For as much controversy as Mass Effect: Andromeda has courted in recent days, nothing compares to the backlash over the endings to Mass Effect 3. While it was tough to imagine a conclusion that satisfied everyone, it often felt like the endings didn't satisfy anyone. When BioWare decided to change the ending via patch, it opened the door to others doing the same.
There are serveral mods that toy with the final moments of Mass Effect 3, the most popular being "The Mass Effect 3 Happy Ending Mod," downloaded 714,736 times. It does what you think it does—it removes the sting. It also makes some serious edits to the final moments, including removing Shepard's conversation with the catalyst, an artificial intelligence found to be controlling the Reapers.
Modder me3deager was inspired by that, and built "LIME—Less Is More Endings." In both endings, none of your "war assets" has any impact on what plays out.
One of them, We Will Prevail, picks up on the changes made by the other mod, removing any and all references to the child-like catalyst. You aren't presented with any options, either; the only thing Shepard can do is destroy the Reapers. In this version, it doesn't result in the death of all synthetic life—only the Reapers die. It works best when combined with another mod that transforms the game's popular (and fan servicey) Citadel downloadable content, where players can interact with their squad and characters from previous games, into an epilogue.
me3deager's other ending, The Cycle Continues, is incredibly dark. The Normandy never shows up to pick up your squad during the final assault—they all die. When Shepard is tasked with powering up the Crucible, an ancient weapon with the power to destroy the Reapers, he fails. Shepard's injuries proved too much, and while desperately crawling towards a control panel, Shepard collapses. The Reapers begin their harvest, and the ending closes out with a message from Liara T'Soni, a plea for the next generation to, hopefully, find a way to end the Reapers.
I recently chatted with me3deager to learn more about what prompted them to dig in and make their own ending to Mass Effect 3.
(The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Waypoint: The kind of person who makes a mod like this is someone who deeply cares about the series. What made you fall in love with Mass Effect?
me3deager: Sovereign talking to Shepard on Virmire. That's when the first game went from, "this is KOTOR but not really KOTOR" to "this is something I have not seen before." I'm not well-versed in literature, so the concepts of Mass Effect were completely new to me.
After that comes the characters. The Mass Effect 2 loyalty missions were enjoyable—the suicide mission was a highlight to me.
The third game did have urgency to it, enough that I forgot to ask exactly how the Reapers got to the Milky Way. And then, the relationships having their little endings. It was looking kind of obvious that the ending might be a downer, but I'm OK with that when it's earned—although this ending did not feel earned to me from a plot perspective.
But I think BioWare did work hard on the characters and letting people say goodbye. The walk at the FOB on Earth, passing by all the squadmates…I knew what BioWare was doing and on that, to me, they delivered properly.
Waypoint: Why remove certain elements from the ending, like the catalyst?
me3deager: The conversation with the catalyst breaks too many things for me. And I still felt that the conversation needed more options for Shepard to push back against what was stated. The choices also seemed a little weird. Thematically, the endings can work for some people, but the technical aspects and the amount of space magic needed was getting to be a bit much for me. This is why The Cycle Continues makes the most sense to me, while We Will Prevail allows the emotional ending to be enjoyable for me instead.
Waypoint: There was no greater controversy among the Mass Effect community than the way the last game ended. How did you feel, when you'd first beaten it?
me3deager: Even with my first playthrough ending with the Extended Cut DLC, I was confused the night I finished it. The next morning, I got a little mad because, to me, the catalyst conversation was the second time in the series I had responses I expected that I could make, but they weren't there. This happened multiple times during that conversation. And as I thought about the endings more I kept seeing more and more plot holes in the series, which kind of wrecked it for me.
Since the plot is what had me interested back in the first Mass Effect, it was hard to see those details get ignored or contradicted. The interesting characters helped, but the root issue was bothering me.
That only lasted part of a day, and a month later or so, I was doing another trilogy run. So, I guess in the end, good characters win out over plot for me. And mods help. MEHEM [The Mass Effect 3 Happy Ending Mod], while not perfect, made the concept of many trilogy runs appealing.
Waypoint: It's one thing to be upset and, say, complain on a message board or Twitter. What prompted you to start developing a mod that put thoughts into action?
me3deager: This is a complicated question to answer. Ultimately, I was cool with MEHEM or the Extended Cut DLC for my trilogy runs. JAM [JohnP's Alternate MEHEM] added another option, and the relatively unknown "That's More Like It" ending mod was sweet. But it was the Citadel DLC that messed all that up.
I played the Citadel DLC the day it came out until I went to bed. Then I popped awake an hour later and played it the rest of the morning until I went to work. I loved it. Cheesy, fun, light-hearted; it was all about the characters and BioWare making self-aware jokes. So off I went on another trilogy run to play it during the story. That did not work at all for me. Then I stopped playing it, finished that run, and tried it at the end of the game. That also didn't work for me.
At that point, I contacted Fob [creator of MEHEM] and asked how hard it was to edit audio. In the end, that mod ended up way more than just audio edits and work for some people. But the problem now was that a mod I made had quickly gone from what I wanted—and worked for me— to making sure that it works for others who want to give it a go. That's where LIME came in.
As you can probably tell, I really like Mass Effect and I figured I was capable of making a few mods for myself and for others. Once the initial hurdles are cleared, it's not too bad to mod.
"My question isn't usually if it's canon or not. Since it's all fiction, my question is if it's good fiction or not."
None of the Mass Effect games were "meant" to be modded. In fact, the PC versions aren't very good—period. How tough did that make your project?
me3deager: For LIME, since I had made a few mods before, I sort of knew what I was doing. It was still somewhat complicated for me and there are still a few little errors in it, but most people probably won't notice.
But modding was pretty tough up front. I went from knowing no hex, to making a little mod for ME2 that was a pure hex edit. Back in 2013, we couldn't make files larger than the originals. Now, we can not only make files larger but we can add new files and have the game point to them. It's really opened up options.
What made it possible for me to make mods was help from really smart people. There are too many to list all of them here, but to not mention Fob (who got me started), JohnP, and Kinkojiro, would be a crime. And, of course, WarrantyVoider and crew who made me3explorer [a popular modding utility].
Waypoint: Endings are never going to please everyone. It's the nature of an ending. With LIME, were you making something for yourself, or for fans?
me3deager: What ended up surprising me was that, while pretty dark, I kind of like the dark version of LIME. I mean, yeah, Shepard and everyone dies but, it works for me. Plus, I knew there would be a few people who would prefer a dark ending that skipped the catalyst conversation.
Waypoint: Building on that, what was the reaction from fans? What kind of feedback did you get? Suddenly, in this scenario, you're in BioWare's seat!
me3deager: Fortunately, I cannot—and wouldn't want to—make money off the mod, so at least nobody paid for it if they thought it was dumb. I've had a surprising amount of suggestions and requests. It goes to show how many different views there are on the endings. [A user named] plasmaFLOW liked it so much that he offered to make some custom animation for it, and it's the best fan-made animation I've ever seen in the trilogy.
I tend to look at endorsements against individual download count to get a real idea. From what I see of LIME and comparing that to mods for other games, I think it's been received well. Some people really like it, some are probably "meh," some probably thought it was pretty dumb and the majority didn't bother to download it. As long as I don't break someone's save or game, that's a win. But to be candid, to not admit that people responding to say that a mod I made saved the series for them…yeah, that feels good. I wish mods weren't needed for that feeling for people but even I prefer modded trilogy runs.
I hesitate to answer as if I'm in BioWare's seat though. They poured years of their professional lives into creating something new. I just swooped in and tweaked a few things of theirs. I was pretty upset at the backlash they got. Sure, the ending wasn't my favorite, but to be that upset about it? It shows how well BioWare did with most of the trilogy to cause people to care that much.
Waypoint: Doing story edits is tricky. You aren't the writers. You aren't BioWare. What's the point of editing the ending if it's not considered canon?
me3deager: It's just fan-fiction is all. But to me, it's my fiction. It's what the Shepard I'm using on a given trilogy run is going to experience; what I'm going to experience. In turn, if someone uses a mod, then it becomes his or her fiction for either that Shepard, or maybe for the game as a whole.
My question isn't usually if it's canon or not. Since it's all fiction, my question is if it's good fiction or not. If the established fiction created by the developer isn't working for me, then I might consider a content mod. In most cases I don't care, but as you saw with my view on the Citadel DLC, I decided I wanted something different.
BioWare seems to intend the Citadel DLC as the end of the game, not the story, but the game. I found some "stage directions" in the goodbye files, and they state how it's the last scene and it's the last words Shepard will say, etc. I just pushed it a little bit to get it to the end of the story. Quite a unique DLC. If not for the ending backlash, I doubt they would have made it.
Waypoint: How are you feeling about Andromeda?
me3deager: I'm now over 15 hours into Andromeda, and I think I see where the story is going on an emotional level. I think I'm going to enjoy Andromeda quite a bit.