2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Component Based Engine Architecture

This year we have had a lot of discussion going on about how we would like to go about building our game engine.  With about a week and a month left before its due, most of us have decided to build it using a component based engine architecture.


This post was helpful for a good 5 min intro to the topic.  Here is pretty much a summary of it:

Generic Engine Architecture

The base concept is rather than having a giant monolithic  class based game structure (above), we want to inherit from a base class that gives everything full functionality.  Imagine the base architecture of Unity.  Everything starts of as a GameObject.  You can add scripts, models, and other functionality to it by dragging items onto it.

The problem with the monolithic class structure is that classes end up having the same functionality and in return things get really messy.  Most games get around this by making a really large base class with lots of functionality while having the subclasses turn functionality on and off.  This becomes a problem when adding new features because items have to be able to coexist with one another.  Since we pretty much add functionality to our game engine the entire year, adding functionality has to be really simple and we don’t want to waste the precious time we have taking one step forward and two steps back.

Say we have three main game items in a component system: a Player, Enemy and Item.

  • Player
    • Spatial
    • Rendering
    • KeyboardMover
    • Health
  • Enemy
    • Spatial
    • Renderer
    • AIMover
    • Health
  • Item
    • Spatial
    • Renderer
    • PhysicsMover

Spatial Component – Allowing it to exist in the world
Renderer Component – Allow objects to be drawn into the screen
Movement Component – We may want to control the player through a keyboard system, enemy through AI and the Item through world physics
Misc Components – We may want some objects behaving different from one another.  Like giving some objects health.

Our component class would look something like

  • Component
    • Spatial
    • Renderer
    • Health
    • Mover
      • KeyboardMover
      • AIMover
      • PhysicsMover


We are currently working on some sort of implementation of this system.  We have split up into 2-3 engine programmers and 1 person working on getting animation to work using a skeletal animation system.  That latter job will most likely be mine, and it shall be quite the interesting job to take on!  I have already done some research with the mesh skinning shader and we have a rigged character to test with.  All thats left is to make a demo that will work.


[1] – https://github.com/shrt/ComponentKit
2] – https://github.com/PushButtonLabs/PushButtonEngine
3] – http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1901251/component-based-game-engine-design

Homework Questions!

Its been a while since I have posted about anything to do with this class.  This is because of the shotgun of work being blown my way recently. 3rd year game dev = hardest year yet.  Its hard in the sense that there are not enough hours in a day that allow me to accomplish everything required of me.  So its gotten to the point where some work gets prioritized over others and the rest falls through the cracks.


Anyways moving onto Ogre.  Its an amazing engine from what I have seen of it.  The only issue is that it requires a higher level of programming skill to debug.  Last year the errors were solvable through simple debugging methods (stepping through, print statements, etc.).  This year you really have to have a good handle of how your code gets compiled and what it is asking the engine to do.  Which involves using the call stack.  I don’t really know how to use the call stack that well, so this is an EXCELLENT learning opportunity.

Homework Questions

So the easy question deadline got pushed to Monday.  I managed to finish 4 easy questions (1-2. 4-5).

Easy_1 was easy.  The key was understanding how Ogre worked.  Create a Scene node pointer for your entity to attach to.  Create a entity pointer that you attach to a prefab cube and all thats left are the two lights.

Easy_2 was a bit more work.  This question was mostly about understanding the hierarchy of the parent-child relationship of scene nodes.  We know that we have to create 10 separate cubes for the robot arm.  Right away you should think about 10 scene nodes and 1 entities.  But it would be stupid to make them all children of the scene manager.  So you would just make them all children of whatever entity they would be rotating around.  The only problem about only having 10 scene nodes is that the rotations look fairly wonkey.  You need to have rotation joints halfway in between each entity.

Easy_4 was probably the most ‘difficult’.  Since it involved dealing with .material files.  They are still simple however.  Once you figure out how to edit the resource.cfg file to load resources into your game, the next step is the .material file.  Its pretty much a plaintext structure that is easily readable. You just need like 5 lines of code to create your textured material for your ingame object.

scene_blend alpha_blend
lighting off

This goes after pass.  scene_blend does something with the alpha values, and I had to turn the lighting off because I was having an issue with the object turning black for some odd reason (Thanks Kevin! @Iceninja77).

texture leaf.png
filtering trilinear
colour_op_ex source1

This goes after texture_unit.  This pretty much textures your object.

The rest of the code involves making 4 planes rotated at 90, 180, 270 increments textured to look like an imposter and calling the createBillboardSet command to create your billboard.

Easy_5 was probably the one I finished the fastest.  TwoLoc has an interesting dynamic texture class and a base example called BlitTexture something that is a huge help for this.  If you use this as your base project and solve a small error you are worthy to use it!  There is a function randCol(x,y) that can access the data of a pixel on the plane/billboard that you would like your texture to be put on.  You can modify the RGBA values given a row and column point.  So be creative and make something cool!  I was lazy so i just made a few designs using a for loop.  Some people made mini-games, drawing tools and even an etch-sketch!


The Tech Market – From Metro UI to Business and then to Game Engines

I don’t do this often, re-blogging that is.  This time I have to make an exception because I read a great post from an ‘anon’ user on a forum that offers some pretty great insight into the ‘new’ Microsoft.  I am sure many of you have heard about Notch and Gabe Newell’s opposition of Windows 8 and their Metro UI.  It has gotten to the point that they will not support the OS with Minecraft and Steam accessibility.

Xbox 360 UI
Xbox 360 UI – So sleek, So nice, Kinect Integration. I just don’t like how they have games in the middle. That was definitely a business (marketing) choice rather than a design choice.

Here is the post:

“Market has changed in the last couple of years. Microsoft has always been reliant on desktop PC’s and their monopoly (once they got it). They focused on software and were pretty happy with the things as they were. Executives weren’t willing to go out of their comfort zone and explore new markets. They only acted once competitors succeeded in different markets (Xbox, Zune), even then, it was always a half-assed attempt that got abandoned in favor of bigger and better things (Xbox is pretty much the only exception, maybe along with .Net).

Apple on the other hand started out as a hardware company. Like Microsoft they stuck with what they knew, this almost made them bankrupt a few times, but they were able to survive long enough to see the hardware rejuvenation era (cheap labor, basically). They (just Jobs at this point) realized they can’t survive with just sticking to what they know, so Apple started to buyout lots of talent to expand their product portfolio. Which led to the Ipod and Itunes. Since Apple produced closed platforms since the dawn of time, these new products had a closed ecosystem as well. Fast forward to Iphone and the age of 3G, WiFi, always on internet (not to mention brilliant ad campaigns), they became hugely successful because they were the first to mass-market the advances of the technology to non-tech-savvy population.

This is incredibly alien to Microsoft. In the last 10 years, they’ve witnessed the creation of the biggest market ever, but they weren’t willing to do anything about it. Now that the Apple have become the biggest corporation in human history, they woke up.

They woke up, because this kind of market shift happened before to many other industries. Cinemas, were the dominant form of visual entertainment, now everyone has a big screen TV and can watch any film they’d like via DVDs/Blu-rays. Cinemas are still big, all around the world. New movies always come first to the movie theaters, but the sheer number of people who have TVs at home just dwarfs it. Effectively, cinemas have become a niche product. Still profitable, but not as profitable as others. I wrote this as an example that this kind of shift happened before and everyone can relate to it someway, it’s not meant to be a perfect representation of current events mind you.

It’s simple, Microsoft doesn’t want to become a niche developer (still big, profitable with stable growth, but a niche compared to other markets). They want to exploit this new market, and they are late to the party already. They need to act, and they need to act fast, otherwise it may be too late (if it isn’t already).

Cue in Windows Phone 7. It should have worked, but didn’t. If you ask any WP7 user, one thing they are sure to complain about, is the lack of selection on the software side (apps, needs apps). Microsoft knew this would happen, so they tried to lure their desktop developers with known tools (C#, XNA, .Net, familiar development environments). It should have worked it theory, but they realized, at this point, it became a chicken in the egg problem. Developers don’t make apps because there aren’t enough users, there aren’t enough users because there aren’t enough apps.

Things are starting to look grim now. They tried and failed (miserably). They didn’t have enough developer support to jump-start the platforms. It’s time to abuse their monopoly. Result is Metro Modern UI. Having a mandatory tablet/phone like environment in the desktop, will force developers to support it. Windows market is huge, they are bringing the monopoly in full force, even if a tiny fraction of developers support the new UI, it’ll create bazjillion of apps, ready for the prime time in mobile market.

To recap, they are trying to leverage their desktop monopoly, by coercing them into developing mobile (Windows RT) compatible software, so that when WP8 finally hits the market, it’ll have bazjillions of apps ready at the Windows Store.

This is bad, because they want to go with Apply way (rather than Windows Android way) with this. They are on their way to create one of the biggest closed platforms in the history of mankind (or so they think), and they are willing to sacrifice everything for it.”


I am sure that sounds like boring business stuff, but there is still some importance here.

Windows 8 UI
Windows 8 UI

When designing game engines we think about the user experience and other things.  As an OS developer Microsoft is thinking about expanding their brand to all tech platforms.  They still have the user in mind, along with some businessy political warblegarble stuff we don’t really care about (market share, loosing money, blah blah).  Microsoft has already implemented this Metro UI with the Xbox 360’s dashboard UI.  We know that they want to expand to the mobile market, but their current attempts have been less rewarding as their past projects.  So by creating a UI that is similar in look, style and function throughout all their platforms you would think that would be a good idea right?  It seems like the developers don’t think so.

It seems like Microsoft is looking at their competition and looking at what markets they are heading into and figuring out where to go.  This can only suck for us because Microsoft is following the wrong competition! Apple! NOOOOOooooo!  Microsoft is focusing their efforts in the Mobile and Tablet market.  I personally sit directly on top of the fence that is between liking and hating touchscreen mobile devices and tablets.  I find tablets very useful for turning mundane tasks we used to accomplish via mouse and keyboard into an interactive and ‘fun’ experience.

I wish Microsoft would be following the direction of Valve, Ouya, Oculus Rift, Google Glasses and so on.  This idea of a connected system that gives a lot of freedom to the user rather than pigeonholing them into something.  User experience, innovative tech that we can use as tools to entertain, build, advance; these are things we should be focusing on.  Apple and Microsoft are looking for the most profitable market tested products.  The only usefulness of a tablet device is to help bridge the gap between PC’s and Mobile Device.


I think Game Engine developers should focus on developing their game engines to be platform-independent and be able to support any input device (Kinect, PS Move, MIDI keyboard, NES Zapper).  Once all game developers have access to a single platform, making games will be super simple.  However, that may not be the best idea.  If it allows for anyone to make a game, then I might be out of a future job…

Spatial Indexing and Quadtrees

This post is going to be me breaking down and trying t understand this blog post (done by Nick) about Spatial indexing with Quadtrees and Hilbert Curves.  Hopefully I can learn how this algorithm would be useful for terrain and environment representation.  I have a few ideas currently, but I’d like to break down and understand the algorithm first.

Spatial Database’s and Spacial Indices

In order to understand what a spatial index is, we need to know what a spatial database (WIKI) is.  A spatial database is essentially a collection of data that stores points, lines and polygons and any other object data.  Simple terms: databases that store information related to objects in space.  Many databases feature the following functionality:

  • Spatial Measurements: Distance between points
  • Spatial Functionality: Modify existing features while creating new ones
  • Spatial Predicates: Allows for binary/(true/false) queries like, “is there a boss located in that cave 1km from here?”
  • Constructor Functions: Creates new features in the database with an SQL query specifying the vertices (node points) that create lines.  If the first and last vertex are connected (first and last vertex are identical) the feature will be a polygon
  • Observer Functions: Queries that return specific information like the location of the center of a circle

[ASIDE] SQL – Structured Query Language that is designed for managing data in rational database management systems
[ASIDE] SQL Queries – Queries which retrieve data based on specific criteria.  Most important element in SQL

Spatial Queries

Spatial indices are used by the spatial database to make faster queries.
These queries are essentially functions with the following template: functionName (parameter(s)) : return type

Types of queries:

  • Distance(geometry, geometry) : number
  • Equals(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Disjoint(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Intersects(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Touches(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Crosses(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Overlaps(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Contains(geometry, geometry) : boolean
  • Length(geometry) : number
  • Area(geometry) : number


Trees. OH NO! I personally hated my class on algorithms and data structure’s, except for the part on trees.  Trees were simple to understand and they were related to the more interesting computer animation algorithms (Skeletal Animation, global vs local transformations).  Trees are simply data structures of linked nodes.

So quadtrees are used as a form of spatial indexing.  They are a special type of tree where each internal node has exactly 4 children.  They are heavily used in partitioning 2D space by recursively subdividing it into four quadrants and regions.

This is an example of a 2D quadtree. Ignore the points for now if they confuse you. They are just point data.  This is to show how a quadtree divides an indexed area

Nick describes the quadtree very well on his blog.  Each node in the tree is represented by a bounding box covering a part of the space that in indexed, the root node would be covering the entire area.  Each node is either a leaf node with one or more indexed points, but with no children.  If it is an internal node then it has exactly 4 children, one for each quadrant obtained by diving the area covered in by half on each axes.  This next picture should make things a bit more clear:

Representation of how a quadtree is structured internally

To query a quadtree is very simple.  Since we have a good graphical representation of our quadtree we are essentially dealing with intersecting areas.  We know that the root encompasses the entire area of the quadtree, and each child is a subsection of that.  So to query, we need to examine each child node and see if the area inside that quadrant intersects with our current query.  Once we encounter a leaf node is when we have to search each entry within that area to see if it intersects with the query area.  Then you simply return it if it does.

Geohashing and Hilbert Curves

Both of these are ways of not using the quadtree to recursively look up through the tree, but rather use different methods of querying.

The order in which geohashing visits each quad
The order in which a hilbert curve visits each quad


Nick goes into a lot more detail in the geohashing and hilbert curve methods, if you are so inclined to learn more about them, click here.  However, as a game developer quadtrees and spatial databases make me think of maps in games.  Ways of representing them (mini-maps) or ways of maybe organizing our scene managers in ogre?  Who knows, but now that I am more familiar with the quadtree data structure I am sure my team an I can think of many ways to implement this useful data structure in our game.

A Theory of Fun or a Theory of …

I recently read a Theory of Fun at the recommendation of our professor.  Needless to say I enjoyed it, a bit.

I didn’t care for the beginning, the wacky art style and the handwritten note style of it was not something I am fond of.  It took a bit to get used to, that aesthetic.  My ADD distracted me from the content with the art style, it happens more than I’d like to admit.


I started to enjoy the book around the time he began to talk about how we grasp patterns and how we perceive them.  Once he began to get into how we get bored once we master a puzzle, I can relate to that fairly well.  Whenever I play a game that involves me to stop and think, or if that game involves redundant puzzles I immediately get bored.  If it’s a simple puzzle mechanic that is not rewarding enough to complete a second time, I normally stop playing the game and move onto something more interesting.

Lockpicking Skyrim

Like the Fallout/Oblivion/Skyrim lock picking.  If you could call that a puzzle, it simple involves you rotating the lock while listening for audible cues when to put pressure.  To much pressure and the stupid lock pick breaks in the most frustrating sound ever, then you are back to square one and start from the beginning.

Dragon Claw with Puzzle Markings

A better example would be the dragon claw puzzles.  You simply find these dragon claws, and open the item in your inventory to see simple glyph’s on the front of it.  Needless to say, this glyph pattern ‘puzzle’ is used to open several doors in dungeons.

Seeing past Fiction

I found this line to be especially meaningful, ” We’re very good at seeing past fiction. This is why gamers are dismissive of the ethical implications of games – They don’t see ‘get a blowjob from a hooker, then run her over.'”  He placed a picture of Grand Theft Auto III as a bit of icing on that cake of a line.  I am pretty sure Koster means that gamers are more susceptible to immersion which allows us to be dismissive of otherwise unethical decisions in games.  This is interesting because of all the mass murder and otherwise “unethical” behavior gamers have been known to show (teabagging) while playing games.  Rather than surprising most people, we just start hysterically laughing like a bunch of serial killers.

It’s good that we don’t take games to be super serious and we take them for what they are; simply games.


Koster also mentions that players will always try to optimize what they are doing.  This kind of goes back to how important survival skills are learned by animals in a playful way (games).  Players optimizing goes to show how goal oriented we are to reach that next level, or beat that boss through hacking, grinding, exploiting etc.

Self Refreshing and Interpreting Puzzles

The ending of the book really brought forth this idea of mature games and games as a form of art.  What I understood of it was that, games can never be seen as a form of art until they are left to be open for interpretation.  The idea of puzzles not having a distinct answer really confused me.  I feel that Koster means that games need to create puzzles that pose tough questions that can’t be solved easily.  I think he meant that the puzzles we have now are fairly simple like a tic-tac-toe game, they are too easily perceived.  Does that mean that he wants choices in games to become puzzles? Or puzzle-like?

I can see how that can make player decisions more meaningful, however if every single decision in the game involved deep thought, it would ruin the flow of the game.  I like my games to require some form of muscle memory and quick reflex that would help me immerse myself into the game.

I think Raph Koster’s idea (theory of fun) of a fun game is one that really poses deep controversial puzzles without definite answers that engage the player in more thought provoking ways instead of getting them pumped on action, adventure and shooters.


What does this mean to us as upcoming game designers?  Something to take away from this would be the idea of thought-provoking puzzles.  While they don’t need to be so deep that we have to put down the controller and wiki the effects of virtual genocide, they can’t be so simple that we solve them at a glance.

This also applies to level design.  Good levels should have a puzzle element ingrained in their development.  Especially for any adventure game.

Time to go see if I can make my Portal Level better!

Recap of Summer and Third Year


My penultimate year of my undergrad has now officially begun.  I had big plans for the summer and it didn’t really go exactly as planned.  I ended up shooting out a whole bunch of goals I wanted to reach for the longest time and didn’t exactly create a way to reach many of them.  I guess my main goal was to actually write them all down so I could see what I wanted to accomplish.

I ended up doing a lot more reading and game design work since it was a lot more interesting at that time.   Programming wasn’t really one of my main goals, I would much rather script in Unity.  Its so much easier.  Also I am super lazy and Unity was the faster and more immediately rewarding choice for me at that time.

Summer 2012 – Recap

The biggest accomplishment that I can show on this post of my summer is a design blog post (Long one) about my experience of the Mass Effect  trilogy.  The post is broken down into 3 main parts: Story, Gameplay and Review.  I don’t go into detail about the gameplay, because I felt that there was not much to say about it that has not already been said.  The gameplay is without a doubt very fun throughout the franchise and only gets better through each game.

The story however is deep and engaging.  It is also a clear controversy with the obvious fan backlash and media attention that caused.  I find that as a good thing in many ways, games are slowly evolving as a art medium that is not only appreciated and analysed by a small population anymore.  The backlash shows that people are expecting developers to create true forms of art instead of slapping something on last minute to appease the publisher.

Third Year

Finally our group situation has been sorted out and I am very happy to say that I was able to be placed in the group that I desired.  Kevin, the always productive member of our team.  Branden, the lazy but great programmer.  Now I have the privilege to work with Branan and David.  Branan is a very hardworking and experienced 3D modeler (something our team really needed) and David is another Jack of all trades like myself and Kevin.

We already have a game that all of us seem ready to start making.  We have decided on a pirate themed RPG.  With ship combat, devil may cry style action combat and a lush and interesting world filled with characters.  Also polish, lots of polish.  We are not going to have another blocky game with bad collision and trees that can be walked through.

Overall I am super excited for this year and I can’t wait to stop writing this and finish my character design!

Norse Gods – Germanic Gods: Thor and Loki, Asgard and Valkyrie

That’s the setting I seem to have falling in a small passionate embrace with.  So, up until this point I have mostly been doing design work on finding a proper setting and foundation to help this game move forward because (crappy but sincere excuse) I haven’t found the time to spend on working on this game.

Enough with that.  Now for the real deal.


The norse gods and Germanic history has been interpreted by Christian scholars and thus told from their probably biased perspective.  It’s almost as if the history of Islamic culture was told through the perspective of a Israeli.  They may not have been that subjective, but I am sure you can understand how stories have been filtered and over exaggerated like Euhemerism.  This may be bad for getting the exact historical details for historians, but for designers and creative people or a young aspiring game developer this is a great time period to dabble in.

The lack of detail and existing records of norse mythology around the Viking age allows for a lot of room for interpretation.  Mix this in with a nice fantasy and magical sparkle and we have a setting for a video game.

Mythology: Game-Summarised

The World Tree
Yggdrasil – “The World Tree”

In terms of norse mythology, the earth was known to be a flat disk connected to a larger system of other disks eventually meeting up in one place known as Asgard.  These disks are also seen as branches of a tree and the tree is known as Yggdrasil.  There are 9 connected worlds known as:

  • Asgard world of the gods/supernatural/deities known as Æsir
  • Vanaheimr world of the Vanir – Similar to Æsir but different. Complicated, check wiki if you really want to know.
  • Alfheim world of the Elves
  • Midgard world of the Humans
  • Jotunheim world of the Giants (Frost and Rock)
  • Nidavellir world of the Dwarfs
  • Muspell world of fire and Fire Giants
  • Nifhel world of ice and mist where the dead are
  • Hel world of the inglorious dead located within Nifhel

After reading about this I had about a thousand ideas rushing around in my head and I tried to connect all of them to make one game but that would be way over scope.

A few if not all, but most likely a few will be used as settings for the actual game.

Influencing “the Game”

The game will still be played by hacking and slashing away your enemies with edged weapons in the great barbaric style of the Vikings with their giant swords, axes and spears and chain mail.  However, the player system would work out better if it was governed by a class system similar to Mass Effect and their Online mode.  Where you are able to pick a race (Giant, Human, Elf, Dwarf) and you pick a class to fight as.  However, I don’t want to pick a battle system and just make it plain chaos.  I’d like to work on the structure of it and see how it works.  I have put it upon myself to deliver a proper handheld gaming experience that can be between 5-30 min of fun in the palm of your hand.  This means something easy enough to pick up and play with a really smooth learning curve, but it needs to have a backbone that will allow experienced players to submerge themselves deeper into the gameplay.

The one key element of Norse mythology that I want driving the plot of the game forward is the idea of Ragnarök.  Ragnarök is a series of events known as a great war that leads to an apocalypse where Gods fight and the worlds are plagued with natural disasters.  At the end the world gets submerged with water only for it to resurface later with only two human survivors (Adam and Eve? – Christians…).

Why was that information useful?  In Norse mythology there are three things that can happen in death.  If you are a wicked and evil human, you are sent to Hel, in Nifhel.  If you had died in battle, the goddess Freyja would take you to Fólkvangr, a meadow similar to heaven.  The great warriors who die in great battle are led to Valhalla by Valkyrie’s.  Valhalla is an enormous hall in Asgard where legendary heroes prepare for the battle of Ragnarök.

This will be the main driving force of the game.  You play as a norse warrior in Midgard.  The events leading up to Ragnarök foretold in the scriptures have been happening around you.  It is up to the player to decide if they want to fight for glory and pride with Odin and join the heroes in Valhalla.  Or to fight for power and destruction with Loki.

The Game

My current vision of the game is to start as a Norse warrior.  I’d like to have this game have both genders instead of pure male.  Even though female Norse warriors were mainly seen as Valkyrie’s.  What I could do is create an Oblivion like gender system, where one gender has distinct advantages over another with a bit of Mass Effect alien characteristics.  Mass effect has a race of pure female biotic warriors that are almost to badass, with this game I can have a race of all female members.  Maybe Elves, or a group of Amazonian warriors (Greek mythology and Germanic?).

I want the main battle system to be comprised of taps and slashes on the touch-screen.  Rather then having a plain one-handed weapon attack.  There should be room for two finger gestures for dual handed weapons or quick slashes.  Taps for quick arrow shots, long swipes for giant claymore slashes and swirls for flail attacks.


Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 reaches several boundaries of narrative perfection in video games.  Even with the fan fallout in the past year with the dissatisfaction with the endings (which I will address later) I still believe that the entire trilogy is a staple of the video game industries finest work and one of the best games I have had the honour of playing. I will attempt to blog about my experience and review of this series and why I really liked it.  There will be fairly large spoilers to address the main points of the game, but the game has been out for long enough for hardcore fans to have played it.


Mass Effect
Mass Effect (Thane, Miranda, Shepard, Grunt, Jack)

What is Mass effect?  I wrote a post at the start of July to address this, click here. SKIP this if you have played all three games.

Mass Effect 1 – Introduce players to the world, lore and setting of franchise.  Show off their unique gameplay twist of shooter and RPG elements with a great narrative backbone that helps drive the plot and keep characters interested and involved with the progression of the story.  Very player driven and focused on player progression.  You start of as a soldier (Commander Shepard) in the Earth Alliance Military program and end of as a Council Spectre fighting for the Safety of the Galaxy.  At the end you learn about the true enemy of the series and a threat so large that it puts the lives of every sentient being in the Galaxy in Jeopardy.  The Reapers.  Saren, the primary antagonist of ME1 is eventually found to be a indoctrinated puppet of a Reaper named Sovereign.

Mass Effect: Reaper

Mass Effect 2 – Two years after the events of ME1, a ‘new’ threat approaches.  The Collectors, a group of insect-like humanoids that are abducting human colonies an harvesting them.  The Galactic Council is still refusing  to believe the oncoming threat of the Reapers, an extremely advanced race of synthetic-organic life that wipe out all advanced sentient life every 50,000 years.  Commander Shepard’s job throughout this game is to defeat the Collector threat and discover its origin.  He does this by assembling a powerful team of Aliens and Humans though various galactic missions funded by Cerberus, a survivalist-paramilitary group focused on Humanities ascension through any means.  At the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard finds out the true identity of the Collectors,  they are indoctrinated versions of the Protheans being used as slaves by another Reaper, Harbinger, to harvest humanity.  The Protheans were the dominant intelligent race prior to their extinction by the Reapers.  They had left Prothean beacons and other forms of intelligent archives that were used by the current races (Asari, Turians, Salarians and Humans) to advance their own civilizations.  The defeat of the Collectors spurs the attention of the Reapers who were hiding in the darkness of space, now heading for the Milky Way.

Mass Effect: The Collectors

Mass Effect 3 – Reaper War.  The threat of a Reaper attack is as true as possible when they invade the Galaxy and attack Earth among other planets.  Shepard must retreat to build an army big enough and strong enough for a final counter attack to take back Humanities home.  Depending on the player’s actions on several missions, other races with either ally themselves with Humanity’s rebellion or fall to the Reapers inevitably.  Humanity recovers Prothean schematics of s super weapon known as the Crucible that has a possibility of ending the war.  The rest of the game involves a coordination of Shepard creating an army while Hackett develops the Crucible.  In Shepard’s journey, he is faced with the attack of both the Reapers and the Illusive Man, leader of Cerberus.  The Reapers are focused on the harvesting and destroying sentient life whereas Cerberus’ goal is to control them.  Eventually Shepard and Hackett lead a final attack to take back Earth with the finished Crucible.  Shepard is faced with an end-game decision to control the Reapers, destroy Reapers and all synthetic life, or harmonize with the synthetics and synthesize into a new race of synthetic and organic life.

Mass Effect: Dialogue Wheel


The story is progressed through the use of dialogue wheel.  Where the right ride of the wheel involve moral and immoral (positive and negative) choices and the left side allows for deeper Paragon and Renegade choices and can open up more dialogue options.  Shepard must build his reputation to unlock more advanced choices in dialogue by either being moral or immoral throughout the story.  Sometimes there are clear lines between Paragon and Renegade, but there are times where there is a third choice that can be seen as the ‘grey area’ of understanding. There are also quick-time events that give the player a chance to be impulsive and make a clear Paragon or Renegade choice.  This can be between a positive social interaction that develops your relationship with another character, or shooting an annoying NPC for rambling.  You can also punch a reporter in the face for slander.


Mass Effect 3: Gameplay

A unique blend of shooter mechanics with the twist of RPG attacks, party creation and different character classes allow Mass Effect to be a truly unique game for every player.  The entire game is built around the player actions and player decisions.  I personally played as a Soldier for ME1 and ME2 and a Vanguard in ME3. Soldiers are very basic and powerful characters with the ability to take down every enemy with pure force and destructive power. Soldiers focus on gunfire and combat powers. Engineers are tech specialists that revolve around manipulating their environment and disabling their enemies.  Engineers can use drones, hacking and other tech powers. Infiltrators are Engineer-Soldiers that are suited to a stealth play style.  With several tech powers and the use of tactical cloaks to become invisible, Infiltrators are the ninja’s of the ME series. Adepts are ultimate biotics that affect the physical world with the power of their mind using raw biotic power and mass effect fields.  They can warp, throw, pull and manipulate the mass of their enemies using dark energy. Vanguards are the complete offensive Adept-Soldiers that use quick brutal force to dispose of their enemies.  Using their biotic charge and nova abilities, they can instantly close in on any enemy and deal damage in a high risk high reward play style. The great part of the Mass Effect franchise is their attempt to make the game unique to every player.  Each battle can be attempted in hundreds of ways depending on which squad mates you bring into battle and what character class you play as.


The difficult part.  Explaining if the game was good or bad.  By now you can probably tell that I loved it.  I thought MY ending was satisfying granted there were a few plot holes that can be highlighted in one of the many videos explaining why they hated the endings.  I don’t believe that Mass Effect should be reviewed as a whole game or if each ending should be placed side by side and analysed for their differences.  Mass Effect is not Skyrim, its not a game where you play for 100% completion for every possible ending and every weapon.  It is a user experience, meant to be played and enjoyed and the ending you receive is tailored to your play-through.

Before playing Mass Effect I was watching a lot of sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica. For those who are unfamiliar, that show’s premise revolves around a war between Cylons and Humans.  Cylons are a race of self aware Synthetic beings like the Geth in Mass Effect. Cylons willingly rebelled against their Human creators because they believe humanity is flawed.  This is in essence why I liked Mass Effect so much.  I was able to understand the story because I took the time to read the codex’s involved myself within the story because I found it interesting.  I was actually role playing.

Mass Effect is a story about a war between synthetics and organics.  From the first game the main enemies you fight as you progress through the game are the Geth, the synthetic race of networked self aware A.I.’s.  As you progress further into the game you gain a better understanding of the synthetic mind that the developers have created and depending on what kind of person you are, you either hate them or you like them.  Thus the choices of destruction and control.  The game puts you in charge of the lives of trillions and entire civilizations like the Krogan, Racchni, Geth and eventually the Reapers.  So when people begin to argue over things like “oh how did squadmate ‘x’ get to the Normandy at the end of the game when ‘x’ was in my party in the final battle?”.  These are overhead, minor plot holes that divert and dilute the entire endgame experience.

Should this game be defined by its ending as being a good or bad game to play? First of, I think the fact that people who are angry about the endings means that they were so invested and involved with the story that they feel cheated that they were not satisfied.  I think this is in part of the way the endings were shown graphically.  If people look at the literal choices, they do look like this:

Mass Effect 3 Endings – Literal

This is the best way to describe what people felt going into the game and how they felt leaving it.  This is in part a problem from the marketing team and producers.  They made it seem like they were going to be 16 completely different endings depending on every single choice the player had made through the game up until the end.  People were even more angry when they saw 3 similar things happen throughout every ending, only with a different colour explosion in the end.  I feel like the endings do need to have more differences between them.  Even though the DLC added a special 4th ending that is essentially a giant failure of the mission, there should have been other endings that were completely different from one another.  For example, there should have been a complete happy ending where we see the aftermath of the squad and the galaxy.  Throughout the game the NPC’s and your squad talked about their dreams and goals once this war was over, it would have been nice to see that graphically.

The other problem was the war assets.  One of the major elements of the game, creating an army and getting a military readiness rating was not used properly at all in the climax.  In ME2, during the final mission, the player made serious choices in the battle that impacted the lives of their crew.  When people died the player felt responsible.  In ME3, as soon as the battle for Earth began, the player lost control of the battle.  Players were simply a high ranking soldier for the entire battle up until the end where they make a huge decision.  It would have been a lot better for the designers to incorporate some sort of system where the player can see their war assets and this entire army that they spent the game creating in action, where they can place units in areas and see those battles take place.

Sad Shepard is Sad

The reason why people feel cheated, is because the battle plays out almost the same in every single play through.  You never see the Krogran army your recruited actually affecting the war, or the giant dreadnoughts fighting the Reapers as you would have hoped.  It’s almost as if the last game went in a different narrative direction of the other games.  ME1 and ME2 had you find and recruit deep and interesting characters to join your squad.  ME3 was all about Shepard, there was very little interaction with your squadmates which sucked.  This gives players very little closure in the end, I was personally very attached to my squad.  Seeing the final cut-scene of the fate of the Normandy and your squad seemed very out of place and out of character, its almost insulting.

Finally, the final ending.  Right when the fighting stops and Shepard is introduced to some new character at the very end of the game that offers you the three final choices.  I find that this may have been the design teams only way of agreeing upon a conclusion to the game, but the end product was done very badly.  When the player is faced with the answers to all the questions they had, they answers were not satisfying.

Mass Effect – Reaper Reasoning

The other issue with the ending was the fall of the protagonist and the decisions that were taken away from the player at the end of the game.  At the very end, the decisions and dialogue options were very minimal, throughout the game we have questioned and fought for everything.  The designers made Shepard stand in the final showdown, half dead and almost about to give up.  It should have been at this point where Shepard stood as his strongest in this final hour and became the galactic hero the player has built him up to be.  Rather then getting pigeon holed into three final choices and forcing to pick one, accepting this final fate.

Just a side note: The whole reasoning between the war of the Reapers and Organic life was because synthetics and organics will never get along.  However in the game, Shepard single handedly creates peace between Geth and the Quarians so that they live happily in co-existence on their planet.  This is also shown with the relationship of Jeff and EDI, the unshackled A.I. that Shepard educated.  Instead your only choice is to remove all shred of organic in your life to synthesize with the other synthetic race.  The whole game you fight for diversity of alien life and in the end you give up and choose a homogenized race?  I still wonder if questions like these were brought up during development, and addressed otherwise I would be disappointed in the ending.

Overall, the ending on this series is still a controversial one for me, who has accepted the ending and is fairly satisfied with it.  I’d rather not look at it in terms of politics of EA forcing Bioware to make the ending like this to open up doors for DLC or if the development team got lazy and didn’t have enough time.

Mass Effect 1 – 2



I loved the first game and adored the second.  The thing that really drew me to like this game was the world/story and design.

The first game has a few issues here and there looking at it now, but that game released on 2007.  The world was filled with deep interesting lore, and the story was very easy to get into and interlace with.  The first game gave you several choices that allowed to you impact certain parts of the story and make major decisions in the game.

Granted I am writing this after knowing very little about Mass Effect 3, and the controversial endings they released.

What I did like was how the first and second game worked well with each other.


SPOILER Mass Effect 2 Ending Decision Chart

The first game had a few interesting decisions, and looking at their impacts on the story I can say the game was built very nicely to create a good unique play experience.  For example, if I had chosen to do something in the first game, it would have a fairly minor impact on the story in the second game.  A few people live or die, its more for entertainment purposes.  The second game allows you to make many more decisions that together shape the third game in a more important manner.

The other thing I noted is how easy it was to do this.  Looking at this chart that depicts the choices made in the final chapter of Mass Effect 2, creating this chart is something I am very capable of doing.  In fact most of the decisions are relatively simple.  It just involves organisation and a knowledge of proper conversation mapping and decision mapping skills.

Why is it that the game was so fun even if it is easy to make choices during conversation/gameplay? I think it is because of the world.


Dragon Age allows the player to make some decisions in game.  Fable allows for some decisions.  What makes Mass Effect different? Polish.

The deep codex’s and the intergalactic theme with the superb story writing and characters.  All these things come together so nicely to make a worthwhile game.  Looking back at Dragon Age, I could not remember very many memorable characters.  Fable has that witch lady and the rest of the game revolves around the character.  I am not so egotistical to like myself that much.


Mass effect really knows how to write a good story with controversial decisions where the repercussions of those decisions are not so simple as black and white.  In many games if you take the high road, you end up gaining the love of the people and loyalty.  You take the bad road you end up with more power and wealth.  Sometimes these choices are evident in ME, however there are many times when they really make you question your ethics and morality.

A good example *SPOILER* would be towards the end of Mass Effect.  You acquire a member of a Networked Artificial Intelligent  race of robots called the Geth created by another race known as the Quarians.  The Geth crew member is known as Legion and the Quarian member of your crew is Tali.  The Geth and the Quarians hate each other more then Pakistani’s and Indians, Jews and Natzi’s, Tom and Jerry combined.  The Quarians lost a war to the Geth and are now forced to spend their lives in special suits to survive while flying in space in giant ships since they cant sustain life on other planets without their suits.  What you have here is a disaster, two crew members hating each other that you have to calm down or pick a side.

Legion and Tali – Guess who

Aside from the bickering, you are sent to special missions for each character. Legions mission involved you sneaking on a Geth ship and loading a virus into their network.  The current virus turns the Geth into ‘heretics’ that only want to wage war on organic life.  The two options you face are to blow up the station, or re-write the virus to integrate the ‘heretics’ with the rest of the Geth.  In essence its like having the power to convert all Islamic humans to Christianity, because they cause war and believe in suicide bombing and the Christian humans are better for you.  Or you could just nuke the home town of all the Islamic people.

This is one of the major and controversial decisions you have to make in the game.  People assume that they are just stupid robots, but in reality they are so much more.  They are an advanced sentient race that are self aware and can self improve.


Overall, I am excited to start Mass Effect 3 and find out the fate of Shepard and his crewmates.  I can tell you that aside from all the controversy about the endings, this will be a great game.  Even if the final outcome isn’t as player imposed as you would have hoped, the developers decided on that for a good reason.  There is no point in playing a game that you know what will happen because you picked it.  The greatness comes when someone designs a player experience and your input is taken into account for a result.

I think it would be more upsetting if they were 3 very black and white endings with one general ending.  Even in Mass Effect 2 they hint that not every decision will be black and white, there will always be grey area.  I hope the endings do have some polar opposites, but are filled wit grey area that make them very difficult to pick in between.