A New Ending Couldn’t Destroy Mass Effect’s Artistic Integrity

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Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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45 Responses

  1. Avatar Naulidor says:

    I absolutely agree that any new ending would not destroy Bioware’s work… personally, what I ask from them is just to be honest with their own work; comparing the ending of ME1, ME2 and the one of ME3 we see a difference at once. The outcome of two first games can be much more different than the outcome of the third game, and still … after all this way the players deserve some more information about the future of their team mates and the civilisations that they encountered.

     Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      See that’s interesting, and I’ve been running into this with a lot of people.  For me, the ending is totally out of Mass Effect 1.  It fits right into the mystical sci-fi mood of the first, to my mind.

      And so the problem for me is more that it doesn’t fit at all with what the second and 99% of the third game are doing.  Though the first two games each had a choice at the end, I think it’s understandable that the third/final doesn’t.Report

    • Avatar Tevin Ward says:

      I agree entirly in what you are saying that that Mass Effect should have an ending that fits with how the game tells its own story and that this ending has no place with the art the Mass Effect portrayed itself as (successfully I might add). another thing is that killing off Commander Shepard may be what you want to do in the last game, but even though the Citadel and Mass Relays are destroyed it doesn’t have to be the last game. Why do you have to kill off Commander Shepard, why does Shepard and Anderson have to be the only ones who make it on the Citadel. that is the thing about Mass Effect, It is a Butterfly Effect, every action you do in the past effects the future so why can’t they have character you meet before sacrifice himself in Shepards place. That would be a Mass Effect ending. It would also open up BioWare To new game design for the future of Mass Effect. Shepards crew are stranded on another world they could use that as a drive for Shepard to explore space even after the third game, and they never answered the: Who created the Reapers? The Catalyst said that they were there to bring the order out of chaos, so truly wanted that. The Catalyst made it seem that he was the creater but the truth is he was a AI or a VI, So who created him and of what race? If that race was so Hell bent on bringing order out of chaos that they would foresee that the Reapers would not succeed in every galactic cycle so would put in counter measures just in case, weither it was another creation or themselves because who knows what is in Dark Space. Or who knows maybe the Reapers destroyed their own creater because that is what Mass Effect is, An Unknown. There are so many possibilities and ways that they can keep this story alive. but the way that Mass Effect 3 ends does not open it back up because it does not carry the same respect for the game that all of your other choices throughout the franchise has given. that is my opinion, and that is all it is.Report

  2. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Any creator worth their salt takes feedback as they can get it. I lose respect for IGN, if they don’t have a solid “this is why we aren’t changing that” — if they’re just being stubborn. I’m stubborn (Just ask Jason 😉 whom I owe an apology…) maybe that’s why I leap to this conclusion first.

    Alright, there’s plenty of other franchises that have had different endings. You do remember End of Evangelion, right?

    Well, eventually Anno woke up to the fact that he had made his series suck — by being too depressed to write it properly! He seems to be doing a better job this time around (also, more money helps).

    Even Robert Jordan learned a lot when his fans said “nothing happened in the last book!”Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      I pretty much agree.  Any guesses on why the IGN response (read: video game press establishment) are all taking that same entrenched position?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Jessica Chobot might be one reason…Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        I don’ think it’s the Chobot thing, as to be blunt, I get the feeling Chobot doesn’t actually interact that much with the rest of the actual IGN staff from reading their articles and listening to various podcasts from the site.

        I think the real reason is pretty simple. The same criticism, which to be honest, mostly aren’t as erudite and restrained as the ones by Kain and others, that Bioware is getting on Mass Effect 3 probably sound a lot like the criticism they get on every review that’s either higher or lower than what random commenters believe the score should be.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          A paid employee of a company was used as a model and voice actor for a video game and this same company reviewed this game without disclosing that a paid employee was used as a model and a voice actor… and this game got not only a nigh-perfect score but a bunch of defenses explaining that anyone who disagreed was doing so for venial reasons.

          The collusion doesn’t even have to be overt (written down, discussed, etc). It can be part of the, yes, corporate culture. “Synergy”, if you will.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I just found out that Colin Moriarty wrote the strategy guide for Mass Effect 3.

          Is *THAT* conflicty of interest enough for you?Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One of the biggest problems I’ve seen is that every single review failed to mention the face importation bug (“Jesus, Jaybird! Quit talking about your damn face importation bug!” “No.”) and it also failed to mention the last five minutes of the game.

    What could explain this? Well, I suspect that most of the reviewers didn’t even try to import their character but just started from scratch and most of the reviewers only got 30-40 hours into the game before reviewing it and, thus, didn’t finish it.

    From what I understand, the game is *AMAZING*… except for those last five-ten minutes.

    And so now we have a situation where there is a vocal minority of fans screaming bloody murder about the various review websites that gave this game a *PERFECT* without mentioning the various controversial things about the game. Without even *MENTIONING* them. At the same time, Jeff Gerstman is giving a speech at Gamespot about how, yeah, he *WAS* fired for giving a bad review to a game (but, of course, that’s all behind us now). At the same time, IGN’s Jessica Chobot was a voice actor and personality in the game… and, in response to the players saying “we wanted something a little more in line with expectations!”, the websites that handed out perfect scores had a choice:

    To acknowledge that, maybe, they didn’t see anything at all like the vocal minority saw due to a flaw in how EA/Bioware works with review websites, to acknowledge that, maybe, these things are matters of taste and all of the review websites just happened to have similar taste, or to acknowledge that, maybe, the vocal minority is a bunch of people who happen to have a flaw when it comes to this game (be it gamer entitlement, homophobia, or the desire to ride a unicorn that shits rainbows).

    At this point, it surprises me not at all that IGN is choosing the third.

    It *DOES* surprise me how few review websites are choosing the first or the second, though. (It’s like none of them realize how much credibility they’d gain by doing so and how much they’re *ALL* doing by plowing ahead with the third. Look at the comments on Erik’s posts. He’s not even saying that EA/Bioware screwed up, just that he sees how someone might be disappointed… and gamers everywhere are falling over themselves thanking him for being neutral and doing actual journalism.)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Short version: If the review websites say “yeah, I could see how they might want to change the ending”, they’ll invite questions like “why did you give it a perfect score?” which they would rather not answer. By arguing that the ending shouldn’t change, they won’t have to answer any questions at all.

      If they’re lucky.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

      To be blunt, I think a lot of game reviewers are numb. Every time they give a game a lower (or higher) rating than the “Internet” thinks it deserves, they get attacked relentlessly. So, it’s quite easy for game reviewers to think of the vast majority of gamers on the Internet as monkeys flinging poo. After all, who would you side with, people who you know have toiled for two years on a game or the same commenters who call you a fat idiot for giving their favorite game a 7?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        There are many problems with game review sites in the first place. Gaming companies buy ads on these websites, after all, and threaten to withdraw funding if a game gets a bad score. The game review site has two choices:

        1) kick it up to an 8

        2) say goodbye to 4, 5, 6 digits worth of cash (and you have people who work for you and they have kids and so on)

        It’s easier to do 1… but this can cost you credibility when your scores only go from 7-10… so people eventually flock to reviewers who are honest about stuff.

        These reviewers tend to get hired by gaming companies that have the money to hire new talent… and then guess what happens?Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          To be honest, I think the “game companies are buying scores” is a little overblown by people. From everything I’ve read, on most sites, there’s a wall between advertising and editorial. Sometimes, that wall gets broken and bad things   happen like with Gamespot back in ’07, but I think it’s resulted in every commenter on the Internet having free license to claim that a site is bought every time a game has a higher rating than they think.

          I think the 7-10 scale is there because most game reviewers are older than the average commenter/reader/viewer at their site, so they have a bigger perspective. Even a mediocre game of 2012 has a better foundation than many games of five or ten years ago. Of course, some people are always going to think it was better ten years ago and games suck because everything’s a shooter, but that’s the market at work.

          As for people moving over to game development. I’ll be honest. I’ve never seen any good link between, “this guy gave this an 8 despite being terrible and two years later he’s now working their.” Most game reviewers move over to game development/PR/community work because it’s a job that actually has some stability to it, not the result of any backroom deal.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Oh, I certainly don’t think it’s anything like “buying scores”. Nothing so obvious.

            I just think that it’s a subtle nudging. “We were thinking about buying some ads… we can’t choose between the quarter page B&W ad and the full page color ad… what did you think of our last game?”Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Well, as far as magazines go, do they even matter anymore at this point? 🙂

              Seriously though, like I said above, there’s multiple podcasts out there from reviewers who have given a bad review of a game (and still working at the same place) finding out months later the publisher called up pissed about the score. Yet, they’re still working at the same place. The truth is, for the most part, in the current games industry, the biggest hyped games that have had the most money spent on them are probably going to be the best games of that year according to game reviewers.

              I mean, looking at the Metacritic averages from 2011. The top 5 non-sports games by average was Portal, Skyrim, Batman, Deus Ex, and Dead Space 2. Are any of those mediocre games? Not really. Now, I can even agree with the argument that more 9’s should be 8’s, 8’s should be 7’s, and so on, but if the actual order of the games don’t seem that crazy, I’m not that worried if the 31st ranked game of the year has an average of 82 instead of 76 as long as it makes sense to me that that’s the 31st ranked game of the year.Report

          • Avatar Pyre says:

            Actually, no.  There isn’t much of a wall.  The Gerstmann firing only comes as a shock to those who haven’t been paying attention.  (Frankly, with the departure of most of the old guard like Greg Kasavin, he should have known better himself.)

            I did some freelance video game reviews for a few websites along with one of my roommates from 1999-2001 and there were multiple instances of review tampering with either score or text.  (It didn’t bother me when this happened but he got really pissed when they effectively neutered his Mechwarrior 3: Pirate’s Moon review by removing almost all the bad text.  Then again, I never thought that I would be making a career of it.)

            This has not changed either in print or website since.  Ad dollars do nudge reviews although they don’t outright buy them on the major sites…..usually.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

              Again, I can either trust multiple people who worked in the industry, including those who aren’t connected with the industry anymore, or I can trust people whose connection is a couple of freelance articles whose scores may have changed because they didn’t fix the text or any number of reasons. Again, game reviewers and game sites are an easy target. I simply don’t believe in the conspiracy that bad games are being given great scores or vice versa, because I’m simply not seeing it.

              I mean, I think IGN, or more exactly, Moriarty is being an ass about this whole entitled thing, but I also believe that his review of Mass Effect as a 9.5 was his rating, not because EA spent sweet sweet ad dollars. If people want to feel justified in attacking game reviewers, attack the actual reviews, not the “lol paid for review” crap I see on every good review of a game that’s not ‘popular’ on the Internet’s.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Trust whom you wish, Jesse.

                Our point is that while we can’t trust the review websites absolutely, we *CAN* trust the review websites to be review websites.

                Look at what was promised during development, look at what was wrong with the game out of the box, and then think about the simplest explanation for review websites not even mentioning these things (and, indeed, mocking the folks who noticed them).

                What’s the simplest explanation?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                That what the Internet thinks are massive problems, the average reviewer doesn’t agree with them?

                After all, the biggest “bug” in the game only happens to be something that only happens if you had the same exact character model from ME1. The rest of what the Internet is upset about is all pretty damn subjective. As for the prerelease promises versus the actual game, I’m sure the actual producers/writers of the game would say fulfilled those promises. I mean, I haven’t played the game, but it is possible that people actually liked the ending, despite the new internet truth that it was the worst thing in the history of gaming.Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

                Ones reaction too, and interpretation of, the ending are subjective.  But the facts about what actually occurs are not.

                And those fly in the face of what BioWare had claimed prior to the release.  It’s not a matter of he said/she said, as in BioWare thinks they accomplished X, fans don’t think they acommplished X.

                It’s that BioWare claimed repeatedly the game mechanic at the end would be one thing, and then it clearly wasn’t.

                Whatever one’s feelings about the ending, good or bad, the above remains true.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The bug also affects the PS3, Jesse. The PS3 didn’t even *HAVE* a Mass Effect 1.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “the biggest “bug” in the game only happens to be something that only happens if you had the same exact character model from ME1. ”

                But that is, supposedly, one of the key features of ME3; that it’s a continuous story about this character that you made up yourself, and that the choices you make–right down to what the main character looks like–determine what story gets told.Report

  4. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I think the issue is less complicated than one of artistic integrity.

    I think the issue is that the whole series, up until the end, was setting up to be a throwdown with Saberhagen’s Berserkers.  And then we get to the end–as in the actual last conversation in the game–and surprise! It’s actually “Prometheus Unbound!”  And it was all along!  Now click a button to decide what cutscene plays to end this epic three-game story.

    Not to mention the fact that many players will have made the Geth and Quarians be friends again, thereby completely refuting the end guy’s whole rant, so either Bioware is saying “well yeah but that won’t last” or they just forgot about it entirely. 

    Sort of like the end of “Fallout 3”, where your character heroically sacrifices himself by walking through a radiation field and dying of radiation exposure, at which everyone who played the game yelled “wait a minute!  I got a whole truck full of antiradiation drugs!  I got three different best friends who aren’t affected by radiation!  I got a radiation-caused mutation that somehow made me immune to radiation!  Suddenly radiation makes me die?” 

    Although maybe Bioware is trying to do what Bethesda did, except that it’s more difficult to pull that off when the ending is literally “civilization was destroyed”.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I admit: I did kinda replay the ending to Fallout 3 a couple of times to see if my Rad-X drugs, advanced radiation suit in perfect condition, and perks would change anything. I was also irritated because, at that point, Fawkes was my companion.

      I shrugged, however. The speech at the end did a lot to wash the bad taste out of my mouth.Report

  5. Avatar noABCinEnding says:

    I complete agree with and support the article.  I really dislike how developers seem to extoll the virtues of fan engagement and feedback (i.e. now more interactive than ever!  designed with fans in mind!), but then when fans actually want to make a tangible, well-intentioned impact on a franchise that they adore, the developers turtle-up and cry ‘artistic freedom!’.

    I am, however, not completely naive.  Corporations have to ‘hold-the-line’ as much as fans, and it would be unseemly for Bioware to suddenly turn around and say ‘yeah, you know what… that ending was crap’.  That being said, they would gain an enormous amount of respect (at least from me) if they do decide to change/add elements that address ME3’s issues, and do so in a way that makes use of fan feedback.

    Art or product, at the end of the day, it all comes down to knowing your audience and what you want to communicate to them.  Yes, companies can make whatever the hell they want and fans don’t necessarily get to tell them how to do it.  In my mind the greater challenge (and perhaps aspiration), is to make something that is indeed your own, but something that can belong to everyone else too.  I want no part of the ending to ME3.Report

  6. Avatar Pyre says:

    Man, I’m glad that today’s internet communities weren’t around when Planescape was released.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Really? I’m glad that today’s publishers weren’t in charge of putting Planescape out.

      “First off, we need it to be a first person shooter. Second, there are too many dialog options. Nobody wants to read all that. If we want replay value, we shouldn’t let them change classes. And the Cranium Rats section should be switched to turret defense.”Report

      • Avatar Pyre says:

        You do realize that this isn’t a true statement.  Otherwise people wouldn’t be debating the Mass Effect Ending in the first place.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          “You know what the forgiveness conversation with Morte needs? Quick-time Events! We can make sure that the player is paying attention to this part!”Report

          • Avatar Pyre says:

            So your basic premise is that Bioware is now the new Infinity Ward for you?

             Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              No, not at all. I was just thinking what Planescape would be like if today’s publishers were in charge of telling the developers what to make.

              “Could you give the Nameless One a catchphrase? Oooh, here’s one! He can kill someone and then yell ‘WHAT’S MY NAME?’ at them.”Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Internet confession – it’s an entirely foreign concept to me to play a game (other than the Civilization series) to the ‘end’.  (I think the closest I ever got was Deus Ex Conspiracy where I got to the penultimate baddie)Report

  8. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    I always thought Apocalypse Now ended with Martin Sheen calling in an airstrike.  Good ending, I thought, annihilating Kurtz’ entire perverted mess.

    WRONG!

    In any case, when Coppola heard that audiences interpreted this as an air strike called by Willard, Coppola pulled the film from its 35 mm run, and put credits on a black screen. 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalypse_Now#Endings

    That’s the one I saw.  Turns out I have no idea how the story ends.  Silly me.

    In the Redux Version, Willard silences the radio as the PBR is pulling away from Kurtz’s compound. It is unclear whether Willard then points the boat upstream or downstream. Just before fading to black, Kurtz’s last words “the horror” are echoed and there is a brief glimpse of helicopters and napalm that harks back to the beginning of the film.

    The best thing about endings is that if it’s a good and true enough story, any number of endings are OK, the up one, the depressing one, whatever.

    I must admit that on seeing the aforementioned original 35mm run in 1979, I was a bit uncertain if martin Sheen blew the place up or that Coppola had spent the money blowing it up, so he was going to put that money up on the screen regardless.

    Anyway the point being—and I haven’t taken the time to play a narrative-driven game since 1998’s

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanitarium_(video_game)

    if the game is good, the ending isn’t everything.  I guess I still don’t know how Apocalypse Now ends after all these years.  Neither does Coppola, it seems.  Which is cool.  Good flick.

     Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      Good points all Tom.

      Personally, my own issues with the last game lay mostly outside of the ending (my ownly genuine critique of which is that it was earned and they never committed to it).

      I think I, and a lot of fans, would have cared much less about the ending it there had been more meaningful narrative moments beyond it.  But just taking the last game as an example, moments, gameplay or otherwise, of actual story account for maybe 3-4 hours, or less than 25%.  As a result, the ending has a large burden to carry (and one it couldn’t possibly do so successfully).Report

  9. Avatar Pyre says:

    I think the big problem is that any new ending will be an ending by committee.

    [Spoilers but I doubt anyone here has read Slut Girl anyway.]

    The best example that I can think of is Slut Girl.  (Yes, I’m using a hentai series.  Feel free to giggle.)  Slut Girl was a series that, along with the usual stuff, actually had really good characterization of it’s characters.  At the end of the series, Sayoko leaves Satoru with the last panel being a shot of her walking down the street away from Satoru’s apartment. 

    Fan outcry over this was immense because everyone was convinced that those two should stay together.  However, the creator, Isutoshi, had only written this to break into the industry and moved on to more respectable works.  A few years go by and, in 2003, a new publisher gets the rights to Slut Girl.  They decide to republish it as a collection and, since Isutoshi is working for them, they wave a contract at him which forces him to produce an epilogue story called Slut Girl Alpha. 

    Having bought an earlier collection, I went out on the internet to find the bonus story.  On paper, it should have worked.  Sayoko comes back to Satoru and the rest of the supporting cast comes back as well.

    As it turns out, the story was awful.

    As you can guess, Isutoshi didn’t want to come back to this story so, when forced, he did a paint-by-the-numbers story reuniting everyone.  While it was the ending that the fans had said they wanted, the story was written as an unenthusiastic attempt at fan appeasement by a creator who didn’t want to do it in the first place.  In the end, despite getting what they want, noone liked the new one-shot.

    I suspect that the same thing is going to happen with Mass Effect 3.  Bioware is going to cave to pressure and force the staff to create the same level of committee-driven fan appeasement ending which is going to please noone in the end.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Here is what I understand is the problem with the ending:

      This ending would be an awesome ending *IF* you half-assed the game and got 60% of the assets you needed before taking on the endgame. “Wow!”, this ending would make you say. “I should have saved the Rachni in the first game and the Krogan data in the second! I should have played multiplayer!”

      As it is, it doesn’t really matter if you maxxed out your battle readiness. You still got the same ending as the folks who half-assed it and never played multi. That feels off… certainly when compared to the possible endings in Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and so on.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      Here’s my actual position on the ending (rather than justification or defense for the legitimacy of other people’s):

      I liked what the ending was going for, even if it didn’t go far enough, or try hard enough.

      It didn’t fit at all with the majority of the second and third game.

      It therefor felt out of place, and very jarring, and as a result made much of what was done in the second and third game feel all for naught.

       As a result, I agree that whatever ending results from this fan-induced re-evaluation will probably be worse than what was already there to begin with, either because it will outright change the ending, or bog it down with lots of unnecessary “fan” service.  The interesting question then is: will the consumers who demanded a new ending be pleased with the one BioWare gives them, or at the very least with BioWare’s effort to accomodate them?

      *Note:  I’ve been trying not to use the word “fan” too much while talking about this controversey (here and elsewhere) because I feel like it, and terms like “gamer” have the connotation of unsatisfiable.  Plus, I don”t consider myself a “fan” of Mass Effect, so much as a consumer/customer/player of it.  And my issues with the franchise are not necessarily the same as those who would consider themselves ardent BioWare/Mass Effect “fans.”Report

  10. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    Also, the Professional Enthusiast Press was up in arms about this, and other related posts on the topic by Tassi.Report

  11. Avatar QuixoticMage says:

    I think games would qualify more as “commissioned art’ than ‘art for arts sake’. Consequently, if the devs have made a promise about what their art would finally look like If I’ve paid them based on that promise, then they are bound to respect it. They can’t give me something completely different than promised because of their “artistic freedom”.

    This is what people seem to forget – the devs advertised and promised 16 “wildly different endings”, choices that matter and closure. They NEED to reflect these promises in their endings, otherwise it’s false advertising.

     Report

  12. Avatar N7 Shepard says:

    i love mas effect series even after mass effect 3 this is best game i ever played i know there are storys that hero sacrifices save what hi or her love like and femshep want save liara because she love her and save his or her friendsReport