Mass Effect Retrospective 24: Collectors Addition

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 26, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 125 comments

After the mission on Freedom’s Progress we discover that Cerberus managed to build the Normandy 2. There’s a lot to unpack with this idea, and so I’m going to take the problem of Cerberus and their unlimited (yet somehow secret?) GDP, and put that discussion off until Mass Effect 3. For now, let’s just roll with it.

Besides, as ridiculous as it is for Cerberus to build a better version of the most advanced ship in the galaxy, this reveal is only the second most implausible thing in this scene. The real stunner is that Joker is already working with Cerberus.


So Joker, did I ever tell you about the time Cerberus killed everyone I knew with a thresher maw for basically no reason? Did they say anything about that when you signed up?
So Joker, did I ever tell you about the time Cerberus killed everyone I knew with a thresher maw for basically no reason? Did they say anything about that when you signed up?

I love Joker in Mass Effect 2. Seth Green completely nailed this character. He’s just irreverent enough to be funny, but not such a clown that you can’t picture him joining the militaryA common problem for fictional soldiers, who feel like the whole thing is one big joke to them, and you wonder why they signed up in the first place.. Even better, Joker is actually funny this time around. His jokes in Mass Effect 1 mostly fell flatThe jokes at the end of Therum feel very forced and awkward. but here in Mass Effect 2 the writer seems to have found his voice.

On the other hand, Joker’s signing up with Cerberus is at least as implausible as randomly bumping into Tali on Freedom’s Progress. This guy worked his ass off to get to the top of the class at the Alliance despite his serious disability. He had an incredible assignment on the first Normandy, and there’s no reason to expect he wouldn’t be given another equally prestigious position.

I realize that not everyone goes to the military and so not everyone really gets how ferociously loyal military people tend to be, but there’s just no way he left the Alliance. And note that Joker says he was “grounded”. The Alliance grounded their best pilot? For no reason? Once again, instead of making Cerberus smart, the writer has made the Alliance stupid.

The idea of Joker taking a civilian job is enough of a stretch, but Cerberus? And if he did actually join with Cerberus, it would be a gut-wrenching decision that haunted him. But here he acts like the move is about as controversial as switching cable providers.

But Shamus! The Normandy was a dream ship and he loved it! He left the Alliance so he could fly his old ship!

Nice try, strawman apologist, but Joker didn’t know about the Normandy 2 until after he took a job with Cerberus.

Just like old times, Commander. Except we're working for a (massive/tiny) (clandestine/famous) (hyper-competent/incompetent) (pro-human/human-murdering) (morally grey/totally evil) terrorist organization.
Just like old times, Commander. Except we're working for a (massive/tiny) (clandestine/famous) (hyper-competent/incompetent) (pro-human/human-murdering) (morally grey/totally evil) terrorist organization.

The game claims that Joker signed on with Cerberus because he heard they were bringing Shepard back to lifeAccording to the Wiki. I actually don’t remember this conversation in-game.. That’s a really incredible claim. Given the reputation of Cerberus, why in the galaxy would Joker believe them? He’s going to sacrifice his entire career (remember in the last game the incredible struggles he faced to get where he was?) because terrorists claim they can bring his commander back to life? Does that sound like something he would believe? How did he know they weren’t going to feed him to a thresher maw to test the effects of feeding pilots to thresher maws?

When you meet him again, does he express a level of affection matching these actions? Does he act like he loves Commander Shepard more than his career and his reputation? More than his own self?

So Joker being here isn’t just one implausible thing. It’s three.

  1. The Alliance would ground their best pilot, who had done nothing wrongYou could argue that he helped steal the Normandy at the end of Mass Effect 1. But then he was still flying the ship at the start of this game?.
  2. Joker would leave the Alliance, even though he dedicated his entire adult life to his career.
  3. Joker would then join up with a known terrorist organization. Not only that, but the move doesn’t even seem like a big deal to him.

Sure, you could devise a story where this happens. But this idea is too unlikely to be hand-waved in a single line of dialog. If the writer has a story to tell, they need to put up or shut up. You can’t gloss over stuff like this and expect us to continue to take the world seriously. Especially not with regards to characters. Especially not in a game selling itself so hard on the idea of “it’s all about the characters”.

If nothing else, at least let us ask Joker about this. Use a give-and-take dialog with Joker to portray a more nuanced picture of Cerberus. Maybe Joker thinks their reputation is all propaganda? Maybe Cerberus did something nice for someone that he knows? Based on what we see in the game, they’re either monsters or idiotsOr to be totally fair: Possibly both. and not someone Joker would ever trust, much less join.

Heck, at least make Shepard go to the Citadel and recruit Joker personally. It would still be a stretch, character-wise, but at least it wouldn’t require Joker to take the word of Cerberus at face value. And the shock of seeing Shepard alive might help smooth out the implausibility of going AWOL.

The Normandy is Back!

Joker, did someone actually desecrate this ship by putting the CERBERUS LOGO on it? Aren't we supposed to be clandestine? Barring that, are we totally lacking in self-respect? To make this less embarrassing, let's go to Omega and see if we can pay a hobo five credits to cover up the logo with a crudely drawn penis.
Joker, did someone actually desecrate this ship by putting the CERBERUS LOGO on it? Aren't we supposed to be clandestine? Barring that, are we totally lacking in self-respect? To make this less embarrassing, let's go to Omega and see if we can pay a hobo five credits to cover up the logo with a crudely drawn penis.

Do you remember in the Superman movie when he lost his powers in the opening scene and then got them back ten minutes later? No, because that would be a lame, nonsensical story.

The game plays all this dramatic music when the Normandy-2 is revealed. The writer clearly thinks this is supposed to be a big emotional moment. But they don’t know how to build emotion, so they mimic the most superficial elements of the medium: Camera angles and music.

When young John Connor lowers his pet Terminator into the molten steel, we don’t get choked upIf Terminator 2 doesn’t do it for you, just pick some other movie that tugged on your heartstrings. I’m trying to cut down on the density of Star Wars / Lord of the Rings references, and this seemed like a safe bet for widespread appeal. because of the music or the camera angles. Those things heighten the emotions we’re already feeling because this moment is the culmination of the last two hours of drama. Music and camera angles do not create drama by themselves.

We haven’t even needed the Normandy yet, so it’s no like we’ve had a chance to reflect on how much we miss it. It’s like Superman losing his powers for ten minutes, and in those ten minutes nothing happens that requires the use of his powers.

From a storytelling perspective, this feels flaccid because Shepard didn’t do anything to earn this. Shepard made no sacrifices. He didn’t fight for it. He didn’t even have to ask for it. It was just given to him. The appearance of the bigger, better Normandy is just another writer-imposed miracle.

We’re a couple of hours into the game now. This rearranging of plot elements is both overlong and rushed. The writer needed to change too many things at once, and so we’ve spent all this time contorting the old story into this new direction. A lot of it didn’t make sense and the rest of it wasn’t needed, but they finally have the stage set now: Shepard is back, he’s got his old crew, a rebuilt ship, a new boss, and he’s rounding up people to stop the Collectors from abducting human colonies.

And you know what? The game could still recover from this. It’s a messy and ugly hack job to bend the plot into this shape, but now that the worst of it is over we could probably settle in and enjoy the adventure and drama.

Except, we came all this way and the story has nothing to offer us.

Who are the Collectors?


So we’re fighting to save people that we don’t know, never see, are never depicted in the story, and are barely acknowledged by the dozen or so main characters in this game. So to make up for this lack of dramatic motivation, the story needs to present a really vibrant, interesting villain. They need to be provocative and engaging. I’m talking about Hans Gruber levels of interesting, here. The player needs to spend the whole game thinking, “Man, I can’t wait until I get to kill these assholes.” They need to be the guys we love to hate.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

The Collectors are our adversary in this game. They’re replacing the role performed by the Geth in Mass Effect 1: They’re the guys you shoot on your way to the goal. But they’re a new addition to this universe. They weren’t mentioned in Mass Effect 1. So the writer needs to quickly build them up and explain how they connect to the rest of this universe. In Mass Effect 1, that was done by having characters talk about the Geth on Eden prime. But in this game we spend the intro shooting Cerberus robots. So now the introduction is over and we still don’t know who we’re fighting against.

Let me ask you some questions about the Collectors:

What do the other races think of the Collectors?

I don’t mean, “What does the codex claim people think of the collectors?” I’m talking about the stuff that’s part of the dramatic framework of this story. I’m talking about stuff that appears in the cutscenes and is conveyed by established characters.

Do the other races think of the Collectors as a loser race because they seem to be so few, and have no political power? Or are they wary because the Collectors seem to have so much advanced technology? Have the Salarians ever tried to spy on them? Have the Asari ever tried to contact them? Do the Turians consider them a military threat? Does anyone ever remark that they’re the only sapient bipeds in the galaxy who run around stark naked? Does anyone have an opinion on that?

Apparently not. They never seem to come up in conversation.

The codex claims the Collectors trade technology for biological specimens. How does this work? Do they speak intelligibly? Are people afraid of them? Intrigued?

Guy on left: Holy shit, guys. Don't freak out, but I just realized we're all NAKED.
Guy on left: Holy shit, guys. Don't freak out, but I just realized we're all NAKED.

What do your companions think of the Collectors?

Based on what we see in the game, they don’t. They never characterize the Collectors through commentary.

If you want them to be mysterious and reclusive you could put some dialog in the game to show that people are curious about them:

“It’s hard to believe we’re actually going to see the Collectors up close. I’m over 500 years old and I’ve never seen one.”

If you want the player to hate them:

“After what the Collectors did to my mother / village / squad / dog, I’m going to make them pay!”

If you want them to seem ominous:

“They used to show up sometimes when I was standing guard on the Citadel. As far as I know, they never spoke to anyone. I don’t even know what they were doing there. They’d just show up and stare right through you. They were never armed, but everyone was always on edge anyway. It wasn’t like they hated us. It was like they didn’t regard us at all. We don’t matter to them. It still gives me the creeps.”

Just, you know, establish your villain. Make them part of the world. Make us care. Make us want to stop them. Tell a story.

But no. In a game all about building a team, not one of the 10 core characters has a backstory or loyalty mission connected to the main villain or plot of the game.

What does the average peasant think of the Collectors?

Spooky? Frightening? Are they even aware of them? Just how fringe are the Collectors?

The Geth sprang from one of the most interesting events in the history of the Mass Effect Universe. Their appearance alarms the council and Tali’s stories reinforce their mystery and menace. Ashley and Kaiden are both surprised to see Geth up close, which again reinforces their mystery. Ashley is shaken by the damage they’ve done and has a very personal grudge against them. On top of this, the Geth are led by Saren, who has complex relationships with both the Council and Shepard’s best-buddy Anderson. He’s got a story and an agenda. Saren also has Liara’s mother as his chief advisor. On top of all that, Saren is himself led by Sovereign, who gets a bit of dialog with Shepard and manages to spook his companions.

My point is that we know who the villains are, our allies know who the villains are, and this knowledge contributes to the drama. We see other characters in the world form opinions, talk about, and react to the villains.

In contrast, the Collectors don’t seem to be connected to the gameworld. They’re just generic space-bug mooks. They don’t have any stories, or backstories. Don’t don’t seem to have an impact on galactic history or a relationship with any of the numerous existing factions or characters. The people on the Citadel aren’t worried about them, your team doesn’t seem interested in them, and we don’t have any connection to their victims.

(Yeah, they have Harbinger, but we’ll talk about Harbinger later.)

Designer: Okay, so how do we define the CHARACTER of our villains? Writer: Uh... lens flare eyes?
Designer: Okay, so how do we define the CHARACTER of our villains? Writer: Uh... lens flare eyes?

TIM says they’re “enigmatic”. Of course, TIM himself is called “enigmatic” by the codex. I think this writer liked the word enigmatic because they thought it would let them weasel out of having to fill in all these blanks in their story.

And no, this doesn’t make them “more mysterious”. Keyser Soze is mysterious. But his mystery doesn’t come from the fact that we don’t know who he is. His mystery comes from the stories Verbal Kint tells us, and from the terrified way his victims react to him. For the Collectors to be mysterious, we’d need the other characters in the story to react to them. This isn’t “mysterious”, it’s vague.

Later it’s revealed that they’re descended from the Protheans, but that doesn’t happen until halfway through the game, and it doesn’t make them any more interesting or connected to the rest of the world. It might make them more interesting to Liara in an academic sense, but the writer already ditched her.

Mordin has a couple of lines about how the Collectors are “culturally dead”. That’s certainly the start of an interesting idea for a spooky villain. And that would be fine if we wanted to keep them distant and mysterious. That would be a bit like the Aliens franchise, where the Xenomorphs are just space-monsters and the story is really about the potential victims.

But like I said last week, the colonists are a no-show in this story. The story doesn’t engage us emotionally with the Collectors and it doesn’t engage us with their victims. Leaving the Collectors vague would have been fine if it meant more screen time of the colonists we’re trying to save. But this writer refuses to spend time building up the villain or their victims, and instead they’re spending all their screen time on cutscenes where TIM chain-smokes and Shepard acts like a dunce.

The writer had to retcon half the galaxy to get Shepard into this position of working for Cerberus, and when it’s over we’re saving people we never see from monsters with no personality by building up to a suicide mission that isn’t really explained until the story is nearly over.

Having Your Cake

Alas, poor Yorick!
Alas, poor Yorick!

The writer simultaneously wants to make sweeping changes to the established universe, but they have no desire to explain, justify, explore, or even lampshade most of it.

They want to blow up the Normandy in a dramatic battle to get the story going, but they also want you to still have the Normandy. They want to have a character come back from the dead, but they don’t want to explore how that would impact Shepard’s character, or the worldview of the people around him. They want to have a plot about saving people, but they don’t want to characterize those people. They want us to work for a mystery man who Shepard dislikes, but they don’t want to characterize that conflict through opposing ideologies. They want Liara to have a badass personality but they don’t want to depict or even explain the transformation from Old Liara to New Liara. They want us to fight an “enigmatic” villain but they don’t want to do anything to build that villain up to make them scary, interesting, unsettling, mysterious, or worthy of our Shepard-powered wrath. They want you to have your friendly and loyal crewmates around, but they also want you to work for terrorists, and they don’t want to reconcile these two conflicting ideas.

People love the characters in this game so much, you can see the lengths they’re willing to go to in order to make this mess fit together in their head.

“Maybe Shepard is only pretending to work for Cerberus.”

“I always just assumed that…”

“Maybe Anderson has secret plans he can’t tell us about.”

“Maybe what the character really meant was…”

“It’s possible that TIM is actually…”

“Have your cake and eat it, too.” That’s how we usually describe someone who wants something but doesn’t want to deal with the consequences of having that thing. But this is incrementally worse. Here the writer is breaking the setting because they’re so in love with Cerberus, and they value Cerberus more than they value the established tone, themes, or givens of the previous game. And so the audience is obliged to try to repair it with headcanon. This is a story for the gratification of the author, not the audience.

The writer wants you to bake the cake. And then they want to sell you the cake. And then they want to eat the cake.

Speaking of cake…

Thanksgiving... in... SPACE!
Thanksgiving... in... SPACE!

This certainly is a long-running series, and this entry marks the halfway pointAssuming I don’t add more entries as we go.. We’ll be close to the start of summer before we reach the end of Mass Effect 3.

This year, Christmas Eve and New Year’s eve both fall on Thursday. Those are traditionally times when nobody reads the blog, so it would probably be a waste to post one of these 2,000 word behemoths on those days. So we might take a few weeks off for the holidays. We might not. Maybe I’ll move Mass Effect to a different day on those weeks. I dunno. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading.



[1] A common problem for fictional soldiers, who feel like the whole thing is one big joke to them, and you wonder why they signed up in the first place.

[2] The jokes at the end of Therum feel very forced and awkward.

[3] According to the Wiki. I actually don’t remember this conversation in-game.

[4] You could argue that he helped steal the Normandy at the end of Mass Effect 1. But then he was still flying the ship at the start of this game?

[5] Or to be totally fair: Possibly both.

[6] If Terminator 2 doesn’t do it for you, just pick some other movie that tugged on your heartstrings. I’m trying to cut down on the density of Star Wars / Lord of the Rings references, and this seemed like a safe bet for widespread appeal.

[7] Assuming I don’t add more entries as we go.

From The Archives:

125 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 24: Collectors Addition

  1. Limeaide says:

    Aw, man, I didn’t realise all of the pictures in this series had hovertext! Now I’m going to have to go back and read every entry again.

    1. Fizban says:

      I regret to inform you that all the pictures in everything have hover text. You must now reread the entire blog.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Except for the early stuff, which doesn’t… And we’ll never tell you where that cut-off-point is! BWA HA HA HA HA HAAA!

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          That is,we would tell you if we remembered,but it was somewhere 2,3 years ago that it became a constant thing,while before it appeared in some pictures,and not the others.

      2. wswordsmen says:

        It did start relatively recently though. So you only have around a year worth of pictures to look at. Although Shamus showing up to give a more exact date would be awesome.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          It’s a bit more than a year now, I think… But yeah, it’s not too far back.

      3. Mersadeon says:

        You joke, but that’s what I did with XKCD – I went through about a thousand again just for the hover-text.

      4. Ninety-Three says:

        All the pictures in everything? Well now I have to reread the entire internet.

      5. Gnashmer says:

        Are you kidding me? I have to friggin right click the image and ‘inspect’ it to view the page code to see the hovertext.


    2. Warclam says:

      I hate hovertext for exactly this reason.

    3. ooli says:

      Whoa did not realize either! Nice catch. Especially since Shamus seems to go on one of his famous “no pants” rampage joke.

    4. Hal says:

      Reading on mobile, I get no hover text. It’s a sad thing.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Dunno if this works on all formats, but on iThingies if you hold down on the pic it’ll give you the option to save or copy, and the ‘holdtext’ will be shown above that. (There’s no hovertext on the very first pic above, so perhaps test it out with the pic of Joker and Shep.)

  2. Raygereio says:

    The jokes at the end of Therum feel very forced and awkward.

    I thought that actually worked for Joker’s character.
    Joker’s way of handling stress, or emotions in general, seems to be via lame jokes. His jokes aren’t going to be high class comedy every time. Most of them are going to be something along the lines of “Heh, you almost died. Haha… it’s not that funny, is it?”

    The game plays all this dramatic music when the Normandy-2 is revealed. The writer clearly thinks this is supposed to be a big emotional moment. But they don't know how to build emotion, so they mimic the most superficial elements of the medium: Camera angles and music.

    I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the composer and whoever directed the Normandy Reborn cutscene. Because while the writers tried their “Okay, we need you to feel an emotion, without us giving you a reason to feel that way”-shtick, those guys really gave it their all trying to sell it.

    1. Henson says:

      Yeah, I kinda respect the decision to have Joker make those lame jokes, too. Sometimes, Joker’s just an ass. And Shepard can acknowledge that through dialogue.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        And it’s a nice way to convey another character’s mood without being boring about it. Joker’s jokes getting more forced and unfunny is easy to read as “he’s stressed”.

  3. Raion says:

    “Music and camera angles do not create drama by themselves.”

    … the Citadel reveal from the first Mass Effect is one of my favourite sci-fi moments.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      And would it have been, if that music and camera, the whole reveal, had not been used for the Citadel, the centre of galactic society and the shining city upon the hill that humanity strives for, but instead for a cardboard box with a smiling face on?

      1. guy says:

        The Citadel is basically made of solid drama. The music and camera angles work because its very nature screams that it should have a lengthy, panning reveal with music showing it in its full glory.

        Using dramatic camera angles and music for something which isn’t dramatic is a punchline.

    2. Trix2000 says:

      I don’t think that relied on just music/camera though. The fact that it’s A) visually impressive on its own, B) the center of established galactic power (only barely referenced, but still there), and C) completely new territory for the player probably helped with the impact a lot.

      We feel awe at the sight because this is a thing so obviously deserving of awe, and the music/camera only go to emphasize what is already there. The SR2 is nice to look at, but it’s not all that NEW or visually impressive by comparison.

      1. Sean Hagen says:

        What actually sold me on the Citadel ( and by extension, making the game feel huge ) was the very first time you zoom out on the galactic map. You go from the Citadel ( which the previous cinematic and the windows showing the arms of the Citadel made feel pretty damn big ), to the “solar system” of the Citadel. Then you zoom out again, to get the local group. Then you zoom out again and only now do you get the galaxy. Somehow, that zooming out just highlighted out freaking big the galaxy is ( especially as a playground for a video game ).

    3. Xeorm says:

      The citadel reveal was of something majestic. Which camera angles and music can create just by themselves. I wouldn’t call it a dramatic moment though.

  4. James says:

    Another idea i just had.

    What if when they killed shep, they just kill shep and the new PC is a clone, in ME3 there is a shep clone so we have some precedent that its possible to clone a person.

    Then you can have Shep struggle with the issues of being a clone, and being created by terrorists that the real Shep fought against years prior.

    This came to me mostly because of Eve-Online, in eve everyone is a clone, when you die you awake in a fresh clone, they even in the lore books and background lore look at how this might effect people and what happens if this process is messed with to alter a person. and this is a MMO where the lore is largly just background to the never ending conflicts of the players.

    1. Incunabulum says:

      Try as they might to handwave it away, Shepard *is* a clone in ME2. A cloned body with false memories reconstructed . . . somehow.

      And there’s somehow never any question that Cerebus didn’t do *anything* to those memories, that they’re complete, accurate, and there was no tampering with them, his personality, or motivations during reconstruction.

      1. Mike S. says:

        It’s pretty clear that it’s not the writers’ intent that Shepard is a clone. The sequence running through the opening credits shows them (somehow) restarting the existing body with cybernetic assistance (e.g., new blood and tech starting a dormant heart beating), and that’s how it’s always described.

        That that shouldn’t be possible given the technology of the setting is a fair criticism. That there shouldn’t be anything left to clone, let alone revive, if Shepard’s body entered the atmosphere (as suggested in the immediately preceding scene) is also a fair criticism.

        For that matter, we can headcanon that a clone breaks WSOD less. I personally go for “Shepard was flash-frozen, impromptu cryonics works a lot better than it has any right to, and the body was picked up relatively quickly in orbit; those ‘beginning reentry’ visual effects are misleading.”

        But I can’t really claim that’s what they meant to have happened. And for the same reason, we can’t say Shepard is a clone in ME2. As far as the writing was concerned, what was left of Shepard’s original body and brain was revived via Cerberus superscience with memories and personality intact.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thats because we get the word of got early on that “she needs to remain intact”.Tim decided to do that because…otherwise this cerberus experiment wouldnt turn on them,I guess.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          The impression I got was that TIM wanted “Shepard”, and not anyone else – because there was apparently something special about “Shepard” that allowed him/her to be the person who could save the galaxy, and TIM was afraid tampering with his/her mind might lose that aspect.

          It makes some sense – it’s not like anyone truly knows what specifically makes Shepard Shepard. At the very least, it convinced me well enough to drop the issue in-game. But then I also wouldn’t put it past Cerberus to go ahead and meddle anyways, if only because they could be that stupid.

          1. SlothfulCobra says:

            I guess it makes sense if you use the idea that Shepard is valuable because of the Prothean beacon’s information. You’d want to be very careful about messing with the brain, because Shepard has a totally unknown data format on there.

            1. Mattias42 says:

              I realize this is head-canon, but personally my own explanation for the ‘Shepard needs to remain intact’ was that it was TIM’s last moment of outright defiance before indoctrination started to get him.

              Of course… that we’d been given the run-a-round for an entire game while working for the enemy of all of current existence doesn’t seem to be what you’re ‘supposed’ to feel about game #2.

          2. Dev Null says:

            it's not like anyone truly knows what specifically makes Shepard Shepard.

            He has very high levels of “PC-ichlorians.”

    2. Chris says:

      I kinda want to get the guy from xkcd to look into this, because the planet that Shepard fell towards *wasn’t* earth. So what kind of gravity and atmosphere were they dealing with? What type of material did he/she crash into?

      My personal headcannon for Shepard working for Cerberus is that when Miranda helped rebuild him/her it was with loyalty-programming that prevented Shepard from working against Cerberus’ interests. The whole point of the game is to make Miranda loyal/dead so that Shepard can be free of that programming.

      One line of dialog from Joker that could have made his allying with Cerberus make sense, that sounds like an interesting challenge:
      “Cerberus needed a pilot, Anderson needed a spy, here I am.”
      “You weren’t the only one who needed alot of medical assistance to recover, I only woke up last week.”
      “Alliance grounded me for flying into the beam and getting you killed, Shepard.”
      “I’m here because the Illusive man and I share an interest in shiny, metal fembots.”

      1. PossiblyInsane says:

        Well, that would explain why TIM had to get Kai-Leng as a replacement…

        1. Trix2000 says:

          …Why does this make so much sense?

      2. Alec says:

        Those lines are genius.

  5. MichaelGC says:

    With the Normandy-2 reveal, it felt like at one stage they were going to let you name the ship yourself, but then they decided against it for some reason. Maybe it kept bugging out, or maybe they decided ships flying around called the Yormomdy or whatever didn’t fit with their artistic vision. (A tiny point which is neither here-nor-there, really, but that’s what it felt like.)


    some other movie which tugged at your heartstrings

    The end of Apollo 13 has me in small weeping pieces every single time. Even though it’s a true story and so I’ve always known how it sodding turns out! Every. Single. Time.

    1. Lame Duck says:

      I don’t know about that; it’s been a long time since Bioware let the player customise any name that would have to be said in conversation, I can’t see anything that would make them consider doing that for the Normandy.

    2. Ravens Cry says:

      Oh gods, yes
      ! That movie is one of my favorites. Of course, I think the fact it is real helps. The Apollo 13 CM, Odyssey really did experience a longer blackout, and there was genuine concern of the heat shield being cracked from cold soak. The emotions the actors, the writers, the cinematographers, and, yes, James Horner’s masterfully evocative sound track, all are portraying emotions that were really there an d felt by real people in a real situation. Moreover, as with the Terminator example, this is the climax of a whole film’s worth of tension, even more so, if anything. Terminator is an ‘Old Yeller’ situation, while those involved in Apollo 13 have had problem after problem thrown at them. Moreover, it’s foreshadowed. The heat-shield problem is brought up, the normal time of black out is mentioned and repeated.
      Even if you know the story, the whole effort combined is gripping, and when it hits, yeah, it’s a cathartic deluge.

  6. boz says:

    Here the writer is breaking the setting because they're so in love with Cerberus, and they value Cerberus more than they value the established tone, themes, or givens of the previous game.

    I’ll go on a hyperbole and say this is the basis of everything wrong with ME2 and ME3. Casey Hudson’s massive mancrush on Martin Sheen created a singularity to warp everything about the series around TIM.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Music and camera angles do not create drama by themselves.

    Of course they do:

    1. Lanthanide says:

      That was faux drama.

      1. MrGuy says:

        Foe drama?

        1. Supahewok says:

          Fo’ drama.

          1. Dev Null says:

            If it’s going to be that rich and spread that thick, clearly it’s foie-gras drama…

  8. Henson says:

    The Normandy reveal is supposed to a “we’re home” moment, feeling like we’re back in familiar territory. So, it probably would have worked if the game made a bigger impact on just how much the galaxy has changed in two years, and how badly Shepard fits in. This is another good reason for Shepard to initially say ‘no’ to TIM about joining the mission, get a shuttle to the Citadel, and really see how much she no longer has a place in the organizations she used to work for, how the Alliance and Council are sitting on their hands regarding the Collector attacks, and how she doesn’t quite know who she is in this new galaxy. You could even tie in Shepard’s new doubts about her own existence, having people look at her strangely because she’s supposed to be dead.

    1. Mike S. says:

      While I’d really have hated it if Anderson et al. had acted as if Shepard weren’t Shepard, they needed something like that to force Shepard to join forces with Cerberus. (Assuming they were intent on having that happen.)

      As it is, of course the first thing my first Shepard did when put in control of the Normandy was fly to the Citadel. (Omega? I’m not under that guy’s orders.) And the first place she went was Anderson’s office. And Anderson is welcoming and unsuspicious, and the Council reinstated her Spectre status, and everyone basically accepted that this was Shepard…

      But for some reason she couldn’t work for them. Or go into protective custody while scientists went over her to make sure she wasn’t a time bomb. Or put the giant immobilizing magnets on the heavily armed stealth frigate Shepard says is owned and operated by terrorists.

      To keep Shepard from rejoining the Alliance or the Council, the story should either have made Shepard clearly persona non grata or kept Shepard from going to the Citadel at all (“You have command, absoulutely. But you should be aware that EDI isn’t going to let the ship within three relays of a place where my expensive project might get seized without recourse.” “Do you mean the Normandy or me?” “Yes.”)

      1. Bas L. says:

        For me it was the same. On my first playthrough I immediately went to the Citadel and I kept expecting to get a choice to betray TIM and work for Anderson / the Alliance. But of course this didn’t happen.

        Apart from laziness or game design perspectives, it makes no sense in-universe that Shepard stays with Cerberus. Hell, Shepard could have said no to Cerberus right at the beginning of the game when he woke up. When Jacob tells you they’re Cerberus any Lone Survivor Shepard should have put a bullet between his eyes right away. Or when Miranda tells you that she has the “only shuttle off this station”, tell her to fuck off and find some other way. It’s a big station, surely there is a way for Shepard to contact the Alliance or find another shuttle. Or shoot Miranda and take the shuttle for yourself.

        1. Couscous says:

          I kept on wanting to know why I couldn’t kill all the crew that were loyal to Cerberus. The only real issue would be EDI. The rest would be easy enough to take out and have replaced with Alliance supplied crew members. The Council and the Alliance get to take out a bunch of Cerberus operatives and possibly even get some high level ones to interrogate, and they can get a really fancy ship to replace the really fancy ship that was destroyed. Seems like a win win to me. Just get Mordin to remove all the bugs.

          Or just tell them to all get the heck off my ship. Say that if they wanted me to stop the reapers, I wasn’t going to do it with them on board and anything Tim gave me would be mere suggestions that I might follow. It is either that or they get nothing from all their extremely expensive work to resurrect me.

          1. SlothfulCobra says:

            Well, biggest reason of all is the fact that Cerberus is the one providing all funding and HR services. Shepard is going to be way too busy killing people to do recruitment, performance reviews, or devise an alternative method of funding.

            They all get kicked out in ME3, but you do get the option of rehiring Cerberus’s engineers.

    2. Benjamin Hilton says:

      I think you nailed it with the “we’re home” idea. Which then subtly implies how to make this scene work: put it at the end of the game. Imagine if you played the entire game in a Cerberus ship, that while advanced and economical, never quite felt right. Then when it’s time to go on the suicide mission they hit you with the Normandy. The music and camera angles would have felt earned then. It could even be foreshadowed with references to how the Cerberus techs were working on something special to allow you to get through the relay.

      1. Henson says:

        Well, to be fair, it’s not my conclusion. Joker flat-out says “it’s good to be home” in that cutscene.

  9. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    The way Cerberus hired Joker seems obvious to me. The Alliance fired him because Joker is an utter moron who’s idea of “Evasive manuevers” involves flying directly towards giant laser beams in such a way that his foes don’t even have to adjust their aim. Such a resume was perfect for Cerberus, whom were also the only people willing to hire someone with his “skill set”

    Really we only have Joker’s word in Mass Effect that he was any good as a pilot at all. For all we know he really was a charity case but he is just too proud to admit it.


    As for Villians… When you say “Hans Gruber” all I can think of is Leftenant Hubert Gruber from ‘Alloh! ‘Alloh!.

    1. Henson says:

      We have two pieces of hard evidence that corroborate Joker’s skill as a pilot. The first is Nihlus’ comment to him that a drift of 1500, which Joker achieved, is a good result. The second is right at the beginning of Ilos, where Joker is able to pilot so as to let the Mako make the very difficult landing.

      1. Shamus says:

        Third: Pilot on the Normandy, which one can reasonably assume is a prestigious assignment.

        1. Bropocalypse says:

          Fourth: Existing as a pilot despite his crippling disability.

          1. Henson says:

            “Um, I don’t fly with my feet, Commander.”

            1. Trix2000 says:

              Yeah, but given the choice between a pilot with brittle bones and a pilot without… you’re not gonna take the former unless he’s good enough to make up for that difference. Even if it doesn’t matter so much for piloting itself, there’s still a risk he could break everything and be out-of-action.

              That Joker was picked over any other pilot in the alliance suggests that he HAD to be the best choice even accounting for his disability.

              1. Ayegill says:

                Also, having brittle bone disease could easily become a liability when your ship is in combat on a regular basis, like at the beginning of ME2 where Shepard needs to help him get to the escape pods.

              2. Peter H. Coffin says:

                Which would be a nice hook to “why Joker isn’t flying Normandy anymore”. Maybe he got bounced on an unappealable medical failure, leading to a “I’m not piloting a desk for people that won’t let me pilot a ship, even in my off-time” showdown off-screen.

                And here we go fixing their story for them again…

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    By the way,you should really do a comparison of the collectors,rachni,batarians and vorcha.Batarians dont appear in me1 at all(well they do in the dlc),yet they are pretty established there.Rachni appear briefly,but are key for a bunch of stuff in the history of that galaxy.Vorcha were injected into me2 as a new thing,yet even they are talked about more than the collectors.

    1. SlothfulCobra says:

      Actually, the Vorcha are the only people not involved with Shepard’s team who talk about the Collectors. The ones in Mordin’s recruitment mission were working with them.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        The Collectors were using the Vorcha to spread a plague throughout Omega Station that would kill any species other than humans. Why do they do this? Presumably they want to clear up the chaff for when they inevitably try and harvest the humans from the station, but the game never specifically explains this, nor poses the question in the first place. It just drops the whole plot point as soon as you recruit Mordin. Seems like another wasted opportunity to expand on the Collector’s tactics and relations with other races.

        How do they contact the Vorcha? Why haven’t they used Seeker Swarms to take the station already, given it’s proximity to the Omega 4 relay? What are the Vorcha getting out of this (revenge and power maybe)? Questions left unanswered.

        1. Poncho says:

          Looked to me like the Collectors were trying to turn Omega on the humans, force humans to flee Omega due to the mistrust, or they created the plague so that it would eventually kill all the non-humans and the humans would eradicate the Vorcha, giving the Collectors an easy target to harvest.

  11. mafalda says:

    I always had the impression (though I don’t remember if it was influenced by the actual canon or by fandom conjecture) that Joker felt personally responsible for Shepard’s death, since she had to go back for him while the Normandy was going down, so him joining Cerberus had more to do with feeling guilt and obligation than any rational reason. It actually would make sense if Joker had some kind of private breakdown over her death (also considering he literally wanted to die with his ship you could argue he had pre-existing issues with self worth) and then jumped at the chance to ease his conscience, even if it meant leaving the alliance and working with terrorists that had a dubious at best plan.

    …Of course this doesn’t change the fact that the writers never bothered to actually address this in-game, so your point still stands. :| Like you said, the only way to truly enjoy these games is to just ignore the flaws and headcanon them away.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      That guilt is referenced once or twice during the mission. I can’t remember where but Joker does specifically express guilt over having not evacuated and having forced Shepard to come back for him. And he’s kind of right actually. Shepard really might not have died if he had just given up and evacuated when they did.

      This might also be part of why Cerberus wanted him. Aside from being a great pilot and being another person to put with Shepard (as revealed later TIM went out of his way to pick crew that would give Shepard a positive impression of Cerberus so most of the human crew was headhunted from the Alliance) Joker is a pilot who won’t give up on his ship. Not evacuating was a bad call in the opening but during the suicide mission it would be the right call.

      To paraphrase the old Carnegie story, the Alliance had just spent several billion dollars training Joker.

    2. Taellosse says:

      …considering he literally wanted to die with his ship you could argue he had pre-existing issues with self worth

      This was another thing that kinda bothered me about the shift from ME1 to 2, though at least in this instance they sort of ran with it and used it to try to develop Joker’s character (via the romance with EDI) – that he preferred to die with the Normandy rather than evacuate. He wasn’t trying to be a hero – keeping the ship together until everyone else was off – because he kept refusing to leave even when he knew Shepard was the very last person on board. He was actively being suicidal, apparently for no other reason than because he loved the Normandy more than life itself. And while he clearly admired the engineering that went into the Normandy (“she’s probably too much ship for most pilots”), and thoroughly enjoyed piloting her, I never had the impression that his affection for the ship was that extreme in ME1. I suppose he could have been hiding it from everyone else, or that it reached that extremity sometime after we had a chance to talk to him (maybe he felt he “owed” it to her after the Citadel fight?), but it still felt a bit out of character to me. I could see Joker doing everything he could to preserve the ship short of self-sacrifice, but I just don’t see him “going down with the ship” for its own sake.

  12. me3deager says:

    Heh. Happy Thanksgiving indeed! I’m only reading because relatives freaked out about a winter advisory….or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

    I’m still loving the posts Shamus and yet I still love playing the trilogy. Bizarre. Keep it coming; great stuff.

  13. Rory Porteous says:

    This continues to be excellent Shamus.

    But a request if possible, could we get a contents page for this and your other long form pieces (perhaps similar to the Spoiler Warning section? ) I imagine this is all going to get quite lengthy and it’d be nice to be able to refer back more easily.

  14. SlothfulCobra says:

    I can see Joker making enough an ass of himself to be kicked out by the alliance. Sure the Normandy is one of the most advanced ships in the galaxy, but it’s also that weird half-Turian ship with a weird gimmick that nobody in the Alliance has a plan to factor into their naval doctrine. It needs a great pilot, sure, and it’s a symbol of cooperation between the human and turian governments, but it’s not that important within the political structure of the Alliance. They have it doing menial things like checking up on archaeological digs before Shepard snaps it up.

    It’s a symbolically important assignment that the Alliance is using to keep the people whose careers are fundamentally over busy. Captain Anderson is just as competent as Joker, and he’s there because he messed up humanity’s chance at a spectre, and he keeps ranting about Saren, the most respected of the spectres. The Alliance knows he’s still good at what he does, but he’s politically inconvenient, so they need to keep him out of the way.

    You know what confuses me more than Joker? Chakwas. She has a longer career with the Alliance, and she’s not mouthing off at superiors at every turn. She’s used to seeing people go, there’s no reason for her to latch on to Shepard all of a sudden. There is a person who she shows attachment to in the first game, but that’s Kaiden, not Shepard. She should be joining him (if he’s still alive) instead of Shepard. And then compounding the matter further, in ME3 she does a 180 and abandons Shepard and the Normandy to work at a civilian hospital. You can re-hire her, but she’s pretty much superfluous on the Normandy. Mordin kicks her out of the medbay.

    1. Henson says:

      I’m having trouble seeing your reasoning for the Normandy being relegated to menial tasks. Is the ‘archaeological dig’ you refer to the one on Eden Prime? Because that was more than just some random dig; it was a Prothean ruin, the Alliance knew it, and the Council knew it to be important enough to send one of their Spectres on the job. Despite how that one Admiral you run into on the Citadel acts, the Normandy (and by extension, Anderson) are not being given the cold shoulder.

      But yeah, Chakwas is the really strange one. She’s no rebel.

      1. SlothfulCobra says:

        Yeah, but Prothean ruins are everywhere, and they’ve just been lying around for millions of years. It’s not like another Prothean gizmo coming out of the ground is urgent news. Even if it had a blinking light on it, there’s no way that the Alliance was expecting it to revolutionize their worldview.

        I mean, look at the other Prothean ruins in the game. Therum has a one-person archaeological dig. On the citadel, there’s only two people who are investigating anything about its origins, and they’re being discouraged by the authorities. Feros has the ruins of an entire Prothean city, but Exogeni is struggling to find enough artifacts there to make it worth their time. If it weren’t for the Thorian, they’d’ve packed up and left. Hell, even the beacon on Thessia has been covered up by a statue with an incredibly impractical mechanism to uncover it. It might’ve been crucial to the Asari’s development once, but it’s been mostly forgotten by the point you find it.

        1. guy says:

          The Eden Prime dig recovered an intact Beacon, and is basically the most valuable thing since the Mars Archives. They had no idea what was on it, but they had the expectation that it would store a lot of extremely valuable information. The other digs are scrounging for scraps of knowledge while the Beacon is basically a library. It could be filled with cake recipies, or it could be a complete set of blueprints for every warship the Protheans ever built.

          Also, the Asari Beacon has hardly been forgotten about. It is strongly implied that Benezia took Liara to the temple a lot as cover for checking in on the Beacon research team.

        2. Taellosse says:

          Actually, you’re falling prey to sampling bias – as Shepard we are actively seeking places where there are Prothean artifacts in ME1 because we’re trying to understand what we got from the beacon on Eden Prime. The game makes it pretty clear at multiple points that ruins of any kind, aside from the relays and Citadel themselves are actually incredibly rare, and finding actual working technology is even more unusual. Which, of course, is part of the point – the Reapers spend centuries wiping out nearly all trace of the previous cycle whenever they come in for a culling, so the next cycle will develop the way they want, and not leapfrog ahead (as the Protheans themselves nearly did, and in the end enabled their successors to do).

          Even so, while Feros is highly atypical for having lots of surviving architecture, it’s made explicitly clear that if there ever was anything of value to find there, it’s been long-since removed by previous visitors – ExoGeni got the colonization rights for a song, and were essentially taking a huge gamble that wasn’t paying off – their only hope for recouping their costs in the time frame they wanted was to capitalize somehow on the Thorian.

          And Therum was a solo dig site because Liara is WEIRD, and admits as much to Shepard – she’s still trying to find proof for her outlandish theory that the Protheans weren’t the first technologically advanced species in the galaxy, and that they didn’t actually build the relay network – so she’s looking in places other Prothean experts don’t, or have already, to find such proof, and she’s doing it alone because everyone else in her field thinks she’s a nut.

          And Eden Prime, even in the opening scenes, is sold as being the biggest discovery since the Mars archive, which enabled humanity’s technology to leapfrog “200 years” according to Anderson – without it the Charon relay never would have been discovered as soon as it was, and humans would still be confined to a single solar system. It’s made very clear that this is a huge find, of incalculable potential value. The Alliance is sending two of their most highly decorated officers, commanding one of their most advanced ships, flown by one of their best pilots, and the Council is sending along one of their most respected operatives to oversee the operation, all of this despite the find being on a peaceful farming colony where no particular trouble is actually expected – it’s only when they enter the system and everything goes pear-shaped that it turns into a combat operation.

          As for the other beacon the Asari had on Thessia, the idea behind it being hard to access was that it was being hidden – not even most Asari knew about it. Setting it on a pedestal out in the open for anyone to access would kind of defeat the purpose of keeping its existence a secret for the last few thousand years. Granted, that probably means they should’ve kept it somewhere less accessible, rather than hiding it in a big ol’ statue in their biggest temple, but then there wouldn’t have been a nice big open space to fight Kai Leng and his pet helicopter, right?

          1. guy says:

            To be fair, no one would expect a statue in their biggest temple (though IIRC for a sect that’s mostly fallen out of favor) to hide something like the Beacon, and high government officials can go there regularly without raising questions. Also, however they usually studied it didn’t involve a full activation and could be done discreetly. Possibly from that basement.

            1. Taellosse says:

              Yeah, but it’s still a deeply contrived scenario, arranged specifically to make accessing it as a non-Asari more convenient, and to present a suitable setting for the big confrontation with Kai Leng. The fact that it’s justification is no weaker than a similar situation in a schlocky movie doesn’t mean it isn’t still a weak justification. ;-)

              1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                It’s similar to the “Pope’s Chamber in the Vatican has a secret alien artifact” scenario from AC2 which… okay that was pretty hilariously silly. You may have a point here.

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I think Chakwas’ reasoning was actually to follow Jeff (Joker) and make sure he was well taken care of. When you talk to her, besides Kaidan, Joker is the one she shows concern over the most. Chakwas was left a bit too optional past game 1, but if they HAD developed her, it seems clear she had a mothering instinct for Joker.

  15. Jabberdau says:

    I´d like to hear your comment on the physical transformation of the characters from ME1 to ME3. Did they spend time in the gym between games or was it part of the marketing that they had to be changed into comicbook style heroes? Liara certainly got some implants between games.

  16. Brandon says:

    Do you remember in the Superman movie when he lost his powers in the opening scene and then got them back ten minutes later? No, because that would be a lame, nonsensical story.

    Do you remember in the first 10 minutes of Star Trek: Into Darkness how Kirk lost the enterprise because he’s a reckless idiot and then got the ship right back? That is one of the reasons I still dislike the movie, despite enjoying the one that came before it. There are many other reasons, but this example dovetails nicely with this article.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Eh, out of all the things to complain about Into Darkness, this shouldn’t be one of them. He was pulled for being too reckless and the idea was that the guy who made him join (Pike) would take him on as a First Officer and properly train him (since he was rushed and promoted out of gratitude/embarrassment in Trek ’09). When Pike was murdered, Kirk was re-promoted as a part of a scheme that would have ended in his disgraced death, had things not changed based on Khan scheming right back.

      1. Brandon says:

        There are so many other things wrong with the movie, but this was like the very beginning of the film, and I feel like it set the tone for the rest of the movie. And your explanation doesn’t fix it for me. Too rushed, too much right up front, too contrived. It still amounts to “We’re taking away the Enterprise. Oh, wait, here, have the Enterprise again.”

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          It “doesn’t work” and yet it’s the plot of the film. Seriously the guy who gives him the Enterprise back turns out to be co-villains with Khan. It was a SETUP, not a reward. It IS suspicious and it IS too convenient. Scotty actually quits the crew based on how suspicious he finds the whole thing. This isn’t the right place to go “wait a minute here…”, it completely adds up (unlike other things like Khan’s too convenient magic blood).

  17. Tektotherriggen says:

    The collectors don’t wear pants? Never mind that – according to that second screenshot, they don’t wear skin.

    1. Poncho says:

      Chitin is so IN these days.

  18. guy says:

    My general impression was that the most commonly held opinion on the Collectors was “Who?”, followed closely by “Some weird guys who aren’t important”. No one knows all that much about them because no one cares that much.

  19. Neko says:

    You know, you’ve brought up the Thresher Maw thing a few times, and I remember thinking along the same lines when playing ME2, remembering how Cerberus was depicted in ME1. But it wasn’t until just now, with the particular phrasing you’ve used, that I realised:-

    Cerberus is Aperture Science.

    Arbitrarily large budget, seemingly from nowhere. Penchant for doing experiments just because. And if those experiments result in deaths? That’s just more science!. Things inevitably going wrong and we have to just seal off the area and build new facilities on top of the old. Of course, in Portal, this was played for laughs. Don’t think that’s what the writers were going for in Mass Effect.

    1. ehlijen says:

      And now I’m sad that a ‘still alive illusive man’ youtube search yielded nothing :(

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Kai leng is a fuckup.Thats what it says.Funny thing is that we werent even testing for that.

  20. You’ve pretty much described here why I found it impossible to play this game. I couldn’t get past the intro. And I’m a diehard Bioware fan of massive proportions. But I’m also a diehard proponent of integration in games, and this one was just beyond the pale as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t just disintegrated by accident the way even the very best games often are, it was MILITANTLY disintegrated.

    It almost felt like someone read all the forum input and guessing and speculating and then said “okay, official program is–we can’t use ANY of that. So what’s left?” “Uh . . . Shepard works for Cerberus now?” “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” “But it’ll be edgy and . . . edgy!” “Has ANYBODY got a better idea?” *crickets* “Fuck me.” Yes, ME was a little predictable and trope-ariffic. But if the combat hadn’t been snoozefest 3000, it would have been a really good game.

    I honestly don’t have any clue as to what might be CAUSING this, because several people in Bioware can write some dang good books, but there’s something in their development process where if they try to step away from the most straightforward tropes possible in the framework of an actual game, it collapses into a pile of stupid.

    I will say that it’s pretty clearly a *process* problem, though, because when they do smaller stuff (like the DLC for Inquisition), it can be AMAZING (or at least good).

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      The intro, to me, felt like the literary equivalent of one of those sitcoms where a kid knocks a rare and expensive vase over and ‘fixes’ it with sparkle glue and scotch tape, and in the course of the mess a large chunk of cat hair and, inexplicably, an entire slice of pizza got worked into the repair.

      1. There was an interview with one of the Bioware devs where they talk about how the beginning of the game gets the most iteration, while the end gets almost none, and my instantaneous response was:


        There are advantages to writing your climax or ending first, because it at least forces you to dig down into your antagonist or villain *motivations*, and for the vast majority of RPG’s, this is what drives the plot. You can’t really assign much in the way of motivations to the PC (although Bethesda sure as heck keeps trying), and if you give them to an NPC, that character will usually overshadow the PC. Also there’s always the chance that the player will simply HATE that NPC’s guts. It’s not always the most comfortable way to work, though.

        1. Richard says:

          They meant the gameplay, not the story.

          The end game is hard to balance because you don’t necessarily know what resources the player has (they could have squandered all their “money” on fish), the mechanics they’ve learnt or what tactics they have come up with or understood.

          If you assume they know how to “X”, or have “Y”, then the game doesn’t work if they don’t.

          It’s easy to just to hand out a Y, or display instructions on X, but hard to do that without breaking the fourth wall or snapping disbelief suspenders.

          The story itself is a separate matter, and has to be written by an actual writer who understands how a screenplay and gameplay differ – and how they match.

          There are many people who can do that – and it’s also something that practically no committees can do.

  21. Thomas says:

    I was so surprised when replaying ME1 when the game explained that Joker was called Joker because he’s grouchy and doesn’t smile – not because he makes jokes.

    1. Pyrrhic Gades says:

      Here I thought it was a portmonteau of his names Joe Kerr.
      Ok, I kid, I thought it was a shortened form of Geoff Kerrigan.

    2. He’s more cocky than funny in ME, but it felt like he was defensive and waiting for you to give him grief about his disability when you talk to him for the first time. Shepard’s a Marine, after all–a paragon of physical health and capability.

      I remember reading an interview with Seth Green who apparently identified really personally with Joker’s character.

  22. Ninety-Three says:

    As you talk about how the opening (killing Shepard, the Normandy 2) is a total mess, I’m starting to wonder if there wasn’t some cut (or reordered) content. Taking away our ship, our crew, our life, and then immediately giving them back, all of it would make so much more sense if there was supposed to be something in between the taking away and the giving back.

    It even gives them room to fix some of the massive character-motivation problems they have, although imagining that happening is just wishful thinking.

    1. Ronixis says:

      I’ve read there is at least some of this elsewhere, such as the splitting of squad mates to recruit into two groups (allegedly for splitting into multiple discs on 360).

  23. Poobles says:

    I can’t help but picture Cerberus being a bit like Dr. Evils organisation from the Austin Powers movies, like TiM has his own “number 2” who runs all these really successful legitimate front companies for Cerberus that make billions of credits but all TiM does is piss it away on crazy “evil” plans.

  24. StashAugustine says:

    I’ve always felt the main story of ME2 would go so much smoother if you could get just one line of dialog implying you’re feeding intel to Anderson. Doesn’t have to be mandatory, doesn’t really have to be big, just had to be in the game somewhere.

    Maybe this is just the result of binging on Playing Both Ends Against The Middle Simulator 2010 this week

  25. Duoae says:

    Whoa! Please don’t skip a few weeks. Just because I might not visit on Thursday (it’s actually friday on this side of the world when I wake up and check the blog). Every other outlet I go to has nothing over the holidays and I end up having nothing interesting to read – since you’ve already got them written out then it’d be a shame to have nothing over a whole couple of weeks just because the usual publishing day (just one day out of seven) is on a holiday…

    1. Daimbert says:

      Yeah, I agree. If people aren’t going to be around to read it on that specific day, they can read it the next day, or the day after that. Blog posts don’t go bad if left out too long [grin]. But it would give people who happen to be around that day something to read, and won’t really impact people who aren’t around.

      The only reason to hold off would be if it’s a lot of work for you when you’d rather spend that time with your family. That’s understandable.

  26. Spacewreck says:

    On top of this, the Geth are led by Saren, who has complex relationships with both the Council and Shepard's best-buddy Anderson.

    But no. In a game all about building a team, not one of the 10 core characters has a backstory or loyalty mission connected to the main villain or plot of the game.

    Until now I hadn’t fully appreciated the difference between ME 1 and 2 in how the characters are all woven into the main plot with their own agendas. In addition to the examples mentioned, Garrus had his own investigation of Saren already going and even Wrex turned out to have previously encountered Saren (Wrex’s story mirroring the suggestion above to make the Collectors ominous).

    It’s a shame since so many of the characters were so well-traveled that weaving in some previous encounters would have been easy. But instead at best you get non-committal statements that the new recruit is familiar with the Collectors’ reputation though even then their understanding of that rep is never explicated. Well, to be fair there was one potential team member that would have fit that category — but you never get to actually recruit Okeer.

    On the other hand, Jack and Tali have negative personal associations with Cerberus, Jacob is openly distrustful of them due to his overall experiences with them, Mordin is curious because he realizes that Cerberus must be facing a particularly desperate to recruit aliens for the mission…

    Shamus, you need to give credit where credit is due. The ME2 writers did do everything you asked to characterize an enemy. They just did it to Cerberus instead of the Collectors.

    Guy on left: Holy shit, guys. Don`t freak out, but I just realized we`re all NAKED.

    This does make me wonder about the Collector Armor that Shepard can wear. Either A) that chitinous plating on the Collectors’ bodies is some sort of equipment that whatever is left of the Protheans are wearing or B) Shepard is a skinsuit-wearing lunatic.

    Too bad that the armor didn’t automatically come with a load of Renegade points if you wear it along with optional Shepard AI barks like, “HARBINGER!! I want to see what color your blood is in the moonlight!”

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Considering Cerberus is one of the three enemy factions in 3, I don’t think building up Cerberus as an enemy was an accident or stupid writing, since that’s what it seems like you’re implying. And I don’t think there’s much for Shepard to regret in the end working for Cerberus since you end up with EDI, Miranda, Jacob, and Normandy 2 out of the deal. But that’s a whole other topic.

      1. Spacewreck says:

        Considering Cerberus is one of the three enemy factions in 3, I don't think building up Cerberus as an enemy was an accident or stupid writing, since that's what it seems like you're implying.

        What I’m mocking is that the primary antagonists of ME2 are lacking that build-up while the group that does get it is not one you’re allowed to engage meaningfully even in dialogue.

        But honestly I’m not sure that the items Shamus listed as ways to characterize an enemy were applied to Cerberus with that much forethought either. You can end the game in very good graces with them after bequeathing Cerberus with a lot new technology from Legion’s body to the Collector Base. Any deliberate build-up of Cerberus as your direct antagonist would have to have been playing a subtle long game for ME3 and given how the main storyline was handled up to that point and afterward I’m doubtful that the writers were working that way.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          If you’re going pro-Cerb, Illusive Man seems disappointed to turn on you at Mars, but he does it anyway. This pays off in two ways.

          1) We eventually discover that he’s been indoctrinated so of course the Reapers wouldn’t let him work with Shepard anymore. Adding a bit more grey to his characterization, he did this BEFORE he did it to any of his troops to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. He just couldn’t tell it WAS a mistake because he was indoctrinated and believed the process had worked flawlessly.
          2) If you keep the lines of communication open throughout the game (aka, do the persuasive, high paragade score interrupts at every chance possible throughout 3), he eventually breaks indoctrination long enough to kill himself, Saren style because he WOULD want to work with a Shepard who wants to work with him, it was just impossible once he was indoctrinated.

  27. Galad says:

    Eh, there’s probably gonna be at least a few people around Christmas/New Years’ eve that aren’t celebrating anything anywhere and would instead be happy to spend time on your blog. What about a twitch stream of something around these days?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Also people who are working on the last day of the year and have this blog updated while they are still at work.

  28. Andrew says:

    Who’s all in the thanksgiving picture?
    I can recognise Grunt, ?, Garrus, Wrex
    Jack, Jacob?, ?, Tali, ?
    ?, Liara, Default male Shepard in Alliance dress uniform?, Someone who looks like a twi’lek (from KOTOR?) and Joker.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Furthest back row, in order left to right:
      Grunt, James Vega (ME3), Garrus, Wrex.

      Next row closer to the couch:
      Jack, Jacob, Steve Cortez (ME3 pilot of the shuttle), Tali, Samara

      Couch row:
      Samantha Traynor (Comm Specialist from ME3), Liara, Shepard, EDI, and Joker.

      It’s missing Mordin (because he can’t attend the party in Citadel no matter what), Legion (similar reasons), Thane (who is always dead by the time you can do this), Kasumi and Zaeed (because Shamus didn’t buy them I guess?), and Kaidan or Ashley (which is strange, there are ways to not get one of them here… but why?)

      1. Spacewreck says:

        Maybe it just happened to be part of a playthrough in which the Virmire survivor was killed during the Citadel coup?

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Yeah, I just found it a random variant of that pic to have people who COULD be there not be. Maybe it represents Shamus’ playthrough though, and that’d be fine.

        2. Shamus says:

          For the record, this was from my play-through that I’m doing for this series. Ash was like, “Want me back?” and I was like, “Meh, go be a Spectre. Have fun.”

          If I did it again, I’d have Kashley re-join, just to have them at the party.

          In fact, if I ever do another play-through, I’m going to stop when I get to the party and just call that the end of the game. It’s all VERY downhill after that point.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            Even Leviathan?

            Or can you clear Leviathan before Citadel becomes available?

            Which leads to a random remark. I liked in ME2 how you had a couple of major hubs (Citadel and Omega). Going back to just having Citadel in ME3 felt limiting.

            1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              Leviathan starts earlier than Citadel (as in, when you’re allowed to do it) and completes earlier too, if I remember correctly. Leviathan is interesting in that if you do it early enough, you have to do the mission in separate parts and come back to it later on. I think Citadel may split the timing of the mission and party aspects if you do it early enough.

  29. Gruhunchously says:

    Back to front, left to right;

    Grunt, James, Garrus, Wrex
    Jack, Jacob, Cortez, Tali, Javik
    Traynor, Liara, MShep, Sexyrobot!EDI, Joker

    1. TheCheerfulPessimist says:

      Pretty sure the middle row on the far right is Samara, not Javik.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        You’re right, gosh darn it. I saw the red and blue and got confused. Shamus wouldn’t have a DLC-only character on his crew.

  30. Chris says:

    Something I wondered about relationships in games, why does the player character have to be the one to hook up? In Spoiler Warning someone jokingly asked if Mordin was trying to hook the fem-krogan up with Garrus. Why isn’t the player tasked with helping to encourage/breakup relationships under their command? Since Shepard is a blank slate there is too much room for interpretation. However a situation like Liara asking Shepard whether she should ask out Traynor would allow the player to make adjustments in how their crew related to one another.
    Maybe it just seems like a Commander should be about helping the people under his/her command to be loyal to each-other and not just to Shepard alone. Other than bickering sessions which negated a character’s loyalty because they made you choose a side the game doesn’t really devote time to tying the crew together..

    1. Richard says:

      Shepard doesn’t.
      In my last playthrough, while Shepard did “romance” Liara at the end, and there were also two other happy couples by the end of ME3.

      Tali and Garrus, as well as Joker and EDI

      I gather that Ashley and Vegas and Ken and Gabby can also hook up, though not seen either yet.

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Shep can discourage the EDI x Joker relationship or tell Jeff he should trust his feelings and continue. You can also encourage the engineering couple from 2 to hook up already, which they do rather quickly after you suggest it. Finally, alive Garrus and Tali will hook up if Shepard doesn’t date one of them.

  31. Peter Fisker says:

    I don’t know if this has been pointed out, but this whole series remind me of Plinkett’s Star Wars reviews. The way Shamus and Mike both deconstructs a series they love but think took a (very) wrong turn, in order to get past it – they feel somewhat similar in style, although so far Shamus’ deconstruction features far less prostitutes getting murdered :D

    1. Corsair says:

      -So far-. We’re only in ME2, we haven’t crossed into the really dark place yet.

  32. Dreadjaws says:

    Even better, Joker is actually funny this time around. His jokes in Mass Effect 1 mostly fell flat[2] but here in Mass Effect 2 the writer seems to have found his voice.

    This is driving me crazy. I’m positive I already commented about this, but I can’t find my comment anywhere, not here nor on the other entry where you say the same. I don’t know if my comments got deleted or I actually post them somewhere else when someone made a similar point.

    Anyway. The entire point in ME1 was that “Joker” was an ironic nickname. They called him that precisely because he was too serious and didn’t make any jokes. The reason his “jokes” fell flat in the first game is that they weren’t supposed to be jokes.

    It’s OK if you like the character more now, of course, but in reality it’s just another retcon by the ME2 writer who obviously didn’t get the memo about the meaning of Joker’s name either.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Going back to this in my nth reading of this series, I’m starting to get the suspicions that more than a few comments of mine have been deleted. There’s more than ocassion in which I read an article and I’m positive I would have commented something on it, but then I can’t find my comment anywhere. I remember a time where comments were divided into pages and I wonder if changing that had anything to do with it and some comments just ended up purged away.

      Meh, who knows. It’s a bit too late to add comments now. This is just a special ocassion because this freaked me out a bit.

  33. Kilroy says:

    I must grievously apologize for bothering to critique something that’s over 6 years old, but there is one thing in this article that bothered me.

    While it’s true that the Collectors may be a wee bit underdeveloped when compared to the other mooks, the Geth, it’s rather incorrect to say that nobody talks about them at all. Granted, I hate to be unable to give more conclusive evidence than one example, but as long as that “one” exists, I must take exception to the notion that “none” exist.

    In one of the Bioware-y dialog bits with Mordin, he does actually offer up some impressions about the Collectors, and it’s some fairly salient ones as well, describing them as having “no art, no culture”, and then going on to make an actual moral judgement of them, something that he doesn’t typically do with other characters. Even with his personal quest, he seems to stop short of describing the goings on as “evil”. “Unethical”, yes. “Wrong”, yes. But to actually call a group out as evil is something that Mordin only did once.

    Now bear in mind that this is a character who’s well established to live by more objectively scientific and agnostic principles by now, and he’s making a moral judgement about an entire species. For him to get that impression does, to a certain extent, bolster the threat the Collectors present. It calls them out as singularly predatory in nature, and furthermore uninterested in anything but propagation. This is something that’s carrying them beyond any lack of sympathy one might have for the Geth (or even Cerberus, for that matter), because the latter two enemy groups have actual reasons for what they do based on philosophical designs. Are they faulty? Probably. But they’re at least present. The Collectors do it because they have no other choice but to prey on others.

    The closest fictional comparison I can think up for them is the classical vampire, another creature that has no option but to prey on other beings to sustain itself, and indeed, the classical vampire, through this helpless urge to prey upon others, is truly evil.

    Now, is that enough? Is it even well done? That’s a different debate entirely. Mordin shouldn’t be the only one to talk about Collectors and pass judgement on them, if indeed he is the only one, but his statement is still very much present and in the game. Heck, it had enough impact to demand that I type this treatise up at work because I remembered it so strongly.

    1. Lino says:

      A late response that no one is going to read, but I want to mention it, because it’s bothering me :D

      If you read the article, Shamus actually talks about this very dialogue with Mordin:

      Mordin has a couple of lines about how the Collectors are “culturally dead”. That’s certainly the start of an interesting idea for a spooky villain. And that would be fine if we wanted to keep them distant and mysterious. That would be a bit like the Aliens franchise, where the Xenomorphs are just space-monsters and the story is really about the potential victims.

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