Thursday, October 18, 2012

Don't be that Guy: Ray Muzyka Retreats

So I shared a freezer-burned post with you just a few days ago that acerbically responded to a blog post of BioWare's General Manager, Ray Muzyka. Well, now, it turns out that Ray is leaving the Mass Effect franchise, his company, and the entire frakkin' gaming industry behind. He's going into charity social entrepreneurship, whatever that means. Well, I'll tell you what that means, he's beating a hasty retreat in response to the tide of nerd-hate falling down around his ears. There's no other explanation for it. If you had just taken your own company's flagship product and dropped a lazy dump on its very existence and internal consistency, and then lied through your teeth to fans about being directly responsible and cognizant about its unpopularity, wouldn't you run with your tail between your legs?

Now, this will always be speculation, because as long as Mass Effect is a vibrant franchise, it's exceptionally unlikely anyone will confirm a correlation between Mass Effect 3's lousy resolution and Muzyka leaving, probably saying that Ray had been planning this for sometime, that he's wanting to branch out, help the poor social networking sites...blah blah blah. Mass Effect 3 was a huge financial success, he'd had the most direct creative influence over it, and it was clearly supposed to pave the way for even more in-universe games to branch out--probably to other genres and platforms. Who walks away in the middle of all that, except for someone who's either ashamed or being asked by EA to resign in order to ameliorate relations with Mass Effect fans.

I wish I could take some responsibility for this turn of events. If I'd been a good blogger and posted my previous article 5 months ago as intended, perhaps I could happily delude myself with the assurance that I had helped punish the man who dealt Commander Shepard the unkindest cut of all--a stupid ending. Instead, I'm happy with the fact that I'm convinced that the disgruntled collective of Mass Effect fans have responded with enough clamor that someone--either Ray himself or someone at EA--decided that he was no longer good for the franchise. In either case, I feel like this change can only be good for Dragon Age 3, which is in development and hopefully will be purged of any of Ray Muzyka's nutty ideas.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Letter to Dr. Ray Muzyka, from some Mass Effect 3 Players

In mid-March, Ray Muzyka, the co-founder and GM of BioWare, used his own blog to reply to some of the overwhelming fan dismay at the ending of Mass Effect 3. This post, which will be spoilerific (unlike my spoiler-free Mass Effect 3 review), is a response to Dr. Muzyka and the rest of the creative team responsible for Mass Effect 3 and any upcoming changes to the game.

No really, the spoilers shall flow.

First of all, Ray, that blog post sends irate fans like me a mixed message. I understand that you're obliged to save a certain amount of face with this sort of public appeal. You can't outright apologize for a product you're selling. I get that. A lot of fans get that. But opening and closing a letter meant to assuage wounded fans with attestations to the critical receipt of the product is self-defeating, incendiary, and vain.  It's like book-ending an apology to your girlfriend with "I was right, and you were wrong. And simple-minded." We know Mass effect 3 is a mechanically beautiful game. The combat is crisp and precise, but the combat isn't what drives the hardcore Mass Effect fan. We thrive on the story, and that's imperiled by a sloppy ending that flies in the face of narrative elegance, ethics, and logic.

To recap, Mass Effect 3's final moments begin with Shepard and two squadmates charging towards a supply beacon in war-torn London. The beacon will beam Shepard into the heart of the ancient structure called the Citadel, where he hopes to activate a mysterious super-weapon called the Crucible to defeat the Reapers once and for all. The Crucible is based on the compounded designs of previous ages' greatest species, each of whom added to the concept of this anti-Reaper weapon before being extinguished by the race of genocidal machines. Under Shepard's banner, an alliance of all races have assembled a massive fleet and pooled their resources to finish the designs and construct this weapon without knowing anything about its function other than it needs to link to the Citadel to work. And so Shepard charges that one final hill in a mad foot-chase to destroy the enemies of all organic life--of all life, really, since they seem to be poised to destroy or enslave the robotic geth as well.

"It's like book-ending an apology to your girlfriend with 'I was right, and you were wrong. And simple-minded.'"

Just short of the objective, Shepard is hit by a secondary blast from a Reaper weapon, leaving him a bloodied, shuffling mess as he plods into the beam--apparently the only survivor of his part of the assault wave. This is where things start to go sideways, plot-wise, but nothing too bad. He finds himself transported into the heart of the Citadel, where he meets up with former CO, mentor, and all-round old-school butt-kicker David Anderson (voiced by Keith David), who is being held at gunpoint by the Illusive Man (Martin Sheen), the Benedict Arnold of the future. Though a cybernetic and psychic puppet of the Reapers, the alleged big bad guy still tries to convince Shepard how his plan to control the Reapers is feasible and imminent, now that he has access to the Crucible. The conversation is well-played between the three characters, but we're stepping on some old ground here--this is pretty similar to talks with Saren in the first game in this trilogy. And, as with Saren, it even comes down to you either shooting the Illusive Man yourself or talking him into committing suicide to snub the Reapers' control. Talking a bad guy into offing himself is a pretty cool proposition, but it shouldn't be made stale by getting repeat performances.

Still, the ending is decent-but-depressing at this point. And quite railroaded, too. But it's only after Shepard and Anderson sit down to bleed to death together that the plot nose-dives into something off of an inebrious cocktail napkin. Shepard is upraised on a lift to another chamber and greeted by a ghostly, child-like apparition. The apparition gives Shepard very little chance to get a word in edge-wise, but he has a lot to say though it makes little sense. The boy/ghost-thingie is the Catalyst--the last part needed to activate the Crucible. He's also the creator and controller of the Reapers, whom he created millions of years prior as a mechanism to manage organic-synthetic conflict. Apparently, little boy Catalyst decided that the best way to prevent the violent cycle of organics making synthetics and then killing each other is to make the biggest, baddest synthetic race imaginable--the Reapers--and set them loose on the galaxy, periodically wiping out all organic life when it gets too advanced. How does that end the cycle of violence? Furthermore, he goes on to offer 'options' which revolve around the concept of synthesis--a third faction, completely separate and superior to the synthetic/organic divide. Which makes no sense. Also, all of his choices amount to personal suicide for you and social suicide for all civilization in the galaxy, since it involves the exhaustive destruction of the interstellar transit network called mass relays.

The dumb and the stupid just pile up on each other faster than red hatchbacks piling up in the middle of a Wisconsin death-fog in late winter. There's no punch-line, no recognition of how bad the plot has turned. Just a blind careening of blanket, unfeasible statements and wild philosophical tripe.

Now, the Mass Effect series has more than enough homages to indicate that at least a handful of you guys are Serenity fans. So let me spell things out for you. If we apply the same principles of storytelling used in Mass Effect 3 to the climax of Serenity, this might have been what dedicated browncoats would have gotten in theater years ago:

I mean, really look at the elements. They're all there--all pure Mass Effect 3 in both the beautiful, heart-rending, ball-grabbingly awesome setup and the teeth-kicking so-called payoff. And the inclusion of the Catalyst boy is just as jarring as taking the worst element from another sci-fi property and shoe-horning it into the most emotionally charged part of the story.

Now, I originally wrote this article at the end of March, but I'd held onto it because Bioware had promised to release an 'extended ending' DLC to address fans' concerns with the crap ending. So I waited to see what the DLC's ending was, whether it at least shone some light on the rationale of the twist or revealed a bit more clarity on behalf of the writers when it comes to the odious implications of their opus' closing note. It didn't.

As you can imagine, I have more I could say on this topic. But, in the interest of diluting the nerd-rage, I'll save that for later. Right now, I'm going to watch The Avengers or maybe console myself with a ninety-ninth viewing of Firefly.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Almost 6 months!? OMGWTFBBQ!!!

Alright, this is not even funny anymore.

Nothing since April, really?

That's just wrong on so many levels.

So as you well know, I haven't posted on the blog here in nigh-on six months. Flippin' ridiculous. I haven't even logged on to Blogger in like four months, so early this morning I found a couple of comments with three inches of dust on them, still patiently awaiting approval. That ain't right, folks, that ain't right. Let's run down a few of the essential nerd-rants you've missed out on over the past 180 days or so.

A follow up on the Fire and Ice Convention. Geez, pal, go for the balls why don't ya? This was one of those 'next week' promises that I made that is now officially closer to 'next year' than 'next week'. And what hurts most is that I loved the con and want to be a cheerleader for it in the future.

About 30+ Movie Web Monday installments. Alright, if we want to get technical, those had lapsed from being a weekly feature long before the Great Gap of 2012. And for that, I blame Morgan Freeman. Enough said, for now.

Reviews of Snow White and the Huntsman, Underwhelming Spider-Man, and the Dark Knight Rises Falls Rises Falls, nope definitely Rises. I have a bit to say about these films. I saw them all on either the midnight showing or within the first weekend, and I can just kick myself for missing the opportunity to scam a few hits by dropping the names of more blockbusters on my poor, neglected blog.

Myth holidays. Apparently, I'm not the only one with a little enthusiasm for Bungie's long-past impeccable entry into the fantasy genre. People like that stuff, and by golly I've passed on the opportunity to cover the summer Myth holidays and their early harvest ones as well.

Kickstarter promotions. I've been bitten by the Kickstarter bug. Then it burrowed its head beneath my skin and wormed a long proboscis into my marrow, suffusing my entire being with a constant need to keep abreast of cool projects being presented directly to us, the nerd public. I wanted to talk about a couple of different Kickstarter projects that really got me excited, maybe getting you revved for them too while generating some slim cross-traffic. Well, there will always be more, but the ones that have already gone through weigh heavily on my blog-conscience.

So that's the butcher's bill. Pretty dang infuriating, isn't it? Ok, well, let's put things in proper order. This is the apology post, where I lay out excuses for those past lapses of blog activity and make a case for why you should have faith that this will be the last 30+ day delay in updates. But I'm not going to do that, because I'm cool, proud, and totally original that way.

I could blame the fact that my job in an unspecified tech field involving 3D printing has been progressively more draining on my creativity reserves, but that's BS--my creativity burns with the fire of a thousand suns with Joanne Whalley hues of auburn red hair and pouty lips...hmmm Sorsha...where was I? Oh, right, I'm an unflappable nerd. Seriously, I'm so nerdy that I've used it as a personal virtue in my last two jobs' interview processes. And even though my unspecified contract position is ramping up into an actual, in-company ID salaried job, there's no way it can be blamed for the malaise that has nuked this blogroll for the past half-year.

I could blame it on the house--since, you know, living in even a modest home like ours is a cursed burden on the owner in terms of housework, yard work, and generally deleterious ability to walk away from a problem project for months at a time without looking at it. But that's a load: I've been using my computer everyday for non-bloggy activities in the interim.

I could blame it on family--both immediate and extended. I've taken a trip to Canada, attended four weddings in this posting gap, and my wife and son don't exactly sit me in front of the computer to type a new blog post when I come home from work, now do they? But I'm not blaming them, because all of that stuff was awesome, fun, or eminently necessary. Or, in the case of my first visit to the socialist north, at least novelly eye-opening and a fun opportunity to share my unimpeachable Gollum impression with distantly related in-laws.

Or, if we wanted to look at really negative impulses from the past year, we could blame it on Mass Effect 3. I've been sitting on a 90% completed article about how much Bioware narratively junk-punched its fan-base over 6 months ago now. At first I was waiting for a token update after Bioware's release of the 'extended ending' of the game, which then turned out to be a much more dastardly and nuanced betrayal of the fans with a big obvious middle finger to critical gamers as the jerk-off cherry on top of one of the most half-assed game moments in industry history. But I won't blame them, because being pissed off can, in fact, be a great motivator for writing. As you will see in the future.

But I will level the blame somewhere this time. Really. I blame it on The Avengers. Because, as the polar opposite of Mass Effect 3, The Avengers was a pristine, polished, thoroughly researched and realized culmination of a fantastic series of movies. Sublime, in every glistening nerd-drooling moment. And I blame my long absence from blogging on it for being far and away the best movie in the genre and truly a great movie by any standard. So why blame it? Because The Avengers, hot on the heels on the loin-girding disappointment of Mass Effect 3, was the irresistible nerd-enthusiasm hitting my immovable nerd-rage. And it resulted in a full stop of my ability to rant (usually the outpouring of nerd-rage) or rave (the precipitant of nerd-enthusiasm) on my usual blog topics.

So then, what tipped the scale back towards writing on this blog? Guilt, of course. Guilt, which--like a social diarrhea--is the truest human motivator, that which separates us from the animals. Just last night I was at wedding number four of the year and speaking with family. Because my son was off running around and couldn't be my social shield at the time. Now, I'd just told my wife and my father (who feels it is his mission to serve as a human shot-clock for my blog updates) that I worried that people were still discovering my blog during my absence--that I was failing to hook new readers with fresh content while I dallied in the quandary of opposing forces of nerd motivators. Not ten minutes later, one of my aunts and a cousin began talking to me about my blog, and I felt the urge to purge myself of that guilt.

"...what tipped the scale back towards writing on this blog? Guilt, of course."

So here you have it: a fresh, toasty blog post, leavened with a triple-helping of guilt and left to warm itself on a slab of overly wordy dissertation. In pledge of new and exciting content, here's an overview of things I've done over the past six months that will be appearing in future posts.

Crying way too many nerd-tears and gnashing teeth in nerd-rage over Mass Effect 3. Over the past half-year, I've learned that I can't complain enough about Mass Effect 3's wretched plot turn. In addition to having a nearly prepared post on my first thoughts on the topic, I've been plotting a more thorough deconstruction that involves a complete critical rubric of the abject denouement to the sci-fi epic.

Watching a butt-load of Avengers. First I had three in-theater viewings of the movie over the course of its blockbuster release. Then I've also watched it about eight times on blu-ray since it has come out, including several partial viewings at work while pulling late night hours. And now my boy has gotten addicted to the cartoon version of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, to the point that when he woke up this morning he ran over to the Xbox, turned it on, and started chanting "I'n Man! I'n Man!" I'll definitely be posting a proper odor-beef-gravy-cheese review of The Avengers.

Playing in a frakkin' Tesla pod, tools! During an out-of-state wedding for one of my wife's cousins, I got to make an epic update on my bucket list by gaming in a Mechwarrior Tesla Pod. That's huge nerd points added to my lifetime total, and ended up being a sweet chance to share the moment with eight or nine family members, too.

Being immensely proud of my son for leaping years ahead in his development of advanced warfare skills. This is another one that is going to get a full breakdown later on, so look forward to an awestruck daddy post in the near future. But the skinny is that my son established a counter-intelligence routine to setup an ambush from an entrenched position and overcome superior opposition through guerrilla tactics, shock and awe, and biological warfare. Daddy so proud.

Actually shooting zombies. That's actually shooting, as in using live-fire weapons, not shooting actual zombies, which, you know, is impossible outside of the Chinese rural countryside. Just last weekend I knocked off another item from my bucket list by schlepping out to a shooting range in central Illinois and firing some real-life guns. Not too nerdy, you say? Well what if I told you it was a zombie-themed event in which I ran four courses firing at zombie-styled targets to help prepare me for holding off hordes of the undead? Yes, that's what I thought. Some cool video of one of the courses below:

Planning on throwing a slammin' Outbreak Party. With our first house bought and moved into, Missus Nerdery and I are planning a zombie-themed costume party at the end of this month. It's going to be an awesome time, and I'll probably post an article about some of the ideas, games, and prep before the party as well as some after-party coverage, as well.

Well, that's it for now. I'd like to get another post up and scheduled for sometime over the next couple of days, so please watch. Oh, and don't be shy about commenting. Getting comment notifications congratulating me on my wit and awesome is a great way to leverage both pride and guilt to keep me blogging faithfully. Filmatleven.

At least I didn't give any excuses, right?