Massively Ineffectual

Shepard in N7 armor

Mass Effect 3 is finally here. The effects are pretty much as predicted; an attendant shower of hype and commensurate drops in productivity. The juggernaut is thundering through, and there's little or nothing to be done but let it roll by.

What has been effective (possibly even SUPEREFFECTIVE) was the user rating system on Metacritic. New users have created accounts just to post extremely negative scores and vote others who did same up, until anyone who reads the user reviews is greeted with a wall of red zeroes. The avalanche of down-checks dropped the user rating to 3.6 as of this writing, while the professional rating is over a nine.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Portal 2 received a similar treatment, mostly from PC users complaining that the game was a console port and others complaining about the day-one DLC. Bastion and Toy Soldiers: Cold War both had similar problems last fall, but Metacritic found the culprits and removed the reviews that were skewing things. Metacritic is investigating the Mass Effect 3 situation, and we'll see what they do.

Any big aggregator with user input systems like this is vulnerable to this sort of abuse, and it's not even limited to games. Amazon's ratings system has been used as a club to beat people in many media, many times. And who cares? It's just anonymous user input, right? Not necessarily. In the case of Metacritic, there is another layer of complexity and some bigger issues outside this box that make the comparison a little more invidious.

Amazon isn't purporting to be an authority on the official critical reception of the item. Metacritic does. But they don't just pull in all the scores and take an average. Metacritic grades on a curve, and grades the cheerleaders higher than the geeks (I thought I got past that nonsense in high school). They're not shy about it, either.

Then the can of worms gets the whole top half torn off when you realize how many business decisions game publishing companies make based on those numbers. Everything from funding choices, royalty payments, PR decisions — you name it — is bound up in in chasing that little green box. It's so crucial that last fall Telltale was caught trying to up their own scores on the site.

Good news: As a player you aren't trapped in that quagmire. Since you're not a game dev trying to get a word in edgewise with one of the great green-belching publishing gods, you can decide how big of a bucket of salt you want to take with all of Metacritic's numbers.

And you control how the game plays at your house. When you're facing the dilemma of how to handle the additional romantic possibilities in your own playthroughs, I have a secret trick to help you. If you don't want any homosexual sex, then don't flirt with anyone in the same gender. Really. It totally works. Not only that, but if you buy into the notion that any commander who starts playing with his "privates" that way is just looking for trouble regardless, you can simply not flirt with anyone at all.

Don't worry. You will not accidentally make one wrong choice and wake up somewhere awkward. None of your potential partners in this endeavor are slinking around on the Normandy's bridge so they can try and trip you and beat you to the floor. It takes some serious attention to the steps of the mating dance to get that short, lame-o cutscene, and there's no guarantee of success with any of them.

There are similar tactics you can use for the other issues I've seen raised. If you don't want to participate in what you see as a cash grab with that DLC, then don't buy it. The game plays just fine without it. If you're feeling particularly pithy, instead of an ephemeral entry in a dubious anonymous forum that will be washed away by their rose-colored scoring system, you could try a sternly worded note to EA as to why you voted with your feet and didn't buy it. If you don't like the fact that your actions in multiplayer affect your single-player game, don't play multiplayer until you've finished it. Some people might even consider that a sort of ExtraHard mode and give you a little e-cred. Or heck, just play the game in Story mode and avoid the whole issue if you want.

==== Warning: the next few paragraphs make a lot of vague assertions about the ending that may or may not count as spoilers. ====

The various endings of the game have the opposite effect. I've earned two of them, and now that I know the score, I'm not sure I'm going to go after the third. I spoke to a friend of my son's on St. Patty's Day, and we discussed his feelings. He's frustrated and angry. Not to the point of reporting it to the FCC or joining a class action lawsuit, but genuinely upset. I see it as two separate problems.

First off, it makes all three games seem pointless. You've made thousands of choices to shape your character and their story through all three games, but you end up at the same spot whether you're a jackbooted thug or a knight-in-shining-armor. Then you make what they try to build up to be a great final choice, and all roads lead to the same place. They even use a lot of the same footage, which doesn't help this impression.

Second, none of the choices feel like you actually won. This, I think, is the real key. The game was about saving the universe, but no matter what you choose in the end you're left staring at a shattered galaxy. Whether your Shepard lived or died didn't matter in the face of the rest of it.

The genre set certain expectations. People were expecting to bulls-eye a few womprats and drop a torpedo down the exhaust shaft. At worst, they would have faced their own Kobayashi Maru and tricked or fought their way through it. They were not expecting Seven Samurai, and they feel betrayed.

I understand where people are coming from, but I don't feel it. I thought it was kind of ballsy, myself. I see a lot of value in the fight to get there, and I'm not under any illusions that all battles can be cleanly won. I'm old; these days I'm not sure any battle can be considered "won" at all.

==== End Warning ====

The whole thing confuses me. With one hand they gave us more choices, and everyone complained. For people who seem so attached to the notion of having the freedom to choose and taking control of our own actions, we sure seem scared of having to make those choices. Then they take it all away and make things simple, and we complain some more. And in both cases, the means of complaint don't send a clear message to the powers that be.

I've read rumors that they're thinking about going back and changing things somehow, but I don't know how that would make any difference at this point. They made their choices, and they're going to have to figure out where to go from here.

Comments

To me any story is a "social contract" between the producer and the consumer. As the story begins you have almost no idea what it's about or how it's going to play out, but then as it progresses that empty space is filled in and you then come to expect certain element(s) from the story (because that's how they've been presented to you until then).

Those elements can be modified, but that has to happen early on. If not they become a lot more solid, and if messed with later will merely upset the consumer (if they liked the previous set of elements).

Here there was a sudden thematic change at the end. Previous choices were discarded with new elements being introduced, overriding previous resolutions. The player then is left with vague descriptions and very little role-playing options to interact with.

As for character resolution, it spends a significant portion of time before the last push for you to magically interact with most of your allied characters; but then either ignores them afterwards or mangling them together in a virtually unexplained/cryptic scene.

Personally I'm fine with with either a good or a bad ending, I'd take either of those over an ending that merely makes me go "Wait, what?"

Compared to the ME2 ending this felt extremely weak, rushed and very poorly thought out.

SpacePPoliceman wrote:
Before we agree to disagree, Hast, I do want to address one thing in particular: the notion of a 2001 ending on a Star Wars game. This cuts right to the heart of my chief concern--much of the criticism of the ending is predicated on a very superficial, rote reading of the game.

...

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it until its true: if we want better stories, we need to be nuanced and savvy enough to appreciate them.


In many ways I think we agree, although our interpretation of of the game and how we appreciate it differ. Personally I can appreciate the story in Mass Effect but I compare it works of Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Vinge, Vonnegut or more modern SF story tellers like Iain M Banks etc puts the Mass Effect story firmly in the same section of literature as the Forgotten Realms books. (And I'm not trying to dismiss types of books, I really enjoyed them as well.) Most of the things in the books are like a blockbuster movie when things happen more to look cool than to make sense in the story.

So in many ways I consider Mass Effect to be like the Matrix. It's cool ideas taken from other places and put togheter in a neat packaging.

But I think the fundamental misjudgement Bioware did in the story is that the end of the game collapses the "interpretation space" of the previous story into a much narrower story than it was previously presented as. When you make a game where the player is an active part of making their story you can't all of a sudden dismiss all those other possibility spaces and discard them as "non-canon" because you were intending to make 2001 all along when the player saw Star Wars.

And I really, honestly, believe that this one of the core problems with the ending. And that is what is making so many people upset. And this is why I consider the ending to be objectively bad, because in the end Mass Effect is a game about different possibilities and removing all the other options and saying "No it was 2001 all along!" at the last minute is simply poor story telling technique.

Hast:

I think the key differences between us (and I'm hoping SpacePPoliceman and I are in the same boat) is that I don't really think all that much of Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, or Vinge. In fact, Asimov's writing is downright horrible (comparatively speaking). His pacing is all over the place and his characters are famously duller than cardboard cutouts. And he's the best of that lot.

There's a lot of really cool story, lore, and ideas in Mass Effect; and unlike all those previous writers, it's married to a story and a game that has pacing, drama, and humor - all very well done in turn. It's so well done, in fact, that it's possible to miss 90% of that and just enjoy ME like it was Star Wars; ignoring all the philosophical and speculative story-telling that's going on underneath the character drama.

I don't think it's fair to rate it underneath Asimov when Asimov's best work - the Foundation series, does the exact same mistakes ME does in its last 2 minutes, and unlike ME, Foundation doesn't have the benefit of calling to alternate readings of its fiction to justify the 180.

I was going to add my twopen'orth, but LarryC and SpacePPoliceman have done my work for me.

My take on the comparison to classic sci-fi is that it wasn't so much commenting on the quality of the writing, so much as the quality of the ideas and thinking about something new or yet to be made (although there is the 2001 part too). Clarke thinking about satellites years before they were realised, or Star-trek's communicators before mobile telephones for example.

You lost me, who are the cheerleaders and who are the geeks on metacritic?

Ulairi wrote:
Isn't what Bioware does all about the illusion of choice?
Yep, I remember in Mass Effect 2
Spoiler:
when trying to recruit Angel aka Garrus, you have the option of killing the guy repairing the gunship, but even if you do that, you still have to fight the damn thing
so in hindsight this isn't terribly surprising.

I think the people wanting a happy ending in a fight between an ill-prepared primitive culture and a super advanced one are nutters, however, they promised a wide variety in the endings and did not deliver.

How great would it have been if the game ended with a sniper taking out Shepard right before he resolved the battle? Just..."Bang!"...black screen.

Scratched wrote:
My take on the comparison to classic sci-fi is that it wasn't so much commenting on the quality of the writing, so much as the quality of the ideas and thinking about something new or yet to be made (although there is the 2001 part too). Clarke thinking about satellites years before they were realised, or Star-trek's communicators before mobile telephones for example.

Those are actually fairly trivial. Anyone can look up a commonplace real object and dream up "What if?" scenarios where they would be different in a fantastical way (but explained through SCIENCE!). It's fairly hit or miss for scifi as a whole, except as a barometer for human desire. For instance, no flying cars yet, right?

Star Trek has the communicator, but they also have that Star Trek communicator pins in NG, and though we already have the technology for that, it's apparent once you can do it that no one really wants to pin a cellphone to their chest.

LarryC wrote:
I don't think it's fair to rate it underneath Asimov when Asimov's best work - the Foundation series, does the exact same mistakes ME does in its last 2 minutes, and unlike ME, Foundation doesn't have the benefit of calling to alternate readings of its fiction to justify the 180.
What?

Hast wrote:

Ok, I'm not a script writer nor a lit. major. But as far as I understand the tragic hero archetype it is someone who has a tragedy in their past which in many ways define their character. In Mass Effect Mordin is such a character. He deeply regrets his previous actions and that is pretty much the core of his character.

Shepard on the other hand is the kind of character who *repeatedly* runs into impossible odds and survives. I mean the last scene in Mass Effect 1 pretty much defines the Shepard character. Sure there are setbacks but unless you fail in ME2 it is the character that runs into impossible situations and makes people think twice about standing in their way.

Just to clarify:

Classically, a tragic hero is a hero with a negative aspect to their character, where that "tragic flaw" ends up undoing the hero. That flaw is often the hero's fate (e.g., "fated to kill his father and sleep with his mother," as in Oedipus), which the hero can't escape despite valiant efforts by the hero and others.

RolandofGilead wrote:

Ulairi wrote:
Isn't what Bioware does all about the illusion of choice?
Yep, I remember in Mass Effect 2
Spoiler:
when trying to recruit Angel aka Garrus, you have the option of killing the guy repairing the gunship, but even if you do that, you still have to fight the damn thing
so in hindsight this isn't terribly surprising.

It's not at full strength though. Like no shields/barriers or something.

RolandofGilead:

Clearly you didn't read up to the part where the Second Foundation's ultimate salvation (and the Foundation's by extension) is based on a sentient planet whose founding was masterminded by an ancient robot detective on the moon.

Yes, seriously.

Spoiler:
3) From the game we have no reason to believe that organics and synthetics cannot co-exist. We have already brokered a peace between the Geth and the Quarians. And my pilot is hooking up with the ship AI. If anything the story (as well as the Prothean back story) tells us that organics are a threat to synthetics. Also it seems like the Reapers haven't revolted against their maker, which kind of disproves the entire thing.
-->From the game you have a sample size of 2 to base your conlusion that Organics and Synthetic can coexist peacefully. The Reapers in theory have millions of years to base their assumption from. Not saying they are correct, just have a better understanding than Shepard does.

Spoiler:
So they just know better? Even if they do, just saying "you're wrong, and what your experience tells you is wrong" is hardly a good way to end the game, or any story. The rest of the game should lead up to the end, not contradict it.

kyrieee:

Actually the game supports the Reapers' conclusions. I agree that it could have been made more obvious, but as it is, I felt that it was something of a sledgehammer already. Obviously, I was mistaken.

A significant amount of sci fi and fantasy does. It's not that uncommon for a fantasy or sci fi story to change character midway.

Example: Each of the Wizard of Earthsea books has a different focus and theme. The final one is almost completely at odds with the first two; not that the first two were all that convergent.

I'll make one more comparison.

Donnie Darko is weird and metaphysical all the way through. 2001 is normal but has weird and metaphysical hints all the way through. Battlestar Galactica (the real version, not the new drama) is "gritty" and real all the way through.

There are certain things that a writer needs to do to be able to pull of a switch (as they did in 2001) - i'm sure Wordy can help me out here. However, Bioware played both ME1 and ME2 as straight as can be and, while there are hints of a "weird sh*t going on" throughout ME3 it's not overtly telegraphed as it was in 2001 and so it's completely out of place. It loses the consumer of the work because the style of the piece is abruptly changed in the third act with no warning and so many people might miss all the hints until you get to the end which is (potentially) predicated on those hints and so comes completely out of left-field for most consumers.

Maybe Bioware wanted to do a 2001.... If so they missed out on the key ingredients that make those sorts of stories work.... More importantly, they spent two thirds of the story playing it in a completely different manner. I'm not aware of any (perhaps i should insert "successful" here) piece of literature or film that does this.

I might give an indication to what i'm talking about: (mundane is referring to the celestial meaning of this word aka mundus and not uninteresting or boring).

2001 film timeline:
Ancient past: Mundane - weird, interestingly weird. Future/present: Mundane, mundane, interestingly weird. Mundane (for a long time) and then tech weird.... then weird weird... then metaphysical weird!

It builds to a crescendo.

ME series timeline:
ME1:
Mundane, interestingly weird. Mundane (for about 20 hours), meet sovereign:interestingly weird. Fight on citadel: interestingly weird. Ends in mundane.

ME2:
Mundane. Mundane. Mundane (collectors aren't weird, they're just kidnappers). Mundane. Interestingly weird (control/collectors reveal thing). mundane (nothing done with it), mundane. Ends in mundane.

ME3: Who knows wtf is going on from moment to moment depending on how you interpret it... but i see it as:
Mundane. Reaper invasion is just an invasion, nothing weird or metaphysical about it. Mundane (Tuchanka, Palaven etc). Tech interesting mundane (Geth stuff). Mundane. End of game: weird, weird! Last minutes of game. Ultra weird!

The pacing is all off for them to do it this way.

LarryC wrote:
A significant amount of sci fi and fantasy does. It's not that uncommon for a fantasy or sci fi story to change character midway.

Example: Each of the Wizard of Earthsea books has a different focus and theme. The final one is almost completely at odds with the first two; not that the first two were all that convergent.

Right... but are they as big as the major fantasy/sci-fi releases? I have to admit i've not read them so i'm asking that as a legitimate question.

*Big meaning popular.

Duoae wrote:
LarryC wrote:
A significant amount of sci fi and fantasy does. It's not that uncommon for a fantasy or sci fi story to change character midway.

Example: Each of the Wizard of Earthsea books has a different focus and theme. The final one is almost completely at odds with the first two; not that the first two were all that convergent.

Right... but are they as big as the major fantasy/sci-fi releases? I have to admit i've not read them so i'm asking that as a legitimate question.

*Big meaning popular.

Well, how about Lord of the Rings? The first book is an adventure/journey book, the second one is a war book, and the third one is parable about Christ-like figures and giant plot holes. Oh, and the Scouring of the Shire. Ugh.

It's not coincidental that the movies were similarly disjointed in character.

LarryC wrote:

Well, how about Lord of the Rings? The first book is an adventure/journey book, the second one is a war book, and the third one is parable about Christ-like figures and giant plot holes. Oh, and the Scouring of the Shire. Ugh.

It's not coincidental that the movies were similarly disjointed in character.

Actually, i'd argue that LORT doesn't throw up any surprises in tone or style. You're confusing content with style. The ending of ME3 to me (if indoctrination is true) is more at home in a survival horror style tale like Dead Space than an action sci-fi.

Maybe it's just my inherent Englishness. It definitely sets us apart from all the other countries.

Duoae wrote:
There are certain things that a writer needs to do to be able to pull of a switch (as they did in 2001) - i'm sure Wordy can help me out here. However, Bioware played both ME1 and ME2 as straight as can be and, while there are hints of a "weird sh*t going on" throughout ME3 it's not overtly telegraphed as it was in 2001 and so it's completely out of place. It loses the consumer of the work because the style of the piece is abruptly changed in the third act with no warning and so many people might miss all the hints until you get to the end which is (potentially) predicated on those hints and so comes completely out of left-field for most consumers.

I can't say with any certainty how these things work on the scale of a videogame trilogy, because that's a much longer experience for the audience than even a movie trilogy, but in film and literature there's usually a sense of an undertone "beat" that reverberates and generally speeds up as it moves toward overtaking the theme.

For what it's worth, I think there were some weird, creepy things going on in ME1 and ME2. I was decidedly put off by the beginning of ME2.

You are aware that indoctrination and horror is part of the Reaper MO, right? Hell, husks might as well be mecha-zombies. In ME2, you could fail to save your crew from melting into a giant mecha-zombie, and you play a part where you're being chased by these horrific creatures while being totally powerless. A significant amount of the satisfaction of massacring husks is from revulsion and horror at what they are.

You could even make a case that the Reapers are giant mecha-Cthulus.

RolandofGilead wrote:
You lost me, who are the cheerleaders and who are the geeks on metacritic?

Metacritic weights their scores more heavily to some outlets because they've decided that particular outlet is more important. A review from IGN, for example, would count more in their calculations than a smaller outlet like 3DJuegos.

The link in the article explains it.

LarryC wrote:
You are aware that indoctrination and horror is part of the Reaper MO, right? Hell, husks might as well be mecha-zombies. In ME2, you could fail to save your crew from melting into a giant mecha-zombie, and you play a part where you're being chased by these horrific creatures while being totally powerless. A significant amount of the satisfaction of massacring husks is from revulsion and horror at what they are.

You could even make a case that the Reapers are giant mecha-Cthulus.

Unfortunately, on my scale, Terminators are firmly on the "mundus".

Revulsion and horror at corporal enemies is also mundus.

wordsmythe wrote:

I can't say with any certainty how these things work on the scale of a videogame trilogy, because that's a much longer experience for the audience than even a movie trilogy, but in film and literature there's usually a sense of an undertone "beat" that reverberates and generally speeds up as it moves toward overtaking the theme.

For what it's worth, I think there were some weird, creepy things going on in ME1 and ME2. I was decidedly put off by the beginning of ME2.

That's true. The videogame length is an unexperienced event in storytelling history. However, most of that is "gameplay elements". I've no worry that you could compress the cinematic qualities of ME1-3 to around 3-4 hours of "story".

Perhaps we need to start actively exploring this. Generally accepted ideas surrounding narrative in film and literature may not work in game form but there must be some general formula for a specific style of game. I mean, Call of Duty seems to have found some sort of ideal minimum (meant in the physics sense).

Duoae wrote:
That's true. The videogame length is an unexperienced event in storytelling history. However, most of that is "gameplay elements". I've no worry that you could compress the cinematic qualities of ME1-3 to around 3-4 hours of "story".

Perhaps we need to start actively exploring this. Generally accepted ideas surrounding narrative in film and literature may not work in game form but there must be some general formula for a specific style of game. I mean, Call of Duty seems to have found some sort of ideal minimum (meant in the physics sense).


I'd say one thing 'traditional media' has over games is that it's expected to show a number of perspectives, rather than games where you usually only have one and need to slowly be exposed to what the other party/parties are doing. I think there's a lot of beating around the bush in games that would be cut or minimised in a book/film.

Duoae:

Too short. ME2 alone would take a miniseries what with all the loyalty missions and such. You'd think the ME3 combat stuff takes a long time, but it's really only about 5-10 minutes for a short combat.

Scratched wrote:
Duoae wrote:
That's true. The videogame length is an unexperienced event in storytelling history. However, most of that is "gameplay elements". I've no worry that you could compress the cinematic qualities of ME1-3 to around 3-4 hours of "story".

Perhaps we need to start actively exploring this. Generally accepted ideas surrounding narrative in film and literature may not work in game form but there must be some general formula for a specific style of game. I mean, Call of Duty seems to have found some sort of ideal minimum (meant in the physics sense).


I'd say one thing 'traditional media' has over games is that it's expected to show a number of perspectives, rather than games where you usually only have one and need to slowly be exposed to what the other party/parties are doing. I think there's a lot of beating around the bush in games that would be cut or minimised in a book/film.

Videogames are also largely stuck in this humanist epic mindframe, too. If a single, unified actor is strong enough and focused enough, he (yes, he) can save the universe! That all fits quite nicely for most thinkers between the Renaissance and WWI, but "there are more things in heaven and earth." The ME series has pushed some of the boundaries, and for that I value it.

I'm with you. That's why I chose Seven Samurai as my example. I don't know if you've seen the film, but at the end the three surviving samurai are standing there, watching the villagers go on with their lives with big smiles on their faces and Kambei remarks that even though the samurai "won" they didn't win; they lost their friends and earned some new scars with little or nothing to show for it. At that moment you see what he really meant the other times he commented how he'd never "won" a battle.

The problem is not what is tries to convey, it's that it doesn't convey anything. I don't need an uplifting ending, but I want the ending to make me feel something. They don't show you the price of your 'victory'. You relate to the world and the story through the characters, but the ending doesn't involve any characters, at least in any significant capacity.

kyrieee wrote:
The problem is not what is tries to convey, it's that it doesn't convey anything. I don't need an uplifting ending, but I want the ending to make me feel something. They don't show you the price of your 'victory'. You relate to the world and the story through the characters, but the ending doesn't involve any characters, at least in any significant capacity.

That seems valid to me.

LarryC wrote:
RolandofGilead:

Clearly you didn't read up to the part where the Second Foundation's ultimate salvation (and the Foundation's by extension) is based on a sentient planet whose founding was masterminded by an ancient robot detective on the moon.

You mean the awesome part? Yep, read that. Read Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. Might be where Asimov got the idea. Apparently it's a classic, available from Project Gutenberg. What's really amazing is how little our view of the universe/our knowledge of physics has changed, with the exception of not knowing that 'variable' stars are pulsars, I'd be hard-pressed to think of someone coming up with something radically different today.

LarryC wrote:
You could even make a case that the Reapers are giant mecha-Cthulus.
Others seem to have reached the same conclusion, there's a neat article about it...here it is.
http://www.popbioethics.com/2012/02/...

More about the illusion of choice from ME2, ergo ME3 not so shocking, in Miranda's loyalty mission

Spoiler:
her old friend gets killed regardless of whether you stop Miranda from killing him or not