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Bioshock Infinite: Creative Contest Entry

Kalam teetered over the edge of the world, ignoring the vertigo-inducing distance between him and the green smudge of a nation below. He inched his way over the sky-line, on bare feet, lips curled into a grimace. The sun-warmed bronze was slowly roasting his soles. He stopped, perfectly balanced, and checked his pocket-watch. Ten minutes to the rally, when the Vox Populi would storm the First Lady's Aerodrome. A Columbia Freight carriage trundled by on another sky-line. Kalam used it to triangulate his position and realized he still had a long way to go. He carefully placed one foot in front of the other and moved on, step by step, alone under the glare of the sun.

With eight minutes to go, he heard the Vox Populi on the wind. The voices of the people were indistinguishable from each other; all he could hear was a shrill yelling cacophony. He didn't have to imagine what was going on, having had been a part of it so many times. Flyers had been passed around before, and the people were probably already filing into a warehouse that would serve as the rendezvous. There would be mothers, fathers, children, the sort of people who had no idea what was about to ensue, and who would be dogged by unease throughout the early stages of the proceedings. When the rabble-rousers came - all men with big words - the crowd would find signs to brandish and crates of liquor to pass around. Of course, there would also be weapons, vigors and nostrums. Those would remain hidden until the riot broke out into the streets of Columbia.

Word was that Comstock had gotten wind of the plan, which was why Kalam was perched on a sky-line, only God knew how high. Comstock may have known about the riot, he might have the zeppelin ready to bring into the fray, but he couldn't possibly prepare for an acrobat insane enough to attack a zeppelin from above. With five minutes to go, Kalam was right over the spot through which the zeppelin would pass would have to pass, if his information was dependable. The voices were getting louder, coming from different places now. He knew they were in the streets from the way the shouting spread to multiple locations and found new voices to add to itself. He could see columns of black smoke rising from vandal fires above the city. The sounds of shattering windowpanes conflated with all the noise.

A tremulous whine began on the other side of Columbia, increasing in pitch and fury until the only thing Kalam could hear was the wailing of the siren.

Kalams body tightened like a spring. His eyes were fixed on the space beneath him, but his ears strained desperately to listen through the ear-piercing wail. He heard a stereo-magnified voice booming through the city. He couldn't make out the words, the siren jumbled them all into each other, but it sounded like Comstock. Kalam felt slightly sick. Then, distant popping gunfire. Three minutes too early. An angry crowd. Or Comstock with a pre-emptive attack. The smoke columns had thickened; something big was burning. Where was the zeppelin?

More sirens added their screams to the clamor, but then, all noise was drowned by a great buzzing sound, like that of a monstrous bee. A dark shape appeared, slowly rising as it dumped its ballast tanks. Kalam felt some of the tension unwind. He was used to seeing the zeppelins high above the city, out of reach of the tallest of spires. Until now, he hadn't believed he could get to it from a sky-line ,and carried with him the premonition that its guns would send the ragged bits of his body down to the abyss. But it would not be high enough to do that. Although he was relieved, he did not relax - the zeppelin was advancing with greater speed than its bulbous form suggested possible. The buzzing turned to thundering. Kalam, ears ringing, downed a bottle of Devils Kiss and held his hands aloft as they burst into flames.

The zeppelin started turning, its massive form sliding between the last two buildings. Kalam's blood drained from his body. He gaped at the zeppelin, at the bloody red words on its side. Our voice will be heard, they said. The shock almost made him fumble his footwork and fall off the sky-line. Had the Vox Populi commandeered it, and somewhere along the way, Kalam's giver of orders waylaid? Was it a feint engineered by Comstock, hoping to fool the rioters? It certainly wasn't meant to bamboozle Kalam; a sniper could have picked him off. Tormented by uncertainty, Kalam watched the zeppelin approach for a few precious seconds. It was almost at the spot. To let it pass, possibly to mow down the riot with mortar-fire? Or to take it down and risk killing friends?

The zeppelin's nose passed underneath the skyline. Kalam could no longer hear his own thoughts in his head. Behind him, fireworks blew up in the sky, flinging red and blue stars. The colors of Columbia. Thats what it was all for, wasnt it?

There was no room for deliberation.

Kalam jumped.

(This story is my submission to Gamespot's Bioshock Infinite Creative Writing Contest.)

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Talk of ME3 Ending

Glad to see critics discussing the ending now. GI and our own Gamespot. Don't agree with everything they said, but still good.

I still hope Bioware clarifies the ending and adds some closure, but I don't think they should change it (unless they're going for the Indoctrination Theory, because that could work awesomely.)

Why the Artistic Integrity Argument Isn't Working

Many defendants of Mass Effect 3's ending have resorted to ad hominem attacks on the fans who are critical of it, resorted to straw man arguments to avoid actually addressing their points or else fell back to the premise that the fans have no right to force a change, because a forced change would ruin Bioware's artistic integrity and set a dangerous precedent for the future of the industry. This argument seems like one last desperate grab, a weak attempt to defend one's stance.

Here is why it is invalid:

Number 1 - There are Precedents

There are already of video games that have been altered according to fan suggestions, post-release. Bethesda's Fallout 3: Broken Steel altered a gameplay mechanic through an expansion. The Wither 2: Assassin of Kings has parts of it altered and improved, with new cutscenes and quests included that improved its beginning and ending. It confounds me why these are applauded and the suggestion of improving upon Mass Effect 3's ending has created such antagonism towards the fans. Changing endings, or even other parts of the work, is not uncommon in other media. J.R.R Tolkien, after writing Lord of the Rings, amended the Hobbit to remove plot-holes and foreshadow LotR. Charles Dickens changed the ending of Great Expectations when readers found it too sad. Sherlock Holmes was resurrected by Arthur Conan Doyle, because fans did not want to see their hero die. Are any of these works considered lesser because of the changes, or the artists as inferior or having no artistic integrity?

Mass Effect 3's fans do not want a happy ending. Some of them want an entirely different one (as Bioware did promise 16 different endings, at one point, and that the ending would not be in the A, B, C format), but their issues with the current ending are plot-holes, inconsistencies, the seemingly circular logic behind the Reaper's mostive(which could be disproved by events in the game itself, as it was presented) and the lack of closure. Going back and adding a few cut-scenes or extra diaogue for clarity will not destroy Bioware's original vision, it will improve it.

[spoiler] In Mass Effect 2's Arrival DLC, the explosion of a mass relay destroyed an entire solar system. All the Mass Relays have exploded now. Fans are literally asking, "Did we just destroy the galaxy and all life in it?" If this is not the case, and the explosions somehow did not destroy anything despite out-shining the galaxy, there are still some terrible implications. And there's nothing to explain what really happened. That's not how a story ends. [/spoiler]

Here's an article featured on Forbes showing just how irrational some people are being. Colin Moriarty, on Twitter, claimed that these two incidents were different, but are they really? Their only differences are superficial - post-release, pre-release, an ending, a character appearance. Bottom line, they are the artist's vision, and in both cases it was challenged. Is it acceptable to complain about the appearance of a character - something that ultimately is a non-issue - and not an ending that according to the California Literary Reviewis "storytelling suicide"? Am I, as an individual, expected to turn a blind-eye to one of these? It strikes me as a hypocritical stance to adapt.

Number 2 - The Existence of Bioware's Artistic Integrity is Debatable in the First Place

An acceptable day-one DLC is a weapons-pack for multiplayer or cosmetic alternatives, or a mission that is not important to the main storyline, like Mass Effect 2's vehicle missions.

But Javik, a Prothean, the most valuable and informative insight into the Prothean race (which has been attributed great importance since the first Mass Effect) is what we get for day-one DLC. The attempts to justify this are at best facetious, because nothing is as tacky as such an obvious grab for money.

The exclusion of this character from the main game is a calculated, efficient business practice - which from a purely objective standpoint, I have to admire; but it also shows that profit, not art, is Bioware's first priority. There are other things that would normally have fans in uproar, such as the use of as a slightly edited stock-photo for Tali's face, which is a disgusting way for an artist to treat a character they have created, but all of these have been pushed aside for the moment by the issue of the ending.

Bioware has shown that is willing to compromise it's artistic vision for profit, so I think it is appropriate that fans are doing their best to hurt sales, because this is something that Bioware can easily understand. Providing a constructive critique of the themes of Mass Effect and how the ending violated them is just as likely to work as saying that extra costs incurred by day-one DLC is a way to reward the fans.The argument that Bioware should not listen to its fans to preserve its artistic integrity falls in this category of ineffective arguments.

Number 3 - Constructive Criticism and Art

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short story that came in the top ten among three hundred submissions in a magazine shortlist. As an aspiring writer, it was a huge step forward for me, a sign that I was actually achieving something, something small, but tangible. Today, that story is lost and forgotten on an old hard-drive. I understand that it is not perfect, nor will it ever be as I presented it then, and started reworking it from the ground up. To do that, I understood what was wrong with it, and I could not have done that without help. I tried fixing it, failed, and started again. Artists have to accept criticism; it is the only way they can grow.

It was hard to believe that Mass Effect 3's ending would be disappointing. The rest of the game did not foreshadow such quality, being quite stellar itself, but at some point, thousands and thousands of Mass Effect 3 fans shook their head in astonishment, rushed to the Bioware Social Network forums and listed their grievances to Bioware.The issues are real and they have been expressed many times on the forums and Youtube. The ones listed in this video are only the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately.

If Bioware listens to its fans and successfully improves the ending, is it not a win-win situation? Their artistic integrity is in no way compromised. Their original intention would be changed, but improved. Everyone is happy (at least for a while), and the only cost would be the flawed ending we currently have. Being able to see where you went wrong in your work is part of being an artist. Stubbornly resisting outside opinion to retain hold of your original vision inhibits development. Bioware employs very capable artists, but to assume that the development team is above mistakes would be wrong; no one is perfect. To go further and demand that it should not listen to outside opinion to pay homage to a barely tangible idea of artistic integrity - especially when doing so could hurt its business interests - is childish. I apologize to anyone who might feel offended by this, but, at best, it is a puerile argument being used to deflect the fans' actual complaints.

And Finally

I would have liked to see the video game journalists we follow take a more objective stance on this issue. I find it very difficult to believe people like Colin Moriarty (IGN) who claimed he was unable to find anyone in their offices who disliked the ending, especially in light of their close ties with Bioware. Gamespot's own Twitter event, a few days ago, featured a number of tweets that were not simply ignoring the problems, but were discouraging the idea that someone could actually find fault in it. Listing the five stages of denial for your readers strikes me as condescending and dismissive of their opinions. After this incident, I no longer intend to visit IGN's website, simply because they ridiculed their readers on one of their shows. That show (and their aforementioned ties with the industry) has forced me to call their journalistic integrity into question. I no longer trust their opinion.

Disclaimer: Admittedly, Bioware does not need to respond to their fans, and the fans have no right to expect a change simply because they ask, but every decision has its own set of consequences, and these are what Bioware should be concerned with, first and foremost. I am also aware that people on both sides have been rude and acted like complete idiots, and not only the defendants have resorted to ad hominem attacks.

The Mass Effect 3 Ending

A controversial topic to be sure.

A huge amount of people think Bioware completely screwed up here.

The rest think they're just messing with us, Reaper-indoctrination style. And looking at the evidence these people have picked up, I'm starting to think they're right.

And if they are, that makes this whole thing pure genius. (I'll still be pissed that I don't have a full and real ending in my game and that I won't be able to get the DLC - my country doesn't support PSN (or SEN)).

Thoughts on Mass Effect 2

My gaming backlog is getting more and more daunting to clear, but recently I managed to get my hands on Mass Effect 2. With Mass Effect 3 about to crash into many gamers' worlds like an asteroid, I decided it was the high time to take a look at this series.

Now, let me get something out of the way. The game is good, but I think it falls far short of the picture painted by its fans. There were three flaws that held back the game for me.

The Gameplay - Finicky Controls and Hashed Allies

The cover mechanics were occassionaly a source of frustration to me. Half the time, it would take two or three attempts to get Sheperd into cover even when he was pressed up against a crate. Others times, Sheperd would pop out of cover if I switched a gun or reloaded or tried to move along the cover. Luckily, during my first playthrough, I was using the Infiltrator class, so when something obnoxious like this happened, I could activate the cloak and move to safety. Because of this, though, I felt that the game was lacking something important as a third-person shooter.

My other issue with the gameplay is the way the ally classes are designed. Their limited gun selection is a very contrived way of making them differ from each other. It feels forced, the easy-way out. How hard could it be to go to the armory and get another gun? The other side of the allies' gameplay impact, which is their selection of ammo, tech or biotic abilities, does little to distinguish them from each other. On the hardest difficulty, I expect the small differences will matter in some way, but in my playthrough on normal difficulty, I never felt they were leaving their mark on the gameplay, so I ended up picking the ones I liked most, as characters, not classes.

The Missions - Sidetracked

As a story, Mass Effect 2 offered so many possibilities for quests and missions, but the majority of the campaign was focused on recruiting the crew. The fight against the Collectors, the whole point of the campaign, ended up being too easy to accomplish, story-wise. What the entire plot boils down to is this: find out who is responsible for the missing colonies, recruit a team, get the key to the Omega 4 Relay and beat the Collectors. Compared to the detail and effort that went into each recruit mission, and then the unique mission for each crew-member, the hook of the game's plot, and its resolution, feels rushed and bare.

The World - Walls of Text

Codexes are fun and interesting to read, but when one is unfamiliar with the lore of the game, the only way to learn about the strange things you are seeing is to read them, one by one. I don't like studying in order to get the full experience from a game. Surely, Bioware could have found a better way to expound the game's lore than a massive information dump. The game's lore is actually interesting, so I don't get why most of it is tucked away in a codex, instead of out there in the game.

Still, despite these issues, I found the game entertaining and I will surely play it again. And like most people, I will also be getting Mass Effect 3. (As soon as my backlog clears up.)

E3 Impressions

Surprise! I'm still alive! I've been very busy (with life) during these few centuries that passed since my last update, but E3 is worth a post. Those who are familiar with me know that I am less interested in console reveals or big plans to do this and that as much as I am interested in the individual games, so this post will relate to those games I thought were interesting.

Dark Souls - From what I saw in the stage demo, this is definitely the "spiritual successor" to Demons' Souls. It looks very similar to the original, with dreary, desolate enviroments, lots of creative enemies and unforgiving gameplay. I hope there will be a narrative or at least a reason to go about exploring the new open-world, however, because I want it to be different enough that the game warrants a purchase. Else I could just go play Demons' Souls.

Bioshock Infinite- To be honest about this one, I am having mixed feelings about this game. The setting, the concept and the game are looking very good, but the way the narrative seems to be playing out in the game (with Elizabeth having such a major role) indicated that there there will be a lot of scripted events. What I loved about Bioshock and Bioshock 2 was the roaming around, exploring and finding things and putting the story together bit by bit. I hope that this will not disappear from Bioshock Infinite, because it looks like it will very enjoyable to explore.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- I loved the stage demo for this. It showed the vast changes in the gameplay engine and the dynamic world very well. Todd Howard said they were really paying attention to everything, down to the plants and flowers. This, judging from footage of the in-game menu, seems to be true. If this game manages to live up to the hype and the expectations of the fans, I think it would easily be Game of the Year, despite the very strong competition this year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hope Bethesda succeeds in producing the game it's been taking about.

Dead Island - This game is worth keeping an eye on. The emotionally charged trailer released a while ago has left everyone with high expectations, and the gameplay from the demo looked pretty promising. The combat seems to be very tense, with everything carefully done. I can't imagine myself rushing in this game. It's pushing for realism, and in reality, you can't blow through a horde of zombies with a shotgun. I think this take on the zombie scenario is going to be this game's strongpoint. I hope there's a strong narrative or interesting characters behind it, though, or some careful pacing, because with weak objectives, a game like this could end up being repetitive.

Battlefield 3- Simply said, this game looks gorgeous. I am sure it will be a strong competitor to Call of Duty. It's heavy realism is something that gives it something different than other shooters. The scenario with the tanks in the stage demo also felt very professional. I don't know how to properly convey this. It was tense, business-like and more importantly war-like. I found myself thinking, this is what a real tank battle would be like (even if it might not be, I wouldn't know). When they came under attack, I thought, "There is NO WAY that I would keep driving forward in real life. This is SCARY". In most other shooters, scenes like this come off as artificial. So props to Battlefield 3 for making me feel anything in a first-person shooter, because that's kind of rare.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time - This was a surprise to see in E3 and brought a lot of nostalgia. I loved Sly 2 and 3 (I never played the first one, sadly). It's not being made by Sucker Punch, but these new developers seem to be staying true to the franchise. The graphics still have that cartoonish look to them, except it looks much better. There's not really much to gain from the boss fight shown, though, so I guess we'll have to wait for more information in the future. Just one thing: did Sly move that slow in the earlier games? He seemed a bit sluggish here. I remember him being friskier. Maybe my memory is rusting.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3- The demo shown is very Call of Duty-ish. Narrow, linear levels, breathtaking setpieces and fast-paced action. Judging by Modern Warfare 1 and 2, it will likely be short and can be considered as almost a peripheral to the multiplayer. The talk about Spec Ops and the horde mode is interesting though. The best thing a fast-paced. accessible game like the CoD games can have is a series of challenges designed to test a player's skills. At this point, Spec Ops is the only thing that might save this game for me.

Far Cry 3 - I started watching Sony's conference in the middle of the demo for Far Cry 3. (Exams, you suck.) As soon as I did, a friend of mine told me via Facebook that they were showing off a "good-looking game". I watched for a minute, then thought "This looks like Far Cry. Is this Far Cry 3?" And yes it was. The surprising thing is that I haven't played Far Cry 1 or 2, at all. My only experience with them is a single video of Far Cry 2 gameplay a couple of years ago. So how did I know? There are two possible answers. 1: That Far Cry 2 and 3 have a shared quality that is unique to this franchise, and it was so strong and memorable that I could still tell after two years. Or 2: I know the future. (THIS). Either way, that a game's "feel" is so palpable and memorable is a credit to the game. I'm paying attention to this one.

ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection - Whoever is behind this: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

There were other games that I thought looked amazing, like Tomb Raider and Uncharted 3. In most cases, like Tomb Raider or Batman: Arkham Asylum, I'm too unfamiliar with the franchises to really know what I'm talking about. In others, like Uncharted and Mass Effect, things look like the usual (which is a very good thing.) This concludes my E3 impressions. Tell me what you think in the comments! :D

Minecraft

So I've recently been playing a lot of Minecraft. Let me say it again: a lot of Minecraft. I've been just building and digging and building and digging and currently I have two big projects I'm working on. They're big. I bet some of you have seen videos of big objects in Minecraft. I'm talking about the famous Earth level and the USS Enterprise build. My projects won't be that big, but I think they'll be pretty impressive anyways. Once I'm done, I'll try and capture a video and upload it, either up here or on Youtube.

Happy New Year

Not being on much due to holidays at the moment, but will be back as soon as things are back to normal.

Dead Space 2 Demo - Impressions

Yesterday night, I downloaded the demo for Dead Space 2 and I have just finished playing through it now. I don't know what the developer's motives were behind the decision to present this particular section of game, so I can't really tell what they wanted to showcase here, so I'm just going to share my thoughts on everything that caught my attention.

The first Dead Space was brilliant, but it had some flaws, and most of these were gameplay oriented. Firstly, the objectives were pretty repetitive, and secondly, the melee attacks Isaac Clarke had at his disposal were very unwieldy. In my opinion, these were it's two greatest flaws. Trumping around the ship fixing this and that while being constantly attacked by necromorphs tended to become an aimless adventure. Don't get me wrong, the game was still very entertaining despite this, because the necromorphs still managed to give game direction, like "AAAAHH RUUUUN" and "DIE DIE DIE". The second flaw was encountered on the harder difficulties. When you ran out of ammo, there was pretty much nothing you could do. The melee attacks where uncontrollable and kinesis wasn't that strong.

The demo has implications that the first flaw will be addressed. Firstly, the narrative seems to involve more than fixing stuff. Getting off the space station seems to a goal, but there seem to be more than just necromorphs in the way. From the evidence suggested by the brief dialogue in the game and the mission summaries in the menu, it seems that Isaac and his mysterious helper (whom he communicates with) will have human opposition. While in the first game, there were conflicts with other humans, like a government agent, in this game, things seem to be more serious. In fact, the human opposition bring in a ship to shoot down Isaac at the end of the demo. The presence on the Church of Unitology - or at least a whole temple devoted to the marker - imply that questions that have bugged us since the first game will be answered.

The other thing I noticed was the improvement to the gameplay. Isaac's melee attacks are not as unwieldy anymore, but I still wouldn't use them, because kinesis has become a much more useful tool in this game. In fact, it's so useful, it's better to use kinesis when there are hard objects around, like severed necromorphs claws, and conserve ammo.

New enemy types bring more tension to the gameplay as well. There were new four necromorphs introduced in this area alone. One, a giant thing with a child-like glowing prehensile seems to be a mini-boss of some kind. Interaction with it was very minimal, because it soon retreated, leaving a horde of screaming necromorph children for Isaac to deal with. These 'children' rush you in huge groups, like ten or more. It's a good idea to bring out more powerful weaponry, like explosives to kill them together quickly, then to dismember them one by one. Dismembering one is easy. One shoot to the leg and they're down, but they're fast and can duck down suddenly, avoiding your shot, and if you happen to miss just one, it'll disrupt your fire and you'll end up getting swarmed. The third new type is a human-shaped necromorph that has medium to long-range attacks. It can spit damaging balls of acid from a distance or vomit more of the same liquid at a closer range, over a wide area. The acid is damaging, and sometimes it starts corroding Isaac's suit, slowing him down. Dismembering one of their limbs causes acid to spurt out, and I think this is more than just an effect, because I missed a shot one time and hit it's head, blowing it off. Just as I did that, I received damage, but I'm not certain if it had just thrown up on me or if was the spurting acid from the wound. I'll have to experiment more with that when I play it. The fourth necromorph introduced is a crawling thing with huge clawed arms. It wasn't as particularly impressive as the other three, but there was only one in the demo and it was the only necromorph in the room, meaning I made short work of it, so it didn't have much opportunity to make an impression on me. I did notice, however, that it was really fast and spent no time screaming at me, like the regular necromorphs do. It just rushed in to kill me.

As for level design, the demo offered three small areas. One was full of glass containers, some of which had necromorphs sealed up within them. There was a lot of fog and mist in the area, which suggest the place was some sort of cryogenic unit. Tension in the area was pretty high and I trust the developers were quite deliberate when designed these levels. Firstly, every little section of this unit contains about three parallel corridors connected by another two at each end. There are glass containers in every direction, and after a little mental spasm Isaac has, you realize that things are indeed sealed up in them. Soon after Isaac displays his mental disorder, necromorphs start breaking out of the containers. The level design forces you to be in situations where necromorphs can come at you from at least two directions. Glass containers next to you keep you wondering when something is going to jump out of them. When something does jump out of them, you hear other containers breaking in the distance, and you'll be forced to deal with the necromorph in front of you while at the same time trying to locate the other necromorph and maneuver yourself into a more defensible position.

The second was connected to the first, the place where artificial gravity is created. Isaac had to turn it off for some reason, and I had the opportunity to experience some gravity-less gameplay. Gone is the wall-jumping of the first game (at least in the demo). Isaac's suit has been upgraded with some air jets that allow him to move around and change direction in mid air. The experience was very smooth and easy to control. This area also introduced a new hacking minigame. This took me a little more time to get the hang of and it requires the player to be really fast, since the time limit is a little short. Even so, it's quite manageable after some practice. There were no necromorphs in this area. It was a room where Isaac gets things done.

The third area is the Church of Unitology - or at least some sort of temple with lots of depictions of the marker, inscriptions and symbols. Things are somewhat less frantic here, since the area is more open, so it's more of a sightseeing experience after you deal with the swarm of necromorph children. It's still tense, because the necromorphs don't stop coming, but the improved graphics and textures really make their mark here.

I will definitely be checking out Dead Space 2 when it's out.