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PixlTalk Episode 56: Romance Effect

PixlTalk and Mass Effect, sittin' in a tree...

Greetings, Earthclan! This week, the Tri-Force crew is joined by Hell Block Hero JD to talk about mass quantities of Mass Effect! But before that, we talk a little about what we've been playing, including Tales of the Abyss 3D, Gotham City Impostors, Metroid Fusion, and Asura's Wrath.

Once we get into the main discussion, JD tells us of his hate/love relationship with the first Mass Effect, Julian takes the Mako to task, we address some of our favorite glitches in the first game, and the crew talks about their versions of Commander Shepard. We learn that everyone on the show is narcissistic except for Julian, and then we go on for entirely too long about our love interests in the game.

Patrick gives us his experience with Mass Effect 2 before his save got nuked (pour one out for Patrick Shepard), asks some lore questions that the others answer in typical nerdy fashion, and we talk a little about the infamous suicide mission.

The group give their impressions on the Mass Effect 3 demo and multiplayer, complain about the oversaturation of the EA marketing campaign, and then we close out by musing on what we want to see in ME 3 and beyond. Come for the Mass Effect discussion. Stay for the hilarious outtakes.

Featured Music:

Sam Hulick-Mass Effect Theme

Sam Hulick-The Normandy

Jack Wall-The Wards

Faunts-M4 Part 2




Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

03/02/2012 at 01:20 AM

Cha'll rule. Gimme dat.


03/02/2012 at 07:30 PM

This will be a pleasure guys. It'll be long though and I'm wondering if I should put it into a blog instead. In last weeks Pixltalk I think it was Angelo that made his comment into a blog, put a link to it on the thread, and it worked out okay. If you think I should put longer posts into a blog just tell me cause I could do that and just leave a link here if any of you think it would be better. I wouldn't be offended, and I will easily be able to "come to consensus" with you lol (I'll save my thoughts on Legion till the end). By now everybody knows I have plenty to say, but I honestly don't want to be obnoxious about it.

Mass Effect universe and gameplay: I definitely feel that the Mass Effect series and lore is like my generation's Star Trek. My dad is a huge Star Trek fan and as child I grew up watching episodes from different series (original run, Next Gen, DS9) with him just because that's what he was always watching. Because of that I've always known plenty about Star Trek, but as a child when I was left on my own I spent my time watching more Star Wars. When the 2009 Star Trek movie came out and rebooted the franchise it instantly became one of my favorite movies of all time because it immediatly struck the Mass Effect nerve. I watched the reboot and it completely captivated me with great characters and incredible spectacle just like Mass Effect did for me. Mass Effect is like my interactive video game eqivalent to the experiences I get watching Star Trek media. Mass Effect combines my favorite aspects of Star Trek, Star Wars, and other great science fiction universes and space operas.

Not long ago Julian and I talked about the gameplay aspects of the series and what we think of them. I don't really love the gameplay in the series and weirdly I play this series of games without a focus on the combat mechanics. During the episode I heard Rob say he's a story guy, and I know everybody else on the cast loves their stories. This is a little off topic but I wanted to let you all know it's enlightening to hear you guys talk story, and one of the reasons why is because you guys have the background, skill, and a love of literature and writing that allows your disection and analysis of stories to be so much deeper than mine would be by itself. Back when you did Storytellers 2 and discussed the kind of literary stories or themes you'd like to see adapted to video game form, that was amazing. I had no clue that The Lion King was basically a modern animated film spin on Hamlet. I learned something, as I tend to when these discussions get rolling.

Getting back to Mass Effect, it's unique that I don't play it for the combat mechanics, especially since it's an unavoidable core part of the game. To me the gameplay of any game is the most important part of any game, a good story is just a bonus. When I played Mass Effect all I could focus on were 3 things: getting to know the characters/universe, dialogue choices, and cinematics. I play the game, kill things, and go through the motions to win encounters, but it's always because I want to get to the next plot point and see the next amazing thing. Gameplay-wise ME1 for me was a sub-par Gears of War and never had it's own unique identity. I didn't use the power wheel much, I didn't mircomanage battles and squadmates as much, and when I was done with ME1 I just thought, "They're trying to lift some things from Gears of War, which is fine, but they're not doing it well at all." Even with that said, it didn't detract from the game for me at all and I'll explain the weird reason as to why. In contrast I play Gears of War for the combat and I know that the story is near irrelevant to me. I play Mass Effect for the characters, universe, dialogue, cinematics, and I know that the combat is near irrelevant to me. The reason the combat is near irrelevant to me isn't because it's mediocre, it's because I don't really want to be a badass space marine in these games, at least not in the way some people do, if that makes any sense. I promise I'll come back to that and explain why in full when I talk about my Shepard, I just want to get the universe and gameplay out of the way first.

I love and adore Mass Effect the same way I adore Bioshock. Bioshock is a mediocre FPS just like ME is a mediocre 3rd person shooter. The gameplay isn't anything fresh, but it does work well enough. I care as little about dual wielding plasmids and guns in Bioshock as I do about pulling up the power wheel and letting loose a singularity in Mass Effect. The unique environment and interesting characters keep me going in Bioshock. In ME learning about the universe in the codex, exploring the world and seeing events, seeing characters develop, etc is what keeps me going and blows my mind. If you ask me what my favorite things to do in ME are, I would tell you that I love sitting back and listening to the codex. I like jumping to new systems and finding out about planets, having conversations with crewmembers to learn about them, seeing intense dialogues between Shepard and the Council play out, and witnessing beautiful cinematics like the Normandy docking with the Citadel for the first time in ME1.

Rob can obviously nerd out quite a bit on the detials of the universe. Rob do you remember sometime around the Reaper IFF mission in ME2, when you're in the Century System of the Hawking Eta cluster, you come across a planet called Klendagon? The Derelict Reaper is in the same system I think but it's across the system and orbits around a different planet. Klendagon is an arid lifeless planet that has a gargantuan tear across the surface called the Great Rift Valley, assumed at first to be a natural formation. Evidence shows that the Great Rift is actually a 37 million year old gash in the planet caused by a glancing blow from a mass accelerator of unprecedented power. Well, I remember in the Reaper IFF mission you find out that the Direlect Reaper was taken out by a weapon of unimaginable power, and so when you connect the dots it stands to reason that during one of the previous extinction cycles some ancient race made their last stand, built the most powerful weapon they could, and basically succeeded in blasting the nearby Reaper into bits. The mass fired from the accelerator had so much momentum it went clean through the Reaper and continued through the system till it tore across the crust of Klendagon and left the Great Rift we see today. No remains of the civilization, no life or noise, just a quiet system with the remains of one of the most epic events you could ever imagine. That whole narrative and backstory could easily be missed or ignored, but neverless it's just there like it would be in real life. I came across that as if it was a crime scene, or like I was an archeologist. I cherish that depth of science and history.

I want to know about the exchange between the race and the attacking Reaper. I want to know about the giant Drive Core the Normandy runs on, the role of honor in Turian culture, the reasoning Mordin has behind the genophage, what the surface gravity of Tuchanka is, what roles a Dreadnaught plays in space battles, and how Grunt's illness is due to a lack of Krogan upbrining, culture, and the rite of passage. I even love how they refer to the internet as the extranet because of the fact that the network no longer is confined to a single planet and therefore it makes sense the word would change to give you the idea that the network now is extraplanetary, extrasolar, and spans the galaxy.

I want to know everything about the ME universe because I truly feel like I'm living a second life in this world. I'm not just some "insert name here" Shepard roaming around the galaxy fighting for the sake of fighting, for 360 achievements, or just to beat the game. I treat my Shepard like an extension of myself and try to make dialogue choices honest to what I would hope to do in her situation. Needless to say I don't take any choices lightly, and I'm always worried about how my actions will affect the world around me in ME.

My Shepard: is a beautiful soldier class FemShep. Her pre-service history has her as a colonist from Mindoir that had her family and friends killed by slavers and was saved by a passing Alliance patrol. Her psych profile is the War Hero meaning that once she was rescued by Alliance and enlisted, she went on to save Elysium from a Batarian attack. The personality I made up for my Shepard is that she knows what it feels like to loose everything (her family and home colony) but she also knows what it feels like to survive, fight, and achieve total victory by saving Elysium from the same fate. My Shep isn't unlike Julian's. She gives people the benefit of the doubt even to her downfall. She wants to do what she thinks is most ethical, and she doesn't think ends justify means.

Just a little bit earlier I said that I don't want my Shepard to be a space marine badass like some people do. I treat my Shepard like she's the Captain of a starship in Starfleet from the Trek universe. The Normandy is my Enterprise and our mission isn't one of conquest, fame, wealth, or conflict of any kind. Our mission is to seek knowledge and alien life. However, the Normandy is well armed, my Shepard is a trained soldier, and we can defend ourselves or others if diplomacy fails in any given situation. Similar to how well armed the Enterprise is and the prime directive it follows. Once you understand that, you might start to see that the combat mechanics in the ME series are almost irrelevant to me. Some people just want to create a quick Shepard, roam around, blasting everything in sight so they can collect their loot, go bang whoever they're romancing, etc. By treating my Mass Effect experience like Star Trek, I'm getting something out of these games that is far deeper and more meaningful to me than just entering a room and shooting the mercs inside. I'd rather go down on Tuchanka and study the Krogan's in their natural habitat, study the sociology of Turians, mediate between conflicting parties, make peace, and learn about everything. And if the Reaper's threaten to destroy all of that, I have to stop them. I usually kill anybody or anything that is very dangerous or disrupts some kind of balance in a situation, like Reapers, random mercs, or the Thorian. I refused to kill Wrex, I saved the Geth heretics, I saved the Rachni Queen, I did all the loyalty missions and all my crew survived the suicide mission, I always try to teach Garrus about mercy and patience (the Dr. Saleon mission in ME1), and I always debate with Mordin over the ethical reprocussions of the Genophage that the Krogan suffer from because of him (on Tuchanka in ME2).

Ashley: I thought it was great that you guys brought up Ashley and her religion and how you all felt about it. I likewise was affected by it and by her character development. Ashley and I are very different and very similar at the same time. I thought she was very interesting and the way she fits into the universe is unique, and I appreciate her a great deal.

For a quick background to my points about Ashley, I grew up religious and my whole family is religious, but I'm not anymore. I don't believe in God, fate, magic, and I worship nothing. I would call myself an athiest (don't believe in any God) but when you say that most people don't know what it means, and almost everybody will have preconvieved notions about it. You'd be surprised how many people still think athiests are a sad, hopeless, evil cult, or that they worship things in any fashion lol. You could say I'm part of the Freethinker group, meaning I have a philosophy that says my opinions should be formed on the basis of science, reason, logic, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or dogma. I would accept that classification as part of who I am, but it doesn't explain the complex ethical system I have. Classifications or not, I don't believe in any Gods and I'm happy, confident, and hopeful. I'm a natural skeptic, but not for the sake of skepticism. I have an open mind that is suspect to constant updating and learning. I don't agree with religious people on their beliefs, but I can get along with them, study them, and treat them with respect. They don't often show me the same respect, but I try anyways. I'm not always perfect either.

I was able to accept Ashley in ME1 and feel comfortable with her because at the end of the day I don't necessarily have problems with religions and sprituality, I just have problems with individual people. People should always be accountable for their individual actions, emotions, and words, and nobody should be generalized. It's just logic. If Ashley hates aliens, that means Ashley hates aliens, it doesn't mean religious people hate aliens. I'm surrounded by religious people and I know folks across the whole spectrum. I know peaceful people, militant people, rational, irrational, well educated, poorly educated people of all beliefs and cultures. In school I knew a Satanist, a few Wiccans, a couple Muslims, Jews, and the majority were Christians of different sects. I see how all the varied people are all similar, different, sometimes beautiful, sometimes dangerous, flawed, and at the end of the day, human.

I want peace and I don't want people of different beliefs to kill eachother or enforce their systems or mythologies on others. Being an "outsider" looking in on all these different parties in conflict makes me feel like I'm watching Animal Planet sometimes, but I try not to despise them for their differences. I prefer to focus purely on Science, Ethics, and Philosophy as opposed to Theology (which is what my Mom is studying in school at the moment) but sometimes it's still interesting to learn about people's mythologies whether it be Christian, Greek, Norse, Roman, etc. I don't think it's fair for people to label Ashley as a Republican racist God lover or anything of the sort. Ashley is very xenophobic for logical reasons like Rob was saying, but Ashley is intelligent and can be reasoned with. She's not a war-monger, a zealot, and she certainly doesn't wage a holy war or species war. I'll defend Ashley and her right to her beliefs because she is an intelligent, reasonable, and honorable member of the crew.

I really liked Ashley because she was very different from me, but I could still reason with her, connect with her, and convince her to be more accepting of aliens. Another really big reason I felt connected to Ashley was because she was like me, except in a bizzaro world where everything is backward. In real life I am a non-believer surrounded by often fanatic believers. In the Mass Effect universe Ashley is a believer surrounded by assumingly non-believers. In daily life I'm quite alone in my opinions, observations, and I'm surrounded by people who don't have a problem with making fun of me or throwing me under the bus just for being who I am. Ashley is quite alone herself and might be surrounded by a future society that might think she's crazy for being religious. Even though I don't share Ashley's beliefs, we are both still human and encounter the same feeling of being alone and cast aside by the majority in our respective societies. There's no difference between a zealous religious person and a zealous athiest, both disturb the peace and can be equally as dangerous. I don't want to be associated with either side. I feel that I can relate to Ashley that way and band together with her. Being human is far more important to me than being religious or non-religious. Ashley and I don't berate each other, we just do our jobs and get each other's backs. I want to take this time to remind everybody we are talking about a video game lol. I think it's remarkable a video game makes me think that much and care that much about characters. It's certainly a first. Knights of the Old Republic is amazing, but I'm much more invested in Mass Effect.

Favorite things in Mass Effect: I can't get enough of the cinematics. I also love the vistas like playing through Eden Prime and seeing Sovereign leave the surface and take off into the atmosphere, or being on Horizon and seeing the Collector Ship taking up the whole skybox like a giant skyscraper.

As far as the character developments go I love talking with Mordin about the genophage. The solution that the genophage offers to the problem of the Krogan Rebellions is a solution that can be very divisive. It's completely logical and understandable, but it's totally unethical to me and I can sympathize with the plight of the Krogan. It's not unlike America using atomic weapons to end World War II. It's logical and it worked, but I don't think the means justify the ends, and in Mass Effect my Shepard doesn't either. There's no honor in pushing a button and deploying a WMD or biological agent to kill men, women, and children alike whether they're armed or unarmed. I would have rather been overwhelmed and killed by trillions of Krogan than push a button and destroy their ability to reproduce. My choice would likely spell doom for the galaxy but it would be because I failed to find an honorable way to win. War in general is sometimes necessary but it's never good, never ethical, or righteous. But when you do enter conflicts you should still try and hold onto some sense of honor and structure.

My favorite missions in the games are both in ME2: When you go to Tuchanka and learn about the Krogans, and when you meet Legion. In ME1 they painted the Krogans and Geth as mindless things with only the need to kill. In ME2 all of that changed completely and you realize both races are far more complex than you thought. My favorite part of ME2 was going to the Krogan homeworld and seeing how their clans interact, what their behavior is like, how the females fit in to the civilizations, and basically how Krogans deal with one another. It was very brutal and primitive but I thought it was the most fascinating thing. I learned that Krogans have evolutionary reasons for being so tough and indestructible, and when the other races came in and tried to "civilize" the Krogan and give them technology the Krogan used it to destroy themselves. They eek out a brutal existence and eat foods that would tear a human's stomach apart, and it's incredible. I love learning about the Krogan because they are very relatable and human. They represent the more violent and primitive aspects of human beings where violence is often just for the sake of violence. If I could go to the Turian homeworld and study the Turians I would love that even more lol. The Turians are likewise very human and relatable. They represent a different side of violence and primal nature, one that is more sophisticated, and relies heavily on Turian honor and benefitting the greater good of Turian society.

My favorite character is Legion, I can't believe Patrick's game crashed and lost his saves before he could come across Legion. Talking with Legion blew my mind and let me know that the Geth aren't mindless machines. They have culture, they think, communicate at the speed of light, make decisions together, and can disagree with each other. I was amazed to find that all the Geth that have been shooting at you in the series are heretics that decided to worship Sovereign while the majority of the Geth refused. I couldn't believe it when Legion gave me the choice to either save the heretics by rewriting them, or destroy them. When you ask Legion why it's giving you this huge responsibility it says, "Because we cannot come to consensus. You have fought against the heretic Geth and seen them first-hand, so I will leave the choice up to you Shepard." To me destroying the Geth like that would be similar to a Krogan genophage, it's quick and efficient but it's not the choice I want to make. I'd rather save them all and give them the chance to become allies, and accept all the risks that come along with it. I sympathized with the Krogan and Geth choosing to save them any chance I could, but I absolutely turned against the Illusive Man and his wishes to save the Collector Base. I destroyed the Collector Base and all the tech inside, because I thought the Illusive Man would only do harm with it. I don't trust him at all.

This didn't have anything to do with my Shepard's lesbian romance with Liara, but for the record I banged Liara in ME1, I failed to bang anybody in ME2, and I'm hoping I can continue with Liara in ME3. I really tried in ME2 to bang Jack but that failed miserably. I failed with Miranda because alas she doesn't like the ladies. What surprised me is that I failed miserably with Kelly Chambers the personal assisstant. Fancy big shots are always banging their personal assistants and secretaries in real life lol! So I figured Chambers would be the easiest to influence and get in bed, but nope. I banged nothing in ME2.

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