Peacast VI: Don't fear the reapers

by Wardog

We freak out at the ending of Mass Effect 3.
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(MP3, 60:39, 128 kbps, 54.49 MB)
Needless to say: SPOILERS within.
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 20:11 on 2012-03-12
Someone needs to mod ME3 so Never Gonna Give You Up plays over the end credits.
Arthur B at 21:30 on 2012-03-12
More thoughts on it:

- Sorry to bang on about Kingdoms of Amalur a lot, but I've been deeply immersed in it and loving every second of it... and I've got to say, it sounds like the plot there (so much as I've experienced of it at least) is much better than the ME3 plot. And Amalur was written by R.A. Salvatore.

- I do wonder how much of this is down to the SWTOR brain drain. The lead writer on the original ME is working on SWTOR now for instance and had nothing to do with ME3, and I would be astonished if the same minds that cooked up something as great as ME1 were really intending it all to lead to what happens in ME3.
Yeah, the ending(s) are really terrible. I got spoiled on the endings a few days ago (I was trying to be spoiler free since I haven't played ME2 yet, but I could not avoid temptation) and all I could think was "Wow, Bioware really ran out of ideas towards the end."

The end just seems really half-assed. This Deus Ex Machina just swoops out of nowhere, gives you three terrible options, and just waits for you to pick one? The Hell; where is the option to tell the Catalyst to f off and take his Reapers and talk of Cycles with him?

And what's really irritating is all three endings are the same ending, only with some slight variations. In all of them the Normandy crash lands on that random planet and the Relays are destroyed in all of them. Also, if you picked the Destroy ending and had a high enough War Readiness, you see a scene that shows Shepard alive.

Also, I think you said you turned off the game in disgust during the credits so did you hear about the post-credits scene with Stargazer? In it, this character named Stargazer (who's voiced by Buzz Aldrin) is talking to his grandchild who asks him about space travel and then asks the grandfather to tell another story about "The Shepard". Also, Stargazer and the kid are on the planet the Normandy crashes on.

This is just so incredibly stupid.

(Also, apparently the Krogan Female has a non-symblolic name; if she lives in the Krogan quest line she tells Shepard her name.)
Sorry for double-post, but there is a fan theory going around that the all ending (with the Godchild) is really either a hallucination from blood loss or Indoctrination. Which sadly makes a lot of sense with how out of nowhere this sequence was.
Axiomatic at 21:48 on 2012-03-12
There are multiple endings, but they mainly differ in that the galaxy-sized explosions are different colors. If you're doing the Destroy ending, they're red, but if you're good and Synthesize the fuck out of everything, the explosions are green!

I think Control gives you blue?
Arthur B at 22:00 on 2012-03-12
Is anyone else following the fan campaign to get them to change the ending? I think it's a doomed effort - after all, they've already made their money on the game and I guess
destroying the very basis of the setting - the mass relays - whichever choice you pick
is as clear a sign as any that they simply do not want to go back to the ME universe ever again - but I kind of hope it catches on if only so that Bioware do things differently the next time they try something as ambitious as ME appeared to be before we knew about this ending.

Of course, it could be they decide to stop building false expectations by simply never trying to be ambitious again. In which case Bioware is over, oh well, at least Bethseda still loves us.

They had over 30000 people voting on this poll, with 89% of them expressing distaste at the ending. Admitted, the poll size is only about 1% of the people who actually bought the game in the first week... except actually that's a pretty enormous sample size when you're polling a player base of millions of people, particularly if you consider the proportion of players who either don't give a toss about voting on internet polls or weren't aware the poll existed.
Axiomatic at 22:12 on 2012-03-12
They may have already made their money, but hey, there's always DLC.

Oh, you're upset about the ending for our game? Well, is getting a better one worth, say, 15$ to you? If you're the sort of person who obsesses over these things, odds are yes.
Dan H at 22:16 on 2012-03-12
@wake-the-dragon

Sorry for double-post, but there is a fan theory going around that the all ending (with the Godchild) is really either a hallucination from blood loss or Indoctrination. Which sadly makes a lot of sense with how out of nowhere this sequence was.




"It's a hallucination" doesn't really explain anything (since you clearly *do* do something to end the war anyway). "It's Indoctrination" is a little bit more interesting, but makes *no sense whatsoever* since you fairly clearly *do* destroy the Reapers.

@Arthur

Is anyone else following the fan campaign to get them to change the ending?


I've kept one eye on it, but I kind of think that it's solving the wrong problem. I mean changing the ending wouldn't really *help* at this stage because - well, the game that shipped is the game that shipped.

I also suspect that people are (semi-deliberately) getting their signals crossed about Why The Fans Are So Upset. Most of the feedback I've heard from people who are genuinely annoyed is that they didn't like the fact that it was a stupid Deus Ex Machina (or perhaps that should be Deus Ex Machina, since as far as I understand the three endings in that game are suspiciously similar). Most of the responses I've read *to* the feedback are people claiming that fans are upset because there isn't a "happy ending".
Arthur B at 22:16 on 2012-03-12
...and an entire generation of gamers learns to never, ever buy Bioware games on release ever again. ;)
Wardog at 22:21 on 2012-03-12
Most of the responses I've read *to* the feedback are people claiming that fans are upset because there isn't a "happy ending".


That's the thing, I think people are using 'happy' ending as a shorthand for emotionally satisfying ending. I mean, yes we all fantasise about reaper arse being thoroughly kicked and Shepard ending up in a space bar somewhere with Garrus... but I think if there'd been an ending that offered some kind of closure or meaning, even if meant Shep became a pile of ash there would have been significantly less complain. I mean, nobody would *choose* a sad ending over a happy one, but if you were presented with a genuinely well-done downbeat ending I think it'd be okay.
Dan H at 22:48 on 2012-03-12
Two prime examples of defences of the ending.

Both fall into a vast number of infuirating patterns including but not limited to:

People are upset because the ending is sad/downbeat.
The fact that the ending is downbeat makes it inherently good.
The fact that the ending makes no sense makes it artistic, which makes it good.
The fact that there's a spooky ghost child makes it mythic, which makes it good.
Blah blah life blah blah tragedy blah blah.
Arthur B at 22:57 on 2012-03-12
(or perhaps that should be Deus Ex Machina, since as far as I understand the three endings in that game are suspiciously similar)

For what it's worth, the three endings to Deus Ex are:

Option 1: Blow up the Internet to destroy the AI, knocking out a vital pillar holding up the techno-civilisation of the game and forcing everyone to revert to an earlier stage of technological development.

Option 2: Restore the status quo by taking control of the AI, solving the immediate crisis but with absolutely no guarantee that something very similar won't end up happening in the long term.

Option 3: Merge with the AI to become an entirely new form of life.


So, yes, the endings to ME3 are the absolute exact same endings as you are presented with in Deus Ex, only presented in an inept and frustrating way and reskinned for the ME universe. Someone really needs to sue because dear god, the plagiarism.

Also, DE did a really fantastic job of arguing why each ending was a perfectly valid choice.
Arthur B at 23:24 on 2012-03-12
What gets me mad about the defences of the ending is the argument that by protesting the ending gamers are challenging the artistic freedom of the designers, as though the designers of a mega-high-budget game who ultimately have to justify their every decision to the paymasters at EA have anything remotely resembling artistic freedom.

Or maybe I'm too cynical and the endings were an expression of the team's artistic freedom. In which case their artistic freedom should be locked up for life, their artistic license should be revoked, and their artistic vision needs a thorough gouging, Byzantine style.
Dan H at 23:37 on 2012-03-12
Or maybe I'm too cynical and the endings were an expression of the team's artistic freedom.


I suspect you are in fact being too cynical. Like Joss Whedon, I think Bioware's writing staff gets too much leeway from people blaming stuff on the Corporations.

The ME3 ending is *exactly* the ending I'd expect from a slightly-up-themselves video game designer.
Arthur B at 23:40 on 2012-03-12
On reflection I would agree that, at least as far as the ending is concerned, they probably did have plenty of artistic freedom there because as far as the accountants are concerned the ending doesn't matter - after all, once you get to the ending you already paid your money.

But I disagree that it's the ending a slightly up themselves game designer would pick. It's the ending a slightly up themselves and extremely lazy game designer who didn't think anyone would realise they were ripping off Deus Ex would pick.
Dan H at 23:43 on 2012-03-12
Ripping off a weird mix of Deus Ex, Babylon Five and Battlestar Galactica.
Arthur B at 23:49 on 2012-03-12
Nah,
there isn't a "get the hell out of our galaxy" option, just a "go back to your rest spots and reset the timer" option.
Arthur B at 02:33 on 2012-03-13
There's a good argument here on Kotaku that part of the reason the ending has been so widely rejected is that it's a clear break from the way dialogue works in the rest of the trilogy.

Though they do say "But ah, that would also involve making changes to the plot and story, and asking for changes to a story is a line a consumer should never cross." So apparently the old expression is "he who pays the piper doesn't get to call the tune at all, because the piper is an artiste."
Arthur B at 08:09 on 2012-03-13
Ahahahaha, the conspiracy theory surrounding the "it's all a hallucination from blood loss/attempted Indoctrination" interpretation of the ending is incredible. It's like the sort of fan essay you get trying to hammer the last two episodes of Evangelion into continuity. (Which makes me look forward to Mass Effect: Death and Rebirth which crams a ridiculously compressed version of the first three games and a tiny sliver of new DLC into one game, and End of Mass Effect, which delivers something resembling a proper ending combined with a total head trip combined with a mumbled explanation that the dev team are really sorry about the original end but they were very, very depressed when they made it.)
https://profiles.google.com/netwomble at 11:19 on 2012-03-13
Weirdly this podcast isn't showing up in my podcatcher. (I'm using the RSS feed, not iTunes) All the previous ones work fine.
Arthur B at 13:40 on 2012-03-13
Weird, in Google Reader it worked fine for me. Which podcatcher are you using?
https://profiles.google.com/netwomble at 15:22 on 2012-03-13
It showed up in Google reader for me too (both in the article and podcast feeds), but not in Pocket Casts on my Android.

It's not a big problem, I can always just download it manually, I just thought I'd let you know in case you were doing something new.

I was going to wait till I'd actually played ME3 before listening, but as it doesn't look like it's coming to Steam, I think I'll get stuck in anyway.
Ibmiller at 15:59 on 2012-03-13
Hmmm, the way synthesizing is discussed makes it sound like the end of Buffy (the show, I don't acknowledge the comics anymore). I don't mind that ending, so I find synthesis relatively okay, but the way it was handled just seems beyond lazy and stupid.
Arthur B at 16:14 on 2012-03-13
I had another listen to the Peacast (how's that for replay value?) and I do think Dan's point about Andrew Rilstone's Galaxies We Have Lost post kind of hits home on the subject of how sequels really can tarnish their predecessors. I've spent most of today feeling a profound sense of relief that my Shepard is safely ensconced at the end of ME2, surrounded by her friends and with a galaxy of possibilities in front of her. Putting her through ME3 would be as close to the experience of drowning my firstborn a videogame could get.
Dan H at 18:56 on 2012-03-13
There's a good argument here on Kotaku that part of the reason the ending has been so widely rejected is that it's a clear break from the way dialogue works in the rest of the trilogy.


That's a really *weird* article, being as it is at once Very Very Right and Very Very Wrong (I am particularly confused by the section where the poster tries to disentangle "gameplay" from "story" on the grounds that it is okay to criticize gameplay but not story).

What I found most interesting about the article, however, was that it made me realise something which I think genuinely explains a lot about ME3. I suddenly realised that one of the jarring things about the ending is that you don't make the final choice *in dialogue* as you would in a normal CRPG, you make it by walking down one of three different paths.

Then I realised that the reason for this was that the game has an Action Mode, in which you *turn off the Dialogue choices*. Suddenly the ending made complete sense, because they'd obviously made the decision to make all of the endings accessible *even to people who played with the choices switched off*. In which case is it really any wonder that the endings ignore all of your choices?
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 18:57 on 2012-03-13
Because not even being spoiled for the ending has ruined the game for me, I feel like pointing out there is a female Krogan in ME2. She's an NPC you can find on Tuchanka called Natarle, or Natarth or something. She doesn't do anything except tell you to piss off if you and talk to her, but she is there.
Arthur B at 19:03 on 2012-03-13
I suddenly realised that one of the jarring things about the ending is that you don't make the final choice *in dialogue* as you would in a normal CRPG, you make it by walking down one of three different paths.

And as I understand it, you walk very slowly and cannot really run due to limping...

Oh my god.

Tale of Tales indoctrinated Bioware.
Arthur B at 21:50 on 2012-03-13
Dan H at 22:10 on 2012-03-13
Incidentally, with a bit of perspective (and I still think the Deus Ex Machina ending is stupid) I think that what that quote which so hilariously adorns the picture is driving at is that a lot of the things you'd expect from an ending actually happen *during* the game (and I actually think that this is quite a good thing).

By the time you get to the final confrontation, you already *know* what happens to most of the galaxy, because you've done the quests. You know that the Genophage is cured (or not) that the Quarians get their homeworld back (or not), you've already said goodbye to your lover, and talked about what they expect life to be like after you're gone. There isn't a great deal for an "ending" to tell you.
Arthur B at 22:22 on 2012-03-13
When you put it that way it sounds like the issue isn't so much a lack of closure as a failure to convey that it is meant to be closure. So the player ends up treating the last conversation with the love interest as the penultimate incident in the romance arc instead of the terminal one and so on and ends up horribly out of sync with the way the game's pacing was intended to work.
Dan H at 22:28 on 2012-03-13
I actually think it's simpler than that, the problem is Deus Ex Machina bullshit.
Arthur B at 22:42 on 2012-03-13
Hey, with a team and a budget the size Bioware had, they were perfectly capable of working in both problems!
Arthur B at 14:06 on 2012-03-14
Casey Hudson of Bioware is trying to say with a straight face that the ending has had a "polarising" response, which I think is incredible. It's ludicrous to describe it as "polarising" because there don't really seem to be two comparable poles of public opinion. "Polarising" would be if there were anywhere like a 50-50 split between the ending's lovers and its haters, whereas I see more people loudly complaining about people complaining about the ending than actively arguing that it's actually a satisfying ending that makes sense.

Though to be fair to Hudson, he does also say it makes sense that people feel this ownership of the Mass Effect story and they do want to take their feedback into account, so alternative ending DLC might actually be on the cards. Possibly. Perhaps. Or he was just told to say that.

Meanwhile, Gamefront pretty much demolishes the ending from five different starting points.
James D at 15:34 on 2012-03-14
You know, they *must've* known that the ending would be dissatisfactory for a lot of people. Disregarding the choices themselves, the endings were *nearly identical* despite the choices implying vastly different results. Why did Synthesis or Control blow up the mass relays? Why did everyone look the same after Synthesis? Shit was so weak, it's like someone in Bioware was like 'well, the endings are crap, but we're nearing the deadline and we're already overbudget. Let's just shoot the thing out there, and when people get pissed we'll make new DLC endings and charge 'em ten bucks a head to get a decent conclusion!'

Now, imagine if this applied to books. Didn't like the ending? The author's coming out with a new DLC ending that replaces the final two chapters, in which your favorite character survives! With ebooks, it's going to happen eventually, mark my words.
Arthur B at 15:54 on 2012-03-14
Positive news: the Child's Play charity is tens of thousands of dollars richer thanks to grudge donations. It's nice to know that good can be done in this world through the all-healing power of hate.
Dan H at 18:42 on 2012-03-14
Casey Hudson of Bioware is trying to say with a straight face that the ending has had a "polarising" response, which I think is incredible. It's ludicrous to describe it as "polarising" because there don't really seem to be two comparable poles of public opinion.


To be fair, we have little to no hard data about what the average player thought, fan outrage *does* tend to be disproportional and I wouldn't be surprised if most people were at least *okay* with the ending, simply because most people don't really care about video games that much.

That said, you're right that in terms of fan response, the only "poles" have been people who played the game shouting "this sucks" and people who didn't play the game shouting "you have no right to say this sucks because it isn't your story." (I exaggerate but only slightly).

Also: I think that Casey Hudson quote is strangely revealing. He says specifically that they wanted the game to have a "memorable ending" which, well, was only possible if there was only one. Otherwise they'd have merely wound up with a memorable game, and what would be the point in that?
James D at 18:54 on 2012-03-14
simply because most people don't really care about video games that much.

WHAT
Arthur B at 18:58 on 2012-03-14
But is merely "okay with the ending" impassioned enough to really count as a pole? Hudson seems pretty avid in that he wanted something that people really do feel strongly about one way or another.

Hudson's screwed whichever way you look at it. If you include in the consideration the people who just don't care that much about it, and they really are the majority, then Hudson fails at the task he sets himself because most people weren't polarised at all. If you just look to the people who did have a strong reaction one way or another, then he fails because a fairly clear majority of them think the ending's terrible.
Dan H at 19:09 on 2012-03-14
True, there's fairly clearly no "loved it" axis to rival the "hated it" axis.

There's just a "it is a priori wrong to disagree with creative decisions" axis.
Arthur B at 19:23 on 2012-03-14
But like all the best axes, they're orthogonal to each other, so they don't describe two polar positions. :P
James D at 19:37 on 2012-03-14
The best axes I've seen are really more of a parabola shape, at least at the head.

Sorry, I'm an American, I'm not very good at the whole 'snarky Brit' thing. I can tell a dynamite fart joke, though.
Dan H at 22:49 on 2012-03-14
I can tell a dynamite fart joke, though.


That sounds messy.
Wardog at 16:12 on 2012-03-15
And here's Richard Cobbett's take on the ending over at RPS. It's pretty balanced, though he does try to claim that a shitty ending doesn't ruin an excellent game. Humph. I don't know, I think the ending invalidates pretty much everything you've done, by not giving a damn, and thus makes the game feel like a waste of time. But that's just me.

What I don't get, however, is where all these excellent reviews came from. I mean I just don't know how you can review like Mass Effect and not mention at some point, even non-spoilertastically, that the ending sucks and may ruin your enjoyment.

That would be like writing a restaurant review and not mentioning the fact you threw up the meal afterwards.
Arthur B at 16:26 on 2012-03-15
What I don't get, however, is where all these excellent reviews came from. I mean I just don't know how you can review like Mass Effect and not mention at some point, even non-spoilertastically, that the ending sucks and may ruin your enjoyment.

The way people usually try to explain this is that if you run a pro-gaming magazine/website, there's two things which are absolutely key to your on-going financial viability: advertising, and early access to stuff so you can be amongst the first to break stories and bring people new reviews and previews. This means you're pretty much required to play ball with the publishers so if EA tell you that writing a negative review of ME3 will mean you don't get review copies of EA games or any advertising revenue from EA then you suck it up and do what you are told.

I'd like to think that's too cynical a take on it (for starters, there's aspects of European competition law it violates grotesquely - you're not supposed to use your power in one market to assert dominance over another market). I would like to believe professional games journalists have a shred of journalistic credibility... but if it's not the case, then all the pros must have written their reviews without finishing the game. And the disparity on the metacritic score between the professionals-only score and the user ratings is incredible and there's no way the consensus amongst 52 professional reviewers would be that universal for any game unless someone's been throwing their weight around.

I'd love it if someone raised a possibility beyond widespread laziness, widespread bootlicking, or some combination of the two, but at the moment I'm not seeing it.
Robinson L at 17:00 on 2012-03-15
Whoever's running the Mass Effect twitter feed walked right into this one.

Oh, that is terrific. This James Edinboro person completely toasted the people at ME. [removes hat in show of respect]
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 18:11 on 2012-03-15

I'd love it if someone raised a possibility beyond widespread laziness, widespread bootlicking, or some combination of the two, but at the moment I'm not seeing it.


They might just like the ending, someone must (one would hope that the developers do).

And, although I still haven't gotten to Surkesh (I only play on weekends), once I got over the fact that I couldn't marry Ash and start a badass family, the idea of dying to save the universe doesn't sound half as bad as you're making it out.

The only ending that doesn't sound right is synthesize, which contradicts Mordin's speech from ME2, but other than that I'm not seeing the complete awfulness.
Dan H at 18:33 on 2012-03-15
once I got over the fact that I couldn't marry Ash and start a badass family, the idea of dying to save the universe doesn't sound half as bad as you're making it out.


It's not dying to save the universe that bothered us, it's dying for the choice between megalomania, transhumanism and ludditism. It's dying because you didn't get the option to talk back to an NPC. It's having the developers tell you, through the voice of a small child, how to interpret their game.

Again, it's much like the end of Fable 2 - the issue isn't that there isn't a happy ending, the issue is that the endings are stupid and arbitrary.
Dan H at 18:36 on 2012-03-15
What I don't get, however, is where all these excellent reviews came from.


I put it down to a combination of factors. Professional reviewers almost certainly aren't people who've played the series from the outset, they're probably running as Default Shepherd and are happy to take the game as they find it. If you view ME3 as a linear cover-shooter the endings are fine, it's only when you try to square them with a version of Shepherd you have inhabited for five years they become a problem.

I also think there's a major industry-insider problem. Professional reviewers like, I suspect, to imagine themselves closer to the game designers than the players, and therefore are far more likely to agree with developers, rather than with people who (foolishly) expected interactivity in an interactive medium.
Axiomatic at 19:12 on 2012-03-15
I don't think most professional reviewers actually ever finish the games they review. I mean, if it's not an FPS (6h of gameplay, still doable) it can be an RPG with 20, 30 or 300 hours for you to play!

No reviewer is going to bother with that. They'll pick up ME, play it for, say, two days, and type up a review.
Arthur B at 09:00 on 2012-03-16
Ferretbrain Exclusive! I've just had a very interesting e-mail discussion with some devs at Bioware and they agreed that I could reveal to you folks what the real original ending was intended to be before they changed it.

The original plan was that it would revolve around Jack, but they ended up reconsidering partly because they realised how problematic the Jack plot in ME2 was, partly because gameplay data they'd got revealed that Jack was nowhere near as popular a character as they'd hoped she would be. Eventually, they decided to go for a big rewrite, but it was too late to develop a different role for Jack in the game so that's why she isn't a party member (which kind of screws over anyone who was romancing her in the previous game and was hoping to be able to continue that, but then again that was kind of a creepy romance anyway).

The original plan was that towards the end the super-secret nature of the experiments on Jack - so secret that even the scientists at the black ops abuse base from ME2 weren't aware of it - would be revealed. It'd turn out that Jack was The Illusive Man's attempt to create a human being optimised for the purpose of merging with the Reapers, as in the Synthesis ending - and that after the merging, her personality would predominate in the new entity formed.

There was meant to be a big boss battle against Harbinger in London towards the end. All the war assets you'd gathered over the game would show up at one point or another in the fight, and eventually Jack would show up to help you and your squad mates; at the conclusion of the fight TIM would activate long-buried brainwashing in Jack's psyche and she would go fling herself into a vast wound in the side of the slowly dying Harbinger. This would create a new Human Reaper like at the end of ME2, only this one would resemble Jack and have glowy patterns on its hull resembling her tattoos.

The final mission would involve tracking down the hybrid Jack and convincing her to use her newfound power to end the Reaper threat - either to control them or destroy them by setting off a fleet-wide self destruct sequence (by convincing the other Reapers that they had violated the parameters of their mission). This is only a viable option if you've successfully done Jack's quest to reconcile herself to her past one way or another in ME2; failing that, the Harbinger side of her is able to use the chink in her psychological armour to reassert control and there's a really tough boss fight to conclude the series. Otherwise, if you took the Paragon route to her solving her problems she sacrifices herself to destroy the Reapers as a whole; if you took the Renegade approach she declares herself the Reaper Queen and decides to go off with the Reapers to live in peace off in the Outer Darkness - but not before letting Shepard know that if she's ever needed to kick some ass, Shepard can count on her and her army of genocide machines.

This explains why London is so important in ME3, incidentally: it was all meant to be a setup for the last journal entry being...

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"Go to Whitechapel and confront Jack the Reaper."
Wardog at 09:35 on 2012-03-16
*dies*
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 20:54 on 2012-03-19
I'm gonna ramble for a bit now about the points on artificial intelligence and technophobia that were mentioned in the podcast. I suspect very little of it will be insightful, but who knows.

I've actually been mulling over the reasons why AIs are used as objects of horror over the past few weeks, and after quick glance at Freud it seems to me that the fear of artificial intelligences is another rendition of mankind's long standing fear of the uncanny, of things that are simultaneously familiar and foreign. In this case, AIs are devices created by humans that can sound like us, and can communicate with us and reach certain levels of mutual comprehension, but due to their design, they can act and solve problems in ways we cannot, which becomes disturbing if they have spent time maintaining a facade of humanity. All this applies to aliens too, of course, though biological/authorial constraints tend to make them conform more to human norms, even in the case of creatures with more exotic biology (i.e. the Elcor and the Hanar).

I actually found a really nice example of this uncanniness in Portal 2, of all places. It's actually a running theme in the game, as both GLaDOS and Wheatley undergo immense personality shifts in the course of the game as a result of being linked to differing hardware. It was all played for laughs, of course, but I seem to be the only player who was at all unsettled by the fact that they could completely change their personalities and attitudes in the space of a second and even, in the case of GLaDOS, immediately expunge aspects of their personalities they didn't like. I don't think humans can even approach that state outside of some type of extreme dissociative disorder. 'Course, after that point, I realized that the only thing that made me assume GLaDOS was "female" and Wheatley was "male" was the fact the two AIs had a female and a male voice respectively, and then I started feeling like a fish who's starting to realize that the wriggling worm may be attached to the tongue of a very big turtle.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that there are reasons to fear AI, even if the rationale for that fear stems from the more primitive aspects of the human personality. However, I'm really only speaking in the abstract here; from what I've seen of Mass Effect, the assumption is that organic intelligence and artificial intelligence can work together peacefully (or at the very least leave each other the hell alone), which the ending of ME3 blows to hell without even the decency of providing some justification in-universe (say, a few missions in earlier games centered around some archaeological digs on worlds where the AI-organic struggle played out in the extinction of the latter, or something of that ilk).

As for the pastoralist technophobia thing, there's been books written about this phenomena for centuries now, but I think the explanation provided by Mephistopheles in Mike Swanwick's Jack Faust is one of the pithiest:

"What they hate is not the machine, but that society itself has become a machine in which the needs of production regulate the conditions of life. But of course they do not understand this, and so they lash out at this weak symbol instead. Pathetic, really."

Not the whole answer, of course, but one that covers a lot of ground and is malleable for any manner of age, whether of centralized mass industrialization or voracious digital hypercapitalism. Hell, I gripe about this sort of thing all the time, though I know that pastoralism is not the answer, due to the whole "working the land constantly until you feel like an animal" thing, as well as the fact that putting me in a reprimitivized rural setting is essentially a slow-motion death sentence for me.
Great pod. Have you guys heard the indoctrination theory? That BioWare essentially made the entire ending a retcon they will eventually mold into the final ending, having 'indoctrinated' the player population?

It's compelling, but what actually happened is BioWare did an ollie 720 faceplant in an incredible game with an incredibly lame ending that their lead designer and writer made by themselves and somehow thought rehashing the same forced finish using beaten to death concepts (Terminator, the Matrix, Battlestar...."we have gone too far!!!") would be a good idea.

But the indoctrination theory that their brilliant player base came up with is incredibly elegant. When you're smoking the space pipe with Star Child in the top of the Citadel, the lame forced finish option A: destroy the Reapers (what you've been trying to do THE ENTIRE TIME) is presented as the least desirable, most evil choice (genocide and what not). Though Anderson (a Paragon) is shown blowing up the Reapers in the 'floor-lighting' cutscene, it's all color coded red and the kid says the peace won't last. Period. Really. He sees the future....oh yeah and the Reapers die. If this is a Reaper-induced dream, you think they might dislike this ending?

The Control the Ultimate Ultra Powerful Beings With Your Tiny Human Brain leads to Shepard vaporizing himself to assert his will over entities infinitely his superior. This is considered the 'goodest' ending...by the way, the Reapers live, Shepard dies.

The Green ending, also supposedly a good one, turns all existent life into something more like the Reapers - Shepard is vaporized, the Reapers live. Maybe the Reaper-induced dream is quantifying in dreamland the real world result: all life DOES become an organic-synthetic fusion when the Reapers melt them down into space goo and turn them into new Reapers/Collector-ish slave beings.

The theory is incredibly elegant for BioWare to fix their massive f***up with a ret-con ending that would actually segue into the entire unbelievable ending they presented. However, chances are they will stubbornly stick by their creative fail, thus costing themselves boatloads of money on players who a) don't buy the game because their friends warn them not to, as I have to my friends, b) don't replay the game and thus don't slaver for DLC like we did in ME, 2, Dragon Age, DA2, etc.

I agree with your conclusion that the ending of the story, while it didn't ruin my experience that I had for the first two games and the third, save the last 10 minutes, did ruin the entire Mass Effect saga for me. The ending was perpetrated by 2 guys who ignored their team of dozens of brilliant writers, and it shows. While the entire final mission is rather epic, the lack of any sort of culminating boss battle (you fight waves of greater and lesser shlock) and the artificial nature of your final moments with your squad left much to be desired. OK, everyone stand around for an hour so Shepard can say goodbye to you all............

Sigh. Let's all keep shouting and frothing and hoping that BioWare takes pride in their product, as they've always done in the past before they sold their soul to the video gaming devil, and maybe they'll see the truth of their transgressions and do something about it.

And keep podding, you funny crazy Brits.
Robinson L at 23:02 on 2012-03-30
A while ago, Chuck Sonnenburg of SF Debris did a highly favorable review of Mass Effect 2 (three guesses what music he used for the intro). Towards the end, he held up Mass Effect as one of the best arguments that games can be art because of the way the player's choices build their experience or something like that. I mention this not to reopen the “games as art” debate, but to preface my next remark, directed vaguely towards Sonnenburg; “You poor bastard.”

Kyra: Why are people obsessed with this “it will all happen again”? Because, I mean, the one thing that surely human history has kind of shown us is that it is not happening again, because we are more advanced now than we were some thousand years ago.

I'm handicapped here by not having played the game, (or seen the Battlestar Galactica finale, for that matter). So forgive me if I misinterpret something due to lack of context.

From my observation, the reason people are so obsessed with the notion that “it will all happen again” is that many historical thinkers believe this is precisely what happens. Not in technological terms, like you're talking about, but in social terms. Thus the adage: “those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

From what you describe, it sounds like Mass Effect (and Battlestar Galactica, for that matter) could be playing with this theme of the cyclical nature of societies, with technology thrown in as sort of an afterthought mainly for plot reasons (justifying the Reapers and lost civilizations in Mass Effect; tying up a glaring loose end in Battlestar Galactica). Does that make any more sense?

Arthur: I've just had a very interesting e-mail discussion with some devs at Bioware and they agreed that I could reveal to you folks what the real original ending was intended to be before they changed it.

I still can't work out if you're kidding or not; but whether it was the developers or it was just you, Arthur, someone went an awfully long way for that joke.
Wardog at 23:41 on 2012-03-30
I still can't work out if you're kidding or not; but whether it was the developers or it was just you, Arthur, someone went an awfully long way for that joke.


Robinson, meet Arthur.
Dan H at 23:58 on 2012-03-30

From my observation, the reason people are so obsessed with the notion that “it will all happen again” is that many historical thinkers believe this is precisely what happens. Not in technological terms, like you're talking about, but in social terms. Thus the adage: “those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”


That's the thing, though, I'm not sure even that is true except in the extremely unhelpful sense that things sometimes happen which bear superficial similarities to other things that have happened. I'm pretty sure no reputable historians actually believe that history goes in cycles, because - for a start - it would be hard to say what that would even *mean*.

I'd also point out that the fact that something is a popular adage does not make it remotely true (and surely if history really was "cyclic" like so many people believe, people would repeat history whether they were ignorant of it or not). It's just that "those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it" is somewhat catcher than the (more accurate) adage "all else being equal, people who have access to more information sometimes make fewer mistakes than people who have access to less information."
Arthur B at 00:10 on 2012-03-31
I still can't work out if you're kidding or not; but whether it was the developers or it was just you, Arthur, someone went an awfully long way for that joke.

It's true! I have proof.
Robinson L at 20:36 on 2012-04-02
Okay, Dan, I guess I see your point, but I don't think I agree with it.

“Cyclical” was probably a bad choice of words on my part, as it's too deterministic. I think some philosophers do believe history to be deterministic in that way, but I don't really go for that interpretation, and as you point out, by that logic we're doomed to repeat our history regardless of whether we learn from it or not.

However, I think one could make a strong case that human societies sometimes develop in ways which have many similarities with the ways other societies have developed in the past, and these similarities go beyond the superficial level.

I'm having a hard time articulating this idea properly, so maybe an example will help. Many radicals here in the US talk about the United States as an imperial power (I don't know how widely accepted that view is in other countries). When we talk about the United States (or any geopolitical actor, for that matter) as an imperial power, we mean that it follows significant and recognizable patterns which previous big geopolitical actors have played out before. Most people who talk about the United States as empire have pointed out that all previous empires were convinced that they would maintain their hegemony pretty much forever, and all of them eventually entered some form of decline—and they extrapolate that this will eventually be the fate of the United States, if it isn't happening already. That strikes me as more than just “superficial similarities.”

So basically, there are numerous models for the ways that human societies can develop, and there are probably numerous more possibilities that we have yet to discover. But, the argument goes, certain models have cropped up multiple times over the past few thousand years, and—barring a radical global change in the function of human societies—we're likely to see those models surface again in the future. If you take this view, then I think “this will all happen again” is a reasonable assertion.

There's plenty of room to disagree with this interpretation of history (and it sounds like you do), but I think it's a legitimate philosophical position to take.
Dan H at 22:38 on 2012-04-02
That strikes me as more than just “superficial similarities.”


I don't think we're actually disagreeing about much here except terminology. Obviously things that have happened in similar situations in the past are useful guides to what might happen in the future, but they come with massive honking great caveats attached to them in the shape of "maybes" and "probably nots".

I'm reminded of that old saying about Economic Forecasters. All they can really do is tell you what happened last time, and that it might happen again but probably won't.

And again, in context, what we're talking about here is the use of a deterministic model of history as a means to justify *galactic genocide* on the basis that unless all advanced life was exterminated it would lead to an inevitable robot apocalypse.
Robinson L at 00:00 on 2012-04-03
And again, in context, what we're talking about here is the use of a deterministic model of history as a means to justify *galactic genocide* on the basis that unless all advanced life was exterminated it would lead to an inevitable robot apocalypse.

Fair point. It sounds like we are indeed, in accord.

Although now you put it that way, it seems to be a very specific level of deterministic: if you take this one specific course of action (galactic genocide), you can break the cycle; if not, then nothing else you do can do will possibly prevent it. Which is not further argument on my part, just an observation on how utterly blinkered the whole scenario is.
So Bioware just announced that they're making an extended edition of the ending as a DLC with new cinamatics and epilogue scenes.

Which, unfortunately, means that were still stuck with the stupid Starchild ending.
http://augustm.livejournal.com/ at 16:04 on 2013-03-21
Hello! I lurk here pretty much professionally so this whole public interaction thing is a bit weird but I was wondering how everyone felt about the DLCs?
Have you looked at them at all or did you wash your hands of the entire franchise? Did you like them? Either as individual episodes or as they fit into the greater arc? Do they go any way towards redeeming the initial release version for you?

I'm coming at this from the slightly weird perspective of playing the whole series for the first time in two weeks in January, complete with extended cuts and DLC, so I'd be really interested in everyone's perspectives.
Wardog at 14:37 on 2013-03-23
You get paid to look at the internet?

I haven't touched the DLC for ME3 yet. I heard Omega was a bit disappointing and I feel I've had my fill of Mass Effect related disappointment :)

I quite fancy the fan-servicy Citadel one though, even though Arthur pointed out it was a bit crass.

I generally find DLC ... well ... what it is. I mean, by definition, it's bolted on stuff that doesn't really contribute much but can be quite fun if you're happy to go with it. I generally find it detracts from the pace and thrust of the overall narrative though - I mean I accidentally did Awakening in the middle of ME2 and it made NO SENSE at all in that context. Also I get overly attached to my NPCs and although I understand why it's simply not possible to have them present in DLC - I miss them.

There was a really chilling bit of DLC for ME2 - I can't remember what it's called, but it's the one where some dude has hooked his Autistic brother up to the Geth in this really fucking sick way. The thing is, I really liked the story of that one, but the gameplay was AWFUL. Lots of weird platform / Mako bits. It was like they were trying to spin their story out through tedious mechanics so people would feel they'd got their money's worth or whatever, whereas it would have been really amazing if they'd just let it be a straight forward story.

Arthur B at 14:46 on 2013-03-24
There was a really chilling bit of DLC for ME2 - I can't remember what it's called, but it's the one where some dude has hooked his Autistic brother up to the Geth in this really fucking sick way.

Isn't that kind of what you do in the Synthesis ending?

One of the things I hate about ME3's writing is how the Synthesis is kind of nudged forward as being the best ending from the writers' POV, even though all the precedents for it previously in the series have been nightmarish (I mean, HUSKS ffs, and the Reapers themselves - how are they not a fusion of the organic and synthetic?). I guess this is another example of that.
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