Wednesday, 9 May 2012

But I Digress | Mass Cause and Effect, or, The End Again

The lifers amongst you might remember how oddly unmoved I was by the build-up to Mass Effect 3, which is to say the conclusion - for the moment - of one of my favourite video game series of recent years.

The marketing, I think, was what put me off before the fact: the decision to focus on the extraneous multiplayer mode BioWare had developed for the latest iteration of their acclaimed space opera.

I play, shall we say, quite a lot of video games, but only rarely do I mess about with multiplayer modes. In large part that's because of the exceedingly unpleasant people one often encounters online. I have very little desire to be called a faggot by fourteen year olds who are nevertheless substantially better at shooting dudes in the face than I'll ever be. And there's another thing to consider: the vast time investment it takes to be good enough at any one game - every one of which has its particular idiosyncrasies to consider - to compete with other people, even the complete and utter asshats aforementioned, in a public arena.

The older you get, I guess, the less free time you have to devote to such things. So when BioWare's publicity peeps started pimping Mass Effect 3's multiplayer instead of talking about narrative or character or innovations on the single-player side of the divide, I'll admit: I kinda sorta switched off.

And then there was that fuss about how the man hours devoted to Mass Effect 3's counter-intuitive horde mode had to have impacted the single-player campaign. I didn't mean to pay any attention to this, the latest in a long line of idiot uproars - sight-unseen, such judgements are surely beyond pointless - but as release date loomed, I realised that I wasn't at all excited about finally finishing the fight.

Or wait, was that another game?

In any event, what with all of the above - and my month in America fast approaching to boot - I opted to rent Mass Effect 3 instead of buying it, as I bought the first and second installment in this singular series. Also worth taking into account: I was 30 hours into Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning at the time of Mass Effect 3's release, and determined to beat it before I started in on another mammoth RPG. This took a lot longer than I'd imagined - in point of fact I only finished the first in the Amalur franchise last week - and by the time I was ready to pick up something else, Mass Effect 3 was no longer a priority.

I'll bet you can imagine why.

If you're interested in video games at all, you'll have heard about the averse reaction the latest Mass Effect inspired in its very vocal player-base. Perhaps that's to overstate the case somewhat - specifically it was the ending that people reacted badly to - but one way or the other, Mass Effect 3 went down like a lead balloon. Like a bitter pill no-one wanted to swallow... especially the franchise's die-hard fans, seventy-some thousand of whom have since signed their names to a petition made directly to the developers to have the game's cheat of an ending altered.

Which is and was all well and good - indeed, it raises a fairly fascinating question we'll talk more about tomorrow - but again, I tried not to let it affect me. Here on The Speculative Scotsman I've talked about my issues with The End, in the abstract, time and time again: about how tricky it is to offer closure to all comers at the same time as maintaining some sense of mystery or suspense in your story.

In short, I'm no stranger to unsatisfactory endings - to a certain extent I expect them, these days - so if Mass Effect 3 was going to go out with a pitiful whimper rather than the almighty bang I think we can all agree the series has earned, then sure, that's a shame... but so be it. The End is still The End even when we wish it weren't.

Or is it?

As it happened, it certainly wasn't as simple as that when it came to Mass Effect 3. Because in early April, in response to the fan campaign and the various critical complaints leveled against the conclusion in question, the boffins behind BioWare and the Mass Effect franchise came out with this priceless piece of pandering:
"We are all incredibly proud of Mass Effect 3 and the work done by Casey Hudson and team," said Dr. Ray Muzyka, Co-Founder of BioWare and General Manager of EA’s BioWare Label. "Since launch, we have had time to listen to the feedback from our most passionate fans and we are responding. With the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut we think we have struck a good balance in delivering the answers players are looking for while maintaining the team’s artistic vision for the end of this story arc in the Mass Effect universe."

Casey Hudson, Executive Producer of the Mass Effect series added, "We have reprioritized our post-launch development efforts to provide the fans who want more closure with even more context and clarity to the ending of the game, in a way that will feel more personalized for each player."
Oh is that so?

That was the final nail in the coffin for me and Mass Effect 3, at least for the time being. I'm going to return my rented copy to LoveFilm and potentially re-assess the situation when this so-called Extended Cut is made available.

But even then: at the point at which creators are willing to fundamentally change their creations simply to satisfy some embarrassing collective clamour - and from the internet, of all places - what artistic integrity can they truly lay claim to?

Whether I end up playing Mass Effect 3 or not - and sooner or later I expect I will - for me at least, its narrative is now null and void. And given how meaningful that narrative had been to me before all the awkwardness over Mass Effect 3, that's markedly more troubling than any misstep BioWare may or may not have made in the game's conclusion as was.

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