I hope you are paying attention.

You do, if only for tracks like this:

(One of the few pieces of music from a game that has actually moved me to tears and still triggers an emotional response when I hear it.)

Another great set of work by Sam Hulick. I’ve enjoyed his work on the Mass Effect series and though I hope he gets the chance to do more there, am looking forward to what he does next.

Allistair Pinsof for Destructoid:

Even companies with net worth in the millions are guilty of turning in a rushed assignment from time to time. While Microsoft Studios seemed pretty confident getting behind a Xbox Live Arcade port of the indie PC hit Minecraft, at E3 last year, the publisher only signed the deal a week before the announcement. Even crazier, the graphic they made for the announcement was a rushed job made the night before.

“Even the people inside Microsoft, as they were looking at it, were thinking, ‘What is that Minecraft thing and why are we putting it on stage?’ Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios, told Destructoid.

A few million in sales to date.

Snagging good indies and radical ideas is one place where PlayStation Network has an edge on Xbox Live. They take on projects that are riskier and more experimental.

Based on this quote I’d say that the biggest challenge for the Xbox game library might be Microsoft itself.

I bought a Game Capture HD this week and the first thing I did with it was a quick one-fight run in VF5 Final Showdown:

My initial thoughts: great piece of hardware and super-simple to use for capturing. It’s not really usable as a source for anything multicam, which is a shame, but it looks like there’s nothing else on the market that really is, at least for the Mac (you always have to basically record the on-screen preview of the capture device). This is a shame as I was hoping to use it for some live streaming.

I’m hoping Elgato will release an update to the software that makes it usable for such an application. I asked their support team and haven’t heard back; if I can find something that makes streaming easier I might return this and go with that.

You can’t really mix any other audio sources here, either (say, if you wanted to do commentary while you were playing). It’s a shame they didn’t think of that as all you have to do is check out YouTube for footage of people doing that pretty much anywhere.

I’ll put some larger thoughts on it down later.

If you’ve read this blog over the past few months you no doubt ran headlong into my rather lengthy deconstruction of how Mass Effect 3 went off the rails story-wise in the last 30 minutes or so.

This week, BioWare released a 2 GB add-on for Mass Effect 3 that padded the ending of the game, adding a pretty significant amount of voice acting, cutscenes, and rearranged bits to the game. I ran through it myself and I certainly see what they did and how they filled in the gaps. There are indeed several questions I raised in my own review that have been answered by the updated ending, including:

  • Why the Normandy was getting out of Dodge at the end
  • How your team in the final mission in London ended up on the Normandy
  • How screwed (or not) the galaxy is after the events of the ending
  • A few other things here and there that were either poorly or simply not explained

Even with those, we’re still left with some other questions, and more importantly, something that’s been made significantly worse.

Let’s talk.

What BioWare Did Well

There was clearly a lot of effort put into this extension of the original ending. There is some pretty fantastic added voice acting that fits with the original tone and was (once again) expertly directed and acted. I think the VO studio at BioWare is the best in the business.

There is some additional dialogue (if my memory serves me correctly) during the conversation with the Illusive Man at the end that is well-placed and increases the desperation of the moment as well as providing some additional insight into TIM in his final moments. I still think TIM was a bit wasted in the end, but more is never a bad thing.

The new cutscenes, beth rendered and in-game, are as well-done as the rest, and there is an additional sense of closure after the Space Magic does its thing. Some added details and a few changes to the original cutscenes (like the shift in who appears when Shepard makes his run to the final decision) are well-placed and extremely thoughtful.

Sam Hulick outdid himself with the extensions on the music. “An End, Once and For All” remains one of the most directly tear-jerking and emotional pieces of music ever written for the medium and the added sequences don’t change that  bit even though they have to fill a lot more time.

I think some thanks are in order—regardless of what you think about what was changed or what we got—because if the tweets I have seen over the last few months are any indication, the Mass Effect team at BioWare poured serious amounts of overtime and love into this project. For that alone, and for the fact that they did anything at all, they deserve a pat on the back as I believe this situation is the first of its kind.

But now, let’s talk about the not-so-good of the Extended Cut.

Xzibit in Four Dimensions

After some distance from completing the game, I found that I really didn’t care too much about the actual endings because by that point they had already screwed up the narrative so much that it didn’t matter.

The real problem is the Catalyst.

Allow me to refresh your memory:

Remember that at the end of the game, after Shepard passes out at the Citadel control panel, he is carried up to the top of the citadel on the wings of angels using a magic elevator portion of the floor, where he meets the Catalyst, which was a ghostly apparition of the Child from the beginning of the game.

It wasn’t really clear in the original version who you were dealing with or what was going on, but it was presented as HERE’S THE REAL REASON PEOPLE ARE DYING, K and then after a very small amount of explanation you make the choice at the end.

Again, in my original critique, I said:

So a race of synthetics comes back every 50,000 years to kill a lot of organics so the organics won’t make synthetics that kill all the organics.

There’s a tiny bit of “yeah, OK, that kind of makes sense” in there, even though it’s a remarkably closed-minded and megalomaniacal viewpoint. At this point I want my Captain Sheridan Option to say “get the hell out of our galaxy”[…]

and later:

These choices are being handed to you by the very enemy that you are seeking to destroy. The Child says that he is in control of the Reapers. By this train of thought you should consider the child to be the most unreliable source of information possible. There is no narrative reason why you should trust a word the Child says. But that doesn’t appear to matter in this instance, as Shepard is just like “YEAH THAT’S COOL THANKS FOR THE INFO KID” as you trudge towards the ending of your choice.

I also hat-tipped the Indoctrination Theory in my post, and after the Extended Cut, I agree with Sophie Prell and think that BioWare missed an opportunity to utilize that idea of the ending and find the sweet spot.

So apparently the decision that was made was to add more exposition to the dialogues with the Child.

The problem with this is that they didn’t solve anything—they just made the narrative dissonance worse.

To the script! We get three new wheel options when responding to the Child at the end, just before the choices are revealed. They are, from top to bottom, Catalyst, Reapers, and Crucible. If you look at the script, there is a narrative flow to them if you go from top to bottom. So let’s do that.

Keep in mind our pal Xzibit up there. We’ll get back to him.

S: You said you’re the Catalyst, but… what are you?

C: A construct. A intelligence designed eons ago to solve a problem.

So we’re dealing with an AI of sorts. Which means the Catalyst is technically speaking a synthetic organism. OK.

C: I was created to bring balance, to be the catalyst for peace between organics and synthetics.

Hmmm… a synthetic life form was created to broker peace between organics and synthetics. Hope he’s not a hometown referee.

S: So you’re just an AI?

C: In as much as you are an animal. I embody the collective intelligence of all Reapers.

OK, so you are essentially the bad guys who have been trying to kill me for the last three games.

S: But you were created…

C: Correct.

S: By whom?

C: By ones who recognized that conflict would always arise between synthetics and organics.

So you mean some race who figured that their mistakes would be everybody’s mistakes. Closed-minded, and still doesn’t change the fact that I made peace happen without your help, but all right. Keep going.

C: I was first created to oversee the relations between synthetic and organic life… to establish a connection.

C: But our efforts always ended in conflict, so a new solution was required.

S: The Reapers?

C: Precisely.

Tell me more about these Reapers, young ghost boy.

S: Where did the Reapers come from? Did you create them?

C: My creators gave them form. I gave them function. They, in turn, give me purpose.

C: The Reapers are a synthetic representation of my creators.

Proving the Xzibit Logic as embodied above.

S: And what happened to your creators?

C: They became the first true Reaper. They did not approve, but it was the only solution.

So the creators of the Xzibit Logic were themselves the victims of their own, slightly different Xzibit Logic? It’s like the Xzibit Logic has somehow bent back in on itself and created like an Xzibit Logic Tesseract.

The thinking of the Xzibit race that created the Catalyst:

S: You said that before, but how do the Reapers solve anything?

C: Organics created synthetics to improve their own existence, but those improvements have limits.

C: To exceed those limits, synthetics must be allowed to evolve. They must, by definition, surpass their creators.

So this AI is far from impartial. It assumes that synthetics are always the more evolved form of life. Sounds like I should trust him with the fate of all things.

C: The result is conflict, destruction, chaos. It is inevitable.

C: Reapers harvest all life—organic and synthetic—preserving them before they are forever lost to this conflict.

At least now we know what will happen to the geth, though I seem to recall that at some point there was a statement that the Reapers would just destroy the geth, not harvest them.

S: We’re at war with the Reapers right now!

C: You may be in conflict with the Reapers, but they are not interested in war.

S: I find that hard to believe.

C: When fire burns, is it at war? Is it in conflict? Or is it simply doing what is what created to do?

C: We are no different.

C: We harvest your bodies, your knowledge, your creations. We preserve it to be reborn in the form of a new Reaper.

C: Like a cleansing fire, we restore balance.

C: New life, both organic and synthetic, can once again flourish.

So… you are going to take peace-loving civilizations, process them, turn them into paste, then put them into a really big synthetic body—ALL OF THIS AGAINST THEIR WILL—and make them kill others without any free will of their own until the end of time? Sounds like a fun time; bet you’re a hit at parties.

S: What do you know about the Crucible?

C: The device you refer to as the Crucible is little more than a power source.

C: However, in combination with the Citadel and the relays, it is capable of releasing tremendous amounts of energy throughout the galaxy.

C: It is crude, but effective and adaptive in its design.

S: Who designed it?

C: You would not know them, and there is not enough time to explain.

Translation: I need to hurry this conversation up before you have time to think about what I have been saying.

C: We first noted the concept for this device several cycles ago.

C: With each passing cycle, the design has no doubt evolved.

S: Why didn’t you stop it?

C: We believed the concept had been eradicated.

C: Clearly, organics are more resourceful than we realized.

Translation: UH OH we didn’t think you would get this far.

The last part about the Crucible isn’t nearly as interesting as it’s largely just “hey, this is the MacGuffin, just roll with it,” which I don’t have much of a problem with.

Unfortunately BioWare took the Child/Catalyst that made no sense and dropkicked you into the decision and turned him into Exposition Kid who does nothing but give you more reasons not to trust him! Before, it was just “I know all this and here’s what we’re about, it’s cool, just go along with the plan” and now it’s more “my creators were a bunch of idiots and I do nothing but follow my own twisted and self-righteous ideals, but, hey, it’s OK, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” (Read my previous post for more on why the Catalyst never made any sense in the first place.)

Narratively, if you think you can trust even a word the Catalyst says in the whole conversation, I would argue that you have a moral obligation to choose Destroy—even more than the last time. (Again, this is borne out IMO by the breath intake after the ending and also by the fact that it squares best with Indoctrination Theory.)

Unless you’re pure Renegade, in which case you should pick control and become Alpha Reaper, crushing all resistance beneath your iron… fist. Leg. Thing.

Alexa Ray Corriea for Polygon:

Tecmo Koei announced preorder incentives and a Collector’s Edition for Dead or Alive 5 today, both to include bunny-style swimsuit skins for the game’s female fighters.

Players who preorder DOA5 from Gamestop will receive the DOA Angels pack, a set of white swimsuits for characters Kasumi, Leifang, and Hitomi. Preordering from Amazon will net buyers the DOA Devils pack, featuring black suits for Christie, Tina, and Ayane.

I’m not sure whether to be impressed or mortified by the sheer moxie required to do this in the post-E3 gaming environment.

Real progress.

This was the game of the day for me yesterday. The premise is sound and the gameplay looks to be amazing (though it remains to be seen how scripted it will be).

And some early gameplay:

I find it interesting that there’s a bunch of games that intend to play on our fears of digital control and data collection.

Harry Monogenis for Destructoid:

Beatshapers and Tribute Games have announced that Wizorb will be made into a PlayStation Minis title and launch on the PSP, PS3 and PlayStation Vita sometime “in June” with a $3.99 price tag.

The Vita version is sold. I tried this game out as an Xbox Live Indie, but couldn’t bring myself to purchase it (a common trait to all XBIG games for me).

It’s a great fit for a handheld.

Rockstar Blog:

For everyone picking up the game and swinging into Max Payne 3 Multiplayer this week, we’ve got a FREE bonus downloadable Pack available to everyone on PSN and Xbox LIVE (also coming on launch day for the PC version as well) to kick off Multiplayer and help you go ape on the competition – the Gorilla Warfare Pack.

The Gorilla Warfare Pack includes three items that can be added to customize your Multiplayer Loadout in Max Payne 3 — the Gorilla Mask Item gives you extra adrenaline for melee kills from behind, the Lucky Coin Item gives you extra cash when looting bodies, and the Booby Trap item makes your corpse booby trapped so that it explodes when looted by another player.

I totally blogged this just so I could post that screenshot.

I haven’t yet dipped into the multiplayer in Max Payne 3. I ripped through the first four chapters of the story last night and so far I am impressed.

The Halo Bulletin:

“If all those things come with the Limited Edition, what are they going to put in the Legendary Edition?” Here is the answer to that question: There will be two options available at retail for Halo 4 – the regular version of the game and the aforementioned Limited Edition. We decided to focus our efforts on a single special edition instead of numerous ones so you wouldn’t have to pick and choose between what ancillary items you want. Now your primary choice is whether or not you just want the game, or the game along with all the goodies. And we’re hoping we made that decision an easy one for you…

Yup. Sold.

And the list of things you get (including, it appears, all map DLC for the game in the future) is perhaps the best Limited Edition I’ve seen for a game in a while.

I’m all for a good game. I’m all for a good discussion. I’m all for good discussions about games, as I’m sure you know by now.

You may or may not have heard, but a little game called Mass Effect 3 came out a couple of weeks ago. It has an ending that has proven to be quite the topic of conversation. I should know this because I posted a few thousand words on that ending myself.

But the conversation surrounding it has just become ridiculous and it’s getting harder to discover the signal amidst the noise. It’s become a conversation of extremes. And I think that calmer and saner discussion regarding the merits of such an impactful and significant series is being overshadowed by sniping and overreaction.

To Forum Posters, Bloggers, and Petition Signers:

Please stop with all this nonsense about asking (in your words, “demanding”) a new ending to the game, either though a change or a tack-on DLC. What you have is—for better or worse—the experience that Bioware crafted over a very long time and with years of hard work. It’s how they chose to end things. Like it or don’t, say that it was a good ending or don’t, but don’t get all crazy and start expecting that a developer is going to make a huge change just because you got angry.

What you are doing is limiting Bioware’s options for the future of the franchise, not creating more of them.

(Aside: whoever decided to turn everyone’s internet-rage into a force for good by raising money for Child’s Play, good for you. Well done.)

Stop accusing reviewers and the enthusiast press of being bribed or otherwise coerced into defending Bioware’s decision or giving the game a good review. These people are professionals (most of them, anyway) and they played the same game you did. Maybe they came to different conclusions. Maybe they are defending Bioware’s right to having ultimate authority over the creative process of the game. It’s ludicrous to think that they are just a loyal dog being walked by EA PR.

If you don’t like what’s being written about the game, write about it yourself. A good blogging service is free. Words are free. Sit down and write about it in an intelligent fashion. Encourage discussion without being a jackass.

To the Enthusiast Press/Game Journalists:

Please stop sniping at people who are getting upset about the ending and say something about it. Your intense defense of the situation is only perpetuating the poor discussion and contributing to the zeal of those who are trying to demand an ending. Write about the situation without descending into telling people that they are being dumb for speaking their minds. Rise above the trolling.

Did you like the ending and think that it has merit? Write about that. Write about your reaction to the ending and why you think it was fitting as closure for a series that’s been around for nearly an entire console generation. Do it without assuming that people who are railing about the ending and requesting a new one are idiots.

Do you think this is a question of creative license and about how a developer or studio should not be afraid of fan reaction when crafting the end to the story that they created? Write about that.

There are deeper and more interesting stories at play here. Find them.

Other Thoughts

I should probably sit down and write my thoughts on Mass Effect 3 at some point as I view it as one of the high points of the console generation and think it’s a great game despite my misgivings about the ending and how it was handled. I have sympathy both for people who found the ending ultimately unsatisfying and the people who invested large amounts of time and sweat into creating such an experience.

But such a thing deserves better discussion than what is currently dominant.

For my entire playthrough of Mass Effect 3, I witnessed something that was crafted with a great deal of love by people who knew that the series had engendered a great deal of love from its fans.

I’m interested in seeing where they go from here, and you should be, too.