Monday, February 20, 2017

Another contest entry

This month there's another contest with a copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda as the prize. This one sounded fun, so I decided to give it another try despite missing the target in the two or three of these contests I've entered before.

So, here's what I entered.

My headcannon is that the Normandy crew started up a tradition to unwind between missions: Movie Night. And after watching certain really old vids, some of them keep quoting lines for days afterward.
Joker: "I wouldn't say this thing thinks it's Satan. I'd say it is Satan!"
Zaeed: "Well, Satan ... is in DEEP SHIT!"
Shepard: "We're gonna need bigger guns."
Garrus: "Very, very big FUCKING GUNS!"
... Which prompts Dr. Chakwas to wonder if a round of psych evals is in order. XD
Hahah ... and if anyone's wondering what movie they're quoting above, it's pretty much the last gasp of the 1980s-style bad (yet in this case, awesome) action movies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Few Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda's Second Cinematic Trailer

Another cinematic trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda was released recently, and since it's way past time I posted something here, I'll offer up a few things that have been percolating in my head since the first time I watched the trailer.

So, just a general note first. Looks like we're back to typical-action-movie-trailer territory again. Not that that's really a negative. The trailers so far have been a pretty good mix of action-movie stuff, gameplay, and story and character reveals. But it has one really terrible, clichéd line of dialogue, when Ryder says, "We're about to change the rules!" I really hope that's not what the rest of the game's dialogue sounds like.

Now, on to a few specifics.

Here, we have a cool shot of the Ark Hyperion approaching the Nexus. What's interesting is that the Nexus appears to still be under construction here and in following shots. It was partially built before being sent to the Andromeda galaxy, where construction would be finished, presumably using resources mined after arriving. It's possible that some of the game's missions might involve assisting in its construction, or at least gathering resources and delivering them to the Nexus. That'd provide some nice variety to the missions, as long as it doesn't get too "grindy."

Next we've got a shot of a planet and ... what the hell is that black shit surrounding it? Probably a weapon or some other sinister thing made by the kett, though I kind of think it'd be more interesting if it's a natural phenomenon or something created long ago by someone else, that's just running loose in the galaxy and is a menace to everyone.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, it reminds me of the Death Cloud, a planet-killer used by the Shadows on Babylon 5. Something like that would be ... challenging to deal with.

There's a voice-over of Alec Ryder, the player character's father, saying this planet is "New Earth, if we're lucky." From what I've heard so far, one of the main plots in the game will be the exploration of Andromeda and the search for a habitable planet, presumably one that's also rich in resources. One of the previous trailers stated that the galaxy's inhabitants are fighting constantly over resources, which aren't exactly plentiful ... which made me raise an eyebrow when I first heard it. The Andromeda Galaxy is more than twice the size of the Milky Way, so I can't help wondering why it's so poor in resources that everyone is fighting over them. One possibility is that, without the Reapers that wiped out all technologically-advanced life in the Milky Way every 50,000 years, Andromeda's galactic society could've been around for a very long time, maybe long enough to use up most of the galaxy's resources and splinter into feuding factions.

I'm wondering if finding a suitable planet will be one of the endgame goals, or if we'll find out that there aren't any left. That'd be a hell of a note -- travel 2.5 million light years, spend 600 years in cryonic stasis, arrive knowing it's a one-way trip ... and then finding out that there's nowhere they can settle permanently.

But then, that galaxy is more than twice the size of ours, so I wouldn't expect to explore all of it in the first game. New sectors or quadrants will likely open up in future games, if any more are made. Something I think would be cool is, if more games are developed, we could play as a Pathfinder on each of the turian, salarian, and asari Arks. Like, in this one, we play as the human Pathfinder, and if the next game has, say, the turian Pathfinder as its player character, and if the game imports your save from the first game, then you could interact with your previous character and he/she would be the same model you played after customizing him/her in the character-creation stage. And then any games that followed could do the same thing. Might be too complicated to program, but it'd be a fascinating way to approach this if it becomes a series.

Anyway, next we get a shot of the Nexus with an Ark approaching it, and here we can see the scale of the station. The Arks hold 20,000 people in cryo, if I remember correctly, so they have to be enormous. But you can see how the still-under-construction Nexus makes the Ark look like a fly that's about to splatter on the windshield.

 A bit later, the Tempest drops into normal space directly in front of what is probably a kett ship and ... wait a minute. Look at that thing. The ship has a fuckin' frowny face. Why does it have a fuckin' frowny face? I'm never not going to see that, now. Just like I can never watch Battle Beyond the Stars without staring at the huge tits on the front of that ship.

At least the ship looks like it's actually alien. I don't find it scary or intimidating thanks to the emoji on the front, but at least you can take one look at it and realize, "Yep, that's not one of ours."

The "mouth" is probably a launch bay for these ships. And I have to say, the T-shape design is something I haven't seen before, so credit where it's due. The devs have designed plenty of alien stuff that, as I've said a few times, actually looks alien.

Then we get a look at the Tempest's pilot, Kallo Jath, as he says the ship is pinned against ... I think he calls it "the Scourge," but I had trouble making it out. It might be that black stuff with glittery things in it, in the image up above, but here it looks like it's on fire. Not clear yet whether that's its function -- surround a planet and explode, maybe burning off the atmosphere or scorching the surface -- or if it's damage from weapons fire.

Next we hear a low-pitched, booming voice, and it's obviously the Big Bad. That's pretty clichéd, too, but I really like the "Oh, shit!" look Ryder gets on his face here. Commander Shepard never reacted that way to an enemy, but then, Shepard was in the Systems Alliance, so he/she already had the training and experience to deal with overwhelming threats without freaking out. Ryder, on the other hand, isn't really military and has inherited the Pathfinder job after something happened to his father, so it makes sense that he's a little nervous here. Also, this is a good way to set him apart from Shepard, rather than repeating the same type of character we played before.

Then we get our first look at two more members of the team, Cora Harper and Liam Kosta. What I've heard about Liam is that he's idealistic and from the bit at the end of this trailer he seems pretty friendly, which is kind of a breath of fresh air in settings like this one. I've seen so much of the "everyone snapping at each other and distrusting each other" thing that it's always nice to see characters who don't fall into that pattern. Also ... and this is probably a weird thing to say, but ... I really like his hair. In the previous games, everyone had short or close-cropped hair, or none at all. It's good to see more variation because it's just more visually interesting. And it makes sense due to the Andromeda Initiative not being an Alliance or military program. I'm hoping there'll be a wider range of hair styles in the character creator, to make Ryder more of an individual.

As for Cora, I immediately found her last name interesting. The Illusive Man's real name was revealed a few years ago to be Jack Harper. That could be a coincidence, but I doubt it. The Andromeda Initiative seems like exactly the kind of project that Cerberus would want to infiltrate and influence for their own purposes.

But then, having Cora be a mole or a saboteur would be the obvious way to go, and personally I'd prefer as few ties to the previous games as possible. I'd be okay with it if it's just part of her background, maybe something that comes up in a few conversations, where she reveals that she wanted nothing to do with Cerberus and its agenda. But making a big subplot out of it might be problematic.

Next we get a close look at the owner of the booming voice, and ... yeah. Combine that with his threat of "Surrender or burn" and ...

... it's no wonder Ryder looks like he's about to piss his pants.

But that leads to another look at Vetra. She only gets a single line of dialogue in the trailer, which is tragic, but her voice is perfect. Don't know who her voice actor is, but it fits the character. And she just looks like a badass. I've pretty much decided already to bring her along on every mission she's available for.

Next we get another glimpse of Peebee ... and I'm so thankful that's just a nickname. I'd never be able to take her seriously if that were her real name. I'm guessing her initials are PB and her name might be really long or difficult to pronounce, so it's easier just to call her "PB." Anyway, from what I've heard, she sounds like a fun character. Being "socially blunt" should get her into all sorts of trouble.

Next we see another distinct planetary surface while Ryder speechifies about being explorers, not soldiers. And that's another thing I see as a positive -- in so many stories like this, the protagonist is a soldier. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just that when it's the go-to type of character, it's kind of refreshing when the heroes are something different.

Then we get another quick look at the villain, Archon, and he's appropriately creepy and sinister.

And then we get this, which is a cool shot of the team, though it would've been better if Vetra had been included. On the down side, this is the point where we hear that horribly clichéd, we're-gonna-kick-their-asses line, "We're about to change the rules!" I dunno, maybe it's the tone of his voice or something, but ... it's the kind of thing you'd hear in a direct-to-video action movie from the 1990s.

Next we get our first good look at another species native to Andromeda, the angara. Don't really have any information on them, though one of them, named Jaal, will join the team.

This is an interesting design for an alien species. They remind me a bit of the Twi'leks and Togruta from Star Wars, except the angara kind of look like they evolved from an aquatic species.

What follows this is a few quick shots of Ryder and Drack kicking ass, and Liam taking no shit. Standard action-movie stuff, but that's always fun as long as it isn't of the "We're about to change the rules!" or the "We fight or we die!" variety.

Finally, another kett ship chases the Tempest out of some exploding stuff. Again, that's a really cool design for an alien ship. It really adds to the "we're not in Kansas anymore" feeling of being in a completely different galaxy.

Couple of quick notes about Alec Ryder and another team member who didn't appear in this trailer, but was featured in the latest "mission briefing" on the Pathfinder team: SAM. First, the game starts with Alec Ryder as the Pathfinder for the Hyperion, but something happens to him early on, which thrusts Scott/Sara Ryder into the Pathfinder position. The obvious way to go would be for the father to be killed, either in an accident or by the story's villains ... which is why I hope they don't go that route. It's been done so many times, you can see it coming a mile away. I'd prefer something like, he's separated from the others, or disappears, or is badly injured, forcing his son/daughter to step up, but then he's able to come back and have a significant role in the rest of the game.

What I'd find really interesting is ... suppose he comes back, sees his kid handling the Pathfinder duties, and decides to provide advice and support instead of taking charge again. The father following the kid's orders would set up a fascinating dynamic that we don't see very often.

But then, there may be a good chance that he'll stick around for the whole game, or most of it, at least. It seems unlikely that they'd hire Clancy Brown just to give his character ten or twenty minutes of screen time and then kill him off. It'd be such a waste.

Another thing about Alec Ryder that I really like is that he's a scientist as well as an elite soldier. Too many times, soldiers are portrayed as clueless about sciencey stuff, so this is refreshing. He actually created SAM, who is a full AI. Finding out that SAM was an actual artificial intelligence was a surprise because creating AI is illegal in the Milky Way. Which also makes me wonder if this is a sign that Cerberus had some involvement in the project, since they created EDI and don't give a damn if it's illegal.

EDI turned out to be a welcome aversion of the "AI is a Crapshoot" trope, and her character development was one of the very few things about Mass Effect 3 that was actually good. So I'm hoping for something similar with SAM. The AI who decides to kill all humans is something that's been done so many times before, I've grown tired of seeing it again and again. Also, the conflict between synthetics and organics was already done rather thoroughly in the Mass Effect trilogy (though it was completely botched at the end), so I'm hoping they're moving past all that crap. It'd be nice to see SAM developing in a similar way to EDI, becoming part of the team instead of turning on everyone. I'd also like to see more AI characters, which seems likely. If the Ark carrying the humans has an AI, the other Arks probably have their own.

I'd also love to see some of the geth coming along for the ride, as well. A handful of quarians, too. It'd be easy enough to write them into the story. Given how things turned out with Legion, I can come up with several ways the geth and the quarians can be included, right off the top of my head. And it'd be nice to see them quickly learning how to coexist and work together ... possibly motivated by the understanding that this is it -- they can't go back home, there's no net to catch them, and if they screw up severely enough, it's all over. I'd prefer something like that to just rehashing the same thing from the previous games.

Anyway. I'm still cautiously optimistic that this game won't be a debacle like Mass Effect 3 was. From everything I've seen and heard, BioWare seems to be trying, this time. They appear to be putting in a genuine effort to tell a good story. They've gradually won me over, so I'm giving them one more chance.

I'm planning to either pre-order Mass Effect: Andromeda or buy it when it's released. The first playthrough will be just for myself (though I may take a few screenshots and post them, if anything really noteworthy happens), to see the story without any pressure and see for myself whether it's actually good, and also to start figuring out what to comment on when I record a playthrough for my YouTube channel. Right now, the plan is to do one playthrough as Bro!Ryder and then another as Sis!Ryder, to see how the dialogue and other things change from one to the other.

At least March 21 isn't too far off, now, so the wait won't be much longer. Then I guess I'll see how it goes.