Andromeda Part 12: The Bad Guise

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 8, 2019

Filed under: Mass Effect 163 comments

Once the Eos colony is founded, we’re off to the next planet. Along the way we run into the Kett flagship. Figuratively, but also nearly literally. We drop out of warp just a few meters short of them.

Imagine two big game hunters roaming around a vast wilderness, completely unaware of one another. Each of them sees a target, and each of them aims their weapon and fires it. By accident, their bullets collide in mid-air. That sounds unlikely, doesn’t it? And yet that’s orders of magnitude more likely than two interstellar spaceships ending up a hundred meters apart by random chance.

If this is a chance encounter, then that’s ridiculous. But if this isn’t – if the Kett somehow saw where we were going and headed us off – then why don’t they ever pull this trick again?

Why is there an obvious derpy frowny face on the front of the ship?
Why is there an obvious derpy frowny face on the front of the ship?

Moreover, the geography of this scene makes no sense. The tempest drops out of warp and winds up nose-to nose with the Kett flagship. But the space behind them is filled with the scourge, which means they must have passed through the scourge to get here. And what is the Archon doing hanging out in the middle of the scourge cloud like this?

Yes, I get we’re no longer doing details-first sci-fi and we’re not supposed to think about the science of moving around in space. Fine. But even in a drama-based universe like Star Wars we still need rules to allow the audience to understand what’s possible. When the Empire puts a tracking device on the Millennium Falcon, we understand this means the bad guys will be able to follow the good guys back to their base. The writer doesn’t just have the bad guys show up without explanation, because in a good story C happens because of B, which happened because of A. It’s hard to create drama in a universe without some level of causality.

Here in Andromeda we have the bad guys randomly bump into the good guys. Was the Archon really sitting in this scourge cloud just above the Angaran homeworld? Did he know the heroes would pass through here? The encounter is presented as if it’s a trap. It nearly works. The good guys barely escape. And yet the bad guys never try this trick again.

What are the rules here? Was this an ambush? Could they try it again? Why don’t they?

Whatever. The important thing is that this is where we meet the bad guy, which means this is where the game falls apart and the Andromeda setting is thoroughly ruined.

Star Bore

Where did this screen come from? There's nothing like this on the bridge. This isn't the front window / screen, because that's shorter and more extremely concave. Where is Ryder's control panel? Shouldn't it be in front of this screen? It feels like we teleported to an unlit pocket dimension for this scene.
Where did this screen come from? There's nothing like this on the bridge. This isn't the front window / screen, because that's shorter and more extremely concave. Where is Ryder's control panel? Shouldn't it be in front of this screen? It feels like we teleported to an unlit pocket dimension for this scene.

You can explain some of the shortcomings of this game in terms of development problems. There are some ideas that could have been made to work with more time for polish. There are some bits of the game where you can see different writers were not on the same page, and maybe if the schedule wasn’t so tight their work could have been brought into harmony.

During Mass Effect 2 / Mass Effect 3, there was always the excuse that maybe the writer is fine, they’re just wrong for this style of story. If they were allowed to make their own story and weren’t saddled with completing someone else’s work, then maybe their writing could really shine.

But there is no excuse for the state of our main villain here in Andromeda. I don’t care what genre of fiction this game is supposed to be, this guy is a vortex of terrible ideas. He’s not just bad, he’s wrong. Again, I don’t know if this is a new writer or if this is a returning Mass Effect 3 alumni, and it doesn’t matter. I’m criticizing the art and not the person.

The Archon

Remember when Mass Effect 1 let you hang up on the council?
Remember when Mass Effect 1 let you hang up on the council?

This is one of the worst villains I’ve ever seen in a science-fiction story. Sure, guys like Kai Leng, Harbinger, and the Illusive Man might have been more annoying overall, but a lot of their problems were that they were wrong for the world. TIM would be a really cool character in the context of some sort of thriller, and Martin Sheen’s performance was excellent. Kai Leng would have been fine if he was part of a kid’s cartoon. Harbinger would have worked out okay in a campy universe like Last Starfighter or Fifth Element. But the Archon is just irredeemably awful. Everything about him is terrible. His dialog is terrible. The dialog delivery is terrible. The character concept is terrible. The character’s visual design is terrible.

The Archon’s dialog sounds just like Harbinger. He’s got the same overblown way of speaking, and just like Harbinger he’s a complete loser. This guy will belt out things like, “YOU SHALL NEVER DEFEAT MY ELITE GUARDS!” as you slaughter your way through his elite guards.

You might argue that this is supposed to be empowering, that we’re supposed to enjoy proving this guy wrong again and again. But it’s only enjoyable to overcome someone if they come off as cunning or imposing. The Archon is a loser from the moment you meet him, and his only win against you is due to writer-imposed stupidity on the part of the hero.

And then there’s the visual design. Just look at this guy:

Short. Dumpy. Tiny eyes. Goofy headpiece. Awkward gait. Small chin. This is the opposite of everything the designer needs to be doing.
Short. Dumpy. Tiny eyes. Goofy headpiece. Awkward gait. Small chin. This is the opposite of everything the designer needs to be doing.

He’s got the face of a sheep and a toilet seat on the top of his head. He looks hilarious. The artist even made his eyes tiny and the lids tilt outward, which makes him look sort of stupid and meek. Is he shorter than his minions? And does he have a dumpy beer gut?

This goof is supposed to the the pinnacle of genetic manipulation?

Which, fine. In a hard sci-fi story it would be valid to mess around with the idea that, “The things humans use as emotional cues aren’t universal”. Except, this is such a ridiculously over-the-top character we can’t possibly give the writer that kind of credit. The story takes this guy so deadly seriously, and yet his visual design runs directly opposite to that. He’s ugly, yet not ugly enough to be disturbing or interesting. He’s all spiky in a way that’s supposed to make him look evil, but then his face and pull-tab haircut work against that.

Even if we ignore the visual design, he’s a complete failure because he brings nothing to the table in terms of themes or ideas. He doesn’t oppose Ryder on a philosophical level. He has nothing interesting to say about his species of brainwashed drones. He doesn’t have any clever plans or an interesting backstory. Or any backstory.

This isn’t an unreasonable thing to ask for! In fact, if you’re abandoning nerdy, fussy, details-first sci-fi in favor of action schlockAnd to be clear: Action schlock is a totally legitimate form of art and just as worthy of praise as details-based sci-fi. then it’s even more critical that you get the villain right. There’s a saying in fiction, “A hero is only as good as their villain.” There’s a reason audiences embraced Loki and Heath Ledger’s Joker but rejected Steppenwolf (Justice League) Malekith (Thor: The Dark World) and it doesn’t have anything to do with how physically formidable or powerful they are. In fact, the Joker was scary as hell and he was just a regularI mean in terms of physical strength and durability. guy in clown makeup.

SAM gets the power back on, breaks the ship free of the Archon's tractor beam or whatever, and charts a course through the scourge. This saves us from needing our heroes to do anything heroic.
SAM gets the power back on, breaks the ship free of the Archon's tractor beam or whatever, and charts a course through the scourge. This saves us from needing our heroes to do anything heroic.

Yes, there is room in fiction for simple, straightforward villains. Hela (Thor Ragnarok) and Ronan the Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy) were both cartoonishly evil. But Hela was fun and witty and seemed to be having a good time. Her character had a nice emotional range that went from playful to vicious to amused to seething. She was fun to watch. Plus, there was all this stuff under the surface about Asgard’s history of brutal conquest and their dysfunctional royal family. Ronan was a one-note bad guy, but his scenes were few, short, and Star Lord even mocked his super-serious attitude.

For contrast, here in Andromeda the Archon has nothing going for him. He’s not having fun. He’s not fun to watch. He has nothing thematic to say. He never says anything incisive or clever. He’s a one-note bore with a lot of dialog. He has no personal rivalry with Ryder except that both of you want the same magic gizmo. Worst of all, the dialog wheel forces you to take this guy seriously. Archon spends a lot of time bellowing at us over the PA system about how unworthy we are and how he’s going to “decimate” us. I wouldn’t mind so much if I could mock him and brush him off with a joke like Star Lord would, but our character sinks to his level by taking the exchange seriously.

(And speaking of “decimate”: The writer uses the word decimate when they mean “obliterate”. Yes, the usage of the word is shifting, but it’s not there yet. It’s like having the villain misuse “literally” to mean “figuratively”. Maybe in a generation it won’t stick out so much, but right now that usage sounds wrong to a large portion of the audience. When multiple characters from multiple species all misuse the same term, you can suddenly hear the voice of the author leaking through the characters. Sure, the audience probably gets what you’re trying to say, but it’s going to sound odd and distracting in a science fiction setting. I want to point out that multiple characters correct our protagonist on her usage of who / whom, so this wrong use of decimate sticks out even more.)

Intensifying the awfulness is just how much dialog he gets and how little of it is needed. He’s constantly promising to defeat you. He never says anything surprising, interesting, or informative. It’s just a retread of threats he’s made a dozen times before.

There’s a lot wrong with Andromeda, but nearly all of it could have been dismissed or mitigated with the right villain. The Archon is so dull, so childish, so lacking in imagination and ambition that he dooms the entire experience. It’s impossible to care about a world in which this guy is supposed to be a serious threat.

How I’d have done it:

Galaxy Quest was a comedy movie, but Sarris was still about a hundred times more imposing and impressive than the Archon.
Galaxy Quest was a comedy movie, but Sarris was still about a hundred times more imposing and impressive than the Archon.

The low-effort way to fix this is just to dial his performance down, remove all of his extraneous dialog, and only have him talk when he has something useful to say.

This isn’t a hard character to designI mean, it’s not hard for an artist. I certainly couldn’t model it, but I’m not a 3D character artist. and I can’t imagine how things went so wrong. Just redesign his model to be more imposing and less comical. If he’s going to be a screaming tyrant monster, at least he should LOOK like a screaming tyrant monster. Scowling eyes. Big teeth. Powerful jaw. And get rid of the toilet seat on top of his head.

If I wanted to actually fix him in a way that would make him interesting instead of merely inoffensive, then I’d be a little more ambitious. Let’s try a different design, and at the same time add some basic themes to the game. Let’s also address the weird problem where we crossed dark space to find a bunch of guys at the exact same tech level we are.

Dr. Lexi is probably the only Asari in the game that feels like an Asari. She's a fine character, although the story never does anything with her. She's not even used for exposition.
Dr. Lexi is probably the only Asari in the game that feels like an Asari. She's a fine character, although the story never does anything with her. She's not even used for exposition.

First, let’s change the Kett:

In my version, the Kett are way behind us in terms of materials and weapons technology, but way ahead when it comes to gene manipulation. Essentially, their genetics ARE their technology.

We’d re-purpose Lexi (the ship’s doctor) to give us exposition about their physical properties. There’s already a scene in the game where she looks at a Kett corpse. We just need to make her studies an ongoing series of expositional conversations rather than a one-off chat that tells us nothing. She would reveal a bunch of facts like:

  • The Kett are a caste-based society, and each caste has unique DNA. We only have this front-line fighter to study, and we don’t have good samples of the other kinds of Kett. These grunts run around naked, but they’re effectively badasses because of their physical characteristics.
  • We can theorize that these other Kett (the Anointed, Cardinals, etc) are from some other species that the Kett have absorbed.
  • The Kett are amphibious, they can survive for several minutes in a vacuumThis fact is already in the game., and they can hold their breath for up to an hour.
  • They can eat nearly anything, even their own dead.
  • The Kett don’t age, and could theoretically (as far as Lexi can tell) live forever. They also have no reproductive systemThis fact is already in the game. and only reproduce via their gene-splicing / rewrite thing.
  • Their carapace is as tough as alliance Armor. It’s also conductive, carrying electric shock away from their vital organs. It can also mitigate ionizing radiation.
  • They have almost as many redundant organs as the Krogan, and can regrow limbs.
  • They can theoretically survive at any temperatures above the boiling point of oxygen (-196 °C / -320 °F) and below the boiling point of water.
  • If trapped without food, a Kett can enter a hibernative state for up to six months.
  • Their blood is just alkaline enough to kill all known pathogens. They’re effectively immune to all sickness and diseaseThis is the kind of detail I’d run by a few science-minded colleagues for a plausibility audit. Maybe acidic would work better. Maybe we can come up with another mechanism..
  • The reward centers of their brains are keyed to their social hierarchy. Effectively, they get pleasure from obeying orders. If a Kett was deprived of leadership, it would do everything it could to find a leader of the proper caste. If it was isolated for long enough, it might become depressed and die.

If the player asks why the Kett guns are still dangerous to us if they’re so far behind, someone can explain that their guns are unwieldy and heavy, and the ammunition is bulky. They’re compensating for their primitive firearm technology by carrying really heavy-hitting guns, which they can handle thanks to their advanced strength and reflexes.

I won’t say this fixes the Kett or anything, but it does make them less of a bore. Note that we’re not jamming this stuff down the player’s throat. If they don’t care about Kett society or physiology, they can just skip talking to the doctor. We’re not adding a lot of dialog to the game, so this change should be fairly cheap.

Religion

This is the Cardinal. We'll meet her later in the story. Her character design isn't great, but it's WAY better than the Archon's. Heck, even the MOOKS look cooler than the Archon. Why was the worst design given to the central villain?
This is the Cardinal. We'll meet her later in the story. Her character design isn't great, but it's WAY better than the Archon's. Heck, even the MOOKS look cooler than the Archon. Why was the worst design given to the central villain?

In the game, enemies are given these quasi-religious names: Chosen, Anointed, Disciple, the Cardinal. The transformation is called “exaltation”. The installation where they transform people into Kett is called a “holy place”. This is a fine start for giving them a bit of culture, but it’s not enough to make them interesting on its own. The Kett footsoldiers are portrayed as brainwashed drones. They don’t seem to have any emotional investment in the things they’re doing and we don’t see any indications of passion or creativity in their bases. They live in generic bio-industrial complexes. No clothes, no paintings, no music, no self-expression.

You could argue that the religion is a means of control, but they seem to be entranced or brainwashed before they’re transformed, so it’s not clear why the leadership would need to bother with the religious stuff.

Shamus, you can’t be so dense that you expect the writer to show the bad guys singing and dancing. This isn’t a Disney movie you idiot!

Sure, sure. I’m not saying the writer should do that. I’m just saying that I don’t get the sense that all this religious stuff means anything to them, or that they’re even aware of it. I feel like for the religious stuff to really work we either needed a lot more of it or a lot less. Either characterize them as a race of devoted zealots or just leave them as mindless space monsters.  To me it looks like the writer mooshed together two totally different sci-fi tropes without noticing that they’re mutually exclusive and thematically incompatible.

Anyway, now that we’ve given the Kett a clear foundation of physical characteristics we can work on improving the Archon:

In my design, I'd go for the demeanor and tone of the Consort from Mass Effect 1. (Although obviously you'd need a totally different visual design.) I think the Consort's aloof and mysterious delivery would work pretty well for a villain that thinks she's the hero.
In my design, I'd go for the demeanor and tone of the Consort from Mass Effect 1. (Although obviously you'd need a totally different visual design.) I think the Consort's aloof and mysterious delivery would work pretty well for a villain that thinks she's the hero.

The Archon design isn’t that hard and I don’t know how the writer went so wrong. Just ask yourself, “Given what this character believes, how would they behave?”

In my version, the Archon ought to be beautiful. Majestic. Noble. Since “exalting” other species is the Archon’s goal, let’s use that to inform the personality.

From the Archon’s point of view, they’re running a rescue shelter. They find a sad desperate species, doomed to a life of hunger, pain, disease, and aging. Then they “save” this species from their pointless life of torment. They take the interesting and useful genetic traits (if any) from the victim and use them to improve all Kett. To the Archon, all life has value and their unending assimilation of all sapient life is an act of altruism.

Let’s have the Archon see itself as a nurturing being. We can even make the character coded as female, or heck, why not just make it explicitly female? The Archon sees herself as space-Galadriel. Ryder lost her motherOr she thinks she did. It’s complicated. in the Milky Way, and the Archon is trying to be a mother-figure to all of the Initiative. This would give us tools to play around with themes of nurturing and motherhood.

The Archon laments every Kett soldier you kill, but also for every Milky Way life her forces take. She really just wants you to stop struggling.

When a species fights back, she doesn’t hate them. She looks at your species the way a vet looks at a scared, trapped, injured animal. Sure, it’s trying to bite you. But that’s only because it’s frightened and hurting and doesn’t know any better. Once we “heal” it, it will embrace us.

This would make her a little unsettling. She’s proposing destroying your free will and everything you hold dear, while at the same time being totally convinced that she’s helping you and that she’s the good guy.

Instead of blustering at you like an idiot, the Archon will constantly be trying to convince you that accepting exaltation will fix your problems. These planets aren’t habitable for you? Become one of the Kett, and all worlds will be habitable for you. And you’ll never get old. Or sick.

That’s a start, but let’s give them a philosophical difference, just to give things some texture…

The Archon is dedicated to perfecting the Kett via genetics. They see the Initiative’s reliance on technology as a shameful flaw and it offends them on a moral level. The Archon sees our shields and firearms and omni-tools as something that’s holding us back. It’s like someone who shows up to a boxing match with a knife, or someone who uses a motorcycle to win a marathon. You’re not just cheating, you’re missing the entire point of the contest. In the Archon’s mind, you don’t deserve to win because your power isn’t “real”. To her, all your tools are ugly cheats.

If you point out to her that the Kett still use vehicles and dropships and spaceships and guns, she’ll explain that they’re working to shed even these tools. Their ultimate goal is to create a species that can travel the stars and explore worlds under its own power. This is their big long-term dream, and they attach a lot of quasi-religious significance to it. She wants you to be a part of this. She’s certain that with Salarian intelligence and Asari bioticsBiotics are new to the inhabitants of Andromeda. she’ll be able to make great progress towards this goal. She also promises she wants humans for their “natural leadership”, but it’s impossible to tell if this is horseshit or not.

At the end, the Archon is simply trying to control the master vault because it will allow her to make all planets in the Heleus cluster uninhabitable for you. Then you won’t have any choice but to accept her offer.

I’m not going to pretend this is brilliant sci-fi. It’s a blend of familiar topes. I’m sure you noticed the Star Trek Borg fingerprints all over it. It’s pretty standard stuff. But it ought to work well enough to serve the shooter gameplay, and give us a villain that won’t induce eye-rolling the moment they appear on screen.

Everything is fine.
Everything is fine.

The Archon is a deeply flawed character, across the board, from inception to execution. This isn’t a single mistake or a miscalculation. This isn’t something that could have been fixed with more time for polish. This is a staggering failure that can only be blamed on managerial apathy or incompetence. This studio was formed specifically to create a story-based RPG. The fact that THIS design is what they chose for the main villain of their debut title means that there was something seriously wrong with either the leadership or the design process.

 

Footnotes:

[1] And to be clear: Action schlock is a totally legitimate form of art and just as worthy of praise as details-based sci-fi.

[2] I mean in terms of physical strength and durability.

[3] I mean, it’s not hard for an artist. I certainly couldn’t model it, but I’m not a 3D character artist.

[4] This fact is already in the game.

[5] This is the kind of detail I’d run by a few science-minded colleagues for a plausibility audit. Maybe acidic would work better. Maybe we can come up with another mechanism.

[6] Or she thinks she did. It’s complicated.

[7] Biotics are new to the inhabitants of Andromeda.



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163 thoughts on “Andromeda Part 12: The Bad Guise

  1. SPCTRE says:

    Great post, Shamus

    To be honest, I have never given much thought to the problems with the way the Kett were designed as a (villain) species, especially when it comes to the religous overtones that simply don’t mesh with the realities of their process. They truly are incompatible tropes.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think a mix of religion and brainwashing / mind-control could actually work, if you did it right. For example, they could use religion to control planets[1] that are too far away from their central queens/whatever, and then brainwash individuals when they come to the nearest headquarters for their free “holy ritual of blessedness”. The brainwashed people go back home to run the churches until a proper mind-control queen can be installed, to make it fully-mind-controlled planet.

      [1] If a planet is too large (I haven’t played the game), replace this with “continent”, “country”, “city”, etc – whatever works with the story we’ve got.

      1. beleester says:

        Yeah, those two tropes actually go together a surprising amount in sci-fi. Shadowrun has the Universal Brotherhood, a cult devoted to implanting insect spirits in people. Dead Space has the Unitologists, which have a religion centered around the Markers that cause the Necromorph plague.

        Religion and mind control go together because they take the idea of “a cult that brainwashes its followers” and make it literal. The cult really does control everything about your life.

        But I guess that if it’s not a cult but a galaxy-conquering empire then the tropes lose a lot of their force.

      2. BlueHorus says:

        So Shamus didn’t actually say it, but it sounds like the religion (like a lot of stuff in Andromeda) is only surface-level. I know the Kett talk about having a religion, but do they show it?

        A proper religion makes a mark. They put holy symbols & shrines everywhere. They have special buildings set aside for worship and prayer. Rituals and specialised roles within society. The culture is either built around the faith, or the faith has changed an already-existing society to accommodate it.

        And agreed with Echo Tango: religion and mind control can go together really well in a story. You just dial the ‘religion’ aspect up to 11 and make it part of the mind control, i.e ‘Once you become one with the Hive Mind you shall know true peace.’

        1. GoStu says:

          The only real indications of any religion are:

          a) the godawful dialogue about “exaltation” that makes me wonder if the universal translator’s broken
          b) the HUD that pops up when you’re shooting things, telling you it’s a “Chosen”.

          As far as I could tell there’s nothing overt that you see in gameplay. No rooms that one could assume (or flatly get told by SAM) are their halls of worship. No omnipresent motif. No holy symbol. Nada.

          1. Scourge says:

            Fun idea: The translator IS broken and instead of it being about religion it is indoor plumbing and exaltation is them talking about installing toilets.

        2. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          It doesn’t seem like it, which was one of Shamus’s complaints.
          They have all these religious names, but it mostly just seems like a naming scheme.

          1. Ravens Cry says:

            It’s like the authors wanted to tap into some of the uneasy feelings around religion without going whole hog in actually depicting a religion and potentially offending someone. Compare that to religion in Morrowind, where your character can go on religious pilgrimages, for example.

            1. baud says:

              Religion is even more central in Morrowind, since the player character is the reincarnation of a religious figure, isn’t it?

              1. Kammerer says:

                They could be, they could be just a random murderhobo.

        3. guy says:

          There’s religious overtones in the temple where they convert Angara to Kett. That’s about it.

        4. GM says:

          I think of religion in story as Lotr or Wrinkle in Time books or Narnia. by C.S.Lewis.

      3. Steve C says:

        Sword Art Online: Alicization uses religion + sci-fi brainwashing. I personally won’t say it works. It is a popular show though so someone thinks it works.

  2. Olivier FAURE says:

    That *does* sound like an interesting villain.

    For bonus eccentricity points, have the archon be a shapeshifter. Her default form is a vaguely featureless monochrome humanoid, but when she talks to someone, she changes form to look like them, except maybe with glowing eyes for continuity. It wouldn’t even be that hard to animate, just change her character model between camera cuts whenever she addresses a different character, with a few visible transformation sequences during dramatic moments.

    You could even use it to add some flavor to negotiations. Eg “Think about your father, who died because of a hostile environment. [Changes to look like Alec Ryder] Do you really think his suffering was necessary? Don’t you realize it could all have been avoided, had you been a part of my Kett?”

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Speaking of shape-shifting, if this enemy species is a bunch of gene-splicers, why don’t their soldiers have built-in camoflauge, like a chameleon or octopus? I haven’t played the game, so maybe I missed this in the discussion, but it seems like an obvious power for their soldiers to have, since it would be relatively cheap, compared to more armor, bigger muscles, etc.

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        Maybe there just aren’t any creatures capable of camouflage in Andromeda?

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          Seems unlikely, if they have ecosystems similar to us (which seems to be the case).
          If you can’t be noticed you’re pretty much immune to predators, and it’s a lot easier to hunt your prey.

          That’s a massive advantage in an ecosystem with a lot of species (which seem the most likely to produce intelligent species, and would be a treasure trove for gene-splicers)

        2. Pax says:

          Their attack dogs can literally turn invisible.

          1. Karma The Alligator says:

            So they do have camouflage capabilities, and just gave them to their dogs? That seems very… video game-y.

      2. guy says:

        They have a rare soldier type and a quadraped that cloak.

      3. Syal says:

        There are ones with camouflage, you just never see them because they blend in so well.

    2. trevalyan says:

      The frown symbolizes obviousness. Surely you realized that.

      The idea for redesigning the Archon sounds great. Almost too great. Built correctly, the Archon could be a creature older than an asari and tougher than a krogan. The mental game is even more powerful than the physical one, and the Archon could introduce themes of how imperial ideologies compete, or how parents might/ might not know what’s best for you.

      “No, no, my child. Without a military installation on this planet, your logistics face an unacceptable bottleneck.”

      “No food, and an entire fleet to feed. How can you -refuse- a hand that offers vassalage?”

      “Do you truly believe you can settle this galaxy more efficiently than its native inhabitants, Ryder?”

      “Let me tell you a joke, my child. ‘Free will is real!’ *matronly tittering*”

      “No doubt your determination served you well in the Milky Way. How does your galaxy fare?”

      On top of Olivier’s shapeshifting idea, which I really like, the Archon might become -too- convincing. If the viewer starts to buy into it, why wouldn’t the characters?

      1. baud says:

        Perhaps there could be some sort of special game over (like with Morinth in ME2), where if the player has been receptive to the idea in previous discussions, the player can choose to accept the Archon’s offer. Cue for one or two ending slides showing the consequences (everyone losing their free will and becoming Kett), perhaps an achievement and back to main menu? Might not be too expensive to do and could be fun. Also add a checkpoint just before this conversation.

        1. trevalyan says:

          Baller. The Evil ending for Neverwinter Nights 2 had substantially more merit than the usual one. And the evil ending for Mask of the Betrayer, though it failed to be as heartwarming as most other endings, outdid it yet further.

          Nu Bioware could never be that awesome, even for an optional Game Over.

    3. GoStu says:

      The only issue I could see with a villain like that is that it might start to be difficult to refuse her offers.

      An end to disease and death, with the entirety of the Andromeda galaxy now being a suitable home for you and everyone else? Compared to the hard-scrabble life of a colonist who’s millions of light-years away from their native land? Why exactly is Ryder & Co rejecting this offer, particularly when the alternative is fighting a war with the Kett that might entirely wipe out the whole Andromeda Initiative?

      Don’t get me wrong, it’s better than toilet-seat-head and his quest to bore you into submission, but if we’re setting the bar high someone’s gonna have to answer that question. I suppose a really good writer could do some interesting stuff with it. Maybe instead of “exiles” you have volunteers who are now Kett collaborators.

      1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        Because it would effectively kill you. Your identity would be pretty much erased, your culture gone, and your species subsumed in the greater Kett whole, working for a goal that is much greater and very different (make the Kett great) than what you currently want (survival of yourself and everyone you care about).

      2. BlueHorus says:

        You could make it obvious that the offers of ‘peace’ are bullshit.
        Wasteland 2 had a villain that did this: you heard dozens of his radio broadcasts while traveling around – all promising a perfect utopia for all via old-world tech that would make everyone immortal.

        Problem was that this was while you were trying to solve a load of problems in the wastes that HE’D created, deliberately, using armies of enslaved mech-people who were – incidentally – those same desperate wastelanders who had taken him up on his offer and gone to his ‘utopia’.
        The tech just came with the tiny caveat that it included brainwashing and remote kill-switches that he installed into the volunteers…

        One example of a very good villain. The more you heard his broadcasts, the more you saw the hypocrisy and double meanings in what he said, but to hear him speak, he was very much the good guy.

      3. guy says:

        Because the conversion would involve the Death Of Personality, as your mind is rewritten in service to the Kett.

      4. trevalyan says:

        Lots of ideas down below. One subversion is that the Archon really does believe her children are happier for her tutelage, and perhaps the subject races have also eaten enough Lotuses to agree. Maybe Andromeda can make humans a new invasive species to a strange galaxy, all while Ryder’s perspective is a blind “Long Live Humanity.” Maybe the proposed Kett religious abhorrence of technology will be portrayed as totally justified in the face of the Reaper threat, and your colonists portrayed as the Harbingers of Destruction. (See what I did?!)

        Subverting temptation or playing it straight, at least it wouldn’t be incompetently generic. Religion is brainwashing, ooh how edgy! Even the geth had more intriguing religious sentiment in the very first Mass Effect. Which was never mentioned again.

        1. Chagdoo says:

          Hey I don’t remember getting religious nods in me1, do tell. It sounds interesting

    4. FluffySquirrel says:

      The shapeshifter bit made me think of a cool thing to do with a genetic manipulating long term recurring villain like what Shamus proposes

      Have them change their shape to ever so subtly be more sympathetic looking to human eyes. They start out more alien looking, but each meeting a tiiiny bit has changed.. facial shape a little more human.. maybe their eyes look a little bigger and softer, more expressive.. they start using more human gestures

      With meetings being sporadic between planets and zones, I wonder whether it’d be possible to do that so players wouldn’t even notice for a while

  3. Karma The Alligator says:

    I want to point out that multiple characters correct our protagonist on her usage of who / whom

    Wait, they seriously did this multiple times?

    Then they “save” this species from their pointless life of torment.

    Sounds a lot like the Reapers, to be honest. Maybe they wanted to get away from that.

    I’m sure you noticed the Star Trek Borg fingerprints all over it.

    Actually got a Zerg vibe from this, due the the wholly organic way they go about it.

    1. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      There are a lot of repeated patterns in this game’s dialogue; things where you’ll be like “Haven’t I heard this before?” Something that happens in multiple conversations and e-mails in the game is the person will say “So-and-so said this cheery thing. Translation: It’s actually this awful thing.” The prime example of this is the first time that you talk to the Asari reporter Keri T’Vessa. She starts with, “Director Tann’s asked for an ‘uplifting’ documentary on the Initiative. Translation: Paint rainbows over our problems.” You’ll see this same usage of the word “translation” multiple times. Enough that you start to see the author’s hand. Seeing the author’s hand happens a lot in this game’s writing.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        It casts an interesting light on things like the squaddie who won’t shut up about being an Asari Commando. Normally we’d assume the clunky repetition is the result of four different writers each grabbing the same point from the lore bible and working it in without noticing that this adds up to repetition, but reusing figures of speech is clearly the work of the same author. Maybe one of the writers just has a thing for repetition and that’s why we keep hearing “Those rocks are floating!”

      2. Karma The Alligator says:

        Did you know they use the whole “We say something. Translation: that’s what it really means” in their frigging Origin updates? Methinks EA had a heavier hand in this than we might realise.

  4. ShivanHunter says:

    The Archon is so weird in that I actually like some of his design details in isolation. I like the idea of villains being less imposing-looking than their mooks, and I could appreciate the halo motif they were going for – I mean, if it didn’t look bloody ridiculous – but all the aspects of his design seem to clash with each other and with the tone of his character. It seems like he was designed by committee, where a bunch of people with different ideas about how to design and write a villain just threw all the ideas together into this hodge-podge mess.

    My main gripe, really, is the massive case of overinflated expectations I had going into it – Bioware marketed the exploration as a spiritual successor to ME1, and I (stupidly, naively) hoped that would include a return to the worldbuilding and vibrant alien cultures we met in ME1. I mean, they’re moving to a whole new galaxy, how could they not stumble into a complex, tense political situation with the potential to blow up at any moment, with potential allies and enemies on every side, comprised of several well-designed major players each with their own hub area to explore and get sidequests in, offering interesting decisions reminiscent of the old Paragade system – be sympathetic and cooperative and hope you gain the trust of the established galactic community, or push your way in by force, taking the resources you need, but end up surrounded by enemies and uneasy alliances?

    And instead, well, we got two factions, each amounting to about half a paragraph of stock description, and me halfway through the final mission shouting “BUT WHEN DOES THE STORY START?!”

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think you could actually salvage the Archon’s current visuals, if you went even farther with some of them / gave more iterations. He could still be small compared to his mooks, because he’s safe in his lair of brainwashed bodyguards. However, I don’t think there’s enough of a contrast to show it clearly to the player. I’d have made him even smaller – if the mooks are 6-foot rugby players, make him a 3-foot horse-jockey. He would ride around on a big space-tiger, which is another layer of defense in case he needs it[1]. The halo is, I assume, part of the religious savior-thing that Shamus described above. Run with it – make it even more obvious, but don’t make it look like a knock-off horn/antler on his head. I’d make it either an iridescent plumage, like a peacock (or other animals), or a bio-luminescent display, like an array of angler-fish antennae sticking out of his head. It could either be a horizontal ring coming out of the top of his head (the style used in cartoons of angels), or a behind-the-head ring coming out the back (the halo style used in many icons of angels / Christ / etc). It could even glow brighter or change color when they’re trying to brainwash someone, or showing a lot of emotion. The only thing I’d change a lot is his weird body armor – it’s technological. Instead, he should either have a built-in carapace similar to his troops[2], or he could have living armor, similar to the suits from Independence Day. There could even be a donning-the-armor scene, ripping off the Darth Vader scene from Star Wars, that shows his armor is a pet-like creature that he feeds, and cares for.

      [1] He’s small, not stupid. He doesn’t need a massive body all the time, which is why it’s not built in. He uses other creatures like tools.

      [2] Again he’s not an idiot, in my incarnation.

      1. trevalyan says:

        In Dragon Ball Z, Frieza keeps evolving ludicrously overmuscled and ugly forms, until finally they are irritated and concerned enough to use their smaller, most perfect final form.

        If your game is losing out to a schlocky yet iconic anime on character designs, seriously consider replacing your concept art team.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          I think saying “if your character design doesn’t compare to one of the most famous and beloved character artists of all time, you must be doing something wrong” is a RIDICULOUS standard to try to adopt. That’s like saying “we need the character action to be AT LEAST as good as Bayonetta 2, otherwise what are we doing?” That’s like… the high water mark of that specific thing…

          1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

            Being famous and beloved doesn’t mean it’s good.
            It can, but I’ve never been impressed by a Dragon Ball character design.

            1. shoeboxjeddy says:

              That’s silly though. “It doesn’t matter that it’s financially and critically successfully. And also that it’s popular and well loved. What matters is that I PERSONALLY don’t like it!” You’re taking a bunch of better metrics and trashing them for a terrible, selfish one. It’s not that you have to like it, not at all. Just that in terms of “is this a good thing or not” your metric is bad.

              1. Kylroy says:

                I’d say that whether you like DBZ designs or not, they are an extreme departure from the aesthetic Andromeda has.

              2. Asdasd says:

                What’s weird about all this is that one of the minor DBZ villains was the first thing I thought of when I saw the Archon.

                Anyway, Toriyama’s villains are pretty great. His humans tend to suffer from a sort of aggressive sameyness. I’d find it very hard to distinguish between the various heroes from Dragon Ball and Dragon Quest if I had no familiarity with his work.

          2. trevalyan says:

            I’m not saying the Archon has to be considered -as- iconic as Frieza. That is just silly. Admittedly, Dragon Ball Z isn’t exactly high quality writing , even though it certainly has quantity going for it. What it does have is accessible writing, undisputedly high popularity to the point it is considered a Western gateway for anime, and a relatively long history as an entertainment product.

            I am saying that I won’t judge Andromeda for having characters that are less iconic than Dragon Ball, no one would judge them for falling short on that score. But I can certainly judge them from forgetting how to make a “small but mighty” villain despite a plethora of easily accessible designs.

    2. BlueBlazeSpear says:

      I try not to pontificate about it too much because it starts to sound like gatekeeping, but I find myself saying that Andromeda feels like a Mass Effect game made by people who didn’t understand Mass Effect.

      I certainly boarded the hype train when the makers of this game said that they were taking their inspiration from Mass Effect 1. “Oh good,” I thought. “A talky, techy, worldbuilding exercise with coherent themes and a tone that matches them.” But when the game came out, it just turned out to be the case that they were vaguely inspired by ME’s visuals, but didn’t grasp any of the important connective tissue.

      It can get dicey when we start talking about what makes a Mass Effect game and what doesn’t. But things that I thought were foundational to the franchise and Mass Effect 1 in particular never made it into this game. But this loss of translation can be considered my fault as much as it can be considered Bioware’s fault. I brought too many basic expectations to the table.

      1. trevalyan says:

        I’d say that Mass Effect games are hugely inconsistent in tone, and driven far more by characters than by worldbuilding. The survival of Urdnot Wrex is arguably the sole difference to whether curing the genophage brings an end to one of galactic civilizations’ cruelest crimes, or uplifts Urdnot Wreav into becoming a future menace to all life.

        If you regard the original Mass Effect as the most interesting and promising of the series in terms of worldbuilding, I agree. In the end, I think straying from that path is what will doom the Mass Effect universe to general irrelevance in the broader gaming culture.

        1. baud says:

          In the end, I think straying from that path is what will doom the Mass Effect universe to general irrelevance in the broader gaming culture

          Maybe it has already happened with Andromeda? I mean all DLCs were canceled and the studio closed.

          1. trevalyan says:

            Exactly. Drawing on the ME universe for their Destiny Killer would have made a ton of sense without ME3’s trainwreck ending. Now they had to do a ton of unnecessary writing while catching up to a sequel with three expansions.

            It’s a Hail Mary pass from a company that is out of chances. They have some mechanical competence, but to take a big bite away from the Destiny apple? Yeah, good luck.

    3. John says:

      I like the idea of villains being less imposing-looking than their mooks . . .

      Yeah, I like the contrast between physically threatening hench-persons and a non-physically threatening or possibly even harmless looking villain. But a villain has to be threatening somehow or I just can’t take him seriously. If the villain is dangerous because of, say, his intelligence–somehow, he’s always one step ahead of the hero–then that intelligence needs to be reflected in his design (and also his behavior and his speech). That may have been what the developers were going for with Lord Bad Guy’s visual design. He’s smaller and has a more human-looking face than his lumpy, rock-monster hench-things. To our inherently biased human monkey-brains, that automatically suggests that he’s more intelligent than they are. Given what Shamus says, however, it seems that the developers didn’t follow through on that by making him actually intelligent.

      I’ll end by noting that stories with tiny, bombastic villains can work. It’s just that they’re all comedies. (Shrek, for example. That movie has problems, but the villain isn’t one of them.) I don’t think that’s what the developers of Andromeda wanted though.

    4. Lachlan the Sane says:

      Y’know, looking at the Archon, you know what his design kinda sorta looks like, in terms of sci-fi tropes? He looks a lot like the Nemoidians from Star Wars Episode I (the Trade Federation leader guys with the green skin and super racist accents). I kinda see him working as a cowardly, money-obsessed, strictly-from-the-back-lines leader. Of course, none of those tropes are applied to the Archon here.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I want to believe those guys were meant to be somewhat comedic, or at least actually non-threathening. Consider especially that their biggest role is in Episode I which is maybe not necessarily “meant for” but definitely uses a lot of tropes targetted at younger audience.

        But since Shamus called out SW and it seems to show up a bunch in the comments here let’s consider the actual big bad of the original trilogy: Palpatine. Consider that in the first two movies we barely see the Emperor, and when we do see him? He is definitely not physically imposing and his design is fairly minimalist (to be fair the original trilogy generallyt doesn’t go overboard with costumes). He walks around slowly, his robes are plain black with no other markings of office or power, he is unarmed, like the Archon he is shown with escort that is physically more imposing than he is, heck, until the very finale of the third movie he doesn’t even actually do anything, he doesn’t force choke Vader to establish the pecking order or anything like that. Yet he still reads as a threat.

        Part of it is that Vader is established as this huge threat and Vader kneels to this guy, part of it is that we are told Vader was this glorious paladin and this guy corrupted him, and this is something that could have been used for the Archon (in fact I think the scene in blue that Shamus used the screenshot from a couple times is meant to serve that purpose, all of these living weapons stand at attention to this little fella), but there are also things in the Emperor’s design that are very on point. For example we are told this guy is The Great Corruptor and his voice has a seething, a touch snakelike quality to it. He claims to be an unarmed old man but when we do see his face it’s both human enough and warped enough that he looks sinister. When Luke and Vader arrive you get this shot of Palpatine where on paper he is a fairly small black robed figure, reclining in a chair in an underlit black walled room with the backdrop being a window showing the darkness of space, there is just no way this could work, right? But you know he owns all of this, in part because he’s been well established by proxy, but also in part because he doesn’t need fancy dress or flashy weapons to convey he is powerful.

        1. Lachlan the Sane says:

          Oh yeah, I’m not trying to go super judgey on the Nemoidians or anything (although the accents were pretty much unforgivable). They’re perfectly serviceable as a minor sci-fi villain concept; a physically weak species that relies on robot proxies to do all of their fighting. And Episode I does make it pretty clear (perhaps even overly so) that the Nemoidians are also being used as puppets by Sidious/Palpatine. A good scriptwriter could really make that work — “the species that relies on literal puppets to fight are being metaphorically puppeted themselves” is a hecking good irony. Hell, they could make that concept work for the Archon himself; push the concept that he has puppetlike control over the Kett at large, but he’s actually just being driven by someone else offscreen.

          Regarding your Vader stuff; all of that makes a lot of sense, but it’s probably worth making the point that it works largely because we see Vader as a large, powerful, and eminent threat. Remember, the Emperor doesn’t even appear until the middle of Episode V, and up until that point Vader has appeared to be a powerful and unstoppable villain. The appearance of the Emperor is also shortly followed by Vader curbstomping the main characters on Bespin with a combination of both physical and mental skill, to make it extra clear that just because we know who this guy’s boss is doesn’t make him any less of a threat. If the Emperor was played up as the big threat of Episode IV and Vader came out of nowhere to stomp everyone on Bespin, then I doubt that those villains would be anywhere near as beloved. (Arguably this is similar to what happens in ME3, with Kai Leng coming out of nowhere as the proxy threat for the Illusive Man).

          1. ShivanHunter says:

            >Hell, they could make that concept work for the Archon himself; push the concept that he has puppetlike control over the Kett at large, but he’s actually just being driven by someone else offscreen.

            That’s a great concept in theory. In practice, well, Bioware tried to do just that with the Collector General/Harbinger, and look how that turned out.

  5. RFS-81 says:

    I may have missed it in an earlier post, but what do the Kett want? Are they just trying to borg everybody for the evilz?

    1. Lars says:

      Pretty much this. Plus they want the “checkovs gum” of the remnants without telling why.
      There is a hidden side quest by the Cardinal on Eos that tells us, that the Archon is expelled from kett society and the kett homelands for reasons I don’t remember in detail. So the Archon has this hidden goal to proof himself back home.
      You learn about this, after you defeated him. So too little, too late.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        You can do quests for the Kett? That actually sounds interesting!

        1. Lars says:

          You get a anonymous signal by radio, that you have to go to a Kett station. There you find a lot of kett corpses and some audio logs. Later you’ll get an E-Mail to go to another place.
          It is not revealed until the very end that this quest-line comes from the Cardinal. She has taken over the Archon-fleet and army and offers you a co-operation under her terms, or make an enemy out of her.

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        Yeah, that was literally the only interesting reveal about the kett and it’s basically set up as a sequel hook.

  6. OldOak says:

    The fact that THIS design is what they chose for the main villain of their debut title means that there was something seriously wrong with both the leadership and the design process.

    Fixed that for you.
    The interwebs has already enough lore about the (internal? BioWare?) issues that lead to most of the poor choices in the game.
    For me the first worst thing that hits badly is Tann’s voice acting. Secondly are those model animation glitches, still remained in the game, like leg shaking (baby!) while in an idle/conversation pose. (I won’t mention again the ruined asari race, and overall voice acting :) ).
    The Archon’s design comes like no more than an annoyance when he’s first encountered.

  7. Lars says:

    One tiny nitpick:

    The Kett don’t age, and could theoretically (as far as Lexi can tell) live forever. They also have no reproductive system and only reproduce via their gene-splicing / rewrite thing.

    and

    Let’s have the Archon see itself as a nurturing being. We can even make the character coded as female, or heck, why not just make it explicitly female?

    does not mix. A species with no reproductive system does not need terms of gender. So this mother-feeling falls apart. In line with the religious stuff it has to be Savior or Saint..

    1. Matthew Downie says:

      Maybe she’s the only member of its species with a reproductive system; a privilege she hypocritically denies her people.

      1. Lars says:

        That would undermine her goal of making the kett perfect, as she is the least of it. Or her whole goal is a lie, she doesn’t believe herself.

        1. Scourge says:

          What if there is some incompatibility that prevents her from being neutral like the rest and that is something she agrees wistfully on.
          “Unfortunately we can not save them all. We can’t make them all perfect.” Üauses and looks down on herself and sighs.

          It would give her some more drive too as to why she wants to help convert people fully, because she is herself is unable to wholly be turned.

          If you want to paint the Kett as Bad you can even have her through the struggles of Ryder finally understand that maybe the Kett are not as perfect as she thought they were.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      A species with no reproductive system does not need terms of gender.

      There are plenty of ways to justify it. It’s an artifact of the original species she was created from. It’s due to the influences of the species she’s absorbed. It’s intended to play on the instincts toward motherly figures that the species they have to deal with have. It’s symbolic (intentionally).

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Or she’s got actually-usesful reproductive organs, like a queen bee. In a species of gene-splicers, it’s not hard to imagine. Sure, they *could* use machines to do this, but maybe for small creations / special projects, she actually creates the eggs herself.

        1. Lino says:

          This actually meshes with the idea that, one day, they want to live without using any technology – maybe she’s the first try at making a queen bee-like Kett.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            It doesn’t even have to have a biological justification, Shamus did say “coded as female” as one of the options and while I’m not sure this is necessarily the best idea, if only because the “queen bee” trope has been done a lot of times before, not every work of fiction needs to break amazing new grounds and tropes are useful. Also, your interpretation has some interesting implications. For example they could be a civilization that first evolved past “random spawning” perhaps in the name of genetic perfection and now are coming back to it in the name of the same perfection rejecting technology. Just one of the options.

      2. guy says:

        You could run with it by having maybe 65% of high-ranking Kett be gendered, indicating they’re “species 001” or whatever the Kett call the first Kett species, and they predate the Kett sterility but are still alive because they’re high-value enough to get resources dedicated to rendering them immortal. Then most of the other high-ranking Kett are from other species and lost their gendered characteristics in the conversion process but have been added to the ranks of the immortals on the basis of individual merit.

    3. MelTorefas says:

      My vote would definitely be to make the character genderless/androgynous. If we really need them to have human-type gender coding, keep it male. Nurturing-type female characters in media/stories are very common; male ones (especially villains, and even more especially villains who are regarded as serious and dangerous rather than ineffective or ‘comedic’) are much rarer. It would give the game something to help it feel more unique.

      Otherwise I pretty much agree with everything Shamus wrote. The villain he designed would definitely be interesting enough to carry a conflict, if well written. The actual Andromeda villain sounds offensively bad. I have a pretty low tolerance for awful writing and character design in story-based games, and I’ve quit far better games (ME1) over far less terrible characters (Benezia). This Archon guy would have probably given me some kind of stroke. >.>

      1. trevalyan says:

        I thought Benezia was great! At first I thought she was just a standard Evil Matriarch, but Marina Sirtis knocked it out of the park, especially if Liara is around. What do you hate about her?

        1. Coming Second says:

          Never really got the Benezia hate. She was a perfectly acceptable dragon.

  8. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I love this retrospective, it’s doing everything I love : brutally tearing down what’s bad, and offering something better as contrast so it’s not just blind negativism. My only issue is that I get bummed sometimes when I read what you offer and remember what we have.
    I still would LOVE for you to make a mock retrospective/let’s play of your idea sci-fi game you once mentioned in the podcast someday…

  9. pedanterrific says:

    She’s certain that with Salarian intelligence and Asari biotics[7] she’ll be able to make great progress towards this goal.

    [7] Biotics are new to the inhabitants of Andromeda.

    That also lets you do a mid-game powerup, when the Kett manage to drag an asari Exile off to be exalted and abruptly every combat encounter with them now has biotic-capable specialist troops.

    1. tremor3258 says:

      That would be a terrifying thing to suddenly deal with. Also – Exalted Asari Commandos. Just bring back the Banshee movesets.

  10. Leviathan902 says:

    GREAT post. This is one of the reasons I became a big fan of Shamus in the first place. He does a great job with drilling down into WHY things don’t work. At the surface, I thought I would really dig Andromeda because we went back to then whole idea of space exploration, more akin to the first game than the 2nd or 3rd. But then I actually played the game and of course the rote “complete x task 3 times” for the whole game killed any sense of fun, and the story fell completely flat. I had a hard time pinpointing why, but a lot of this just really lays it out perfectly.

  11. Hal says:

    Their blood is just alkaline enough to kill all known pathogens. They’re effectively immune to all sickness and disease

    I have a master’s degree in immunology, so I feel like I can contribute at least a little bit here.

    The bottom line (skipping out on a lot of details) is that bacteria generally have a much broader range of feasible pH they can exist within compared to multicellular species. This is because, in general, they adapt faster and even if some particular strain doesn’t survive under certain conditions, there is another one which will.

    The thing is, it’s a sci-fi setting. These guys can survive vacuum, have exoskeletons, and all of the other stuff you mentioned in that section. Having them immune to disease because of acidic/alkaline blood isn’t any more implausible than those other things (especially because most people don’t understand the nature of blood pH anyhow). This could really be handwaved and I doubt the biologists in the audience would complain too much.

    That said, if you wanted something a bit more plausible, you’d say that their genetic manipulation made their immune system so volatile and hypervariable that it adapted to new pathogens almost immediately, granting them essential immunity to pathogens.

    (And really, you could very easily turn that into a plot point where you introduce some biological weapon that makes their hyperreactive immune systems cannibalize the host. There’s your moral quandary for the game, too.)

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Space-plague to the rescue!

    2. Algeh says:

      The thing about blood pH conferring disease resistance that bothered me, a person who never took a bio class after high school but who reads some sciency stuff for fun, is that presumably these guys still have some kind of microbiome, so “bad” versions of whatever that kind of stuff is would be where their diseases would come from. Also, that bacteria, viruses, and such have such short generations that they adapt pretty quickly (compared to, say, elephants) to environmental changes so it seems like if a species was running around with a different pH for their blood-equivalent, sooner or later something would figure out how to live in that.

      The volatile and hyper-variable thing seems more convincing to me at first glance, but that may just be me.

      That being said, either explanation wouldn’t be so obnoxious as to be something I’d keep complaining about for the rest of the game unless it was a major plot point that it worked specifically that way and I needed to engage with the spacey-sciencey explanation to solve parts of the plot.

      That villain design makes this song ( https://youtu.be/KDY7tsu9fjQ – sorry for the low quality video but it’s what I could find on YouTube today (the musician’s main website is currently having a wordpress moment and he’s busy dealing with real life, so I don’t know a better place to link right now)) start playing in my head, which is almost certainly just me.

      1. Scampi says:

        To me, this kind of detail will often get me out of a story, as I will be confronted with a culture that’s supposedly highly developed in genetic manipulation but who for some insane reason fail at solving apparently very simple problems that are central for the plot to function.

      2. Hal says:

        Well, that’s where you start getting into complications. You most definitely don’t have a microbiome in your blood, but you do have one in places where there isn’t blood: Any mucus membrane (i.e. anywhere along the GI tract), on your skin, in/on your genitals, etc. Blood pH wouldn’t make any difference in getting, say, a fungal infection between your toes, and those guys look like they have a lot of nooks and crannies.

        To make it even more complicated, your immune system doesn’t just exist in the blood. It also travels through a different pathway called the lymphatic vessels where only immune cells are present. Except there’s plenty of pathogens out there that utilize the lymphatic system for infecting the host. Elephantiasis, for example, is caused by a parasite that blocks up the lymphatic vessels, thus causing the incredible swelling seen in patients.

        Thus, reiterating my answer above: If you aren’t going to get hung up on the physics of this setting, then it’s also not worth getting hung up on the biology if you can come up with something at least semi-plausible to the layman. But “super-aggressive immune system” is probably a better answer, even if you start to wonder, “How do they avoid autoimmune diseases, then?”

    3. guy says:

      Actually, if they’re heavily into gene manipulation and bio-modding, maybe their immune systems take patches?

  12. Infinitron says:

    I’m sure you noticed the Star Trek Borg fingerprints all over it.

    More like The Many from System Shock 2.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      So far between Shamus and the comments, they’ve been compared to the Borg, the Many, the Zerg – anything else that was missed? Wait, I thought of one – the Arachnids from Starship Troopers. No wait – the slugs from Slither. ^^;

      1. Karma The Alligator says:

        The Tyranids from 40K? They do seem to assimilate everything.

      2. Phill says:

        My immediate point of reference was the Amnion from Stephen Donaldson’s ‘Gap’ novels.

      3. BigTiki says:

        The Grunts description reminded me of the Harkilons from Alien Legion…. going by memory;

        caste-based society, and each caste has unique DNA.

        Harkilon heirarchy was explicitly genetic. Leadership was defined by changes to physical and psychological characteristics of an individual. Leaderless Harkilon groups would be aimless until one of them responded to the stimulus (no leader) and started to develop the leadership physique.

        are amphibious, they can survive for several minutes in a vacuum

        I know they could tolerate vacuum, but I seem to recall breathing systems… Not about to break out the old comics for that! :)

        can eat nearly anything, even their own dead.

        Yup.

        don’t age, and could theoretically (as far as Lexi can tell) live forever.

        Not sure that was covered, but as they seemed like a cancer-based species, immortal cell clusters would be possible.

        have no reproductive system

        Egg-layers, with reproduction closely controlled and centralized.

        carapace is as tough as alliance Armor.

        Definitely true in Alien Legion.

        can regrow limbs.

        I think I remember that explicitly stated, though it took time. Not instant healing factor.

        reward centers of their brains are keyed to their social hierarchy

        That’s the master stroke. The Harkilons were too fractious to be a great villain species. They needed leadership and direction, and I think they got reassurance from taking and following orders. The leaders were (literally) comic-book villains, though. They tended to evil-mustache-act their way into problems.

      4. CraigM says:

        Now they are not villains, not really, but it gave me echoes of the Oankali from Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series. Genetic manipulation, storing interesting genetic traits to combine with different species to mutate new hosts into a new form. Different groups/ genders. Their ships are living constructs (part of the notion of flying under their own power) built using their master genetic manipulation.

        Their motivation even fits, their goal is to explore the stars collecting new and unique genetic material and species, and using that to form new hybrids. They even fall outside traditional gender binary.

        And there is definitely some of that distance and self assured superiority. The Oankali view resistance to their actions as the unfortunate result of ignorance. Look how much better it is for you now that you age more slowly, don’t get sick, heal nearly instantly, and are stronger. Why do you resist us? Never anger or fear, but pity.

        And that makes them interesting in the story. They aren’t villains in the story, but to some of the humans, they are. Anyhow they are probably the best model for what Shamus is getting at, as they hit the tone of the species dead on.

      5. Viktor says:

        Yuuzhan Vong, Star Wars, the New Jedi Order series. Religion-focused caste-based genetic manipulators who exclusively use GM animals and plants for everything from armor and weapons to ships. They even have the “we are morally correct, your dead tech is a crutch and an abomination” perspective on us.

        Really, with humans just barely touching genetic engineering NOW after 100 years of sci-fi focused on humans with advanced tech, the core idea of “Humans in the future will have very good tech, let’s introduce a different society exclusively with genetic engineering and let them clash” is a pretty obvious path to take. Not to say it’s bad to go with it, it’s interesting to see how different people see biotech working on a societal level, but it is something that a lot of series have used when they need a new villain.

      6. Pax says:

        I mean, in universe, both the Asari and the Reapers use other species to perpetuate themselves already.

      7. Ivellius says:

        Kind of the Xenomorphs from the Alien universe, which assimilate creatures of all kinds into their hive.

        (I did think of Zerg, too, though.)

  13. jbc31187 says:

    I think the Archon’s design is supposed to invoke the <a href="https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BishonenLine">Bishonen Line, or “The prettier the villain, the more dangerous they are.” The Archon’s smaller and his face is slimmer than the lumpy cannon-fodder, but his armor is lumpy and ugly and that close-up on the screen makes him look like some schmo in the drunk tank, so IDK.

    1. Scampi says:

      The first time I saw him, I thought he might be inspired by Dragonball Z villain Freezer. Not in the sense that he’s pretty, but how he looks childlike and kind of harmless despite being meant to be a formidable force.

  14. Bloodsquirrel says:

    It’s interesting to compare the Archon to the prophets from Halo. They also have a design that isn’t physically threatening, are full of overblown bombast, and have silly things on their heads.

    They work, though, because they have a specific image they’re intended to invoke. They’re the heads of a fanatical religious order. Their rantings aren’t there for Master Chief’s benefit, they’re just being overhead by the player. They’re intended to motivate their own troops.

    There’s an intentional gap between how seriously the humans take them and how seriously the rest of the Covenant takes them.

    1. Hal says:

      Funny, I was thinking of how it compared to the main villain from Destiny 2. I didn’t play the previous game, but this army of giant, heavily armored brutes show up. The main villain throws his weight around, uses his deep, angry voice to say menacing, villainous things, but in the end you just shoot him a lot so it all turns out okay. But the design is very “OMG BAD GUY.” And based on Shamus’s description, it sounds like the Archon is the exact same character but with very different aesthetic design. Maybe the entire point is supposed to be the juxtaposition of those contradictory things; this person can be so belligerent and forceful without having the same physical appearance because their power doesn’t derive from an imposing presence. Make it clear just how alien these guys really seem to you.

      But it sounds like, if that was the idea, they really didn’t deliver on it.

      1. Geebs says:

        Dominus Ghaul’s ludicrous power-dressing shoulder pads are clearly meant to evoke the 1980s. The rest of his armour bulk is there to accommodate his Filofax, giant wallet and briefcase-phone.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I do feel the need to point out that Ghaul, despite the visual design as a brute, still has some interesting depth to his character that goes beyond that trope.

    2. GoStu says:

      A couple other things: The Prophets have silly hats. Silly hats are a stable of religious headwear everywhere. The Archon has a silly head out-of-place on a species preaching about being a superior genetic design (imagine getting a tree branch through your head-hoop… or an enemy grabbing it in hand-to-hand combat).

      I agree with you though. The Prophets aren’t physically imposing, but they make up for it with filling the “religious leader” aspect quite well. Humanity thinks their religion is stupid (and self-destructive with the Halo rings!) but the Covenant is all quite convinced.

      The Archon could have gotten away with this route; being frail-looking but having some other kind of power. Remember the Etherials from XCom? They’re scary as all hell, but they don’t have to be their own muscle.

  15. Christopher says:

    I’ve seen halo horns in Devil May Cry 4 before. It works alright as a symbol for demons who are pretending to be angels(as does other transformations, like a big furry wing that pretends to be an angelic wing or a carapace that mimics shining white armor), but no so much for a random alien bad guy. I imagine the idea is similar. The cult in DMC4 who are transforming themselves into demons are a Christian-like religious cult. The halo guy I linked is their pope, His Holiness. Judging from their naming conventions, there was a similar idea for Andromeda. But it’s not like these aliens have any context for angels or demons, or even a particular religious tint outside of their names.

  16. MarsLineman says:

    “There’s a lot wrong with Andromeda, but nearly all of it could have been dismissed or mitigated with the right villain.”

    Wow, bold claim. Especially considering the litany of problems elsewhere in this game

    [reads Shamus’s concept for the villain]

    Damn. You’re absolutely right. I would’ve loved that game

    Really great post

  17. shoeboxjeddy says:

    The whole “religious themed bad guys” angle was covered really well by the original Halo trilogy. Most specifically in 2 and 3, it’s really interesting to hear how all the events sound from the perspective of religious lore and fanatical devotion. It makes it difficult to argue when you’re talking about the same event from a completely different perspective. And there’s even the nice detail that the leadership KNOWS it’s bullshit and is actually doing what they’re doing partially out of homicidal envy. The precursor race didn’t choose them as the successor and wanted humans instead? Well that’s a BIG MISTAKE and they will PAY for making the WRONG CHOICE!

    And then they also had the “mash all races into one super race” thing with the Flood, which was also done way better and more menacingly. So… Andromeda is just a big Halo rip off.

  18. Scampi says:

    On the use of “decimate”: As a non-native English speaker, I had to actually look up what you were talking about. Thanks for making it easy by providing a link, Shamus.

    It might be the writer responsible was a non-native as well, as I looked up the meaning of the German term “dezimieren” (the literal translation of the term) and found in German it actually does no more have the meaning you probably referred to.
    Actually, the only contemporary meanings in German are (translated by myself) “to significantly reduce in number by violent or destructive interference” or “to reduce in number significantly”, with the common use being the transitive version, where someone else reduces the objects’ numbers.
    Considering the 3a/b meanings you linked to, it appears to be a absolutely valid use of the word as well.

    Small details: “What are the rules?” instead of “What are the rule?” and the guy from Guardians is named Ronan, not Ronin. I love him as a villain, btw, as all he was concerned with all the time was a) bringing destruction to b) get everyone to recognize him and take him seriously. Star Lord was THE perfect foil for this type of villain, imho.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Same in French, where decimate means to kill a massive amount of people, so I’m also thinking it’s a case of non-English speaker having written that.

      1. Scampi says:

        A very nice detail can be found in the “did you know”-part of the linked page:

        “The connection between decimate and the number ten harks back to a brutal practice of the army of ancient Rome. A unit that was guilty of a severe crime (such as mutiny) was punished by selecting and executing one-tenth of its soldiers, thereby scaring the remaining nine-tenths into obedience.”

        Might this actually be meant by the writer? Not that I usually assume this kind of background knowledge on terms from game writers, but this might actually make sense, if intentional.

        1. John says:

          In Latin decimus is tenth, the ordinal form (as in first, second, third, etc.) of the numeral ten. Strictly speaking, the English verb “to decimate” means “to kill every tenth person”, another bit of the wonderful cultural legacy left to us by the Romans. (I studied Latin in high school. The people who took modern languages learned to say things like “Pablo goes to the discotheque.” I learned to say “Caesar marched over the mountains and conquered the Helvetians.”) But because of decades of people speaking casually, figuratively, and hyperbolically, the commonly understood meaning of “to decimate” seems to have shifted to “to kill a whole lot of people”.

          1. TMC_Sherpa says:

            Huh. I didn’t know Cesar felt that strongly about serifs.

          2. Mr. Wolf says:

            Gee, that Pablo is so out-of-date.

      2. Raygereio says:

        The word decimate originally was used to describe the ancient Roman form of military discipline.
        But the usage as something like “destroy a great number / proportion” goes back to the 19th century. Probably even earlier. Using like that is correct, proper English.
        It’s only very recently that people on the Internet started being pedantic about it.

        What is wrong is using “decimate” when you mean “to kill” or “to destroy completely”. Which what Bioware did here (and is a common mistake when the writer wants to say “to destroy” with fancier words). When something has been decimated, it’s not gone, dead or whatever. It’s still there in a reduced form.

    2. Geebs says:

      I’m not completely averse to the “language means whatever people think it means” thing, but it still gets up my nose when a loaner word from another language – that I happen to know – gets its meaning changed in the language that borrowed it. The Latin root of the word has a clear relation to “ten” and it was a technical term of the Roman army.

      Knowledge of a bunch of different languages is both interesting and full of beauty, because language defines thought and becuase there are so many human concepts that don’t have 1:1 analogues between different cultures. So, if I never learned Latin I probably wouldn’t give a shit; since I actually did, I lament the loss of nuance.

      I’m 100% certain that it was a native English speaker who wrote that phrase, but I’d bet my life they don’t know any classical languages.

      1. Scampi says:

        Funny thing: as someone who never knew about the actual Roman practice and heard the word only ever used as I described before, I always believed it must have meant something like “destroying everything except for a tenth”. Yes, it’s totally opposed to the actual meaning, but not everyone knows the term’s origin, and the modern use might therefore be derived from the numerical root as well, I think.

      2. Scampi says:

        I’m 100% certain that it was a native English speaker who wrote that phrase, but I’d bet my life they don’t know any classical languages.

        Which phrase?

        1. Geebs says:

          The one with “decimate” in it, that we were discussing. Sorry for being unclear!

      3. Retsam says:

        This is pretty much just how loanwords work: actually frequently the point of using a loanword is to give a word a different nuance than the native equivalent (and a different nuance than the loanword would hold in its English language).

        Japanese is the most prominent example of this that I know of; they’ve got a lot of “gairaigo” – words borrowed from other languages (most frequently English) with different nuance or meanings than their native terms.

    3. King Marth says:

      The prefix deci- generally means ‘one tenth’, which is the reason for ‘decimate’ meaning to take a tenth. However, I’ve only ever heard that explanation in the context of ‘hey, did you know that decimate actually means to remove a tenth rather than the default assumption of removing most to all’? If this is a generational word shift, I think that may have already happened. The other interpretation while matching the word’s construction is to assume it means ‘reduce to a tenth’, though either way it should be distinct from ‘obliterate’ which indicates no survivors.

      I’ve toyed with ‘decamate’, meaning ‘to kill everyone ten times’, but it’d need some work to catch on.

      1. Geebs says:

        “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, shot, reanimated, and shot again.”

  19. Smejki says:

    Hah! Collided bullets?
    link

    “Fine. But even in a drama-based universe like Star Wars we still need rules to allow the audience to understand what’s possible.”
    I know you don’t want flamewars about The last Jedi here but this is exactly what ruined it for me. Not the anti-lore, not the “ZOMFG forced politikz”, not the character inconsistencies with previous movies, not the themes they chose to “explore”. It’s the complete disregard for basic physics, and sensible tech-design and decisions that make the basis of the plot impossibly stupid for me. Whatever stories are built on top of it fell apart sooner than they could take hold.

  20. BlueHorus says:

    I can’t get over how…gormless the Archon looks. Especially in the vid-screen images. He’s not even looking at Ryder.

    You know when you’re watching the news and the anchor says ‘Now we’ll go live to our correspondent at the scene’? You know how there’s often a half-second of the reporter/correspondent staring blankly into the camera before they realize that the connection’s been made?
    That’s how the Archon looks. It feels like there should be a Kett standing just offscreen, waving his hands and going “Wake up! You’re on air!’

    His damn spaceship looks smarter than he does. That thing looks like it’s just realized what game it’s in and has an appropriate expression.

  21. Scampi says:

    She also promises she wants humans for their “natural leadership”, but it’s impossible to tell if this is horseshit or not.

    The fact that THIS design is what they chose for the main villain of their debut title means that there was something seriously wrong with either the leadership or the design process.

    Well, it’s obviously horseshit, as those who got to lead this development are entirely human. This couldn’t possibly be meant to be taken seriously.

  22. NAMENAMENAMENAME says:

    To be honest, Shamus’s concept for a ‘motherly’ Archon reminds me a bit of Sofia Lamb from Bioshock 2. For those who never played, her gimmick was that she was a hardcore communitarian who believed individual free-will was the true reason for all suffering in the world. To that end she’d ventured to Rapture to bring down the system (before getting arrested and Fontaine filling her charity role by pretending to be Atlas). 10 years after Bioshock 1 she’d managed to build a utopian cult of deranged splicers who believed that when they’d died the Adam (magic sea sludge) containing their memories would eventually find it’s way into the Messiah (Elanor Lamb, Sofia’s daughter and a Little Sister turned teenager). Eventually, the idea was that the whole of Rapture would be contained within the Messiah and she’d exist as some sort of identity-less servant of the people with the skills and personalities of all of Rapture combined into one body.

    Regardless of how feasible that idea was, Sofia spent the entire game preaching at the player in this calm, know it all manner, never raising her voice or showing any anger at your actions. Here are a selection of her speeches that play in the background of various levels, a few minor spoilers here and there if you’re worried about that.

    To be honest, Bioshock 2 is my favourite Bioshock, and I wouldn’t have minded a slightly patronising, Lambesque Archon. Certainly it would have been leagues better than the cardboard cutout we got in the real Andromeda. Then again, Zombie Kai Leng would have been more interesting than the real Archon- at least Leng was hateable, every time the Archon was on screen I just felt vaguely disappointed.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      My problem with Lamb was the same as my problem with Ryan, in fact she proves the problem: A Bioshock villain’s ideology matters so little that you can swap out a libertarian for a communist without changing anything more than the aesthetics. At the end of the day, the villain is just the voice on the radio that sics cannon fodder on you as you work your way through the city to kill them, her methodology as far as the player is concerned is exactly the same. Lamb’s speeches about selfless socialism don’t connect to anything, just like Ryan’s disconnected rants about parasites.

      1. shoeboxjeddy says:

        Eh… Lamb’s philosophy of working together was clearly manifested in the Little Sister Harvesting parts, where you would have to play defense as a Little Sister extracted Adam for you (new to Bioshock 2). Large groups of enemies would make coordinated assaults on your position at that time. As opposed to the closest analogue in 1, killing a Big Daddy, which was a free wheeling brawl against any enemy force that happened to be in the area at the time. The selfishness of the enemies in 1 is a contrast to the teamwork of the enemies in 2.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Bioshock 1 had more than a couple “Defend the point while hordes attack” sequences which demonstrated the exact same level of enemy teamwork (there’s nothing coordinated about them, they line up to die in waves and their AI completely ignores each other), and 2 still had the freewheeling brawls of Big Daddy fights.

          1. shoeboxjeddy says:

            My point was more along the lines of “they turned hold out defense into a core gameplay mechanic” and along with that, thought more about the composition of the enemy waves to try to make each one more distinct. Also at the end, you fight tag teams of Big Sisters, something they NEVER ask you to do against Big Daddys in the original.

    2. Karma The Alligator says:

      +1 for a fellow Bioshock 2 lover.

  23. Thomas says:

    I think decimate is so synonymous with obliterate these days, that youd have to tell lots of people what decimate was meant to mean in the first place.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      “You’re going to kill one tenth of us? How does that work when a squad of five is causing you this much trouble?”
      There. Problem solved.

      1. Geebs says:

        It means they’re going to kill one of Liam’s braincells.

      2. Karma The Alligator says:

        Considering the “who/whom” thing, I really wish they’d have gone with that as one of the replies.

  24. jbc31187 says:

    Ronan the Accuser is my favorite one-note bad guy ever, and I wish writers would study him. He does so many things right, when compared to Kai Leng or TIM or Harbinger, or Malekith and Thanos, even if he isn’t as deep (or “deep”) they are.

    First: His motivations are simple, direct, and clearly conveyed to the audience. He’s a nationalist, who’s pissed off about the ceasefire with his hated enemies. He’s got a lot of sympathizers in the Kree Empire, so he’s not some outlier. He’s annoyed about having to rely on Thanos for support, but won’t burn that bridge until something better comes along.

    Second: He’s proactive, and not an idiot. When the heroes take his shiny rock he trails them to the asteroid prison. When Drax drunk-calls him, he’s there immediately. He never picks a fight unless he’s sure he’ll win- he doesn’t try to fight the Nova Empire head-on, he’ll raid a planet and disappear. He allies with Nebula instead of trying to smite her for serving Thanos before. He doesn’t turn on Thanos until after he’s got an Infinity Stone. Machiavelli he ain’t, but he knows what he’s got and how to use it.

    Third: He’s a threat, and he doesn’t have to cheat to be a threat. Ronan lives in a universe with super-strong people and it’s not surprising that he’s one of them. In this movie alone we’ve got Drax, Gamora, and Groot for the good guys. So Ronan beating Drax into the ground is tense, but not improbable. Ronan fighting the heroes and surviving the crash isn’t improbable, because they survived the same crash and Ronan’s stronger than they are. We know where his army came from (Thanos, the Mad Titan that the Space Police have a file on) and who flies his ship (other Kree who feel the same way he does). He’s tough enough to hold an Infinity Stone, but not so strong to survive longer than putting it on his hammer.

    So, Ronan’s not a super-clever character, but there’s no bullshit plot armor (Kai Leng), no convoluted, empty schemes (TIM), and no last-minute info dump (Starchild). Just a big angry Kree the audience can understand and boo.

    1. Matthew Collins says:

      Yes, he does have a bit more depth than might be assumed, the film is just very upfront and to the point with him. He’s a fundamentalist. He explains simply that he follows the ancient laws of his people and punishes those who do not, presumably because following the brutal laws of the distant past is What You Must Do and he cannot tolerate those — Kree or not — who reject that moral absolute. Add to the fact that the Kree government clearly have enough sympathy for him to deliberately look the other way even as they officially if very coldly maintain a peace treaty and the situation is actually quite interesting — simple, straightforward, but not lacking in depth because of it. Okay, not *much* depth. But his particular kind of “one note” is actually a form that makes him more interesting than some other “one note” evil guys.

      1. Coming Second says:

        One of the problems I think a lot of AAA video game writers have is that they don’t seem to recognise their own limitations. They might have a vague plan to make the story profound and multi-layered… but they don’t have enough time, they coordinate poorly with the other writers, they fumble along different parts of it at different times, and ultimately you wind up with mush like ME Andromeda.

        One of the things I think that Shamus has conveyed well through these series is that it’s always better to dial it back and keep it clear and simple. Have an enemy like Ronan who wants this, hates you because of that and look, here’s what he’s capable of. Bioware clearly had a bunch of themes floating around when they made the Avatar, didn’t commit to any and produced a shallow, pitiable moron.

      2. Syal says:

        Also important is he’s vain. He turns on Thanos out of vanity, and then the danceoff works because he’s vain enough to stop and wait until everyone is treating him with the respect he wants.

        1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

          My headcanon is that was internally panicking and trying to find some sweet Kree moves to pull.

  25. Hector says:

    FWIW, my random idea for Andromeda was to have the “bad aliens” be the natural mature form of the “good aliens”. This creates a lot if possibilities to explore and to think about how weird alien life could be. It also brings up question of motive and morality or values.

    Also, Raycevick added a new Andromeda retrospective.

    1. Matthew Collins says:

      That sounds interesting. Perhaps only a few of this race achieve their secondary stage because with large numbers there is no trigger for it, and therefore those in the secondary form kill large numbers of the primary form to stimulate maturation in survivors, because they believe the attainment of that “higher” form to be the meaningful measure of life or their species’ potential. Something like that. There’s all sorts of ways you could approach that, and any number of themes you could integrate with it.

      1. Hector says:

        Just to throw it out there, the idea I had was that the mature “Kett” form was indeed larger, stronger, more aggressive everything – and they developed in response to threats. I admit I was borrowing a bit from Pak Protectors (Larry Niven/ Known Space) in that the Kett didn’t reproduce but protected other members of their species both physically and otherwise. The “immature” Angara form did most everything else. As civilization developed, a smaller and small proportion of the species ever needed become Kett, and this results in what are basically ethnic dicided (fewer Angara groups contribute soldiers/leaders), cultural splits (Kett spend most of their lives in space away from Angara familiy groups and cu8lture), and ideological differences.

        The best part about this is that is explains a bunch of the things that are going on while also putting some focus on Ryder and the Andromeda Initiative. Instead of a what is basically background element and a “shocking” reveal later, now there may be moral questions. Here are just a few basic ones:
        *Instead of Kett conversion being just random evil of twisted science, now it’s a lot more ambiguous. The Kett may be taking Angara, but they’re doing the human equivalment of drafting soldiers. Not a nice practice, but do we (i.e., humans/the Initative) have the right to even have an opinion on this? And if we do have that right, what is our stance?
        *These Kett were just watching over and defending their people before we arrived – now they’re going crazy and trying to (this is a change to ME:A backstory, but I think it makes more sense). If things have gone wrong, do we not bear some of the blame and the responsibility to correct it?
        *What about the Angara’s point of view? Even if they are resisting being matured, there’s now room for disagreement, opinions or social splits, and even intra-party conflict. What if our Angara character might actually turn into a Kett due to the stress of combat, and then if we’ve proven ourselves a poor leader will join the other side straight off?
        *This also opens up room for a split within the Kett; other top leaders may not be a hostile to the Iniative, and pursuing diplomacy in other ways could modify the story in satisfying ways without really being a huge (and resource-demanding) shift for the devteam.
        *If you do have some time or budget left, you can easily add some quests by other Kett groups that might play into the above; it’s a big galaxy after all and many potential threats that could be the Kett’s primary opponent. If we show that we’re not a threat by working with the Angara and helping other Kett against these foes, we’ve proven that we’re not the enemy and could even open up an alternate ending condition.

        These really aren’t that complicated to think up, although obviously putting them into practice would be a lot different than the game-as-released. What’s really sad, though, is that I’ve seen a number of different ideas regarding hwo to write ME:A and every last one of them sounds better than the actual game. I really feel for the devteam, as they do seem to have had a lot of talent and a good habit of integrating quality techniques, but perhaps simply didn’t have the time or resources to implement their whole dream.

  26. Grudgeal says:

    They’re effectively immune to all sickness and disease. This is the kind of detail I’d run by a few science-minded colleagues for a plausibility audit. Maybe acidic would work better. Maybe we can come up with another mechanism.

    Well this is something that is up my alley, so I can throw in my thoughts on the matter:

    The long and short of it is that this is possible, but not in the way you describe (more on that later). Just like ‘the speed of light’ is a concept with a hard-and-fast rule that you can bend using sci-fi, chemistry and biology, and especially evolution, has its own hard-and-fast rules for this. To make a very long story short, diseases on Earth are caused either by organisms that have roughly 3 billion years’ worth of head-start on us and literally evolve several orders of magnitude faster than we
    do (a human needs roughly 20 years to make a kid; some bacteria can do it in 20 minutes), or by faults in our own bodies (cancer being the prime example here).

    Evolution doesn’t have a ‘plateau’, or a ‘state of perfection’: Instead, evolution constantly throws stuff at a wall and sees what sticks, discards all the things that don’t, and keeps doing that until everything it throws keeps sticking to that particular wall, which in practical terms means that that particular species has adapted as well as it can to its current niché. Thing is, if that wall gets a new layer of paint, or someone decides to lean a bicycle against it, or someone opens a window, suddenly the niche has changed and some of the stuff sticking to the old wall falls of, meaning the process has to keep going. And that’s not even going into things like co-evolution and gene networks and Red Queen mechanics, which says that some of the stuff evolution throws at the wall won’t stick together, or need to be thrown together or neither will stick.

    What I mean to say is that there’s basically nothing that the Kett species, having invented genetic engineering, could do to become immune to all their diseases while still remaining the same Kett that discovered the genetic engineering. Anything they’d change, the bacteria that co-evolved with them and remain part of their world would adapt to. However, the Kett could be immune to disease if they changed themselves to the degree that they were basically not part of their native biosphere any more.

    Essentially, the current Kett you meet would be a synthetic species: Biological, but still designed from the ground up, made as an evolutionary blank slate by the ‘original’ Kett and completely lacking in an evolutionary history. Their protein structure, DNA codons (or their equivalents) and receptors would be alien and lacking in evolutionary ancestors not just to us aliens, but in their own world. They’d be designer organisms, from the bottom up, and would be as vulnerable to ‘original’ Kett diseases as a sea-slug would be able to catch a human flu (to explain that joke: No, sea-slugs can’t catch the flu. Flu viruses are adapted to humans, and can’t attach to sea-slug cells). A side-effect to this would be that the synthetic Kett would be so alien to their own biosphere they couldn’t have a ‘normal’ microbiota either: Every cell in their body would be a Kett cell, with Kett DNA. No bacteria. No viruses. No parasites, or symbionts. Nothing. They were created to stand on their own. Their bodies wouldn’t even rot, because their native bacteria couldn’t touch them. As a designer species, they’d probably also be resistant to cancers and autoimmune disorders, because whoever designed them would probably have introduced multiple layers of DNA repair or similar. On the extreme edge this also means they could be incompatible with their native world’s biochemistry and had to eat food prepared for them by their creators, much like Quarians can’t eat human food in the original Mass Effect. Add to that and the Kett either become a science experiment gone wrong (…like the Reapers) or something their creators intentionally unleashed on the galaxy (because they were going extinct, because they saw these Kett as the natural next step, maybe they uploaded their minds into synthetic Kett bodies, whatever), and they could be looking to acquire and integrate alien traits and adaptations because, as synthetic creations, they want to aim and design their own evolution in the same way as their creators designed them to overcome their own flaws (…much like how we thought Reapers worked in ME2).

    And incidentally,

    Their blood is just alkaline enough to kill all known pathogens.

    That’s basically what we do. Mammalian blood is weakly basic (pH around 7.4) while most of our mucosal surfaces (skin, insides of our guts, other tubing) are acidic (around pH 5-6 for most of them except the stomach lining), which means bacteria native to those surfaces tend to do very poorly in our bloodstream (there’s also the immune system). This doesn’t kill all our diseases, obviously, but it’s a system designed to keep most bacteria out. Also, on a fun note, if the Kett had extremely alkalic or acidic blood they’d probably have to come from a methane-based planet like the Volus, because strong acids and bases do funny things when they come into contact with water. Remember Signs? Basically that.

    1. Hal says:

      Thank you for thinking about this on a deeper level than I did.

      I’m trying to think through the “completely synthetic organism” element, wherein the Kett would have unique biomolecules entirely. Part of me thinks, “If those molecules are still carbon-based, bacteria will figure out how to eat it,” but it it’s hard to get too far into that line of thinking because we’re talking about something that very rightly sits in the realm of science fiction.

      1. Majromax says:

        > Part of me thinks, “If those molecules are still carbon-based, bacteria will figure out how to eat it,”

        It takes a long time.

        Plants figured out how to grow wood (lingin) long before bacteria learned how to decompose it. This led to the carboniferous period (360-300 million years ago), and the non-decomposed plant matter eventually turned into essentially all of Earth’s coal deposits.

        1. Hal says:

          Fair enough. Perhaps a better way of thinking of it would be, “If those molecules are still carbon-based, there are bacteria out there who already have a method of metabolizing it.” They wouldn’t necessarily be common to the environment where they’d become a part of the microbiome for the Kett, but the diversity of strategies for surviving is surprisingly broad.

          On a different note, if their immunity to disease was entirely a product of their biomolecules being too different for native pathogens to interact with them, then finding/engineering pathogens that could interact with them would become a legitimate strategy for overcoming them. (The ethics of developing and using bioweapons not withstanding.) I’d understand if that route was avoided in the game, since the genophage was already a big point of the series and this would only be repeating it.

          1. Grudgeal says:

            That’s true. There exist bacteria who can survive on things like crude oil, so even if the Kett had, say, been designed with the opposite sugar- and amino acid chirality to its native world there would probably be some kind of bacteria that could eat a Kett body’s basic components. Without the ability to attach to Kett cells (due to their lack of identifiable cell wall proteins), however, they would probably have problems colonizing Kett bodies to begin with, especially if the Kett still maintained some kind of immune system against foreign molecules (not at all implausible). I expect that if a Kett were to fall dead its body would rot eventually, but it would take time because you’d pretty much have to physically dump a colony-forming unit of bacteria onto it. It’s also possible that Kett external structures like exoskeletons and teeth would have some kinds of biofilm or especially algae growing on them, who could possibly start feeding off them given time.

            As for the disease aspect, that could be a cool suggestion made during a war council against them, say by one of the Turian expedition leaders, but considering the Kett’s specialty is bio-engineering and synthetic lifeforms and that (in our universe) they’re made through bio-engineering it would be like trying to beat a Krogan in bare-knuckle boxing — sure, hypothetically doable, you’re fighting someone in the domain where they have a natural advantage to you. You will potentially spend a lot of resources to design a synthetic pathogen that can attach to Kett cells and deliver some kind of toxin or simply overgrow into an opportunistic pathogen, only for the Kett to spend a tenth of that time reverse-engineering it and building an artificial antibody or just growing a next generation of Kett immune to it. And that’s not even going into the potential horror scenario of what would happen if the Kett, being immune to disease, would be conceptually incapable of grasping the idea of biological warfare (after all, they never get sick, so why would sickness be a valid method of fighting for them), but you introduce the idea to them and you fail to kill them with it. You’ve just given a species whose speciality is applied biology a whole new toolset to work with if their aim is to kill or incapacitate you.

  27. tremor3258 says:

    I know it’s been a while, but didn’t they pull the same move with the kett flagship as they did with the Normandy SR-1 back at the start of ME2? The Collectors were able to see the stealth ship somehow?

    Did that get resolved at all? Privately I figure TIM stuck a beacon on before Shepherd found the next Thresher Maw Petting Zoo Cerebrus was working on.

    On the rest – I like the idea of the Archon seeing the Initiative as a bunch of pitiable figures. Most Mass Effect villains are utterly confident, and this would be a different in series variant.

    1. GoStu says:

      The ME2 example was very different: the Normandy was investigating an area where other ships had disappeared. Presumably the Collectors were the cause of the disappearances, so the two ships being in the same place at the same time makes sense.

      Seeing through the Normandy’s stealth tech is a slightly different matter, but gets a pass from me because:
      – It was established that the stealth tech isn’t perfect (it just hides heat signature, you can see it by eye)
      – The Collectors had “Reaper Tech” so maybe their sensors are more advanced
      – It’s called out in dialogue, so it’s not an oversight; the writer acknowledges that the Normandy getting spotted was unexpected (by the Normandy’s crew) and it implies the second point is deliberate.

      Meanwhile this Andromeda example is inexplicable. Either protagonist and antagonist happen to be in the same place at the same time by (literally) astronomical coincidence OR the antagonist has some means of tracking his prey perfectly but only tries it once and then never employs the tech again.

  28. Agamamon says:

    Why is there an obvious derpy frowny face on the front of the ship?

    Its space – you’re looking at it upside down;)

    The writer doesn’t just have the bad guys show up without explanation, because in a good story C happens because of B, which happened because of A. It’s hard to create drama in a universe without some level of causality.

    Look, I don’t want to start a flamewar here but that’s *exactly* how Ep VII went. Really, that’s basically how Abrams does all his movies. He and the writers he works with are very good at setting up *scenes* – good actors, good set dressing, good dialogue *within the scene* – but the collection of scenes is just sort of tacked together.

    And Ep VIII has the hyperspace ramming now. But you can still drop out of/enter hyperspace inside an atmosphere (ep VII) without destroying a planet. All bets are off regarding what can and can’t be done in the Star Wars universe now.

    Post-Jedi Star Wars is just a bad set of examples to use to illustrate good drama.

    Shamus, you can’t be so dense that you expect the writer to show the bad guys singing and dancing. This isn’t a Disney movie you idiot!

    Actually, that would be pretty awesome. While in movies Christian monks are typically shown as fairly extreme acetics, in reality they were fairly extreme aesthetes. Everything from painting the walls of their chambers with work done by individual monks in their free time with multiple generations modifying and adding to the work to, well, things like this

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedlec_Ossuary

    And that sort of thing is repeated *multiple times* around the real world, its not a one-off.

    There’s room for a metric butt-ton of detail about the Kett’s lower classes to be put in in just the world-space and not just straight out told to you through long-winded exposition by SAM (who is the real protagonist of the game).

    1. BigTiki says:

      That would be really welcome. It would be nice to see some culturally-massive religion where the adherents are actually gaining something, emotionally, from it! Even monks made a ‘joyful noise’ :) . Think of the character moments when members of your expedition start researching the “Shamus-Kett” religion, and find it talks about joy and belonging – not grim gritty grimy grunting and angry shouting.

      Tonight in the staff function room, Lenny and M’Lau will be teaching the music and dances of THE EBIL ENERMY….

  29. Dreadjaws says:

    But there is no excuse for the state of our main villain here in Andromeda. I don’t care what genre of fiction this game is supposed to be, this guy is a vortex of terrible ideas. He’s not just bad, he’s wrong.

    There should be a new, stronger word for the Archon. Like badwrong, or badong. Yes, the Archon is badong. Our new villain will stand for the opposite of the Archon: gnodab.

    He’s got the face of a sheep and a toilet seat on the top of his head.

    Looks more like a bottle opener to me.

    Man, they ruined the Asari’s look in this game. Look at that screenshot from Lexi compared to the one from the Consort. First, unless you already know you can’t even tell which game is the older one. But second, Lexi is just ugly, and, save for PeeBee’s, all the Asari’s faces in the game are exactly the same (speaking of the model, of course; the coloring features might vary).

    It’s not like I’m annoyed that the game isn’t offering me enough titillation, is that being massively attractive is a major trait of the Asari. And, like I said, technology can’t be blamed. All the other Asari in the previous games looked, at worst, pretty.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I vote ‘badong’.
      Mostly because it sounds like the sound of someone being hit with a frying pan, which I think would have improved the story of Andromeda. And something that slapstick was possibly the tone they were going for, intentionally or not.

      (Seriously, how many screenshots have we had when Ryder’s got some creepy, out-of-place doll smile in a serious situation?)

      Best way to defeat a villain as dumb as the Archon? A humiliating cartoon vanquishing, of course.

  30. Jason says:

    I really wanted a scene where the Archon gets picked up by that big old handle on top of his head and is just danging there unable to do anything. Maybe put a giant fish hook on the end of the Tempest and snag him, the just swing him around until the line breaks.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      I hope it’s actually a possible attack you can do when you fight him. Charge him, grab him by the ring, spin him around and launch him into a wall.

  31. guy says:

    One thing you could do with this version of the Kett is have a notable character get “exalted” mid-game. I’m thinking maybe with the Arks scattered you meet up with the Salarian Ark first, then their Pathfinder goes off to Pathfind, then goes missing. Then you get to the Asari Ark, and it’s been boarded and blown to hell, and then the Asari Pathfinder shows up, with a heavy exoskeleton and a pair of retractable bone blades and calls on you to surrender and join the Kett, then when Sarah refuses commences a bossfight with super-powerful biotics.

    Then at the Turian Ark, the Kett-ified Salarian Pathfinder has already captured the Turian Pathfinder and throws down with Sarah aided by a swarm of mechs and a Milky Way gun infested with Kett biomass.

    Then later the Kett-ified Turian leads a bunch of lesser Kett and gives them team buffs, and he’s got his own array of Milky Way guns and has an array of the special biotic powers formerly reserved for Adepts and other biotic-focused types, because he’s been upgraded with Asari DNA off their Pathfinder.

    Then finally at endgame, the Kett capture Other Twin and make him Kett, and you throw down in a mirror match where he switches profiles at the drop of a hat with the aid of his Kett bioenhancements while Sarah can do the same with SAM’s implants.

    Since there’s a lot of content gated by main story quests, each captured Pathfinder can be followed up with the introduction of new enemy types with new powers, and maybe give the Kett grunts a slight boost of an appropriate type.

    1. guy says:

      This could also be used to set up a “Kett Chronicles” DLC where Sarah does take the Kett Matriarch up on her offer and goes and storms each Ark in turn and defeats their Pathfinders, with mostly reused assets except for Kett models for Sarah and some squadmates..

  32. newplan says:

    Let’s also address the weird problem where we crossed dark space to find a bunch of guys at the exact same tech level we are.

    Unfortunately this is impossible in the setting.

    The whole plat of the ME series was that every 50k years for an uncountably long period of time a machine life form scoured the galaxy of technologically advanced civilizations to prevent some catastrophe. The nature of the catastrophe changed in writing but they eventually settled on “because synthetics will annihilate organics”. That kind of leaves a bunch of massive plot holes:

    1) Why doesn’t the Andromeda galaxy have impossibly advanced tech – on the order of millions of years more advanced? After all, they weren’t getting purged by Reapers every time they developed interstellar space travel. This assumes the Reapers were wrong and machine intelligences wouldn’t wipe out organic life. Which brings up the next point…
    2) Assuming that the Reapers were right why isn’t every star in the Andromeda galaxy enclosed by a Dyson sphere feeding the processors of a machine intelligence?
    3) If the Andromeda initiative could look in on the Andromeda galaxy and see that it wasn’t completely subsumed by machines why couldn’t the Reapers do the same and realize that their mission was pointless.
    4) (Most importantly) WHY DIDN’T ANY CHARACTER IN THE STORY EVEN WORRY ABOUT THIS?

    1. guy says:

      Well, in Andromeda as it exists the galaxy was dominated by super-advanced species until three hundred years ago when their super-tech blew the hell up, so there’s no particular reason alternate Kett couldn’t also live in the shadow of a technological catastrophe and have that be part of the reason they think it’s best to go all-in on organic.

  33. Warclam says:

    The title of this post is a seriously high quality pun.

  34. Zaxares says:

    I definitely like the idea of Exaltation being this sort of “gift” that seems horrifying to us, but eminently logical if you look at it from the Kett’s point of view. To the Archon, free will is the cause of all struggle, and therefore suffering. The only way to break free from this struggle is to give up one’s individuality, one’s uniqueness, and assimilate into the Kett. Your “personality” will live on, in a sort, in all Kett, but you, the individual, will cease to exist. That sort of existence is horrifying and alien to us, but to a hive-minded species like, say, the Rachni, it might not seem such a bad deal at all. It’s just that the Rachni had no means of assimilating other species into their own like the Kett do.

  35. Guile says:

    RE: Decimate, it’d be really neat to have a villain who would be totally threatening except his translator device hasn’t gotten the hang of our language. So he keeps misusing words, telling us he’s going to vindicate us, he’ll masticate us, he’ll lindseed our women and hurricane our homes until you’re all born, just you wait, Pathfinder!

    And then he’ll go and does something legitimately scary and smart. Balance, you know?

  36. decius says:

    Is it plausible that enough decision-makers at Bioware were tired of the Mass Effect franchise and made some specific choices to guarantee that they wouldn’t make another?

  37. chiefnewo says:

    I enjoy your ideas greatly, please write more books!

  38. Dragmire says:

    “-a villain that thinks she’s the hero.”

    Man, I really enjoyed Wandersong.

    Also, I found out that having a villain that thinks they’re the hero is a great way to make me hate that character(in a good way).

  39. Jamey says:

    This, just so much this. I spent about 20 minutes over dinner talking with my roommate about another “fix” for Archon that in some ways went the other direction from yours (more violent/much more threatening appearance/etc.) but I actually like yours better. I will freely admit that I’m a big fan of the Borg though, so yeah. Still, it is amazing to me how poor the Kett come off, and how easily it could be armchair improved.

  40. Biggus Rickus says:

    In defense(?) of the Archon’s awkward gait, nearly everyone has an awkward gait in this game. It’s like watching apes walk. It’s another on the long list of things that would be fine in a vacuum, but it just gets piled onto everything else wrong with the game.

  41. PPX14 says:

    Ah I see, he uses decimate to mean eradicate, okay was going to say that actually I imagine very few people would get hung up on that, it is widely used/misused to mean destroy greatly, but I suppose that it still implies there being something left to have been decimated. But still…

    I imagine about the same number of people would care as those who lament your repeated use of “if it was” instead of “if it were” in the conditional :P The latter sticks out to me more somehow.

    If a Kett was deprived of leadership

  42. PPX14 says:

    Blank canvas – what would you have made as the story/concept for a new ME game, Shamus?

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