Possibility Space:A Mass Effect analysis
The first excerpt on the Mako has now been posted at Kotaku!
(special thanks to twitter user @ABillionSuns for the cover image)
Frequently Asked Questions
Why support this project?
I see four good reasons. First, Mass Effect is quite possibly the most interesting, discussion-worthy game series of all time, and youcan't read enough about it.
Second, maybe you're a fan of long-form video game criticism, like Brendan Keogh's Killing Is Harmless, one of the inspirations for this project.
Third, maybe you'd like to support me, Rowan, trying to break free of a freelance writer's rut. I don't want to turn this into a major sob story, but crowdfunding for this project seems to me to be the best way to stop living check-to-check, while still writing about the things I like to write about most, and that I hope you like to read about.
Fourth, maybe you want to help Percy afford a visit to the vet.
Who are you to write about Mass Effect?
I'm a freelance critic for a variety of different outlets. I'm the Western role-playing game columnist at Joystiq, and have been published at Bit Creature, 1Up, Gamasutra, Unwinnable, Ars Technica, Gamespy, IGN, Gameranx, and more. I've also been published on video games at general sites like Salon and The American Prospect.
Some articles I've written on Mass Effect: a critical analysis of the ending, an examination of its genre, or a list of spinoffs I'd love to see. Some other general work includes an examination of why violent video games hold appeal, or my review of Baldur's Gate.
I also work as a television and occasional book critic at The A.V. Club. What I love most is analyzing the narrative structure of speculative fiction--I'm currently reviewing Babylon 5 for TV Club Classic. I also reviewed Game Of Thrones for PressPlay.
This combination of video game and storytelling interests makes Mass Effect just about the perfect game series for me to think about, and I hope you'll agree that my experience makes me a great match for writing about it.
Do I really need to give you my address?
Only if you want the hard copy! Otherwise just put in whatever nonsense seems appropriate.
When will it be done?
Having never written a full book before, I'm hesitant to make promises--let's just say I'm closer to Valve time than EA time. Still, I'm aiming for this fall, and I would be disappointed in myself if it wasn't released in 2013.
Why are you crowdfunding a book?
I'm self-publishing because I don't know if there's a market for long-form game criticism in conventional publishing (although if any publishers see this and want to make an offer, I'll listen).
I'm crowdfunding because, as I mentioned above, I am a freelance writer living check-to-check. My time is spent pitching and playing anything I can that might earn me money. Only with the financial flexibility of a successful GoFundMe campaign will I be able to free up the time to write the long-form criticism that I want to do, and that Mass Effect deserves.
What does "Possibility Space" mean?
The thing I find most fascinating about Mass Effect is the gap between what it tries to be--a massive space opera epic--and what it actually is--an occasionally wobbly collection of different ideas and gameplay mechanics. The series manages to make its disparate parts work together by giving the player the space to see all of its possibilities and assume the best of the games. Mass Effect works because we want it to work, and it very rarely totally fails.
Also, it's a science fiction story and it's got "space" in the title! Get it?
(I would consider changing the title if I come up with something better, of course, but I'm not going to worry about it too much. This one works.)
Will this get in the way of your other project?
No. That's almost finished, and in will probably be finished even faster if this crowdfunding campaign is successful enough to let me stop chasing freelance work for a few days.
But the ending ruined everything!!!!~~!@!
Don't get me wrong, I have huge issues with the ending myself, and I'm certainly not going to pull any punches when I get to that point. However, part of the reason the ending hurt so much was that everything else was so good. I try not to lose sight of that.
How long will the fundraiser last?
GoFundMe pages can stay up indefinitely, so until the book is near release, this will stay up. How much I publicize it will change, of course. But there's no deadline if you're broke now, but will have money in a month.
How exactly are you going to write about Mass Effect?
As this is a critical analysis, I'm going to focus directly on the games themselves. This means that I am not, at this point, interested in interviews, explanations or authorial intent.
I view my role as a critic as something like an expert guide. I will offer different ways to view and think about the games, while adding my subjective feelings and experiences. My hope is that, like most good criticism, Potential Space will be readable and interesting even if you don't agree.
Finally, I'm planning on focusing exclusively on the main trilogy of games and their add-ons and expansions. This means I'm going to avoid Mass Effect transmedia texts like the novels and mobile games, unless I'm given a compelling reason to change my mind.
Will you do press for this project?
Great Maker yes! I need this to eat! If you want to do a news piece, interview, podcast, whatever, I'm probably interested. Feel free to contact me here, on Twitter @rowankaiser, or my email is my Twitter name at gmail.
At Polygon, I wrote about how Mass Effect 2's aesthetic changes were as important as its gameplay changes: http://www.polygon.com/2017/4/4/15160246/mass-effect-2-style-colors
At USgamer, how Mass Effect 3 was the best in the series at fusing level design with storytelling: http://www.usgamer.net/articles/mass-effect-3-deserves-to-be-remembered-for-more-than-its-ending
I also went on their RPG podcast and discussed Mass Effect generally and the start of Andromeda: http://www.usgamer.net/articles/axe-of-the-blood-god-what-went-wrong-with-mass-effect-andromeda
I've also been playing deeper into Andromeda and wrote about, well, what the hell happened to make this weird game? https://medium.com/@RowanKaiser/mass-effect-andromeda-why-895852eb0f10
The Polygon piece will definitely be part of the book. The others, it depends on legality and whether I think I want them specifically or if I'll adapt their ideas in different ways.
Plenty more to come soon.
Big updates here. First, as I said last time, I had a major project I was trying to finish by November. It ended up taking me into February. The bad news about that: nowhere near enough time to finish Possibility Space by Andromeda's release.
The good news: I'll start incorporating the Andromeda pieces that I'll be writing into the book. I will probably still focus it on the Shepard trilogy, just because it's complete, but Andromeda will definitely provide an interesting lens in terms of "What was learned?"
I'm also replaying the games as I write this (alt-tabbed out of ME2, to be precise), and, well, Mass Effect 1 remains a struggle. Because of this, and because I've been seeing people trying to play the Shepard trilogy for the first time, or get back into it after bouncing off, I've decided to write a guide for new players.
And unfortunately, I had to recommend people not start with Mass Effect 2. I still love ME1 dearly, and recommend people go back once they're hooked, but, well, it hasn't aged well.
Check it out, and maybe pass it along to an N7 newbie friend of yours! And look for more links and progress reports through the next month or more of Mass Effect Content.
I've recently had a few questions about the status of the project. No, things haven't been as fast as you probably and I definitely have wanted, but yes, I'm still planning on finishing the book.
The current goal is to use the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda as a deadline. Deadlines help me focus, and that'll likely be the peak time for ME-related projects. At this point I am assuming that this likely to be March or April, in keeping with EA's past behavior.
EA has apparently scheduled an announcement in early November, which is also a good time for me to plan out my schedule. So look for more details then.
I recently spent some time colluding with fellow members of the press, many of whom were curious about the book's status. Slow progress, I said, as usual, but the conversations, and their enthusiasm, gave me an idea: opening the process to other contributors.
The reasons for this are pretty simple: when I started, I had some time but no money, but now that I have a job, I have money but much less time--so I could pay people for their very best Mass Effect essays. And I'm a lot faster editor than writer.
There are three main advantages to this that I can see:
1. More diverse voices
2. Coverage of parts of the game I'm less interested in (romance, looking at you)
3. Book completed faster
And only one major potential problem:
1. Some of y'all wanted my words and only my words.
So: does this idea offend any of you, and if so, why?
Best way to reply is to email or tweet me. rowankaiser at gmail and twitter.
That's all for now.