The RPG Scrollbars: Before Mass Effect Andromeda

Since the original trailers, some players have had questions about Mass Effect Andromeda [official site] and some of its details. In the name of answers, we present this snippet from the official prequel novel. Available March 28th from all good bookshelves.

From where Director Tann stood, the curves of the Nexus stretched out like the wings of an angel, embracing Andromeda and all its potential. He winced at the thought. Human thought. Sentimental. Shameful. A thought most unbecoming of a salarian, who should have seen nothing but steel and forceshields, aluminium and plastic.
        The buzzer rang. Ah. Distraction. How welcome.
        “Send him in.”
        “Director Tann.” The nervous human man saluted. Tann did not return it. He did not want to risk poking himself in the eye again. “You have your report?”
        “Yes, sir. We estimate that the damage done by the rebels- sorry, I mean of course, the exiles, sir, will take another three months to fully repair. That’s of course if we continue with current priorities.”
        “There has been no sign of the Arks?” Of course not. The human boy would have mentioned. There would have been sirens. Cheers. Certainly, nobody would ignore one of the gigantic Arks approaching and connecting to the Nexus. Even if the sensors were glitched, the Nexus had windows. Somebody would have noticed.
        “No sign, sir, sorry. We-”
        Tann raised his hand. “A moment. What was that?”
        “What, sir?”
        “You’re grinning, boy. And why are your eyes rolling around in your skull? Stop that.”
        The human reddened. “Sorry, sir. It turns out that spending six hundred years in cryogenic sleep has some unfortunate physical side-effects we weren’t expecting.”
        “Yes, yes, yes. The rubberisation process.” He winced, feeling his eyelids drooping again. “Look, we turned the heating down to hopefully stop anyone melting any further. Still, that is still no excuse for all those insolent facial contortions you keep pulling.”
        “Oh. That. No, I mean no disrespect, Director. It seems that before the exiles fled the Nexus, they sabotaged the life-support systems. Apparently our air supply is now 10% nitrous oxide and ammonium sulphide. Result is that everyone here’s constantly both on the edge of cracking up laughing and smelling an incredibly eggy fart.”
        Well, that explained everything, thought Tann. Still:
        “What? Why was I not informed of this entirely convincing explanation?”
        “Director Addison was supposed to-”
        Tann gritted his teeth. Addison had called in sick this morning. Something about an accident with her recent botox treatments. Don’t ask, they’d said. Don’t tell, he’d replied. “Very well. And all of the people squat-running in the habitation zones?”
        “Oh. No, that’s because we forgot to build any toilets. Luckily, our hydroponics bay is grateful for any… contributions. Our botanists say that if we all do our part, we’ll be able to eat real food again in about eight months.” His stomach rumbled. “Yay!”

Tann dismissed the boy and granted himself the luxury of a deep sigh. So far, it seemed that everything that could have gone wrong with this mission had done, not least that its acting Director, which was to say, himself, was little more than a glorified tax-man now thrust into the big chair. Of course, it would not do to share his uncertainties with the crew. If they had yet to show much evidence of looking up to him, he was damned if they would look down.
        He left his office with eyes held high, and his most officious clipboard clamped under his arm. As ever, the Nexus crew was doing its best to construct a vessel the complexity of the Citadel in what had to be a fraction of the time and budget of whatever precursors had made the original. At least, that was the idea. Instead, he could not help notice that for every person who appeared to be working, there was another behind them doing little but reading from a holographic work order.
        Pausing for a moment, Tann added a small note next to his contemptuous musings. As much as the idea would have appalled his bureaucratic soul back on Sur’Kesh, perhaps there were indeed too many layers of middle management, and-
        And there was the sound of a krogan who would passionately agree with that. Nakmor Kesh never let him forget how far he’d been in line for the big chair.
        “What is it, Kesh?”
        “Thought you should know that the last of my clan just left. You know why.”

Publicly of course, he couldn’t look as relieved as he was. He was still somewhat confused as to the reason for the krogran’s presence, not least because the only two options for their species was explosive breeding to galactic-threatening proportions or their current completely unsustainable birthrate, regardless of Kesh’s clan having a certain minor resistance to it. Why had they brought them along instead of, for instance, the many quarians who would no doubt have loved a new home and who could have put their technological and, ahem, ingenuity towards the problem? On second thoughts, if they’d been along, they’d have stripped the Nexus bare before leaving. Not that political correctness allowed him this opinion these days.
        “So, just to confirm, the exiles have already gone out into the universe and established themselves, yet we’re still incapable of finding a single world worth trying to plant down roots without the magical Pathfinder we all keep hearing about? Whose skills, I might add, only make any sense in a universe of single biome planets, and would be far more effectively handled by ship sensors, both to prevent any accidents while exploring and prevent any unfortunate issues like simply not being around while Planet Deathrain has its yearly acid monsoon?”
        “Yes,” stated Kesh. She paused. “We should not think too much about the details of this mission. It is increasingly clear that its planners clearly did not.”
        Tann sighed. “And we still have no real signs of intelligent life?”
        A cough as an asari researcher stepped up. Tann couldn’t remember her name. He’d never really ‘got’ asari in the same way as most of the galaxy, especially how their idea of good work seemed to be either stripper or psychic super-commando.
        “Well, so far we’ve detected two major forms of life and heard rumours of a third. First, the Remnant, being the robotic leftovers of some precursor civilisation about which we know nothing except that they really like triangles, jumping puzzles, and pissing around with Sudoku puzzles that nobody in the galaxy could mistake for fun.”
        “At least it’s not the Towers of Hanoi.”
        “Pfft. The second is a race called the Kett. Strangely, those on the battlefield seem to be males, though our scans of their radio frequencies do seem to suggest that in addition to using titles like Honored and Chosen, there are indeed Kett females.”
        The salarian wrinkled his brow. “Indeed? What do Kett ladies do?”
        “Mostly sit around and make a fuss of Tiddles, Fluff and Mister McPurr.”
        Tann paused. He knew the self-destruct code. He just had to say it…
        “I think you’d better run,” advised Kesh. She glanced at Tann, and a smirk appeared on her lips: “Asari excuse for a pun, that was.”
        The asari grinned. “Oh. Before I go, I have the latest reports on potentially habitable planets. Now that the Golden Worlds aren’t a viable option, I thought…”

Finally, some potentially good news! If Tann was sure of one thing, it was that his career as an accountant was not going to define him now. He had grown up a wide-eyed salarian… well, to be exact, a particularly wide-eyed salarian, always looking to the stars and dreaming of the wonders that awaited. Such incredible worlds of imagination and vision, like none in the Milky Way had ever seen before. Forests of sentient fungus, glowing to the touch. Great planets carved from crystal of every colour, where drivers would ascend huge soaring arcs in the sky. The breathable waters of aquatic heavens, awash in coral and beams of light from above. Living worlds, where settlers would live in symbiosis with a great intelligence more evolved than any species. That was what had drawn him to Andromeda in the first place; the dream of seeing the impossible and oh, meeting the species that must have evolved within. Sentient clouds of crackling energy, forming and reforming. Great tentacled creatures swinging from high thorned branches and-
        “So, anyway, we’ve found a desert.”
        “A… desert?”
        “It’s quite a pretty desert.” The asari considered it. “Oooh, and there’s that one planet with the floating-”
        “Nobody cares about the fucking floating rocks!” Tann gritted his teeth. He was a bipedal amphibian from the other side of the galaxy, and even he’d seen Avatar. “Why did we bother, people? Why did come out all this way if everything was just going be the same as home?”
        “At least there’s no Reapers?”
        “What’s a-” His fingers made air-quotes of their own volition- “Reaper?”
        “Oh, yeah. We don’t know that yet.” The asari paused. “Is my right eyeball stuck in the corner of my eye again?”
        “Goddess. I’ll go pop it back into place with a cocktail stick.”
        “You do that,” sighed Tann, as she and Kesh returned to work. Suddenly, he felt so very alone. He’d have gone to the Vortex bar if there wasn’t a big pile of crates in front of it. He’d have gone to his office, if it didn’t feel more like a place where people went to requisition cleaning supplies. Now he thought about it, that would explain all the people lined up every morning to do just that. Time for a new sign on the door.
        He opened the secret compartment and retrieved the bottle. Optimists would have considered it half-full. Pessimists, half empty. Right now, Director Tann considered it not enough to bother getting a glass. Welcome to Andromeda, he mused. It’s just like home, only everyone seems to be doing an impression of a human Stretch Armstrong doll left on top of the radiator for too long, all the new stuff being reported to the Nexus seems to lack any imagination, and this afternoon, I really have to go and find who implemented that scanning mechanic on our scout-ships and give them the bollocking of their lives. Of course, aside from all that, why, it’s Schaklass Day in March!
        Maybe things will get better after this trial, he thought.
        These trials, he corrected, draining the bottle.
        After six hundred years of waiting for this opportunity… he had to hope.


  1. IaIaFhtagn says:

    This is possibly my new favourite thing ever.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I agree. I know how hard it must be to write something like this, but I really appreciate the few times when it shows up. I remember reading a very funny mocking summary of all the Wheel of Time novels in some forum thread that I’ve unfortunately forgotten the name of.

      I can’t tell how accurate it was, but I didn’t feel like reading any of those novels afterwards, because how could they be more entertaining than what I’ve just experienced? It’s not the same with Mass Effect, I’ll play through it all… eventually, but I don’t know if it will be as much fun as I’ve had reading this.

      • IaIaFhtagn says:

        In their defence, I will say that Wheel of Time is probably my favourite series of all time. There is a particular art to this style of writing, though, and one of the things that I love about RPS is that they’re willing to give space to it and other goofy shit. Never change, RPS, never change.

      • Jekadu says:

        If it’s the same one I’m thinking of, know that I spent the better part of an evening frantically skimming through The Fires of Heaven (about a thousand pages, as I recall) to see if there was any substance to one of the jokes about the series’ longest-running mystery, before realizing that the character being fingered had been picked because he has absolutely no meaningful interactions with said mystery.

        Also, even after knowing how it ends, the Weiramon bits still get a laugh out of me.

      • Krotak says:

        [url=]Are these the droids you’re looking for?[/url]
        Nicely done Richard!

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          Why, thank you! I do indeed believe that this is the one I’m thinking about, unless there’s some other brilliantly silly wall-of-text parody in a different forum.

          The parody seems to end at the first page out of four, which is fortunate, because clicking on the links for page 2-4 gets you a 404 error (or perhaps I’m just not understanding how this internet archive thing works).

          • Jekadu says:

            Rand: Weiramon, you are a fool who most likely hates me. You are in charge.

            Weiramon: Excellent plan, my liege. Shall I charge at the opposing army?

            Rand: No. That’s a corn field.

  2. Syt says:

    Rant time.

    When ME came out I was so hooked on it I bought the Drew Karpyshyn books. He worked on the game, sure his writing must be good, right?

    Well, I couldn’t make it half way through, mostly due to his style (and same thing happened with his Star Wars books for me). Every creatve writing 101 course will tell you that you using “xxx said” is sufficient to indicate dialogue, and that using anything else is usually a sign that you don’t trust your dialogue to stand on tis own.

    Karpyshyn’s characters rarely just say something, they joke, admit, accuse, wheeze, mutter, counter, growl, or explain. When they actually DO say something, they do it thoughtfully, with a grim tone, with trembling voice, but in extreme cases they will be exclaiming angrily.

    And he’s *very* heavily into, “Doing one thing, he also did something else.” Or “She did this, doing another thing” which is really shoddy editing.

    I’ve read better written and edited fan slash fiction.

    • IaIaFhtagn says:

      I got my hands on one of the Oliver Bowden Assassin’s Creed books, and ended up almost clawing out my eyeballs in self-defence halfway through.

      I’ve never tried to read any sort of video game novel tie-in since.

      • Syt says:

        I hear you. I have low expectations when it comes to novels like that (similar with Star Wars novels, e.g.). There are exceptions, though. Star Wars – Fatal Alliance, a standalone book to tie into The Old Republic was pretty decent (a pulp adventure, with one character representing each player class). Twilight Company, the tie-in to the new Star Wars Battlefront is good military fiction and certainly a better book than the game deserved. But these exceptions are unfortunately few and far between.

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        phuzz says:

        There was one that came in the box with Elite 2 that was ok (yes children, once games came in cardboard boxes packed with goodies).
        In the opposite direction, I’ve been reading the Witcher books recently, and they are good, well worth a read if you like the games. The English translation of the last one just got released.

        • Pozzo says:

          To be fair though, I think the Witcher novels predate the games, in the original Polish at least

          • Syt says:

            They do. I actually picked up the first book (in German) before the first game was released.

      • barashkukor says:

        The novelization of Crysis 2 is remarkable because it’s actually very good. It’s Peter Watts, potentially wanting to do it I guess, rather than being stuck writing the Book of the Film/Game.

        Why is there so rarely a song of the game, or movie of the recipe or compilation album of the book.
        It’s almost like the only art-forms that you can reasonably hope will translate are book->movie.

        • Daymare says:

          Oh what? Watts wrote Blindsight, that’s one of my all-time favorite sci-fi novels. I also read some of the Rifters novels, not sure if I ever got to Behemoth, though.

          Unlike I think everybody else I also enjoyed Crysis 2 (and moreso 3).

          I’m quite curious about this revelation now.

          • barashkukor says:

            Never have played Crysis 2 – the reviews were just too awful. In that they said the whole open-ness of Far Cry and Crysis was entirely gone in favour of being console friendly.

            The novelization was my entry drug to a short story based on The Thing and then to Blindsight though.

        • n00tch says:

          Wait a minute… was this a short story about “The Thing” told from the alien’s perspective? Oh man, I had forgotten that wonderful little story till this jogged my memory!

    • Hoot says:

      It’s awesome that you mention that particular point, White and Strunk’s ‘Elements of Style’ comments on the same thing and it’s so true.

      Replacing or augmenting “said” with some form of adjective to describe the dialogue taking place rather than letting the actual dialogue convey the tone of the conversation is lazy writing at best and just outright bad writing at worst.

      • Syt says:

        Yes, and it worries me that an editor looked at it and said, “Eh, good enough.”

        • Darth Gangrel says:

          I have many ideas for a story and would like to make books out of them, but I thought always using “he/she said” after each dialogue line would get repetitive, so I sometimes use “replied/responded/told”. Just using “said” everytime is easier, though, and perhaps better.

          I do however don’t see much point with writing “he said with anger/conviction/etc.”, because I’m making it clear in the dialogue itself if they’re angry/convicted. It’s also nice when you can fill in the blanks and interpret things for yourself (is this person angry/convicted? how angry/convicted is he? how would I picture his facial expression/tone while saying that). Otherwise, it’s like a colouring book with everything already painted before you open it.

          • barashkukor says:

            It’s the show-beats-tell thing isn’t it?

            If you are sparing with the use, you can have the character gesture, or in some way that the reader is going to pick up easily indicate their mental/emotional state. The reader is far more involved, it is easier to understand how (and that!) the other characters may respond and it adds texture to the writing, and therefore keeps attention. If you spoon feed the reader every time then it’s like you’re feeding, and I defy anyone to get through hours of eating baby food in a sitting and persuade me they’re happy about it.

          • Darth Gangrel says:

            @barashkukor Thanks for replying, I’ll think about that. I also think that “show, don’t tell” is a great guideline and the books I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones that insinuate/allude to stuff rather than going “this is *exactly* how this happened”.

          • Velthaertirden says:

            Well, it seems that I am the only one in this discussion that does not care about any particular rules of writing. I liked Drew’s books. And I do not care about the mentioned nuances as long as I enjoy the material. To each their own.

          • Syt says:

            The funny thing with “he said/she said” is that many readers will mostly ignore it and it barely registers except to indicate who’s talking. It barely detracts from the dialogue.

            Or you can stop using indicators altogether. I’ve seen some authors just using dialogue, and maybe an additional sentence to indicate who’s talking. (He took a deep breath and sat down. “Let’s get started.”) It has the advantage of making punctuation a lot easier. ;-)

          • Josh W says:

            Telling rather than showing is really good for embedded characterisation though, because the situation might explain itself to the reader, but only according to their own kind of interpretation. Describing things as sullen or suspicious that don’t seem to to you can be great for giving an impression of the filter being laid over the narrative.

            In short, telling is great for free indirect narration, as well as for particularly alien situations where interpretation cues can be helpful.

    • Koozer says:

      ‘And he’s *very* heavily into, “Doing one thing, he also did something else.”’

      How do you avoid this? I always end up doing this, all the bloody time.

      • Richard Cobbett says:

        You halve your sentences with a fireaxe and/or hatchet.

        • Syt says:

          This. Very much this. In most cases you can just turn it into two sentences. Or, if the segments are short, combine the two actions with the humble “and.”

          E.g. Wiping her brow, she sat down. => She wiped her brow and sat down.

          Or: Pouring himself a drink he asked, “So, what brings you here?” => He poured himself a drink. “So, what brings you here?”

          • zdech says:

            I’m not native English speaker and that is possibly reason why your examples seem to change meaning of described actions. From simultaneous “doing this while doing that” to separated “doing this than doing that”. And that would be wrong, no? Where is the catch?

            Is it sarcastic or am I missing important bits? Because it looks like you are saying “trimming language richness is good thing”. To be honest, this whole talk about good/bad writing is realy confusing me.

          • Syt says:

            It might very well be that this good style in other languages. :) I’m natively German, for example, and have a tendency towards longer sentences than customary in English with subordinate clauses.

            In English I find it depends on context. In the drink pouring example it’s implied that it’s a longer action during which other actions can take place. If you want to stress that they’re subsequent actions, e.g. to convey that the character lets the other side wait, you might write:

            He poured himself a drink. Then he asked, “So, what brings you here?”

            But admittedly, I find it hard to explain, a lot of it is gut feeling. :)

  3. dador666 says:

    Very funny. Bioware should definitely hire you.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I’m sure the e-mail will be coming any second now.

    • Apologised says:

      I’m not sure how, given that Bioware is just a marketing label not an actual studio anymore.
      It’s like Fiat’s Abarth branding or the Lancia range.

  4. Otterley says:

    I stood up and ovated :D

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      Nauallis says:

      I’m not sure that means what you think it means, but it’s a hilarious image.

      • Robert Post's Child says:

        They’re just very excited about it and wanted to share.

      • Otterley says:

        Hey, ovation needed to be verbed and this is what it got ^^

  5. Hoot says:

    I read this and giggles followed by outright laughter ensued. I’m sat on my own right now but still couldn’t stop the laughter.

    As someone who has played the trial and kept up with the internet buzz on the game over the last few days, this really tickled me. God, I miss reading your stuff, Richard. Bravo.

  6. Archonsod says:

    To be fair they do explain the windows since the Nexus hasn’t got the power to raise the shutters until the ark docks. Although it does beg the question of who thought it was a good idea to have the central base of operations for the whole colonisation effort be incapable of generating enough power to be self sustaining.
    I’m half expecting to find out at some point that the whole Andromeda Initiative was just a cunning ruse by the council to get some of their, let’s say less useful citizens, out of the way before they could damage the war effort against the Reapers.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Sadly, the Salarians were subsequently wiped out by a malignant disease carried on public telephones.

      • Benratha says:

        +1! Actually I thought that Mr Cobbett was required to apply at least one letter of the alphabet to the incoming Arks.
        Or maybe there is the “You’re never alone with a rubber duck” quote somewhere in the reams of ME:A text?

    • Robert Post's Child says:

      Yeah, on an individual level the basic elements of the setup seem fine, but taken as a whole the entire core premise of this game is just… incoherent.

      Waiting for some twisty reveal about the Initiative’s true nature is less anticipating the story and more just a result of my brain trying desperately to make any kind of sense out of this mess.

    • Jekadu says:

      This explanation kinda makes sense from a modern space engineering perspective, where power constraints often seems to lead to weird dependencies like this. Of course, this doesn’t make much sense in a space opera setting.

      TV Tropes likes to call this sort of thing a “Voodoo Shark” (apparently derived from a twist in the Jaws sequels), where the explanation to a plot hole just causes another, usually bigger, plot hole. I won’t link the article out of consideration for people’s time.

    • MasterPrudent says:

      Well the intuitive is the project of an Elon Musk-style entrepreneur so you’re not too far off the money really.

  7. causticnl says:

    needs staring eyes tag

  8. Ghostwise says:

    I thought that the Karpyshyn novels were serviceable. But on, the other hand I had to read… you know… *that* ME novel when writing a Kahlee Sanders character profile.

    It… it wasn’t a good experience. Bioware said at some point they’d have it rewritten, but that’s clearly not happening.

  9. Biggus_Dikkus says:

    good read it was :)

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    phuzz says:

    Only just noticed that the book in the image is supposed to have been written by “Albion Saltlick and Bort Flashbang”. Now that’s attention to detail.

  11. Robert Post's Child says:

    Thank you for this.

  12. Wut The Melon says:

    This is great : D It all makes much more sense now…

  13. Hazydave says:

    I’m so glad that I found this. After reading all the scorn and bitching about ME:A, this gave me a much needed laugh. Good satire is hard to do so I appreciate this all the more.

  14. instantcoffe says:

    If only this could become a regular feature that would span the entire game… One can dream.
    Were I Ian Hollywood, I’d give you at least six seasons and a movie.

  15. Von Uber says:


  16. Ragnar says:

    This was great, and I loved every moment of it! Well done!

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    calcifer says:

    YES! This is why we love RPS! Please never change.

  18. April March says:

    Damn. This is much better than my idea of a Mass Effect fanfiction where I make sure that for every full minute of conversation someone ‘waves dismissively’.

  19. GernauMorat says:

    That was fantastic. I would love a series of these, as this is the sort of thing RPS excels at.

  20. BooleanBob says:

    “At least it’s not the Towers of Hanoi.”

    It’s always the Towers of Hanoi!

  21. pip3dream says:

    This just became my new favorite website.

  22. Benratha says:

    “…prevent any unfortunate issues like simply not being around while Planet Deathrain has its yearly acid monsoon?”.
    Oddly, this reminded me of “Nightfall”, by Isaac Asimov.

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    Alpha1Dash1 says:


    Please make this into an ongoing series – a bit like the “news” articles that were displayed on the start screen of ME2 (I think it was 2 anyhow).

  24. SamD says:

    PC Gamer have done another good version of this sorta thing:

    link to