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Monthly Archives: March 2012

I’m afraid I don’t really get the colossal wave of nerdrage engulfing the planet about the endings of Mass Effect 3. And here’s a fair SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t played the game and have managed to avoid enough of the controversy to not know what the nerdrage is about, then what follows may contain unwelcome revelations. But probably not – is there anyone, gamer or not, who doesn’t know what all the fuss is about by now?

OK, let’s start with a couple of disclaimers. Firstly – I’ve not played the game myself. Or Mass Effect 2. I started playing the original Mass Effect but didn’t get very far, it felt too shootery and RPG-y enough for my own personal tastes. Secondly, I know that the fuss isn’t just about the nature of the ending, it’s also about how many variant endings there are (Bioware allegedly promised more than you can actually get) and how much difference there is between them. But an awful lot of the fuss seems to be that a lot of players are offended by the ‘downer’ ending and wanted to see something more ‘happily ever after’.

Never mind Mass Effect 3. If we don’t like downer endings, then we need a campaign to change the ending of Gladiator, never mind Blake’s 7. Somebody get me a time machine to go back to the battle of Trafalgar. Britain’s greatest victory at sea, and the hero of the hour is killed at his moment of triumph! That’s just not fair. And then there’s King Arthur, killed by his own son and pretty much the entire supporting cast massacred as well…

The hero’s noble sacrifice is one of the most enduring dramatic devices, and for good reason. Happily ever after just doesn’t feel right for heroes – you know that it’s not going to be for ever after, only until the next adventure. In the end, heroes should die as they have lived, paying the price they’ve been willing to pay from the outset, and not fade slowly into a nursing home. Every Beowulf deserves his dragon and a final blaze of glory.

I wonder whether the gamer reaction comes from players who are used to the conventions of video games rather than those of epic fiction and heroic legend. Gamers are used to winning games. Not just winning, but pwning the opposition. The concept of a Pyrrhic victory just doesn’t really appear in games, where at most it’s a setback before the player powers on to ultimate victory. It’s just a matter of being good enough at the game to score all the achievements, the perfect score, the flawless victory. Nobody expects the Kobiyashi Maru scenario, and a lot of gamers seem to react to it as Kirk did – they want to reprogram the ‘no win’ scenario into one they can win.

And that would be a pity. Because regardless of how you view the Mass Effect series as games, there’s a story there with a hero’s journey, and it deserves to reach a proper hero’s resting place.

Bioware have put together a rather nice trailer showcasing some of the goodies in their next major update, now due in April – yes, I know the trailer’s actually been available for nearly a week, see my last post for why I’m not entirely on the ball at the moment. Anyway, there’s a lot of nice stuff in there and even if they aren’t going to match the output of the Stakhanovites at Trion, it’s clear that Bioware’s dev team aren’t sitting back and resting on their laurels. Bonus points to them also for once again using music from the excellent Two Steps From Hell in their videos.

One thing that doesn’t appear in the video is that update 1.2 also involves a tweaking/balancing pass on all the classes’ skill trees, resulting in free respecs for everybody when the patch hits. How extensive the changes are we’ve yet to see, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the public test patch notes. While a certain number of tweaks, buffs and (whisper it) nerfs are normal especially in the early months of a game as the devs see how things play out in practice, I’ve got to admit to being a bit nervous. I’d hate to see another game succumb to ‘Ghostcrawler disease’ where obsessive re-balancing and endless adjustments become the main focus of the live team and crowd out both development of new systems and any variation or individuality in what’s already there. Game balance isn’t a static thing, it should be more like balance while riding a bicycle – you keep moving forward, making enough adjustments to keep from falling over but the main thing is to Keep. Moving. Forward.

Just a quick update to say that the reason I haven’t posted anything lately is that I’ve not been gaming (or doing very much else) for the past month. I’ve had some sort of stomach bug that instead of clearing up after a week as most of these things do has stuck around for four weeks now, and it has knocked out my ‘gaming mojo’ – I can’t summon the energy or focus for a game of World of Tanks, let alone a dungeon instance or PvP match. No gaming means nothing to write about – well, I could comment on all the fascinating stuff other people have been blogging about but see above for the lack of energy and focus thing. Naturally, this plague struck me down two days before my Razer Death Adder left handed gaming mouse arrived (do you have any idea how hard it is to get a decent mouse for a southpaw?) and said accessory, which will no doubt push my gaming performance to godlike levels, is still sitting in its packaging next to my desk.

One thing my enforced absence did produce after a couple of weeks was a “come back to SWTOR, your companion is missing you!” email from Bioware, personalised with my main character’s name and companion. Kudos to the Bioware community team for being on the ball with trying to retain customers who may be wavering, but in this case – guys, I WANT to be back ASAP, it’s just that the bottom has fallen out of my world or some permutation thereof.

The good news is that I spent this morning being tested for everything from salmonella to high cholesterol to HIV (!) so hopefully next week they’ll know what the problem is and be able to knock it on the head (pretty darned certain it’s not the HIV at least… where’s House when you need him?)