Mass Effect 3 New Ending

Video game company Bioware has been in the news quite a bit lately. It is not surprising given that the third and final episode of their Mass Effect franchise was recently released. But some of the Bioware news was not a direct result of the hype associated with driving sales of their games. From what I have read, I have to give props to Bioware for both supporting their employees and listened to their customer base.

Bioware took a proactive and supportive stance behind one of their employees last month. Jennifer Hepler could have been thrown to the wolves not because she was necessarily wrong her opinions about the value of action vs. narrative in but because Bioware could have chosen to minimize the potential downside of negative press and image coming from one of it’s writers. +1 for Bioware for being supportive and not leaving Ms. Hepler to swing freely in the wind.

Bioware has also taken the latest “cries” from their hardcore Mass Effect fans seriously. Instead of telling their Mass Effect fans to pound sand and deal with the ending, Bioware has agreed to make some modifications in the storyline to appease fans. While the cynical crowd might see this as a suck up move by a spineless game developer, I’d prefer to think of it as a game developer listening and responding to fan concerned. +1 for Bioware taking an interest in what their customers want and for trying to make that happen.

Companies should look at what Bioware is doing. Sure, the content is great and very addictive, but the company seems genuinely interested in providing the best product possible while simultaneously being supportive of their employees. Those facts can only improve customer loyalty and make it easier for their customer base to purchase future products.

Video Games

Halo 4 Preview

Wired’s article on progress made on Halo 4 is certainly an interesting read (and development of Halo 4 video is worth looking for IMO). Having said that, it is hard to say whether the latest news release from the current developers of the Halo franchise is good news or a sign of bad times ahead. 343 Industries, the Microsoft group that took over from Bungie, seems to be pursuing a gritter and more realistic vision in pushing the gaming franchise forward.

While 343 wants to forge its own way going forward, they risk abandoning things that Halo players expect from their game in terms of style and tone. Abandoning too much might make the game unrecognizable, or worse yet, uninteresting and predictable.

The development team has indicated that they are interested in producing a title that delves more deeply into the background of the returning Master Chief. Part of what made that character so intriguing is that so little was known about him. 343 needs to be careful that they don’t turn the Master Chief into another boring video game protagonist.

If 343 can find the precarious balance between mystery and knowledge necessary to keep its core players interested, the fleshing out of character backgrounds will provide an additional foundation from which to build future story-lines and perhaps even increase its player base. If they get it wrong, all the shiny new graphics won’t help it from sinking.

Video Games

Bioware / Hepler

Jennifer Hepler, a writer for video game publisher Bioware, has been the target of an ongoing attack from some in the internet community on Twitter over this past week. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Forbes and The Mary Sue have excellent summaries of what led to the shitstorm and what Bioware has done to support Jennifer.

This kind of intense hatred from a community I sometimes associate myself with is embarrassing. The attack by the hyper-vocal minority also reinforces the perception that non-gamers have of the gaming community at large. Namely, that *all* such members are misfits and behavioral trolls unable to interact with society at large.

While the personal nature of this attack is nothing short of abhorrent, it is not surprising to me given factors associated with gaming culture. And it’s not the first time it has happened. During my time as an Eve Online player, one of the top players in the game was banned for telling a customer service representative to DIAF (look it up) while having an argument over game matters via Twitter.

“Hardcore” members of the gaming community have a false sense of entitlement when it comes to interacting with game designers. Some players have an intense and sometimes unnatural amount of brand loyalty to their designer/publisher of choice and are upset when they perceive a threat to their vision of perfection. Other players feel like the amount of time they invest in playing specific titles entitles them to a voice directly proportional to time played. And players are often quick to remind designers and publishers that as a paid customer, they expect value even if their vision of value differs from others involved in the game.

The very nature of Twitter also contributes to these kinds of personal tirades. Twitter is anonymous, and therefore largely devoid of consequences for those on the attack. The very nature of Twitter as a distributed platform also means that messages can be sent quickly and associated via hashtag to allow a trend to snowball to national (and international) visibility quickly.

Instead of personally attacking game designers, writers, and employees, those gamers upset with the direction of a game company would do well to let their wallets do the talking. Withholding financial support by not purchasing games or cancelling monthly subscriptions will do more to change a publisher’s general direction then directly attacking one of their employees.

Video Games

Halo: Reach

I played the original Halo and a bit of Halo 2 on the original Xbox. I found both the games to be engaging and fun, and I thought a useable multi-player mode would add quite a bit to the gaming experience.

I then moved on to play more PC-based games, and I eventually was encouraged to donate my Xbox. A good friend of mine picked up an Xbox360 a while ago, and we played a bit of co-op Halo: Reach on his Xbox and his 50″ HD TV. As one might imagine, the overall experience changed significantly and I not so secretly envied an Xbox360 of my own so I could keel Covenant on my own. I never expected that such a desire would be fulfilled as I have always found other things (like a new iPhone) that attracted my discretionary income.

I was stunned when that very same friend bought me an Xbox360/250gb for Christmas (including the digital download version of Halo: Reach). After connecting the Xbox to my HDMI-switched tuner and 50″ Plasma, configuring the wireless adapter, and downloading the game, I fired off my first campaign mission. Wow. 1080p did this game a world of good, and the game play in the solo campaign was just as and sometimes more engaging as the original Halo and Halo 2. Even better, the multi-player via Live was useable and fun (even know I got my clock seriously cleaned by the online crowd).

Halo: Reach has a lot going for it, and I am very much looking forward to playing it online in co-op mode when my friend returns from his trip.

(btw, if anybody else out there is an Xbox Live gamer still playing Halo: Reach, let me know. Can’t say I’m any good, but I’m working on it.)

Science Fiction Video Games