All of the surviving Pathfinders meet and agree to ignore Tann’s orders for everyone to abandon the main plot. The meeting is interrupted with the news that Scott is awake. So let’s see how that plot thread has been going.
There are two ways things can go with your sibling. One is kinda dumb, and the other is dumb and obnoxious.
Scott is Confused
If you visit Scott while he’s still in a coma, then SAM will use Scott’s cranial implant to “make contact”. Scott will be able to converse with you from within his coma, with his ghostly disembodied voice coming out of SAM’s speaker system. He’ll ask about Dad and he’ll ask about Habitat 7, and if you tell him that Dad is dead and the planet is a wasteland, then he’ll freak out, panic, and the doctor will give him something to help him… sleep???
The writer evidently doesn’t understand the difference between “coma” and “paralysis”. If you’re having a lucid conversation and forming memoriesScott remembers this conversation later., then your brain is not in a coma.
It’s a nonsensical, melodramatic conversation that doesn’t really do much to characterize Scott. I have no idea why the scene is here.
But if you skip this conversation then you’re setting yourself up for a worse one…
Scott is Angry
If you don’t visit Scott while he’s in a coma, then the conversation you have with him when he wakes up is just as nonsensical but also a lot more frustrating. Scott will get angry at Sara because she’s been “too busy to tell me that dad is dead?” He’s apparently angry that you were off doing your job and not here to comfort him?
Unlike the other option, this conversation does indeed give Scott meaningful characterization: It characterizes him as idiotic, irrational, childish, and hopelessly self-absorbed.
Scott is a grown man. He was in the military. He ought to understand the idea that his sister has massive responsibilities as Pathfinder and isn’t free to camp out by his bedside. Literally tens of thousands of lives are on Sara’s shoulders, and this dipshit is mad because she wasn’t there when he woke up? Is he five?
Just to drive home what a complete butthead he is, the game even gives you an interrupt prompt. If you press it quickly enough, you can try to hug him. And then he shoves you away like a sullen child. Given what a stoic hardass Alec Ryder was, how did this fragile creature ever make it out of childhood and into the military?
Sure, you can make excuses for him. He was confused. He just woke up. He was still reeling for the news that Dad is dead. Fine. I can believe that people are a little off when they wake up from a coma. The point is, this is how the writer chose to introduce this character. He may be Sara’s little brother, but he’s a complete stranger to the audience and this is his big first impression. It’s not like it would have shattered our immersion to have him behave rationally.
At the end of the game, the Archon will kidnap this ninny and that plot point sort of requires that we care about him, so it’s a shame our interactions with him are so goofy.
(Protip: Visit him while he’s still in a “coma” and tell him Dad is dead, but then don’t tell him about the failed golden worlds. This seems to make for the least annoying conversations.)
Our heroes travel to what they assume is Meridian. The plan is to turn on the entire terraforming network. When they arrive, they find a “massive” space station made of Remnant Technology. How massive? Is it larger than the Nexus? The game doesn’t say.
We learn that this isn’t actually Meridian. The Kett call it Khi Tasira, so let’s stick with that for a name. The Remnant technology at work here gives this place gravity and even an atmosphere. (It’s actually raining when you arrive.)
We shoot a lot of Kett mooks and even more Remnant robots. We do some Remnant puzzles and hike down a lot of Remnant walkways. Eventually the game drops its first big reveal…
The Remnant Made the Angara
We find a room filled with Angaran bodies in capsules. These are early Angaran “prototypes”. Whoever ran this place was engineering a species to live in this cluster.
This is a fine idea for a reveal, although it lacks punch because the Angara are – like so many other details in this setting – relentlessly vague. We don’t know enough about their religion or history to have a sense of how this news might impact them.
This information is neither an answer to a standing question, nor is it in conflict with truths that the Angarans hold dear. It’s certainly an interesting bit of trivia, but it doesn’t impact our story because it doesn’t change anything.
How I’d have done it:
In Suvi’s dialog, the writer has been playing around with the concept of creation as a divine act. Maybe that’s a theme the writer wanted to explore and it never got fleshed out, or maybe that was never intended to be more than character flavor. If this was a theme the game was intended to explore and if we wanted to do something a little risky, then we could turn the standard creation story on its head: We could make it so that the Angara believe they evolved over millions of years, and that belief has shaped their religion. We’d need to put some meat on the bones of their religion for this to work, but we could easily do this through exploratory dialog with Jaal / the Moshae.
There’s a lot you can do with this idea, but I’m not going to make you sit through six paragraphs of fanfic religious exposition. The point is, the Angara believe they evolved here and are frustrated that they can never find evidence of their forebears. They have this theory that there’s some “lost” Angaran homeworld out there, and they’ve built up all these myths around the idea.
(There’s the nagging question about how the space-faring Angara came to forget their history and have no record of the first Angara waking up wherever their creator species dumped them. This is a problem in both my version and the original text. Ideally we’d patch over that somehow, but let’s just move on.)
They believe their purpose is to find this lost homeworld, which they imagine would be ideally suited to their species and thus a paradise. Then Jaal is hit with this big reveal that they didn’t evolve, they were designed by a benevolent creator. This would make a mess of their religion. If we made it so their government leaders were also religious in natureWhich I think is the case with the Moshae, but I’m not sure what she DOES, in terms of government., then telling them the truth might make this information a threat to the existing power structure.
As written, the story has the party conclude that they need to tell everyone right away. That’s okay, but there’s no decision to make and thus no tension. To make it interesting for the player, we could make it so the Angaran religion is explicitly beneficial to them, and telling them the truth will threaten that pillar of their society. Perhaps it will threaten the power of the Moshae, and since you’ve gained her as an ally you really don’t want to create a situation where she could be deposed. Are you willing to hide the truth from the Angara for your own benefit?
Jaal could then feel the burden of this terrible secret. Does he tell his people the truth, or allow them to continue searching for a nonexistent lost homeworld because it’s good for them? Does he value truth, or stability? (And then he could turn to the player for advice, because that’s how these games work.)
Also, this reveal is so huge that I really feel like Jaal needs to be here when it happens. Currently, the game allows you to pick any two squadmates for this mission, but I’d insert an excuse for why we need to bring Jaal. (I stupidly forgot to bring him for this mission, even though I intended to. Which is why I don’t have any screenshots of Jaal’s reaction. I had to watch it on YouTube. Still, that’s on me. I actually brought Liam, which… why did I bring Liam?! He’s less interesting than Jaal on any mission. So silly.)
I imagine the gameplay director would hate the idea of forcing the player to bring Jaal. Players that don’t care about Jaal might resent being forced to take him. But if you’re going to do a huge reveal like this then we need to make allowances for it in the gameplay. The character-specific loyalty missions force you to take the related character, so we could just make this Jaal’s loyalty mission if that’s what it takes. As it stands, having this big reveal happen without Jaal around is like having Darth Vader reveal his true identity to R2D2 instead of Luke.
If messing around with creation vs. evolution seems too risky or too much of a “big idea” to spend on a side-plot like this, then we can scale it down to the homeworld idea I mentioned above: The Angara have no record of their existence as a pre-spacefaring race, and really want to know where they came from. Then here they discover the answer to the question is “a lab”.
The point is that for this reveal to have some heft, it ought to challenge something the Angara believe or answer a standing question for them.
Along the way we run into some scourge tendrils running through the station. The dialog seems to indicate that the scourge originated here, and was a result of this place being damaged. That’s a nice idea, although the dialog is a spontaneous exchange between gunfights. You don’t get a dialog wheel and you can’t talk about or explore it. Sad face.
We get to the end of this murder dungeon and we get our final reveal…
This Isn’t Meridian
A lot of the “storytelling” in this game has been offloaded to datapads, audiologs, one-way exposition conversations, and having the quasi-omniscient SAM just narrate exposition at us. I don’t know if this is because the new writer just isn’t interested in exploratory dialog, or if the large scope of the game required them to make many shallow dialogs rather than a few deep ones. Whatever the case is, you can maybe forgive most of this as a necessity of the change in focus and development priorities. But not here.
This is roughly the “big reveal” at the end, equivalent to the conversation we had with Vigil at the end of Mass Effect 1. In Mass Effect 2 I said the reveal lacked punch because it was just EDI interpreting data for us rather than having a conversation with someone. This is worse still, since it’s basically SAM translating an audiolog for us. The creator of Meridian recorded a message to nobody in particular, explaining that their project was under attack and that they were sending away “Meridian”.
This is our big reveal. This is where you explain your science-magic, deliver your plot twist, and put the adventure into some kind of context. You should not do this using an AUDIOLOG.
For crying out loud.
How I’d have done it:
How about we turn on this gizmo and we find an AI like VigilYes, Vigil was a Virtual Intelligence, not Artificial Intelligence. Fine. Whichever. This far from Mass Effect 1, that line has become quite blurry., that’s broken and doesn’t realize it. It sees Jaal, and figures he’s an explorer and he’s finally reached the cradle of his species. The AI explains that all of the wonderful habitable worlds out there (it doesn’t know that the scourge wrecked everything) are a gift from the creator.
This cluster was like a garden. They tilled the land (terraformed the planets) and planted the seeds (the Angarans) so that life would flourish. As far as this AI knows, the Angaran are a powerful and prosperous people living on paradise worlds.
The AI can then tie this into some kind of theme. We already have the side-plot with Cora and the Rose garden she wants to grow. We could connect those two ideas with some sort of setup / callback thingThe game actually does this a bit. After this mission Cora emails Ryder. Obviously you want the thematic connective tissue to be part of the story and not jammed into optional codex / datapad / audiolog content..
When it’s over, the AI can ask Jaal what they did with Meridian. Jaal / Ryder can respond with, “Isn’t THIS place Meridian?” Then the AI can explain what Meridian is.
It turns out Meridian is a planet. We don’t know anything about it, but Ryder’s copy of the script says it’s valuable and we need it. She even says she needs to “Find home.” I guess she knows Meridian is a habitable planet and not just a big ball of machinery to run the terraforming network.
Of Course we Need a Boss Fight Here
The Kett show up and pick yet another fight. I’m fine with the idea that the Archon is just throwing waves of dudes at you to hide the fact that he’s spying on you through the transmitter you stupidly forgot to removeThat is, I’m fine with him attacking you. The transmitter itself is bullshit., and he fully expects you to plow through these mooks and continue on your way. However, he sends his super-powerful underlingSeriously, this guy’s HP bar is gargantuan. It’s not a hard fight so much as a really time consuming one. and his backup dancers. They make a big deal of announcing that their goal is to capture Ryder.
If we wanted to be extra generous we could imagine that the Archon is being double-clever by pretending he wants to capture you when he really wants you to escape, and if this plot had even a sliver of cleverness in it I might be willing to believe that. But I suspect this dialog is leftover from some earlier edit or is the result of different writers working at cross-purposes. It makes no sense that the Archon would want to kill OR capture Ryder at this point, since his long-term plan is to have you figure out the Meridian network for him.
Ryder uses her Remnant mojo to order the station to attack the nearby Kett vessels. The Kett are wiped out, and it’s clear they can’t get anywhere near this place now that the defenses are up.
At this point, the good guys don’t really need Meridian. The big threat was that the Archon might figure out how to use this control center and un-terraform all our planets. That’s no longer possible. We’re safe. The most sensible thing for Ryder to do at this point would be to go back to her terraforming / Kett killing. We know there’s a planet-sized thing out there, but we don’t know where it is, what it does, or even if it still exists.
This isn’t a plot hole or anything. The audience is naturally curious about this mystery they’ve been chasing, and their drive to see it through is more than enough to cover for the fact that our protagonist no longer needs it. Still, it would be nice if there was some peril pushing our story forward.
Well, this was our big reveal and it sort of fizzled out. I’ll admit it’s better than the big reveal at the end of Mass Effect 3, but that’s a very low bar indeed.
We’re nearing the end now. Next week we’re going to embark on the final mission. Not to freak you out, but I’m actually going to have a few nice things to say before the end.
 Scott remembers this conversation later.
 Which I think is the case with the Moshae, but I’m not sure what she DOES, in terms of government.
 Yes, Vigil was a Virtual Intelligence, not Artificial Intelligence. Fine. Whichever. This far from Mass Effect 1, that line has become quite blurry.
 The game actually does this a bit. After this mission Cora emails Ryder. Obviously you want the thematic connective tissue to be part of the story and not jammed into optional codex / datapad / audiolog content.
 That is, I’m fine with him attacking you. The transmitter itself is bullshit.
 Seriously, this guy’s HP bar is gargantuan. It’s not a hard fight so much as a really time consuming one.
PC Hardware is Toast
This is why shopping for graphics cards is so stupid and miserable.
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
Good Robot Dev Blog
An ongoing series where I work on making a 2D action game from scratch.
What did web browsers look like 20 years ago, and what kind of crazy features did they have?
A programming project where I set out to make a gigantic and complex world from simple data.