Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: Mass Effect

A Look Back at Mass Effect and What Went Wrong

Let’s face it, there’s been little doubt Bioware has problems, not since Mass Effect: Andromeda was released. From some of the worst facial animations I’ve seen on a game from that studio (you have to go back to long before the original Mass Effect to find them) to news the Montreal studio was being shut down and merged with a new EA studio in the same town, Mass Effect fans have been wondering what the future of the franchise might be.

A week or so ago, it seemed fairly certain the studio was abandoning at least ME:A, if not the entire franchise. There came the announcement that there would be no single player dlc. Oh, they’d continue supporting the multi-player platform but fans wondered for how long. Bioware announced the remaining contracted books would come out but, let’s face it, that doesn’t exactly thrill the hardcore gamer. We want games to play in the Mass Effect universe and we want the questions left hanging in ME:A answered, either on our consoles or on our PCs, not in a book or graphic novel. We want to PLAY the game, not read it. The books are fine, as tie-ins. Not as substitutions.

And yes, I get the irony of a writer saying that.

Now, there is a small glimmer of hope for the future of the franchise. Casey Hudson, the man behind the success of the original Mass Effect Trilogy, has returned to Bioware as its general manager. I, for one, cheered when I first heard the news. When he left Bioware several years ago, I was concerned about how ME:A would fare. Between that and the game being shipped over to Montreal for development instead of staying with the originating studio worried me and, it appears, with good reason.

That said, I liked ME:A, despite its problems — and there were a slew of them. Note, liked it but didn’t love it and I loved the original trilogy. I enjoyed Andromeda’s combat system and the ability to switch between combat profiles on the fly. But a good combat system doesn’t make up for the lack of a compelling story, nor does it overcome lousy animations. Not in what should have been a premier game.

Last night, I sat down after finishing work and decided to play for a few minutes. As I noted in my earlier post, I’ve been replaying the Dishonored series in preparation for Dishonored: Death of the Insider. But I wasn’t in the mood for stealth and decided to start a replay of the original Mass Effect Trilogy. As I did, I found myself thinking about why I keep going back to ME. What is it that calls to me as a gamer? And, other than the animation/visuals, what about ME:A doesn’t call as much to me?

From the beginning of the first Mass Effect game, you knew there was something at stake. You knew the bad guy you fought was just the prelude and so much more was at stake than your own life or the survival of your ship and crew. There was an urgency in Mass Effect that built through ME 2 and culminated in ME 3. (We will forget about the ending of ME 3, which I still think is a cop-out)

But there is more to it. From the very start of Mass Effect, while you are watching the introductory scenes, you get a feel for Commander Shepherd. You know there is a history there, one you want to explore. It doesn’t matter which backstory you choose. You already know something about Shep and you want to find out more about it and you want to know how it will impact the game ahead.

You don’t have that with ME:A. All you know at first is there has been a colonization effort launched prior to the end of the original trilogy — something we never heard of before. That bothered me because, in the middle of a war where the players know that to lose means the extinction of all sentient life, there should have been some mention of plans to send people out of the galaxy in the hopes of saving civilization that way. But nope, no mention of.

The real problem, in my mind, with Andromeda is that Ryder, whether you play as Scott or Sarah, isn’t compelling. Sure, Ryder is thrust into the role of Pathfinder when Alec Ryder, the father, is killed. Until then, Ryder is simply another member of the Pathfinder team, not even the second-in-command. What you wind up getting is on the job training of your Pathfinder but in a very Mary Sue way because nothing goes wrong. Oh, there are evil aliens that want to rule the Andromeda sector but there are no missions that fail. No side quests, at least that I recall, where you can fail to rescue someone or something and that, in turn, has an impact on what happens next.

Since Andromeda came out, I’ve played the game twice. Once as Scott and once as Sarah. It was fun but it doesn’t rank up there as the great game it could have been. I said in an earlier review of Andromeda that the biggest mistake Bioware made was in calling this a Mass Effect game. I understand they wanted to cash in on the franchise but all they wound up doing is damaging the franchise, possibly fatally.

It takes more than having a character dressed in N7 armor or having a few recordings of fan favorite Liara to make this a Mass Effect-worthy game. Easter eggs like opening the right dialog boxes to reference Miranda Lawson aren’t enough either. There was a feel, a sense to Mass Effect that is missing in Andromeda. Bioware didn’t want another Commander Shepherd. That was their biggest mistake. This game needed a hero. Instead, it got an intern trying to step into daddy’s shoes and doing so without ever stumbling.

Nope, that’s not the way to do it.

We knew from the beginning that the Ryder, brother and sister, would live. We knew they would find someplace for their “Arc” to dock or land. We knew they would fight the bad guys and prove they belonged in Andromeda. And we never got the feel of being in peril we got from Saren or Sovereign in the first game. We never had a manipulator like the Illusive Man in ME2 and ME3. We never doubted we would win out.

What does this mean for the future of Mass Effect? With Hudson back at the helm of Bioware, not all hope is lost. He has tweeted that he would like to explore the universe again. But that most definitely isn’t the news the fans want. We want to know there will be a new game, one worthy of the first three. There is potential with ME:A. It was dropped due to poor management, poor design decisions, outsourcing to under-qualified designers and programmers. We’ll not even talk about the writing. But the potential for future GOOD games in the ME:A universe is there or Bioware could do what some fans have wanted since the end of ME3 — it could go into the future of the Milky Way or allied space and show us what’s happened and how everyone managed to come back from the destruction of the war.

Heck, it could pick up from the one ending where there was a glimmer of hope Shepherd was still alive.

One this is certain, if Bioware drops the ball again with a game like ti did with ME:A, the studio will be in serious trouble. Gamers can forgive a great deal but they can’t forgive bad game after bad game. We have long and vengeful memories at times.

 

An update and a few thoughts

A week or so ago, I went on a rant about Origin and EA customer support. It wasn’t the first time I’ve had issue with a game through those two stalwarts — and I use that term very loosely. For the second or third time, I had a game that worked just fine and then, without any updates to my gaming laptop, it suddenly quit working. Oh, it would play just fine in off-line mode but trying to log into the EA/Origin servers? Nope, it wasn’t going to happen.

Due to prior experience trying to get help from Origin/EA support, I exhausted every other avenue first. That included uninstalling and reinstalling not only Origin but the game itself. Turning off processes that might be interfering. Making sure all my drivers were updated. Nothing. So, out of desperation, I contacted Origin — multiple times. Once I basically told them to get over themselves when they wanted me to reinstall my OS. What none of them could seem to grasp was that the game worked fine, unless I wanted to play online.

Finally, I was told they were escalating my issue up the chain and when — and if — their techies figured out what was going on, they’d contact me. No other information was available. At some point in the future, near or far, they’d be in contact with me but only if they figured out what was wrong.

I’ll admit I wasn’t going to hold my breath. I’d been told that before. This time, however, my confidence in them was less than it had ever been. Why? Not only couldn’t they seem to understand the game worked fine. The issue was simply logging into that particular game’s servers. Every other Origin game worked and logged into its server just fine. What made it worse was the techs, both the tech dealing with me on the phone and the one up the ladder he supposedly went to for further help before escalating my issue, couldn’t read and understand a date code.

You see, when I’d talked with Origin a week earlier, I’d sent them all the data about my gaming rig, including processes running, etc. That information was no longer accurate because I’d turned off further services, etc., services they kept telling me in the current call to turn off.

So, with nothing accomplished except making me more determined than ever to deal with Origin as little as possible in the future, I rang off and wrote the game off. I knew I’d never hear from Origin again.

You can imagine my surprise when, day before yesterday, I tried the game and — gasp — it logged into the server without a bit of trouble. Nope, I hadn’t heard from Origin. So who knows what changed. At least the game works. Even so, that bad taste in my mouth when it comes to Origin and EA remains. As does, to be honest, the bad taste of having to use a 3rd party platform to play a game because game publishers don’t want to let us have discs any more but want us logging in periodically so they can see what we are doing.

But, the game works and I guess that is all that matters.

Moving on.

E3 is coming up in just a few weeks and the “leaks” and announcements have started. One of those announcements deals with Far Cry 5. Not only has Ubisoft released the official announcement trailer, it has released several teasers trailers as well.

Now, it’s pretty clear the game is going to center around a religious cult of some sort and the resistance against it. As you can imagine, there are already articles coming out praising Ubisoft — as long as they make the right political statement. I’ve seen headlines hoping they are “thoughtful” about how they handle the storyline. (Check out the Dallas Morning News) Gamespot says Ubisoft can make a “serious political statement. . . or get it very, very wrong.”

All of which had me asking when it became more important for a game to make a political statement than it did to have, oh, good game play and a story line that kept the players involved?

That is a lesson Bioware needs to learn — and quickly. It may not have officially announced the death of the Mass Effect franchise but the writing is on the wall. And that’s unfortunate because the original Mass Effect trilogy was a blast to play. Sure, the ending of ME 3 was a serious let down, especially after having thought our decisions through the games would actually make a difference in the outcome of the game. I didn’t mind Shepard sacrificing himself (or in my case, herself) at the end of ME3. Hell, I expected Shep to die. But the way it was handled sucked eggs. Dirty, rotten eggs.

Still, the trilogy was great gameplay with a great storyline that kept fans coming back for more.

I had great hopes when they announced ME: Andromeda — until they started talking about the storyline and I started reading comments from certain members of the design team. Bioware didn’t help itself when it released the game before it was ready. I’ll not go into the problems with facial animations and other issues. Been there, done that.

All that said, the combat system is more than decent and, in a lot of cases, fun. Bioware — much as I’m afraid Ubisoft is going to do in Far Cry 5 — didn’t worry as much about a storyline that would keep fans interested. They looked at current social and political issues and tried to feed those into the game in such a way that everyone would be happy. Then, when someone or some group voiced disapproval, they spent time trying to appease that group instead of working on the quality of the gameplay.

In other words, Bioware and, unless it is very careful, Ubisoft, is going the way of traditional publishing. It is forgetting that appeasing a few voices can and often will alienate their core fans. Sure, any business wants to expand its fan base. But you don’t do that at the expense of losing your core. Why? Simple economics. You know what your core is. You know basically how many units they will buy. If you alienate them, you cut, often sharply, into that number of units sold without a guaranteed new audience to replace the loss.

Am I saying that there shouldn’t be more gay or trans or non-white characters? Absolutely not. I love that modern games, at least most of those I play, allow you to choose not only the sex but the “look” of your character and the way you interact with characters can, at least in some games, choose your sexual orientation. However, that should not be the guiding force of a game.

Developers need to remember that gamers first want a game that looks good and that has mechanics that work. They don’t want to pay $50 or more for a game that looks like it could have been developed 5 or 10 years ago.

They want a game that will challenge their abilities, be it an RTS or a puzzle-solver or a FPS or an MMORPG.

They want a story that is engaging and helps them identify with the characters. Look at it this way, if you don’t grab a gamer and keep their interest, they won’t keep playing. In that they are like readers. If they aren’t invested in the book, they won’t finish it.

As a female gamer, I don’t want to see male characters who only think of female characters as fuck toys. I like being able to play some games as a kick ass female character. But that is all secondary to having kick ass graphics and mechanics as well as an engaging story. Everything else is icing on the cake.

Isn’t it time for game designers and publishers to understand that it really doesn’t matter how good the icing is. That it’s the cake underneath that matters. If that sucks, no one is going to come back for seconds and that is going to impact the company’s bottom line.

Some weekend thoughts

Yay! It’s the weekend. That means time to do more remodeling and writing and editing and . . . wait, that sounds like what the week has been like. I thought weekends were for putting your feet up and relaxing. Hmmm. Maybe I’m doing this weekend thing wrong.

Or not. You see, I enjoy the remodeling stuff and the writing. The editing, not so much. At least not when I’m editing my own work. But that’s the life of a writer. You do what you have to do. The way I make it work is breaking the tedium of editing up with things I like to do — like painting and ripping out cabinets, etc.

Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t have some real fun this weekend. Hopefully, you guys are as well.

One of the things I do is play video games. Anyone who’s followed this blog for long knows I’m a fan of the Mass Effect series. Bioware pushed the genre forward wit the original trilogy. Yes, they screwed the pooch with the original ending of the ME3 and the extended ending didn’t do much to correct the problem. But it was still one of the best game series I’ve ever played.

So, when Bioware announce Mass Effect: Andromeda, I greeted the announcement with both pleasure and trepidation. I was pleased because I loved the original trilogy so much. I worried because of how they mucked up the ending. When you spend three games making choices and being told those choices will have an impact on the ending of the game only to find out they don’t, not really, well, you lose some trust in the game designers.

The initial reviews of the game did nothing to reassure me, even though I’d played the first 10 hours pre-release as part of the Origin Access program. Yes, the facial animations were wonky. Yes, some of the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. But there were strong points that countered those negatives. As long as you weren’t looking at the faces, or at least not focusing on them, the game looked gorgeous. The battle system is a lot of fun. I like being able to switch between profiles and change combat styles in the middle of battle. I don’t like being limited to only 3 powers but you get around that with your favorite profile builds.

But, having now played through the game and spending a few hours back with ME2 and ME3, I know what I’ve been missing with Andromeda. I miss the connection with the main character and the sense of urgency you have in the original trilogy. In it, you know you are fighting for the survival of not only Earth but the entire Sol System. The Reapers want you dead and yours dead. It is a fight for the survival of your species and that urgency isn’t ever forgotten.

Yes, Andromeda is a fight for survival as well but that sense of urgency isn’t there, not yet at any rate. It might show up in the next game. I hope so.

Ryder, whether you play as male or female, isn’t the kick-ass hero that Commander Shepherd was. That’s played up and, in a way, I like seeing Ryder grow from someone who was basically supposed to fill a support role to being the Pathfinder. But there are so many questions left unanswered, questions I hope the game devs answer in the upcoming DLC and sequel. If not, Bioware has well and truly screwed their fans.

All that said, Andromeda is a fun game, especially if you can set aside your experience with the original trilogy and just play the game for what it is.

Now, in case you would rather read this weekend than game, here are a couple of books that have come with recommendations from friends. I haven’t had a chance to read them yet but I trust those who recommended them.

The first is Division One: A Small Medium at Large, by Stephanie Osborn.

What if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was right all along, and Harry Houdini really DID do his illusions, not through sleight of hand, but via noncorporeal means? More, what if he could do this because…he wasn’t human?

Ari Ho’d’ni, Glu’g’ik son of the Special Steward of the Royal House of Va’du’sha’ā, better known to modern humans as an alien Gray from the ninth planet of Zeta Reticuli A, fled his homeworld with the rest of his family during a time of impending global civil war. With them, they brought a unique device which, in its absence, ultimately caused the failure of the uprisings and the collapse of the imperial regime. Consequently Va’du’sha’ā has been at peace for more than a century. What is the F’al, and why has a rebel faction sent a special agent to Earth to retrieve it?

It falls to the premier team in the Pan-Galactic Law Enforcement and Immigration Administration, Division One — the Alpha One team, known to their friends as Agents Echo and Omega — to find out…or die trying.

Next up is Tanager’s Fledglings by Cedar Sanderson.

When the starship’s captain died midway through a run with a cargo of exotic animals, the owner gave first mate Jem one chance, and one choice. The chance: if he successfully runs the trade route solo, he’ll become the new captain. If he fails, he’ll lose the only home he’s ever known.

And the choice? He’s now raising an old earth animal called a basset hound. Between station officials, housebreaking, pirates, and drool, Jem’s got his hands full!

Finally, because what sort of author would I be without promoting one of my own titles, we have Witchfire Burning.

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

 

First Impressions

Yesterday, I joined a number of gamers taking advantage of Origin Access to play 10 hours of Mass Effect Andromeda – PC before the game’s official release. No, I didn’t play all 10 hours. For one, I couldn’t download the preview until 1630 hrs. Then I had to take care of a couple of things, be somewhat social with family and, as I said, I had a migraine. So, I played approximately two hours and that is enough to confirm that I am looking forward to playing some more.

I am playing the game on PC. Specifically on a ROG laptop. My video card won’t let me run the game at max specs but, damn, I don’t need to. The game is beautiful and I saw no stuttered or any other video issues.

To save a few minutes, I accepted the default build for Sarah Ryder. When I start a new game and am not on a countdown clock, I will play with the character creation possibilities. I did choose Sarah for two reasons. One, I played mainly as FemShep in the original ME trilogy. For another, the clips I’ve seen of the game leave me thinking Scott Ryder is pretty much a whiner. There is something about his voice I don’t like. So, for this limited play, I went with the character I felt would annoy me the less.

I’ll admit, the opening sequence is longer than I expected. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But when you are watching the clock counting down, every minute of actual game play counts. Once you get through the opening sequence, you learn a little about your character and the mission. I’m going to try to go through the rest without any spoilers. So, no real discussion of plot until the game is out and I’ve managed to play more of it.

The controls are familiar. There are two main changes from the previous games. The first is your scanner. It allows you to scan tech, flora and fauna and the information you gain as a result can have an impact on the game later on. The second change is you have a jetpack. That’s pretty cool and it gives combat a whole new dimension.

There are some easter eggs you come on pretty early into the game as well. When you get to the Nexus, you can find a model of the Normandy SR2. There are also recordings from Liara. No, she isn’t a character in this game — at least not so far and not from what I understand based on interviews I’ve read with Bioware designers and execs.

There are other changes as well and I am reserving judgment on them until I’ve played some more. You aren’t tied to a class like you were in the other games. In other words, you aren’t a Sentinel or Soldier or Engineer, etc. You also can use any weapon, or so I understand. That means the decisions you can add powers/abilities to meet the sort of combat you want. The Paragon/Renegade system is also gone. That means you choose your conversation options more on how you think your character would react to the situation instead of almost automatically choosing the answer that best fits the “nature” you chose for your character.

What is going to be interesting as I progress through the game is seeing how the game developers address the events in the original trilogy. After all, more than 600 years have passed since the end of the trilogy. There is no canon ending, or so I understand. (And I still have issues with the ending of ME3). Still, there are issues that could be mentioned/addressed no matter what your particular ending was.

All in all, I am enjoying the game and am considering doing what I rarely do — pre-ordering the game. More than that, I am considering buying the deluxe edition of it. Not because I care about the multiplayer packs or extra outfits but because I like the score for the game so far and would wind up paying the price difference to buy the soundtrack. No decision yet but that’s the way I’m leaning.

Fair warning, if you are a multiplayer fan, ME:A does have multiplayer and it is getting pretty good reviews so far. However, there are micro-transactions included in it. That’s something I don’t like.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the game so far and will keep playing until my 10 hours are done. The release date is March 20th in the US.

In the meantime, if you need something to read,  Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) is now available for download. Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered it. Thanks to those of you who are buying it now. I have one more favor to ask. Please leave a review. It doesn’t have to be long. Reviews are one way you can do “word of mouth” to help spread the news about the book.

 

Oooh, shiny

This time every year, gamers turn their attention to E3 to see if there will be new console or handheld gaming system announced and to see what new games are going to be teased. This year is no exception. Even though E3 hasn’t officially started, there have already been some exciting news coming out of the different venues.

Let’s start with EA’s press conference yesterday. I know, I know. EA is an abomination with Origin, etc. It also has some of my most anticipated games. So I guess it is a case of better the devil you know. . . .

Battlefield 1 has been much hyped and anticipated. It is a first-person shooter set during World War I. Due to be released this Fall, EA has been hyping this game for some time now. Looking at the gameplay trailer shown yesterday, it is easy to see why.

Titanfall 2 is another one I’m looking forward to. One of the biggest complaints about the original Titanfall was the lack of a single-player campaign. Titanfall 2 will correct that oversight and if the campaign lives up to the gameplay trailer EA released yesterday, it is going to be a lot of fun.

Finally, the game I am both looking forward to and dreading is Mass Effect Andromeda. I’m looking forward to it because I loved the Mass Effect trilogy, even with the botched ending of Mass Effect 3. I’m dreading it because I’ve been disappointed too many times by games, movies and books that don’t live up to the previous work in a series. I’m not actually worried by the fact EA/Bioware has delayed the release to the first quarter of next year (the last I looked). I would rather them do that than to push out a game that is too buggy to play or, worse, is nothing but a poor shadow of the previous games.

I will admit, I had hoped for some gameplay footage but that will have to wait. Instead, EA released this clip.

But EA wasn’t the only developer to release some exciting news. Bethesda, developer of one of my other favorite games, Dishonored, had some news of its own to release yesterday. First up was word that they would be releasing Quake Champions.

Next up is for those of us who have been drooling over the new Doom but who have yet to drop the $60 or so to buy it. Bethesda and Id are going back to the roots of Doom and offering shareware — oops, a demo — of Doom. For a limited time, you can download and play for free the first level on the campaign. Even better news, you can do it on your PS4, XBox One or your PC.

And then there was word on what is probably my most anticipated game so far: Dishonored 2. Coming out in November, if I remember correctly, it picks up with the characters from Dishonored some 15 years or so after the end of the first game. As with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, you can play as either Korvo, the playable character from Dishonored, or as Emily. Both have their own set of abilities and the video shown yesterday is enough to have me planning on getting the game just as soon as I can.

Ubisoft has its press conference later today. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

Gaming, inspiration and an update

I know. I know. The title of the post seems to be a little bit all over the place but there is a connection. In this instance, it is what I’ve been doing to get into the mood to tackle the final draft of Victory from Ashes.

I don’t know about other writers, but after I finish a project, I’m wrung. Mentally and physically, I feel like I’ve been on a marathon to end all marathons and I need time to recharge and make the mental shift for the next project. That has been doubly hard this time because I am not writing the book I thought I would be. After finishing Honor from Ashes, I planned to finish writing Dagger of Elanna, second in the Sword of the Gods series. Then came the debacle with the wrong file being attached to the title on Amazon and the week plus it took for Amazon to correct the situation. I won’t go back into that whole fiasco other to say that I knew I needed to do something to thank those who pre-ordered the book and stuck through the problems until the correct file could be downloaded.

I finally decided I would write at least one short story in the Honor and Duty universe and release it here for free for a limited time before taking it to Amazon. So the question became what story should I write and what character(s) should I focus on? That question has been answered and not one but three short stories have been drafted.

TAKING FLIGHTThe first, Taking Flight, should be ready to go up on this blog by the end of next week. It’s been drafted and the cover has been created. I will leave it up on the blog for a week before removing it and putting it up for sale on Amazon.

Taking Flight tells the tale of Ashlyn Shaw’s first assignment after receiving her commission. It isn’t all easy going nor is it exactly what she expected. While there will be explosions and gunfire — what space opera or mil-sf doesn’t have them? — there will also be some insight into her family background that hasn’t made it into the books. This is also a much younger Ashlyn, one who hasn’t learned some of the very hard lessons the older version has been forced to learn.

The next two stories, Battle Bound and Battle Wounds, will follow in one to two week intervals. As with Taking Flight, they will be offered for free here for a week or so before I take them down before putting them up on Amazon. Battle Bound takes place approximately 4 – 5 years before the series opens and involves Ash’s first command as a Devil Dog. Battle Wounds will give a look at the events that led up to Ash’s court martial.

So what does this have to do with gaming and inspiration? That is simple, at least this time. To get my mind away from fantasy-mode, necessary for Dagger of Elanna but not for the short stories or Victory from Ashes, I did what I normally do. I read. I reread Heinlein and Weber, Nuttal and more. But it was to no avail. My brain simply wasn’t making the transition back to the SF side. Music and movies didn’t do it either. That left one thing — gaming.

So I loaded up Mass Effect Trilogy — again. Despite the botched ending of ME3, this is still one of my favorite game series. It is highly replayable because of the different choices you can make during the games and the different classes you can play as. Because I haven’t played the games in some time, the game isn’t automatic. I have to think about what is coming next and plan my strategies and, in doing so, the switch in my head was turned on and the SF writing side came back to life.

Sometimes it takes doing something different from writing to get that switch to turn on. No, I’m not writing ME fan fiction for the next book or the short stories. There are no Krogan or Assari or any of the other characters anywhere in my work. It was the mindset, something about figuring out where to position my character and the NPCs in a firefight, as well as whether to let someone live or die, that seemed to do it.

So now the writing is coming fast and furious. The very rough draft of Victory from Ashes will soon become a workable draft that can be sent off to the alpha reader. The one good thing this inability for a couple of weeks to work in the SF world did was it gave me the chance to finish the very rough draft of Dagger of Elanna. That means I should only need two months or so to get it ready for publication after Victory comes out. If all goes as plans, that means I will be back on my publishing schedule by October.

Fingers crossed.

But to do so, I need to get off the internet and get to work. Until tomorrow!

I can hardly wait

For years, Bioware has been one of my favorite game developers when it comes to RPGs. There are a number of reasons why but it all really comes down to one main thing — the story. The first Bioware game I remember playing is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. That was quickly followed by Jade Empire. Later came the Mass Effect trilogy and the three Dragon Age games. I have played these games across platforms and, for a few, have them for both console and PC.

I’m not one of those who demands that the main playable character be female just because I am. Nor do I worry about what their race or sexual orientation might be. What I worry about are gameplay mechanics and story. Both are integral for my enjoyment of a game but, in an RPG, story takes on even more importance than it does in any other sort of video game.

It’s been a year or more since I’ve put any real game time into playing the Mass Effect games. Instead, I’d been immersed in games like the three Borderlands games, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Tomb Raider and more. I’d revisited games like the Ratchet and Clank games on PS3 (and PS2). Let’s not forget Jax and Daxter as well. All are fun and all for different reasons.

E3 2015 has been going on this week. For those not familiar with it, E3 is sort of like Disneyland for gamers. It is when the major studios and developers announce their upcoming games. Sometimes we get to see in-game play. Other times, we get in-game cinematics. Among the most dramatic announcements this year was the upcoming Fallout 4 and the upcoming release of Final Fantasy VII for Xbox One. For me, one of the highlights was seeing the video from Mass Effect: Andromeda, the long awaited next game in the Mass Effect galaxy.

Bioware hasn’t said much about ME: Andromeda yet. It has said this:

[T]his game is very much a new adventure, taking place far away from and long after the events of the original trilogy. You will play a human, male or female, though that’s actually not the character you saw in the trailer (more on that later). You’ll be exploring an all-new galaxy, Andromeda, and piloting the new and improved Mako you saw. And through it all, you will have a new team of adventurers to work with, learn from, fight alongside of, and fall in love with.

That last sentence is the essence of much of the philosophy surrounding Bioware games. They want a game the gamer can become fully immersed in. There is more to the game than running escort missions or hunter-gather missions. You can develop relationships with the non-playable characters. You can romance them, if you want. If Bioware follows past history, and I know of no reason why it won’t, those romances can be hetero or gay. It doesn’t matter. You choose the path you take, and that includes celibacy.

For now, ME: Andromeda is scheduled to drop during the holiday season of 2016. That is a long time away. Next year’s E3 will give us more, hopefully some gameplay footage as well as an actual release date. Until then, I will play the original Mass Effect trilogy again, maybe more than once since it has been awhile since I last played it. For now, here is the trailer for the upcoming game.

 

 

Revisiting an Old Friend

I love video games. I’ve never made a secret of that. They are what I do in the evening when watching TV with my mother. (Frankly, it is the only way to keep my sanity when she wants to watch her reality TV.) I sit on the sofa with my laptop and am able to do something I enjoy while keeping her company. That’s very important now that she is getting older. Anyway, I digress.

Because of various reasons, I wound up doing a clean install of my gaming laptop a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I backed up my saved game files. But, as I reinstalled some of my favorite games, it gave me the chance to consider whether I wanted to throw those save files onto the HD or start anew. With a couple of games, like Dragon Age: Inquisition where I am still working for 100% completion, and Borderlands 2, I opted not to do so. I still have the files backed up but, if I wanted to play the games again, why not start off clean?

And that brings me around to the reason for this post. Earlier this week, I started replaying the Mass Effect games, starting with the original. Yes, I’ve already played them all several times. Yes, I know the so-called problems with the ending of ME3. I don’t care. Bioware did something very right with this series, something that lets me return to it from time to time and still enjoy playing it.

It cared enough to give us a story we can lose ourselves in. That is why so many people screamed and yelled and pitched a fit over the way ME3 ended. We had lived and breathed as Commander Shepherd, metaphorically speaking, for so long, we couldn’t accept the way the trilogy ended. Even when Bioware issued the “fix”, it wasn’t enough. It was better but, damn it, we wanted Shepherd to live and be reunited with her crew and her love.

Yes, her. That is something else Bioware did right, as it often does. It allowed you to spec out Shepherd to be male or female, gay or straight, good or bad. It let you become invested in a character you would spend hours and hours with over the course of the three games and the various DLCs. I played the games as male and as female. I’ve played as gay, straight and who-gives-a-damn. I’ve played it as good and bad.

So I’ve returned to the Mass Effect universe. This time, I’m playing as a female Shepherd. It’s still too early into ME to decide if I’m going to be good or bad, much less to decide who I’m going to romance — if I romance anyone. And you know what, it doesn’t matter. I’m enjoying myself and that’s all that matters.

I’ll admit, sitting down with ME1 is a little frustrating. The graphics aren’t as sharp as newer games and the gameplay is a bit dodgy at times. But it doesn’t really impact my enjoyment of the game. That’s especially true because I hadn’t played the original Mass Effect in something close to three years. That means I don’t remember where everything is and there are times things happen that surprise me. So my decisions won’t be the same as the last time I played it.

I’ll admit something else as well. ME1 is probably my least favorite of the series. But that’s okay, I still enjoyed it. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be replaying it now. In my opinion, the game suffers from the same issues many first entries in a series — book or film or game — often do. It has to build the history and foundation for the series. Bioware does a pretty good job with that part of it. With newer game engines for ME2 and ME3, the gameplay became more fun.

Of the games, ME2 is my favorite. More on that when I start replaying it. Until then, there are Reapers to defeat and plots to uncover. Who knows, there might even be a romance or two to enjoy along the way.

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