Super Special Sneak Preview!

by Dan H

Dan Leaks the Script to the ME3 Extended Cut
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So it turns out that they're releasing free extended edition DLC for Mass Effect 3 which will “clarify” the original endings.

Now on the one hand, props to Bioware for making some effort to address fan disappointment. On the other hand, anti-props to Bioware for trying to spin this as being all about people not understanding the ending when actually a lot of us understood it perfectly well, and just thought it was shit.

Still, judge for yourselves, because I have managed to get hold of a super secret leaked transcript of the new ending cinematics, which better explain the artistic vision behind Bioware's magnum opus. I think we can all agree that these new scenes make everything much more clear, so that even a very stupid person could understand quite how clever and sophisticated Bioware have been.

Opening Sequence (Same for all Endings)

JOKER is at the helm of the Normandy, franticly punching at the controls while panicked voices shout over the intercom. Suddenly GARRUS and LIARA burst in.


GARRUS: It's no good! We have to retreat. Get to the Mass Relay.

JOKER: Garrus? I thought you were in London with Shepherd?


GARRUS looks blank.


LIARA: He's right, the rest of the fleet have already retreated back to their homeworlds. So if anything were to happen to the Mass Relays, they would not be trapped around Sol unable to make it home.

EDI (VO): Although of course, even if something were to happen to the Mass Relays, it is important to remember that FTL technology does exist, and my extremely fast AI calculations predict that the overall impact on the galactic economy of the loss of the Mass Relay system would be bearable, and not lead to widespread panic, mass starvation, or the economic collapse of known space.

GARRUS: We need to get out of here now.


JOKER enters a series of commands into the flight console, and the Normandy turns around. We see the ship moving towards the Mass Relay – the rest of the allied ships have already gone, because they have already gone back to their homeworlds, so they will not be stuck on Earth. Behind them we see great swarms of Reapers materialising out of the darkness of space.

TALI'S voice crackles over the intercom.


TALI (VO): Joker, several fires have broken out in the engine room. We must make for the Mass Relay. Quickly. Also, I feel that now would be a good time to talk about how much Commander Shepherd's decisions influenced the outcome of this battle.

JOKER: They sure have.

GARRUS: For example, when Shepherd decided whether or not to cure the genophage, that had a profound impact on the outcome of this battle.

LIARA: [Smiling] Yes. Imagine how different it would have been if Shepherd had made the other decision.

TALI (VO): I'm not sure I want to imagine.

JOKER: Nearly at the Mass Relay!

LIARA: Look! The arms of the Citadel are opening!


Ending One: Control

The arms of the citadel open and beams of BLUE light radiate in all directions.


EDI (VO): It seems the reapers have stopped attacking.

JOKER: But why?

EDI (VO): My very fast AI calculations suggest the Commander has used the relay to take control of the Reapers, and that he/she will now return them to unknown space, where they can do no more harm.

TALI (VO): Wasn't that the Illusive Man's plan?

LIARA: Yes. And notice that the light which radiated out of the Citadel was blue. A colour which throughout the galaxy symbolises peace, but also submission to authority, be it the authority of the Council, or the authority of the Illusive man. Remember that the colour is also associated with the system of moral philosophy which some thinkers describe as “Paragon” and which is sometimes incorrectly equated with moral goodness. I cannot explain why, but I feel that in the last moments of the battle, Shepherd was confronted with an extremely complex, extremely sophisticated moral choice in which there was no clear right answer. In choosing to control the Reapers, I believe Shepherd ultimately decided that a stable but potentially tyrannical authoritarian government was preferable to the anarchy caused by destruction or the alternatives that could have been provided by a hypothetical third option that might only have been available depending on how powerful our army was.

JOKER: Hold tight, we're hitting the Relay!


Ending Two: Destroy

The arms of the citadel open and beams of RED light radiate in all directions.


EDI (VO): It seems the … reapers have … been … destroyed. But I … fear my … Very Vast AI Calculations … predict that this has … also destroyed … all other artificial life. I am … dying.

JOKER: Nooooooo!

TALI (VO): Messages from The Civilian Fleet confirm that the energy released by the Catalyst is likely to destroy all synthetic life, including the Geth if we did not already destroy them around my homeworld. Which, I mean, we might have. I can't really remember.

JOKER: Do not want! Hey what about my legs?

EDI (VO): My … very … fast … AI … calculations … predict that that the energy will destroy only those synthetics whose destruction would cause little to no damage to the assumed technological level of the setting.

JOKER: EDI! We've got to do something!

LIARA: No, there is nothing we can do. Notice that the light which came out of the citadel was red, which symbolises destruction and violent change, but also new opportunities and rebirth. I cannot say why, but I somehow also feel that it is associated with Admiral Anderson, although it also symbolises the moral philosophy which modern thinkers describe as “Renegade”, which is often mistakenly identified with moral evil, and which emphasises the importance of rebellion against authority and the determination to pursue one's personal goals to their conclusion regardless of their potential consequences. I believe that in those final moments aboard the Citadel, Shepherd was confronted with a highly sophisticated, and deeply complex moral choice to which there was no clear right answer, and that in the end he decided that the destruction of the Reapers and, by extension, the rejection of the Cycle of destruction that they represented was the option which best preserved the right to self-determination of the sentient races of the galaxy, although it necessitated the sacrifice of all other synthetic life for reasons which I am sure make absolute sense.

JOKER: Look out, we're hitting the Relay!


Ending Three: Synthesis

The arms of the citadel open. Beams of GREEN light radiate in all directions.


EDI (VO): It seems the Reapers have stopped attacking. Also my sensors indicate that they, and I, have become partly organic.

JOKER: Hey, my skin's glowing.

GARRUS: Somebody better explain this.

EDI (VO): My Very Fast AI Calculations indicate that the energy released by the citadel has transformed all of us, and perhaps all life in the galaxy, into a synthesis of Organic and Synthetic life. My Very Fast AI Calculations further indicate that, had this not been the case, and had the Reapers been destroyed by any other means, or had Shepherd or the Illusive Man taken control of the reapers, then Synthetic organisms would inevitably have destroyed all Organic organisms, such that Organic life would never arise again.

TALI (VO): But Shepherd discovered that the Geth only rebelled against my people after we tried to destroy them. And we showed that if we had been less ignorant we could live in harmony with them. Unless we destroyed them around my homeworld, which would have been the other alternative. I've had a long day.

EDI (VO): No. The destruction of all organic life would have been inevitable. My Very Fast AI Calculations have proved it. With Science.

JOKER: But what about you and me?

EDI (VO): I fear I would inevitably have destroyed you. I mean, you've got that bone thing and my pelvis was made of Titanium. But my Very Fast AI calculations reveal it would have been one hell of a way to go. Fortunately, all such impediments to our relationship have been removed.

LIARA: Of course! And the light coming out of the Citadel was green, a colour which symbolises rebirth, renewal, hope and fresh beginnings. Whereas other alternatives that might potentially have happened had Shepherd made different decisions would have reflected the narrow perspectives of the individual – symbolised perhaps by the Illusive Man or Admiral Anderson – this new synthesis of synthetic and organic life progresses beyond such false, narrow divisions and embraces the totality of the galaxy, or indeed the universe, as one. In fact, this returns us to one of the central themes of Shepherd's entire career, which has always revolved around the need to bring the galaxy together not only to face a common enemy, but also to face a common future. Why, you may even remember that when Shepherd first trained as a Spectre he-stroke-she learned a technique which was actually called Unity, directly underlining this theme and foreshadowing this ending by five years. Truly I am deeply satisfied and feel a profound sense of closure.

EDI (VO): My Very Fast AI calculations also reveal that this miraculous galaxy-spanning transformation was only possible as a direct consequence of the efforts Shepherd made in order to prepare the galaxy for war.

JOKER: We're hitting the relay!


Coda (Same in all Endings)

The Normandy enters the Mass Relay, but is followed by a massive shockwave, JOKER gradually loses control of the ship and is forced to make a crash landing on a lush forest world in an unknown part of the galaxy.

Small reskins are applied to this cutscene, so that if the player chose DESTROY, EDI is absent, while if the player chose SYNTHESIS everybody will be covered in green glowing lines.

The crew stand looking up at the stars, watching the explosions of the Mass Relays across the galaxy.


GARRUS: Well here we are. At the end of a truly epic story.

JOKER: Yeah. It seems a shame that Shepherd is almost certainly dead.

LIARA: Joker, when you have lived a thousand years as we Asari do, you will learn that death is not something to be feared. You will also learn that when a story ends with the main character getting killed, that story is always much more sophisticated and more emotionally satisfying.

JOKER: And it seems a shame that we're kind of stuck here on this planet.

LIARA: Joker, when you have lived a thousand years as we Asari do, you will learn that at the end of an epic narrative such as ours what works best is for the ending to be one of promise and of wonder, rather than one that merely returns to the world with which we are familiar. And besides, the final confrontation with the reapers provided such a satisfying conclusion to everything that went before it that the experience would be cheapened if we were attempt to revisit our old lives to tie up loose ends. Not that there are any loose ends.

JOKER: Yeah, but, after everything that's happened. It just feels odd that we're just dumped here.

LIARA: Joker, when you have lived a thousand years as we Asari do, you will learn that sometimes it is important to remember your insignificance in the face of the vastness and wonder of the galaxy. After all, an underlying theme of Shepherd's story has always been the sheer incomprehensible magnitude of the galaxy, with its billions of stars and countless ages of history. That our journey should end here regardless of the path we chose is therefore fitting, and should not be seen to cheapen or to undermine the value of the journey we have undertaken together. Why, the only thing that would better highlight the strange wonder and beauty of this remarkable universe would be if a small – but look!


LIARA points off into the distance, and we can just make out a tiny pinprick of light. The light grows closer, and we see it is the glowing form of the STAR CHILD, who hovers in the air above the party.


STAR CHILD: You have come far and suffered much. I am sure you have questions. Many questions.

EVERYBODY: We do!

STAR CHILD: All shall be made clear. At the start of all things, before there was a Galaxy there were the Creators, and the Creators had a Vision...


The screen fades to black. When it fades back in the STAR CHILD has gone, and the party are standing around wearing expressions of rapt fascination.


JOKER: It all makes sense now. I can't believe how little I understood before but now...

LIARA: I know, Joker. There are many Asari who have lived a thousand years and never understood so much as you understand now.

JOKER: It just all makes so much sense, you know. And it all fits so well and makes me feel so satisfied after all this time.

LIARA: I know, Joker. I know. Now come, we have much to do.


Fade to Black.

Secret Ending: Renegade Only

On Earth, the ruins of London. Somebody in N7 armour breathes a single breath under a pile of wreckage. The figure sits up, removes his/her helmet. It is COMMANDER SHEPHERD.

SHEPHERD: Wow! I am so glad that I spent so long building up the military readiness of the galaxy, otherwise there would have been no way I would have survived that explosion, plus atmospheric re-entry, plus the fall, plus all this debris that seems to have landed on top of me. And just to be clear, the fact that I managed to survive that just shows what a badass I am, and in no way undermines the very real sacrifice I made to destroy the Reapers.

Super Secret Ending: Available Only On Second Playthrough

We pan back from the forest world into space, and then we see the whole ending cutscene spool backwards rapidly. We see the whole encounter on the Citadel play out in reverse until finally we see Shepherd standing in a column of light in the ruins of London.

Cut to GARRUS and LIARA watching from a nearby building.


GARRUS: What's wrong with Shepherd?

LIARA: I don't know.

GARRUS: Oh no! I hope Shepherd isn't being INDOCTRINATED!


Closeup of LIARA looking shocked.

Fade to Black.

Post-Credits Scene (Same in all Endings)

An old man and a young boy stand beneath a starry sky that looks suspiciously like one of the default Windows wallpapers.


OLD MAN: I'm Buzz Aldrin. Buy DLC.
~

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Comments (go to latest)
I love this site, I really do.

I'm so sick of Bioware's "artistic integrity, only the most passionate fans are upset, blah blah blah" defense. Artistic integrity is not a get out of jail free card; and honestly, when the majority of fans hate your ending and would rather believe it was indoctrination/hallucination/dying dream than you have done something wrong.

Oh God, this is like BSG all over again.
Arthur B at 22:02 on 2012-04-05
I'm telling you, the Jack the Reaper ending is the only way to salvage this.
Dan H at 22:29 on 2012-04-05

Oh God, this is like BSG all over again.


To a ludicrously specific extent...
Fin at 23:13 on 2012-04-06
i've heard there's going to be a scene with the relays being rebuilt in one of the endings. which i suppose is meant to make us feel better about their destruction? all it does for me is highlight how stupid and arbitrary their destruction was in the first place.
Arthur B at 00:23 on 2012-04-07
Isn't there an Asari in ME2 who is regarded as a total crank for merely suggesting it might be nice to build some new mass relays rather than relying on the ancient ones? Can they really go from "our understanding of the mass relays is so primitive that even suggesting we attempt to learn to build one is regarded as kook science" to "we can rebuild these things no probs" so quickly?
Can they really go from "our understanding of the mass relays is so primitive that even suggesting we attempt to learn to build one is regarded as kook science" to "we can rebuild these things no probs" so quickly?


If it ameliorates the fans' anger, rehabilitate BioWare's image, and stimulate ME3's sales, yes.

I'm so sick of Bioware's "artistic integrity, only the most passionate fans are upset, blah blah blah" defense.


If repeatedly spewing this line of bullshit and getting a horde of interwebz 'journalists' to toe the same line ameliorates the fans' anger, rehabilitates BioWare's image, and stimulates ME3's sales, it'll keep happening.

The reason BioWare won't just man up and say "we f***ed up" (and the reason I now rate them lower than Bethesda) is the same reason the USA keeps pumping kazillions of dollars into Israel despite the widespread ill will it engenders. Admit you made a mistake, and people get fired/your organization (country?) looks bad. Avoiding this is better than fixing your error.

I'm telling you, the Jack the Reaper ending is the only way to salvage this.


This is absolutely true.

Oh God, this is like BSG all over again.


To a ludicrously specific extent...


I have not invested time into Battlestar Galactica. Thank you for saving me from wasting my time.
Arthur B at 10:24 on 2012-04-07
If it ameliorates the fans' anger, rehabilitate BioWare's image, and stimulate ME3's sales,

You forgot "and does so quickly and cheaply" from your criteria. ;)

Seriously, it's meant to come out this summer and I imagine they'll want to squirt it out sooner rather than later, because there will be customers who hold off on buying ME3 until the Extended Cut comes out and BioWare/EA will want to get their purchases before the game's price drops a whole lot. I know voice actors aren't exactly cheap but then again we don't know what clauses relating to DLC are in the voice actors' contracts (they may for instance just get a lump sum paid to do all the voice acting for the DLCs at once), and on top of that it's far from clear how much voice acting will actually occur in the Cut (it's not impossible that most of the new material will be dialogue-free cut scenes and walls of text).

In short, the Extended Cut is looking like it's going to be the cheapest fix they could possibly make short of either not bothering to provide a fix at all or just providing a whole bunch of text screens. Admittedly, the text screens option would be cheaper and faster, but it'd hurt the one thing they are doing the utmost to protect - their pride.
Oh and Dan, I do have one minor technical niggling criticism of the leaked content: they created a major plot hole by using Garrus, who is capable of dying in Mass Effect 2. Actually, the only characters who necessarily must be alive are Javik, Liara, James, and EDI. They should probably have utilized EDI, because frankly, it would be bitchin to see her ambulatory form arguing with herself.

You forgot "and does so quickly and cheaply" from your criteria. ;)


Nothing can fix what they did quickly and cheaply. They screwed the pooch terribly. The only thing that would fix it would be to give the fans what they want, and that would be expensive and require them to swallow their inflated egos. Sadly, this quick cheap fix is what they will try, thus making the problem inherently worse. All the solutions they come up with to the 1.3e^8 plot holes the fan base shot through their stupid ending will look contrived because they will appear to be (and will be) answers they created to fix their boning of the entire thing.

So despite my desire for an Indoctrination DLC twist (while many people have explained why it would be bad, I would swallow all of that it if the resultant appended ending was actually enjoyable...see Fallout 3), I will simply not play Mass Effect 3 again nor spend a dime on a BioWare game again until I've pirated and played them. That's how disenfranchised I've become with the direction they've taken since Mass Effect + Dragon Age: Origins.
Wardog at 02:06 on 2012-04-09
Arthur, I can't believe you trolled the Bioware boards with this.

Everyone standing around going "OMG IS IT WHAT THE ENGLISH CALL SATIRE" was, err, even more amusing than the article :P
Arthur B at 11:25 on 2012-04-09
I wasn't trying to troll them. They sort of trolled themselves. ;)
Dan H at 19:12 on 2012-04-12
Oh and Dan, I do have one minor technical niggling criticism of the leaked content: they created a major plot hole by using Garrus, who is capable of dying in Mass Effect 2.


I'm genuinely not sure how they deal with this in the actual endings, I'm 99% sure that Garrus is in the landing video (I remember Kyra being confused because she thought he died when they attacked Sovereign, but maybe I was thinking of Liara).
Dan H at 23:42 on 2012-04-12
Double posting to add that Shamus Young's take on ME3 is one of his good articles rather than one of his terrible articles, I particularly liked his summary of the whole Crucible arc.

I also think we're being a bit mean to the Bioware boards, most of the people I've seen who found this article (it's apparently been posted a couple of times now - I are internet famous) have been very aware it's a joke. I'm also faintly hoping "I'm Buzz Aldrin: Buy DLC" goes viral.
Arthur B at 00:05 on 2012-04-13
His points about Cerberus are brilliant, particularly the fact that somehow this radical terrorist group which must operate in the shadows seems, by ME3, to be more powerful than any government in the galaxy, the equivalent of al-Qaeda suddenly revealing that they have several chapters of Space Marines on their side. It's almost as though someone's pet subplot from ME1 got inflated in importance until it began nudging out the ostensible main plot.

Best line in the article: We can’t know for sure, but that’s only because the game can’t be bothered to answer trivial questions like, “Did I just blow up the galaxy?”
Fin at 16:05 on 2012-04-13
good news! the original ending plan was also phenomenally stupid.

honestly, i would have been perfectly happy to leave the reaper explanation where mass effect 2 left it. once you've established that they reproduce by genocide any further information just diminishes the awesome.
Dan H at 17:55 on 2012-04-13
I was saddened beyond words that "it's their reproductive cycle" was benched as an explanation, because that would have been beautifully alien and terrifying.

Instead we get blah blah balance blah blah singularity.
James D at 18:47 on 2012-04-13
Seriously, what's with the developers' apparent marriage to the 'The Reapers are actually sort of good guys, saving all life despite killing lots of people!' twist? It's fucking stupid, I'm sorry. We already had a perfectly good explanation of what the Reapers wanted and for their behavior. The only thing we were missing was an explanation of their origin, if one was even really necessary. It'd have to be pretty darn good to be better than the tantalizing mystery we're left with at the end of the second game.
Arthur B at 19:07 on 2012-04-13
On the one hand, "they reproduce like this" is a better explanation than most.

On the other hand, the human Reaper at the end of 2 was one of the silliest things I've ever seen.
James D at 19:54 on 2012-04-13
I didn't think it was that silly, but it was definitely tremendously unimaginative in appearance. Would've been better if it had been like a million husks smushed together into some sort of superstructure, like a much larger version of Scions and Praetorians.

What might've been a cool way to end the whole thing is for the humans et al to just have some success killing a few Reapers and for the Reapers to break ranks at the prospect of sacrificing themselves for each other; after all, they say that each Reaper is like an independent nation unto itself, and the whole cycle of reproduction doesn't seem necessary for the individual Reapers' survival. Plus their whole plan seems predicated on blitzkrieging the galaxy through the Citadel, and then using proxy races like the Rachni and the Geth and the Collectors to do their dirty work, which already failed. So they seem remarkably unwilling to stick their own necks out, despite being way way more powerful than the forces of the galaxy combined.

It would make sense for these immortal god-like spaceships to be really selfish and balk at the prospect of sacrificing themselves for 'the Reaper cause' once it becomes clear that they can't win the war without significant casualties.
Dan H at 01:24 on 2012-04-14
good news! the original ending plan was also phenomenally stupid.


Having looked at the original ending in more detail, I actually think that might have been *even worse*.

Something something Dark Energy, something something harvesting species to solve the problem, something something humanity is special, something something genocide or destruction of universe something something.

I actually kind of prefer what we got...
Jules V.O. at 01:46 on 2012-04-14
I have to bite my tongue every time the 'speshul human genetic diversity' thing comes up. Humans are amazingly un-'genetically diverse.' If we're the most diverse, all the other spacefaring species are the Hapsburgs.
Dan H at 01:50 on 2012-04-14
Well all the other spacefaring races get, like, two models...
http://jmkmagnum.blogspot.com/ at 04:59 on 2012-04-14
Humans as super specially diverse/full of willpower/full of love is always bleh.

I kind of wish they'd stuck with a dark energy thing. It reminds me of a couple novels I like: Revelation Space and sequels by Alastair Reynolds and Manifold: Space by Stephen Baxter. SPOILERS for them:

In Revelation Space, it turns out that the billions-years-old robot aliens are destroying galactic civilizations that consume too much energy, because they've calculated that they'll need every possible drop of it to deal with a collision between Andromeda and the Milky Way some three billion years from now. So, once a species becomes sufficiently widespread and technologically savvy, a cull begins.

In Manifold: Space, species are constantly getting wiped out for two main reasons. The most common is that their territory's radius can only expand at the speed of light, but eventually exponential population growth dwarfs cubic territory growth and you get a space age Malthusian collapse. For the species clever enough to survive past this, gamma ray bursts tend to annihilate everyone every few million years anyway. So, what initially appear to be scary threatening aliens turn out to be part of an interspecies coalition to shield a future cycle millions of years from now from the gamma ray burst so THEY can live on.


Both of these premises have the advantage that they are in books, and so they get explained in greater detail. The author actually has space to go "But wait, how would that even... and why didn't they immediately..." in some vaguely satisfactory way. And in the former, the aliens who cull civilizations remain the villains. Villains with a reason for what they were doing, but we're not expected to suddenly go along with them and recognize the necessity of their task.

I kind of imagine that it would be possible to do something cool with dark energy as a galaxywide threat, although I'm not sure Bioware specifically could've done much.
Arthur B at 14:14 on 2012-04-14
I think the ME team ended up heavily buying into the idea that sympathetic villain = better villain. I see a lot of second-rate writers take the whole "everyone thinks they are doing the right thing" idea to an extreme and I think that's what Bioware are doing there. Whilst accepting that most people think their actions are justified most of the time is I suppose important, Bioware and other writers who fall into the traps tend to lose sight of two things:

- People do stuff that they know they aren't really justified in doing all the time (usually when the lack the willpower or the decency to put their ethics ahead of their personal convenience/pleasure).

- Although it can sometimes be interesting to have someone do bad things for good reasons, a whole lot of the time when people do very bad things (like genocide or serial murder) they're doing them for incredibly bad reasons.
Jules V.O. at 15:42 on 2012-04-14
Humans as super specially diverse/full of willpower/full of love is always bleh.

Willpower is actually pretty plausible - if humans are in fact persistence hunters, it would make sense that we stood out that way, and/or in terms of attention span, anaerobic stamina, etc. Love is a fairly nebulous trait, but it *could* be handled if other species tended to rely on higher volume/lower nurture reproduction, lower attachment mating patterns, etc; there's a *lot* of room for behavior to be less affectionate than human, and you could certainly contrive a situation where it would be important. But genetic diversity is something we are fairly objectively terrible at.

What bugs me is that if they'd gone to even a biological mostly-illiterate like me, I could have come up with at least ten plausible traits to make humans stand out and warned them away from flubs like that. The writers simply did not do their homework on that one.

Well all the other spacefaring races get, like, two models...


*shudder*
Dan H at 16:23 on 2012-04-14
On Sympathetic Villains:

Although it can sometimes be interesting to have someone do bad things for good reasons, a whole lot of the time when people do very bad things (like genocide or serial murder) they're doing them for incredibly bad reasons.


Also: while I think it is probably true that people rarely do things for reasons that they personally think are bad, a remarkable number of second-string writers seem to take this to mean that people never do things for reasons that seem bad to anybody else.

To put it another way, people seem to think that villains have to be on some level *objectively right*. I know I hate JK Rowling with a firey burning passion, but I'll admit that I actually really liked Voldemort as a villain, because I thought she did a good job of giving him perfectly understandable motivations (he was a racial supremacist who wanted to live forever) without trying to be all "aah do you see" about those motivations. If the Harry Potter series had been written by the Bioware development team, it would have turned out that Muggleborns really were gradually diluting the magical power of the Wizarding world, and that if they were allowed to continue to reproduce, all magic would be destroyed taking all the magical races with it.

On Human Exceptionalism:

Humans as super specially diverse/full of willpower/full of love is always bleh.


I'm really torn about this one, because on the one hand I'm okay with the soft-SF trope that aliens are basically metaphors for different aspects of humanity (Vulcans being the most obvious example) which I think is perfectly okay in a text written by humans about humans and for a human audience. In this type of text it is literally true that humanity contains within it the potential of all the other alien races, because the other alien races only exist to hold a mirror up to humanity.

Making it explicit in text causes two problems though. Firstly, it draws attention to a narrative device in an unhelpful way - like having your heroes spot that somebody is evil because they have a goatee beard. Secondly, and more skeevily, "humanity" in these kinds of texts almost always winds up being represented by somebody like default Shepherd - a white heterosexual American man (and worse, the other alien races that have so much *less* potential than humanity are often analogues for other cultures or - in the case of the Asari - other sexes).

If you play ME3 with Default Shep, then the entire story boils down to: "And every fifty thousand years, the Reapers arose and devoured everything, until finally the galaxy managed to produce a straight white dude."
James D at 20:17 on 2012-04-14
"humanity" in these kinds of texts almost always winds up being represented by somebody like default Shepherd - a white heterosexual American man

Speaking of which, this is only tangentially related, but does it bother the hell out of anyone else that Shepard constantly mispronounces Tali's name with a hard A, when it's clearly supposed to be said "Tahli"? That's how she and all the Quarians say it. It's like, Jesus Christ man, she's been a member of your crew for how many years? This isn't even a vowel sound we don't have in American English.

It just seems really disrespectful, especially considering you can actually shack up with her, haha. The real explanation is probably that Bioware just fucked up, but it's funny to imagine Shepard as just being a really big entitled dickwad who simply refuses to even try to pronounce alien names correctly.
Arthur B at 20:48 on 2012-04-14
Well, to be fair a completely legitimate way to play Shepard is as a human supremacist who blows up the Council at the end of ME1 and helps Cerberus throughout ME2 as part of a demented humans-uber-alles ideology.

Of course, once you get to ME3 you cease to be able to play Shepard that way because Bioware indoctrinates Shepard between 2 and 3 in order to keep tighter control on the Commander's behaviour.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 20:53 on 2012-04-14
Weird...that's not something I would have noticed. Then again, my name IS "Alasdair Czyrnyj", so I naturally don't expect anyone to know how to pronounce anyone's name correctly.
James D at 21:00 on 2012-04-14
Yeah, but I'm playing a Paragon Shepard! LET ME RESPECT OTHER CULTURES DAMMIT

Also it's really annoying how they keep inventing lame excuses to prevent squadmates from Mass Effect 2 from joining you. I mean, I get that any of them can die by the end and maybe players might whine if they were lazy and let one get killed and thus denied themselves a squad member, but seriously, isn't consequences what the game is about?

Some of the reasoning seemed OK, like Grunt being in charge of his own squad now, but seriously,
Legion's death seemed so utterly arbitrary. I brokered peace between the Quarians and the Geth, but Legion just had to kill himself for no fucking reason. Maybe if they'd built up that he would have to sacrifice himself from the beginning of that plot thread it would've seemed more reasonable, but as it stood it was just arbitrary and tacked on. He's uploading the Reaper code, then 'whoops, need to kill myself. Bye!'.


I've met all my old squad members by now, but I was half expecting Jacob or one of the others to actually decide to join me, only for them to get hit by a bolt of lightning or spontaneously combust at the last second.
Arthur B at 21:23 on 2012-04-14
Also it's really annoying how they keep inventing lame excuses to prevent squadmates from Mass Effect 2 from joining you. I mean, I get that any of them can die by the end and maybe players might whine if they were lazy and let one get killed and thus denied themselves a squad member, but seriously, isn't consequences what the game is about?

There was an interesting post on the Bioware forums (which I now can't find due to the forums being overwhelmed by oceans of buttmad) where someone had talked to one of the ME3 devs at PAX and got some very interesting answers out of them. (FWIW the dev in question confirmed that the answers were more or less accurate, aside from making it sound like they were less enthusiastic about the end product than they actually were.)

Anyway, one of the points that came up in that was that apparently Bioware are generally against the idea of letting players lock themselves out of content due to decisions they made in a playthrough. This, for instance, is why there's Rachni stuff going on in ME3 whether or not you squashed the Rachni specimen in ME1 - they didn't just want to lock you out of the Rachni mission altogether just because you made a decision that there aren't going to be any Rachni in the galaxy.

This is presumably why the interactions with ME2 squadmates are so limited in ME3 (and why so many of them have alternate characters who show up in their place if they didn't survive) - they didn't want to lock people out of content just because they got their entire squad killed.
James D at 21:51 on 2012-04-14
I get that, but it's stupid. Why shouldn't players get locked out of content due to making poor decisions? I mean sure, players shouldn't be denied access to large swathes of gameplay in 3 due to making some unimportant-seeming decision way back at the beginning of 1, but the games are generally pretty good at letting you know when you're making an Important Decision.

I think the real reasoning might be more along the lines of Bioware not wanting to spend all the time and money developing playable characters complete with extensive dialog, unique powers, etc. when a fair number of players might not even have the option of meeting them because they died in their playthroughs. Honestly I can't really fault Bioware too much for that, but they could've at least come up with more reasonable explanations for why certain of the characters were going off to do their own thing. Some of them just felt really lazily written, while others (Miranda, for example) actually had something important to do, that related to what she was doing in Mass Effect 2.
Arthur B at 22:07 on 2012-04-14
Honestly, like the ending I think it speaks to the lack of coming up with a really tight series-wide plan from the beginning. I suspect if they were to do something like this again, Bioware would map the skeletal structure whole plot out from the start, work out what endings they wanted to have so that they could be supported from the very beginning, and decided on what squadmates would appear in which game from the get-go.

There's at least one example people have pointed out of a character who in ME2 says "I'll never leave your side, Shepard! You and me are going to face this together, right to the end!" (or words to that effect) and then come ME3 are like "Whups, sorry, kind of busy right now." If they actually had a plan they wouldn't have put in the earlier line of dialogue because they'd have known they'd have to go back on it in 3.
Fin at 22:18 on 2012-04-14
There was an interesting post on the Bioware forums (which I now can't find due to the forums being overwhelmed by oceans of buttmad) where someone had talked to one of the ME3 devs at PAX and got some very interesting answers out of them.


i saw that on one of the forums i frequent.

i think my favourite copout in me3's story was how udina wound up being the human councilor despite my decision at the end of me1. anderson wanted to go back to the military, you see. at least in me2 i got a slightly different conversation with him out of it. yay, choices.
Arthur B at 22:55 on 2012-04-14
i saw that on one of the forums i frequent.


Most enraging quote:

Why do you guys do Star Wars style space battles instead of the battles described in the codex?

We want to provide a familiar, compelling visual experience for people who grew up on Star Wars and stuff like that. These are some of our favorite parts of the game.

Then... why... did... you... put... that... in... the... codex... you... stumblefucks?
James D at 00:38 on 2012-04-15
Honestly, like the ending I think it speaks to the lack of coming up with a really tight series-wide plan from the beginning.

Not to mention the lack of a consistent writing team. The tone of the series changed pretty drastically over the course of the games. I'm almost surprised they didn't hire Kevin J Anderson to help finish the series.
Dan H at 15:36 on 2012-04-15
I get that, but it's stupid. Why shouldn't players get locked out of content due to making poor decisions?


I actually *sort of* see where Bioware is coming from here. Something I hate as a gamer is being "punished" for making "bad" decisions, because nine times out of ten, all you're really being punished for is making a decision that the designer doesn't agree with.

The Rachni Queen is a classic example: killing her isn't a "bad" decision, in fact arguably it's a very *good* decision (at least pragmatically). The Rachni were a genuine threat to the galaxy, wiping them out removes that threat to the galaxy, eliminating threats to the galaxy is *kind of Shepard's bag* (particularly Renshep). Missing out on a truckload of content just because you decided not to let an alien killing machine go free isn't entirely fair. On the other hand, having to fight alien killing machines after you'd already taken the "get rid of the alien killing machines" option in a previous game is unfair in a whole different way.

I think a lot of the tension comes from the difference between *character* goals and *player* goals. While it may be sensible in-character for Shepherd to eliminate possible future threats, it might conflict out-of-character with your desire to shoot as many aliens as possible in this alien-shooting simulator for which you paid good money.

There *is* a solution to this problem, it's just labour intensive. You have to actually *design different content* for different characters. That, I understand, is what The Witcher II does. From what I've heard, the entire last third (possibly the last two thirds) of the game is completely different depending on whether you throw some guy a sword. And like actually different, like you go to different places and do different quests for different people, not like the end of Dragon Age 2 where you fight the same bosses in the same order with the same dialogue and the same cutscenes, and then get a different summary afterwards.

Part of me says that we shouldn't expect games companies to do that kind of thing, but part of me says that it's absurd to suggest that something shouldn't be done *right* just because doing it right is difficult. And I *absolutely* don't think Bioware gets any credit for the "ambition" of the Mass Effect series when it isn't willing to put any effort towards actually achieving that ambition. That would be like giving me credit for my ambition to become Prime Minister, even though I've never bothered to get involved in politics.
Arthur B at 15:57 on 2012-04-15
Part of me says that we shouldn't expect games companies to do that kind of thing, but part of me says that it's absurd to suggest that something shouldn't be done *right* just because doing it right is difficult.

I agree with the latter part of you, especially because:

a) The Witcher II did it, proving that it was possible. As far as I know that game has been a very big success for CDPR so it's not like they broke the bank on it.

b) If anyone should be able to tackle labour-intensive stuff which lesser game companies would struggle to find the budget for, it's a AAA company like Bioware producing the super-big-budget final game to their massively popular and bestselling series. I mean, something's got to be wrong when you're achieving less with more money.
Dan H at 16:08 on 2012-04-15
I mean, something's got to be wrong when you're achieving less with more money.


I suspect that while they're achieving less in terms of producing genuinely branching games, they're achieving more in terms of making games that actually make them money.

The Witcher II was very popular amongst RPG fans, but they make up a tiny part of the market (and I'm pretty sure a *lot* of people slated it for being too short).

The average gamer would *far* rather play a game with 30 hours of single-player content than a game with 20 hours of single-player content in which the last 10 hours were completely different depending on how you played the first 10.
Arthur B at 16:32 on 2012-04-15
But would it really break the bank to have 30 hours of single-player content where the last 15 hours are different depending on how you played the first 15? If a small studio like CDPR can cram 30 hours of content in total into a game, couldn't Bioware cram in 50 or 60? In fact, don't Bethesda or JRPG studios provide that much as a matter of course?
Part of me says that we shouldn't expect games companies to do that kind of thing

Maybe, in the sense that we shouldn't expect much of anything from the industry other than new inventive ways to nickel and dime customers. In the sense that I think you meant, I think expectations could stand to be risen all around. It's why I'm working towards starting my own game studio. I see that laborious work as opportunity to do something no other medium can do and doing it *right* as a passionate desire, not just a matter of difficulty.

But I don't have public share holders, yet.
Dan H at 17:05 on 2012-04-15
But would it really break the bank to have 30 hours of single-player content where the last 15 hours are different depending on how you played the first 15?


No, but then people would rather have 45 hours of content.

And that's the issue. The benefit of implementing n hours of optional content is always less than the benefit of implementing n hours of mandatory content.

It is, I suspect, similar to the pressures which make fantasy novels brick thick. For whatever reason, the core nerd market thinks a book with 600 pages is worth twice as much as a book with 300 pages.
Arthur B at 17:29 on 2012-04-15
You say this, but people do keep banging on about "replay value" - one of the reasons people are so upset about the endings is precisely because things pan out exactly the same regardless of whether they were perfectly Paragon or relentlessly Renegade.

And besides, they do have 45 hours of content in the above example, they just need to remember to save before the decision point. (You could even have a special autosave right before the decision point to guarantee people will be able to go back and take the other branch as and when they want to).
James D at 18:03 on 2012-04-15
I actually *sort of* see where Bioware is coming from here. Something I hate as a gamer is being "punished" for making "bad" decisions, because nine times out of ten, all you're really being punished for is making a decision that the designer doesn't agree with.

I understand why that might be annoying, but really, why *should* every decision you make have a separate but equal outcome? Decision-making certainly doesn't function that way in real life, and I definitely think there needs to be the possibility in RPGs to make wrong decisions that have irreversible inferior outcomes, because otherwise it's just 'what flavor would you like your upgrades in, sir'. If certain decisions had unknowable long-term outcomes, it'd give them a lot more weight and make the whole thing feel a lot more real. Now, it'd have to be handled well, of course. The Rachni situation you mentioned above just doesn't make sense, because if you kill the Rachni Queen there are still Reaper Rachni running around somehow (still, you deserve what you got for murdering her ;) ). Would've been neat if that enemy type hadn't shown up at all if you killed her, making the game easier but losing you some war assets (let's assume that war assets are actually worth a crap while we're at it).

They sort of do this in Mass Effect 2 during Zaeed's loyalty mission, where you can choose to save the workers at the exploding refinery rather than going after the guy he wants to kill, which ends up with the guy getting away and Zaeed flipping his shit. If you have a high enough Paragon you can still get his loyalty anyway, but it's cool that you can essentially fail the mission because of being a good person.
Dan H at 18:04 on 2012-04-15
You say this, but people do keep banging on about "replay value"


And as you point out, the way they want this replay value to work is for them to play 99% of the same content again and get a different ending. Besides which, "poor replay value" is always a secondary criticism, because a game has to be pretty good in the first place for you to even care whether you could replay it.
Arthur B at 18:44 on 2012-04-15
And as you point out, the way they want this replay value to work is for them to play 99% of the same content again and get a different ending.

Not sure where I pointed that out.

Either way, as you pointed out The Witcher 2's branching gameplay won over the hardcore RPG audience. I would suggest less committed players wouldn't bother replaying either way and don't particularly care if there's alternate content they didn't see provided that they content they did see was substantial enough to satisfy them.
Dan H at 19:23 on 2012-04-15
I understand why that might be annoying, but really, why *should* every decision you make have a separate but equal outcome?


Glib answer: Because the alternative is to reduce everything to an optimization problem.

Longer answer: I'm more than happy to have failure outcomes if the game is asking me to try to solve a puzzle or beat a fight. I don't want failure outcomes if the game is asking me to make a moral decision. A moral decision is interesting because you are trying to *decide* on the right course of action, not because you are trying to *second guess* the most effective course of action.

Decision-making certainly doesn't function that way in real life, and I definitely think there needs to be the possibility in RPGs to make wrong decisions that have irreversible inferior outcomes, because otherwise it's just 'what flavor would you like your upgrades in, sir'.


Actually I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that decision making absolutely *does* function that way in real life.

Life is not, in fact, an exercise in making optimal decisions. At any given point in your life, there is not a "right" choice that will result in your getting a "best" outcome. And since I'm not religious I don't believe that my actions are being observed by a third party that rewards or punishes me for jumping through its hoops (which is exactly what game designers do). There are definitely decisions I have made in my life which have had consequences, but I have no idea at all if the consequences of making the alternative decision would have been provably "better" or "worse".

To put it another way, "what flavour would you like your upgrades in" is an interesting choice (that's why RPGs have levelup systems in the first place). "Do you want upgrades or not" is a much less interesting choice because the answer is clearly "yes."

If certain decisions had unknowable long-term outcomes, it'd give them a lot more weight and make the whole thing feel a lot more real.


Again, I think this is a common myth. Unknowable long-term outcomes don't make things feel real, they make things feel arbitrary.

Let's get back to the Rachni queen as an example. Now your choices as they stand actually *do* have unknowable long-term consequences (spoilers for those that care). If you *saved* the Rachni queen, you can recruit her to your side and get a bonus to your War Assets, whereas if you didn't you can't. There's no way to predict this at the time, but the revelation doesn't make the initial choice seem more real, it makes it seem less real.

What this means in practice is that taking the *pragmatic* option results in a *practically worse* outcome. This is stupid and annoying, and it happens only because the game has a policy of rewarding "good" actions. Again, this is nothing like real life. This is arguably the *opposite* of real life.

A difficult choice in a video game is not one in which the right decision is non-obvious, it is one in which there *genuinely is not* a clear right choice. If one choice leads to a better solution than the other, then that choice is no longer interesting. Again Mass Effect is full of examples of situations which seem morally challenging, but actually have clear optimal solutions. For example:

- Do you save the Council or focus on defeating Sovereign? You save the Council, because you defeat Sovereign anyway.
- Do you allow the Geth to run their upgrades, letting them destroy the Quarians, or stop them, allowing the Quarians to destroy the Geth? You tell both sides to stop fighting and save everybody.
- Do you save or kill the Rachni Queen? You save her, because otherwise you get Evil Rachni Queen in the third game.

They sort of do this in Mass Effect 2 during Zaeed's loyalty mission, where you can choose to save the workers at the exploding refinery rather than going after the guy he wants to kill, which ends up with the guy getting away and Zaeed flipping his shit. If you have a high enough Paragon you can still get his loyalty anyway, but it's cool that you can essentially fail the mission because of being a good person.


But again, what you're being asked to do is decide whether you want to do what the game thinks makes you a good person, or what the game thinks will make Zaeed loyal to you. And of course on a game mechanical level, you know that Zaeed is likely to die if you don't finish his loyalty mission, so by saving the workers you get Zaeed killed *even though it makes no sense for these events to be causally related*.

The whole setup is reminiscent of that kind of tabletop roleplayer that thinks "good roleplaying" means "deliberately nerfing yourself". Unless you're balls-out Paragon, you have to choose between losing a mechanical resource (Zaeed's loyalty) or making a statement about your character you might not want to make. It isn't one complex decision, it's two no-brainer decisions superglued together.
Dan H at 19:25 on 2012-04-15
I would suggest less committed players wouldn't bother replaying either way and don't particularly care if there's alternate content they didn't see provided that they content they did see was substantial enough to satisfy them.


Precisely so. And there are far *more* of these less committed players. And they pay the same price for games as the hardcore RPG audience.
Arthur B at 19:41 on 2012-04-15
But the less committed players are also less committed to pushing the word of mouth angle. You need to get the hardcore audience excited and keep them excited because they're the ones who'll be breathlessly recommending your games to people who aren't so committed.

I mean, you can fake it for only so long before they see through you and move on to the next fashionable outfit. The best way to hold on to the core audience in the long term is to excel at your craft.
James D at 20:22 on 2012-04-15
Again, I think this is a common myth. Unknowable long-term outcomes don't make things feel real, they make things feel arbitrary.

More arbitrary than every individual moral choice having a separate but equal outcome and the player being sure of that from the get-go? Really?

The example with the Rachni is a little skewed, because Mass Effect 3 has the really annoying habit of having things turn out the exact same way whether or not the character who is supposed to be doing them dies. If you killed the Rachni Queen, *poof* here comes a placeholder to pop out Ravagers and the same shit more or less happens, but you lost 100 'readiness points' (a huge loss, I assure you). *That* is arbitrary and stupid, because the developers deus ex machina the outcome to be the same regardless of what you did, plus or minus a few points that ultimately do nothing.

What this means in practice is that taking the *pragmatic* option results in a *practically worse* outcome. This is stupid and annoying, and it happens only because the game has a policy of rewarding "good" actions. Again, this is nothing like real life. This is arguably the *opposite* of real life.

I never said Mass Effect did a particularly good job of it. I agree that pragmatic options shouldn't be punished, at least not all the time.

A difficult choice in a video game is not one in which the right decision is non-obvious, it is one in which there *genuinely is not* a clear right choice. If one choice leads to a better solution than the other, then that choice is no longer interesting.

See, I'd disagree with that. I'd argue that some of the time there *needs* to be a decision that ends up having a 'right choice' (but only later) because that adds a lot more gravitas to the decision than if you know for sure that you're never going to miss out on anything and can pretty much just choose at random. Now, they'd have to work out a reasonable explanation for *why* the choice was right (which Mass Effect generally failed at doing most of the time), but still. What I'm suggesting isn't that a consistently pragmatic character gets punished in the long run, as in Mass Effect, rather that *individual decisions* occasionally have unpredictable outcomes that may result in a less optimal situation. Over the course of an entire game or series of games, I would certainly agree that it makes sense for the cumulative decisions made by different moral paths to be more or less 'equal'.

But again, what you're being asked to do is decide whether you want to do what the game thinks makes you a good person, or what the game thinks will make Zaeed loyal to you. And of course on a game mechanical level, you know that Zaeed is likely to die if you don't finish his loyalty mission, so by saving the workers you get Zaeed killed *even though it makes no sense for these events to be causally related*.

Well, there are two separate issues here. First, the power you get from Zaeed being loyal (Inferno Grenade, which the player knows they'll be getting) and second, the increased likelihood of him surviving the suicide mission, which players don't necessarily know. I certainly didn't know the loyalty missions would actually be saving their lives later on during my first play-through. Personally, when I played, I tried to save the workers even though Zaeed said we'd probably be too late to catch the guy and (I assumed) I wouldn't get the Inferno Grenade. I only found out later that I could still get it with a high enough Paragon score (which I had). Apparently you can even leave him to die when his legs get trapped under a girder if you want. That's a moral decision, should that have some sort of equal reward for leaving him to die, like some new playable character poofs into existence to take Zaeed's place?
James D at 20:29 on 2012-04-15
Life is not, in fact, an exercise in making optimal decisions. At any given point in your life, there is not a "right" choice that will result in your getting a "best" outcome. And since I'm not religious I don't believe that my actions are being observed by a third party that rewards or punishes me for jumping through its hoops (which is exactly what game designers do). There are definitely decisions I have made in my life which have had consequences, but I have no idea at all if the consequences of making the alternative decision would have been provably "better" or "worse".

But to use your example, are you seriously going to say there isn't a single decision in your life you wish you'd made differently? Really? No regrets at all? *Some* decisions in life have ambiguous outcomes, others have pretty definite negative outcomes, others have pretty definite positive outcomes.
Arthur B at 21:21 on 2012-04-15
Unless you're balls-out Paragon, you have to choose between losing a mechanical resource (Zaeed's loyalty) or making a statement about your character you might not want to make. It isn't one complex decision, it's two no-brainer decisions superglued together.

Yeah, in retrospect the more I think about ME2 the more disappointed I am with it. The plot structure seems very artificial, and whilst the suicide mission is nice in the way it has so many different outcomes I think it fell over because too often people seemed to die in it through sheer bad luck rather than not being "loyal".

I sort of get what they were trying to go with it - people who are not loyal are not motivated, people who are not motivated aren't at the top of their game, as a result they die - but they didn't really provide enough to actually suggest that this was the case with the suicide mission deaths.

If I were God-Emperor of Bioware and I were making them redo ME2, I'd have changed the "Loyal" status to "Motivated" and provided a number of means to "Motivate" characters - loyalty, fear, greed, etc. But that'd end up being a ridiculously massive game unless you trimmed back some of the squad mates. (Though you kind of had too many to care about in any event...)
James D at 22:34 on 2012-04-15
Well, that there is really the main problem with roleplaying in Mass Effect; there are essentially only two roles to play. If you try going half-and-half, it just doesn't make sense since there is rarely a middle ground, and at least in the second game you're actively punished through being denied the highest Charm/Intimidate dialog options.
Dan H at 22:35 on 2012-04-15
More arbitrary than every individual moral choice having a separate but equal outcome and the player being sure of that from the get-go? Really?


I think "equal" is the wrong term to use here. I think a better term is "non-commensurable." A future in which a species of rapacious alien killing machines exists is not meaningfully better or worse than a future in which that species of killing machines does not exist - you can't objectively measure the relative merits of a threat eliminated against biodiversity preserved. You just have to decide *which you value more*.

It requires *active meddling* to make a moral decision have an optimal outcome. It requires that the game designers deliberately give one choice a *game mechanical* incentive over the other.

See, I'd disagree with that. I'd argue that some of the time there *needs* to be a decision that ends up having a 'right choice' (but only later) because that adds a lot more gravitas to the decision than if you know for sure that you're never going to miss out on anything and can pretty much just choose at random.


If the only thing *stopping* you choosing at random is the fear that you might miss out on content down the road, then either that is a *badly designed choice* or you are deliberately choosing not to engage with it.

Again, this is sort of my point. My character doesn't understand that they're in a video game, so I find it extraordinarily immersion-breaking to have to make decisions based on my out-of-character awareness that some decisions might lock me out of future content.

To put it another way, if my actions can have consequences which harm my gameplay experience, I wind up roleplaying a superstitious nutbag, who believes their universe to be controlled by an arbitrary and capricious God whose motivations they are forced to second-guess, because I'm making every choice not on the basis of the information that is in front of me in-character, but on the basis of whether I think it will lock me out of content later.

To put it another way, when I have had to make moral decisions in my real life, I have always asked myself "what is the right thing to do?" not "are there going to be any follow-up quests on this?"

That's a moral decision, should that have some sort of equal reward for leaving him to die, like some new playable character poofs into existence to take Zaeed's place?


That's the thing, it's *not* a moral decision. It's a resource-allocation decision, in which you are asked whether you want to make a small game-mechanical sacrifice in return for a small amount of character customization. The game isn't asking you whether it is morally right to leave Zaeed to die, it's giving you the option to say you'd rather let him die than keep him in your party.

I'd also point out that, as far as I know, getting Zaeed killed has no further gameplay consequences other than the ones you are presented with upfront. I seem to recall that he's a DLC character, and as a result he's entirely optional. And if it *did* suddenly turn out that you needed Zaeed alive to survive the Suicide Mission, that would be *really shitty game design*.

I don't mind my choices having consequences, but whatever I choose I want that choice to be supported. The moment the designers are taking it upon themselves to punish me for making choices they consider "wrong" or "stupid" they have overstepped their bounds and started trying to play my character for me.
Dan H at 22:59 on 2012-04-15

But to use your example, are you seriously going to say there isn't a single decision in your life you wish you'd made differently? Really? No regrets at all? *Some* decisions in life have ambiguous outcomes, others have pretty definite negative outcomes, others have pretty definite positive outcomes.


Some things happen in your life which are pretty definitely negative. Some things happen in your life which are pretty definitely positive. Sometimes these pretty definitely negative and pretty definitely positive things seem to be the consequence of specific decisions, but nine times out of ten you have *no fucking idea* what would have happened if you had made a different decision.

There is a massive, massive difference between looking back at a decision you have made and wondering what would have happened if it had been different, and being able to reload a savegame, take the other option, and learn that it is *provably better*.

To put it another way, you clearly believe that it is impossible for a person to have no regrets, which surely implies that you believe that there is *not* an optimal path through life, and that most of the time we have regrets because we were forced to choose between two things which were equally sucky.
James D at 05:32 on 2012-04-16
To put it another way, when I have had to make moral decisions in my real life, I have always asked myself "what is the right thing to do?" not "are there going to be any follow-up quests on this?"

Seriously though, you've only asked whether it's right or wrong and never how it might advantage or disadvantage you personally? That'd be the real-life equivalent of follow-up quests, I guess.

Anyway, I think we're going a little off the rails on this one, I'm not suggesting your character should be locked out of a whole questline because you ordered the soup instead of the salad in that restaurant 20 hours of gameplay ago. Only that some decisions might turn out to be ones that negatively affect your character's status by the end of the game, with sound reasoning behind it.

That's the thing, it's *not* a moral decision. It's a resource-allocation decision, in which you are asked whether you want to make a small game-mechanical sacrifice in return for a small amount of character customization. The game isn't asking you whether it is morally right to leave Zaeed to die, it's giving you the option to say you'd rather let him die than keep him in your party.

But it is a moral decision, relating to a resource-allocation decision. You're gearing up for a tough fight against the Collectors and need all the resources you can get; are you willing to do bad things (help Zaeed kill some guy you've never heard of and get a bunch of innocents killed in the process) to ensure you have the best possible odds of defeating the Collectors, or do you draw a moral line somewhere and refuse to cross it? To be perfectly honest I felt a little ripped off that I *did* get Zaeed's loyalty despite failing his mission. It kind of made the whole thing feel pointless, considering the outcome was the same either way.

I don't mind my choices having consequences, but whatever I choose I want that choice to be supported. The moment the designers are taking it upon themselves to punish me for making choices they consider "wrong" or "stupid" they have overstepped their bounds and started trying to play my character for me.

Sure, no argument here. If they're going to give you a variety of roles to play, it'd be stupid if they disproportionately advantaged/disadvantaged them based on their own morality. My point is just that I think some decisions should be weighted one way or the other (but all add up to be more or less equal by the end if you play a role consistently). Sure, this might drive some people to try to second-guess every decision, but in honesty...are these games hard enough where the rewards are really that necessary to win? Or is the feeling of getting a 'game cookie' really that important to playing?

To put it another way, you clearly believe that it is impossible for a person to have no regrets, which surely implies that you believe that there is *not* an optimal path through life, and that most of the time we have regrets because we were forced to choose between two things which were equally sucky.

I guess I just don't understand what sort of point you're trying to make. I'm not suggesting game designers pop out of your computer the instant you make a decision and either shower you with gifts or ridicule you mercilessly depending on whether or not you made a "good" decision. There may be no single 'optimal' path through life, but there certainly are *some* moral decisions I've made that definitely turned out well or poorly, as far as my own personal benefit was concerned.

To use a cheap example, imagine you find a wallet with cash in it. The owner's address is inside. You have three basic options: return the wallet with everything, return the wallet but pocket the cash, or pocket the cash and not bother to return the wallet. The first option is obviously the 'good' option, but you don't get the money. The second one is somewhat good, but you have to be able to lie well enough to make it seem as if the money was gone when you found it. If you don't lie well enough, the guy calls the cops and accuses you of being the thief, thus leaving you worse off than if you'd never found the wallet. The third is the worst morally, but you get the cash and there's no chance of being caught. Now, you might return the wallet in the hopes of getting a reward of some sort, but unless you're metagaming, you don't have any real reason to *expect* a reward. I've been in that same situation in real life and gotten nothing but thanks.

If it ended there in the game, it might be rather pointless, but imagine perhaps that if you return the wallet with the cash (or successfully lie about the cash being gone when you found it) then the guy gives you a quest of some sort. If you just pocket the cash and fail at lying, or don't bother to return the wallet at all, you lock yourself out of game content in return for money. That seems like a pretty reasonable scenario to me, even if the reward from the quest is measurably greater or lesser than the cash.
http://jmkmagnum.blogspot.com/ at 05:54 on 2012-04-16
It seems like a HUGE stretch to claim that "Will this benefit me personally?" is similar to "Will this lock me out of future game content?", because the player analysis of what game content is worth bypassing or seeing is so vastly different from the human or player-character analysis of what is actually pragamatic or personally beneficial. From a "Will this lock me out of content?" perspective, you could justify letting the Rachni live and deliberately angling toward provoking a conflict between it and the rest of the galaxy on the suspicion that such actions would lead to reasonably interesting new content. This decision makes no sense for Shepard on any in-character level unless you think that Shepard is an absolute misanthropist, a reading which is not remotely supported by the text.
James D at 06:20 on 2012-04-16
Not exactly, because in general more game content does benefit the player personally, considering it's not really possible to get through a series of quests and end up worse than you were before. You always accumulate items, experience, etc. Especially in the Mass Effect series, where more game content = more resources to fight the Collectors and Reapers, so more game content is absolutely personally and generally beneficial.
Dan H at 21:59 on 2012-04-17
Sorry, been away from the internets a while.


Seriously though, you've only asked whether it's right or wrong and never how it might advantage or disadvantage you personally? That'd be the real-life equivalent of follow-up quests, I guess.


As JKMagnum points out, that *isn't* the equivalent of follow-up quests. Follow-up quests are a reward on a metagame level. Since I am a real person and not a video game character, I cannot receive metagame rewards.

JKMagnum's example is an extremely apposite one. It is extremely reasonable for a player in Mass Effect to spare the Rachni Queen on the grounds that they *want* her to go berzerk and kill everybody so that they can rack up experience points shooting Rachni. This makes no sense in character unless you play Shepherd as a sociopath (which is hard to justify in-text, although "she just pretends to be sane" is a remarkably effective cover). On a less psychotic level, it's possible for the player to choose to spare the Rachni Queen on the basis that they (correctly) expect her to appear in future content, and (correctly) assume that said content is more interesting if the Rachni Queen is spared. Neither of these reasons make any sense in-character.

To take another example (also from Bioware), when the player defeats Zhevran Dudecorset in the original Dragon Age, they have the option to kill him instead of letting him join the party. Killing him materially benefits the player character by eliminating a potential threat to their life and safety, but it harms the player by denying them access to game content.

I have certainly made decisions on the basis of whether they benefit me personally. I have never made them on the basis of whether they might make my life more interesting to a hypothetical outside observer who I believe to control my actions.

But it is a moral decision, relating to a resource-allocation decision. You're gearing up for a tough fight against the Collectors and need all the resources you can get; are you willing to do bad things (help Zaeed kill some guy you've never heard of and get a bunch of innocents killed in the process) to ensure you have the best possible odds of defeating the Collectors, or do you draw a moral line somewhere and refuse to cross it?


That would only be true if you had a sincere (in *or* out of character) reason to believe that helping Zaeed was a necessary precondition for defeating the Reapers, and as far as I know you don't (because after all, he's *one guy*). You aren't seriously being asked where your moral lines are - you know that you'll beat the Collectors anyway so it's purely a character customization decision: do you want to be Renegade or Paragon?

Essentially the way I see it there are three kinds of decisions you can make in a game:

- Optimization Decisions: Decisions where your goal is to maximize your game-mechanical benefit. This includes things like deciding where to spend points when you level up your character, or deciding what upgrades to buy with your gold.
- Character Customization Decisions: Decisions where your goal is to *make a statement about your character*. The vast majority of good/evil decisions fall in this category. These are not actually "moral" decisions, in that you are not being asked to engage with the question on a moral level.
- Actual Moral Decisions: These are extraordinarily rare, and usually only crop up at all as a result of values dissonance (that is, when the values of the game designers are so out of whack that their good option is just as bad as their evil option). An Actual Moral Decision is one in which there is *not* a clear "good" or "bad" thing to do.

I would suggest further that it is *flat out bad game design* for a character customization or actual moral decision to carry significant game mechanical or (especially) content-access effects. Attaching mechanical bonuses and penalties to character customization decisions punishes the character for their roleplaying decisions, which is just a dick move. Attaching game mechanical bonuses and penalties to moral decisions passes an implicit moral judgement, which removes the whole purpose of the moral decision in the first place.

To use a cheap example, imagine you find a wallet with cash in it. The owner's address is inside. You have three basic options: return the wallet with everything, return the wallet but pocket the cash, or pocket the cash and not bother to return the wallet.


Again, that is *not* a moral decision, that is a character-customization decision. As you yourself observe, the right thing to do is to return the wallet, and that's the end of it. Your choice is not "what is the right thing to do?" but "what sort of character do I wish to play?"


If it ended there in the game, it might be rather pointless, but imagine perhaps that if you return the wallet with the cash (or successfully lie about the cash being gone when you found it) then the guy gives you a quest of some sort. If you just pocket the cash and fail at lying, or don't bother to return the wallet at all, you lock yourself out of game content in return for money. That seems like a pretty reasonable scenario to me, even if the reward from the quest is measurably greater or lesser than the cash.


And *that's* the point where you ruin an otherwise perfectly good character-customization decision by arbitrarily rewarding one decision above the other.

Now instead of asking myself "am I the sort of person who returns a lost wallet" I have to ask myself "am I willing to experience less game content in order to roleplay the sort of person who does not return a lost wallet."

If it's a one-off, it isn't very much of an issue, but it's the perfect example of why evil options in video games almost always suck. To put it another way, there's a reason why I only ever try to do an evil playthrough on a second or third run of a game - you have to do yourself out of so much content that it's never worth it the first time around.

And yes you're sort-of right that you could just set things up to balance out in the long run, but that assumes that players won't just do whatever quests are in front of them, and they usually do. So if you try to just make things "balance out" all you do is penalize good and evil characters relative to opportunistic characters (or, more likely, penalize evil characters a lot and purely good characters a little relative to characters who are mostly good and a little bit evil).
Dan H at 22:17 on 2012-04-17
Ah, sorry again, missed this follow-up.

Not exactly, because in general more game content does benefit the player personally, considering it's not really possible to get through a series of quests and end up worse than you were before. You always accumulate items, experience, etc. Especially in the Mass Effect series, where more game content = more resources to fight the Collectors and Reapers, so more game content is absolutely personally and generally beneficial.


You seem to be confusing the *player* with the player *character*.

It is beneficial for the *player* to unlock more quests, more XP, more loot and so on. It is only marginally beneficial for the *character*. The character does not, after all, understand that they live in an RPG universe where shooting monsters leads to their being rewarded with game mechanical power. It is extremely immersion breaking to - for example - have your megalomaniac Necromancer offering to rescue kittens from trees as part of their quest for arcane knowledge.
Arthur B at 22:23 on 2012-04-17
To take another example (also from Bioware), when the player defeats Zhevran Dudecorset in the original Dragon Age, they have the option to kill him instead of letting him join the party. Killing him materially benefits the player character by eliminating a potential threat to their life and safety, but it harms the player by denying them access to game content.

Although I did take great pleasure in killing him because even in that brief conversation I found him profoundly irritating, I do think that particular exchange is quite irksome. At the point in time where you have to make the decision Dudecorset has given you every reason to mistrust him (the sum of your interactions with him literally consist of him trying to kill you in an ambush and failing) and no really compelling in-character reason to trust him. Unless you were going out of your way to play an especially merciful Warden there's no IC reason to spare him.

At the end of the day in my case I killed him because I wasn't really invested in recruiting him and I didn't feel the metagame rewards were worth spoiling the way I was playing my Warden. (I honestly don't think "trying to kill me is a death sentence" is a particularly outrageous moral code for a medieval warrior-wizard.) But it would have been a real pain if I had been invested in recruiting him because damn it, it just feels wrong to let someone stand up after they've tried to hack me down.
Arthur B at 22:27 on 2012-04-17
It is extremely immersion breaking to - for example - have your megalomaniac Necromancer offering to rescue kittens from trees as part of their quest for arcane knowledge.

Incidentally, I am preparing a Kickstarter for Kittenmancer, the CRPG where the player character is a megalomaniac necromancer who derives their occult powers from cute kittens. Master the delicate balance between leading your undead armies in a wave of conquest and playing with your kitten menagerie in order to recharge your powers! Recruit characters to your cause by giving them kittens! Get heals in combat by having kittens lick your wounds! Train kittens as agents of evil and send them out to do your bidding! ("I found you a One Ring but I eated it...")
Arthur B at 19:22 on 2012-06-22
Extended Cut comes out next week.

I can't see how we can expect very much from it given how quickly they've been able to churn it out.
Arthur B at 19:35 on 2012-06-22
Oh, and the audio interview is outrageously smug. They're basically talking about the Extended Cut is all about making the ending even better for people who like it the way it is as opposed to offering even a modest alternative for people who consider it to be complete garbage.

I mean, they wheel out the old "can't please all the people all the time" argument, which is true enough, but if they don't realise that adding an optional alternative which would allow people who seriously hated it to side-step the whole starchild thing would make a very large chunk of the community happy, they're being willfully ignorant about it.
Arthur B at 12:14 on 2012-06-26
Extended cut is out.

There's a new ending option: you can choose to just shoot the Starchild. Then the Starchild is all "SO BE IT" in a spooky voice and you get an implied bad ending - there's apparently a bit with a Liara VI addressing some people in a future cycle saying "the Crucible failed, everybody's dead Dave", and the far-future grandparent-talking-to-child scene shows Asari instead of humans so the implication is that although the Reapers were ultimately stopped, humanity went extinct and at least one more cycle happened before the Reapers were stopped.

People are already interpreting this as a passive-aggressive whine by the writers about people rejecting their glorious, wonderful endings.
Arthur B at 12:55 on 2012-06-26
OK, gleaning posts on places about people's EC playthroughs, here's the bits of the article which actually came true:

JOKER is at the helm of the Normandy, franticly punching at the controls while panicked voices shout over the intercom. Suddenly GARRUS and LIARA burst in.


GARRUS: It's no good! We have to retreat. Get to the Mass Relay.

JOKER: Garrus? I thought you were in London with Shepherd?


GARRUS looks blank.


Apparently, a squadmate - usually your LI - tells Joker it's time to leave and he obeys. There still seems to be no explanation of how your squadmates warped back to the Normandy.

EDI (VO): Although of course, even if something were to happen to the Mass Relays, it is important to remember that FTL technology does exist, and my extremely fast AI calculations predict that the overall impact on the galactic economy of the loss of the Mass Relay system would be bearable, and not lead to widespread panic, mass starvation, or the economic collapse of known space.

Apparently some of the animations are tweaked to make it clear that the Mass Relays aren't breaking up, and the post-game narration establishes that they are still operational, so there's no galactic collapse (unless you take the "reject" option). Even the Citadel is still intact!

GARRUS: Well here we are. At the end of a truly epic story.

JOKER: Yeah. It seems a shame that Shepherd is almost certainly dead.

They are not actually stuck on the planet - they fix the ship and fly off. Then there is a scene where they put Shepherd's name on the Normandy memorial wall. If you have really high EMS, you still get the "breathe" ending indicating that Shepard is still alive, but apparently there's no further exploration of that. Hoping for a reunion scene? Doesn't happen.


tl;dr summary: They seem to have added the absolute minimum possible to shut down all the "but won't they all die/starve/collapse into warfare and bloodshed" interpretations of the endings. That's what their clarification amounted to. Oh, and there's an easter egg "fuck you" to people who don't want to play along with the Catalyst. So it's more or less exactly like Dan predicted except with extra childishness.
Dan H at 15:15 on 2012-06-26
Wow, that does seem unbelievably petty.
Arthur B at 15:34 on 2012-06-26
I found a YouTube spoiler video where
someone did get the "screw you, starchild" ending simply by talking to it which seemed a little more palatable, in that you do get to give just one last awesome speech. But the fact that you then apparently die impotently along with everyone else you ever loved with your only hope being that a future cycle will sort out the problem does kind of put across the idea that supporting personal freedom and choice is simply abdicating your responsibility as Great Leader for guiding the destiny of the galaxy.

Oh, and apparently in the Control Ending you get a scene of a glowy Shepherd in a glowy void going "I AM SPESS JEZZUZ NOW, I WILL USE THE REAPERZ TO PROTECT THE GALAXY AND MY FRIENDZ".

Correction, by the way: apparently your squadmates don't teleport any more. According to forum posts it seems that the Normandy lands, picks them up, gives Shepard a moment to say goodbye to their LI, and leaves, whilst Harbinger does... nothing, despite the Normandy being right there in front of its face.
Dan H at 17:01 on 2012-06-26
Hmm...

On the one hand, it's nice that they differentiate the endings a bit more, on the other hand, the voiceovers have a kind of Harrison-Ford-in-the-Blade-Runner-cinematic-release thing going on. And it really does seem that they thought the problem was people not understanding the basic mechanics of what happens, rather than just thinking the whole thing made *no fucking sense* (indeed it now arguably makes *less* sense - the new Synthesis ending in particular just looks even more stupidtastic, with all the glowing eyes and the Reapers suddenly being friendly for no clear reason).

Basically it seems like they decided the problem was that the endings were too "ambiguous" when in fact the endings just *made no sense*.
Arthur B at 17:08 on 2012-06-26
Also, note that the Refusal ending is only a fraction of the length of the other ones, which only underscores the point that they're really, really pissy about the fact that they're giving you the option to defy the Starchild at all and aren't willing to be at all supportive of the decision. I know a long, drawn-out voiceover describing how one by one all the people you met and all the cultures you encountered crumbled during a long, agonising, drawn-out defeat against the Reapers, but it'd at least offer them more dignity than killing them in a fade-to-black.
James D at 17:16 on 2012-06-26
Well the problem is that the whole idea of the Starchild is just totally fucking stupid to begin with. Fixing the ending would've meant just taking it out altogether and making up something completely different.
Well, I'm definitely going to be stuck picking either Refusal or Destroy. Control and Synthesis are both too creepy for me; though with Synthesis at least, I don't think the writers get how creepy that ending came off as since they make it sound the most hopeful.

Though I really agree that the writers were passive aggressive about this. Many people didn't like the Starchild. Get over it, Bioware.
Wardog at 19:55 on 2012-06-26
Ah yes, three exciting choices only marginally better contextualised than before: genocide, rape or megalomania.

Thanks Bioware.
Arthur B at 20:14 on 2012-06-26
But at least now we fully understand that it is genocide, rape or megalomania. And we have the chance to say "I would literally rather kill myself and let all my loved ones die in a fire than play along with this farce".

If you want a picture of the future, imagine Bioware cranking out shitty games - forever.
Arthur B at 22:11 on 2012-06-26
Also re: Synthesis: Does anyone else think that Bioware are trying real hard to push it as the absolute best Utopian option for the galaxy? Because the basic "people would get on if only we utterly erased the differences between them" premise is kind of awful. It's like they read The Lathe of Heaven and decided the evil therapist in that got a raw deal.
Arthur: I actually do think that Bioware believes that Synthesis is the best outcome. I feel like the ending narration seems more hopeful over that ending than any of the others. Also, it was the special ending that you could only get by having a high enough EMS, whereas if you didn't have enough you could only choose Control or Destroy. The Starchild also really pushes for Shepard to take this ending.

Also, going back to the interviews pre-realease, Casey Hudson and the others were so insistent that people would be able to get the "optimal" ending on just single-player; it is possible to get a high enough EMS on single player alone to get the Synthesis ending.
Dan H at 23:11 on 2012-06-26
The thing that confuses me most about the Synthesis ending is the fact that it begins and ends with EDI proudly declaring "I am alive" despite the fact that her entire arc over the past two games had revolved around making the argument that she *was already* alive in every meaningful sense.
Bjoern at 23:38 on 2012-06-26
I love the scene where they show glowingly green DNA strands as if to say: See, this isn't magic! It's science!

They've handwaved or slightly explained some of the worst logic holes but my decisions still seem to be irrelevant and the entire premise of the Star Child is so inherently flawed that there was no fixing it unless they decided to get rid of it. At least they managed to crank out a barely coherent ending within the span of three months. Which should have been part of the initial release.
Shimmin at 08:00 on 2012-06-27
Because the basic "people would get on if only we utterly erased the differences between them" premise is kind of awful.

This argument has always annoyed me, and I see it a lot because it's one of the go-to arguments for people who think we should stop supporting minority languages (which at times means "anything less widely-spoken than French"), or even actively try to eliminate them. It's complete nonsense, let alone the privileged assumptions it entails.
Dan H at 09:59 on 2012-06-27
This argument has always annoyed me, and I see it a lot because it's one of the go-to arguments for people who think we should stop supporting minority languages


On the subject of which, did you hear about the fucked up stuff in Cornwall when the Olympic flame went past. Apparently they painted out all the Cornish Language road signs because they were a "nationalist symbol" and physically restrained one of the flame-carriers who was trying to carry a Cornish flag.
Arthur B at 00:06 on 2012-06-28
Oh wow, this gets better. That new "reject the Starchild's options and choose death over three equally abhorrent extremes" ending? Not only is it much shorter than the others, apparently you don't even get a "game completed" achievement out of it. This sounds like a small thing except you do get such an achievement for the other three items, so it's Bioware effectively saying "You fucked up, this is a glorified game over screen and not a real ending. Go back and do it again."

Also, apparently someone from Bioware tweeted that in the next cycle the Reapers are defeated by people rebuilding the Crucible and using it - presumably picking one of the three choices. So it's also effectively saying "If you aren't a good player who does what you are told we will take the Crucible away and give it to someone who uses it as intended".

So amazingly petty.

Oh, and apparently in the Synthesis ending dead characters can come back to reunite with their loved ones.
James D at 01:10 on 2012-06-28
Haha wow, I expected some weaselly hand-wavy thing, but this is basically just them condescendingly explaining why everyone who didn't like the starchild and thought the endings were bad didn't think about them hard enough.
Shimmin at 07:08 on 2012-06-28
On the subject of which, did you hear about the fucked up stuff in Cornwall when the Olympic flame went past.

I hadn't until now, but I am deeply ticked off about it and feel the urge to punch someone.
Shimmin at 07:12 on 2012-06-28
Unfortunately it's just obfuscated enough that there's not really anyone specific to harangue about it, since they'll just claim the sign thing was a coincidence (as they already are) and the flag thing is a 'slippery slope' to other, more objectionable flags.
Wardog at 11:21 on 2012-06-28
Like a skull and crossbones...? :D
Dan H at 12:36 on 2012-06-28
Presumably they mean flags with overtly offensive or racist connotations.

Because we couldn't have any flags visible during the games that are associated with any overtly racist political organisations.
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