So the writer left behind The Quarians, Volus, Elcor, and Hannar, even though they would all have really good reasons to go and we’d have good reasons to want them alongThe writer also left behind the Batarians, Vorcha, and Yahg, but screw those guys. Nobody cares about them and they wouldn’t make for good company on this trip.. But then the writer decided to bring…
Why? Why would you do this? The Krogan are a dangerously invasive species. It’s not just that they’re incredibly tough and good at fighting, it’s that they’re prolific breeders and naturally disposed to violence.
Centuries ago, the galaxy was getting its ass kicked by the Rachni space-bugs. The Salarians discovered the pre-spaceflight Krogan, realized their combat potential, and brought them to space. Armed with space-armor and zap-guns, the Krogan gleefully wiped out the Rachni. The problem is that once the war was over, there were now millions of heavily armed and incredibly bored Krogan spread all over the galaxy. A single Krogan female could (at the time) lay 1,000 fertile eggs a year. Free of the brutality of their homeworld, their population exploded. There was no way to contain them. And once they ran out of worlds to settle, they invaded the council worlds.
I don’t know if the death toll was in the millions or billions, but it was a pretty large number. So the Salarians cooked up the “genophage”, which would make 99% of Krogan eggs infertileActually 99% egg failure would still allow every female to have 10 children a year. But let’s not argue about this. The series was always changing its mind on what the Genophage was and how it worked.. Thus Krogan population growth was checked and the galaxy was saved from being consumed by the Krogan.
So the Council perpetrated an atrocity to save the galaxy. It’s one of those interesting bits of worldbuilding we inherited from Mass Effect 1, and which later writers could never wrap their heads around. For the most part the later stories took the rhetorical position of “the Genophage was pure evil and they shouldn’t have done it”, which ignores the nuance that made the entire thing so interesting to begin withI don’t mind if the PLAYER comes to this conclusion, but for me I always felt like the game favored the Paragon way of thinking and the more nuanced “it’s not that simple” renegade position was never properly articulated by any of the characters..
So here we are. Our ancestors have left us this mess. Without the Genophage, the Krogan will again expand, run out of space, and then unleash devastating war on the galaxy. With the Genophage, they’re gradually dying out. In Mass Effect 1 Wrex even explains how his people haven’t changed. Even when facing extinction, the average Krogan would prefer to work as a mercenary and fight for money rather than stay home and focus on building up their population.
The Krogan are indeed a very interesting problem. So why would you bring this problem to a new galaxy?!?
Worse, the Krogan were subjected to “gene therapy” during the 600 year tripIgnoring the question of how “gene therapy” is supposed to progress when all metabolic activity has stopped, which is the entire point of cryo-sleep. that supposedly makes them better able to breed. Post-treatment, their viability is all the way up to 4%. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but 4% of 1,000 eggs is forty Krogan. Per female. Per year.
This is monumentally irresponsible. They’re the Milky Way’s problem, and they ought to remain so. The inhabitants of the Milky Way caused this mess by uplifting a pre-spacefaring race, and then by using a biological weapon on them. Unleashing the Krogan on a new galaxy could cause a brand new wave of Krogan invasions, only this time it will be on a bunch of races that did nothing to deserve it.
Shamus, maybe they brought the Krogan along as muscle?
That’s the only explanation that makes sense, but it still paints the Andromeda Initiative leadership as reckless to a fault. If you’re that worried that you’ll need firepower, then why not put guns on some of your spaceships? Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea that the idealistic leaders decided to make the voyage in defenseless ships. It’s just that this sort of idealism doesn’t really mesh with someone bringing the Krogan as muscle.
The Andromeda Initiative is purposefully bringing the Krogan along, with full knowledge of the problems they cause and the massive death toll inflicted by their last rampage. The Salarians who originally uplifted the Krogan at least had the excuse that they were being killed by the Rachni, and they didn’t realize how the Krogan would behave once the fighting was over. But the leaders of the Andromeda Initiative aren’t being threatened with impending extinction and they have the benefit of historical hindsight. There is no excuse to justify this move. They’re either stupid, irresponsible, evil, or some combination of all three.
But… I LIKE The Krogan!
Of course, I’m sure the real reason that they brought the Krogan is that Wrex was a popular character and players might get sad if they didn’t have their space-turtle buddies along.
The Krogan story is indeed very interesting, but their story is over. It’s been exhaustively discussed within the game. The Genophage was either cured or not in Mass Effect 3. The player has now fully explored this topic. It’s done. Let it go.
Rather than dragging the Krogan to a new galaxy and repeating all those same themes again, the thing to do here is introduce a new slate of aliens with a new story. Give them interesting designs and make a couple of them really cool and likeable, and you’ll have a new “Wrex” or a new “Tali” for fans to love. Plus, you’ll get to explore a bunch of new ideas.
How I’d have done it:
This presents the player with interesting situations to ponder. The former overlords are going to be very welcoming to any change in fortune, which means they will be the most accommodating to our heroes. They feel like they’ve learned their lesson and are being persecuted for the sins of their ancestors. Meanwhile the other races just see the Milky Way immigrants as new rivals. Maybe some of the former slave races have become aggressively libertine and lean towards piracy and the like, while others fancy themselves as the hot new upcoming empire. Make one race overt and militaristic, make another one sneaky and covert, and another hedonistic and uninterested in matters of state. Throw in a wildcard race that mingles with all the others, stir in some grudges and cultural biases, and you’ve got yourself a stew.
Extra bonus points: Make the former evil empire race vaguely attractive or noble-looking. Don’t make them space-orcs. Save the “ugly big-jaw orc” design for the really smart race.
Resist the urge to make the hedonistic race a bunch of sexy humanoids and instead make them Rocket Raccoon-style furry bipedsRocket Racoon as he exists in GotG wouldn’t actually mesh with Mass Effect visually and they’d be too small to make proper use of the Andromeda cover system, but you get the idea. Make someone kinda short and furry and give them the personality of berzerker party animals.. Trust me, their dialog will be much funnier. Sexy green aliens have been done to death, but players will love their new fuzzy crewmate who just wants to get laid and blow shit up, and who has a bit of a complex because their people were slaves for a thousand years.
I suppose I should stop here rather than constructing a whole new setting. Hopefully you get the idea. The Magic of Mass Effect 1 wasn’t that Wrex was a grouchy space-turtle. The magic was that he was a fun character with a cool story to tell. Your goal isn’t to keep recycling the same character and story, it’s to cook up a new character with a new story.
The Andromeda Initiative was the writer’s big chance to go wild and tell a new story in a new setting, and instead they mangled everything by dragging along a bunch of lore baggage that unintentionallyUnintentional, because the story never discusses it. frames our heroes as dangerously irresponsible explorers.
Colonialism vs. Refugees
It’s pretty hard to make a game about colonizing a new galaxy without bringing up the topic of colonialism. The game entirely ignores the subject, which feels more than a little strange. It’s like how WATCH_DOGS ignored the surveillance state themes it was juggling, or how Far Cry 5 made violent religious extremism a central element of the setting but then never talked about it. It doesn’t feel like the writer is tiptoeing around a touchy subject, it feels like they’re blundering into a touchy subject without noticing.
At one extreme you’ve got games built around big topics without having anything to say about those topics. At the other end you’ve got games with heavy-handed and patronizing messages like when Deus Ex: Mankind Divided decided to teach us that “Cyber-racism is bad, yo.” On one hand a game is criticized for not saying anything and the other is criticized for having a heavy-handed message. So what is the writer supposed to do?
I’ll admit this is tricky. A lot of writers in this industry have enough trouble just hammering together a coherent plot with interesting characters and integrating that with gameplay. Properly exploring a theme or idea within that story is harder still.
On the other hand, that’s no reason to give up. Like I’ve said in the past, speculative fiction is a great place to tear the labels off of political positions and group identities so you can play around with ideas without the audience falling into ugly political tribalism. We’re here in a new galaxy, so that’s a great chance to explore colonialism as a concept without needing to discuss specific real-world instances of it. We can leave behind the cultural baggage of European colonialism and play “what if?” in our own little universe.
Let’s try to fix two problems at once:
- The Andromeda Initiative looks like it’s engaging in brute-force colonialism, which historically isn’t a popular move and generally causes problems down the road.
- The Initiative seems to be run by incompetent idiots, and the colonists themselves seem to be a population of cutthroats, thugs, and other assorted troublemakers.
How I’d have done it:
So the Andromeda Initiative was greatly accelerated. They planned on doing years of screening to select the best of the best, but the new timetable wouldn’t allow for that and they wound up with a lot of less-than-ideal people. They took off as soon as they could, worried that the Reapers would show up any minute and wipe them out.
(Okay, technically if you get all the way to the end of the optional “Ryder Family Secrets” questline you’ll see that a watered-down version of this idea is already in the game. The timetable was indeed accelerated due to the Reaper threat. The problem is that you shouldn’t hide crucial worldbuilding details at the end of lengthy optional collect-a-thon end-game side-content. Also, the dialog doesn’t explicitly make use of Sovereign’s attack on the Citadel, which is a major missed opportunity. If you’re trying to justify sudden, rash behavior then having a radical unexpected disaster is the best way to do it. It’s amazing to me how hard the writer has worked over the years to avoid referencing the events of Mass Effect 1.)
Now we have an excuse for why the people who signed up for the Andromeda Initiative seem to be so eager to revert to lawlessness. The accelerated timetable forced the Initiative to cut corners. We’ve explicitly made it so the Milky Way people can see themselves as refugees, even if the inhabitants of Andromeda see them as colonial invaders. With that fixed, we have some room to explore the topic of colonialism.
How I’d explore the topic of colonialism:
As refugees / colonists, the Andromeda Initiative needs a place to settle. They need land. Well, “land” in the sense of planets, moons, space stations, continents, useful places to stick orbital facilities, and so on. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll just call all of that stuff “land”.
- Some local aliens claim they “own” some land. Nobody is living there right now because of [quest problem you have to solve]. Once the player fixes the problem, the aliens want to move in. We made this place livable, but they claim to own it anyway. Do we take it, knowing it might lead to conflict down the road? Do we share it with them, knowing that these guys are assholes and will be bad neighbors? Do we let them have it, even though we did the work and we really need the space?
- Two races (or perhaps two factions within an existing race) are fighting. Either one is willing to give us land if we promise to join the fight on their side. Do we help the side with the better land, or do we help the side that looks most likely to win? Or do we stay out of it?
- We have scans of what the golden worldsThe worlds we surveyed before we made the trip from the Milky Way. looked like 600 years agoThe game does a hand-wave that we used “mass effect” telescopes so the images are 600 years old and not hundreds of thousands of years out of date., and we can see they did not contain any advanced civilizations at the time. This information would clear up a longstanding historical feud about when these places were properly settled. Do we share this info, knowing that it might make us some enemies?
- We brought the cat genome with us and we can clone a batch of cats whenever we like. A couple of locals are very interested in breeding them as pets. Do we sell them the cats, despite having no idea what impact a population of Felis catus might have on the local ecosystem?
And so on. You can make up examples like this all dayI actually cut quite a few. I’m worried these sections are getting a little self-indulgent. if you like. The setup is perfect for generating conflict and uncertainty.
You could make “unforeseen consequences” a running theme of the game. You want to avoid putting the player into endless no-win scenarios, but you also don’t want them to feel like they never have to make hard choices. We REALLY want to avoid the trope where doing the most “paragon” thing always gets you the best outcome. The player ought to be balancing long-term stability against immediate need. If you’re a jackass that does whatever is best for you in the short term, then your reckless interference with the other cultures will destabilize the cluster. If you’re too cautious and apply a strict non-intervention policy then your people won’t have what they need for a thriving society. You’ll metaphorically be living in a tent city on worthless land with no future, which is the kind of place a lot of refugees end up.
The idea is that the players need to make some concessions but also need to do some pushing to secure a future. Their choice will be which concessions are most palatable to them and which fights are worth having.
You could obviously fill a novel with these sorts of hypotheticals, but hopefully you get the idea. This is how I’d make the game about colonialism.
EDIT: And just to be clear, I want to stress that this game didn’t NEED to be about colonialism. You could make it about something else. It’s just that colonialism seems like the most obvious theme to play with, since it will already be front and center in the minds of the audience. They’ll already be thinking about it, and you can take advantage of that to draw them into the story. The problem with Andromeda isn’t that it’s not about colonialism, it’s that it’s not really about anything in particular. (Aside from swinging at a few overused sci-fi tropes.) My point is that Andromeda aimed low and still missed the mark.
Anyway. That’s enough about the premise of this game. Next week we’ll start in on the plot.
 The writer also left behind the Batarians, Vorcha, and Yahg, but screw those guys. Nobody cares about them and they wouldn’t make for good company on this trip.
 Actually 99% egg failure would still allow every female to have 10 children a year. But let’s not argue about this. The series was always changing its mind on what the Genophage was and how it worked.
 I don’t mind if the PLAYER comes to this conclusion, but for me I always felt like the game favored the Paragon way of thinking and the more nuanced “it’s not that simple” renegade position was never properly articulated by any of the characters.
 Ignoring the question of how “gene therapy” is supposed to progress when all metabolic activity has stopped, which is the entire point of cryo-sleep.
 Rocket Racoon as he exists in GotG wouldn’t actually mesh with Mass Effect visually and they’d be too small to make proper use of the Andromeda cover system, but you get the idea. Make someone kinda short and furry and give them the personality of berzerker party animals.
 Unintentional, because the story never discusses it.
 The worlds we surveyed before we made the trip from the Milky Way.
 The game does a hand-wave that we used “mass effect” telescopes so the images are 600 years old and not hundreds of thousands of years out of date.
 I actually cut quite a few. I’m worried these sections are getting a little self-indulgent.
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
Crysis 2 has basically the same plot as Half-Life 2. So why is one a classic and the other simply obnoxious and tiresome?
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.