Monday, April 16, 2012

Mass Effect ending continued

Just attaching a link to a funny forum thread re: the ME3 ending...

Edit re: the new ME3 "clarification" endings.

After I wrote the cathartic exercise of my previous post, I was ready to move on. Then, I discovered that they're releasing clarifications in a DLC in June. There are a few issues here: 1) clarification v. new ending, 2) was this planned all along?, 3) 3 months ~ is that really all the time that you need?

1. I agree that the way to handle this is a clarification, not a new ending. The damage is already done, both to the narrative coherence of the plot and to Bioware's reputation for excellence. EA's reputation can hardly be damaged more... Trying to "fix" an ending is not going to undo that damage and in fact might only compound it by turning the story into a caricature of itself ~ something of a zombie with scotch tape on the corners of its mouth to simulate a smile. Cynically, the best business decision is to cut the losses and salvage that which is not broken.

2. Conspiracy theorists have forwarded the argument that Bioware/EA intended to make the "best ending" a paid-DLC after teasing everyone with a speculation-prompting one, and only changed it to a free-DLC "real ending" when a consensus emerged that the included ending was in fact a "shitty one." I'm a huge cynic and I've seen companies do some bone-headed things before, but I'm inclined to disbelieve this. However, in issue three below, there may be support for this argument.

3. The DLC is scheduled for June. That's like 3-4 months at the most after this "RetakeME3" story broke. That seems to be a very short time frame to write, produce, and animate meaningful "clarification" endings. It would be impossible to create a new ending in that time frame. In addition, the voice actors have apparently not received any request to do new recordings. Therefore, if the new "clarification" endings are well-conceived and smartly produced with dialogue and player interaction, it would support a conclusion that the endings were in the can all along. If so, Bioware has got a lot of 'splaining to do regarding why the endings weren't implemented in the release. Time constraints (at best)? Paid DLC plans (at worst)?

Well, it's not worth speculating any more about something that hasn't happened yet, but it will be interesting to see what they pull out of their @$$3$ within the next 2 months.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Mass Effect Saga ends

Even before I started playing Mass Effect 3, the "final" installment of the popular Mass Effect series from Bioware, I had seen the rumblings of discontent about the ending. I'm just writing to etch my preliminary impressions.

I just finished playing the game, and I had a lot of fun (once you accept some of the landmines and necessary evils of its particular genre/conceits). I certainly thought it was better than Mass Effect 2, and I felt it was technically better than the original Mass Effect. There was a lot to like.

From here on out, I feel compelled to say there are possible SPOILERS, although I will try to avoid them when possible.


Before I continue, I watched a couple of Youtube videos because I wanted to make sure I hadn't gotten the worst ending or something, and that my experience was, in fact, representative.

These included:
"Mass Effect 3 Ending: Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage": a stunningly long, but surprisingly well-composed critique of the ending with relevant background and some cogent criticism.
"Mass Effect 3 Ending and Why We Hate It!": a short but fairly effective nerdrage that must be taken with a grain of salt.

1. Disconnect between the experience of the game and the experience of the ending.

I'm no English major, but I do enjoy good stories in any number of media. But my initial impression was that the ending was, in layman's vernacular, "lame." It just felt broken, like I had just spent dozens of hours on three games in the past 8 or so years, and the journey ended with a whimper. I like a happy ending as much as the next guy, but it's fine for a complex story to have a complex ending or tragic ending. Sometimes, that's what the story demands and I'd be the last to second-guess it.

Therefore, I don't think my problem is with the tone or content of the ending, as much as it is with how far in left field it came from. The whole series of games seemed to be built upon how you dealt with the NPCs both in and out of your party. But the ending involved NONE of those NPCs, and instead focused on what I had assumed to be, in most senses, a MacGuffin (def'n) ~ the magical "Crucible." So it seemed that all of the fun I had with my imaginary friends was meaningless, and I was forced to surrender those experiences to the usurpation of what had been until recently an almost transparent entity.

From a plot-specific standpoint (spoiler alert), this ending reminded me very much of the series of books starting with "The Reality Dysfunction." I can't remember the details since I read it so long ago, but it had an ending where the universe has gone to heck in a handbasket, and the solution was to interface with some god-like entity to "magically" solve the problem. The reason I bring this book series up is because, while I didn't like that series all that much, at least I respect the resolution because the final book really led logically to that conclusion. Hence, perhaps why ME3's was "lame" to me was because the game did not lead logically to the conclusion provided.

2. Technically lazy
After all the paths and all of the possible permutations that I had imagined for the ending, all of that was stripped away into three possible choices. After all the awesomeness of the previous games, I was expecting some great story telling with lots of different paths. But no. I got three choices.

Fine. Three choices. I don't care anymore if that's the way you want to end it, but tell me more about the ramifications of those choices! Let me (1) decide meaningfully between them (give me a coherent explanation of how it works and what it will do), and let me (2) see what becomes of the friends that I have made along the way (show me what actually happens to the people I care about).

It's just sad that after all the work I put into my character and developing the relationships with my party NPCs, the choices I am presented with are completely divorced from that central focus of the games.

3. Poor reward after 3 games and many many hours
This criticism is the least reasonable. But because the impression is both real and a bit unreasonable, it will probably be the best understood.

I really liked the games. I'm a story guy, and as long as the gameplay isn't terrible, I can take it as long as I'm rewarded with a good story. But the end of ME3 did not reward me with a good story. The ending I got was a paradoxical Frankenstein of being the agent of cataclysmic change melded with the futility of trying to guide that change along the lines you desire. The world changes in its own way, and doesn't take my Shepard's desires into account. Well, screw you, too, world.

If the writers want to end it this way, that's their prerogative, of course, but I don't have to like it. And if I don't like it, then maybe I'll think twice about buying the next game.

Anyway, what a fun game. In the end, too bad.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What some dude sees in Jeremy Lin

I don't want to lose this article on Jeremy Lin, either, so I'm posting it here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A very interesting peek behind the Model Minority storefront.

I love this article, because it voices and looks at some of the obvious inconsistencies in the Asian-American model minority narrative. Say what you will about the tone and some of the conclusions, but the overarching questions and in-depth look are really revealing. I feel like the author gave voice to a lot of the disharmony in the Asian-American experience.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Multicultural class essay draft intro

I have an essay due in mid-October and I started writing it just now. I was playing a game with inserting as much sexual tension as I could without it being vulgar or obvious, but I'm pretty amateurish. Anyway, I thought I'd memorialize it here. BTW, this is a true story.
“Where are you from?” The pretty Italian girl has just handed me my pistachio and stracciatella gelato. In an instant, years of experience in America’s “melting pot” flash before me. In her blithe innocence, she has no idea what she has wrought. We are in Italy’s lake country, far from the international tourist areas like Rome and Venice. In those places, the address would have been “arigato.” But here, in a Continental vacation spot, this girl probably doesn’t see many Asians.

I consider giving her the answer she wants; it would be so easy! But something in my id refuses to be labeled so easily. “I’m from California,” I defiantly say, as if it were a lie. Consternation furrows auburn eyebrows as she struggles with her English vocabulary. Now I feel intense regret at having despoiled her beatific countenance for my own pride. “What you really mean is, ‘what is my ethnicity’?” – relief and an eager nod. “I’m Chinese,” I concede as any vestige of principle deflates. Now her confusion fades and I can sense her take my existence and place it neatly in a China box. I feel shame at having taken the easy path, but what right do I have to torture her well-meaning curiosity into a trip to the internment camps and ghettos of America? All I wanted was a gelato, and now between the oppressive August heat and acute awareness of my “other”-ness, the confection seems a little wilted.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The connection between latchkey kids and grass-fed beef

Roger Ebert recently posted an article on how growing up in America has changed from the Leave it to Beaver days of unsupervised neighborhood havoc to an "overprotective" world of fear, disease, and crime. This topic had recently been in my mind in the last few years as my niece and nephew were born and grew. There have been so many changes in raising children since I was young! Helmets are no longer optional; child seats, too. Latch-key kid is basically a dirty word now, whereas nearly all of my friends were such.

My mother initially thought that maybe things haven't changed as much as I seemed to think. Her opinion was you have to determine the safety of children individually based on their level of responsibility. She felt that my sister and I were trustworthy enough to be left in charge of the house without getting into trouble or burning the place down. She was absolutely correct that a couple of squares like us would just return home and watch Scooby-Doo reruns. Bless her, she's right. But despite the truth of her words, things have changed.

While the basic rule, that children's supervision level must be determined individually, remains true, the environment seems to have changed. There is a fear today of random violence that never seemed to be true before. It's most likely just our human nature to imagine each media horror story as happening to our own loved ones and to devise ways to guard ourselves against vivid threats that have little basis in reality, all while ignoring true killers like high-fat diets and lack of exercise. But human nature or no, it seems undeniable that there is an expectation in America that we must guard our children against every threat, from psychopath to man-eating shark. E. coli has never been more vilified.

But at what point does this paranoia become unacceptable? At what point do we allow children to decide what level of risk they wish to take?

On the first question, I have a feeling we have passed that point already. However, I hesitate to assert my opinion because I have no children of my own. On the second question, there is a strange tension between admiration of the impetuousness of youth and the fear of it. I am inclined to let children demonstrate maturity and reward it with further trust. In any case, I thought Mr. Ebert's article was interesting and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Reflections on Urumqi

The unrest in Xinjiang recently has revived in my mind some of the discussions I've had in the past regarding Chinese nationalism. I don't mean the Generalissimo Chiang-type Nationalist Party, I mean the burgeoning self-righteousness and pride. Most obviously beginning in the mid-90s, China began pulling herself out of the wallow of state regulation and self-destructive purging. China's cities began to leverage the cultural heritage of entrepreneurship and cutthroat economics under an iron hand of state surveillance.

Towards the late 90s, and perhaps most obviously in during the winning of the 2008 Beijing Olympics bid, a thread of Chinese nationalism emerged. This "nationalism with Chinese characteristics" is marked by paranoia, anger over centuries'-old injustices, a sense of entitlement, a sense of "manifest destiny," self-righteousness, minimization of problems in society, and a carryover of imperial-era narcissism (wherein other countries' problems and lessons-learned do not apply to the only "true civilization"). All of these characteristics are foreseeable and perhaps a natural result of an unleashed id, but all should be exposed as irrational and unhealthy. However, each and every one has been cultivated by the Chinese leadership to serve as a yoke upon the populace so that they may channel the emotions of the Chinese populace toward their self-serving goals.

I acknowledge that with the unhealthy characteristics, many healthy characteristics emerged as well. Pride, in moderation, leads to joy; hope leads to achievement; unity leads to harmony. However all these beneficial characteristics can be fostered while minimizing the unhealthy ones.

In 1999, I spoke with a pro-Taiwan Independence friend of mine, who was confident that China would not risk the anger of the international community during and could not sustain public support for an aggressive invasion of a "peaceful" Taiwan. A Korean friend of mine who has lived in China and I immediately informed her that we believed China would most definitely carry out its threats based on the level of knee-jerk nationalism we saw.

The Taiwan issue engages so many of the myths and legends underlying the Chinese psyche. First, Taiwan was taken in the one-sided and tragic Sino-Japanese War; this history triggers the PTSD-like memories of all of the slights and indignities of the colonial era. Second, Taiwan is largely inhabited by and was considered during the the imperial era to be Han Chinese (some Taiwanese will dispute this and claim independence prior, but this post is about Chinese thought processes); this belief triggers romantic notions of thousands of years of Chinese territorial and cultural unity that differentiates Chinese history from barbarian history. Third, strategically-speaking, Taiwan is too important to Chinese "Manifest Destiny" in the Far East to allow off the leash and into U.S. protection; in a sense, China has arrived at the Prom of colonialism a week late and is attempting to dance with the ladies on Bingo night. Fourth, Taiwan serves as one focal point to measure wills against the most powerful nation in the world and allows an objective verification of China's potency on the international stage. All of these factors swirl in a heady mix of self-loathing, self-love, and injured pride and create a potion that robs many Chinese of moderation.

Case in point: many Chinese were and still are convinced (based upon conversations I have had) that the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was a deliberate attack by the U.S. on China for no other purpose than as a display of strength and dominance. They refuse to believe that the U.S. is capable of making targeting mistakes as claimed and reject the idea that the U.S. might not want to antagonize the Chinese people in such a public way when there are any number of options that do not involve political repercussions within the U.S. They furthermore refused to accept the NATO apology (although they willingly accepted monetary reparations). It is precisely this lack of moderation, lack of willingness to consider innocent explanations, and jumping to conclusions that frightens me most.

All this brings me to the impetus for writing today. I am no fan of the Uighur independence movement, or for that matter, either the Taiwanese or Tibetan ones either! It's probably some artifact of my upbringing, but I have no desire to see these areas descend into chaos. However, I willingly acknowledge that the fist of Chinese power surrounds each, and as it squeezes, the proverbial sand is trickling out. When the Chinese media shows Han Chinese in rags streaming blood and tears, but neglects to show police action against hundreds, thousands of men, it screams a call to arms to defend the motherland, never mind the reasons. When Chinese mobs run down the streets of Urumqi telling reporters to cease filming, it cries out their shame for what they are about to do for the motherland. The self-righteous claim virtue and hide their actions: but the truly righteous are bold as a lion.

Among the lessons of the 20th century experiments in nationalism were the conclusions that submerging oneself in a national cause can lead to atrocities in its name. In short, the utilitarian concepts of ends justifying means have their limits, just as a Kantian mind might instinctively push back when pushed too far. Many willing accomplices of the Nazi regime were later ashamed at their fervor. The late Robert McNamara regreted many of his actions in Vietnam. Latin America has been poorly served by a series of dictators installed to combat communism. Despite this, whether through a belief in superiority to or perhaps just immunity to the problems of other cultures, Chinese seem to think they can avoid these lessons. I know my Chinese friends are optimistic that China will emerge from this police-state era as a vibrant and flourishing socialist democracy. I sincerely hope they are correct. However, I am not an optimist by nature and what I see are entrenched prejudices being harnessed to erect a national mythology designed to enslave the many to serve the few. Unfortunately for Xinjiang, Tibet, and Taiwan, they are "thems" in a country where "us" is very fashionable.