And They All Lived Happily Ever After

I come from a sci-fi family and as a kid my participation in this was a love of Star Trek. However for those who don’t know you can’t just be a fan of Star Trek, you have to indicate which series you like. I enjoy the original but it’s really just cowboys in space, what’s not to like? The series I possibly enjoyed most was Deep Space Nine, mainly for the reason that it darkened and gave depth to a universe which I felt was overly simplified in the highly popular Next Generation. I felt that there was a strong ethical, politically correct tone present which stifled the potential of the universe and Deep Space Nine moved away from that. The Federation were not the moral compass of the past; with genocide, torture and spying all examined. Characters were deeper and worked off more complex motives, the location enabling better development than before and these are the things I look for in any drama. This probably means I’m not really a Trekkie, but it does mean I am a Mass Effect fan.

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For me Mass Effect is everything I loved about Deep Space 9. Politics is at the forefront with the main thrust being the interplay between the different species both in the galaxy and in your own crew. Humans are not the be all and end all, finding themselves loathed by other species and marginalised to an extent. Your character can be a complete cad should you choose the anti-hero route or a paragon of virtue, but even the paragon will have blood on their hands come the end. It’s a gritty universe, with sex, drugs and murder the names of the day and only hard men and tough women can survive. I spent tens of hours exploring this fascinating place, learning how it worked and what my place in it was. I paid little thought to what I did, I shot first and asked questions later and that was fantastic. Now though as Mass Effect 2 looms on the horizon I am suddenly struck with worry. You see I act like that in gaming as a release because it’s great being a bit of a cock and then turning the console off but Mass Effect 2 will change that

Your save from Mass Effect will be ported over to the sequel, which isn’t unusual these days in an RPG. The difference is that within that save several key decisions you made will be ported with it. The comrade I killed will stay dead, my decision to obliterate the final hope for a species will be remembered and my sexual partner will certainly remember her night of passion with yours truly. Now gaming have tried this before and the permanent issue is that gaming doesn’t do consequences well. There is often an illusion of freedom of choice, at the end of the day you are still a good guy and you still win… maybe with a different cut scene at the end. However Bioware have confirmed that a possible ending for Mass Effect 2 is your death, a move away from the traditional gaming fear of portraying tragedy. This means all bets are off, I cannot sit and do whatever I want in the game because I have no idea what Bioware have planned for the reckless character. I’ve grown a bond to both my character and my crew, I don’t want my actions to harm them so suddenly I have to pause and think. Mass Effect saw an impulsive Shepherd blast his way through the universe, I doubt it’ll be the case in Mass Effect 2.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation I didn’t like for just this reason. There were no consequences for their actions. They swept in, dealt with the alien of the week then left. Deep Space 9 though was set on a space station and the people they dealt with weren’t simply on their road but were their neighbours, decisions made one week had an effect on the next week and it gave it depth. Gaming needs to follow the lead of Mass Effect and attempt to replicate this, giving true consequences for your actions. Gaming as a writing form has undoubted potential but the industry has to move away from boys’ fantasy style of writing which we’ve fallen into which stops true consequences being portrayed. Plots vary slightly but at the end of the day the strong hero saves the day in some shape or form regardless of what they do; that’s not realistic. In an RPG if I choose one route over another it shouldn’t be a case of two different gaming experiences but perhaps one ending in the death of a comrade. How about a World War 2 game where one story strand ends in your death? Metal Gear Solid 4’s much heralded suicide ending was ditched in favour of a much weaker ending for just this reason, they couldn’t end the series with the death of Snake… why? A game can still be fun if it ends in defeat, or tragedy or it makes you regretful. Games writing is addicted to the heroic ending and as long as gamers are conditioned to believe that all games end well, we’ll never see a day in gaming when we stop to consider what we’re doing.

With Mass Effect 2 though there is hope that somewhere in the industry there are writers and developers who see this problem and know what to do to fix it. Come 2010 I will be back on the Normandy flying through the universe, perhaps being a bit more cautious than I once was… but I won’t be having less fun.


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3 responses to “And They All Lived Happily Ever After”

  1. Ramsden avatar
    Ramsden

    Very enjoyable blog, John. But then, I think you probably could have guessed I’d like it. Star Trek and Mass Effect, two of my favourite things.

  2. MrCuddleswick avatar
    MrCuddleswick

    Yep, really nice.

    I suppose a key restriction to adding deeper consequences to player decisions is that you have to write, build and test everything several times – one for each possible path through the story.

  3. MrCuddleswick avatar
    MrCuddleswick

    Fallout 3 did this well though, didn’t it? It felt like there were a range of far-reaching consequences in that game.

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