Never Satisfied

“Maybe you’re just like my mother,” a great man once sang, “she’s never satisfied.” It is a truth universally acknowledged that gamers, like the fictional mother of The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, find satisfaction an elusive prize. Ours is a subculture plagued, if not defined, by complaining. There is always something missing from our experiences, some intangible omitted element that, if the designers had only had the sense to include it, would have alchemized the game from lead into gold. Complaining is so ingrained in us that opening an article by complaining about complaining is a viable tactic.

Alright, I’m kidding. But only a little.

Few things have put me in mind of Prince’s figurative progenitor as much as the recent controversy over Mass Effect 3’s ending. The issue — which mutated from Minor Kerfuffle into Full Boondoggle in record time — revolves around a petition created by dissatisfied fans asking developer BioWare to patch in alternative closing sequences. “Whereas,” the petition begins in deepest sincerity, the ending fails on at least four different levels, the petitioners “respectfully request” that additional closing sequences be added to the game. Instead of signatures, the petition asks supporters to make a donation to Child’s Play, the charity founded by Penny Arcade.

I haven’t played Mass Effect 3, much less finished it. For all I know the final cutscene could feature Commander Shepard forgoing saving the galaxy to open her own pancake restaurant. But regardless of the ending’s narrative consistency or emotional impact, there’s a key misunderstanding happening here: This ain’t our story. By demanding the creators change it to suit our preferences, we’re breaking an unstated contract. Not between designer and player, but between magician and audience.

Video games are magic acts in any number of ways, but mostly because they create illusions. Narrative-heavy games like BioWare’s are vehicles for fantasy, for immersing ourselves in other worlds. But they also fool us into thinking their stories are our stories, that we players are in control of our experience. We’re not. We’re merely choosing from options presented to us. The results of those choices — a poignant cutscene, a new mission opportunity — can be rewarding in and of themselves. But just as rewarding is the process of choosing, of engaging in the fantasy not that we are intergalactic heroes, but that we are actually authors of our own story. It's the same feeling we get when a magician convinces us, if only for a second, that by saying Abracadabra we really did make our card disappear. The illusion of agency can be just as exciting as the illusion of magic.

The greatest trick game designers ever pulled is convincing the player they didn’t exist, some might say. But marketing plays a role as well. In the case of BioWare, design and marketing are aligned in a way that’s more effective than in perhaps any other major studio. Fans truly feel ownership of their experiences, despite the games being story-focused, transparently authored products. This speaks to the superb quality of the authorship, but also to a design ethic and marketing strategy that work together effectively to further the illusion of player authority, of being in control. "Our choices matter," the design and the marketing tell us. And because of the complexity and elegance of their interaction design and the depth of their fiction, BioWare can pull it off. They are, in other words, excellent magicians. Brian Taylor’s brilliant analysis links this trend to fan culture and speculates why BioWare fans feel so comfortable petitioning for a new ending and filing false advertising complaints with the Better Business Bureau:

BioWare games exploit these participatory aspects of fan culture in their game design. The company knows that fans like to ask ‘what if?’, to maneuver characters into romantic relationships, and so they build in the options. They appear responsive to the desires of their fans and so it’s not really surprising that rather than use older forms of remixing like fan fiction [...] the fans go to the company itself. Maybe it’s a desire for validation, or some kind of misguided creative impulse.

And this is where the unspoken contract is violated. When you go to a magic show, you understand that you will see a series of illusions, that your senses and your mind will be fooled, and you’re content to plunk down your money for the pleasure of being tricked. If you're lucky, the magician may call you up to the stage as a volunteer, having you enact some minor portion of a trick — usually to distract you and the audience from the real action. This is what narrative-focused video games do: They give you a few moments on stage with the magician, a brief span in the spotlight. But you, the audience participant, aren't the one in control of the performance. So you play along. You don't demand the lovely assistant be sawed in thirds instead of halves, because you are not the one performing the trick.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t subject games to thoughtful critique. As a reviewer, I obviously find a lot of value in that process. If we don’t demand more from games, they won’t get better. If we think something sucks, it can be worthwhile to talk about why it sucks, about how we think it could be improved. But players are not creators, and consumers are not designers. We do not have ultimate say over what the game includes or does not include, despite the convincing responsiveness of corporate social media and the panacea of the almighty patch.

Some argue otherwise, that because games are more malleable than other media, consumers should be encouraged to have a more “participatory” relationship with creators. But applying that logic to a series like Mass Effect, which is decidedly not a playground for collaborative storytelling like Sleep is Death, seems misguided. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how a story-driven game works, miscasting creative choices as bugs to be fixed. Of course, viewed through a more cynical lens, you can imagine the DLC Alternate Ending taking off as the next monetization trend.

Money, it turns out, is central to this controversy. According to their website, the ME3 petitioners have raised more than $78,000 as of press time for Child’s Play since March 13, an absolutely astounding total that could help a lot of sick children. Yet as a Gamer whose Job is With a charity, I’m conflicted about this. Funding is desperately needed in the nonprofit sector, and as long as it comes from legal sources, it’s hard to turn down money. But linking the petition to charity has the effect of diluting the petition's message. If the petitioners felt they were in the right in the first place, why bother with the charitable campaign? On some level, the creators of the petition had to realize they’d come under fire for their “request” to BioWare, so they couched it in philanthropy. They also must have realized how petty their request would seem, so they latched on to charitable giving to lend it an air of respectability. Their “win-win” argument — join together to fix this video game AND help some sick kids! — encourages people to support their position without resorting to too much critical thought. Nevermind the actual charity itself or the mission it pursues. You can feel satisfied knowing your outrage is going to a good cause. Giving to charity to insulate yourself from criticism is a time-honored tactic of the terminally disingenuous. One hopes that's not the case here.

Yet clearly, BioWare believes in the petitioners' sincerity. In a supremely ironic twist, I had to change the ending of this article after yesterday's announcement from BioWare's Dr. Ray Muzyka that ME3 developers are now working on "game content initiatives" which, if they aren't new endings, will at least "provide more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey." I don't even want to begin to parse Dr. Ray's statement or speculate about what BioWare's reaction to this controversy signifies. There have already been arguments on both sides, some calling it a blatant cash grab and some calling it a new standard for studio responsiveness. My gut feeling is that no matter what this new content ends up being, a good number of the petitioners still won't be satisfied. Eventually, they'll realize they'll never be — until they're the magicians on stage pulling rabbits out of hats.

Comments

Grubber788 wrote:

2) Bioware has itself set a precedent to amend narrative. The most recent Mass Effect book was so ill-received for glaring errors that Bioware has agreed to release a "patched" version... of a book. It's a brave new world folks. Bioware may be reaping what it sews.

Just wanted to take a moment to point out that books are patched all the time. It's not that amazing to think of a patched book when new editions come out constantly that correct errors and or add completely new sections (textbooks). This is not a "brave new world", it's the world.

ElCapitanBSC wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

2) Bioware has itself set a precedent to amend narrative. The most recent Mass Effect book was so ill-received for glaring errors that Bioware has agreed to release a "patched" version... of a book. It's a brave new world folks. Bioware may be reaping what it sews.

Just wanted to take a moment to point out that books are patched all the time. It's not that amazing to think of a patched book when new editions come out constantly that correct errors and or add completely new sections (textbooks). This is not a "brave new world", it's the world.

Yeah, I know Great Expectations is the quintessential example of this. I'm referring more to the fact that these revisions and editions can be pushed out much faster in the age of e-books.

davet010 wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

5) I notice many of the critics of the drive to change the ending either a) didn't play Mass Effect 3, b) don't care much for the Mass Effect universe and/or c) are closely linked to the video game industry, either through journalism or development. I think that's interesting, but can't think of any conclusions to draw from that.

Really ? To be honest, i thought that the ending was similar to the sort of thing that i envisaged before i started it, bearing in mind the nature of the task that was to be undertaken. And there were clues dropped in the game about something overarching. I didn't mind that at all, nor will it stop me from further runthroughs.

It should be an internet law by now that whenever a game developer does something unpopular, the vast majority of the people complaining about it will never see the content in question at all.

Blizzard's had this problem with WoW's fanbase forever. Whenever they make any change, the forums blow up. The vast majority of the complaints, especially in PvE content, are by people that have never seen it, and a large number of the people in there won't ever see it. At one point, Blizzard could make a hotfix along the lines of "Raid does not die instantly when engaging the boss", and the forums would explode with complaints about how Blizzard is ruining the game. The Armory has helped quite a bit, because most of the trolls don't have the achievements to backup their bullsh*t. But it continues to be a problem, especially as Blizzard has made the game more and more accessable to everyone, while still keeping endgame encounter complexity high.

The problem here really annoys me because Bioware can't win here. The clearly blotched the very end. But there's no real way they can handwave through the ending as written in future DLC(full disclosure: I'm about halfway through the game now, and going purely on hearsay), and it really doesn't matter what they write, a vocal minority is going to hate it. So they're in a no-win situation.

cube wrote:

So they're in a no-win situation.

Yeah but this just describes life, doesn't it? Even if they released a "perfect" ending someone, somewhere wouldn't have been happy with it. It goes with the territory of being an artist/leader/parent/whatever.

However, and this is a big however, acknowledging you can't please everyone is fine as long as you're willing to back up what you decided to do/say. So far i've only seen PR messages from Bioware that indicate nothing. They're not standing behind their product, they're assuaging fans, which, IMO is the wrong thing to do - or at least the wrong thing to do in isolation... and you can do that with humility.

Grubber788 wrote:

5) I notice many of the critics of the drive to change the ending either a) didn't play Mass Effect 3, b) don't care much for the Mass Effect universe and/or c) are closely linked to the video game industry, either through journalism or development. I think that's interesting, but can't think of any conclusions to draw from that.

Hypothesis: Those who spend more time talking and thinking about games are more likely to a) appreciate divergence in games, and b) prefer thinking about games to experiencing games.

Duoae wrote:
cube wrote:

So they're in a no-win situation.

Spoiler:

Yeah but this just describes the Mass Effect series, doesn't it?

O_O

Vin wrote:

This nonsense about the Official Rules of Artist-Audience Interaction kills me. I've never seen that kind of opinion in art school, but maybe it's different in content creator college?

I'd love a new ending. Hell yeah, I've signed some petitions and made demands. So what? Is that a sin against art? Artists who cannot handle the mob should become hermits and paint for themselves. The moment you bring your work into the light and ask the audience to engage is the moment you give up the right to act like Elysium. (Who would lose control if forced to participate in this thread!) Bioware sought out an audience and tried to cultivate the feeling of deep involvement and now they're reaping (HAHAHA OH MY GOD GET IT?) what they sowed.

Welcome to the world of participatory art! The artist-audience relationship is far more intimate than in a gallery or cinema scenario. That intimacy is the whole point, and now Bioware's discovered the difference between a casual friend and a jilted lover. If Bioware didn't want people to get so emotionally involved they shouldn't have spent the past half decade asking people to purchase work advertised as participatory. We're talking about a developer whose calling card is character dynamics and narrative DESIGNED TO CREATE AN EMOTIONAL REACTION. Nobody would give a sh*t if Mass Effect was Doom-style gunwank.

Bioware doesn't "owe" anyone anything, but they are fools if they didn't see this coming. As ex-Bioware designer Brent Knowles said, "Entitlement is really a right, for the gamer, because they have participated, actively, in the game itself." (Source: the comments of: http://blog.brentknowles.com/2012/03...)

(I don't agree that we are "entitled" to anything, but anyone creating interactive art had better consider the audience carefully.)

It is silly to compare Mass Effect, an interactive piece of art, with television shows or magic shows. A better comparison would be dice-rolling tabletop roleplaying games like... the stuff that got Bioware started in the first place. They should've know better. The "dungeon master" can't pull an ending like this and not expect some demands for closure or clarity from the players at the table. I've been the DM in that very position, and instead of claiming to be a CONTENT CREATOR all I did was set aside another night for an epilogue session. Wow, my artistic integrity never recovered from that! To declare, after years of playing with these people, that the whole thing was my singular vision... would be delusional arrogance on a grand scale. Did I make up the story? Yes. But it was for them to participate in. Like Bioware, I kept track of their likes and dislikes and actively sought their participation. Sure, I could tell them to screw off, but then I shouldn't be surprised when they get all pissed about it.

You know we're talking about Bioware, right? The first thing they show after the end credits is "BUY DLC". If they're going to be trying to sell me DLC, why can't I use the terrifying terrorism of an internet petition to ask that one of these DLC things be an epilogue?

There is so much silly "artistic integrity" crap being flung around by journalists and commentators and developers who are, for some reason, afraid that this will set a "dangerous precedent". Uh, I'm pretty sure at the dawn of time there was a cave painter suffering through all the other proto-humans yelling crap about how the animals were painted wrong.

If we want to talk about childishness, it would be the people who are still worried about "artistic integrity" and "street cred" and "realness". You get over that sh*t the moment you crack open your first art history textbook.

+1 to this - esp. the part about building up emotional reaction.

I haven't actually played any of the Mass Effect games (shooters are not my thing) but I've watched Kepheus play through both ME1 and 2 several times. There were many nights he stumbled to bed at 2 a.m or later after "just one more thing" because he was invested in the characters, he wanted to see them come out ahead, he wanted them to live, to prosper, to beat evil at its own game.

He played ME3 as a rental, and said he won't play through it again because, for him, the ending was dismal and disappointing. There didn't see to be any real resolution to all that came before. He is a jilted lover.

I watched all the possible endings on YouTube (not the same as playing, I know) and even I thought it seemed too quick, a bit cheap, and unsatisfying. Story-telling gone wrong. I'm no stranger to emotional investments in characters that end up with me feeling furious and sad: Wash died in the Serenity movie. That sucked, it hurt even, but it was necessary - even I could see that. Or, say, Tara in the Buffy series, that was sad too - such a simple and devastating end. The accidental trajectory of a bullet fired in anger - but it moved things forward. It was awful, and unfair, but it was right, too.

But, The ME3 ending was unfinished, unsatisfactory on so many levels, and while Bioware is, perhaps, under no obligation to assuage player anger and disappointment, they should at least listen to it. Preferably with something other than bandaid DLC that costs the players money for an ending they, perhaps, should have given in the first place.

Maybe Bioware screwed up and painted themselves into a corner with the story, or maybe EA pressured them into releasing before it was really ready, and up to their usual excellent standards, maybe there is some other reason - who knows.

I think players are right to express their disappointment with being led this far, by their emotions, and then jilted at the altar with a weak excuse of, "it's not you, it's me".

Vin wrote:

This nonsense about the Official Rules of Artist-Audience Interaction kills me. I've never seen that kind of opinion in art school, but maybe it's different in content creator college?
......

Speaking as a senior of the game design program at the Univ. of Texas, I have to say that the above post applies more to game designers than traditional artists. One of the core philosophies being taught to aspiring game DESIGNERS is that they DESIGN products that are supposed to be appealing to the end user. We are taught that ARTISTS create ART that is a means of self-expression. DESIGNERS DESIGN for the user to experience; self-expression is not a factor because the focus is on the end user.

In the end it all comes down to money. Artists create art for self expression, designers create products to make money. Artists and designers have entirely different "contracts" with their consumers. BioWare is a designer, not an artist. The marketing of ME3 promised a designed product to meet explicit customer expectations, and delivered something else entirely with no recompense to the customer. That is simply Bait and Switch, and there should be consequences for BioWare to face. At the very least they should either provide the deliverables promised (at no additional charge) or refund the consumers money.

As a postscript, I normally like the views and opinions of Elysium, but his post on page one is one of the most one-sided, close-minded, stick-your-goddamn-head-in-the-sand, zero-sum arguments I have ever seen from an actual intelligent person. Your opinion of artistic integrity is wonderful; but it does not apply here. We aren't talking about art, we are talking about a product. The majority of games are not art, they are merely products designed to make profit for the developers, making them no different than a toaster, a stereo, or a television set. Can any of those things (including games) be art? Sure they can, but they also fall into the realm of products, meaning they are not sold as unconditionally AS-IS.

Grubber788 wrote:

2) Bioware has itself set a precedent to amend narrative. The most recent Mass Effect book was so ill-received for glaring errors that Bioware has agreed to release a "patched" version... of a book. It's a brave new world folks. Bioware may be reaping what it sews.

To add to this, the entire reason Tali/Garrus became romance options in ME2 is because fans wanted them to be options in the original game. Granted they didn't go back and patch ME1 to allow this, but they sure did expand on some fans' desires in ME2/3.

So yeah, over the years and series of games a lot of fans probably feel like it is their story and they do have a right to input, since Bioware has taken their input and used it previously.

And with the slap in the face at the end of the ending that is a big ol' ad for DLC right there bending, or maybe breaking, the 4th wall... well, they make it pretty certain that more "story" is going to be added into the game. While they're at it, might as well clean up the story they did release, so that it at least makes some damn sense.

LordSyldar wrote:

We aren't talking about art, we are talking about a product.

In that case, maybe we should switch our ME3 articles to "Product performs well, with some minor bugs. 9/10"

I think Mass Effect 3 can be considered both a product and art because it is a commercial entertainment product. Mass Effect 3 was created to sell to consumers, to express an artistic vision and to make a profit. Mass Effect 3 is a commercial entertainment product.

The "artistic integrity" arguments prop up ME3 as if it were created for the sole purpose of art and it's disingenuous.

- Mass Effect 3 asks you to pay an extra $10 for the full experience.
- Mass Effect 3 awards special items to consumers who preordered the game at specific retail chains.
- Mass Effect 3 designed the default female Shepard character model based on Facebook voting.
- Mass Effect 3 has an IGN employee you can have virtual sex with.
- Mass Effect 3 prompts you to buy DLC after you finish the game.

Commercial entertainment product.

BNice wrote:

The "artistic integrity" arguments prop up ME3 as if it were created for the sole purpose of art and it's disingenuous.

I'm a postmodern literary critic. Intended purpose doesn't matter to me, and I treat everything as meaningful creative work.

wordsmythe wrote:
BNice wrote:

The "artistic integrity" arguments prop up ME3 as if it were created for the sole purpose of art and it's disingenuous.

I'm a postmodern literary critic. Intended purpose doesn't matter to me, and I treat everything as meaningful creative work.

And you should continue to approach creative work that way.

My post was pointing out that there is a middle ground between a product and art and that is where ME3 resides. Everything doesn't have to be black and white or an extreme.

You may not treat a product trying to sell you stuff and a piece of art trying to evoke emotion differently but for a lot of people there is a distinction.

There have been people proclaiming ME3 to be solely a product and there have been people proclaiming ME3 to be solely an artistic vision. It seems clear to me that it's a commercial entertainment product intending to do both.

BNice wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
BNice wrote:

The "artistic integrity" arguments prop up ME3 as if it were created for the sole purpose of art and it's disingenuous.

I'm a postmodern literary critic. Intended purpose doesn't matter to me, and I treat everything as meaningful creative work.

And you should continue to approach creative work that way.

My post was pointing out that there is a middle ground between a product and art and that is where ME3 resides. Everything doesn't have to be black and white or an extreme.

You may not treat a product trying to sell you stuff and a piece of art trying to evoke emotion differently but for a lot of people there is a distinction.

There have been people proclaiming ME3 to be solely a product and there have been people proclaiming ME3 to be solely an artistic vision. It seems clear to me that it's a commercial entertainment product intending to do both.

I think there's a difference between saying "X is solely Y" and saying "I'm only going to engage with X in terms of Y". The latter doesn't imply the former.

wordsmythe wrote:
LordSyldar wrote:

We aren't talking about art, we are talking about a product.

In that case, maybe we should switch our ME3 articles to "Product performs well, with some minor bugs. 9/10"

This would be an extremely fair assessment. The game itself deserves that score. It is a high quality AAA title that simply failed to deliver the narrative ending that the marketing team and devs promised would be included.

Regarding the art vs. product argument:

I would define ME3 (and nearly all videogames) as a product with artistic elements, or as Gravey put it, a commercial entertainment product. At its core, though, it is a simple product. Following this definition it should not be held to the same artistic standards as literature; because it is neither less, nor more, but merely different than literature.

LordSyldar wrote:

Regarding the art vs. product argument:

I would define ME3 (and nearly all videogames) as a product with artistic elements, or as Gravey put it, a commercial entertainment product. At its core, though, it is a simple product. Following this definition it should not be held to the same artistic standards as literature; because it is neither less, nor more, but merely different than literature.

Could we not look at literature the same way, quantifying entertainment value and length, subtracting plot holes, and then weighing that against the price?

LordSyldar wrote:

I would define ME3 (and nearly all videogames) as a product with artistic elements, or as Gravey put it, a commercial entertainment product.

BNice said that, not me. I'm not comfortable trying to define what ME3 "is", and I don't believe doing so would be productive.

Gravey wrote:
LordSyldar wrote:

I would define ME3 (and nearly all videogames) as a product with artistic elements, or as Gravey put it, a commercial entertainment product.

BNice said that, not me. I'm not comfortable trying to define what ME3 "is", and I don't believe doing so would be productive.

My bad...sorry for the mistake...no harm intended.

wordsmythe wrote:
LordSyldar wrote:

Regarding the art vs. product argument:

I would define ME3 (and nearly all videogames) as a product with artistic elements, or as Gravey put it, a commercial entertainment product. At its core, though, it is a simple product. Following this definition it should not be held to the same artistic standards as literature; because it is neither less, nor more, but merely different than literature.

Could we not look at literature the same way, quantifying entertainment value and length, subtracting plot holes, and then weighing that against the price?

I think we should. Charles Dickens, for example, published much of his work serially in periodicals, and reader feedback influenced the direction the stories took. In fact, Dickens even rewrote the ending of "Great Expectations" after receiving an unfavorable response from a friend. The only real difference here is that the cost to produce a new ending for ME3 would be tremendously higher than rewriting the end of a novel. There are plenty of movies with multiple endings as well however (Brazil, for example), and the cost there is more comparable. In short, ME3 is hardly the first time this has happened, and history suggests that it's not unreasonable to think that BioWare might actually rewrite the ending of ME3 with sufficient negative feedback. Only time will tell.

LordSyldar wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
LordSyldar wrote:

We aren't talking about art, we are talking about a product.

In that case, maybe we should switch our ME3 articles to "Product performs well, with some minor bugs. 9/10"

This would be an extremely fair assessment. The game itself deserves that score. It is a high quality AAA title that simply failed to deliver the narrative ending that the marketing team and devs promised would be included.

Regarding the art vs. product argument:

I would define ME3 (and nearly all videogames) as a product with artistic elements, or as Gravey put it, a commercial entertainment product. At its core, though, it is a simple product. Following this definition it should not be held to the same artistic standards as literature; because it is neither less, nor more, but merely different than literature.

It should be held to very similar standards as literature, as that too is a commercial entertainment product. Hell, my favourite (note; not what I consider BEST) fantasy series is 20+ books long (Magician and sequels) with spinoff, collaberations etc. Now tell me that Raymond E. Feist does it only for the love of the art? f*ck off! He has a very healthy living based off a commerial product that is rooted in art. All movies (ok, almost all movies) fall into the same category, as do professional musicians, singers, actors.... Almost anything that is meant to entertain is done for money and is thus a product (or service) and is not 100% an 'art'.

Personally, I like the Mass Effect series (the ending was OK), I bought 3 books, some comics, a hoodie, a T-shirt, the Art of Mass Effect book but my love of everything Mass Effect is tempered by 2 things:

1) BioWare is the sole keeper of this product / series / world / endeavour / etc

2) It is not overly original or unique, its is just suited (near) perfectly to my tastes.

Not all products are the right fit for everyone, I hate CoD / Modern Warfare etc, not because I think they are BAD but for the same reasons Blue and Red are my favourite colours and Green I find kinda meh., personal preference. Whilst some discussion about flaws etc is healthy for sequels and moving forward, the desire to change what has been provided is ridiculous.

Move on, grow up, get perspective.

It pains me that so much of the internet complaining can be boiled down to:
"I dont like it, therefore it is sh*t!" - Nope, wrong, f*ck off.

or

"It doesnt conform to X, Y or Z rules of blah so its bad". - Whilst I am not a literary scholar, or a professor of any art, I believe art is not governed by rule of ANYTHING. If it was it would cease being art. It may not adhere to given conventions or widely accepted 'best' practices, but these (imo) are more akin to 'rules of thumb' than divine dogma that some people hold them as.

Honestly, people need to be more introspective towards their reactions. Identifying why YOU dont like something is far more useful, mature, rational, (f*ck it) BETTER than venting at the creator.

Of all of BioWares promises about "your choices matter in the end" (paraphrased) did anyone ask them when the ending started in their mind? I bet they dont think it is in the las 5 mins. My guess, once the reapers attack Earth...

/calm-face

(Edit: Spelling mistakes and grammar f*ck ups - sorry CBF'd to redo)

My own concern with crowd sourcing the end has less to do with artistic integrity and more to do with quality. Dickens may have listened to a friend, but that's one person, and he decided to do so presumably because he was doubtful enough himself that he could muster an alternative.

Crowd scouring an entire product gets you Backstreet Boys. I enjoy that now and then, but I would prefer Mass Effect not to be like that.

LarryC wrote:

My own concern with crowd sourcing the end has less to do with artistic integrity and more to do with quality. Dickens may have listened to a friend, but that's one person, and he decided to do so presumably because he was doubtful enough himself that he could muster an alternative.

Crowd scouring an entire product gets you Backstreet Boys. I enjoy that now and then, but I would prefer Mass Effect not to be like that.

So, you're basically saying you don't trust Bioware.

I mean that's fine, I'm not sure I trust them all that much myself. But whatever they produce will be their work, not a creation by the fan community. If the new ending sucks that's not on the fan's heads.

It is illogical to trust or not trust a game company. I have no opinion on that score about Bioware either way. My concern is that the process of creating commercial entertainment products through extensive crowd sourcing often ends up with generally uninspired, if somewhat palatable, results.

I skipped past the comments to this, because I am sure there are plenty o' people on board with this and what seems to be the "honest" media canon. No need to read wordier versions of "nerd entitlement" over and over.

I disagree with the article in every way but one: the petition movement should have left out the donation drive. There are many reasons why people may not share this opinion. A lot of them were posted on the various gaming sites (GiantBomb, Destructiod, etc.), a few were in the article and I am sure most were gospeled back in the first 100+ comments.

Yet here is my anti-thesis: the ending of Mass Effect 3 belongs to the players.
I strongly believe that the criticism of the dissatisfied fans is linked to a world view that has failed to adept to the way media have moved from observant to interactive. Our culture and understanding of entertainment is dominated by hundreds of years of books, theater, various forms of music and, most recently, movies (and TV shows as a portioned subversion). What all of these have in common is that the role of the audience is that of a silent observer. This changed drastically in the last 30 years, which the rise of the personal computer and telecommunication. This allowed of the old media to interact with their audience for better or for worse. Choose your own adventure books. Casting shows. Tell your morning radio crew what you think about the story of the day. Ask your favorite celebrity that one question you always were curious about.
But it also marked the ascension of new media with video games being at the forefront. In stark contrast to the old media, the deciding difference setting video games apart is interactivity. This is so much the case that players feel estranged by any game that limits their input like Heavy Rain and what came to be known as QuickTimeEvents. It is player agency that decides whether the game is won or lost. Whether we jump that barrel, save the princess, Ryu beats Ken, that I-block connects for a Tetris, Germany doesn’t win WW2, Lara Croft finally finds that last artifact or Arcturus Mengsk is brought to justice or not is entirely up to us. Yes, we did not design the systems or set the premise for the decision to be made. But if you want to talk about unwritten rules of engagement between player and developer, this is the prime one: the player gets to make the decision.
That doesn’t mean every decision should be player-made, because that would certainly limit the potential for storytelling. Relaying to the player why some decisions are his to make, some are made on his behalf and some are over-arcing plot devises certainly is part of why video game development can be considered an art form.
In that vein, the premise of Mass Effect 3 has always been “choose your own Shepard”. Not in a dress-up and attribute allocation kind of way, but the way the legend of Shepard is told within everyone’s own galaxy. The permutations are nearly endless (some of the sub plots have over a dozen variations) and importing a character veteran character into ME3 certainly made for a unique experience for every player. And this is what broke the camel’s back. The disappointment is not about the writing of the ending being bad. It’s for the same reason why players rightfully requested the face import to work properly. The Mass Effect series is about everyone’s own Shepard. By ending the last part of the trilogy the way they did, devoid of any player agency, BioWare violated the players’ trust in what they ultimately expected out of any video game, not just this one: to make the decision.

The permutations are nearly endless (some of the sub plots have over a dozen variations) and importing a character veteran character into ME3 certainly made for a unique experience for every player. And this is what broke the camel’s back.

I guess I don't buy that. As much as pieces and sidequests were left for players to customize through selecting from limited options, the overall story arc has always been dictated and restrained. You get to choose what color ending you want in ME1, too, but underneath that coloring, the ending was the same, with the same event.

If the Mass Effects series—a saga of hundreds of hours—were really so customizable, they would have had to publish multiple ME3s to account for the wide variations since the beginning of ME1.

I have nothing more really to add to this other than the observation that it's interesting to me that everyone's story starts the same (with that weird gasbag shooting tutorial mission) and ultimately ends up in roughly the same place. Which informs me that the journey is what's important to the developers rather than the bookends. I'm rather detached from the whole issue as I haven't made a significant investment in the series, but I think I'm ok with this on a conceptual level. Maybe when I finally get around to finishing the trilogy I'll think different...

I also think that if we step back and look at a bigger picture, I think there's some incentive for the writers to have everyone reach a small set of endings despite the incredible number of permutations that could've arisen due to the amount of choice presented to the player throughout the trilogy. BioWare's made it abundantly clear that Mass Effect doesn't end with Shephard's trilogy, going so far as to upfront tell people to keep their completed ME3 saves.

I'm not saying they were right to take an easy way out, but it would be an unfathomable task to try and have future games completely dependent on the incredible number of variables tracked across the trilogy. Sooner or later the storyteller needs to interject and put their foot down and take control away for their own sanity.

Maybe an unalterable event would've made more sense at the start of the next story arc (presumably people would expect something there), but I think ultimately something like this would've happened. The state of the universe needs to be re-aligned at some point if they're to continue the franchise in a manageable manner.

It's not so much the need to maintain a coherent story as how this was accomplished that is the problem. Any good DM/GM/whatever knows how to keep a story on track within the context of the game. What BioWare did is akin to a novice DM stepping in and taking meta control of the game to force the story back into some pre-planned course. The really weird thing is that this was done at the very end of the game, which is beyond the point where getting things back on course even really matters. They could just as easily have done a few different cinematics to tie up various endings based on influencing factors. I haven't played through ME3 yet, but from everything I've read it almost sounds like BioWare either ran out of time or money before finishing the game.

Well, at least we know the title of the thread is dead on.

complexmath wrote:

It's not so much the need to maintain a coherent story as how this was accomplished that is the problem. Any good DM/GM/whatever knows how to keep a story on track within the context of the game. What BioWare did is akin to a novice DM stepping in and taking meta control of the game to force the story back into some pre-planned course. The really weird thing is that this was done at the very end of the game, which is beyond the point where getting things back on course even really matters. They could just as easily have done a few different cinematics to tie up various endings based on influencing factors. I haven't played through ME3 yet, but from everything I've read it almost sounds like BioWare either ran out of time or money before finishing the game.

It's actually being done all the time, pretty much throughout the series. Anyone who plays the game more than once will perceive this immediately. The entire game's course is pretty much preplanned. It's pretty amazing that many gamers only noticed this occuring at the very end.

Hypothesis:

It's possible that unlike previous games, many gamers disliked the ending they got for whatever reason, and then replayed the last section and got even more disappointed when the graphic display was nearly identical.

I was already amazed that Bioware produced 2.99 games I consistently liked. The end could've been done better, ah well.

Spoiler:

Have to disagree that the endings did not take previous choices into account. If I played Shepard a certain way -- depending how I interpret the last 15-20 minutes -- I will make a choice which is consistent with those which came before it. It's sort of nice that they left that final confirmation to us, rather than enforcing it via a logic gate.

I chose, interpreted and extrapolated the end according to what I saw, not how I imagined they meant to present it. Maybe it says something good about the content and my investment that I let the game speak to me with its own voice, rather than that of its creators.