Apr 112012

So, PAX East has come and gone. I got to meet up with a lot of great folks, like my GameCritics compatriots Chi and Richard, Nels, Matthew, and the phenomenal Mattie, and to reconnect with folks I already knew like Chris, Serah, Eric, Dan, and (all too briefly) Alex and Grant. Also all the people I left out. Unfortunately the wifi at BCEC doesn’t work as well when there are a bajillion gamers rocking the joint as it did back when the biophysicists visited, so I was functionally cut off from Twitter. If, as a result, I wasn’t able to [Read more...]

Apr 042012
To clear the crowded sky

The ecological succession that creates a deciduous forest starts with the greed of pines. Fast-growing conifers colonize a suitable area and take it over, suppressing ground-cover growth with their light-blocking needles. As the pine growth becomes more dense, this advantage backfires. The lower branches of the old trees die, and infant pines starve in the darkness beneath that crowded sky. This is a fitting allegory for the universe of Mass Effect, where humanity emerges into a galaxy run by entrenched powers uninterested in assisting them. Early on, Mass Effect establishes that the Citadel Council forced humanity to establish colonies in [Read more...]

Mar 272012
The evitable conflict

The convoluted logic of the Mass Effect trilogy’s controversial ending hinges on the idea that sufficiently advanced species will inevitably create artificially intelligent life that will rebel and, if left unchecked, exterminate all organic life in the galaxy. To combat this threat, the Reapers harvest advanced civilizations, giving primitive ones the chance to flourish without being snuffed out in their infancy. This account of the Reapers’ solution blindsided many players because it placed one of Mass Effect’s weakest themes at the core of its most important conflict. The Mass Effect games never coherently convey the impression that synthetic intelligences pose [Read more...]

Mar 162012

We should have known the conclusion would be trouble. Ending a game like Mass Effect 3 poses a special set of problems, because a central attraction of Western RPGs is that their systems respond to player choice. Mass Effect and its like are the classic case of games that generate stories through collaboration between designer and player. Drawing things to a close, however, requires the hand of the developer to show, often in ways that seem unattractive. This famously happened in the case of Fallout 3, which had an ending so widely disliked that the developers ultimately retconned it with [Read more...]