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Changing the world: Why Mass Effect fans feel alienated

James Haresign February 11, 2012 - 1:00 pm

Blog: Gamers are used to being mistreated with Hollywood adaptations of their favourite franchises, yet uproar has risen over Mass Effect’s latest spin-off novel, Deception. James Haresign looks at what makes this book so ‘special’.

A lot of fuss has been made this week over the release of Mass Effect: Deception, it’s plethora of mistakes, and BioWare and Del Rey Books’ pledge to fix them. For some fans this could be the greatest offence ever, but to a majority that just play the games and move on it’s possibly a mystery what all the fuss is about.

Books, comics and most of the other cross-promotion materials have always been controlled a lot more closely by the original creators. Look at the Mass Effect: Homeworlds comics. They’re giving us an insight into the main characters of the games – an insight the games can’t offer because the stories require Shepard not to be loitering about.

Which is what lies at the core of the problem for Deception. Sometimes these works are different -Hollywood studios tend to go off and do what they want, after all. Fans are okay with this because it’s stated well ahead of time. They go in expecting change.

Deception promised an exploration of what the games already set out. An expansion of the same world. A sequel to three other books. Yet it’s riddled with what appear to be errors, more than creative world-tweaking.

Once a game hits big, it’s only a matter of time before the studio or publisher starts to strike out in other formats to reap financial rewards from those who want more from their universes.

I’ve even heard of Gears and Halo fans arguing over the other’s story making no sense without this extra material. These literary works sometimes generate new fans that don’t even bother with the games.

Tying it together

In Gears of War we’re told the Locust are invading, it all started on Emergence Day, and we’re losing. In the second game it’s hinted that Marcus’ dad is likely to be involved somehow. The books offer explorations of the human conflict -The Pendulum Wars – that led up to Emergence Day, what happened between the games and how things steadily got worse, and just what Marcus was doing in that prison when the series started.

The Mass Effect novels have shown a side of the universe a bit grimier than the games. We get to see Saren, big bad of the first title, as the best Spectre there is, while future General Anderson tries to become humanity’s first Spectre. The lengths Cerberus went to experimenting with children, shown with Jack in Mass Effect 2, gets a full tour with Gillian Grayson.

Now, suddenly, a tormented child suffering from autism is six years older when the story is set just three years into the future, and her autism is quite crudely dismissed as her simply being an ‘unstable twelve-year-old’.

The conspiracy run by The Illusive Man and a man pretending to be her father is ignored, and she now knows all about her adoption. When you’ve invested in a universe, it’s not nice to have its illusion shattered. You can understand why fans got angry.

Are BioWare alone?

Halo’s the daddy at the moment, though both BioWare franchises are closing fast. However, Master Chief and the Covenant aren’t without their errors either. The very first novel, The Fall of Reach, was printed with the wrong dates, meaning everything happened ten years too early, but that’s a minor misprint so no one really battered an eyelid.

Then Halo: Reach arrived and seemed to contradict a number of elements from the book, but once again a reprint was announced, with corrections. Halo’s fandom breathed a sigh of relief and waited.

Then it arrived. The dates were still wrong. An acknowledgement of the changes didn’t appease most fans who were angry that the content had altered.

That’s not all Halo: Reach upset. Noble Team brought with them the cyber début of Spartan IIIs, a newer, cheaper, model of Chief’s Spartan II variation. But this didn’t make sense. Ghosts of Onyx had explained to us that the first batch all got wiped out. So did the second lot bar two recruits who were the stars of the book. So how does Noble come from these two companies?

343 said they had it under control and not to worry, they know what they’re doing. Apart from a vague reference to their being removed before those events, Halo fans are still waiting to find out exactly what their explanation is. 343 Industries had proved in the past that they are willing to correct mistakes, though, so the fans gave them a pass.

The blame game

EA and BioWare have found that you underestimate this audience at great peril. It’s feasible for the odd mistake to slip through, such as a ship class being wrong, but nothing on the scale that Mass Effect: Deception offers.

The question remains: who is at fault? William C. Dietz, who wrote it? His editor for not picking up on the mistakes? BioWare for authorising spin-off materials in the first place? There’s no easy answer here.

Writing fiction, especially in a world not of your own making, requires an incredibly iterative process. It demands drafts, redrafts and scrutiny. Deception in its current form, say many, should be an early version – one that the writer gets back with a ton of notes scrawled in the margins.

But is something as peripheral as a novel even worth caring about for those at the head of the franchise? The fact that Casey Hudson, executive producer on the Mass Effect series, has said he’d read it and enjoyed it is extremely worrying to some. This is the man who’s entire job is shepherding the brand, yet a book is released that flies in the face of much that has come before it.

News that a new version is to be released with corrections hasn’t done much to sway the opinion of those who believe this should have happened ahead of launch. With YouTube book burnings, 400+ page threads on the official forum, a Google doc that creates what the editor possibly should have done, and some slightly surly press coverage, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest a rushed-out cash-in has done Mass Effect no favours at all.

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Comments (1)

  1. Avatar of monoeric3

    From someone who doesn’t give two hoots about mass effect, I find the reaction to this quite interesting, but it seems no different to a franchise from any other medium being totally borked elsewhere.

    What I would find interesting, would anyone not buy Mass Effect 3 because of this?

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