Patches, DLC and Downloadable Fixing
Posted on Wednesday, June 27 2012 @ 14:44:57 Eastern
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Today marks a fairly monumental occasion in the videogame world. Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut has gone live. Ever since consoles were able to go online, patches have been commonplace, and before that, PC gamers have been enjoying bug fixes for a long, long time. The concept of a patch is an odd one; it’s unlikely that developers could ever make a game free of glitches but could they release one free of game-breaking glitches? Patches give them the freedom to take a greater chance with errors, like clipping, non-spawning vital NPCs, and creepy, living dead corpse soldiers, knowing that they can be fixed after release if need be. This is something gamers are used to, but what is unique about Mass Effect-gate is that the game mechanics weren’t patched, the story was.
The rabid backlash is well-documented: the importance of previous decisions was diminished in favour of one final choice; the ‘Child’ made little to no sense; the origin of the Reapers remained a mystery; the fancy machines you had to choose between made literally no sense at all. Some of these points have been cleared up and some are still vague but less so than before. All in all, I’m personally glad that the extended cut has been released. It’s still a far cry from my ideal ending for Mass Effect, but it’s much closer now than the original cut. But that’s not the point here; I want to know if, objectively speaking, it’s wise for Bioware to set a precedent that developers can further develop their game’s story after a customer backlash like the one they experienced.
Why did games react so vehemently in this situation? There have been stories in the past which ended with more of a parp than a bang and yet fan reaction was nowhere near as vocal. Perhaps it’s because Mass Effect created a vast galaxy of characters and chronicled their stories over three games. Players formed an attachment to characters and this was facilitated by the fact that their original Shepard complete with decisions was carried over each game until the end. Shepard wasn’t a pre-determined character they guided through the complex series of rails set by Bioware, s/he was an avatar designed by the player from the ground up shaped through a character design menu and through decisions made by the player themselves.
Mass Effect reflected their story and their actions: the species which survived, the characters who died, the women and men who fell in love with him/her all depended on how the game was played. The mystery of the Reapers had been built over the trilogy and the ending promised to rest on decisions made throughout but also to explain what the hell was going on. Where did the Reapers come from? Why were they destroying organics? These questions weren’t answered and even more questions were opened up. For what it was, the ending was fine but after the massive canon set out by Bioware it was lacklustre and concluded nothing. Fans felt that they had been dealt a disservice and demanded closure.
Were they right? At the end of the day, Mass Effect is Bioware’s creation. They hold the rights and they are masters of the dominion. Why should gamers be able to change the written story? Well, in all honesty the story hasn’t been changed, it’s been expanded, but that’s more than what has happened before when fans have complained (and fans complain a LOT). Should this power be put in the hands of such an ardent lot as science fiction fans? What happens if fans aren’t happy with the way a story ends, should developers bend over backwards to accommodate the whims of the masses or should they keep their artistic integrity and pursue their vision of their property?
In my opinion, Mass Effect needed the extended cut. It doesn’t close all the plot holes, but it’s not so easy to fly a Normandy SR2 through them anymore, even with Joker behind the wheel. The ending to one of the most ambitious trilogies for a long time should have been better out the box and while there are still things that make little sense (the Child) there’s not so much that feels shoved in there for dramatic effect. But it’s potentially a dangerous slope to be on, where developers can not only patch graphical and mechanical glitches, but also story hang-ups after launch.
There’s not just the danger of having to protect the artistic vision of developers from the behest of the marauding complainers. I’m also envisioning a world where publishers can push out a shoddy story knowing it can be ‘patched’ later if the fans complain enough. Quality isn’t something we should assume will be patched in.
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