Monday, 28 May 2012

Thoughts on Mass Effect 3's Ending.

WARNING: I am going to be writing in varying detail about Mass Effect 1-3's plots. If you have not played the series and don't want any spoilers, you might want to stop reading here. You have been warned.

Though you would never know it from looking at my YouTube channel to date, I am a huge fan of BioWare's games, more particularily Dragon Age and Mass Effect. You might call me a fanboy when it comes to those two areas, and I'm not afraid to admit it! Today I thought would be a good time to write about, being the Mass Effect fanatic I am, how Mass Effect 3 left a lot to be desired.
Since Mass Effect 1, I've been a hue fan of the series. I've played ME 1 and ME 2 times beyond counting, tweaking and retweaking every different scenario, trying to discover every different outcome, no matter how small. I've done the paragon and renegade paths and everything in between for both genders and I've romanced every crew member in the game. Yes, everyone. I even romanced the male crew members, trying to ignore the thought of how odd it is that I, a heterosexual male, was flirting with another heterosexual male while putting myself in the position of a female protagonist. All this I have done out of my love for the series, and I don't regret a second of it. Needless to say, I and every other Mass Effect enthusiast out there had high expectations for the last game of the series.

I played Mass Effect 3 the day it came out, and don't get me wrong, 95% of the game was everything I had hoped it to be. But the ending is what killed it for me. No, it didn't just kill it, the ending set the series on fire, shot it in the leg, ran it over with a truck, then had a Reaper come down and vaporize it, all while "Friday" by Rebecca Black played in the background. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. "Friday" was not being played in the background... That would just be cruel.
So, what makes the ending so bad that it all but kills the series? First and foremost, the introduction of "Space magic". In the ending, a mortally wounded Shepard appears to bleed out on the Citadel after activating the controls to get the Crucible, a superweapon designed to defeat the Reapers, and hearing the touching last words of Captain Anderson. Nothing too bad about that, right? But it doesn't end there. Right after Shepard passes out, dies, or whatever he/she does, his/her body is elevated into the sky via a floating platform guided by a heavenly light. Wait, what? Levitating platforms and supernatural auras? What kind of technology is that? This is where the plot writer's so-called, "artistic integrity" turns into artistic stupidity. Whoever planned this and everything that comes after must have been having a crisis of faith, since I could have swore I just watched Shepard ascend into Heaven.

But it gets better: Shepard, who is no longer dead or unconscious, is sent to a peculiar platform (which, I may add, appears to have no means of allowing Shepard to breathe since the walls are not closed off and the battle in space can still be seen raging in the background) and is greeted by what appears to be the ghost of the child Shepard saw die back on Earth. Let's recap: so far, we have Shepard blacking out from extreme blood loss and being ascended by a seemingly magical aura to a platform in the middle of space. Next, we have a ghostly child explaining to us how the Citadel is his home and implying that he speaks for the Reapers. Now, how do they explain all this weird, supernatural mumbo jumbo they suddenly throw in your face? They don't. This leaves me with only one conclusion: The Citadel and/or the Crucible are magical. When was magic ever incorporated into the Mass Effect universe in the past? Hell if I know, but you're expected to simply accept the facts without hesitation. How dare you question the writer's "artistic integrity"?

The space magic doesn't end there. Shepard is told by the ghostly starchild that he has three options to defeat the Reapers: Shepard can choose to destroy them, control them as the Illusive Man had planned all along, or to meld organics with synthetics, turning everyone in the galaxy into androids in a blast of green smoke. Oh, and no matter what ending you choose, the Mass Effect Relays get destroyed. So does the Normandy. And Shepard. And everything else that makes the series special. Furthermore, the thought of being able to destroy ALL the Reapers, the near indestructible killing machines, by shooting a metal thing barely larger than Shepard a few times seems highly unlikely. Also, why would you have to destroy a part of the Crucible in order to destroy the Reapers? Wouldn't it make more sense to simply build an "OFF" switch? This is also the highest form of deus ex machina, (meaning, "god from the machine" in latin) a writing technique in which a seemingly hopeless situation is abruptly solved through the intervention of some new character or circumstance. Though it can be used to achieve a positive effect in some stories, this technique is more often employed when the writer does not know how to properly end the story. This kind of poor writing used to drive my Writer's Craft teacher crazy, and it makes me crazy too.

Next on the list of issues is the fact that on multiple occasions, your crew promises to stick with Shepard, no matter what. You can truly feel the loyalty Shepard's crew has for him, and you'd know that they'd gladly die for your Shepard. Why then, does Joker abandon you on the Citadel? Why does your love interest in that playthrough never give it any second thought? In one playthrough of ME3, I romanced Ashley and took her with me on the last mission. I'll assume my readiness rating was high enough for her to survive since she was in the final cutscene. When I was making the run to the Citadel beam alongside Ashley and Javik, I am blasted by Harbinger's laser. When my Shepard comes to, Javik and Ash are gone, nowhere to be found. I assumed the worst initially, believing that Javik and Ashley must have been vaporized by Harbinger like everyone else. I was upset at this thought, but it wasn't completely unexpected; I knew as well as anyone that not everyone would make it out alive.

In an anticlimactic decision at the ending, I choose to destroy the Reapers, ending all other synthetic life with them (completely unaware of the magical synthesis option for whatever reason). To my surprise, Ashley and Javik emerged from the crashed Normandy in the final cutscene. So let me get this straight: Ash and Javik did not get killed in the run to the Citadel, and they most certainly were not with me when I made it onto the Citadel. So... what? They just watched me get blasted, shrugged their shoulders and hopped back onto the Normandy? Is that the kind of loyalty I've come to expect from Javik, who has sworn to see vengeance upon the Reapers or die trying? Or Ashley, who has been romantically involved with my Shepard since the first Mass Effect game? You don't need to play the game to see that it's comletely and utterly out of character for people of that calibre of devotion to abandon Commander Shepard. I felt abandoned by my whole crew, and more than a little disapointed. I would have prefered that Shepard's crew die at his side than see them all running away and crash landing on an unknown planet. Not to mention the looks on their faces when they emerge from the wreckage. They don't seem to be affected emotionally at all about what just happened, judging from their facial expresions. In fact, the look Ashley gives to Joker looks almost like some form of suggestive smirk. Any way you look at it, from the space magic to the out-of-character personilities of your crew, it's just sloppy writing. Plain and simple.

To sum things up, I have my reasons for why they did such a poor ending. I'll list a few possibilities that come to mind in order of likelihood, 1st being least likely, last being most likely:

1. It's EA's Fault - It's no secret that Electronic Arts has a reputation for ruining every company they take control of. It seems probable that they could have had a hand in the sloppy ending. Who knows, maybe they even had a small or large role in Drew Karpyshyn, the lead writer of Mass Effect 1 and 2, leaving BioWare. Drew stated that he left to work on his own projects, and he's probably telling the truth, but who knows what details about his leaving that he cannot legally expose for the sake of company security? I highly doubt this is the reason, but hey, stranger things have happened.

2. It's the Lead Writer's Fault - Mac Walters was the only Lead Writer in Mass Effect 3, with Drew Karpyshyn having left BioWare. Now, I'm under the impression that the Lead Writer calls the shots, but is not in charge of writing everything. He gets to say yea or nay in regard to what gets included in the story, but even if he didn't write the ending, he gave the okay for the damn thing to be put into in the game. For something as important as an ending, good judgement is a must-have, and I refuse to believe that any clear thinking person could call Mass Effect 3's ending good or even satisfactory with a straight face.

3. Time Restraints - This seems like the most logical explanation, and it ties in with explanation 1 and 2 to some extent. EA probably pressed them for time (it seems like something a scumbag mega corporation like them would do), resulting in an amazing game with a horrifyingly bad ending in order to get the game out by the release date. This is related to my explanation #2 as well. These guys get paid thousands of dollars to write the storylines of games and meet deadlines. When you have to muck up a major game series by producing a rushed, sloppy ending, there's a problem. It's even more of a problem when a modest 17 year old kid who writes short stories and blogs as a hobby thinks he can do a better job than you did with the ending.

I could continue ranting about the ending for ages. I could go into how the 3 ending all were the same except for the colours of the explosions, how most of your choices have no role in how the ending plays out, or how readiness rating can anly be achieved through playing multiplayer, all that stuff. But I think there's enough content on YouTube and forums outlining those flaws that I don't have to repeat it all. I may make a part 2 to this rant, as it is a topic I feel very strongly about, but for now, I think I'm done. Let me know what you guys think about the ending if you want to. I will read all comments assuming there are any :)

- Jake (TheArbiter10)

Friday, 18 May 2012

Rant: Regarding the Call of Duty Series.

If you spend any amount of time searching up Call of Duty (often abbreviated to 'CoD' -- not to be confused with the fish) on YouTube and various forums, I'm certain you know that Call of Duty and the future of the CoD franchise is a very hot topic. There must be hundreds of videos-- and millions more comments-- of people expressing their love, hate, and everything in between for the series. In case you haven't heard enough opinions on the subject already, here's my opinion on the matter.

(Note that I will be focusing on the more recent CoD games, particularily Call of Duty 4 and up. I have played the older games, but those are generally left out of all the discussions in terms of this topic.)

Let me start off by saying that everyone has their own definition of a good video game. I try to see everyone's side when listening to thoughts and opinions, and-- providing they are reasonable-- I do my best to respect everyone's opinion. But what truly defines a good video game for me is a fascinating storyline, and replay value. As long as at least one of those two things is in the game, I can almost always categorize it as a genuinely good game. Let's judge Call of Duty from this standpoint. Call of Duty's storyline has always been the rather generic "save the world from from bad guys" kind of thing. This does not make it a bad story, heck, Modern Warfare one and two had some pretty surprising plot twists; the good kind of plot twists (unlike the very disappointing Mass Effect 3 ending, but I digress). The problem I have with the storyline is that it never ends. I haven't bought Modern Warfare 3, nor do I intend to, but I think I am accurate in my prediction that there will be a Modern Warfare 4: the fourth game in the series, and the tenth game in the franchise. You may be thinking, "So what? The Final Fantasy Series has 14 games in the series, and it's still a decent franchise." And you're right. I've never played any FF game extensively, but I have a few friends who are fans of the series, and they tell me that Final Fantasy games generally have an interesting storyline. In contrast, the developers of Modern Warfare and dragging its generic plot on and on and on. I mean, when will it end? Do they even intend for it to end? Will the Modern Warfare universe always be under the threat of some insane terrorist hellbent on unleashing nuclear destruction? In short: the story has become flat, bland. Activision and/or the developers of the games intend on milking all the money they can out of the series, until it has been milked dry.

Until the release of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 trailer, I did not think the Modern Warfare/Black Ops cash cow would ever begin to run out of cash to be milked. There was an abnormally large amount of negative reactions to the new trailer: something never before heard of when referring to any game in the CoD series, and I'm glad there was a negative response. It means people are finally starting to see that they are being suckered into buying the same damn game over and over again. And that ties in with replay value. The main attraction to Call of Duty or almost any FPS game is the multiplayer. CoD offers some exciting multiplayer action. But what are they changing with multiplayer with each new game? They add a some new guns, keep a few of the old ones, and release new maps. Is that worth the 50 to 60 dollars you pay to get the game, especially if you're among the majority of CoD fans who couldn't care less about the story mode? The ideal concept of replay value to me is the ability to play the same thing over and over again and never get bored of it. I use the term 'same thing' in this context loosely. In a good game, the 'same thing' is not actually the 'same thing' over and over again, because there are seemingly infinite ways to change things up. This could be said about CoD's multiplayer, but in truth, when it all comes down to it, you're still just running around (or camping around) shooting, stabbing, or exploding people. The only thing that changes are the weapons you use. Even then, the weapon selection grows noticeably limited as you inevitably become tired of using and re-using each weapon.

I'll try to sum things up; this is getting pretty long. It's easy to criticize developers for their faults, but what could they do to make future games better? I have both and optimistic and pessimistic theory about this:

On the optimistic side, the devs could go out of their way to make significant improvements to the multiplayer and storyline rather than just add new guns and make new maps. I would even go so far as to say that it might be wise for them to make a new series entirely; step out of their comfort zone a bit (I obviously do not mean they should go sompletely out of their element and start making sports games. They could still be games in the FPS genre!). This could keep the FPS genre alive and well, while at the same time not disappointing fans by essentialy releasing 60 dollar updates to the same game.

On the pessimistic side, I doubt any of what I mentioned in the above paragraph will happen. If it does, that's great. But I doubt it will. Creativity is a rare thing to see in games these days, and the scheme of milking as much money as possible out of a series has become a popular one. The sad truth of the matter is that the series will either live on forever by preying on the younger, more deceivable age groups, or it will eventually die out, having lost all its fan support.

Well folks, there you have it: my full opinion on the future of the Call of Duty series. If you read the entire thing, I salute you. Before I go, feel free to tell me your thoughts on this topic. I would be interested in what you have to say :)
Oh, and I included the Black Ops 2 trailer below if you haven't seen it yet. It's got all of the explosions and chaos that the previous trailers have, except this time they threw in some robots and horses. Let me know what you think of it!

- Jake (TheArbiter10)

Hello There.

Greetings, fellow surfers of the internet. My name is Jake, more popularly known on YouTube as TheArbiter10. My other aliases include Zamidge, Arby, The Arbitard, or even Jacob. Now that you know who I am, you're probably wondering why I've decided to start a blog. this is the first of what I hope to be a semi-popular series of ramblings, rantings and ravings regarding the world of video games. I've had a significant interest in video games ever since I was in kindergarten (I wasn't very talented at Tetris back then, and little has changed in that regard), and I like to think I have obtained a somewhat valuable opinion regarding said subject over the years. My goal is to share some of my thoughts, opinions, and ideas with the gaming community as well as, depending on if this site allows it (I'm still learning the ropes, so try to bear with me), to hear some feedback from you guys. I have a lot planned for this blog, and I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I will enjoy writing about it.
-Jake (TheArbiter10)