Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BioWare, Endings, Creative Control, and a Rant

Okay, I know recently BioWare has been getting a lot of criticism about Mass Effect 3, the cookie-cutter ending and everything else. Hell, my last review was on Mass Effect 3 and where I felt BioWare went wrong in general. I know there's also a lot of hate for the Dragon Age games, especially the second, and honestly... I have no idea where all this hate is coming from.

Look, BioWare screwed up once or twice. They're trying to make their games for a wider audience. They're trying to do this and that and find their way. Now, although I like a good RPG every once in a while, the Baldur's Gate fans are a little on the insane side in my opinion. I played the first Baldur's Gate and tried the second, and I just have to say that those games have not aged well at all. So, yeah... maybe the story was awesome and moving and whatever, but you need more than just a story and some characters for a good game. And this is me saying this, the king of loving a game for story and characters.

What I think is going on are two things. The first is unrealistic expectations and the second is BioWare's changing demographic. Let me explain myself here and hopefully not appear like I'm talking down to anybody. Let's look at Skyrim for a moment. Not a BioWare game, but a single-player RPG experience. It sold incredibly well, shattered expectations, and showed the world that single-player RPGs could still not only sell well to a Western audience, but could sell REALLY well. Part of the problem for BioWare is that although the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series sell all right, they don't sell Skyrim numbers. This is for many reasons, but they're trying to change that. They want to change that. The problem is that they go for the wrong audience, alienating their old fans in the process.

Now, would I consider myself a BioWare fan? I don't know. I like most of their games, sure, and I've gotten pretty heavily invested in both of their big series, but I've seen some of the lesser things they have put out as well, Mass Effect 3 being one of those lesser products. It's a trend that I don't like, BioWare turning away from what made some of their games great in the first place, but that does not preclude their newer games from being fantastic.

BioWare has a history of really listening to their fans, including characters and gameplay scenarios to appeal to their fanbase. Come on you Garrus and Tali fans, stand up. I think sometimes they overreact or react the wrong way to criticism, for instance completely getting rid of planet exploration after Mass Effect and by Mass Effect 3 having almost no exploration at all. Yeah, that kind of sucked. But they listened about characters and about romances and about everything else.

As a man with a lot of things to do, I still love my video games, but I can't allow myself to become as heavily invested in a lot of these decisions as some people are. I don't really post on the BioWare Social Network forums unless I have a major bug in one of their games, and in general I kind of avoid that scene. Way too many emotions running high and a little too anonymous for my taste. I don't like hiding behind some crazy screen name airing my problems passionately but without any real face behind that passion. That's why I write here where people can easily find me and easily message me if that is so desired. I love feedback, and I'm sure BioWare does as well, but ranting and raving in their faces constantly just pushes everybody down into the fray.

Do I agree with most of BioWare's decisions? Yes, mostly I don't have a problem with them. Most of their games are pretty solid, especially their most recent games besides Mass Effect 3, and I'd happily buy another game from them because they're good people and make great games.

I had the chance to meet some of the developers of the Dragon Age series and spoke to them when I went to the New York Comic Convention. It was incredibly exciting and worth so much to be able to tell them how much I appreciated their products and the work they have put into an incredible series of games. I think so many creators love the feedback, whether good or bad. I know I do. I love being told by someone where I've done a great job and where I need to improve, and I take those discussions incredibly seriously, as I'm sure BioWare also does.

With the Retake Mass Effect 3 movement, I have very mixed feelings about it. While I wasn't happy about the endings to Mass Effect 3 or... uh... the game in general, I kind of had a feeling from the beginning that i would have an issue. Something about that first Earth mission was a forewarning that I should just simply not play this game. But I did. I did and I didn't like it. Did I hate it? No, but it wasn't as good as the other games in the series. That being said, it was pretty solid and although lazy in some portions, I found the game overall very engaging. The ending was rushed very obviously and was disappointing, and I really was very passionate about it in my review, but sitting on those feelings for a week or whatever it is, I have a few comments to make.

The first is that an ending DLC is a terrible idea. It's not that I don't agree with the Retake guys or that I agree with them even. It's more like I don't think it will help. I got the ending I got. Paying for DLC or receiving it for free will not wash the taste of disappointment out of my mouth. I just think it's not worth it. It's not worth the fight and it's not worth the precedence that would be set for a DLC ending to a AAA game. I don't think I could agree with that. It just doesn't feel right to me. The ending will always be there whether the cover it up or not, and I just think people should move on. BioWare messed up. They know it by now. But making them change the ending is not going to help anybody. It would basically be fanfiction at that point and that seems incredibly shallow to me.

The second thing is that I really don't like the indoctrination theory. I like the theory that BioWare was rushed and created something nonsensical because they simply didn't have enough time for an epilogue. That makes a hell of a lot more sense to me.

The third thing is that I feel very mixed. I like BioWare and their games, even if I was disappointed in their latest effort. I wish they had more time sometimes and a lot more room to breathe, but with everybody always breathing down their throats, you have to think that they're in a lions' den of trouble. I won't say I'll never be a paying customer again, because that's silly and a little ridiculous. People get way too worked up about this stuff. I should never be the one to say that people need to calm down about stories. I go and rant about stories all the time on this blog and to my friends and girlfriend and everything else. Hell, my girlfriend more often than not sighs in pain every time I start complaining about Harry Potter or Homestuck, but that's because I take those stories seriously... but even I don't dedicate my time and effort to getting the stories changed. They are what they are. Creators can easily be wrong. Hell, I'm probably wrong in some of the stuff I write too. Nobody can be perfect and oversights in story are easy when they're reinforced by people who think similarly.

That being said there is a ton of passion from the fanbase of BioWare and it must be both humbling and enlightening to BioWare to see the outpouring of people talking about this game. Hell, the complaints are certainly valid as are the praises. Criticism can work both ways and, in general, works best when spoken together rather than apart. Can I pick apart ME3 and hate on it? Sure, and I kind of did, but forgetting the good things in the game would be a disservice to the creators as well.

In general I think that BioWare just has a problem writing endings. They're not easy to write either. I mean, this is the last story of an epic tale. Not everybody in the fanbase would have been pleased regardless of the ending given. The ending just happened to be extra poorly done.

I just don't understand the hate coming out. I was passionate about the game, but I never actively hated BioWare. I was invested in the characters and the story... and then it ended. I've moved on to other games, other stories, and my own life, however bland in comparison it might be.

I guess the question I have to ask myself is am I willing to bring down the sky on BioWare and never receive a potentially awesome game again? No, I'm simply not. BioWare was never my favorite developer, but they're pretty high up there. I think they do an excellent job most of the time, and as much as a rag on DA: Origins: Awakening, I really liked that expansion despite the flaws. In general BioWare's story works, and they do listen to their fanbase, despite maybe not being able to tell the fanbase exactly what they want to hear.

I don't know. I feel like way too many people have become way too sensitive. I think I had become way too sensitive. From all I heard I expected a gem, and instead I got a normal game. Was it bad? No. Was it fantastically great KotOR II style? No. It was pretty good all around. It cut out some of the elements that made the series great, but became better in other ways. So... I don't know.

I guess I wanted to put my opinions out there. I don't think a developer should be hated for trying for mass market appeal or for screwing up their own story. What I do think they should be called out for is laziness, focusing way too much on changing a game series that was already very good, and the multiplayer being more focused on than the single-player game in a single-player series. I can't really forgive that part quite yet. I'm still kind of annoyed about that actually. And no, I'll never play multiplayer and I won't play ME3 again until the multiplayer has no real affect on the single-player game besides making it harder to get the best ending or whatever... not impossible like it is now.

All of this said, it is BioWare's game, and their decision to release an ending DLC is one that walks down a very scary path. I think the push might be a noble push, but it just doesn't sit right with me. The ending certainly sucked, but changing it will not simply change the fact that it sucked originally. It could have been an amazing game, the best game ever, but it wasn't... and I know that's hard to accept, but it's certainly the truth right now. And no amount of whining or hating or even being civil and respectful and awesome about criticism will change what was originally there and what it meant to both the fanbase and the developers.

Maybe I'm trying to be a little profound. Maybe I'm just airing out the things that bother me. I'm not essentially against new endings, I just don't think they'd have any impact on my experience. I had issues with the whole game. Changing the ending would not help me enjoy the game more than I did. Hell, it would probably just make me annoyed in all honesty.

As for other BioWare items: Dragon Age II's DLC and expansion are done for. No more will be made. I find that really quite saddening even if it does make sense. I do wish that BioWare's fanbase would calm down a bit and realize that BioWare is not perfect and that they shouldn't expect perfect games. Nobody makes perfect games. Hell, even companies who do make a perfect game often do not follow it up with other perfect games. I LOVE KotOR II, and I like a lot of Obsidian's other games, but none of the others are as perfect as I think KotOR II is. I love Valve, but I can't stand the Left 4 Dead series. And Half-Life has aged very poorly over the years. And they've made some games that are basically perfect besides with Half-Life 2 and the Portal series.

My point is that many fans of BioWare have unrealistic expectations. They expect perfection... hell, maybe even I expect perfection at this point, and when it isn't delivered they get upset. I'm not saying it isn't justified and no, I'm not talking about entitlement because that's dumb, but I guess what I am saying is that sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the games objectively. The Mass Effect series was never perfect. There were A LOT of missteps throughout. The critics of these games are wrong for giving them close to perfect scores... wrong for giving them perfect scores too. There are issues and problems and people shouldn't have been surprised to see issues and problems in ME3, but they were.

They were... and now people are upset and voicing their ideas... and it's great to see so much brainstorming and so many people coming together, but why hate on the developers who have given so much to your potential enjoyment? Yes, we all paid the money for the game. Yes, we all felt like we deserved better. I felt like I deserved better... but people screw up. Even if they can't say it, I'm sure they realized how badly they screwed up and how badly their game went over. I'm sure they're itching to defend themselves. Itching to show everybody that they did make a solid game... that they did have enough time... that they are listening and taking notes and wishing they could go back and change things or not. I've created stories myself. I understand criticisms and I understand how hard it can be to take... but I also understand how hard it is to listen to when the person criticizing is right and you, the creator, are wrong.

But BioWare is also trying to sell more units. They wanted to make a game that could appeal to anybody, new people to the series, or old returning players. They wanted to create a story and a world that would be easily accessible and not shut out the new people to come... and I understand it. I still don't like the multiplayer, but I understand why it's there. I understand why Ashley got a makeover. I understand why Vega exists. I understand why IGN's Jessica Chobit had a character in the game, why homosexual romances are included, why "boring bits" were cut out in favor of action, why the ending felt so rough, why in the end the entire game mostly felt so... safe... so full of little nothings. I understand these things. I don't begrudge BioWare about them as much as I did or as much as I certainly could.

I just wish that their next game makes me happy. I just wish that they learn from their mistakes. And I hope they understand that I'll be buying their games because I mostly do enjoy them... even if they've taken a misstep from time to time... like we all have. It's not hard to do... and yes, it was the end of the series, the end of an era, the end of these characters... but it was a ride nonetheless, maybe not the best ride, maybe the kind of ride that made you a little ill even, but a ride nonetheless, one that accomplished something positive even with all the problems.

Maybe what it accomplished was simply bringing the fans together... or creating controversy... or realizing that they can't rush other games... or realizing that they have to take a different approach from now on. But they've certainly learned something... and so have we all.

Anyway, I wish you all the luck in the world, BioWare and the fanbase. Get things patched up... and I'll be waiting for the next game regardless.

Also, I told you dudes that critics are always wrong. Don't listen to them. But I'll be talking about that soon enough once I review Silent Hill: Downpour...

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