Mass Effect Retrospective 1: The Ages of BioWare

By Shamus
on Jul 15, 2015
Filed under:
Mass Effect

For the last few years I’ve half-jokingly suggested that there is no upper limit on how much people are willing to discuss the Mass Effect games. This series is going to put that idea to the test. This series is going to run for the next eleven months, and by the end it will be the length of a novel. This is not a joke.

Yes, I have discussed this series to death over the years. In Spoiler Warning our group covered all three games, in excruciating detail, over the course of 36 hours of running commentary. You’d think there would be nothing left to say at this point.

But we played and commented on those games in their time. Today I want to look back and examine the series as a whole, now that we’ve seen it through to the end. The white-hot nerdrage has cooled, the reflexively defensive fans have moved on, and we have a couple of years of perspective between our expectations, the results, and where we are now. Mass Effect: Andromeda has been announced, and so I want to take one last look back over the whole trilogy with an analytical eye and (hopefully) without so much rancor.

Also be warned that since we’ll be discussing and contrasting all three games at once, there will be no spoiler tags for anything whatsoever. Use your head.

So much of the discussion of Mass Effect focuses on the ending of the trilogy. That seems to be where a majority of the audience checked out and stopped trusting the storyteller. But while the ending is the source of the controversy, I don’t think it’s the source of the problem, and it’s not where the interesting changes take place.

The Changing Face of BioWare

Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage: A Tale of Two Companies

Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepard as heYes, Shepard can also be a female, but I’m not going to add one of these footnotes EVERY! SINGLE! TIME! Shepard comes up in pronoun form. You’re smart, you know how this works. tries to save the galaxy and maybe fails at it? We don’t know, actually. It all depends on your definition of “saved”. But more interesting than the story of Shepard is the story of the company that created him. If we look at the tone and construction of the games it tells a story about a development house that was transformed in both personality and focus, over the span of just five years. Companies change all the time, but few games give us such a clear view of such a rapid transformation.

To those of us stuck on the outside of the company and who don’t follow the ongoing soap opera of equity firms and holding companies, the story of BioWare gets a little murky in 2005, when they teamed up with Pandemic studios. Then in 2006 they opened a new studio in Austin to produce the Star Wars MMO The Old Republic. Then in 2007 they sold themselves to Electronic ArtsOr rather, “In November 2005, it was announced that BioWare and Pandemic Studios would be joining forces, with private equity fund Elevation Partners investing in the partnership. On October 11, 2007, however, it was announced that this new partnership (organized as VG Holding Corp) had been bought by Electronic Arts.”. In 2009 they opened yet another studio, this time in Montreal.

The development of the Mass Effect series overlapped with all of this chaos. When work on Mass Effect 1 began, they were a single quasi-independentInasmuch as they weren’t directly owned by a publisher. studio. By the time the third game launched, they were a collection of three studios owned by the Borg Collective of games publishing, they were running one of the most expensive, high-profile, and ambitious MMO titles ever developed, and were developing Dragon Age and Mass Effect titles simultaneously.

Hi Jenkins. Bye Jenkins.

I don’t care how informed your leadership is, how nice and talented your employees are, or how much money you have in the bank. You can’t go through that sort of radical growth and shift in focus over such a short timeframe and retain your company culture. It’s one thing if you make chocolate snack cakes. As long as you don’t mess with the equipment or the ingredients, your product can stay the same. But if you’re a creative company and your products come directly from the hearts and minds of your talent, then retaining your creative identity amid such a drastic influx of new blood is fiendishly difficult. That doesn’t mean your products will necessarily be worse, but they will be different.

To put it another way: Sir Terry Pratchett was an amazing talent. But if J. K. Rowling had hired him in 2002 to help her pump out Harry Potter books twice as fast, it would have fundamentally changed the tone of the series. Different creative people come up with different ideas, and this will give the new work a different textureYes, she could have guided him as an editor until the tone was right, but that would have taken time. The point here is that RAPID growth is transformative.. And even if it’s an improvement – even if you want to argue that Pratchett-Potter books are better than Rowling-Potter books, the new books will still feel ill-fitting and alien to people who fell in love with the originals.

The Ages of BioWare

Jade Empire was beautiful and charming, but mechanically it was kind of a mess.

Mentally, I divide BioWare’s history into three broad periods:

  1. Early BioWare: Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights They were a major studio by the standards of the late 90’s, but their sensibilities would come off as extremely “indie” today: Top-down, number-crunchy roleplaying games with lots of clear connections to their tabletop roots. The games were more tactical than visceralAnd also during this time period they made MDK 2, for some reason. That game is such an anomaly in the BioWare library that I’m just going to set it aside for now. It’s a great game, but I don’t want to get sidetracked exploring it. This series will be gigantic enough as it is..
  2. Classic BioWare: KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins. Here the company gradually moved away from their mechanically complex roots and tried to make games with more mass appeal: Third person camera, rich characters, voice acting, cutscenes, three-person squads. The automated dice-rolling mechanics gave way to the player pushing buttons to make attacks happen.
  3. Nu BioWare: Mass Effect 2 and beyond. If we’re being churlish, I suppose we could call this “EA BioWare”. You can haggle about where to draw the line between “Classic BioWare” and “Nu BioWare”. Maybe you want to draw it with Dragon Age, since the “blood and sex and heavy metal” marketing campaign felt pretty un-BioWare, even if the gameplay held pretty close to their standard formula. Or maybe you want to draw the line at Dragon Age II, which felt so completely unlike Origins in pacing, gameplay, tone, scope, themes, and environments that it felt like the franchise had been handed off to a different studio.

No matter where you draw the line, it’s very clear that Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 3 are radically different games, and within the series we can see the change from “Classic BioWare” to “Nu BioWare”. At the start we have lavishly detailed worldbuilding, very trope-ish arch characters, stiff animations, and gameplay with generally lousy game feel. At the end the focus is on characters instead of worldbuilding, and the old RPG mechanics have been replaced by mainstream action shooter sensibilities.

This creates an unfortunate rift in the fanbase. Love it or hate it, those new shooter mechanics are a lot more popular than the RPG-focused combat of Mass Effect 1. A big chunk of the player base hasn’t even played the first game, and shooter fans who fell in love with Mass Effect 2 went back to see what they missed in the first game and found it completely unplayable. It’s a bit like the argument between fans of the different 3D Fallout games:

Alice: Fallout 3 was stupid. New Vegas was so much more coherent!

Bob: But New Vegas was boring and ugly and Fallout 3 was way more fun!

We start out trying to critique specific elements of a game, and end up dragged into a pointless argument over which game is “better”. This distracts us from the more important discussion of understanding the art we consume and understanding why we enjoy itOr don’t..

So what we’re going to do here is step through all three games, examine their moving parts, and try to identify the magic that made us love them so much, as well as the failure points that lead to the ending controversy.

What is This For?

Commander, are you really going to need ALL those guns on the bridge?

I’ve got three main points I want to make in this series:

1) The ending of Mass Effect 3 is where the problems culminated, not where they began.

The ending was deeply controversial, so that’s where everyone focused their attention. It didn’t hold together, it didn’t make sense, it was tonally wrong, etc. A lot of people lump me in with MrBtongue, because we’ve both had a lot to say about Mass Effect and our points had a lot of overlap.


Link (YouTube)

But even though I’m a pretty huge fan of MrBtongue (including that one really oddball episode on soccer) I’m going to diverge from his position that the first 99% of Mass Effect was great, and it all held together until the Star Child showed up. For me the major cracks in the story don’t come from the end of the third game, they come from the start of the second. Those cracks spiderweb outward, creating more problems down the road and eventually leading to the unraveling at the end of the series.

2) The failure of the Mass Effect story can’t be blamed on any single individual or decision.

Lots of people like to point out how Drew Karpyshyn was the lead writer of the first game, he shared writing credit with Mac Walters on Mass Effect 2, and then Karpyshyn departed the company, leaving Walters to handle the third installment on his own. This provides a tidy narrative: “Karpyshyn made it good, and then Walters came along and ruined everything!” I admit it’s tempting to jump this conclusion, simply because it offers a perceptible reason for the changes we see in the story.

But I don’t think it fits. There are sketchy bits in the first game and brilliant bits in the third, and the actual downfall of the story is a complex, multi-faceted problem

3) Themes are just as important as facts.

We often get so caught up in haggling over lore and continuity that people overlook the importance of deeper, more foundational elements like themes, ideas, philosophy, and tone. While it’s “easy”Not actually that easy, but it feels like it should be. Following lore is at least straightforward. to fact-check your story and make sure you keep the people and places straight, it’s much harder to nail a particular tone. Shifting the philosophical bent of a story can often be more damaging to our enjoyment of it than getting some of the facts wrong.

I keep hoping we’ll get an HD remake where this fine print is more legible.

We’re going to look at the games, how they fit together, and talk about how disappointments over the games have lingered in a way that (say) the public disappointment with Duke Nukem Forever didn’t. I don’t know if you’ll find it cathartic, informative, illuminating, or annoying, but I do promise you’ll find this series to be exceptionally long.

Buckle up.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] Yes, Shepard can also be a female, but I’m not going to add one of these footnotes EVERY! SINGLE! TIME! Shepard comes up in pronoun form. You’re smart, you know how this works.

[2] Or rather, “In November 2005, it was announced that BioWare and Pandemic Studios would be joining forces, with private equity fund Elevation Partners investing in the partnership. On October 11, 2007, however, it was announced that this new partnership (organized as VG Holding Corp) had been bought by Electronic Arts.”

[3] Inasmuch as they weren’t directly owned by a publisher.

[4] Yes, she could have guided him as an editor until the tone was right, but that would have taken time. The point here is that RAPID growth is transformative.

[5] And also during this time period they made MDK 2, for some reason. That game is such an anomaly in the BioWare library that I’m just going to set it aside for now. It’s a great game, but I don’t want to get sidetracked exploring it. This series will be gigantic enough as it is.

[6] Or don’t.

[7] Not actually that easy, but it feels like it should be. Following lore is at least straightforward.


A Hundred!A Hundred!A Hundred!A Hundred!8408. There are now n+1 comments, where n is one less than the number of comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Benjamin Hilton says:

    So it begins.

  2. Rick says:

    When you say “there will be no spoiler tags for anything whatsoever,” do you mean for Mass Effect games, BioWare games, or literally everything ever?

  3. EricF says:

    Too bad you couldn’t do the analysis DMotR style.

  4. Cybron says:

    I am unironically excited to read another several thousand words regarding your opinions on Mass Effect.

    And I’ve never played the series.

    • Mistwraithe says:

      Odd isn’t it? I’m in the same boat.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’ve played the series, watched all three Spoiler Warning seasons on it, read the posts and comments about it on this page and this post still makes me squeal like a schoolgirl, even though I’ll have to catch up on a large chunk of it once I’m back from my summer vacation. Until the recent FO3 series I did not realise how much I’ve missed Shamoose in long-form.

    • mechaninja says:

      Me three.

      I jumped off the Bioware train about 20 minutes into the first Mass Effect.

    • Mephane says:

      I only ever played the first game, and after all this time I must admit I feel a bit smug about it. I can simply pretend the other two installments are badly done fan-fiction, and still consider my biggest grievances with the series that a) the same key would select a dialog line and skip ahead in the dialog (sometimes leading to accidental selecting), and b) that there were actual ingame bonuses attached to some achievements (I am a purist in that regard, achievements should be for bragging rights only).

      :)

    • tzeneth says:

      Several thousand? I think you’re underestimating the size of a young adult novel. You should be expecting to read from 40k words up for the entire series…unless you just meant this individual part of the overall. Then counting in the thousands rather than 10 thousands would be more appropriate…On the other hand, if he reaches around 550k words, then he’ll have written War and Peace but I doubt anyone could seriously reach that in writing an analytical essay without being pedantic in the extreme. Like I’m being :D

  5. Raygereio says:

    For me the major cracks in the story don’t come from the end of the third game, they come from the start of the second.

    The start of the second game is where the cracks became visible. But I’d say they started in ME1.

    • Thomas says:

      I think there were plenty of mistakes and bad bits in Mass Effect 1 and lot of awful things that people choose to overlook because they loved the things it provided.

      But I’m going to guess that Shamus’ conclusion is going to be something like ME3 was trying to serve a fanbase completely different from the fanbase of ME1 and that was what ended up triggering the controversy, in which case that sort of thing is going to start in ME2 not ME1.

      (Although even ME1 was an attempt from Bioware to be more populist in their mechanics and structure, something they’d been trying throughout their classic period and particular obvious with Jade Empire)

      • Raygereio says:

        The cause of the controversy has two simple causes:
        No one seriously thought Duke Nukem Forever would be a good game. So no one was disappointed by it. Bioware fans – even non-Bioware fans who where caught up by the hype train – had high hopes for ME3.
        And once people were disapointed, that feeling changed into outrage once the gaming press and Bioware’s hilariously incompeted PR started circling the wagons.

        I still think that the core problem with the story of the ME trilogy is that Bioware didn’t plan ahead. Unless you’re a really good writer, you don’t start a trilogy without first writing an outline for the story.

        • Taellosse says:

          From everything I’ve read about it, they did, actually – Drew Karpyshyn had at least an outline, if not a detailed plot plan, for the whole series, but they decided to move in a different direction when development of the second game began, and most of his plans were tossed out (vestiges of it remain in ME2, such as the planet where you recruit Tali – dark matter and mass effect interactions were apparently going to be the driving force behind the Reapers’ behavior, not some weird organic/synthetic dichotomy). Drew was moved over to The Old Republic, with a sort of editor role in ME2 with Mac Walters rewriting more or less from the ground up, and then shortly after TOR released, Drew left games altogether and Walters took over Mass Effect fully alongside Casey Hudson.

          • Aldowyn says:

            I’m still not entirely sure why or how that happened. Disagreements and then everyone decided Karpyshyn should go work on SWTOR so Walters decided to go with his preference? I dunno. At this point it’s unlikely it will ever fully be cleared up.

            (Also I’m fairly sure Casey Hudson was project director for all three games)

            • Taellosse says:

              My understanding is more that Drew had some rough ideas – outline might be giving it too much credit – that hadn’t been fleshed out yet when development for ME2 started ramping up. At the same time, TOR had already turned into this huge money-pit and they needed somebody with real writing chops, who also had some Star Wars experience (Drew was lead writer for KotOR as well), to punch that game up, so he was shunted off ME2. Walters and Hudson didn’t care for the ideas Drew had been planning to develop in the second game, and chose a different direction, and the rest is history.

          • Raygereio says:

            I honestly doubt there was an outline as ME1 didn’t really kick off a trilogy. The story was too self-contained. The bit at the end where Shep went “There are more reapers out there!” was just a sequelhook. Sort of like a movie where the monster is dead and then after the credits they show the monster had laid an egg that’s about to hatch.
            It’s the thing where the writers didn’t plan for a sequel, but wanted to leave the option open.

            Additionally Bioware writers have said that they didn’t have their own database for Mass Effect lore, character bios, story outlines, etc. They use the fan-made wiki. So even if Karpyshyn had an outline, I suppose it’s possible it was simply never documented anywhere and only existed in his head.

            • Aldowyn says:

              Hmm, that’s interesting. They definitely have an internal lorebook for Dragon Age. I wonder how much of that is just different approaches by the different teams.

            • Thomas says:

              From what Karpashyn has written, at best they were doing the Lost thing where they said “Okay I’ve kind of got an idea of where we could possibly go with this, but lets keep thinking and if we’ve got something better we’ll replace it”

              And thats how the game feels. Not only is Drew’s idea equally pretty stupid, but it’s not really set up or consistent with the plot. They dropped hints that _could_ prove his idea later, but they were Lost style hints that could be reinterpreted to mean anything.

            • Taellosse says:

              I think the plan was more “we WANT to make a trilogy, but we have no idea if we’ll sell enough units to justify it. Let’s make something with the scope to have sequels, but not too open-ended, so as not to leave people hanging too much if it bombs.”

              This is pretty typical for new IPs that the creators want to turn into multi-part series. Happens all the time in books and movies, too, not just games. A good example is The Matrix, which is a largely self-contained plot with room for sequels (also a good example in that the creators HAD a plan for a trilogy, but when it came time to make the next 2, that plan was changed and the result wasn’t as good, in the eyes of many, as what had been originally intended).

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      The first game SETS UP the problem by establishing tone and goals (or lack thereof) for various factions. And 2 cracks those by changing that stuff into Important Plot Points that are different from what was in 1. So, you’re right that roots are there, but if the lore were *understood* instead of just kind of “fact-checked”, it wouldn’t have happened or at least wouldn’t have been so severe. Pretty much once you’ve decided you going to do a “II” for any game with more than a paragraph of plot, you need a loremaster with the authority to say “No, the Zerkhan wouldn’t do that. They think they’ve been fighting an invasion for 200 years. It’s *their* territory in their minds” to any plot point proposed.

    • swenson says:

      Totally agree.

      The thing is, the cracks in Mass Effect 1 were mostly things you could overlook, because you could assume they’d be explained away later. “The Reapers are capital-E-Evil and want to kill everybody!” the game says. “Um, why?” the player says. The game doesn’t answer that question, but because it’s only the first game in a series, the player’s OK with not getting an answer, because they assume the question will be answered later.

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of those “you’ll find them out later!” things in ME1, the developers probably actually had no clue what the answers were either, because they didn’t know where the series would go (or, most likely, if there was even going to be a series). And that leads us to the problem that when you start trying to pin things down, it turns out that what you come up with later might not 100% fit what was implied originally.

      Of course, with sufficiently deft writing, you can make it so these retcons aren’t too noticeable, but the point is, if you didn’t 100% know where you were going from the beginning (or if you realized later that your original ideas weren’t that great), then you’ve got cracks already. They’re just easier for people to ignore at that point.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        There shouldn’t even have been anything wrong with leaving the Reaper’s evil unexplained. We don’t need to explain evil every time it happens, especially not with a 2 mile long squid cyborg from a race millions of years old. I liked the idea that they simply thought we were too inferior to warrant or comprehend an explanation for what they were doing and that they were doing what they did for reasons that only make sense to them. Alien is alien. Things aren’t alien enough in the Mass Effect franchise as it is, a problem that gets worse as the series progresses (“but thats how all sci fi is” doesn’t make it right.)

        The Catalyst’s explanation at the end of ME3 makes Sovereign retroactively look like a teenager whining about how nobody understands him.

  6. MrGuy says:

    But more interesting than the story of Shepard is the story of the company that created him.

    Meh. I never found Cerberus that interesting…

  7. Karthik says:

    I have wanted to write such a breakdown for the longest time, especially since I vastly prefer Mass Effect 1 to the sequels and that puts me in rare company anywhere on the Internet but this website.

    (Mass Effect remains one of my favorite gaming experiences, along with Planescape Torment and ~2011 Dwarf Fortress. An odd bunch, I know!)

    But now I get to read it as written by a hand far more astute and analytical than mine. This will be a real treat.

  8. squiddlefits says:

    I thought “they” “them” was standard nomenclature for person of indefinite gender?

    • Raygereio says:

      Some people do use a singular they/them in that way. But it isn’t standard.
      Heck, before reading your post and looking it up, I had no idea the singular they was still a thing in modern English.

    • newplan says:

      You are incorrect.

      They and them are plural.

      The correct words are “he” / “him”.

        • newplan says:

          Right:

          “A reason for its use is that English has no dedicated singular personal pronoun of indeterminate gender.”

          IOW, using “they” as singular is incorrect.

          • MrGuy says:

            By whose definition of “correct”?

            Unlike some other languages, there’s no agreed authority on what does and does not constitute “correct” English that’s universally accepted. The OED is probably closest for vocabulary, but it has no obvious parallel for grammar.

            Also, your logic is not convincing. “English has no dedicated singular personal pronoun of indeterminate gender” is a statement of fact – there is no pronoun that is used EXCLUSIVELY to refer to a single person that is not gendered (“it” is not a personal pronoun – it’s not used to refer to people).

            Your argument appears to be that using a personal pronoun for a purpose it’s not exclusively dedicated to is “incorrect” usage.

            English has no DEDICATED personal second person singular pronoun. “You” is the appropriate pronoun, but it’s not DEDICATED to be being singular – it’s also the second person PLURAL pronoun.

            By your argument, referring to another person as “you” would be incorrect.

            • Joe Informatico says:

              Unlike some other languages, there’s no agreed authority on what does and does not constitute “correct” English that’s universally accepted. The OED is probably closest for vocabulary, but it has no obvious parallel for grammar.

              Even then, the OED isn’t really an authority. Like most major English language dictionaries, it’s descriptive, not prescriptive. It defines words as they’re actually used, not as they “should” be used (whatever that would mean).

              • Abnaxis says:

                While there aren’t any universal accepted standards, there are certainly widely accepted English style standards which are enforced by large publishers, like MLA, APA, Chicago or Oxford Style Guide.

                I wonder what would happen, if one of these guides set out and said something like “[insert singular gender-neutral pronoun that makes sense here] is accepted syntax.” Would the use become more common, since it’s explicitly mentioned in a style book? Would other guides follow suit?

                I bet if you got a style guide/publisher with enough clout, it could actually modify the language

                • Ivan says:

                  I have a guess, I mean what you’re asking is essentially “is language passed down by the “elites” or dictated by the “commoners””. It seems to me that the average joe is the one who dictates a lot of the growth and changes in language and I would guess that eventually their influence works their way up to and overwhelms the elites who would otherwise stagnate.

                  I mean if you take a group of people and separate them then you start to develop accents and eventually different languages. But if you mix different groups then you usually end up with the dominate one dominating and with some traits from the other mixing in. I don’t know how exactly the elite factor in but they seem to be a sheltered group to me, not entirely separate but still able to influence and be influenced by the group, just at a slower rate. The elite are still a minority though so I think it’s very unlikely they could influence the larger group, then again if their way can be seen as trendy, or a way to join the elite then they might have better luck.

                  So yeah it probably depends heavily on how desirable it is to be considered one of the elite. I really don’t know how the majority of people look on the “language elite” right now but with terms like “grammar nazi” being popular I can’t imagine it’s favorable overall.

          • Ahiya says:

            Actually, they/them is the correct way to refer to a person or people of indeterminate gender, going back centuries. Some modern grammar pedants don’t like it, but that is the historical and correct usage.

      • Alexander The 1st says:

        “They” still works. It gets treated as the English equivalent to French’s “On” for indeterminate gender (At least, if I remember my french correctly.).

        i.e. “Someone’s coming over later today. They are on their way from a large distance away, so they won’t be here right on time though.”

        • Jabrwock says:

          “On” in French is “We”, not “They”.

          French uses the male “Il” as the 3rd party gender-neutral (“if you don’t know, use ‘il’, or if it’s plural and mixed, use ‘ils'”.

          Germanic and Nordic languages are the only “European” ones that have gender-neutral pronouns for 3rd person.

          Slavic languages are apparently even more difficult to be gender-neutral. I remember trying to learn Polish and the amount of a phrase that is modified by the gender was getting on the ridiculous side.

        • scope.creep says:

          i.e. “Someone’s coming over later today. They are on their way from a large distance away, so they won’t be here right on time though.”

          Third person singular conjugation for to be is is. I suggest that it is incorrect to say, “They is on their way…”

          • swenson says:

            I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a native speaker of most dialects of English that’d naturally produce “they is on their way”, as opposed to “they are on their way”. Even when “they” is being used in the singular, “are” is still grammatical (in the linguistic sense of “a native speaker would naturally say it that way”).

            Which is a pretty interesting development. I wonder if in the future the construction will shift to “is” by analogy with other singular pronouns? Or will it be outweighed by analogy with the use of “they” as a plural?

            • Syal says:

              ‘They’ can be thought of as the third-person version of ‘you’, which when singular or plural is still followed by ‘are’.

              …which leaves me to wonder why “you are” is the standard, anyway.

      • mechaninja says:

        Everyone in this thread is missing the point.

        There is no chance Shamus is going to type two more letters than he has to.

        Over, and over, and over again.

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        If one cannot determine the gender of a third party, it’s entirely possible to write sentences that respect that unknown without assigning a gender OR using a made up term.

        • guy says:

          Yes, but those sentences read so unnaturally that I would advise that person to avoid doing so in English unless translating from a foreign language when the ambiguity is important to the meaning.

          Singular they is fine.

  9. Dev Null says:

    even if you want to argue that Pratchett-Potter books are better than Rowling-Potter books

    You thought you’d avoid the nerdrage with a historical perspective, and you lead with _that_? Let the nerdrage begin!

    Pratchett-Potter would be way better.

    • Corpital says:

      Early, medium or late Pratchett?

      Well, probably not early or we’d end up with another Rincewind.

      • Dev Null says:

        Than Rowling? I’ll take Rincewind.

        • Ahiya says:

          Pratchett’s books are great, but they are clearly slapping the reader in the face with a few main points over and over. Rowling wrote a multifaceted moral situation and a great coming of age story. They’re both masters of their (completely separate) genres.

          • JakeyKakey says:

            I respect Rowling as a writer, but her writing’s somewhat mediocre, her world isn’t very fleshed out, the plot kinda starts falling apart over the last three books when she tries to tie it all into a proper story arc and it all generally doesn’t hold up the second read around.

            To her credit they’re truly excellent YA books and she’s miles above Twilight/50 Shades due to having an actual shred of talent, but still, she doesn’t really get the time of the day in literary circles because she’s not the next Tolkien either.

            By comparison, at the time of his passing, Pratchett’s entire combined work output arguably made him the best living writer out there.

            I understand the analogy and I understand why Shamus used those two specifically, but it feels somewhat hilarious considering foot-in-the-grave Alzheimer’s Pratchett could still give Rowling a run for her money while Pratchett in his prime would have been literally writing circles around her.

            • mechaninja says:

              Did she ever answer the main question I have about the series, which is “where are the magic spec ops?” ie wizards with guns?

              • Trix2000 says:

                My understanding was either:

                A) Technology didn’t tend to work well in places of magic, and guns were included in that.

                or

                B) When you can cast spells to immobilize, paralyze, make people forget, and kill… guns seem a little… redundant. Plus given how much people avoided the Unforgivable spells (particularly Avada Ka-whatever), I got the sense that killing wasn’t on anyone’s menu. That could just be mild contrivance to keep things from being too adult-rated.

                • Axehurdle says:

                  Yeah, non-“evil” wizards would never kill anyone. It’s considered a heinous act. Killing another human literally cleaves your soul in two, this is how horcruxes are made. So a wizard that has killed is, in a very literal sense, not really human anymore.

                  They’re cool with imprisoning people and subjecting them to the worst torture imaginable every second until they lose their minds completely though, that’s A-ok!

            • Thomas says:

              I don’t think Pratchett could produce the same sense of clean wonder though that was so vital to the Harry Potter series working.

              I’m not convinced that Pratchett could (or would choose to) write a fantasy series that wouldn’t end up being Discworld. There’s maybe a handful of short stories of his with more traditional writing styles, but he’s never written a novel that didn’t feel uniquely his which is uniquely suited to what he’s doing, but would be impossible when trying to flesh out a second fantasy series, particularly with the objectives of Harry Potter.

              Sometimes beige prose is what you need.

              • Nimas says:

                I find (and let it be known I *love* Pratchett’s work) that honestly Rowling was very adept in one area, and pretty bad in another.

                She was very, very good at writing about a schoolyard with magic, with a wondrous world to explore. She was pretty abysmal at writing a more normal fantasy novel, and as such, her first few books (though the basic writing in them greatly improved after one or two) are much more enjoyable then her later ones.

                (Also, it should be said that this is entirely an opinion, and I will not be ready to go to war should you disagree ><)

                • Aldowyn says:

                  I’ll be very curious to see where Potter is in a couple decades. For a certain type of person, Tolkien’s work can be absolutely formative. even now, but the way I see it HP will always be the defining series of my age group. I just don’t know if it’ll have the longevity.

              • Bubble181 says:

                Pratchett’s written plenty of non-Discworld-sounding-books. Nation or the Long Earth series come to mind.

                • Thomas says:

                  Nation came to my mind when I was writing what I said as proof of yet another Discworld feeling book which wasn’t one.

                  Long Earth the book was written in collaboration with another writer, and considering the story concept was Pratchett’s and his state of health at the time, it was almost certainly _mostly_ written by that writer.

                  How ever the short story Long Earth was one of the short stories I was thinking of as one of the few examples of him utilising a cleaner style. Even the short story he wrote when he was 13 had a very Discworld style about it.

      • squiddlefits says:

        Night Watch Pratchett.

      • lurkey says:

        You never read “Interesting times” if you knock Rincewind, I take it? And if you did read and don’t appreciate him, your taste in books is bad and you should feel bad.

        • Corpital says:

          Read all Rincewind books probably dozens of times, love the guy. Not being awfully familiar with the Hairy Potter, I just thought that would fit the worst.

          Like…milk! I love milk, cream and cheese. I like coffee. I like putting milk or cream in it, but throwing a piece of cheese into my coffee is…hm…be right back, I have to try something.

      • swenson says:

        MIDDLE.

        Although I’m inordinately fond of Moist von Lipwig, so throw in that too. Moist is seriously one of my favorite characters ever, even if I did find the last Moist book a bit meh.

        • Bubble181 says:

          The character of Moist is nice – and I’m sort of sad his arc isn’t and won’t be finished. Then again, his actual books all fall a bit flat for me – I’m a much bigger fan of the Guards books. Carrot, Rincewind, Mustrum,…plenty of other arcs didn’t quite “end”, either.
          Still, I’m glad we don’t get a book written by another writer to “finish all stories”. I can imagine how it all ends. I don’t need official fanfiction for that :p

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Here’s my two cents. Rowling’s HP series is very much Harry’s personal story whereas the works Pratchett is best known (especially the core of the Discworld series) are largely books about issues or phenomena.

      If Pratchett was writing the HP books (again, at the time he wrote the core Discworld) they’d probably be much less focused on Harry’s inner development and his connections to other characters and much more on the pressure of expectations due to his status as “the chosen one”, on the impression Voldemort has left on the magic user’s society, on the politics surrounding both the past events and his return. More social commentary, less personal navelgazing.

      Since it’s only fair to spin this around, if Rowling was writing the Discworld books the stories would be more about personal growth of the individual characters. For example the Moist books would be less about how technologies affect people’s lives and change their way of thinking and more about the inner life of Moist as he transitioned from rogue to (roguish) hero. Rowling’s Jingo wouldn’t be about xenophobia and “us VS them” mentality, but about someone’s (I can’t honestly even figure out who) journey through the world beset by this mentality.

      As a generalization Rowling takes events and impresses them on her hero to show how they affect him and how he’s changing and maturing under their influence. Pratchett took characters and used them as a point of approach to or view on an issue or event. The closest Rowling comes to what Pratchett did is probably with the commentaries on the politics of the ministry of magic, the closest Pratchett comes to what Rowling did is probably with the Tiffany stories in their aspect of the protagonist’s personal growth (perhaps not incidentally these books are usually treated as aimed at younger readers by most Discworld fans).

  10. Corpital says:

    I want my unlimited ammo baaaaack.

    • MrGuy says:

      Me too, but omni gel was stupid.

      • Andy_Panthro says:

        I seem to recall you carried every weapon in that strange holster on your back, even if you were only allowed to use two of the possible choices. I remember that bugging me a little.

        As for Omni-gel, they should have bitten the bullet and not had all of those loot drops, which were mainly a waste of time. Perhaps they should have been even braver and just said: “You’re the best soldier in the galaxy, so of course you start out with the best guns and armour. There’s no need to buy or pick up anything, if you want to change for tactical reasons see your quartermaster”.

        • DougO says:

          I always felt that if I’ve got energy to burn and nanos capable of “shaving slugs off of a block” for a rapid-fire weapon….why am I not carrying a single weapon that can alter itself at need…especially since most of them have draw/holster animations that show them with sliding barrels, etc, already!

          • Andy says:

            For that matter, why are ME’s hand weapons so wimpy (roughly similar terminal ballistics to modern weapons)? They use mass effect fields to reduce projectile mass enabling ridiculous muzzle velocity – if it’s generating enough kinetic energy on your end that recoil is an issue, it should be exiting the weapon’s mass effect field with enough energy to set the atmosphere on fire and destroy significant chunks of the landscape.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          You were always allowed to use all of them.What you werent is being proficient with all of them.But why not use the sniper on distant mooks or thresher maws even if you arent proficient with it,if thats the best gun for the job?

          • Taellosse says:

            Well, mostly because doing so was almost pointless. With the sniper rifle in particular, if you didn’t have several points in the skill, the targeting reticule would waver so much you were almost guaranteed to miss 80% of the time. Firing the assault rifle without proficiency was only slightly better – because the game didn’t actually work just on player accuracy, but also determined hits and missed partly from skill checks under the hood, most shots would miss even if you could keep a target inside the (really big) sights accurately. Using the shotgun without proficiency was okay – if the enemy were really close already, aiming wasn’t that important and the spread helped cover a lack of finesse. And nobody really bothered to use the pistol if they didn’t have proficiency for it – the shotgun hit harder at medium and close range, the sniper rifle was more accurate at long range and, and the assault rifle made up for accuracy with volume of bullets – the pistol was only there to give classes that lacked proficiency for one or more of the other guns to have a serviceable compromise weapon.

            • Aldowyn says:

              honestly for me the pistol was my go-to weapon until the very end of the game when you start getting upgrades to stop the assault rifle from overheating so quickly. Even on higher difficulties.

              • Taellosse says:

                I mostly used the pistol because I played classes that didn’t have proficiency in the assault rifle anyway (Vanguard my first time, Adept later), and I found the sniper rifle to be a more useful NG+ add-on skill (played as an Infiltrator up to Virmire so as to unlock it), even if it does take several ranks to be really useful, since it can be used to clear out exterior enemies on random planets from so much further than anything else.

                I’ve only really spent time with the assault rifle more recently, on PC runs where I’m cheating (hacking save files to give me more than one extra skill, and extra talent points to use on them, mostly). Once it’s got a few ranks in it to improve accuracy, and with mods to reduce overheating, the assault rifle is definitely superior to the pistol.

    • Bruno M. Torres says:

      Oh, I LOVED the unlimited ammo. I remember how I would play with the upgrade system. It took me hours, but I finally did a machinegun which NEVER overheated.

      Sniper rifles, on the other way, I would cram with explosive parts and one-shot anything. Good times.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I felt like what they should have done is have the clips (which are actually heatsinks after all) enable rapid fire without overheating. When you run out of clips, you could still fire but you’d be back to ME1’s slower firing and frequent overheating (maybe even a little slower since the device could be said to sacrifice some of its normally cooling systems for heatsink clips). That way, you aren’t completely helpless without clips but the clips are really useful. You’d need to lower clip availability just a bit because, in my experience, you seldom run out.

    • Trix2000 says:

      As much as I agree with this (I do like being able to be a bullet hose if I wanna, and worrying about picking up ammo all the time can be annoying), I think they needed to do something to reduce the amount of shooting you needed to do – too often, the tougher enemies were literal bullet sponges that took like half a minute of constant shooting to bring down.

      And maybe that would have been okay had there been enough indication of the damage you were doing beyond watching the health bar. Too often I felt like my guns were underpowered because the enemies hardly reacted to being shot, I had to shoot so many times, and overall there just wasn’t enough impact on things. The actual firing felt pretty good (they at least got animations/sound right for the guns firing, IMO), but beyond that I might as well have shot thin air for all I was feeling from the other end.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        But the thing is,with the change in enemies health system being three components and how ammo enhancements work,they already solved the bullet sponge thing.Even on the highest difficulty,you can still take out regular mooks with just a few well placed shots or powers.Having thermal clips did nothing for that,positively or negatively,but it did introduce a new problem (running out of ammo is a big problem for a class with no attacking powers,while overheating would be just a minor setback for them) along with breaking the lore.

  11. Lilizuki says:

    Now I’m wondering how Pratchett would write Harry Potter. One hopes it wouldn’t involve Kai Leng.

    “Yes, Shepard can also be a female, but I’m not going to add one of these footnotes EVERY! SINGLE! TIME! Shepard comes up in pronoun form. You’re smart, you know how this works.”

    Alternatively, you could use the singular “they”. It would save you the trouble of including footnotes like this every time you talk about any other game with a protagonist of variable gender.

    • Shamus says:

      “They” is REALLY confusing when you’re talking about the relationship between Shepard and Cerberus. And there are a lot of those sorts of paragraphs coming up. :)

      • Lilizuki says:

        Fair enough. ^^

      • WA says:

        Well then, switch it around. Call Shepard “her” in one installment, then “him” in the next.

        I’m sure that won’t get confusing at all.

        • MrGuy says:

          I think the obvious solution is to switch to the second person, as the pronoun “you” is not gendered in English. And to differentiate between Shamus’ references to Commander Shepard and his references to the reader of the article, replace any reference to the reader with the pronoun “Mr. T.”

          Mass Effect tells the story of Commander Shepard as you try to save the galaxy and maybe fail at it? Mr. T doesn’t know, actually. It all depends on Mr. T’s definition of “saved”. But more interesting than the story of Shepard is the story of the company that created you.

          • Andy_Panthro says:

            Doesn’t the game get around this by referring to you either as “Commander” or “Shepard”. I don’t recall a lot of gender-specific pronouns being thrown around (probably to avoid having to re-record any voice acting).

            • guy says:

              Yep. I’ve noticed that the bioware style of game (including NWN2) has a very strong tendancy to assign the character an interchangable name/title so there’s a generic voiced line for whatever you make

              Mass Effect- Shepard
              DA:O- Grey Warden
              DA2- Hawke/Champion Of Kirkwall
              NWN2- Knight-Captain
              NWN:MOTB- Spirit-Eater
              DA:I- Herald Of Andraste/Inquisitor
              SWTOR-Sith are called Lord regardless of gender.

              • Joe Informatico says:

                DA:O Awakening: Warden-Commander

                Do you get a fancy gender-nonspecific title in Jade Empire?

              • drkeiscool says:

                NWN2 was actually by Obsidian.

                • Taellosse says:

                  Yes, which is probably why guy said “Bioware-style” game, because NWN2 is very much in the same style as Bioware’s games, especially of the time. Same for KotOR2, actually, which was also developed by Obsidian – in that one you play as “the Exile” regardless of gender.

                • guy says:

                  I am aware of that, but it’s from the same philosophy and has the same constraints. Namely that redoing a huge chunk of the voicework to swap pronouns is prohibitively expensive and handling player-input names would require four months of VA work*.

                  It’s honestly a pretty elegant solution. It lets them allow choice and keep costs under control without having to make the dialogue unnatural or avoid having other characters discuss the player character. ME and DA go one better with the fixed last name** so characters can speak semi-informally. The older ones handle that by just sticking the name in the subtitles and leaving it unvoiced, which I’m personally fine with.

                  *That is the approximate timeframe to record the samples for an English Vocaloid

                  **Outside of DA2, each background has a fixed last name. They don’t get as much mileage out of it, because that still means multiple takes, but it gets used occasionally. I think it might come up in the Winter Palace introduction.

          • Christopher says:

            The simplest solution is clearly to refer to Shepard as “he” when talking about the first game and “she” from the second one onwards. Spoiler Warning was referenced in the second paragraph. It’s obviously canon.

            • Syal says:

              I can believe Cerberus is incompetent enough to turn Shepherd from a man into a woman when rebuilding him her it.

              • Incompetent? Not really. Cerberus changing Shepard to a woman makes perfect sense when you consider the robot the Illusive Man builds in Mass Effect 3.

              • MrGuy says:

                This reminds me of the best way I’ve seen the “wait – weren’t you a guy before?” change handled was in Saints Row 2.

                In the original Saints Row, your character is always male, but in SR2, you can optionally be a female after you wake up from the coma you end the first game in.

                In the opening of few missions of the game, several characters who knew you in the first game lampshade that you can be a completely different race and/or gender, and say things like “You look different – did you change your hair or something?”

                Bonus points for the “change your hair” comment – the “default” character model in the original Saints Row was bald.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          That’s what World of Darkness RPG books do, and it’s distractingly unnecessary.

          It’s a “solution” to an absurd, esoteric non-problem.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            I’ve never found it a distraction.

            Considering I’ve met a good thirty or forty times more women through playing WoD RPGs than through any other RPG system, I have a few dozen data points countering the notion it’s a non-problem.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              It’s more than a little silly to attribute WoD’s popularity with women to their intermittent use of “she” in their sourcebooks. Their flagship game draws from subject matter that women have traditionally been more interested in.

          • Taellosse says:

            It’s not that absurd, esoteric, or non-existent. It’s symptomatic of the larger, endemic problem of gender inequality – the “default” is presumed to be male – being female is something that requires extra clarification and explanation, because it’s somehow abnormal – and it arises from explicitly sexist thinking (see further down this thread for some examples of where the practice of “defaulting to he” originated). Perpetuating the practice helps perpetuate the larger problem in society. And White Wolf sought to avoid that practice precisely because so much of their audience was NOT male – they were trying to show respect for both sides of their audience by alternating pronouns

            All that said, getting lost in the weeds of how language usage impacts gender equality isn’t really the point of a long-form discussion of the Mass Effect series, I’ll grant. I just wanted to pipe up and say that there IS a reason why there’s so much energy expended trying to get around the practice of using “he” as the default 3rd-person singular pronoun in English, and it’s not a stupid one.

            • Supahewok says:

              There is absolutely nothing wrong with a male writer defaulting to male. It is absolutely positively normal that a male writer would think things primarily from a male perspective, and its natural to therefore use “he/him” by default.

              Its perfectly natural for a female writer to default to “she/her” too, but you don’t see a lot of female authors in the P&P RPG industry. At least, I haven’t, although I’ve seen PLENTY of female players. If you want to argue that the industry is sexist for not having enough women working in it, well, that’s a separate issue.

              Seriously. People write what they know, and when dealing with vague hypotheticals, it helps to default to your own gender to limit the number of variables you have to think about. Of course we need to be mindful to include examples of the other gender, because that’s only fair, but its not an issue of sexism that the problem exists in the first place. And it has a negative effect on reading comprehension and clarity to refer to the same example by two different genders, like (apparently, since I haven’t read them) the WoD books. D&D does it right, at least in 5e. They’ll pick a gender for a class, and stick with it when discussing that class, (and background) and they tend to use gender-neutral titles (the caster, the adventurer) outside of discussions of character.

              • Trix2000 says:

                As much as I can agree, there is something to be said for not being complacent about our language. Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean we should always be thinking that way.

              • IFS says:

                D&D in the 3.5 rulebooks pretty much always defaulted to female pronouns, which I always found interesting simply because of how different it was from what you normally see.

              • Taellosse says:

                I like that solution you mention in 5e. It’s probably less confusing than White Wolf’s (which, while I recognize the problem they were attempting to address as valid, was never my favorite answer to it). The core problem is that the English language itself is gender-biased (the fact that there’s no structure in it to address people who are either of unknown or undefined gender is an even deeper problem than the sexism of the default “he”), and that’s not an easy problem to fix.

                But, again, not really the point of the post. I really didn’t aim to get too deep into this particular debate – I just felt Bloodsquirrel was overly dismissive of the point.

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              “Perpetuating the practice helps perpetuate the larger problem in society.”

              No it doesn’t. Seriously, people demanding that these kind of changes be made “for the good of society” need to start accepting the burden of actually providing evidence that they are, in fact, solving a real problem rather than expecting every brainfart that comes out of the SJ movement to be taken seriously.

              • Otters34 says:

                Comrade, the only evidence you’re offering that nothing’s wrong is “I say so”. If proof is needed why not link to some yourself that demonstrates how it’s not a problem, or draw from observable and nigh-universal situations of life to make your case?

                Just writing “no it isn’t” is meaningless and knee-jerk.

                • MichaelGC says:

                  Careful, guys. This is getting a little into politics, broadly defined.

                  • Otters34 says:

                    I’ll have you know the Social Democrats-Actual Socialists coalition of 2005 1/2 did NOTHING wrong! Parliament just couldn’t handle their radical labour change of 0.3% to 0.5%!

                • bloodsquirrel says:

                  I suggest you read up on “burden of proof”. A positive claim (that default use of “he” is harmful to society) is being made. It is the responsibility of the people making that claim to provide evidence for it. It is not everyone else’s responsibility to assume that you’re right and prove a negative if they want to disagree.

                  Or, if you’re going to be silly and try to contest this:

                  Using default “she” will cause a rise in demonic possessions. Prove to me that this isn’t a real problem.

                  • Syal says:

                    There was evidence provided for it; the arte of Rhetorique quotes further down.

                  • Otters34 says:

                    Don’t be obtuse. This isn’t “proving a negative”, like that you didn’t drop an apple off a bridge thirty-five years ago while time-traveling, this is demonstrating that language choice (in this case pronouns for a subject that could be any gender) doesn’t alter the way people think or feel about something.

                    Use yourself as an example. Use anecdotes, I don’t care. Nobody cares. This isn’t a court of law, it’s internet comments.

              • Taellosse says:

                I directed you down the thread for concrete examples. There are also a number of psychological studies that have been done that demonstrate the systemic bias I’m talking about, not merely the historical origins of the language. I encourage you to investigate the topic, but I’m not your research assistant – do your own googling.

                Again, I didn’t want to descend too deeply into this particular debate – it’s not particularly germane to the post we’re commenting on, and can quickly lead to really divisive arguments (as can be seen downthread now), which is understandably verboten on Shamus’ site. I was only trying to counter what I felt was an excess of dismissiveness in your first comment.

      • Time to get all 1970’s on this problem: “The Shep”.

      • Grimwear says:

        Man when I went through high school 6 years ago, which isn’t even that long past, I was always taught that when referencing someone who’s gender you don’t know the standard is just to input “he” as it’s short and a simple fix. I mean people are throwing out a lot of other potential solvers such as they or alternate between he and she or use you (the player) but is it really that big a deal to use he? I’m legitimately curious because it seems like a minor issue if it can make things simple and efficient.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          It is,because shepard is canonically female.As is revan,and the child of bhaal,and the boss.In fact,every time a game offers you to choose a gender,they are canonically female.

          • drkeiscool says:

            Except Revan isn’t?

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            Revan and the Baalspawn are both canonically male.

          • Brandiur says:

            Source on Shepard being cannonically female? Also, look at this entire page of Revan.

            • krellen says:

              His source is his own good sense because the people in charge of making the “official” decision for the respective companies made bad decisions and Daemian is entitled to go around espousing his headcanon because you can’t own ideas.

              (No, seriously, you literally cannot copyright ideas.)

              • Wide And Nerdy says:

                Shepard is one thing but whats so bad about going with the official canon on Revan and the Exile? Its one each and the Exile got the better game.

                • Micamo says:

                  Two reasons are cited:

                  1 – Revan is better as a woman because the romance arc with Carth is more tragic and interesting than the wish fulfillment bullshit that was Bastila.

                  2 – The Exile is better as a man because the Handmaiden is much more tragic and interesting than the other guy the Fem!Exile gets.

                  As to #1, I honestly think both the romance subplots in KOTOR 1 are equally stupid and awful. I still support Fem!Revan due to my preference for female protagonists in general, but there’s nothing objectively better about her.

                  As to #2, yeah, I kinda agree. Thankfully there’s a simple mod that lets you play a female Exile who takes the Handmaiden. (Which, confusingly enough, is the canon even though it’s impossible to do this in the vanilla game.)

                  • Brandiur says:

                    How is this relevant for canon? These are your preferences. Did you read the page about Revan?

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    but there’s nothing objectively better about her.

                    Yes there is:Female sith kick ass.

                    • lurkey says:

                      And speaking of that, that’s right, Revan was a Sith and she didn’t forgive her brainwashers like the chumpest chump that ever chumped.

                      As for that pretentious poser from the link, couldn’t be Revan even if correct gender. Kreia mentioned Revan was sort of a genius and she respected that; the only way the SWTOR’s bumbling idiot could have earned Kreia’s respect would be through accidental destruction of all Force, courtesy of his sheer ineptitude.

                      (Exile’s pretender isn’t even worthy to be mentioned here though. And it’s not cool to make fun of ghosts with severe mental handicap anyway).

                  • Wide And Nerdy says:

                    I actually quite enjoyed the Bastila romance. You basically get to be Han Solo teasing Leia about the feelings she doesn’t want to admit. Not exactly original but that’s exactly the point, they did a great job of giving you that feel without just retreading Empire Strikes Back. And I’ve heard the Carth romance is similarly fun if you go the teasing route which I can believe given how moody he is (I love that the game acknowledges that its given you these difficult prickly people to work with and lets you have fun with that.)

              • Brandiur says:

                Preferences do not influence canon. Bad decisions don’t mean you can make a character’s gender canon. In your mind, Shepard was female, alright, I can accept that, but you are forcing your view on other people and calling it “canon”. Canon has a definition: material accepted officially as part of the story.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Preferences do not influence canon.

                  Yes they do.Me3 extended ending would not be canon if so many people didnt express their preferences.

                  • Brandiur says:

                    Meaningless example. No one is annoyed at the possibility of male Shep and Bioware is not going to remove that option or make female Shep canon. Also, if preferences matter so much: 80% of people chose male Shepard, according to a survey Bioware made.

          • Trix2000 says:

            I’m of the opinion that, canonically, gender doesn’t even factor in unless it’s plot-critical. The games give the option for both and as far as I’m aware don’t change their main narratives based on it, so even if there is a ‘canon gender’ it’s really irrelevant.

            As for head-canon, well, they can be whatever you like. :)

        • Joe Informatico says:

          It’s not a big deal to use “he”, but it’s also not a big deal to alternate between “he” and “she”, or use “they”. No one owns English, the people who it’s named after have ridiculous notions about spelling*, and style ultimately comes down to personal, regional, or institutional preference.

          *Not the additional “u” or “r before e” stuff–I’m Canadian and use those all the time. I’m talking about place names with half-a-dozen silent letters.

          • Grimwear says:

            I’m pretty sure alternating between he, she, and they is more confusing and less efficient. I mean this isn’t a test with written problems where you can make someone a guy one question and a girl the next. When you’re trying to do an analysis writing he, she, they not only becomes pointless busywork but also looks stupid. They should be right out since the vast majority of people don’t consider they a singular term and will constantly be wondering who “they” are. Isn’t it just Shepard? As for he or she it really doesn’t matter but again in school I was taught to default to he and while he and she are very similar that is an additional keystroke where it’s ultimately irrelevant since again we’re defaulting to he. To reiterate the point is analysis. In the series the character of Shepard takes the same actions regardless of gender and the creators pushed a male Shepard. There’s nothing wrong with he and having a uniform one that is commonly known makes the most sense.

            Edit: It turns out that if I had used the power of my scroll wheel to look down I’d see that we’re using he because Shamus played male Shep. We’re all good now people there’s a reason for it, we can let it rest.

        • Syal says:

          The proper way to do it is to only use shared letters, so “he or she” becomes “he” and “his or her” becomes “h”.

        • Anonymous says:

          It’s not a big deal. Anyone without a titanic chip on their shoulder can figure out you don’t mean any offense by just defaulting to something.

        • Otters34 says:

          It reinforces the idea that men are the ‘default’ or baseline, the expected human. It’s not a big deal per se, but it’s not great.

          • Grimwear says:

            I don’t know of anyone ever running around saying we must maintain he because it promotes male dominance. I’m sure there are a couple cooks out there no question but I mean the he is just an easy workaround that got established. I agree it’s not the greatest but I also don’t think using he promotes some male first agenda either. I mean if it means a lot to people they can do s/he or some other newfangled thing out of principle but again that’s a long word to write when he is simple. I don’t believe it’s fair to attribute the use of he to a male on top culture or that it’s secretly reinforcing it. There’s no malicious intent.

            • krellen says:

              Cooks prepare food.

              Kooks are people with weird ideas.

              Sometimes spelling is important.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Just because you dont know of them does not mean they arent real.And hey,Lilizuki even linked the quotes here that show exactly that.

              Also,just because something works doesnt mean it cannot work better.Even if we completely disregard all gender issues aside,having a neutral pronoun to use when talking about someone who is of unknown gender/can have their gender flipped is a useful tool,and should not be discouraged.

              • Grimwear says:

                Quotes that date 600 years AFTER the origination of the term he. She as well. If we got rid of words just because some group at some point in time used it with a negative connotation we would have a lot fewer words to throw around. I’m all for not using words offensively but just because a word was used to be sexist 450 years ago and that was 600 years after the origination of the word we must suddenly stop using it to preserve people’s feelings when they get offended even if there’s no offense meant in its current use? I’m sorry that line of thought baffles me and I cannot support it. Let’s change the entire English language to make sure no one has any problems with it ever. That won’t end well. Haven’t you heard that words are like bullets? They go right through you.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Who says anything about removing words?He still has a meaning,a meaning it always had,to describe a male human in third person.That was its meaning,that is its meaning,that will be its meaning.And hey,you even admit that you are for not using a word offensively,and using he as the default is offensive,as pointed out by many here.

                  • Grimwear says:

                    What I meant was that I shall not use words in a malicious way in order to cause offense. It is not my responsibility nor do I have any inclination to censor myself in the chance that some people get offended by some words that have no offensive intent behind them. I’m not going to go around yelling obvious slurs at people but I won’t stop using he for unknown gender because it’s simple, efficient, and looks better than s/he. As I’ve said if it bothers other people then they’re more than welcome to not use it. As for removing words there have been posts saying we must remove all gendered pronouns (I’m assuming they want a system more akin to the Finnish language?). The point being that just because someone finds something offensive doesn’t mean it is, and doesn’t mean there’s a racist/sexist/malicious intent behind using it.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      How is it efficient if it removes information from the sentence(the information that the gender is unknown)?Efficiency is not measured by how many characters you use,but how much information you convey with as little letters as possible.”Irb” is not more efficient than “I read a book”,despite it having 10 characters less.Singular they,or if you dont like it for some reason s/he conveys more information than just he,and that is a fact.Not to mention that if you continually use he as a gender neutral pronoun,your usage of he as a masculine pronoun also loses information because now people wont be sure if you are describing a male person,or a person of unknown gender.So even if we remove all the sexist connotations behind he being a default,it still is a very poor substitution for talking about someone of unknown/relative gender.

                      Oh,and if efficiency and simplicity is all you care about y u no use txt spk?

                    • Grimwear says:

                      For some reason I can’t reply to you but you can use the same word for multiple meanings. As I’ve already stated you can use s/he if you want go nuts but using he is a common convention so if you want to use it that’s also perfectly valid. The gender neutral singular they also exists but that form is less efficient and actually causes confusion since most people only ever encounter it when dealing with the plural. The reason for no txt spk is because I didn’t realize I had to specify constraints and I’m talking strictly for professional purposes. For example authors. I have yet to encounter a single fiction author who uses the s/he and unless you completely reshape your sentences to make use of one (which some I’m sure are doing) you don’t have many options left. The only thing I had issue with was attributing malice to a word when there was none. I don’t care what you personally choose to use but the current he does still work AND has been commonly used as opposed to other options.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Not to mention its not normally used when you’ve already designated the person by name. Normally “they” refers to a hypothetical person who could be of either gender. Shepard is a specific person with a specific gender (just happens to be chosen by the player) so it feels weird to use “they”.

        If its really so flipping important, I think “you” might work best since Shepard is a role you step into. Its a convention articles about video games have used for a long time. The alternating “he/she” pronoun quota game has always been annoying. I’d sooner see Shepard just referred to as “she” for the entire series since I get the feeling nobody would complain then.

        • Lilizuki says:

          I’d rather use anything but gendered pronoun, if only because the origins of the default “He” are unsavory at best.

          • mechaninja says:

            Wait, are you saying because women weren’t hardly people for so stupidly much of history? Or are you saying “he” comes from somewhere bad?

            /urge to know more intensifies

            • Lilizuki says:

              Women being treated badly in history, as I remember it. It’s all on the Wikipedia page for the singular they, but these quotes sum it up:

              “… let us keepe a naturall order, and set the man before the woman for maners sake”. — Wilson, The arte of Rhetorique (1560);[49]
              “… the worthier is preferred and set before. As a man is set before a woman …” — Wilson, The arte of Rhetorique (1560);[50]

              • mechaninja says:

                Thanks. That’s “perfectly normal” historical misogyny then. I may have misread your previous comment, as it made me think there was something else, something “new”, which I’d never heard of before.

                Actually reading some of that, it sounds like bureaucrats are the source of a lot of the problems. I am reminded that a disproportionate number of this world’s problem are caused by bureaucracy…

        • Shamus says:

          I’d do all-she, but for this entire play-through I did Default Shep, which means all the screenshots are the dude on the box, so calling Shep “she” just felt odd in that context.

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            It doesn’t bother me either way, I was just looking at what would get this discussion to stop.

            I wonder how long it would have taken someone to bring it up without your footnote (I know, it was going to happen and you wanted to get in front of it, I just wonder.)

          • mechaninja says:

            Wait you did an entire new playthrough for this series of articles?

            /wayneandgarth We’re not worthy.

            • Aldowyn says:

              I mean the entire trilogy is shorter than, say, Inquisition (perhaps significantly so), and maybe on par with Witcher 3. So it’s not *that* crazy, particularly in the summer doldrums.

              Of course I’ve played the series roughly yearly since I first came across ME1, so.. yeah.

              • MrGuy says:

                No one expects Shamus to play Inquisition.

              • Wide And Nerdy says:

                But his sweet spot is franchises that he first loved before hating. Shamus didn’t care for Origins and I don’t think DA2 or DAI will change his attitude. (If he thinks Origins is too grindy, he’s going to hate Inquisition. Though his complaints with the Deep Roads may in part have to do with how much time is spent grinding in such a dismal looking place. DAI at least has pleasant scenery to grind in.)

          • Jakale says:

            Going by the length of this particular discussion thread and the number of times this issue crops up, in general, (I remember one nof my high school teachers saying just go with he and his) I think we just need a new word to refer to someone that could potentially be either male or female. It’s like quantum gender, you can’t know until you observe it. You’d think someone would have popularized a term better than “he or she”, already.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Or Thon: http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=2079

          Bonus: This comic is written by a guy with a computational linguistics degree and it features a T. rex as the protagonist.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I really dont get why people hate singular they.Its not like you hasnt been used for centuries as both a plural and a singular,so why not they?

            • Taellosse says:

              Because pedantic English school teachers have been telling them it’s wrong for a hundred years, and everyone believes their middle school English teachers somehow have a perfect knowledge of the ideal state of the language, despite there being no such thing.

            • Abnaxis says:

              Because “they” creates confusion as to whether it’s supposed to singular or plural every place it is used, when it is already inherently less specific for not having a gender. It makes for all these awkward calisthenics you have to go through to make sure your antecedent is clear, that would be much easier if “they” wasn’t pulling double duty.

              Hence why Shamus didn’t use it in his article (like he said in his comment).

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Aha,so we should stop using you,because it creates confusion whether you are using singular you or the plural you.And you now totally wont understand what I was saying even though you have no problem of using you and you.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  Apples and oranges.

                  Singular and plural “you” is not a problem, because it’s exceptionally rare for the second person plural and the second person singular to both show up in the same paragraph. I’m actually struggling to think of an example of a situation where plural “you” acts for, against, or with a singular “you” within the same context (or vice versa).

                  It’s different when we’re talking about the third person. Multiple forms of third person nouns referring to different subjects/objects appear in the same context all the time, which means pronouns that more clearly refer to those nouns are preferable.

                  If I want to make sentences about Cerberus saving Shepard’s life with their miracle technology, after which they gave them one of their ships so they could save the galaxy…yuck. For contrast, with a separate singular (gendered) pronoun that sentence reads “Cerberus saved Shepard’s life with their miracle technology, after which they gave him one of their ships so he could save the galaxy.” The latter is perfectly clear, while the former is confusing and unclear on who is trying to save the galaxy, who did the giving, and who owns the ship or the technology.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Ok then,so because there are numerous cases where multiple (s)hes are used in the same sentence,much more often then singular third person mixed with plural third person,we should then interchangeably use he,she and it whenever we are talking about more than one subject,regardless of their gender.So instead of restructuring the sentence to make more sense (repeating someones name,or using passive voice,or resorting to splitting the sentence into multiple clearer ones),we should just write “The illusive man,with jacobs help,resurrected shepard,after which he ordered her to serve it”.So much simpler than restructuring it in order to convey more relevant information(and yes,singular they conveys more information that using a non gender neutral he).

                    Oh,and by the way,I was using both you and you in that sentence up there.And if you really want,I can spice it up with a few Yous as well.And if you think You isnt often mixed with you,you are mistaken,as you should already know how often You gets used with you,or even with you.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I’m not even sure where you’re going of on this non-sequitur from.

                      The entire point of pronouns is to save the time and effort required to restructure my sentences, because the restructuring interrupts flow and increase complexity. If I wanted to, I could completely abandon pronouns altogether, and ALWAYS use proper nouns, passive voice or multiple sentences.

                      The example sentence I gave is a normal sentence I would use naturally in a synopsis of the plot in ME2. Cerberus did indeed resurrect Shepard with their magical space technology so he could save the galaxy in the ship they gave him. At any point, did you trip up in that sentence or stop to understand who I was referring to with pronouns? To make that non-gendered, I need to say the Cerberus resurrected Cerberus resurrected Shepard with their magical space technology so Shepard could save the galaxy in the ship Cerberus gave Shepard. Do you not see how that flows worse?

                      The point of pronouns is to save time and cognitive effort on conveying ideas. Singular “they” is inappropriate and unclear in a large number of cases where it would otherwise see normal use, versus having a dedicated word for a singular non-gendered pronoun.

                      Also, it doesn’t matter what “you” you were using in the sentence above, because no matter how I interpreted it it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. Although, you did leave out a lot of quotation marks when referring to the word “you” that really should have been there.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      Aaaaand I can’t fix obvious typos because I already left another response somewhere else :\

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      To make that non-gendered, I need to say the Cerberus resurrected Cerberus resurrected Shepard with their magical space technology so Shepard could save the galaxy in the ship Cerberus gave Shepard. Do you not see how that flows worse?

                      Or you could use a more natural passive speech for it and say “Shepard was resurrected by cerberus’ magical technology and was then given their ship in order to save the galaxy”.See,gender neutral,and just as natural.

                      Yes,pronouns are used to save time and avoid unnecessary repetition.But they stop doing their job when information is lost.Here,an example as to why a gender neutral pronoun is very useful:
                      “In mass effect 4 the main protagonist will be peshard.He will be given a ship called mormandy,with full crew.The most important member of that crew will be benkins.He will be the only one peshard can romance.”

                      See with that sentence you imply that 1)you will have only a male protagonist and 2)he will only be gay.Automatically infuriating fans.But with a gender neutral they,it becomes:
                      “In mass effect 4 the main protagonist will be peshard.They will be given a ship called mormandy,with full crew.The most important member of that crew will be benkins.They will be the only one peshard can romance.”
                      Now here we imply that you will 1)have a choice of being male or female,2)the gender of the crewman you can romance also wont be fixed and 3)there is potential for both gay and straight romances.With just 4 letters more,you give out waay more information,which is crucial for conversation.And you avoid the clunky s/he,(s)he,she/he which can be useful for writing,but isnt that useful for speaking.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      First, I don’t think passive voice is just as natural. “The fence was jumped over by the dog” is less natural and less direct than “The dog jumped over the fence.” There are places for passive voice, and places where active is preferred–do you really want to shoehorn sentences too complex for “they” into the passive voice because “they” is the best solution anyone can agree on for a gender-neutral pronoun?

                      Your example of using “they” as a singular pronoun would work just as well if we had an actual singular pronoun instead of re-using “they.” For example, if “pants” is my singular non-gendered pronoun, I can say ““In mass effect 4 the main protagonist will be peshard.Pants will be given a ship called mormandy,with full crew.The most important member of that crew will be benkins.Pants will be the only one peshard can romance.” All the same implications are there, but “pants” can also serve me in more complicated sentences that involved both singular and plural antecedents if I need it.

                      I’m not saying we don’t need a pronoun, I’m saying “they” is not an ideal pronoun to rely on.

                  • Syal says:

                    I’m wondering if we could get away with using ‘it’ for Cerberus and other named group entities, so “Cerberus saved Shepherd with its miracle technology, after which it gave them one of its ships so they could save the galaxy.”

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      Hrm…I dunno. It makes sense for Cerberus, but what about groups like “Robin Hood’s Merry Men” or “the Free Masons”

                      I’m not even sure why those examples sound so different in my head. Maybe it’s because corporations are separate entities of themselves?

                    • Syal says:

                      It’s because those names start out pluralized. I don’t know how many group names are pluralized in Mass Effect though. And most of the time you can throw ‘organization’ onto the end of it to singularize it again if you want to; The Merry Men Outfit, The Organization of Free Masons and such.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    “I do promise you’ll find this series to be exceptionally long.”

    You better deliver, mister!

  13. Karthik says:

    This is probably as good a place as any for this question:

    Are there any games (in any genre) that evoke the same “feel” as Mass Effect 1? It’s this heady slow burn of a game, a lovely mixture of frontier exploration, desolate landscapes with pockets of civilization, lavish world building (as Shamus puts it), enticing mysteries and an all pervasive sense of wonder, although this last bit might be overselling it a bit. Moody electronic music, a coherent script (if it has one) and interesting characters would be a bonus.

    I’m thinking maybe there’s an old school RPG or an MMO, or maybe even a text adventure that is evocative in the same way.

    Yes, I know about Star Control 2; it shares a plot with Mass Effect, but not the tone. And No Man’s Sky looks to fulfill some of my criteria, but it’s far away and an unknown quantity. More generally, what I’m looking for doesn’t have to be a space or sci-fi game at all.

    EDIT: I just realized KOTOR (1, not the character piece that was 2) actually captures the Mass Effect feel quite well. Although it’s probably the other way around. Still, there’s got to be more.

    • Lilizuki says:

      While it might not match up perfectly, I’d say the original Fallout captures the same tone. The sense of wonder is replaced with dread, but it has interesting settlements scattered across a wasteland, a few interesting characters, and mysteries abounds.

      That is, the isometric original.

    • Ahiya says:

      I felt that way about TES Morrowind. If you like exploring desolate-feeling landscapes and stumbling on hamlets, it’s right up your alley.

      Morrowind is alien, enchanting, and gives players freedom to actually make choices. The world is a mix of generic types and very interesting characters, sometimes in surprising places. The interface is not modern, but the graphics can be (download the Morrowind Graphics and Sound Overhaul).

      I hear good things about Divinity Original Sin, the Shadowrun games and Pillars of Eternity

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I wouldn’t say Pillars necessarily captures the same atmosphere of exploration but there is a lot of lore to discover and its interesting and unique lore. There’s probably as much depth to the setting as was present in ME1 and a more interesting, or at least unique, overarching conflict that branches into interesting symptoms. Its surprising when you find out just how certain things are related.

        Plus, if you want classic, it doesn’t get more classic than POE’s Caed Nua, a derelict castle you can rebuild for your own use that sits conveniently on top of 13 levels of good old fashioned dungeon crawling.

        Pillar’s has something for both your Baldur’s Gate fans (deep story, written squadmates for your party) and your Icewind Dale fans (Caed Nua’s dungeon, plus the ability to create your own entire party via “hiring adventurers” in place of any or all of the written squadmates).

    • lurkey says:

      Not played it myself, but I’ve read in several places where ME got compared to “Outcast”.

      • DeadlyDark says:

        Well, from my point of view Gothic series is closer to Outcast (especially in day-night simulation, that was rarity at the time). But yeah, Outcast is great on it’s own right.

    • Taellosse says:

      I think the similarity to KotOR isn’t an accident, just like the similarity of Dragon Age to Dungeons & Dragons isn’t an accident – both franchises were created by Bioware in an effort to escape the strictures of being beholden to licensed properties owned by other, larger companies. From what I’ve heard, Bioware found working with LucasArts on KotOR very frustrating (which may be why they passed on KotOR 2). I’m guessing they found TSR (later Wizards of the Coast, later Hasbro) almost as bad for Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights (hence why they passed on NWN2).

      I know both Mass Effect and Dragon Age: Origins were under development for a lot longer than any licensed game would have been. DA:O in particular took a LONG time – the first announcement of its development, which was surely after 18 months or more of quiet work, came 5 years before release. And I think I remember reading somewhere that the early conceptual development for Mass Effect began in the wake of KotOR’s release, so that would have been around the same time they announced DA initially, a good 3 years before its official announcement.

    • DeadlyDark says:

      For me, first game that done this would Gothic 2. I didn’t played first part at the time, so the whole map was exploration of the new (but technically we revisit some parts of the first game).

  14. Knul says:

    No matter where you draw the line, it’s very clear that Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 3 are radically different games, and within the series we can see the change from “Classic BioWare” to “Nu BioWare”.

    I’m one of those few who liked Mass Effect 1, couldn’t stand ME2 and didn’t bother with ME3. Shamus’ articles shows why: I like the early Bioware games and I’m one of those who were alienated by the change in company culture in Bioware.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I was actually looking at that and thinking “surely the ‘early’ section should be marked ‘classic’?”, because those ones are my favourite Bioware games. The middle section ones are where I began to lose interest, and the “nu” ones I mostly haven’t played.

      • Grudgeal says:

        Yep.

        I think it has something to do with when you started following their games. Me, I started with Baldur’s Gate. I’d call the IE games ‘classic’ bioware, NWN-Jade Empire/Mass Effect (the shoulder-view, freeflow with little tactics, mostly set party selection) ‘second gen’ bioware, and Mass Effect 2 onwards ‘EA bioware’. And yes, that includes Dragon Age, which even at its best was only a harkening back to the second gen games.

        • Aldowyn says:

          My first Bioware game was KotOR and despite a couple of attempts I never could get into Baldur’s Gate, and NWN1 doesn’t even sound worth playing. I should at least try BGII at some point… Even so, I think I would call the Infinity Engine ‘classic’ BioWare. (although I’d prefer 1st/2nd/3rd, to avoid exactly that kind of confusion)

          Anyway, I definitely prefer ‘third gen’ bioware, although second gen is what made me a fan to start with. (Except DA: Origins, which is just tolerable for me)

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I go for the point Shamus made in his Fallout 3 series. Good writing and good game feel are not mutually exclusive. ME1’s story combined with ME3’s gameplay is what we should be shooting for.

      • Trix2000 says:

        This. So much this.

        I actually really liked 2 and 3 in addition to 1, but mostly because of the gameplay and characters just clicking so well with me. But I had to spend most of the time not thinking too hard about the story itself, because they didn’t really do a lot for the experience beyond “We have to do and save everything, so go do that!” That’s ignoring any plot holes and discrepancies, which honestly aren’t what breaks experiences for me usually.

        I know I’d be calling it my favorite series ever had they managed a much more compelling and relatable narrative in the later games, so that it felt like I was saving the universe for more than just ‘it’s what I do, and these people I care about are with me all the way so yay’.

      • swenson says:

        ME1’s story combined with ME3’s gameplay and graphics, with the ME2 side planets thrown in because ME3 sucked in that department, would be the perfect game.

        I was going to say ME2’s aesthetics, because there’s some really gorgeous and varied stuff in ME2 (Ilium at night during Thane’s recruitment, all of Omega, dusty bombed-out Tuchanka…), but ME3 actually did pretty well in that department too. Sur’Kesh was quite pretty, for example. But I tend to forget because of how annoyingly monochromatic London was at the end.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          YES! Even though ME3 had technically better graphics, I do feel ME2 was a better looking game. And in addition to side planets, I’d want to lump in some of ME2’s recruiting/loyalty missions both because the characters were so interesting and because they made for good vignettes. So lets break this down.

          ME1’s central plot and villain, attention to world building, sense of exploration, and commitment to reasonably hard sci fi.

          ME2’s aesthetics, characterization (Mordin nuff said), loyalty missions/vignettes of the larger universe.

          ME3’s gameplay, inventory, graphics. And if we’re going to have a major B plot, the Tuchunka stuff and the Salarian Krogan Turian situation was some of the best subplot stuff in the entire series. It did a great job of drawing on perhaps the richest vein of lore in the franchise and doing something satisfying with it, and they threw in a mech-kaiju battle to boot.

          Music, I’m partial to ME1 and ME2 both of which felt more like space and alien music. ME3 was pure ra ra space marine, which was ok but I didn’t like it nearly as much.

    • tmtvl says:

      Gold Age Bioware: Baldur’s Gate
      Silver Age Bioware: Mass Effect 1
      Dark Age Bioware: Mass Effect 2

    • tzeneth says:

      I didn’t play 3 after I sat down and actually thought about the plot to 2 for 30 seconds and thought about the actual consequences of Shepherd dieing. Also, I will say this, the gun play (ignoring the clips) feels better in the later games but the story just didn’t work for me.

  15. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jade Empire is when the cracks actually started.

    KOTOR’s design was deliberate in a way that none of Bioware’s proceeding games can claim to be. It was the game that established the formula that Bioware would keep using henceforth, and for that game every part of the formula made sense as part of a coherent vision. Since then, Bioware has been changing some parts of the formula without questioning how it affects the other parts. Their current games don’t look like anything that anyone sat down and said “that’s what the game should be like”. They look like a collection of kludges and compromise that keep lurching forward because something about them works.

    Companions are one of the biggest examples. Post-KOTOR I don’t get the feeling that Bioware knows what to do with them in combat. They don’t mesh with Bioware’s desire to make their games play like COD/God of War. Companions make sense for tactical combat, but Bioware doesn’t like tactical combat anymore. At the same time, though, Bioware’s writing became increasingly companion-centric, meaning that they couldn’t get rid of them.

    They also became far too romance-centric in their writing, and since they also decided that they had to give as many LBGT options as possible they went from having an open playing field for companion design where a few would have to be romanceable to their cast become Melrose 90210. Of course, none of this focus on romance meant that they had anything deeper going on with it than some trashy CW show. The only romances in Bioware games that even kind of work are the quasi-canon ones, like with Morrigan, since they actually get to have plot relevance.

    Morality bars are another. A lightside/darkside meter makes perfect sense for a Starwars game where the lightside/darkside dichotomy is an explicit part of the setting. In Jade Empire they wanted to make their morality bar not be good/evil, but the open palm/closed fist stuff wasn’t well thought-out and wasn’t really integrated as a core part of the setting. It was an attempt to use part of the KOTOR formula that worked well in that game without having the groundwork that KOTOR had to make it work.

    Then came Mass Effect. Paragon/renegade doesn’t even mean anything without establishing what you are a paragon of or renegade against. And they never established that. It because “soft Shepard” vs “asshole Shepard”. Paragon/renegade wasn’t a fundamental theme of the story, nor did it relate to an in-universe philosophy. It also didn’t fit the desire to give more complex moral questions to the player- you’d be given a choice to make, and then you were scored on it.

    Maybe worst of all is that they’re still making “RPGs” at all. They don’t really want to. Their particular narrative ambitions don’t really mix well with player agency. Their dialog system is very grudging about the amount of choice it gives to the player, and wants to play out more as a cutscene where the player makes a handful of important choices in the entire game. Their combat is more informed by straight-up action games. Mechanics that aren’t combat or dialog have become hopelessly directionless, and their game worlds stopped being a space where combat, dialog, puzzled, or anything else could happen and were reduced to being the dialog parts of the game and the combat parts of the game.

    Jade Empire was when a lot of it started. Companions were still in the game, but weren’t substantially part of combat. The combat was an extremely low-grade beat-em-up awkwardly welded onto a leveling system. The game had a much reduced focus on side-quests, exploring, equipment, and non-main-storyline content.

    • MrGuy says:

      You could argue that this is yet another aspect of the “ages of BioWare” conversation.

      The thing KOTOR, Jade Empire, and ME1 have in common are really good writing and world building, at least decent RPG aspects to build up your character, with most of the rest of aspects of the game (combat mechanics, companions, morality) being awkwardly grafted on, in theory in support of the world building, but feeling sort of thrown in. It’s Who They Were at the time.

      IMO the problem with Mass Effect as a series is that it’s born of this age, but didn’t stay there – later iterations of BioWare focused less on some of these (notably great writing) to add or “improve” others (the combat mechanics are much more polished in M3, and tragically they thought the way to “fix” the morality system was to make it more central without making it better). For good or ill, the formula changed, and the games changed with it.

      That said, I agree with your overriding sentiment – Jade Empire is a game with a lot of glaring issues that gets a pass from a lot of fans for having really interesting worldbuilding and the best plot twist in gaming history.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        I can’t really support calling KOTOR’s morality meter “grafted on”. It’s pretty core to the setting. Star Wars is about the light side vs. the dark side. The plot of KOTOR all led up to whether you would be redeemed or fall again. It’s an actual, in-universe thing that gets talked about all the time in the game.

        The combat may have not been everyone’s favorite style, but it worked will all of the game’s other mechanics and it never felt like it was happening in a discretely different space than the exploring/dialog. Companions were still an important part of combat and provided necessary skills for using computers/sneaking/disarming traps and all of the other non-combat non-dialog parts of the game.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          **Sorry, hit the wrong reply**

          I’ve not played the entire canon, but the only romance in any of the BioWare games that was good was the ME1 romance. The rank gap meant that the relationship had to be on hold for Ash/Kaiden until after the mutiny. And the relationship with Liara involved her being a civilian, nominally under Shepard’s protection, and being an alien. So, again, no real action until after the mutiny. At that point, the relationship had a direct symbolic connection to the thematic moment: dropping protocol and social restraint to do the right thing/whatever the renegade equivalent is. Even avoiding the relationship worked because it emphasized Shepard’s isolation.

          There is a dummied out romance ending to KOTOR where Carth’s confession of love for Revan redeems her at the last moment, they drop the Star Forge’s defenses, and die together. If Revan manages to redeem Bastilla, it sort of works.

          The rest of the romances have struck me as little more than grafted on h-games because we needed a romance in the game, obvs, and I always feel vaguely uncomfortable with all of them. I wish they’d either keep the romances plot relevant, or embrace the open-world romance of Skyrim.

        • Thomas says:

          I do think ‘classic’ Bioware seems like a fairly clear transition period between new Bioware and old Bioware. The change to more accessible, less tactical, combat, the character focus over worldbuilding, the “Bioware plot structure” all started in that age and showed a studio that was trying to become more Mass Market but didn’t really ‘achieve’ that until Mass effect and the EA buyout.

          Maybe it was Bioware’s willingness to sell-out a little that attracted EA to them in the first place (and then EA made them sell-out way more than they’d ever have imagined :p)

          ———————–
          So I agree with Bloodsquirrel, I don’t think KotoR was a perfect design, but clunky as it was, it was still an attempt to recreate the original trilogy experience beat for beat in game form.

          I think that’s less and less true of Bioware games since then. I don’t think I’d hold them as bankrupt as Bloodsquirrel does, even Dragon Age: Inquisition has it’s fortress mechanic to emulate a core theme of the game, but after KotoR Bioware began to stop looking at the game idea and basing it around that and instead started looking at the ‘Bioware idea’ and plastering different faces onto it.

          There’s still a lot of reasoned design innovation, but it’s all for the purpose of iterating on the Bioware idea, not the game. They adjust the companionship systems based on past companionship systems, not what the game needs

          • Aldowyn says:

            At least they finally dropped the “intro area, first major area, choice of four, something happens after the third, finish the fourth, endgame” that they’d been so strictly adhering to. KotOR, ME1, and Origins all follow ridiculously similar path. That was getting old.

    • Lilizuki says:

      LGBT is not the reason for the dearth of romance options. If it were, they’d have just as many gay characters as there are straight ones, or one or two (Like in the “good old days”). Instead, they made lots of romance options and happened to make around a third of them bisexual.

      If anything, the amount of LGBT characters is a symptom of their romance focus, not the cause of it.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        It’s not the cause of the lack of romance options, it’s the cause of the lack in memorable companions in general. Before, only a few of the companions needed to be romancable. Now most of them do to cover all of the bases that they “need” to cover. This leaves less room for characters who just don’t work as romance options. Just compare KOTOR’s cast to Inquisition’s. Would Misson, Zaalbar, Canderous, HK47, or T3-M4 work as romance options? Jolee Bindo would be a pretty big stretch.

        Making a character a potential love interest is a constraint that weakens the game’s ability to explore bigger ideas.

        • Squirly says:

          Not only that, I’d argue that it also prevents Bioware from writing stronger characters. The Witcher 3 has a character you meet (small spoilers) who likes to dress up in women’s clothing, even though he’s an elven male. He’s not gay, Geralt can’t sleep with him (because both Geralt and the elf are straight) and the fact that he likes to wear a variety of clothes is just that, nothing more really. He doesn’t need to be some sort of catch-all. He is who he is, and Geralt is who he is, and all the major characters are mostly well defined, having their preferences, idiosyncrasies etc.

          Compare that to a game like ME3, if Shepard wants to tango with every character regardless of gender then great – he/she is the main character, isn’t defined like Geralt, and the player should be able to choose whatever he wants. It’s when so many other characters suddenly get almost shoehorned into serving that purpose that some of the writing and characterization starts to lose focus.

          At least, in my experience. Your mileage may vary, of course.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            But that’s a problem with the characterization of the PC, not the romanceable companions. The companions have personalities, motivations, and preferences that make them believable people. BioWare PCs don’t have characterization, because they’re just avatars for the player’s wish-fulfillment, and poorly-implemented concepts like Paragon/Renegade don’t exactly allow for the development of a character through role-play. Hawke is the closest BioWare PC to being a real character*–s/he at least has some personal motivations–get family out of Lothering, get family to Kirkwall, take care of family, etc. And players didn’t like having to be Hawke.

            *I guess Revan’s a character up until the player gets a hold of them.

            • Squirly says:

              Well, you’re right and I actually agree with you. The PC being whatever the player wants them to be is a “good thing”, but Bioware takes that mentality to so many of it’s NPCs as well, kinda diluting the characters in the process. Sexuality is very much part of who someone is, whether more or less is down to the individual. But ultimately Bioware makes half it’s companions some sort of gender-fluid that doesn’t do the writing any real favors. It feels more like pandering to every possible orientation of the player, than trying to create an interesting group of people to interact with.

          • And regarding cross-dressing, as the philosopher Eddie Izzard often pointed out, being a transvestite didn’t mean you were a homosexual.

          • Aldowyn says:

            I’ll be honest, I ignore the romances most of the time in Mass Effect and most other Bioware games, and never missed a thing. Only half of the cast in ME2 is romanceable at all, and 2 of them were fan favorites from the first game. As for Dragon Age, all three of the games seem relatively comparable as to how much of the cast was romanceable and in variety (or lack of it.)

            (That said, Cassandra is best. I think the romances in general in Inquisition feel a lot more natural than they do in the mass effect games)

        • Lilizuki says:

          Inquisition’s characters are more interesting, and less archetypal, than any of KotoR’s characters.

          Jolee Bindo is a gruff, wise old man who has a smart-mouth, and who you can help out with a friend’s trial. Blackwall is a gruff, honorable man with a streak of cowardice and deception that you actively deal with throughout the game – including hints as to his arc’s twist, getting to see how he reacts to the fall of an organization he admires, and you can also happen to romance him.

          Mission Vao is a spunky teenager who deals with growing up and the loss of the one person she admires. Sera is a spunky teenager who grew up on the streets, who’s learned to hate her own race, and actively tries to help the poor – throughout the game, you deal with her insecurities, her immaturity, and getting to spend a lot of time getting to know how she became who she is. She also happens to be gay, and romanceable, with extra-interesting parts if you happen to be a gay elf, too.

          Carth Onasi is a snarky widower who has to deal with his best friend being the person he should hate most, and you get to help him deal with his issues. Cullen is a traumatized man, dealing with the complete dissolution of everything he once believed (Twice) and struggling to reconcile all of his beliefs. He has to deal with recovering from an addiction (Which you can help or hinder), being in charge of a military for the first time in his life, and potentially coming into conflict with the orders of his commanding officer (After his last went mad). He’s also romanceable.

          Canderous Ordo is a proud warrior race guy who wants to bring his tribe back to honorable times. Iron Bull is a proud warrior race spy who’s been working undercover for years, so much that he’s drifted away from the religious structure he was indoctrinated into believing. He adds depth to the Qunari’s culture, through being a part of it we’ve rarely seen before, and also being bisexual – which helps us learn more about how the Qunari view sex. You get to help him with whether he breaks away from that culture forever, or gets sent back to it. He’s also romanceable.

          Bastila Shan is a stuck-up Jedi prodigy who’s always been too proud of her power, and used to getting what she says done. Cassandra Pentaghast is a disciplined warrior who’s worked for Magic-Pope for most of her life, struggles to deal with her faith after the death of Magic-Pope, hates the celebrity that her position brings, and ultimately has to face the fact that the organization she’s devoted to is corrupt – you can capitalize on her doubts, agree with all they did, encourage her to reform them, or encourage her to become the new Magic-Pope. She’s also romanceable.

          HK-47 is a funny assassin robot. Dorian is a Tevinter mage who studied under a powerful Magister who accepted him, but, while being groomed to be the new Archon (As all Tevinters are), his father discovered that he was gay and attempted to use blood magic to force an orientation-change. He’s snarky, with an extremely bitter side, and you can help him deal with his genuinely-repenting father, get in touch with his family, or demean him so much that he storms out. He’s also romanceable.

          It seems to me like the characters from Dragon Age: Inquisition have more depth, more interactions, and interact with the world more deeply than any of KotoR’s (Despite my love for both games). And this is despite them being romanceable and, in some cases, LGBT. I didn’t even get to Cole, or Vivienne, or Leliana, or Krem.

          • bloodsquirrel says:

            Being archtypical does not make a character uninteresting, and using a single sentence to describe them does not mean that they are actually reducible to that one sentence. Hell, “gruff, honorable man” is pretty damn archtypical itself.

            Archtypes are perfectly good starting points for characters. Jolee Bindo, for example, is far more than a gruff old man. He provides a perspective on the Jedi/Sith conflict that is neither completely from the inside nor from the outside. He isn’t holding up a party line like Bastila is, but he does understand the Jedi in a way that Carth can’t.

            He’s a character with genuine history, as well as coherent, compelling reasons for disagreeing with the Jedi, despite still believing in their basic ideals. He has a personal history that informs his point of view without his entire character being reducible to one or two life events.

            Jolee is a deliberate counterpoint to the light/dark dichotomy, but a not one that seeks to deny the dichotomy altogether.

            He isn’t wise as an informed character attribute, or by repeating common platitudes, but because he actually has insightful things to say throughout the game. He dabbles in the role of being a mentor, but he doesn’t presume to be wiser than the best advice he can offer, and doesn’t condescend to the young’uns.

            Ultimate, Jolee serves an important thematic point in the game, and falls into the “gruff wise old man” archtype by incident.

            • Aldowyn says:

              BioWare’s companions have, AFAIK, ALWAYS been based on a lot of similar archetypes. Compare Carth, Kaiden, Alistair, and Canderous, Wrex, and Sten.

              And as far as your point with Jolee goes, I’d have to say many of Bioware’s characters in the later games do the same thing – Cassandra and Cullen’s crises of faith in Inquisition come to mind.

              (Inquisition is really good, you guys. I know most of you probably disagree, but still.)

          • Wide And Nerdy says:

            Pfft.

            I know that you aren’t trying to say that Dorian comes even close to stacking up to HK-47. HK-47 is the best character Bioware ever made and the perfect example of what they lost. They tried again with Shale and she was pretty good but she was an inferior knockoff.

            HK in addition to being hilarious had a plot arc to match Dorian’s and a fully developed world outlook contextualized by his function and goals (I refer you to his definition of what love is). The humor emerges from his character, such as his indignance that you might use him for something other than killing people, his glee that you might try to interrogate him because it would give him a chance to show off how good he is at resisting that, his curiosity and condescension towards inferior meatbags. In addition to being a good character in his own right, his status as a creation of Darth Revan adds to that person’s characterization. KOTOR 2 takes it further by having him in denial about the prospect that he might be obsolete or inferior to the HK-50s, an existential crisis. Far less common that Dorian’s cliched plot.

            As for Sera, she’s one of Bioware’s worst. She’s fingernails across chalkboard annoying and they were trying to hard to make her cute. Her plot arc is that she starts out as someone who things powerful people are stupid and mean and dumb and from there she grows into the sort of person who still things powerful people are stupid and mean and dumb. Her complete inability to defend or reconcile her views suggests not an immature woman but someone developmentally disabled. Mission at least is a strong willed character who clings to whats good in her life even after setbacks.

            bloodsquirrel did a good job of defending Jolee. I’ll only add that I find a character who’s seen the flaws in dogma but doesn’t dismiss it out of hand and who has come out the other side with his own reconciled view on his spirituality that takes the good from it far more interesting than yet another warrior with a shameful past they’re trying to atone for. Jolee didn’t need you to fix him. He’s actually testing you for reasons that become apparent later. There’s the echo of Yoda in Jolee’s approach with suggests the possibility that Jolee’s outlook makes it into a reformed Jedi Order down the road.

            Iron Bull doesn’t add depth to Qunari culture so much as he retcons it. At best you could say that he looks on it with rose colored glasses and clings to the idea that there’s a place for him to return too, which is plainly a lie. The Iron Bull we know would either be destroyed and replaced with a proper Qunari mind or he’d be killed outright.

            “I didn’t even get to Cole, or Vivienne, or Leliana, or Krem.”

            Yeah you did yourself a favor there. Leliana is a sweet little idiot. Vivienne is irredeemably loathesome, Cole is adequate.

            Krem could have been more interesting if her trans nature had simply been there and hadn’t been a point of discussion. I knew someone like her (my friend preferred to be called “she” because as far as she was concerned she wasn’t a “he” unless and until she was operated on.) Seeing this person who was clearly supposed to be male simply be allowed to be one of the guys was the closest either he/she or Iron Bull got to living up to Iron Bull’s promise.

            As for Cassandra, I’ll give you Cassandra if we’re speaking purely in terms of the character, but Bastila is an interesting examination of what might happen if Luke had been Leia. Bastila had Leia’s pride and snarkiness which turn out to be out of place for a Jedi who has been trained to deny both.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Inquisition’s characters are more interesting, and less archetypal, than any of KotoR’s characters.

            And then you go on to list how they can be derived from the characters of kotor on an almost 1:1 ratio?

            • Wide And Nerdy says:

              YOU TAKE THAT BACK!

              Insinuating that Mission Vao is in anyway responsible for the stunted creation that is Sera, well its just not right. Sera is pretty much the opposite of Mission. Sera is an overgrown child who can’t think straight. Mission is kid forced to grow up who is insightful beyond her years at times.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        Why? Its something like 5% of the population. If anything, Bioware games have an unusually high representation compared to real life if you’re looking at the romance options.

        I’m fine with it being there but why is 50 percent the presumption?

        • Joe Informatico says:

          1) Women represent 51% of the population. Why aren’t women 51% of video game protagonists?

          2) In real life, most video game protagonists would be dead or crippled the first time an enemy injured them. A 30′ fall would probably mess them up. Why is realism all of a sudden a concern for video games when it comes to sexual orientation?

          3) Every BioWare RPG has taken place in either a fantastic secondary-world, or the far future. Why would 21st century demographics be relevant to those settings?

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            1) Women aren’t 51% of the AAA gaming market. Something like 80% of players rolled male!shep.

            2/3) You’re committing the classic “Any fantasy elements mean that we can completely invalidate verisimilitude” fallacy.

            • Aldowyn says:

              Recent studies have set about 54% of the playerbase for RPGs like BioWare’s are female. It’s probably higher for Dragon Age than Mass Effect, given ME2 and ME3’s shooterness, and the romances always seemed like a bigger deal in those games. (that did not come out well.)

              • newplan says:

                Men are 49% of the population – why don’t men make up 49% of the audience of Magic Mike or Sex and the City? What is to be done about this crisis???

                Men and women are different and are interested in different things.

                Women are actually insanely overrepresented as video game protagonists in comparison to any realistic assessment. There’s about a 5 standard deviation gap in physical strength between the sexes. A 5 standard deviation more athletic than the mean man is an Olympian or video game protagonist. A 5 standard deviation more athletic than the mean woman is an average man. As an example, the World Cup winning US Women’s National Team lost to the Boy’s National 17 and under team – 8-2. Apparently they also lose regularly to the Boy’s 15U team as well.

                Maybe that doesn’t bother and when you play a game and run into the ridiculous “woman who can do everything a man can do only better” cliche it doesn’t immediately take you out of the game but it’s immersion breaking for people who have had more contact with and a better understanding of the real world. Some breaks with reality are necessary for game play but making glaring breaks with reality that aren’t necessary for game play does nothing but stretch willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.

                That being said I actually played as FemShep – in a world where all the soldiers are nanotechnologically enhanced she’s only a massive outlier on aggression instead of also being a massive 1 in trillion physical outlier too. Plus she can have magic telekinetic powers which the human brain lacks immersion breaking intuition about.

              • Henson says:

                I’ve not heard of this study before. Could you link to it?

                • Aldowyn says:

                  Here.

                  *edit* That article doesn’t actually link to the study, just the group that did it, and I didn’t find it on their site. But that’s what I was thinking of.

                • Henson says:

                  While it’s not the study itself, the summary you’ve linked to shows a slightly different conclusion than you’ve stated above. The study indicates gender distribution specifically for the PC market. While this is an interesting finding, I wouldn’t want to generalize this result to the entire playerbase of RPGs, especially given that the console market is much, much larger than the PC market.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Bah,everyone knows that one pc master racer is worth at least 10 console plebs.And thats only in the case when they reduce their wort by not showering for days(which is often).

        • Lilizuki says:

          My point was that Bioware isn’t just trying to pander to LGBT people. If that were the case, they’d have half of the cast gay (So it’s “fair”). If they were pandering as little as possible, they’d have one option for each orientation. But, they have a huge cast of available characters with varying levels of gayness, which, to me, implies they want to have a bunch of romance options for reasons other than LGBT people ruining games for everyone.

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            Out of the 8 romance options, four of them are gay or bi.

            http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Romance_(Inquisition)

            Even more specifically, you have exactly as many options (2) as a straight male, gay male, or gay female. Straight women get twice as many for some reason.

            This was, I’d like to point out, more deliberate and carefully arranged than the ending to Bioware’s massive space opera trilogy. It really isn’t hyperbole to say that there is more passion and energy for gay romances at Bioware than in their game’s main plots.

            Or hopefully *was*. With the recent turnover in the writing staff (Helper and Gaider, both of whom were very vocal about the subject), there’s a chance that we’ll see a shift in Bioware’s writing away from being a dating sim with a fantasy/sci-fi plot grudgingly tacked on.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            My point was that Bioware isn’t just trying to pander to LGBT people.

            This is true.They are in fact trying to pander to a much larger,more sinister group.The same group that “this was a work of multicultural team of people of various religions” line in assassins creed is aimed at.

        • To be fair, all video games of the BioWare/Bethesda vein have unusual amounts of everything compared to real life. The amount of unguarded weapons, cast-off loot, unopened doors, and people in need of help from a charismatic and occasionally violent outsider are all over-represented, so why not romantic variety? And in every BioWare game I’ve played, the romances are all optional, and I usually ignore them all, just wanting to get on with the game.

          The closest I came to romancing someone was the woman in Fallout New Vegas who runs Vault 21, and that was just because I gave her a ton of vault jumpsuits for caps and XP. Apparently, this makes her want to have “screen fades to black” sex with you, if you so desire.

        • guy says:

          Because every group wants romance options, and generally they’d like a choice. That means at least two options for four combinations of gender and interest. That’s a minimum of four characters, and most likely they can’t have more than two bisexual characters without complaints about pandering. So that’s four LBGT and two straight characters to make everyone happy. Adding two more straight characters puts them at 50% LBGT and eight romances. That’s a very large chunk of the memorable character budget. Presumably most of the other characters are straight and it just doesn’t come up.

          The casts are statistically anomalous, but here’s something pointed out to me in a Scandinavian history class: fiction doesn’t reflect what a culture is like, it reflects what a culture is interested in hearing about. Stories are about interesting people with lots of conflict, not about the average person. People are interested in hearing about LBGT people, so they show up a lot.

          Of course, that begs the question of why audiences are interested if only a limited percentage are actually LBGT. There are a number of factors. First, it is always good strategy to sell to more people rather than fewer people. Second, some straight people may choose to play a gay character of the opposite gender. Lastly, a lot of people may not be interested themselves but be sympathetic to people who are.

          • Daimbert says:

            Well, at the risk of delving into bad topics … I don’t think that audiences actually ARE all that interested in it. I think, for the most part, that since those sorts of things aren’t, in fact, really placed front and centre, that most people simply ignore them. Why Bioware does them is that today with the Internet we’re more a culture where really the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and “inclusiveness” is a very squeaky wheel at the moment. But I don’t think that gets Bioware significantly more sales, but don’t think it costs them any either. Some players will do the same-sex relationships if it fits their character (I did it in ME and in DAO, the former because I was doing Helena Cain and it fit the character, and the second because Leiliana was the most interesting romance option in the game, but I wanted to play as a female character).

            And doing it means that Bioware might get some positive press, and doesn’t get a lot of negative press (see issues with TOR over this) so it’s good for them to do it, and they might have people on staff who really want to see this happen. But the audience, I think, doesn’t care that much.

            • guy says:

              The people who discuss the games online are part of the audience. Certainly, there aren’t many people for whom it’s a deal-breaker, but that’s not the same thing as not caring.

              I mean, we’re settling in for a novel-length series on what’s wrong with a game trilogy a lot of us own in full.

              • Daimbert says:

                I believe that the interest is, in fact, very limited, and thus there’s no puzzle why the audience is interested in it even if there is technically only a limited number of people who would be interested in it on principle. I also don’t think this is a small number of fans yelling loudly, but more people who aren’t even fans or the audience yelling loudly, some fans joining in — usually quieter — and most of the rest of the audience responding with a resounding “Meh”.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Because every group wants romance options, and generally they’d like a choice.

            Romance is not the only end point of a relationship between teammates.In fact,your relationship with mordin,your bromance with garrus and tali are far better than any of the romances in mass effects.Bioware should do more strong friendships,they are obviously way better at it.

            Also,quantity of choice is not better than quality of choice.People praise witcher series much more than mass effect series,yet you get waaaaaay less dialogue options in witcher,and geralt is a predefined straight guy.What witcher has over mass effect is quality writing for those choices.

    • Merlin says:

      That’s a hell of a mic drop, plus or minus some LGBT quibbles. Consider this comment an upvote.

    • Mistwraithe says:

      And yet Jade Empire is one of my favourite games of all time.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      As much as I love it,I blame the aurora toolkit for biowares romance focus.Ok,not specifically the toolkit,but the people using it to flood the download section with romance crap.See,neverwinter nights was the only bioware rpg where you didnt have a romance option.And the fans hated it(stupid fans!).So for everything made after that,bioware bent over backwards in order to cram romance in,whether it would fit or not.And laking the plethora of options they had back in baldurs gates,the only time they were able to make romance work,they sucked at it.They sucked at it hard.But the fans liked it,so they not only continued the trend,they made it worse in every game.

      • Grudgeal says:

        I remember NWN’s main campaign, and yes you did. They just didn’t involve party members, your character could have a ‘romance’ with the NPC booby elf (forget her name) or not-Valygar.

        They were horribly written too.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          That conversation line with aribeth is considered romance?Well ok then.But compared to what you get in the hordes of the underdark expansion,its just as lame as the fade to black sex you can have with the hookers.

      • Aldowyn says:

        I will agree that a somewhat-disturbingly large portion of BioWare’s current fanbase puts a disturbingly-disporportionate emphasis on the romances.

        I don’t think I will agree that it’s a cause of them become worse and losing focus on the main story, for the very simple reason that I don’t think they ARE worse.

  16. MadTinkerer says:

    “even if you want to argue that Pratchett-Potter books are better than Rowling-Potter bookseven if you want to argue that Pratchett-Potter books are better than Rowling-Potter books”

    DON’T TEASE ME WITH WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

  17. Dragmire says:

    I am very much looking forward to this and I don’t care how long it gets.

    Go ahead and spend the rest of 2015 releasing these, I’ll read it all!

    • ThaneofFife says:

      Seconded.

      I’ve never played a Mass Effect Game (and don’t really want to after everything I’ve read), but I’m still looking forward to this. I’m also hoping it’ll have a few nuggets of wisdom that I can apply to my own writing going forward.

  18. Forty says:

    I think you forgot to link to youtube when talking about MrBTongue.

  19. Christopher says:

    I love this. Thought you were half kidding at the time when you asked if anyone wanted 10 000 words on Mass Effect. I’m happy you were not.

  20. The other day I saw the SW ME3 series and got to the end. Also read the article on the end. I didn’t comment because they were old, but I’ll mention a couple of things about it, as at least one I think you missed or you didn’t get/or I am being the one missing/not getting. I haven’t played the game, though. I bought the first installment but the FPS-ish game play wasn’t much of my taste, got stuck in a mission at the second planet post Normandy ownership and some issues I tend to have with RPGs hit and I stopped playing. I am thinking on trying it again.

    When the explosion goes over the Earth, the game shows some reapers that get destroyed; then two humans in cover, it changed view and two humanoid shapes in cover getting blown up. I had the impression the second humanoid forms were humanoid reapers, not the humans, but failing to show the humans surviving after the explosion goes through them, which I think is what should be happening in the selected ending of Spoiler Warning, it makes it seem like the second are the same humans at the start. At best is made in a way that’s confusing, at worst the Star Child lied but also the game lies and even that choice is false. Still, even if the humans survive on Earth, the destruction of the mass relays and the state of Earth, which I don’t know what’s it supposed to be like, but it definitely didn’t look very good, would possibly mean survivability of life forms on it is dubious.

    Another note, the Star Child specifies on the Reaper’s goals. As I understood it, Sovereign says reapers kill organic life to avoid it being destroyed by synthetics. The Star Child says they destroy the organic life that’s developed enough to create synthetic life, leaving those in earlier stages of development alone (he points out how in the previous cycle, when they attacked, they spared the humans as they couldn’t create synthetics and as they plan to do with the lesser species now). So one could say, though I don’t know how forced it would sound within the story, that the reaper’s conclusion is “If the destroy the organics who can create synthetic, the organics who can’t will survive; but if we let them alone, the synthetics will eventually destroy every organic life regardless of whether they were created by them or not or if they can or not”. Then they go about preserving some life in reaper form or liquified, which makes it again to increase in the level of stupid. Couldn’t they just have attained power during the first cycle and simply ban any technology leading to creating synthetics? If they destroyed everyone they could have just stopped before and claimed victory in war for political power and become the tyrants that rule over the galaxy. Someone builds a synthetic? Destroy the factory, the plans and creators are sent to jail.

    What I read was, one doesn’t know where is Joker going to, why is he going to, and somebody in comments saying he didn’t use the mass relay. The thing that remains the more problematic for me is the why is he fleeing? There’s no explanation for that. Any explanation would be made ad-hoc by the player. My best guess would be: he sees the explosion coming out from the big bike klaxon, he thinks “okay, Shepard can’t be alive and this will kill us”, he panics, as he goes away, the explosion keeps growing, he thinks it will eat the whole Solar System so he decides the best route to flee is the one that will take him very far away as fast as possible: the mass relays, he has no way to know the explosion will travel through them. So he hits it, and during the trip the Normandy is caught by the explosion and knocked out of hyperspace into an unknown system where he crash lands. But still, there’ not really any explanation, it should have given one.

    Then he crashes and in the article about the ending it’s said that Joker and the crew die of hunger there. Wrong. This is shown, for me very clearly (if you missed it then it’s either not that clear or I am the one missing something telling what comes next is another planet), that it is not the case. The post credit scene with the Stargazer and the child is the explanation. Someone telling his grandson about the epic tales of commander Shepard, wondering if there’s life out there and how many stars are there that could hold intelligent life. They’re descendants from the Normandy crew in that planet. They’ve settled and restarted a society, of which only two humans are shown; but it’s several generations down the line, centuries, maybe millennia? and they’re part of a civilization that has not yet achieved space flight but still keep the tradition of the tales about Shepard, who commanded the ship in which they came to this world but was lost before arriving. (Now they’ll make the new game and it will deny it :P).

    They’ve never been contacted or found by any other species, which doesn’t mean much considering the blowing up of the mass relays. Haven’t they been found because nobody has solved intersystem travel or because nobody else survived? Is that scene far enough in the future that an alternative should have been invented or not? What happened to the rest of the people? Earth and all the other systems of the other species? That’s still not answered and should be answered. Nothing has been answered, only what happens to the Normandy crew: they colonize the planet and manage to multiply and create a thriving civilization, though they lose space travel… Since it’s generations into the future, if it was a mere problem of resources they should have been able to build the tools and such and be able to start building advanced stuff again, so it’s a matter of knowledge. How much of it have they lost?

    Still, so much left wrongly unanswered, so many things wrong with the ending, plus all that is wrong before that. Judging by that SW ME3 play through and what I’ve read, mostly here, about it. I understand the gripes with Cerberus and as far I can understand how are things in ME it looks like I totally agree. Going to the big showdown against the big bad of the game and then getting the secondary evil taking the focus is just wrong, I feel it is frustrating for the players, as it thwarts his expectation to finally duke it out with the real big baddies, and that it on top dillutes the climax turning it into an anticlimax, even before the rest that is going to come. And Kai Leng, he’s ridiculous.

    • “I had the impression the second humanoid forms were humanoid reapers, not the humans.”

      I don’t know where you got that impression. The only humanoid Reaper we ever saw was in ME2, but it was never established if that was what went inside a squid-shaped shell or was what it looked like externally. Given that every other Reaper is a squid-shape, and that Shepard blew up the humanoid Reaper, those human-shaped things were, indeed, humans.

      “Another note, the Star Child specifies on the Reaper’s goals.”

      It doesn’t matter at this point, because the Reapers’ goals were ruined in Mass Effect 2. It was set up in ME1 that the existence of Reapers and their plans were beyond our comprehension, and fair enough, that makes sense. They’re millions-year-old creatures with galaxy-spanning minds. We’re like bugs to them. It would’ve been nice if their plan was at least complicated, if not inexplicable to some extent, much like the Lovecraftian tropes the Reapers seem to be based on. We don’t know why Cthuhu will awaken and devour the Earth, we only know he will, and we have to deal with that somehow. Turning sentients into Slurpee and then making robot bodies for the goo wasn’t just comprehensible, it was stooooopid. There were few ways to salvage the concept, and the ending they came up with made it worse.

      “Then he crashes and in the article about the ending it’s said that Joker and the crew die of hunger there. Wrong.”

      In the Spoiler Warning episode itself, they mention everyone on Earth dying of hunger and starving, which makes sense. There’s no more Mass Relays, Earth has been devastated, and there are several different heavily-armed species stranded on a world that likely relied on interstellar travel for resources (like food). As for Joker, let’s assume he survives along with the Normandy crew. There isn’t enough of a gene pool to repopulate a planet. They’d be doomed.

      Part of the problem is that the ending cutscenes are abbreviated based on your war assets and the color of button you pressed. For instance, you’ll see Joker leave, you’ll see the planet, but if your war assets are high enough, you see him and EDI open the hatch on the ship. If you don’t get to see that, presumably the Normandy crashes and everyone dies because you didn’t prepare for enough war, I guess. You were a bad Shepard.

      As Shamus & Co. said at the end of the ME3 season, there were too many cooks at the end, the lead dev wrote the ending in a rush without anyone else’s input, and the people from the first game had little to nothing to do with 2 and 3. It was a valiant effort to make a space opera that bungled a lot of what’s necessary for a long-term plot like the Reaper invasion.

      • Whoops. I meant husks, not humanoid reapers.

        I suppose the war assets is an airbag for the Normandy, then. XD

        Oh, I got confused at one point and thought it was referenced only in ME3 and that Sovereign thing was the only. Indeed after that it should have been left at that. I could even consider it a candidate to best thing to say about it.

        On gene pool, see my answer below.

    • Taellosse says:

      Regarding your notion that the Stargazer and child are descended from the stranded Normandy crew – I doubt it very much. The Normandy doesn’t have a crew complement anywhere near large enough to create a viable gene pool on its own. The whole ship holds around two dozen people, and some of those, when the ship crashes, are non-human and thus can’t be part of the gene pool. The bare minimum to maintain genetic diversity, with extremely careful planned breeding is 50 – to allow for natural pairing and normal breeding you need 20 times that at least. Anything less and inbreeding destroys the population in relatively short order over the course of a few generations.

      • Yeah, you’re correct. It went through my head at the moment, though I didn’t mention about it because I considered the authors wouldn’t be asking themselves those questions and I was not feeling nitpicky to ask them to, as they probably should have. Then again, there’s the other side to the question, which I also left unsaid because I decided to edit a part of the comment and then forgot: if we give them leeway to say there is a large enough crew to spawn a new civilization, why two humans? They should then aknowledge the possibility of the other species represented in the crew being preserved too. But I guess they only cared for the humans, like the protagonist with all the “abandon your planets and come save mine”.

        • Taellosse says:

          Well, as to that, because almost none of the aliens even had two members aboard, never mind a large enough number to sustain a population. If this is non-Extended Cut (which it would have to be, since the EC makes it clear that the Normandy is repaired and they aren’t stranded at all), exactly who is there depends who was with Shepard on the final assault, but regardless, there isn’t more than 1 Turian (Garrus) or Quarian (Tali), so neither race could reproduce. There are no Krogans aboard, since Wrex is elsewhere during the assault on Earth and Grunt isn’t even on the planet. Nor are there any Salarians, as the only one that was during the game would have left after Tchuchanka. The only species that can “breed” outside their own kind are the Asari. If Liara is aboard, it’s possible for her to “mate” with anybody else to produce offspring (possibly even EDI, now that I think of it – precisely what Asari do to reproduce isn’t ever made clear enough to rule that out), and by whatever vague mumbo-jumbo makes Asari not clones of their mothers would hypothetically allow there to be a human/Asari population on that world.

          Actually, there’s a pretty good chance that if the Normandy did get stranded, any eventual surviving population down the line would actually be ALL Asari. Assuming Liara approached the problem as a scientist, she’d “mate” with as many members of the crew as possible, of both genders and all species, to maximize the size of her succeeding generation. Given her lifespan, and the fact that she doesn’t need a young partner, she could probably have several dozen kids, with virtually no overlap in parentage from the “father’s” side. The humans wouldn’t die out immediately – they’d last several generations before the recessives started wrecking them, providing her with more partners. Meanwhile, all her offspring, once they reached maturity, could do the same, mating not only with the original humans and their offspring, but also each other (it’s unclear how much of a problem “inbreeding” is for Asari, since there’s no actual combining of genetic material, but presumably the risk is reduced if not eliminated, and anyway it wouldn’t be a huge problem because the pool of potential mates would be growing exponentially, with close relationships being increasingly diluted, rather than reinforced). Depending on exactly how long it takes an Asari to gestate and the reach maturity, it probably wouldn’t even take Liara’s entire lifetime to overwhelm the humans in sheer volume, nevermind what happens to their gene pool in that period. She could probably even convince herself it was the best hope for preserving something of the humans, since they’re doomed on their own over time.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Anyway, in the Extended Cut Joker fixed it and they flew off, IIRC, so they weren’t even really stranded.

        Agh that ending >.<

    • Vect says:

      Kai Leng’s main problem was that he was less a proper villain and more a plot device. Aside from the fact that he looks silly and he succeeds solely through Cutscene Bullshit, you don’t even really get to talk to him in a game where if you’re not shooting people you’re talking to them. Even Saren has a few moments where the two of you have an actual conversation and you learn more about his point of view. You never really get to talk to Kai Leng outside of battle taunts and you’re expected to have read the books to really know anything about his character (specifically that he’s an asshole super-racist). As such, he came off as less a proper rival and more of an obstacle the game throws at you to ensure some level of failure on your part.

      • Daimbert says:

        And with Saren, you can even kill him through conversation if you are Renegade enough, if I remember correctly (and if I am, I was … and I did [grin]).

        Now I REALLY think Shamus needs to do a DMotR-style webcomic doing the Mass Effect series as someone else suggested. The Saren/Sovereign similar-name confusion and the “killed by negotiations” lines alone would be worth it.

        • I don’t think it was being Renegade that did it. You just needed the points in either persuade or charm to affect the outcome. In my playthrough, I defeated him with dialog, but the great thing was that you don’t tell him to kill himself. It’s the conclusion he arrives at when (presumably) the player is only expecting him to, at best, stand down.

          • Grudgeal says:

            As far as I know, sticking to one particular stance (paragon or renegade) during your discussion on Virmire and then passing a charm or intimidate check on the citadel (depending on which you picked earlier) makes you skip the first part of his boss fight.

            In the Renegade one you actually encourage him to shoot himself.

        • Vect says:

          You need to pass either a Paragon or Renegade check for Saren to shoot himself. The same applies for TIM in Mass Effect 3 at the end. I believe you need to consistently stick with a single stance and pass the speech check whenever you can.

  21. Ranneko says:

    I would be very curious as to the statistics regarding the audiences of the various games. Obviously as Bioware’s audience and stature has grown, the expectation would be pretty much that more people have played newer titles than older titles, hence that most of the audience doesn’t know/like the older games.

    The real question is what is the attrition rate of the old audience, what proportion of the old audience that loved say Neverwinter Nights also went on to enjoy Mass Effect 2 and 3 later on. Those are numbers that are pretty difficult to attain but I would be interested in what they tell us.

    For the record I did play the older Bioware titles and enjoyed them, though the base NWN campaign was incredibly dull the expansions were fun and the user generated content was incredible. I still prefer their newer titles, I like the focus on characters and the game feel is as has been noted before much better. I feel that a lot of the cruft from their systems have been dropped or smoothed into something that is more entertaining.

    As a system the ME3 combat was satisfying enough to actually make for a very entertaining horde mode multiplayer game which completely caught me off guard.

    • Merlin says:

      It’s also interesting to me to look at that list and realize that I’ve never actually been a Bioware fan, I just regularly forget that they aren’t Black Isle.

      I haven’t played “Early” Bioware (I will get to BG & BG2, I swear), enjoyed KOTOR but strongly disliked ME & DA:O. I’m honestly not entirely sure why I gave ME2 a shot, but I had a good time with it despite everything Cerberus-related being pants on head moronic. BUT I’ve also avoided Bioware games like the plague ever since.

      Tellingly, I’m realizing that I only consider the writing to be a strength in one of the four I’ve played (KOTOR), and even then, it’s not the one with the best pacing or structure (ME2).

      • Daimbert says:

        For me, I hated BG (despite loving its contemporary Icewind Dale), played BG2 years later and while I didn’t hate it, I just drifted away from playing it, didn’t really care for Neverwinter Nights, loved KotOR, loved Sith Lords (but liked the first one better, and isn’t that Obsidian anyway?), loved ME1, liked ME2 (although playing as the same character from ME1 probably helped), liked DAO (though less than ME2 because the combat was more annoying in DAO), now am liking ME3, and love TOR (though not as much as I did City of Heroes). TOR has probably the best combination of story and characters that I’ve seen so far, and it would be wonderful if it was just a single player game.

  22. Akuma says:

    *Puts his seat belt on*

    I suppose you could say we have come full circle. It’s funny because I can still remember the exact point I was done with the series. I made a prediction near the end of the first game and thought to myself “that would be really stupid if that was the reason”, so when it happened at the end of the second game I was done.

    But we’ll go over that when it’s relevant.

  23. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    I agree with a lot of this, so I’ll focus on the area I don’t agree. I see a lot more continuity between ME1 and ME3, especially thematically. I’d be curious to see how our host thinks the thematic differences work.

    There are arcs for Shepard running from the first moment of the first game -a soldier who has recently distinguished himself in action -through the second game -a leader who attracts the best of the best -and the third -leader of the galaxy. We see similar things with Garrus, starting as a cowboy cop and developing into a leader in his own right. There are consistent themes of choice in the face of strong institutions and arguments that there is no choice.

    These themes break down as the story gets closer to the end, and I’ll agree that the problems are visible as early as the second game.

    I also do not concur entirely on the gameplay aspect. The games are cover based shooters with pretensions to open world (but the main missions of the first game are also clearly corridor shooters) with light RPG elements. The RPG elements get less in the second game, but it’s not like your guns skill in the first game was all that determinative of your shooting.

    • Daimbert says:

      I’m finding that as well. I think it was the playthrough at SF Debris that said that ME1 was plot-driven while ME2 was character-driven, and that seems to make sense to me: I remember more characters from ME2 but don’t really think much of the plot, while in ME1 I remember the plot and exploration and not much of the characters. Now playing ME3, it seems to me that it is trying to recapture the good things from ME1 while maintaining what people liked in ME1. The romances are expanded. There’s a lot more character interaction, and there’s a focus on getting the gang back together and closing off their personal arcs (Mordin’s is amazing, if annoying because of how it actually ends). And they’ve made the exploration better and less annoying. And they have the “narrative” difficulty which except for some fights means that I can pretty much ignore all of the shooter elements and just kill things (I’ve had some fun charging past cover and then shooting the Cerebus troopers who thought it would protect them).

      So it seems like they are trying to combine the best of ME1 and ME2 there. I’m only 10 hours or so in — and haven’t hit Kai Leng yet — but we’ll see if they make it. I’ve already commented in a post on my blog that I don’t think they made it with exploration, because of the restriction they placed on it. We’ll see how the ending works when I get there (I know roughly what they are, but am trying to not really look them up until I get there so I can see how it fits in context).

      • Aldowyn says:

        That’s certainly what I was hoping for before it came out, and as far as I’m concerned they did a pretty good job. You’re definitely right about the exploration, though. It’s somewhat better than ME2, but not much.

        Mass Effect 2 exists *solely* to introduce you to characters and emphasize certain aspects of the setting (mostly the genophage and the Geth.) Literally nothing happens to progress the main plot in any way.

  24. Christopher says:

    A question: You tweeted about difficulties in getting the Kasumi DLC. What DLC did you end up playing, and how much weight are you gonna put on them? I remember Brad Shoemaker over at Giant Bomb giving ME3 his Game of the Year award at the time, citing that because he played it late in the year with all the DLC he had a much more satisfying experience than his co-hosts. I’m not really expecting that to be the case here, but are you gonna be talking about Leviathan, Citadel and the ending changes and stuff like that, as well as Mass Effect 2 DLC like The Arrival and Shadow Broker, or is this going to be a “person with no access to/inclination to buy DLC” kind of deal?

    I guess it’s not that important if the main turning point was the beginning of ME2.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Shadow Broker is the best of the ME2 DLC, but not necessary unless you want to see more of Liara. Leviathan does a remarkable job taking the worst out of the ending, and Citadel is a hilarious, silly, fanservice-y jaunt that I am very glad exists.

      Nothing else is really worth mentioning.

  25. Neko says:

    I think your delineation between Oldschool / Classic / EA Bioware is spot-on. I want the Jade Empire and Mass Effect 1 Slow-Paced Thoughtful Space Opera Bioware back.

  26. Bropocalypse says:

    Jeeze, Shamus, your articles are as self-referential as TV Tropes, now. I was four blog posts about Mass Effect deep before I caught myself.

  27. Artur CalDazar says:

    Oh joy another Mass Effect rant in 50 parts.
    At least there doesn’t see to be any spite to it this time.

  28. Zak McKracken says:

    Phunny thing:
    The link to the soccer episode is pointing to
    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/qT3PElHuxCY
    but should be
    https://www.youtube.com/watch/qT3PElHuxCY
    .
    (interesting: If I write nothing after the YT link, it dissappears)

  29. Ooooo, so you meant it about 10,000 words on the ME series? Excellent! *grabs popcorn, settles down for the long haul* :D

  30. Decius says:

    The disappointment over DNF lasted for a decade before it was released. Duke Nukem 3d was released in the BBS era, using sprite graphics and hitscan weapons. Forever was supposed to be a direct sequel to *that*.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      To be fair, the first two Duke Nukem games were side-scrolling shooter/platformers, so they already changed it a lot to follow the prevailing trends. DNF missed a trick by not reinventing itself as a different genre or something.

  31. SlothfulCobra says:

    My favorite weird thing about Bioware’s history is that it was founded by a bunch of doctors who did some programming in med school.

    Also that’s some nice background on the site now. I didn’t even notice at first that it was a different type of city.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Hmm? The background is the Citadel from Mass Effect. I actually have a poster of that exact image up on my wall, I can see it from here

    • Otters34 says:

      I think it’s Ilium from Mass Effect 2, the buildings look like they’re from the Citadel but the clouds and sky don’t match the big purple nebula thing.

      EDIT: Ah! I was wrong, it is the Citadel.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      Wasn’t it in fact called Bioware because they originally made medical software as a business, and made vidya in downtime? No point paying programmers to warm chairs, I guess.

  32. Daemian Lucifer says:

    At the start we have lavishly detailed worldbuilding, very trope-ish arch characters, stiff animations, and gameplay with generally lousy game feel. At the end the focus is on characters instead of worldbuilding, and the old RPG mechanics have been replaced by mainstream action shooter sensibilities.

    This is actually not true.From the very start of baldurs gate,bioware was focusing on characters first,worldbuilding second.Sometimes they managed to make a good world(like in bg2,jade empires and me1),but sometimes they failed(bg1 wasnt that great,neverwinter nights was abysmal,and me2 we all know what it did).Bioware was always like this,and this has not changed.

    What did change is their pandering to the fans,from the reintroduction of romance post neverwinter nights,to almost exclusive focus on it in me3 and da3.As well as their focus from big epic stories to small,voice acted quips,and their focus from over the top tactical combat to third person behind the shoulder action fest.

    What ea did was not introduce these changes,but finalize their implementation,as well as drive away the few remaining people that were somewhat holding the balance.They arent the cause of the problem,they are the final nail in the coffin.

    • Bropocalypse says:

      Were Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Bioware IPs originally? I mean, they’re certainly part of D&D now. I guess what I’m getting at is if they weren’t Bioware properties to begin with, does it really fall on them to do worldbuilding?

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Nope, both were part of the Forgotten Realms setting since at least 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (late 1980s – late 1990s). Baldur’s Gate was described in the Volo’s Guide to the Sword Coast tabletop supplement four years before the first Baldur’s Gate game was released, and Neverwinter was the basis for the first graphical MMO, part of the original Gold Box series of D&D PC games.

        That said, few cities in tabletop RPG supplements get more than a few pages of description, unless the whole supplement is devoted to a single city (e.g. the Lankhmar supplements for 2nd edition AD&D, the Sharn book for Eberron, Monte Cook’s Ptolus, City of the Spire). BioWare had a lot of room to flesh out the less than 20 pages in Volo’s Guide. As for NWN, most of the worldbuilding was probably done by the players of the original MMO.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        It doesnt matter,because if you look at the presentation in bg1 and bg2 you will get a bunch of bland farms,towns and dungeons with some lore ripped straight from your local DMG in 1,and you will get these fully fleshed out characters,city districts and vibrant places in 2.Both are from forgotten realms,yes,but the approach to 1 and 2 are quite different.While 1 focused on your companions,with some bits here and there about the rest of the world,2 fleshed out everything all around,from the main villain,to some random lich you may encounter in a side quest.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          Keep in mind that when the first Baldur’s Gate was made we didn’t have tons of other RPGs floating around that had rendered those “bland towns” nearly as well. Compare it with something like Ultima 8 and it becomes easier to forgive it for being generic by modern standards.

        • Supahewok says:

          “While 1 focused on your companions,with some bits here and there about the rest of the world…”

          Uh, what?

          The companions in 1 were near non-entities. The only writing in vanilla BG that included the companions was their recruitment dialog, with a few of them having fetch quests before recruitment. It was BG2 that had the companions comment on your decisions and have side discussions among themselves.

          I have no idea how you found BG1 to have a “focus on companions,” unless you played with a mod that adds companion banter and forgot about it.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            There was quite a bit of party banter even in the vanilla baldurs gate.Again,not as much as in the sequel,but pretty significant chunk for that time.There were even some completely random conversations between your companions that were there simply to flesh them out and not impact anything.

  33. evileeyore says:

    “Alice: Fallout 3 was stupid. New Vegas was so much more coherent!

    Bob: But New Vegas was boring and ugly and Fallout 3 was way more fun!”

    Anyone who says “F:NV is ugly” in anything resembling a comparison to F3 is objectively wrong. About everything.

    Sorry Bob. You are just wrong.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Eh. New Vegas was more colorful, sure, but Fallout 3 had that cool bombed desolation vibe that everyone likes so much. The green color filter was ugly, but you could change it to a more pleasant color in the HUD options. And the architecture was really cool, while New Vegas just reused the same shacks and bombed out buildings over and over again.

      I mean, lore wise, it makes no sense for Fallout 3 to look the way it does, but it’s nice aesthetic if you’re into that sort of thing.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Maybe they just prefer the puke green filter over the sick orange filter.

    • I don’t have the link handy, but I read an article that I think puts a finger on why some people prefer Fallout 3 over New Vegas and why even those that don’t like Fallout 3’s plot will return to it over and over: Fallout 3 captures that chill of Cold War paranoia and nuclear devastation that was prevalent in the 70’s through the 90’s. The visuals are the aftermath of the nuclear bomb in Terminator 2. It’s The Day After with mutants. It’s Gamma World. It doesn’t matter that the plot is nonsensical, it’s the “you maniacs, you blew it up, damn you all to hell” sandbox people wanted to romp around in.

      I will say having recently gone back to check out a few mods in Fallout 3, I find the biggest difference that irks me between the two is the dialog. Even the limited dialog in New Vegas is volumes more than what Fallout 3 had, and it shows. Characters in New Vegas have loads to say about things, they have varying moods, and even the NCR’s “patrolling the Mojave” line isn’t as grating as all the BoS characters that have the same 2 lines about having the place locked down. New Vegas has so much more subtlety going on, but if you aren’t playing a game for the NPCs, then it likely doesn’t mean much to your enjoyment.

    • Anonymous says:

      NVs environments don’t match its story. FO3s environments do. Bitch as much as you want about 200 year old mashed potatoes and how nobody is farming, the story of FO3 is that everything is super fucked and everyone is struggling to survive. The environments match that. Megaton is made entirely out of scrap metal and the buildings are haphazardly built on top of each other. Rivet City has its refugee camp market in the main hull. Whatever the slaver place was called is a barricade built around a shopping center. And everywhere else you have little rooms or areas where NPCs who are no longer there dragged a mattress and some boxes and tried to carve out a home.

      NV doesn’t even do that much, and it’s plot actually accounts for the 200 years and the farming Shamus loves so much. Freeside is supposed to be crawling with NCR immigrants and natives who can’t get into NV, that would be a perfect place for some refugee tents or something. You get nothing except one respawning psycho hobo and those kids endlessly chasing the rat. I get the game engine cannot handle hundreds of NPCs, but they could have done something like the NCR area outside the airport with all the supply tents. But they didn’t, and all we have in Freeside is boring brown buildings plopped randomly around an area copypasted out of FO3. Megaton was dense, you could see everything from the center area, and there was interesting vertical elements to it. Freeside is spread out and filled with tons of empty space (everything in between the Kings and the Strip is utterly wasted space). Same goes for the Boomer town. Same goes for the NCR airport, inside and out. Same for the Kahn village (it trades brown for red but has the same problems). Same goes for the entire area outside NVs walls.

      NV also has trouble telegraphing which areas are supposed to be interesting. NV has more areas! says someone who looked at the wiki for 5 seconds. Nevermind that half of the map markers only lead to a bottlecap, where in FO3 almost every map marker was a dungeon or a town. This next part I’m less confident in since I’m having trouble explaining it, but I feel like NV hides its interesting locations, when FO3 shows them off. Tenpenny tower stood out alone on the horizon, Slavertown had its giant doughnut man, most of the dungeons stood out because they were intact buildings (I never missed the Robco building in FO3, I always wander straight past the REPCON museum on my way towards NV). NV has a handful of landmarks, but still likes to tuck a lot of its interesting stuff into corners and hide them. You cannot see Camp Boomer or all the blown up buildings until you come over that hill and are right on top of them. Jamestown and it’s trees are way up in the north by itself. The rocket facility is hidden in the mountains. And my favorite example: the clinic outside NV, which looks exactly like the other 100 pointless boarded up brown buildings you passed on the way there.

      NV is ugly. It’s empty, poorly laid out, and everything blends into the dirt.

      • “I get the game engine cannot handle hundreds of NPCs…”

        Then engine can. Consoles can’t. I can only recommend the many “restoration” mods that actually repopulate the Mojave and its environs as Obsidian had planned. There are tons of assets for drunken NCR soldiers, squatters, travelers, refugees, etc. Camp McCarran alone looks way better after all the tents, soldiers, and environmental bits are put back in the game, not to mention the rest of the wasteland.

      • Additionally:

        This next part I’m less confident in since I’m having trouble explaining it, but I feel like NV hides its interesting locations, when FO3 shows them off. Tenpenny tower stood out alone on the horizon, Slavertown had its giant doughnut man, most of the dungeons stood out because they were intact buildings (I never missed the Robco building in FO3, I always wander straight past the REPCON museum on my way towards NV).

        Because hiding stuff is wrong in RPGs? What’s the point of exploration if it’s easy to find everything? Where’s the fun? Where’s the suspension of disbelief as to why nobody’s ever been in a place before?

        Do the following locations in Fallout 3 bother you? Rockopolis. Oasis. All of the drainage areas & shelters near each radio tower. The Roach King’s throne. Radiation King. All of those and more are unmarked. Not to mention all the places you can’t find easily unless a quest points them out to you (e.g. Smith Casey’s Garage).

        If you think Freeside has wasted space, you must really not care for a lot of downtown DC. Whole streets of nothing but wrecked buildings, burned-out cars, and samey places for raiders to shoot at you. I’m being a little facetious, but I think you’re looking at one game through rose (green?) tinted glasses. Not to mention that if you want to reduce an open world down to only relevant areas, go play Deus Ex: Invisible War.

        And New Vegas didn’t have visually interesting things on the horizon? Apart from the dinosaur, the Lucky 38, Black Mountain’s satellite dish, the Helios power plant, etc.? That’s pretty good, considering the area is supposed to be mountainous, unlike the relatively flat DC area. Also, that’s what the Perception trait is for, since in both games just using landmarks won’t get you very far.

        I can respect liking one game over the other, but the complaints you lay at New Vegas feet seem odd to me, if not applicable to Fallout 3, especially if having things blend in is a problem. Fallout 3 was very monotone until you got to some place like the Enclave Crawler or Mothership Zeta.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        NVs environments don’t match its story.
        .
        .
        .
        Same goes for the entire area outside NVs walls.

        I can skew things just as much in the opposite direction:

        F3 environments dont match its story.It talks about how the water is irradiated and people are all in mortal danger because of it,yet everyone looks fine and not thirsty at all.In fact,clean water just lies everywhere,and methods to purify dirty water are just as plentiful.Meanwhile,nv is about people finally reshaping civilization after so many years,and it shows,with farms everywhere,even huge irrigation,and some power generating buildings even being repopulated and restarted again.

        See how what draws you into a game can completely shift what details you notice and what you disregard?

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Actually, New Vegas was gilitchy, buggy mess full of half baked ideas and dumb factions. Why did they move it to the west coast again? I can’t believe what they did to the Brotherhood of Steel, they were so dumb. THe BoS from Fallout 3 would curb stomp those guys. Where was the Enclave? Where was the cool stuff like the vampires and Tranquility lane huh? All the quests in NV were basically ‘go kill this guy’ I mean how boring can you get? I can’t believe Obsidian screwed this up so badly after Bethesda let them follow up their masterpiece.

      (Sorry, I’ve been reading some things on Shamus’ twitter feed)

  34. Duoae says:

    Looking forward to this! Personally, I really enjoyed Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 from a gameplay perspective the most out of the ME1-3 and DA1-3. I also think the character interactions in the 2s were at their best. However, over-arching story-wise, the 2s were the worst of their respective trilogies.

    It’s strange because Bioware really tried to pull an Empire Strikes Back vibe with both of them: both stories are a bit of a downer after a ‘triumphant’ ending of the first title, the tone is darker and grittier and the world is left in a ‘bad state’ ready for the third game to resolve the issues once and for all.

    Surprisingly, they failed totally at this: partially because the story of ME2 was extremely nonsensical and ends terribly while DA2’s story was poorly executed and sort of jumped from a story of personal survival through hardship to being about this world-shattering conflict… and partially because neither third instalment delivered on the themes set up in the first two games or adequately closed off the issues in the second instalments (except for side missions!).

    I also thought that the gameplay in both 3s suffered and wasn’t as optimal as the 2s in both series.

    I think I might explore this a bit deeper at some point.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I think me2 can work as a stand alone game,while me3 falls apart even as that,hence why I think 2 is still a better game than 3.Also,3 gave us that crappy tali photo,so thats another big negative.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Mass Effect 2 is what Empire Strikes Back would look like if Luke died when the Wampa attacked him, then got resurrected by Jabba the Hutt and his crime ring, who then tasked him to recruit an entirely new set of characters (while Han, Leia, ect got relegated to cameo roles) in order take down Boba Fett and his gang of bounty hunters that were working for the Empire.

      At some point it would be revealed that the bounty hunters were actually former Jedi Knights who survived the great purge, but nothing ever comes of it; they don’t look or act anything like Jedi, they can’t be redeemed,it’s just a twist for the sake of a twist.

      The film would end in a climactic battle where Luke and his new team destroy the bounty hunter’s space station and turn their backs on Jabba in order to rejoin the Alliance, who previously rejected him because he’s been working for Jabba and is therefore untrustworthy. It would then be revealed that Darth Vader, who has spent most of the film offscreen, is now overseeing the completion of the Second Death Star, and is threatening to destroy the rebels once and for all. Cue credits.

      Then Return of the Jedi plays on as normal, with the team Luke spent the second film building having completely disappeared, and all the Jedi training and revelations from Empire crammed into the end of Jedi’s first act. And Jabba periodically shows up, out for revenge, having amassed a force so huge that he rivals the empire itself and effectively overshadows them in villainy.

  35. Michael says:

    I don’t think Bioware has fundementally changed, actually. There are three core principles in every bioware game: pulpy stories, expansive worldbuilding, and memorable characters. That hasn’t changed, just the quality has. (Although I’m one of those people who think all three games were awesome up until Marauder Shields [he tried to stop it!])

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Bioware.Bioware never changes.

      Since the dawn of cRPGs,when our elders first discovered the alluring power of dice and inventory,blood has been spilled in the name of everything:from your high tech flat screen to simple,living room television.

      In the year 1998,after a decade of meandering,the mindless hack and slash could satisfy the players no longer.Bioware has released upon the world the marvel of romance and dialogue trees.

      But it was not,as some had predicted,the second coming of Gygax.Instead,the game was simply the prologue to another uncanny chapter of cRPG history.For bioware had succeeded in making money,but greed,greed never changes.

      In the early days,thousands have played the marvel of the game by taking refuge in their parents cellars,known as geek dungeons.But when they emerged,they had only the hell of the social interaction to greet them,all except those who preordered baldurs gate 2.For on that fateful day,when the first marvel was released,the giant money pile has showered those in bioware….and never will they be the same.It was here that bioware face was born.It is here that fan dreams will come to die.

      Because in bioware,no one cares about fans,and only romance options and awkward sex matter.

  36. Tuck says:

    Correction: Neverwinter Nights was a third-person RPG with a flexible camera, not a top-down one like Baldur’s Gate. Icewind Dale was like BG and should be in “Early Bioware”.

    So NWN should really be in your “Classic Bioware” group, alongside KOTOR, which was using a modified version of the same engine.

  37. Thomas says:

    I was dreading something Bile-y but this sounds really cool and I’m looking forward to it. Particular the theme/facts thing.

  38. Zaxares says:

    I am looking forward to this SO much, Shamus. :D

  39. RTBones says:

    A few things I think I think:

    I was under the impression you were joking when you mentioned a 10000 word essay on Mass Effect.

    I oddly find myself quite happy you werent.

    I hadnt seen that video in a while, and upon watching it back, I can feel the nerdrage beginning to boil and bubble. By the time you are finished, it will be at a full-throated frothy roar. Again.

    I find it fascinatingly weird that I am looking forward this series of articles, because I know that on some level, my personal nerdrage dial will get shoved to beyond 11. Again. And I like it.

    • JRT says:

      Why would any sane person LIKE being angry. It’s not a good feeling, nor is it a healthy feeling.

      • Nimas says:

        It is not a healthy feeling, but there is a definite catharsis in anger. It’s why you generally shouldn’t try to deal with anger problems by ‘hitting a pillow’, the catharsis you feel simply reinforces your brain that letting your anger out is ‘right’.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        It depends, actually. It’s like going to see a sad movie- nobody likes being sad, but there’s a certain emotional indulgence in being able to engage with those emotions in a controlled form.

        Bad fiction is a “safe” area to be angry in. It’s a lot easier to step back from being angry at Mass Effect 3’s ending than it is from being angry at real people.

      • RTBones says:

        You know, when I wrote that, I didnt think of it in the light you describe. I dont like being angry, lets make that clear. I tend to differentiate ‘nerdrage’ and truly being angry. I am very much going to enjoy the upcoming discussion about ME. This series of games, unlike any other I can think of, brings out gaming passions in all of us, largely I think because it got both so much right – and so much wrong. That fact fascinates me, and I enjoy examining the causes and effects of what drives those passions, even if it means my own inner nerdrage has to boil a bit. Why do we care? Why are so many so passionate (on both sides) about ME? Plenty of games got things both right and wrong. Very few rile a gaming community the way ME does (again, both for and against). I’m going to enjoy the exploration. Thats what I like.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        You should really watch inside out.Also listen to more Lewis Black.

  40. boz says:

    Lots of people like to point out how Drew Karpyshyn was the lead writer of the first game, he shared writing credit with Mac Walters on Mass Effect 2, and then Karpyshyn departed the company, leaving Walters to handle the third installment on his own

    I think it’s important to point out Chris L’etoile’s contributions. He pushed ME universe from soft sci-fi to hard sci-fi.

    Mass Effect 1
    • Story planning and dialogue: planet Noveria
    • Story planning and dialogue: planet Therum
    • Story planning and dialogue: planet Caleston (cut from final game; ~50k words of dialogue)
    • Dialogue: Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams
    Wrote all in-game Codex entries.
    Rewrote procedural planet descriptions and edited Galaxy Map layout on personal initiative to improve quality and scientific accuracy.
    • Produced lore-related marketing materials for BioWare’s website and game news network sites.

    • Henson says:

      I definitely have respect for L’Etoile’s contributions, mainly because Ashley was my favorite character from the first game. She felt like a real person.

      Interestingly, in one of his blog posts, he mentions a conversation he had with Karpyshyn about the future of Earth’s governments. They disagreed about whether they would unify and create larger countries, or fracture and create a whole lot of smaller countries. They essentially agreed to disagree, and didn’t specify in the game.

      • I’ve thought about that myself for other projects, and an easy route to take is to look at the galaxy itself as the model. If it’s just humans, then at first it would just be countries, and you wouldn’t get something like a United Earth Government for handling relations with other worlds until places like Mars (or other systems, if there’s FTL) declared independence.

        If there are aliens, then whatever system they use for the Galactic Confabulation of Latex Foreheads is something that Earth would have to adopt, at least structurally. If we needed a representative to vote for our interests in the CGoLF, the world would have to elect one (or have a war over who gets to do so, but that might make us look bad). If it turns out this is a powerful position, we could develop some kind of World Council of Elected Leaders that appoints our representative, and there’s the start of EarthGov.

        So it depends on the setting. It doesn’t mean you still can’t have some dramatic strife. I’m reading the novels in a series called “The Expanse,” and you have the factions of Earth and Mars (who were previously rivals in the stories) and the Belters (poorer humans who were born in and live in the low-gravity areas in the asteroid belt & outer planets).

        • Henson says:

          Well, Mass Effect neatly sidestepped this issue by making the Alliance pretty much independent from the established governments of Earth. The interstellar achievements were made despite the political structures, not through them, and now the countries of Earth have pretty much no choice but to go through the Alliance for any relations with alien worlds.

      • James says:

        from my memory, the Human Systems Alliance isn’t actually a government, its more like the UN. but its never really gone into detail. and we never really see any inter conflicts that you might expect (see the actual UN and the EU). honestly that would have been interesting as a plot path for ME2 (drop collectors and have some geo-political thing about the HSA being unaccountable and some colonies wanting to be indepandant

    • Otters34 says:

      Mr. L’etoile did a great job, boz, but he also showed pretty much conclusively that he’s got one over-arching plot idea that he knows is good, and it’s the one from Freespace.

      The turians, Reapers, Mass Relays, protheans, Admiral Bosch of the Neo-Terran Front, even the original idea of the character of Shepard(as just someone randomly in the wrong place at the right time to make a difference) are lifted wholesale from there, in spirit if not in flesh. We got the exact same revelation about the Ancients that we got about the protheans. It’s on that extremely thin line between condoned homage (how many fantasy stories have mimicked The Lord of the Rings?) and Mr. L’etoile wanting really badly for the (awesome)story of Freespace to get recognition that the space-shooters never got it.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      I remember Chris L’etoile himself calling it ‘drywall sci-fi’, as in “It looks hard enough, as long as you don’t lean on it.

      He also wrote “I Remember Me’, as well as ton of world building dialogue quests on the Citadel, like the Terra Firma Party, Khalisa al Jilani, and Rear Admiral Asshole Dude.

  41. I’ve been listening to the ME3 season in the background again, and it made me realize something. If Mass Effect 1 was inspired by sci-fi space opera TV shows and movies, Mass Effect 3 was lifting from those sources pretty much wholesale.

    I keep thinking more and more that the Reapers were a kind of a love letter to The Shadows from Babylon-5. For those who haven’t seen it, the Shadows are an ancient race that has slept for thousands of years since the last time they arose. They’re the stuff of nightmare and legends, as they’re among the oldest races (referred to as The First Ones) and have a reputation for destroying child races (like us) when they stir and move across the galaxy. Sound familiar?

    Some spoilers: They’re a kind of “opposing” race with another First Ones race, the Vorlons. In the end, its revealed that the Shadows try to encourage evolution through conflict and war. The Vorlons try to encourage evolution through obedience and slow progression. Their caretaking of the galaxy has devolved into almost a political argument where the question of who’s right has taken precedence over the slaughter of innocent sentients going on while the two elder races “argue.”

    Anyway, while the Shadows had a goal for what they could do, the Reapers really didn’t until ME2, and, as has been said before, it didn’t really go with their supposedly unfathomable intellects. In Babylon-5, the cycle the Shadows had of waking up every so often and stirring things up led them to adopt certain strategies. One of these was to hide ships and technology on or near planets that were homes to the child races they’d be “interacting” with later on. One such warship was buried on Mars… just like the crucible message.

    I get the feeling that by the time ME3 was being put together, the writing team was sort of slapping ideas from shows together without really understanding why they worked for said shows.

  42. Leviathan902 says:

    I’m really really looking forward to this. Some of my favorite blogposts ever from Shamus are the breakdowns of why Fable 2 failed story-wise and why GTA fails game-play wise comparatively to Saints Row. What I liked about them is that I had some complicated feelings on those subjects (loved Fable 2 to death but never want to play it again, hated GTA so much I thought I was over open world crime games until I played Saint’s Row) and his posts helped quantify and qualify why I felt the way I did.

    My thoughts on Mass Effect are complicated as well (LOVED the first, hated the second, loved/hated the third until just hate at the end) and I’m excited to see how Shamus’ thoughts can help make sense of it all.

  43. Aldowyn says:

    All your talk of how much content this is going to be has me wondering how much time I’ve spent talking about mass effect in the comment sections here (or, worse, Twitter). Ah well.

    Let’s do this :D

  44. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Sooo,no mention of Casey Hudson?I thought pretty much everyone agreed that everything was his fault 110%.

  45. Thomas says:

    There we go, over 300 comments. Proof that Shamus’ blog is that place where you bitch about Mass Effect ;)

    EDIT: This particular comment sent the post in the #32 spot on most commented posts :p 345th comment

    http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=26832#comments

  46. Axehurdle says:

    Aaah, I do love your articles about Mass Effect, Shamus. They’re so interesting even though I’ve never played the games. The discussion about them is almost enough to make me want to, even though I know I will hate them.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Depends really.If you enjoyed kotor or jade empire or new vegas,you may enjoy mass effect 1.If you enjoyed third person shooters,like gears of war,you may enjoy mass effect 2 or maybe even 3.In fact,2 or 3 may appeal to you if you like diablo or borderlands or even fallout 3.

      • Jokerman says:

        I don’t think it’s that rigid… i have known many old Bioware fans who really liked ME2.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Never did say its rigid.Hence why I used may.

          I personally enjoyed the gameplay of me2,despite how pissed off the story made me be.I even played through it twice.I still enjoy the gameplay of it,and the story still pisses me off.

  47. Deager says:

    I’m looking forward to this being informative. My reaction to this trilogy has mostly been emotional with some logic underpinnings I could never quite figure out. Expecting this series to be a fun read for me and maybe explain why I keep playing it and modding it.

  48. INH5 says:

    I’m looking forward to this series. I’m a big fan of Spoiler Warning, but I have some pretty significant disagreements with the opinions that were expressed on that show. In particular, I don’t think the plot of the first game is anywhere near as solid as Shamus and certain other Mass Effect fans like Smudboy often make it out to be, and that a lot of the problems with the overarching plot of the trilogy can be traced back to the fact that the first game just didn’t do a very good job at starting a trilogy. In fact, a few weird bits in the first game as well as some IRL statements by the developers have made me suspect that the trilogy was early on planned to be a sort of anthology series with each game being a mostly standalone story but that got changed very late in ME1’s development. But I’ll save my thoughts until this series gets to that part.

    Second, I don’t know if this will come up, but I find myself doubting the common refrain of “things would have turned out fine if Bioware had a plan from the start,” after reading about how the original Star Wars trilogy was for all intents and purposes made without a plan. To be more precise, when Lucas made the first Star Wars, the plan for the sequels consisted of “I’ve got a bunch of scattered ideas in my notes and stuff that was cut from earlier screenplay drafts that we might be able to use in the unlikely event that this movie is at all successful.” During the making of Empire Strikes Back, meanwhile, Lucas and co. did write up a pretty detailed plan for 4 more sequels and 3 prequels, but after the difficult production of ESB convinced Lucas to cancel the sequel trilogy he ended up throwing most of the plans away when he actually sat down to write Return of the Jedi. Despite that, the movies hold up pretty well as a series (apart from the extremely awkward Luke/Leia relationship) and some of the most well-remembered stuff from those movies, such as Darth Vader turning out to be Luke’s father, was completely made up on the fly.

    Meanwhile, the prequel trilogy really was planned from the start with an outline that Lucas more or less stuck to until the end, though he did change a lot of details and minor plot points along the way. And we all know how that trilogy turned out.

    Similarly, sci-fi fans often point to Babylon 5 as an example of successfully planning out a long series from the start, but if you look into what actually happened there things didn’t quite work out like that. Oh, JMS absolutely did write up a plan before he started making the series, but over the 5 seasons a whole bunch of things happened, including various actors leaving, a spinoff getting greenlit then canceled, the whole series being canceled then uncanceled… JMS even lost a bunch of his notes in a hotel room one time. As a result, the show ended up diverging pretty radically from the original plans, to the point where if you compare JMS’s early notes to what actually aired, the third through fifth seasons are virtually unrecognizable.

    So like Shamus writes here, I don’t think you can pin all of the problems down to an easy answer like “the problem was that this one writer left,” or “the problem was that they didn’t plan the series out.” The issues go deeper than that. But like I said before, I’ll have more to say on this as the series continues.

    Also, I was one of the players who got into the series with ME2 and then went back and played the first game only to find it nearly unplayable. For me, the big problem wasn’t the combat mechanics, which were annoying but mostly bearable. The big problem was the inventory system. I could even stand the Mako, but the thought of having to deal with ME1’s inventory management again is what has kept me from ever replaying the first game after finishing it.

  49. Loonyyy says:

    It was interesting seeing the stuff that cropped up about Karpyshyn, as someone who mostly had encountered his published novels. He’s entirely capable of writing complete and utter shit (See “Revan”), as well as incredible novels “Darth Bane: Path of Destruction” and stuff in the middle, like the sequel.

    I don’t think ME2 really set things up for ME3, so no matter what, things were going to be pretty rough. It was just a lot rougher than expected.

  50. Cuthalion says:

    Grammar Nitpick Alert:

    Late to the party and just started reading the article, but I don’t see this mentioned in the comments:

    and so I want to take one last back over the whole trilogy

    Probably missing a word?

  51. natureguy85 says:

    I just got linked to this series and I am very excited for it. I loved your work on the games back then, though I was late to those. So far, so great.

    I give Mr. Btongue a pass on the “99%” comment. I agree that the plot started falling apart at ME2, but that game still had great characters. I think Btongue just wanted to focus on the end.

  52. Sean without an H says:

    Re-reading this series – I noticed (it may not be here but in future posts) that the Chainmail Bikini site links take me briefly to the comics, then appear to pass-through link me through several intermediaries to (I didn’t look too close for fear of malware) a scammy real estate site or similar. I’m not sure if Shamus maintains that page, but I wanted to run up the flag in case it’s a bad security / spam thing that can be fixed. Appreciate your work!

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