This sandwich would be delicious except for the lump of shit in it.

I don't remember eating corn.

Delicious and loaded with protein!

I’ve been doing a lot of talking and having loads of discussion with quite a few people in the wake of the very polarizing ending to a certain video game trilogy that just came out recently, and while I could go on and on about why this particular game, which was absolutely stellar up until the very end where it was like someone slipped a chunk of shit inside the tastiest sandwich ever while I wasn’t looking, instead I’m going to talk about something else: how not to fuck up a good story.

You don't change horses in midstream, asshole.

This is all your fault.

You need to prevent tonal shifts that are too extreme whenever you’re writing a piece of fiction, as it can be incredibly jarring and run counter to the story as established so far.  As Vaughn R Demont pointed out to me in a conversation yesterday, the first ten pages or so of a story are where the tone for the entire thing is set.  This means that if you spend, say, an entire trilogy reinforcing this tone and repeating themes over a period of five years or so as each subsequent story builds on the last one, choosing to shift this tone on the last ten pages of the story is heartbreaking to the reader and completely destroys the continuity of the piece.

Now, before you take me to task for not knowing what the fuck I’m talking about – remember, I’m a professional.  I actually have a degree that says I’ve received training in analyzing things like character, plot, story structure, themes, and subtext.  I even have the student loans to prove it.

More like Exhibit F-Bomb.

Exhibit A.

Anyway, such a fundamental tonal shift right before the end of an otherwise pitch-perfect work makes people feel angry, upset, and betrayed.  It happened with the Star Wars prequels.  The apologists will say that it’s no business of a consumer to be outraged at the creative choices made by the person (or team of people) actually producing the work, as only the creator has the authority to craft things.   “Don’t complain,” these apologists will say, “as you wouldn’t have anything without Lucasfilm. It’s George’s intellectual property, if you have no right to demand anything of him, you’re all a bunch of entitled fucks that don’t appreciate the massive amount of work that it took to create this for you.”

The thing is, in a situation like this when you’ve got a massively successful franchise that has captured the hearts and minds of countless millions, you can’t simply argue that you’re going to take your ball and go home when your fanbase calls you on your bullshit.  If you can’t handle criticism of your creative works, then guess what – you shouldn’t be putting them out there for others to enjoy (or not enjoy).

I'm glad to know the majority of my readers will get this joke.

The creation of anything – whether it be a film, a novel, a piece of music, or a video game – isn’t a solitary endeavor.  You’re producing something that, by its very nature, is meant to be presented to an audience for their enjoyment, and you’re looking to elicit a particular emotional response with your audience.  You’re establishing a rapport with them, building a relationship, and then leading them to the end you want for them – whatever that may be.  Plus, no matter how much you may claim otherwise, you’re not creating in a vacuum – you’re influenced and inspired by countless sources that sometimes completely unconsciously weave their way through your work.

You can get away with a lot in shorter creative works, though if you want it to be effective and resonate with your audience you have to produce something of quality.  On longer pieces, whether it be an entire rock opera album, or a series of video games, novels, or films, you need to follow a set of rules that you ideally establish in the opening part of the work in order to sustain the story through the entire length of the piece, with the advantage (and sometimes the disadvantage) being that you have a wide playing field open to you for the development of the themes you want to present to your audience.

This is exactly why people are incredibly upset about the last fifteen minutes of Mass Effect 3.  Conspiracy theories notwithstanding (and for the sake of spoilers I won’t get into it in any particular depth), the ending broke the cardinal rules of the Mass Effect universe that was set back in 2007 when the original game in the trilogy came out.

The road leading out of Salem's Lot.

Do you have anything with a little less zombie?

The first thing you encounter in ME, after creating your character and choosing an origin, is an image of your character, gazing out of a porthole into space while he or she is discussed.  You hear the choices you just made in character creation expounded upon by these people in the voice over, basically giving you a psychological write-up of who you are and what you’ve done so far – and you realize that the choices you make in this game are going to matter.  Not only that, but you can make deep and serious impacts to the story – you’re the main character.  The world revolves around you, which does border on solipsistic (and I talked about this in a previous post), but the story is your story.  It’s your choices that drive the story forward, and you’re rewarded for making these decisions by seeing the way things change.

These are the rules set out by the Mass Effect series of games – choice and personal experience – and these rules are reinforced throughout the first two games in the series and throughout 99.8 percent of the third game.  This created a legion of completely dedicated and frothingly loyal fans, and rightly so, as up until a very poor choice for an endgame that involved effectively stripping away choice from the player.  The illusion of choice remained, but it was just that – an illusion – as you’re essentially given a choice between Door Number One, Door Number Two, and Door Number Three, all of which trigger a virtually identical ending cut scene.  People are understandably pissed.

As far as I’m concerned, the game would have gone out on a much higher note if it had ended fifteen minutes earlier.  For those of you with knowledge of the end of the game, and to spare those that don’t want the ending spoiled, all I’ll say is that if the credits rolled right after you stumble to your goal in slow motion after surviving something that you probably shouldn’t have, it would have been more satisfying than getting to choose the same scene with different colored color tints.

This is why people are upset – not because the ending is a bad one on its own, but because it completely clashes with all the themes established over the past five years and utterly changes the tone of the story away from the impact of personal choice.  It’s lazy, a cop-out on the part of the writers, and does what could be fatal damage to an otherwise seminal piece of science fiction.  Apologists asserting that you should just ignore the giant lump of shit in the center of what’s otherwise the most delicious sandwich you’ve ever eaten are missing the point.  I’m not going to just eat around it, goddammit.

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14 thoughts on “This sandwich would be delicious except for the lump of shit in it.

  1. A few things about this. I happen the disagree with your comparison to Lucas and the star wars movies. He didn’t just lose it at the end. I’d say about 99.8% of the prequels were an absolute shit sandwich, with only the fight scene at the end of the third being really kick ass. He did this after raping the original trilogy with hokey added material and horrible edits (greedo). He even changed them again by added Hayden to the end of Jedi, replacing the older actor who played the unmasked vader. He seriously ruined good characters and plotline, just to make a shitty movie that appealed to kids and made him millions.

    Regarding ME3, I haven’t played any of them. My only statement is this: If your personal decisions throughout the 3 games were to be reflected in the ending, then there would have to be an astronomical number of endings. Apart from that, I’m not sure it should have received such perfect scores from certain game review sites, considering the ending was such a debacle… Just my two cents…

    • Well Lucas is a whole other kettle of fish. He’s been eroding his goodwill from the moment he decided to change the substance of the original trilogy with his Special Editions, and then he had been been basically slamming my dick in a car door every time one of the prequel movies came out, so the comparison isn’t apt.

      I guess if you could imagine that the entire six movies were pitch perfect except for the end of Revenge of the Sith. Say, right after the climactic lightsaber duel. And it was so bad that not only does it tarnish everything you’ve experienced up to now, you give a Darth Vader “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” cry. That’s pretty analogous.

      As far as ME3 and choice, I understand that they can’t possibly program eight billion permutations into an ending. But if they’re going to include three choices at the end, I want the choices to have distinct and discernible differences, not just the same thing except with a red, green, or blue tint. If you’re not interested in ever playing the series, you can look up the endings on YouTube if you want, but I would still recommend playing them, even with that let-down ending: the journey is good enough to justify the abrupt, unsatisfying ending. Kind of like the way The Sopranos ended.

      • Never saw the Sopranos passed the first season. I’ll still play the games, because I honestly haven’t heard bad things about them really. I won’t look up the endings until I beat the third one. I’ll revisit this thread in a year and let you know how it went, lol!

      • Our family just started playing ME3. We’re die hard fans here.

        I’m glad the end is okay, even if there’s just one.

        As long as it doesn’t end in a church with everyone laughing and holding hands, I’m fine. Cause, at that point, I’d rather have it be where Shepard was just a hypothetical character in a war game simulation run by EDI.

        God, Lost’s ending sucked.

  2. I don’t want to give any spoilers here, and Dave knows my take on the ending back to front, and I think Persona does too (if he read my lengthy analysis).

    I agree almost completely with Dave here, it wasn’t that the plot of the ending was a bad choice. The Ending could be anything they wanted it to be if they presented it properly. What was bad was all about presentation, and part of that presentation is choice, or in this case, making you feel like the choices you made along the way didn’t mean shit.

    For example, I can not LIKE how the ending plot goes, it might clash with my hopes for the protagonist and cast of characters, but if the plot makes sense, is well written and doesn’t clash with the rest of the fiction and narrative, then the fault is likely mine, not the authors.

    A movie that comes to mind would be explorers. A LOT of people hated the ending of that movie. Part of the reason was Daves example of continuity of theme or whatever. But you cannot fault the presentation, the ending presentation was not done poorly. In fact, I love the ending of Explorers, I get the message the writer was trying to convey, and the change in tone happens early enough in the film that it isn’t like falling off a cliff. It’s more gradual. Yes it’s portrayed in a childish and cartoonish way, but it actually makes sense at the same time.

    Not so with Mass Effect 3.

    Even though the ending makes sense if you think about it, it’s presentation was sloppy, lazy, abrupt, heavy handed and poorly executed and leaves you with the feeling like everything you did was for nothing.

    There is a fine line between creating a thought provoking/tragic ending, and making a OMFGWTFNERDRAGEQUIT!!!!!!!!111111111111elevenone ending.

    For those of you who are now working on the game, who are hoping to not be as disapointed by the ending… trust me, the only thing saving you from feeling what I felt, is that you already know to be on guard for a shitty ending.

    If I had known the ending was going to suck this bad, it might not have bothered me so much.

    Similar to Daves point, expectations mean a lot in fiction. If we expect a masterpiece, and is instead simply excellent, many readers will call it horse shit.

    If we expect Horse shit, and get instead something Adequate, we call it a “Cult” classic, or unpolished gem.

    Mass effect builds up in us the expectation that the ending will bring it all together and whether it be tragic or rainbow monkey happy, we expect closure and epicness. What we get the equivalent of the ending in legend of Zelda – Would you like to try a new quest?

    to add insult to injury, EA has the NERVE to stick an ADVERTIZEMENT after all the ending sequences are done for more DLC and multilayer content coming soon!

    ARE YOU F-ing KIDDING ME!?

    You kick me in the Daddy Bag and then hand me a brochure for Nut Kicking services?

    Now, in closing let me add, I have a strong suspicion that Bioware intentionally left the ending so aggravatingly vague and empty because this is not the true end of the game. Either because the conspiracy theory is more or less on the right track, or because there is something major that will happen.

    Remember folks, Commander Shepard DIES in the first five minutes of Mass Effect 2.

    Anything CAN and HAS happened before in Mass effect.

    I will leave you with a quote from Bioware’s Mike Gamble who said in response to the outrage: “If the fans knew what was in store, the reaction would be different”

    Now, this could just be clever marketing, and damage control to help them sell DLC… But I’m leaning toward hoping its not.

    Bioware has said they will begin discussing the ending soon, they just want to give people the chance to play the game before they go making statements. Not every region has the game yet, with 03/15 being the last day in the release schedule. So don’t expect any concrete answers till at least Monday, probably a week later.

    But Bioware has to be careful here, if they DO have something clever and diabolical (like the conspiracy theory ending) up their sleeve, they better hurry and pull it out because they are losing their audience more and more every day.

  3. @ Craigtwit – If you think the ending of lost was bad… You will probably Kill yourself over the mass effect ending… Just saying. Lost was bad… Mass effects was worse. Just sayin’ 🙂

  4. Lol yeah I don’t mean to sound like the journey sucks. My favoriate game of all time is legend of zelda (the firstone), my second is the mass effect series. Even with the bad ending…

  5. Mass effect has been going down hill since EA acquired Bioware ME 2 was watered down and made more action heavy to appeal to a wider audience that prefer to shoot things,they took out or watered down some of the things that RPG fans like,such as exploration,customisation and dialogue options,so it was obvious the final game would be even more action orientated and watered down than the second and with gimmicky add ons like multi player and Kinect,there many things wrong with this game,it has much less dialogue options,auto dialogue even in RPG mode,inconsistent graphics,they killed off players you got to know and love only to give you ones you don’t care about or want they added gears of war elements and made the game even more linear and shorter,this game needs re making not just a tacked on updated ending.

    • Yet somehow every “professional reviewer” gave it 10 out of 10 erections. I can only think that it either a) shows how much money EA pours into the industry to buy good press or 2) takes less brain cells to be a games journalist than it takes to be a crash dummy.

      • Magazines and online gaming sites have always been biased to high profile games companies and publishers,if you want an honest review your best bet is to read what buyers on sites like Amazon think about it.

      • That is an excellent point, though I have heard reports of people who work for major game companies submitting false reviews for products on sites like Amazon. Still, if 99% of the feedback says a game is utter bullshit, then I’m going to go with them, not the one corporate shill who gives a game a glowing review.

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