Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: BioWhere do we go from here?

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. It could be construed that I’m writing this article perhaps a week early, but I cannot realistically envisage that anybody keen to start playing Mass Effect 3 will be spending too much time next weekend browsing the Internet to read about the series, so let us have a little thought-piece today on where the franchise ought to go from here.

The Jumping-Off Point

Oh, from such small acorns the mightiest of oak trees do grow. In November of 2007, BioWare releasedMass Effect, an action RPG to follow in the footsteps of their acclaimed Star Wars titles, only now that they had lost the licence for their critically-acclaimed Knights of The Old Republic series, it had been necessary for them to develop a whole new universe alongside the perils of a new game. What resulted was a science-fiction universe that sits at just around the halfway point between Star Wars and Star Trek: a world drenched in space opera that still retains a deep science and technology aspect, something that isn’t all that surprising when you consider that all three of BioWare’s founders – Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschuk, and Augustine Yip - were medical graduates when they started out.
Five years later, and we’re just one week away from the release of the closing chapter in Commander Shepard’s story, a trilogy that has taken us across the Milky Way galaxy in a quest to save the world from the Reapers. Whether our respective Shepards succeed in saving the galaxy or not, and bear in mind that there’s every possibility that they won’t, it is safe to say that no-one is quite ready to be finished with the universe as a whole. With this first trilogy now drawing to an end, we’re poised, fueled, and impatiently waiting before our own proverbial Prothean relay. Which begs the question: Where do we go from here?
The possibilities are manifold, and even dangerous for the fiction. While I think I would be happy to try out most of them, that which I least want to see is perhaps the most likely. Still, we’ll get to my personal tastes later on. For now, let’s throw a few genres at the wall and see what sticks:
  • Massively Multiplayer Online – It didn’t take long for people to make the logical leap between an exciting new sci-fi universe and a desire to that into yet another MMO world. While plenty of fans are enthusiastic for such a release, BioWare are likely to be tied up in SWTOR long enough that an MMO for Mass Effect will be a few years away at least. On the flip side, having invested so much time, research, and money into learning how to construct an MMO world, this is a genre that seems to me to be an inevitable, if not proximal, direction for the franchise. In a recent interview with Ben Kuchera of Penny Arcade Report, Greg Zeschuk seems cautious, if willing to entertain the notion:
“It’s daunting, but the neat thing is it would lend itself to a different type of game play. It’s fun to think about. I imagine people think it would be just like Mass Effect as it is… but there’s lots of people there. It’s really interesting, I don’t know. It’s a tough one.”
  • Space Simulation – I love the idea of the series moving in this direction, but it’s probably unlikely that enough people would be interested in it. Something akin to Star Trek Legacy, or EVE Online, would be an excellent way to further develop the Galaxy At War storyline, assuming there is enough of a story there to pursue. Managing whole fleets of Alliance ships in tactical dogfights against Cerberus, the Geth, or even taking on a lone Reaper would be exhilarating stuff.
  • Real Time Strategy - The apple doesn’t fall far from the Space Simulation tree here. Ground-based combat in Mass Effect has been traditionally of the Away Team variety: a small team taking on a series of objectives before returning to base. How about setting a title around long-term life on the ground? How about managing your own settlement in the Terminus Systems, like Freedom’s Progress for example?
  • FP/TP Shooter – I think a first-person shooter is highly unlikely, but there is little point in separating these two perspectives into separate genres for discussion. While some hardcore RPG fans might shy away from the prospect of an all-out, action-packed shooter experience, it occurs to me that with the right kind of cinematic story, and a somewhat more cerebral approach, it could wind up being a lot of fun. And of course, do not forget that next week’s iOS venture, Mass Effect Infiltrator, is pretty much exactly this. There’s every chance that this could appear – and in my hopes, should appear – as a downloadable adventure on your home console, depending on how successful it is.
    mass effect mako 300x186 Sunday Sidebar: BioWhere do we go from here?
    Imagine racing these little guys! Worst game ever.
  • Kart Racer - Mass Effect: Mako Racer is already the greatest game that never was. Unlikely as it may be to ever see the light of day, take a little time to consider racing through the Citadel, or a Collector Ship, or a time trial where you’re pursued by a deadly Thresher Maw. Pursued whilst constantly flipping over and losing traction with the ground. Don’t you ever miss the Mako? Yeah, me neither.
  • Action RPG - Why put this last? It seems like the laziest progression of the series, yet at the same time it is the most commercially viable option and therefore, by default, it becomes the most likely. While I am sure that I would still invest in the new starter entry ofMass Effect RPGs, I’m not sure if part of me would totally agree with having finished up the adventures of Commander Shepard, only to start all over again with a new character this time around. To make this option into something interesting, I think it would take some kind of serious tweaking to the canon as it currently exists. Otherwise it will be fine, but simply not an amazing step forward.
Although some or all of the above may not seem terribly appealing, they serve to demonstrate the breadth of possibilities that lie before BioWare as they decide how best to continue with this most beloved of franchises. It’s not for discussion here, but a movie and an anime are both currently in the works, too, though neither of them involve BioWare too explictly. Still, anAnimatrix-style treatment of the universe seems very pleasing. Going back to the world of games, though, which of these options appeal to you most? Have a great Sunday, folks.

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