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The discussion over Mass Effect 3's divisive ending has elicited responses from the game's vocal lead, the entertainment press, our own Dave H ("The Mass Effect 3 ending: Why it is vital to the future health of games that BioWare not change it") and, of course, more than a few players themselves. Now PC Gamer has brought together a panel of those with arguably the biggest stake in the matter: fellow games writers. Bringing between them credits on AAA fare, indie hits and even Hollywood movies, the panel were asked: What do game writers and designers think about BioWare changing the Mass Effect 3 ending?
“There’s great value in thinking about the story of a game as a collaboration between the player and the developers,” points out BioShock 2 writer Steve Gaynor. However, he continues, the mindset driving the ME3 protest is “not unique to games; it is unique to a certain type of entertainment media that attracts fans who feel entitled to dictate exactly how the product should bend to their desires, instead of standing as a unique experience to be enjoyed, or not, on its own merits.”
“It bothers the hell out of me,” agrees longtime games journalist and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta: “I’ve always felt that games like Mass Effect are all about living with the consequences of your choices, no matter what they may be, and I think BioWare should do the same thing here and stick with their original choice, trust their original creative instinct.”
LucasArts veteran Chuck Jordan frames the debate in terms of one of gaming's most persistent discussions: “Considering how much time people have spent trying to advance the idea that video games are works of art, it’s disappointing to see so many people defending the idea that games are product... Art is supposed to be an expression of creativity. If you’re invalidating your team’s ‘vision’ to appeal to the demands of players, then you’ve crossed the line.”
However, not all panelists bristle at the idea of Bioware re-doing the game's script. “I think developers are well within their right to make positive changes to games post-release, and in the vast majority of cases this is seen by players as a good thing,” points out Supergiant's Greg Kasavin. “This type of thing does happen sometimes... Fallout 3 got patched so that you could continue playing post-release. Many movies, including classics like Blade Runner, got director’s cuts with major narrative changes said to reflect the true authorial intent. Whether it’s appropriate is a judgment call.”
“It’s their story, they can do what they want,” argues Carnegie Mellon Professor of Entertainment Technology Jesse Schell: “This could be an awesome publicity stunt, designed to get people to talk about and pay more attention to the game.” A worthwhile consideration, considering we're talking about a game that already went into space just to win a chunk of your coveted mindshare...
The full unedited discussion make great food-for-thought for anyone interested in the issues raised by this ongoing saga. Check it out, then come back and tell us if it's changed your own thinking any.