10 Things I’d Love to See in a More Open-World “Mass Effect” Game

It’s kind of old news now, but did you guys see the design document for the next Mass Effect game?


That is one massive bible, and I am so excited to see where BioWare takes the next Mass Effect game now that Commander Shepard’s trilogy has come to a conclusion.

BioWare has always been known for story-driven games with strong character development, but I’m placing a bet that Mass Effect 4 (for lack of a better title) will be open-world. That seems to be the future for gaming: more exploration, more customization, more player choice. And since it’s sharing core systems with the upcoming “multi-region” Dragon Age: Inquisition, it makes sense that Mass Effect 4 will also have open world elements. It might not be entirely open-world, but I like the idea of expansive maps and lots of non-story content à la Knights of the Old Republic.

Already we know of some changes Mass Effect will undergo, besides just moving on to a new story. After fans flooded Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson with ideas for the next game, he tweeted to acknowledge one trendy topic: playable alien races. And that leads me to the first thing I’d like to see in the next Mass Effect game, particularly if it’s going to be a more open-world game with some sandbox style gameplay:

1. Origin Stories


The origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins are some of my favorite things in any video game ever. They are little adventures (1 or 2 hours long) that kick off your character’s journey in the video game, with six different origin stories available depending on which character class and race you chose. My first was the human noble origin story. They all lead to the same place: Your character meets Grey Warden Duncan and is asked to join the Grey Wardens to face the upcoming Blight. But having that personal story at the beginning made the rest of the game feel so much more grounded and relevant to your character.

I would love to see that in the next Mass Effect game. It would be an exciting way to kick off the new feature of playable races, and it would help players get a sense of alien cultures. For instance, if I end up playing as a turian, I might spend an hour or two on the turian homeworld of Palaven, getting to know the culture and getting a feel for what my turian character values. It would also be cool to peek into a day in the life of an asari or see what a krogan childhood is like through origin stories.

2. Collectibles


Let’s be honest: Lots of loot is never a bad thing in video games. And collectibles are a big part of open-world games, because they encourage exploration, interaction with NPCs, checking out shops, and undertaking quests in hopes of looting dead bodies for goods. And you know what you can do with all those collectibles and loot? Put them in:

3. A House


Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls — they all have houses you can go back to if you want to save your game or rest from your adventures. Personally, I dig the Elder Scrolls style best, because you can actually decorate your houses with your loot. Sometimes, I would go on a Skyrim quest specifically because I wanted the reward at the end of it to hang above my in-game bed, and having houses made me want to keep things instead of selling them or replacing them all the time. When I out-leveled a piece of equipment,  I would throw it on a mannequin or sword rack to remember my adventures. (You heard about what happened to my Skyrim puppy, right…?)

In the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, Shepard gets an apartment from Anderson. The decorating options are pretty disappointing, but the fact that a (slightly) personalized pad has already been introduced in a Mass Effect game is a good sign!

4. Customizable Ships


You know what could be even cooler than a house? A customizable ship. If the game has my character commanding a ship like the Normandy, it would be a dream come true to be able to select which type of ship I want, paint it, and decorate the inside of it. I would also like to be able to hire my staff, but that’s another thing altogether.

In Mass Effect 2 and 3, players were able to personalize their quarters — however slightly — with model ships and small pets like the fish that never seemed to stay alive. A personalized ship in Mass Effect 4 could easily be my character’s permanent home, and it would work well if the story has players jumping around space like the trilogy did. Plus, it’s a subtle way to keep the spirit of the original Mass Effect trilogy alive… because that Normandy was everything.

5. Pets


Everybody loves pets, right? A lot of games I’ve played have included pets, such as the horses you ride in Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim and the dogs of Dragon Age: Origins and Fable II and III. Being able to adopt a pet and keep it at your character’s house or ship would be a fun, personal touch to the next Mass Effect game, and the designers can come up with all kinds of exotic alien creatures for players to adopt. Maybe they can be mabari warhound-ish so I can take my pet into battles with me. Or there could be more of those dog-mechs.

I’ll take any kind of pet except a fish.

6. Games


I’m not talking about the Mass Effect 2 mini-games that have players hacking doors and stuff. Those can be tedious. What I’m talking about are card games like Pazaak or Triple Triad. It’s fun to immerse yourself in the fictional world by playing fictional games that are popular in the fictional cultures you’re exploring. Plus, card games can mean collecting cards — the best kind of collectible! In Mass Effect 4, I’d love to run my character around challenging NPCs to card games, collecting cards everywhere I go, and even earning achieements based on the size or style of my card collection or how much I’ve been playing the card games. And if I can gamble for loot like you do in The Witcher 2, so much the better! (See “Collectibles” above. This is a vicious cycle of loot here, guys.)

7. Sports


Speaking of games within games, I want to know what sports people play in the Mass Effect universe. Characters in Mass Effect 4 could attend sporting events and bet on the results — a simple, realistic diversion that lets players make (or lose) some extra money while learning more about the fictional world. We had that in the run-down Tuchanka of Mass Effect 2, where players could bet on varren fights. But something like Star Wars‘ pod races could be even more exciting… or heavy mech arena battles. Remember the swoop races of Knights of the Old Republic? Maybe our Mass Effect 4 characters could participate in the sports once in a while to earn some extra credits and earn reputations as athletes or racers.

8. Factions to Join


You know all those factions you could join in Skyrim? Mass Effect could absolutely do that, and it would be a fascinating way to explore the vast wold and various cultures that make the Mass Effect universe so detailed and realistic. I might not personally want to join the Blue Suns, but something like that would be awesome. Being able to work your way up in a faction to become one of its more important members would feel rewarding, and some factions could be unique to wahtever race you choose to play as or the planet you call home. (That would also mean more replay value!)

The trick is to make each faction’s quest line mean something to the player character — so I’d like to see more consequences for actions that what we see in Skyrim. For instance, if you join one faction, you can’t join its rival faction too. Except as a spy. That would be cool.

9. Character Missions


Mass Effect 2 was all about the character missions, and I loved them. An interesting way to create more content for an open-world, sandbox style game would be to include quest lines that follow squad members and other important NPCs. Finishing a quest line might be necessary to fulfill a romance with an NPC, for instance — and it would be an awesome way to get to know the character better. I would love to see new missions for characters unlock throughout the game, so you can keep learning more about them as you go. Maybe gaining the trust of certain characters would even unlock more areas to explore, such as little colonies or home worlds typically off-limits to outsiders. There could also be one-off missions when a squad member asks you to join him in a battle on his home planet (rather like Garrus’s recruitment mission in Mass Effect 3), an assassination (for a character like Thane), or even a research project (for a character like Mordin or Tali).

10. Jobs


When I play an open-world game, I tend to specialize in something almost as if it’s my in-game career. Some people got really into blacksmithing in Skyrim; I got really into alchemy. Other people are miners and go look for new mines all over the map. In the next Mass Effect game, I would love to try odd jobes on different planets. The game could even introduce certain jobs you could do over and over again to become an expert, such as researching biotics, building weather domes on remote worlds, constructing colonies, or mining for element zero. It wouldn’t be as tedious as just scanning planets in Mass Effect 2 (worst mini-game ever) if you can actually plant your character’s feet on the ground and feel a part of the world as you perform these duties. The jobs could also have collectibles and achievements attached to them to make them more enticing, and I sort of love the idea of setting up a shop somewhere to sell the weapons or medicines my character makes…

— Ashley

From a day to a month (and then some): Black Friday

If you’re reading this then either you’ve already been out for Black Friday and have had a requisite nap, or you’ve done the right thing and slept in/have been enjoying some lazy time on the day after a major holiday. Or, at least, that’s just my opinion. Black Friday is something of a perpetual mystery to me. It was never something my family participated in (if anything, we usually spent the day after Thanksgiving in a movie theater), and it’s not something I recall participating in as an adult. Yet, I understand why it happens, or rather, why retailers want it to happen…I guess. But what really struck me about the notion this year was how Black Friday wasn’t just relegated to the Friday after Thanksgiving. Somehow, Black Friday has been going on since the beginning of the month.

Black Friday
Madness is as good a place to start as any.

There’s actually some pretty interesting history behind not just Black Friday but also the retail season between Thanksgiving and Christmas (as well as Thanksgiving generally). But don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you to tears with history and stuff. Suffice to say, the term “Black Friday” was reportedly first used in Philadelphia in the 1960s. The cops apparently coined the phrase to describe the shopping madness and associated traffic nightmares that occurred in the city on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Despite this early occurrence of the phrase, the term didn’t make it into pop culture until the 1980s. And in a mere twenty or so years, we’ve somehow gone from Black Friday being a semi-normal day of special shopping deals to a day (and then some) of sales-driven mayhem and frenzy.

Continue reading From a day to a month (and then some): Black Friday

When Holiday Shopping Time Is Difficult For A Geek

Thanksgiving is a few days away here in America. After we have our fill of turkey and ate our second helping of pumpkin pie, we sleep off our food coma and awake to find the biggest shopping season of the year is now upon us. If you thought Black Friday, then you are correct. Let’s also forget that in recent years Black Friday has really become Black Thanksgiving Thursday these days in the interest of this topic of conversation.

Continue reading When Holiday Shopping Time Is Difficult For A Geek

Game Theory: Is Link’s Quest in Majora’s Mask Pointless?


If any of you read my blog (PhoenixDown), you might have seen my long rant about the possibility of Link actually being dead as he progresses through the dark Majora’s Mask storyline. It wasn’t my own theory (although I wish it was), but I was intrigued by the possible inclusion of symbolism and I had to investigate. Game Theory introduces some awesome, yet maybe pointless observations that are just fun to learn about, and because I’m currently running on no sleep… I figured I’d let them do the work for me this time.

In this video, Game Theory discusses the importance of the moon in Majora’s Mask and if Link’s mission to save Termina from the falling moon is even possible. Of course they use a bunch of numbers and brain-numbing math equations, but if you’re a person that is interested in statistical observations then you’ll most likely enjoy this. For those who hate numbers (like me), basically the video discusses why Termina would be doomed way before the moon even crashed onto the surface. With the moon slowly falling, obviously things such as the gravitational pull would change which would inevitably result in catastrophic consequences… blah blah emergency blah. I for one tend to pull out the whole, “It’s a fictional game, yo.” in response to such theories, but I’ve come to respect the work put into this one. I’ll let you interject your own thoughts.

What do you think about theories such as this?

Digital versus Physical Media: A Rival Schools Story

Recently, I was introduced to the digital comics platform Comixology by a co-worker of mine.  As a man who is used to good ole’ paper and print media, the idea of buying a comic book and reading it on my iPad was a bit jarring at first.  All of the warm fuzzies of getting a new issue or an old gem from the comic book store were gone, replaced with the cold indifference of an online transaction.  Where was the smell of the ink, the satisfying noise when a page is turned, the familiar heft of a single issue as I removed it from a generic brown paper bag?

Then again, the frustrating ads and underwhelming preview filler were gone, along with the inconvenience of a limited print run being sold out at stores.  Come to think of it, I didn’t even have to leave my house and search the darkest nerd dungeons for the rare comics I hoped to find (in this case, the lackluster Castlevania series).  Maybe this shift to digital media won’t be so bad.  All of the comics I missed during their first publication will hit a cloud server, just waiting to be purchased and adored.  What could possibly go wrong?


RivalSchools2Way back in 2002, the folks at Dreamwave Publishing earned the rights to produce comics based on several different Capcom franchises (Mega Man, for instance).  Unfortunately, when Dreamwave lost several of its writers because of pay disputes in 2004, many of the licensing rights were sold off to other companies, most notably to Udon Comics.  After successfully overseeing the Street Fighter series (don’t worry, it’s coming soon), Udon seemed like the perfect match for the cult classic fighting game, Rival Schools.  The story and art were handled by Corey “Rey” Lewis, who had previously worked with Udon on the bonus “mini” comics in the Darkstalkers series.

RivalSchools3The general plot of the comic is mostly unchanged from the video games: in the Japanese city of Aoharu, there have been several attacks on and disappearances of students and staff from local high schools.  Some of the more gifted attendants of these schools have decided to investigate these conflicts, and each of these characters has their own motivation for doing so.  While the perspective of the comic does shift between different characters, much of the focus is on the students from Taiyo High School, particularly Batsu Ichimonji.  This bare-knuckle brawler has transferred to Taiyo High to investigate the kidnapping of his mother, who was the lunch lady at said school.  Once arriving at Taiyo, Batsu joins up with the other members of his team from the video game, and the trio decides to investigate the ominous Justice High School which seems to be involved with all of the attacks.  Rey does a great job of expanding the story from the original material, with plenty of additional exposition and detail to flesh out the characters and their interactions.

RivalSchools4The artwork is a bit of a departure from the video game, but not to the detriment of the comics.  Corey Lewis brings his unique look to Rival Schools, which is a nice blend of American comics and Japanese manga styles, with a dash of graffiti art for the action scenes.  All of the characters retain their original designs, but their facial expressions and details in movement are distinctly “Rey” in their execution.  The specific use of line work stands out for each emotion, with sharp edges in the face and body to express intense feelings/actions and softer edges for a muted tone.  The background art is rather minimalist in most scenes, but there are little details that enhance each panel instead of just serving as window dressing.  Most unique to this comic are the battle scenes between characters.  Instead of opting for the usual “BAP” or “POW” of most comic series, Rey infuses the actual moves and button executions from the video game to convey attacks.  While it sounds a bit ham-fisted in description, this style suits the fighting quite well, and the distinct lettering that Rey uses complements the overall style of the comics.  The entire series is presented in black-and-white, which further ties the work to the various Japanese manga from which this story seems influenced.

When the Rival Schools comics first hit shelves back in April 2006, I scooped up the first issue and devoured it whole.  I had played plenty of Rival Schools back in college, and its sequel Project Justice stands as one of my favorite games of all time.  In June of the same year, the second issue made its debut and included most of the other characters from the game outside of Taiyo High.  I was so eager to read the rest of this four-issue series, I couldn’t wait for the other installments.  But after several months of waiting, it seemed like this beloved series wasn’t going to be finished.  Years went by, and nothing was heard from Udon on the future publication of Rival Schools.  I had pretty much given up on being able to complete my collection, and moved on to other comics.

RivalSchools5As I was re-reading the first two issues for this article, I decided to give my search another try, just to see if Udon ever commented on the lack of closure.  It seems that back in 2009, Udon decided to post the entire series online as a free-to-read webcomic.  I was so excited, I was finally going to enjoy the previously unreleased third and fourth issues of Rival Schools!  I promptly followed the link….and encountered a 404 error.  I tried accessing the comics directly from Udon’s website, and found no evidence of a release on their Rival Schools page.  After reaching out to Udon through Twitter, I found out the sad truth: the third and fourth issues of Rival Schools are currently unavailable.  The entire series was removed from Udon’s website, potentially never to return.

So as I sit here with my unfinished Rival Schools series, I am once again conflicted with the rise of digital media.  There are plenty of advantages to this trend.  I can carry around an entire library of comics on a single device, there are plenty of rare comics that I finally have the chance to read, and the sheer convenience of an issues being just a click away.  But there are situations like this one, where a series that was exclusively digital has been lost to the swirling vortex of the internet.  At least if there was a print version I could embark on a quest to find a copy.  As it stands, I am at the whims of Udon and Capcom, waiting for the chance to read a comic book.  How odd that the “digital versus physical media” situation that is currently affecting video games can make the leap to comics as well.