Home > Art, Critical Thinking, Geek, Insomnia, Literary Analysis, Science Fiction, Video games > Mass Effect 3 and Artistic Integrity

Mass Effect 3 and Artistic Integrity

Let’s face it: the conclusion of the Mass Effect trilogy has been highly controversial. I’ve been mostly silent in this debate, largely because I see validity in both sides. On one had, the ending was philosophically brilliant and rounded out some of the higher concepts that were introduced throughout the series in a spectacular way, leaving the end open to various interpretations. On the other hand, in terms of epic science-fiction space opera, the conclusion was a vast disappointment. There is really no resolution for the characters, and there are many jarring plot-holes that, frankly, leave a sour taste in one’s mouth.

Do you really believe that your squad mates somehow made it from Earth to the Normandy in the middle of a massive land and space war only to flee the Sol System in the end? It really makes no sense, given what we know of the characters and their dedication and loyalty to Commander Shepard (they went on a suicide mission with him through the Omega 4 Rely, so it seems highly unlikely they’d flee in the end).

This is not the point of this article. I want to discuss something I’ve seen thrown around by BioWare and some fans that are opposed to rewriting or changing the endings in any significant way: artistic integrity.

I’ve argued for years about the artistic integrity of video games, and Mass Effect is certainly a form of art. It’s controversial, unique, and explores age-old questions and ideas in a beautiful and thought-provoking way (well, between shoot-outs and massive space battles–but even the best literature has conflict on a massive scale). In some ways it is downright dangerous because it challenges the players to acknowledge the legitimacy of artificial life as a true form of life, which skews and perhaps destroys what we currently define as life. In many science-fiction stories, such as Asimov’s I, Robot, robots are a way to explore humanity, especially if those robots share our values to some extent. The Geth share our values in that they value life, their continued existence, and their right to self-determinate. We see ourselves reflected in the Geth consensus. This can provoke some uncomfortable realizations, which is a hallmark of great art.

What I think people forget about art is that art is, simply, not infallible. It isn’t unassailable, and part of the reason art exists is to inspire criticism. Good authors and painters and musicians want people to criticize their work because the artist is just as much a member of the audience as the critics. The best works of art push people to understanding without actually blatantly stating some fact of the universe, so that when a piece of art is critiqued, the artist learns just as much as the audience.

The question with Mass Effect 3 is this: would changing the ending result in voiding all of the artistic integrity of the game? The answer, quite simply, is no. In fact, it would strengthen the artistic merit of the game. If video games are to be considered art the people who play them and the people who design them have to admit that video games aren’t like other forms of art. They aren’t like movies. They aren’t like literature. They aren’t like paintings. You’re obviously not going to critique Macbeth the same way you’d critique the Mona Lisa, so why wouldn’t you create and apply different critical theories for video games?

I think that video games offer a deeper sense of the connection between artist and audience. The player becomes a part of the action, and in games like Mass Effect, they actually make choices that impact the progression of the story. The player actually gets to mold the story according to his preferences. This offers an almost unprecedented level of control for the audience, which means that, invariably, the artist has to forfeit some of his power. Mass Effect has different endings and outcomes based on a plethora of decisions that the player makes, which doesn’t follow the normal pattern of narration. It creates interaction. The artist, then, is allowing the player to shape the art in a way that movies, books, and paintings simply cannot.

Art is dynamic. It changes as time passes, and even interpretations of older works change. It goes without saying that we don’t interpret Beowulf the same way that the original Anglo-Saxon storytellers interpreted it. But art is also dynamic in that part of what makes it art in the first place is that an audience criticizes it. An audience, in a very real way, shapes art. Mass Effect 3 has had its share of critics, and rightly so. Allowing a democratic process, such as feedback and audience input, actually reinforces the notion that Mass Effect 3 is art because it actually does expose something about the culture surrounding video games.

Gamers are passionate, and they’re smart. The main reason that video games are starting to develop artistic integrity in the mainstream doesn’t just come down to talented writers and designers. The gamers themselves demand immersive, thoughtful, and smart games. They want compelling stories with intriguing characters. Mass Effect has always delivered these things. It’s been innovative, engaging, and thoughtful. More than that, though, is that the different choices and variables allowed the player to create a story that was wholly his own. It’s not very likely that any two Mass Effect playthroughs are exactly the same, because each player crafts the story to fit their preferences. In a way, each player can claim Mass Effect as their own.

If that’s the case, doesn’t the audience actually have real artistic input? Part of the way the game functions is that players determine the final outcome of their game. They get to design the facial features of the character, name him, and make Shepard’s decisions. They’re allowed to take part in the artistic process.

In essence, this means that the players themselves had a legitimate stake in the artistic process. If they weren’t satisfied by the conclusions it isn’t necessarily because they felt entitled to getting what they wanted, but because the game revealed something about it’s artistic nature. The artists that designed Mass Effect 3 don’t hold all of the artistic power.

And that is what is most relevant in this discussion, and why video games have an uphill battle in terms of being accepted as art. Video games create art that is a shared process, and the Mass Effect series was especially innovative of this particular aspect. The logical conclusion is that the players should have as much control over the outcome of the games as the writers and developers do themselves. If the gamers are upset about specific aspects of the endings, and they provide feedback to the studio as to what their grievances are, it is the height of hypocracy for that studio to hide behind an argument like “artistic integrity” when the art of the game itself hinges on the gamers participating in the process.

So it really boils down to this: the artistic integrity of Mass Effect 3 actually rests on the participation of the gamers. My argument is that if BioWare tries to brush off the valid feedback and criticism of the gamers by claiming artistic integrity, it actually destroys the artistic merits of the game to a very large degree (especially in an age of video games with DLC, or downloadable content, which actually changes the game by adding characters and missions and other such things that fundamentally change the story and narrative).

Changing the ending to provide the conclusion that a relatively large population of the fans would consider fitting would not reduce the merits of the art, but actually add to it. One of the chief complaints I’ve read from people that don’t want the ending changed is that if BioWare did acquiesce to the change then it means the ending they liked would not be the real ending. The flaw in this argument is that Mass Effect really has no certain ending. One of the most interesting aspects of the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 is that it could be the death of Shepard and, essentially, the end of the story. That is actually a valid ending to the whole story, which completely voids the need for Mass Effect 3 at all. If a player decides that they liked the original ending, they don’t have to download the new one. It really is as simple as that. And this is the kind of art that Mass Effect embodies.

In the end, if video game developers, and even journalists, want video games to be taken serious as an art form, they must make room for criticism. If they rush to defend a video game from legitimate criticism with arguments like “artistic integrity” as a reason to not entertain notions that Mass Effect 3’s ending should be changed, or that it was flawed in the first place, they’re undermining some of the great strides video games have made in the last decade toward becoming art. If we want to actually make the case that video games are art, we have to start to turn a real critical eye toward them. They have to stand the process of being picked apart and analyzed. The greatest works of art are great because they withstand criticism and constantly create topics for discussion and interpretation. Mass Effect 3 has done this, whether by intention or not. It has sparked passion on all sides, and it has been critically analyzed and picked apart. There is ample evidence to support many different theories about the true nature of the endings of the games, and many theories are clever and well-reasoned. Mass Effect 3 is living up to its legacy. The very criticism and dissection of the game, leading in some cases to plausible and convincing theories about the true events and meaning, cements its status as art.

  1. mfeff427
    March 31, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    The game, as a whole is rushed. Perhaps I will simple state

    Google image search:

    Space Winter

    See anything familiar? See that, visual communication. Something was just communicated to the audience. – Meta “that’s deep”.

    Video games follow a process similar to “industrial design”, they are “artistic” in many respects; however, that “art” is implicitly emergent, not explicitly “art” for a consumer. As an engineer in aerospace I ask, would you consider a commercial airliner “art”?

    I do. Maybe someone else does not… I am able to live with that.

    Considering video games are more akin to a commissioned art, does that make Electronic Arts, Purveyors of Fine Art? You tell me. Like an airliner the “game” or product takes the “audience” from A -> B in exchange for the fare.

    That’s it. The score in this ‘particular’ game, is kept in money.

    If the end consumer of a product are “the audience” engaging said product, then that product, like any other “art” is open for criticism. Now, clearly the Intellectual Property belongs to Bioware and EA, to what-ever the terms and conditions are of the contractual arrangement they have submitted themselves to.

    Clearly, Mass Effect 3 fails on many technical points, not just the ending. The narrative is very weak, tropes plenty of Sci-Fi such as Battle Star Galactica, “Contact”, Matrix… just to name a few. Why shouldn’t it? Mac Walters “notes” on the ending indicate “Matrix” as “the thought”. In fact, this blog post shows more intellectual and philosophical introspection than the creators of the product intended.

    Let me stress this point, “they” are not deep. It’s an “illusion” of depth.

    The game “in and of itself” removed from the I.P. as -=it is=- not as it is a “Mass Effect” is not good enough to “sell itself” on it’s own merits.

    It is simply a poorly made “Nike Shoe”.

    This blog indicates a “new ending” is in the works.

    Based on what evidence? “Content Initiative”, that could be anything, and considering Bioware and EA’s penchant for additional “DLC” post title release, that is to already be expected.

    There will be “no new ending”. It would of already been released if there was one. “NO” major multi-million dollar company or investment has “stones” enough to ride this week after week. That is nonsense.

    The “journalistic tampering” that has occurred over the last week is clearly the “cheaper” option than spending hundreds of thousands (maybe a million + dollars) on “fixing” anything.

    The real damage, is not this particular game but the integrity of the developer as a whole. As time marches on the question will be, how will it affect the sales of other titles such as Dragon Age III? How will it affect the sales of the downloadable content?

    I suspect, “enough to be noticeable”, however, weighed against the very low production cost of Mass Effect 3, the re-use of much of the already created “art assets”, the “cash infusion” of Mass Effect 3, as an I.P. burn off “pump and dump”. May of been worth it in the short term.

    All in all, this is really nothing new. It is simply a paradigm shift in that the “audience” of this particular title “trended” to have a little more “well to do” audience. Perhaps also that the quality was just so poor, that many of the small but vocal core, felt that they had been taken for a ride.

    Lot’s of companies have done this, just not with an I.P. this big, so hyped, with a marketing back end that would make Hollywood blush.

    Buy a game, get a poorly written philosophy paper, justified by “art” argument; for the sole purpose of flipping a buck. That is Not new.

    Just going to leave this little guy right here…

    Visual Communication – so Meta…

  2. March 31, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    Thank you for the insightful comment on my musings!

    I will admit that there are several aspects of the game that feel rushed. I have, of course, expressed my outrage elsewhere about the Space Winter picture and the Tali photo cop-out. BioWare was obviously cutting corners, and it damaged their end product in certain ways.

    I think that it goes without saying that BioWare and EA are producing a product to be sold and consumed, and that video games aren’t explicitly art. I guess I should have made it clear that I was working from that assumption, but if you look at the history of art throughout the ages there is, to a large degree, economic activity inextricably linked to it. A producer creates a product to be consumed, whether by mass consumption (as in movies, music, or video games) or smaller audiences (sculptures, paintings, and so on).

    I, like you, find artistic merit in works of engineering. Cars, planes, naval vessels, buildings all have inherent artistic value. And again, they are not explicit, they are, as you said so eloquently, emergent.

    I don’t think the issue I’m really trying to focus on is a distinction between fine art and commercial art. As I said previously, EA is producing a product for mass consumption which isn’t created with the prime focus being artistic purpose. It’s economic transaction for entertainment. However, in the process, the writers and the designers create something majestic. They create cultures and laws of physics and logic that operate within the universe of the story. They offer commentary on the cultures, the relations, the technology, and all of it falls in line with the traditional role of most science-fiction: extrapolation.

    But I like that you’re focusing on the legal matters of intellectual property, which was not covered in the scope of my article. That’s a practical matter that factors in to this, definitely. In the real world EA and BioWare own the intellectual rights of Mass Effect. It is a property. I look at it like I look at Star Wars, however; though, to be sure, they own the legal rights to it, the story is mine. I have assimilated it and I now use it to define aspects of my universe. It is an integral part of my cultural library, from which I judge all new works. Star Wars was the first epic science-fiction space opera I had ever seen, and it still forms the foundation of my views on science-fiction in mediums other than literature.

    Mass Effect does have many technical problems, I’ll grant that. I will not grant that the narrative is weak and that it isn’t compelling. My expertise is in literature. I have an degree in English Language and Literature, and the focus of my studies was science-fiction literary analysis. I had a professor who very poignantly told me the very thing that built the foundation of all of my efforts in literary studies: no work is original, and they all borrow from each other. What makes literary studies a worthwhile endeavor is the newness of the perspective. For instance, what new perspective does it add to age-old themes and tropes that allow us to think of the topic with new information and new parameters? If you really want to argue that Mass Effect 3 loses a lot of its value because it has aspects of Battlestar Galactica and The Matrix, then you also have to, logically, argue that Battlestar Galactica’s value is lessened because it borrows from Star Trek, Asimov, Star Wars, and Greek and Roman philosophy and religion. Likewise, you have to argue that The Matrix has lessened value because it borrows from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Hinduism, Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation,” Immanuel Kant, Christian and Judaic theology, and an impressively long list of anime and robot-oriented science-fiction. The point is this: most works of literature borrow from each other.

    Mass Effect 3 borrows from the finest traditions of extrapolative science-fiction. It would be a mistake to think that it would have to be original. I think that it made a number of overt references to other works of science-fiction not just as shout-outs to great works, but also as literary allusions to concepts which are explored, in depth, and in different ways, in other works. For instance, in Mass Effect 2, one of the missions is to rescue the crew of the SSV Hugo Gernsback. Hugo Gernsback is the father of modern science-fiction, creating the first pulp science-fiction magazine in which he coined the term that “science-fiction” comes from, “scientifiction.” Gernsback’s perennial work is one of the most influential in the genre, even though it is critically panned: “Ralph 124C 41+.” It is, quite simply, a horrible book in terms of plot. It does, however, predict with stunning accuracy one thing which we find commonplace now: radar. It was revolutionary.

    And that’s what Mass Effect 3 is, essentially. I wrote at length about how the player gets to interact and choose how the story turns out. Mass Effect 3 represents a critical evolution in the genre of science-fiction. Since it is, admittedly, an early work there are many bugs to work out. And, much to my chagrin, it is the product of a company looking to make as much profit off of it as it can. I don’t think this undermines that artistic and revolutionary value of the game itself.

    I don’t make claims as for what the writers intended. I also think that it is rather absurd for you to claim that they aren’t deep and they didn’t intentionally do things which produced amazing story arcs and deep characters. The writers who created the characters of Mordin and Thane, especially, created some amazing dialogue. And, no, Mass Effect 3 couldn’t stand on its own outside of the Mass Effect brand because it relies so heavily on canon, knowledge, and themes created in the first two. It is, naturally, an extension of previous works. When you discover that they’re continuing ideas and concluding stories that stretch back as far as the first Mass Effect, you realize that a game like that cannot stand on its own. This isn’t that unusual.

    I’m not claiming that BioWare is making a new ending. I’m commenting on the arguments for and against a possible change. To be able to write about the artistic merit of the game while taking in the arguments for a different ending and against a different ending, it makes sense to write from the perspective that it is possible BioWare could do so. Notice I didn’t actually claim that they were coming out with a new ending. If I had, I would have linked to the evidence. I don’t actually expect them to come out with a new ending. My goal was only to underscore the flaws in the “artistic integrity” argument against coming out with a new ending.

    I haven’t actually seen the final cost of production for Mass Effect 3. An admittedly quick Google search yields nothing to that effect. If you have evidence that the budget for Mass Effect 3 was low, I’m wondering if you can share that. Until then, I don’t think you can make the claim that Mass Effect 3’s budget was any lower than Mass Effect 2 or any other game.

    Eventually, I’m going to write some articles about the philosophical brilliance of the Mass Effect series. I have a huge collection of notes with references to other works and ideas, and if you play particular attention to details, you can see many things interconnected. While it’s true that Mass Effect 3 doesn’t have the philosophical strength of the first and second installments, it isn’t exactly a lightweight.

    To be honest, the day I learned that EA acquired BioWare was a sad day for me. I remember what they did to Westwood and how they completely ruined the Command and Conquer franchise. I’ve been relieved to see that BioWare hasn’t lost much of its integrity compared to other studios EA has acquired. We’ll see how long that lasts, but I generally don’t think that their terrible ad campaigns and malfeasance about the “From Ashes” DLC has anything to do with the art of the game. It says a lot about the industry, sure. But that’s for another conversation.

  3. mfeff427
    April 1, 2012 at 3:33 AM

    You Sir, have really impressed me. Your response is well thought out, detailed, and while critical of portions of my weaker assertions, did so with a grace I find rare on the internet, and near a flawless diamond concerning the Mass Effect and Bioware issues. I will make an attempt to stay on point with a response, but it may come off a little frantic as I work back and forth in the reply to your response.

    While my initial posit was virulent and aggressive, you maintained a calm that I did not expect. 😉

    To frame my own position I hold a non accredited associate in comparative religious studies, an associate in applied science, associate in pre-engineering, and a Bach in Electrical Engineering minor in mathematics. Certainly the study of philosophy and religion have been huge influences on my own life, and your references concerning film and the Mass Effect (universe) are excellent notations in this discussion. I have worked in many industries from video games (retail and distribution), flight instructing, airliner maintenance, management, to operating my own businesses and free lance engineering solutions.

    As you stated your endeavors and academic approach have been from the “strong” literary point of view. That said, of course mine are going to flow from a design and application point of view. Perhaps there is a middle ground that may be reached when considering a relevant epistemology as it concerns the question “what is art – as it relates to video game design”, without falling back to tired ontological arguments? (Please forgive any English errors that I am sure to make, editors have made small fortunes correcting my inane dictations) 😉

    As it concerns video games “as art” I have found this to be a troubling discussion with people outside of the technical circle of the production process. Though I am encouraged that our conversation may bear fruit.

    Giving it some thought, I must admit a certain bias of my own position, in that I often fail to recognize that people (Bioware) in this case, hold a “belief” that they are creating art, or have an art (let me assume “literary” in this case) that has an adamantium value. Perhaps this is a failing of my own extremely empirical (often skeptical) approach to subjects, both artistic, financial, even philosophical. Typically I view such claims as “video games = art” with an extreme skepticism, in that, as it has been my experience (cognitive bias) video games yield art, and art yields video games; but that they are not implicitly the same due to difficulties with assigning rational “sets” to the idea.

    That is to say that a position of evidentialism strengthens a confidence in a rational, no… a reasonable position, without falling back on to many “beliefs”. That is to say in far to many words, pragmatism leaves little room for “aesthetic princesses”.

    I will also note, that I have been a consumer of video games since “pong” was new, and have written software, worked on mods, and scripted A.I. While not particularly literary, I would like to think that I have some working knowledge of “how” games come to be. I also collect film of all manner, and find the subject fascinating.

    On that, I have a little porcelain cat on my desk. I bought it as it appeals to my sense of “art”. Yet “porcelain cat” is not art, it is in the art that is a “value added”, upgrading the “cat” to “sculpture” and is artistic. That is to say, and perhaps repeat, one is not necessarily the other, although one may be sufficient to make claim to the other.

    In propositional Calculus, the extended logical sets from which one may make arguments are similar to those used in perhaps Chemistry. That is to say, that the yields “symbology” implies an endothermic or exothermic reaction. Like art, it is the artist who applies that energy to upgrade the subject to an artistic piece. In this posit I assert that an artist, is versed in the techniques, of taking elements and combining them into new and interesting forms. As with all art, it does beg a certain interaction with an audience, and the audience engages the work as a process of hierarchical “personal” relationship with the piece. Sure it is subjective, I find that an unavoidable consequence of the nature of art.

    Perhaps in that, I beg the question, that simply taking elements that “worked” in other medium or media, or are even homages to well know works, and “lumping them into” ones work, lacks a certain Je ne sais quoi to constitute a reasonable “work” of art.

    In that I have an old saying, for what it is worth. If one does a work, and feels compelled to offer a philosophy paper to explain it, one hasn’t done enough work.

    However, ideas don’t form in a vacuum for many reasons, so there are patterns that form in various cultures or even particular art forms are not coincidental. I may even point out that as “game developers” have began to rely so heavily on “engines” that they themselves do not create, there is a certain “stale-ness” in the medium. Such as, a game on the “Unreal Engine” looks like an Unreal Engine game. Cry Engine, same thing. There are many reasons for this, from palette to color and lighting algorithmic.

    Interestingly problems from one engine to the next follow a product from iteration to iteration and sometimes, create new problems. For example, the Mass Effect 3 “quest” system is deeply troubled by bringing the multi-player core engine, back into the single player game frame. I am also able to follow the “tagging” system utilized and find several flaws. These technical problems present tremendous challenges to any development team attempting to craft a narrative. As such, consider the limited nature of the missions in Mass Effect 3. Intentional design? Or developmental hurtle from a flawed tag/script system? Stuff like this, critically stymies everyone else in the process. This may overload some other sections with excessive exposition, and make other sections overly lite… which again derails the process and troubles process workflow.

    I also must note that video games, use a flow style narrative structure, that is, they are “scriptless” and the narrative is generally “stitched” together as the game art assets, pieces, and modules are worked up. It is very much a process of “out of someone’s ass”, almost every step of the way.

    I mean, that is the lead writer’s notes (to my pamphlet knowledge)… but it’s not exactly Mark Twain.

    Although as an anecdote, I think that “Shogun Total War 2” is a work of art. The core design is fundamentally the same throughout all Creative Assembly’s games, yet Total War, the brand, bends around the subject and embraces it in extreme detail. This is an extreme accomplishment considering the limitations of their own engine. How did they manage? They employed the assistance of William Scott Wilson, and Stephen T, of course. Experts on Japanese studies in the Western World. This research perhaps is essential to capturing the elements amplifying those elements to that state of “art”. Solid research, solid process, “listening” to what others say. Result? $$$$->Bank

    Interestingly you use the term “cultural library”, while I tend to use the concept of “visual library”. Strong visual library is essential in any responsible analytic study of a medium, from inspecting microscopic fissures in a structural cross member of a turbine engine, to the amazing cues in a film such as Blade Runner… a Syd Mead classic. Repetition of patterns, understanding the rules of the medium (even composite steal has a character about it), to simply playing a melody in a long shot of a cyberpunk dystopia. What we see, what we agree with, even subconsciously has a substance, in a hierarchy, that works, when it makes sense to what we have come to understand of the subject being appreciated as an object.

    Now, on ME 3, I do not want to argue that it is a lessor model, because it borrows so heavily from other modern popular medium. No, want I wish to build an argument for, is that while these visual cues, allow us to consciously and subconsciously connect with the narrative (as the scene is functionally part of the exposition) simply “plugging in” references without a bearing or relevance on the story one wants to tell, over-loads one’s own narrative with associations already established by those other stories.

    I think utilizing the “crucible”, borrows so heavily from Jody Foster’s “Contact”, that in some respects the writer’s may of even have developed an associate bias to it’s role as a “device built by many nations, of unknown origin, which when activates, creates Speculation!” They indoctrinated themselves, by not separating the “borrow” from “their work”.

    Even more Speculation! 😉

    I expected it to be a Trojan Horse, and maybe lead into dealing with Shepard’s Cassandra Syndrome, or giving us a Prothean Fleet… but that is another story. I will just say that Retconning Shepard, to make him weak, introducing a Chekov’s gun, only to result in a martyr situation just seems… sloppy, and comes off as a “Contact” moment, how is it not?

    The “Breath” at the end? Visually the same as the Fall of Superman… Mac Walter’s likes comic books, and it is certainly the Ubermensch ending. Shepard is not superman though… ME 1 he is a military type, becoming a Super Spy, then a Renegade building his team… and in 3? Lost in space. This broke symmetry. A Platonic simile of the line, way off on the opinion side (writer’s) and not nearly enough on the (knowledge side) cannon.

    Mordin and Thane’s dialog were written by a “character writer” that left the company before production began on ME 3.

    Many of the other characters were written by “character writers”, that had nothing to do with the staff that wrote the main narrative of ME 3.

    I (personally) do not have problems with these character’s, the outstanding dialog, and the emotional development they pull off.

    However, THAT being said, resolving the Geth/Krogan story arcs (which arguably are carry over arcs from ME 1 and ME 2) where clearly established and written some time Before the advent of ME 3.

    In fact, of all those that I have discussed this with, many feel these are the two strongest narrative moments of the game. Yet, demonstrably, those WERE NOT written by Mac Walters, or any of the other… sigh… staff charged with the game’s “arc”.

    I agree with what you said about ME 1 and to some extent ME 2, yet isn’t this the “Drew Karpyshyn” writing and to that end, maybe 1 or 2 other people… (I am afraid I cannot remember them off the top of my head). They seem mostly responsible for not only what you are referencing, but also Revan of SW, Jade Empire, Dragon Age 1… and other I.P. More or less everything that Bioware put out, that was worth salt, a couple guys came up with. That is not un-typical in design industries.

    Drew is also known for his interest in philosophy and has a penchant for metaphysics. Are these not the more interesting points when it comes to Legion? Now it comes to me… P. Weekes, wrote Thane, Mordin, Legion… and every other character that is worth remembering. Although there was another guy who did a lot of the Legion research. It was thoughtful, as most writers I have met… don’t know much about “hard science” in a technical sense.

    Some of this stuff was the Milton of the video game narrative… yet, again, NOT involved with the evolution of the ME 3 story line as a whole. In fact, Mr. Weekes was likely reprimanded for his “outspoken” condensation of the ending of ME 3… and the interruptions and infighting during the development of ME 3 as a whole which he alluded to.

    So THAT all said, my issues are not ME 1 nor ME 2, heck, I liked the Kurosawa Samurai 7, dirty dozen character development. So much so, I let the collectors slide. Even overlooked the (sigh) human-reaper mech-thingy that had to be retconed in the books to make work with the Reaper design. Characters drove the narrative, which is again, going to be another direct striking point to take against ME 3.

    When it comes to ME 3, what I wanted to imply was that, ME 1 “clearly” stood on it’s own, for it’s own merit. The original E3 reveal when biotics where still “dark energy” as an advertising pitch are still relevant today, in fact CD Projeckt Red’s Witcher 2 “pitch” video is VERY similar.

    That is to say, ME 3 as a “over the shoulder shooter” in a crowded FPS market, that offered a “sleep with everyone” Debbie does Dallas relationship setup, with as many technical issue as it had, is simply mediocre on it’s own, forgettable.

    (We could pursue this further, but this post is getting long, and I think discussing the narrative, as it is, would require a post dedicated to the topic.) I would build a case as to how ME 3, retcon’s and fundamentally breaks it’s own universes rules and logic over and over again. Simile of the line?

    As far as cost is concerned, I have to go with “personal experience” and offer my own bias opinion and subjectivity as to what “things” cost. Like yourself I am not privy to numbers, I suspect very few people are.

    I submit that many many of the art assets used are old art assets. That the music offered is “mostly” from the original two games, except a piece or two. The designs as the game progresses become increasingly narrow. The animations are clunky and key-framed poorly. The staff list in the credits is the “shortest” of the two games. The ending… well, isn’t that why we are here?

    So what I present, is simply indirect evidence to support a position.

    Concerning the “Take Earth Back” trailer, that was outsourced, as well as some of the other design elements. This was perhaps one of the biggest expenses as well as the marketing campaign, which is “likely” to have doubled or tripled the cost of the project.

    Ultimately I think we need another correspondence to discuss the merits or lack there of, concerning the third installment. I “think” we agree that the first game is clearly the best, and the second, while weaker was strong in character development and world “fashioning”. Personally I thought it was a HUGE improvement both in theme and technical aspects.

    Lastly, I do not entirely blame EA. For example, I find little fault with Dead Space 2… mind you I think Battlefield 3 suffered from “Call of Duty” syndrome, which soured me. Ironic and perhaps funny because I worked on testing with it.

    No more than I blame Paradox interactive for the Sword of the Stars 2 debacle. A developer runs his own house, for better or for worse. Good processes and good management do work, even if that means tightening up the grip on “artistic license” and finding a synergy with the staff. Rise together or fall apart, I think it goes.

    C&C, to me… eh… I think it killed itself, and I think Bioware may be on the same road. C&C Renegade was a complete missed opportunity. Kai Leng? Really? To defend ME 3 in a meaningful way, is on some level, to excuse “that”. What the hell is Raiden/Sephiroth/Ninja Gaiden doing in this game? Wasn’t it already established that the “ninja” archetype was primarily Biotic?

    Here’s why, but I won’t give away my total position… simply “Brad McQuaid”. Genius, who went from hero to zero… because of a “vision”. “Visions” in process based design, can be very expensive propositions.

    I do “think” now, that some people at Bioware “believe” in their creative artistic license. It actually took me some time to come to this conclusion. Simply because I find such a position to be lacking in pragmatic value. I don’t generally “deal” with art people, but I have family that work in commercial art and they advise me that “artistic people” generally get very attached to their “artistic ideas”. This is very “alien” to me, as I may burn through dozens, maybe many dozens of “things” before making a decision on something in design. Ideas are cheap, I have a sea of ideas, but art assets, doing models, rendering, texture guy, tool guy, color guy, key frame guy, mo-cap guy, voice over guy? $o Expen$ive.

    To me, I find that idea to be untenable, and in that I find that “keeping options and communication open” is the way to “win”. If we must be “biased” it is good to explain why we are biased, or at-the-least acknowledge our own perspective limitations and limited view points. Sometimes I think this is referred to as the Quinne “Web of Belief”, but hey, I like Wittgenstein so there ya go.

    I will also note that Arena Net, when they unveiled the Elf people, got some boo’s… they didn’t release any new updates for the next month or two… when they did, it was a complete “redesign” of the archetype. I submit that they “changed” to intercept a problem before it was a problem. Why create and support content no one likes? Ultimately, no one at Arena Net cared… but why?

    They had “dozens” of concept drawings of the elf folk… and just went with a different one. In this instance it was not about “sticking to ones guns” it was about holstering ones weapon and picking a different option. That, right there, is (to me) the stumbling block of Bioware.

    Though, they didn’t ask me. I don’t think they asked anyone. Ultimately, I think “selling” a game as “a work of art” as a descriptor on a box, is sorta… well… silly. ME 3, maybe, just forgot what it was. That’s hard to come back from.

    It has been a pleasure, perhaps I will hear from you in the future?

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