Friday, May 6, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Delayed - This Is A Good Thing


“Today we have confirmed that Mass Effect 3 will be released in the first three months of 2012. The development team is laser focused on making sure Mass Effect 3 is the biggest, boldest and best game in the series, ensuring that it exceeds everyone’s expectations.” – Casey Hudson, Mass Effect Executive Producer, writing on BioWare’s Facebook page.

Nobody wanted to hear this. The videogame industry being so dependent on hype, videogame delays are perhaps the biggest bummer possible – and the bigger the game, the bigger the sigh of disappointment when the press release hits the wire.

Mass Effect fans – and fans of good games, in general – do not fret. This will be a good thing in the long run. Even if that run is three months longer than you expected.

“No, no. After you.”

gamesUncharted 3, The Darkness II, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Rage, Gears of War 3. These games will all release September or later of this year. BioWare’s also putting out Star Wars: The Old Republic before the end of the year. And assuming Activision still likes money, there will be a Call of Duty game releasing sometime this holiday season.

BioWare’s publisher EA may also be wary of putting Mass Effect 3 into indirect competition with its own Battlefield 3. Both will likely receive big marketing pushes (Battlefield 3 could certainly use it with the PC market being their lead SKU), and it’s probably better for everyone involved that the overlap is kept to a minimum. There are only so many commercials for CG soldiers shooting one another I can watch before they start to blur together.

Mass Effect 3 doesn’t need that noise, especially if BioWare’s still keen on appealing to the wider shooter market (more on that later). Mass Effect 2 did just fine releasing last January, making a deep enough impression that it still wound up topping many Game of the Year lists twelve months later. Being the conclusion of an incredibly successful and daring franchise, Mass Effect 3 deserves to reach stores unfettered.

This isn’t Duke Nukem Forever

Sometimes, it’s all a matter of perspective. Mass Effect 3 was originally scheduled for a Holiday 2011 release. Nudging it back a few months is nothing compared to some other massive delays.

It’s easy to forget when complaining about Half-Life 2: Episode Three’s nonexistence that Half-Life 2 was delayed over a year. Combine Valve’s perfectionist streak with a major theft/leak of software, and you’ve successfully delayed a game already five years in the making.

PC shooter fans may also remember the storied history of Prey, a 3D Realms joint that was conceived of in 1995. Prey was noteworthy for its cutting-edge of implementation of portal technology, which everyone would later lose their heads over in, well, Portal*. Unfortunately, development ground to a halt early, and Prey went unfinished until 2006.

If there were a textbook on videogame delays, half of it would be devoted to Duke Nukem Forever. There would then be three separate appendices on Randy Pitchford, his attempts to resurrect the game with Gearbox Studios, and the We-Wish-We-Were-Joking Delay of the “unshippable game.”

Development on Duke began in 1997. Mass Effect was released in 2007. Even with a ten-year head start, Duke will only beat Mass Effect’s second sequel by six to eight months.

BioWare is learning.

dragon-age-2-artwork-logo-356x300I’m tempted to just write “Dragon Age II” and move on, but I won’t. I should, but I won’t.

A scant fourteen months separated Dragon Age: Origins and its sequel. BioWare first announced Dragon Age in 2004, and the game wasn’t released until November 2009. Dragon Age II was announced in July of last year and hit shelves just this past month.

If I hadn’t played Dragon Age II, I’d be tempted to congratulate the Dragon Age team on such speedy work. But I did play Dragon Age II. I slogged through the same five** environments for forty-something hours. I stopped controlling my rogue directly when a bug reduced his attack speed to that of an elderly sloth. I saw every earnest attempt to improve the fantasy RPG genre become a shallow means of cutting corners.

BioWare’s expressed great enthusiasm for stripping away RPG-ness from the Mass Effect series, changing it from an RPG with Shooter Elements to a Shooter Where You Talk to People and Can Sometimes Have Sex with Them. The sequel reshaped the core experience so much it was almost dizzying. Character customization was simplified; loot was gone; experience points were more tightly wound up in the story missions. I can’t even begin to imagine how they’ll shake things up for the third installment.

They attempted to streamline the Dragon Age series in a similar fashion, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. As I said above, I think they failed. Pushing back Mass Effect 3 even a tiny bit means someone at BioWare thinks so, too.

Hopefully other developers (not just the super rich ones like Valve and Blizzard who, let’s be honest, probably don’t even look at calendars until it’s time to press discs) will take a few cues from BioWare. Delays can be promises of greatness instead of admissions of defeat. Everyone: be patient. Just listen to Miyamoto.

"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."
                                                                                                                 - Shigeru Miyamoto

* Portal 2 was also delayed. It is currently the frontrunner for my personal Game of the Year.
** Okay, okay…seven environments.