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What value does humanity bring to galactic civilization?
February 21, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Why Mass Effect is the most important science fiction universe of our generation (Contains SPOILERS for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2)
posted by BitterOldPunk (193 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
"if one plays as a female Shepard"

What do they mean, "if"?
posted by demiurge at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2012 [24 favorites]


Shame the combat is zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:19 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


...the love-child of Picard [and] Skywalker...

This is one of those "irresistable force vs immovable object" things, isn't it?
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on February 21, 2012


"It’s one of the most important pieces of science fiction narrative of our generation."

I suppose starting with a statement like that is a great way to get page hits and rile people up everywhere. Who cares if it's bound to be crushed under the weight of reality.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:22 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This guy has apparently never read a book.
posted by theodolite at 8:23 AM on February 21, 2012 [33 favorites]


I've always thought of Mass Effect like a dumb shooter but for the first time I'm really interested in playing it. Thanks, BitterOldPunk.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:30 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Run around the Citadel and you’ll be damned if you find more than two or three humans out of hundreds of citizens milling about, shopkeepers hocking their wares, and government officials eyeing you suspiciously.

I get what the author is trying to say here, but it falls kind of flat when you realise most of those aliens are still either bipedal, humanoid in shape (2 arms, 2 legs/head on top of shoulders) or have a fantastic rack for no particular reason.

Yeah, come back to me when Bioware finally give us a Blasto DLC mission.
posted by fight or flight at 8:31 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This guy apparently has never played Portal. Or Half-Life.

But Mass Effect did well at making sexy characters. I'll give them that.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:33 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]



I get what the author is trying to say here, but it falls kind of flat when you realise most of those aliens are still either bipedal, humanoid in shape (2 arms, 2 legs/head on top of shoulders) or have a fantastic rack for no particular reason.


The vastness of the universe may be empty, cruel and inevitably futile, but at least it has great tits.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:36 AM on February 21, 2012 [19 favorites]


This guy apparently has never played Portal. Or Half-Life.

Or Deus Ex. Or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Or F.E.A.R. or Wing Commander, or Mechwarrior, or hell, even Elite.

Christ. There are tons of games with some really interesting stories, or even adaptations and interpretations of existing stories. Mass Effect was good, great even, but the most important ?

Nah.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:39 AM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


From the article:
The reason is this: Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.
He might not be wrong. And those saying that the author "apparently has never played [x]" are missing that point. I haven't seen a single example listed so far that does what he says Mass Effect is doing, or any significant argument that it isn't doing what he says it's doing.
posted by valkyryn at 8:39 AM on February 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Hmm. Maybe I should give it another try, but ME1 bored me out of playing it pretty early on, and TBH it's universe sounds as much of a generic Sci-Fi mishmash as, say, Halo.

Something that may horrify people here: I suspect the most culturally significant Sci-Fi universe of todays youth will turn out to be the Star Wars prequel one, mainly on the strength of Clone Wars and spinoff.
posted by Artw at 8:40 AM on February 21, 2012


Or, in other words, the people saying that the author apparently hasn't played/read other sci-fi franchises apparently haven't RTFA.
posted by valkyryn at 8:40 AM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mass Effect is a dumb shooter. The whole point of the game is cruising around the galaxy being Captain Spacedick to all sorts of annoying aliens.

The plot and universe serve the game well, but don't fool yourself into thinking it's anything more than space opera. Nearly all of the aliens (at least, all of the aliens that aren't Designated Bad Guys) are strictly bipedal, English-speaking, Westernized caricatures. There is no culture shock. Hell, there's barely even any culture -- the aliens each have their own personality tic (Krogans are aggressive, Taurians are badasses, Salarians are kind of nerdy, Ansari are mysterious, etc.) and aside from that they act human. Even the Quarians, the most mysterious 'friendly' race, play human 95% of the time.

Fun game with a rich setting? Sure. Exploration of what a human-alien alliance would actually be like? Not even trying.
posted by neckro23 at 8:44 AM on February 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


I love Mass Effect (even with its raftloads of problems) but the guy is overstating it a bit. For one thing, it turns out that humanity pretty much is special, at least up to the end of Mass Effect 2. Shepard is special, of course, but it turns out too that humans overall are targeted more by the Big Bads than other species. Don't want to get too much into spoiler territory here.

Or Deus Ex. Or S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Or F.E.A.R. or Wing Commander, or Mechwarrior, or hell, even Elite.

Deus Ex and Wing Commander, I might give you. Maybe even Mechwarrior. But who outside the hardcore gaming audience know about STALKER or FEAR or Elite?
posted by kmz at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2012


valkyryn: “I haven't seen a single example listed so far that does what he says Mass Effect is doing, or any significant argument that it isn't doing what he says it's doing.”

But that's really not what Mass Effect is doing. I watched two people play through the entire Mass Effect 2 separately, at least, and that is not what I got out of it. It was interesting, but... well, the author is more than a little vague about what this means.

Mass Effect really plays on the same moral tropes as any other "blockbuster franchise." I mean, they all appeal to some form of moral thinking – which is really all that "a particular kind of intelligence" means.

As others have said, he's overstating his case out of love for the game. It's fine that he loves it, but he doesn't need to discount all the other fantastic science fiction out there in the world.
posted by koeselitz at 8:46 AM on February 21, 2012


"What is humanity's role in the universe?" is a question that can only really be answered after we meet the neighbors. I'm rather fond of John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe, where humanity in space looks to other species like a cross between the most cynical aspects of the British Empire and the Klingons.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:48 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, in other words, the people saying that the author apparently hasn't played/read other sci-fi franchises apparently haven't RTFA.

Fair enough, I only read half of it, due to the article reading like some of the crap I churned out for B's in college when I was half drunk and half hungover on a Sunday afternoon.

But anyone championing a single game or franchise as being The. Most. Important. Game. Ever. is going to get tagged as a fanboy. Based on what I choked my way through, it seems pretty justified.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:48 AM on February 21, 2012


Is ME2 so much better than ME1 that it would be worth picking up? I finished ME1 but a week later could only recall bits of it - endlessly roaming planets in a rover, fighting through a dozen buildings with identical layouts, and

SPOILER




letting the annoying skinny guy sacrifice himself.

/SPOILER

A lot of folks rave about ME2 but they raved about ME1 as well and it just didn't move me.
posted by Blue Meanie at 8:50 AM on February 21, 2012


Not being a jaded gamer, in fact never having played a video game of any kind, I lack the impulse to dump on this for omitting Your Favorite Game, so I will join Foci for Analysis in thanking BitterOldPunk for a thought-provoking post that would make me want to play Mass Effect if I did such things.
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I tried to play the first Mass Effect and just couldn't get into it. To me the "mass effect" was just another word for magic and it lost me.

I did like how the dialog worked. You picked a sentiment and the words approximated it rather than you picking the exact script.
posted by zzazazz at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2012


Is ME2 so much better than ME1 that it would be worth picking up? I finished ME1 but a week later could only recall bits of it - endlessly roaming planets in a rover, fighting through a dozen buildings with identical layouts

If those are your complaints about ME1, they're both gone completely from ME2. Also there's no stupid, pointless, cluttered inventory system anymore. There's some other new stuff that's sort of a mixed bag, but overall I'd say it's a big improvement over the first one.
posted by Copronymus at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


valkyryn:“I haven't seen a single example listed so far that does what he says Mass Effect is doing, or any significant argument that it isn't doing what he says it's doing.”

I appreciate you fighting the good fight, but the author is the one making the extraordinary claim. The Mass Effect universe is only exceptional in how generic it is, a dull mish mash of standard central casting Sci Fi story lines. The "moral choices" have been done in big games before (in fact, far better by the same company).

I read the article, I appreciate that the author can put so much thought into the experience, but I think it's all his own projection.

You want a game which "to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity"? I've got one for you: Dark Souls. It's also a good video game (as opposed to ME which is a mediocre shooter), an inspired original world, and it doesn't it all without interminable dialog trees. And it will make you feel oh so insignificant, promise.
posted by malphigian at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Part of what I like about books as a medium is that they rely less on constant immersive violence and gratuitous sexiness.

DETECTIVE MUNCH: "There is no such thing as gratuitous sex. Gratuitous violence, yes... Sex cannot and will not ever be gratuitous."
posted by Rangeboy at 8:54 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


A lot of folks rave about ME2 but they raved about ME1 as well and it just didn't move me.

There was a lot of chaff in ME1, but if the endgame sequence (with Saren's sacrifice) didn't do anything for you then the franchise probably isn't for you.
posted by kmz at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2012


Eek, so many typos, apologies for that, hit post too early.
posted by malphigian at 8:55 AM on February 21, 2012


There is no culture shock. Hell, there's barely even any culture -- the aliens each have their own personality tic (Krogans are aggressive, Taurians are badasses, Salarians are kind of nerdy, Ansari are mysterious, etc.)

That's Turians and Asari - you might be thinking of Taurens and Ansari

Quarians are a little more nuanced - they're nomadic, a little Islamic, somewhat posthuman. Turians are badass, but some are also rigid and bureaucratic, and others are shopkeepers or white-collar workers. Salarians are a little nerdy, but also have merciless special ops soldiers. Some Ansari are foul-mouthed Bea Arthur bartenders, others are space hippies, a depressing number are exotic dancers. And then there are Hanar, Drell, Elcor... the Mass Effect universe is space opera, sure. It's a little bit Lensman, a little bit Ringworld a little bit Battlestar Galactica, quite a lot Babylon 5 - but does that disqualify it from being good or interesting?

Blue Meanie: Is ME2 so much better than ME1 that it would be worth picking up?

The Space SUV exploration is gone completely - although it has been replaced by another mind-numbing minigame based around prospecting for minerals, which is largely optional but useful for getting upgrades. The combat has been simplified and individual fights tend to involve less attrition, and the inventory management has been removed. I kind of liked all the things they took out, but it's certainly a smoother experience for it. But I think a lot depends on how you feel about the universe and the characterization.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:58 AM on February 21, 2012


I was also going to bring up Dark Souls as a far superior and visceral way of confronting the Absolute Cosmic Horror Of Our Insignificance.
posted by naju at 8:59 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite bits of Mass Effect 2: "Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space"
posted by exogenous at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Though we haven't even experienced the full intent and scope of the Mass Effect series yet. All the pieces are in place for Mass Effect 3 to bring it all home in a truly stunning, epic, moving finale.
posted by naju at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2012


Deus Ex and Wing Commander, I might give you. Maybe even Mechwarrior. But who outside the hardcore gaming audience know about STALKER or FEAR or Elite?

Well, right, sure. But if you're going to make a statement along the lines of "Mass effect is the most important Sci-Fi game out there" it's useful to be at least familiar with competing works in the genre.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:03 AM on February 21, 2012


Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.

God, as always, is DLC.
posted by srboisvert at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rock Paper Shotgun:
A few things bug me more than pompous types pissing on people’s enthusiasm for something, but this morning that really bugs me. I noticed a few people dismissing this gigantic essay on the Mass Effect universe, and it made me sad. I can, of course, understand why they’d sneer. It’s basically fan writing, it’s a bit clumsy, it’s trying to read deeper meaning into a commercial fiction. But the author cares, and has poured energy into thinking about something he enjoys. He’s committed to his idea and produced a tonne of words, a bunch of interesting observations, and some comments on what Mass Effect might mean the people who play it. Yeah, games can mean something even if that meaning is much deeper than the message of your average a Star Trek episode. Mass Effect is a huge slab of pop culture, and that’s worth considering. Hell, I generally shrug in the face of Bioware, and the central thesis here is a bit depressing if it’s true, but I’d rather read ten-thousand reams of this stuff than another Twitter comment trying to point out how something a guy wrote is over-analysing, pretentious, or however else you’d like to describe something in order to dismiss a writer’s enthusiasm.
posted by Artw at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2012 [24 favorites]


"human beings are delusional about their importance in the grand scheme of things." happens to be the kind of defeatist death-cultism that I hate about the message from a lot of environmental activists too. Do people really get motivated by that sort of message?

I suppose I shouldn't still be getting surprised about people my age discovering nihilist transhumanism but sadly I do :(
posted by public at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mass Effect has on of the best female protagonists in any medium, because when you play as a female, the game just treats you like a person. This article describes it better than I can:

When Brown Lady Shepard is rude, or curt, or dismissive, the reactions she receives from others are not to her gender or her race, but to her words. Why? Because the character was written with the expectation that most people will play it as a white dude ... In Mass Effect, no matter what my Shepard says or does, not only is the dialogue the same as it would be for the cultural “default”, but the reaction from the other non-player characters is the same ... Brown Lady Shepard waves her intimidation up in a dude’s face and he backs the fuck down, just like he would if she were a hyper-privileged white guy. My Lady Shepard faces no additional pressure to prove herself because of her background; if she is dismissed, it’s on the basis of her assertions, and not because she’s a queer woman of color from a poor socioeconomic background — even though that’s exactly what she is.

... No one ever suggests that Shepard is unhappy or excessively driven because she has not known the miracle of child-rearing ... no one tries to protect Shepard from the violence, ... When other aliens accuse her of being overemotional, it’s framed as a human failing, not a female one, and when they call her crazy, it’s because she is actually doing some mad shit, and not because she’s just some silly unbalanced female.

... We don’t need Lady Shepard to verbally eviscerate a racist or punch an ass-grabber in the face to know she’s tough. We know she’s tough by her non-explicitly-gendered actions —


(It also doesn't hurt that Jennifer Hale is an excellent voice actor.)

The sad part of the Mass Effect games is that this is almost entirely a side-effect of budget limitations. If Bioware had the time and energy to write separate dialogue paths for male and female protagonists, they almost certainly would've made the female character more of a gendered stereotype, emphasizing the ways she differs from the male default because she's a girl.
posted by straight at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


[A couple comments removed, please do not pull the "yes but what about ONLY TANGENTIALLY-RELATED CONTENTIOUS TOPIC X" thing in threads, thank you.]
posted by cortex at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons I really love Mass Effect is how many scifi elements it manages to contain within one franchise. You usually get one or two main themes in a series, Mass Effect manages to touch on quite a few. You're also put in charge of some pretty difficult ethical situations, since due to the nature of the game's dialogue choices feature, -you- have to make the hard decisions. Allow the rachni queen to live? Destroy the genophage data? Rewrite the geth? Disclose Tali's father's experiments? Let your team mate kill someone out of a desire for vengeance? In a book or movie, you'd just watch the main character rationalizing their decision to others. This active instead of passive involvement is one of the things I really like about it.

What do they mean, "if"?

The game allows you to play as a male or female shepard. Your facial features and skin tone are also customizable.

Is ME2 so much better than ME1 that it would be worth picking up?

The combat is a lot better. The planet roving in the eternally despised mako is gone, luckily. I think it plays better than ME1 at least in combat mechanics. Some people like it more, some people like it less. If you hate the Mako you might like ME2 more, haha. Plotline wise, I feel that ME1 is a little stronger, but I thought the character development in ME2 was much better. If you think you will hate the planet mining minigame in ME2, I recommend playing it on pc, since you can use a save game editor to give yourself all the minerals you will ever need without bothering with the probing. (although I still recommend probing Uranus, at least once. :) )


I've always thought of Mass Effect like a dumb shooter but for the first time I'm really interested in playing it.


For what it's worth, I tend to really hate dumb shooting games, but I really love Mass Effect. It definitely has a lot of rpg elements to it. (talking to people, exploring, etc.) The way I got into it last month was through stumbling across a mass effect wiki when reading some mostly unrelated article on aliens in scifi, and I ended up spending hours reading transcriptions of the in-game codex entries. It was at that point that I realized I should probably try the game. Now here I am, 100 hours of gameplay later...

It's not perfect. There are real world budget constraints and so on. But it is very, very good. I enjoyed it a lot, anyway.

As for most important--I don't know about that, but I felt like the article elucidated many of the reasons why I like the game as much as I do.
posted by Estraven at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obviously I'm biased, but I still think the ME2 Launch Trailer is one of the best of all time, OF ALL TIME! I love the fanmade FemShep version too.

The Two Steps From Hell song is a big part of that, and Bioware has wisely been keeping up that association in the runup to ME3: Reinstated, the official FemShep trailer for ME3, and Take Back Earth, the cinematic trailer. I'm assuming there's still a Launch trailer coming.

Clint Mansell is also going to be doing at least a portion of the music for ME3, which I'm looking forward to quite a bit as well. The bits we've heard thus far are fantastic.
posted by kmz at 9:09 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Estraven, I meant everyone should be playing Female Shepard.
posted by demiurge at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The plot in ME2 was a bit bad though, it was basically "Gather all these people and go here". Hope ME3 is better.
posted by ymgve at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2012


I haven't played Mass Effect, but Ihave heard good things about it and this article does make me want to try it out. As Artw pointed out: the enthusiasm for the game is refreshing and fun to read, much more so than the thousands of comments of one or two lines nay-saying the article.

As for a game that makes you face your hopeless-insignificant stature, nothing beats the Warhammer 40k universe; however I will concede that GW does a great job at making this content virtually inaccessible to the average gamer or sci-fi fan.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:11 AM on February 21, 2012


The planet roving in the eternally despised mako is gone, luckily.

Reading the little data entries about all the planets and then taking the mako down and exploring each of them was my favorite part of the game, actually. (I didn't enjoy ME1 enough to bother with ME2.)
posted by straight at 9:11 AM on February 21, 2012


I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite post on Metafilter.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:12 AM on February 21, 2012 [24 favorites]


It definitely has a lot of rpg elements to it. (talking to people, exploring, etc.)

My impression of those bits was very much like this this.
posted by Artw at 9:12 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite post on Metafilter.

Hey, you said that about all the other posts on the front page too!
posted by kmz at 9:13 AM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


For all you non-gamers, you should know that it takes about 60 hours to play the entirety of Mass Effect 2. But thanks to the YouTubes, here's the best one minute in gaming for your enjoyment.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:13 AM on February 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


As for a game that makes you face your hopeless-insignificant stature, nothing beats the Warhammer 40k universe; however I will concede that GW does a great job at making this content virtually inaccessible to the average gamer or sci-fi fan.

Really? Dawn of War II seems super accessible to me. That Space Marine game looks a bit crap though.
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on February 21, 2012


I meant everyone should be playing Female Shepard.

I generally try to roll up female characters in 3rd person games whenever possible, for the simple reason that if I'm going to be staring at my character's backside for the next 30 or 40 hours, it ought to be enjoyable.

(and yeah, the voice acting seems to be, on average, better)
posted by ShutterBun at 9:14 AM on February 21, 2012


If Bioware had the time and energy to write separate dialogue paths for male and female protagonists, they almost certainly would've made the female character more of a gendered stereotype, emphasizing the ways she differs from the male default because she's a girl.

Yeah, one of my absolute favourite things about playing FemShep is how she walks and sits "like a dude", which only happens because Bioware didn't have the time/money to make a female body rig, so they just used the male default.

Of course, that also says a whole lot about the treatment of female characters in video games, but I feel like that horse has been rigorously flogged already, so.
posted by fight or flight at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


He's trying too hard to make the claim that ME is the "most important" genre setting of our time. Is it the biggest with the widest appeal? Sure, right now, you can buy a lot of appeal with a $100m development and marketing budget. But it's not breaking any new ground, its essentially Star Wars. It's fun for what it is, the story is solid, the universe is fairly well thought out, there's at least a couple characters that you'll end up liking. But there's nothing particular singular with generation spanning influence that hasn't been done in 100 other mass market sci-fi paper backs. And the spin-off paper backs aren't even particularly good for ghostwritten escapist serial sci-fi.

Once the trilogy of blockbuster budget video games is done, it'll have the same kind of "what are the best RPGs on Xbox?" kind of staying power, and that's about it.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:16 AM on February 21, 2012


Thanks all for your replies. Regarding the topic at hand, other games with a selectable female protagonist who can be of any race and who is treated with respect by her subordinates and fear by her enemies are Saints Row 2 and 3.
posted by Blue Meanie at 9:16 AM on February 21, 2012



I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite post on Metafilter.


I'm actually wondering if this is going to come back up in ME3, someone complaining Shepard is a corporate stooge and having it come back to bite them in the ass.
posted by curious nu at 9:16 AM on February 21, 2012


Excited exclamation - Mass Effect is great because it has the elcor.

Slightly worried tone - I hope Mass Effect 3 will be as good as 2.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


Jennifer Hale's portrayal of Commander Shepard is one of the most important pieces of video game voice acting of our generation. I bet that would be a little less controversial than the linked article.
posted by demiurge at 9:17 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding the topic at hand, other games with a selectable female protagonist who can be of any race and who is treated with respect by her subordinates and fear by her enemies are Saints Row 2 and 3.

Can I just say, I fucking loved SR3 for this very reason. I'm about halfway through the game, rolling with a bright green ex-Orion slave girl crimelord who rides a giant purple motorcycle and doesn't take shit from anyone.

It's glorious.
posted by fight or flight at 9:18 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


For all you non-gamers, you should know that it takes about 60 hours to play the entirety of Mass Effect 2. But thanks to the YouTubes, here's the best one minute in gaming for your enjoyment.

I think every BioWare game I've played stinks on ice and have no interest in trying Mass Effect for that reason alone, but goddamn if that clip doesn't ever get old.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:18 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's trying too hard to make the claim that ME is the "most important" genre setting of our time. Is it the biggest with the widest appeal? Sure, right now, you can buy a lot of appeal with a $100m development and marketing budget.

It's nothing like the biggest - Mass Effect is a solid seller, but compared with the number of people who have seen Star Wars or Harry Potter, it has minuscule penetration. That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile or important, but it's culturally tightly concentrated in gaming.

But if you're going to make a statement along the lines of "Mass effect is the most important Sci-Fi game out there" it's useful to be at least familiar with competing works in the genre.

I know that Ring TFA is often considered a decadent pleasure, but the OP is less than 30 words. The statement is that Mass Effect's universe is the most important universe. The universe in Elite is procedurally generated - unless you are brought to tears by the information that Lave is populated by intelligent avaricious felines, you are taking issue with a non-existent precept.

I think this article is a little gushy, doesn't earn some of its conclusions and is in some cases his enthusiasm is leading to misremembering (one of the things about Mass Effect was how sparsely populated the Citadel was, and in Mass Effect 2 how small it is - you only get to see teeming masses in cutscenes.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2012


Excited exclamation - Mass Effect is great because it has the elcor.

Reserved optimism: if the elcor speech pattern were adopted by the internet at large, it might make online discussion a lot easier and more rewarding.
posted by curious nu at 9:24 AM on February 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


But thanks to the YouTubes, here's the best one minute in gaming for your enjoyment.

There are no words for how bummed I was that I couldn't bone Mordin. I consoled myself with Tali, who's a strong second in my affections, and way, way into Shepard, but I was thinking of Mordin the whole time.
posted by Copronymus at 9:24 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


My undergraduate thesis is specifically about how games can impart meaningful messages by carefully creating a universe in which player actions matter. It's a huge question, because games require creative action from their players in ways that books and movies and comics and songs don't; while art is great at helping people figure out how to think or act, games can actually guide players to thought or action.

Mass Effect was on my shortlist for games to check out, but I didn't have the time. From what I've seen of it it looks like a well-polished variation of your typical sandbox; everything feels epic but the gameplay's just a variation of the traditional Bioware stuff, right? That whole company bothers me a little: they spend a lot of time innovating the details but none of their games attempt to handle the bigger challenge: how do you design a system of gameplay that forces the player to search for meaning and abstraction in order to win? I don't give a shit how pretty a game is if the gameplay's the same sci-fi/fantasy RPG bullshit.

Jonathan Blow, the dude who made Braid, gave an excellent lecture in 2008 on the way that gameplay design almost invariably ruins the intended impact of the stories in blockbuster titles. One of the most important things about design is what it decides to abstract and what the player actually has to handle; this decides what the game tells a player is meaningful and what isn't worth thinking about. Bioware throws so many pointless decisions in your face that while the game's fun, it's not getting at the message the story wants to be getting at. Maybe the entire universe looks like it's addressing these issues, but if the gameplay contradicts the looks, then everything falls apart on some fundamental level.

In fact, I suspect it would be an enormously daunting challenge to make a game that actually does what the author claims Mass Effect does. If you're trying to show somebody their insignificance by making them play a game that revolves around the significance of their actions, there's a thematic dissonance. I don't think developers are used to thinking of the motifs and themes of their gameplay yet, but it's a massively (ahem) important concern for games, and it's stopping these huge titles from really reaching their potential.

(Blow doesn't think any really big game has ever managed this play/story unity; I think the game that my thesis focuses on, Pathologic, might be the first one to succeed on a non-casual scale. Here's the cult-famous three-part review that brought Pathologic to a wider audience; Quintin Smith does a good job of expressing a part of just how brilliantly it melds the way you play it with the story that it's trying to tell you, though he misses the really deep story that my thesis is about. Pathologic was called "Oblivion with cancer" by a reviewer early on; it has near-completely ruined my ability to enjoy other epic-scale games. I can't play GTA or Elder Scrolls or Fallout or anything Bioware without being aware of that gameplay dissonance. Anybody interested in games' potential to create artistic or profound universes really ought to give Pathologic a look.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:24 AM on February 21, 2012 [10 favorites]



I think every BioWare game I've played stinks on ice


RPG's aren't for everyone, but within that genre, Bioware has produced many of the very best.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:24 AM on February 21, 2012



The first advantage, setting, involves the portrayal of alien species and alien worlds with ease. Novels require descriptions, comics require painstaking drawings, films and television require either hours of expression deadening makeup or expensive CGI. In a video game, rendering [...] requires the same amount of work as a human. Want a cast of thousands? No problem. Need a mob of hundreds of individuals representing fifteen different species rendered inside an colossal ancient space station? No sweat.


There is an implied equation here between the effort required by the creator, and the enjoyment that a player/viewer/reader gets from the medium. I find this totally bizarre. Why do I, the person experiencing this fictional world, care how hard was for the fictional world to be rendered? "Rendering" is not an aesthetic term. It is a technical term.

When I am immersed in a really good book, science fiction or not, I don't think, "oh wow, that scene with the dinosaur-riding robots fighting the giant apes was really well-rendered". It wasn't rendered at all, it was described, imagined in vivid and exciting detail. If I pictured the landscapes at all, which is not actually necessary.

When did the "video games are art" crowd start throwing rocks in the windows of literature? I think this line of thinking began around the time that the cost of generating huge scenes with a computer became trivially expensive. Studios began pulling their levers, manipulating public opinion, to change the discourse about film from story or character to sheer technical achievement. Even that term, "technical achievement" – why is that the language we use to discuss a film? It is totally and completely bizarre to me that someone can come back from a movie today and say "It was pretty bad, but the graphics were cool." Are movies becoming nothing more than theme park rides? Technical achievements may be impressive in their own right to achieve effects in film, but when they dominate the conversation, we end up with bullshit like Transformers 2 – all effect, no story, nothing to care about.

So I take offense to the idea that we can throw out all these stinky old media like film and books. I don't play video games but I read science fiction because language, in the hands of a proper wordsmith, can render stranger alien worlds more vividly than any graphics card.
posted by deathpanels at 9:25 AM on February 21, 2012


Metafilter: cruising around the galaxy being Captain Spacedick to all sorts of annoying aliens.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2012


I generally try to roll up female characters in 3rd person games whenever possible, for the simple reason that if I'm going to be staring at my character's backside for the next 30 or 40 hours, it ought to be enjoyable.

Every fucking time guys playing female characters (and for some reason in Mass Effect in particular) comes up, someone makes almost this exact comment, and they always seem to think it's original thinking.

Every. Fucking. Time.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:27 AM on February 21, 2012 [35 favorites]


I don't think developers are used to thinking of the motifs and themes of their gameplay yet, but it's a massively (ahem) important concern for games, and it's stopping these huge titles from really reaching their potential.

For a given value of "developers" -- this has been meat and potatoes in the indie tabletop scene for at least ten years now, and indie video game devs are starting to mess with it in meaningful ways as well.
posted by curious nu at 9:27 AM on February 21, 2012


My impression of those bits was very much like this.

Wow, that was cathartic, Artw
posted by straight at 9:27 AM on February 21, 2012


I love RPGs, and will forever be grateful to Baldur's Gate for providing the engine that let Obsidian (who are fantastic) make Planescape: Torment happen. And also Minsc. But give me the option between taking a nap and sitting down to play anything BW actually developed - BG, or KOTOR, or that stupid Sonic spinoff, whatever - and it becomes a moot choice.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:28 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for a game that makes you face your hopeless-insignificant stature, nothing beats the Warhammer 40k universe; however I will concede that GW does a great job at making this content virtually inaccessible to the average gamer or sci-fi fan.

Do you have questions? I have answers, answers that have taken the space in my memory once occupied by childhood friends and favorite pets.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:28 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry - hit post too early.

I think this article is a little gushy, doesn't earn some of its conclusions and is in some cases his enthusiasm is leading to misremembering (one of the things about Mass Effect was how sparsely populated the Citadel was, and in Mass Effect 2 how small it is - you only get to see teeming masses in cutscenes). But the article does pull out a number of cool things about the universe, and about the way it is put together. It may be assembled from a range of hard and soft sci-fi tropes, but it is put together very well, and the opportunities for looking at issues of class, race and gender within that - precisely the things which are upsetting BioWare's disenfranchized "core RPGer" fanbase, in fact - are handled interestingly and well.

That said, he's basically wrong about the role of humanity in the Mass Effect universe, as it is written - they aren't a Council race, true, but they are clearly up and coming - again, their status is very Babylon 5-ish - a young race, but clearly increasing in power and esteem in the Galaxy. The Volus in particular are bitter about how they are going to be on the council within a century if their military and diplomatic importance keeps following its current curve.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:29 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Excited exclamation - Mass Effect is great because it has the elcor.

Conjecture: The elcor's speech pattern was more or less ripped off from HK-47 (a playable droid from Knights of the Old Republic)

Puny meatbags.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


For a given value of "developers" -- this has been meat and potatoes in the indie tabletop scene for at least ten years now, and indie video game devs are starting to mess with it in meaningful ways as well.

Absolutely. Blow's game Braid makes a great attempt at doing this, though its sheer beauty and the fun of its gameplay kind of hit each other at ends. You don't "feel the world", per se; you see the world and it's gorgeous, and you play the puzzles and they rock. But things like Jason Rohrer's Gravitation are lovely little examples of provoking emotion with gameplay.

Problem is that those games are usually pretty small-scale. I don't know many indie games that have stories as expansive as Mass Effect's or even Halo's; again, the huge weird exception is Pathologic, but that got such an awful English translation that I know many people find it unplayable.

I'm curious what indie tabletop games you're thinking of. I know very little about tabletop and if you've got games to recommend me, I'm all ears!
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:32 AM on February 21, 2012


valkyryn: He might not be wrong. And those saying that the author "apparently has never played [x]" are missing that point. I haven't seen a single example listed so far that does what he says Mass Effect is doing, or any significant argument that it isn't doing what he says it's doing.

I don't know. First of all human existentialism in a larger cosmos has been a major theme of science fiction, especially Farscape, Dune, Firefly (in which the argument for belief is entirely pragmatic), Hitchhiker's, Lem, and key works by Le Guin, Clarke, and Tepper. In terms of science fiction Mass Effect largely retreads the themes of Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space while only tangentially dealing with the consequences of posthumanity. (Likewise the entire premise of Farscape was that humanity would almost certainly be enslaved or exterminated should anyone get their hands on a route to Earth.)

Meanwhile, the theme of humans as insignificant underdogs was undermined by the overall story arc of ME1 and ME2 which boil down to "human saves the galaxy from its prejudices." ME3 likewise, at least as previewed in the demo, seems to foreshadow Shepard as the grand unifier of the galaxy. (There is also, IMO a pretty deep conflict between "war is hell" and how combat actually is presented in the game.)

I'm actually a fan of the franchise, and I am holding off for a few weeks after the release of ME3 to avoid getting stung the same way I did with DA2. So my objection here isn't that this essay is praising the Mass Effect franchise, but that it's doing so by denying the rich traditions of philosophical science fiction that Mass Effect uses as influences, including misrepresenting some of the works he cites. You don't need to tear down everything else in order to push your favorite story.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:33 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's nothing like the biggest - Mass Effect is a solid seller, but compared with the number of people who have seen Star Wars or Harry Potter, it has minuscule penetration. That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile or important, but it's culturally tightly concentrated in gaming.

Good point, I was thinking in terms of new IP properties developed for gaming, surely its the biggest of those. Star Wars and Harry Potter were cultural institutions that already had unbelievable popularity before they carried it over to the gaming realm. It's tough to even compare those to Mass Effect, which itself probably undermines the point of the article. Gaming already is a pretty limited audience compared to the universe of moviegoers, and from what I've read flipping through a Mass Effect paperback, it's probably not going to have a ton of sucess branching out from the core gamer/game-nerd-who-reads-serial-scifi audience. For the author to support the kind of broad claim of "the most important" sci-fi setting, you'd think there would have be that kind of crossover appeal outside of just gamers. I don't see it.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:34 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the article:

The reason is this: Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.


Oh, please. Mass Effect's "aliens" are as much of a stand-in for Greek Chorus figures as the "forehead makeup" counterparts have been in Star Trek. As for the "godless" infrernce, the Presidium Prophet in ME1 was clearly intended as as a commentary on the role of philosophy and belief in the world, not just in a metaphysical sense, but as a nod to the overall (and individual) desire to address existential stirrings. Technology, politics, and exotic cultures can subdue, but not entirely remove, replace nor subdue the questions of who a person may be, or what they may want out of themselves or how they may perceive the universe - particularly since politics and commerce are different facets of expression that could otherwise be written off as philosophy or belief.

As far as blockbusters are concerned, System Shock 1 and 2 and even Prototype would serve as stronger examples of the author's argument; though not a major seller, Fuel could also count in portraying humankind's efforts as empty, unanswerable folly.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:34 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


As Artw pointed out: the enthusiasm for the game is refreshing and fun to read, much more so than the thousands of comments of one or two lines nay-saying the article.

A long, enthusiastic (and poorly written) blog post claiming a hot sci-fi video game series is a game-changer doesn't require an equally long, enthusiastic response. The author comes off as naive. His points of reference seem to be Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Star Trek and Ender's Game. He doesn't mention any other video games. The best you can do is point out earlier works that covered this ground before. It's like arguing Inception was a game changer for mind-bending movies.
posted by bittermensch at 9:34 AM on February 21, 2012


I think every BioWare game I've played stinks on ice

Is...is there an emoticon for "that pointing and screeching thing from Invasion of the Body Snatchers"?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:36 AM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've got MeFi. One science fiction universe in my life is enough.
posted by jonmc at 9:38 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


someone makes almost this exact comment, and they always seem to think it's original thinking.

I apologize for seeming like I thought I was being original.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Conjecture: The elcor's speech pattern was more or less ripped off from HK-47 (a playable droid from Knights of the Old Republic)

Well, sure. Is it weird that HK and Legion are my favourite Bioware characters?
posted by curious nu at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


HK is great for laughs, but I usually got tired of carrying around repair kits, while the meatbags could be healed with force powers.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:46 AM on February 21, 2012


How can anybody not love Legion?

Shep could use a few dancing lessons though.
posted by kmz at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really hope Legion has a significant part in ME3, if only because I find the strange mechanic computery noises they make oddly satisfying.
posted by fight or flight at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2012


Reserved optimism: if the elcor speech pattern were adopted by the internet at large, it might make online discussion a lot easier and more rewarding.

I wish I could favorite this more than once.

The Mass Effect 3 demo is an amazing thing--I've not even touched the single player campaign for fear of spoiling myself, but the multiplayer is the most fun I've had in AGES.

The ME universe has a lot of shoutouts to what has gone before--the music (which probably deserves its own post) borrows from a host of styles, there's a planet full of robots named Capek, and a ship called the Hugo Gernsback. Sure, they're off-hand references that don't really go anywhere, but they feels like they was added by people who grew up reading/watching the same sort of stuff I did. Plus, give me Garrus and Wrex with machine guns stomping through a building and I'm a happy camper.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:57 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The reason is this: Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.

Fallout did it earlier and a lot a better.
posted by spaltavian at 10:01 AM on February 21, 2012


Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.

On a related note, if you'd like to play a game that forces you to directly confront a godless, meaningless Earth indifferent to humanity, then Far Cry 2 is the game for you. Lots of games have good and evil paths, but precious few force you to routinely assassinate minor government officials in a futile attempt to shape a horrific civil war in your favor.

Also there are zebras.
posted by Copronymus at 10:03 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


His points of reference seem to be Babylon 5

Actually, and interestingly, he never mentions Babylon 5, and appears not to have seen it - which is a really major omission, given how much Mass Effect resembles it, and how much both of their narratives (which, again, is something he seems to be missing) are about humanity coming of age among the galactic civilisations.

Also, Ashley Williams is a Christian in Mass Effect, although her religion seems to be a niche religion at this point, the Asari are hella spiritual, the Quarians have got their own spiritual stuff going on...

The more I look at this article, the more it seems to be omitting or misreading chunks both of Mass Effect and of the rest of Science Fiction. Which is a shame, because it seems to have its heart in the right place, but it just keeps getting things wrong. Like:

Second, the lowering of human status diffuses any xenophobic urges a player might have.

This may be true of a particular player playing the game, but it isn't the way the game is built. In fact, one of the interesting things about Mass Effect is that you can, if you want, turn into a full-bore space racist, and if you do you can start swaying the reactions of characters around you - if a character both likes you and you keep putting humanity ahead of the other alien races, they start feeling the same way, to the point where [spoiilers]



they might refuse to save the council even if you tell them to.

So, yeah - if this blog post were called "here are a bunch of cool things about Mass Effect and how I react to them", fair enough. But many of the things he is pointing out just aren't there, or are there in a different form, and a lot of them don't really have a lot to do with the universe per se.

Good point, I was thinking in terms of new IP properties developed for gaming, surely its the biggest of those.

I don't have the figures handy, but I think Halo, Half-Life 2 and Gears of War have shifted more units, if we are just talking about video game IPs set in science-fiction universes. Those are less fleshed-out universes, because they are shooters rather than RPGs, but there are plenty of books, comic books and so on filling out the detail. Mass Effect 2 sold a lot better than Mass Effect... and Mass Effect 3, all being well, will sell better than Mass Effect 2.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:12 AM on February 21, 2012


Plus, give me Garrus and Wrex with machine guns stomping through a building and I'm a happy camper.

One of my favourite moments in gaming is when Shepard meets Wrex again for the first time in ME2.

Everyone else is all "OMG! You're alive!!!11" the whole game through. But the two of them just look at each other, then Wrex just says "Shepard" and nods and they move on.

The whole "Of course you're alive. I expected nothing less from you." and the comrade/respect relationship between the two characters is entirely implied.

Is ME the most important Sci-Fi universe this generation? Maybe not, but in terms of the characterisation and depth of quality content it does provide there are few rivals out there that feel so unforced (i.e. the Universe exists because it should, not because a developer wanted to brag about how much in-game content there is).
posted by garius at 10:18 AM on February 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Blow doesn't think any really big game has ever managed this play/story unity

I think you could make a case for Prince of Persia 2008 (especially the ending), Shadow of the Colossus, Far Cry 2, Thief, Planescape: Torment, maybe Psychonauts, maybe PoP Sands of Time or the Two Thrones, and of course games with emergent stories like XCOM.
posted by straight at 10:22 AM on February 21, 2012


Rory -- memailed you with the tabletop stuff to keep the drift down here.

I read this article a few days ago, and my initial reaction had been, "It seems okay? Gets some details wrong, but whatever." It does have issues, but you'd need to write a counter-essay to tackle the subject, and you might STILL come to the "Mass Effect's setting is pretty great" conclusion but in a neater fashion. And if the article's goal is to get people talking about a thing, and not necessarily to stand the test of time as academic canon, then it seems to have accomplished its goal.

Also, I'll just leave these here.
posted by curious nu at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of my beefs with the thesis here is that it relies too much on Reapers as the symbol of cosmic indifference. In spite of in-game rhetoric, they're reasonably comprehensible bad guys who have singled out humans in the next cycle. So it ends up being another man-vs.-monster adventure yarn, not that there's anything wrong with that.

This is in contrast to Revelation Space where the semi-sentient automatons exterminate sentient life to preserve critical resources for the forthcoming Milky Way/Andromeda collision. Clarke's monoliths and Ramas don't especially care about which forms of life they uplift. Lem's Solaris is utterly incomprehensible. And the big punchline of the Hitchhiker's trilogy was that even the Earth-building hyper-intelligent mice were chasing nonsense answers to nonsense questions.

Plus, give me Garrus and Wrex with machine guns stomping through a building and I'm a happy camper.

And there better be an antiques store involved.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:28 AM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.

I wish this were the case; that game sounds really interesting. In Mass Effect, though, the main character is a human who, through the sheer force of his/her specialness, singlehandedly makes humans one of the most powerful races in the galaxy while defeating an Ancient Evil whose motivations make no damn sense. The plot could be any Bioware game ever made, or really any RPG ever made; the fact that there's the occasional bit of amusing throwaway quirkiness like the Elcor doesn't really change that.
posted by IjonTichy at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just hope Mass Effect 3 isn't as much of a letdown as Saints Row the Third is.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2012


Or for that matter, a large number of Dr. Who plots come down to "space god saves favorite monkeys from the crossfire of galactic grudges."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:46 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just hope Mass Effect 3 isn't as much of a letdown as Saints Row the Third is.

It's a game that just about starts with you swinging from a bank vault being held in the air by a helicopter that's under attack as you flail around shooting cops who are asking for your autograph. Do you also hate puppies and want the terrorists to win?

Also: later you kill zombies for Burt Reynolds.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:14 AM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Further thought on the article: (at least one) someone upthread commented that the thing feels like quite a bit of projection, but maybe that's a point in the setting's favour, that it can allow folk to derive this kind of personal meaning from what is, no question, a highly commercial product, even if that was never intended. I'd say the game is about shooting things, for example, but if the guy wants to dig into cosmicism and species and gender equalities and whatever else, then great.
posted by curious nu at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2012


Mass Effect's story is pretty garbled if you ask me.

Not that it matters too much; I still enjoyed ME1 (though never finished ME2).

My big beef with the game is--WILL THERE EVER BE A DECENT MALE LOVE INTEREST FOR SHEPHERD?!?

The males are so irritating. I feel they've all been Karth redux, to some extent.

Yes there were a couple of lizard men, but uh, their personalities did not quite make up for their lizardness.

Dragon Age did a great job, IMHO, for having well written males if you had a hetero female character.

Somebody else write the male dialogue for future Mass Effects. Please!!!
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:20 AM on February 21, 2012


Definitely very utopian about how science fiction works...I mean, there have been positive "messages" in science fiction since there has been science fiction, and with the possible exception of Red Star (an early novel about a socialist colonization of Mars that was immensely, crazy popular in pre-revolutionary Russia and is in fact the source of the "red star") I am not so sure that the 'messages' get through absent real-world anchors. And the message is still basically militarization and assimilation - the idea that women and people of color are acceptable as long as we are just like men and white people except for a few differences that charm men and white people. I mean, it looks pretty cool and everything...maybe one of the things about Star Trek that was radical was that it wasn't about war, even if there was conflict.

Also, I notice that while the aliens are diverse, a surprising number of them seem to be large-breasted young women. It reassures me to know that when I finally get out into the broader (as it were) galaxy, I will at least fit in chest-wise.
posted by Frowner at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The ____ of Justice: "Yes there were a couple of lizard men, but uh, their personalities did not quite make up for their lizardness. "

Oh, come on. I mean don't you just want to jump his bones?
posted by vanar sena at 11:26 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


My big beef with the game is--WILL THERE EVER BE A DECENT MALE LOVE INTEREST FOR SHEPHERD?!?

In fairness, the first one didn't have a decent female love interest. Based on the way things have gone for the female love interests (more/weirder/nerdier), I'm guessing that ME3 will give you a shot at Mordin, or, if not him, hopefully someone with more personality than Jacob/Alenko. Also, fingers crossed for a krogan romance, because there's no way that's not ridiculous.
posted by Copronymus at 11:35 AM on February 21, 2012


Oh, come on. I mean don't you just want to jump his bones?

Unfortunately, Beattie didn't return to play Mordin in ME3. I'm sure the new voice will grow on me, but at least in the demo it sounds the same as Anonymous Salarian.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:46 AM on February 21, 2012


Yes there were a couple of lizard men, but uh, their personalities did not quite make up for their lizardness.

Wait, really? Because Garrus pretty reliably makes me laugh and I'd have romanced him in a second if the option to start the pairing had a bit more emotion to it than Shepherd saying "let's release some stress together" -- my sticking point there was the human's dialog. As it is, Garrus is my Shep's BFF.

(I do <3 Thane, but I'm guessing that's a path of guaranteed heartbreak in ME3 so I'm trying to resist having all my ME2 saves going with him and that voice. It helps slightly that he does stumble into unfortunate lighting during each memory thing.)(Either lizard guy is much more interesting than Jacob, sorry, dude.)
posted by rewil at 11:56 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of love interests, one of the huge disappointments of ME2 is that they didn't allow for any same-sex relationships*, even with the asari (who are technically monogendered), after Fox jumped on the ZOMG ALIEN LESBIAN PORN IN VIDEO GAME thing because romancing Liara was an option in ME1. It was especially frustrating because you had Jack, a character who is explicitly bisexual (and, IMO, pretty freaking hot); the part where you could start to develop a romance if you were playing a male Shepard gets cut off rather abruptly with FemShep. Between that and Samara deciding on celibacy, it seemed like a pretty clumsy walkback from ME1, and after this thing (plus a couple of rumors that I've heard about ME3), I'm really hoping that they never mind the homophobes and do right with the final installment.

*Sorry, but Kelly Chambers doesn't count (she certainly doesn't for the badge).
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:59 AM on February 21, 2012


From what I've heard, there's definitely same-sex romances in ME3. (Finally!)

And speaking of Thane...
posted by kmz at 12:11 PM on February 21, 2012


the quarian civil war with the geth (aka the Cylons won)

Haven't played Mass Effect, but I watched Battlestar Galactica and if the Cylons didn't win I'm not sure who did.
posted by Hoopo at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2012


I loved Mass Effect 2 to pieces. Even the planet scanning.... poor, misunderstood planet scanning. Come here and let give you a hug, planet scanning.

PLANET SCANNING (starts to cry): They - they said I was.. so boring...
ME: There, there.
PLANET SCANNING: It was a low key activity you could... could do in between missions, but they ground it and ground it and ... went insane...
ME: It's okay, planet scanning. They're just a bunch of OCD nerds. They're all off playing League of Legends now.
PLANET SCANNING (angry): They hated the Mako! Said it was like a fucking super ball with wheels! But now, ooooh no, the Mako was wonderful and exciting and dynamic. EVERY PLANET LOOKED THE SAME! I had fantastic crafted story missions, and easter eggs and that great 'thunk' noise and ...(breaks down, sobbing inconsolably)
posted by Sebmojo at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


Krogan > Mordin > Joker > lizard men > Alenko/Jacob

I was actually rather hoping for a Joker romance. Not sure how that would work, given he had a brittle bone condition, but Alenko/Jacob might as well have been real dolls.

PSST Bioware... eon't be afraid to make your leading human males crack a joke every now and then. Or have a personality more interesting than cardboard.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even the planet scanning.... poor, misunderstood planet scanning. Come here and let give you a hug, planet scanning.

Hahaha. I would pop in on my husband every now and then to see where he was in ME2, and no matter when I caught him, he'd be mining for minerals. He confessed the addiction to scanning was a "problem."

I can hear him in the other room as he plays Skyrim, chipping away at ore.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I consider myself somewhat OCD in videogames but I know some people who just had to mineral scan every planet in ME2 until they were depleted. That's taking OCD to a whole new level. You really didn't have to scan too much to get all the resources you would need, especially if you had bonuses for importing and/or having a finished game already.
posted by kmz at 12:45 PM on February 21, 2012


I consider myself somewhat OCD in videogames but I know some people who just had to mineral scan every planet in ME2 until they were depleted.

(Shamefacedly raises hand)

And now you know another one.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:48 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


MEGA SPOILERS FOR ME1:

One of my favourite moments in gaming is when Shepard meets Wrex again for the first time in ME2.

Sigh. I wish my Shepherd could've reunited with his iguana buddy.

This sentence encapsulates my deep and abiding love for the Mass Effect series, despite the clunky minigames, the tired, not-original storyline and the often-repetitive action gameplay.

When I play Mass Effect, I'm playing my Shepherd, my gaunt acne-scarred orphan who joined the military to escape a hellish colony world. There are turning points in my Shepherd's life. Losing Wrex was one of them, and it informed my play all through ME2.

I feel this way even though I'm a software guy, and I have a pretty good idea of what these games look like behind the curtain. Understanding the implementation has done nothing to diminish my enjoyment of these games.
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:49 PM on February 21, 2012


Losing Wrex

You monster!
posted by kmz at 12:50 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I play Mass Effect, I'm playing my Shepherd

The sense of ownership of Shepard is something the games do succeed with. I've been watching my roommate play ME2 intermittently, and it actually started to freak me out that his Shepard didn't look like my Shepard. He looks completely wrong but has the exact same voice and I can't deal with it for extended periods. It's not quite immersion in the way that some other games aim for, but it's still a powerful emotion.
posted by Copronymus at 12:55 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really didn't get the planet mining whining. It's such a mindless activity that it's obvious how it should be done:

1) Get a headset for your phone.

2) Boot up the game, mute the volume.

3) Make those long catching-up phonecalls to whomever while you're mining.

Unless you never call anybody for any long period of time, this will get you through a lot of mining. You can also do mining while you're tipsy from a night out at the bars, or just to wind down after a long day if you don't feel like playing. It also helps to check the Planet Scanning page on the game wiki for tips on where/how to get enhancements to speed up the process, good planets to scan, etc.

Of course, this is all kind of a moot point since I understand that planet scanning is either going away in ME3, or will be changed considerably. But it might help if someone is inspired enough by ME3 to want to go back to the previous games, and it's a hell of a lot less tedious than inventory management/omnigel conversion in ME1, IMO.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can mine enough to get almost all the upgrades just by:

1) scanning only the systems you visit for missions
2) only scanning planets that have rich or good prospects
3) only scanning down to moderate or poor
4) quitting when out of probes.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:35 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


You monster!

The first time I played ME1, I accidentally killed Wrex. I reached the crucial point in the dialogue options and, honestly, I had no idea what would happen, so I just went with my gut. My Shep is a soldier first, a war-hardened vet -- she had no time to mess around chasing grudges. I watched in silence as Ashley drew her pistol, levelled the sight at him and --

My boyfriend at the time, watching my progress over my shoulder, refused to let me go back and change what I'd done. After thinking about it, I agreed. I had made my choice based on what my Shep would have done. Now I had to live with it. And I did.

Damn, but I love these games.
posted by fight or flight at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really didn't get the planet mining whining.

There was nothing fun about slowly dragging a cursor over a bitmap waiting for something to happen. There was no skill involved, no danger, no surprise, no thrill. It was just the same thing over and over and over again. It is the least interesting thing I have ever been asked to do in a video game. I have had more fun doing data entry in a real life dead-end job than I did planet mining. And really, this is what Commander Fucking Shepard is spending her time on when the universe is at stake? Busy work that a temp could handle?

The Mako, on the other hand, I found mildly amusing, especially the hilarious bouncy jumping. I wish they had tried to fix it, rather than throwing it out.
posted by IjonTichy at 1:45 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really didn't get the planet mining whining.

There was nothing fun about slowly dragging a cursor over a bitmap waiting for something to happen. There was no skill involved, no danger, no surprise, no thrill. It was just the same thing over and over and over again. It is the least interesting thing I have ever been asked to do in a video game. I have had more fun doing data entry in a real life dead-end job than I did planet mining. And really, this is what Commander Fucking Shepard is spending her time on when the universe is at stake? Busy work that a temp could handle?
posted by IjonTichy at 1:45 PM on February 21 [+] [!]


See, I get this viewpoint, but the idea is that it's a specific kind of activity. Pleasantly dull, if that makes sense. Like grinding in WoW. And it feeds right into a hard sci-fi trope - you fly around in your starship and you scan shit.

But it's always a choice, because any time you feel you've had enough you press the SPACE BIFF button and whammo, you're shootin' the lasers and leapin' over the waist-high cover and punchin' the space journalist in her overly inquisitive jaw.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:02 PM on February 21, 2012


Over 100 comments in and no-one has linked to Those Minerals, the frankly awesome rap song all about mining planets? For shame.

Peep it, I'll break it down so you can absorb it (okay)
you need to mine planets' minerals and do it from orbit (yo)
some good advice, and you're too much of a noob to ignore it (ay)
you'll get stranded with no fuel if you foolishly floor it
I used to rock microphones rhyming in a stadium (okay)
these days I launch probes mining for palladium (no doubt)
slouching at my console crying from the tedium
I contemplate relations with the slimiest of aliens


etc.
posted by adrianhon at 2:03 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pleasantly dull, if that makes sense. Like grinding in WoW.

Fuck, dude, I find nothing whatsoever pleasant about grinding, in WoW or any other game.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:13 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The entire government of the galaxy, known as the Council, is run by non-humans.

HAHAHAHA NOT ANYMORE. They shoulda believed me about the Reapers.

(not alienist).
posted by Justinian at 2:20 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm outing myself as another OCD minerals scanner. I think I got all caught up in maintaining ratios of the different minerals to each other, as well as recovering to a certain threshold of each after a major upgrade.

I don't think there was any possibility of same-sex fraternization in Mass Effect 2 main game, but I do seem to recall my femShep having a nice reunion with Liara in the last DLC mission.

Having completed both games several times, and with a variety of different classes and moralities, I will say this: Ashley gets it. Every time. Stupid racist Ashley
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:34 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And it feeds right into a hard sci-fi trope - you fly around in your starship and you scan shit.

It sounds appealing when you put it that way, but all you're getting back is some controller vibration and a number. That just doesn't feel like science. Look, by way of contrast, at the game Starflight, made approximately a thousand years ago. You could earn money by finding habitable planets for humanity to settle on. To do so you had to scan the planet, figure out if it fit the range of conditions suitable for life, and log it. If you did this correctly, you'd get a sizeable influx of money; get it wrong, and you'd incur a reprimand and a pay cut. At the level of basic mechanics, it's not terribly exciting, but it certainly feels more like something a starship captain would do than dragging a cursor across a map.

Alternatively, you could earn money by landing and wandering around looking for minerals. Sound familiar? In Starflight, though, you could be assaulted by the local wildlife, at which point you could either kill them or capture them and sell them to a zoo back home; storms could either kill or injure crewmembers; you might stumble across ruins with artifacts or messages left by abandoned colonies; or if you're really inept you might land on a planet with gravity so strong you can't take off again. Oh, and traveling to galexies required fuel, which cost money, so coming up empty on an excursion could really lead to trouble. Variety, surprise, risk, reward, exploration. As gamers, we simply should not accept mechanics as dull and unimaginative as Mass Effect planet scanning. It's insulting.
posted by IjonTichy at 2:36 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


HAHAHAHA NOT ANYMORE. They shoulda believed me about the Reapers.

(not alienist).


If the Council hadn't consistently been a dick to me about anything and everything, I might have felt worse about wiping all of those fuckers out, but I didn't. Of course, I also ditched Williams more or less because she was kind of a racist and I found her romance plot even less appealing than Dippy Blue Lady's. I generally play RPGs as the goody-goodiest human being that could ever be, but, damn, a person can only take so much.
posted by Copronymus at 2:36 PM on February 21, 2012


Ah, yes, a "non-human council". We have dismissed that claim.

(OK, in reality my Shep was always way too paragon to let the Council die, but goddamn I really hope I get to punch the Turian Councilor in ME3.)
posted by kmz at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


IjonTichy, I'll admit that I don't mind it so much because I love ME2 so much, the descriptions of the planets are kind of interesting, and as I noted above there are ways of mitigating the boredom. (Hell, if you're using a controller with some sort of haptic feedback, and have a TV or another screen on which to watch stuff, you could watch a movie while planet scanning, since it's really only the deposits that make your controller buzz that you want to bother mining anyway.) And if you can stand to play the game through more than once (which is worth it, especially if you switch up difficulty levels, classes, and/or morality preferences, which can result in a very different experience), you get 50,000 of each element as a bonus, which means that you already have more than enough element zero for anything in the game that you'd want to make for your character.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:42 PM on February 21, 2012


BioWare responds.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:43 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


clvrmnky fails.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2012


OK, in reality my Shep was always way too paragon to let the Council die

My Shep was pretty darn paragon, too. I consider "Concentrate on Sovereign, nothing else matters." to be the paragon choice regardless of what they game thinks. Jeopardizing the existence of every sentient organic being in the entire galaxy because you don't want to feel guilty seeing the Council go asplodey is selfish and weak.
posted by Justinian at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2012


IIRC that was under discussion in the Reddit thread, crossed streams?
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2012


I think it was meant for a now-deleted new Reddit thread, yeah.
posted by Justinian at 2:47 PM on February 21, 2012


Was the original post that caused all the fuss on Reddit basically a faked up post from a writter at Bioware to the effect that the dialogue-tree based storyline stuff was the only thing that really mattered about the games and the rest was just filler? Because, well, I kind of get the impression that there may be some truth to it.
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on February 21, 2012


[spoilers ahead] I think ME is a great series, I adore it, I think the point about Shep being most people's favorite character is an interesting one (particularly as compared to other voice acted Bioware characters), but I disagree on the whole godless, ultimately meaningless monster thing. I felt like it was setting up an unusual kind of villain-- the Reapers and the FTL drives and the MEs themselves and the conspiracy and stuff-- and that was interesting, but the fact is there's still a Specialness to humanity that I think comes through. The Reapers choose humanity as their model for their inexplicably three-eyed giant Reaper person thing and are using us because of our "greater genetic diversity" (a great excuse for there to be like 1 turian design and 2 quarians), and it seems like it's always stuff that the rest of the races will dismiss as "human" traits that sets Shep aside from everyone else.

However: I do think the alien races are pretty good. A lot of the time I felt like they set stuff up based on a stereotypical alien template-race-- WARRIOR KROGANS etc-- and then sort of took it apart in an interestingly meta way, like in-universe the humans saw the krogan, thought of Klingons and kind of went with it and then got all surprised when they were wrong. The interspecies politics are really fascinating; the solarians and turians in particular are really interesting to me. The quarians do err on the side of sort of stereotypical space-gypsies or space-Jews in a sort of... irritating way, and the asari, well... you guys know about them already.

Also: Letting the Council die didn't seem super paragony or renegadey to me. Neither did the final choices in ME2, for that matter (or most of the ones involving Cerberus). It was like paragon was LG + expectation of loyalty towards the Council and renegade was CG with expectation of loyalty toward Cerberus, which I thought was dumb, honestly. It'd be super easy for a LG Shep that was willing to be led a bit to be just as willing to let Lawson and Jacob tell her what is right and wrong as she was to let Alenko and Williams do that.

Also: Alenko is beautiful and has a magical Carthvoice, and people who disagree are wrong
posted by NoraReed at 3:00 PM on February 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fuck, dude, I find nothing whatsoever pleasant about grinding, in WoW or any other game.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:13 PM on February 21 [+] [!]


Do you really do everything in a hyperalert state of total involvement?

Because if so that's awesome and you may be Batman.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:11 PM on February 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd play a game where I play Batman playing Mass Effect.
posted by kmz at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]



I'd play a game where I play Batman playing Mass Effect.


*wonders if anyone has ever beaten either game using nothing but the melee attack*
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:25 PM on February 21, 2012


I'm sure Jennifer Hale's performance was really great, but I can't listen to her voice without thinking about all the other video game roles she's been in. I feel like there needs to be more than like 2 voice actors everyone uses.
posted by danny the boy at 3:49 PM on February 21, 2012


*wonders if anyone has ever beaten either game using nothing but the melee attack*

Supposedly melee is going to be a more viable option in ME3, but you could maybe do that in ME2 with the Vanguard (barring the gunship fights where you were forced to do range attacks).
posted by curious nu at 3:55 PM on February 21, 2012


I played Mass Effect for about 15 minutes. The story line was fine, I suppose, but then I was in some ridiculous shooter that I had about 20% control over. Move here. Fine, I'll move you here. Ok, now we're moving there, over that wall. Now peer around the corner and shoot those bad guys.

Really, if I wanted to play Time Crisis, I'd head to the nearest game arcade.
posted by zardoz at 3:56 PM on February 21, 2012


I don't think there was any possibility of same-sex fraternization in Mass Effect 2 main game

This is incorrect. Various wikis will tell you what the possibilities are and how to get there. Youtube has all the consumation clips for all possible Shepard gender/romantic interest permutations.
posted by sparkletone at 4:16 PM on February 21, 2012


A lot of the things the author describes as unique and awesome about Mass Effect can be found in Brin's Uplift novels:

* humanity as a fledgling civilization of space noobs trying to survive in a vast galactic society comprised of untold numbers of ancient civilizations
* humanity as a minority that at best is looked upon as naive and crude savages, mostly completely ignored and at worst persecuted with genocidal hatred
* a galactic society of civilizations build and run on found/rediscovered technology and knowledge so ancient that nobody can even remember where it first came from (the mythical progenitors seem to correspond to Mass Effect's Sovereign)

While Mass Effect is great I'm a little surprised that the author of the article never even mentions Brin's work.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:17 PM on February 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The reason is this: Mass Effect is the first blockbuster franchise in the postmodern era to directly confront a godless, meaningless universe indifferent to humanity.

>Fallout did it earlier and a lot a better.

I wouldn't call Fallout a blockbuster until FO3. There was a real religion too, as the Children of the Cathedral ascribed religious significance to the nuclear holocaust and expected The Master to lead them into an era of unity.

By dipping everyone into toxic vats.

It will be interesting to see the staying power of ME. Wing Commander was big enough that WC 4 featured Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies yet not many people remember the series nowadays.
posted by ersatz at 4:19 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Freddie Prinze Jr & Matthew Lillard killed it.
posted by the_artificer at 4:32 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


And if you can stand to play the game through more than once (which is worth it, especially if you switch up difficulty levels, classes, and/or morality preferences, which can result in a very different experience)

Ya, I really enjoyed my second playthrough. My character from starting from ME1 was a tech-sniper guy (infiltrator), so when I did the second play through (ME2) as the close-combat biotic class (vanguard) I had a blast. That charge move the vanguards get is pretty kickass!

And I like the mineral scanning! It was a nice change of pace, and I like chasing upgrades (grinding). It seemed to mesh well with the general concept of the game imho. (exploring space! getting materials for all that new tech. you need, etc.).

OTOH, I do agree that the plot is somewhat disappointing. You really do get the sense that they stole a little bit from everywhere, and though it is well presented, nothing ends up feeling all that fresh. I am excited for the third game though, and overall think the series is pretty excellent.

Oh, and that reddit thing looks terrible. Yikes.
posted by rosswald at 4:32 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I played Mass Effect for about 15 minutes. The story line was fine, I suppose, but then I was in some ridiculous shooter that I had about 20% control over. Move here. Fine, I'll move you here. Ok, now we're moving there, over that wall. Now peer around the corner and shoot those bad guys.

That's more or less a result of the "tutorial mode" that the game starts you out with, in order to learn the combat system. The action does feel heavily scripted at that point, but it loosens up later, once you've learned all the moves.

By comparison, Arkham Asylum feels *entirely* scripted in the action department, constantly introducing new abilities, giving you an ideal opportunity to use them (via one magic "do-all" button) and then insisting that you use it right then and there.

Most likely this is a result of overly simplified controls, made necessary by insisting that all games be easily ported to and from consoles, something RPG's were never meant to be played on.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:47 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the points about "my" Shepard are very useful, and highlight what I believe is the strength of Mass Effect - not the universe (which is fine, but pretty familiar - upstart humanity, squabbling council of galactic elders, major races bipedal and anthropomorphic with minor races for character, huge artifacts of an advanced and extinct alien civilisation, menace lurking in the outer dark) but the characterization and the world-building. Quite rightly, the world-building is in thrall to telling a story. The Krogan are as the Krogan are to create Wrex and Grunt as a particular kind of character. The Turian are stuffy and bureaucratic to give Garrus something to rebel against. And so on.

I think there's a case for Mass Effect having the best characterization and the best writing of any sci-fi RPG (I mean, there's Blade Runner, but that had far less dialogue overall).
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:12 PM on February 21, 2012


I thought I was going to hate the essay, and I still think it gets some of it wrong—the concept of humanity as something other than the pinnacle of civilization is not at all new, and while it's certainly great that Mass Effect treats you exactly the same no matter what gender you are, it's also the easiest way out, aside from forcing your character to be a human male. Difference is not the same as inequality, and having subtly different storylines depending on what gender you played as would be intriguing—never mind the possibilities of, gasp, actually having to play a female character who actually does have to face gender discrimination occasionally. I don't trust video game writers enough to see that through without it turning into an afterschool special, but there's absolutely a lot of room for improvement.

Finally, it's a bit silly to talk about how Mass Effect is unconstrained by the need for human actors, and so lets you show a wide variety of alien types, and then follows it with an image labelled "DIVERSITY" featuring entirely humanoid characters. Human actors are only half the story; as humans ourselves, it's easier to relate to aliens with faces and humanoid bodies than it is to, say, a Hanar space squid thingamabob. I mean, why couldn't you have Hanar officers on the Normandy? But you never see one. (Maybe there's a good canon reason why not, but my point is the canon could have been written to give non-humanoid species larger roles, and it wasn't.)

But in general, the essay reminded me of the many parts I liked about Mass Effect's universe—humanity's variety of responses to being treated like second-class citizens; a whole set of technologies delivered to the universe that's specifically designed to aid in that universe's destruction and consumption, all while its inhabitants are clueless; the various races, their histories and their interplay. What worries me a bit is that as of late, Bioware has begun to shy away from the worldbuilding aspects of their narratives, and instead focused on specific characters—particularly their romantic qualities. In Dragon Age 2, for example, the most interesting characters ended up being the characters you couldn't sleep with. (I'd say more, but we didn't mark this thread for Dragon Age spoilers.)

Recent comments about the story direction of Mass Effect and Dragon Age suggest to me that they're doubling down on the Harlequin aspects of their games. It's very smart from a business perspective—I know people who don't play that many games, but are obsessed with everything Bioware, and the focus on character relationships is a huge reason why. On the other hand, it also means those aspects are exaggerated at the expense of the other narrative elements, and everything gets thrown out of balance. Plot can and sometimes should be subordinate to characters, yes. But characters without a cohesive setting and plot are basically just a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons character sheets and a couple of Playboy/Playgirl pinups. We'll see very shortly if Mass Effect 3 can live up to this author's hopes and expectations for the universe, but I'm not completely convinced Bioware can pull it off anymore.
posted by chrominance at 6:32 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


i dunno about any of this but dead space is fucking great
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:09 PM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fallout...There was a real religion too, as the Children of the Cathedral ascribed religious significance to the nuclear holocaust and expected The Master to lead them into an era of unity.

Fry, talking to the sewer mutants:
"You worship an unexploded atomic bomb?!?"
Mutants:
"Its really just a Christmas and Easter sort of thing..."
posted by Chekhovian at 9:10 PM on February 21, 2012


Wing Commander was big enough that WC 4 featured Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies yet not many people remember the series nowadays

Oh man, I miss space fighter and giant robot games...imagine a new mechwarrior game controlled by Kinect...it would be like Robot Jox, where you could kick and smash buildings, step on infantry...it would be amazing!
posted by Chekhovian at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2012


Oh man, I miss space fighter and giant robot games...imagine a new mechwarrior game controlled by Kinect...it would be like Robot Jox, where you could kick and smash buildings, step on infantry...it would be amazing!

I am a console gamer who is a bit tired of playing games where I'm a dude (or dudette.) I would also like to play games where I am a space fighter or giant robot.
posted by Sauce Trough at 9:24 PM on February 21, 2012


The very premise of this article is faulty because of when it was written and published. It's equivalent to the essay "Glitches Reloaded" written in 2003 between the release of The Matrix(ces) Reloaded and Revolutions. In it, the author, a contributor to Ray Kurzweil's Singularity Institute, breathlessly heaps praise about the "rich philosophical and mythic elements of the film", while attempting to explain the real-world principles that Smith uploading himself into a human or Neo being able to see code are based upon (similar to those "The Science of Star Trek" pop science books). A choice quote: "In an ordinary science-fiction movie, this would be a more likely, but much less satisfying explanation. I think it’s too clichéd to be in a Wachowski."

Simply put, an essay that effusively praises a series that is only two-thirds completed is simply premature.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:39 PM on February 21, 2012


Fallout...There was a real religion too, as the Children of the Cathedral ascribed religious significance to the nuclear holocaust and expected The Master to lead them into an era of unity.

Fry, talking to the sewer mutants:
"You worship an unexploded atomic bomb?!?"
Mutants:
"Its really just a Christmas and Easter sort of thing..."


Ermm, I'm reasonably sure this is redundant by now, but y'all know that this is a reference to "Beneath The Planet of the Apes," right?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:35 AM on February 22, 2012


i dunno about any of this but dead space is fucking great
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:09 PM on February 21


It really is.

I think it's more of an unacknowledged heir to System Shock than anyone is willing to admit.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:53 AM on February 22, 2012


A few things bug me more than pompous types pissing on people’s enthusiasm for something

What the fuck ever, I'll take critical thinking skills over empty enthusiasm any day of the week.
posted by speicus at 12:59 AM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I generally try to roll up female characters in 3rd person games whenever possible, for the simple reason that if I'm going to be staring at my character's backside for the next 30 or 40 hours, it ought to be enjoyable."

Every fucking time guys playing female characters (and for some reason in Mass Effect in particular) comes up, someone makes almost this exact comment, and they always seem to think it's original thinking.


Are you a representative of the Metafilter originality enforcement office? Or is there something immoral now about objectifying an imaginary person? If ShutterBun enjoys following some animated avatar's fictional bottom around, so what.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:37 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had a lot of fun playing ME1 and 2, hell I went back and played them again with a female Shepard when I found out how much better the voice acting was, but I'm not going to pretend that they aren't intensely stupid.

The universe is bad '90s SF TV series flavoured boilerplate. That's okay, but it's not a lot more interesting than the Halo universe or even the Starcraft universe. 90% of conflict is resolved either by selecting the most obvious dialogue option (often colour-coded to make it unavoidably clear how to win) or by you and your antagonists piling in to opposite ends of a room filled with conveniently arranged waist-high cover where you resolve your differences in a kind of 22nd century version of paintball with boring energy weapons and repetitive magic. The morality system gives you a series of choices between childish naivity and self-sabotaging petulance and penalises you if you don't choose a single approach and stick to it. Most of your decisions, except for the obviously stupid ones, make surprisingly little difference to anything.

The worst part is the writing. Bioware manages to produce occasional moments of humour (okay, Mordin is pretty funny), and the Illusive Man is an entertainingly creepy parody of right-wing American adventurism in space, but every other interaction is just so flat and awkward. It doesn't help that the general approach of "tell, don't show" results in most of your conversations being irrelevant SF worldbuilding trope infodumps, but even if you skip all that the script just can't get any of its characters to develop and express emotional depth in any but the crudest of ways. Mostly by wanting to root you no matter how ugly you made your customised Shepard.

Ahem. Anyway, they're still fun. Expansive universe, characteristic sleek visual design (at least in the first one), skinner-box RPG mechanics, power-fantasy shooter gameplay and all.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:58 AM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


If ShutterBun enjoys following some animated avatar's fictional bottom around, so what.

It's my own fault. I made a living off photographing people's hinders for 10 years, so I'm really just relieved I'm not alone.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:02 AM on February 22, 2012


Most of your decisions, except for the obviously stupid ones, make surprisingly little difference to anything.

True, true. You can play KOTOR as a dyed-in-the-wool Sith bastard darkside badass asshole the whole way through, and yet when you confront Bastila on roof of the temple, they STILL give you the option to erase everything by telling her to return to the light side.

On the other hand, it's also kinda frustrating to miss out on content due to making an incorrect dialogue choice (which can indeed happen in a few cases in both KOTOR and the Mass Effect series). I'll leave it up to the game designers to hold us to it, though, otherwise we'll never learn about consequences.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:08 AM on February 22, 2012


It's my own fault. I made a living off photographing people's hinders for 10 years, so I'm really just relieved I'm not alone.

There's an old Gamecube game called P.N.03 you should try. It's all arse, all the time.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:15 AM on February 22, 2012


The plot in ME2 was a bit bad though, it was basically "Gather all these people and go here".

With respect: That was not the plot of Mass Effect 2. That was the framing story.

And my Sheps - both Paragon and Renegade saved the Destiny Ascension. The Renegade didn't care about the council. What they cared about was that the Destiny Ascension had the most powerful gun in known space (not counting the Reaper), and that the Geth fleet was at the time separated from Sovereign. Based on the information available, Shep wanted the Ascension to help shoot Sovereign - and wanted to defeat the enemy in detail while they were distracted by the Ascension, rather than the screening Geth destroying the Ascension then being still there to protect Sovereign.
posted by Francis at 3:37 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you a representative of the Metafilter originality enforcement office? Or is there something immoral now about objectifying an imaginary person?

I'm probably projecting, but I think what adamdschneider was driving at is that it seems every time there's a DudeShep vs. FemShep discussion (or indeed any discussion pertaining to male character vs. female character), there's always, always someone who feels the need to point out that the only reason they play [female character] is because she has a nice butt.

Which is fair enough, god knows the gaming industry pumps enough money into giving ladies sexy butts, but it just brings everything back to "hey guys we put a chick in this and she's totally hot amirite", rather than "hey guys we put a chick in this, check out how awesome she is when she has to give orders/use a sniper rifle/beat this Krogan at 4D chess". We know Shepard has a nice butt, we know people make their characters sexy because they want to look at something sexy, but when we're at a point where a gaming company choses their default female character by hosting a creepy Hot or Not contest, it's really not helpful to keep bringing every discussion back to her bodacious ass.
posted by fight or flight at 3:37 AM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


but when we're at a point where a gaming company choses their default female character by hosting a creepy Hot or Not contest

It doesn't help that the one they chose looks like she's 15.

Now, this is one of the best arses in videogames.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:57 AM on February 22, 2012


A few things bug me more than pompous types pissing on people’s enthusiasm for something.

Interestingly that's how I felt about the article in question. It praises Mass Effect by pissing on the enthusiasm of science fiction readers.

It's not a horse race, and Mass Effect loses nothing if it's not the superlative or only science fiction work that's existential, multicultural, and feminist.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:54 AM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aside from Chakwas, I can't think of many recurring human female characters who are arguably out of their 30s in Mass Effect. Maybe Parasini who has about ten minutes of dialogue split between ME1 and ME2. (On the other side, you have Anderson, Hackett, and TIM.)

It's another area where I think feminist science fiction authors have done better.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2012


> Aside from Chakwas, I can't think of many recurring human female characters who are arguably out of their 30s in Mass Effect.

If you're a spacer, there's also your mother, but I get what you're saying.
posted by ego at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2012


If you're a spacer, there's also your mother, but I get what you're saying.

Something that (slightly) bothers me is the relative unimportance of Space Mom Shepard who (as far as I know) doesn't even get her own voice and is only referenced in ME2 if you obsessively click on news kiosks. Sending a note to mom before going on two suicide missions doesn't seem to be an option.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:40 AM on February 22, 2012


Sending a note to anyone isn't really an option, sadly. I might leave a will with Anderson.

But your mother's voiced in ME1 at least.
posted by ego at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2012


I missed that on my playthroughs, probably because I've not done as many on ME1. The Shadowbroker DLC has crew members subscribing to dating services, online games, and submitting to poetry magazines. So the lack of contact there isn't very convincing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:59 AM on February 22, 2012


Ermm, I'm reasonably sure this is redundant by now, but y'all know that this is a reference to "Beneath The Planet of the Apes," right?

Yes, and if we're going to play the captain obvious game, let me point out that what makes it funny in Futurama is that the grim terrible PotA future cult has been reduced to banal perfunctory irrelevance in the the 31ist century.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:26 AM on February 22, 2012


Aside from Chakwas, I can't think of many recurring human female characters who are arguably out of their 30s in Mass Effect.

I just thought of a great scene for a mashup between ME1 and ME2.

SHEPARD and CHAKWAS split the bottle of Serrice Ice Brandy that Shepard has so thoughtfully brought from Omega, toasting the memories of their fallen comrades.

CUT TO: WREX entering the medical bay. SHEPARD and CHAKWAS are embracing on one of the examination tables.

(long silence)

WREX: Shepard.

SHEPARD: Wrex.

(Pause, then WREX leaves.)

SHEPARD: Maybe we should have locked the door.

CHAKWAS: Or pulled the shades, for that matter.

(CHAKWAS activates the polarization on the medical bay windows, making them opaque. MESS SERGEANT GARDNER leaves, disappointed.)

posted by Halloween Jack at 4:54 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The argument was made by Jennifer Hepler six years ago. Back then the BioWare writer argued that if dialogue can be skipped in games, then why not combat? - Embracing Skippable Combat
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on February 23, 2012


I;m guessing how you feel about that depends a lot on how much you feel dialogue scenes are part of the gameplay experience. If they really are, then it makes some sense, though it feels like you'd have to admit all the interactive elements of your game were just padding and grind. On the other hand, if you dialogue scenes are basically mildly interactive cutscenes when you're basically watching a movie with extra clicking, and it usually isn't going to be that good a movie.
posted by Artw at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't have a problem with that. In most games, there's at least one encounter that's more annoying to me than difficult. After slogging through that particular sequence on multiple difficulties, I'll take the option to skip if available or knock the difficulty down to minimize the grind.

But, my brief browse of the "debate" on this issue seems to suggest that a lot of people are very pissed off that Bioware isn't still churning out variations on Baldur's Gate or perhaps KOTOR, and blame writers like Hepler. But even Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb has pointed out that big old-style stand-alone RPGs with sprawling multi-threaded plots and tactical encounters are a niche and declining market and he streamlined Avadon because of it.

I slightly agree in that DA2 involved dozens of tedious and meaningless encounters, excessively reused the same map for a majority of them, and culminated in a mission that treated both the player and characters as idiots to set up the final choice to kick the black or white puppies. (I desperately wanted the Sam Vimes option of declaring the Free State of Kirkwall in the slums with Aveline and the watch to protect the civilians.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:26 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I don't agree enough to identify the Bioware writers as the death of good games or harass them on both social media and personal telephone lines. I'm happy just waiting a few weeks for reviews and spoilers (since I don't mind them that much) before deciding how much I'm willing to pay for a game.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:30 PM on February 23, 2012


Speaking of Dr. Chakwas. Part 2.

Skippable combat might make me play Final Fantasy again. I can't deal with the grinding. Alternately they could just implement cheat codes on consoles for a similar effect. I know there are people who do this on PC; I've read posts from people who use mods that just autokill all hostiles when you enter an area because they don't feel like going through every bit of combat just to play Dragon Age's plot again (or maybe even at all).

Rock Band let you unlock all the songs by doing a cheat that was just doing a particular pattern on the drum set. AFAIK, no one got their panties in a bunch over that: they knew people played it as a party game and didn't have a problem with giving those people access to everything up front. I don't see how skippable combat is any different than doing that. Or any different from using cheats in the Sims to get a big pile of money to build a giant fancy house and fuck around in it.
posted by NoraReed at 3:02 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So if this aligns with the Gumshow concept of removing barriers to the players getting to things you want to them to get at anyway - if the narrative content is the meat you want to players to get to via the grindy bits, why not just remove the grind and make it all meat?
posted by Artw at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2012


I wonder what a game that fully embraced this would look like - currently if you stripped things down to the dialogue seems it would just be a series of animated movies with choice points, prorbably not quite as complicated as a Choose Your Own adventure game - how could that be expanded upon without reintroducing old style walking about and flighty grind?
posted by Artw at 4:03 PM on February 23, 2012


So I've only ever played about 45 minutes of Mass Effect 1 (the gameplay is awkward), but since this thread came out I've read an embarrasing about of mass effect wiki articles.

***This is not groundbreaking science fiction***

Its a mishmash of old well troden Sci Fi ideas. Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers did it so so so much better.

why not just remove the grind and make it all meat?
Because then you'd have Leisure Suit Larry.

Seriously, as far as I discern, what gets people in a tizzy over this game is love interest romance stuff. That is NOT groundbreaking stuff. Whether tab A goes into slot B, or its two tabs or two slots...not a new human concern. Pretty much the things our monkey brains have been focusing on for 100,000 years....
posted by Chekhovian at 4:05 PM on February 23, 2012


Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers did it so so so much better.

I've never read the Berserker stuff, but the Reapers are basically Frederik Pohl's "The Foe".

Halo:Ringworld::Mass Effect:Gateway
posted by adamdschneider at 10:19 PM on February 23, 2012


While the Saberhagen and Pohl comparisons are valid I think a more recent bit of inspiration is likely Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor stuff.
posted by Justinian at 11:20 PM on February 23, 2012


Huh, the Inhibitors seem like a pretty direct rip-off!
posted by adamdschneider at 7:58 AM on February 24, 2012


The Inhobitors are basically a very nasty Berserker swarm.

/Would totally play weird cybergoth game set it Revelation Space universe.
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on February 24, 2012


I don't see how skippable combat is any different than doing that.

I think most people are worried about skippable combat because of the way it might affect game design. I don't think anyone wants game developers to have an excuse to not fix a boring or tedious or unbalanced section of combat: "Well, the player can always just skip it. We gotta ship this thing."

I already skip lots of combat by not playing bad games. I don't want the ability to skip bad combat. I want good combat.
posted by straight at 9:04 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think there's that, i think there's also the sense that the narrative breadcrumbs are the "reward" for getting through the gameplay segments. There's almost a sense of outrage that it might be possible to "cheat" and get the reward without playing. Which is why I'd be interested in seeing what a game would look like if you made the reward work as the actual game.
posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2012


to "cheat" and get the reward without playing

All the cutscenes are up on youtube already you know...you don't have to grind through hours of Space SUV searches for Space Minerals if you just want to see titillating cinematics about Space Mr. Darcy's love life.

what a game would look like if you made the reward work as the actual game

Modern Warfares 1,2,3 do a great job putting cutscence level set pieces directly into the game play. When the Hind is chasing your Blackhawk between skyscrapers in NYC...man that gets your adrenalin pumping...the climaxes of each of the three games also do a pretty good job with actual game play as the reward.

But the risk with set piece type things is that you end up in the "Press-X to not die trap".
posted by Chekhovian at 10:10 AM on February 24, 2012


There's almost a sense of outrage that it might be possible to "cheat" and get the reward without playing.

I think that reason is ridiculous. Anyone who gets upset that other people are enjoying part of a video game that they didn't "earn" is someone whose opinions about game design I urge everyone to ignore.

Setting that aside, here's another problem with the "skip" idea. I've been playing video games for 30 years now, and I'm still not always sure when I first play a game whether a frustrating section is difficult because the game design is bad or because there's a rewarding skill I haven't mastered yet.

There's quite a lot of enjoyment I've had over the years that I would probably have missed if I'd been able to hit the "skip" button whenever I ran into something that initially seemed too hard. There's also games with poorly-designed pointless, tedious difficulty spikes that I'm sure I would have enjoyed more if I'd had a skip button. The problem is it's sometimes hard to tell the difference ahead of time.

Difficulty levels sometimes create a similar problem (I'm sure glad I didn't play Batman: Arkham Asylum on "Easy" like I sometimes do with games like that), but at least with those you might have a better chance of realizing that the game would be more fun if you turned up the difficulty.
posted by straight at 11:04 AM on February 24, 2012


In Dragon Age 2, for example, the most interesting characters ended up being the characters you couldn't sleep with. (I'd say more, but we didn't mark this thread for Dragon Age spoilers.)

One of those characters is in a new Dragon Age comic, btw.
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on February 24, 2012


Why A Video Game Blockbuster Will Finally Allow You To Be A Gay Man
posted by homunculus at 8:11 PM on February 28, 2012


A leaked video of the ending is already out. I really, really hope the author of the OP will readdress his essay in a future io9 piece.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:14 PM on March 3, 2012


I just played the demo and saw there was a "story mode" option. Apparently Bioware reads Metafilter?
posted by ymgve at 4:32 PM on March 4, 2012


Well, or listens to its employees.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:06 PM on March 4, 2012


How Mass Effect challenged my definition of 'RPG'
posted by Artw at 8:34 PM on March 4, 2012


Getting a huge Peter Molyneux's Black & White vibe from the effusive, even orgasmic, critical praise for this game.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:38 PM on March 6, 2012


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