Monday, May 7, 2012

Video/News: Bytes - "Doggy Style"/Mass Effect 3's Ending

SPOILER WARNING: I explain my position on Mass Effect 3's ending in this post, so don't read on if you don't want the game's outcome ruined for you.

Hey guys,

Here's the latest episode of the "Bytes" series of Arby 'n' the Chief shorts, titled "Doggy Style":

Arby 'n' the Chief - Bytes S01E04: "Doggy Style"

People seem to be enjoying these Bytes and, in general, not regarding them as nuisances between story episodes, and that makes me really happy.  I'm glad people are enjoying this one in particular; I realize it was a little bit of a gamble having the short's punch-line completely obliterate the show's fourth wall.  However, I personally found that the gag too amusing to omit, and I felt that I could get away with it in a Byte since I had said previously that the events within the shorts take place in a universe parallel with the story season's.  I wouldn't do a gag like that in season seven.

I do see, though, that -- based solely on those who have commented -- not many people agree with my position on Mass Effect 3's ending.  That's okay, I wasn't expecting much different, given how controversial the subject is; the controversy is what attracted me to the subject in the first place.

I do believe I'm being misunderstood, though -- and I realize I have nobody to blame but myself for that.  I could have had Arbiter explain his position in much further detail in the short, but then I might as well instead have asked each of you to bang your head off the table corner nearest you as hard and as many times as you can -- it would accomplish the same objective of rendering you comatose, probably a bit faster, and could land you a comfy hospital bed and some free ice cream to boot.

So, what's my opinion on the game's ending, you ask?  I believe that it was poorly executed.

When I first beat the game, I was a tiny bit annoyed with how the ending had unfolded, but I still didn't understand the massive backlash against Bioware.  Not until I was informed by a friend of mine that the other two endings of the game I hadn't yet seen were visually identical to the one I had received, save for the color of the force of energy that consumes the galaxy following your end-of-game decision.  I then understood the disgruntlement of the fans a lot more.

Sure, if you view each ending in conjunction with its context depending on the choice you made, they do imply different fates in the long run for mankind and the other species -- but this isn't enough to help me shake off the fact that the endings, purely from a visual and technical standpoint, are nearly identical.  It feels like a corner that was significantly cut.  It's like cheering on a champion track runner with a speedy, magnificent stride who leaves a blazing trail of fire, then groaning as he becomes too puffed out on the last lap and buzzes up to the finish line on a Segway.

And being a writer myself and given how much difficulty I have with the task, I have a tremendous respect for anybody else who takes it on, so I've become a very forgiving person when it comes to games and movies and stuff.  There's a lot of things I let slide that others probably wouldn't.  So, normally, Mass Effect 3's endings wouldn't bother me nearly as much as they do, if it weren't for the fact that they exist in direct contradiction to how the game was advertised as well as what the entire trilogy is about: making numerous difficult decisions that ultimately shape the outcome of the overarching story.

Even the back of the game's box reads "Groundbreaking interactive storytelling drives the heart-pounding action in which each decision you make could have devastating and deadly consequences".  Well, there's not really any "could" about it; the player is indeed faced with devastating and deadly consequences, regardless of his or her decisions.

Another reason I didn't care for the ending is the plot holes, one of which, of course, being the destruction of the entire Mass Relay network rendering everybody throughout the galaxy stranded wherever they happen to be.  This leaves many species on planets which have no sustenance required for their survival.  I also didn't understand how Joker ended up fleeing the destruction at warp speed, or how the fuck Liara ended up on board the Normandy considering that she was in my squad while fighting in London.  But you've heard all of these before on the many web articles written on this subject.

So whether or not you agree with me, don't think that I don't understand the problems the fans have with the game.  I'm pretty confident that I do.

Then why am I ultimately speaking in Bioware's defense in the short?  Because, given how fantastic I consider the other 95% of the game to be, the flaws of its endings are so apparent and confusing in comparison that it seems obvious to me that they stem from time constraints rather than creative decisions, which is what I have Arbiter say.  I could be wrong, of course.  After all, what do I know?  And I don't say that with any kind of sarcasm, I mean that I really don't know how the development process went down.  I wasn't there, obviously.  But I consider it unlikely that the game's ham-fisted ending was planned from the get-go.  The game's writing team is obviously very talented, why would they make it their objective to fuck up the arc of the trilogy within its last ten minutes?  It seems logical to me that they weren't given the extra time they needed to flesh out a solid ending and so they cobbled together a functioning product to meet their deadline.

Again, I could very well be wrong about that, but if that's indeed the case, then I don't believe Bioware is who should be being attacked.  And I refuse to jump on the hate bandwagon and spit on Bioware after they delivered to me sixty hours of quality gameplay and/or storytelling (I say "and/or" because I wasn't particularly fond of the first Mass Effect's clunky gameplay, but the story was so compelling that I tolerated it).  And I say sixty hours because I'm referring to all three games -- it didn't take me sixty hours to beat Mass Effect 3.

I'd have a beef with Bioware if they deliberately set out to make a poor ending with the intention of pissing off gamers across the entire planet, but that conclusion strikes me as far too retarded to jump to.  Yes, Mass Effect 3's ending peeved me, but I'm convinced that it was business elements that factored into the ending and not creative ones, and if that's the case, there's not much that can really be done unless the companies truly responsible for such elements get their shit together.  The video gaming industry is riddled with problems, but it's only as good as it is.  The world is a lot bigger, uglier and more complex than the living rooms of self-entitled gamers and their Tali/Shepard make-out fantasies in their heads.  I constantly think about things in the context of a much bigger picture, and thus I refuse to act like a little bitch over a poor ending to an absolutely magnificent game well worth my sixty dollars overall.

I am indeed one of those people that believes that gamer entitlement is an ever-increasing problem.  The reason for this is that I believe nobody's entitled to a damn thing in this world.  You could get hit by a bus on your way to your local game retailer to pick up Mass Effect 3.  Would you deserve it?  Probably not, but life doesn't give a flying fuck what you think you deserve.

All sorts of games are plagued with underwhelming endings, and people pay the same price for those games.  Why is it all of a sudden a major problem with Mass Effect 3?  The reason is obviously that Bioware, through some stellar and unmatched work, managed to get a large part of the gaming community very emotionally invested in their series in particular, so it's natural that a poor ending would sting much more.  This harsher sting has resulted in mass hatred of Bioware, which I feel is undeserved considering how much amazing work they performed.

I shall leave you with a video.  If you'd like a better understanding of my overall outlook, check it out:

Louis C.K.: Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy

Thanks,
Jon