My Mass Effect Legendary Edition playthrough has come to a close
. Since it's wordy and spoilery, I'll put it last.
Usual fun stuff on the homefront: kickbacks, brunches
, and testing the quality of sea walls.
ESPP dis/qualifying disposition
Random? Yes. But it'll help me remember/reference it later and perhaps someone on the internets will find it helpful.
For qualifying (probably most?) employee stock purchase programs, selling date tax thresholds are as follows:
- Selling within a year gets hit with short-term capital gains taxes and some sort of normal income tax (disqualifying disposition).
- Selling greater than a year from grant date but less than 18 months from the beginning of the ESPP period means you get the long-term capital gains tax rate. But it also counts as a disqualifying disposition, so there's a tax hit.
- Selling greater than a year from grant date and 18 months from the beginning of the ESPP period means long term capital gains and a qualifying disposition. It's the best, tax-wise.
If you're looking to sell earlier than 18 months, the 12 month threshold is better than 11 months. Share price notwithstanding, it's nice to get the ESPP grants primed by not selling for 18 months
, then you can sell at the grant dates and have a less painful April.
From mine and Dani
's walk recently. Didn't make me think of anything in particular.
Over the years I've had some list content
crop up organically - Speed Nite, J's video game punditry, rants about younger generations, etc. At one point I aggregated them in a side bar link, but I haven't created many new ones (this isn't Buzzfeed after all). Well, I was recently doing site infrastructure
work and trawling for images to use in graphics processing so I set aside some of my favorite original image content
Far Cry, Yaran liberation is nigh
And the game wants us to believe this is a bad guy?
Led by J and myself, Libertad has gained the allegiance of the three rebel factions and will be taking the capitol shortly
. Juan better not be evil.
Mass Effect trilogy finale [spoilers/plot discussion]
I'll start with a brief recap of the trilogy
, in case you have never played the game or missed some DLC or are me in three years trying to remember the critical plot points.
Millennia ago, the (skyscraper-size and squid-like) dominant inhabitants of the Milky Way created AIs, for all the normal reasons like cleaning and bringing in the newspaper
. The creators - called "Leviathans" by their contemporary discoverer - First Lawed
their synthetic servants. The problem is, they weren't explicit enough; the AIs decided that organic life will always kill itself if it develops unchecked
The synthetic space squids took upon the role and title of 'Reapers', giant, sentient ships that hibernate in deep space while life in the galaxy develops
. Once each cycle of organic civilization reaches a high level of technological sophistication, the Reapers return to the galaxy, figurative scythe in hand. They wipe out all advanced civilization and leaving primitive organics to begin the next cycle. Equilibrium.
Also left behind are a collection of prehistoric FTL gates as well as The Citadel
; a huge, self-sustaining space station that typically becomes a galactic hub during the rise of each cycle. The Mass Effect story starts with humanity discovering one such gate.
The trilogy and Shepard
ME1 begins a few years after the FTL gate discovery brings Earth into the galactic fold. The protagonist, Shepard, slowly unravels the mystery of the Reapers
via artifacts from the last cycle. To anyone's knowledge, the creators of these artifacts, the Protheans, were the ones who built the FTL gates and the Citadel.
The trilogy consists of a lot of running around, character development, and worldbuilding. The organic/synthetic/AI theme presents itself in a handful of ways before the Reaper threat even begins to take shape. While the Reapers are the overarching conflict, galactic politics, backstory development, and fetch quests serve as both distractions and rungs in the ladder to the finale
ME3 starts with the Reapers invading Earth and other galactic capitols. They are nigh-invulnerable and do the White Walker/Borg/tequila thing of turning friendlies into hostile automata. The only hope for the cycle comes from a mysterious superweapon
whose plans were discovered, developed, and then hidden by civilizations wiped out in each cycle. A schematic in a bottle, as it were.
At the climax of the series, Shepard activates the weapon with the help of military forces she united throughout the game(s). The superweapon (a big sphere) joins with the Citadel and summons an AI whose role is to oversee the Reapers. The AI tells Shepard that the organic-synthetic status quo is now in peril
and that she must activate a deux ex machina device that will either:
- [Destroy] Destroy all synthetic life; organics win.
- [Control] Embed Shepard's consciousness in the Reapers, making them servants of organics.
- [Synthesis] Physically and neurologically fuse organics and synthetics, somehow.
Control, synthesis, destroy, respectively.
When it was originally released, ME3 caught some serious fan backlash
. The players' primary qualm was that each of these three endings played out identically, except that the deus ex machina sparks were different colors.
Here you have the red/destroy energy color. Also available in blue/control and green/synthesis.
Story aside, this stood in contrast to promises made by the developers about having a wide variety of endings
impacted by decisions made throughout the trilogy.
The outrage prompted Bioware to scramble to release an "extended ending"
. The revised ending didn't change any fundamental outcomes but added narration and a few short scenes that explained more about the fate of the galaxy.
Disgruntled players also panned "space kid", the holographic form chosen for the Reaper watchdog AI
. Space Kid appears early in the game and then in dream sequences throughout ME3, but feels a bit silly after Shepard vanquishes the Martin Sheen-voiced Illusive Man.
I'm actually less annoyed by the Space Kid than I was the first time around. In a scene that is functionally like Neo meeting the Architect, I guess any representation is plausible but both a kid and an ash-haired man with a pleasant voice are a bit tropey
Tiers of goodness
I don't know if the original ending had it or if it was introduced with the extended version, but on this playthrough I found out that there are better and worse versions of each ending
. E.g. the low-tier 'destroy' ending basically EMPs the galaxy, killing everything synthetic (Reapers, AI, FTL gates, mass effect field toothbrushes). With enough galactic unity points that you accrue throughout the game, the FTL network remains functional and spacecraft can be repaired. It's ultimately the difference between sending the galaxy back to the stone age and lightly damaging everyone's cellphone.
It's a little weird that galactic unity somehow impacts how bad the damage is
. Its primary purpose in the original release was to unlock the synthesis option and was difficult to obtain without online play (an extremely EA thing).
On my first playthrough (way back when), I went with 'synthesis' because even Space Kid says "it's the ideal outcome". This time around, it seemed like 'destroy' was the right play
. I had enough galaxy points to get the least destructive flavor and it even ends with a teaser that Shepard survived. The other two endings explicitly require Shepard to die.
Even with just three-ish endings, Bioware still kind of goofed by having the Normandy crew declare Shepard KIA rather prematurely.
And another thing
My remaining qualms come from the handwavey stuff associated with the ending:
- Space Kid: "Welllll I never tried synthesis because organics weren't 'ready'". Huh? Any amount of anthropological development is wiped out each cycle. How were organics supposed to become 'ready'? I could have believed something like, "No prior cycle had this level of galactic cooperation, you guys are my best shot at this". That would at least jive with the Prothean story - their downfall was due, in part, to being imperialist/monocultural.
- It's weird that Space Kid AI was watching from the Citadel but did absolutely nothing until now, especially if this cycle was tending toward being 'ready'. It's not exactly a plot hole but it sure comes out of nowhere.
- Shepard getting to the finish line means the status quo is broken. Or, like, now you can tell the Reapers how to destroy the Crucible (superweapon) plans and patch the Citadel so it won't happen again.
- The generational development of the crucible is neat and all, but requires suspending a lot of disbelief. Like, how did it even begin? Who wrote the ICD and in what language? How lucky is it that the thing didn't get get lost in a reaping or volcano.
- The better 'destroy' endings show damage to things (FTL gates, the Citadel) that to my knowledge aren't within anyone's capability to repair.
- In spite of the "Cerberus/ethnocentrism is bad" theme, the trilogy progressively becomes more and more human-centric. ME1 was all about Earthicans being a small fish in a big pond, by the end of ME3 the #2 baddie is human, the Reapers decide humans are their prime target, and the Citadel has relocated to Earth orbit. It's a weird thematic shift that might make sense if the Alliance (Earth) experienced some sort of large-scale character development. It doesn't, the only influential humans are a handful of unchanging allies and enemies.
In the original release, the last thing you'd see after the credits rolled was a dialog encouraging you to buy the DLC. Already discontent with the ending, fans didn't like the EAness of it. Legendary Edition revised this a bit.
Despite some creeping flaws that progress with the trilogy, it's my all-time favorite single player game
and one of my favorite sci-fi stories. And I would be remiss not to say that the writing and gameplay improved each game (save for some really tropey stuff near the end of ME3). I'm super happy to have replayed the trilogy, my only regret is that I couldn't let both Kaiden and Ashley stay on Virmire.