Last week, it was reported that BioWare Montreal is being downsized. This is the team responsible for producing and maintaining Mass Effect: Andromeda. The downsizing not only means that the onsite team will be shrinking but also that the game, as in maintenance/updating, story DLC, and sequel, will be put on the backburner for an undisclosed amount of time. Multiplayer maintenance and updating will still be handled by the remaining team.
First, let me make sure you understand what “downsized” means here. According to the sources reporting, this does not mean staff members of BioWare Montreal were fired. All of the ones who have been taken off of Mass Effect: Andromeda appear to have been transferred to other studios under BioWare or other extensions of EA. The bulk of which seem to have been transferred to EA Motive, also located in Montreal.
I have to applaud EA for this move. Usually when projects like this are broken up, people in the development industry are not treated this well. I have read countless stories about entire teams being fired with no notice. Projects like Scalebound get scrapped out of the blue and everyone involved gets left out to dry. And even when people do get to keep their jobs, they often have to transfer to other studios a world away. That’s not just true for the gaming industry. I have a friend right now who’s being forced to choose between moving overseas or losing his job with less than a week to make the decision. In this economy, labor getting screwed over is common place. EA not only letting these people keep their jobs, but stay in the same city is a truly commendable move in a time where companies often don’t care about the wellbeing of their employees past what the law requires. So for the first time in years, if not ever, I have to say kudos to you good guy EA. You’ve earned that.
As far as Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on ice for a while, I’m totally fine with that. In fact, I’m in support of it. I just recently finished Mass Effect: Andromeda with a 96% completion. It took me 94 hours. I still plan on putting a bit more time into the multiplayer. It was/is a good game and I very much enjoyed it. That being said, it’s a buggy mess with tons of glitches. I enjoyed the plot but I felt that it was a bit smaller than I would have liked. The fact that the game takes place in a new galaxy and only one new race was introduced really irritated me. Even the villain race is just the new race after having gone through massive genetic mutations. You only get six party members. The plot wraps up pretty well while still leaving room to grow, but overall I expected better considering what was delivered in Mass Effect 2 & 3. It’s because of this that I think a real break is needed.
I don’t want paid plot DLC like in Mass Effect 3. I don’t want a rushed out, badly written Mass Effect: Andromeda 2 like every Assassin’s Creed since Revelations (2011). They can continue to expand the multiplayer, but I really want the Mass Effect: Andromeda campaign to be considered closed. What I want is a top shelf Mass Effect: Andromeda 2.
History has shown us that no good can come from annual releases. Excellence isn’t bred from creating never ending games that keep piling on more and more paid DLC. Good games take time, preparation, and patience. Here’s what needs to happen and why I believe Mass Effect: Andromeda riding the pine for a while is not only a good decision but the right one.
The first thing that needs to happen is that BioWare, and by extension EA, needs to accept that Mass Effect: Andromeda 1 is finished. They don’t need to try to add anything more to that game. It’s a full sized adventure. It has a conclusive story. It already takes a good number of hours to complete even without ever trying the multiplayer. All they should do with that game from here on out is work on patching the glitches, improving the graphics issues, and continue to support the multiplayer. Everyone, including the consumers, needs to move forward based on the thought process that the next Mass Effect plot based experience is going to be Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. No DLC. No additional difficulty modes. No frivolous crap. Any unanswered questions like the whereabouts of the Quarian Arc should be left to be answered in the next full game.
The second thing that needs to happen is everyone involved in production and the next game in the franchise needs to just leave it alone. Step away. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about. Work on other IPs. Get Dylan completed. Get Star Wars: Battlefront II completed. Don’t make any announcements about Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. Don’t promise any release dates or windows. Just let it take a rest. Don’t try to force it out. Every writer is told that the worst thing to do when having just finished a piece of writing is to look at it again right away. Don’t do it. Your head isn’t clear yet. You haven’t mulled it over. You won’t be able to look at is unbiasedly. The whole team needs to just go off and work on other things. And hopefully not together.
After a fair amount of time, by which I mean literally a year or more, has gone by then someone can reopen the Mass Effect: Andromeda file. This does not mean start developing. This does not mean put a team together or back together. It simply means that certain key individuals should start to look back at the game in order to begin thinking about the sequel. Look at the flaws apparent in the first game and think about how they can be prevented in the next one. Think about the general direction of the plot. See if people are still actively playing the multiplayer. After much discussion, they can start to make a general plan. Really just ideas about the direction they’d like to take.
Finally they can start to set down some real plans and expectations. Set some goals and create a soft timeline. Again, no actual development has taken place at this point and we’re nearly at the end of year two since the dissolution of the team. Still no announcements to the public. I hate when games are promised too far in advance. It forces a deadline that most likely won’t be met and an expectation in the public which will then lead to negative reactions when not delivered on. I would rather they never announced games until they had already gone gold so there can be no debate about whether or not the game will be released and when. Again I point to Scalebound.
Now, in the third year since the game was iced, start building that team and make sure communication is honest and open. Ensure that everyone understands the desired direction for the game and is on board with it. It’s not about getting the best people when making a game. It’s about getting the right people that together can make the best game. And in the case of Mass Effect, the goal should be to make the best game. BioWare should not be settling for good enough. The Witcher 3 should be dethroned with this franchise. Mass Effect Andromeda didn’t even come close. That’s the bar they should be shooting for.
Then it’s as simple as making the game as they’ve done so many times in the past. Don’t rush. Continue not to make promises to the public. Don’t get bogged down by dates. Make the best game possible and take the time it needs to create and test that product. By the end of this process the market will be not only ready, but begging for the next Mass Effect game. Then when the game is actually ready, make the announcement, deliver The Witcher 3 level quality or better, and reclaim the throne.
People didn’t lose their jobs (supposedly). The franchise hasn’t been cancelled. This is just a much needed break. BioWare should use this opportunity to take the right steps to craft the best damn Mass Effect game ever made. Ideally the best damn game ever made period. I am fine with Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on hiatus because if handled correctly, this is a great opportunity for the next game in the series to come back stronger than ever thought possible. Here’s hoping they do it right this time.
It seems all anyone can talk about right now is Mass Effect: Andromeda. And rightly so because that game is awesome. I’ve spent the better part of the last three weeks just trying to find time to play it. But what I find most interesting is how much discussion around this game is focused on the romance options.
I saw a very interesting question on Twitter in reference to Mass Effect: Andromeda, but really it was more about Bioware games in general. This person asked the question “Do you prefer romance content in a BioWare game to be specific representation (e.g. gay) or available to any char?” This is a profound question. In one sentence it brings up various issues like sexuality, consumer rights, creative control, and social responsibility. Now I don’t actually believe there is a correct answer to this question. By nature this is a subjective question, starting out with the words “do you prefer”. I don’t even really have an interest in answering this question with this post, but rather to bring up some talking points that I think are important when discussing questions like this one.
The first thing that I think needs to be said is that everything is not for you. By you I don’t mean any specific group in particular. You can be Black, White, homosexual, heterosexual, transgender, Muslim, Christian, or any other such identifier that creates political and/or social divisions between people today. I can say with 100% certainty that there is at least one piece of entertainment that you are not the target audience for. Target audience is important and it’s important as consumers to recognize the role it plays in our lives. Video games, movies, television shows, novels, and basically any other form of mass entertainment today costs a lot of money to create and distribute. And regardless of what you want to think, companies and investors get involved in these projects to make money.
Whether right or wrong, most businesses today target a specific audience when creating a product, even when not entertainment, because it’s considered to be the most effective way to predict and garner an acceptable amount of sales. You can’t please everyone is a statement that’s never been truer than it is today and the fact is that companies not only know that but they take that advice very seriously. Developers target a specific population when creating a video game. Every decision they make is considered through the lens of how it will sit with that target audience. That’s not to say that people that don’t fall within that target audience can’t experience and even enjoy those games. It’s merely to state that the developers can’t and aren’t trying to please everyone. Nor should they, because statistically speaking trying to please everyone leads to lackluster games and lower total sales.
The point of the target audience issue is not to say that you don’t have a right to your own opinion if you don’t fall into the target audience. It’s simply to provide a context for how smart businesses conduct business. The fact is that the opinions of people who don’t fall into the target audience just don’t matter as much if at all as those who do. And the only way to change that is to show numerically that your group’s opinion has an actual effect on the developer’s business that outweighs or at least matches that of the target audience. I think the sexism in games discussion is a great example of this. Many people, both men and women, often complain about sexism in games. Whether it’s the objectification argument or the weak female characters argument, or whatever other issue, it’s very apparent that games today and for basically the entire history of video games with humanoid characters in them have swayed more towards the supposed interests of men than women. Is this fair? Absolutely not. Is this based on profit focused business decisions? Absolutely. We can see that while not as quickly as many people would like, this trend is changing. Today there are more games geared towards a female audience. Today there are more games that star a female protagonist. Some people may see these as good things. Some people may see these as bad things. And some people don’t care either way. But what’s important is that these changes have nothing to do with gender politics, fairness, or ethics. They have to do with profits. The percentage of female gamers and men who don’t mind playing female centered games, that actually spend money on games, is growing. That qualifier about spending money is really important. In fact it’s the most important part of the sentence.
Take someone like my girlfriend for example. She has played a number of games, but has not paid for a single one of them, other than as gifts for me. That means that for all intents and purposes, her opinion about the state of women in video games is next to worthless to the industry because even if games were in no way sexist or biased against women there is no data to show that such changes would increase the amount of dollars someone like my girlfriend would spend on video games. It’s only in recent times that people who want less sexist games and actually will have a noticeable effect on the market are organizing and voicing an opinion. That’s the only reason these changes are starting to take place.
Many people continually argue that games treat homosexuals unfairly. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with fairness. It has to do with the fact that the intended target audience for most games where sexuality plays a factor is heterosexual. But I guarantee you that if tomorrow someone could promise beyond a reasonable doubt that they had an idea for a game starring a gay male that would garner 100% of the world’s homosexual population to purchase a copy that EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda, and every other AAA developer would be lining up to bid on it. Even just a guarantee of 100% of the currently gaming homosexual population would be enough to get that game made. This isn’t an issue of ethics or equality. It’s an issue of business and regardless of how you feel about that, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s the way things work. The best way women can change sexism in games is to avidly purchase games that aren’t sexist and encourage other women to do it as well and then to post about their purchase and why they made that purchase on both social media and official game forums. That change is not going to occur as a result of obnoxious documentaries, feminist blogs, and Twitter battles. It will occur when the market shows itself to be more profitable when not being sexist with evidence directly linking the profits to not being sexist. I’m of course using “sexist” as a stand in word for “making female gamers happy”. I’ve yet to see anyone present an idea for a plot based game that would evenly satisfy players of both genders, be written realistically and well, while also making the gender of the character actually matter to the plot and player. But I digress.
So when looking at Mass Effect: Andromeda or any other game, remember that just because you don’t like something doesn’t necessarily matter because you may not even be the target audience. I’m speaking as a Black male and I know games are rarely made for me. I wish developers would come out and say their target audience for a specific game outright, but that would never happen because people take things too personally. Making such an admission would cannibalize their sales just because of how petty people are. I wish we lived in a world where people could be told they aren’t part of the target audience, buy the game anyway, and attempt to objectively critique it from the point of view of the target audience, but if anything our society is only getting farther away from such a high level of reviewing and purchasing maturity.
The second thing that needs to be said about Mass Effect: Andromeda¸ and Mass Effect as a franchise, is that it’s not a dating simulator. Many games today have romance or at least sex in them, but very few AAA games are made with romance/sex as the focus of the game. If you like romance/sex in games then you should just be thankful that Mass Effect has it at all, because it doesn’t need to. The games are not about finding love or physical love. They’re about being a human tasked with saving humanity. Romance options aren’t a mandatory part of the game and they have little bearing on the actual story other than how they affect your personal decisions. You can play through the entire franchise without pursuing a single romance and it will not affect your main plot experience in any noticeable way. And if you’re taking you role as Spectre or Pathfinder seriously, like the games intended, then you aren’t letting romance options cloud your judgement. I played Mass Effect one as the default white male, heterosexual Commander Shepard. Though I had more of an interest and general liking for Ashley Williams compared to Kaiden, I chose to sacrifice her. It was a hard choice. But I did it because I believed that Kaiden, because he was a biotic not because he was a man, was more useful to my mission than Williams was. That’s the point of the games. Making hard decisions that a true leader would make in those situations for the good of the mission and by extension humanity. If you’re not making your decisions based on what you believe the best leader would do then either you’re playing the game incorrectly or you’re playing the wrong game. While yes I do believe that everyone has a right to play a game the way they want to and should be able to enjoy that game, I still believe that when a developer makes a game they have an intended use and that playing completely outside of that use and judging the game outside of that use is wrong.
I’ve written about my sister and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time before. She loved riding Epona, but did literally nothing else in the game. When she asked me to make a file just for her it was one of the proudest moments of my youth. But once the game started and she realized she couldn’t ride the horse from the beginning she immediately put the controller down and lost all interest. My dreams of being the proud brother of a gamer girl were crushed. Would it be right for my sister to say Ocarina is a bad game because she couldn’t fulfill her goal of riding the horse indefinitely? Of course not. The fault is hers for going to a serious adventure game looking for Barbie Horse Adventures: Wild Horse Rescue (2003). The same rules apply to Mass Effect: Andromeda. If you went into that game hoping for the best dating simulator that let you fulfill whatever your alien romance fantasies are and couldn’t, that doesn’t give you the right to call Mass Effect: Andromeda a bad game. Because it’s not sold as an alien romance simulator. That’s not to say that Mass Effect: Andromeda is a perfect game outside of romance/sex options because it’s most certainly not. More than 50 hours in, let me tell you it has a ton of issues. But the fact that I can’t have the imaginary love life I was hoping for doesn’t give me or anyone else the right to trash the game because that’s an inappropriate focus of judgement for this particular game/franchise.
The intention of the developers is my next and last qualifying point. I believe in creative control and artistic license. I’ve written about this issue many times before. As a writer, with collegiate training in fiction writing, I take creative control/freedom very seriously. There’s nothing I hate more than when people who don’t write say something should have been written differently for subjective reasons. There are technical reasons that fictional writing can be considered bad. These can be debated, but I’m all for people critiquing technically bad writing. But when it comes to the subjective interpretation of characters, I get really angry when people argue that something was done badly just because it’s not the way they perceive or experience a type of person in their own life.
Good writers write what they know. Sadly, today many writers in many forms of entertainment are being forced to write things they don’t know. I’ve written several pages of blog posts about the representation of minorities in video games and how it’s for the most part been done pretty badly in AAA games. But I don’t blame the writers. I blame the studios. Because I know that the entire system is built on prejudice. I have no problem with the fact that some White guy in Montreal can’t seem to write a Black character that’s not offensive and built on stereotypes. It’s very possible that the writer has little to no personal experience with Black people outside of film and television. Being from LA and having spent five years of my life in Philadelpha, I can also say that it’s very possible that this same White writer actually does know a number of Black people who are literally walking stereotypes. I have no problem admitting that I personally love fried chicken, am an excellent dancer, and have an extremely nappy and all natural afro. If a White guy only knew me in a specific setting, such as a bar, there’s an excellent chance that if he tried to write a character based on me that it would be considered very stereotypical. And that’s not his fault. A White guy from and currently living in Montreal is not the correct person to be writing a Black character of either gender from Detroit. What needs to happen is the studios need to hire Black writers to write their Black characters well. And the same goes for Latinos, Asians, women, homosexuals, and so on. I do not believe that game writers today set out to write offensive or stereotypical characters. I believe studios are too cheap to hire additional writers and too prejudiced to hire the correct ones when they try to create more diverse characters in their games.
Qualifications aside, I still don’t agree with the idea of telling a writer that the way they wrote a character or interaction is wrong in a work of fiction. I’ve already said good writers write from personal experiences. That moment that you might think is completely ridiculous may very well have happened to that writer in their personal life. And you telling them that their life is unrealistic is not only untrue, but it’s unfair to make such a claim. It’s also beside the point though because writers have a right to tell the story they want to tell. That’s what fiction writers are hired and paid to do. They aren’t telling your story. Again, if you aren’t the target audience, they might not even be telling a story for you. They’re telling the story they wanted to tell. And if you don’t like the way that story is told then by all means go to college, study writing, write your own stories, figure out how to get distribution, and tell the stories you want to tell. It’s really difficult and it’s really insulting when people talk down to the craft of writing and those who are paid to do it professionally.
Now that we’ve covered some of the more important qualifiers of this discussion, let’s get down to the actual business at hand: sex in Mass Effect: Andromeda and by extension all of Mass Effect.
I’m a heterosexual male and I’m not happy with the way sex/romance works in Mass Effect: Andromeda. I still stand by my previous points that it’s very possible that my opinion as a Black male is irrelevant to the studio and that the game isn’t about sex in the first place, but I also believe that as an American born citizen the First Amendment gives me the right to voice my opinion on the subject. If you too are an American citizen or are also a citizen that comes from a country that grants people the right to voice their opinions freely then you are free to read, consider, ignore, refute, agree with, or attack my opinions on this subject and I hope you do so in the comments section. I will not be Twitter battling about this post, just so you know. Meet me here, where the article is published, and I’d be happy to thoroughly discuss the points argued here and any other ones you’d like to bring up in detail. Please know in advance that any attempt to get me to debate this post on Twitter will end with me telling you to “leave a comment on the blog” with a screenshot of this paragraph.
First thing I’m unhappy with about sex in Andromeda is that it’s still too human-centric. Regardless of your character’s gender and/or sexuality, you can get with humans and Asari and be granted some form of actual sex scene, but the same is not true for any other race in the game. The one Turian option just gets to roll around for a second fully clothed and in armor. First off, why can’t Turians ever get out of that armor? No this is not an admission of some weird personal interest in Turians. It’s a statement about how I hate the narcissism that humans continue to show even when creating fictional scenarios. But what’s even worse is how unfair this four race romance limit is. Krogans need love too. In four games you still can’t romance a Krogan. And in this one there’s actually a decent abundance of female ones. The Angara are the new race on the block and they’re right up there with Asari on the hotness scale. But there’s only one female that can be romanced in the entire galaxy and she’s in the most inconvenient place, can’t be fully romanced till the end of the game, and even if you do pull it off you don’t actually get a sex scene. There’s only one male option as well, but at least he lives on the ship. Specieism! All sentient races that can fight alongside you should also be able to be romanced. And every sentient race in the galaxy should be up for grabs at an equal level of let’s call it “exposure”. That doesn’t even address races like Batarians, Volus, and Vorcha if you’re into that sort of thing, which you have every right to be in a video game.
My second issue is why is it so damn hard to play the field in these games? My record for any one playthrough of any Bioware game from any franchise is two romances. That is not realistic. If you’re a space traveler wandering literally an entire galaxy, you should be able to get it done more often than that. What would Captain Kirk say? You should be able to have a different partner in every life supporting solar system if you want to. I really like that they finally made it so that you can get with people outside of your ship mates. But there’s so few options available. And everyone seems to be aware of your romance business. Am I to believe that all females across the galaxy talk this closely? That’s the real stereotype in this game. Not all women are gossips and not all of them demand monogamy. Looking at you Cora. I’m speaking as a person who did a heterosexual male playthrough, but I’m sure there are people who played as other types of characters with other interest who felt similar levels of irritation with this vastly underwhelming space nookie limit.
My third issue is why is there that one casual sex character in Bioware games? They like to pick one female character to be the “whore” character rather than just creating a plethora of characters, some of which might be into the idea of a one night stand. In Dragon Age II it’s Isabela. In Andromeda it’s Peebee. And along with that, why don’t you get a proper sex scene when you go the casual route with Peebee? Don’t short change my experience for not committing. That’s not even how it works in real life much of the time.
While I’m not personally affected by it because of the way I choose to play romance in games, I definitely don’t agree with the fact that the options for homosexual playthroughs are even more limited than the straight ones. But to be fair I would argue that the human narcissism problem needs to be brought up here again. For me I make it a point not to romance humans unless it’s after having already romanced all the aliens I can. If I know I can trade the human for an alien later then I’ll go for it. No this isn’t a gender thing. It’s a species thing. My favorite part about Mass Effect is being able to meet and interact with different and sometimes new races. I think that’s the real point of the games. It’s about being a human and realizing that in the grand scheme of things you’re just not that important unless you’re part of something bigger such as the Nexus or the Citadel. I think choosing to only fraternize with other humans takes away from the experience of flying to new planets and meeting new races. So for me, whether gay or straight, I find human romance options extremely boring. But it’s important to realize that sexuality in the gay or straight discourse is a strictly human system. And one of the things I really like about Mass Effect is that it goes out of its way to drive that point home.
Are Asari lesbians? No not really. How can a race of all females technically be queer? So technically if you’re a female character and you romance an Asari it’s not really being a lesbian. But if that is the case then you would have to argue that being a male character and romancing an Asari isn’t really being straight either. But then at that point could you not technically apply that to all alien races and say that any romance with any non-human when your character is a human is not technically gay or straight? The dictionary definition of both hetero- and homo-sexual only applies to humans having sex with humans or more specifically a member of a species only having sex with another member of the same species. We don’t apply the term homosexual to men who have sex with male sheep. We just call it bestiality and move on. Now if sheep were fully sentient and able to express themselves to us maybe we wouldn’t just call it bestiality but for now those social issues don’t really exist. So then at that point romancing Jaal, Peebee, Avela, Vetra, and Keri aren’t technically gay or straight options. Meaning that there is only one option for heterosexual male characters: Cora, two options for homosexual male characters: Gil and Reyes, two options for heterosexual female characters: Liam and Reyes, one option for homosexual female characters: Suvi, and actually three options for either male or female bisexual characters.
From a purely scientific standpoint, the game is actually not biased for or against hetero- or homo-sexual males like everyone claims. Instead it is biased against people who choose to play under very human-centric rules of sexuality. The problem more comes down to the fact that people, being limited to human ways of thinking and feeling about things, are projecting human gender types and social norms onto alien characters and equating those options as falling within the gay or straight discourse. I would argue that goes against what Bioware wanted/wants to do with romance in these games altogether. All that being said, Turians, Krogans, Salarians, and Angarans all have males and females so if you do choose to apply human sexuality to these non-human romance options then yes the game is biased towards heterosexual males and homosexual females with five options a piece. But I would argue the real bias here is in the presentation.
Bioware has been quoted as describing the romance sequences in Andromeda as “softcore space porn”. That’s only half true because it only happens in the case of romancing humans and Asari and only in heterosexual or lesbian scenarios. The rest of the races and sexualities are given the bad television treatment. A lead up, screen goes black, a fade in after the fact, and a lead out. Disappointing. If I might steal a quote from the great Chris Rock, “Don’t take my clothes off and not f@$k me.” Not giving everyone all the sex options they want is one thing. But not giving everyone the same quality of sexual experience depending on their sexual interests is just plain offensive. It’s just blatantly showing favoritism.
I do realize that this is a much more in depth game than something like Fable so you can’t just romance everyone in the game because it would either lower the quality of the experience or cost too much money to produce. But I feel like in general there could be a lot more romance options for any type of sexuality you choose to play as and a much more level presentation of those romance options.
This was a fun post. My girlfriend thinks I’m weird for having written it. I’m curious to know your thoughts on the subject of sex in Mass Effect and video games in general. Leave me a comment. Feel free to include screenshots. 😉
As promised, I purchased and reviewed Mass Effect: Andromeda. I have given this game as thorough a review as I could having only gotten to put in just over 30 hours since it released last week. I have been as fair as possible, considering I haven’t finished the game yet. I published this review on Brash Games but here is the introduction:
10 years ago, Bioware released the first Mass Effect. While this was not a perfect game, it in many ways revolutionized both the sci-fi and open world exploration genres of video games. Last week, Bioware released the latest game in the Mass Effect franchise. Like with the original Mass Effect, this is not a perfect game by any means but once again it revolutionizes the way we travel through space, meet alien races, and ultimately save the galaxy. Or at the very least a galaxy in the case of this game, because you’re no longer in the Milky Way. Let me start by saying that I have not yet finished the game. I’ve played every day since its release and have amassed more than 30 hours of playtime counting multiplayer. Since I did not receive an advanced copy, it would have been impossible for me to have completed the campaign of a game this size within the opening release window.
You can read the rest of the review here. For this and other reviews by me on Brash Games you can also check out my Author’s Archive page.
Usually I publish posts on here Wednesdays but I had to make sure this went live before Mass Effect: Andromeda dropped. As I write this, we have less than 16 hours till those of us not lucky enough to get advanced copies can take the plunge. In fact, there’s a good chance you will have played the game for several hours before you ever look at this. I wanted to get it published sooner, but I do the best I can with the time I have.
I’m not gonna critique the game right now. I don’t have a right to do that because I haven’t played it yet, because it isn’t out yet. Yet recently a lot of people, who also haven’t played the game, have taken it upon themselves to not only negatively critique the game but to also harass members of the Bioware staff because of it. Now this is absolutely ridiculous for so many reasons, but I’m not actually interested in discussing harassment in this post either, so I’ll just sum up my views on the subject as quickly as possible.
Harassment is wrong in any form. But let’s be clear about what harassment actually is. Criticizing a business because of issues you have with their products in a mature and respectable manner for legitimate, well thought out, and justified reasons is not harassment. Whether it’s by email, tweet, Facebook post, forum reply, blog post, YouTube comment, or any other means of communication is completely acceptable behavior. But let’s make sure we’re clear about what “mature and respectable manner for legitimate, well thought out, and justified reasons” means. Voicing a formal complaint about being unhappy with the quality of facial animations in a game with the entire focus of the post/comment being about facial animations with no curse words one time is not harassment. Voicing that same complaint with slurs, curse words, and threats of violence is harassment whether it’s once or a hundred times. Directing your complaints about a game, no matter how respectful and well thought out, at a private citizen, even if they are an employee of the development studio, is harassment. Even if you’re directing positive comments at them, it’s still harassment. It’s just harassment that they most likely aren’t going to be unhappy about.
Bioware is not made up of or represented by one person. It’s a large corporation that has official accounts that the public can easily send messages to in many forms via many platforms. There is no excuse to bother private citizens who work at a company about issues you have with the company and/or their performance. You wouldn’t send a message to the guy who flips your burgers at McDonalds if you saw a commercial from them you didn’t like. Private citizens deserve to be left alone regardless of where they work and what they do at work.
So just to be clear, it’s completely acceptable, but pretty stupid, to send messages to Bioware saying you’re unhappy about the facial animations, even though you haven’t yet played the game yourself yet, in Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s not acceptable to send messages to Bioware saying you’re unhappy with the facial animations in Mass Effect: Andromeda and that it’s the fault of a specific employee because they happen to be a woman. It’s not ok, but won’t be frowned upon to send positive messages about Mass Effect: Andromeda to an employee of Bioware via their private accounts. It’s completely, 100% unacceptable, disgusting, and outright offensive to send negative messages to a private citizen who happens to work for Bioware and blame them for something you’re unhappy with about Mass Effect: Andromeda, whether you played it already or not, especially to tell them it’s their fault because of something out of their control such as their gender, skin color, class, or literally any other personal identifier protected by the Constitution of the United States of America. Even if you’re not an American, these same rules still apply to you if you consider yourself a human being. Now that I’ve taken more time than I should have to in 2017 to talk about this issue, let me get to what I actually wanted to discuss in this post.
If you have an issue with the facial animations of humans in Mass Effect: Andromeda that is completely acceptable. If you think bad human facial animations is enough of a reason to say Mass Effect: Andromeda is a bad game and/or that’s the reason you’re not going to buy the game, you’re an idiot. And let’s be clear about something. This has nothing to do with Mass Effect: Andromeda. This has to do with people incorrectly judging games. A video game, especially an open world, plot based, AAA, is made up of more than just facial animations. In fact, as surprising as it may sound, it’s made up of more than just graphics. A game is made up of multiple parts, created by masses of people, over several months to years in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda. We aren’t talking about some small one man indie game where you can legitimately blame a problem on a specific person. And in the same vein of thinking, we aren’t talking about a game small enough to be judged solely on any one problem. Not to mention it’s probably the least important problem anyone could ever complain about.
Human facial animations? Who cares? Have we forgotten about Assassin’s Creed Unity? Are we just gonna ignore the many serious glitches in the original release of Skyrim? And who’s playing Mass Effect games for the humans in the first place? If you’re not in it for the aliens then you’re a xenophobic, narcissistic asshat and you should just run along back to your COD. Having not yet played the game yet, my biggest complaint so far is the fact that you have to play as a human . . . again. We did three games of that already. Bioware should have moved on to new playable races for the campaign by now. But whatever. The point is that to make the game breaking issue facial animations of one of many species in a huge, plot focused, open world game without considering any other pieces of the total work is kind of like saying you hate a movie because of the way they drew/wrote the title in the introduction. Most importantly, it shows a lack of ability to properly judge and/or review games.
I’m not saying that I’m the best game reviewer of all time, but I am quite experienced with multiple years of reviews under my belt. While I won’t say that there’s any one correct way to review games, there are a few things that every good reviewer should be doing when judging games. The first and most important is making sure to judge a game in its entirety and not just focus on one specific aspect. This is especially true when picking the score. Personally I hate that reviews are scored. It only detracts from the review because most people take the number as being more important than the words that led to that number. A large part of this comes from the fact that many people no longer take the time to actually read reviews, which is a shame. But in any case, the number should reflect a score for the totality of the product and not just represent a specific aspect of it. The second thing is that the number should accurately reflect what the reviewer wrote about the game. Not what the reviewer felt in his/her own head, but what they took the time to write down. The review should back up the score, not exist independently of it.
I haven’t looked at a single review for Mass Effect: Andromeda yet. They are coming out as I write this post. I’ve made the conscious decision not to read any reviews or check any scores because I plan on reviewing it myself and I don’t want my final thoughts and score to be manipulated by anyone else’s review. That’s the third thing that I believe should be standard practice for all reviewers. They should make a conscious effort not to see any scores for a game until they’ve already settled on their score and ideally finished writing their review. I always score games after I’ve finished writing the review. Again, the score should not dictate the review. The review should dictate the score.
While I don’t necessarily believe that everyone should write reviews the way I do, I do believe that every reviewer who takes that responsibility seriously should have a set in stone rationale for how they review games that can be presented upon request. I have shown mine many times and you can see it in practice with every review I write.
I believe that no aspect of game development is more important or more difficult than any other one when it comes to scoring a game. Many people would disagree, and that’s fine, but again, they should still be able to show a legitimate breakdown of how they score games and be able to justify it. I break a game up into what I believe are the five core aspects of game development: graphics, gameplay, sound, writing, and replay value. The order is irrelevant because all five aspects are weighted evenly for a maximum score of two. Combined they can equal a maximum score of 10. That is how I review games. I look at each aspect of a game in detail, score each one independently of the other four aspects, and add those five scores together for a total score. Now to be completely transparent, the website I write for currently only does integer scores so I always have to round to the nearest integer for my published score, but when it comes to actually choosing a number, I used decimals. I believe that this evenly weighted system is the fairest way to review and score a game, but I would never claim that all reviewers should be forced to use this system. Many people have differing beliefs about what’s important when scoring a game and weight it differently. But all legitimate reviewers should be able to agree that all five of the aspects I mentioned should be considered when reviewing a game and no single aspect can make or break a game unless the game is unplayable because of it. A game with a game breaking glitch with everything else perfect isn’t going to get an eight. But at the same time, a game with great gameplay and terrible to no writing shouldn’t get a 10 either. Neither game has performed to the best of the industry and thus both games should be scored to appropriately reflect a lack of perfection.
So as we move forward into the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, let’s all try to be fair judges of the game and remember that bad human facial animations cannot legitimately make a plot heavy, open world space exploration game with multiple species of characters, the majority of which have totally acceptable facial animations, a “bad game”. Just to clarify, I’m not saying it’s a good game at this point. I haven’t played it yet. What I’m saying is that if your only complaint about it is bad human facial animations and you consider yourself a reviewer or even just a legitimate gamer, then you have a responsibility to judge the game fairly and declare that other than those bad human facial animations it’s a good game. That means you should probably play it before voicing an opinion about it.
I’d love to see how other reviewers weight/score games so please let me know your system in the comments or link me to your own blog post where you explain this rationale in detail. You can get my full thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda once I’ve had a chance to thoroughly play the game and my review is complete.