Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Mass Effect 3's ending was that bad, but also why that doesn't matter.

Ok, so I spoke yesterday about how the ending to Mass Effect 3 wasn't as bad as people complained about.  But to be honest, it was still pretty bad.

People seem to keep fixating on the plot holes, and I'll agree there are some big ones.  The two largest being the destruction of the Mass Relays which not only strands the galactic fleet in the Sol system (plot hole one) but also forevermore ends space travel.  This still doesn't mean much to me.  Plot holes happen all the time, just because in this case the hole is large enough for the Normandy to fly through doesn't change things.

The point I want to address is that people aren't happy with how their choices throughout the series fail to have an impact on the ending...Really guys?  Really?  Do you realize how many different possibilities there are in this series?  I don't think you do.

Let's look at just the Geth/Quarian war.  Before I reached at point in the game I had been told by a friend that when he killed the Reaper during that quest and allowed Legion to upgrade the Geth, the Geth then wiped out the Quarians and Tali commits suicide.  That's right, she kills herself.

Now, when I got to that point in the game, I couldn't bring myself to wipe out the Geth.  I had to let Legion reprogram his people.  I made that choice with the full knowledge that I was killing the Quarians and Tali (one of my favorite characters) with them.  But I could not kill off the Geth without breaking character.  My Shepard give equal value to all life, synthetic or organic.  It's this same attitude that had Shepard cure the Genophage and reveal the sabotage in the Shroud.  So imagine my joy when Tali (with Shepard's help) was able to call off the Quarians and make peace with the Geth.

Turns out the different outcomes was due to one sidequest.  That's it, just one side mission made all the difference.  And as any of us who've played the game know, the series is absolutely chock full of moments like this.  The different romance options are another example.  If you made a flow-chart of all the different quest and event results I'd be willing to bet a chart for just the relationships would be as large.

But here's the biggest reason why the ending doesn't matter.  We, as fans, have no creative influence or control over the product we use.  If we don't like an aspect of it, that's the risk we take when we buy it.  When you are paying the salaries of the developers, that is when you get to have control of the product.  Not before.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Mass Effect 3's ending was not that bad.

Or rather, why the ending was bad for the reasons people are saying.

Was it not what we were expecting?  Yes.  Did it reflect our choices and actions throughout the series?  No.  Did it adequately cover the themes and concepts that the series had presented, especially those regarding what it means to be alive and the coexistence of organic and synthetic?  Fucking hell no.

That being said, it was not as bad as people are pointing out, at least not all the nit-picky details are.  I'll agree that the 'choices' at the end are lame, the AI in the Citadel doesn't even try to explain anything and just shoves exposition down our throat, which also completely devalues the Reapers as villains or threats, and the lack of influence the player has completely breaks the immersion, and the crucible was a complete deus ex from the beginning.

But some of the details people are picking out are not the problem they're being made out to be.  Having Anderson beat you to the console is not a plot hole, neither is the Illusive Man appearing out of no where.  It's simply narrative convenience.  The writers needed to have a final conflict with the Illusive Man so he was there and Anderson was there to both present a counter argument and to raise the stakes with that shootout.  Personally I would have preferred to have the final encounter with the Illusive Man to have been at his base, maybe then we could have been spared that cheap fight with Leng...God I hated that emo-prick.

The bigger thing people are complaining about is how Joker and the Normandy are shown flying away from the Mass Relay explosion.  Again, this is not a plot-hole so much as convenient for the writers.  They wanted to show the impact of the explosion, and they wanted us to be invested in their fate.  This is the same reason your crew is back on the Normandy.  The character you romance would, presumably, be the one you'd be happiest to see alive.

No, it does not it make sense for the characters to be fleeing the conflict on Earth or for them to appear on the Normandy.  But that's what we have, at least until the alternate ending DLC is available.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Five Reasons I Didn't Keep Dead Island

It's been too long since I've done a Friday Five, and since zombies tend to be the best topic to make a list about, I thought I'd ease back in with talking about the Dead Island video game.  Maybe use this to transition from lists about zombies to lists about other topics.

Anyways, the game is...Well, not terrible, but I actually did something I never do with games.  I traded it in.  Again, I never do this...ever.  Even if the game is just horrid I'll typically shelve it and just not play it for awhile.  And maybe I'll pick up Dead Island again in the future (once the price has dropped dramatically) and I can find some people to play with.

Because that's the thing about this game, you cannot go it alone.  Which I suppose makes sense in a zombie survival game.  But with all the good ideas the game has, for me at least, it fails in the execution...of the ideas.  The player dies constantly.  Ideas like;

(Note:  I'm doing this list in reverse order with the least annoying/aggravating aspect first and building up to the deal breakers that ruined the game for me.)

#5:  Poor Menu Interface and Inventory Management.

Let me ask you, if an item like medikits are an auto-equip that take up no inventory space, why am I not allowed to buy them from vendors if my inventory is full?  It means I have to drop an item, buy the medikits, pick up my item, and confirm my inventory is all correct and that I didn't miss anything.  That's three steps too many, it should just be 'buy medikits and leave store.

Also, why does my quest log hate me?  I have to tab to the quest log, select the quest, check the map, tab back over, check the next quest, repeat.  I'm not saying I want all quests active at once, that would just clutter the map.  The problem here is that there seems to be lag not only with opening the menu and changing tabs, but also before the controller will respond to allow me to select the next quest.

Again, none of these are deal-breakers.  I've dealt with awful menus in games before and it's completely manageable.  It's just a minor annoyance.

Sadly minor annoyances can begin to stack up, like crappy writing.

#4:  The Characters Want Nothing to do with the Player

When you start a new game in Dead Island you get to pick one of four playable characters, each with their own special attack and (supposedly) different stats.  I chose one of them and was playing through just fine until suddenly I found myself in a cut scene with all four characters present!

Who gave them all permission to be here?!  Because I certainly didn't, I chose one character to play as.  One!  If all four are here, then why can't I have the computer control them?  I would have killed to have that extra inventory space, never mind having some fucking help with the zombie hordes!

The game has online multi-player to progress through the story, but I shouldn't be forced to use that.  If I'm playing alone, I should be allowed to play alone.  And with that in mind, I shouldn't see the other characters who I chose not to use.  Basically, it means that I, as a player, have no influence or control over the story.  Which completely removes any investment I have in it.

#3:  Challenging Enemies are Good...Too a Point.

As you level up in Dead Island the various flavors of Infected and undead also level up with you.  This is a fine idea on paper.  The problem with how it plays out here is that the enemies get more health, take more of an impact from your weapons (oh by the way, your weapons degrade as you use them, fun right?)  So your strongest weapons quickly become your worst.  But I never found enough replacements that were more effective.  So I stayed with my great, then mediocre, then crappy weapons.

The bigger problem is that the higher level you get the more damage the undead do.  Sure you get more health, but the ratio to health vs damage is not balanced.  So while in the beginning it's possible to take on a small crowd of zombies, pretty soon you can barely handle one.  Especially with the way they like to blind-side you.

#2:  Please Let Me Know When I Can Use My Special Attack.

This was a pretty big issue for me as I was playing.  The special attack each character has can only be used sparingly, you have to kill zombies and take damage to recharge it.  But the issue is that the charge gauge was very unclear.  I would never know when it was ready so I almost never used it.  I also used it rarely because of the time limit on it so it wasn't usually worth using unless I had enough of a crowd.  And even then it wasn't the guaranteed kill it was supposed to be.  Using it on a crowd of zombies sometimes worked, but sometimes I'd be no better off than before I activated it.c

And the regular attacks aren't much better.  The collision detection for the melee attacks is spotty at best, and for some drunken reason the gun mechanics seem to use the same detection as the melee.  So even when I'm auto targeting a zombie's head I still miss and hit the arm or even leg?!  Forget this noise.

That's really all I have to say on that except that it does lead directly into the biggest aggravation I have with the game.

#1:  Why the FUCK are Medikits and Special Attacks Linked to the Same FUCKING Button!?!

Seriously!  Who thought this was a good idea?!  To quick-use a medikit, nay, the only way to use them, is to press a button on your controller.  Ok.  I have no problem with that.  In the middle of combat you want to be able to access them quickly.  But if you hold that button down instead of a quick press, that's how you activate the character's special attack.  Oh, and for extra fun, even if your attack is charged, it's not clear how long you have to hold it.  So if your attack isn't charged you can hold the button, realize you won't be clearing the room with your special, then let go AND WASTE A MEDIKIT!

Do you realize how many medikits I wasted doing that?  This was, in all honestly, what broke the game for me.  Well, this and point #2.  I can handle lousy menus, no problem.  I can handle poor story telling, annoying but I've seen worse.  I can handle unfair enemies, sometimes I like a challenge.  But all together, the poor controls, the bad story and the implied insistence on multiplayer...Done.  I'll handle the zombies myself when the world ends thank you very much.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Goodbye Dale

So if it wasn't obvious from my Friday Five posts (that reminds me, I need to do more of those) about the undead, I'm a fan of zombies.  As such, I'm a fan of The Walking Dead.  Both the comic and the AMC series.

From this point on there will be spoilers, you have been warned.

In yesterday's episode the group was discussing what to do with someone they had captured a few episodes ago.  They had saved him from zombies, fixed up his injuries, and then decided to kill him because of the potential threat he might at some point represent.

I was not happy with seeing characters I liked choosing to kill someone who was otherwise harmless, I'd like to think people are better than that.  But what I do like about the show is how the characters are being portrayed in their decisions.  I don't like the decision, but it's clear that the characters aren't happy about it either.

Most vocal about this was Dale.  Rick was upset about it but willing to kill a living, human, captive.  Rick was unhappy, but Dale was outspoken.  I've always liked Dale.  From the first episode he appeared in I liked how he was not just the moral center of the group but also a connection to the world they had lost.

A large part of this was his age.  Dale was, aside from Hershel, the oldest character on the cast.  So it was understandable that he would cling the strongest to the 'civilized way' of doing things.  Again, I think this helped him also be the moral compass.  One of my favorites moments of his was in the first season when he argued to allow a dying man the choice of how to die.  Not to kill him, but to give him the choice.

Even when the show first began airing, AMC put up a character test on their website.  And lo and behold, turns out the character I'm most like is Dale.  Like I said, I always liked Dale.

And now he's dead.

Rewinding my rambling a moment, in this past episode Dale spent the entire time arguing for the life of their prisoner.  First individually with other members of the group, even moving forward Shane's character development away from a complete psychopath.  Then later with every member of the cast.

What really caught my attention was that during the group conversation Dale was the only one standing in the light.  Rick was caught between the light and the shadows and everyone else was standing in shadows.  At first I thought it was a bit of a blatant use of lighting and staging to show Dale's standpoint compared to everyone else, but it worked for the scene and kept the attention where it needed to be.

Then Dale died and I started thinking.  Earlier in the episode there was also a brief conversation regarding Heaven and belief.  I'd like to think that Dale's death could actually be interpreted not only as a moment of redemption for the group (as the next episode promo seems to imply) but also as a way for him to get to where he deserves to be.

I'm not saying I personally believe in Heaven.  But I feel that Dale stepped into the light.