The Greatest Series I’ll Never Play

I’m cursed.

Years ago, I was following the upcoming release of Mass Effect with intense interest. I was on a deployment when the prequel novel, Mass Effect: Revelation, was published, but I still managed to get my hands on a copy and finish it two days later.

When Mass Effect finally launched, I just didn’t have the time to devote to it. So I put the controller down and vowed that I would return for a full playthrough when I could. But each time I picked it back up, I never seemed to make it very far beyond the initial Citadel visit. At first, I had numerous obligations and distractions to blame. Eventually, I started to get burned-out.

Then Mass Effect 2 came out.

Then Mass Effect 3.

With each release, friends and critics raved. “The first Mass Effect kinda sucks,” they’d confess, “Just start with Mass Effect 2! It has a comic that catches you up to speed and let’s you make the important decisions!” That would be the logical thing to do, right?

But I can’t. Why? Because I want to experience everything firsthand. Call me crazy, but I just can’t get over the feeling that blasting through a condensed version might cheapen the experience. How could the story still be as impactful? How would I make those critical decisions without getting to know the people and places that I’d be sending into danger? I have to finish Mass Effect first!

But I can’t. Why? Because the thought of playing through The Citadel for a sixth time makes my stomach turn. It takes hours to get through that first chunk of content, and I refuse skip a single side story or mission.

And so I’ve come to accept the fact that I’ll probably never play through the Mass Effect series.

Also, that I may be a snobby perfectionist.

Gamification at the End of the World

When I got home from work yesterday, I felt like crap.

Around 5:30 yesterday afternoon, I downed some Nyquil and crashed on the couch. My girlfriend tenderly woke me at 12:30 in the AM and passed me the Nyquil again. Another capful, and I was out cold.

I had a dream:

I was standing in a rundown warehouse with a large group of people wearing dirty, makeshift clothes who were strapped-up with guns and supplies. I got the feeling that I didn’t know anyone there, so I kept to myself and watched. Suddenly, a newcomer walked into the room and demanded everyone’s attention.

We all gathered around, and he began to break us all off into groups while passing-out what looked like eyeglass cases of varying colors to each one. He handed one to me last before walking back to the center of the room and explaining that each of the cases held a mission objective.

We would get one point for every zombie we killed in pursuit of the objective if we completed it in the time alloted, two points if we did it in half the time, and three points if we did it in a third of the time.

And then my alarm went off.

So, frantic, arcade-style co-op shooter? Or the foundation for quests in a zombie apocalypse MMOFPS?

Wii U and Achievements

I still can’t decide how I feel about the fact that Nintendo has no plans for an overarching achievement system on Wii U.

I don’t consider myself to be an achievement hunter. You won’t find me playing UNO or experiencing the latest Hannah Montana epic to boost my gamerscore or trophy count with low-hanging fruit – not that I have a problem with people who do this! But if I come across a title that I really enjoy, achievements are icing on the cake.

I was enthralled by Batman: Arkham Asylum, and the platinum trophy I earned is proof. When I finished that final challenge, I was able to step away from the game and reflect on the experience with pride.

Which is a nice way of saying that I dropped the controller, thrust my hands into the air and proclaimed, “I’m f*cking BATMAN”.

I was also completely in love with Super Mario Galaxy, but when I filled my pockets with every star in the game, I felt as though I had nothing to show for it. It didn’t diminish the fun I’d had throughout, yet the victory felt comparably hollow.

fig. 1-1: No big deal.

For better or worse, achievements and trophies have had an impact on the social aspects of gaming. Sure, they’re great for bragging rights (fig. 1-1), but it goes beyond that. Even in single-player games, their inclusion can make you feel as though you’re still connected because they show your friends what you’ve been playing and how far along you are.

In the past, Nintendo has caught a lot of flak for their unwillingness to incorporate the online flexibility that many consider to be a linchpin in modern gaming, but they’re beginning to come around. The 3DS is definitely much more progressive in that regard, and Reggie Fils-Aime has mentioned that Wii U’s mysterious Miiverse will bring new features to the table that PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 haven’t yet touched on.

I’m sure it’ll be charming, delightful and very uniquely Nintendo as always, but I can’t help but feel that as we move into the next generation of consoles, where the coming evolution of their competitors’ flagship consoles will only become more social and connected, Nintendo is dropping the ball by refusing to meet what could arguably be the standard gamers expect in an online suite.

But there’s still a lot we don’t know about Wii U, and I’m confident that Nintendo yet has some surprises up their collective sleeve.