[As always, Josh Sibley’s opinions do not reflect those of the JKP! group at large or, indeed, most reasonable people. Gird your loins.]
The podcast this week recorded yesterday, and thus we didn’t get to talk about the new endings for Mass Effect 3 that were released the morning I’m writing this. I’m sure we’ll discuss them somewhat next week, but we kind of don’t really need to. Since I never really got to have my own standalone article on the subject, I decided to do one for these new endings. You know, a short one.
See Bioware, was that so hard?
I was pretty vocal about hating the original endings we got. They were disjointed, vague, and tonally 180 degrees from the entire rest of the game. It was, in my opinion, an unholy fusion of laziness and a writer who wanted to show off how he could do a triple backflip when in reality he could barely hoist himself off his Rascal Scooter (metaphorically speaking). They were a bunch of scenes that were easily put to dramatic, plinking piano music, but ones that didn’t flow and had little explanation as to their context. The end result was unintentionally bleak, about as deep as a bottle cap, did almost nothing to close the story that you had actually been playing up to that point, and soured a whole lot of people on the series.
But these new endings? A one hundred percent improvement. I went from basically writing off Bioware and the Mass Effect franchise, to… well, I’m still not in love with Bioware, but in excited to see what they do in the future (and that’s a glowing endorsement considering how they went from crafting the best Star Wars story ever told to turning that story into an unnecessary WoW clone). As for the Mass Effect franchise, It’s now a complete trilogy, an epic story that has a beginning, middle and end. More importantly, it’s a series with an end that closes without being overwrought or overlong. I didn’t need to see how many grandchildren Tali had. I don’t need to see that dog grooming shop Zaeed opened. I don’t need to see Grunt’s commemorative plate collection, and I don’t need to see Garrus’s turgid spiral into Farmville addiction.
Clarity is what was needed. More narrative links from A to B. Minor questions that are apparently beneath a video-game author writing an ending to an epic. “Don’t you people understand that I have children, both space and regular, to shoehorn in here somewhere?” Now, it’s not just telling us that we sacrificed and going “Take our word for it, it was for the best, look at how happy Buzz Aldrin is in this blue field”, but showing us the fruits of our labor, what we’ve turned the galaxy into. The new endings took away every last vestige of “it’s intentionally mysterious, because what do YOU think happened?”, and that’s incredibly wonderful because 99% of the time any writer that attempts that he’s being an awful hack. Hell, it only took a couple of lines of dialog to turn Spacechild from “Deus Ex Machina written by someone who watches too much anime” to something that’s actually explained in a way that fits in the Mass Effect universe (although it still doesn’t explain why he looks like the child that Shepard keeps dreaming about, but at this point, it’s not important).
There’s two very important things about all of this: One, lots of people who were utterly put off are now pleased, and all of the people who were originally pleased are pleased more. That’s no small thing. Now, there’s still a lot of people that are upset, but that was inevitable. This is the internet, and not once ever until the heat death of the universe will they as one go “yay!” In my humble opinion though, all the people who ever had a chance in hell of being pleased by this probably are.
The second thing about this is that all the people who said “You should just be satisfied, don’t complain” have now been proven, for better or worse, wrongity wrong wrongerton. They are the Wrong mayors of Wrongtown. They are the Wrongington city council. They are the crew of the Wrongship Wrongerprise. You get the idea. If everyone had just shut up, we would have gotten stuck with a poorly told, poorly pieced together, vague swamp of a middle school creative writing ending, forever. Regardless of what the non-whiners said, it would have gone down in history as one of the biggest disappointments ever. Even so, in my personal experience, I really didn’t see all that many people saying that the ending was great, or that they loved it. It was always “all right”, or “it did its job” or “it is what it is”. Now, we have an ending we can be proud of, an ending that people actually put effort into, an ending that’s just better than “all right”. All it took was for the fans to go “Nope, ya fucked up. Try again.” and for Bioware to go “Okay, you got us. How about this?”, and it worked.
You may gripe about the precedent this says for the unwashed masses having too much creative control over an artist’s work. You may be worried that people have now learned that complaining actually gets them something. Unfortunately, you can’t argue with the results: It just made Mass Effect 3 the game it was supposed to have been in the first place.