BioShock creator saddened by Mass Effect 3 ending controversy

Irrational's Ken Levine is worried about the industry implications, calls for BioWare to stand firm

The Mass Effect 3 ending controversy has lit up the gaming industry, the press and fans in general, as people discuss the various aspects of a game that many believe was ended on a sour note. That controversy has made it to discussion within game designer circles, as Irrational Games' Ken Levine has added his thoughts during a panel discussion at the Smithsonian's "Art of Video Games" exhibit.

"I think if those people got what they wanted and (BioWare) wrote their ending they would be very disappointed in the emotional feeling they got because...they didn't really create it," he said. "I think this whole thing is making me a little bit sad because I don't think anyone would get what they wanted if that happened."

Levine likened the situation as an "important moment" in the industry, one that soundly defines the consumer/developer relationship. Other developers at the panel also added their support to BioWare, including BioWare-Mythic senior creative director Paul Barnett.

"If computer games are art then I fully endorse the author of the artwork to have a statement about what they believe should happen," Barnett said. "Just as J.K. Rowling can end her books and say that is the end of Harry Potter. I don't think she should be forced to make another one."

Regardless of how these developers and creatives feel, the community has been rather harsh on BioWare in Vancouver. The studio has today announced that they will be looking to tweak the ending of Mass Effect 3. Large forum and Twitter outcries from fans, including a charity protest to Penny Arcade's Child's Play fund for over $75,000, have been instrumental in BioWare folding on the matter.

[Thanks Vox Games]

Latest comments (13)

Pier Castonguay Programmer 6 years ago
Ken got it wrong. Fans are not angry because they wanted to shape the story in their manner which differed from the artists/designers choice. They are angry because they cut the corner with the ending. Instead of a ending shaped based on the decisions the player took during the progress of the game, it's the same one no matter what and barely reflect what happened in the game.
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Paolo Giunti Localisation Project Manager, GlobaLoc GmbH6 years ago
Yup, Pier is correct here.
I've seen, more than once, people on forums and blogs argue that it's not really a matter of having an actual "happy ending", but more of an endign that "makes sense".

Most of those who are unhappy with the ending (at least of those i had a chance to interact with) agree that they lived the last 10 minutes wondering: "WTF!?!?? Why is this happening?" It wasn't just disappointing, but also confusing and somehow depressing, 'cause the players were suddenly stripped of any power, making all their achievements appear pointless.

It's the difference between "i didn't like that" and "it feels totally wrong".

<Note to self: do not delete comments and repost, just edit the gorram thing>
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Private Industry 6 years ago
If people dont like it ok, but its still Biowares game and as such they are entiteld to end the game how they want. I dont think they should change the ending, post ending DLC is ok to finish off the story, but changing the ending would give a bad example because enough people are ok with it and its a minority who demands a change to the ending.
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Show all comments (13)
Paolo Giunti Localisation Project Manager, GlobaLoc GmbH6 years ago
Actually, as far as statistics go, the "dislikers" don't really seem to be much of a minority.

The people who're loud in voicing their dissatisfaction, rightfully or not, may be a minority, but if you go 'round and ask those who played the game: "Did you like the ending?"
I've done a bit of research myself, asking colleagues, friends... 3 said they liked it (tho, one actually didn't play the game, but just read the script) and about 30 found it quite disappointing.

Af for the whole "entitlement" debate, i guess i can toss two cents from my little personal experience.
In my little corner i write stories, sometimes as comics just to express my creativity (for which i feel i'm the only one who can say how the story ends), some others as adventures for tabletop RPGs. These are stories designed for my players to actively take part in. So, their opinion actually matters.
In all honesty, I'd be a real prick if i finish a campaign without a satisfying ending and dismiss their complaints with: "it's MY story and how it ends is MY call."
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Private Industry 6 years ago
Nobody I know and finished the game said they where disapointed. Its more of "it was ok" and "it was not as bad as people make it out". And they, like myself, played all 3 games.

I dont think the ending was great neither to I think it was horrible. Sure it would have been nice to know what happens with the others and things could have been done different its far away from being perfect, but the promise of closing off shepards story and the reaper arc was served and I dont think people should get their money back for something they enjoyed 40+ hours because they didnt like or agree with the last 5 minutes.

I dont think Bioware will give up on the Mass Effect franchise and in that sense the ending is setup nicely for any games that will be set after ME3 if there will be any. They could have gone the MGS4 route and give a perfect ending that answers all questions but basically kills off all posebilities of sequels and leaves only prequels without completely destroying the story arc of the previous games. From a business point of view they made an ending that can be used very nicely for sequels and the fan outcry wouldnt harm sales of future game because lets face it nobody said they didnt enjoy the game and I'm sure att least 80% of them would buy the next ME. I know big bad corporations who always want to make sequels to games, but why not if it sells plenty of copies its good to set yourself up for future games in the franchise and the ending did that if people like it or not.
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David Vink Freelance 6 years ago
I think the idea of Mass Effect 3 being art as an argument against listening to the fans doesn't work here. Many of the greatest game (series) are good exactly because the developers use the feedback from the players to improve the game. I'd like to think Bioware used player feedback with each new installment.

And like most games Mass Effect is a commercial product. If it somehow makes business sense for the publisher to change the ending they will do it.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 6 years ago
@ David.

I agree. "Art" is usually immutable, unchangeable. A Titian or a Da Vinci is and always will be the same (unless vandalised). Catcher in the Rye will be the same. But video-games designed as amusement require interaction, and that interaction in itself requires the creator's vision to be fluid; it requires the player to change things. At which point, "Art" is no longer being created by the creator, but rather a collaborative dynamic comes into being, one-part developer, one-part player.

This is even worse coming from BioWare, since they have repeatedly said in the past that they "listen to players' feedback" when developing games.

(And I use the proviso of "designed as amusement" to seperate Mass Effect from Dear Esther, for example. No-one whold dare suggest that Esther's ending be changed, because people accept it for what it is.).
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 6 years ago

for once I agree with you! As a designer and developer I was shocked to see Levine actually come out with this nonsense. Especially given that the ending of Bioshock was a straight on classic boss fight. Players of that were left almost as disappointed as with ME3. The only saving grace of Bioshock was that the ride to get there was such inventive fun.

If player choice is ignored in favour of imposing our will on them (and it happens so often) then players get bored and move on as we are sadly seeing with the declining sales. The most recent disappointment before ME3 was with Infamous2, where being the good guy turned out to be a rediculously unfair death sentence.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
I have to say that I agree with Levine's call to not change their ending. However, post ending DLC to actually "finish the game" is not okay. You buy the product for it to be complete - the complete story. DLC always had this danger when it was introduced and people were scared that developers/publishers were going to start ripping up the game and selling it piecemeal for more than a single purchase would have cost. There were always big promises surrounding DLC: 1. no core gameplay content, 2. No core story elements required to understand the main plot. To break either of those two is, IMO, showing a lack of respect and empathy for your customers and could lead to further companies (looking at you, Activision) doing this.

As it stands the current ending of ME3 is a nebulous concept, something that no one outside of Bioware truly understands. If the indoctrination theories are true (which is a distinct possibility) and the hints coming out of Bioware are being read correctly then post-game DLC to finish the story was probably their intention all along.

It's wrong.

I won't be buying it and i hope no one else does. Bioware need to explain this curent ending to answer all the questions and uncertainty surrounding it. It doesn't cost money to do that (well, paying someone for an hour or two of their time to write/speak doesn't cost *that* much) and I think it would make a lot of their disgruntled customers happier.

From an artistic argument, i think the ending was poor as well. A movie like Donnie Darko is expected to have a strange, nonsensical ending because the rest of it is presented in that way. For a movie like, say, Die Hard (no idea why that came to the front of my mind) switching from a cohesive storyline to some warped reality at the end would make no sense and it is poor story-telling technique and crafting. Guess which one ME3 is like?
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Joshua Rose Executive Producer / Lead Designer, Storm Eagle Studios6 years ago
Before saying anything, I'd like to point out that I've not played any of the Mass Effect games (never had the time).

That being said, I think in general I'd have to agree with Ken Levine that a studio should stand behind its game. I think 'tweaking' the endings due to outrage from people, is a bad idea. You're opening up a can of worms that can never be closed again. As it is, it's probably a PR nightmare for them already. I can only imagine it would get worse in the future with other games.

Because I don't know the story through the game, I dont know what questions are to be left unanswered at the end of the game. However, we all need to note that this game only came out a couple weeks ago. Chances are these people are complaining about the ending of their first playthrough. Play the game again, make different choices, see a different ending! That's how it's always been with Bioware, granted most endings are grouped in to categories based on game mechanics, but even those endings differ from each other.

Like all Bioware games, It deserves a second playthrough before complaining about an ending, because if you play different, chances are you won't get the same ending!
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Joshua Rose Executive Producer / Lead Designer, Storm Eagle Studios6 years ago
Comment Deleted

Damned internet cut out and made duplicate transmissions.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Joshua Rose on 22nd March 2012 2:56pm

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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.6 years ago
Like all Bioware games, It deserves a second playthrough before complaining about an ending, because if you play different, chances are you won't get the same ending!
You do get the same ending no matter what you actually do - that's one of the points of the complaint. :)
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
Yeah.... Apart from some minor cosmetic differences in the cutscene it's the same all the way.
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