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Unofficial ME Dev Diary I: The Future Ain't What it Used to Be

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Stormwaltz said...
(The preface to this series can be read here.)
Part II: Mere Anarchy Loosed Upon the Stars

This is an unofficial dev diary. I used to work at BioWare as a writer on Mass Effect 1 and 2. In August of 2009 I moved on to new position at another company. Therefore, I don't speak for BioWare, nor for any of my former colleagues , nor for Electronic Arts. The following is my opinion only.



The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America's deep-space probes....
- opening credits, Buck Rogers

I grew up in the post-Apollo years. My father watched Star Trek reruns in syndication every night. Star Wars blew up around me, followed up by knockoffs like the original Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999, and Buck Rogers. I even have fond memories of Roger Corman’s deliciously cheesy Battle Beyond the Stars, with its cow-head spaceship and drawling space trucker. My family traveled down to Cape Canaveral to watch the first launch of the space shuttle Columbia on April 12, 1981. For me, space development was an "of course." Of course we'd build space stations. Of course we'd build a moon base. Of course we'd send men to Mars.

It wasn't to be. No one wanted to pay for it.

The grand dreams of my father's generation turned into a short haul space truck, a porta-potty in orbit, and fleets of robots. A cash-starved and gun-shy NASA creeps timorously up to low Earth orbit, while private investors and new players like China and Japan try to rekindle the public’s fire in the belly for the final frontier.

When I was born in 1974, no one imagined that our species would go an entire generation without revisiting the moon.

I'm well aware that there are more immediate and morally significant problems here on Earth. But the human race is looking at its feet, too preoccupied with not tripping to admire the view or see where they're going. We no longer look to the horizon. We no longer have a destination in sight or in mind. As a species, we simply plod onwards, content with getting through another day and purchasing a new CD, game, or movie.

Where reality failed me, science fiction literature provided. In the novels I devoured in the 80s and 90s, humanity –united or not – still looked up and strode across the galaxy. We touched the faces of innumerable worlds. We prospered, even as we brought our problems with us; for every book of cosmic wonders, there were ten which cast starships in the role of World War II dogfighters, Jutland-esque big gun sluggers, or even Napoleonic ships-of-the-line.

Yet in the “aughts,” there’s a trend away from space operatic themes of glittering cities and fleets of starships blotting out the sun. Even nanotechnology has been brushed aside as the physical impossibility of the Drexlerian vision became clear. The new literatures are those of Transhumanism, in which humanity is radically transformed by wedding itself to technology, and the Singularity, wherein man is eclipsed or brushed aside by hyper-intelligent, self-evolving machines.

When I grew up in the last century, science fiction was a laser pistol and a space fighter. In the new century, it's altered genes and immortality in the form of software emulation. It’s not as punch-in-the-gut impressive as ten-kilometer dreadnaughts bristling with laser turrets and antimatter thrusters, but it shows the improvement of science fiction’s maturity as a medium. The new generation of pulp futurists (Charles Stross, Ken McLeod, Alistair Reynolds, and Iain M. Banks) are just as concerned with where we're going as with where our hardware is going.

What I didn't understand as a child was that science fiction is not about a gun that atomizes someone; it's about what a human does when they can commit murder and not leave a corpse.

Mass Effect presents a hypothetical future for man. It hearkens back to the optimistic, hardware-driven visions of thirty years ago, but is tempered by the diminished expectations and futurist visions of the present. Our technology matures swiftly. Our species does not.

This is why, in Mass Effect, the Earth groans under an overpopulation of 11.4 billion souls.

This is why the Third World is still poor and polluted, while the First World gorges on the resources of a hundred planets.

This is why global warming occurs despite all the warnings, and the sea levels rise.

That is why there is the “Earth first” political party Terra Firma, railing against cultural and economic integration with the rest of the galaxy.

That is why the most common reaction to quarians is, “they’re here to mooch off our taxes, pick our pockets, and take our jobs.”

And, that is why when I was developing the backstory, I decided that the first permanent human lunar base in Mass Effect’s future history does not come about until 2069. I can no longer conceive of a future in which I can realistically expect my two sons to walk on the moon, as my father taught me to expect when I was a child.

In retrospect, the Apollo landings were a giant leap for a man, but only a small step for mankind.



Always in motion is the future.
- Yoda

Part II: Mere Anarchy Loosed Upon the Stars
Mass Effect

Mass Effect (PC)

Genre/Style: Role-playing/Third-Person 3D Action RPG
Release Date: 27/MAY/08
Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 (PC)

Genre/Style: Role-playing/Third-Person 3D Action RPG
Release Date: 26/JAN/10
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Comments
Interesting reading. You echo a few thoughts I'd been having on the space subject.

Personally, I suspect the decline and eventual loss of the threat of ebil soviet satellites and moon bases also contributed to the loss of that burning imperative catapult Homo sapiens skyward. ^_^;

Naturally, as someone who was born in Britain at the start of the 80s, this is simply conjecture on my part for something that seemed nearly as distant and fantastical as any episode of Babylon 5.
Chances are we may never realise our naive space-faring dreams. But I suppose that is the reason people create things like Mass Effect in the first place.
My defining moment of Mass Effect was when I landed on the Moon for the first time, turned around, and saw Earth in the sky overhead. I just stood and looked for a minute, because this was what I'd dreamed of since getting bitten by the SF bug when I was small.

So though I did love the story of Mass Effect, wandering those silent uncharted worlds and looking up at huge gas giants or two moons or enormous stars... that's when I stopped feeling like The Protagonist and just became an explorer looking at something amazing.

And wishing I had a camera.
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