Farmer in the Sky: Mass Effect Companion Apps

Galaxy At War main screen - ME3 Datapad app

Yes, I'm talking about Mass Effect 3 again. Not the game itself, but the supporting applications. There are two of them: the ME3 Datapad app, and a full-on iOS game called Mass Effect: Infiltrator.

I'm sure every hardcore fanboy is shuddering in horror at the whole idea of people gaining ground in the game without touching a real controller. I'm a bit queasy about that myself. But after seeing it implemented, I like the concept a lot and hope other games look at including this kind of add-on.

Whatever we may think about the content here, the technological hurdles they're clearing by supporting an integrated experience like this are impressive and could lead to greater things.

ME3 Datapad

It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like this. The film Tron Legacy had a similar iOS companion that was kind of interesting in its own right, so I decided to give this one a spin. I loaded it up and skipped past the marketing stuff; images, videos, and a feed from the official Twitter (labeled Alliance News). Interesting to some, I guess, but not why I was there.

The Codex section is well thought out. It gives you some basics, then reveals more as you go, so it's not Spoiler City. And I will not lie: I had an immersive little frisson run up my spine loading the Codex while playing the main game and reading it on the iPad instead of on my television. Geeky tingles on that one.

But I knew where the action was. I headed to the "Galaxy at War" section and started maneuvering my fleets to support Garvug and Cyone. I've been playing this for several days now with little trouble other than the horrible performance on my iPad (which is apparently a common problem) but today I was struck with an interesting new thought: This feels a heck of a lot like Farmville.

Farmville is a Facebook game. It's a part of their suite of timewasters designed to encourage users to show up more often, stay there longer, and to interact with each other. You spend your time planning, cultivating, and harvesting crops, and then investing the resultant XP and virtual coin on improving your farm. If you don't play Farmville, your only experience of it is an unending flood of invites/requests/announcements from anyone on your Friends list who plays. And that is the source of most people's profound irritation with it. Between the simple play and the way it spams everyone and everything in sight, most gamers find it embodies the worst the casual gamesphere has to offer.

The base game mechanic in the Datapad app seems almost identical. You start with two fleets that you can send to various places in the Mass Effect universe. Once a fleet is assigned to a mission, you wait a requisite time and then you get a certain Readiness percentage and some credits to buy upgrades to your fleets. Then launch the fleets again ad infinitum. Your initial fleets must be made of tinfoil; there's a chance that any given fleet will be declared damaged or disabled at the end of any given mission, and you have to wait for it to be fixed before you can send it out again. But once you've upgraded your shields, it's pretty much just a question of keeping them busy.

The min-max strategies are similar. In Farmville, you start small with a balance of crops designed to gain you the most XP for a given amount of time so that you can upgrade your farm to grow the more lucrative crops. In the Datapad you first concentrate on getting upgrade credits and improving your fleets. Then once you're topped up, you switch to strategies that gain you more Readiness percentage.

When you start the games, you should point your fleets at the symbols with two rings around them and be patient. The missions take longer, but earn more cash to upgrade stats and buy more fleets. For example: Garvug gives you 75 coin, and Omega gives just over a thousand. When you factor in time, the short missions don't pay off. In a given six hours, I can finish Garvug 5 times for a total of 375 coins, or Omega once for that thousand. Not only that, but since you're doing fewer numbers of missions, the damage rate (must be somewhere around 30% at the start of the game) doesn't bite you so hard. It can only happen once per mission.

When you're topped up on stats and have bought all the fleets the game allows, upgrade credits are useless. I started spamming the short missions and gaining bigger Readiness percentages. Once you are fully upgraded, you gain 1.3% for Garvug (no rings) and 1.67% for Omega (two rings) per completed mission. Then factor time into it. Garvug takes about an hour, Omega is over five. So for a given unit of time (six hours) I get 5 Garvug missions completed at 1.3% each for a total of 6.5% gained, or one Omega mission at 1.67%. So point all your fleets at the symbols with no rings and keep it running all day. Then just before I go to bed I set off a last round of the big missions, and they're done when I wake for a slow buildup of cash to buy the Advanced upgrades, which are ridiculously expensive.

At least my percentages don't rot like the crops in Farmville if I get busy at work and have to let it sit for a while. And the app runs in the background, so you can give your orders then get right back to Angry Birds or whatever.

In the Mail section, you receive really short email messages from the various other characters you interact with in the main game. It's an interesting addition, but I haven't seen any real jaw-dropping revelations in there. I've finished the game, but not with the profile that this is attached to, so this is new territory. I can say the text is different than the dialog in the game. As I play through again, I hope for more here. It shines all over Farmville in one respect — it may be in my hair all the time, but at least the app doesn't spam my corporeal friends/family every two minutes with requests for them to do something or with cute little status updates about crap they don't care about.

There are some definite pros here. It's free. Just having the Codex available on my handheld while I'm playing is quite handy when I'm trying to remember who So-and-So was two planets ago. And it lets me keep "playing", even when I have to spend all my time on this project at work. I have maxed all the stats available to the fleets in the app and I'm keeping the percentage points coming, just to see how many they'll let me add.

If you're one of those who can't be bothered with all that math and scheduling, then maybe, like Farmville, the app's best use would be to bring others in to share. Try having your significant other looking at the Codex and keeping this running while you're playing the main game.

Mass Effect: Infiltrator

This is a lot more interesting from a hardcore standpoint. It's a competent touch-screen shooter. I'm a Cerebrus operative (not Tron, despite all the glowing blue lines on my face), and I'm off on some mission, though they haven't yet explained to me why they sent me here to bother all these Geth. I haven't gotten very far yet, for a couple of reasons.

The controls are, um... interesting. Trying to fake dual-stick navigation on a touch screen is an imprecise science at best. If you have some Flings, I strongly recommend you get them out. I was so bad, I called my elder son over to try it and see if it was just me. It wasn't — not completely. Though I do have to say he did a heck of a lot better than I did.

Even with my character's habit of staring at walls at the wrong moment, I enjoyed it. Once you figure out how to keep Sparky's head down (he has an adversarial relationship with the available cover), the whole thing flows. The biotics show up in the second area, and that works really well.

Each completed area (called a "checkpoint" in game) gives you money for upgrades and a chance to earn a yellow thingy labeled Intel. That's our Scooby-snack. You can either trade them in for upgrade credits, or upload them to the Galaxy at War thing and add to your Readiness percentages.

When my son left, I played those same two areas over several times, trying to negotiate some sort of compromise with the camera, and I did improve. I'll definitely keep trying.

It isn't free like the other app, but it's not going to break the bank at $6.99. And it has potential interest in it's own right as a game. At least you're actually making things dead in this one, so the percentages don't seem seem quite so cheaply gained. My son was intrigued enough that he's going to come over tomorrow after work and play it a little longer.

[Editor's Note: This story originally claimed that sound on the iOS app only worked via headphones. That claim was incorrect and has been removed.]

Comments

Thanks for this, I've been wondering how the iOS integration has worked out.

I just hope both apps are still around when I'm finally done futzing around with Skyrim. I arrived late to the party and now I'm fully engulfed in another Elder Scrolls timepit.

The performance of that Galaxy at War thing is absolutely terrible for me - especially the fact that it NEVER recognises that there's an internet connection until you refresh it a couple of times, often forgetting the Origin login details altogether. It's a useful way of upping the % though if (like me) you want to avoid the multiplayer like the plague.

By the time I get around to playing ME3 again I should have it all sitting at the 100% mark I suspect.

Spoiler:

So I can get my extra 2 seconds of that *WONDERFUL* ending

***

I quite like Infiltrator but the controls are really fiddly. It has ME2's music though, so it's worth it almost for that alone

There's no sound at all if you don't use them.

I might be mis-understanding that but there's definitely sound when you aren't using headphones.

Galaxy at War thing was fine on my iPad.

The percentages do drop, I think - by something like 0.16% per hour. I only noticed because I got some percentages up to 100% quicker than others.

I'll have to get playing with it again before my next runthrough.

Let me put it this way - there's no sound on my iPad when I use it without headphones. And I made sure it wasn't muted. I'll look into it. Thanks.

Okay, i skimmed this. I couldn't read so much about so little... However, from your standpoint in the ME3 spoiler thread... You're happy about these affecting single player? I didn't see this mentioned here.

Also, iOS only... Not particularly helpful to me since i don't own a single Apple device and so cannot reach the "one true ending of ME3" as prescribed by Bioware themselves!

It is kind of a shame these aren't available for other devices. I wouldn't be surprised if we eventually got a chance to pick up Datapad for PC, or on XBLA/PSN (for a price, of course).

Duoae wrote:

Okay, i skimmed this. I couldn't read so much about so little... However, from your standpoint in the ME3 spoiler thread... You're happy about these affecting single player? I didn't see this mentioned here.

Also, iOS only... Not particularly helpful to me since i don't own a single Apple device and so cannot reach the "one true ending of ME3" as prescribed by Bioware themselves!

You aren't left out completely if you don't have an iOS device. If you want that "one true ending", all you have to do is play multiplayer as well as single-player in the main game. These are just additional options.

And I don't know how saying I feel kind of queasy about the fact that it affects the main game equates to happy. I'm not even going to get into it about the ending again. Though my perception of the uselessness of that ending probably blunts my unease about this concept. It's not like you earn something fabulously better doing this. The difference is a gasp of breath and 30 seconds of StoryTime after the credits.

Would it matter more if what you earned was more important to the experience? That's a question anyone who uses this technology has to answer.

I like the idea of truly cross-platform technology, and this is the first time I've seen it really work. The Tron app only talks to the DVD. I hope other developers look at this and come up with some very cool stuff based on it. And skimming is no excuse - I said that before the jump.

Duoae wrote:

Okay, i skimmed this. I couldn't read so much about so little... However, from your standpoint in the ME3 spoiler thread... You're happy about these affecting single player? I didn't see this mentioned here.

Also, iOS only... Not particularly helpful to me since i don't own a single Apple device and so cannot reach the "one true ending of ME3" as prescribed by Bioware themselves!

So what is your question ? Am I bothered that as one of the countless millions of people who own an iOS device it might affect single player ?I have it, paid nothing for it and enjoyed using it. Am I bothered about its affect on anyone else ? Not in the slightest. You could say the same about playing multiplayer, which has the same effect.

And I might be mistaken, but I do seem to remember reading that if you fill the green 'war readiness' bar up (which the app does NOT affect) to full, then you can get all endings at their best state.

Of course, if you don't like any of the endings, then why would you care ?

The basics for Galaxy at War sound a lot closer to sending your troops on side-missions in Final Fantasy Tactics than Farmville, but that's just me. Also, Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King.

Would love for the Galaxy At War app to come out on Android, if only for the codex.

I'd like it much better if it updated to ME3 Codex data as you play.

Duoae wrote:

the "one true ending of ME3" as prescribed by Bioware themselves!

I'm willing to think of it like the "true" ending of Braid. That is, I'm willing to consider it the alternate ending, not the main one.

momgamer wrote:

You aren't left out completely if you don't have an iOS device. If you want that "one true ending", all you have to do is play multiplayer as well as single-player in the main game. These are just additional options.

And I don't know how saying I feel kind of queasy about the fact that it affects the main game equates to happy.

Sorry, i worded my post poorly. "Happy" wasn't the best word in that place.

davet010 wrote:

So what is your question ? Am I bothered that as one of the countless millions of people who own an iOS device it might affect single player? I have it, paid nothing for it and enjoyed using it. Am I bothered about its affect on anyone else ? Not in the slightest. You could say the same about playing multiplayer, which has the same effect.

And I might be mistaken, but I do seem to remember reading that if you fill the green 'war readiness' bar up (which the app does NOT affect) to full, then you can get all endings at their best state.

Of course, if you don't like any of the endings, then why would you care ?

I think the only question in my post is pretty obvious - it's the one with the question mark at the end of it. I'm not sure what problem you have with my posts, to be honest. I was just surprised at seeing this article about these apps from momgamer when she had expressed some dislike about them in the spoiler thread and also with respect to being able to get extra SP story content.

As far as I was aware, both MP and the iOS game up your war readiness. I've seen such posts on this site and others saying this exact thing. Yes, you can play MP to do that i guess or i could buy an Apple device. I dislike any game content being locked out in favour of it being linked to periphery devices or modes and I would hate to see this become a trend. I don't have the time to be spending hours and hours playing alternate modes (in this case MP) for me to be able to achieve something in the SP portion that, if i had chosen well, I should be able to experience.

wordsmythe wrote:
Duoae wrote:

the "one true ending of ME3" as prescribed by Bioware themselves!

I'm willing to think of it like the "true" ending of Braid. That is, I'm willing to consider it the alternate ending, not the main one.

Fair enough. I think that Braid was more about the mechanics than the story - at least for me. It also was a one-off and not a trilogy. I get the feeling that Bioware are going to announce something about extra content post-current ending (story-wise) soon though and without that scene at the end I'm not sure how that will make any sense... Not that I chose that ending on my playthrough so I guess my Shepard is dead anyway

davet010 wrote:

Galaxy at War thing was fine on my iPad.

The percentages do drop, I think - by something like 0.16% per hour. I only noticed because I got some percentages up to 100% quicker than others.

I'll have to get playing with it again before my next runthrough.

Did you get to 100% using only the app or multi-player as well? The reason I ask, is that on TA some one mentioned that the app will only let you raise the (...sigh...) "Galactic Readiness" by 7%.

Never played MP at all - you can get to 100% on all 5 fronts using just the app (and I got the achievement to prove it)

And about the sound thing - my bad. There's a hard mute button on the side of the machine, but for some reason Netflix ignores it. So I was getting sound from Netflix, but not the game and I thought it was something the designers built in. Knew something was funny when I installed The Bard's Tale last night and it didn't work without the headphones either.

That said, I love the classical music in the Store.

Will work with Wordsmythe to edit that bit.

davet010 wrote:

Galaxy at War thing was fine on my iPad.

The percentages do drop, I think - by something like 0.16% per hour. I only noticed because I got some percentages up to 100% quicker than others.

I'll have to get playing with it again before my next runthrough.

I've never seen it do that. The percentage when I deploy is always the same as the percentage when I collect.

Nei wrote:

Did you get to 100% using only the app or multi-player as well? The reason I ask, is that on TA some one mentioned that the app will only let you raise the (...sigh...) "Galactic Readiness" by 7%.

:|

Nope. I've added 34% across the board from just the Datapad app, and 2% from Infiltrator.

It might only impact when you get to 100, but I've checked mine and it is now standing at 81% in each theatre.

I'm mostly posting to praise the cleverness of the title.

Besides that, though: I enjoyed the first two games in the series enough that I'll probably play ME3 eventually, but I'm going to wait for it go go on sale first. Thus, even setting aside my general lack of interest in multiplayer, there probably won't be much of a multiplayer community by the time I get around to playing the game.

So, if EA/BioWare are going to use my gamer instincts against me, their offering these options in addition to multiplayer mitigates the offense a little.

momgamer said:
"I'm sure every hardcore fanboy is shuddering in horror at the whole idea of people gaining ground in the game without touching a real keyboard and mouse."

I'm sorry that glaring oversight went uncorrected for the time that it did. We can all breathe easier now.

EDITED: I won't delete this as I am a fan of not re-writing history. (Dr. Seuss, I'm looking at you!). I would love to apologize for my PC elitism. Sorry. See? Elitist people can apologize. It was also Monday morning when I wrote this. I blame the Monday.

ME3 Datapad has very little game to it (just scheduling), and despite that it manages to be really poorly designed. Once the "Oh my God, ME3 on the go!" excitement wore off I found I didn't want to struggle through the crummy performance, constant forgetting of account details, and perpetual "ME3 Datapad requires an internet connection" notice (despite being, you know, on my phone with a data plan and therefor constant internet connection) to "play" it. As far as the Galactic Readiness reward goes, well, I can struggle with this crummy app and compulsively send out new missions for very minuscule reward, or I can play a couple 20 minute rounds of MP. I guess if you are categorically opposed to MP than maybe this is for you.

But for me? No thanks EA, nooooo thanks!

I am learning to appreciate the analysis of games as a way to better appreciate games.

But thanks to Origin gaffes, which are understandable as it is a new-ish system, PC login issues and the over-saturation of ME3, I might have to wait five years to play this title. It's not due to the issues mentioned above about where else you can play ME3.

All these little items, iPad programs and other digital knick-knacks feel like a mix of cash-grabbing and an earnest experiment into game-definition expansion. To be something I am going to enjoy I will wait several more generations of this model before it is smooth enough to try out.

Strangeblades wrote:

All these little items, iPad programs and other digital knick-knacks feel like a mix of cash-grabbing and an earnest experiment into game-definition expansion.

I think that actually applies to just about all commercial video games since forever. Games are complicated things to start with, and they are generated by a complicated process of funding and publishing blended with artistry and programming.

wordsmythe wrote:
Strangeblades wrote:

All these little items, iPad programs and other digital knick-knacks feel like a mix of cash-grabbing and an earnest experiment into game-definition expansion.

I think that actually applies to just about all commercial video games since forever. Games are complicated things to start with, and they are generated by a complicated process of funding and publishing blended with artistry and programming.

Trust this man behind the moustache.

Seriously though, I agree with what you're saying. To me the video game industry has not stop exploding and mutating since the 1980s. This latest offshoot tentacle of all platforms serving the progress for one game - it's just the latest craziness. I can't wait to see what happens next or what develops further or what gets dropped and then picked up again by someone with a new twist on an old idea. (Old as in two months old)