On Mass Effect, Part 2: Collaborative storytelling and the end. (SPOILERS)

Yes, this post contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series. All titles are fair game. You have been warned.

Mass Effect 3

In part one of this reflection on the Mass Effect series, I retold the games’ plot as I saw it: an epic love story set against a galaxy’s struggle for survival. It’s not a prerequisite for reading part 2, but it does serve as the basis for much of my argument presented here.

Let’s cut to the chase: there is no possible ending BioWare could have devised for Mass Effect 3 that would have pleased everyone. The beauty of that series — something that has been reaffirmed by the outrage surrounding the finale — is the unique narrative each player builds throughout their 90-hour experience. It’s all thanks to collaborative storytelling, with both the player and developer working to build each Shepard’s story.

But that’s only true to a degree. The greatest trick BioWare ever played was making you think you were somehow writing this story. While there are near infinite combinations of story beats and outcomes across the entirety of the series, each momentary decision is just as trivially presented as the final one: you stand at a crossroad with two, three or maybe, if your lucky, four possible paths. Take your pick.

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On Mass Effect, Part 1: A hopeless romantic (SPOILERS)

Yes, this post contains spoilers for the Mass Effect series. All titles are fair game. You have been warned.

I’ve been thinking about Mass Effect a lot; about what the series means to me, why its ending has been so controversial and what separates it from similar games. I’ve come to a couple of conclusions and this is my attempt to lay them out.

I’m starting with a reflection on my Mass Effect experience. This is the story of Commander Shepard as I saw it. All of that surface level stuff — the battles with Saren and the Reapers, Cerberus’ constant meddling, the siege of Earth — is ultimately unimportant. This series is great because it allows the player to inject their own humanity into Shepard. You determine which losses are the most painful. You choose Shepard’s motivations. The choices you make within the game aren’t nearly as interesting or important to crafting your Commander Shepard as those you make outside it.

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On Uncharted and characterization through play.

Uncharted 3

Uncharted 2 and 3 are special games.

While Naughty Dog’s latest pulp adventure might pull a few too many of the same tricks as its predecessor, they are damn fine tricks and no one else in the video game industry has even attempted to replicate them.

Sure, I’m talking about the massive set pieces — running through burning buildings; hanging onto a piece of free falling cargo hundreds of feet above an endless desert – but what really sets Uncharted apart is its characters.

Naughty Dog has done a great job of bringing Nathan Drake and the series’ supporting cast to life. The characters may be simple adventure flick stereotypes, (hey, it’s pulp, not Tolstoy) their relationships feel real and my attachment to them is staggering.

But what is it that makes Uncharted better at this than most other games? There’s the care and attention given to the writing, of course, but I think it’s something simpler; something only a video game could do.

Minor Uncharted 3 spoilers ahead!

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Reports of Nintendo’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

Nintendo held a press conference in Japan earlier this week to show off a number of new 3DS titles and announce Monster Hunter 4. Apparently the reception to this news was so negative that it spawned such non-gaming press articles as “Nntendo is Killing Itself” and “Nintendo Faces End of Era After 3DS Flop.”

Oh boy.

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Diablo 3 is Probably Coming to Consoles, but why is Blizzard so Quiet About it?

Diablo 3

There was a bit of a Twitter kerfuffle yesterday after Diablo 3 lead designer Josh Mosqueira all but confirmed the development of a console version of the anticipated title at a Gamescom press conference.

According to a Eurogamer report, Mosqueira said Blizzard “is very, very serious about bringing the Diablo 3 experience to the console” and is “trying to build the best console team.”

This falls in line with job listings for a Diablo-related console project posted late last year, as well as the more direct “senior software engineer, console — Playstation 3 Specialist” within the Diablo 3 team posted in June.

It seems pretty safe to assume that some sort of consolized Diablo is in development, but why make it so obvious without issuing some sort of official statement? And why does it seem to be gearing up so late in the game?

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The Valve Model — Is it Good for the Industry?

Pretty much everyone loves Valve.

How could you not? Its brought us some of the greatest games ever made, created the standard platform for PC digital distribution and community and is one of the few large development houses exploring the intricacies of the video game medium and business.

Yet, something bothers me about Valve. When looking at its release history (and counting DOTA 2), we see that although Valve has developed close to eight franchises in the 13 years since the release of Half-Life, its debut. The number of properties that were fully conceived in-house is only…well one: the Half-Life series. Oh oh and Ricochet. Don’t forget Ricochet.

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Musings: A Japanese June; or Mini-Review Rundown: Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned

Many in the games press bemoan the increasing irrelevance of Eastern game developers. Outside of Nintendo’s titles I would be hardpressed to name the last Japanese game that made a major financial splash here in the west. Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is probably my best bet, but even that is bolstered by its inclusion characters familiar and dear to Western audiences.

Critically things aren’t much better. Japanese stalwarts like Final Fantasy have taken a beating by the press as of late and taking a look at the titles that make up the wave of post-E3 hype, I haven’t found nary an Eastern game (Another Capcom fighter, Street Fighter x Tekken, comes to mind. Dark Souls as well.).

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