Wednesday, November 16, 2011

OPINION: Developers Aren't Punching Bags.

As exams are still eating my life this weeks post is from Elizabeth Danger. She is a freelance journalist who writes for Level 3 and Save Game Online. Thanks for stepping in Liz. I owe you one.


I can't help but feel I've been a little too hard on BioWare about the future of Mass Effect.

I was looking at the BioWare Social Network forums yesterday, and among the shame-filled ocean of creepy topics about Tali and what her sweat would smell like (and the accompanying fan-made chemical formulas,) I noticed how much criticism the direction of the third game is getting from its own fans.

While I tend to avoid the BSN forums like a plague unless something awesome goes down (such as David Gaider standing up for gay romance options in Dragon Age 2), I found myself thinking about the fandom circles I do participate in. While small and more of a social circle than anything else, I can't help but again notice how damned harsh we are on a game that isn't even completed yet.

I've done a little bit of reflection on this matter and I have to admit I'm guilty as charged. But why? Why is it that I'm so passionate about this game being a success? Why am I so obsessed with it being the perfect game?

Probably because I'm so emotionally attached to it.

Say what you will about BioWare, but they know how to pull you in and not let go of you. BioWare is one of those developers that writes characters so well-rounded and interesting that you find yourself tempted to delve into the world of fanfiction just to fill the void once you've finished the game. DA2 may have been extremely flawed in its gameplay and even execution -- for the record, I didn't think it was awful, but I tend to roll mage, and not much has changed in that class -- but it still caused me to cry during its more tender moments.

Some complain that Mass Effect 2 shoved off their favourite characters and feel ripped off, which in itself is testament to how well those characters were written in the first place, but I found the story and characters so enthralling that I actually didn't leave my apartment for two days to play it. Okay, that might be lack of responsibility. Maybe.

When a series causes people to become so emotionally attached to the characters and the story itself, you can't really be surprised when the fans get very protective of something they love. It's not new, either. We all remember how the Star Wars community reacted to the changes that were made to the Blu-Ray release; a few more alterations and I'm sure they would have been ready to storm Lucas Ranch with torches and pitchforks. On a smaller scale, there was outrage that 'Bananas in Pyjamas,' a show most of us haven't actively watched in about a decade, had made the change to 3D animation. So of course, you can imagine the reaction the Mass Effect community has every time there's a whisper of change.

Again, though, I think I may have been too harsh on BioWare. Sometimes we forget that behind all the poorly thought out marketing moves and morally questionable forum moderation, there's still a developer with heart that gives us some really good games. Fans, I think, sometimes forget that BioWare is the developer who gave them the games they love so much in the first place. BioWare developers take chances and experiment, and if they hadn't, you wouldn't have had the game you so desperately defend at every corner now as though it's your child and the 'mainstream' AAA game market is some kind of enraged bear.

Surely, if these guys gave us a game that we take so much joy from playing, we can at least give them the respect they deserve and trust them with the third installment. I can remember fans being almost as sceptical about the second installment and look what we wound up getting! Sure, Dragon Age 2 wasn't the best game it could be, but comparing any Dragon Age games to any games in the Mass Effect series is like comparing apples to oranges.

My parents like to tell me this joke, which I think is more wise than funny. A man is driving in a rural area, and one of his tires goes flat. He pulls over and realises that he's left his tyre-jack in his garage at home. He remembers seeing a house a few miles back, so he sets off on foot to ask if they have one he can borrow. He walks for a few minutes and thinks to himself 'lucky thing that house is in walking distance at all! This will be easy, I'll just ask him for a jack, change my tyre, drive back and return it.'

A few minutes pass. 'I hope he doesn't think I'm going to steal it,' he thinks to himself. 'It shouldn't take long, hopefully he's okay with it.' He continues walking, and he keeps envisioning the situation. 'Oh man, what if he's in the middle of dinner with his family or he's fixing his own car? He's gonna be really angry with me if he is.' He can see the house in the distance now. 'Shit. He's going to be really rude to me and probably ask me for money or something. I can see it now.'

He gets closer and closer to the house, only a few minutes away. 'He's gonna shout at me!' He thinks to himself. 'No, he's gonna full on abuse me for asking a stranger for a favor! What an asshole! I can't believe it! I'm only asking to borrow something and he's not going to help me out for no reason at all, and be rude to boot!'

Eventually, the man arrives at the house and knocks on the door. An elderly man comes to the door, and before he can even say hello, the first man shouts "Stick that jack up your ass!" and storms off.

This is what fans, including myself, seem to do. We spend so much time convincing ourselves that games are going to be terrible that by the time they're released, we already genuinely believe they're just awful when in fact we should be excited about these releases.

I guess what I'm trying to ask fans to do here is to essentially cool their jets and take a step back. I know it's a big ask and it's probably like politely asking a fire to not engulf one's home, but I really don't like seeing people be so harsh and sometimes borderline abusive about something that isn't really up to them in the end. Maybe knowing that BioWare does take community feedback into account like it does has gone to a few heads and given a false sense of privilege. Maybe it's just a case of the most vocal being the most crazy. But I've actually never seen a community get almost offended by the concept of change like this. We need to start giving developers credit where it's due, I think, and this goes for any game series.

So, BioWare, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for every time I flipped my shit at you over the concept of multiplayer (which I'm pretty excited about right now, to be honest). I'm sorry for nitpicking over changes to the squad lineup; I'm sure you've got it written in a way that will leave me just as pleased as I would be if Thane were a part of it. I'm especially sorry for losing my cool over things that haven't even been confirmed to be true. I'm going to try and save my outrage mode for after I've gotten my hands on the game.

It's BioWare's game just as much as it's the fan's experience. Mass Effect 2 was a great game, and I think the best thanks we can give them is to let them finish the series as according to their own vision.

Unless they kill off Garrus.

Then they can go to hell.

No comments:

Post a Comment