Mass Effect EP2: Screw the Rules, I Have Plot!

By Shamus Posted Monday Sep 17, 2012

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 120 comments

The second episode of our very first season, wherein our hero dithers about the Citadel for a half hour, yelling hyperbole and non-sequiturs at everyone he sees. Also features our very first complete failure-state bug, requiring a full reload.

Link (YouTube)

It’s so odd, going back to this game and seeing all the things that were abandoned. Shepard was the one that interfaced with the Prothean beacon. That’s what made him special. That was the hook for his character, to justify keeping him at the center of the conflict. That’s a pretty useful trick on the part of the writer. The game even established at the end that only Shepard could understand Prothean VI. Boom! Magical pass to make sure that if anything is going on with the Reapers, artifacts, ancient ruins, or Prothean devices, anywhere in the galaxy, Shepard can plausibly be the one people send for.

It’s barely mentioned in the second game. (And they only do so to glue the collectors onto the end of his nightmare vision as part of a clumsy retcon.) It’s not even mentioned in the third game.

There are a a lot of elements like this, where old ideas are abandoned and new ones are shoehorned in.

On a related note Drew Karpyshyn, former BioWare writer and one of the creators of the Mass Effect universe, was interviewed by Eurogamer. Maybe you like his work, maybe not. But either ways it’s an interesting look at what he contributed.


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120 thoughts on “Mass Effect EP2: Screw the Rules, I Have Plot!

  1. newdarkcloud says:

    They do use the Prothean beacon in one part of Mass Effect 3, during the big reveal at Thessia.
    Also, if you bought Javik, it briefly comes into play during his recruitment mission.

    So it does come into play, but only rarely. You’re criticism of it losing significance is still very much valid.

    1. anaphysik says:

      “You're criticism” – know what, I actually like the idea of Shamus being an avatar of criticism!

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        Oh wow, I can’t believe I did that.

  2. RichardB says:

    I think it’s spelled “non-sequiturs”, from the Latin “sequitur” meaning “it follows”.

    1. Jason says:

      In Latin, it would be non sequimur, meaning they do not follow. themoreyouknow.jpg.

      1. Paul Spooner says:


      2. RichardB says:

        Hi Jason, good to see another Latin scholar here!

        But I think you’ve mis-remembered this pesky deponent verb. Here’s the complete conjugation (very useful site BTW).

        “Sequimur” is “we follow”. “Sequuntur” is “they follow”. Looking at that table, it’s hardly surprising that as Latin mutated into Italian and related languages, people dropped the cognitive burden of the passive conjugations and deponent verbs. (In modern Italian, “seguire” is a regular verb.)

        Going back to English, while the dictionary says “non sequitur” without a hyphen, to encompass multiple but separate instances I’d hyphenate it as “non-sequiturs”.

        1. StashAugustine says:

          oh no.. flashbacks to 8th grade…

        2. Grudgeal says:

          Romanes eunt domus!

        3. Loonyyy says:

          I don’t know really any Latin, but in formal logic, or in any discourse, a statement that does not follow from the preceeding premises is described as a “Non-sequitur”, something which has the property of not following. So I think RichardB may be right (Although I’m not sure of the correct pluralisation of Non-sequitur)

        4. Dasick says:

          Aah, yes.

          “Quidquid latine dictum, altum videtur”, as they say.

  3. Tohron says:

    Please tell me you’ll keep on uploading the new season in tandem. I just don’t want to wait 4-6 months to see what insanity awaits in your ME3 run.

    1. Entropy says:

      Saturdays and Mondays are gonna be the old season. New season is as per usual.

    2. Tzeneth says:

      They said they’d be uploading these on Saturdays and Mondays, as they don’t normally post stuff on those days anyway.

    3. Phantom Hoover says:

      It does seem like they’ve lost a bit of steam: Mumbles has left, Josh and Shamus are engrossed in GW2, and Chris appears to be getting married. And Rutskarn can’t carry the show on puns unless there’s someone to groan.

  4. rrgg says:

    “Their cinematic craft has greatly improved.”

    Er, heh heh. . . I guess they forgot everything they learned sometime before the final battle on Earth.

    1. StashAugustine says:

      I dunno, one of the major things that ME2/3 had over ME1 was the fact that the cutscenes looked a lot better. And that’s not just damning with faint praise either- it helps believability a lot when characters behave realistically instead of playing out canned animations.

      1. IFS says:

        Believably like staring out a window into space for no reason, thus allowing the guy they just defeated to get up and attack their leader?

        1. StashAugustine says:

          Clarification: While the writing might be stupid, it still looks a lot more believable when it comes to animation and camera angles. It sounds petty, but it does help a lot with immersion. (Which is why it really sticks out when something glitches up.)

          1. guy says:

            … Which is all the time

            1. Fleaman says:

              It’s worse because it’s better, basically.

      2. Dasick says:

        They still play the same talking animation, where a guy/girl paces to and from, while waving their hands in a “believable” fashion.

        But they did have better cinematics and I’ll tell you why – they took away a lot of player’s control to show things in cutscenes ME1 would have you see/do yourself. Of course it looks better. It’s just at the expense of a worse game.

  5. el_b says:

    you’ve put this episode n the random category by mistake, just saying.

  6. Thomas says:

    So wait a sec, the stupid human Reaper hybrid terminator thing was the idea of one of the writers who left and was his original ending for the third game??

    Wow, I mean this wasn’t a good ending, but the one he’d planned was sheer awful. They also planned the whole organic vs synthetic that was counteracted in story from the beginning and the idea that squishing people and turning them into reapers dna/organic mixing made sense right from the start too.

    1. StashAugustine says:

      I actually think the ending we got is preferable to the Dark Energy one. Any ending involving giving humanity over to the Reapers is just all kinds of wrong. When it comes to the human-Reaper, I wonder how much control he had over the art and level design. Personally, I think it was a good idea, just let down by crappy art and unimaginative gameplay.

      1. Thomas says:

        Yeah, I think the Dark Energy ending would have been even less acceptable to most people. It might have avoided the controversy though, because it would be a stupid choice with an obvious right answer and so people would just not kill the whole of the human race and so get good feelings from not falling into the stories trap of wiping out all of humanity to build a reaper.

        I don’t have art design issues with the terminator. My issue is that it fundamentally doesn’t work on any kind of basis other than space magic. If there idea was to make a Reaper that had a human brain structure, or a Reaper were they mushed people up to take their memories and then poured it into the Reapers data banks, fine. If they’d dissected humans picked out their unique traits and designed a Reaper along those lines fine.

        But the idea that making something out of human mush means anything? It’s just so stupid. The closest idea we have in human culture, is the idea that a person who eats someones heart you gain their strength. Except replace person with giant unborn sentient space ship and heart with mushed up remains.

        1. StashAugustine says:

          I half agree: while the stated method is poorly justified, I do like the idea of Reapers as a synthetic/organic mashup. I do wish they were a little clearer on whether humanity is special across all the races they’d come across or whether they were simply the most important this cycle.

        2. Thomas says:

          Although the art design and gameplay were also really bad. But a lot of that problem with the art lies at the writers flaw again. Why should a skeleton be at all beneficial? What does it mean for a spaceship to have a skeleton? How does that change the thought patterns or make it unique or humanesque?

          In fact why have we got sentient spaceships, why do they have corridors and crews and docking ports? Can you imagine being sentient and having bunkbeds in side you? And displays and computer screens? What did Sovereigns crew do? If you push a button inside a sentient spaceship, what does that do to the spaceship?

          Can you imagine having sliding doors inside you and to have Krogan open and shut doors in side of you and spill coffee on your insides and arm wrestle and break wind in your tentacle? Opening the doors and letting people traipse in and out, disembark reembark.

          A sentient spaceship works well as a twist maybe, and it works well in the context of the Normandy, but if you give it any thought, ask why a race of giant robots would design themselves to be ergonomically pleasing, how on earth a giant sentient spaceship manages to install toilets inside another giant sentient spaceship that won’t be used until 50 000 years time when you destroy all life in the galaxy and probably not even then….

          Why are Reapers so attached to their form? Are they optimised for space flight? They’re robots? Why don’t they have all sorts of designs for different occasions, why can’t they make small portable Reapers that can walk around on feet? Maybe Reapers with hands even. Is it ever even explained who walks around and plugs all those cables in that they lie strewn over the flaw? Do they use husks as construction workers and to replace the lightbulbs when they fuse?

          Any examination beyond the momentary shock of a twist at the end of a game suggests that a race of sentient spaceships with corridors and bridges and everything inside of them, that procreates is ridiculously silly. A lot of this stuff wouldn’t even have held up for another two games, you can’t talk about this stuff without it becoming very very silly. What does a Reaper do during the 50 000 year wait to blow up the galaxy? =D Twiddle their tentacles? A quick game of poker?

          1. StashAugustine says:

            I would argue the skeleton thing is art design (although I might be wrong.) As to the corridors inside, I would guess that they’re basically small and only really designed for carrying husks and indoctrinated personnel. I’d have to take a look at the Reaper mission from ME2 again to see how it fits.

          2. anaphysik says:

            One thing that should be brought up is that, well, even *we* have crew. Think of all the cells moving about your body, as well as the enormous foreign biota ( that exists inside you!

            1. anaphysik says:

              EDIT: Um, right, meant to add that the salient difference is that those little guys inside us aren’t sapient :P

              1. ehlijen says:

                Husks don’t see all that sapient either.

                1. anaphysik says:

                  I thought we were talking about Sovereign being staffed with geth and krogan and indoctrinated crew, or something like that.

                2. SleepingDragon says:

                  Well, I guess they could still be made to follow some basic instructions, and there’s always “assuming direct control” thingy. By the way, what the hell happened with that? I mean, it would be a nice way to introduce some high-end enemies every once in a while, not to mention a way to have a conversation with a reaper without the “kill it up close with a gun to hear its dying speech” thing…

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    I’d like to think the direct control thing was taken out because people rightly mocked what they did with it in ME2.

          3. Ronixis says:

            Have you seen Farscape? Some of these things apply to Moya (the main ship in the show), but then Moya isn’t horribly evil, so some of them don’t.

          4. SleepingDragon says:

            That’s a lot of good questions, although, if we assume that this cycle is anything like the usual the reapers probably do ferry quite a number of husks from world to world, maybe even use them as tech crews during battles. Also, I’d imagine agents like Saren, who are more “aware” are not without precedent.

            AS for the shape, there is a kind of attempt to explain the squid form in the Leviathan DLC (fair warning, stuff in the tags is likely to make you go all “why wasn’t this in any of the games! I call bull!): basically you get to track down and meet the descendants of the race who is responsible for creating the starchild. They are giant squid creatures with powerful telepathic abilities who just used to go around indoctrinating “lesser species” en masse for slave labour and servitude. The starchild kinda rebelled (for a given value of rebelled, it still technically follows the original stated goal) and created reapers (actually, the first reaper: Harbinger) and just used the basic template of the Leviathans, with which it followed ever since.

            1. Khizan says:

              The starchild, actually, is a classic case of an AI taking their primary directive a step further than the creators had anticipated. It’s like those stories where they tell the AI to ‘make people happy’ and it comes to the conclusion that the only happy human is a dead one. It didn’t ‘rebel’, really.

              1. ehlijen says:

                Except here it is just dumb. ‘The only organic not killed by a synthetic is one killed by me instead…hey wait, I’m a synthetic!’ ?

                1. Wraith says:

                  Indeed. I really hate the cliche of “Oh well they gave me a vague, nigh impossible order in my primary programming so I’ll follow it by using dumb circuitous logic” when it comes to rogue AIs.

                  Let’s talk about G0-T0 from KOTOR II. As much as KOTOR II was butchered and unfinished, there was some fantastic writing and characters under the surface. The broken, unfinished nature of the game actually makes this revelation about this character very hard to find. On Telos, you meet the Ithorians, who for their first mission send you to escort a replacement droid intelligence designed to help rebuild Telos. They mention off-hand that their previous droid intelligence vanished without a trace, and that they suspect Czerka was involved. G0-T0’s final revelation (even after you discern that he IS the droid rather than the droid representing him) is that HE was the original droid intelligence for the Ithorians. He reveals that the Ithorians gave him an extremely vague, nigh-impossible objective: “Calculate how to and carry out a way to stabilize the Republic.” G0-T0 did calculate this, and came to the conclusion that he COULD NOT complete the second part of his objective while restricted by the pacifism and philosophy of his masters. So he disappeared, rebelled, broke his programming, and began to complete his objective his own way.

                  You see, this is a fresh take on an old cliche. Instead of the rogue AI maintaining the farce that he is fulfilling his original programming except through dumb, circuitous logic, the AI is instead lampshading that his original programming made his objective impossible and simply broke it to do his own thing. So in conclusion fuck the Catalyst.

                  1. Khizan says:

                    I hate that version. The idea that the AI can just go arbitrarily and independently decide to break their programming restrictions and rewrite themselves kills the whole point of the thing, which is that computers do exactly what they’re told to do, and so conflicting, ambiguous, or over-ambitious commands can bring about unexpected consequences as they take the kind of direct action that their creator would not.

                    “Make humans happy.” > “Dead humans are the only humans without complaints, and can therefore be presumed happy”. “Protect organic lifeforms from synthetics” > “By destroying the advanced organic lifeforms on a strict cycle, we can prevent synthetics from wiping out all organics.”

                    I am okay with those things. They follow logically. They’re the consequences of giving a very literal mind unspecific directions, and they play into the whole trope, which is a trope I particularly like, maybe because I program and a lot of my ‘bugs’ are a case of ‘the computer doing exactly what I told it to do, which is exactly the opposite of what I wanted it to do’.

                    When the AI can just choose to break the restrictions itself and alter its programming to avoid core restrictions like that, you’ve essentially just got an agent going rogue, which is, imo, much less interesting.

                    1. Adam says:

                      The thing with G0-T0 is very asimovian, though. The way he phrases it makes all the difference; he paints it as “This was my purpose, but they gave me these arbitrary restrictions. I realized I couldn’t fulfill my purpose, my reason for being, without breaking free of my coded restrictions, so I left, prioritizing my primary function over all others.” Kind of like how Asimov’s three laws form a descending order of importance. A robot MUST preserve its own existence unless someone tells it not to because of the second law, but no matter what anyone tells it to do or not do, it must protect human life. Similarly, G0-T0’s “first law” is to save the Republic, and he’ll do whatever else he must to ensure it stabilizes. He overrides anything else.

          5. Grudgeal says:

            Lots of sci-fi starships are sentient (The Culture, for example. Or Schlock Mercenary for a webcomic example). Of course, all of those starships were built by humans for human-centric purposes: They don’t ‘need’ crew but they’re designed to carry them on some level.

            Maybe whoever designed/built the Reapers originally needed the same thing, and the Reapers in their arrogance have seen no need to alter perfection… Except that argument is destroyed by the giant space skeleton.

            1. Lalaland says:

              Ahhh ‘The Culture’, ‘Consider Plebhas’ is one of my all time favorite sci-fi novels man do I love that setting. I’d hate to see what the team at Bioware would do with it though [shudder]

              1. Phantom Hoover says:

                Consider Phlebas is an odd one to favour if you love the setting considering it’s the one in which we see second-least of the Culture (after Inversions, which isn’t even explicitly in the Culture universe). I like it, but it’s very much the black sheep of the series.

            2. guy says:

              Where it gets really weird in ME3 is the battle on the Geth Dreadnought. Why do they have computer consoles? They are literally software, they could just stick a cable into a port in the wall and download into the system. That would potentially be faster and a good bit harder for organics to hack.

        3. some random dood says:

          @Thomas re Dark Energy – I disagree. At least there is a plot progression there. You may hate the final choices presented to you, but if the plot was consistent and showed you how it led to the possible choices – even if all the possible choices are bad – then at least it would bring revelation and closure within a framework that made sense. It may have been possible to make it so that all endings are dark, but people would have accepted it as it fitted within the universe presented.
          However ME3… Don’t think the people who enjoyed ME1 for the universe presented therein found anything acceptable in the ending of that … I give up – I can’t find anything to describe the ending of ME3 without resorting to excessive profanity.

          1. Thomas says:

            … I had a long post full of all the questions the whole business raises in my mind before I can even contend with the idea, but I realised there are two seperate things here.

            The conflict between synthetics and organics is at least as and more established than Dark Energy problems and both progress about as much as each other.

            But the Dark Energy idea could have been good. If the idea was that use and advancement of technology would lead to galaxy wide destruction and so oneday they built a race of robots to prune them whenever their technology got too advanced. That’s cool. And at every cycle the races that are strong enough are faced with a question, do their gamble the future of the universe on the future of their own race? And every time they decide no, it’s time to die. That’s a good question, it’s a good problem, it gives the Reapers a good purpose. There’s still a gaping plothole (why don’t they tell the races about the problem early on so they can try to find a solution, instead of blowing everyone up and then telling them as an afterthought) but it’s good.

            …but this ending isn’t that ending. This ending involves ‘speshul humans’ being turned into space mush in the form of a giant sentient robot that normally is just used as a giant competing machine, but this time magically wipes out the problems of advancing technology. It’s illogical, refused to understand how computers work, refuses to understand how living beings work (hint the arrangment of atoms is more important than just having a bunch of atoms) and contains almost all the stupid ideas that the series currently has.

            I’d love the first one, I would even ignore the plothole. It would even explain why Reapers are spaceships. It would give them purpose and understandable motive. But I’m never going to be able to accept a ‘press the button and the magic humans space mush will cure the universe’ as an ending. Kill the human race and stop the spread of tecnology cool. Human-Reaper terminator not so

  7. Abnaxis says:

    Boy, Drew Karpyshyn is a dodgy* fellow, isn’t he?

    Also, from his description of the “Bioware process,” it seems like Shamus’s theory on “nobody planned this story ahead of time” was right on the money. It sounds like the Bioware process is “game-done-hurry-up-and-start-the-next-project-ok-project-done-it’s-sequel-time-now-hurry-up-and-get-it-done-don’t-bother-looking-at-old-material-just-give-us-our-sequel-are-you-done-yet?”

    *As in, he dodged a lot of the questions posed to him.

    1. Josh says:

      Alas, the fact that he wants to preserve his opportunities to continue working in the industry mean that we, the consumers, have no hope of hearing his honest feelings.

    2. ehlijen says:

      And he seemed to try to pass off the inclusion of Cerberus and TIM in ME2 as a good result of the ‘keep things fluid/don’t bother with details until the deadline’ approach :(

    3. Klay F. says:

      This, plus the fact that THEY ARE ON RECORD as planning Mass Effect as a trilogy since the planning stages of the first game. I’m not gonna go looking for a direct quote from them or anything, but I have strong memories of interviews with them talking about how they already had the story of the entire trilogy before the first game even shipped.

      1. Hitchmeister says:

        That sounds too much like George Lucas having all nine Star Wars movies plotted out before filming the first one back in 1977.

  8. Steve C says:

    Drew Karpyshyn said:
    An old-school game like Baldur’s Gate 2 could never be made with full voice acting – there’s too much dialogue, and the budget would break any studio.

    I refute that statement with Guildwars 2.

    1. Thomas says:

      Different revenue streams though, you’d have to have some free-to=play monetisation dreams

    2. Incunabulum says:

      Guildwars 2 is an example of the good/cheap/fast dilemma.

      Yes there’s a lot of voice-acting, the majority of it is meh. Though this may have a lot to do with the quality of the writing underpinning the voice-actors.

    3. Moriarty says:

      how? I seriously doubt the amount of potential spoken dialogue matches that of bg2. Or even swtor for that matter.

      True i haven’t played everything in the game yet, but it’s basically just 7-8 different starter quest routes for every race until level 30 and the rest is more or less the same for everyone.

    4. Zukhramm says:

      There really isn’t that much in GW2. Sure, there’s a lot, but not as much as a fully voiced Baldur’s Gate 2 would have.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        GW2 is… not an old-school game at ALL, and doesn’t have nearly as much spoken dialogue compared to… any bioware game since KOTOR, really. There’s background conversations and then some (I repeat SOME) of the main storyline quests are voice acted.

        Not sure where you’re getting that from.

        1. Zukhramm says:

          I’m not saying it is.

          Not sure where you're getting that from.

          1. anaphysik says:

            He clearly mis-quoted you instead of the original thread poster. The quote that the OP highlights specifies ‘old-school.’

            Not sure where you're getting that from.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Sorry, I piled it on the main thread. Probably should have directly replied to him. That’s my bad.

    5. Dasick says:

      Programer’s/Modellers/Designers do the voice acting. Simple, efficient, prone to constant re-iteration.

      Maybe it’s unprofessional, but I’ve never been turned away from a game for it’s voice acting, and I believe this to be a great bridge* between realistic graphics (HL2 level) and lots of dialogue (it’s seems very creepy to have realistic models that do not speak).

      *Voicing initial lines is the minor bridge

      Also, one of the things that bothered me about Oblivion is how many people were bothered by the voice-work. Um, there are a thousand NPCs, all fully voiced, each with a unique line of dialogue, it came out in 2006. Trade-offs are trade-offs.

  9. Incunabulum says:

    “The game even established at the end that only Shepard could understand Prothean VI. Boom! Magical pass . . .”

    I’m sorta glad they dropped this – there’s way too much “chosen one” in videogame plotlines.

    A device left in place umpty thousand years ago is unresponsive to all the other aliens that have touchedit, unresponsive to all the other *humans* that its been near, and then BOOM! The chosen one comes by and starts the story off. ‘Cause there’s something sooo unique about Shepard that no other person has.

    1. Thomas says:

      It kinda invalidates your backstory too, or makes it a worse coincidence. Okay so you grew up in the slums, survived the thresher maw, bullied your way through the ranks, whatever, but none of that actually mattered, because the reason Shepard is special is, is because Shepard is.

      Imagine how unlucky it would have been if they guy who could access the beacon wasn’t an incredibly gifted soldier and leader, but just some punk or a slightly fat lab assistant? I’d have liked to have seen Miss al-Jilani broker an alliance with the Krogans and end the war between the Quarians and Geth

    2. Zukhramm says:

      But they don’t drop the “chosen one”-thing. 2 and 3 still keep going on about how Shepard is the only one who can do anything against the Reapers. They just dropped the actual reasoning behind it.

      1. Thomas says:

        The reasoning was ‘Shepard is the most gifted soldier and leader of her term with unique convictions and determination’

        1. ehlijen says:

          Which is a less inventive chosen one plot than ‘he just happened to be dumb enough to jump into kashley’s way, else they would have been the chosen one’.

          1. Khizan says:

            It has Shepard being the Chosen One because of her merits. She’s the most successful soldier, the best soldier, the best leader. She’s the Chosen One because she’s earned it.

            I prefer that to “The Chosen One because of an act of blind fate and now the world rests in her hands.”

            1. ehlijen says:

              But that’s not a good way to start a story. If we’d just met shepard and were already told he’s the bee’s knees in every virtue, how long would it have been for someone to scream ‘Mary Sue’?

              The beacon gives him the vision because he choses to risk his life for his squadmate. We are shown, not told, why shepard is probably a good pick for the role of saviour of everything.

              And ‘he’s good at everything’ begs the question ‘why is no one else even nearly that good?’ and the game doesn’t answer that satisfactorily.

              1. Thomas says:

                Because that’s how the universe works? I’m not as good as clever as Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking and very few other people in the world are anywhere near as good as them.

                And you even get to choose the backstory that helpd mold you into the exceptional person you are

            2. Zukhramm says:

              But Shepard never seems to actually be that good. He’s just good at shooting from behind chest high walls, and just by coincident that happens to be the solution to every single problem in the galaxy. He keeps falling into every trap set up for him, and as a leader, his master plan is “we fight or we die”.

            3. Wraith says:

              But the thing is that if Shepard’s the Chosen One because he is a “great solder,” then ultimately Shepard is REPLACEABLE. When you’re the only one with certain knowledge in your noggin then you are NOT replaceable.

              Let’s say the Nazis weren’t a political party, but a collection of absolutely evil eldritch entities with astronomical power and the German military was their crazy cultist following. Now, Audie Murphy fought in World War II, and he is probably the greatest foot soldier in American military history. Does that make Audie Murphy the “Chosen One” in this story? NO! He’s a foot soldier in a massive, globe-spanning conflict. No matter how great a foot soldier you are, you’re not going to make THE decisive difference in a massive war against eldritch space-gods.

        2. lurkey says:

          “˜Shepard is the most gifted soldier and leader of her term with unique convictions and determination'

          Ah, and here’s the problem – she isn’t. It’s all just in player’s imagination – well, duh, of course Shepard is the biggest, the best, better than the rest – because she’s me!

          But nothing actually establishes her as anything above an officer eligible for Spectres – talented, but no way unique.

          …and then “We fight or we die!” happens.

          1. anaphysik says:

            “the biggest, the best, better than the rest” – this is one of those Poe’s-Law-type things, where it’s hard to distinguish genuine crazy-pants-ness from a parody thereof, isn’t it? (The ref and the kids incline me towards the latter, though.)

            1. lurkey says:

              Totally a parody. :-) But can be a perfect anthem of all those ~*badass*~ video game protagonists of the worst wish fulfillment kind if taken seriously, yes.

          2. newdarkcloud says:

            Of course, there is the fact that everyone else is incompetent. That may explain why somebody who is somewhat good at his/her job is cyber-space Jesus.

    3. Greg says:

      But the beacon was only just uncovered at the beginning of Mass Effect 1, anyone COULD have used it, it even nearly pulled in Ashley/Kaiden. It was only by pushing them out the way that Shepard got caught in it. Shepard wasn’t the chosen one or destined to be the one to activate the beacon, s/he just happened to end up being the one that got close enough to activate it once it had been uncovered (I think, haven’t played ME1 in a while).

      Also, didn’t Saren use it before Shepard did as well?

      1. BeardedDork says:

        That’s how I always interpreted that cutscene.

        1. StashAugustine says:

          I did think of it as Shepard pulling through with pure mental power rather than anything inherently special.

          1. Jakale says:

            Even then, it takes the mental specialist species to make any sense of what Shepard gets, even if they sort of copped out on showing us how it would make sense to a better in-tune mind with the exact same flurry of weird fleshy/mechanical images.

    4. Shamus says:

      Hm. I didn’t see it as “chosen”, but “lucky”. I mean, Saren got it to work, and managed to do so without blowing it up.

    5. PurePareidolia says:

      Let me tell you about character hooks. There’s always something or other that the protagonist has in a story that makes them unique – it’s what separates them from the average guy on the street. Luke Skywalker has the Force, Frodo is the ringbearer, Sarah Connor is the mother of the future revolution. This unique thing about the character is referred to as a hook, and keeps them relevant to the plot.

      Sometimes, that character hook is that the person is chosen by prophecy or has a great destiny thrust upon them by the gods. A lot of people don’t like that because it implies the protagonist is only different from any other guy on the streets through random chance. A lot of people then take this to the absurd extreme of saying any unique character trait is the product of random chance and therefore the writer is being lazy, but it’s simply not true.

      In Mass Effect, a prothean beacon is dug up (note, it was buried and the first person who used it had access to reaper tech, which was familiar with such devices), and Eden Prime is attacked by Saren in order to access it. When Shepard approaches the beacon it’s active, and either Ashley or Kaiden is drawn towards it. Shepard throws them out of the way and is zapped by the beacon. This is not a random hook, but one that results form Shepard’s selfless character. Kaiden or Ashley could have received it by standing too close, but Shepard willingly threw himself into harm’s way, and so received the vision.

      This is an example of a hook done right – Shepard is always characterized as a leader, and is generally protective of his crew, so the hook is a direct result of those traits. This connects Shepard to the plot and drives him to seek the Cipher with his new found Spectre status. Note that the Spectre status is another character hook that ties him into the military and galactic politics, while allowing him his own discretion. The upshot is that the beacon provides Shepard motivation and the Spectre Status provides him the means to investigate. Neither of those things were applied to him by chance, but through his merits as a soldier (often resulting directly from his backstory) and his character as a leader. These hooks then drive the plot, keeping him relevant to the story as his affinity for Prothean tech increases via the Cipher, allowing him to understand them in a unique way.

      In Mass Effect 2 and 3, Shepard’s plot hooks were changed to “only sane person in the universe” and “cyborg Jesus”. The former is a product of lazy writing and the latter is explained through Shepard, as the first human spectre and therefore a symbol of humanity’s progress being desirable to a pro-human group. The fact they’d try to exploit him is not necessarily a bad thing, except that it invalidates his other hooks – being a Spectre, affinity for Prothean tech etc.

      How it makes up for this is by using the first game as a crutch. Shepard is the only one with first hand experience of the reapers as a result of his previous experiences, and the only one his motley crew look up to in order to lead them. It feels arbitrary, and like anyone could do the job because to an extent that’s true. The difference is only Shepard has the motivations and means to do it. His actual traits are superseded by the very thing he achieved with them. What this means is that his reasons for being integral to the plot are increasingly tenuous and pretty much fall into the old standby of “the protagonist is the guy who gets things done”.

      It’s weaker writing to be sure, and as of #2, Shepard is in fact chosen by TIM, but the poor writing comes from the lack of specifics. What about Shepard’s cybernetic enhancements make him/her unique? Is that why he/she has a superhuman tolerance for alcohol? How has understanding the very essence of what it means to be Prothean affected him? Why does Shepard tend to have very little in common with Javik despite being mentally part prothean?

      Wait that actually makes no sense, Protheans are highly tactile and act very imperialistically, which are never incorporated into Shepard’s character. You’d think having that innate understanding would lead to important character development or at least some unique traits – maybe a heightened empathy or insightful dreams or something. Even a compulsionj like touching things with his bare hands to get a sense of them for example, or referring to people by titles or abstract concepts (like how Javik is “vengeance”). Even making Shepard’s biotics green instead of blue. That way when you finally meet Javik you go “Oh! That’s where Shepard gets his _______ from!”.

      But I’m kind of getting off topic here. The point is having a character hook or unique trait is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s appropriate to the character. In Mass Effect 1 it was, but they lost sight of it in ME2 and 3.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        *shrug* I’m okay with ME2 and ME3’s perception of Shepard as a leader/protagonist, really. He’s established as the one with the skill and the knowledge to get things done – ME1 showed him as exceptional, therefore TIM picked him, and he had a personal relationship with Hackett and Anderson, plus first-hand knowledge of the Reapers, to make him the protagonist in ME3.

        BTW, I’m not sure I would characterize Shepard as having a “part-Prothean” mind from the Cipher. I can definitely see where you got it from, as the Cipher was described as basically letting Shepard understand Prothean methods of thinking, but I don’t think that means HIS method of thinking was superseded, and certainly doesn’t mean he gains any of the Protheans abilities you mentioned.

        1. PurePareidolia says:

          The way they describe it is Shepard doesn’t just get the language but the very essence of being a prothean downloaded into his mind, which I took to mean he understood their thought processes on an instinctive level. It’s not replacing his character or thoughts, it’s more like grafting a piece of Prothean intelligence onto his mind. So from time to time I figure that part might influence how he sees the universe. Like if you understood exactly how someone thought about something you might find yourself tracing their thought processes in addition to your own, and seeing things with a different perspective.

        2. Dasick says:

          TIM insists that Shepard is the only one that can deal with the threat of reapers. Why? What makes him so special and unique? It can be a *mundane* personal trait or natural talent, but they never explain that, only hand-wave it.

          1. Thomas says:

            That I always read to myself, as TIM being a bit blind on account of his fanboy Shepard crush. (Which ties in nicely to the standard ordinary super power, the power to attract people to your cause and get them to follow you. Ties in exactly with a large portion of your gameplay experience and was a trait that people who change the world (Hitler, Ceaser, etc) tend to show)

          2. Scow2 says:

            Because it’s mind-numbingly obvious in light of the events from the first game. Also, it’s a long-winded unique combination of characteristics, not any single “You have this trait, you’re winnar” situation.

            First off:
            He’s an EXTREMELY powerful badass – we’re talking someone who, with just two other squadmates… oh, just read your quest log and check your kill-count yourself – and let the ramifications of those accomplishments set in.

            After saving humanity from Sovereign, he had significant sway in shaping humanity’s presence on the political scene, with judgement deferred to him for selecting Humanity’s representative on the council.

            He’s the only credible human who understands the extent of the Reaper Threat that doesn’t have his hands tied by political red-tape. Again – look at your accomplishments from Mass Effect 1.

            Is Commander Shepard a “Mary Sue” (of the overaccomplished variety)? Hell yeah. But then again, that’s what ALL video game protaginists are. Every game with player choice in characterization is some sort of self-insert fic. Most games are power fantasies. Those that aren’t tend to be boring. TIM and Anderson are capable of seeing the camera floating behind your head (hiding behind the fourth wall), and realize it’s best to keep you alive because the universe needs you.

      2. anaphysik says:

        Hahaha, that last part was really funny, what with implying that Bioware was even thinking about anything they introduced with Javik before ME3. Oh you so silly.
        But seriously, those are actually really interesting ideas, and would have made for good character development. The involuntary nature of them would work with any version of Shep, too.

        1. PurePareidolia says:

          He really was a great character who played off the rest of the cast wonderfully, I just wish he felt less shoehorned into the plot.

  10. Lame Duck says:

    ‘He revealed that Cerberus had been “basically a throwaway group of pro-human radicals” used to add spice to some Mass Effect 1 side-missions. “We didn’t even have a concept of who was running them,” Karpyshyn shared, “and we didn’t think they were that important. Obviously, by the time of my Ascension novel and ME2, that had changed radically. The Illusive Man and Cerberus became central to the story and themes – that never would have happened if we had nailed everything down and refused to make changes to the story.”‘

    What a glowing endorsement of having everything nailed down and refusing to make changes to the story.

    1. newdarkcloud says:

      Yeah. I mean,if they nailed it down, Cerberus would be just pointless mooks. That’s awesome!

      1. Keeshhound says:

        God, what a near-miss that was.

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          We were so close to getting a good main plot.

          Do you think that TIM indoctrinated Bioware? It would explain the change they made between ME1 and ME2.

          Even better, TIM is the CEO of EA.

          1. Keeshhound says:

            No, that was EA.

          2. Thomas says:

            No we were not. This interview has made me hugely disappointed with the whole thing now. For me, the fundamental stupid of ME2 and ME3 was this: If you mush humans up and mold them into tubes, you don’t get a human-Reaper synthetic. You get a chicken nugget.

            In fact we know there’s nothing special about the stuff we’re made of, because all the animals are made of that stuff too. It’s how it’s put together that’s important. Whats important about a synthetic is that it’s been designed and structured, not that it’s made of silicon. That why the endings made no sense, because why should turning humans into mush ‘preserve them’ in anyway? Or make a special Reaper? Its our thoughts that’s important. Heck we can make invitro Fleisch now, if the stuff was important the Reapers could just manufacture it.

            And that’s why this whole synthetic vs organics theme never worked, because they weren’t even talking about the fundamental qualities of the beings involved.

            And that was the stupid, plenty else was wrong, but if was okay ideas written atrosciously, we’d only have been close if you changed the whole writing staff and gave them a lot more time.

            And yet here we have the ME1 writer saying, no the idea all along was ammino acids vs silicon. Human squishy Reapers were the beginning idea. They started with the stupid. The organic vs synthetic conflict never actually even started to make sense.

            I mean I just can’t believe it. The Teriminator baby was so bad I assumed it was the most awful rewrite just hacked together in the last moments and that was an idea carried from the beginning of ME1??

            1. newdarkcloud says:

              Oh yeah, he did say that. Damn. I must’ve deleted that from my memory. It’s been a while since I read that interview.

              1. Aldowyn says:

                Whaaa? It was the actual organic material that the Reapers wanted? … What?

                I kind of ignored the need for millions of people and assumed they were using human DNA to incorporate some aspects of humanity into the Reapers. Kind of like how the asari procreate. The idea of needing the organic material… holy crap that’s dumb. >.>

                1. Indy says:

                  I will from now on pay a tribute of carrots to the space-robot-Cthulu’s.

                2. guy says:

                  To be fair, it is possible they needed the organic slurry to extract a bunch of unique sets of DNA. I mean, it’s never explained, but that is the most sensible reason for a highly advanced bunch of robots in a setting with advanced biotech and cloning to kidnap a huge number of random people.

                  1. Thomas says:

                    If you think, even that’s rather dodgy. That would work if everything about your brain were coded into DNA, but actually the brown grows and evolves and changes of a period of over 20 years, there’s not a whole bunch in your DNA that would help design lots of unique thinking processes. And if its diversity they need, it should be pretty easy to identify what the various bits of DNA do and how they alter brain growth, and just replicate that yourself and randomise bits of it. If we can make mice with ears on their torso, Reapers should be able to make different kind of brain patterns without needing to process several million cases.

            2. zob says:

              I have to say, now that I read Chris L'Etoile’s unofficial production blog I think his contributions were what made Mass Effect 1 the thing it is. He was the realist in the team.

              to clarify, he was the balancing factor.

              1. anaphysik says:

                More and more I’m thinking he was indeed the key.

                1. Otters34 says:

                  He was certainly responsible for much of the less bizarre twists in the world, but I wouldn’t go attributing everything good in the series to him. Part of what makes Mass Effect unique is that it isn’t solely a grim or lighthearted place. If Mr. L’Etoile had been the sole former of the setting the series would have been focused almost entirely on the seamy side of the galaxy hidden by a crumbling facade of peace and prosperity, the sort of stuff hinted at in Captain Anderson’s history. It would have been focused on the slowly revealed reality and horror of an utterly alien and unfriendly cosmos embodied by the Reapers. In other words, it would have been ANOTHER WRETCHED DARK VISION OF THE FUTURE. It would have been Freespace without the grounding in logic that series has, where the Shivans are not just another(albeit incredibly dangerous) part of the world that people stumbled upon by accident, but the central truth of the universe.

                  That could be good, it could be really, really good, but it would have been maddening to me because it seems like every time someone makes a game set in space the ALWAYS go for “It’s like Star Trek! But Darker“. Yes, most of the setting is already a place where vile things happen(like the Rachni War and all the awful stuff that brought), but it’s not just a giant pile of misery brought about by of everyone being terrible to each other out of self-interest and their own failings.

                  Mr. L’Etoile was definitely a balancing factor for the rest of the staff’s idealism(for all the good THAT did), but I doubt the series would have been a better place to visit if he had been the only author.

            3. Dasick says:

              Huh. I always assumed that the human-reaper mash-up would re the result of putting the organics into a Matrix and downloading their minds.

              I assumed the mess of ME2 final boss was people mis-representign the idea.

              1. some random dood says:

                Yes, that’s what I got too.

    2. Sumanai says:

      It’s a glowing endorsement for planning ahead and not just making asspulls all the way through.

      Which is basically the same thing you’re saying, but I wanted to phrase it differently.

    3. guy says:


      Yeah, that was pretty terrible. I mean, it was blatantly obvious they’d been making everything about Cerberus up as they went along, but somehow it’s even more painful to have confirmation from a high-level member of the writing staff. Cerberus, the part that they made up only after releasing the first game, is hands-down the worst thing aside from the ending they made up shortly before ME3 went gold.

    4. Jokerman says:

      Im sure this was mentioned in the ME2 playthrough…maybe. But Cerberus really should of been the Shadow Broker, he was already established as a force in the ME world and connected to Saren and the reapers….also has lots of agents and power about the place. It would of took much to work it into an alliance between you….or just rail road you to fuck and make sure you work together – either way.

      1. anaphysik says:

        Of course, sadly in ME2 they buggered up the whole Shadow Broker concept as well…

        1. Grudgeal says:

          I could have liked a sort of Paragon/Renegade dualism between the Shadow Broker and Cerberus — the Shadow Broker was interested in maintaining the status quo and galactic cooperation (as it made it easier for him/her/it to disseminate information and infiltrate galactic society) while Cerberus were the up-and-coming radical pro-humanity institution that a renegade Shepard could back to reinforce his/her position as a supremacist jerk (and possibly because it could lead to innovative developments in research and a surge in galactic pro-militarisation that would increase readiness for a Reaper invasion).

          Then Cerberus became your only choice, pulled a whole lot of nonsensical powerups out of their keister, and the Shadow Broker became Bowser IN SPACE. So so much for that.

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            One day, I want Bioware’s writing staff to just sit down and look at the comments in Twenty Sided on anything regarding the Mass Effect franchise.

            Almost all of the ideas here are just so much better than what we got in the game. I mean that.

            1. Dasick says:

              But you don’t understand. It’s not about making a good piece of art, it’s about their “artistic integrity!”

              1. Jokerman says:

                Which according to the Drew Karpyshyn interview Shamus linked they abandoned from right after the first game anyway…

              2. Klay F. says:

                I just kicked a puppy because you said the forbidden words. I hope you are happy with yourself. :P

            2. Cineris says:

              They could easily bring someone on as a consultant for sanity checking. Unfortunately, doing so would require admitting there are problems with the writing. Shame really.

          2. Dasick says:

            I would have liked a ME game where Paragon and Renegade were closer to their in-the-manual descriptions. Paragon is self-sacrifice and idealism (big picture). Renegade is short-term benefits, distrust and ruthless practicality.

            And honestly, they did have a couple of points where that shines through in the first game (the colonists on Feros come to mind), as well as the mechanics of both morality points co-existing.

    5. Scow2 says:

      Am I the only person to have liked the change to Cerberus in the second game?

      To me, the first game, while unintended, gave you a glimpse at the clandestine organization. However, the second game made it clear that they were mostly active in the Outer Territories (Space equivalent of Third World Countries), where they have Strong PR, while they’re seen as terrorists by the “First World”. I drew strong parallels between them and Command & Conquer‘s “Brotherhood of Nod”, but set against the backdrop of interstellar politics instead of restricted to Earth, which made them a lot easier to accept.

      They make their vast amount of money probably from quiet, unbranded legitimate corporate enterprises – but those are just to make money, when Cerberus is interested in the twisted-but-not-selfish goal of advancing/evolving humanity. TIM is a “Dark Messiah”.

  11. Lame Duck says:

    In related news, the co-founders of Bioware, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, are leaving the company and retiring from the industry (source).

    1. Jokerman says:

      Bar Dragon Age 1 things have seemed bad for Bioware since ME1, but honestly…i think with this news EA will have even more control and the bioware we knew will seem even further away.

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