Help me Hepler you: Bioware in the limelight
February 23, 2012
So I’ve noticed an increase of complaining on Reddit (more than usual), which led me to reading an article on Kotaku, which led to a much better article on RPS. Needless to say, I’m obviously pretty late to this party, but if you got here even later than I did, then holy crap. Anyway, it all started with a usual /hate post on Reddit. This time it was aimed at a writer for Bioware who’s lead on the Dragon Age series. Her name is Jennifer Hepler and she’s been catching a lot of flak for some things she said back when 300 was just starting its path to memedom. It all started on Reddit (big surprise) when a user kicked off the hate machine with a five-second MSPaint job in which they took a few things she said out of context, added a derogative play on her name, and then added some weasel words that had nothing to do with anything like, “cancer” and “sewage”.
It mostly deals with one bit of an interview in which she was asked what was her least favorite thing she liked about working in the video games industry. The start of her answer was, “Playing the games”. This is also pretty much where the guy stopped bothering to quote her. Of course, you can read the entire interview for yourself (Link). Before we even get to this point, Hepler tells us a bit about herself–how shes a writer through-and-through and the only games she really likes to play are PnP. So we’re already getting a vibe that the story is obviously something quite important to Hepler, which it should be for a writer. The follow-through on her answer to what has started this whole fiasco is her explaining her answer, saying that a game rarely retains her attention if the story isn’t engaging or interesting. It pretty much stops there.
What the hate machine has done, however, is take this one quote and has run down the field with it way past the end zone. The problem? There was a flag two seconds into the first play. Hepler is being blamed for the changes Mass Effect 3 is experiencing–from the numerous bisexual romance options to being able to skip gameplay (because in the interview she also suggests such an option exists). As I said, this steam is starting to lose its build up as people are wising up to the fact that she works only on the Dragon Age series. For me, however, I stopped giving the hate machine any merit after I learned she was a writer. Saying a writer is responsible for making huge changes in gameplay is probably one of the most laughable approaches I’ve heard in awhile. Writers are the ones who are usually getting screwed the most on a project, whether it be in cinema or television. Often their work is changed even without their consent and all they can really do is grumble about it. So yeah, tell me how it’s the writer’s fault again?
This does, however, bring up a few things that I have been wanting to talk about concerning Bioware (right before you jump on the “You’re a fanboy!” train). You will notice the absence of a review for Dragon Age 2. That’s because I refuse to acknowledge Dragon Age 2 as a video game. The game had a complete facelift and I absolutely abhorred it to the point that I refuse to even try the game (whether through legal or illegal means; I’m not even interested in wasting the bandwidth). I lovingly call it Dragon Effect 2–mostly because everything that made the game Dragon Age was tossed out the door. The UI that screamed, “I’m a Bioware PC game (I heart Neverwinter Nights)”, the complex combat system that made every casual cry, the fact that you probably spent more time in dialogue than you did in gameplay action, and being able to choose various roles and characters–which I did on EIGHT occassions because I was highly anticipating the numerous outcomes that should have played out when you were able to use your previous saves to influence the second game. Of course that dream fell flat when everything was traded for Mass Effect’s…well, EVERYTHING. Dialogue wheel, dialogue actions, lead vocal role, and stopping you from being an adventurer and instead making you ride the railroad plot from start to finish. As you can breathlessly see, I’m not too fond of the game.
But who do I blame for this? The writer? Are you having a laugh, mate? I thought we just got through that whole bit where writers come last in just about everything in regards to priority and game changes? I’m trying to picture what the hate machine is trying to picture. Do they honestly believe Hepler is sitting at the front of the table calling all the shots, wagging fingers at others on her team, only to have them grudgingly accept defeat because, in this fantasy, she’s in charge of everything? Get yourself checked out if you actually believe this. I mean, clearly we all know who is to blame for this. In reality, when a team-based project fails, who do we all point the finger to? Yes, go ahead and look down at your shoes. Push them across the dirt while you pretend that the real answer didn’t immediately pop into your head. Go ahead, tell yourself it was all Newman’s fault that Jurassic Park didn’t turn out to be a great theme park. Go ahead! It was all Newman’s fault! Damn that Newman! I hate this hacker crap! No, it couldn’t possibly be the security personnel who should have monitored the shady dealings of one of their programmers on a top secret corporate project! No, it couldn’t possibly be the other computer technicians who weren’t able to see that Newman was obviously tampering with systems he wasn’t supposed to be tampering with! No, it couldn’t possibly be the engineers who didn’t design fail-safe designs to the park so the wildlife would never be able to harm the park visitors! NO, IT COULD NEVER BE THE JOLLY BEARDED FAT GUY! He was funny and likeable, so him we spare. Everyone else falls on their sword. But Newman, oh, that Newman. Nope, he’s to blame for the entire thing, for sure.
You want an actual target for your hate? Here you go:
This is who I blame. And it is who to rightly blame for the shortcomings of Dragon Effect 2. A team is only as effective as their leader, and a project is only as impressive as their leader lets it be. Who was defending all the changes to Dragon Effect 2? Mike. Who was playing down the fact that it was dumbed down to an action-pack console game? Mike. Who was telling fans to let go of the whole “Baldur’s Gate spiritual successor” bit? Mike. Who said everything they did and changed in Dragon Effect 2 was for the better? Mike. Who thinks Dragon Effect 2 was a massive success? Mike.
I mean, we had the right idea when Hellgate: London went under–everyone knew Bill Roper was to blame. Did we blame Max Schaefer? Did we blame David Brevik? Did we blame Ivan Sulic? Well, okay, maybe Ivan Sulic, but obviously not the rest. No, obviously it was the project lead–the head honcho. The guy calling the shots. The guy suggesting the changes in which a game should go. Because they are the ones in charge. They’re the ones who have the final say in something. They’re the ones who influence others on the team in what direction to take the game. That’s the actual reason why Dragon Effect 2 is the game that it was. I mean, this is not a complex issue. You want to know who’s to blame for the changes in Mass Effect 3? Here comes the Cliff Notes to brain surgery: Mass Effect Lead Casey Hudson.
Now that we’ve played a little bit of “Where’s Waldo?”, let’s go on to the other bit that I want to mention in regards to Bioware and its writing (honestly, am I ever really that positive here?). I bring up here and now the year-old discussion in which the issue of same-sex relationships in Bioware games was getting quite hot and heavy. While I don’t agree with how the OP brought up the point, I also don’t agree with David Gaider’s assessment of what the writing team was essentially trying to tell folks (especially when that writer is someone who has been around since Baldur’s Gate II). Essentially his assessment was, “We’re appealing to everyone, get over it”. The only problem with this assessment? A story is not Baskin Robbins. As much as the fanfic writers wish, Paul Atreides is not going to shack up with Duncan Idaho in any Duniverse. Why? Is it because Paul is not presented with the option of a same-sex romance option? No. It’s because Paul is a character and his character is not a homosexual.
In Dragon Age: Origins, this wasn’t really a problem. You had such a huge opening with making your character whoever you wanted to be that same-sex relationships were just fine (although they certainly made both of the female choices as utterly unappealing as possible to us guys). In Dragon Effect 2, you make a character, give him a name, a look, and a voice actor. You’ve made a character and you’ve defined his role; he triumphs over evil (or, at least, that’s what I’m assuming what happens more or less). Already his path is defined for him; he will not go over to the Dark Side, he will not join the forces of evil, and he won’t suddenly start tap-dancing in front of Darkspawn. What he will do, however, is become bi-curious because its writers believe that the romance options in the series is becoming a mini-game; See each one through and get a cheevo. Instead Dragon Effect 2’s character is less defined, despite being clearly railroaded into numerous plot elements.
Am I saying it’s wrong to have the option presented? No, not at all. I’m just saying they should decide who their characters are, because almost every love interest in Dragon Effect 2 seems to be bisexual. I mean, is this the sexual outlook of everyone in Thedas? In an effort to “appeal to everyone”, they insult the LGBT community by implying homosexuality/bisexuality equates promiscuity. A good writer fleshes out a character and sets his outlooks in life. Why not just write a good homosexual character romance option rather than a dashing bisexual buccaneer? I thought this was something Casey understood well enough, but I guess not. Then again, maybe they’re just having a go at the world in light of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” being repealed.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I’m obviously just as unimpressed with the writing going on over at Bioware, but you don’t see me sending death threats to anyone (or trying to blame someone in a small role as to the reason why huge game changes have been made). If you are unhappy with the way things are now over at Bioware, do the same thing I’m doing; don’t buy the game you obviously won’t like. I’ve tried the demo for Dragon Effect 2 and that’s it–that’s my extent of playing the game. It’s also all I needed to know that I would hate every single fiber of it. Instead I accepted that Bioware was not the company that could do no wrong and that it was just as susceptible to making big mistakes as any other developer (and just as egocentric to say that these mistakes were good changes). But I’m not going to point the blame at the people lower on the food chain. Oh, no. You know exactly who to look for when it comes to the blame. You should be rallying your pitchforks in that direction. Those guys are actually more likely to respond, given that half their job is PR.