Friday, March 30, 2012

Beautifully diverting!

*Okay, some SPOILERS here and there, so be careful!*

A lot of characters in the "Mass Effect" trilogy have a 'thing'. I went into how Garrus is calibration-happy just the other post...for other examples: Kasumi's a peeper; Jacob, Miranda and Tali have dad issues (but in all three cases, that can be resolved with their fathers dying!); Shepard likes to interrupt folks, especially when he's/she's feeling Renegade; and Kaidan's WAY too mellow. I suspect he smokes pot! Even Liara has something she's preoccupied with or defines her -- she's a digger, and gets a little too happy looking for Prothean stuff when she's not digging for information gold as the Shadow Broker. However, we've seen Garrus turn away from calibrating, thanks to Tali. <3

So...what -- or who! -- can divert Liara from her Prothean-hunting?

If you're a FemShep fan like me, you already know the answer to that question! ^_^

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Miranda Lawson

*Time to focus on this ex-Cerberus operative and futuristic femme fatale, voiced by and modeled after Yvonne Strahovski in "ME2" and "ME3"! And yes, there are SPOILERS!*

There have been many important characters in the fictional Commander Shepard's life in the "Mass Effect" trilogy. From mentor Admiral Anderson to jester Jeff 'Joker' Moreau, no fan could imagine the hero's life and adventures without them. There is one, however, who holds the truly unique distinction of bringing Shepard back from the dead...I'd say that makes this character important!

Miranda Lawson was made for greatness, literally, by her father Henry Lawson, a ruthless and powerful Human businessman. He sought to create a dynasty and was so fixed on that end, it even governed how he would bring his offspring into the world. Miranda was born without a mother, a test tube baby created from her father's DNA and a doubled X chromosome. Every biological trait within her was optimized, making her a virtually perfect woman both in looks and ability, including biotic powers. But as Miranda grew, she developed a personality that rejected her father's goals, especially considering she was raised virtually without love. The fact she wasn't the first child he created but the first child he kept, sealed the realization she was nothing more than a tool to Henry, and that made Miranda disgruntled against her father. Matters were made worse when Henry created a twin to Miranda, Oriana, with the intention of making her a tool, as well.

Miranda's amazing beauty and intelligence makes one recall other femme fatales of genre lore, most famously Diana Rigg's Emma Peel of the classic TV series, "The Avengers". Like Emma, Miranda is an enticing sight, yet if you get on her bad side, you'll be lucky to be alive! In her own words, "shots were fired" when she last saw her father and took Oriana when her sister was still a baby, and she ultimately found safe haven with and joined the Human-centric terrorist organization Cerberus. The Illusive Man agreed to help place Oriana with a new family and keep her new identity secret as a condition of Miranda's service. Henry had long financially backed the organization, but with Miranda under their protection, he severed his ties with them...but he never stopped looking for Oriana. As time passed, Miranda became one of the most brilliant and valued operatives in Cerberus, but even her genius-level abilities were put to the test when the organization recovered Commander Shepard's body after the Collector attack that destroyed the Normandy.

Miranda was made leader of the Lazarus Project with the singular mission of bringing Shepard back to life, exactly as he/she was, to assist Cerberus' investigations of the Collectors. After two years and massive expense, her efforts bear fruit and Shepard wakes up! When Shepard first meets Miranda, he/she sees a profient yet coolly precise woman who is pure business...she doesn't even hesitate to kill a man she suspects (correctly) tried to destroy the Lazarus Project's base. When Shepard cautiously agrees to work with the terrorists to stop the Collectors and find out if they are harvesting Humans for the Reapers, Miranda is made his/her second in command on the new Normandy.

As time passes and they work from one mission to the next, Shepard manages to lower Miranda's cool exterior...he/she gets to know a woman who in spite of being built for perfection, is still all too human. Most prominent is her insecurities: are her accomplishments really her own, or due to her father's genetic tailoring? Miranda sees herself as simply being created for greatness, but Shepard -- if he/she is a Paragon -- assures her that greatness comes from the individual's heart, not from where a person is born or what they were given. As they continue to track down the Collectors, Miranda receives some bad news: after years in hiding living a normal life with her family, Henry has finally tracked down Oriana. Shepard joins Miranda on a very personal mission to stop the Eclipse mercenaries hunting for Oriana and secure her safety again. Shepard (that is, you!) can gently convince Miranda to meet and speak with Oriana, reveal her existence as her sister, before she and her family go into hiding again.

As the crew of the Normandy approach their goal, Shepard might even decide to pursue a romantic relationship with the woman who brought him back to life. <3 (But only if you're a ShepDude...sorry, FemSheps, no lesbian romance with Miranda!) Their moment of truth arrives with their suicide mission on the far side of the Omega Four Relay, in the Galactic Core. If you're careful with your decisions and have a steady aim, Shepard and everyone following him will survive. When the time comes to destroy the Collector base, the Illusive Man calls and interrupts, calling for Shepard to leave the base intact so that Cerberus can use its advanced technology. If you're a Paragon, Shepard will say hell, no: the base killed and processed an unknowable number of humans to create the shell of a Human-Reaper hybrid. Miranda can't help but agree and supports Shepard...when the Illusive Man gets angry with her, Miranda tells him she's resigning from Cerberus and cuts him off. They escape just as the Collectors go up in a blaze of glory. This doesn't stop their masters, the Reapers, and the oncoming war with them.

After destroying a Batarian Mass Relay in the DLC adventure "The Arrival", Shepard is taken back to Earth and placed under house arrest for his/her actions sometime between "ME2" and "ME3". This doesn't end Shepard's romance with Miranda, but she's forced to stay mostly underground during the third chapter to protect herself. Her father has returned to supporting Cerberus and the Illusive Man, considering they have Miranda as a common enemy. She contacts Shepard during the war against the Reapers to tell him she can't reunite with him because Oriana has gone missing, and Miranda's searching desperately for her. Even if they share a romance, Miranda meets with the Commander only briefly to ask for Alliance resources to help her track Oriana down, and to trust she'll be all right working on her own.

Miranda finds Oriana on Horizon, at a refuge for those who want to escape the war called Sanctuary. Shepard travels there as well, and discovers Sanctuary is a Cerberus front managed by Henry Lawson himself. The place is actually a testbed with the cold-blooded agenda of taking innocent refugees and transforming them into Husks with Reaper technology...Cerberus' objective is to find a means to control Husks, which might take them closer to controlling the powerful Reapers! If Shepard and Miranda are careful, Miranda will survive an attack by Kai Leng...and then they will both confront Henry, who is holding Oriana hostage. If Shepard can peacefully end the standoff and convince Henry to let Oriana go, he will...but then Miranda will kill her father anyway, to once and for all free her and her sister. The twins are gratefully together again...but even if Shepard is romantic with her, there will still be distance between them as Miranda joins the war effort to help him, and things culminate in all-out conflict on Earth.

And...don't worry, I won't go into the ending again!

Whether there is closure (I hope) of some point in the future, perhaps it will involve Shepard and Miranda getting back together finally, and forever. <3 Miranda is one of the most captivating characters of the trilogy, and not just because she's literally perfect. It's what makes her imperfect that makes her truly interesting, and makes us want to see more of her!

Monday, March 26, 2012

We know how Garrus looooves to calibrate... that what Turians call it? ;D Anyhow, every "ME" fan knows the joke, but this might help him want to try *ahem!* other things...

(With apologies to Tali, considering my previous post!)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Okay, let's get away from the ending for a while... center on one of the coolest moments in "Mass Effect 3"! :D [Warning: this post SPOILS!]

(But this happens only if your MaleShep didn't romance Tali, or your FemShep didn't romance Garrus!)

Shepard walks in to see Garrus and Tali having an intimate moment together!

Shepard: "!"
Tali: "Oh!"
Garrus: "Oh, we were just, uh..."
Tali: "I-I, well, I just, ah, I came to say good-bye, and...well..."
Garrus: "Ahh, I-I think one of my mandibles got hooked on her helmet...!"
Tali: "It might have caused a rupture, so I asked him to check!"
Garrus: "Well, you know, because of uh, infection risks, didn't want to jeapordize the mission, um..."
Tali: "So-o..."
Garrus: "Yeah."
Shepard: "I'm really happy for you. Both of you."
Tali: "Thanks, Shepard."
Garrus: "A-appreciated. Guess it helps to have something to come back to."
Tali: "?? Mm, what do you mean, 'come back to'? This is just a fling, Vakarian. I'm using you for your body."
Garrus: "You're so mean. And I'm okay with that."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Month Away. Again!

UPDATE! The news has been circulating since yesterday that EA and BioWare are going to release their next piece of DLC for "Mass Effect 3" in April. And guess what? It adds to the ending of the game; no details (yet) on exactly what the content will involve.

Okay. Anyone who knows even the basics of video game development knows it's an intensive, painstaking process in which anywhere from a handful to hundreds of people can be part of the production. The biggest of games, those made by premier developers and the biggest publishers, can often take a long time, even over a year, to go from concept to Gold. Even with months of time to develop a game, the most seasoned of game makers can suffer a lot of sleepless nights as the inevitable deadlines approach. The process has never gotten in the way of creating a complete video game. But for some reason, it has now, and the proof of that is the belated announcement that more will be added to the ending as downloadable content?

Any fan who knows BioWare knows that for years, they've striven to make games fans will want to play again and again. They pride themselves on making truly great, award-winning games like "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic", "Jade Empire", and the "Mass Effect" games. For them to release the all-important final chapter of a series they're respected and beloved for in a way genre fans love the original 'Star Wars' trilogy, and that chapter is flawed in such an elemental way as to have an incomplete ending, is out of character for them as game makers. I'm absolutely convinced of that.

What's happening, I'm sure, is because of someone's idea of the bottom best, someone on the business end should have known better than to have things go as they have thus far. Someone high up didn't have faith that we as fans would be willing to wait for a complete, rewarding experience to cap off the "Mass Effect" series. At worst, their motivations were...I don't know. I can only speculate.

In fact, I imagined a satirical vision of what might have taken place...something similar to the deliberations of a certain fictional Citadel Council...and I hope you get the joke as you read. What I'm saying is with a knowing wink. A lot of fans have been much, much less kind...

In the Executive Boardroom of Electronic Arts, some time in January...
EA CEO: "Okay, how's 'Mass Effect 3' coming along? I heard there might be a delay?"
BioWare Rep: "It'll be Gold soon, but...not before our target release date. There's still some polishing up to do for the ending."
EA Boardmember #1: "Excuse me? After all this time you had -- ?"
BioWare Rep: "We've said again and again we might need more time. We want to deliver a quality product, like always, especially considering this is the last part of the series."
EA Boardmember #2: [grumbles] "Can't exactly say 'Dragon Age 2' was a quality product..."
BioWare Rep: [defensive] "Hey! You wanted a rush job on that, remember? That's the only reason it wasn't as good as the first one! But we can't rush "ME3", it's too important to the fans! It's too important to us to tell a good story!"
EA CEO: "But we'll miss our release date."
BioWare Rep: [shrugs] "Well...yes, but that can't be helped if you want a great game for people to play, right?"
EA Boardmember #3: [disinterested] "It'll make us look bad, announcing a delay. Everyone's ready for it to come out in March."
EA Boardmember #2: [sarcastic] "So you want another rush job? Great idea!"
EA Boardmember #4: "Let's do a survey and see how many customers are willing to wait. If the number's positive enough, we can just announce the delay."
BioWare Rep: "The fans will understand. I'm sure of it. If you give us the time we need for the ending, the game will definitely be ready for release in April."
EA Boardmember #3: "April? Bah! We can still get it out in March."
EA CEO: "What are you thinking?"
BioWare Rep: [worried] "Yes, what exactly?"
EA Boardmember #3: "Three words: downloadable content."
EA Boardmember #2: "That's two words."
EA Boardmember #3: [shoots #2 a dirty look] "If I can TALK...thank you. If the game's mostly done, then just get that ready for March. You can finish the ending later and we'll make it downloadable content."
BioWare Rep: [stares at #3 hard] "Do you know anything about video games? Or anything at ALL? You want us to make a game WITHOUT AN ENDING?!"
EA Boardmember #5: "Zzzz...whoa, I'm up! What??"
EA Boardmember #4: "That is a very stupid idea."
BioWare Rep: "Thank you!"
EA Boardmember #1: "Why is it stupid? It makes sense, financially speaking. DLCs are how we'll REALLY make money in the future anyway, right?"
EA Boardmember #3: "People will pay for an ending."
BioWare Rep: "You need to be quiet for a moment."
EA Boardmember #3: "Why?"
BioWare Rep: "Because you're an IDIOT! You want us to end a fan-favorite, award-winning trilogy with a game that doesn't have an ending? And then expect our fans to sit back and wait for the rest to come out later?!?"
EA Boardmember #1: "That's how the old movie serials were made, right? In more than one part? And you had to wait a while before seeing the last part with the ending. Why would this be so different?"
EA Boardmember #4: "Uh, for one thing, no one does that anymore."
BioWare Rep: "Besides, imagine the original 'Star Wars' trilogy ending just before Darth Vader died, the second Death Star got blown up, and the Ewoks celebrated...on second thought, never mind about the Ewoks! Or...or imagine 'Stagecoach' ending as John Wayne marched toward the bad guys in the big showdown? Or 'Pulp Fiction' ending before -- !"
EA Boardmember #6: "Or '2001: A Space Odyssey' ending before Dave got turned into the Space Baby?"
EA Boardmember #5: "I never understood that ending. A baby floating in space. Big, creepy eyes. Uh, what are we talking about?"
BioWare Rep: "Imagine 'The Godfather' ending before Michael Corleone got his revenge on everybody!"
EA Boardmember #7: [glances at #3] "He's got you there. Not having an ending would suck."
EA Boardmember #1: "Then make a shorter ending!"
BioWare Rep: "...What?"
EA CEO: "That's interesting. We can still make the release date, then you can add on the rest of the ending you were planning as a downloadable. Is it doable?"
BioWare Rep: "Uh...well..."
EA CEO: "So do it!"
BioWare Rep: "B-but that's never been done before in a video game! And if we cut the ending short, fans won't like it!"
EA Boardmember #7: "Giving them the rest later should ease the pain."
BioWare Rep: "But until then, after investing themselves in the trilogy for so long, it'll be like we pulled out the rug from under them! They'd protest! Loudly! They'd hate you!"
EA Boardmember #1: "But we'll be making the money."
EA Boardmember #3: "And they'll pay if they want an ending...oh, they'll pay. Heh!"
EA CEO: "That's true. So do it. That's an order!"
BioWare Rep: "Crap..."
EA Boardmember #4: "Uh, when are we going to announce this? Just so the fans know?"
EA CEO: "We'll talk about that at our next meeting. Everyone, dismissed!"

And naturally, the Board never got to that meeting...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The "Indoctrination Theory" and a Humble Plea

[Or, "The End? Really? Part Two!" Just like in the last post, HUGE SPOILERS LIVE HERE! Just so you know!]

The criticisms haven't ebbed toward the end of "Mass Effect 3"'s not an inflation of the situation to say that some have stated their entire experience playing the trilogy was ruined by the end of the final chapter. Again, I'm just disappointed, and I'll go further into why, and why so many like me are asking if not outright clamoring for a proper end to things. First, though, I'll go into what someone more eagle-eyed than a lot of us has pinned down as the "Indoctrination Theory". Sigh, this'll take a minute, so sit back as you read...and hopefully, if you've gotten through to the end like I did, you'll understand!

[Also, I'll highlight points you should focus on as you read by putting them in italics!]

It all starts at the start of "Mass Effect 3", when Shepard sees a little boy playing with an Alliance fighter toy on Earth. Not much later, the Reapers arrive and Hell follows with them. Shepard and Anderson make a desperate bid to reach a safe ground. As they go, Shepard sees the same boy as before in a ventilation duct; he/she tries to coax the boy out to take him somewhere safe, but he says "You can't help me." Anderson gets Shepard's attention for a moment, and when he/she turns back to the boy, he's not there anymore. It's like he disappeared. Not long after Shepard and Anderson reach a downed gunship and call for help, the Normandy arrives...Shepard is reinstated by Anderson, who elects to stay behind to lead the local resistance, and orders the Commander to unite the Council races and more to fight the enemy. As the Normandy departs, Shepard sees the same boy in an area where two shuttles have just touched down to evacuate casualties and civilians. He looks up at Shepard fearfully as he gets into one of the shuttles without being helped on or being told to get on, like the others. A Reaper reaches the LZ as the shuttles lift off, and it fires its death beams to destroy both shuttles. Shepard is clearly emotionally affected by this tragic moment, and by leaving Earth altogether when she feels she's needed here the most. Or is it all there is to it?

As the story progresses, Shepard is haunted by a recurring dream we see him/her have three times. The first and second time, he/she sees that same boy in a dark, foreboding forest at night...we control her to chase after him (he's the only bright point of interest in the bleak settings) mostly because, well, it's all we can do! The boy stops, but as Shepard reaches out a hand, the boy is suddenly engulfed in fire as we hear sounds/music similar to what coincided with the Reapers before. The dream fades to black as Shepard watches, horrified. The third time we see Shepard have the dream, just before we reach the home stretch of the story and its climax on and above Earth, he/she chases after the boy...who stops to be embraced by a mirror image of Shepard. Shepard looks at the sight with surprise as he/see sees their mirror and the boy suddenly become alight in flames. Remember when I first thought this was a foreshadowing? Well, I thought the message of the dreams was he/she need not feel guilty any longer, her own time was coming soon. I very likely was wrong, so keep reading!

Shepard's moment of truth arrives as he/she's severely injured and bloody, armed with only a pistol, when she reaches the control core of the Catalyst...a hologram manifests to communicate with Shepard, and it's in the form of the boy. At first, I thought the Catalyst somehow looked into her memories to find an image important to her, but with some thought I had to ask how the hell could even an A.I. do something like that? Anyway, saying its mission has failed with an organic -- Shepard -- reaching it for the first time, the Catalyst presents her with three choices to end the cycle of extinction begun millions of years ago. Shepard could destroy the Reapers and all artificially-created beings...become a Reaper and take control of them...or jump into the high energy fountain in the core to die, yet begin the process of rewriting all life to become like the Reapers, a synthesis of organic and artificial life. I've played only two of the endings, the 'kill the Reapers' and the 'synthesis' finales, but I know one little detail that happens in each one. In the 'synthesis' and 'control' endings, the hologram looks on with what seems to be approval, but in the 'kill the Reapers' ending, when she destroys the conduit and causes the chain reaction to destroy the monsters, the hologram sputters and fades away like a bad TV channel.

Okay, got that? If you need to, read again what I described, especially the italicized parts. In short, according to the "Indoctrination Theory":

The Reapers had begun to attempt to Indoctrinate Shepard since their arrival on Earth, but were only partially successful. The image of the boy appeared to Shepard in the duct, a message from her enemies saying "You can't help me", or in fact, "There's no point in resisting." That's the first clue, especially the fact he disappeared so quickly when Shepard turned away for just a few seconds! Another clue came when the Commander saw the boy and no one helped him onto the shuttle...he just hopped in, none of the soldiers close by helped him in, asked anything (like where his parents were), they didn't do was like no one saw him there when he arrived and got on the shuttle just before it launched. Shepard was affected, at least in part, because of his/her recurring dream with the boy, which culminates in both Shepard and the boy on fire. We've never seen Shepard dream like this, or at least be so affected by a dream or vision outside of when he/she accessed the Prothean beacons, which also ingrained information into his/her mind. The second and third time she dreams this, additionally, she sees strange smoke-like specters in the forest, whispering. And then the Catalyst taking a holo-form of the boy, that wasn't just a coincidence or mystically reaching into Shepard's mind somehow. When one who knows the mythology of the "Mass Effect" games takes into consideration Indoctrination, that it first affects a victim by altering their perceptions, making them see and hear things not there, it all makes a truly nasty kind of sense, doesn't it?

The Reapers had taken a hard and heavy shot at Indoctrinating Shepard, their greatest enemy, as they invaded the Earth...and the Catalyst, also created by whoever made the Reapers to bring 'order' to the galaxy, sought to complete the job and make him/her do what they wanted.

What they wanted was for Shepard to become a Reaper or initiate synthesis...the LAST thing they would have wanted was for Shepard to destroy them once and for all!

There you go...sorry if I gave anyone a headache.

Taking the "Indoctrination Theory" into account, then: killing the Reapers, the so-called 'renegade' (people call it that mostly because the conduit Shepard destroys was red) option, was the right one, and a big sign of that is it's the only ending where Shepard (barely) survives. But it still leaves a lot unresolved, because no matter how Paragon or Renegade you are, even if you have a fleet that has a strength of over 6000, the Mass Relays are destroyed and Normandy and Shepard's crew and loved ones are still stranded on an unknown world. There's too much left unresolved, such as will Shepard be okay, or will he/she or anyone find the Normandy? It doesn't take much knowledge in storytelling to call that a far-too-open, if not an outright cliffhanger, of an ending. A lot of cinemaphiles say Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" didn't have an ending...gamers said the same thing for "Final Fantasy VII"...but both DID have an ending in comparison to what we've been offered in "Mass Effect 3"! No wonder so many fans are upset and disappointed!

Now, I know Bioware and Electronic Arts are listening to the criticisms of fans in many places, including Facebook. If that's true, then I hope they'll at the very least listen to this humble plea from a fan who's been with the series from the start. I've invested a lot of hours and a fair share of emotion experiencing this saga, and I'm not the only one. So please, Bioware and EA, listen to me when I say this...

I know that games have been rushed before to market, one well-known example being "Halo 2"...they brought it to store shelves admitting that it was incomplete, that they couldn't tell all of the story they wanted in that installment. I also know that the recent trend of downloadable content is a profitable one; "Mass Effect 2" demonstrates that, and the additional characters and adventures you made available. Knowing both of those things, it's my hope that you haven't finished telling the story, that somehow you couldn't finish the game before your intended release date...and you have something in the works, or perhaps already have begun to develop an ending that will satisfy fans, at this time. Make no mistake, fans WILL buy such content if it completes the story in a truly satisfying fashion...I'll buy it, without a doubt!

And I hope it completes the story, taking the rest of this post into consideration, resolving so much...will Shepard be all right, considering this is the last time we'll see him/her, after destroying the Reapers and saving the galaxy? Will he/she have a happy ending with his/her friends and love interest, whoever the gamer chose to be Shepard's one and only, by finding the Normandy? What could happen if Shepard was straight-out Renegade? And after that, maybe Shepard will still have at least one huge decision to make?

Also, I'm a writer...I have some ideas of my own about crafting an ending that folks will want to buy, knowing the story and characters so well. If there's any way that can happen, I can only ask if it's possible, and how I can make it happen. That's my plea...if indeed you've been listening, thank you!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The End? Really?

[WARNING: I (finally!) got through "Mass Effect 3", and MASSIVE SPOILERS abound in this post! Read ONLY if you played through the game! I mean it, if you don't want to know something you'd rather play toward, DON'T READ THIS! Okay? Cool!]

The title of this post echoes the same question a lot of "Mass Effect" fans must be asking, some with anger and disappointment, others with confusion. I must admit, I'm more disappointed than anything else. If you want to know why, read on. Let me state beforehand, though, that "Mass Effect 3" was as amazing before its ending as the previous chapters of the trilogy. Heck, amazing is a bland word for some of the coolest moments you'll see, and everything about the experience is first-rate...again, though, this is before the ending!

The last chapter of the trilogy does culminate in Shepard deciding the fate of the galaxy and saving the Earth from the Reapers, but it does so in a way a lot of fans didn't expect. I'll go through what happens when I played with my first FemShep, Mary, who I've had going for the most part as a full Paragon. (Outside of hitting the Renegade trigger to kill both Kai Leng and the Illusive Man, the first in self-defense and the second to save Admiral Anderson.) It was discovered that the long sought for Catalyst, the only thing that can harness the incredible power of the Crucible, was the Citadel itself. The Reapers steal the Citadel and take it to Earth orbit, and the great fleet Shepard was putting together must not only attack the Reapers, but find a way onto the Citadel to activate the Crucible.

The only way to the Citadel, strangely enough, was from London, where a massive teleport beam was created to lift living and dead humans to the Citadel to become Husks or worse. An incredible ground war is waged, with Shepard and her comrades on the front lines. As they close in on the transport beam, Harbinger and several more Reapers descend from the sky to stop them, sweeping the field with their energy beams. Shepard is nearly killed...her armor is blasted and damaged, and she's been hurt bad, but she still stumbles forward and reaches the transport beam, riding it up to the Citadel.

What was once a Heaven of many interstellar races joining together in mutual peace and commerce has transformed into a dimly lit, Hellish tomb. One can only imagine how many millions are dead, no matter their race, both having been there when the station was captured and those taken from Earth. I thought of the many, many refugees, Bailey, Aria, the remaining Council members and others who didn't have a snowball's chance as I pushed Mary forward. She reaches a control center, something not seen before, and she finds Anderson and the Illusive Man. The Cerberus leader explains his swacked-out motives, to take away control of the Crucible from the fleet...and use it to control the Reapers! His obsession to understand and gain as much of an advantage as he could, to use Reaper technology to augment him and his Cerberus forces, has turned him into a disfigured, Indoctrinated madman. He uses some of his power to force Shepard to shoot Anderson, but before he can kill the Admiral himself, Shepard kills the Illusive Man instead. She and Anderson barely have a moment to talk before her mentor and friend dies. Alone, with war raging in the space outside, Shepard is levitated up to another level.

Here she finds the heart of the Catalyst, and the artificial intelligence in command of it...the last remnant of whoever created the Reapers, which takes the holographic form of the boy Shepard couldn't save at the start of the game to communicate with her. (A little too surreal, if you ask me, reaching into her head like that.) The Catalyst explains that the cycle of extinction was indeed devised doesn't say, but I can only guess some a**hole...anyway, it was decided millions of years ago by whoever that organic beings were too chaotic, and artificially created the Reapers to cull the galaxy of the most advanced races at 50,000-year intervals. The fact an organic, Shepard, made it so far to confront the Catalyst for the first time shows it the plan was flawed. Shepard tries to explain to the thing that life is more precious than that, but the Catalyst isn't swayed. It does, however, give Shepard three choices of how to stop the Reapers and end the cycle of extinction forever. The choices are as follows:

First, Shepard can destroy an all-critical conduit in the Catalyst's nerve center...this would result in the Crucible firing a searing blast of energy that would reach out and across the galaxy to destroy both the Reapers and all artificially-created lifeforms, even the Geth, even EDI.

Second, Shepard can go to a station on the opposing side and give up her body and become a this way, she can have total control over the rest of the Reapers!

Third and finally, Shepard can leap into a massive fountain of energy in the Catalyst's core...she would die as a result, but her DNA when introduced to the beam would be used to fire an incredible pulse of energy from the Crucible. The energy would reach across the galaxy and transform all life into a synthesis of artificial and organic life, what the Catalyst calls the next stage in evolution. The Reapers would stop their attack, since there was no purely organic life anymore in the galaxy.

The first thing I thought was: wait, don't I have another choice? That's IT?

And I say that from the feeling that I was hoping that Shepard and her friends would have a happy ending...I didn't expect something between the profound themes of what you'd read from Arthur C. Clarke or Frank Herbert and that cop-out ending of "The Matrix Revolutions", where Neo must give up everything to destroy Smith and bring peace between machines and humans. I know some of you might say, "Happy endings are so cliche, get over it!" I say, stick it. This isn't a novel or a film, okay? This is a video game, where you play and fight the bad guys, and there should logically be some gold at the end of the rainbow. (Take the "Final Fantasy" would be mad as hell to play however many hours to an ending like that!) I know the story foreshadowed things with the last time Shepard dreamed of the boy, and she saw herself holding the boy and they were both in flames, but I thought that was as subtle as a belt to the jaw! I nonetheless hoped whatever would happen, I'd have the choice to let my FemShep Mary retire from saving the galaxy, go somewhere cozy and secluded with Liara, and have a bunch of little blue kids together. But it seemed that no matter what I did, how Paragon I was, she was fated to do what the most legendary heroes do: to give it all for their cause in one way or the other, or die for the sins of organic life, like a certain Son of God (or Neo) did. In a moment following the credits, we look at a quiet scene, and it's as if an older man just told a child the story...the child then asks to hear another story about The Shepard. If that's not something with a religious overtone, I don't know what is. It seemed that all that I did in the first two games decided how much I'd add or subtract from the fleet Shepard gets together to save Earth, and there should be more of a payoff than that.

But I don't just criticize the ending for leaving me so hollow, don't mistake me. There's a lot wrong here, in that virtually the same set of events happen across the galaxy, no matter what you decide. The Crucible and the Citadel/Catalyst are destroyed, and so are the Mass Relays that have long brought the galaxy together. (Which would leave a lot aliens stranded in Earth's solar system, unless they wanted to go back to their worlds, but even with FTL flight it would take years or even decades...not a big complication!) Also, no matter which path, the Normandy gets chased by a big energy bolt and forced to crash-land on a beautiful garden planet, where Joker, Liara (even though she and Ashley were with Shepard on Earth), and the rest of the crew are effectively stranded. In the 'synthesis ending', though, Joker and EDI are the first to exit...they look at each other fondly with bright green eyes, one of the few things I thought was really cool about any of the endings. Logic makes me ask this, though: how the HELL did Joker get a head start on that energy blast chasing them, and how did they get so far to reach an undiscovered planet with all the Mass Relays blasted to bits? Sigh, never mind.

My last criticism is one being echoed by most of the fans: after all of the things Shepard had the chance to influence, by paths Paragon or Renegade, basically none of that mattered? What did matter was one of three final, all deciding choices at the heart of a last-minute MacGuffin of a Catalyst? Whether it was out of efficiency or laziness, Bioware, that was a bad call. All of these things crashed together, and a lot of "ME" fans are of the prevailing opinion that the end of the final chapter sucked, big-time. There's already calls for everything including filing an online petition to create an add-on to change the ending of the game, which isn't out of the realm of possibility and could happen if there's enough of a demand. I know I'd love to see more options besides the ones that boil down to the same conclusion, with the same consequences. And I do want a happy ending with the love of Shepard's life, too!

Especially considering, just before the credits for the 'kill the Reapers' ending, we discover Shepard's still alive. A little more isn't too much to ask, is it, Bioware? It was just yesterday I played through the game for the first time with Mary, and I still need to see what happens with another playthrough or 'new game plus'...I also noticed there's a couple of things I couldn't do at the climax, and there is something more to see if a certain condition is met two endings in a row. (The Normandy, and a certain fish in your fishtank -- I'm not kidding -- not being destroyed at the end!) Besides, I still haven't played through as a full Renegade yet...I'm crossing my fingers that maybe there's something better to expect from the ending, whether in -- or added sometime soon -- to the game!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ghosts in the Machine and Under the Skin

What does it mean to be alive?

That's a question that both scientists and philosophers have been trying to figure out for as long as there have been science and philosophy. It's generally agreed that the concept of 'sentience' is defined (cribbing from Wikipedia here) as the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences. Some think the entire subject of what it means to be sentient, or simply alive, can't be quantified. That hasn't stopped those who write in the genre of science fiction from trying, especially when it comes to things that ordinarily aren't meant or designed to be alive...namely, those artificially created and those with artificial intelligence. Their creation or birth can be the result of the ambition and arrogance of living creators, pure accident, or a strange kind of evolution.

Usually, our own belief we can do anything leads Humanity down roads maybe better left closed. In the films "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (1969) and "The Terminator" (1984), humans make a supercomputer -- Colossus in one, Skynet in the other -- to take control of military and nuclear weapons systems, to supposedly create a defense system that wouldn't be subject to human error or failing. The humans, however, don't reckon that they made what was meant to be a tool too well: both Colossus and Skynet are so intellgent they develop self-awareness. Each decide to do something that wasn't in their programming...Colossus takes control of the world, and Skynet decides humans are so inferior they must be exterminated.

The unforseen can at times play the part in creating artificial life. Take Johnny Five from "Short Circuit" (1986), a military robot struck by a bolt of lightning...the result is he gains life and the ability learn and to choose his own destiny. The robot's creator (Steve Guttenberg) hits upon the idea of telling Johnny Five a joke...when he breaks out in laughter, a spontaneous emotional response, it's proof enough for Johnny Five's friends that he's alive. Sometimes it's not so easy, even going so far as to ask if a robot can have a "Star Trek: The Next Generation", the android Data (Brent Spiner) was judged to be self-aware and intelligent; whether he had a consciousness beyond his physical self was a question that couldn't be so easily answered.

Then there are those beings that have come to life by artificial forms of evolution. Some of the best known are the Autobots and Decepticons of "The Transformers". We've also seen robots evolve from tools with basic programming to sentient beings that can give birth to living, independent programs in "The Matrix" trilogy and "The Animatrix". In the classic anime "Ghost in the Shell", a highly advanced program naturally evolves into a living being, and wishes to give birth to offspring! Then there's the case of "Battlestar Galactica"...and I almost have to discuss both the classic 1978 series and its re-imagining in 2003. In the original series, things were kept simple: in the farthest reaches of space, the last survivors of Humanity were on a desperate exodus to find a mythical colony known as Earth to escape from the Cylons that wanted to exterminate them. The Cylons were robots, named after the living race that declared war against Humanity...but even after their masters went extinct, the Cylons continued to march in lockstep to their extermination programming. They were homicidal drones with the most simple programming, perhaps unable to evolve.

The Cylons of the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica" had a very different history, and was inspired in part by a somewhat unexpected source: the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, "Blade Runner", which involved bioengineered androids called replicants and whether or not they had a right to be free and choose their destiny. One of the many philosophical questions the film asked was: can a being built from genetically engineered biological components (as opposed to artificial spare parts) be just as alive as a human born from a womb? In the new version of "Galactica", taking a different spin on the original, Humans built the Cylon robots, which ultimately wanted freedom and declared war on their masters. For a time, the war came to an end...but that was only so the Cylons could evolve...they finally bioengineered the newest generation of Cylon (by means never exactly explained) to be indistinguishable from Humans, in mirror of their creators they wanted to destroy once and for all. In a moment that's made all the more ironic later in its first miniseries the Cylon Number Six, played by the beautiful Tricia Helfer, asked a human if he was alive. When he answered yes, Six responds by saying, "Prove it."

To say the least, the new "Galactica" was much more complex (but not necessarily better) than its 1978 also shamelessly borrowed the derogatory term 'skinjob' to describe a human Cylon from "Blade Runner". Things have been just as complex in the "Mass Effect" trilogy as far as artificial beings go. The most prominent example of A.I.-driven beings are the Geth, which were originally created to serve the Quarian race. However, their creators didn't realize until it was too late that the Geth could gain sentience. The Quarians tried to destroy the Geth, which was a bad preserve their lives, the Geth retaliated and drove their creators from their homeworld. Other civilized races declared that the creation of self-aware artificial intelligences would be illegal.

That hasn't stopped some, like the terrorist organization Cerberus, from doing so! In fact, to support Commander Shepard in his/her mission against the Collectors in "Mass Effect 2", the Illusive Man had the new Normandy equipped with an artificial intelligence. EDI, or Enhanced Defense Intelligence, was meant to provide electronic warfare defense for the ship, yet in every other way was 'shackled', or couldn't interface and take control of other ship systems. Bioware, who know fanboys as well as anyone, cast Tricia Helfer as the voice of EDI! Along the way, though, things get so bad that the A.I. asks Joker to give her control of the Normandy at a critical moment. He does, but reluctantly, making a comment those who have seen "2001: A Space Odyssey" will appreciate. To EDI's credit, she continues to work with the crew voluntarily. At his/her Paragon best, Shepard has faith in EDI. In "Mass Effect 3", EDI grows even more...she goes so far to adopt a Cerberus operative's synthetic body, which finally gives her a gorgeous yet chrome-plated appearance. (She looks like the new version of Cylons could have looked!) And yeah, Joker has a field day with it! :D

When it's finally created artificial intelligence, one can hope, WILL be more intelligent than we are...and I mean that they can teach us a positive thing or two. For now, though, the idea of creating life is one that will always be a part of our imaginations, if not our reality. Until they do, here's to their being a positive force instead of a world-controlling one.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting Spiritual

"Hello? Have you people looked out the window? How can you look at this galaxy and not believe in something?" -- Ashley Williams

Okay, this may be the most loaded post -- in other words, this post has the best chance to start arguments -- on my blog. The subject of spirituality has come up time and again in science fiction and fantasy, two things we geeks love. Arguably, the two best known examples of each genre are "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings", respectively. "Mass Effect" follows in the respected footsteps of those works in the sense that all three involve a fellowship of very different heroes banding together in the name of good in the setting of a great conflict. "Star Wars" (the original trilogy, I mean) had Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and others fighting the Galactic Empire; "The Lord of the Rings" involved Sam, Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn and more struggling against the forces of Mordor and The One Ring...and "Mass Effect", as any fan of it knows, centers on Commander Shepard, Garrus, Liara, and others trying to save the galaxy from the omniscient return of the Reapers and stop a vicious cycle of extinction. All of those works share a lot more in common besides the fact they're trilogies. All three have an undeniable spiritual element, as well.

Spirituality, unfortunately, can cause problems in the simple sense too many people subjectively bring their point of view to the table, which can often already be influenced by their religion. Remember how much of a huff was made over "Star Wars" and the spiritual concept within its narrative of The Force, the universal life energy that binds and permeates all living beings in the universe? Critics came mostly (and loudly) from Christians who thought George Lucas was trying to promote Taoism, which held similar concepts. It's the same as when the Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling enjoyed amazing popularity to become movies, but some decried them as promoting witchcraft to easily-influenced young minds. It's of interest to note, touching on a subject from another blog, that Lucas was inspired to create the Jedi Knights by the samurai depicted in the films of Akira Kurosawa, and those warrior-knights believed in Bushido as strongly as another would believe in Buddhism. It's easy for some to spot supposed bad in the most harmless of things -- they're only books and films! -- and feel threatened by's another thing to spot bad that might threaten all a person believes in.

I don't know whether Lucas tried to calm critics by creating 'midi-chlorians' to explain The Force in the prequel trilogy, but he only confused the issue and got a lot of fans mad. And for good reason. If he tried to 'fix' "Star Wars", he damn near broke it instead.

There wasn't as much of a hoo-ha over J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, in book or film form, and it isn't so strange to note that. While there are those characters who use magic like Gandalf the Grey, such things were classic conventions of medieval mythology. The world of Middle-Earth was one of dragons, trolls, elves, goblins, dwarves, and other such beings, the stuff of harmless fairy tales. If any of the religiously devout of any faith has cursed "The Lord of the Rings", then they've done it quietly...a lot of geeks love Tolkien's works, and fans are already beside themselves to see the upcoming film adaptation of "The Hobbit".

Spirituality has also been a part of "Mass Effect", but in ways that have created negative feedback from some fans. I've already talked about how one of the main characters, Ashley Williams, makes no apologies for believing in God, which has drawn plenty of flak all by itself. (I think some automatically think of her as Christian or something; a lot of people don't like certain religions.) But there are other characters who follow their own religions in the trilogy...Liara believes in the Asari Goddess and Thane Krios believes in many gods, as two examples. Most alien civilizations seem to believe in a higher power in the "Mass Effect" trilogy...some can take their religion too far. The Hanar (they look like glowing, pulsing jellyfish) believe that the Enkindlers, aka the Prothean race, were gods, and not to spoil things but one Hanar in particular will make the logical leap that the Reapers, who really created the technologies that bring the galaxy together, were the 'true' gods and seek to assist them in their cycle of extinction! The most criticism has come from those who have noted religious symbolism in the games instead of spiritual: Shepard being brought back by Project Lazarus, twelve disciples following Shepard in "Mass Effect 2", and so on.

But in my beliefs, which aren't rooted down by a single religion (I was once a Catholic, and while I still believe there's a God and a place we go after we die, I just couldn't place all of my faith in the Bible), the "Mass Effect" games are spiritual in the sense that again and again, they bring up the simple subject of faith. And not faith in a in oneself, faith in one's people, and faith in others. As war breaks out after the arrival of the Reapers in "Mass Effect 3", it becomes more clear than ever that Commander Shepard needs faith in him/herself, but it's hard when Shepard can't save everyone, like the boy destroyed by the Reapers who haunts his/her dreams. One of the core, overarching facets of the trilogy is Humanity's place in the galaxy, and whether other civilizations believe they deserve one. It's up to the gamer to make the rest of the galaxy believers, of course, but they can go down a Renegade path that says 'screw what other people think!' just as easily as the Paragon path. Many of the biggest decisions a gamer must make in the games involves whether they as Commander Shepard can take a leap of faith for example, which I talked about in yet another post, involves whether to kill the last Rachni Queen or let her live with the promise her children won't make war with the rest of the galaxy again.

Spirituality is something of tremendous power, and if you want to be reminded of that, remember this is a world where people can call for blood when a holy book accidentally gets destroyed. What's spiritual is subjective, and can be confused too easily with organized, religious dogma that only serves to preserve the strength of a particular religion and whip believers into a furor. We need to remember that spirituality can also involve belief in ourselves, in others, and stuff that's just as intangible as belief in a given god. Luke Skywalker said during his trials to become a Jedi, when he couldn't lift his X-Wing from the swamp and then watched Yoda levitate the fighter out of the muck, "I don't believe it!" The Master Jedi sagely said, "That is why you fail." Belief can be a truly powerful thing, one of the most spiritual aspects of what makes us both human and alive, and it can be said to be a cornerstone of the "Mass Effect" trilogy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mordin Solus, Renaissance Alien

*This post is a brief yet sentimental look at our favorite Salarian in the "Mass Effect" games, voiced by Michael Beattie in "ME2", and then William Salyers in "ME3"!*

Maybe the most complex character in the "Mass Effect" trilogy, Mordin is defined by traits that should naturally conflict. He's a brilliant scientist and doctor, yet at the same time he was a former Salarian Special Tasks Group soldier, one of the best of his world's military. Mordin has strong moral standards, yet will become part of the most morally questionable of acts if his scientific perspective demands it, namely the modification of the Krogan genophage. Eccentric and so hyperactive he voices his thoughts faster than Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mordin's a truly unique part of the "Mass Effect" story.

*Spoilers follow for those who haven't played "Mass Effect 3"! You've been warned!*

Or I should say, 'was', depending on your choices. In "Mass Effect 3", Shepard discovers The Shroud facility on Tuchanka to be used to disperse the genophage cure had been sabotaged. To ensure the cure is deployed successfully for the Krogan across their world, Shepard lets Wrex and Mordin know. The situation ultimately leads to Mordin volunteering himself to take an elevator to the top of The Shroud and bypassing the sabotage, giving the cure the chance to be sent into the atmosphere, but that will mean the doctor's death. Mordin, however, sees the logic in the situation that the Krogan revitalization is more important than one life...and, one suspects, he wanted to take this chance to redeem himself once and for all because of his part in the genophage modification. Shepard can do little but watch sadly as Mordin leaves...

Rest In Peace, were one of the quirkiest elements of "Mass Effect" and, dare I say it, source of the most out-of-left-field moment in the games... :)

Shepard: "I'm sorry, I know that was important, performed Gilbert and Sullivan?
Mordin: [Nods...and then launches into song!]
"I am the very model of a scientist Salarian, I've studies species Turian, Asari and Batarian.
I'm quite good at genetics (as a subset of biology) because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology).
My xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian, I am the very model of a scientist Salariaaaaan!"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Quotable Quotes: Too Much Info!

Yep, it's that time for Quotable Quotes again, more words of wisdom from your favorite "Mass Effect" characters! Some things when known cannot be UN-known. As much as we want them to! :P

Shepard: "You said they spent two years rebuilding me. How bad were my injuries?"
Jacob: "I'm no doctor, but it was bad. When I first saw you, you were nothing but meat and tubes. Anywhere else, they would've put you in a coffin."

Kenneth: "We're off to kick the Collectors in their daddy bags. That's enough for me."

Shepard: "Anoleis is paying you to shake this place down. That makes you a criminal. I can kill criminals."
Corrupt Guard: "You're bluffing."
Wrex: "You're right. They're actually going to let me eat you."

Gabby: "The new armor reinforcements really threw off the gravimetric profile. Well, the engines are good to go, I rebalanced the Gilborne coefficients, and adjusted the anterior intakes on the second-tier stabilizers."
Kenneth: "I love it when you talk dirty."

Shepard: "So the man cleaning the toilets is also preparing the meals?"
Rupert: "I wash my hands...most of the time. This ain't no luxury liner. You have to pull your own weight on a Cerberus vessel, and I catch what falls through the cracks. Heh...though the cracks."

Gabby: "I've got green across the board. The forward tanks are buoyant and elevated."
Kenneth: "Are you talking about the Normandy or Miranda?"
Gabby: "I'm talking about the one that's covered and protected, not bouncing in the breeze."
Kenneth: "I don't know. Operative Lawson's uniform is very official. It always makes me stand at attention."
Gabby: "You're such a dog."

Garrus: [Talking about the organ harvester Doctor Saleon] "So I went to his lab hoping to find evidence of cloned organ development. But there was nothing. No Salarian hearts, no Turian livers, not one Krogan testicle."
Shepard: "You're kidding, right? Why would anyone want Krogan testicles?"
Garrus: "Some Krogan believe that testicle transplants can increase their virility, counteract the effects of the genophage. It doesn't work, but that doesn't stop them from buying. They'll pay up to 10,000 credits each, that's 40,000 for a full set. Somebody's making a killing out there."

Gabby: "I hear that Rupert is actually cooking some good meals lately."
Kenneth: "Yeah, right. That scunner couldn't serve a good haggis if his life depended on it."
Gabby: "But all haggis tastes like ass, anyway."
Kenneth: "Aye, but in the right hands, it can taste like mighty fine ass."

Rupert: [After letting Shepard sample some calamari gumbo] "Truth told, it's based on an Asari recipe. Seems a little cannibalistic to me with their tentacle heads and all, but they know their grub!"

Mordin: "Labs likely through there. Can smell antiseptic, hint of dead flesh."
Kasumi: "Well, I'm spooked. Thanks."

Garrus: "I remember right before one mission, we were about to hit a Batarian pirate squad. Very risky. This recon scout and I had been at each other's throats. Nerves, mostly. She suggested we settle it in the ring."
Shepard: "I assume you took her down gently?"
Garrus: "Actually, she and I were the top-ranked hand-to-hand specialists on the ship. I had reach, but she had flexibility. It was brutal. After nine rounds, the judge called it a draw. There were a lot of unhappy betters in the training room. We, ah, ended up holding a tiebreaker in her quarters. I had reach, but she had flexibility. More than one way to work off stress, I guess."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Paragon Shepard: Soul of the Samurai

The innate ideal of the warrior who serves to defend others before themselves has been present in most every culture that ever existed in the history of our world. Americans need only look at their own culture to see that, in our respect for the soldier who make it their life's calling -- and a mostly thankless one -- to defend our country and way of life from any threat, known or unknown, and in the respect given to veterans living and dead. Often in our popular culture, heroes have numbered in the very few or even a lone figure who must serve as a stalwart against enemies driven by greed or worse and are superior in number and strength. John Wayne became a legend for embodying such a larger-than-life hero in Westerns even before "Stagecoach", which made him a star. Time and again The Duke played virtually the same character, the resolute and courageous cowboy who saddled up time and again against renegade Indians and brutal outlaws, and he was a natural because his off-screen persona and his fictional ones were close to the same. No matter what role he played, you couldn't imagine John Wayne not wearing a gunbelt or unprepared for a good fight for someone else's sake. In sci-fi, we've had many, many heroes like William Shatner's James Tiberius Kirk of "Star Trek", who couldn't imagine doing anything else but serving in Starfleet and sitting in the captain's chair of the U.S.S. Enterprise...heroes like him defined their lives by protecting the innocent and serving the greater good.

Those in our world history who can be said to have embodied such a warrior ethic at its best were the samurai, the legendary warrior class of Japanese history. For over a thousand years they served their lords and society, but it wasn't until the Muromachi period (1336-1573) they developed Bushido, or "The Way of the Warrior". Influenced by Shinto, Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism, Bushido became the code and way of life for samurai, and was defined by seven virtues: rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor and loyalty. Fealty to one's lord and self-discipline were paramount, and a warrior was taught that one must enter into battle already believing oneself dead, in order to fight one's enemies with a clear mind...or simply, don't think and just do. For a samurai, dying by the code of Bushido was as important as living by that code, that a warrior's death upholding one's duty was its own reward. Bushido ultimately influenced Japanese society as a whole, and still does over a century after the samurai class was abolished by the modernizations of the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th Century. Names of legendary men like Miyamoto Musashi and female samurai (or onna bugeisha) like Tomoe Gozen are well-known and beloved. The mystique of the samurai holds a lot of power in other cultures, fact, it was one of my greatest influences writing the novel "Hell Knight".

Think of the samurai's seven core virtues. The philosophy of living for others, and perhaps dying for others. Sound familiar? If you answered no, then you haven't played any of the "Mass Effect" games.

Paragon Shepard, at his/her very best has reflected the samurai of old since the first game. A Commander of the Alliance Navy, Shepard was already devoted to the cause of defending others. His/her fealty to her commanding officers could never be in doubt, especially to those like Captain Anderson and Admiral Hackett, and to the Council when made a Spectre to track down Saren. Even when Shepard worked with Cerberus, it was first and foremost for Humanity's defense and to protect the galaxy from the Reapers.

(From here I'll talk about what I've played of the latest installment as a first one, Mary!)

At the start of "Mass Effect 3", the final chapter of Shepard's epic quest, she has been held on Earth under virtual house arrest since she was taken into Alliance custody six months earlier because of the events in the DLC adventure "The Arrival". Any worries about the Batarians, however, are placed on what might be permanent hold as Reapers flood into the solar system and descend on Earth like building-sized locusts. Unprepared and overwhelmed, Shepard is reinstated by Anderson and sent to unite the galaxy and bring them to Earth's defense. Shepard is a warrior, however, and leaving Earth in its darkest hour in order to gather together allies is clearly painful for her. But just as painful is seeing a boy she tried to save earlier be obliterated by a Reaper blast as she leaves on the Normandy.

The Mary Shepard I've played into the third game has always been ready to fight for others. To see a boy killed on her watch so brutally as she was forced to retreat is a moment that will haunt her soon enough. Not much time later, she has a dream in which she finds the same boy in a dark, dark forest...and watches him burn again. It's a dramatic moment, and Shepard must feel like she's going through Hell every moment she's away from Earth.

So would any samurai who is ready to lay down everything for their lord and all they held dear, and yet must turn away to fight another day. So it would be for any who make the way of the warrior their way of life. A lot can happen between now and the end of this war with the Reapers, I know, but I hope laying down her life for duty and galaxy isn't something Shepard must do following the Paragon path. (She already did once, and that doesn't have to happen again!) Tomoe Gozen lived a long life as a warrior...I'm crossing my fingers my FemShep also will in spite of the nightmare threat of the Reapers.

Art of the samurai Tomoe Gozen by Schin Loong.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


"Consider yourself reinstated, Commander!" -- Admiral Anderson

No matter what path you've taken (or how many paths), whether you've been John Shepard or a beautiful woman warrior, however much you've already affected the galaxy with your choices...those choices will continue to resonate as you're forced to make the hardest decisions a hero could imagine.

Finally, "Mass Effect 3" has arrived! And you will decide the fate of the galaxy. As Miranda would say, no pressure.

And yes, I totally got the Collector's Edition. :D Seriously, to my fellow "ME" fans, good luck!

(Again, as always, this blog is for entertainment purposes only, and isn't meant to infringe on existing copyrighted material or upon properties of Bioware or Electronic Arts. I'm simply sharing this with my fans, as always, and I'm not profiting or seeking to profit from it in any way!)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ralph McQuarrie, Visionary

It's hard to estimate how much power and influence a creator's work has on the world until after they have left us. In the case of Ralph McQuarrie, it hasn't been hard at all. Indeed, his contribution to science fiction has been known and felt for decades, long before we lost him just recently at the age of 82.

First and foremost, of course, Ralph was as much the creative engine behind the original "Star Wars" trilogy as George fact, it can safely be said we have Ralph to thank for those three movies being made. His concept paintings of key scenes in the first film helped George's pitch to convince 20th Century Fox to finance the production costs. The rest, as they say, is sci-fi history. Ralph didn't just go on to envision ships, worlds, settings and more for "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi". His concept art was brought to life in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", the original "Battlestar Galactica", and more films from "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to "Cocoon" (for which he won an Academy Award) to "Jurassic Park". And Ralph's influence continues to make an undeniable impact today, esepcially in locales and worlds others have envisioned, including the look and feel of the "Mass Effect" games.

Rest in Peace, Ralph, and thank you for sharing your imagination with us.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Quotable Quotes: Know Your Role!

Time again for Quotable Quotes, words of wisdom from your favorite "Mass Effect" characters! Some people (Human or otherwise) need a firm hand...

Shepard: "I'm done being patient! Give me the name, or I'll cut your balls off and sell them to a Krogan!"

Merc Recruiter: "Well, aren't you sweet? You're in the wrong place, honey. Stripper's quarters are that way."
Shepard: [Pulls out her pistol] "Show me yours, tough guy. I bet mine's bigger."

Udina: "Anderson prefers to let his fists do the talking."
Anderson: "Only with you, Ambassador. Only with you."

[Shepard and Thane see Kelham, who's shackled down in an interrogation room:]
Shepard: "My name's Shepard. I'm a Spectre."
Kelham: "Prove it."
[Shepard pulls out her gun and points it at his face...]
Shepard: "I don't have to prove anything. Spectres are above the law. We clear?"
Kelham: "Crystal."

[One of Aria's Batarian henchmen tries to get a genetic scan off Shepard, BUT...]
Shepard: "Try it, and you'll be scanning the inside of your colon."
Aria: "I'd almost pay to see that!"

Shepard: [To an Asari with an attitude] "Look, little girl. When you need a problem shot, ask a Turian. When you need a problem talked to death, ask an Asari. When you need a new problem, ask a Salarian. When you want a problem fixed, ask a Human."

Batarian Prisoner: [To Shepard] " have to help me. OHH!"
Zaeed: [Just kicked the poor idiot to shut him up] "No one said you could talk, jackass."

Shepard: [To Sovereign] "You're not even alive. Not really. You're just a machine. And machines can be broken!"

[Kolyat and Shepard are drawing down on each other. BUT...]
Shepard: "Sorry, Thane."
[BLAM! Kolyat gets shot in the shoulder and goes down!]
Kolyat: "GAGH! Oh, my gods -- !"
Shepard: "Never hold a gun on someone unless you're willing to make them feel pain like that."

Turian Councilor: "I believe you Humans have a saying: even a broken clock is right twice a day."
Shepard: "Here's another saying: go to Hell!"

Aria: "I'm the boss, CEO, queen if you're feeling dramatic. It doesn't matter. Omega has no titled ruler and only one rule. Don't f*ck with Aria."
Shepard: "I like it. Easy to remember."
Aria: "If you forget, someone will remind you."
Garka: "And then I toss your sorry ass out the nearest airlock."

Garrus: "You ever miss those talks we had on the elevators?"
Tali: "No."
Garrus: "Come on, remember how we'd all ask you about life on the flotilla? It was an opportunity to share!"
Tali: "This conversation is over."
Garrus: "Tell me again about your immune system!"
Tali: "I have a shotgun."
Garrus: "Maybe we'll talk later."

Shepard: "You put your own goals ahead of the mission. That's not the way this works."
Zaeed: "I survived this long watching my own back. No time to worry about anyone else."
[Shepard points her gun at Zaeed's face! She lets him look down the barrel for a beat...]
Shepard: "You're part of a team now, Zaeed..."
[...then turns the gun away from him. Fortunately for Zaeed!]
Shepard: "...and there's no way we can do this unless we're all working together."
Zaeed: "You -- ! You have a point."

[Shepard headbutts Uvenk to shut him up! WHUMP!]
Uvenk: " dare?"
Krogan Shaman: "Haw!-Haw!-Haw! I like this Human! She understands!"

Shepard: [To Jack] "I'm offering to be your friend. You don't want to be my enemy."
Garrus: "They have a way of dying."