Mass Effect Writer Reveals Discarded Ending Ideas

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Mass Effect Writer Reveals Discarded Ending Ideas

Drew Karpyshyn

Drew Karpyshyn, the lead writer on Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, recently spoke about some of the ideas for the conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy that were considered but ultimately discarded.

The ending of Mass Effect 3, and by extension the entire Mass Effect trilogy, is what you might generously describe as not-universally-popular. I didn't hate it, although my judgment was admittedly blurred somewhat by the emotional impact of the final, ultimate end to Commander Shepard's story, but it sure wasn't the best wrap-up ever, and even now I'm not entirely clear as to what happened, or why.

It is what it is, but as revealed by Drew Karpyshyn, the lead writer on the first two Mass Effect games, it could've been something entirely different. In a lengthy and very interesting interview with Videogame Sophistry on AM 640 in Toronto, Karpyshyn talked about a few of the trilogy-ending scenarios that were kicked around while he was still on the job.

"Some of the ideas are a little bit wacky, a little bit crazy," he said. "There was at one point some ideas that maybe Shepard was actually an alien and didn't know it, but we thought that was maybe a little too close to Revan [of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic]. At one point we thought, well, maybe at some point Shepard gets his essence transferred into some kind of a machine, becomes sort of a cyborg and becomes sort of a bridge between organic and synthetic life."

Karpyshyn also touched on "dark energy," a concept that was introduced in Mass Effect 2 but ultimately never went anywhere. "One of the things we considered is that maybe dark energy is something that only organics can access for various techo-science magic reasons, we hadn't necessarily got into that yet. Maybe using this dark energy was having sort of a ripple effect on, for want of a better term, the space-time continuum," he said. "The Reapers kept wiping out organic life because organics would eventually evolve to where they were using biotics and dark energy, and that was an entropic effect that potentially was going to hasten the end of the universe. And being immortal beings, that is something they did not want to see."

"Then we thought, well, let's take it to the next level, maybe the Reapers are looking at a way to stop this. Maybe there's an inevitable descent into the opposite of the big bang, like the big crunch, the end of the universe, and they realize that the only way to stop it is through using biotics, and since they can't do it, that's sort of why they keep rebuilding society. They're trying to find the perfect group to use biotics," he continued. "The Asari were close but they weren't quite right, the Proteans maybe were close, and they kept trying again and again, where all of it's sort of a giant experiment, as they're trying to find the right mix of mental fortitude and biotic ability and whatever else in the genetic code that allows a particular species to use biotics to stop the end of the universe, or maybe ascend into Reaperhood and still keep this biotic power."

They're interesting and potentially solid ideas, but Karpyshyn cautioned daydreaming fans that they're a long way from fully-cooked and likely would've ended up a disappointment for some people anyway. "[Fans] hear a couple of things they like and in their minds, they add in all the details that they specifically want, and they talk about how awesome it is," he said. "And I think it's because people are basically hopeful, and we want it to be great, and so we imagine it to be exactly what we want it to be, but nothing ever is exactly what we want it to be... I'm a little leery about going into too much detail because whatever we came up with, it probably wouldn't have been what people imagine it would be."

Source: AM 640 Toronto

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It probably wouldn't have been, but it would have nice to see it for ourselves.

So the starchild was a better idea than those?

Jesus he's got a big neck....

anthony87:
Jesus he's got a big neck....

You got a problem with that neck shape, dude? Then you've got a problem with ME. <rears up, flexes neck threateningly>

OT: What are the chances that a set of modders are going to say "DONE" and make one of them? It's kind of their schtick.

All of those ideas were better than everything in ME3.

See I was never disappointed with the original simply because my favourite thing about the entire ME mythology was the Reapers and the explanation for their motivation is the thing I was worried about being crap. Shepard's ending was almost always going to be crap simply because the classic 'hero's journey' style story the franchise was heading toward is always kind of dull. And I really liked the original Reaper explanation and I actually quite like these too. Either way the Reaper's aren't necessarily 'evil' per-se, it's much greyer than that and there's a lingerig 'greater evil' so it's all good.
Although I did always like the dark matter angle and was a little sad that never got developed further. Write more ME novels Drew... Please...

All of those ideas are quite poorly thought out and have less to do with Mass Effect than the actual ending (except of course for the Dark Energy endings, they at least tie into the games). To be honest, I'm still very much happy with the ending we got, and I wish that the internet could move on.

I like how the dark matter ending sounds, but I think the one they decided on works better if they'd executed it better. In fact, if they'd embraced the indoctrination ending I think it would have been brilliant. Failing that, an ending that allowed for a conventional victory if you and an absurdly high war readiness would have helped.

Yeah, I remember hearing about the Dark Matter one before. Was a bit mad because they were so planning in ME2 on that being a big thing in ME3, and then.....NOTHING!

The whole 'dark energy destroying the universe' thing sounds an awful lot like the ending plot to Gurren Lagaan.

Next time they decide a story needs a trilogy to be told they should really have at least some sort of decent ending to work towards from the beginning. That's pretty basic storytelling.

A (competent) author doesn't write two-thirds of their novel before they start seriously thinking about their ending, and they certainly know the ballpark their aiming for from early on. From what I've read on Mass Effect's development Casey Hudson vomited up the ending we got only a couple of month's before the game was due to be printed to disc.

The sad thing with ME, was that the story-telling (while relying heavily on stock elements and cliches) was very good, particularly given the relatively low standard found in the videogame medium*, it was the most appealing element of that franchise and they ballsed it up with that travesty of an ending.

* Not a slight towards gaming, I just think the medium has the potential to not only equal the more traditional forms (like film) but eventually surpass them.

anthony87:
Jesus he's got a big neck....

thought the same thing, i'm not sure if that is a head, or a gigantic thumb attached to his torso. good luck twisting his neck, if that is muscle in there it'll take one strong fucker (e.g. king kong) to choke that bastard.

OT:

neppakyo:
All of those ideas were better than everything in ME3.

also agreed. fucking star child was the worst idea since...well fuck, quite hard to choose what is actively as bad as it.

I do like the idea of this getting out there though.

I still think the whole "dark energy" thing would've been a terrible idea, and here's why I think that...

My writing is nowhere near any kind of tangible level compared to Mr. Karpyshyn here. But I've done enough research to know that you don't introduce something that major at the very end of a narrative. It's worse than a deus ex machina when you think about it, because instead of a random object showing up to tie up a narrative's loose ends, you have a random [semi-]new concept that can't go anywhere because it only showed up right at the end.

I guess it's whatever at this point. While I personally never had much of a problem (except for that goddamn kid; I DON'T FUCKING CARE! GO AWAY, YOU LITTLE BASTARD!), I know there are still a great deal of people who feel like ME3 personally spunked in their breakfast as they were eating it, so... yeah.

Anti-Robot Man:
Next time they decide a story needs a trilogy to be told they should really have at least some sort of decent ending to work towards from the beginning. That's pretty basic storytelling.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: I've reason to believe that while BioWare said they planned on making Mass Effect, they weren't sure how to actually continue the story after the first game. It's pretty apparent (to me, at least) with ME2 that they seemed to be making shit up as they went along.

Did someone count for how long nobody mentioned the ME3 ending on this site? I'd like to know if that's the case.

I prefer the ending as it was in the Extended Cut to these ideas. I just wish that we had Harbinger instead of the ghost kid and no synthesis option.

The fan-conceived Indoctrination Theory was even better. Too bad that one turned out to be false.

anthony87:
Jesus he's got a big neck....

Son YOU r disappoint.

SageRuffin:

Anti-Robot Man:
Next time they decide a story needs a trilogy to be told they should really have at least some sort of decent ending to work towards from the beginning. That's pretty basic storytelling.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: I've reason to believe that while BioWare said they planned on making Mass Effect, they weren't sure how to actually continue the story after the first game. It's pretty apparent (to me, at least) with ME2 that they seemed to be making shit up as they went along.

Oh totally, they didn't know the game was going to sell well enough when they first wrote it. That's why the lead in to the next game was so weak.

Those don't sound too bad, obviously not fleshed out enough but not as terrible as a space ghost giving you a choice of which colour you like best and ignoring all of the decisions you made throughout all three games.

To be honest a Scooby Doo ending would have been better. Shepard pulls a mask off a reaper and look! It was old Mr. Jenkins from the sawmill all along! He was just trying to smuggle diamonds on to the Citadel. He wouldn't gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling Normandy kids.

Still a better ending than... oh wait, nevermind. Actually yeah, the original ending does feel a bit better than these half-finished ideas as they stand now.

I just sorta wanted an ending with my character standing on top of Harbinger's lifeless metal corpse, lover around one arm and firing a gun into space with the other hand. All species sort of continue their tension but the whole order of the galaxy doesn't change through some magic green/blue/red light. This is essentially what DAO was and no one complained, in fact everyone sort of liked the ending. You know, the one where the bad guy is vanquished and what you've done during the game actually mattered because it led you to a point where they could be vanquished. DA2's ending sucked because it didn't go that route, it just tried to be "creative" and twist-tastic.

There are really only two ways to write an ending... either plot the story out from start to finish and basically write everything else with the ending in mind, or if you're going to do it as you go along, just make a satisfying ending. Getting too creative with it rarely works. Sometimes it's not horrible, but it's rarely great.

And with all those choices, they still went with this:
image

bug_of_war:
All of those ideas are quite poorly thought out and have less to do with Mass Effect than the actual ending (except of course for the Dark Energy endings, they at least tie into the games). To be honest, I'm still very much happy with the ending we got, and I wish that the internet could move on.

While I think the ending we got is awful, I am of the notion that these were pretty bad and it's quite disheartening to think how half-assed their plans for the series was.

SageRuffin:
I still think the whole "dark energy" thing would've been a terrible idea, and here's why I think that...

My writing is nowhere near any kind of tangible level compared to Mr. Karpyshyn here. But I've done enough research to know that you don't introduce something that major at the very end of a narrative. It's worse than a deus ex machina when you think about it, because instead of a random object showing up to tie up a narrative's loose ends, you have a random [semi-]new concept that can't go anywhere because it only showed up right at the end.

I guess it's whatever at this point. While I personally never had much of a problem (except for that goddamn kid; I DON'T FUCKING CARE! GO AWAY, YOU LITTLE BASTARD!), I know there are still a great deal of people who feel like ME3 personally spunked in their breakfast as they were eating it, so... yeah.

It wasn't introduced late in the narrative though. There were hints about it in the first game and even more in the second game. Remember the Haestrom star when you went to go get Tali in ME2? She was sent there to study why it was aging so rapidly. That was a tie in for it. They were going to expand on it further but decided not to, but there were still bits of it left in the game.

I read about this a while back. The reapers were attempting to stop the end of the universe like what was said in the article, but they ran into some problems.

1) Protheans weren't good enough with biotics and turning them into collectors didn't work out too well.
2) They were probably going to harvest the Asari but The protheans threw a wrench into their plans with the signal and the keepers, forcing Sovereign to play the long game in ME1
3) The human reaper that might have saved everything was destroyed by you in ME2

I personally think anything would be better than the technological singularity plot. The whole game exists on the premise of you performing the impossible, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, etc. You have the option to get the Quarian and Geth to make peace, but star brat comes and says its all for nothing. Bullshit! Grrr.

Ishal:
It wasn't introduced late in the narrative though. There were hints about it in the first game and even more in the second game. Remember the Haestrom star when you went to go get Tali in ME2? She was sent there to study why it was aging so rapidly. That was a tie in for it. They were going to expand on it further but decided not to, but there were still bits of it left in the game.

I read about this a while back. The reapers were attempting to stop the end of the universe like what was said in the article, but they ran into some problems.

1) Protheans weren't good enough with biotics and turning them into collectors didn't work out too well.
2) They were probably going to harvest the Asari but The protheans threw a wrench into their plans with the signal and the keepers, forcing Sovereign to play the long game in ME1
3) The human reaper that might have saved everything was destroyed by you in ME2

I personally think anything would be better than the technological singularity plot. The whole game exists on the premise of you performing the impossible, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, etc. You have the option to get the Quarian and Geth to make peace, but star brat comes and says its all for nothing. Bullshit! Grrr.

I do remember the mission on Haestrom. And I also remember that that particular detail died almost as soon as it was brought up.

Like I said to another person, I think while BioWare were planning to make Mass Effect a sprawling series from the outset, they weren't really sure how to after the first game. Kinda like Halo.

And please stop reminding me of the punk-ass little kid...

anthony87:
Jesus he's got a big neck....

Oh good, I'm not the only one who thinks that every time The Escapist drags out that pic.

Yup, all those ideas had potential even if some of them are pretty damn far fetched. No use dwelling on it anymore, the damage is done.

The truth is ME3's ending would have been fine if they just let you pull out a victory there at the end, no "better" endings but "hey you still gotta die" in an attempt to be edgy, just a solid victory snatch. Everyone would have gone home happy and the themes of the entire series wouldn't have been completely bjorked. They set Shepard up to always be capable of doing the impossible, they stopped the Reapers not once, but twice, three times even if you count some of the ME2 DLC.

If you're going to have your hero die at endgame, it needs to be setup and telegraphed through the whole of series and not included as an 11th hour Mary Sue twist.

Karpyshyn's ideas aren't great, but they're still better than how they handled the ending of the game overall.

this news is older than old. it wasnt entirely formal, but drew talked about the discarded endings more than a year ago.

anyway, just reinforces my theory that they never really planned the ME trilogy if they were coming up with that ridiculous s**t at the end. not half as ridiculous as the ending they went with, but still, it would be a disappointment regardless.

it is often better to be remembered for sucking than to be forgotten for mediocrity. maybe that was their reasoning behind the ending they chose.

To be honest I think all of these endings are poor. Some may not be as bad as what we saw, but they all have one inherent problem. They are all hell bent on a twist from left field. What was fun about the twist in knights of the old republic is that it was written in from the start, thus all the flashbacks when revealed. Here the writers seem determined on pulling out a plot line from nowhere, which is the only place you can pull out a twist when you haven't written it in from the start.

Here is a radical idea for an ending: the crucible fires.

I know crazy right? But I put this to you: How many of use were so very pleased at the scene where Shepard and Anderson are sitting on a step, that wasn't there before, looking at the earth they just saved? I know I was pleased as peach. Even though there were many a problem, I could over look the relatively small amounts of flaws in narrative coherence because the ending didn't shatter the con world or pull out some contrivance that changes the entire universe with little logic or reason. The reason people were/are so upset with the ending was contrast. There is such quality and such failure in close proximaty that it is incredible. If they just kept it simple and brought the ending down for a nice easy conclusion we would all be talking about what a relative master piece mass effect 3 was.

Just when you thought it was safe to move on, someone just has to bring it right back up.

The ideas he mentioned sound off as endings because they are not actually endings. They are plot points to that would drive the narrative of the game. Basically replacing the crucible magic maguffin, which in my opinion would be great.

All in all it doesn't really matter. They all seem like someone made them up as they went, which is probably what happened, but what needed to change was your choices needed to have consequences. Wide ranging ones, determining missions and the nature of the Reaper conflict, and none of that seems to have been considered.

If they actually went for the stopping organic evolution from destroying the fabric of reality route, it would have made for an actually decent ending. Would have actually given the Reapers a legitimate justification for wiping out life in the universe.

They didn't. This saddens me.

SageRuffin:
I still think the whole "dark energy" thing would've been a terrible idea, and here's why I think that...

My writing is nowhere near any kind of tangible level compared to Mr. Karpyshyn here. But I've done enough research to know that you don't introduce something that major at the very end of a narrative. It's worse than a deus ex machina when you think about it, because instead of a random object showing up to tie up a narrative's loose ends, you have a random [semi-]new concept that can't go anywhere because it only showed up right at the end.

I guess it's whatever at this point. While I personally never had much of a problem (except for that goddamn kid; I DON'T FUCKING CARE! GO AWAY, YOU LITTLE BASTARD!), I know there are still a great deal of people who feel like ME3 personally spunked in their breakfast as they were eating it, so... yeah.

They'd actually laid some breadcrumbs for the dark energy bit in ME2. Now, granted, they wouldn't have been able to just slap a new ending onto what they put out, but they definitely teased at dark energy being a big, potentially cataclysmic, thing in a couple places in ME2 (most prominently, Tali's recruitment mission). More would need to be done with it in ME3 to make proper use of it, but they laid the groundwork for it.

Personally, I thought the concept of the ending we got, at the highest level, was fine. It's got a couple issues here and there, but no more so than any of the (many) alternatives that I've seen suggested. They just utterly failed at the execution, for exactly the reason you bring up here. They introduced the Catalyst as the source/controller of the Reapers, a completely and totally new concept, 10 minutes before the game ended. It was deus ex machina of the highest possible order and a complete failure in storytelling. If they'd stopped the game right before that elevator appeared, something like Shepard stumbles over to the control panel and the Destroy ending goes (or have the Prothean VI popup again and offer the choice between Destroy and Control), it would have been a damn good ending, especially with the Extended Cut changes.

And when removing a key/central piece of the storytelling turns it from "utter shit" to "actually kinda good", you know there's something wrong with the author.

Agayek:
Snippage

No argument there. Like another person said, I think the best course of action would've been the obvious one: the Crucible fires, Reapers get fucked, Joker tries to bang EDI (for some reason) and shatters his entire lower body, the quarians get their homeworld back, my FemShep and Sam get their little white fence, etc etc lolwtfbbq.

A foregone conclusion it may have been, but it certainly beats the shit out of that fucking Starchild.

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