A Fan Letter

Dear BioWare,

This is coming from a long-time fan. You captured my attention with KotOR, and I have been a loyal fan since. It has been quite a ride over the last nine years, and even more so over the last three weeks. I wanted to share my thoughts away from some of the heat, so here we are.

I stand with the people who thought the ending was a head-scratching moment, to say the least. But more on that in a minute. I haven’t seen many posts that shared what went right with the whole Mass Effect series.

For years my favorite game was KotOR, and I didn’t think another game could supplant that epic landmark in my heart. Mass Effect came very close, and if I’m honest, it probably did. Mass Effect 2 certainly took the spot and became a standard of both exciting gameplay and compelling storytellling for me. With that pedigree, Mass Effect 3 had huge expectations to live up to, but I had confidence that it would be met because I have seen BioWare rise to the challenge over and over again.

ME3 hit the sweet spot of combat for the series. No longer could I duck behind some cover and just warp and overload away. I had to move and plan for the most part. I loved the fact that my Vanguard could tote an assault rifle, and I kept my load light to let my powers recharge and blast the Reapers and Cerberus with my biotic awesomeness. I don’t think I’ve ever faced a boss battle like the mission to protect the missile launchers in London. You had me standing up and my hands shaking on the controller trying to finish the waves of nastiness swamping my Shepard.

Still, the hallmark of a BioWare game, and the reason I keep coming back is the engrossing storyline and characters. I remember daydreaming of KotOR before it came out, wondering how I would play it and thinking about the characters of Bastila and Jolee. Mass Effect drew me in even deeper, and I loved how I paused over killing or saving the rachni queen in ME1. The varied cast in ME2 was mostly a joy, and I couldn’t wait to finish a mission and hang out with Joker or Mordin. I think every spaceship should have a Scottish engineer.

ME3 raised the stakes tremendously. The gravity of the situation was carried through the story. I couldn’t believe the scope of Tuchanka and all that took place there. I thought the ME2 characters were brought back in memorable ways. At first I thought Thane was getting the shift, but how noble to have him come through with the Cerberus attack.

I could go on, but the point is that there is so much that I think the whole Mass Effect series got right. It improved throughout the years, and ME3 really takes it to another level. The voice acting you recruited for the series was so remarkable. I have to give a shout out to Jennifer Hale, because I am a dude who is a loyal FemShep fan due to her amazing performance (and it is so nailed in ME3). Mark Meer, I didn’t realize until yesterday that you did Mordin. That is excellent work right there too.

All the pieces fit together so well through the series. I know that y’all have been beat up by sectors of the fandom, and that is the price of doing business in the digital age – having immediacy with your customers for good and ill. So I did want it known that this 38 year old gamer saw so much to celebrate in all the games, especially ME3.

Hopefully, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. Because I think the ending was a bit of a train wreck.

I am disappointed for your sakes as much as I am frustrated that it was an unsatisfying ending. To work so hard and swing for the fences, and have it crash with the fans is certainly disheartening. It should be the crowning moment for BioWare, but it might feel more like a taking to the woodshed.

I’m not sure what the intention was for the end. As a writer, I know it is important that you communicate your point throughout your work. Certainly there are times where Deep Thoughts (TM) can be missed by many people, but if so many people missed out on what was intended, then what you thought would work ultimately didn’t.

Was it the grand idea of “The Shepard” and being a legend? If so it jumped from the immediate to the Big Idea without near enough build up. Is the Indoctrination Theory correct? I’ve read thoughts on this from other gamers. If the God-child (I prefer “AstroBoy”, but God-child seems to be what fans have settled on) is really the Reapers last attempt to stop Shepard, that could be an epic twist of an ending. I would have to admit it would be amazing – if it was set up enough. I don’t think either option here was developed or foreshadowed enough to make it resonate as valid for the majority of the gamers. Also, the main ME3 story didn’t make much of the human Reaper from ME2. It made the Collector mission seem like an interlude between 1 and 3 (even if 2 was so enjoyable).

(A quick aside: I thought the idea of “slow-motion” walking was thoroughly panned from KotOR with the underwater and space walks. We don’t like these slow walks that don’t accomplish anything. Geth ship and last Citadel walk, I’m looking at you.)

These are my thoughts. I have to applaud you for so much that went right. I have to be honest that the ending didn’t live up to the series. Still, I have been impressed with the interaction with fans since the outcry came out. Many companies would not worry about it, but it seems there is the recognition that interacting with the people is important.

So many are talking about the DLC and what BioWare can do for the ending. I always viewed DLC as a way to continue the game experience, and I appreciated getting fresh adventures for ME1 and 2. If a further ending or “real” ending was always planned as DLC I would not appreciate that, but I don’t really believe that was the plan. If it was the plan, then my opinion of BioWare would be diminished quite a bit.

 If BioWare does something extra for the ending I would appreciate it. I don’t believe there has to be a happy ending – I knew it would be hard to bring something meaningful where Shepard survives. What would Shepard do after being such an epic figure? I just think the ending should have been something that wasn’t lost in the translation.

This is a long opinion without editing for good blog reading. It is my thoughts, and I hope it communicates my points: Mass Effect was an awesome experience of gaming and story that I loved for the vast majority of the time. The ending crashed, but after the first couple of days it doesn’t bother me. At first I did think, “Why do another playthrough if things don’t change?” I don’t think that now. I hope BioWare continues to bring new concepts and quality writing to the gaming world. In some ways I think the Mass Effect universe is more compelling than the Star Wars universe, so I would definitely enjoy more adventures here.

A Fan Letter

Dear BioWare,

This is coming from a long-time fan. You captured my attention with KotOR, and I have been a loyal fan since. It has been quite a ride over the last nine years, and even more so over the last three weeks. I wanted to share my thoughts away from some of the heat, so here we are.

I stand with the people who thought the ending was a head-scratching moment, to say the least. But more on that in a minute. I haven’t seen many posts that shared what went right with the whole Mass Effect series.

For years my favorite game was KotOR, and I didn’t think another game could supplant that epic landmark in my heart. Mass Effect came very close, and if I’m honest, it probably did. Mass Effect 2 certainly took the spot and became a standard of both exciting gameplay and compelling storytellling for me. With that pedigree, Mass Effect 3 had huge expectations to live up to, but I had confidence that it would be met because I have seen BioWare rise to the challenge over and over again.

ME3 hit the sweet spot of combat for the series. No longer could I duck behind some cover and just warp and overload away. I had to move and plan for the most part. I loved the fact that my Vanguard could tote an assault rifle, and I kept my load light to let my powers recharge and blast the Reapers and Cerberus with my biotic awesomeness. I don’t think I’ve ever faced a boss battle like the mission to protect the missile launchers in London. You had me standing up and my hands shaking on the controller trying to finish the waves of nastiness swamping my Shepard.

Still, the hallmark of a BioWare game, and the reason I keep coming back is the engrossing storyline and characters. I remember daydreaming of KotOR before it came out, wondering how I would play it and thinking about the characters of Bastila and Jolee. Mass Effect drew me in even deeper, and I loved how I paused over killing or saving the rachni queen in ME1. The varied cast in ME2 was mostly a joy, and I couldn’t wait to finish a mission and hang out with Joker or Mordin. I think every spaceship should have a Scottish engineer.

ME3 raised the stakes tremendously. The gravity of the situation was carried through the story. I couldn’t believe the scope of Tuchanka and all that took place there. I thought the ME2 characters were brought back in memorable ways. At first I thought Thane was getting the shift, but how noble to have him come through with the Cerberus attack.

I could go on, but the point is that there is so much that I think the whole Mass Effect series got right. It improved throughout the years, and ME3 really takes it to another level. The voice acting you recruited for the series was so remarkable. I have to give a shout out to Jennifer Hale, because I am a dude who is a loyal FemShep fan due to her amazing performance (and it is so nailed in ME3). Mark Meer, I didn’t realize until yesterday that you did Mordin. That is excellent work right there too.

All the pieces fit together so well through the series. I know that y’all have been beat up by sectors of the fandom, and that is the price of doing business in the digital age – having immediacy with your customers for good and ill. So I did want it known that this 38 year old gamer saw so much to celebrate in all the games, especially ME3.

Hopefully, a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. Because I think the ending was a bit of a train wreck.

I am disappointed for your sakes as much as I am frustrated that it was an unsatisfying ending. To work so hard and swing for the fences, and have it crash with the fans is certainly disheartening. It should be the crowning moment for BioWare, but it might feel more like a taking to the woodshed.

I’m not sure what the intention was for the end. As a writer, I know it is important that you communicate your point throughout your work. Certainly there are times where Deep Thoughts (TM) can be missed by many people, but if so many people missed out on what was intended, then what you thought would work ultimately didn’t.

Was it the grand idea of “The Shepard” and being a legend? If so it jumped from the immediate to the Big Idea without near enough build up. Is the Indoctrination Theory correct? I’ve read thoughts on this from other gamers. If the God-child (I prefer “AstroBoy”, but God-child seems to be what fans have settled on) is really the Reapers last attempt to stop Shepard, that could be an epic twist of an ending. I would have to admit it would be amazing – if it was set up enough. I don’t think either option here was developed or foreshadowed enough to make it resonate as valid for the majority of the gamers. Also, the main ME3 story didn’t make much of the human Reaper from ME2. It made the Collector mission seem like an interlude between 1 and 3 (even if 2 was so enjoyable).

(A quick aside: I thought the idea of “slow-motion” walking was thoroughly panned from KotOR with the underwater and space walks. We don’t like these slow walks that don’t accomplish anything. Geth ship and last Citadel walk, I’m looking at you.)

These are my thoughts. I have to applaud you for so much that went right. I have to be honest that the ending didn’t live up to the series. Still, I have been impressed with the interaction with fans since the outcry came out. Many companies would not worry about it, but it seems there is the recognition that interacting with the people is important.

So many are talking about the DLC and what BioWare can do for the ending. I always viewed DLC as a way to continue the game experience, and I appreciated getting fresh adventures for ME1 and 2. If a further ending or “real” ending was always planned as DLC I would not appreciate that, but I don’t really believe that was the plan. If it was the plan, then my opinion of BioWare would be diminished quite a bit.

 If BioWare does something extra for the ending I would appreciate it. I don’t believe there has to be a happy ending – I knew it would be hard to bring something meaningful where Shepard survives. What would Shepard do after being such an epic figure? I just think the ending should have been something that wasn’t lost in the translation.

This is a long opinion without editing for good blog reading. It is my thoughts, and I hope it communicates my points: Mass Effect was an awesome experience of gaming and story that I loved for the vast majority of the time. The ending crashed, but after the first couple of days it doesn’t bother me. At first I did think, “Why do another playthrough if things don’t change?” I don’t think that now. I hope BioWare continues to bring new concepts and quality writing to the gaming world. In some ways I think the Mass Effect universe is more compelling than the Star Wars universe, so I would definitely enjoy more adventures here.

Gotta Stick The Ending

So, remember my last writing post from a week ago?

I talked about looking for good stories in any medium and learning from them. My specific example was the Mass Effect video game series from BioWare. For entertainment and thought-provoking story, I have never seen a video game like Mass Effect 3.

And then I finished the game.

[SPOILER ALERT]

*crickets chirped*

Almost literally, it seemed like that happened. I didn’t get it. I didn’t see that coming. The ending of the game, and of a five year, three game-spanning story, didn’t make sense. I sat in my living room, thinking “Huh?”

There is a lot of talk on game websites about this, and don’t even try to find a impartial opinion on the BioWare forums. I’ve seen long analyses trying to prove some theory or another from passionate gamers. Some say there is a point to the ending and it is so genius only the truly enlightened get it (kidding).

Well, this isn’t a game post. It is a writing post. What is the writing lesson to take from this?

Remeber this? If not, I’m getting old.
You’ve got to stick the ending.
Your writing can be brilliant. The prose can sparkle and move a reader to tears. The characters seem like living people you want to go get a beer with afterwards. The plot can shock and amaze with the suspense and tension. It can be the new Great American Novel…

As long as you nail the finish.

My disclaimer: I haven’t finished my novel yet. I have not proven that I can stick it. But I know not sticking it when I see it.

  • a deus ex machina that comes from nowhere
  • new ideas that were never foreshadowed, or only fainly done
  • a new character at the last minute who is very important
  • contradicting established character traits or identities
  • convenient glowing God-child telling the protagonist to do something wacky (this last one is a little more specific to ME3)

Writing a novel is hard. It takes skill and dedication to see an imagined world through to the end. Let it end well. Make sure you don’t lose focus.

The Matrix was remarkable when it came out back in 1999. Then came The Matrix Reloaded and everybody did a double-take. It sullied the first movie. Same with the Pirates Of The Caribbean  movies – the first one is widely loved, the second one was a little iffy, and the third was “what was the writer and director smoking?”

The Mass Effect story from 1 through 3 should take an average gamer 120 hours to finish (I know, sad). For 119.75 hours it was awesome. The last 15 minutes was like a plane crashing on the tarmac after a long, successful journey.

My take-home lesson: look very carefully at how I’m ending. If I’m taking the reader for a ride, I want them to get to their destination. I’m not saying the ending has to be happy or can’t be tragic, but it can’t feel like the tail of the plane ripped off, sucking the poor reader out into the atmosphere.

What about you? Have you read a book or seen a movie that was great all the way until the ending? Share your examples so we can all learn from them!

Gotta Stick The Ending

So, remember my last writing post from a week ago?

I talked about looking for good stories in any medium and learning from them. My specific example was the Mass Effect video game series from BioWare. For entertainment and thought-provoking story, I have never seen a video game like Mass Effect 3.

And then I finished the game.

[SPOILER ALERT]

*crickets chirped*

Almost literally, it seemed like that happened. I didn’t get it. I didn’t see that coming. The ending of the game, and of a five year, three game-spanning story, didn’t make sense. I sat in my living room, thinking “Huh?”

There is a lot of talk on game websites about this, and don’t even try to find a impartial opinion on the BioWare forums. I’ve seen long analyses trying to prove some theory or another from passionate gamers. Some say there is a point to the ending and it is so genius only the truly enlightened get it (kidding).

Well, this isn’t a game post. It is a writing post. What is the writing lesson to take from this?

Remeber this? If not, I’m getting old.
You’ve got to stick the ending.
Your writing can be brilliant. The prose can sparkle and move a reader to tears. The characters seem like living people you want to go get a beer with afterwards. The plot can shock and amaze with the suspense and tension. It can be the new Great American Novel…

As long as you nail the finish.

My disclaimer: I haven’t finished my novel yet. I have not proven that I can stick it. But I know not sticking it when I see it.

  • a deus ex machina that comes from nowhere
  • new ideas that were never foreshadowed, or only fainly done
  • a new character at the last minute who is very important
  • contradicting established character traits or identities
  • convenient glowing God-child telling the protagonist to do something wacky (this last one is a little more specific to ME3)

Writing a novel is hard. It takes skill and dedication to see an imagined world through to the end. Let it end well. Make sure you don’t lose focus.

The Matrix was remarkable when it came out back in 1999. Then came The Matrix Reloaded and everybody did a double-take. It sullied the first movie. Same with the Pirates Of The Caribbean  movies – the first one is widely loved, the second one was a little iffy, and the third was “what was the writer and director smoking?”

The Mass Effect story from 1 through 3 should take an average gamer 120 hours to finish (I know, sad). For 119.75 hours it was awesome. The last 15 minutes was like a plane crashing on the tarmac after a long, successful journey.

My take-home lesson: look very carefully at how I’m ending. If I’m taking the reader for a ride, I want them to get to their destination. I’m not saying the ending has to be happy or can’t be tragic, but it can’t feel like the tail of the plane ripped off, sucking the poor reader out into the atmosphere.

What about you? Have you read a book or seen a movie that was great all the way until the ending? Share your examples so we can all learn from them!

Good Writing Can Be Anywhere

Stories need memorable characters.

Imagine a conflicted alien scientist who had to help virtually sterilize another violent race, but he likes to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. There’s a mercenary from that same violent race who is forced into leadership over his world. An operative for a pro-human extremist group was genetically designed from the ground up. A prisoner on a convict ship that was experimented on by said group is also on your team.

Stories also need conflict. The characters mentioned above are rich with conflict potential, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh yeah, the main character has to save the galaxy as well.

With high stakes, plenty of suspense, intriguing characters, and a well-crafted story, it sounds like a winner of a book, doesn’t it?

The only problem is that it is not a book.

Writers need to recognize what works from a story standpoint in anything they see. Certainly lots of reading is the primary way to accomplish that, but having a keen eye during TV shows and movies can help as well.

How about video games?

Gaming is a medium that may not get recognized for good writing like a quality book or an exciting movie.

However, there’s a company that has its reputation based on engaging characters, moral dilemnas, and plots with twists and suspense galore. It’s called BioWare, and the funny thing is it was founded by two doctors.

The story I was describing is the Mass Effect trilogy. Number 3 just came out and sucked up all of my free time (and even some non-free time) last week. It has the requisite shooting aliens and whatnot, but what keeps me coming back is the story and seeing what will happen. The consequences in the third game are dire as the aliens have fully invaded the galaxy, and there are sacrifices characters have to make to help Commander Sheperd (your character) fight them off.

Mass Effect is also like a great Choose Your Own Adventure story, as you get to direct how the main character will do things. I enjoyed those books as a child growing up, but there’s more that can be done with the cinematics of a video game.

So this is a geeky writing post. Yes, I’m enjoying blasting the bad guys. However, I’m so invested in the characters and storyline I almost take it personally. “THIS bullet is for Ashley, and this one is for the boy on the evacuation shuttle you shot down…”

The take home point? Watch for good writing wherever you are, and see what you can learn from it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a performance to watch.

Good Writing Can Be Anywhere

Stories need memorable characters.

Imagine a conflicted alien scientist who had to help virtually sterilize another violent race, but he likes to sing Gilbert and Sullivan. There’s a mercenary from that same violent race who is forced into leadership over his world. An operative for a pro-human extremist group was genetically designed from the ground up. A prisoner on a convict ship that was experimented on by said group is also on your team.

Stories also need conflict. The characters mentioned above are rich with conflict potential, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh yeah, the main character has to save the galaxy as well.

With high stakes, plenty of suspense, intriguing characters, and a well-crafted story, it sounds like a winner of a book, doesn’t it?

The only problem is that it is not a book.

Writers need to recognize what works from a story standpoint in anything they see. Certainly lots of reading is the primary way to accomplish that, but having a keen eye during TV shows and movies can help as well.

How about video games?

Gaming is a medium that may not get recognized for good writing like a quality book or an exciting movie.

However, there’s a company that has its reputation based on engaging characters, moral dilemnas, and plots with twists and suspense galore. It’s called BioWare, and the funny thing is it was founded by two doctors.

The story I was describing is the Mass Effect trilogy. Number 3 just came out and sucked up all of my free time (and even some non-free time) last week. It has the requisite shooting aliens and whatnot, but what keeps me coming back is the story and seeing what will happen. The consequences in the third game are dire as the aliens have fully invaded the galaxy, and there are sacrifices characters have to make to help Commander Sheperd (your character) fight them off.

Mass Effect is also like a great Choose Your Own Adventure story, as you get to direct how the main character will do things. I enjoyed those books as a child growing up, but there’s more that can be done with the cinematics of a video game.

So this is a geeky writing post. Yes, I’m enjoying blasting the bad guys. However, I’m so invested in the characters and storyline I almost take it personally. “THIS bullet is for Ashley, and this one is for the boy on the evacuation shuttle you shot down…”

The take home point? Watch for good writing wherever you are, and see what you can learn from it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a performance to watch.