What do game writers and designers think about BioWare changing the Mass Effect 3 ending?

Paul Taylor

Taylor is Joint Managing Director and one of the co-founders of Mode7. He wrote Frozen Synapse. Earlier this week, Taylor revised the ending to Frozen Synapse “as a stupid experiment,” he says. “The community requested 'more ponies and dinosaurs' so we gave our artist free reign to fulfill that brief. This ending should only be around for a couple of weeks before we revert back to the original ending and restore the integrity of our creative work! It was quite liberating to trash the end of the story completely, it definitely made me think about a few things.”

"I don't think you should revisit the ending of something after it's been released. I've not seen anything to suggest that BioWare were actively considering doing that though.

I'm all for taking player feedback on stories, especially with a branching narrative, because there the player definitely has some kind of ownership of what's happening. However, that should definitely be done during development. Once it's out, it's out: you're trivialising your own decisions by messing with them.

It seems to me that game developers are still battling with story in general: it's rarely executed in an elegant way. Even something like Dear Esther, which I love, has some severe limitations on what it's able to do with narrative. It does intrigue me that text-based interactive fiction has had this incredibly rich history of gameplay and narrative innovation (which continues with some of the stuff people are producing in that form today) but none of that as really crossed over into more mainstream gaming."

Susan O'Connor

O'Connor is a professional game writer. She's written for BioShock, BioShock 2, and Far Cry 2, among other games. She founded the Game Writers Conference, now part of GDC Austin. In 2008, she shared the GDC “Best Writing” award (for BioShock) with Ken Levine, Joe McDonagh, and Emily Ridgway.

"Whoever said 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard' never wrote for video games. I haven't played Mass Effect 3 yet, so I can't speak to that game specifically, except to say that my heart goes out to those guys on the team, who I am sure worked incredibly hard on that project. This whole experience has got to be a punch in the gut for them. Speaking more generally, this issue feels like one of player expectation. The takeaway, for me, is that if players are promised player agency, they're going to want to see that promise delivered all the way to the (bitter) end.

If players know from the get-go that they're playing an authored game—or if they're lulled into complacency with the illusion of agency—then they'll accept an authored ending, as we've seen with other successful games. The trick is to know up front which kind of game the team is making, so that they can set player expectation—AND TEAM expectation as well. If the creatives know up front that they're not the ones telling the story—that their job is to give players the tools to tell their own story, and then get out of the way—then they'll come at the work from a completely different place. And the end result will be dramatically different. Better? That I don't know. Only time will tell. (I'm a sucker for a good story, myself, so I'm a little biased.)"

Top-of-page Mass Effect 3 illustration by PATRYK OLEJNICZAK. See more Mass Effect illustrations on Patryk's blog. http://garrettartlair.blogspot.com/

Evan Lahti
Global Editor-in-Chief

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.