Don’t Like: Mass Effect

November 10, 2009


I like video games a whole bunch. I don’t discuss them too much here. I like to think I’m a sort of casual/hardcore gamer. Okay that doesn’t make sense. Basically, I don’t play night and day, but when I get a few hours of down time I like to sit back and play the one game I’ve been playing for the last few weeks or so.

I have a general like of shooters. Mostly because some of the best games that have been made in recent years have indeed been shooters (Halo, Call or Duty 4, Bioshock). Halo, while being a muck of an overall story, does indeed have the best shooter engine and physics ever. That’s the reason the multiplayer is so beloved, it’s just so fluid and telling. COD 4 meanwhile is such a wonderfully immersive game, with great goosebumpy moments. And Bioshock is my favorite, not much replayability, but such great art design and some really story/thematic points to boot (it’s a criticism of Randian Objectivism, perhaps it was made just for me).

But most of all I love RPGs. I’m a sucker for story and immersion. I just am.

I particularly love the final fantasy series. Yeah, I completely understand that the series has a real particular set of flaws, most stemming from the fact it is uber-japanese themes and eastern storytelling, but they’re awfully unique even in their samey qualities. And they have the scope not just of a novel, but an entire series of novels. Outside of the FF series, I also have particular love of the elder scrolls series (Oblivion!) and their other revamp of Fallout 3, which took the same exact engine as Oblivion and managed to make a completely different feeling experience. Fallout 3 is just fantastic.

Which brings us to Mass Effect and it’s RPG/shooter hybrid shittyness.

First note, I’ve played Bioware games before. I’ve played the KOTOR series and thought they were pretty good-ish. It definitely lacking some of the organic qualities i loved in the eldar scroll and ff series, but it was essentially interesting storytelling. Then again I tend overvalue any star wars property and grade it a full letter grades above where it should be. When you like everything about a particular universe it’s just more fun. What can I say?

So I was very excited for Mass Effect, I’ve gone a long time without getting and heard some very good things … and now, having beat it… I am very, very, very disappointed. I seriously have no understanding of how it got that kind of love. It’s exceedingly repetitive. Go here. Find this base. Kill this thing. Seriously, the side missions are especially meaningles. People complained about Oblivion and those missions were terribly unique compared to this stuff.

And don’t even get me started on the sameness of the design. Lazy. Lazy. Lazy. Every cave, every planet, every mine, they’re all the exact same. Seriously, THE EXACT SAME MAP. Sometimes the same exact box layout. It makes every mission a paint by numbers exercize. And believe me, I’m a completionist when it comes to my gaming so it’s very, very boring.

In terms of story I didn’t give a shit about anyone, usually Bioware is a tad better than that even with it’s generic clunkiness. I could tell you every story beat right before it happened.

This hilarious chart is completely accurate.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. And Bioware doesn’t seem to get it either.

Look, I know and understand Cambellian Hero Story analysis just like everyone else whose been in high school. It’s great and is responsible for so many great stories. But it’s not a lame excuse for paint by numbers storytelling. With this generation it’s become the most lazy storytelling exercise in the world, because they just make a beat for beat version of Star Wars and claim it’s the Cambellian Hero Story! No it’s not, what makes those stories unique is originality of detail and way you make the story seem as if it’s different, not how strictly you adhere to it.  There’s virtually no distinction in HOW you emphasize those story telling points anymore and it Mass Effect was the best example.

What stinks about that is that the scope of Mass Effect is great, the sheer idea for building a fully explorable universe has just fantastic possibilities and the shooter aspect was actually pretty well executed, which makes the fact that it’s eventually a boring, pointless game all the more annoying. Look, I understandd how much it took to build something so big in scope, but when it came to subtle execution in giving each little corner it’s own distinction (and HELL a reason to even go there!) all we get is long semi-amusing paragraphs written about the planet. And for character? You ever hear of show don’t tell? Well instead of getting to see that character’s story in some fashion (you get in FF) or have it play into the story in some fashions (KOTOR, Elder Scrolls), the character’s background is just explained to you in the most boring dialogue options. Tali’s plight made me want to shoot myself in the face.

I’m sorry but it’s a lazy, lazy game in the end.

Compare it to the Final Fantasy series where the whole thing strings along in a fluid series of vignettes and starkly different looking environments and goals, and employs weird reality-dream-bending methods of storytelling… Some people don’t dig it and think it’s weird and I totally understandthat , but the last thing you can accuse the story telling of being is lazy.

I get it’s a matter of taste and what not, but COME ON. Bioware just keeps making the same-ish sort of game. I don’t get the universal adoration. Hell, Fallout 3 used the same exact engine as Oblivion and it managed to feel exceedingly different, all because of the nuance of detail. Even recent shooters like COD4 and Bioshock felt more like interesting stories, because they were organic, fluid, and detailed. The details are everything in video games and Mass Effect opted for the sparse boring map. Anytime a RPG gets shown up by a shooter is a big warning flag to me.

And look I’ll eat my hat if ME 2 improves on any of the repetitive qualities and the entire game was excuse to build an engine, but seriously. I don’t get it.

The ability to say something sarcastic in every dialogue option, does not a great game make.


Love: Pedro Martinez

November 4, 2009

Pedro Martinez is my favorite player of all-time.

This is an obviously biased opinion; he did after all reach his dominance at a time during my most fervent fandom of baseball(1) and happened to be pitching for the Red Sox. But it is also a completely and wholly valid choice for a favorite player on a more objective level. He was perhaps the best pitcher in the steroid era. He had a Koufax-like streak of a few years where he put up insane numbers. Years where he made the best hitters in game look stupid. His 1997-2000 for example:

1997 25 MON NL 17 8 .680 1.90 31 31 0 13 4 0 241.1 158 65 51 16 67 5 305 9 1 3 947 219 0.932 5.9 0.6 2.5 11.4 4.55 AS,CYA-1,MVP-16
1998 26 BOS AL 19 7 .731 2.89 33 33 0 3 2 0 233.2 188 82 75 26 67 3 251 8 0 9 951 163 1.091 7.2 1.0 2.6 9.7 3.75 AS,CYA-2,MVP-21
1999 27 BOS AL 23 4 .852 2.07 31 29 1 5 1 0 213.1 160 56 49 9 37 1 313 9 0 6 835 243 0.923 6.8 0.4 1.6 13.2 8.46 AS,CYA-1,MVP-2
2000 28 BOS AL 18 6 .750 1.74 29 29 0 7 4 0 217.0 128 44 42 17 32 0 284 14 0 1 817 291 0.737 5.3 0.7 1.3 11.8 8.88 AS,CYA-1,MVP-5

Holy Crap!

Keep in mind he’s 5-11. For years he was doubted as being a starting pitcher because of his slight frame. but he made up for it with control and a contortionist-like movement and grace with his freakishly weird hands (2). He could unleash a mid-90s fastball in his heyday but didn’t have the ability to throw it 85 percent of the time like most power pitchers. Instead he relied on his world famous change-up. Yes world famous. A pitch that looked the exact same as his fastball until you already swung. And if you were lucky enough to time it right you’d still miss cause the thing had so much movement it was stupid. It traveled in and down on righties and he could catch the inside edge on lefties. It is easily in the top 5 pitches of any pitcher ever. Up there with Ryan’s electric fastball, Clemens’s splitter, Randy Johnson’s slider, and Koufax’s curveball. Oh yeah, and Pedro had the ability to break up the rotation of those two pitches, with his reserve curveball, which he threw from THE SAME EXACT arm slot. This is insane for a pitcher throwing at that 3/4 angle and he had to use the weirdest grip possible to make it work. With every other pitcher that curveball drops straight down 12 to 6, but Pedro could make that puppy hook out and down. He still throws it as a looper and it’s STILL nasty. The best part of that curveball was it could easily be most guys #1 pitch, but with him it was his #3.

And now he’s definitely in the twilight of his career. His fastball is 85-88. He’s just gassed. Hampered by injuries (which were definitely real and inherent to a guy of his size putting that much strain on his body), he’s had to go the finesse route, but he’s still startlingly effective. He’s not striking guys out, but he’s scraping for every ground ball, pop fly, and sly K he can get.  Even this year people thought he was done and then Charlie Manuel trots him out against the Dodgers and he just owns them. Even in his Yanks start he pitched pretty great, out-thinking guys, like with his awesome “quick pitch” in his last start against Jeter.

Look, calling someone a “gamer” is as banal and mundane as it can get, but nobody fits that description more than Pedro. A fierce, prideful guy who’s always going to go out and think he’s the best player on the field.

And that’s why I’m looking forward to his next start tonight. Some highlights from his conference yesterday: (via boston globe)

Pedro Martinez is in the interview room now at Yankee Stadium. His comments are too good not to share with you in (nearly) real time:

On Red Sox fans: “I know they don’t like the Yankees to win, not even in Nintendo games.”

He also said that he still considers himself a Bostonian and that he treasures his relationship with Red Sox fans. Earlier, he joked with reporters that he “wants his props” now and not when he dies.

Pedro faces Andy Pettitte tomorrow. Their first matchup was in 1998. Now they’ll take the mound in Game 6 of the World Series. It’s a very intriguing matchup.

UPDATE, 5:55 p.m.: More Pedro:

On Red Sox fans: “I’m pretty sure that every Boston fan out there can feel proud that I’m going to try and beat the Yankees and I’m going to give just the same effort I always did for them. They’re special fans and they will always have my respect.”

On Johnny Damon: “He’s a tough out and he’s going to give you a battle and he’s not going to get unraveled for anything. He’s always going to make it fun. J.D. is just a special human being and special player. I’m glad he’s doing well, too. That’s one of the guys I will always root for.”

On his legacy: “I’m pretty sure my name will be mentioned. I don’t know in which way. But maybe after I retire, because normally when you die, people tend to actually give you props about the good things. But that’s after you die. So I’m hoping to get it before I die. I don’t want to die and hear everybody say, ‘Oh, there goes one of the best players ever.’ If you’re going to give me props, just give them to me right now.”

What’s better than that?

He’s the anti-Clemens. A charismatic, thoughtful, brash-but-in-a-good-way, perennial all star, who in the dwindling days of his career reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher who’ll take the ball any time you give it to him. He regards all his fans and the fans of his teams with true respect. He remembers his friends and teammates with fondness. Yes, he once threw an old man on the ground, but the dude was asking for it (3).

And so he finds himself tonight going up against the New York Yankees yet again, with the entire season on the line. He’s going against a tough gamer guy as well in Petite (4), and I love it. I’m still pulling for Pedro. My fandom of him would continue for years no matter what team he played for. He was that much fun to watch.

I wish him way more than luck.


1 – not necessarily my most attuned. that would probably be the last few years. I was just simply my most fervent. I was young and bullish. whereas now I find myself waxing philosophical on the game of games.

2 – seriously, look that shit up

3- come on. it’s funny. no one got hurt… luckily

4- a great stand up guy, but admitted PED user. not going to point out as a bad thing.  just saying if we’re going to compare to pedro, than it should be mentioned.

Like: This Article Absolutely Eviscerating Ayn Rand

November 2, 2009

I rarely do a quick blurb and link, but I couldn’t resist.

I’ve detailed my dislike of Libertarianism, Ayn Rand*, and even Slate before, but here is Johann Hari’s excellent and scathing evisceration of Ayn Rand based on two new biographies (props to Travis for the find).


*I have since attempted to actually read Atlas Shrugged and get halfway through before giving up due to inherent nonsense. Meanwhile I have read all of the fountainhead in sort-of-skimming fashion.