Friday, 9 March 2012

Stock Photos in Mass Effect 3 - Where Does the Buck Stop?

 Someone at BioWare thought that people wouldn't catch a stock photo or two, that someone was wrong.

To say that the recent release of Mass Effect 3, the last instalment of the eponymous trilogy, has been met with a great deal of controversy and criticism would be a definite understatement. There seem to have been many concerns raised over things like the way content was handled to some of the notions for future ideas are brought to the table, as well as how to treat new instalments of an already established series.

Putting all that aside for now though, one of the smallest and yet also most disappointing things has to be the fact that someone somewhere on the Mass Effect team got pretty lazy. It's about the only way that the fact that (spoilers in this link, obviously) a stock image was used as a base for the photo that reveals the face of one of the more prominent characters in the game: Tali'Zorah. To elaborate here Tali'Zorah (or Tali) has been masked for the entire series, her face and whether it would be revealed stood to be a large mystery that interested quite a few people, at least in passing.

Fans of the series are of course less than pleased about this coming to light, but for me it brings a couple of questions into the fore: first is the idea that the person(s) behind this decision thought that it wouldn't be pointed out. Perhaps if this game had been released before the Internet became a prolific thing then it might have been kept quiet for months, perhaps years. When you have thousands of people scrutinizing your game though, it's a fair bet that at least a few of them are going to notice things like this, and then when someone finds proof all it takes is a couple of paragraphs and clicks of the mouse and all of a sudden you have a rather unhappy populace on your hands.

I know that the article I linked from The Escapist would argue that this isn't a big deal, stating that, "Could have BioWare have used a custom image? Yes. Does using a stock image diminish your experience of the game? No." but I'm inclined to disagree. Certainly it is something that is a very minimal aspect of the overall experience, but at this point it's also a reveal the potential of which has been entrenched into the overall story for quite some time, and it feels to me at least (and bear in mind I don't even play this series) feels like something underwhelming and cheap carted out after all the build up that took place. It'd be like saving the Princess in Super Mario Bros and not even getting to see her, just having a line of text that says "You saved the Princess, hooray". Wouldn't you feel a little cheated about that, even if the only difference was a couple of pixels or a lack thereof?

In a series that has acquired such a large fanbase and proven to be extremely popular I can't blame people for wanting more, even if all that means is a photo not based on a stock image. You can't tell me there wasn't room in such a massive project for a professional artist or model or something of that sort. So this leads to my second question: exactly who is culpable here?

Certainly the artist who decided to use the stock photo, but I find it hard to imagine that he wasn't under the supervision of someone else, or had a team to answer to, so did he or she come clean with them about the origin of the image, and if so were they also fine with it? I can't help but wonder how high this did or didn't go in terms of there being no objections. I find it hard to imagine that no one who was privy to the information stopped to think for even a moment about the possible repercussions of the choice when (not if, when) the information came to light. Perhaps some information will come to light in the future that will implicate the parties responsible, but even that's not a guarantee since it might not happen or necessarily be truthful. It just strikes me as a corner that there was really no need to cut, and that in having done so caused a lot more harm than good to BioWare's image.

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