Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Analyzing the bad Mass Effect 3 ending

Posted in science fiction by commorancy on April 12, 2012

So, when you next head over to Amazon, but not right now, you will find a bunch of very negative reviews of Mass Effect 3.  Apparently, there’s somewhat of a backlash going based the last 10 minutes of Mass Effect 3.  It seems, though, that most gamers including myself have found the lead up to the ending reasonably enjoyable if not overly short. As I said in my previous article on this subject, it wasn’t until the very end where it all fell apart.  So, I’m going to analyze why this ending sucked so much.  Again, spoilers ahead so stop reading now if you want to play..

My Analysis of the Backlash

When you create a multi-part game, you have to keep in mind the goal and outcome for the final character.  Players have invested substantial time into not only the story, but in building out their own character in that universe.  At the same time, the story being built needs to slowly introduce new concepts along the way so we’re not surprised at the end by something unexpected. Unexpected is what we got from Mass Effect 3.  Unfortunately too, it was the result of an Ex Deus Machina late addition to the story at the final few minutes of the game.  In fact, the character that was introduced seemed added as afterthought, but at the same time didn’t fit at all within the concept of the game.

The Citadel Entity

This character was introduced in the final 10 minutes of the game.  I’m actually fine with introducing characters, but not immortal, unkillable, omnipotent characters.  Unfortunately, this is what we got from the entity on the Citadel.  Why is this a problem?  Omnipotent characters (characters with unlimited and extraordinary powers) can almost certainly not be defeated by an ordinary human.  However, assuming that Shepard was rebuilt from both machine and man, he might have been able to overcome his human side and fulfill that destiny.  Unfortunately, though, the game designers also decided to make this character as a spirit and immortal.  How do we know he’s immortal?  He clearly explains that he has gone through this cycle multiple times in the galaxy.  That is, wiping organics out and letting them flourish back.  How do we know he’s omnipotent?  He also admitted that he’s the one who builds the reapers… from humans! Basically, he subjugates the humans into becoming reapers to do his bidding. So, unless there’s a reaper factory out there turning humans into reapers, he’s got some severely fantastical powers.

The entity also states he’s living ‘in’ the Citadel, for whatever that means.  There’s nothing that says he can’t live somewhere else, though.  So, even if the Citadel structure may be destroyed, that doesn’t mean the entity will be destroyed also.

The Real Enemy

Actually, this wasn’t even discussed and should have been.  Once Shepard reaches the Citadel and begins getting the full story from the entity, it should have been clear as glass.  The reaper threat paled next to the threat that this entity poses.  If this entity is truly at the bottom of the whole reaper invasion and if he can make them at will and do it time and time again throughout eons, then nothing that Shepard can do with the Crucible will have any effect on that entity. Basically, killing the reapers was completely and utterly futile.  The entity can wait an infinite amount of time to start his task over again.  He simply needs to wait past everyone who remembers the Shepard era, rebuild the reapers (perhaps even ironically out of Shepard, Chakwas and other crew members) and have these new reapers start the cycle over.

That the writers completely failed to see the danger that this entity poses and, worse that they failed to let Shepard recognize it is a serious lack of judgement.  Any person who is military trained would have clearly spotted the danger that this entity poses, specifically after hearing this entity’s explanation.  Of course, if this entity is truly omnipotent, he could have been playing with Shepard’s mind and making him believe and do as he wished.  So, Shepard may not have been able to control his own actions against this entity.  And that’s the number one problem with using an immortal omnipotent being in any story.

This is a total cop-out method for story closure.  It means that the writers did not have enough confidence in their own abilities to write a satisfying conclusion and instead had to rely on a ‘trick’ to pull off the end.  That ‘trick’ cost them their review status on Amazon and severely damaged this franchise’s reputation, probably permanently.  EA/Bioware will be lucky if they can salvage this franchise for any use after this.

Can this be fixed?

That’s debatable.  Possibly.  However, it will take the writers to venture again into Ex Deus Machina territory to explain off the previous ending as nothing more than a mirage, illusion, dream sequence or other type of fantasy.  The one way I can even hope to see it work at all is by using the time when Shepard goes unconscious just after the ground reaper attack, but before he crawls to the portal.  That’s the time right before meeting the omnipotent immortal entity.  This could be explained off as simply as Shepard was fished from the surface of the planet in a coma and allowed to wake up.  Basically, the entire ending was simply a coma dream.  He simply fantasized it all because he wanted it to be over.

This would allow three things.  One, it will completely get rid of the immortal omnipotent entity from the story line (a totally unnecessary Ex Deus Machina character introduced way too late and without any previous setup).  Two, it allows the writers to completely regroup and come up with an actual ending that works.  It also allows EA/Bioware to continue this entire story into Mass Effect 4.  Three, even though using a ‘dream sequence’ is about as Ex Deus Machina as you can get, it does fit with ME3’s setup just enough that it could work.  The entire game kept revolving around Shepard’s dreams of chasing a boy.  So, the boy omnipotent entity could have simply been an extension of those dreams during his coma.

The trouble is, you can’t do this setup in ME3 at all.  It has to be done in ME4.  So, this will leave the fans hanging on this bad ending quite for some time before ME4 comes into existence. So, the problem is solved and Mass Effect 4 can continue.  But, how to undo the reputation issues quickly?  EA/Bioware will need to leak details of ME4 very very soon. Specifically, a video trailer to YouTube that shows Shepard waking up from his Coma, then some short dialog about what happened and an even shorter explanation that he never made it into the Citadel that gets immediately cut off by an explosion rocking the Normandy and off to work they go.

Of course, the reapers still need to be stopped as the relays are still active.  This could also lead into a very active opening for Mass Effect 4 and would allow Shepard to jump immediately into action to stop the heavy reaper invasion already in play.  So, he can’t remain in a coma very long or the Galaxy would be consumed by the huge reaper attack. They’ll need Chakwas to find a way to snap him out of it really fast. Note that this also means that the Elusive Man is still alive.

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A call to boycott ABC’s V series

Posted in computers, entertainment, itunes, science fiction, streaming media, TV Shows by commorancy on January 20, 2011

[Update: V has been cancelled as of May 13th.  Bye ‘V’.].

I have personally decided to boycott watching the new V series. No, not because the series isn’t good. It’s a reasonably good series, so far. No, it’s also not for any creative or story reasons you might think. The reason I have decided to boycott the V series is that whomever owns the rights or produces this series has decided to no longer allow streaming of new episodes in any form or on any Internet site, like Hulu or iTunes.

No more V on Hulu?

It’s not just Hulu that’s cut out of streaming for this show. It’s all streaming sites including ABC’s very own ABC.com site. You would think that since ABC owns the broadcast rights to the series and, in fact, are the ones who make the very decision whether V lives or dies as a series, that ABC would have the rights to stream this program online. No, apparently they do not. Very odd. It’s also not available on iTunes or Amazon either.

It almost seems like the producers are biting the hand that feeds them (in more ways than just one). Seriously, not even allowing ABC.com to stream episodes of V on their own site? This seems like the kiss of death for this series.

Rationale behind this decision

I have no inside scoop here, so I really have no idea what the producers were thinking. But, I can only guess that the reasoning is to force viewers to watch the show live on ABC (the TV channel) and only on the TV channel for its first run. So, on the one hand, this seems like a ratings bonanza. On the other hand, let’s explore the downside of this decision.

Viewer Demographics

Because V is very much a long continuous story arc format, if you miss even two episodes, you’re hopelessly lost. V isn’t a one-off monster-of-the-week series where you can watch an episode now and then. No, it is a long deep story arc that needs to be watched one episode at a time in order.

On top of the long story arc format, it is a science fiction program involving heavy uses of technology and intrigue. This genre choice automatically limits the types of viewers. So, the types of viewers that V tends to draw in are those who tend to be younger, tech savvy, internet knowledgeable types. Basically, the kind of viewers who tend to watch things on Hulu and download content from iTunes.

Producer miscalculation

So, on the one hand, the appearance is that this decision should allow the program to get higher ratings by forcing people to watch it live. On the other hand, Hulu and iTunes (and others) no longer have the rights to carry the back catalog of episodes to allow people to catch up.  If viewers can’t catch up, they’ll not watch it live either. If you get lost, there is no reason to watch as you can’t understand what’s going on anyway.  So, turn the channel and watch something else.

By alienating the exact demographic who tends to watch programs on Hulu combined with the lack of back catalog of episodes on Hulu for people to catch up with missed episodes, my guess is that this decision will seriously backfire on the producers. The ratings will, instead, drop and drop precipitously as the season progresses. In fact, I’d venture to guess that this decision may, in fact, be the sole reason for the death of this series. It’s clear that ABC won’t keep V on the air without viewers.  We know that.  But, you can’t keep viewers watching V by trying to appeal to the wrong demographic or by pissing on the fan base.

The streaming and Internet genie is out of the bottle.  You can’t go back to a time before the Internet and Hulu existed.  The producers seriously need to understand this. It’s unfortunate that the producers chose V for this experiment.  So far, V appears to be a good series and is probably worth watching. But, the producers also need to realize that removing choices of where and how this program can be viewed is not the answer. You need more viewers, not less.

Underground distribution

Of course, that just means that people will create xvids or mp4s of the show and distribute them via torrents.   So, instead of seeing legitimate views on legitimate sites with legitimate ad revenue, the whole thing now gets pushed underground where there is no ad revenue and views don’t help the show or the producers at all.  Not smart.  Not smart at all.

What is the answer?

The answer lies with Neilsen Ratings. In a time where streaming and instant (day after) releases are nearly common place, Neilsen still has no strategy to cover this media with ratings. TV ratings are still and only counted by live views. This company is seriously antiquated. It still solely relies on active Neilsen households watching programs live. Hulu views, DVR views and iTunes downloads do not count towards viewership or ratings. Yet, these ‘day after’ views can be just as relevant (or even more) today than live views. Today, counting only live views is fundamentally wrong.

Change needs to come with the ratings companies, not by producers trying to force the 70s viewing style in 2011. Neilsen needs to count all views of a program no matter where they are or when they are. The ratings game needs to change and must change to accommodate the future of TV. As TVs become Internet connected, this change will become even more important. Eventually, TV programming will be seamlessly delivered over the Internet. In fact, there will come a time when you ‘tune in’ and you won’t even know if it’s streamed or over the air.  In fact, why should you care?  A view is a view whether live or a month later.

Understanding Neilsen’s antiquated system

Of course, once you understand Neilsen’s outdated model, you can also understand why Neilsen is not counting any ratings other than live TV.  Why is that?  Because counting any other medium than live TV threatens the very existence of Neilsen’s service. Once broadcasters realize they can gather these numbers through Hulu, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other DVR and on-demand technologies directly, there is no need for Neilsen.  That is, once we’ve moved to streaming TV 100% it’s easy to get accurate counts.  Neilsen’s service was born out of the need to track viewers in a time when the Internet did not exist.  With the Internet, it’s much easier to track viewer activity and data in real time.  It’s also easy to get this information right from the places that have rights to stream.  So, with these real-time reporting methodologies, Neilsen really is no longer necessary.

Neilsen has always used an extrapolation methodology for its ratings statistics, anyway.  That is, only a tiny subset of homes throughout the country are Neilsen households.  So, when these Neilsen households watch, these small numbers are extrapolated to the larger population, even though there is really no way to know what non-Neilsen households are watching.  So, Neilsen’s ratings systems are actually very inaccurate.  Counting the numbers of views from Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Roku, Slingbox, Netflix and other streaming sites and technologies are exact and spot-on accurate.  In fact, these numbers are so exact, they can even be traced back to specific hardware devices and specific households, something Neilsen’s rating systems have never been capable of doing.  This is why Neilsen is scared to count online views.  This is why Neilsen is no longer needed.

Goodbye V

It was nice knowing ya. My instincts all say that the fan backlash from this decision will be swift and final. If this series manages to make it to the end of the 2011 spring season without cancellation, I’ll be amazed. However, if ABC cancels this show before June, that won’t surprise me. So, unless the producers make an about-face really fast with regards to this no-streaming experiment, this series is likely already cancelled… it just doesn’t yet know it. I’d also urge anyone reading (and especially Neilsen households) to boycott the new V series and send a message to the producers that not offering streaming options is not acceptable and that your program is dead without them. I can tell you that I won’t watch this series again until streaming options become available. This is not really a problem for me as there are plenty of other TV shows available. The problem here is for the cast and crew. These people are dedicating their time, effort and livelihoods to putting this series together only to be screwed over by the producers. Such is life in Hollywood, I guess.

Is Battlestar Galactica Christian allegory? Certainly appears so.

Posted in science fiction, TV Shows by commorancy on January 9, 2009

In Battlestar Galactica season 4, the writers’ religious allegory subtext is becoming ever more clear.  Not so much that the ‘Human’ Cylons look and act like humans, but it’s more about the underlying story subtexts.   Consider the story of 12 apostles vs the 12 cylon models.  Also, apparently, when the 12 models do come together, the world will change.  Consider that the human Cylons believe in ‘the one god’ vs the human humans who still believe in the ‘pagan gods’.   This is a blatant metaphor between our history of those Greeks/Romans who believed in the pagan gods vs those who believed in God (and Christ – Christianity).  Consider now that Baltar appears to have healing abilities and is also on an unknowing teaching mission.  Baltar also looks, at times, like BSG version of Christ.  In fact, the Cylons have practically hand picked Baltar to do their ‘one god’ spread-the-word bidding.

The story of finding Earth really is less of a goal than it appears.  Sure, Earth is the hope that the BSG survivors cling in order to start a new life.  But, inevitably, the Cylons will find any place that the humans choose to inhabit.  The whole story arc has set up so so many Christian religious allegorical undertones that I’m not thrilled by this aspect of the show.   The writers are at a crux.  They can either continue down the 12 Apostles + Christ path and conclude this show as a blatant metaphor for Christianity, or they can drop this subtext and turn it back into the Sci-Fi series that it should be.

Obviously, BSG is taking liberties with the Christian history in order to fit the context of the show, but it certainly appears that allegory is where BSG is heading.  I personally like Sci-Fi series that don’t try to bring real-world religious metaphors and morality plays as the show’s subtle (or blatant) message.  But, I guess the show writers are gonna do what they’re gonna do.  I’ll keep watching until this religious allegory arc becomes so unbearably tedious to watch, I’ll stop watching.  If I really want to read the Bible, I can read it for myself.  I don’t need to see it played out in a Science Fiction show.

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