that is I hope sufficiently neutral and non inflammatory.

  7. Narida says:

    It’s a cover based shooter, of course Shepard was going to board the collector ship with two team mates! The collectors anticipating this is just them being genre-savvy :D

    EDIT: Also, why does the title text appear as a yellow box below the image for only one image?

  8. Jokerman says:

    “Next week is Christmas, so the Mass Effect entry will appear on Tuesday rather than posting on Christmas day. I really hope you have better things to do than read this stuff on Christmas morning.”

    Nope….

    • MichaelGC says:

      …and then I might catch up on some of those Spoiler Warning one-offs which I’ve not yet got around to for some reason.

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      Heck I’ll be celebrating Christmas with family and I’d still like to have something to read on the phone I’ll be bringing with me to those gatherings. The phone is perfect for projecting “please let me have a few minutes alone” without hopefully being too rude about it.

  9. Flip says:

    Why does the Alliance even think that two defence turrets can stop whoever is abducting the colonies? Did they expect the abducters to land? What if the Collectors had landed behind the nearest mountain? Why did they expect Horizon to get attacked?

    Well, maybe TIM told them…

    • Mike S. says:

      Assuming they know that the raids result in empty colonies with intact buildings, the enemy landing seems like a good inference. Even Sovereign– er, I mean, Saren and the geth with their advanced dreadnought– didn’t have teleportation, or a disintegrator that selectively targets organics while leaving infrastructure standing.

      My impression was that Horizon was big for a Terminus colony and so a tempting target, but I don’t remember if that’s directly stated. But we also don’t really know how many colonies there are in the Terminus. Is fortifying it and waiting for attack a one in ten chance (assuming they’re selecting planets at random) or one in five hundred?

      • Flip says:

        Come to think of it, we really don’t know much about the Terminus Systems at all. We know that they are lawless territory with multiple factions and warlords but… not a whole lot more. We barely even know where they are. ME1 and ME2 never showed us a map of the galaxy where different sectors (Council Space, Terminus Systems, Skyllian Verge, “human space”, “turian space” etc.) are marked.

        This was actually one thing that really bugged me in ME1: Nihlus and Anderson talk about the Terminus Systems at the start, but throughout the game, I never got to find out where they actually are.

        • Mike S. says:

          Though that’s an old writing trick to give the impression of depth: reference lots of things and then fill in the blanks as necessary.

          How well it works depends on the talents of the writer: Tolkien did it all the time, and filled in the details so thoroughly that it’s often only from drafts and letters published after his death that it became clear how much he was flying by the seat of his pants. George Lucas’s success at deciding what “the Clone Wars” and “the Old Republic” were like is.. more mixed.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            Well, and time and opportunity. Tolkien had a fairly cushy day job that also let him do research for his fiction writing, and thus didn’t have the pressure to churn out work regularly like most working genre writers did. Aside from his academic work and a few children’s stories and poems, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are the only books he had published in his lifetime, so he clearly wasn’t under pressure to create saleable work. He was free to do all the worldbuilding and rough sketches he liked.

            I bring this up not to absolve Lucas, who should have had as much time and opportunity and financial security as he needed after 1983 to do whatever he wanted, but was just never a good writer. I just don’t want other genre writers whose worldbuilding is maybe not as thorough or cohesive as Tolkien’s to be dismissed just because they needed to produce output fairly regularly to remain a working writer.

            • Mike S. says:

              That’s fair. Though Tolkien himself had kind of the opposite problem– since he barely fixed anything to publication, he kept changing his mind and redoing everything. (Are Orcs descended from Elves or Men? Was Middle-Earth flat until the fall of Numenor and round thereafter, or round all along? Depends when you ask.)

              Working writers who actually had to publish to keep living indoors and eating occasional meals do sometime do good (but never, of course, perfect) jobs of developing more or less coherent universes. Heinlein’s Future History is the granddaddy of them, but C.J. Cherryh’s Union-Alliance (which also includes her Chanur and Gate books), Poul Anderson’s Technic Civilization, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Wormhole Nexus, etc. do reasonable jobs. There are always inconsistencies, and bits where you realize that if a late idea had existed all along it really ought to have played a part in an earlier book, but there’s a sense of things coming gradually into focus.

              (There’s also generally a point at which the world gets too full of important people and big events that cast a shadow over everything, and it’s probably time to move on to something else, but that’s another issue.)

    • guy says:

      The defense makes sense; Horizon is apparently relatively well-populated for the Terminus System colonies, and a direct landing is the most sensible explaination for how they overran the colony without anyone having time to escape.

      Codex pedantry: lasers in ME suffer dispersion at capital ship ranges but are not kinetic and therefore not blocked by kinetic barriers. They are extremely good at destroying shuttles or ships that get within effective range.

      • Flip says:

        A direct landing is not the most sensible explanation.

        1. A direct landing leaves a giant smoking crater in the ground.
        2. A direct landing would make people panic. But it is repeatedly said that there is no trace showing what happened to the colonies. Nothing. Paniced people would at least drop their coffee cup or stumble, hit their head on the floor and leave some blood.

        A more realistic explanation would be something like this:
        At night, the Collectors shoot down all communication satelites, send a spec-ops team to disable the colony’s power systems. Then they land their shuttles behind a forest/mountain and start silently abducting people.
        This makes much more sense than assuming that the Collectors literally land on the colonists’ lawn.

        • INH5 says:

          Even in that case, the AA guns could shoot down the shuttles. Regardless of the specifics, whoever is attacking the colonies has to get down to the surface of the planet somehow.

        • ? says:

          Saturn V leaves a huge crater, spaceships with mass effect drives are basically blimps and there is no reason for them to leave any mark. Sovereign lands and then takes off on Eden Prime with no blastwave and no crater to be seen.

          • Shamus says:

            Sovereign is seen hovering over Eden Prime, rising silently into the sky. (Aside from the musical cue.)

            The Collector ship seems to be resting on the ground, and when it takes off it looks and sounds exactly like a Saturn V.

            It always bugged me, and I fugured it was because of the “leave no trace” idea. But now I realize it’s because that’s not how ships work in the universe.

          • Gruhunchously says:

            Eh? There’s a whole (optional) cutscene showing off the scorched area where Sovereign landed. Ashley even remarks that it ‘looked like someone dropped a bomb’.

            • ? says:

              Well, I shall eat my hat then. Didn’t know about that. Still, it’s a bit silly that a ship that uses anti-gravitation instead of thrusters to take off leaves blast crater.

      • Xeorm says:

        Not really. It’s fairly standard for space ships to still have some sort of landing ship that they send off when dealing with planets. It makes sense both scientifically and thematically, given how well it mirrors the small ships old wet navy capitol ships would use to send people ashore. Especially given that the Collectors leave without a trace, with the people very suddenly surprised. You can’t have that amount of surprise with a capitol ship like that.

        Also, ME1 lasers work like that. ME2&3 lasers don’t, because by then how physics works is decided by rule of cool, rather than science. Deflector shields stop anything harmful after ME1, rather than only deflecting attacks of objects with significant speed.

        Part of why I usually hated the Noveria levels so much were the Rachni’s attacks ignoring shields. Cool when you thought about it and enjoyed the science, but annoying if you’re used to thinking of shields as the regenerating part of your health bar.

  10. Zekiel says:

    Good grief this was a stupid sequence of events. Shamus hasn’t even mentioned the bit (which I’m pretty sure is in the Collector Ship mission) where you see lots of kidnap-pods and Shepard/squadmate makes the leap that they’re all for humans and that they must want to attack Earth in order to fill them. Given that the Collectors have also been established as collecting other races, why should you assume these pods are all for humans? Why is it regarded as scary that they might target Earth with ONE SHIP? Aaaargh.

    The only bit of this whole section that I could handwave was TIM not telling Shepard that the stupid trap was actually a trap – I assumed he was concerned that the Collectors might intercept a transmission from him to Shepard. But then he never seems concerned about that at any other time in the plot, so… yeah.

    • SyrusRayne says:

      Isn’t their Quantum Entanglement Bullshit Connection Thing basically impenetrable?

      • Zekiel says:

        Yeah but mumblemumbleplotdevicemumblemumble

      • Mike S. says:

        To be fair, assuming that your impenetrable communications security might not be isn’t in itself stupid. The Collectors have higher tech than humans that let them do other technically difficult things (like ignore the Normandy’s stealth). And even if the theory behind the quantum encryption is solid they might have compromised things on either end.

        (“No, we didn’t break into a quantum entangled conversation– that’s impossible. Planting a microscopic bug on Shepard that uploads a recording of everything said in her presence whenever the Normandy is within a light-minute of a mass relay, on the other hand… what, you can’t make dark energy transducers that small? Primitives.”)

        But as noted, TIM doesn’t operate consistently with that kind of paranoid security, so it’s not really a good explanation for this particular omission.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I’m still convinced that rather than somehow bypassing the Normandy’s stealth, the writers outright forgot that the Normandy was supposed to be a stealth ship. There’s no acknowledgement of “The Collectors managed to ambush a stealth ship, that’s remarkable”, it’s never mentioned if the Normandy 2 has any stealth functions (you’d expect it would, and that would come up, given that stealth is the only thing that made N1 special), nothing. Hell, ME1 established limits on the Normandy’s stealth such that it would have been easy to build that opening cutscene to have the Collectors beat them fair and square, but nope, ambush out of nowhere.

          • Mike S. says:

            The Normandy SR-2’s stealth functions are mentioned in ME2– it comes up in Legion’s loyalty mission, for example. (“As long as they don’t look out the window.” “Geth do not use windows; they are a structural weakness.”)

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            Bypassing their stealth should be easy enough once you know you should be looking. All the stealth drive does is temporarily store heat so it doesn’t radiate. Like real life stealth systems, the goal is more to limit the window of detection.

            Seems like what you would want to do actually is continue to improve systems that make your Mass Effect jumps more precise (remember Joker’s mention of drift). The less time you have to spend at sublight speed getting to your target after a jump, the better.

            If you’re sneaking up on someone in a solar system I’d jump behind a planet (something big enough to have a reasonably hot core) dump all the heat I could. Orbit to the near side of the planet and head along a vector so that the planet is directly behind me the whole way to the enemy ship (probably would have to be an arc) and use my stealth drive partially to drop the heat to match the planet’s radiant output closely. You might also be able to somewhat match the planet’s light profile to help maintain camouflage (or just use dull paint?)

            • guy says:

              The Normandy also has stealth paint and such that make it difficult to detect with active scanning, and it engaged its stealth mode on arriving. As resident Codex pendant, I feel confident in stating that the Collectors detecting the Normandy demands explanation. To be able to detect it with standard sensors under those conditions, they’d need to know its arrival point with suspiciously high accuracy. The Normandy would be extremely detectable with a gravitational sensor, but the Council races don’t use those and it’s never mentioned that the Collectors or Reapers do.

              The drift is mainly a property of the Mass Relay system, which scales with mass and is reduced by the Reaper IFF. In most cases it would not be a significant issue for the Normandy.

    • Alex says:

      “The only bit of this whole section that I could handwave was TIM not telling Shepard that the stupid trap was actually a trap – I assumed he was concerned that the Collectors might intercept a transmission from him to Shepard. But then he never seems concerned about that at any other time in the plot, so… yeah.”

      He should be more concerned that keeping that information a secret would give Shepard one too many reasons to force-feed him her Eviscerator.

    • James says:

      Also the “going to hit earth” thing is even more stupid when a Collector Cruiser can be quite easily destroyed by a upgraded heavy frigate, what are the collectors going to do? rock up to earth get one shot by a dreadnought? at this point we know that the Collectors likely have limited ships like maby 10 at most the alliance nearly that mean Dreadnaughts let along everything else.

    • Lars says:

      One of the 2 reasons why Shepard didn’t blow the collectors ship into pieces are exactly the kidnap-pods. Shepard doesn’t know that they are empty, until (s)he enters the ship.
      It would be a lame excuse, killing hundrets or thousends of collonists for taking out just one (pretending) imobilized ship.
      The other reason is that, exactly this collector ship 2 years ago found the most advanced alliance stealth-ship with just one blow. Gaining/understanding that technologie could help against the reapers. It would make sence for this high risk mission – if Shepard would still be on alliance side.

  11. boota says:

    I really think the fact that most of the universe seems to know what happened to shepard is troubling and breaking the narrative in the game. everybody except the ones close to shepard seems to be aware that he’s not only alive but he’s also with cerberus. cerberus… a rogue clandestine ops group that shows off its logotype on its ships as if it was an established trade consortium. i would have thought that at least one person in the docking stations at the citadel would have the sense to ask if they really should let a ship with unknown military tech belonging to a terrorist organization land at the citadel.

    (i also found it very troubling and immersion-breaking that in the first game, everybody knows who’s a spectre and what a spectre is. as i understood it, the spectres are a covert ops organization that are tasked with mitigating the most important threats to the galaxy, some sort of space-spy super CIA. instead they seem to be some form of military poster boys/girls used to market the council.)

    • Alex says:

      “(i also found it very troubling and immersion-breaking that in the first game, everybody knows who’s a spectre and what a spectre is. as i understood it, the spectres are a covert ops organization that are tasked with mitigating the most important threats to the galaxy, some sort of space-spy super CIA. instead they seem to be some form of military poster boys/girls used to market the council.)”

      A spectre is basically a special operative with a Presidential pardon in his pocket. It’s certainly possible for a spectre to operate the way you suggest – I imagine Salarian spectres tend to be of that sort – but Shepard is clearly of the opinion that people knowing she’s a representative of the Council with a license to kill opens more doors than it closes.

      Mass Effect 2 would have been a good opportunity to show the other strategy, with the missing-presumed-dead Shepard operating in the shadows to achieve her goals, instead of the more bombastic approach she used in the first game.

      • ehlijen says:

        Indeed, part of the reason the alliance pushed for a human spectre was as a publicity stunt. They didn’t want to keep sitting at the galactic kiddie table. So Shepard gets to wave their badge around and remind the universe that humans are in the game for real now.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Specters arent cia,they are nsa.Not spies,but someone who is practically above the law.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        What they are is James Bond. That’s certainly certainly the ME public’s perception of them (present in both 1 and 2), and it fits with everything we ever see or hear about a specter doing: license to kill, notionally some kind of secret stealth operator, but way too much shooting and explosions for real espionage.

    • Flip says:

      (i also found it very troubling and immersion-breaking that in the first game, everybody knows who’s a spectre and what a spectre is. as i understood it, the spectres are a covert ops organization that are tasked with mitigating the most important threats to the galaxy, some sort of space-spy super CIA. instead they seem to be some form of military poster boys/girls used to market the council.)

      Spectre status would be really useless if nobody knew what a spectre is. What is the point of giving someone carte blanche to do whatever and then preventing them from using their authority? Spectre authority can be used to make missions much easier and less violent. Just image the first scenes on Noveria if nobody knew about the spectres:

      Spaceport controller: ‘Normandy! Your arrival is not scheduled! Our defence grid is armed! State your business!’
      Joker: ‘Ehm…’
      “Boom!!!” -> Normandy shot down.

      Guard: ‘Who are you? Weapons are not allowed on Noveria!’
      Shepard: ‘I’m a spectre.’
      Guard: ‘What? You are just making s*** up. Kill him!’

      It would be like having a policeman hunt down criminals but he is not allowed to use his position to search homes, interrogate witnesses and use the siren on his police car.

      • boota says:

        that could (should?) be mitigated by shepard just being able to claim (s)he has been authorized by the council instead, without (unnecessarily, since it’s on the galactic news) telling everyone (s)he’s a spectre..

        i understand that from a story perspective, it sets me up with a carte blanche to have more of the (generally bad) combat in locations where it otherwise would not be possible, i just think that in-world it’s the most stupid thing possible to set it up in this way. instead of assembling a cream of the crop elite military team, the council sets up a marketing ploy. they make it public who’s a spectre, and what their mission is. (or they at least don’t care that media is outing such information) This in turn makes it impossible to use spectres for anything really useful, or at least anything really dangerous. the political loss of losing a spectre would be too big, since they’re public figures.

        and no, spectres are not at all like james bond. conrad verner will never walk up to james bond at trafalgar square and ask for an autograph.

        There also are occasions where the public image of spectres doesn’t work in the story. Noveria is the perfect example:

        Take Anoleis
        If spectres are so well known and their authority is well understaood: WHY IS HE STILL THERE? and if he’s still there, WHY IS HE NOT COOPERATING WITH SHEPARD? he’s got to understand that the crap is going to hit the fan when a spectre shows up and he decides to oppose said spectre. His actions are only plausible as long as he has no understanding for how far-reaching spectres access and operational authority is.

        Now this is a mistake that lots of sci-fi settings get wrong, but armies are not football teams.

        • guy says:

          Novaria is independent; spectres don’t have jurisdiction there. They give Spectres some extra privileges, but Shepard doesn’t have the authority to give orders. It’s more diplomatic immunity than absolute authority.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        To be fair, ME1 does point out that Spectres *used* to be the Council’s secret agents, but after a while, it became harder to hide their work, and they were revealed.

        So everyone knows who they are who they work for, but not their goals if they don’t plan to reveal them.

        But since they assume that wherever Spectres show up, there’s something the locals *don’t* know, they tend to be met with caution and resistance.

    • Xeorm says:

      Spectres are agents of the council tasked with assisting the council. Usually with varying degrees of control by the council and amount of resources given. Essentially, they’re PCs, who do what needs to get done.

      Some of them are very secretive in what they do and who they are, but some not. In Shepherd’s case, he’s not at all secretive. He’s humanity’s poster child for being accepted by the aliens as more of an equal. Something like FBI or another government agency – their first task on the job is to present their badge, and look like they’re doing something. Though he has the option of being more secretive when he wants.

      • guy says:

        They’re really pretty much exactly a less murderous version of the WH40k Inquisition. They’re sent to deal with crises that for whatever reason can’t be resolved by standard means and have basically unlimited discretion. They might work in total secrecy or they might invoke their authority to take command of an entire fleet. If circumstances warrant, the same one may do both in the course of a single mission.

  12. wswordsmen says:

    Every player knew the collector ship was a trap. I am one of the most gullible people when it comes to fiction, but I knew that it was a trap. Two rooms of chest high walls in there is not one player who didn’t know it was a trap. The idea that Shepard didn’t know breaks his character.

    • Couscous says:

      Now if the Collectors actually did let the player in and out with maybe just preventing the crew from laying any bombs, that would be a great mind screw.

      • Flip says:

        Or if the Collectors had some false data for Shepard to put him on the wrong track. That would’ve been cool too.

        • Couscous says:

          Harbinger should want Shepard to come through as soon as possible. Shepard will be fighting on Harbinger’s home turf where they are vastly more likely to get killed the sooner they can be lured to the base based on only partly true information. Give Shepard the ability to get through the mass relay as part of a trap.

          I have never figured out how the Reaper IFF is supposed to protect them. Shouldn’t it be obvious regardless of them having the Reaper IFF that the Normandy is not friendly? It should also stand out as something that should be fired on because of the IFF from a Reaper that should be known to be dead.

          • guy says:

            They need the IFF so the relay won’t murder them. Full details are derivable from the Codex; the conversation after learning it’s in the core and they need the IFF alludes to it. Basically if the relay works the way it normally would they’d wind up in one of the nearby black holes. Turns out that’s a configurable setting and the IFF runs it in a different mode. I’m not sure if the characters know the precise details before they transit the relay and it becomes obvious to Joker, EDI, Tali, and probably some of the others, but the data they swiped told them that the Reaper IFF was necessary to survive going through the Omega Relay.

    • Falterfire says:

      Hell, just the fact that you were walking around was a sign that it was a trap. Mass Effect is a shooter, and if there’s one problem combat oriented vidya games suffer from more than any other, it’s that sooner or later every problem ends up being solved with combat. When all you have is a hammer and all that.

      The instant you saw they had created a level that very clearly wasn’t a friendly town, it should have been obvious that shooting was going to be involved because that’s what you do in a Mass Effect level.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      The problem isn’t so much knowing that it’s a trap. The problem is on how many ridiculous assumptions on the Collectors’ side the trap relies on on the one hand, and how stupidly TIM chooses to approach it on the other.

  13. Neko says:

    If you can invent some fan-theory or find a codex entry to hand-wave this, then the complaints Shamus makes are invalid!

    http://i.imgur.com/npgW6.jpg

  14. Joshua says:

    “When this happens in movies we usually talk about it in terms of characters “reading the script”. They seem to behave contrary to the information that ought to be available to them, and nobody else in the story seems to find this odd.”

    Just recently watched Ant-Man, and I’d say that movie suffers from that problem several times. Just insert the old Spaceballs joke about the villains going back to watch the video of the movie to find out what the heroes are doing.

    This was also a huge jarring whiplash to me when reading GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons near the end.
    Spoilers:
    Ramsay Bolton writes a taunting letter to Jon Snow saying that he caught Mance Rayder, and he knows that Jon faked Mance’s death, Stannis’s army is destroyed, and he’s coming for him next to get back his bride! Except, none of these events are shown to the reader, and it’s not been previously indicated that Ramsay is at all aware of any of the politics or events happening at the Wall. He just suddenly knows all of these little details.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      He knows that Mance is alive because he showed up at the castle where Ramsay is holed up. The letter is also quite possibly a giant bluff- that’s why we see Jon receive it before seeing the battle. We’re not supposed to know how much of it is true, because Jon doesn’t know and we’re seeing it from his perspective. We’ll find out what actually happened in the next book (and it’s not like there’s a dearth of ways to find out what was happening on the wall- all he’d need is a single prisoner from the battle).

      • Joshua says:

        But I would argue that this is having to come up with an explanation that wasn’t provided by the author, like talked about in the post. This gets really subjective, but if something isn’t mentioned in the media but it’s likely or easily possible there’s an explanation for it, it’s no big deal. If it’s unlikely but *possible*, it needs an explanation. Once again, which of these two categories you think a plot point falls into can be very subjective.

        I mentioned Ant-Man in the first part of my post. Early on in the movie, when presented with the conflict, Scott Lang asks the question “Why don’t you ask the Avengers to take care of this?” At this point, it’s never been mentioned that the public has any awareness of who the Avengers are. (Maybe they discuss it in the television show Agents of Shield, but I haven’t seen it.) However, based upon what I’ve seen in the movies thus far, even though this hasn’t been mentioned, it’s certainly very likely the public would have some knowledge of what’s going on, especially with all of the recent cataclysmic events. So, in my opinion, bringing this information up out of nowhere isn’t a plot hole as much as world-building to say that there *is* a public perception of this group. Contrast that to where the villain arbitrarily knows everything about what the good guys are doing and planning, despite the fact that he should be pretty busy and preoccupied right now .

        In the Dance with Dragons example, the letter is serving two purposes. It gives the readers a hint (or more precisely, questions) about what occurred at Winterfell. It also drives the plot forward about what’s happening between Jon and the Night’s Watch .

        However, I feel it comes as incredibly out of character, because Ramsay Bolton hasn’t been shown to be incredibly in touch with political intrigues in other areas. He’s mostly been shown to be obsessed with his own sadistic games, and is chastised by his father for not having a better sense of self-control and an eye on the big picture. So, for him to all of a sudden write about all of these things in such a manner that shows an incredible awareness of all of the greater meanings of political intrigue on the Wall and pushes ALL of the right (or wrong) buttons with Jon Snow came across to me more as an author-driven plot development than an organic one. One thing that could made it come across as more natural is having Ramsay and/or his cohorts discussing recent events on the Wall, especially the supposed execution of Mance Rayder.

        • guy says:

          To me the letter read as being an extremely crude and blunt attempt at manipulation entirely in keeping with Ramsey’s character. It works because Jon is a hotheaded teenager and because Ramsey’s random flailing at emotional buttons happened to hit some of Jon’s. The things he knows are either public knowledge that Stannis would spread deliberately or what he’d learn torturing the people he quite possibly captured.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          “But I would argue that this is having to come up with an explanation that wasn’t provided by the author, like talked about in the post.”

          Difference is that this is something that isn’t finished yet. We’ll probably find out the exact circumstances the letter was written under next book.

          My reaction to the letter was is Ramsay telling the truth? ASoIaF deals a lot with people getting unreliable information. Getting the letter as we did sets up a cliffhanger. Preview chapters of the next book already indicate that there’s a lot more to happen than Stannis just fighting a battle and losing.

          “He’s mostly been shown to be obsessed with his own sadistic games, and is chastised by his father for not having a better sense of self-control and an eye on the big picture. ”

          Well, that is kind of exactly what Ramsay is doing here. There isn’t a particularly good reason for him to provoke the Night’s Watch when his side is already on tenuous grounds consolidating their power in the north. If he has beaten Stannis, then he should be using political leverage to demand that the Night Watch return “Arya” and to keep it’s neutrality oath. If he hasn’t, then he has bigger problems to worry about than Jon. Either way, the letter wasn’t a carefully planned political maneuver. It was Ramsay lashing out. Threatening to attack the Night’s Watch is a typical short-sighted, reflexively cruel Ramsay thing to do. If Jon had been smarter about his response, the letter would have backfired big time on him.

          • Joshua says:

            This is branching slightly off-topic into whether or not all of it is true and what will be explained in the next book, which is a given. My initial post was that there was too much information in the initial letter that is known by the reader but not by any one character. When reading that page, I had to read it several times because of course it seemed like it was partially a lie. But yet, I thought there was too much information that Ramsay would know that Jon wouldn’t, or vice versa.

            I think that Wraith’s post below might be right, at least in regards to Mance Rayder writing the letter as a fake. That would be the one character who would be in a position to know the nitty-gritty details involving all parties and might have the motivation to cause this kind of trouble.

            Part of the issue is the unresolved situation at Winterfell when Theon escapes. Ramsay and even Roose Bolton are almost in a state of terror due to the murders that are occurring all around them despite their efforts to thwart them. It’s obvious the perpetrators above are very talented at infiltration, especially Mance Rayder who had previously also infiltrated the feast at Winterfell when King Robert was there.

            I personally find it hard to believe the tables have so turned that all of these infiltrators are easily rooted out and successfully tortured “offscreen” for all of the information that Ramsay possesses in his letter. However, the fake letter theory would work to explain this issue, I suppose.

            I guess we’ll all find out sometime in the next few years whenever the book is finally released.

            • guy says:

              Uh, you might have forgotten, but during the scene with Theon’s escape the infiltrators blow their cover and at least one is last seen fighting a rearguard action with no realistic hope of escape. All the definitely true information in there is either things Ramsey would know or things the infiltrators would know, and torture is Ramsey’s primary skill.

    • Wraith says:

      That’s actually kind of the point of the Pink Letter. The Pink Letter contains some information that would be true if Ramsay had defeated Stannis but it also has many signs that it is either partially or completely lying. That’s why so many readers have theorized that it’s either a bluff or written by someone else entirely.

      It mentions Lightbringer and Melisandre, who are well-known parts of Stannis’s camp. The big thing is that it mentions Mance Rayder and his secret mission to rescue (Fake) Arya from Winterfell. It’s very feasible that Ramsay knows about Mance et al because Mance or one of the spearwives was captured helping Theon and Jeyne Poole escape.

      However, the letter also simultaneously claims that Ramsay has defeated Stannis while demanding the return of Theon and Jeyne Poole. If you’ve read the TWOW preview chapters, you know that Theon and Jeyne are confirmed to have reached the safety of Stannis’s camp. So if Ramsay defeated Stannis and destroyed his army, then why wasn’t he able to recover Theon and Jeyne, the former of whom was even a caged prisoner in Stannis’s camp? This is why most readers believe Ramsay is simply lying about having defeated Stannis.

      The alternate theories are that the Pink Letter is a false flag written by another character to draw Jon Snow south and into the fight. The common suspects for this are Melisandre, Mance Rayder, or Stannis himself. Personally, I find it most likely of these three that Mance Rayder wrote the Pink Letter.

      But no matter who wrote it, the Pink Letter is almost certainly lying about having defeated Stannis. Personally, I believe the letter is just Ramsay has captured Mance, learned of the mission, and is under the impression that Theon and Jeyne Poole fled to the Wall – he’s unaware of where Stannis’s army actually is and is just lying about having defeated Stannis in order to strong-arm Jon into doing what he wants.

  15. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    TIM isn’t a character. He’s a plot device with a nice chair and a three-packs-a-day habit.

    Actually the codex explains this. TIM isn’t much of a smoker so he keeps stubbing and relighting the same cigarette specifically to look cool in conversations with Shepard.

    Also, I loved your write up of the Thieves Guild Quest. I was going to do one of my own but you basically covered the points I was going to make and then some.

    • Mike S. says:

      “A desperate need to look cool” is pretty much the unifying theory behind TIM’s look, office, smoking, and constant assurances that he knows everything all the time but uses that knowledge only to mess with the allegedly irreplaceable operative he spent billions of credits to get.

  16. Bloodsquirrel says:

    “If you can invent some fan-theory or find a codex entry to hand-wave this, then the complaints Shamus makes are invalid!”

    God, do I hate that excuse. If I have to stop and write fan fiction in order to make sense out of a scene then I’m not doing what I’m *supposed* to be doing, which is suspending my disbelief and getting caught up in the story. All of that handwaving is smacking the emotional impact of the story in the face.

    At what point does that end? How much of a story do I need to re-write in my head before I can say that it’s a bad story? 10%? 20%? 90%?

    • Mike S. says:

      There is a range, though, between making allowances (without which pretty much no story will hold together) and doing the writers’ job for them (which can be a fun exercise, but should never be required).

      E.g., I’m not motivated to explain how Luke Skywalker can go through a long training sequence in the time it takes for Han and Leia to reach Bespin and go on a brief tour of the city ending in the galactically famous Darth Vader Room. (Though I would be mildly shocked if there weren’t as many explanations for that as for how you do the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs.) But the story is compelling enough that I’m willing to let it go. The prequels, on the other hand, I’ll paper over only if paid a screenwriters’ rate to do so.

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        This is something you become conscious of when you’re playing tabletop roleplaying games. I could say that my character puts on his pants, then shoes then ties his shoes. But most DMs would just assume my character does that every morning and in fact stating that sequence of actions would only lead to questions about why my character hasn’t put on socks and undies.

        Sometimes you go through your daily routine. Sometimes you say “weeks later”. Its probably good exercise for a writer.

        There are instances where I feel like filling in these blanks would be more about allowances and less about fan theories. But Shamus is aware of that too.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Seeing how Yoda is wrong about so many things, I just assume his insistence that Jedi training has to start when the student is young is also incorrect. Luke just needed Yoda’s weekend-long workshop to learn how to concentrate properly, and from there he was able to teach himself the rest between Empire and Jedi.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        I’d say that there’s just a point where details are too unimportant to bother much screen time. If we see a soldier carrying a gun, we don’t need to know where he got it from. It’s an obvious enough answer that any explanation would just be pointlessly ruining the pacing. Some things demand explanation, some don’t.

        See: Angels in Manhattan, when the emotional climax of the episode and the send-off of two major characters relies on incredibly shaking logic that falls apart faster than you can handwave it back together.

    • Joshua says:

      This is what I was referring to when writing my reply above about Dance with Dragons. If something isn’t shown but is incredibly likely and/or reasonable, it’s perfectly fine. For example, not ever showing bathroom breaks.

      However, if something seems out of character and you’re explaining a reason why it *could* be possible due to this unexplained event that you’re making up, that’s the complaint. People typically don’t claim a plot hole is *impossible*, just that it’s unlikely and there isn’t an explanation given in the media itself.

      • Couscous says:

        I always feel that it is OK if the characters should know that or assume that and thus not question it. Or if the character wouldn’t care. The writers don’t have to explain everything because sometimes it makes no sense for the characters to mention that and giving such explanations can lead to situations where people who should know something states stuff he already knows to another person who should already know as well.

      • Matt Downie says:

        There are a couple of differences from that DwD scene. Firstly, all the missing explanations might be there in the next book – it’s a mystery we’re waiting for the answer to. Secondly, there’s no “Why isn’t my character asking these questions?” moment.

  17. Ninety-Three says:

    What’s baffling about the Collector ship is that everything about it would’ve worked better if it weren’t a trap. The Turians really do disable a Collector ship, TIM sends in Shepard because Shep’s in the area and TIM wants to send reinforcements before the Turians. Shep arrives and sees the ship is a smoking ruin. Shep goes onboard (which is still kinda stupid, but not nearly as stupid), fights through some Collector guards and gets whatever he’s looking for. Shep is forced to make a fighting retreat as more Collector guards show up, he eventually bails out and the Collectors decide their ship is a writeoff and self-destruct before anyone else steals from it.

    If you want to characterize TIM as either a jerk or a ruthless “ends justify the means” type, there’s room for him to lie about how much Collector resistance Shep will face inside. But no, the whole thing had to be a trap, because…

    Man, I’m not even sure why it was a trap. What did the writers think the were accomplishing by having Shep walk into a trap? Is it supposed to be dramatic?

    • Flip says:

      Man, I’m not even sure why it was a trap. What did the writers think the were accomplishing by having Shep walk into a trap? Is it supposed to be dramatic?

      Well, we can’t have a video game story without at least one betrayel, so…

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Is there a recent videogame franchise where you work for an organization that doesn’t try to screw you over at some point? I tried playing The Order: 1886 but it opens in media res with you a prisoner of your own Order before flashing back to a few months earlier. I immediately checked out. They’re not even going to try and surprise me with the inevitable betrayal? That’s not just insulting, that’s lazy.

        Are David Sarif and your other coworkers in Human Revolution the most recent exceptions?

    • Hector says:

      To explain it via a Tolkein quote: “The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken [..] the “magic” or rather, the art has failed.”

  18. Disc says:

    Now that I think of it, the only thing really holding TIM together at all for me is Martin Sheen. I already hate the character enough, but without that voice and delivery, I don’t know if I could stand to listen one sentence. If you separate it from the stupidity of it all, it’s actually decent acting.

    Talk about a waste of a good voice actor.

    • Mike S. says:

      If the performance manages to carry a weak script, it’s pretty much not a waste by definition, no?

      I do wonder if using expensive stars who aren’t primarily voice actors has an effect on how much they can do in terms of alternate takes, extra recording sessions after script revisions, etc. Does the company get locked into something because it’s not practical to call back Martin Sheen, where a cheaper actor with a more flexible schedule could just put in another day of recording when something doesn’t work?

      • John says:

        Well, I’ll concede that Bioware may have gotten their money’s worth. So perhaps it isn’t a waste from their point of view. But if Martin Sheen can make drivel sound good to you, wouldn’t you rather listen to him make something good sound great? Or something great sound mind-blowing?

        • Disc says:

          This. Shitty role is still a shitty role. The saving grace is good for the product, no doubt, but it’s a waste when you look at the potential. Talent like that would have deserved something better.

      • INH5 says:

        I’ve heard that late in ME2’s development, they needed Martin Sheen to re-record some lines but he was in another city. They ended up having him go to a local recording studio, burn the audio files to a DVD, and mail it to the Bioware office. So yes, it seems like using big name voice actors does have some drawbacks.

        • Mike S. says:

          Though the fact that he was willing and able to do the additional dialog that way suggests that maybe using a big name isn’t as troublesome as I thought.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            I think post-West Wing he hasn’t been as busy as during the peak of his career. Half his credits in the last decade have been voice-over narration for documentaries, and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are probably snatching up most of the prime roles for actors in his age bracket.

            I still think most of the time it’s a waste of time and money to stuntcast Hollywood talent for major game roles unless they have a solid V/O background (e.g. Keith David, Seth Green)–you’re usually not getting A-listers anyway. Did anyone buy ME2 because Yvonne Strahovski and Carrie Anne Moss were in it? That’s not a comment on their performances, but their name recognition. I could see stuntcasting one or two important roles, like Sheen for TIM or Kevin Spacey in that COD game, if you really work on getting a good performance or to open up game V/O work for more actors. But stuntcasting your whole ensemble and completely wasting them like Dishonored seems fruitless.

          • John says:

            Martin Sheen, you’ll remember, was in the movie version of Spawn. I figure he’s game for anything, if the price is right.

      • Wray92 says:

        Just once, I’d like to see a studio move the big name from the voice actor to the writer. Don’t hire Liam Neeson to act in Fallout 3, hire Patrick Rothfuss, Timothy Zahn, Vince Gilligan or somebody to write it. They would have to adapt to writing for games, obviously, but my guess is it would turn out a lot better.

        • Bubble181 says:

          ….Miss Pratchett comes to mind.

          • guy says:

            RA Salvadore did Kingdoms of Amalur.

            I think it’s only done as a desperate invocation of The Writer Will Do Something. Personally I love Amalur, but the publisher went out of business due to wild incompetence relating to their MMO development and had probably been praying RA Salvadore would give them an extra sale for every dollar they paid him.

        • Falterfire says:

          Writing games is incredibly different from writing other media. So different that I’m not sure how much it would help to have a big name in charge. I mean, an expert film writer or novelist is going to be better at it than a random shmuck like me would be because they know how to write and I don’t, but I don’t think they’d be better than somebody who has spent a lot of time already working with games.

          The combination of branching path narrative usually present along with lots of side material and small background stuff make it way different from anything else. Plus there’s the thing where if your game is a shooter, your story has to be advanced primarily in ways that let the main character shoot a bunch of people in interestingly laid out spaces.

          That said: If I had to pick somebody for the job, it would probably be Grant Morrison. Based on his work with the DC 1,000,000 crossover he seems to have a handle on this ‘giant, sprawling story’ thing. Plus I’m just generally a Morrison fanboy.

          Oh, the other obvious thing is that if you want to really have a high quality writer work, they need to be part of the main guiding force of the game. The later you bring in the writer, the harder it will be for them to make meaningful change.

          • Couscous says:

            I am reminded of what director Marshal Neilan said in 1917.

            “The sooner the stage people who have come into pictures get out, the better for the pictures.”

            I can’t find a quote I remember reading about how some D&D book series improved when the writer stopped basing it on his actual D&D campaigns. The issue was that what worked for a D&D campaign did not work for a book in terms of things like pacing. Even with more “cinematic” videogames like Uncharted, the pacing of a videogame is usually very different from that of a movie.

          • Wray92 says:

            I guess where I’m coming from is, how’s the current system working out? Bioware was supposed to be the gold standard for video game writing, and yet they still produced Mass Effect 2 and 3 (I think part of that had to do with Karpyshyn leaving? I’m not really sure). And most game stories are just complete nonsense.

            Any really good screenwriter could write circles around the dialogue you see in most games, triple-A or otherwise. I really do feel like there are novelists, screenwriters, etc. out there who could adapt to games. The key thing is that they have to play video games and understand what the medium is about–I think most of the failures you can point to are when this condition isn’t met.

            Marc Laidlaw (who wrote for Half-Life) was a fairly successful sci-fi novelist before he ever worked on a game, but he also played video games, so he basically knew what he was getting into.

          • MichaelGC says:

            The obvious answer would be to hire Rutskarn.

            • krellen says:

              This probably was meant as more of a joke answer than it really is, because you’re not wrong. The only other place someone can get experience doing the sort of storytelling that exists in video games is tabletop roleplaying. The major difference is that video games don’t have to be so explicitly improvisational, because you are in control of the array of options available to your players, but no other medium really deals with branching narratives in the same way.

              I’ve always wanted to put “Gamemastering” on my resume, and maybe one day we’ll have the industry at a point where it recognises how relevant that actually is.

              • MichaelGC says:

                I was being fairly serious, as it goes! – although he obviously can’t be simultaneously hired to write for every game from here-on-in, so it’s still partially tongue-in-cheek. But I do think he has an enviably appropriate skillset (in addition to his actual industry experience with Pyrodactyl, of course!), and I think you’re probably right – GMing has no doubt help build that.

                As you allude, I think it definitely must have helped with the sheer speed at which he’s able to work. I’m thinking of things like the extemporised backstory one of the Skyrim draugr got during the Spoiler Warning season! Scaled-up, that’s the kind of thing which must be attractive to a game director on a budget… (Including hopefully one day a game director on a very large budget – always assuming it’s a direction he wishes to go in.)

                Anyway, to the extent I was joking – well, many a true word, etc! And I do hope you get your wish – I know just enough about GMing to know how difficult it is to do well, and how many various and not-necessarily-connected skills it requires (e.g. creativity, accountancy, empathy, assertiveness, time management, diplomacy; the list goes on…).

  19. Wraith says:

    Nail on the head when it comes to TIM. Even back when I thought Mass Effect 2 was a pretty good story, TIM never really worked for me as a character, at all. There was always this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that he basically had no character, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until ME3 came out.

    It’s because he has no real plan or motivations. For TIM, those are basically a never-ending loop of vague non-answers:

    “So TIM, what’s your end goal here?”

    “To secure human dominance in the galaxy”

    “How are you going to do that?”

    “By capturing and studying Reaper technology.”

    “And what are you going to do with that Reaper technology?”

    “Secure human dominance in the galaxy.”

    “No, I mean how are you going to do that, specifically?”

    “Reaper technology.”

    “…”

    And it gets ten times worse in ME3, since he’s a straight villain there:

    “So what’s your end goal here, TIM?”

    “Secure human dominance in the galaxy.”

    “And how do you plan to do that?”

    “By sabotaging the galactic war effort against the Reapers, who are hell-bent on wiping out all life in the galaxy.”

    “…Fucking what?”

    Apologists for this kind of evil plan in ME3 would say “Oh he’s indoctrinated by the Reapers, of course his evil plan doesn’t make sense. But Saren was indoctrinated and he was way more intriguing as a villain, and he had a plan that actually did make sense. Saren had a reasonable explanation for not believing he was indoctrinated, because he believed the Reapers would allow worthy servants to live. He thought he was working with the Reapers, not for them. Whereas TIM believes he is working for himself but is transparently just working for the Reapers, and he apparently can’t figure this out because he’s indoctrinated. That’s not how that works, at least not to me.

    It’s like how TF2 describes The Spy: “He is a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, shrouded in riddles, lovingly sprinkled with intrigue, expressed mailed to Mystery, Alaska…” except in TF2 it’s played for laughs. TIM is that concept played straight. And it doesn’t work at all.

    • Mike S. says:

      Apropos of nothing, the dialog structure makes me curious if you’ve seen this interview with Scott Summers, leader of the X-Men.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Hah!But that reminded me of miranda more than tim.Yeah tim is a stupid asshole,but at least he searches for people to be recruited and stuff like that,while miranda….leads the team.

    • INH5 says:

      I agree. In ME2 TIM you always get the feeling that there might be something that you’re missing about his motives, but in ME3 he is just a mess.

      What makes it worse is that leaked scripts make it clear that in a pre-release draft of ME3 TIM was known to be indoctrinated from the start, and had the stated goal of helping the Reapers because he had become convinced that being turned into a Reaper would be a good thing for humanity. In that draft, Sanctuary was a secret Reaper processing facility like the Collector Base. This plot point was in place as late as, I believe, the 2011 E3 demo, where Shepard on Sur-Kesh says regarding Cerberus, “They’re indoctrinated. They’re capable of anything.” when in the final game he just says, “They’re capable of anything.”

      This isn’t an especially compelling motivation, mind you, but at it is at least reasonably coherent. I would guess that the writers decided they wanted the player to wonder what was going on with TIM, but it doesn’t work at all.

  20. Warclam says:

    Um, Shamus? Christmas is Friday next week, not Thursday. I mean, if you don’t want to post on Christmas Eve Day, that’s fine, I’m just confused.

    Also, Tuesday IS a holiday: it’s the winter solstice. Not that the solstice is celebrated in the morning, but still. I’m even more confused now.

  21. guy says:

    I’m torn on the Codex issue. On the one hand, it’s secondary information that players might not necessarily read. On the other hand, it is explicitly canonical and in the game, and it’s there to answer questions you might have but which aren’t answered in conversation because exposition gets dull and boring. Lots of people are happy with the plot without reading the codex and would be annoyed if they took all the information in it that explains why things work the way they do and spent two hours having people tell Shepard about it.

    I’m not one of those people, and I have also read every Codex entry.

    • Bropocalypse says:

      If something is happening that’s essential to know to maintain the structure, characterization, or setting of the story, that information should be presented in the story, not ancillary to it. It’d be like if Obiwan and Yoda never explained anything about the force and we never saw Luke train, but everyone in the theatres was given a brochure on it.

      • guy says:

        I strenuously disagree that any information in the codex really falls into that category. It is entirely technical and political details only relevant to the story in that the characters know them. The precise mechanics of the FTL coms and interstellar travel are not remotely critical enough to merit being shoved into mandatory plot conversations, which is the only place they’re guaranteed to be in the game people experience.

        Indeed, when technical details are critical to the plot in the later games, they aren’t in the Codex anyway! There’s no explanation for how the Collectors spotted the Normandy. Though actually, the message thing Shamus mentions is explained during the mission: EDI says it’s obviously fabricated and there is no way the Turians would believe it was a genuine message. I forget if TIM implies he stopped the Turians from getting it or if you’re supposed to beat them to the scene. Even if he did, the precise way the non-QEC FTL coms might allow that (they do; it’s like the internet) is not especially relevant and the sort of thing the author should know but not bog down the story by explaining.

    • Couscous says:

      I never saw the actual game outside of the codex as caring much for what the codex said. Codex goes into detail on how space combat works. Actual cutscenes portray it differently. Biotics use specific gestures to use specific biotic skills. I think it is just a generic thing for all biotic skills in ME2 and ME3.

  22. Viktor says:

    I always thought that the lights on the Normandy were the waste heat emissions panels, since dumping heat is stated to make them glow.

  23. djw says:

    I think most of the criticism over the past several essays is accurate, and this has forced me to ask myself why I still like mass effect 2?

    I think that the answer is that the writing is so bad that it freed me to ignore the writer and just enjoy ME2 the same way that I used to enjoy Doom and Quake, but with the addition of entertaining characters to talk to between levels. (I don’t mean TiM).

    I would have preferred a bad shooter and a good plot, (aka, a real successor to ME1) but I’ve always been a glass half full kind of guy, so I managed to enjoy the game we got instead.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Despite all its flaws,me2 still has good gameplay and characters.And because video games are a composite medium,elements of it can fail while the whole remains solid.I hate what they did with the series in me2,yet I have still enjoyed playing through the game twice.On insanity the second time.Because it was fun.

  24. SlothfulCobra says:

    It speaks volumes that I only barely remember the plot beats of these missions that by all means I should’ve seen the most since they’re mandatory. The main things I remember about this mission is that you finally get to choose your bonus weapon and the Praetorian at the end is really tough to fight on the highest difficulty level.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Same here. I can’t remember if Shep actually gets anything out of the ship (other than the top-tier weapon). I think maybe he gets the Reaper IFF, but no I think that comes from the dead Reaper because something has to come from the dead Reaper…

      Speaking of, why the hell is there a dead Reaper just floating around? Was Reaper recordkeeping so spotty that they managed to miss an entire Reaper-sized corpse floating around in their last post-reaping galactic cleanup phase? Did none of the Reapers ask “Hey, has anyone seen Steve lately?”

      • INH5 says:

        EDI does do some scans of the Collector ship and its computers. This allows Shep and co. to learn that the Collector Base is in the galactic core, as well as “confirming TIM’s suspicions” that an IFF device is necessary to get through the Omega 4 relay. That’s something, I guess.

        I don’t have any justifications for the dead Reaper. There’s really no reason for it to exist, especially given that the stated method of finding it (tracing the path from a crater that an enormous mass driver left on a planet) wouldn’t work because planets move and rotate. As do stars. To do that, you would have to figure out the time of impact to the second, then figure out how the galaxy’s stars were arranged 37 million years ago. I’m pretty sure that both of impossible no matter what kind of advanced computers you have.

        A much better way to obtain a Reaper IFF Macguffin would be to get it off of a piece of Sovereign debris. Add a backstory about how a merc gang or whatever faction you want to provide cannon fodder smuggled the thing off of the Citadel, started running experiments on it, and accidentally turned the Indoctrination Field back on. Boom. The mission now accomplishes everything that the dead Reaper mission accomplishes with far less contrivances.

        • GloatingSwine says:

          Come on, everyone knows that there are no such thing as Reapers and Sovereign was just a Geth dreadnought, so why would it have this “Reaper IFF” thing?

          • INH5 says:

            Cerberus would know that it might have a Reaper IFF. Toss in a line about how some of the scans of the Collector Ship are very similar to this piece of Sovereign debris that Cerberus has been keeping an eye on through their spy network.

            The mercs or whatever, meanwhile, would be checking if this piece of a super-advanced Geth dreadnought had anything that they could use and/or sell. Hence why they wouldn’t have thought to take precautions against indoctrination.

  25. Bropocalypse says:

    It’s like a version of Star Wars where the story doesn’t make it clear if the Empire is evil, or if the rebellion is just trying to overthrow a legitimate and popular government.

    That’s just regular Star Wars, honestly.

    Somehow I feel that Bioware was banking on the possibility that most players would just repeatedly press the ‘skip’ button during cutscenes.

    • INH5 says:

      No, Star Wars calls the Empire “evil” in the second sentence of the opening crawl. It proceeds to back this up by showing Darth Vaider choking people to death, the stormtroopers killing Luke’s family, and of course Tarkin blowing up Alderaan for no reason at all, among other things.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        Of course, we never actually see the life of the average Imperial citizen, nor get to engage in the political discussion of freedom vs security, totalitarianism and all that jazz. The Empire is bad in the same way the Federation in Star Trek is good (mostly) , we just roll with it because that’s not the story they want to tell.

        • Mike S. says:

          I can imagine a non-evil regime building a Death Star. I’m a little harder-pressed to imagine one using it to obliterate an inhabited member planet not currently in insurrection (however questionable its loyalties) in order to interrogate a single prisoner. (Unsuccessfully!) Plus, yes, to sow the fear to keep the inner systems in line, etc.

          If Tarkin had been a crazy loose cannon that the Emperor disavowed, maybe. But tolerating or encouraging casual mass destruction is kind of a line-crosser.

          • Andrew says:

            So long as the new movie doesn’t have the characters working for an imperial agent who tells them that Tarkin, Vader and Palpatine represented a rogue cell with the resources to build two Death Stars.

            Incidentally, I didn’t really notice Cerberus the first time through, I guess I was mainly skipping over the side-mission text in my rush to suck up the sweet, sweet XP. I’ve recently started another run-through, and they seem to be everywhere now.

            • Andrew says:

              When I say I didn’t really notice Cerberus my first time through, I was referring to noticing Cerberus in ME1. I didn’t register until I went back after playing ME2, and only then did I notice the catalogue of self-inflicted disasters everyone was talking about.

  26. Deager says:

    I have been waiting so long for this break down of chatting with TIM at this point in the game. It absolutely ticked me off from my first play through. Shep was such a stooge and TIM was freak’n…it made no sense what was going on. At first I figured I was just not paying attention but the more trilogy runs I did the more I realized the whole thing was nuts.

    The only fan fiction I could tell myself was that TIM was indoctrinated by the time Shepard meets him and that’s why he’s (#*@)@*( crazy. Doesn’t explain why Shepard is pretty much passively going along with it all.

    I still love the trilogy (firing up ME2 in a few days) but sheesh, what a mess. I love this retrospective. Sure beats reading pointless arguments over on the Bioware forums where it’s all about the endings and everyone keeps pretending what their motives are but their answers betray what they really are up to; i.e. those who like the endings think those who don’t are pansies and those who hate the endings think it all falls apart only at the end of the game.

    Full disclosure, I wanted Shep to live and I wanted to blow the Reapers to hell. I’m starting to think I really was just pissed at the bad script handling and that I just wanted to destroy something for stress relief. Maybe that’s why I usually use mods because I’m willing to take our half-baked options as a middle finger to the original vision or whatever was going on. Wow….I should go eat dinner. I’m a little cranky.

    • Bas L. says:

      Wanting Shepard to live was a bit hopeless from the start. Everything in the trilogy points to Shepard having to sacrifice himself. Then there’s the “You won’t be alone for long” scene with Thane in ME3 and the PTSD dreams of Shepard.

      What I would have liked, although people would accuse them of copying Dragon Age Origins, is a sacrifice scene where you have the choice to sacrifice yourself or let a squadmember do it. The game should’ve ended imho with a mission where you ultimately board Harbinger (Reapers can’t be beaten conventionally but you can try to take out their leader). Now you could have a scene where someone must stay behind to kill Harbinger (with a bomb for instance or shooting the core). Either Shep can do it or someone in your squad will volunteer based on your previous actions (how much did you talk to them, how does their position on the paragon/renegade scale compares to yours, etc.).

      Then Harbinger blows up and the Reapers flee in disarray (or you could have space magic where Harbinger was essential to their survival as well, so they all blow up).

      I think this would satisfy pretty much all gamers. Gamers like me could let Shepard sacrifice himself as a fitting end to a tragic story (I like Colonist and Sole Survivor backgrounds, dramatic Renegade decisions etc.). Or imagine the feels when your LI like Garrus wants to sacrifice himself for you.
      Gamers who want an ultimate happy ending can just sacrifice James Vega, call him a hero and then have blue babies with Liara.

      • Deager says:

        I agree that something directly relating to fighting Harbinger would have been pretty cool. I first heard Fob mention that as one of his preferences. And what’s interesting is, I sacrificed my warden two times and then a third time I was planning on it but something about how Allistar phrased his plea to do it had me change my mind and let him kill the archdeamon.

        It’s true that Shep living doesn’t really fit the mold, particularly in ME3. That’s kind of why I made the LIME mod “The Cycle Continues” because I wanted an option where Shep isn’t refusing anything but instead literally falls short and the Reapers win that cycle. It’s really dark and empty but the goal was to create an ending that really hit home how difficult/impossible beating the Reapers was.

        But, back to canon and all that stuff. I really have used all 4 Extended Cut endings and the original destroy ending and, depending on the Shepard, they all felt kind of cool once I was willing to hand wave a lot of issues I had with the story.

        • Bas L. says:

          I hope Synthetis didn’t feel “kind of cool” to you though :) That ending requires so much hand-waving. Mostly people who are desperate for a good ending seem to make this their canon ending.
          It’s unrealistic space magic which is never explained at all. It also basically turns everyone into Reapers (who are already a blend of synthetics and organics). It’s like you are agreeing with Saren in ME1.
          While I don’t believe in the full indoctrination theory (although it would have been cool), I believe both Control and Synthesis are basically bad choices and Shepard is sort of being indoctrinated to even consider them.

          Control is all sorts of wrong because the Star Child admits that TIM was under their control and TIM is always telling you that the Reapers can be controlled. If that isn’t a red flag that the Reapers want you to pick Control, I don’t know what is.

          Synthesis sounds like you are just accelerating the proces of harvesting people and turning them into Reapers. I actually kind of liked the Destroy ending with low enough EMS that Shepard doesn’t survive.

          • Deager says:

            I do tend to roll-play my Sheps rather than think what my own preference is. So, before I start a run I consider the background of the Shep I’m playing and what they would likely do; given my own preferences coming through in some ways of course.

            My personal preference is modded endings. Of the official endings, I actually prefer destroy, given the situation. Refuse was perfect for the Shep I used to choose that as he was irrational, selfish, and a total jerk. Control was a good choice for my power hungry, unstoppable Shep. Synthesis was my least favorite and I it still fit that Shepard wanting everyone to survive despite the creepy implications of it.

            Given the choices we had, most of my Sheps, which are crazy, seem to fit better with various modded endings. I never argue they’re canon but I also don’t care about canon. Each Shep is his or her own story. Every time I go through the trilogy it’s a new experience where I try to forget former knowledge and let it unfold. Those runs work best if I’m responding to Hale’s or Meer’s acting and try to keep things sort of logical, as in, don’t do everything for the sake of doing everything. Completionist runs I also prefer modded endings anyway…yeah, I just like JAM, MEHEM, “That’s More Like It/Kadianite Ending.” It’s boring, not canon, and not worth arguing with others about.

            I’m not sure why on the Bioware forums so many people argue about the endings. I get that they care but it’s just silly as there are so many dialogue variances let alone who reads what codex entires and what people remember correctly. I’m just finishing up ME1 now and I’m with Shamus, the Ashley thing as a space racist is incorrect; if the player bothers to get to know her. She has great elevator dialogue with Tali that I was just listening to earlier today.

            After writing all that, I think it’s definitely true that synthesis was my least favorite ending. I chose it on my first play-through, mostly because I was really confused. It my fault for being dense and when I saw destroy was red in color and control blue I was thinking I was missing something. I went too paragon as well instead of thinking for myself. It seems synthesis was presented as the “correct” solution so I took it. This was with the Extended Cut too, but after it was over the next two days I was thinking about it more and didn’t like it a whole lot. For that Shep…it was correct I think. For my personal preference, it was just weird.

            So yeah, I’m a sap. I also tried to make the endings more “Alien” like instead of “Star Trek.” I blame loving the Citadel DLC too much and not liking it during the trilogy as it always feels weird to me if I try it in the correct place in the timeline. Everything cascades from that into needing the endings to change to accommodate it.

            • Bas L. says:

              Well, it’s a bit too easy to say “Ashley being a racist is incorrect when you listen to everything she has to say”. That’s the thing about these dialogues, they of course change based on what choices you pick and if you don’t romance Ashley you also miss a lot. Without this extra effort she can come across as quite racist. There’s the “I can’t tell the aliens from the animals” line (some people defend that she says this in response to seeing a Keeper, but she has said it twice in my last game and there wasn’t a Keeper in sight) and the conversation where she asks if Vakarian and Wrex should have access to the Normandy’s weapon systems / etc.
              A non-romanced Ashley can essentially be seen as a different character altogether than a romanced one. So for some people Ashley can actually be a racist (or appear to me) and for others she does not. Of course there was one Ashley the developers were going for but since this is not a book where you are exposed to all her dialogues and character development, there’s no way to avoid there being multiple “versions” of her.

              • Deager says:

                Too true. That’s why I like video games but am not a fan of debates. The variety that comes with each player and time through a game for each of us is unique. I do have remember 18 ME1 runs is enough to let me see pretty much every side of the characters which isn’t indicative of most players or even those who do 40 runs as they may not see it the way I do. So yeah, Ashley being a space racist is fair because I agree…she has some lines that can be taken a few different ways and she most certainly does not trust the aliens on board when you first talk to her and that can be taken a few ways.

                Regardless, I just finished ME1 7 minutes ago. Still gives me warm fuzzies when I finish that game. :) I thought I saw things I hadn’t seen before but the reality is that I probably forgot them from months or even years ago and “think” they’re new. Great, I’m like a person who can wrap his own Christmas presents, open them, and be surprised.

  27. Gruhunchously says:

    To be fair to the story, TIM doesn’t specify exactly when he released the rumors. He could have done it before Shepard was even awake, which might explain why Aria, the Alliance, and the Collectors seem unfazed by her sudden reappearance. Of course, it’s a bit of a stretch to go from “Shepard might be alive and with Cerberus” to “Yep, Shepards definitely alive, with Cerberus, and fighting the Collectors, and we’re so sure about this that we’re going to accommodate for it in our plans.” Would have been nice if he’d let us know what those rumors actually were.

  28. Aitch says:

    Just as a technical aside to Shamus (that’ll probably be lost in the hundreds of other comments, but what can ya do) –

    I really appreciate your putting the image captions below the picture. One of my plugins pops out an enlarged zoom window for pictures and thumbnails on hover-over, and it tends to glitch out with the hover-over text.

    I’d get rid of the plugin, but it’s too nice not having to open a new tab or window every time I want to see a full resolution version of something.

    Also, what happened to the [annotation] text being able to be read with mouse-hover? Nowadays I have to click the link number to pop up the text, and click it again to close it. Whatever, it’s a minor gripe, and I know nothing of code, so I’m sure has a good reason for acting that way.

    Really digging this Mass Effect nitpick series by the way, I’ve never found another place that has the eloquence / intelligence / righteous community to support that kind of endeavor. Hell of a place you got here, all the respect.

    Lost in the shuffle,
    Aitch

  29. Roger says:

    You know what’s sad? This sort of storytelling incompetence is completely accepted in video games. Those who think games could do way better are told to go read a book.

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