July 10, 2008

Hero Fatigue

I finally finished playing Mass Effect a few days ago, and it was everything I expected it to be. Pretty graphics, great dialogue, good characters, fun fight system… all in all, a fantastic game. The one criticism I have of the game isn’t so much about Mass Effect as it is about the state of games in general. I’m tired of being the epic hero.

Sure you can play the bad guy if you choose the “mean” dialogue options, but whether you’re good or bad, you’re still the epic figure in charge of saving the universe. Really then, my issue is with the “epic” part and not the “hero” part. I get it. Games now cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, so anything less than an epic experience seems like too little bang for your buck.

I blame Bioware for being too good at what they do. The dialogue system, the backstory, the universe itself is just too good to only be capable of telling one type of story. The sad thing is that’s all we’re likely to get out of them (until an equally epic sequel hits, that is). I thoroughly enjoyed playing the Star Wars-esque space opera the whole way through, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much more amazing it would be to play a Maltese Falcon or a Seven Samurai or a Die Hard or a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (I’m talking story structures, here, not direct adaptation) style game using this same engine.

The engine is already built, so they might as well squeeze as much out of it as possible. Instead of one single epic that takes 30-40 hours to complete, why not build a half-dozen or so 2-5 hour long stories using the same engine and slightly more human storylines? You could call it Mass Effect Tales or something evocative of a short story collection. By doing so, they would bring us one step closer to legitimizing games as a storytelling medium–and for a fraction of the cost!