In Awe of Mass Effect

Mass Effect image

 

 

Before you say that was so last season, yes, I know the Mass Effect video game trilogy came out several years ago and, given our penance for looking for the next great game, no one currently cares.  I; however, have just finally completed the third installment in the series.  I will admit that I was dubious of completing the series because I had long since heard gamers were upset with the ending of Mass Effect 3.  It was a controversial ending many thought at the time and, for all I know, still do.  But I decided to get a used version of Mass Effect 2, which later lead to a used version of Mass Effect 3.

First off, I will say that while at times I wanted to throw my controller through the TV because of issues with the duck and cover system and what I later noted as an intentional turning of my character to disorient me, I am just amazed by the story telling.  Let me say that again, I was amazed at the story telling!  This series, while derivative of many great works of science fiction, was a stunning achievement in space opera told in an interactive medium.

Not only did they tell a Science Fiction story on a grand scale, but they must have written multiple stories to cover the myriad of choices affecting the final ending.  For example, I learned after a second attempt to save a character I had allowed Shepard to fall in love with that there was no way I could do so given the actions and consequences of my play through of Mass Effect 2.  Maintaining a cohesive story while allowing each player to effect the telling by their choices had to be, excuse the pun, a massive headache.  I assume that they probably put some limiting factors to manage the number of branches you could follow and how they fit into the over all story, but wow.  Each player could end up with a completely unique play through yet reach a similar ending.  Sure, many players followed paths with little variation, but others could have had very different outcomes.

In retrospect, the creators of Mass Effect took the medium of video games and science fiction to new levels not necessarily appreciated by fans.  I believe some of angst toward the series came from the fact that they were not only trying to make a good video game, but also a great story.  A story that the player actually gets to live over three games.  I will admit there were times that I felt gypped out of game play because of long cinematic story telling sequences, but now, after finishing the series, I appreciate what they were doing.  The way the creators handled the ending was excellent science fiction and movie storytelling.

Spoiler Alert:

If you have not played the games and wish to after reading the above, then don’t read further, if you want to come at this without foreknowledge.  What Mass Effect does better than any franchise I know is to tell a great space opera in such a way that the gamer viscerally lives the story.  Where in books writers try to use prose to spark responses in the reader for them to envision the scene they are writing, a video game programmer can actually put you into the scene via the character you play.  A case in point, was a section very near the end where I had to survive a ridiculous pairing of Reaper laser attacks along with Banshees cutting off my escape routes.  As if this was not challenging enough, the programmers tossed in a maddening half turn my character would periodically take after a combat roll.  Basically, as I rolled away from the laser beam, my character would stand up and then turn left or right totally disorienting me.  Getting through that section was pure perseverance.  Thinking back on it; however, I feel they did this to give me a visceral feeling of what it is like to be in a life or death combat situation where you are under intense enemy attack.

As for the overall ending sequence, I can see both sides of the issue.  Being a long time gamer, I am quite use too and sometimes demand that the programmers make me fight to the very end.  Yes, tell me a good story but I want it to end in an extravagance of button pushing battle.  The one thing I noticed but did not think too much about in the first Mass Effect game was that the ending was almost entirely a cut scene sequence.  I fought my character to a certain point and achieved a task that created the opportunity for the actual ending to occur.  The actual ending was a cinematic sequence worthy of a movie.  The same is true for the final ending.  Your character does not fight hoards of enemies to the bitter end, but instead is left in a relatively quite place where a final world-changing decision has to be made.

The final choice your character has to make is worthy of stories like Startide Rising, Hyperion, and Dune and is science fiction at its best.  With all the advanced technology, alien lifeforms, and political intrigue, sometimes it all comes down to one person and their decision.  The ending was reminiscent of the conclusion of the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons or the Matrix series by the Wachowskis and tells a science fiction story better than the bulk of Hollywood’s sci-fi output.  I could only wish that Hollywood would create an epic with the same breadth and depth of the Mass Effect series.  Instead we get Alien versus Predator or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  Movies like the original Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner are few and far between (surprisingly both are only derivative of their original stories not verbatim copies).

The best part about the end is that you are made to literally live a last stand situation through your character.  At the end, your character is beaten up badly and disoriented.  Unlike a book where lots of descriptive prose would be used to convey this feeling, the programmers got the point across by stripping away all the fancy and powerful controls you have used throughout the series and leave you with only a gun you can barely lift.  Your character responses are completely sluggish and you feel like someone waking after a severe head trauma, ears filled with cotton, head ringing, and eyes watering.  Almost more cinematic than video game play; however, you still have control and have to defeat a few more aliens, very cool!  At the end, you have to drag your character along a choice of two simple paths, no explanations or hoards of aliens to fight.  One path is blue the other is read, one path ends in freedom the other continuation of what is currently happening.  You choose without anything obviously pointing to which color represents which ending, until you remember a feature of your characters development.   Throughout the series you are awarded status as a Paragon or a Renegade based on your decisions.  Paragons usually take the high road favoring peace and acceptance over force.  A Renegade, on the other hand, prefers to squash dissent and force their way through delicate situations, control over cooperation.  Paragon status was represented in blue and Renegade status in red; thus, I had the means to make my choice.  Because the hint was so tenuous and subtle, I found myself fretting all the way as I dragged my character along the path, hoping it was the one I meant to take.  Luckily it was.

To conclude, the Mass Effect series did for my science fiction gaming what Skyrim did for my fantasy gaming.  The series told a great story worthy of some of the best science fiction novels and movies by letting me inhabit an avatar, the reference is intentional, and live another life in a sprawling sci-fi universe.  It also took full advantage of the video game medium to immerse me in the story beyond what any book or movie could do.  My actions affected how the story was told and I had to struggle through intense sequences with my character.  The experience further was enhanced with great music and stunning cinematography.  In the end, I felt I got to be part of a great story and not just another bystander reading the story from a distance, which is something neither books or movies can offer you, kudos.

Realism versus Pessimism

Many people who hear me talk about the problems of this world and my home country, America, probably come away with the view that I am a pessimist.  I’ll admit that in some ways they are right, but not for the fact of what I say, but more for the fact that I have too much faith in the corruptibility and blindness of my fellow-man.  I am not talking of specific people, who can still achieve great heights of good, but of human society, which is a melting pot of all the aspects of human nature.  I believe that all the whoa-es of this country and world stem from our own inability to face our problems for what they are instead of what select people turn them into.

I come from a family background where a lot of things happened but they were kept hidden, not talked about, or directly dealt with because of the desire to keep up appearances.  I include myself as part of this problem since I to learned to hide myself behind what people expected instead of what I meant.  Only in my later decades did I learn the true costs of living a manufactured reality as opposed to facing the issues as they are.  The true cost is losing a part of yourself.

Needless to say, I am more sensitive to what people say and what they actually do.  By no means am I a master of history; however, I keep an open mind and constantly assess the promises of dogma against the reality they created.  For those that are long time readers of this blog, you are used to my method of looking at the rhetoric and taking my experiences or historical understandings to show how unrealistic the rhetoric is.

For those who are not used to the way I look at things, one example that always comes to mind is the Catholic Church.  I find it hard to believe millions of people continue following the doctrines laid down by the Vatican when they still have not dealt with pedophile Priests in a responsible manner.  How could a Church that talks about the sanctity of marriage and the wrongness of the Gay lifestyle do so little when reports of Priests harming children reached their ears?  How could they just pass the problem along in the name of saving face?  How could they persecute the victims for speaking out and not the Priests for committing the crimes? Finally, how can Catholics still have faith in a church that has done nothing, a church that does not own up to what they allowed to happen, and a church that says, trust what we say and you will be saved, yet allows Priests to commit such sins and still be part of the Church?

The Rhetoric is that the Catholic Church is your path to redemption, just keep supporting us and we will tell you all the evil things to avoid so you can enter heaven.  Don’t pay any attention to the fact that we know what evil things to avoid by allowing some of our members and leaders to commit them.  What the faithful Catholic’s who do not demand accountability of their church don’t understand is that they are equally culpable.  Ignoring evil for convenience sake is evil in and of its self.  This to me is realism.  Yes, there are a lot of factors involved; however, if you keep sweeping it under the rug instead of dealing with it, eventually your rug is sitting on a mound of dirt and your room is impassable.  I believe the problem can be fixed if people face the problem.  Pessimism means that I don’t believe the problem is fixable.

So I am a realist in what I try to express to you and why I think the way I do.  I am also a pessimist, because after looking at human history and hearing the same Rhetoric again and again, I have little faith in our ability to face the problems?  The banking mess of 2008 occurred for the same reasons as the Great Depression, the S&L Bailout, and all the Stock Bubbles of recent years, but we keep trusting these people when they say it won’t happen again.  Bones.

Music Documentaries

I thought it would be nice to share with you some great music documentaries I have watched that made me an even deeper fan of the artists in the films.  First off, Muscle Shoals, which I just recently watched.  The film tells the story behind the recording studios in Muscle Shoals Alabama and their influence on the world and the many surprising artist who started their careers their.  It is filled with deep emotion and perseverance.

Next, Standing in the Shadow of Motown, which tells the story of the musicians behind most of the hits that came out of Detroit.   The history lesson is priceless and the renditions of many hit songs with different singers his handled very well.  Third, The Promise:  The Making of a Darkness on the Edge of Town, a documentary about Bruce Springsteen’s struggle to follow-up his hit album Born to Run.  The sheer about of music he created for this one album was amazing.

Finally, The True History of the Traveling Wilburys, a look at how George Harrison brought the likes of Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynn together to make an album.  Each of these artists had success on their own but enjoyed working with others in the industry to create new sounds.  All of these videos give a glimpse of the creative effort that goes behind the iconic music we listen to and remember year after year.  In addition, they share some insights into the people who speak to our innermost hearts and the personal histories that made them able to do so.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend each and everyone of these documentaries.

Ending Net Neutrality would be the equivalent of Sauron winning the War of the Rings

Face it folks, we are in a fight for our lives.  Will we continue to let them separate us from any chance of a fair and balanced playing field or will we slink into a corner like a whipped dog and let them create a two standard internet?  An internet where the have’s get all the best service and the have-nots’ get the scrapes.  Class warfare at its finest.

This is the reality our form of Capitalism leads us to.  In pursuit of the all mighty dollar, nothing must stand in the way, not even God.  When you have an economic system where the people who profit the most can write the laws, is it no wonder that the laws help them to profit more.  We have already seen the results in the Banking industry where the banks basically run the Federal Reserve, which sets the policy that they follow.  Surprise, they mess up and we get stuck with the bill.  Also, isn’t it a conflict of interest for former bankers to run the Federal Reserve since they set policy for the banks.

Our health care is no better.  Health Insurance companies are nothing short of monopolies with large conflicts of interest.  Does it frighten anyone else but me that insurance companies are buying hospitals and healthcare systems.  Oh, they will say it is to help drive costs down, but I only see them going up.  The out of control costs of healthcare are creating yet another two-tier class system between those with the money to be healthy and those that don’t.  Dick Cheney can get all the heart healthcare he needs without sacrificing his home and family.  Can you?

Education is even worse than healthcare.  How long will it be before only the wealthy can go to college or even have a high school education?  We are already at a point where I question the worth of a College education.  For the cost of a college education (student loan debt) do graduates actually make enough in salary improvement that there is a net gain?  Will they spend the rest of their lives paying for the education that was to make their life better.

And now they want to do the same with the internet and I can guarantee we will open Pandora’s box if we let them have their way.  Public and private interests are increasingly dependent on the internet to function.  If providers can create tiered service, companies that want to provide better services will have to pay more and as a result charge more, which will limit the people they can sell to.  What happens when all music and video entertainment goes completely to streaming?  Will those that can afford the better service be the only ones that can enjoy music or movies?

What happens to companies that are dependent on internet sales to make a profit?  Will they have to pony up more money for a reliable connection in order to conduct their business?   If they do pony up, will they charge more or sacrifice profit?   How will the inability of large segments of America to afford the service level needed to access these businesses affect the company’s ability to make sales and maintain profitability?  What happens to a company that gets into a dispute with a provider over the cost of the providers service?  Will they be pushed down to a lower level of service with delays and errors that strangle the company to death?  We already had a taste of that with Netflix.

What about companies dependent on quick, efficient, and accurate transfers of large amounts of data to run their businesses.  Will Internet Providers be allowed to hold their life blood hostage to gain more profit?  In the end, who will bear the brunt of such power plays, the companies or the consumers?  Companies stay alive by making sure their costs are not more that the price they sell their product for; thus, if they pay more they have to charge more.  It is that simple.

Of course the proponents of this legislation will tell you that such things will not occur and if they do, they will only be minor aberrations.  Again, I draw your attention to Netflix and also, the cell phone services that had to pay fines for throttling customers data rates.  History shows that they will indeed misuse the power given them by the destruction of Net Neutrality.  Hell, Net Neutrality barely keeps them in check now.

In the end will America be for all Americans or will we continue down the path we are walking where only those with the money get to enjoy life?   Will history show that a once great people sold their children into economic slavery for the sake of profit?  Profit they never really shared in.  That is the path we have been on ever since the Federal Reserve was created.  We chose short cuts to wealth, which we are only now seeing the terrible cost of.   Will the end of Net Neutrality just be one more shortcut to quick wealth for the few at the cost of the many?  You decide.  Will Sauron cover the earth in an all consuming darkness or will Frodo destroy the one ring?

 

P.S. Note the number of tags I have made for this posts and think on how many are affected by access to the internet.  Then think of all the other things I have missed.

The Last Dark by Stephen R Donaldson: Additional Comments

Since no one has asked and I just happened to have a view today on my review of “The Last Dark” by Stephen R Donaldson, I have decided to expound on the two noticeably missing pieces that caught my eye about the story.  First, you will note a large absence of the Insequent in this last novel of the series.  They are represented in the second hand, if at all, until the very end, which is not really clear on their presence.  In addition, unlike the role the Elohim play in the second series, there is no reason given as to why they acted as they did, no revelation as to their place within the structure of the world and mythos that I could recall.  After investing so much in the second and third books on these characters, their disappearance bothered me.

The other noticeable absence was the creator of the world.  The old man who first challenged Covenant and then Linden to be true to the land is ultimately absent in the final story.  I am willing to concede that this may be an intentional muddying of reality in the end to coincide with Covenant taking Lord Foul into himself (almost like saying this may have been a dream from the very first series).  However, this does not jive with the fact we were given other character’s points of view.  So, for me, the absence of the creator was significant.

I still hold that the book is a good read, just that those two empty spaces left me wanting something more.  I have come to expect so much from the series that I may be a little too demanding.  The first and third books were amazing to me while the second and fourth books were only OK for me.

The Path Less Taken

Yes, I know it is blurry.  It was taken with an older camera, but it is still a cool image.

Yes, I know it is blurry. It was taken with an older camera, but it is still a cool image.

Seems this is the path I have taken.  Basically, the experiment into reader supported writing is not panning out.  I don’t blame you, my small group of followers, I just have not reached a large enough audience to gain the level where donations from a small percentage of readers can amount to something usable.  To that end, I am not adding downloadable content to this blog.  I have not given up on the idea, but I don’t intend to focus on it as much.  I am still hoping for the first download of a story so I can get some feedback.

Instead, I am going to focus more on growing viewership.  I have noticed that the posts that get the most attention are about writing science fiction and fantasy or comments about the genre, so I am going to try, try I say, to add more content of that type.  The reason I say try is that it is a struggle for me not to comment on the outrageous activities in the world today.

I have always been one of those people who is slightly out of kilt with the world at large, always looked at things with a different view.  Most of my childhood was spent trying to be like others, which never works no matter how hard you try, and sublimating my personality.  The Misfit side to my nature.  One of my chiefest problems was my deep love for SFF in all its guises.  My predilection for such entertainment was considered juvenile by my mother and geeky by my peers; thus, had to be buried.  I constantly struggled to separate myself from the Trekkies and over zealous Star Wars fans.  Not that I condemn their lifestyle just that, while I deeply love the stories, characters, and ideas behind SFF, I am not so interested in the minutiae that I fly into a rage over an argument of whether Kirk or Picard was a better Captain.  I was always more interested in continuity and story execution, which is one of the reasons I don’t like the Star Wars prequels and have no desire to re-watch Star Trek the Next Generation.

More than a decade ago, I came to a crossroads in my life.  I could either continue to hide my personality and opinions on the world or I could throw away the illusions I used and hated, the illusions of interest in subjects that bored me to tears.  At that time, I joined SFFWorld.com and began to express my views on the genre, as well as, life in general.  I had found a place where I fit in better and people were less likely to dismiss me as a geek or loser.  My voice grew stronger as a result.  I may have even gained a measure of respect for what I represented.

I began to trust my instincts and thoughts more.  From that period, I came to understand that my views were no less valid than others and that, in a lot of cases, were closer to the reality of the world, the Mystic part of my personality.  While I do apply the moniker “Mystic and Misfit” to myself, it is as much meant for you the reader whom finds truth in my writings and those I have gleaned truth from in their writings.  These truths are what I find hard not to fight for.  The truths that are hidden by years of assumptions, traditions, and willful misdirection.  Anyone who has read this blog regularly has readily seen this battle in my posts and may even have seen their influence on my stories.  I have no love for the blindness of self-delusion.

However, in most cases, you will notice that I try not to attack the person, but the idea.  I want to show the illusions that make certain ideas absurd or cruel, break down the walls of lies and self-interest.  Basically, I am blunt.  I don’t believe in beating around the bush unless useless harm would ensue.  I see many of today’s beliefs are based on assumptions or fallacies hidden under years of blind faith and once striped down to their historical facts are just plain wrong.  Now we come to the point.  While I want to refocus my efforts on this blog, I will probably still express an opinion on the wide world around me and ask for your patience.

Whew!  I can be long-winded like an Ent.  Anyway, I am hoping that you will find something interesting to read here and continue to come back.  I am hoping to soon create a link to my library.com page so that you can see all the books that I have read.  Only a small percentage have reviews by me; however, I am willing to open discussions on any particular book.  You can leave me suggestions and I can make a post where the discussion can be held.  Also, if you would like to see why Star Trek the Motion Picture is my favorite Trek film or why I think Babylon 5 is superior to Star Trek the Next Generation, as well as, observations on viewer’s patience with story development, just ask.  Finally, please, please, please…will someone listen to one of my stories.  I am just looking to spark some interest in my writing and strengthen my storytelling muscles.  Artwork is not out of bounds either.

Dragon in Need of a Pen

Tattoo Design for my Nephew

Tattoo Design for my Nephew

 

You may not have noticed, but I am also an artist.  Actually, I am foremost an artist since I started with art and then moved into writing as my artwork got stymied.  My writing style owes much to this fact and tends to be very visually descriptive, which some people find tedious but I always enjoyed in a story if properly balanced.

The above design is my first ambitious digital work in Gimp 2.0.  However, I have run into a snag.  Not knowing if I would like or be comfortable with this new medium, I purchased an inexpensive drawing tablet (Vis Tablet’s Pen Pad).   The tablet is not bad but has one main drawback, the pen needs a battery to work and I am finding out that is uses them fast and does not like rechargeable batteries.   This makes working on the tattoo design and future projects frustrating.

There is a new pad that I like because the pen does not require a battery; unfortunately, it cost $199, which is more than I can afford.  Right now  most of the money I have is committed to finishing house repairs and is not even enough to fix everything.  So, I am turning to you, the viewer, for help.  By supporting my writing through a donation, you can also help support my artistic creativity by helping me reduce the cost of this new tablet.  This is a more recognizable goal than the vague support I asked for earlier and maybe I can work up a chart to show how much progress we have made.  Once the design is done, I will post a copy for downloading as a thank you for your support, until then feel free to download any of the spoken stories now available.  To see more of my work, follow the link in the far right column to my art page.