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Was it false advertising? I attempt to prove my case. (SPOILERS)

 -Casey Hudson, Mass Effect 3 Director A couple of weeks back I made a blog post where I stated that I felt that the ending of Mass Effect 3 amounted to false advertising. While I am not the only one who thinks this as, notably, the Better Business Bureau has also indicated agreement that the statements made by Bioware representatives cross the line beyond normal "puffery" and into blatant falsehoods, not everyone is in agreement with me. Yeah_Write a great blog writer and someone whose opinion I think highly of, had this to say about my allegation. [quote="Yeah_Write"] False advertising? I think that's a bit much. If ME3's bad ending is false advertising then so is literally EVERYTHING Peter Molyneux has put his name on. I find the vitriol and overwhelming rage surrounding the ME3 ending to be quite distasteful. Don't get me wrong, I didn't like it either. I thought it was stupid, and took a lot of the wind out of series' sails. No better way to kill a climax than with a midichlorian like explanation. It was extra bad because everything in the third game leading up to it was so good. It was like they brought in their B team to wrap up the last 15 minutes. I think my predominant emotion after finishing the game was bewilderment.But still, it was just an ending to a video game. Voting EA the worst company in America, filing claims of false advertising to the BBB, attempting to sue Bioware--it's all so pointless and makes gamers look like petulant brats. I can think of a dozen movies, books and games with horrible endings, and none have generated as much fury as this one. I spent weeks reading both The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear, only to come away from the second book (itself over a thousand pages) disappointed with the poor storytelling and character development. I was bummed...and then I picked up another book. I think it would have been better if Bioware didn't address this at all. The whole ordeal has blown over now, why kick the hornets nest? There's absolutely no way this ending will satisfy anyone. Those like yourself will likely go in expecting it to suck. I'm not sure what made them think attempting a fix was a good idea. Oh well. I still maintain that in ten years, the Mass Effect story will be looked back on as a triumphant one. It was an amazing technical and narrative achievement.

Rather than responding directly to the comment at the time, I felt it would make for a good separate discussion. I did not, in my previous blog post, present much evidence to support my claim. Sometimes I tend to forget that not everyone is reading the same things or seeing the same information. Before I begin, I want to state that I do think some parts of what he said above are completely true. EA is NOT the worst company in America for example. I do not, however, agree that stating that what was promised vs. what was delivered amounts to deceit and dishonesty is making gamers look like petulant brats. Quite the opposite. I view it as making us look like informed, active consumers who stand up for ourselves and are/were justifiably upset after spending hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours of our lives on a franchise only to get something materially different than what we were promised in the end. So, based on this, I dug up an old thread from the Bioware Forum of an individual who had gone to great lengths to compile comments made about the game both before and, much more importantly, AFTER the game had gone to "Gold" status. (The state for when the game is essentially "locked" and ready to ship a couple of weeks before it hits the shelves and they start preparing for the release date.) Link to list of statements For the purposes of this post, I'm only going to focus on the "Post Gold" statements. I'm doing this because, using the Peter Molyneux example that Yeah_Write listed, a lot of times game developers say a lot of things about what they plan on doing and what they think a game will have in the early stages of a game's development that as we get closer to release date, ends up not making it into the final game as deadlines need to be met and the budget for the game ends up running out. I think it is reasonable to apply more weight to statements CLOSE to when a game goes gold, for example this one: [quote="Mike Gamble"] Mike Gamble (Associate Producer) 2/2/12 "Of course you dont have to play multiplayer, you can choose to play all the side-quests in single-player and do all that stuff youll still get all the same endings and same information, its just a totally different way of playing"

That turned out to be untrue. (People have data mined this game. There are NOT enough war assets in the game to get the "optimal" ending without playing the iPhone app or Multiplayer) This was also a statement made two weeks before the game went into Gold status where, presumably, it was close enough to know this is untrue. While it's probably reasonable to think that statement should be taken more seriously than a statement of what the game would contain and have a year or so before it goes gold, I'm leaving that and other statements that were made before the game went gold out of making my case. [quote="Official Bioware Website"] Official Mass Effect Website (Still there) Experience the beginning, middle, and end of an emotional story unlike any other, where the decisions you make completely shape your experience and outcome.

Is this true? I think this can fall under "puffery". Your experience with the game really is materially different in a lot of ways with what you choose, but prior to the Extended Cut your outcome is not. Before the Extended Cut endings, aside from the different color of the explosion, I would argue that the endings were functionally identical. Final verdict? Half-True [quote="Casey Hudson"] Casey Hudson (Director) 2/17/12 There is a huge set of consequences that start stacking up as you approach the end-game. And even in terms of the ending itself, it continues to break down to some very large decisions. So it's not like a classic game ending where everything is linear and you make a choice between a few things - it really does layer in many, many different choices, up to the final moments, where it's going to be different for everyone who plays it.

I call shenanigans on this. The final moment is definitely NOT different for everyone who plays it. In fact, the final moments prior to Extended Cut are, as previously stated, identical. And it is a completely linear game ending where you make a choice between EXACTLY three different things. Control. Synthesize. Destroy. Same exact cut scenes afterward except you get either a Red, Green, or Blue explosion. At this point I'd like to remind everyone that this is after the game has gone gold. In other words, Casey isn't speculating here on what the ending contained. Still, some SMALL amount of credit will be given by me here in that the consequences DO start to stack up as you approach the end game. The problem is that they stack up almost identically. You start from a fairly wide funnel, it is true, but everyone ends up in the exact same place in the end. Final Verdict: Mostly False [quote="Mike Gamble"] Interview with Mike Gamble (Associate Producer) 2/23/12 There are many different endings. We wouldnt do it any other way. How could you go through all three campaigns playing as your Shepard and then be forced into a bespoke ending that everyone gets? But I cant say any more than that

This is a variation on the same thing as the previous couple of pieces. Namely, that this is a VERY concrete statement promising something very specific. What is being promised here? That everyone would get very personalized and varied endings that are different based on going through three different campaigns.

Final Verdict: False. [quote="Mac Walters"] Interview with Mac Walters (Lead Writer) 2/28/12 [The presence of the Rachni] has huge consequences in Mass Effect 3. Even just in the final battle with the Reapers.

The Rachni are completely non-existent in the final battle with the Reapers. They have a minor role previous to that. It is absolutely not what folks who chose to spare the Reapers in ME1 were promised in ME2 where their song would join with ours in the end. (Translation: We'd get Rachni help because we chose to spare them in ME1) In the end, this statement is one of the easiest ones of all to grade. Final Verdict: Liar, liar, pants on fire level BS. [quote="Casey Hudson"] Interview with Casey Hudson (Director) 3/2/12 Fans want to make sure that they see things resolved, they want to get some closure, a great ending. I think theyre going to get that. Mass Effect 3 is all about answering all the biggest questions in the lore, learning about the mysteries and the Protheans and the Reapers, being able to decide for yourself how all of these things come to an end. Interviewer: So are you guys the creators or the stewards of the franchise? Hudson: Um You know, at this point, I think were co-creators with the fans. We use a lot of feedback.

Casey has a couple of whoppers on this list and this one is no exception, but if you squint hard enough you can technically stretch this statement enough to make a case that it is true. Technically, you do get to choose how things end. Technically, it is true we're told a little bit about where the Reapers came from and the like. You do get to pick from three different endings that give you different colored lights. You do get an explanation that the Reapers were created by that weird star child kid who decided that the only way to save organics from being utterly annihilated was to kill most of them every so often. However the comment about the franchise being co-owned and created with the fans raises eyebrows with the "artistic integrity" argument of why the endings shouldn't be changed. But all of my defense on this is basically "well, I suppose you could technically say that is true...kind of..." which is why I label this comment: Highly misleading and mostly false [quote="Mac Walters"] Interview with Mac Walters (Lead Writer) 3/5/12 Im always leery of saying there are 'optimal' endings, because I think one of the things we do try to do is make different endings that are optimal for different people

This may be getting a little repetitive to read at this point, but this comment is false for the same reason why numerous other previous comments by Bioware employees is false: the endings pre-Extended Cut are nearly impossible to tell apart. Because of this I'm not going to waste too much time spelling out the reasoning and simply say that this is... False [quote="Mac Walters"] Interview with Mac Walters (Lead Writer) 3/7/12 Issue 108 of 360Gamer (Hardcopy only, not available online) When asked about the science of the game being plausible "From very early on we wanted the science of the universe to be plausible. Obviously it's set in the future so you have to make some leaps of faith but we didn't want it to be just magic in space."

Here's how you make something plausible with science fiction. Cigarettes in space and start at about 1:15 seconds in. Thank god we invented the whatever. Essentially, what is plausible is what is established with the lore that has been created. Want to make something possible or at least establish something that is impossible according to our modern understanding of physics? Put a codex entry in describing Element Zero and how the Mass Effect fields work. Establish it as something that exists within the setting. Even if you do it as completely facilely as the the Rob Lowe character in my link did it, do SOMETHING to explain why what is happening is possible before it actually happens. Mass Effect never did this. At the end, the Star Child gives you three ways that the game will end. Blow up all synthetics everywhere. Control them all. Or merge the DNA of everyone and everything in the galaxy so everyone is half-organic and half-synthetic. Blowing up synthetics is technically possible, if incredibly Bond-Villain stupid. Why our Star Child character would have the proverbial big, red self-destruct button for all Reapers everywhere when he/she/it could just tell them "We're not going to commit genocide today" if it changs it's mind isn't particularly logical, especially for a machine. But then again, wiping out all the advanced races in the galaxy every 50,000 years to make sure that they don't get wiped out by other synthetics isn't really very logical either so we'll let that pass for now. What is really hard to explain or justify is why this doesn't blow up all of the allied starships and all technology everywhere. How is this magic red explosion so discriminating? Doesn't this also destroy all of your own allies and reduce everyone that survives back to the stone age? Control ending is also, if you REALLY suspend disbelief enough, theoretically possible to accept. Once again, it is illogical in that if the goal is to prevent synthetics from rising up and killing organics, giving the "Master Control Rod" to an organic is a pretty good way of ensuring that doesn't happen. So if such a thing existed it would have been a pretty good solution the million or so years previous when this Star Child guy first seized power. BUT STILL...MAYBE this could be justified within existing lore. If the Star Child controls all the Reapers maybe he has some method of transferring the control in a "here, you can drive the car this time" sort of way similar to how I will, once in a while, let chilidragon drive the car when I get too drunk to do so. (Which, apparently, Star Child did about a million years ago given how awful the logic for his "solution" is.) But the Synthesize ending? Negative. Space Magic. If the Star Child had some magic, galaxy-wide DNA altering light beam that would make everyone part-organic/part-synthetic, if it's true goal is to prevent the complete destruction of all organic life, that would have been a spiffy thing to use many, many, MANY cycles ago. And, similarly, there's absolutely nothing in the established lore that hints how that works, why it would be in existence, or how it would need Shepard to jump into a column of light to make it operational. False and idiotic So, how to evaluate all of these statements? (And remember, I'm only limiting this article to statements made after the game had been finalized. I am even excluding public statements made very close to "gold" date where the end state product should be reasonably easy to predict. In my opinion, there's plenty here to support an assertion that this game was falsely advertised to an extent beyond normal, everyday, typical "exaggerations" that are permissible when trying to sell something. We were promised: 1. Many different endings 2. Highly differentiated endings 3. A large amount of control on the endings we get specifically tied to decisions we'd made in the games 4. A big Rachni impact 5. No ABC endings 6. Fans having a high degree of creative control and input I do not personally feel that any of those things were delivered, and that's even before getting into more subjective based discussions on whether the endings were "good" or not. (The ending to Sopranos was awful, but we weren't, to my knowledge, given specific promises on what we'd get with the Sopranos ending.)

Awesome Chili Quote

"If you'd rather watch internet porn than have sex with me then go ahead!" -ChiliDragon ... ... ... In her defense, I'm reasonably sure she was joking when she said it. ... ... ... And she might have been drunk. ... Admittedly this is not very flattering without the full context, which is why I want to take great pains to stress it was hilarious offline as well. Edit: Having read this blog post, Chili has kindly reminded me that her parents read this blog. Frankly, she can't complain too much because she gave them this link without asking me first. So, I must say, HELLO MOM! HELLO DAD! I am, admittedly, not without my own twisted sense of humor. On the other hand, I can make Chili blush quite brilliantly. I'll try and take a picture at some point.

I'm banned from Bioware Forums and Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

I thought very seriously about putting "humor" as the category for this blog. Yes, I've actually managed to get myself banned from Bioware's forums. The complete details elude me as this was the extent of the ban message: [quote="Bioware forum moderator"] You continue to break the forums rules and fight with other forum visitors. You are banned.

And private message requests for examples, clarification, or the reason why I'd never been told to adjust my behavior prior to my removal were never responded to. To be fair, I did let my "sarcastic dick" side out every once in a while on the Bioware forums, but not to the extent that would have justified a permanent ban by any means. I'm very aware of the difference between debating and flaming after all. Nevertheless, I am a little bit unhappy on the timing because the Extended Cut is coming. There's no middle ground on this. I felt that the original ME3 ending wasn't just bad, but absolutely proof of false advertising, blatant dishonesty, and legendarily bad writing. I've been gaming for a lot of years now and I've never in my entire gaming career seen an ending that far removed from what was promised to customers or so utterly at odds with the writing of the rest of the game. Because of this reason, I've been holding off doing a user review of Mass Effect 3. I've been wanting to do one ever since I finished the game, but honestly kept feeling that I should wait until I no longer was as irritated as I was at Bioware for what they did. I felt that the ending that they actually put out was beyond bad. It actually was criminal in the sense that the public statements stretching back over the last five years on what we'd get, and culminating on what folks like Casey Hudson said AFTER THE GAME WENT GOLD, actually amount to false advertising. That's what makes this Extended Cut so high stakes for Bioware. Believe me when I tell you that getting this pretty much amounts to the whole game with regards to Bioware's continued survival as a developer. Having been on Bioware's forums for months both before ME3 (commenting on DA2) and after ME3, I can tell you that Bioware's fanbase is PISSED. There is a level of nerdrage out there that is almost awe inspiring. Am I predicting that Bioware will immediately go under if the Extended Cut is uninspiring? Not really. If EA is known for anything, it's known for squeezing the last red cent out of any name that they buy up. They'll release at least a couple more games with "Bioware" on the name before giving it the good old fashioned stake through the heart. But Bioware WILL die eventually if this Extended Cut isn't overwhelmingly good. Whether it is Dragon Age 2, Witch Hunt, The Arrival, or the botched ME3 ending where the GAMERS (not the game critics...including the sycophantic Gamespot coverage) are concerned, Bioware has almost no trust remaining due to the fact it has been missing the mark pretty damn consistently for years now. There's nothing inherently wrong with nickle and diming your customers if you are still making them happy. If your customers are happy, then they don't look at it as nickle and diming at all. They look at it as getting as much of your games as they can as fast as they can and money is no object. On the other hand, when they think your quality level has been below par, then things like the DLC "From Ashes" that forces them to pay for stuff that really SHOULD be in the game's normal purchase price makes them feel used and abused. EA/Bioware has been using and abusing their customers with everything they've done since the merger. This is the ballgame. Get it right, or be prepared for the long, agonizing death of the label that is certain to follow.

Some pretty nifty artwork

Okay, I'm not an art critic by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought that this was pretty darn impressive work. [quote="Christopher Jobson"] Constellation is an ongoing series of portraits by New York artist Kumi Yamash1ta known most prominently for her innovative light and shadow sculptures. Each image is constructed from a single unbroken black thread wound through a dense array of galvanized nails mounted on a painted white board, meaning that the darker areas within the portrait are formed solely from the density of the string.

I officially award Geek Points

When you're playing a multiplayer strategy game that has gone on for ten years and counting, I award all players geek points. Ongoing Civilization II Game About the only thing that I have that has gone on for over ten years is my beautiful romantic love affair with Chili. Damnit all, back in my day gaming used to MEAN something. It wasn't all about getting to the goods as quickly as possible. It was about LOVE. And foreplay. And all that good ****.

/innuendo and old person talk Seriously, that's a fairly impressive game and a kudos to the Civ franchise about how well balanced the end state of Civilization II is. Edit: Author's Note: Due to the ongoing (I would normally use a strikethrough coding for the word stupidity here) failure of Gamespot's coding, I cannot give you this post in its intended glory. Originally, I had intended to use the words "sexual fascination" with a strikethrough prior to the words "beautiful romantic love affair".

Since GS's coding is essentially about four years behind what any free coding you can find with a monkey's google-fu skills is, I am forced to explain what would have been a mediocre witticism here in longform detail. Apologies.

Fantastic deal on some great games

With credit to the always lovely and brilliant ChiliDragon for finding this. The Humble Indie Bundle These are some really stellar games and the best deal that I've seen in years on a package of games. I haven't played Super Meat Boy, Lone Survivor or Superbrothers yet, but I've played the other five and even ONE of them would be worth the the donation of $8.38. Amnesia: The Dark Descent Braid Limbo Bastion Psychonauts Super Meat Boy Lone Survivor Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP That's a hell of a package of indie games, and you can pay as much or as little as you want and specify what percentage of your money goes to the developers, the site itself, or to charity. Plus, if you pay more than the average amount you get a code to unlock these on Steam as well. This deal is only good for three more days so I encourage everyone to jump on it fast if you haven't already.

This dude rules. Seriously.

Quote Eric Cartman: "If I knew where Mel Gibson was, I'd be down on the floor licking his balls at this very moment." Fantastic, thought provoking video I don't often make a blog for the sole purpose of trotting out a crude South Park comment and advertising someone else, but this is a truly great video and the other stuff this guy has done is just as good.

Mass Effect 3's ending

Drop down menu needs a "horror and disgust" option. At first I was like: This was quickly followed by: And then I was like: Then I reached this stage: And I finally concluded with this:

A retraction of a previous blog post

Some of you may recall my blog about Foxconn a little while back. As it turns out, I owe both you, my readers, and Foxconn the company something of a mea culpa. The individual behind the story that was all over the media ranging from traditional news to The Daily Show is a big, fat liar. Specifically, he basically made the entire story up, lied to his fact checkers and ran with it. I'd give myself a "Stupidest Person in the World" nomination for going along if dozens of news sites hadn't already picked up the story prior to my blogging about it. Still, I like to consider myself a fair person and when I end up being proven violently wrong I hope that I say so. So, yeah...fair and balanced and all that. I screwed the pooch on that particular blog post. Here's a story from Bloomberg Tech Blog that paints a more balanced picture of the company's practices.

Meet Kara

Kara First reaction? WOW. Second reaction? SERIOUSLY WOW. If Quantic Dream isn't lying, and frankly developers lie about what they have in the pipeline and how close it is to release, etc. all the time, then they're insane to not want to build a game around that video. Put together a Heavy Rain style game which revolves around this character and I wouldn't be able to give them my money fast enough. For those of you who are not sure which part of that video I'm referring to, I'm referring to ALL of it. The Theme Being Explored: A machine/computer gaining sentience when it isn't supposed to isn't exactly a new concept. It's been in books, movies and even games like Mass Effect for decades now. From "Terminator" to "I, Robot" the concept of humanity giving birth to AI and ultimately dooming itself has been looked at quite a bit. That doesn't make it any less interesting to me though. I look at Kara and I envision a game built around various "choice" points and I see limitless potential for branching storytelling, replay value and sucking individuals in. In both of Quantic Dream's last two games, you have played multiple different characters and make choices as each that contribute directly to the story. Who is to say that you don't play that Unseen Programmer/Operator in the video at one point in the game, and that Kara character in others? Which of course is another thing that I love about the video... How much choice elements could be stuffed in Seriously, can you imagine what could be done with this if the right developer was willing to take some chances? The sky's the limit. Kara is spared because she promises to keep the fact she's sentient a secret. Well, what about when she gets "bought" and her new owner wants to take her sexual programming out for a test drive?

Insert a player choice there. Have it impact the storyline.

Granted, it would definitely take a developer with some cojones due to the inevitable controversy that some of the choices you could put into the game and dark storyline branching might lead to. But that's the point!

True art is supposed to CHALLENGE you! It is SUPPOSED to be controversial and make people think and be uncomfortable. It's supposed to hold a mirror up to society and make them look at their reflection.

People talk about the dangers of video gaming being delayed mainstream adoption if it isn't careful or if it does tasteless things. They spout off very seriously about the need for it to be an art medium and not be "gratuitous" and inevitably in the scene I list above, some people would call that gratuitous. But is it? I don't think it is. I think it allows you, as Kara, to make a dark choice that will have people talking about, debating, arguing and discussing the merits of either path no matter what you choose. THAT'S art. Speaking of art.. The voice acting in the video qualifies definitely qualifies Set aside the tech demo elements of that video. While impressive, they don't stand out that much over and above what Quantic Dream accomplished with Heavy Rain to me. However, the voice acting in that video just absolutely grabbed me. I think I got a little bit of the chills when she screams out "I'm scared!" I maintain that good voice acting can take a game to a level that it just wouldn't be able to get to otherwise. Impressive writing can only go so far in a video format if the ones speaking the lines sound flat and lifeless. Listening to the actress in that video made Kara sound alive. It made me FEEL that she was alive and got my heart pounding as she was pleading for her life.
Mr. John Steed pointed out as a comment for one of my recent gaming blog that I seem most excited about a lot of games that I haven't really seen the gameplay for. As usual, he makes a pretty astute observation. I like gaming. Give me some good gameplay, such as the combat in Kingdoms of Amalur, and I can play for hours. But give me a good storyline and give me characters that I care about and want to see what happens to? Give me the ability to IMPACT what happens to them through player choice? Sweet zombie Jesus, that is what hooks me!