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Spoiler Warning Episode 100:
Probing Questions, Part 4

By Josh
on Friday Feb 11, 2011
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

And so our mailbag week comes to an end. Initially I was rather concerned at the prospect of doing an entire week of probing Q&A episodes, but in the end I think it turned out alright.

Next week we should return to our normal routine of complaining bitterly about Mass Effect 2’s plot. Provided Rutskarn’s internet troubles don’t persist through the weekend anyway. Though I hear Mumbles has a sock-puppet she named “Hipster” that would be happy to fill in for a week as a guest host…

Comments (156)

  1. AbruptDemise says:

    I am completely in favor of Hipster the sock puppet being the 5th Spoiler Warning host.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      But how will we tell when it is Rutskarn and when it’s Hipster who’s doing the talking? I mean, they are IDENTICAL!

      • Desgardes says:

        Hipster has a deeper voice, and drinks PBR instead

        • scowdich says:

          If you need a hipster to volunteer as a guest voice, I’d be happy to help. Don’t want to be presumptuous, but I have a headset, black glasses, and a record player. That’s hipster qualifications, right?

      • Taellosse says:

        Better question: How do we know they haven’t been doing this ALL ALONG! It’s no accident that neither Rutskarn nor Mumbles use their real names in SW, after all! Obviously, they BOTH sock puppets, and Randy is secretly still a member of the team, but his multiple-personality disorder has become much more pronounced.

  2. Aulayan says:

    I am glad that Mumbles has quickly come up with a solution. Though this may add further proof to my theory she is the one who trashed Rutskarn’s internet connection….

  3. Adam P says:

    I betcha that Mumbles’ sock-puppet is one of Sid Meier’s dancing bears.

  4. X2-Eliah says:

    Also: Damnit Ruts, stop stealing my rants from 1st episode’s comments!

  5. Kasper says:

    Deus ex spoiler warning? If that was a foodstuff it would be chocolate. What is it’s difficulty? Because in my opinion deus ex is worth a LOT of difficulty if you guys could do a spoiler warning of it.

    • Robyrt says:

      The main problem I see with Deus Ex is that it would be virtually impossible to see what’s going on. The subtitles are tiny, the graphics are murky, and a single playthrough doesn’t really show off the dynamic system.

      • Klay F. says:

        I gotta be honest, the graphics of Deus Ex are HORRIBLE. System Shock 2, which came out at about the same time, was infinitely better in that department, in my opinion anyway.

        Obviously, the depth and quality of story far outweigh the graphics, but I played Deus Ex a few months after it came out, and trying to play it now is an exercise in how to get migraines.

        I just think that a lot of people aren’t going to want to look at all the ugliness going on, even if the accompanying commentary is good.

        • Volatar says:

          I think you are on the wrong blog.

          • Klay F. says:

            Don’t get me wrong, I played Deus Ex and System Shock 2 basically one right after the other when they were new. I loved both of them. That being said, you cannot deny that Deus Ex is hard to look at. I don’t care how great a game is (and make no mistake, Deus Ex is awesome), if it gives me headaches just to look at it, I won’t be playing it through multiple times. I realize I’m probably alone in this, but if they do end up doing a SW of it, they might as well mod it with one of the many texture overhaul mods.

            Conversely, System Shock 2 is a game I STILL replay every now and again.

            Don’t confuse me with a graphics snob, I just think there is something to be said about playing through a game that easy to look at when you are trying to attract a larger audience.

  6. Chris B Chikin says:

    There really wasn’t much good to say about the Collector ship – I didn’t even like the floor pattern or really any aspect of the level design. I know I ranted a lot about that chapter earlier but I feel like doing it again.

    I mean, the Collector ship basically looks like an asteroid with engines and a gun stuck on it, and to me that doesn’t really mesh with my idea of the collector mindset. I imagine them as an efficient swarm of alien locusts, and their architecture should reflect that; functionality over aesthetics every time; somewhere between the Geth and a Borg cube.

    The Collector ship seems the antithesis of this idea. Rather and an efficiently planned starship where a person can get straight from one key point to another in the minimum possible time, they hollowed out an asteroid and built the ship piecemeal around the inside however they could fit it, and then filled in the gaps higgledy-piggledy with pods. Considering they Collectors definitely have the resources and drive to build themselves a decent ship, this idea just seemed ridiculous.

    It also just got worse when those stone outcroppings (read: chest-high walls) appeared. Chest-high walls can be justified where they’re made out of machinery or whatever, but many of these had simply, and obviously, been cut out of the rock during the process of turning the asteroid into a ship. And these outcroppings could serve no other purpose than for cover. The Collectors had deliberately built cover into their ship design, thereby impeding the efficient movement of it’s crew, all for the incredibly unlikely scenario that the ship would be boarded. Considering the ship is older than the human race, they could not have foreseen this trap being set for Shepard, so why would they go to such lengths to make preparations for a situation whereby they would need to take cover from an enemy boarder?

    Of course, we are talking about a race who thought they had a sound plan for capturing and killing Shepard, so maybe interpretation of them as efficient, intelligent and remorseless was wide of the mark.

    • Taellosse says:

      Not that I actually disagree with you here, but let me play devil’s advocate for a minute.

      The Collectors are not a super-advanced race of highly intelligent insect-people with a centralized hive mind. They are the pitiful remnants of an extinct race, basically living sock puppets propped up by extensive genetic and technological alterations. They’re really Husks with networking. Remember the scene at the end–“Harbinger” isn’t the queen bee of the Collectors, he’s another Reaper with his hand up above the scenery, pulling their strings.

      Instead of thinking of them as a super-advanced insect-race that should be building hyper-efficient ships of elegant utility, think of them as a hive of sterile, mutant bees. Their ability to survive is hopelessly compromised by the genetic and mental degradation they’ve suffered from eons of Indoctrination, but they’re compelled to keep going anyway. They construct pathetic mockeries of a space station and a ship from materials at hand because they no longer possess the ability to create from scratch–they lack the creativity anymore. The layout of the place makes no sense because most of them are mindless, damaged drones, and the intelligence driving them barely cares at all. The only reason they’re not long dead is they’ve been kept barely alive by the control of Harbinger.

      Hell, the Collectors were probably never intended to be an army of shock troops who cull an entire species from the galaxy. Before Shepard came along and took out Sovereign, they’d apparently only ever appeared occasionally and secretively to collect small-scale, unusual samples. They were probably meant mostly to quietly keep tabs on the progress of organic civilization and gather samples of promising candidates for new Reaper raw materials. They were only ad hoc repurposed when the Protheans’ plan with the Keepers was discovered and Sovereign’s attempt to retake the Citadel failed. Since the Collectors themselves couldn’t possibly succeed directly where Sovereign had failed, they were tasked with the somewhat wild gambit of creating a new Reaper to do the job, using the source material of the race that had defeated Sovereign to make the new Reaper as dangerous as possible. Meanwhile, whether this plan succeeded or failed, the rest of the Reapers were already awakened and headed in via the long route. If the plan was successful, they could speed things up and get started with the culling that much quicker. If not, they’d arrive eventually anyway. Regardless, they didn’t need the Collectors anymore–they’d picked the species that would be culled for new Reapers already, and had already determined that the time for the next culling had arrived. So using them up on a desperate gambit was fine–they can be replaced with the remnants of humanity once the culling is done.

      Now, I’m pulling all of this out of my ass, but it makes a certain amount of sense. Of course, if I’m right, they kind of did a piss-poor job of conveying almost all of it within the context of the game.

    • Avilan says:

      Funny, I think it’s the other way around. The foundation is a Prothean ship, and then the obvious organic growth, like a beehive, has slowly been covering it. You can see it where you suddenly get some shiny floor surfaces etc.

      As for the infamous chest-high walls… yes, it’s slightly stupid, and spoils the fights a bit, but I refuse to agree that they are worse than the odd placement of “containers” and “machinery” in ME1 (which just happened to behave just like… chest high walls! Weirdly enough placed to funnel opponents in specific paths…

      • krellen says:

        Will you agree that they’re not better?

      • Retlor says:

        I guess you have a point, but crates and containers to hide behind are such a staple trope in just about every genre of videogame that I can accept hap-hazard illogical placements to allow better gameplay.

      • Fnord says:

        What I liked about ME1 was that it actually didn’t have that many chest high walls. It had some, but to my recollection you spent more time shooting around corners than crouching behind barriers. Yes, there was a bunch of random stuff conveniently placed, but it felt more natural than the utter proliferation of barriers of exactly the same height.

        Of course, ME1 was also less cover-based in the first place. You were tougher and biotics were better at controlling enemies. Cover was helpful, sure, but it wasn’t absolutely vital like it is in ME2 (for everyone except the Vanguard, at least).

  7. Vect says:

    Do you guys really hate the Crew that much? I mean… Kelly might be technically a hypocrite by being a xenophile and a member of Cerberus, but…

    And those engineers, erm… Yeah, those engineers! One… Has an accent!

    OK, I forsee Josh laughing like crazy as Kelly becomes a human smoothie or cheering The Collectors on as they abduct everyone save for Joker. Maybe spend a part of an episode explaining the problems you guys seem to have with the crew.

  8. Jeremiah says:

    I had a sock puppet before they were cool.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The important thing is:Is the sock puppet wearing pants or not?

  10. Jekyll says:

    *sigh* I was going to complain about the lack of Uranus probing but it appears that Josh can foresee complaints from the future.

  11. Jennifer Snow says:

    What the heck? Shamus, Teddy Roosevelt posted on your blog.

  12. Alexander The 1st says:

    I think Rutskarn is too high level a punster to get the probing joke. His AC’s too high.

    Either that, or he took a level in the prestige class Hipster.

    You guys almost spoke over the “*Sigh*…probing Uranus…” line that EDI gives. Though you did talk over EDI’s “I’m not going to say it, Commander…” line.

    Also, mining would be more enjoyable if you got MORE ELEMENT ZERO! You literally are overloading with Platinum and all, but Element Zero is like…not there at all.

    Of course, a second playthrough is therefore less agonising because of that one difference, where you start off with more Element Zero. Platinum and Palladium? Iridium? Don’t really care much for them. But Element Zero is used for retrain/extra power, Biotics, Jack, and…you never seem to have enough.

  13. RTBones says:

    Can you tell how much of a NON TF2 player I am? LOL! I am sure all of the TF2 players that read d20 and watch Spoiler Warning could have garnered where Mumbles came from, and are now looking at me with that, “Hah! Newb!” tone of voice. Hey, at least I now understand, “Nice move, Mumbles!”

    On the flip side – because of all the ranting/raving about Minecraft, I am actually going to give it a shot this weekend. Sigh. More gaming crack, just what I need. You know what they say – c’mon have a good time, and get blinded out of your mind….

    Thanks for answer our questions, y’all.

    EDIT: AnswerING our questions. Stupid keyboard.

  14. Sydney says:

    Re: Mumbles’s suggestion about simple plots with deep characters

    Y’know what did this well? Firefly. “Here are some people” was pretty much the plot, and then things happened to them. Involving other interesting people. We had an episode largely about Jayne, an episode largely about Inara, an episode largely about Kaylee, and a few “wham” episodes that mixed things up now and then.

    What do people remember about Firefly? “Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?” “I only said that so she could get behind you.” “Oh, gose!” “[shoots hostage-taker]” “Sad little king of a sad little hill.”

    And I honestly think BioWare tries for that structure. “Here are some interesting people. And Jacob.” They have adventures, each relating to one character and developing them somehow (and Jacob does some things), and occasionally something like Horizon or Collector Ship mixes it up.

    Buuuuut they executed it pretty poorly this time ’round.

    • RTBones says:

      If only we could get so lucky as to have Joss Whedon writing for the likes of a Bioware. Shiny.

    • krellen says:

      That “And Jacob” part cracked me up.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      As far as I’m concerned, you can have a complex plot, just be willing to unravel it when the player wants to. Bioware’s character development works because of the hub system they have, which allows you to take a break and discover characters, but it’s not neccessary.

      Consider, for example, a comparision between ME1 and ME2.

      *****************ME1 SPOILERS BELOW**************************************** – NOTE: SPOILER TAG does not seem to take effect, read at your own risk. Also, if someone could figure out why it doesn’t block out, please feel free to fix it.

      ME1 starts off with a fairly simple start; Saren’s a villain, trying to find the Conduit. Trying to bring back a doomsday race. You’re sent out to stop him.

      But then, it becomes more complicated, as you realise that he’s serving Soverign, and Soverign wants to wipe out the galaxy – he makes that clear, and he also taunts you to try and stop him, because he’s confident he’ll win. But he can’t yet, and this is resolved via the Conduit, namely that the Protheans had intercepted the Reapers’ plan from before and are aware that the only way Saren can get to the place he needs to be is via the Conduit, so he captures Rachni, who had discovered the path to Ilos, after getting more clear information about the Beacon at Feros. His plan hinges on being able to use the Conduit AT Ilos to bypass the Citadel and open the Citadel that you had started at to unleash the Reapers from dark space.

      ****END ME1 SPOILERS*********************

      Pretty complex there, and very little character development about it. But, notice that each part was revealed at points in the story that made sense. Even when Soverign had his typical “You cannot understand us, fool!” line, Soverign still explained that there were many of the Reapers, and they were all set to destroy your kind – he even explains why your society is still alive. Makes him really awesome, because he has answers that are more than “I am the chessmaster, no you can’t look at the board, you might dirty it with your hands. Besides, you don’t know chess.”

      Harbinger? Let’s look at his lines:


      Of them, only three or four lines sound like exposition (Which feels like it was cut, never saw them myself) [And TIM doesn’t let you know the villains’ motivation (“The collectors are unknowable”), so nobody gets why the Collectors are villains, they have to attack you for you to get the message – very much like FF VII’s Sephiroth – we know he is the villain, we just don’t know why for too long of the game.] and the rest is all “YAR! I IS TOO STRONG FOR YOU! I HAS INFINITE CONTINUES! YOU CAN’T STOP ME! THIS HURTS YOU!”. Would’ve been nice to have encountered the Collector General himself, pin him down, and interrogate him. I mean, we were in his base.

      tl;dr: If your character is ever uttering the line “You can’t possibly understand my plan”, read this comic’s first set of panels first:


      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Soooo,you hate harbinger because no one but him knows why he is doing the evil things,but sovereign is ok because he says you cant comprehend why he is doing the evil things?And sovereign doesnt explain why organics are still alive.”You live because we dont want you dead yet” is not an explanation.

        Also,whats so complex about me1 plot?Its basically this:
        alien supreme race wants to conquer all,they have a spy who everyone trust,so you must expose him,then you have to piece together a map to the mcguffin and stop the big bad race.

        Its been done to death in various other sci fi books,movies,series and games(deep space 9,from the top of my head).Its how you expand on that plot that is important,not the plot itself.Me1 did it well,with even a few awesome hidden things you can find between the lines.But that doesnt mean its a complex plot.Sure,more complicated than half life,but not as complicated as,for example,chronicles of amber.

        The fact that me2 expanded on its plot in a bad way,however,doesnt make collectors,or harbinger bad per se.We have another reaper,but this one seems to be far away,and he is working through an agent race,which is basically like the keepers,only its made out of protheans(hmm,reapers do love bugs.Either they were a bug race once,or they find bugs as a well made template).Thats nice,another enemy working through a pawn,just like in 1.However,while the pawn in 1 was smart,this pawn is dumb as hell.Not because its a bad concept,but because it was poorly executed.

        Plus,I understand why the reapers see humans as the next viable race to incorporate into themselves,but why all this obsession with shepard?Yeah shepard did uncover the big plan in 1,and rallied a bunch that finally stopped the reaper,but s/he is still just one person.S/he did it mostly due to a series of flukes,not skill.The galaxy does praise hir,but so what?A martyr is still as influential figure as a living messiah,so merely killing shepard would achieve nothing.

        • Alexander The 1st says:

          The thing about Sovereign is that while he tries to pull off airs, he still reveals part of his plan – that is, to let organics find the relays, and then rely on that technology so that they don’t expand beyond the control of the Reapers when they come back for them [For, admittedly, a “unknownable reason”, but Saren immediately afterwards explains why he’s working with Sovereign and what their plans are. Saren doesn’t try and pull a “You cannot understand what my overarching plan is, but just trust me that it’ll work.” Vigil goes into even more detail as to *why* the plan has to be executed the way it is, given that Saren is already a Spectre.

          With Harbinger, while he apparently taunts your teammates in battle and gives some idea as to why they don’t choose them, there’s no real discussion. You don’t get to finish off most of a team of Collectors, then Statis field one last one before it becomes Harbinger and get to interrogate it, like you do with the Blue Sun on Junktown [The name eludes me, but it’s Grunts recruitment planet.]. Parley is the best time to discover/uncover plot.

          • Aldowyn says:

            @daemian Pretty much any plot can be reduced to the basics like that… just saying

            Anyway, my opinion on the Sovereign/Harbinger thing is that it’s entirely possible to miss the fact that Harbinger is a reaper – you never talk to him, he doesn’t say anything important, etc. etc. ME1 had a lot of exposition, explaining what is going on (and why), and ME2 has very little of it.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Sure,but you still discover what harbinger and the collectors are doing by other means.

            1st point:Yes,you can break down every story like this.Its because plots are limited and essentially simple.

            2nd point:Which is why I say that me2 fails in execution,even if it is good in the premise.

  15. Duoae says:

    Considering my question was rudely passed over, i suppose i could make it up to you by filling in for Rutskarn…. I *do* have podcast experience, after all!


    Great mailbag show guys, enjoyed it a lot; Even more since Mumbles seems to have improved her mic and levels now.

  16. PurePareidolia says:

    I know those HL2 reviews!
    And I know they got reuploaded.
    Links to all 3 Commentaries

  17. Avilan says:

    …For us who like the game: Mass Effect 2 Wins IAA Game of the Year



    Just wanted to tell you guys :P

    • krellen says:

      That’s no real surprise. It hits all the right buttons to garner the award.

      EDIT: If you view it from the standpoint of Time’s “Person of the Year” (which can be bad or good), it’s actually more-or-less inevitable. None of the other nominees generated even half the discussion and fervour as did ME2.

  18. Sethar123 says:

    Hey guys, I’d be a guest fpr you guys. I have microphone and amazing internet connection. If you’d consider me I’d appreciate it.

  19. anaphysik says:

    As for the more literary review of a game, smudboy has done this for ME and ME2 (particularly for ME2): http://www.youtube.com/user/smudboy
    They’re pretty good.

    Also, Josh: why was it so important that Shamus read all of Drexer’s question (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=10560&cpage=1#comment-187115)? Was it simply the implication that talking about all the failings of a game doesn’t constitute a serious review of it? Or what? Sounded like there was supposed to be something hilarious in there, but I failed a spot check.

  20. Zaxares says:

    One good thing I WILL say for the Collector ship: the music. It’s that perfect combination of alien and eerie that never fails to put me on edge. Especially when combined with the ambient sound effects in the ship itself.

    • ehlijen says:

      Music has always been Bioware’s strongest point in my opinion. It’s the one thing they’ve never disppointed me on (nor anyone I know) while being one of the few games whose music I enjoy remembering even years after.

      • Zukhramm says:

        Wow! I am on the exact opposite end. Bioware is one of the most boring companies, musically. I can remember only one single piece of music from their games, two if a certain track from KotOR II is also in the first game.

      • X2-Eliah says:

        Depends, really. For the DA franchise, Inon Zur has made some great tracks, and some only mediocre ones as well.. It is a bit over the place. As for Mass Effect, the first one had a neat track, second one had it’s moments, but was overall weaker. ME3 gets a new composer, so we’ll see how it works out.

        I’ll say this much, no track Bioware’s composers have done so far have matched the Elder Scrolls theme (from Oblivion, or the more mellow Morrowind one), and as far as ambient music/sound design goes, they really pale compared to Half-Life 2 and Amnesia.

  21. Supernaut says:

    As soon as I saw you go to the local cluster I knew Josh was heading for Uranus.

  22. Blanko2 says:

    gotta say, you guys have really hit a groove.
    i laughed so much during this episode i felt sick afterwards :D

    its a 100% improvement over how it was during bioshock, i gotta say.
    love the show and all that jazz

  23. PurePareidolia says:

    Totally not related to any of the above, I have made for the cast an ACTION POSE.
    Use it well.
    Or not, It’s up to you.

  24. Kavonde says:

    This is completely off topic, but I noticed on The Escapist that there’s a news item about but Björn Hurri’s steampunk reimaginings of various Star Wars characters, and, well…

    Han Solo is Reginald Cuthbert.

  25. Red Conine says:

    That review/commentary of Half-Life 2 still exists.
    I knew exactly what you were talking about when you referenced it.
    It exists as one 2-hour video on Google Video:


    Enjoy, Shamus, and anyone else who clicks it. It is by far the most fascinating review of any game I’ve ever watched.

  26. Integer Man says:

    Thanks for answering my question. Yeah, was a bit of a troll question, but I really appreciate the answer and analysis on video game story, particularly Mumbles’ bit on keeping it clean.

    In the process of writing a plot for an old school adventure game. Definitely feeling a compulsion to make things complicated, but clean / clear / accessible is definitely where I need to be.

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