Mass Effect 3 Demo Annotated – Part 2

From the House that brought you that last stuff – more of the same!


0:04

“How do you stop something so powerful?”

In the world of Mass Effect, terrain deformation is powerful! Any obstacle taller than a gradual incline that isn’t a chest-high wall or an open window completely resists navigation. I can just picture Anderson looking trapped as the Reaper gouges a ten-centimetre trench around him and he can’t go anywhere for lack of a jump button.

Though I know this is more or less how things were in the second game, having that pistol constantly raised to eye level except when Shepard runs just looks odd to me. Typically you only sight a handgun if you’re expecting to shoot something in the immediate future, not as a constant state while running to safety and dodging explosions, laser beams, and chunks of molten steel. At the very least it should automatically lower the gun while keeping the same hand position a moment after the last time it was used. I swear this is what an FPS protagonist would actually look like running around with a gun in their face at all times.

0:36

Even running full speed through this tutorial area, the player is still not fast enough to prevent Anderson from shouting at them to hurry up three times before they get close enough that he’ll put a sock in it.

I have Shamus Young to thank for my developing this pet peeve, but I cannot stand it when scripted NPC’s spout off random lines from a tiny pre-recorded pool every few seconds, especially when they’re telling you to hurry up, and even more so when there’s a room full of valuable loot in the way and you have to sift through all of the objects while they loop over the same lines ad nauseum. The same logic applies to combat taunts.

Nothing breaks immersion harder or faster than when a supposedly sentient human turns into a psychotic robot-parrot the moment you stop moving, and it should really be an easy thing to fix. All it takes is a longer delay between lines and a few minutes spent writing a basic logic system which shuts the character up after a while (with an appropriate closing line like “Fine, I’ll watch the door.” or something) and stops the same line from being repeated multiple times.

If a player is taking more than 20 seconds to do something, they have almost certainly heard your NPC and are deliberately delaying to do something more important. So put a lid on it.

1:08

I know I already had a go at the sound effects last update, but good lord it sounds like a midnight viewing of Mars Attacks on that plaza. Even the Husks want to get away from it!

WEEEEOOOWWWAAANNNNNNNGGGGG

2:10

The prodigal son returns. Video game parents really do have an absolutely wretched track record of keeping track of their young, defenseless children. Then again maybe this kid just has a death wish, because he just turned down the help of the solider who once faced a giant three-eyed Terminator-man-sludge-fetus in single combat and emerged the victor. It rubs me the wrong way how heavy-handed that line felt. I should already have the feeling that I won’t be able to help him; did he really have to break character (not to mention the fourth wall) completely and tell me that?

3:35

“We need to go to the Citadel… talk to the Council!”

Uh… Anderson? Were you not on the Council? Unless Udina took the position in this playthrough I don’t think there’s any possible continuity where Anderson didn’t wind up heavily involved with the Council. Did he resign? I really wonder if this is something which branches out depending on the ending of the first game, or if it’s one of those smashings-together of disparate choice branches which Bioware did so much of in Dragon Age 2.

3:56

“No but you were a Council Spectre – that has to count for something.”

Are you legitimately taking the piss out of how little being a Spectre mattered in Mass Effect 2, Bioware? I mean, I know you couldn’t have possibly expected us to fall for this line after we received no authority, support, or respect from the position whatsoever throughout the entirety of the last game… right?

The line also makes no sense at all even if Anderson is an ex-council member. Wouldn’t that count for a great many somethings? Now I really wonder if this dialogue branches based on your choices from the first game.

5:05

Well that was new. It’s downright weird how smooth that fall from the crumbling building was compared to the stiff and unnatural combat animations. I know that Bioware uses a great number of stock animations for their rigs out of an internal library that’s shared between all of their games (for instance, there’s a distinctive “pay up” gesture you can see in everything from the first Mass Effect to Dragon Age 2). It’s a very efficient way to make content like in-game cinematics without having to micro-manage a character’s poses and behaviour so long as the library is big enough to cover most environments and situations. Perhaps some of these are getting out of date?

5:36

Shepard zooms in and out of cover here. It’s obvious that after testing the game they decided to speed up most of the combat actions to raise the pace of the game. I’m of two minds when it comes to this: from a gameplay standpoint it sounds like a great idea that will make controlling Shepard feel tighter and more responsive, but from an art standpoint it looks immensely awkward because these are obviously much longer animations that have been sped rather than new ones of the appropriate length. At the end of the day I’ll gladly take the more responsive controls over visual fidelity, but they honestly should have at least tweaked these animations some after jacking up the speed.

The reason it looks like the game is being played in fast-forward is because not everything in an animation scales correctly with time – gravity and inertia for instance. If you simply double the speed on a four-second jump animation, the character falls and recoils from the impact twice as fast: gravity is doubled and inertia is halved. This looks very unnatural because it’s physically impossible to do. This is the same reason you can usually tell that something looks amiss in sped-up film footage from old movies and aren’t fooled into thinking the people on the screen are actually running faster so much as you are that time itself has sped up.

6:31

Did a Jabberwock just fly overhead? A Gargoyle? A Mutalisk?

Has it never heard that punctuality’s a virtue?

8:00

When Harbinger said “Then throw more goons at them!” to the nearest Reaper, I somehow doubt he meant it this literally.

9:40

“Welcome back, Shepard. Still working for Cerberus like some sort of… Cerberus… agent? I’ll bet your pajamas have a picture of the Illusive Man on them, don’t they? You horrible Cerberus goon. All this time and you don’t even call? New Cerberus friends too cool to let you hang around with the Alliance? I’ve got one word for you, pal: Cerberus.”

10:00

“I’m not going! You saw those men back there -there’s a million more like them and they need a leader!”

Yeah… one that’s not a completely invaluable admiral of the fleet and intergalactic council member. Seriously, this is just narrowminded selfishness from Anderson – he’s far more useful elsewhere, too important to lose on behalf of some front-line grunts, and there isn’t even any guarantee that he’ll actually find any of these soldiers or accomplish anything worthwhile before a random Reaper decides to laser the piss out of him from orbit. He even admits it’s a fight they can’t win and tells Shepard to appeal to the other races for help. It sure would be helpful if there was a big political figure surviving the incident to back Shepard up, like… I don’t know… a renowned admiral/councilman?

This is not honourable or just – it’s plain old stupid and hurts everybody in the long term. Those few soldiers aren’t more important than the rest of the planet; Anderson’s overinflated sense of machismo is not more important than his continued existence.

11:10

Oh I see how it is, kid. You’ll take help from random faceless soldiers with worse aim than an A-Team villain, but you won’t take it from Shepard?

Maybe he mistook her for Regina(ld) Cuftbert and decided to take his chances with the Reapers like any sane person would.

11:42

Now here’s a kid whose whole world got all twisted, leavin’ him stranded in a vent underground.

He gets up; sets off for the shuttle, where everyone agreed to go in case’a trouble.

Vent slopes up under his feet as if pointin’ the way. He don’t stop to wonder why.

Finds a woman named Shepard, just standin’ near a door. Well, it’s a touchin’ reunion.

He sees what’s left of the city streets – years of work undone in an instant. In the Calamity.

Kid clambers aboard that rickety shuttle. Hears a right peculiar sound. That a survivor?

No mam; it’s a Reaper fella, forced out from beyond the reach. Reaper pops him good. He goes down.

Darn shame about the kid. Never was the brightest bulb.

12:35

Somebody clearly has a certain Skyrim mod installed. As he had no characterization I can’t exactly say I’ll miss the kid. Kind of a cheap way to get an emotional reaction from the audience, isn’t it? That said, at least I’m thoroughly enjoying the music for this segment.

12:57

Does this mini-briefing screen remind anyone else of X-COM? Between the font, the globe on the left, and the mention of an alien invasion I couldn’t help but picture the city Shepard just left as a dramatically less difficult Terror Mission.

The fact that Earth can apparently hold its own in a ground war against the Reapers long enough for Shepard to go out and solve the problems of every other species clashes harshly with everything we’ve been told about them up to this point. As I said, they’ve been transplanted from their original status as ancient and unknowable machine-gods with power and motives beyond our comprehension to the archetypal evil alien fleet that wants to invade Earth in some oddly specific way (eg. a ground war from a bunch of machines which spend 99% of their lives in space) which will ultimately fail despite its supposedly overwhelming superiority. Hell, they even lifted the Scarabs straight out of Halo 2 – head-mounted lasers and all. What was once sci-fi Lovecraft has become Ed Wood.

13:44

Alas, no love for Garrus. Wrex will have to Krogan air-drop from the Skyranger all by himself. As always, the best part of any Bioware game is character interactions like this, especially between characters who have multiple games under their belt to get to know one another (though unfortunately this usually happens between games and offscreen). If other developers should take anything away from studying these games, it should be that character writing of this sort is absolute gold for any game with a properly paced story. Personalities like this stay with people far longer than shiny graphics and “epic” boss fights, and can turn even the most typical game activity into something truly enjoyable.

Incidentally, I see Garrus has finally patched up that nasty hole in his armour.

This leaves me with an urgent question: what are they going to do about players who let Wrex die all the way back in the first Mass Effect? This is rather important, as I am one of them. Will none of these scenes play out the same way, or perhaps even at all?

14:56

Dear Salarian “Special” Ops Sniper Unit: As you are no doubt aware, sniper rifles work infinitely better when the intended target cannot see that you are aiming directly at them. As such, it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that standing fully upright, unsupported, on an open rooftop with your rifle in the un-braced hip fire position and also sporting a big angry red laser beam which draws the eye straight back to the shooter is a terrible failure of etiquette on multiple levels. To do something this inadvisable in an attempt to threaten an already livid Krogan is tantamount to suicide. As your race adheres to the theories of Darwinian self-selection, I hereby present you a pre-emptive Darwin Award.

6 Responses to Mass Effect 3 Demo Annotated – Part 2

  1. I fully agree with the comment on the separation of gamemodes in the previous post. Though considering how the paragon/renegade system worked in ME2 they might have as well given you a choice of “do you want to play an idiot or a mean idiot?” at the start of the game and stick with that. Actually, was there any info on how are they going to handle the “morality gauge” in 3? I kinda skip most press releases on 3, though I think I already go most of the twists spoiled anyway.

    One thing regarding Anderson, afaik Udina is the “canon” choice as councillor for some odd reason and that is probably the case in the demo. That said I’ll be damn surprised if in the other version more than two lines are any different.

  2. I figured it might be the case that Udina was the default councilman, though it’s sort of funny given how much of an obvious jerk he is to everyone.

    I’m usually somewhat pragmatic when it comes to situations like the Anderson/Udina decision. I would naturally pick the talented but morally ambiguous candidate over the honourable newcomer… but Udina is just such an asshole. I make special exception to screw over jerks-for-the-sake-of-being-jerks in video games (which is why I hate having to play as them), so Anderson got the job and Udina got a third-party punch to the face as a consolation prize.

    No matter who the “official” councilman is, I can’t imagine the continuity will change enough to justify Anderson’s crazy decision to run headlong into danger on behalf of a handful of frontline grunts. Odds are he’ll do it regardless; council or no council.

  3. Well the obvious problem with Udina as a councilmember (That’s totally a real word, Chrome! You’re just SEXIST!), is that he’s a fucking terrible politician! Seriously, not once did he do anything in Mass Effect 1 other than make humanity look like whiny self-righteous assholes. OK, so we just happen to actually be whiny self-righteous assholes, but the point of being a politician is to make us look awesome!

    ANYway…

    I’m guessing the “always have your gun up” thing is about player feedback – “you can shoot right now”, notice that the times you have the gun down: running, vaulting, in cover, etc… are exactly the times that you can’t shoot. At least, it makes sense to me, even if I agree it looks stupid as heck if you make the mistake of daring to think about a game.

    Oh man, I so wish there was a “Fine, I’ll watch the door” equivalent for every A.I. nag session. I’m guessing the thinking is that they want the situation to feel urgent, so they actually lowered the timeout so the average player would always get the lines – but there are so many far better ways to convey urgency in a game without conflicting with an old-school gamer’s hard-wired insticts: for one thing, you shouldn’t have lots of corners you can’t immediately see but that you can get to – they could be hiding things! Have the things you’re standing on break! (And have an NPC pull you up if you screw it up to avoid breaking flow) Slow the player down with enemies (not even fighting them, necessarily) so they have time to check the environment without it seeming like lollygagging. Have the run be over environments you’ve walked through just before the Fan was Impacted. Longer term, establishing that this game doesn’t want you to check every corner, unlike old-school shooters and RPGs (both J and W varieties).

    I dunno about the husks, but I really loved the sound design from 4:30-5:00 as the reaper and the dreadnought are slapping each other. But then I’m just a huge sucker for the use of silence – it’s so damn rare to have no sound that it can be incredibly effective when it is.

    It was dumb enough when Battlestar Galactica did the “Here’s a child! Isn’t he just precious? Oh he’s dead now. WAR IS HELL, STUPID”, and they even wrote it very well and didn’t spend anywhere as much time on it. Hey, video game writers – I don’t like children automatically, try actually writing them enough for me to see past the skeletal animation system? Wait, isn’t that your job for everyone?

    After the dialog in that meeting scene earlier, I’ve pretty much written off dialog in this game by default – so most of the council/spectre stuff wasn’t really bothering me. Here’s hoping we at least get ME2-style interesting companions, though the fact Mordin apparently has a different voice actor doesn’t fill me with hope :(.

    I haven’t noticed the shared animations thing. It seems weird to me they wouldn’t tweak those at all – surely spending X weeks in improving old animations is about as valuable as X weeks in improving textures? I was under the impression a good deal of the effort in animation was the rigging, but you’d know far better than me here.

    I really noticed the snappy combat – both in the positive “feel” sense and the negative animation sense. I guess I could convince myself the Alliance developed special mass-effect (as in, element-zero) armor….

    6:31: WTF?

    Did you notice those “goons” were called “Cannibal”s? I wonder what’s up with that.

    “Uhh, look, we all said a lot of things that were very hurtful, and I’m sure we’re all very sorry and I think we should just put it all behind us now. Because there are things shooting at us. And we shoot do the same. Shoot at them, I mean, not at us. Or, you know at least not just stand here talking. Uhh… seriously: can we go?”

    I can see how Anderson might think he can at least help keep the ground-war going. It’s (for some reason) canon that he’s in very low regard despite that mostly being due to him calling the universally loved and trustworthy Spectre Saren a cad, a scoundrel and a blackguard; and despite him being at least closely involved with SAVING THE GODDAMN UNIVERSE; so he might not hold much sway politically, even if the current council themselves (human or alien) do love him. I don’t think that trying to fight a ground-war is a particularly good idea, but I can see that he might think that.

    God damn it. Now I associate that kid with awesomeness. Stop making this game look better!

    If only there was an Ed Wood-esque AAA game of some sort. Stuff like Gorg is fine and all, but if the XCOM FPS used awful 50’s sci-fi as an aesthetic I’d be more interested. (But that is one hell of another story…)

    Also, keep in mind that if I have my Codex straight, it takes the Reapers multiple decades to scrub the galaxy clean, and that their primary goal is not to kill everyone, it’s to steal all our cool shit (or something…). Imagine something like the Vietnam war, where wiping out whole armies wasn’t that tough, it was finding the couple of guys with an AK waiting in a hole for you to go past them before they pop out and shoot you. If anything, a whole bunch of experienced generals are exactly what Earth needs right now in order to bog the Reapers down in a ground war. Not that I think whoever wrote “This isn’t about tactics! It’s about survival!” would think of any of this.

    Well… that sequence was awkward. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Garrus got his face fixed up a bit too. Is a “Krogan air-drop” really just you hopping out of a car a meter or two up?

    I’m guessing this scene is part of this game’s quest-line to get Krogan support, therefore if Wrex was dead you would either get some other Krogan (Grunt maybe?) to fill in with minor dialog changes, or hopefully a (at least slightly) different path. Interestingly, from this it looks like they are going to lock the available companions so they can do better writing, which is probably a good thing. But that is probably going to be proved wrong in the next part, isn’t it :/. (Also: You killed Wrex? YOU MONSTER)

    Well… Wrex stopped, so the lasers worked, didn’t they?

    • Speaking of silence, I’m still waiting for the game that puts a delay on distant explosions. It would probably take some editing to avoid sounding straight up out of sync to most listeners, but it’s the little details like this which make all the difference.

      Learning that Mordin’s voice actor won’t be returning totally counterbalances the fact that I just played Skyrim and had stumbled onto a thief with a voice that sounded very familiar… only to finally finger it as Garett.

      I think I heard somewhere that the Cannibals are actually Krogan husks, though how literal their name may or may not be has yet to be seen. I totally bet they eat everything but other Husks, just to screw with us.

      I would love to play an Ed Wood game, especially if it was an abstract setting where you could, in-canon, do things like jump through the paper walls of the flimsier sets. Hell, an Ed Wood studio set would make a great level in a game like Hitman.

      Sure, those snipers stopped Wrex, but if that’s all it takes to intimidate him then a bunch of laser pointers on pointy sticks would’ve done the job as well. If it’s a common enough thing in canon that he instinctually equates lasers with expert snipers, that’s already a monumental failure on the part of Mass Effect’s sniper units :P.

      I have seen so many misinformed movies where somebody looks down, sees a little red dot on their chest, and dives for cover just in time to avoid a bullet through the window that it hurts to recall them. How does the laser travel all that distance at full strength and not refract through the window? Why is the sniper aiming halfway down the guy’s chest and not for his head? Why does the sniper not shoot when the target first looks down and sees the dot? Why does the sniper use a laser sight when their bullets will never follow the trajectory of that laser at sniper ranges? Why do they use it at all when they’ve just demonstrated how bad an idea it is by accidentally tipping off their mark before they can shoot him?

      It’s like a wrongness singularity!

      • That Ed Wood game idea reminds me of NOLF 2, where part of the (hidden) premise was that the game is really one big spy movie being shot in the 1960s, all the spies, henchmen, and evil geniuses are over-entitled actors, and Terrance Sloggins the screenwriter’s nephew is breaking the illusion for everyone.

        Love that game.

        In the same vein, I’d love to play a cheesy zombie rpg with a dialogue option to choose a dramatic “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”.

  4. I do know of at least one game that actually has you lower your gun naturally: Dead Space. (Of course, Isaac is an engineer and not a TRAYND SPAYSH MUHREEN… And 90% of his ‘guns’ are actually repurposed mining tools. Those two points actually make it *worse*.) There’s probably several more, but that’s one that comes to mind.

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