Mass Effect 3 Ending [Spoilers, Obviously]

BioWare - Mass Effect 3 Promo Art

What fascinates me about the ending of ME3 isn’t so much the fan rage (the ending was a blatant rip-off of the Matrix, Deus Ex, Battlestar Galactica, god knows what else) as the fact that reviewers are so intent on pretending that the ending was some sort of literary or artistic triumph and that the fans are just ignorant philistines who should go back to school and learn to appreciate “real” art.

There are two major problems I have with this critical reaction. First, I’ve long been annoyed by a certain streak of “anti-fun” in modern intellectualism as it regards art in general. It’s like an ascetic Protestant streak, some notion that if you’re actually enjoying something it can’t be art, because real art is painful and difficult and anything else is pedestrian junk food for people with low IQs. So a large amount of the reviews of ME3 take the approach that because the end of the game involves suffering and sacrifice and inevitability (and really, not much fun at all) that it is “higher” art than if it had a heroic, happy ending. “It’s more true to life,” they claim, and so it’s more valuable, more “authentic.” This is the same to me as rejecting anything other than photorealism in painting, because it’s more “authentic” (although you might as well just take a photograph and save the effort instead of trying for a tromp l’oeil effect). Happiness, joy, and beauty are not invalid topics in art. Trying to create a world just so you can destroy everything good in it doesn’t make you “edgy” or give you extra intellectual brownie points — it just makes you a dick. (Sorry, G.R.R. Martin / Game of Thrones fans.)

The second thing that really bothers me is that most games are not static forms of art, and especially not role-playing games. The draw of an RPG has always been to customize your character and interact with the world and make it your own, then play again with a different character and experience it through another set of eyes. The reviewers who laud the designers’ choices for their supposed artistic integrity and “refusal to bow to the least common denominator” while bashing the fans as “failing to get it” or “trying to steal control from the artists” are entirely missing the point. ME3 isn’t a movie or a book that requests you to sit back and experience a sequence of events that were laid out in advance by a creator or team, with no input. It promises to allow you to influence the story, to come out at divergent points with different characters and to explore possibilities as much as narrative. By presenting essentially a single ending (the three are not sufficiently different to require multiple playthroughs to experience) over which you have no real control, it’s almost as if a media switch has been pulled underneath you as the player. You’re watching a movie, and then suddenly you’re…reading a book. Or you’re listening to music, and suddenly someone is reading out the notation – “A-flat above middle C, F above middle C, B-flat below middle C.” Or you’re watching a play, and suddenly everyone stops moving and you’re looking at a still-life that never resumes. The point is, any of these experiences would be jarring for someone expecting a certain experience.

I realize that this type of dissonance is a valid subject for art to explore, but I think that it would be absurd to think that it would go over well with mainstream audiences who have purchased the work with specific expectations — ones that were encouraged and advertised by the company selling it. It’s not even that it’s invalid in any “moral” sense for EA/BioWare to do this, just that it’s bad business sense because it’s effectively a type of bait-and-switch where people were purchasing entertainment and got complicated “intellectualism”^ instead. If you burn your customers, they won’t come back.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, of course. The Matrix trilogy comes to mind, and I think it’s not surprising that the first movie is by far considered the best. Critics will try to say that fans didn’t react so badly to that ending (with the Architect nonsense), but they also had less investment. As a movie viewer, you go into a theater knowing full well that you might not get an ending that you like. As a gamer playing a genre RPG, you have certain expectations that at least one ending will probably be something you can jump on board. Mass Effect 3 gave us nothing but an exercise in artistic dissonance that will please people who want to feel like they’ve achieved something noble by suffering through yet another round of artistic self-flagellation. For everyone else, it’s just a let-down.

^Edit: I should note that I’m not against making people think. Thinking is good for you. Just don’t expect people to like it when they show up to your techno thriller film and you slap them in the face and tell them to RTFM because they don’t know how to compile a kernel. 😉

Quick Update

I’ve been making slow progress at various projects, primarily trying to fix some bugs in my Brainsucking Mutants game and contemplating a paper doll system (pixel art) for it. I’m not sure if I’ll manage, but I have a few random (not very good, as you’ll see) pixel art doodles to prove that I haven’t been wasting all of my spare time playing Civilization… >_>

Kindle Experiment Update (And What I’ve Been Up To In September)

Well, September isn’t over, but my experiment with pricing my biopunk novel, Fourwar, on Amazon Kindle at $0.99 is. I reduced the price at the beginning of September, made the requisite announcements on Twitter and my other social networks, and pressed on with my (admittedly light) marketing efforts. Net result? Zero sales, no change from August.

To further my experiment, I’ve decided to go the other way and try a month priced at $4.99 instead. I suspect the price doesn’t really matter if you’re an “unknown” author. I also suspect that, like Robert Sawyer hints on his blog, self publishing is hard in SF generally – whether you take that as “speculative fiction” or “science fiction,” it seems like this stuff is just not going to fly off “virtual” shelves in the same way that a titillating romance novel or a traditional whodunit would. So, more work on marketing for me.:) Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to spam the fuck out of every blog and forum in existence, so trying to find more organic ways of advertising has been challenging.

In terms of measuring general interest and exposure, I get somewhat confusing results comparing awstats reports to Google Analytics reports on my blog, and the latter can’t track certain things. What I do know is that my own website stats claim that, in September to date, the free PDF version of Fourwar was downloaded 19 times, and my first novel, Alice [free PDF], 10 times. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, Amazon doesn’t show Kindle page traffic to authors, so you’re out of luck trying to figure out if you’re even being noticed on Amazon if you aren’t actively making sales.

Anyway, the experiment will press on. My third novel, a sort of urban sci-fantasy tale, is sitting at about 50,000 unedited words now, so small progress! I’m hoping to have a finished draft by the end of the year (but I know I said that before). I’m also working on yet-another-edit of Alice, which I’ll then place on the Amazon Kindle store as well as leaving it available under a CC license here.

I’ll close with a couple of very rough-draft thumbnails of images I’m working on – more things that I hope to finish by the end of the year.:)

Nate’s Trogdor

In case you ever wondered about why I have a sort of strange dragon (maybe a sea-dragon or sea serpent?) as my “avatar” here and there, a few years ago I stumbled over this Strong Bad email (flash video with sound, SFW) and decided I could handle drawing an S with a more bigger S.;) One day I found myself a bit bored and had scrap paper and a pencil lying around, so I sketched it out.

Click below to see the original sketch, in all of its messy glory. But definitely watch the video first!


More playing around with my tablet. This one is just intended to portray some sort of night-elementals, both the figure and the caged lantern-creature. Somebody suggested the latter is a bit like the жар-птица (firebird) from Slavic lore, which is amusing, since I was initially going for something like caged glowing birds, maybe phoenix-like, or a bird-firefly hybrid. I think it ended up being as much flora as fauna. I was initially going for “spooky,” but I never manage to pull that off.:P Anyway, just done for fun. Enjoy.:)

Nightbird drawing
Night Spirits

Music of the Week

I’m always searching for new stuff to listen to, both for inspiration and variety, and lately my favorite bands have been female-fronted metal bands along the lines of Lacuna Coil and Tracktor Bowling, and some of the more progressive punk/post-punk groups like The Receiving End of Sirens. I don’t seem to have been able to find many female vocalists doing the latter style, although I’m not really sure why. I don’t see anything fundamentally “male” about it.

This week I’ve come across two new bands that are making my playlist for the next few months, probably.

First, we have Head Phones President, a crazy Japanese project featuring Anza, a singer/actress/model who apparently did a long stint as the first Sailor Moon and has a disco-esque side project (Vitamin-Q).


The vocals remind me a bit of a cross between Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) and Björk. There’s a definite “experimental” quality to the band, and the lyrics are nonsensical for the most part (and when they aren’t, the vocalist’s accent is too strong to make sense of them anyway). I like the energy, and the way the sounds cross from melodic to heavy and back again.

Secondly, a Korean find – 49 Morphines. This one is basically screamo, I think, with a definite progressive streak. It reminds me a bit of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, if GBYE had screamo vocalists and more of a metal edge.


The song takes a while to develop, and while I’m not a fan of screamed lyrics beyond the random word or line by a female vocalist, these guys somehow manage to do it grating on my nerves. I have no idea what the lyrics are about, since I don’t speak Korean, and even if I did, the screaming makes them practically indecipherable, but the music is great.

New Novel Posted – FourWar

Just a quick note to mention that I finally posted my second novel (finished right at the end of 2005!) on this website under my writing section. FourWar is a bit (okay, a lot!) less fantastic than Alice, trading off the dreamlike qualities for something best described as a sort of sociological cyberpunk scifi blend, but I’ll let my readers tell me exactly what it is.;)

Additionally, I’ve posted a reformatted version of Alice, which should be somewhat more readable than the first version (single-spaced now, Verdana instead of Courier, etc.).


Music Update

I’ve decided to go ahead and make all of my completed (and one mostly-complete) tracks available here under a CC-BY-SA License. There are 13 tracks so far, all trance-influenced electronica, some with female vocals by Naomi. Any and all feedback is appreciated, but mostly — enjoy!

On a related note, I’m making decent headway on a new track which I’ll hopefully release before the end of the year if I manage to get enough breathing room around my upcoming web-based game project which is now running a private alpha. I’ll convert that project to public alpha shortly, so keep an eye out for a post announcing this!