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Mass Effect Becoming Too Mass-ive?

With Mass Effect literally just on the horizon, releasing not more than a few hours after the sun sets on the day that I am writing this. The topic of, gamers' discussions will soon be changing to the next game in the series, among other games on the currently saturated game market. Everyone's favorite thing to do is speculate about what comes next, even the very second after they get what they have been waiting so long for. Sports casters begin talk of who will be in the championship next year only hours after the game itself ends, many people come out of a movie already talking about what will happen in the next one.

Gamers are no different, actually... we may be worse. Modern Warfare 2 had only just come out and already the GI Staff, or at least one of its members, had come up with a list of things they want to see in Modern Warfare 3. With the announcement of a new Bully game from Rockstar no where in sight, a wish list has already been created for that. And of course we can't forget the topic of this blog, Mass Effect, whose third installment was already being discussed with the designers themselves just as all the characters for the second were being revealed. I'm going to go out on the same limb and discuss Mass Effect 3 a little. This is actually meant to be be a look at the series as a whole, but with Mass Effect 3 already confirmed it has to be in here.

Is Mass Effect going to get too big?

With Mass Effect 2 building upon the story of the first game, there is sure to be an exponential increase in the amount of paths you have to choose from. If you are playing off a saved game from Mass Effect then the experience itself will likely be drastically different than that of your friend who is playing off a default starting point in number two, or even from someone who played through the first game on the same moral path as you. With the decisions you make in two already carrying over those from the first, and Mass Effect 3 being extremely likely to carry over decisions from two, how big will that game get? At this rate, Mass Effect 3 will be managing two full games worth of decisions. The idea that we could be seeing three games worth of experience come into play by the end of the final installment is both a thrilling and terrifying concept. As a game designer myself, trust me, it's terrifying.

If you think of the branching storyline of the Mass Effect universe as an inverted pyramid you will see what I mean. Every brick on the top, the largest part, represents a potential ending to the third game, with every brick in between it and the bottom being a decision you make on your way to the ending. I want you to think of this as taking into account every decision you make as you play the game and considering your overall standing at the end, not just the final scene you get. You have to think of it that way because, as BioWare has already stated, EVERY decision you made in the first game will effect the second. If we assume that this will be true from the second to the third game as well, then the scope of the games interaction system becomes overwhelming in size. From a designer's point of view it's like standing a few miles away from Mt. Everest and being told you have to hike from your current position to the top, and back. It is simply a feat of unimaginably mammoth proportions.

If, indeed, events from the entire series come into play in the third game, we could see one of the broadest video game storylines ever. There have been a plethora of games that have spawned  trilogies, but all of the ones that I can think of have had static storylines. Tales that are completely, or mostly, locked off from influence by a player's in game actions. Mass Effect's story presents an opportunity for players to experience more ending scenarios than ever before. But this utter massiveness presents an issue that even games with static storylines have had to deal with. And that problem can only be magnified into something of epic proportions with the evolution of a game like Mass Effect.

With so many loose ends to tie up between games, and such a wide variety of options that carrying a save game into a sequel presents, it becomes a difficult task to incorporate all previously made decisions into one game. To do so with the flawless execution expected from products of a studio like BioWare seems unlikely, if not impossible. If anyone can do it, they can, but it is still overbearing in many aspects. The biggest factor in this may be how exactly the second game plays out, and whether or not decisions you make in the second game that are influenced by decisions you made in the first game will be relevant in the third. It's confusing, yes, just read it a few times.

So, what do you all think? Do you think BioWare will flourish or fail in the harsh environment that they may have created for themselves? Or do you think that there will be some mitigating circumstance in the second game, such as the so called "suicide mission" that is the basis of Shepard's newly inspired travels, that forces everyone into a single or similar path?

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