Late at Night and All Alone

I’ve been having a really interesting discussion with a number of fans over on the BSN (BioWare Social Network).  This group seemed to be moderate, thoughtful, and far more polite with one another.  The topic was foreshadowing, and needless to say we ended up discussing the tragic failure to foreshadow pretty much anything that mattered at the end of the third game.  A year of analysis, looking at this game solely as a writing exercise, and the enjoyment of writing my own ending, and follow-up story has eased the disappointment.  I am now far more sanguine about the entire debacle, and I will probably replay Mass Effect 1 several more times before I’m too old to adequately handle the X-Box controller.  🙂  But it got me to thinking about the men responsible for this conclusion.

I mentioned on the forum thread that I thought this trilogy could have been the greatest game that’s been created to date, but because of the dreadful ending it has become the most returned game in the history of the industry, and has alienated a significant number of passionate BioWare fans.  I confess I am among them.  I had total confidence in the company after Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings, and Mass Effect 1 and 2.  DA 2 began to shake my faith, but I knew it had been rushed so I was undeterred.  Then came Mass Effect 3.

As I was chatting and typing I suddenly found myself considering the position of the two men who, it is believed, were solely responsible for the ending.  I wondered what they think, or may admit to themselves in the dark hours between dusk and dawn.  To have the awesome responsibility of concluding this epic adventure into which people had poured at least a hundred hours of their time was probably daunting and suddenly I felt very sorry for them.  This is resting on their shoulders.  Yes, both companies, EA and BioWare, have said all the appropriate things — “the ending is the artistic vision and we stand behind it”, but they’ve got to be looking at those return numbers, and the rather sluggish sales of the DLC’s (Downloadable Content), and have some regrets.  So, how much more regret must the creative team feel and in particular those two individuals?

If you try to make or write something, and it fails right out of the box it’s undoubtably disappointing and you feel bad, but to take something that was outstanding, critically received, adored by legions of fans, and then mess it up must be a particular kind of hell.  I think about Lucas with those dreadful prequels that have almost destroyed mine and many other people’s love, admiration and enjoyment of Star Wars and Empire.

Endings are hard.  I don’t argue that isn’t the case, look at Lost and Battlestar Galactica, but this was a self-inflicted wound, and all the more tragic because it could have been salvaged.  I hope BioWare returns to it’s pre-eminent position as one of the great game companies, and I hope the writing team has a chance to regroup and find their center again.  Basically I feel bad for them because this has to have been a painful and devastating experience.

24 Responses to Late at Night and All Alone

  • I’ve never seen Episodes 1-3. Unfortunately, I did see the first Hobbit film, which not only had little to recommend it but had so many of Jackson’s vices in such full measure that it has retroactively made me appreciate the LotR films less. It’s not every creator who can be his very own suck fairy.

  • Georgino says:

    anyone who writes, and anyone who studies fiction knows how much a challenge it is to end a subject. as for the two who ended ME3 I have to wonder, are they really happy with it? yes the company is standing by what was done but as you’ve said in the darkest moments of the night you have to wonder what they feel. Now I’ve never had the chance to play the Mass Effect games for a number of reasons, although I still want to, but what if this is the ending they thought of all along? what if it was just a kind of mental place holder they always had while hoping for something different?

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I hope you do get to play the games, Georgino. I’d advise you to stop ten minutes before the end load the MEHEM (Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod) or do a “head cannon” as the kids in gaming circles call making up your own ending. I think ME1 is an absolutely spectacular game. 2 is also very good — not quite as cool as 1. Three has some wonderful moments but it’s far less of a RPG and much more on rails, and of course there is that ending.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Don’t see them, William. They will leave such a bad taste in your mouth. And yeah, the Hobbit was kind of just okay, and did have all his vices on full display. There were individual moments that were great, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo was spectacular, but it left me sort of shrugging. And thanks for the wonderful phrase “being your own suck fairy.”

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Here’s why I suddenly feel so sorry for these guys. It’s just terrifying to start a new project. It takes me hours to actually sit down and type that opening sentence because I’m afraid I’m not up to the task. That I will fail, the book/script will suck. This one will expose to the world that I am a giant fraud. But when you have a team why not lean on them? Especially when you are pulling together the threads of something that spanned like 150 hours?

    Maybe someday we’ll hear the real story of what happened.

  • Meg Malins says:

    Sadly, I heard all the horrid reviews of Mass Effect 3 before I could buy it and so haven’t yet played it. Instead, I’ll try to be happy to leave the Mass Effect universe where we left it at the end of Mass Effect 2 and create head cannon on the positive things that I’ve seen/heard about Mass Effect 3.

    Similarly, I saw the first of the Star Wars prequels and neither of the other two, preferring the Extended Universe. I positively dread the coming experience of Episode 7.

    Though with both Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchise, there was enough time between content offerings that I can only imagine it would have been hard to return creatively and make something new. The Mass Effect universe doesn’t fall into the same category though.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    There were some absolutely lovely moments in ME3 though it did feel very much “on rails” without a lot of opportunity for dialogue choices. It didn’t feel much like an RPG. If you ever do play it I’d advise stopping before the final 10 minutes. It was such a self-inflicted wound. If they’d had one real writer involved they wouldn’t have broken all these rules for good writing and stepped on a damn rake.

    You were wise about the Star Wars prequels. I found Vader fascinating so I kept watching, and then I was so, so sorry. Oh, god, what passed for romantic dialogue in the second film. Oh, god, has Lucas never met or talked to an actual human being?

  • Kia Purity says:

    RE: Episode 2, I watched this recently and I figured the only way to explain the horrible romance dialogue is that Anakin doesn’t even know how to deal with romance very well himself so everything he said came off pretty awkward which I thought was just about right for an awkward person with very little experience with romance/actual interaction with people… and the whole wankery with Jedi code. Not everyone can be Han Solo… 😛

    (Then again, I didn’t think the prequels were *THAT BAD*, they obviously did need more tweaking, but you can’t even compare the prequels to the trainwreck of ME3’s ending…)

    Actually, I didn’t think the romance awkwardness was the problem, it was when George Lucas tried to explain the force with science was when people had a problem because Star Wars was never really about the science, it was all about the adventure.

    I’m just glad that there’s more people who really do see serious problems with how ME3’s ending turned out. >_<

  • Jenn says:

    Melinda, I am so glad to hear you share much the same view on this as I have. Sort of validates that I, a non-author but once-fan of BioWare, have the same opinion about the ‘ending’ and so forth.

    ME3 was great until the last minutes, then it, for me, crumbled like a house of card and made me look at the whole game more critically, revealing errors I had happily overlooked until then. But I still feel I can now, a year later, play 1 and 2 and enjoy them (love the first for its atmosphere and detailed world(s), rocking game with a clunky inventory), and maybe one day I will try that MEHEM — thanks for mentioning it, I had no idea it existed.

    I do hope they feel bad, the authors, but if they do I also feel sorry for them. Odd situation, but I sincerely hope they don’t ever think about it and are happy with the results as they were… If all that makes sense!

    Either way, thanks again for expressing what so many “entitled” fans felt (and feel).

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    That’s why I wrote the post. These two men have come in for a lot of angry posts. Some of it was not well phrased or in the least bit temperate, but it has to have been devastating. I suddenly found myself thinking about how I would feel if this had happened to me, and I felt sorry for them. I don’t think anyone is so arrogant that they could look at this withering stream of criticism. (Some of it meaningful, some of it just mean — which wasn’t okay), and not feel some doubt about what they did.

  • Gerard Newell says:

    Yeah, so… I don’t think they feel the same as you feel. Keep in mind, all people are different, and so feel different; which is why art varies by artist It’s a part of their view thought manifested to form. Just as you would never create an ending like they created, the wouldn’t react to feedback the same as you would.

    Based on their public reactions, they might be hurt that someone didn’t like their ending, they would still feel pride in their ending. That pride is based on their emotional input into the ending, and let’s face it, there wasn’t much emotion in the ending. It was all forced trivial philosophy in an effort to get people to think abjectly. Which is better: genocide, totalitarianism, removal of individualism or failure. It’s more like a writer who thinks he’s smarter than his audience forcing them to think about what he perceives to be difficult choices. An emotional choice would be save your love or save yourself, or lead the people or let someone else lead them you trust. Kill someone who wronged you or let him live. These are emotional choices in they’re impactful, simple and define the character of the character.

    The endings did not reflect very much emotion, so the emotion of disdain or dissatisfaction wouldn’t really register. He’d probably be frustrated with being inconvenienced by the distraction of the emotional reaction to the piece rather than everyone talking about the high concept idea that he thought up for the ending. The only way he would acknowledge it as a failure is if his boss told him it was bad, or if the philosophical question put forth was changed. Because he is the boss, it was never going to change. As long as that paradigm remains, he will always see the ending as a success. Anyone who says the ending was bad would just be considered a vocal minority.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      That’s a really interesting insight, Gerard, I hadn’t looked at from that perspective. I know I worry a lot when I finish a project if I did it well, kept my promises, gave people a satisfying and entertaining few hours. It was so clear that they hadn’t, and independent polls indicate that it wasn’t a vocal “minority”. It was about 67% who didn’t like the ending which is a very large majority. So, I thought they would be chagrined, the same way I would be embarrassed and feel real regret. And I hadn’t thought about it in these terms, but it was very much a head not a heart ending. And that was never the theme of the games. It was all about loyalty and friendship, and bridging misunderstandings and healing old wounds and old hatreds. From the grand scale — restoring the Krogan, making peace between the Geth and the Quarians to giving Anderson peace when it comes to Saren. Saren had damaged Anderson in a very deep, emotional way. You are his protege. When you succeed in exposing Saren you know you are bringing a sense of peace and justice to a man you respect and admire. Perhaps even love as a father-figure.

      Like Jenn, I have my own ending which I had to put down in print, and so now as I play the game I am oddly calm and not sad because I know how it all really came out. 🙂

  • Jenn says:

    So very true. Thanks for writing it.

    And, again, thank you also for mentioning MEHEM — just finished with my main FemShep and yeah, this one I can live with, to be sure. Not as good as my head-canon, but I suspect that is true for all (except possibly for the creator of MEHEM), but it patches the wound and makes me ready to one day play through the whole thing again.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I think everybody’s head-canon (I btw I just love the phrase) is going to be their preferred ending. Which is why I’m hesitating to post my story because it is very much my Shepard and my ending. Another gaming buddy who has read it has said I should post it. It’s well done. But it is mine. I try very hard in my intro to say — “take this in the spirit it is offered. It won’t match your Shepard’s journey, but perhaps you will enjoy it.” I just don’t want anybody to get frustrated or angry with me. Anyway, glad I could point you toward MEHEM. Since I play on an X-Box I don’t have that option. But as I said to Gerard — I know what really happened, and how we really defeated the Reapers. 🙂

      • Jenn says:

        *finds the “Reply” link finally* Oooh, there’s a reply option, oops!

        True, head-canon will no doubt be preferred ending, but it is so nice to know you can play the game and not come across that ‘kid’. I will no longer have to shut ME3 down after the scene with Anderson, whenever I finally play through it again.

        I wholeheartedly agree with personal head-canon being ‘mine’ — that is what makes it personal, after all. Probably part of why I haven’t posted my own resolution anywhere either, as others may feel “that’s not how Shep would react”, “She wouldn’t say that” and so on. That said, if you do post yours up I would enjoy reading it, if for nothing else other than to see another Shep get their deserved ending. 🙂

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    Ironically I was going to write a light, comedic romp about a wedding becoming a public wedding and then spinning completely out of the control. But I am a drama writer, and the more I looked over the events over the three games, and the personalities I found myself writing about survivor’s guilt, and PTSD and the price of fame. I also ended up creating a great therapist and this character, or at least facets of him are going to end up in one of my real books or stories somewhere.

  • Mara Jade says:

    I remember when I finished the third game for the first time. I sat in stunned disbelief for what seemed like forever. Confused, hurt, betrayed, I think I went through it all. Sure, writing endings must be hard, and for something that’s been so critically lauded and loved by so many, the pressure and weight of expectation must be that much worse. That being said, I find it difficult to generate much sympathy for them. If I wasn’t sure how to end something then at the very least I’d stay true to what had come before it, and not take a last minute detour off towards ‘what-the-heck-ville’. They spent 5 or 6 years telling us, and convincing us that everything we did in the first two games mattered. Until the last 10 minutes of the third game, it really did feel like they were right. Sadly, it was all an illusion, and the final minutes of the trilogy shatter that illusion with a devastating hammer blow. In the end I got to choose which abhorrent option was slightly less abhorrent than the others, the colour of my own personal explosion, and the means by which I wanted to commit suicide.

    There are some fantastic things at work in ME3, which makes the ending debacle all the more galling. The final DLC, Citadel, shows that BW still have some fine writers, it’s just a shame that none of them were involved with the end of the trilogy.

    In conclusion, I love the ME series. Still do. Despite the ending. I’ll play all three games again. I just detest the necessity to switch off my brain at the end. That can’t have been what they were going for when they were writing it……

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    I’m pretty sure I won’t play to the end again. I plan to stop — maybe before the assault on the Cerberus station, or right before the beam. The death of Anderson was one of the more moving moments, but then you get the Star Child and the whole thing goes off the rails. Mostly I’m curious to play Citadel so I’m doing this play through to a point where I can play this one DLC. The other really haven’t interested me — especially Omega. Aria should die with everyone else on the Citadel. I expect I will play the first game a number of times, the same way I keep returning to Dragon Age: Origins, and I’ll occasionally play the second game, but even Thane and Mordin’s death and shooting with Garrus, and curing the genophage for Wrex and Eve, and the smoother game play is not enough to tempt me.

    Just as the endings of Lost and Battlestar Galactica and the three Star Wars prequels spoiled those franchises, so has ME3 damaged this franchise for me.

    • omega12596 says:

      In a word: yes. You’ve encapsulated my feelings about ME3 to a T.

      There is something that bothers me almost more than how singularly disappointed I was with ME 3 and it’s the fact that I’ve played DA2 at least a dozen times and still enjoy it.

      That game is seriously flawed, repetitive, at turns boring and tedious, its own ending suffering under the weight of poor writing and planning. However, where Gaider failed in pieces, neither he nor the team he led annihilated the lore they’d built in Origins. The tone of DA 2 is consistent with Origins and the NPC’s, the party banter and group interactions are, IMO, a delight.

      And at the end, the hero walks away, broken maybe, missing some of his companions (possibly), but Hawke does what s/he means to do and goes ‘home’, wherever that may have ended up being.

      ME3 has none of those saving graces, despite the fact that I, as the player, had a much deeper relationship with the NPC’s. The tone is completely different, very ‘there’s no way to survive this, all Shep’s work bringing the galaxy together has no impact, and Shep must die’. All the hopefulness of the first two games is smashed on the rocks and the lighter bits simply cannot overcome ME3’s other failures (which extend beyond the end).

      This bothers me because I was terribly disappointed my DA2, by the lack of choices, by the overused set pieces, by the lack of direct NPC interaction (which is something I love about Origins. I can just turn and talk to an NPC, any time I like). But I wasn’t so angry, so let down, that I was unable to touch Origins again, let alone DA 2.

      It’s like DA 2 isn’t a good sequel to Origins, but it is a good hack/slash with cool character dialogue set in the DA world.

      ME 3 can’t say the same in either case. It destroyed its canon, its lore, lost the train of its own story, and then its creators simply couldn’t be bothered to care.

      • Melinda Snodgrass says:

        Really good points, Omega about DA2. I didn’t like it very much. I wrote a long post analyzing all the story telling failures in the game, but it didn’t leave me feeling devastated, betrayed and unbearably sad. I think one of the best things about DA2 was the interactions between your companions which frustrated the shit out of me because I wanted to have those interactions. That was one of the things I loved about Origins. I liked some of the characters in DA2 and the combat was very smooth, but it couldn’t overcome the terrible structure and the fact the story ultimately didn’t make me care. I didn’t care about Kirkwall. I just wanted to go home to Ferelden, and that’s another thing that makes the ending so bizarre. You spend all these hours to secure and improve this city. To become a powerful figure and then at the end, with the city on fire and in ruins, you just walk away. Message being — nothing you did really mattered.

        Which is the same damn message they gave me in ME3. Didn’t matter that you brought together all these warring factions, that people had found a way to put aside their differences, that your efforts on the Normandy was a microcosm of the entire galaxy as we united against this nihilistic threat, that you had scanned every damn planet and had your EMS over 7000. It was pick a color and one of three horrific choices, and please enjoy your suicide.

        I really think the two writers who gave us this ending on ME3 were more interested in appearing “clever” and “edgy” they they were in honoring the canon and lore that had been created. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a simple story well told, or a happy ending. And yeah, the had given all of us the expectation that we would succeed. We had done so in ME1 and ME2, and if we were completists and didn’t rush we could do this with virtually no casualties. Then they yanked the rug out from under us in ME3.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    That pressure to finish something that is a huge project and where everyone is anticipating must be very hard. I thought about Rowling with Harry Potter. I would have liked an ending with a bit more sacrifice. I would have had Harry have to burn out his magic to defeat Voldamort, and finish his life married to a witch, but himself a muggle. Sacrifice, but not, as you said, getting to pick your color of suicide, but the point was that she finished it, and it was overall quite satisfying. Particularly the 19 years later scene. The pressure on the woman must have been almost shattering, but she did it.

    I’m sure these guys felt the same way, but they had lost so many of their top writers — Karpyshyn most notably. I don’t know what happened. If there was jealousy because Drew was garnering so much critical acclaim, or what? But we were left with a producer — generally not the most creative of people and another writer who doesn’t seem to grasp structure very well, and they decided to go edgy and to “blow our minds”. What they did was just devastate a whole lot of really devoted fans. I felt like I had been repeatedly kicked in the stomach by that ending, and I was down and angry for days afterward.

    • Jenn says:

      Just have to say, I agree with Harry Potter and it’s ending, but it is still a good one.

      And then ME3, where I felt the same way! So frustrating, such a series it had been, where I had taken numerous Shep’s through different plays. But, at least I have it on PC so I can enjoy MEHEM, and watch that develop even more, hopefully. I know I said thanks for that already, but you saved ME3 for me by mention it, so, once more, thank you.

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    It really is expectations. Look at the end of the first game. Some loss — either Ashely or Kaidan, maybe you’ve killed Wrex, you have to hurt the Krogan to fight Saren. Anderson gets relieved of duty and loses his ship. But you have a clean win.

    Mass Effect 2. If you don’t prepare well, do the loyalty missions, up-armor the Normandy you lose people. Pick the wrong team leaders on the Collector Base you lose people. Take too many of the heavy hitters with you on the final fight, and you lose people. But it play it right. Do all the side missions, etc. You have another clean win. And in my case I got to piss of TIM which I find to always be enjoyable even if he is President Bartlett. 🙂

    Anyway, they had set up expectations that there was a way to a clean win in the third game, and then they snatched that away in the final 10 minutes. You don’t do that to your audience. If somebody picks up a mystery they expect the detective to apprehend the killer, not be murder by the bad guy. In a romance you expect the lovers to end up together. Not just shrug and walk off and forget the whole thing.

    Which brings us back to a simple rule. The creator has to keep their damn promises.

  • Mara Jade says:

    You can play the first part of the Citadel DLC directly after the Cerberus attack on the Citadel. The latter part, is best played after Sanctuary as you should then have all of your ME2 squadmates available for it. Citadel does nothing to change the ending, but it does solve one of my problems with the end, the lack of emotional closure for the characters. It’s kind of like the ‘squad goodbyes’ on Earth, but with the emotional impact that many of them lacked.

    I agree re the conclusion to the Harry Potter series, JKR didn’t disappoint. Guess it goes to show that whilst writing endings must be difficult, especially to such hugely popular works, it can be done if you stay true to the story and the characters within it. It’s there that ME3 failed for me, at the end at least. The story took a sharp left down a route that hadn’t been there five minutes earlier, and all of a sudden my character wasn’t my character at all, railroaded into believing the starbrat when all I wanted to do was to attack its logic and prove it wrong. Instead I had NO choice but to believe it, trust it, and go with it. Unbelievable.

    I like the SW and Lost comparisons – The Catalyst is much like Lost’s introduction of the ‘magic cave’ in the penultimate episode. Never foreshadowed, coming completely out of left-field, and utterly ridiculous. Shepard accepting the Catalyst, buying into its wonky logic, and solving its problem for it, is like Anakin in Revenge of the Sith – going from being someone misguided but believing that he’s doing the right thing, to suddenly deciding that it was ok to slaughter children. Again, ridiculous.

    I don’t want to attack all of the writing in ME3 as there are large parts of it that really worked quite well – the Tuchanka storyline, and to a lesser degree, the Rannoch storyline, are particular examples. Telling that they were NOT written by either of those involved with the game’s ending. It’s such a shame that the likes of John Dombrow and Patrick Weekes weren’t allowed to input into the conclusion.

    Re Drew – I’m not sure what really happened there. I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt I guess and believe that they DID really need him to go over to ‘The Old Republic’ – one thing’s for sure though, ME was much better off with him involved. Armando Troisi as well – the lack of a Creative Director, to keep the likes of Casey Hudson and Mac Walters in check, is sadly all too telling as both were left to indulge in far too radical abstractions.

    That’s the real sting in the tale of ME3, and by extension Shepard’s trilogy – for me, the pondering on ‘what might have been’, or more appropriately ‘what SHOULD have been’. They only had to carry the ball the final yard, but instead they dropped it. Actually they threw it straight into touch…..

    Anyhow, enjoy Citadel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *