I Experienced Mass Effect: New Earth and Didn’t Even Get a Lousy T-Shirt

Mass Effect: New Earth (PRNewsFoto/3D Live)

You know, I’d actually forgotten that they were making my favorite video game series into an amusement park ride when I suddenly found that Mass Effect: New Earth was opening last month in Santa Clara’s Great America amusement park in my home state of California. My first instinct was to run out my door and drive straight there, forsaking the earthly amenities of job, home, and family for the opportunity to be among the first to experience BioWare’s masterpiece in ride form.

But being the calm, cool, and collected geek I am, I bided my time, let the hype and the crowds die down a bit, and scraped together some cash to do this properly. Hell, I even brought along the wife and kid because why not. The words “Great America” hadn’t really entered my mind since I went as a teenager due largely to the inordinate number of awesome theme parks residing in Cali, but one way or another, I knew I was not getting out of this summer without experiencing firsthand the temple they’d practically built in my backyard paying tribute to my most revered gaming franchise. And last week, experience it I did.

mass effect new earth entrance

Yaaasssss!

In the month I waited since the ride’s opening, I was careful to avoid any and all articles that may have spoiled the experience. I wanted to go in knowing nothing, and I succeeded. Was there any possibility that this thing was going to live up to the hype I was burdening it with? Fuck no. It’s a five minute amusement park ride. It was never going to encompass the insanely epic trilogy spanning dozens of hours and worlds and hundreds of cosmic possibilities. You can’t even adequately sum up the basic concepts of Mass Effect in five minutes.

And then there’s the fact that Disney’s Star Tours had done the same thing with the Star Wars franchise nearly thirty years ago and many have trod that ground since. Hell, the Minions have their own 3D ride at Universal Studios. So maybe a little underwhelming, then? Yeah, a bit. But still, anything worth doing is worth redoing Mass Effect style. New Earth is a fun little romp through a small section of the Mass Effect universe during the events of the third game that revamps the old concept with some added twists borrowed from other Disney attractions.

When you read that this is a “4D holographic journey” you may wonder what kind of mind-bending astrophysics are implemented to bring this fourth dimension into play in a world that consists of a mere three. All it really is an added immersion factor that stimulates you with various well-timed sensations during the ride. Ever wondered what a rachni’s breath smells like? Well, now I know. That and the temperature of their slobber. So basically, I’m a better fan than you now. Thanks, Great America!  

Where Star Tours put you inside of a room that moves in time with the show to give the illusion of movement, New Earth has each individual seat move while blasting you with air and occasionally water as well as some scents, so you see, hear, feel, and smell it all. You can even smell the dust when your ship brushes against a mountain. Along with the live performer acting as your captain and the gigantic screen with 3D effects, it’s a really cool experience.

mass effect new earth spectre armour display

Spectre armour on display in both fem and bro models.

There’s plenty of fanservice on hand (both times I rode it, fangirls screamed when the captain mentioned that a certain Commander Shepard may have once ridden that very ship) including appearances from the Normandy and some of her crew, but the experience is very friendly for non-gamers as well. A pre-boarding video gives you the basics of Mass Relay travel and you don’t need to know much to enjoy a virtual space ship ride with 3D lasers and monsters and stuff.

All in all, New Earth is a great premise whose only downfalls are that it’s already been done and the experience is all too brief. The games are better, but after I shut them off I don’t have an entire amusement park full of badass thrill coasters, water slides, and churros at my disposal either. Great America was more than worth the cost of its admission (assuming you get the online discount) so the addition of a Mass Effect attraction is just geek-flavored icing on the cake. And the lines weren’t even bad on a Sunday.  

Surprisingly, I actually had trouble finding any merchandise for the recently opened ride, unless you count getting my picture taken with a life-size cutout of Urdnot Wrex. I went into most of the shops over the course of the day and found everything from a giant dragon skull replicas to multiple stores dedicated to Peanuts to a t-shirt of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy that was suggestive enough to prompt my wife to photograph it and text it to her lesbian friend, but no Mass Effect gear.

mass effect tali shirt

You shall be mine….

I’ve always wanted a Mass Effect t-shirt, but have only ever run across some pretty bland N7 logos. I was really hoping to go home with a really awesome one, but as we headed for the exit and the park darkened around us, my quest had failed. Ironically, I am irritated when other theme parks dump you from a ride directly into a themed gift shop, but the one time I actually want a whole store dedicated to an attraction, I can’t find anything. But wait! What’s that? The gift shop right at the entrance so you don’t see it coming in, but can’t miss it going out has the shirt I need but never knew I wanted sitting in the window! A killer stylized design of notorious space waifu Tali’Zorah vas Normandy herself stared back at me, beckoning.

If this seems like a fairy tale ending to a quest for merchandise from a man who normally despises souvenirs, it is. That is to say, it didn’t actually work out in real life. The shirt was there on display, but when I ran in to sing “how much is that Tali in the window?” they were sold out. My entire life, in a nutshell, folks.

It was a great day I had prompted by my love of Mass Effect, but I do have to question Great America’s merchandising stratagem. I mean, come on! You just opened this awesome ride based on one of the greatest gaming franchises last month. You knew Biodrones would be coming from near and far to throw their money at you and you drop the ball on stocking t-shirts? Shame!

Still, if you’re in the NorCal neighborhood and looking for a great way to spend your time, you could do a lot worse than stopping by Santa Clara to give Mass Effect: New Earth a go. It’s -as Tali would say- totally worth it. It doesn’t reinvent the Star Tours wheel, but it does give it a nice new video gamey coat of paint (and monster drool). Who’d have thought video game rides would turn out better than video game movies? Admission to the park is about forty dollars a pop if you order online, the crowds were extremely manageable, the roller coasters are top notch, there are carnival games and an in-house water park; there’s literally something for everyone. Just don’t go for the Mass Effect merchandise.

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Mighty No. 9 Presents: How to Turn an Entire Industry Against You

mighty
What do you get when you mix the hopes and dreams of millions of old school gamers with a legendary video game artist, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and more bad choices than Election Day? You get Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s spiritual successor to his classic beloved Mega Man series.

It was a high profile game with everything going for it. Fantastic-looking characters, recognizable gameplay with a fresh coat of paint just how we like it, a legit pedigree, and an army of backers ready to shell out their money for what was essentially a rebirth of one of gamings’ most famed franchises that has lost its momentum over the years. How exactly does this not spell success? Weeeellllll……

dina karam tweet

Interesting idea, but I would suggest examining the sustainability of that reproductive model before carrying it out…

It started small enough with the game’s online community manager baiting “gaters” on Twitter with ill-advised rants and calling for them to boycott of the game in addition to the occasional call for male genocide (gendercide?) and banning people from the forums. You know, the usual internet stuff. But still, as a general rule a company shouldn’t hire a community manager to represent them that publicly threatens to murder half of their game’s potential user base, calls for people to boycott the game, and generally attracts, agitates, and embodies the exact elements that it’s a community manager’s job to keep under control.

But then again, they only gave her the job because of her personal relationships within the development team. It’s not like that’s a dealbreaker. As fans awaited the game after paying for the entire development process out of pocket, they were treated to multiple delays that saw the game postponed by over an entire year from its original release date. But hey, that’s more quality time to spend with the charming community manager (who was eventually removed) while you wait!

The game had to come out at some point, and come out it did. All of the years of hype and drama and four million dollars in donations and finally gamers were able to purchase this mythical unicorn of a beautiful 2D shooter last week. Surely the pre-launch trailer was going to be epic. Surely. Let’s check it out.

Oh. My. Fucking. God. Did that really happen in 2016? I honestly don’t know where to begin with that train wreck so I’m going to go with my line-by-line thoughts on the single worst advertisement in video game history; one that makes us long for the days of “she kicks high”.

“Hey, you! Looking at the screen!”

How did he know?!

“Let me ask you a question: do you like awesome things that are awesome?”

NO.

“Then you gotta play this game, dude.”

Okay, dude.

“It’s freakin’ COOL. And CRAZY addictive! Like popping BUBBLE WRAP addictive!”

Bubble wrap doesn’t cost four million dollars to make, though…

“See, that’s your dash move. There’s a short dash and a long dash, jump dash, spiral, slide. There’s probably a dash that makes you breakfast, I don’t know!”

Is this the first trailer to list every control in the game and then make one up just to be stupid? SETTLE DOWN, MAN!

“Point is, you’re dashing around like a friggin’ moon man and I love it.”

Do moon men have a reputation for dashing around?

“Oh, and look at this! There’s all these combo moves you can do.”

Go on.

“And you can do combos on combos to rack up your score.”

If you say so.

“And I know you like that combo on combo action.”

Please stop now.

“But I saved the best for last: absorption boosts.”

Breath status: baited.

“You kill an enemy, and you can absorb their power ups!”

What a wild idea for a video game.

“Stuff that’ll make you faster, and stronger, and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.”

I’m not sure you’re understanding who your target audience is here, friend.

“So what’d’you think? Are you ready to play?”

I was up until the exact second you started talking…

Just…. How? Why? Condescending and insulting while giving off that desperate vibe of a middle-aged grandparent trying to sound hip and cool hanging out with teenagers without any knowledge whatsoever of current popular culture. Far out, brah! Totally tubular! Raise the roof! I can see some imbecile writing or even recording something like this in an awkward “that sounded better in my head” situation, but I can literally not imagine anybody in any corner of the gaming community trying to sell people a game giving that a pass. I wonder how many people were instantly unsold with that one fell swoop of stupidity.

But really, if the game is amazing, who cares? A little half-assed marketing here, a possible homicidal maniac on the internet managing the forums there, it’s not like these things will make an awesome thing that is awesome not awesome, right?

mighty no 9 sonic tweet

As far as commercial slogans go, “better than nothing” may beat “cry like an anime fan on prom night”, but it still needs work.

But what if the game is just kind of meh and filled with technical issues? You may have a problem on your hands. And when the creator’s apparent response to gamers’ lukewarm reception is that it’s “better than nothing”, it may be time to worry. Or perhaps when the most popular meme generated by your game is based on how the explosions look like cheap pizza, it may be a bad sign. But when Sonic the goddamn Hedgehog (who hasn’t had a decent game in how long?) starts looking down on you, you are officially in trouble.

It’s one thing when a company hypes a game to the gills and it comes out less than great. Gamers still swarm upon them like a plague of entitled mosquitoes to publicly shame them and attempt to drive them from the industry, but when the game is a Kickstarter project promising a return to the good old days if only you, the gamers, will pay for it to be made it tends to make things more personal and nasty.

So fair warning to game developers both aspiring and legendary: here is a list of things to keep in mind if you don’t want everybody to hate you. A) if you take fans’ money, make damn sure you can deliver on quality. B) Don’t hire a community manager who expresses a desire to massacre your player base or suggest boycotts of your product. C) Don’t speak to gamers like you are the people who bullied them in junior high in your advertisements. And D) maybe consider that fans of old school Japanese video games with anime-style art may also be anime fans.

Instead of a glorious statement about the power of crowdfunding to put the Capcoms of the world on notice, Mighty No. 9 has become a cautionary tale about mismanaging assets, overreaching, and general cluelessness about your target audience. It’s kind of sad that I still want to play it. And maybe I will some day, but the thing about the current gaming industry is that we are being served up an absolute glut of quality titles at all price ranges at all times. We just don’t have time for games that don’t deliver or developers that don’t respect their audience anymore .

When you put the wrong foot forward as epically as this game has, there may be no way to recapture the attention ormighty no 9 hype train comic regain the trust of your audience. Crowdfunding is a great way for artists to cut out the corporate middleman and let gamers choose what they want to play. But the double edge of that is that the artist assumes all responsibility for the product and the funders are gambling on the dev’s ability to deliver.

A high profile flop like this one casts shade on the potentially bright future of crowdfunded indie games. While I personally don’t care for the idea of major game developers putting development costs entirely on their customers, I am all for choice and an alternative to corporate gaming so it hurts to see something like this happen. I can only imagine how the backers must be feeling. Inafune appears to not only have burned bridges in the industry, but he’s now lost the trust and respect of his audience as well. Let’s hope that this can somehow be salvaged.