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.

┬áIf 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.

“Mass”-ive Storytelling

In my last post I gave a couple of highlights from a podcast featuring author Dick Staub and film producer Ralph Winter. They talked about a world shown in film (but applicable to novels) that draws in the viewer so much that they would want to live in and explore it. That was a quality of a great movie.

Storytelling has evolved from fire-side epics, to the written word, to immersive 3-D visual films. But what if you could watch AND interact in the story?

An example of a new possibility in storytelling is in the world of video games. I don’t think Pong had much of a backstory, but all games nowadays do. However, few offer the type of experience that comes from Mass Effect 2, from BioWare.

Obviously video games have an aspect of interactivity, since the gamer controls the main character. There are also limitations, as the gamer can only do things that are within the parameters of programming.

BioWare has been known for producing some of the highest quality role-playing games (RPG’s) in the last decade, including the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR). They have been able to evolve the storytelling mechanism to new heights with Mass Effect 2.

The game is a science fiction story where humanity has just recently joined the galactic community by discovering old technology called Mass Relays created by an ancient race. You control Commander Shepard, a human (either male or female) who is Earth’s finest soldier, and the first human inductee into the special unit of Spectres, a group that is the Galactic Council’s personal force to deal with situations.

The storyline through the first two games is epic, and isn’t necessarily the scope of this post. I also don’t intend this as a review. The game is listed as Mature, and it definitely has areas that people need to use discernment concerning violence, morality, and how it is played.

My point is the excellent use of storytelling to elevate the game from an exciting action-based shooter (which it is) or a standard RPG where one builds a character up throughout the game (which it is as well, perhaps more so in ME1 compared to the second). The point is that the developers have enabled the gamer to feel like they fully own what Shepard does throughout the series.

BioWare has long tried to explore choices and their consequences, back to KotOR where a player’s choices would push the main Jedi character either to the Light or Dark Side of the Force. They’ve managed a new level in Mass Effect. The gamer can choose to have their Shepard to be a Paragon of virtue, a Renegade willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, or somewhere in between.

In the midst of these choices, it drives how the story unfolds. The supporting characters, especially in ME2, are well-written and rounded personalities with their own strengths and hang-ups. Shepard’s interactions drive how they respond, whether they are loyal to the player or not. If a character dies, there are consequences. If you were kind or mean to a secondary character, that can come back to haunt or help. The plot of the game can be altered, up to a certain framework, depending on choices made.

Overall, the settings, missions, and characters make it a unique universe that is immersive and very enjoyable. The alien scientist Mordin became my favorite. He was involved with a very questionable moral decision in his past, and Shepard has to work with him to deal with it. As Shepard I can support it or condemn it, and Mordin wrestles with his decision in such a way that I felt it. He didn’t make a giant, easy flip to my point of view, but there was nuance in how he reacted.

The biggest development can be in how Shepard develops, if the player so chooses (definitely players can be calloused and just be in it for the blasting). It makes the story immersive. It creates an intriguing world. I have always been a Star Wars fan, since my childhood. I think the Mass Effect universe has actually supplanted the galaxy far, far away as my favorite sci-fi destination.

I’m not trying to just blow sunshine and rainbows at BioWare. I have a few issues with how some things are handled. Still, the game is an example of what quality writing can do for any medium, be it film, novels, television, or games.

“Mass”-ive Storytelling

In my last post I gave a couple of highlights from a podcast featuring author Dick Staub and film producer Ralph Winter. They talked about a world shown in film (but applicable to novels) that draws in the viewer so much that they would want to live in and explore it. That was a quality of a great movie.

Storytelling has evolved from fire-side epics, to the written word, to immersive 3-D visual films. But what if you could watch AND interact in the story?

An example of a new possibility in storytelling is in the world of video games. I don’t think Pong had much of a backstory, but all games nowadays do. However, few offer the type of experience that comes from Mass Effect 2, from BioWare.

Obviously video games have an aspect of interactivity, since the gamer controls the main character. There are also limitations, as the gamer can only do things that are within the parameters of programming.

BioWare has been known for producing some of the highest quality role-playing games (RPG’s) in the last decade, including the award-winning Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR). They have been able to evolve the storytelling mechanism to new heights with Mass Effect 2.

The game is a science fiction story where humanity has just recently joined the galactic community by discovering old technology called Mass Relays created by an ancient race. You control Commander Shepard, a human (either male or female) who is Earth’s finest soldier, and the first human inductee into the special unit of Spectres, a group that is the Galactic Council’s personal force to deal with situations.

The storyline through the first two games is epic, and isn’t necessarily the scope of this post. I also don’t intend this as a review. The game is listed as Mature, and it definitely has areas that people need to use discernment concerning violence, morality, and how it is played.

My point is the excellent use of storytelling to elevate the game from an exciting action-based shooter (which it is) or a standard RPG where one builds a character up throughout the game (which it is as well, perhaps more so in ME1 compared to the second). The point is that the developers have enabled the gamer to feel like they fully own what Shepard does throughout the series.

BioWare has long tried to explore choices and their consequences, back to KotOR where a player’s choices would push the main Jedi character either to the Light or Dark Side of the Force. They’ve managed a new level in Mass Effect. The gamer can choose to have their Shepard to be a Paragon of virtue, a Renegade willing to do whatever it takes to achieve a goal, or somewhere in between.

In the midst of these choices, it drives how the story unfolds. The supporting characters, especially in ME2, are well-written and rounded personalities with their own strengths and hang-ups. Shepard’s interactions drive how they respond, whether they are loyal to the player or not. If a character dies, there are consequences. If you were kind or mean to a secondary character, that can come back to haunt or help. The plot of the game can be altered, up to a certain framework, depending on choices made.

Overall, the settings, missions, and characters make it a unique universe that is immersive and very enjoyable. The alien scientist Mordin became my favorite. He was involved with a very questionable moral decision in his past, and Shepard has to work with him to deal with it. As Shepard I can support it or condemn it, and Mordin wrestles with his decision in such a way that I felt it. He didn’t make a giant, easy flip to my point of view, but there was nuance in how he reacted.

The biggest development can be in how Shepard develops, if the player so chooses (definitely players can be calloused and just be in it for the blasting). It makes the story immersive. It creates an intriguing world. I have always been a Star Wars fan, since my childhood. I think the Mass Effect universe has actually supplanted the galaxy far, far away as my favorite sci-fi destination.

I’m not trying to just blow sunshine and rainbows at BioWare. I have a few issues with how some things are handled. Still, the game is an example of what quality writing can do for any medium, be it film, novels, television, or games.