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Archive for March, 2012

More on the Mass Effect 3 Ending Dispute

First: I already said this in my last post, but since some people felt the need to explain to me how Mass Effect 3’s ending sucks so badly, I feel the need to reiterate: I wasn’t, nor am I currently, trying to defend Mass Effect 3’s ending. I’m merely pointing out that many, if not most, of these fans involved in the Retake Mass Effect movement are acting immature, disrespectful and downright stupid. (Note that I’m not saying they are stupid — merely that they’re acting like idiots. There is a difference.)

Also, again, nobody post any spoilers in the comments section.

Okay, so I’ve been hearing some people claim they deserve compensation because “Bioware shipped a broken, defective product.”

Holy shit, really?

No, not really. From what I can gather from reading lots of comments while deftly avoiding spoilers, the ending is:

  • non-sequitur
  • illogical
  • stupid
  • unfitting with the themes and tone of the rest of the series
  • lacking any sense of closure or explanation of what just happened

If all those are true, I can absolutely understand why fans are angry and upset with Bioware, but they’re still making utterly baseless accusations. None of those point to a “broken and defective” ending, they merely point to a bad ending.

You can’t get your money back because of a bad ending. If you could, then Peter Molyneux owes a lot of people a lot of money for all three Fable games.

I know what you’ll say next: “Bioware promised us so many things about the endings that they didn’t deliver! They promised us our choices throughout the series would affect the ending and it wouldn’t just be A, B, or C and etc. etc.!”

I have yet to see these promises in any of the advertising or on the back of the box, so I’m pretty sure these were all things Bioware said they were working on during interviews. Here’s the thing, gamers: When a developer “promises” features during interviews, that does not guarantee anything.

And I’m shocked that so many presumably adult gamers haven’t grasped this yet, considering all the times we’ve had developers “promise” all sorts of features and fail to include many of them because of time or budget constraints, or simply because they decided on another idea they thought was better later on. I mean, fuck, have any of these protesters even heard of Peter Molyneux? That guy has based his entire career off of outright lying during interviews, promising the earth and then churning out half-assed products.

One more I’ve been hearing: “Bioware released a game without an ending.”

Is there ever a point when the credits roll? Does the game ever say THE END at any point, or imply that the campaign mode might have stopped? If so, then this is a game with an ending. It might be a bad ending, but it’s still an ending.

I’ve seen multiple articles deconstructing why the ending fails as a work of fiction. I haven’t read them, of course, since I’m avoiding spoilers, but I’ll just assume they’re correct. The ending might fail to provide closure or affirmation, but speaking from a literal standpoint, yes, the game does have an ending. Just a really, really bad one. You don’t get your money back because of that.

Frankly, I’m sick of seeing this. People like me point out how stupid a lot of the “protesters” are acting, and they get countered by people explaining that the ending seriously, totally sucks.

News flash #3: I wasn’t even discussing the ending! I was discussing the backlash!

“Your game fails on a fictional standpoint; therefore it’s a defective piece of software and I deserve reimbursement” is a completely absurd mentality. As a piece of software, Mass Effect 3 functions exactly as advertised. If it fails as a work of fiction, you throw it in a trash bin and move on.

If I published a book with a crappy ending, nobody would be beating my door down demanding that I rewrite the last five pages. That’s just not how it works.


The “Retake Mass Effect” Movement

Quick note: this post is 100% Mass Effect Spoiler-Free. This also applies to the comments section, so if anybody posts a comment with Mass Effect 3 spoilers, it will be deleted and I will get angry about it. Anyway,

As a wise website has said, Gamers Are Embarrassing. That’s not an insult, as far as I’m concerned — that’s a simple fact. Not all gamers are embarrassing, but for all the annoying sports fans, annoying film geeks and annoying bookaholics, somehow gamers take the cake with an extraordinary lack of self-awareness and cluelessness to the world around them.

They obsess over and lust after nonexistent characters, they incessantly harass women for being women, they rage out because a product they bought has decreased in price, and they accuse a $10 cosmetic in-game item of being an “unethical” business practice. It seems that every time gamers gain attention from the media it just makes me shake my head in dismay.

But this time, it’s sunk to a new level.

I think it’s literally impossible for you to have not heard about the controversy until now, but just in case you haven’t, Mass Effect 3 was recently released and had a massive hype and fanbase surrounding it. This third installment was said to end the trilogy of Commander Shepard, and while it does evidently end the story (I’m going by what I’ve heard, I haven’t played it myself) it doesn’t end in a way that the fans like.

Well, that’s a pretty massive understatement. Starting just a few days after the game’s release, angry fans started a  movement called “Retake Mass Effect.” They’ve joined together and demanded that Bioware make a new ending and release it for free, claiming that they are entitled to it because they bought it. They’ve complained all over the Internet, they’ve written petitions, and most famously of all, they filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. No, that’s not a joke.

I don’t even know where to fucking start.

I think the name of this effort is the most telling part: Retake Mass Effect implies that the franchise was ever theirs to begin with, and that it’s time to take it back. News flash, angry fans: Unless you work for Bioware or EA, the franchise was never yours to begin with. If you really want to take Mass Effect, you’d better have a lot of money and some good lawyers.

The idea that you’re somehow entitled to more content if the original content wasn’t to your liking is completely absurd. News flash #2: When you buy a product you are taking a risk. Sometimes the dice will fail you. It is not your place to decide when a company owes you more content, even if it “ruined the rest of the series” for you. Call it unfair all you like. Life is not fair.

I’m not saying you aren’t allowed to criticize, and I’m not saying you’re not allowed to ask Bioware for post-ending DLC or say that you’d buy it if given the opportunity. There is a huge difference between asking and making demands. Making a request shows politeness and understanding, and it implies that you know you’re not the one who owns the rights to the property. Making a demand is rude, insulting and implies a position of power that you don’t have in this case. It implies that you have the right to make decisions for the company, when you never had that right in the first place.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen an entitlement complex this egregious. These guys make Valve fans look reasonable and level-headed in comparison.

Yeah, I know what you’re going to say: “But they raised money for Child’s Play!” I know. Charity is great, and I’m glad to see something positive come out of this stupid, stupid controversy. But I don’t give them any points for it, because it’s obvious why they did it: they did it for leverage. They did because they thought media sites wouldn’t be able to criticize them because they’re “doing a good thing.” They did it for positive publicity first and any other reason second, and it’s clear as day.

It’s essentially the equivalent of a politician kissing a baby. He’s not doing it because he loves babies, he’s doing it so people will think he’s a nice guy.

Back off. I know what you're up to.

Bioware has made comments about retconning the ending and making a new one. I’m really concerned by this. Not because it destroys the game’s artistic integrity, but because it’s a sign to all the angry, entitled morons that their actions are justified. It will make them think that they can get what they want by throwing a tantrum and blowing things out of proportion.

I hate to say this, but it really seems like a slippery slope from here. What will the Half-Life fans do when Episode 3 doesn’t reveal who the G-Man is? What will Grand Theft Auto fans do when GTA5 doesn’t let you have sex with prostitutes? What will Duke Nukem fans do when the next game doesn’t let you watch women get raped by aliens?

I’m not trying to defend the ending, or claim that it’s good. I haven’t played the game yet. I know next to nothing about the ending. But frankly, I don’t care how bad it is. I don’t care if it ends with Harbinger giving the camera a middle finger. I don’t care if it ends with an impromptu non sequitur song-and-dance-routine. Nothing justifies this level of outrage and stupidity.

So you thought the ending was bad.

BIG.

FUCKING.

DEAL.

You know what you do about it? You criticize it. Criticize the hell out of it! Send an email to Bioware or post on their forum letting them know that you strongly dislike the ending to their game. If your friends are considering getting it, warn them that the ending RUINED THE SERIES for you. If you’re really pissed off you can get a blog or website of your own and write a few posts of angry ramblings.

And then you know what you do? You fucking deal with it. Find a new game to play. Read a book. Watch a movie. Go to a party. Smoke a hookah. I don’t care what you do, just find some coping mechanism that doesn’t make the rest of us look like a bunch of spoiled brats with no concept of how the world works.

Christ. You know why nobody takes gamers seriously? It’s because of shit like this.


Deus Ex: The Ending

I have a fairly simple distinction to judge whether a movie is great or merely good: A good movie is one that can entertain me, while a great movie is one that can force me to think critically. I watched Aliens awhile back due to the various recommendations I got from readers, and while I certainly will agree that it’s a damn good movie, I wouldn’t consider it great. It didn’t make me contemplate the nature of human relationships like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind did, and it didn’t help me come to terms with my own masculinity like Fight Club did. It was just an entertaining diversion.

If I were to apply this same distinction to video games (and I don’t, for innumerable reasons) Deus Ex would be one of the only truly great video games I have ever played. I’ve made it clear in the past that Deus Ex is my favorite game of all time, and I’m sure the ending played a large part in that. It made me realize something about myself that I hadn’t realized before. It made me ponder concepts like authority, the rights of individuals, the needs of the many, and the cost of independence.

WARNING: I’m about to spoil the ending of Deus Ex. If you haven’t beaten it and intend to do so one day, I highly recommend you don’t read on ahead. Seriously, man. I don’t want to spoil this for you.

Ahem. Anyway, I’ll try to recount the situation at the end of the game as best as I can. Sorry if my memory is fuzzy.

You’re in Area 51. Area 51, through a series of complicated events, has become the home to a global communications hub and an artificial intelligence that refers to itself as Helios. Bob Page, who serves as the game’s lead evil douchebag, wants to merge with Helios in order to take control of Area 51 and thus control all nanotechnology everywhere, essentially becoming a god.

Helios has contacted you and told you that it doesn’t want to merge with Bob Page; it wants to merge with you. Helios believes that if it merges with you, it can gain an understanding of humans and use that to take control and run the world in a benevolent dictatorship.

Morgan Everett, the leader of the Illuminati (the secret shadow government that runs everything behind the scenes), contacts you and tells you that if you kill Bob Page, you can join him and rule the world with an invisible grip hidden behind corporations, bureaucracy, etc.

Then Tracer Tong, an ally of yours throughout the game, contacts you and says you should destroy Area 51, thus disabling all nanotechnology and plunging the world into a second dark age so that nobody can use the machines to control one another.

This is the choice you have to make: Global anarchy, benevolent dictatorship, or corporate conspiracy?

I was able to rule out the Illuminati option right away. I have a fairly pessimistic view on politicians, and the rule of the Illuminati sounds like the absolute worst case scenario for the world to be in. When the fate of the world is in the hands of a select few, the few will inevitably get 99.9% of the wealth, privileges and power. People are corrupt. People are selfish.

The Helios option also sounded like a no-go, until I heard Helios’s argument for it. Here, just watch the first half of this video and listen for yourself.

Two lines in particular stand out for me:

“The checks and balances of democratic governments were invented because human beings themselves realized how unfit they were to govern themselves. They needed a system, yes, an industrial-age machine.”

“I should regulate human affairs precisely because I lack all ambition, whereas human beings are prey to it.”

We’ve seen about a million incarnations of the Evil Rogue AI trope, and I think we’ve become so accustomed to it that when we see an AI coming to its own independent conclusions we automatically assume it’s going to try to eradicate all human life. But here’s an AI that has logically concluded that it should rule and guide humans in order to bring society to peace and prosperity.

And I’ve got to say, it has a point.

I considered Tong’s plan, but the idea never appealed to me. The big issue Deus Ex addresses here is that people can use technology to seize positions of authority and power and control the freedoms and lives of others. As far as I’m concerned, eliminating all nanotechnology only postpones the issue, because eventually people will reach this point again. Maybe they won’t get there in the current generation, but they would eventually, because technology moves forward.

Helios, on the other hand, seems less like an immediate solution and more like the logical evolution and conclusion of government. We form governments and economic systems in order to organize ourselves efficiently and provide prosperity to as many as possible with our limited resources. The problem is that the humans who end up running these governments are susceptible to corruption and greed, and inevitably our systems end up becoming more damaging than they’re worth.

But if we can have an incorruptible machine, then maybe, just maybe, it could truly bring about a strong, peaceful, prosperous, and happy society.

In the end, I merged with Helios.

This ending felt perfect. It was ambiguous enough to let you come to your own conclusions, while also appropriately wrapping up the game’s themes. This was my ending to my Deus Ex, and it remains my favorite video game ending ever.

This isn’t to say that my ending is the correct ending. I’m sure you can think of many logical reasons for why giving all the power in the world to an artificial intelligence is a risky move. But that’s the point, really: there is no right answer, and the answer you choose shows something about yourself, something you may not have even realized.

I’ve seen Deus Ex: Invisible War on Steam sales a number of times. I’ve heard it’s nothing but a pale imitation of the original game, but I’ve learned not to accept others’ opinions on old video games as fact. (Exhibit A, B, C.) And even if I ended up hating the game, it could still make for an interesting blog post comparing and contrasting it with the original, since I only first played Deus Ex 1 less than two years ago.

But I’ve refrained this whole time because I know that they retconned my ending, as well as the other two endings, by attempting to cram them all into one story. (JC merges with Helios, then blows up Area 51, then Illuminati take control in the ensuing chaos.)

I’m baffled that they would do something like this. Deus Ex is not a game to make a direct sequel out of in the first place, since the ending you choose literally dictates the future of the entire fucking world, but what they did effectively ensured that nobody‘s ending was the canonical one, which is a sure-fire way to anger every single one of your fans.

Well, fuck you, Ion Storm! I thought. I’m not giving up my perfect Helios Ending just so you can cram another game down my throat!

But then I watched Campster’s video about it, and I must say that the burning hobo clip at the 35-second mark made me giggle like a schoolgirl. It made me realize, maybe I’m looking at this with the wrong mindset. Maybe I can just pretend it’s from an alternate universe, or a bad dream JC/Helios had after successfully instating the Heliocracy. Or maybe I’ll pretend it’s an entirely new story. One about burning hobos in narrow corridors!

So I got the game today, mostly because it’s available for $2.50 on Steam right now. Expect me to rant about it on Twitter in the near future, and maybe write a post about it here.

The way I see it, if the game even manages to feel like Deus Ex, even for a moment, this will have been a victory.


Duke Nukem 3D

Now that I’ve been introduced to the magic of source ports, I was able to get ye olde Duke Nukem 3D to a functional, playable state as well thanks to EDuke32. This has given me the chance to play it extensively, and let’s just say, this was an eye-opener.

The game certainly has more features than Doom (jumping, pipebombs, items, one-liners, etc.) but more isn’t always better. For instance, while Doom could get away with using 2D sprites for the enemies and objects since you couldn’t look up or down, in Duke 3D you can get above or under an enemy and look up or down at it, respectively, and doing so will reveal that monster as a flat paper cut-out. It makes the world seem extremely fake.

There’s also a pile of nitpicks, like how the chaingunners in this one are somehow even more annoying than the ones in Doom 2, or how the confusing level design often requires you to find subtle secret doors or pathways that Doom would have just stuck extra ammo behind, or how the Duke repeats his lines so often they get old really quickly.

But there’s something much more important, and much more horrible, that I need to talk about.

Duke Nukem Forever, which all of you must know about at this point, was heavily criticized for many reasons, but the biggest problem I heard about was it being exceedingly misogynistic. The most infamous scene was one in an alien hive where you see nude women literally being raped, impregnated and killed by alien tentacles.

I happen to agree with the majority that Duke Forever is an atrocity, but now that I’ve played Duke 3D, I’m confused because most people talked as if the original wasn’t as horrible.

I knew the game had strippers, but I didn’t know that you constantly encounter naked women wrapped in tentacles, and that if you try to talk to them they just utter, “Kill… me…” You can kill them all, and there’s no penalty for doing so or choosing not to. It’s obviously a blatant homage to Aliens, but it seems the aliens in this game only use attractive young women to procreate their species.

It’s an extreme example, but by no means the only one, of women being objectified in this game. Strippers, poster girls, dirty magazines. The game shoves scantily clad women into the game every chance it gets. I know the games industry in general has a problem with objectifying women, but Duke 3D goes above and beyond.

Wait, why is she here? WHO CARES IT'S A DANCING NAKED LADY

As is fitting with the copy-pasted imagery and themes, the game feels like Aliens as rewritten by a fourteen-year-old boy with some serious issues he needs to work through. To anybody who regards women as more than meat, it just comes off as juvenile, tasteless, and shameless. I suppose the game did gain its audience of primarily teenage males, and it’s a good thing those people were grown up enough last year to pan Duke Forever.

But this game should not be regarded as a classic, and I don’t say that lightly.

I questioned whether Fallout 1 should be regarded as a classic because I simply felt it was an unenjoyable experience. But with Duke 3D, there’s just a terrible feeling of wrongness to it. The fact that any significant number of adults still considers this game a classic is a  disgrace, to both the games industry and gamer culture. The gameplay is adequate, I suppose. But if we’re not able to acknowledge the moral repugnance underneath it, then we’re selling games short by refusing to think critically about them.