Mass Effect – going old-skool

Mass Effect – going old-skool

Revisiting Mass Effect

I had a sudden spurt of nostalgia (might have been the late-winter blues kicking in) a few months back, and found myself in my Steam account staring at my row of Mass Effect games. (The originals, not the Andro-bomination.)

And I suddenly realised I really felt like replaying ME.

Part of that urge may have been the fact that my other option was reformatting the print copy of Fighting Shadows, and I didn’t have the stamina (or the alcohol).

But anyway, I fired up Mass Effect 1, had the obligatory fight with Steam + mods + ‘you want the game files stored where‘, and an hour or so later was thoroughly in the mood for blowing away hordes of Geth on my way through Eden.

It’s all about the story

I don’t play games to go online and socialise with adolescents (mental or actual), so if I end up playing and replaying a computer game, it’s because the game environment, the characters I can customise, and the story complexity all add up to something I’m willing to spend my time on even once the surprises have all worn off.

ME1 launched in 2007, so by any lights, it’s an old game by this point, and since I’m now playing on a 2560×1440 screen, you can see that (in fact, the Steam variant maxed out at something like 1920×1080 resolution).

On the other hand, if you can ignore a certain amount of graphic clunkiness, the game is still a lot of fun. The player character comes in six basic flavours ranging from tech through biotic to your basic chest-beating tank, and someone with a brain set up the character types, because they’re all playable, and they all have (by comparison with many games) fairly balanced advantages and disadvantages.

You also get a good range of appearance options, without ending up on the crazy end of the scale (I love the Elder Scrolls games, but you can waste a full day setting up your character appearance if you choose to tweak all  the variables).

Playing the game

ME1 is the only one where you don’t start the game neck deep in shit and sinking fast; in fact, you get notified you’re being considered for an elite squad of special operatives and get booted out of Normandy’s loading bay – your only major handicap is shitty intel on what’s actually supposed to be happening on the ground. By comparison with the problems you face five minutes into ME2 and ME3, that’s kiddy stuff.

ME1 is the first in the series, and you can see that as you play through: the character types aren’t quite as defined as they are by the time you hit ME2, the main NPCs aren’t quite as well-rounded as they are in the next two games, and at least until you put some numbers into your fight stats, even a Husk can do more than ruffle your hair (which is a bit of nuisance as you meet a lot of them during your first mission…)

On the other hand, a lot of the elements I like about all three games are there in ME1 – the main NPCs, including Garrus, who starts out very watered down in ME1 before coming into his own as a talented shit-disturber in ME2 and ME3; the paragon / renegade options, which make your interactions with the game much more nuanced than simply choosing the dialogue option closest to what you actually want to say, and of course the setting of the game itself.

Oh, and there’s a story beyond the “go there, shoot that”. The overarching story through the ME games, and the character interactions, are really why I keep going back to games that are over a decade old. To my mind they’re good in ME1, excellent in ME2, and still pretty entertaining in ME3.

The Mass Effect universe

Like a lot of people, until I hit high school and got throughly put off science and mathematics by a series of teachers who might have been much more interesting without the constraints of the school curriculum, I wanted to be an astronaut and explore strange new worlds (and climbed my parents’ bookshelves to get at the books clearly considered less-than-improving for an 8-year-old, like Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series).

There’s a nice range of planets and ships, and the opposition you end up fighting fits with the storyline. There’s also several allied species, which, while the majority are surprisingly bipedal and share a very human frame of reference, are at least a decent try.

The mass effect relays get neatly around the whole problem of light-speed (good old ‘alien tech’, can’t beat it for sci-fi), and someone who knew their audience set up the galaxy map you navigate by and the backdrops to the systems you can explore. (That said, there are entire weeks when I want just one minute alone in a scream-proofed room to make my point to the individual who programmed the Mako, which steers like a pig on hot ice in zero-gee no matter the terrain, the alleged environment, or the actual steering commands you give.)

ME1 relies heavily on omnigel, which does everything from fixing the Mako (which gets its ass blown away with tedious regularity when fighting anything with bigger guns than the local equivalent of mosquitoes) to letting you into lockers and rooms that you otherwise blow your chance to get into.

ME2 has a much more interesting system for breaking into things, which relies on solving basic pattern-puzzles on a time limit to bypass locks on rooms and safes. It also has by far the best vehicle for surface exploration, which is more of a skimmer / hover-craft…although it does share certain tell-tale steering similarities with the ME1 Mako, at least the fact that the thing is airborne makes those idiosyncracies slightly more logical.

ME3, unfortunately, decided to retire the bypass options for rooms and lockers (your omni-tool takes care of that), and any planetary exploration is done on foot – although the lack of aggravation from the steering is more than made up for by the local-area navigation system, which will ping your compass with the direction of the next goal and nothing more in most situations (much less help than you might imagine when there’s several different floors to choose from, although the good ol’ ‘take the path of most resistance’ is usually reliable).

The characters

I won’t spend a lot of time on the romance options, because there’s multiple articles on which NPCs your character can romance in each of the games (in fact, it’s a fine line in ME1 between ‘being friendly enough to get the character missions’ and ‘leading them on’), but suffice it to say you can date crew in all three games by talking to them and picking the right dialogue options. It doesn’t have a huge amount of effect on the main story other than a few cutscenes in strategic places. 

However, while Ashley has forever made herself my designated DB in ME1 by an unappealing mix of racism (specieism?) and fundamentalism, talking with the rest of the crew nets you missions and entertainment. It’s not bad in ME1, but the conversations in ME2 are fantastic, as are some of the interactions on loyalty missions between crew and NPCs (one of my favourites shows up on Miranda’s loyalty mission, where the Eclipse unit leader comes out with “Oh, I was just waiting for you to finish getting dressed – does Cerberus really let you whore around in that outfit?” right before Miranda blows her away).

The ME2 loyalty missions are one of the highlights that don’t really show up in either ME1 or ME3, much to my regret. Each of your core crew in ME2 shows up and joins the crew with basic skills and one outfit. After they’ve spent varying time aboard, each of them will open up to Shepard a bit and confess there’s something eating away at them (psychopathic daughter, secret twin, accusation of treason, you name it) which Shepard can help them sort out. Once you do, the character develops an extra skill, which ranges from the ‘why did you bother’ to ‘seriously kick-ass’, as well as an extra outift option (that last becomes a bit less interesting if you’ve invested in some of the mods, which can provide alternatives).

Whether or not you complete loyalty missions also has knock-on effects in ME3  (another fun part of this series is that someone had the foresight to plan ahead enough to let some of the decisions made in each game impact the next ones). 

Mass Effect Legendary edition

Happily, there’s an updated version of the trilogy coming out in May 2021, which I did splurge on. As it’s coming from Bioware, it’ll undoubtedly be buggy as hell until enough people complain, but I’m promised an update to the graphics I was whining about, and some of the mods the designeers consider key. We may not agree on that selection, but hopefully sooner or later some enterprising person will set up the actual key mods, including the fix for the disastrous ME3 ending, to function with the new version. 

I’m living in hopes that this is the warm-up to another ME game that’s not the same level of fuck-up as Andromeda, but even if not, I’ll cheerfully take an updated and shiny version of the original trilogy, since I don’t seem to be bored of playing them yet.

The Silk Thief – Cover reveal and pre-order!

The Silk Thief – Cover reveal and pre-order!

The Silk Thief cover reveal and pre-order is live! The Silk Thief is the second quirky magical mystery adventure set in the Roshaven series of humorous fantasy novels by author Claire Buss – if you like the wit and humour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, then you’ll love The Silk Thief.

The Silk Thief releases 4th June 2021!

The Blurb
Fourteen, heir to the Empire of Roshaven, must find a new name before Theo, Lord of neighbouring Fidelia, brings his schemes to fruition.

Not only has he stolen Roshaven’s trade, but he plans to make Fourteen his own and take her empire in the bargain.

Her protector, Ned Spinks, is plagued with supernatural nightmares whilst his assistant, Jenni the sprite, has lost her magick.

Can they figure out how to thwart Theo’s dastardly plan before it’s too late for his city and her empire?

What Readers Say

“Loved the quirky banter!”

“Entirely delightful and captivating.”

“A wonderful tribute to the Late Great Sir Terry.”

“If you are a fan of the discworld you will love this book.”

“A hilariously thrilling fantasy mystery.”

The Interstellar Poker tournament

The Interspecies Poker Tournament, Prequel Novella to The Rose Thief

Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, has a new case. A murderous moustache-wearing cult is killing off members of Roshaven’s fae community. At least that’s what he’s been led to believe by his not-so-trusty sidekick, Jenni the sprite. She has information she’s not sharing but plans to get her boss into the Interspecies Poker Tournament so he can catch the bad guy and save the day. If only Ned knew how to play!

Available in paperback and ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/m2Vk0R

The Rose Thief

The Rose Thief, The Roshaven Series book 1

Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses and if they take the magical red rose then love will be lost, to everyone, forever.

It’s up to Ned Spinks, Chief Thief Catcher, and his band of motely catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day.

But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be. Neither is the Emperor.

Ned and his team will have to go on a quest; defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?

Available in paperback and ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/bQaxw6

About the Author

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict, Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

Meet the author on social media!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/busswriter

FB Group: www.facebook.com/groups/BussBookStop

Twitter: www.twitter.com/grasshopper2407

Instagram: www.instagram.com/grasshopper2407 

Website: www.cbvisions.co.uk

Blog: https://www.butidontlikesalad.blogspot.co.uk

Eye of the Beholder – new release!

Eye of the Beholder – new release!

Eye of the Beholder – releasing 14th June 2020!

C H Clepitt presents the first in a new series of queer fairy tale retellings. Eye of the Beholder is the first story in the Magic Mirror series of books which will retell these stories in a different time period, with queer protagonists.

When asked about this new project, Clepitt said:

“Representation matters. It matters so much, and you only realise how much when you eventually have it. Queer theory and queer readings of stories and films developed because queer people wanted to see themselves in stories. They wanted their own happy endings, so they read them into the narrative. This series is going one step further. It’s rewriting the narrative and inserting overt queer rep. We deserve better than hints and readings. We deserve to see ourselves, to have our own stories. That is what I’m hoping to do with this project.

I am also reworking all the aspects that would be problematic to a modern audience. In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast I have taken out the kidnap element and changed lots of other aspects too. If you want to find out more, you’ll just have to read it!”

Blurb:

When pressure from his materialistic children turns Claude into a thief, it is down to his youngest daughter to set things right. Angelique agrees to take her father’s place as prisoner to what she is told is a hideous beast.

Angelique soon discovers that the so-called beast is nothing more than Rosalie, a princess cursed to remain trapped in a castle, unless the curse can be broken, something she assures her is impossible.

Angelique does not believe in the impossible, and sets about trying to find a way to save her new friend, who she is rapidly growing to love.

Eye of the Beholder is the first in a series of queer fairy tale retellings in C H Clepitt’s Magic Mirror Collection.

Cortiian physiognomy

Cortiian physiognomy

Cortiian physiognomy

The Cortii are a distinct humanoid sub-species, legally recognised by interstellar governments as having met all the markers for recognition as a separate race.

Physically, we know the Cortii are based on artificially-generated bodies. Cortiian scientists have clearly managed to overcome some of the key challenges with the full cloning process, and Cortiians in active service show none of the health defects or challenges to independent thought that clones usually face.

The majority of Cortiians fall in the upper third of the height range for humanoid variants, a compromise that gives them a slight disadvantage in heavy gravity environments and smaller, closed environments, but which demonstrably gives them an advantage of reach and speed.

In colouring, they tend towards a mid-tone shade. Prolonged time in a closed environment leaves the majority pale or sallow, but even moderate exposure to ultra-violet light darkens skin tone quickly. Very few Cortiians observably experience burning in strong light environments short of severe over-exposure. Hair colour tends towards absolute shades, potentially as a result of the cloning process, and black, blond, and red are more common than in most humanoid species. Brown and other intermediate shades are rarer although not unknown. Induced shades such as greens and blues have not been observed to occur naturally. Eye colour shows a usual range.

Cortiians show an average range of genders and appear as a species to have very little by way of fixed sexual orientation.

Dissection has revealed that Cortiian bone structure is slightly denser and noticeably more resilient than the humanoid average. It can be conjectured that this results in cracked bone where most humanoids would suffer a fracture. Muscle tissue has been likewise modified, adding a little mass, but offering greater strength and resilience. Certainly, Cortiians heal observably faster than average; slightly faster under adverse circumstances, and significantly faster when able to rest and provided with sufficient nutrients.

Cortiians have slightly enlarged sinuses, resulting in a tendency to high, angled cheekbones. Analysis of nasal nerves indicates a high probability that Cortiians possess very acute olfactory senses. Eye sockets tend to be deeper, providing better-than-average protection to the eye itself, and eye structure shows that Cortiians have at least limited vision into infra-red and ultra-violet, as well as enhanced distance vision.

They also demonstrate resistance to a wide range of adverse environments, and metabolise a number of common compounds faster than average, especially those used in sedatives and other related medications.

Studies up to this time have failed to isolate the precise modifications that result in these variations, or in successfully reproducing the effects.

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, precognition

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, precognition

Abilities aren’t just telepathy, empathy

Telepathy, empathy, kinesis, and precognition are chief among the so-called ‘mainline’ Abilities recognised by the IESRO. Because the IESRO regulates the most powerful Abilities across multiple species, their primary interest is the Abilities that manifest with recognisable consistency across species lines.

Among all species discovered to date, some form of empathy is the most common: the ability to communicate basic non-verbal concepts within a species and to others. Telepathy comes a close second, but because telepathy is primarily the ability to communicate complex concepts mentally, it can be hard to recognise cross-species as the underlying concepts required for it differ radically.

Kinesis is the easiest mainline ability to recognise in any species, entailing the ability to manipulate matter, but also one of the rarer ones, vying with precognition.

Precognition, the ability to predict the future, or at least to perceive the most likely turning of causality, is usually the rarest of the mainline Abilities, even if only by a fraction of a percent.

The IESRO recognises, but doesn’t regulate, a handful of other Abilities, many of them species-specific manifestations. Among the humanoid species, a couple of the more common unregulated Abilities are healers, who are mostly seen as a form of empath, and can diagnose injuries or diseases with varying degrees of accuracy, and some limited forms of kinesis, such as fire-starters.

The IESRO does not formally recognise, but will absolutely regulate on occasion, the ‘wild’ Abilities over a certain power level – Abilities that don’t precisely check a box for what can be done with them, but fall into potentially dangerous fields. Anst’s Ability to get around people’s mental defenses, most likely with its roots in empathy, would absolutely be such a case if it came formally to their attention.

Because a lot of the species in the early stages of their development, including humanoids, are uneasy with mental Abilities, wild Abilities are viewed with particular suspicion, as there’s less clarity around what they can do. While some may be worried about what a powerful telepath can pick from their brains (not a lot in most people’s heads worth the effort), or read past their vaunted poker faces with empathy, there is a general feeling that those are known and regulated hazards. Wild Abilities, well, who the hells knows?

Humanoids show a high incidence of some trace of Ability, but at this early stage in the species evolution, humanoid Abilities even eligible for IESRO registration are rare, and those not only eligible for registration but powerful enough to factor in as more than a blip in the lower registers are rarer yet.

A basic level of telepathy is a requirement in the Cortii for eligibility for derian training. Those without telepathy, or whose telepathy rating doesn’t reliably achieve the minimum required for active operations, become Base technicians – Instructors, in some cases, or medics, engineers, researchers, scientists. Those who achieve far enough over basic levels to achieve an IESRO rating are fully eligible for derian training, and stand a better than average chance of stopping a knife in the back: Cortiian deriani are generally highly trained and educated and well-travelled, but balance that with an ingrained tendency to be cautious rather than sorry.

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