[ME3] Leaks, fanrage, and has there ever been a scifi epic with a good ending? (no spoilers)

I was musing today whether there has ever been a Sci-Fi epic in either books, films, or TV where fan opinion was that the ending was brilliant.

I remember the outcry at the ending of Battlestar Galactica (updated version), Star Wars made a decent hash of the original trilogy (as you’d expect, following the heroes journey so closely) but clearly George Lucas still felt he had more to say, Babylon 5 also had its detractors – the final episode was good but was set 20 years after the rest of the story. As far as literature goes, Dune was good but they kept adding more books, and it’s been so long since I read it that I can’t remember what happened at the end of Foundation.

This week Bioware releases Mass Effect 3, which is the final installment (barring DLC or the oft-rumoured MMO) of the space epic action-RPG in which Commander Shepard saves the universe. I don’t think anyone really doubts that Commander Shepard will in fact save the universe (again) at the end, so it’s just a case of how bittersweet the ending will or won’t be in addition to that.

There are already reports of widespread pirating, leaks of old scripts, and pre-emptive nerd rage on 4chan from people who feel betrayed by Bioware.

But still, I was surprised to see a 500 page forum thread of fury on the Official Bioware Forums (ME3 spoiler forum) from people who have heard at second, third, or fourth hand about the ending and they don’t like it. Note: there may be spoilers in this linked spoiler thread, since neither I nor most of the contributors have played it, we don’t know. The complaint is that it’s too bitter for some people; BSG-style, the universe is saved and the adventures come to an end but the cost is too high for some fans.

I do find it odd for people to judge a story or a game purely on the basis of the ending, when you haven’t experienced the story arcs that got things to that point. I understand why people do it, and some stories do hinge on a surprise twist, but still, the kneejerk reaction of ‘Goddamn it, I want the ending where Shephard saves the universe and cures cancer and everybody lives and sends her birthday presents, even the people she killed in ME1” is a really interesting one for an observer.

Bioware could surely have made a lot of fans happy by providing a 100% upbeat and “Fuck yeah, you saved everyone!” ending. If they haven’t done that, then it’s rather brave storytelling.

But then, that’s actually one of the things I like about their games.

[Question of the Day] How do new single player games affect your MMO playing?

As everyone who isn’t living in a hole knows, Mass Effect 3 is due to be released next week. I have never had much success with getting into the ME games, but for those of you who are, I’m imagining other gaming will be on hold until it’s finished?

My personal pattern with single player games tends to be that if it’s one I really really want then I buy it at launch (full price) and play exclusively until I’m done. Otherwise if it’s just one I mildly might want then I wait a few months until it’s half price to try it out, and then if it grabs me it’ll take all my time up then. Clearly neither of these patterns leave much time for playing MMOs, so in the past I’ve tended to stick with pre-organised raid or guild nights but otherwise disappear for a bout of single player fun instead. Or in other words, the single player game takes up the time in which I would otherwise be noodling around in the MMO, chatting, running instances with guild and generally socialising in game and getting on with stuff. (Unlike Syp, I don’t generally play more than one MMO at a time.)

For me, this isn’t that common. Many of the single player games I buy are casual games anyway, the big budget AAA ones on my personal to-get list are quite few.

How about you? Do you disappear from your MMO of choice several times a year to catch up with new releases? How does your guild cope when a really popular game like ME3 is released? Or is your MMO guild mostly made up of people who don’t have much interest in single player games?

Predictions for MMOs/ Gaming in 2011

It is that time when we look ahead and try to predict what the year ahead may bring. Arbitrary and I have put our heads together to see what we can come up with…

In general, it’s going to be another huge year for both social gaming and mobile gaming. There will be more massive hits along the lines of Angry Birds, and both iPhones and Android will continue to be strong platforms. We’ll see the trend for Android to increase in popularity continue as more and more models come onto the market.

The debate as to what does or doesn’t constitute an MMO will continue. Facebook will continue as the platform of choice for social games, particularly on handsets, since it actually is handset agnostic.

The iPad will not really live up to the potential that the industry had hoped. Already we’re seeing that magazine subscriptions on the iPad are below predictions. There will be popular games, yes, but they will never come close to the popularity of the phone-based versions. So iPad owners had best get used to continuing to receive iPhone conversions.

I predict something big with Zynga this year. They’re huge, but they’ve not had much success in breaking away from Facebook. The desire to do so is still there … maybe they’ll even try to take over FB or merge the companies in some way. Whatever it is, it’ll be crazy.

E-sports will be a big trend this year in some form or other, as publishers try to find more ways to draw in the ‘core audience’ into more social, F2P type games. Expect at least one hugely successful multiplayer game, possibly on a console or on Facebook, with this kind of worldwide e-sports competitive ethos at its core.

One of the other big trends this year was for breakout indie games. This is nothing new, but Minecraft in particular has been a stunning hit. In addition, the various Steam indie bundles, more attention from PC journalists and blogs, and ‘pay what you want’ weekend offers have gotten more people to try them out than ever before. This trend continues, and we’ll see at least one successful indie MMO launch this year.

Interactive/ internet TV is going to be another big trend this year. Look for gaming on Google TV in particular (one area where Zynga may have their eye). And this is a platform that favours simple social games.

This year also marks the release of the Nintendo 3DS, the 3D version of the DS. Whilst it will sell well enough to be marked as a success, they will signally fail to persuade most users to upgrade. However nice the graphics, there’s unlikely to be a killer game that really uses the 3D. (If it played films, however …) This won’t be a good year for handhelds, losing more ground to the ubiquitous smartphones.

WoW/ Blizzard

This year Blizzard plays it safe with WoW. There won’t be any big features analogous to the dungeon finder. Patches will be more of the raid instance, dailies, extra minigames type of content.

Whilst some players will get bored quickly of Cataclysm, the strategy to draw in more casual players will work, by and large.

The balance of ranged vs melee is going to continue to be a big feature of this expansion.

The leaked expansion plans date the next expansion for 2010. I predict this is correct and we’ll hear more about the next expansion and about Blizzard’s plans to offer more frequent, smaller expansions. Wrath will soon be perceived as the golden age of WoW in much the same way that TBC was by the old guard for most of Wrath.

The big change for the next expansion will be a crafting revamp.

Blizzcon will be held in Europe.

Blizzard will announce their next game, currently codenamed Titan. It will, as expected, be a different genre from WoW. (Please take a moment to imagine what the WoW community might be like if Blizzard’s next game is a FPS. Heck, imagine what the Blizzard community for a FPS MMO might be like? Scared yet? This is why they will come back with a more player friendly version of realID.)

Other games

Guild Wars 2 will not release in 2011.

Neither will World of Darkness (Vampire).

Neither will The Secret World

The walking in stations expansion for EVE will release and will generate a flurry of ‘look at this amazing character creator’ posts. It will not substantially expand the player base, though and will largely be seen by existing players as watering down the current game.

Star Wars: the Old Republic will release and will fail to either gain a million subscribers or to be a game people want to play for 10 years (both predictions made by EA). It may even fail completely within 6 months. (I will still play it.)

Mark Jacobs will announce a new project, DaoC 2.

There will be more discussion about the F2P model as it applies to MMOs, focussing more on practical details of ‘what works’. People will pick their games at least as much based on payment models as anything else, to the point of having preferences for very specific flavours of F2P.

There will also be extended discussions in the blogosphere about how trustworthy various publishers are viewed as being. This is partly connected with games that failed in 2010 (do you trust this game to still be going in 6 months before you invest too much time into it?) but also with the way the F2P model has been implemented by companies such as SOE.

LOTRO will release their Isengard expansion which will be comparable in size to Mirkwood. ie. a couple of levelling zones, new instances, and a raid. They will increasingly be spread thin trying to keep both the lifetime endgame player base happy and the new F2P players who are more interested in lower level revamps.

2011 is a big year for RPGs. In fact, it will probably also be the biggest year ever for computer games in general.

Diablo III will release, will be a massive success. It will contain various features borrowed from WoW, and so the cycle comes full circle.

Dragon Age II will release, will be a massive success.

Mass Effect III will release, will be a massive success.

The Witcher II will release, will be a massive success (but possibly not on the scale of the previous three games, which is a shame.)

And not a RPG, but yes, Portal II will release, will be a massive success.

Whatever Infinity Ward does for EA will release, will be a massive success.

There will be at least one film tie in game that is actually good, and will be a massive success.

Microsoft attempt to clean up the Xbox Live community in some way, possibly involving an element of realID.

Elder Scrolls 5, Mass Effect 3, Uncharted 3. Spike TV Awards – what’s the connection?

I’ve mentioned a couple of times over the last month or two that various big companies were prepping announcements to be made at the Spike TV Videogame Awards.

And this duly happened.

But why this and why now? What the heck is Spike TV  and why is it better to make announcements at their awards? In fact, what’s the big deal with their awards anyway, is this some huge thing in the US which explains all the palaver?

No, not really. Kotaku even ask the exact same question and as a US based gaming zine, we assume they’d know if it was. It’s just that the marketing bods at the big gaming companies decided that it was a good idea to have a news cycle in December. It’s not an accident that all the games announced are sequels. When a sequel is announced, there’s often an upswing in sales for previous entries in the franchise. Blizzard sold a lot of copies of Diablo 2 and Starcraft when their sequels were announced (including one to me, since I bought a copy of SC myself.)

The thing that puzzled me most about these announcements is that usually – and bear with me here – advertisers try to place TV ads in and around popular shows which will attract a suitable audience. But this seemed more as if the award show was just a forum for the adverts.

(I can’t actually imagine ever having much interest in an award show to be honest.)

Jeff Green has a much better and more informed rant about this. I particularly like the phrase, “the dudebro douchebag contingent” which I think is a bit punchier than Gevlon’s “M&S.”

And sadly, I don’t have the least interest in Elder Scrolls 5, despite it a fantasy RPG. They lost me with their dreadful levelling mechanic in Oblivion, which rewarded you for not putting any points into the skills you actually wanted to specialise in. No thanks, Bethesda. Still, I am amused that as recently as last year they were advising the press not to expect an Elder Scrolls 5 any time soon, and hinting at plans for an MMO.