Did a Mass Effect 3 Writer Slam The Ending?
A new controversy related to the ending of Mass Effect 3 is bubbling up. No, we’re not referring to the baffling reaction from industry professionals about BioWare’s surprising apparent acquiescence to demands for improvements. Comments attributed to a BioWare writer suggest that while Casey Hudson and lead writer Mac Walters were perfectly OK with the conclusion that angered the entirety of the Mass Effect community, their satisfaction was neither shared by, nor solicited from, the rest of the Mass Effect 3 writing staff.
BioWare writer Patrick Weekes worked extensively on Mass Effect 3, among other things having contributed to the final fate of shuttle pilot Steve Cortez, and to Tali’s goodbye speech (which, if you’re human, will result in real tears). He is also a frequent contributor to the Penny Arcade forums, posting under the name Takyris. Last week, Takyris, or someone with access to his Penny Arcade account, started posting very specific, very critical comments there, culminating in a lengthy exposition in which he seemed to confirm what many have long suspected, that the ending we all hated so much was the result of a process breakdown near the end of development.
“No other writer did, either, except for our lead,” the post said. “This was entirely the work of our lead and Casey himself, sitting in a room and going through draft after draft. And honestly, it kind of shows.”
If this report is true, it might be defendable as the lead writer’s and the game‘s director’s prerogative, that they had a right to make the conclusion to their shared vision highly personal. But according to Takyris, it was a complete departure from the writing process up to that point. “Every other mission in the game had to be held up to the rest of the writing team, and the writing team then picked it apart and made suggestions and pointed out the parts that made no sense. This mission? Casey and our lead deciding that they didn’t need to be peer-reviewe.d(sic) And again, it shows.”
We obviously are not happy with the ending of the game, and these comments seem to suggest many theories we’ve had about how it came about. But true or false, these are thoughts no employee should ever reveal, at least if they want to keep their job. Fittingly, when asked by his employers, Weekes claimed it was an imitation that he did not write. For now, BioWare has accepted this account. The post quoted above has now also been deleted, but other conversation threads remain, including one that appears to confirm the comments were posted from the Takyris account.
More damning, Ian Miles Cheong has managed to preserve a visual record of further comments from Takyris in which which he expresses serious concerns about the effect his comments may have had. Among them, “based on important people looking perplexed Thursday and Friday, I suspect this is going to get political, which means I reeeeeally need to be saying absolutely nothing in public.” Shortly thereafter, Takyris adds “I also really appreciate people respecting me trying to walk the line of talking without getting myself fired.”
Again, Weekes is still publicly denying he is the author of these posts. I certainly hope he isn’t fired for them, regardless of authorship. But I have to admit, if true they are welcome confirmation that the disconnect between fans and developers isn’t as widespread as originally thought.
Until this is confirmed with 100% certainty, take it with a grain of salt. In the meantime, here is the full post in which he neatly describes the problems with the creation of the end of Mass Effect 3, via Gameranx.
I have nothing to do with the ending beyond a) having argued successfully a long time ago that we needed a chance to say goodbye to our squad, b) having argued successfully that Cortez shouldn’t automatically die in that shuttle crash, and c) having written Tali’s goodbye bit, as well as a couple of the holo-goodbyes for people I wrote (Mordin, Kasumi, Jack, etc).
No other writer did, either, except for our lead. This was entirely the work of our lead and Casey himself, sitting in a room and going through draft after draft.
And honestly, it kind of shows.
Every other mission in the game had to be held up to the rest of the writing team, and the writing team then picked it apart and made suggestions and pointed out the parts that made no sense. This mission? Casey and our lead deciding that they didn’t need to be peer-reviewe.d
And again, it shows.
If you’d asked me the themes of Mass Effect 3, I’d break them down as:
Organics versus Synthetics
In my personal opinion, the first two got a perfunctory nod. We did get a goodbye to our friends, but it was in a scene that was divorced from the gameplay — a deliberate “nothing happens here” area with one turret thrown in for no reason I really understand, except possibly to obfuscate the “nothing happens here”-ness. The best missions in our game are the ones in which the gameplay and the narrative reinforce each other. The end of the Genophage campaign exemplifies that for me — every line of dialog is showing you both sides of the krogan, be they horrible brutes or proud warriors; the art shows both their bombed-out wasteland and the beautiful world they once had and could have again; the combat shows the terror of the Reapers as well as a blatant reminder of the rachni, which threatened the galaxy and had to be stopped by the krogan last time. Every line of code in that mission is on target with the overall message.
The endgame doesn’t have that. I wanted to see banshees attacking you, and then have asari gunships zoom in and blow them away. I wanted to see a wave of rachni ravagers come around a corner only to be met by a wall of krogan roaring a battle cry. Here’s the horror the Reapers inflicted upon each race, and here’s the army that you, Commander Shepard, made out of every race in the galaxy to fight them.
I personally thought that the Illusive Man conversation was about twice as long as it needed to be — something that I’ve been told in my peer reviews of my missions and made edits on, but again, this is a conversation no writer but the lead ever saw until it was already recorded. I did love Anderson’s goodbye.
For me, Anderson’s goodbye is where it ended. The stuff with the Catalyst just… You have to understand. Casey is really smart and really analytical. And the problem is that when he’s not checked, he will assume that other people are like him, and will really appreciate an almost completely unemotional intellectual ending. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.
And then, just to be a dick… what was SUPPOSED to happen was that, say you picked “Destroy the Reapers”. When you did that, the system was SUPPOSED to look at your score, and then you’d show a cutscene of Earth that was either:
a) Very high score: Earth obviously damaged, but woo victory
b) Medium score: Earth takes a bunch of damage from the Crucible activation. Like dropping a bomb on an already war-ravaged city. Uh, well, maybe not LIKE that as much as, uh, THAT.
c) Low score: Earth is a cinderblock, all life on it completely wiped out
I have NO IDEA why these different cutscenes aren’t in there. As far as I know, they were never cut. Maybe they were cut for budget reasons at the last minute. I don’t know. But holy crap, yeah, I can see how incredibly disappointing it’d be to hear of all the different ending possibilities and have it break down to “which color is stuff glowing?” Or maybe they ARE in, but they’re too subtle to really see obvious differences, and again, that’s… yeah.
Okay, that’s a lot to have written for something that’s gonna go away in an hour.
I still teared up at the ending myself, but really, I was tearing up for the quick flashbacks to old friends and the death of Anderson. I wasn’t tearing up over making a choice that, as it turned out, didn’t have enough cutscene differentiation on it.
And to be clear, I don’t even really wish Shepard had gotten a ride-off-into-sunset ending. I was honestly okay with Shepard sacrificing himself. I just expected it to be for something with more obvious differentiation, and a stronger tie to the core themes — all three of them.