Monday, April 2, 2012

The Mass Effect Ending Controversy (Spoilers within)

Spoilers within! Read at your own risk.

Since there has been a lot of squabble about the ending to Mass Effect 3, it seems only right that I throw my own opinion in and talk about the controversy surrounding a ten minute cinematic inside a 40+ hour game. It is true that the “endings” to ME3 are really the same ending with about 10% of the cinematic changed slightly. Instead of spending a paragraph explaining the ending I’ll just link to this YouTube where you can watch every ending. However, after the first two or three you get the idea. The hullabaloo surrounding this ending boils down to two complaints. The endings were really one generic ending tweaked a little, and that one ending was disappointing for most since it gave no real closure or definite answers to the questions many asked when going through the game. Will the crew really survive this war? Will Shepard? Since none of these questions are really answered I believe fans are somewhat justified in criticizing the ending. But not in demanding a different ending to an already finished product.

Let’s start with the first grievance. For multiple “different” endings, I can agree with the fact that Bioware did cut a big corner by giving us 16 generic endings that are pretty much the same. Though I am disappointed in the lack of many different endings, I also don’t believe the blame can fall solely on the development team. There could have been many other factors that led to these endings and why they weren’t varied. EA could have pushed the team because of a deadline, or there could have been a dilemma with the budget and time requirements. Also, if the fans demand separate and distinct endings, how many could Bioware really make? The number of factors and decisions that have been carried over since the first Mass Effect is enormous. I can only imagine how many “different” endings there could be, even based on only a few major decisions from all three games. While all of this is speculation, it is fact that there are many contributing factors that we as fans do not know about. And we probably won’t find out simply because no one is going to tell us. Bioware has announced that future DLC will address the endings, so it seems we will get our answers, but it still bothers me that the end of a game must change after it has been released because enough people scream and whine about not liking it.

I was okay with the ending as I experienced it. While the majority of the Mass Effect fans disagree, Bioware has listened to all of us in some way or another and is reacting. Whether they are reacting in a good way or bad way is yet to be seen. Initially Casey Hudson, Executive Producer of the Mass Effect series, stood by the ending saying that “we wanted the game to be remembered.” However, after the large amount of objection, a Facebook post stated that the team was taking the feedback into consideration for future DLC. While at first I believed this was simply backpedaling to keep the fans from not buying future games, Ray Muzyka, Co-Founder of Bioware, made a post on the Bioware blog describing that they appreciate the feedback and criticism, but not the insults. He states that “We listen and will respond to constructive criticism, but much as we will not tolerate individual attacks on our team members, we will not support or respond to destructive commentary.” While it seems many of the Mass Effect “fans” want to simply bash the development team and insult them for 10 minutes out of a 40+ hour experience, I applaud Bioware for both accepting the fact that they could do better by adding closure to a fantastic experience, and openly stating that they won’t listen to whiners and jerks making personal insults.
Unfortunately this is not the end of the drama. Recently, one of the writers posted on the Penny Arcade forums ranting about how the ending was handled exclusively by Casey Hudson and the Head writer without any consulting or input from the rest of the writing team. Known as Takyris on the Penny Arcade forums, Patrick Weekes is a regular poster and alleges that the final mission and writing for it was done without the usual peer review from the writing team. Weekes claims that Hudson and the lead writer were the only people involved in writing the final mission dialogue and cinematic. I say allegedly because Bioware hasn’t exactly confirmed this and the post was taken down soon after. Now whether or not this was just a frustrated writer venting about his boss, there is some insider information that most wouldn’t see. If it is true, then it sheds a different light on Hudson’s initial defense and makes me look at the ending a little differently.
At this point, 80% of what is happening now is discussion, theorizing, and speculation. Not much is really confirmed nor denied at this point and I don’t see that changing much. While I do see the flaws with the ending, I still stand by and support Bioware for the experience I played through from the beginning of Mass Effect 1 to the after-credit scene in Mass Effect 3. This is an interesting dilemma for Bioware, as they have to somehow answer the questions raised by the fans about the ending.

I am disturbed by the idea that if enough people scream loud enough, then they can cause an author to change the story after it is published. While we as have some sense of entitlement to the way a game should be made, Bioware, just like authors, painters, or musicians , has the right to put out a game that we may or may not like. And once they do we should not have the “right” to demand a change because we don’t like it.  I support Bioware because I love their games and can’t wait to see more of them.
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