All entries for February 2010

February 20, 2010

On Mass Effect

I’ve just finished the first Mass Effect game for the second time (no ME2 spoilers please, am just about to start that now). While the driving around random planets in a tank with bad controls was as annoying as before I enjoyed this play-through a lot more than my first one a few years ago.

The major difference was that I was playing a female Shepherd. The game gives you a choice of sex for your main character, but the script for each is virtually identical. So other than affecting who your character can get romantically involved with, that choice shouldn’t make any difference.

Oh but it does.

Despite the box art and all the promo shots, it seems clear to me that the game was written and directed with a female protagonist in mind. From the very first scene, where Shepherd strides purposefully through the Normandy, something about the way it is presented just fits a female character better.

Then there’s the morality system. The game eschews Bioware’s traditional light/dark or good/evil dichotomy and instead uses a system of paragon/renegade. Neither is evil. Shepherd is more tightly defined as a character than that: you can’t have her shoot civilians for no reason then go and side with the baddies. Instead your choices revolve around how you get the job done: whether you’re more Jean-Luc Picard or Mal Reynolds. Crucially, they’re measured separately, so while enough of the moral choices you make are mutually exclusive to stop you maxing out both aspects of Shepherd’s personality, you’re not punished for being somewhat inconsistent. Whereas the first time I played Mass Effect I followed the Paragon route almost exclusively, this time I knew I wanted to be primarily Paragon, but mixed things up a little.

See, with female Shepherd, that makes sense. With male Shepherd, it didn’t. The reason for that: voice acting. Don’t get me wrong, the male character is perfectly well voiced, but he sounds like either the action hero if you play Paragon, or a snarling space-thug if you play Renegade. Both are decent enough, but if you try and mix the two your character starts to sound more than a little schizophrenic. The female Shepherd is more subtle, less extreme, so taking different approaches to different situations works a lot better. You can believe that she’d go from offering to help to threatening someone in the course of a single conversation. That frees you up to play a much more interesting character.

So instead of just picking the top-right Paragon response every time, I thought about my Shepherd, her background, and how she’d react. She was ‘raised’ on Earth in an inner-city slum, later joining the Alliance only to get half her unit killed on Torfan. That’s one of a number of backgrounds you can choose for your character. On top of that I built her personality: she feels guilty over Torfan, even though she did what had to be done, so now she strives for redemption, and to do better in the future. As such, she’ll help out strangers, she feels she owes the world that much. But at the same time, she has no truck with criminals – she won’t just forgive everyone and give them all second chances. As such while she goes out of her way to aid and help the innocent, she let Wrex execute the crime lord Fist, helped Garrus track down and kill a doctor that had been harvesting body parts, and made sure the scientists that arranged for a thresher to kill some soldiers so they could study got what was coming to them.

She also doesn’t have much time for politicians. She’s career military, with a great respect for both her commanding officers and for those who serve under her. As such she’d be rude as hell to Udina but would never dream of talking back to Anderson. Interestingly, this also meant she started off as quite sympathetic towards the Council; after all, once she was made a Spectre she was under their direct command. They were her CO. She got a bit frustrated with them towards the end of the game, but still saved them in the end.

Building up that sort of complex personality was something that just worked better with a female Shepherd, and I’ll be interested to see where staying true to that will take her in the somewhat bleaker Mass Effect 2.

February 03, 2010

e–resistable: Why did no–one think of this before

In the interests of full disclosure I’m writing this now as apparently I can get some free food by doing so. It’s something I’d have written about eventually anyway, but given my backlog of blogging topics it might have been years.


e-resistible online takeaways is a simple concept. You visit the website. You tell them where you live. You tell them the sort of food you want. They they give you a list of all participating stores for which you are in the delivery radius. You pick one, look at the menu, choose what you want and then either pay them by card or arrange to pay the delivery guy on the door. There are even special offers, though to be fair generally not as many as if you get a promotional menu from the place itself.

But it’s so damn simple. Even if it ends up costing you a few quid more it’s worth it when ordering for a bunch of people as you can keep track of what the hell you’re buying and it’s not down to the poor sod phoning it through to try and remember. Obviously the level and speed of service depends on the place you’re ordering from, e-resistible are just a sort of middle-man service. They do encourage you to review the outlets and let them know delivery speed, food quality, etc.

I find myself wondering how they work. Do they have arrangements with individual restaurants, or do they just take your details then phone the order through for you? They have 8 places in Coventry, which is enough, extrapolated country-wide, that it seems unlikely to be the former. But if it’s the latter they’d have lots more.

Why I find this fascinating, is that I used to work for any question answered text messaging service Texperts, responding to customer questions. And you could guarantee that at around 11pm-midnight there’d be a ton of people asking for an open pizza place or chinese takeout that delivered. And those questions were really hard to answer. e-resistible would have been awesome for research back then. And oftentimes customers would ask us to order for them, which we weren’t allowed to do. It’s weird that it’s taken the internet this long to do something people have been after for years. And people laughed when they first announced you could order real-world pizza in Everquest…

Where it’s most useful though is if you’re away from home, or have just moved somewhere new, and don’t know any decent take-out places. I am kind of surprised though that, despite ordering multiple times from a nice Indian place, they’ve never put a menu in with my food to try and convert me to a ‘regular’ customer. I wonder if there’s some rule against it.

Well there you go, worth a try next time you fancy takeout and don’t know where from. Given what I saw at Texperts, that applies to a lot of people!

February 2010

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