March 15

Next update April 6

One day late with the update, but there’s lots to talk about.

I’m guessing more than a few of you reading this are dying to know what I think of Mass Effect 3 and the ending, but before we open that can of worms I want to take care of some other business.

Item the first: I’ve been invited to be a guest speaker at the Pixels, Panels and Prose event at the University of Texas camupus in Tyler on Saturday, April 14. Come on down if you want to hear me talk about my work on Star Wars and Mass Effect. I’ll also be doing some Q&A, and I’ll be more than happy to autograph books, games or whatever else you decide to bring. Hope to see you there.

Second – Star Wars: The Old Republic was featured in a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory. I know I mentioned this on Twitter already, but not everyone who reads this subscribes to my Twitter feed. And they didn’t just feature the game: if you watch carefully you can see my Revan novel on the set. In this first screen capture, you can see it on the bottom left of the picture, sitting on the desk. In this second screen capture, the book is now on the middle left side, just visible on the coffee table above Howard’s head. The book has been moved, so it seems logical to assume that someone was reading it, right? I like to imagine the entire gang huddled around Sheldon, enraptured by my brilliance as he reads aloud.

Okay, now onto Mass Effect 3… the game I still haven’t played. And I probably won’t get a chance to play for several months. Because I’m very, very busy. Sure, I’ve retired from BioWare, but that just means I’m focusing even more on my novel writing. I’m pushing hard to hit an end of March deadline for my latest SWTOR novel, Annihilation.

As you can see from the above link, we still don’t have the cover art yet, though I’m excited to share it with you when it’s done. But we do have a release date: November 13, 2012. I’m pretty excited about Annihilation, because it’s my first foray into the Star Wars universe that doesn’t have a Sith or Jedi as the main character. This book focuses on Theron Shan, an agent for the Republic Strategic Information Service. Theron was first introduced in the Lost Suns comic series produced by Dark Horse and written by Alex Freed, who is now the lead writer for SWTOR. This novel has a different feel than my Bane or Revan books, but I think fans are going to love it.

After that, I still won’t get a chance to play ME3 because I’m going to be working on finishing up the manuscript for Children of Fire, the first book in my original fantasy trilogy. Still don’t have a publisher for the book (though talks are in progress), but I’ve been lucky enough to garner representation by Ginger Clark over at Curtis Brown Ltd. Seanchai did a nice interview with Ginger a couple years ago that’s worth a quick read.

Hmmm… does it seem like I’m stalling on the whole ME3 thing? Okay, fine – let’s talk ME3. Of course, I haven’t played the game so I can’t really talk about my impressions of it. I’ve posted several rants of my own about people chiming in on things they haven’t actually read, watched or played, so it would be hypocritical of me to start spouting off now. But I know there’s a lot of controversy around the ending of the game, and don’t mind commenting on that.

First, let me say that Mass Effect has been universally recognized as a fantastic game, with a MetaCritic rating well over 90%. That hasn’t stopped people from complaining about the ending, though… and it really shouldn’t. If you played the game you are entitled to your opinion and you’re free to express it. I’ve also heard from plenty of people who like the ending; sometimes the folks who are happy are hard to hear over the cries of those who are dissatisfied.

Now, I understand that fans are passionate about the series, and many of you want to discuss the ending, express your opinions and have intelligent discussions about what you’ve experienced.Since I won’t be able to give you my opinion for several months (please – stop Tweeting and e-mailing me to ask for it!), I figured the next best thing was to give you some interesting analysis from both sides of the spectrum. 

Here’s an article from the Penny Arcade Report from someone explaining why he liked the ending, and here’s another article from someone at Game Front explaining why he felt the ending had some issues. And here’s an interview with Casey Hudson, project director of the entire Mass Effect series, in which he addresses fan reaction to the endings and other aspects of the game.

Of course, some of you are also pinging me to find out what the “original” ending of the series was when we started planning out the trilogy. Sorry, but that’s not something I’m even going to attempt to answer. The collaborative creative process is incredibly complicated, and the story and ideas are constantly evolving as you go forward. Yes, we had a plan, but it was very vague. We knew we wanted to focus on some key themes and bring in certain key elements: organics vs synthetics; the Reapers; the Mass Relays. Beyond that, we didn’t go into detail because we knew it would change radically as the game continued to evolve.

A good example of this is Cerberus. When we wrote ME1, Cerberus was basically a throw-away group of pro-human radicals: a name we dropped for some side missions to play the role of villain. We didn’t even have a concept of who was running them, and we didn’t think they were that important. Obviously by the time of my Ascension novel and ME2, that had changed radically. The Illusive Man and Cerberus became central to the story and themes – that never would have happened if we had nailed everything down and refused to make changes to the story.

So I don’t like to say “here’s what we originally were thinking” because it gives a false and very distorted impression of the process. Mass Effect was the creation of a huge team, with contributions coming in from many people at many stages of the project. Some things I liked ended up getting cut, some stuff I wasn’t sure of worked its way in. That’s the nature of the beast with collaborative works, and I think in the end it makes the final product stronger. But talking about the changes after the fact feels like I’m sitting on my throne and proclaiming, “That’s not what I would have done!” It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say “I would do this or that”, but it’s very different when you’re part of the process, working with multiple ideas, trying to piece it all together and still hit your deadlines. Anyone who wasn’t part of the ME3 team is an outsider – even me – and whatever they say about the creation of the game is just unsubstantiated speculation.

Wow – long update. I’m exhausted. And I now I have to get back to finishing up my novel. This keeps up I might have to skip a day or two of golf… oh, the horror!