The Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut: An Analysis (Warning: Spoilers)

The backlash against the Mass Effect 3 ending may have been the biggest fan outcry against a story in a video game to date. In some ways the bar was set impossibly high for the game, and even for a developer like Bioware closing out the series was never going to be an easy job. While in some cases the reaction did seem a little over-the-top, and many people were ignoring the genuinely amazing work that Bioware had done with Mass Effect to focus their attentions on the areas in which they’d fallen down, the fanbase had a point.

While Mass Effect 3 was a great game, the ending had more than it's fair share of problems.

The problems with the Mass Effect 3 ending were numerous and impacting, and it was surprising to see something of such low quality coming from a series that been so well-done up to that point. Still, if there was a silver lining to the Mass Effect 3 ending rage, it was that all the emotion and the endless analysing reflected that people were becoming invested in a video game story like never before. While the medium often plays second-fiddle to books, TV, and films in the narrative department, Mass Effect 3 acted as an example of a game had managed to connect very deeply with thousands of people on a story level.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few months since all of that, but on June 26 EA and Bioware released their extended ending for Mass Effect 3. While it was stated outright that they knew they couldn’t please everyone, the effort had been made to try and address at least some of the fans concerns. I’ve played the DLC, read the discussions on it, gone back and looked at the original complaints of the game, and created a rundown of what the Extended Cut DLC has fixed, and what it hasn’t.

What Has Been Fixed

The Mysterious Crash of the Normandy

In the original ending the shockwave sent out by the synthesis and control choices hit the Normandy and caused it to crash-land on an unknown planet. There was really no logical reason this would have happened and Bioware has addressed this. In the new synthesis and control endings Joker tries to pilot away from the shockwave, he lands on the planet, but the Normandy doesn’t crash.

The Mysteriously Disappearing Squad Members

One of the most confusing things about the original Mass Effect 3 ending was the way your squad mates seemed to follow you on the charge towards the Citadel Beam, only to be mysteriously lost for whatever reason, and then be seen somehow exiting the Normandy onto the planet it crashed on. The Extended Cut manages to fill in this blank, showing Shepard saying a proper goodbye to his injured crew members before they are evacuated to the Normandy, giving a legitimate reason for why they ended up back on the ship.

The Lack of Closure

This time Shepard gets a proper send-off.

This may be the most important thing that the DLC does. In the original ending we knew little of what happened to the crew and what the world was like in the immediate wake of Shepard’s decision, an important part of the story considering Mass Effect’s emphasis on consequences for player actions. In the Extended Cut not only does Shepard get to say goodbye to his/her two squadmates, but the DLC also provides a touching end scene where the surviving crew members pay their respects to Shepard and Anderson, and some rather uplifting epilogue speeches. Some real kudos go out to Bioware for this addition to the game.

The Lack of Variation in the Endings

While at their core the previous endings had very different consequences for the galaxy, the events we got to see in them were essentially identical. Not only is there a little more variety in the events we see in Extended Cut, but again the post-game epilogue really helps out here and lets each ending feel more specific to the action you took.

The Lack of a Fourth Option

In the original ending Shepard was forced to choose between control, synthesis, or destruction, but there was really no reason this should have been the case. He/she should have logically had the choice to choose none of these. Personally I don’t see why you’d choose to let the entire universe die out like that but for those who want it, you can give the big “Fuck you” to the Catalyst and his solutions, and let the Reapers harvest the universe. It’s a grim choice, but it’s there.

What Hasn’t Been Fixed

The Deus Ex Machina

The endings still revolve around and are facilitated by a character and systems we discover at the eleventh hour. For all the troubles that Shepard overcomes with his/her own skills and co-operation with his/her crew, it’s a kind of “God of the Reapers” and three magic space machines that come out of nowhere at the last minute which solve everything.

Most of the Plot Holes

I won’t go into any great detail in this paragraph, but if you want to see a more in-depth look at the remaining plot holes I have written them out in the spoiler tag below. They include such key problems as Harbinger just flying away and leaving the Citadel Beam unprotected for seemingly no reason, the basics of the Catalyst’s “Reaper Solution” being flawed, and the fact that we still don’t really know what the synthesis ending does.

The Approach to the Beam

The sequence of events wherein various characters storm the Citadel Beam are still a bit strange. After Shepard is knocked out by the Reaper beam he wakes up to hear radio chatter reporting that all of the Hammer teams were decimated in the Reaper attack. It’s possible that maybe they just missed the fact Shepard and another soldier were left alive but it seems odd that Anderson is clearly alive (as you meet him later in the Citadel) and yet he’s nowhere to be seen after Shepard awakens. Where exactly Anderson went and why he was thought dead remains a mystery.

The real crazy bit that they left in is that as Shepard is waking up, he/she sees the Reaper guarding the beam just fly away for no easily discernible reason. It seems to either not care about the fact that Shepard and another soldier are alive, or actually believes everyone capable of getting to the beam is incapacitated or dead, and all it took to fool one of the smartest creatures in the universe was to “Play dead”. What’s more, it just flying away left the beam open to attack from any further forces. You’d think they’d try and protect the beam a little more carefully. It also remains strange that after this Hackett seems to get a report of someone making it to the beam, but not a second person. How did they figure out that Shepard made it to the beam but didn’t see Anderson follow him up?

The Catalyst and His Solution

I’m not trying to be mean to Bioware here but it’s hard to really know where to start picking apart the plot holes involving the child and the Reapers which still exist in the Extended Cut. To give a little sampling though:

  • The idea that synthetic beings always destroy their creators doesn’t seem to be backed up by any logic or evidence, why would synthetics inherently be so hostile? In fact a lot of Mass Effect 3 shows synthetics being very co-operative and organics even being the more dangerous beings.
  • If sentient beings which are created always rebel against their creators and destroy them, then the idea of the child creating the Reapers as “a solution” is flawed.
  • If Shepard is able to control the Reapers then that’s proof that synthetics and organics can co-exist peacefully and proof that the created don’t always rebel and destroy their creators.
  • It is never explained why Shepard’s presence in the area housing the Catalyst means the old solution can no longer work.
  • For an AI created by a highly advanced civilisation to manage the existence between organics and synthetics, stuffing all advanced organic life into a heartless shell and calling it a Reaper seems like a rather inelegant solution and one that has very little regard for organic life. Especially considering the child says his goal is to prevent “chaos”.
  • If the Reapers store organic life and not synthetic life, where are all the synthetics from previous cycles? Even if you assume the Reapers destroyed them both, why destroy both organics and synthetics when the desired goal could be achieved by only killing one off?

What’s more Shepard still accepts all of this as fact, questioning little that doesn’t make sense.

The Final Solutions

It still seems strange that the scientists of the galaxy were able to construct the Crucible from start to finish without even a vague idea to its intended function and that the Protheans didn’t leave even the slightest clue in their designs. The “Synthesis” ending in particular also retains its problems, with it not really even being clear what combining organic and synthetic DNA is meant to mean. DNA, no matter whether naturally or synthetically created can have many different combinations, what are we supposed to presume the Crucible technology does to it?

Additionally, in all of the endings the Mass Relays are destroyed. It was established in The Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2 that the destruction of a Mass Relay decimates entire star systems, yet no such thing seems to happen when all the Mass Relays are destroyed in the Mass Effect 3 ending. What’s more, most of what the Catalyst says contradicts what Reapers have said before.

The Rewriting of the Story

Filthy, lying space squids.

Most of what the Catalyst says contradicts what Reapers have said before. Depending on your perspective this may or may not be a plot hole, but I’m being generous and assuming it’s not here, and that the Reapers said what they said because they were being controlled by the Catalyst. None the less, that means that up to now what the Reapers have said largely means nothing and that the writers mislead us about a lot of key characteristics of the Reapers. Here are some of the things the Reapers claimed which conflict with what the Catalyst says:

  • The Geth have limited viability as material for Reapers (they in fact are not eligible to become Reapers at all).
  • All Reapers are independent beings acting for themselves.
  • The Reapers have always existed and always will.
  • The Reapers are the pinnacle of evolution (the Catalyst claims combined synthetic and organic lifeforms are the pinnacle of evolution).
  • That Reapers are “The end of everything”.
  • That Shepard could not comprehend the true purpose of the Reapers.

Choices Throughout the Games Are Not Recognised

Perhaps one of my biggest problems with the ending that remains is despite Mass Effect often being a game where your actions have consequences, and you’re given choices that mean something, your choices throughout the trilogy still have little bearing on the ending. The Galactic Readiness and EMS scores you have may unlock an extra ending, and apparently your decision to keep or destroy the Collector Base has some effect, but the score systems seems a shallow way of doing it, it’s not clear from playing the game how your choices factor into the ending, and beyond these things, the decisions made over the series or even in Mass Effect 3 really don’t count for anything.

Mass Effect 2 probably stands up as a better example of how to take into account player actions than 3 does, with who lives and who dies in the ending being dependent on who’s loyalty missions you completed, how you upgraded the Normandy, and what people you assigned to what tasks during the final mission. Mass Effect 3’s endings are still almost entirely about whether you picked A, B, C, or D at the last minute.

The Loose End

If there’s one thing the Extended Cut doesn’t give closure on it’s that “special” ending scene where a soldier with the N7 dog tags draped around them wakes up in the rubble, presumably this is Shepard awakening in the ruins of London. This scene doesn’t just show us that Shepard is probably alive but also raises the questions of how Shepard is alive and where exactly things go from that ending if the Shepard trilogy has ended. It is only a small chunk of the plot and I don’t think it’s the biggest problem, but none the less putting a cliffhanger at the end of a trilogy does seem like a bit of a writing misstep.

Duder, It’s Over

It's far from perfect, but overall the new ending is very effective.

With the expectations for Mass Effect 3, disappointment of the original ending and all the ruckus surrounding the game it’s hard to form an opinion that feels entirely unbiased. In my personal opinion, I think the Mass Effect 3 ending still has more holes in it than some are giving it credit for. In an ideal world I would have much preferred to see them pick up and run with the fan’s indoctrination theory. It could have been a smarter and more surprising ending that didn’t have to resort to a deus ex machina, but I appreciate that developing such an ending under the conditions Bioware were creating the Extended Cut was most likely impossible.

Despite my qualms, I do feel that overall the Extended Cut finally gives Mass Effect 3 a good ending. For whatever problems it may have, it’s a very touching close to the trilogy and managed to evoke a kind of emotional response in me that most games haven’t come close to. For all the talk of how EA has corrupted Bioware and turned them evil, Bioware proved that they still care about fans, and EA proved that they’re not always nickel and diming customers. The original ending was obviously a big mistake on the part of Bioware, but when fans said “This ending is not okay”, they and EA responded by dedicating their own resources and effort over a period of about three months to create free content for their fans. This is something which I think is a great move on their part and has the potential to be very underappreciated. Thanks for reading.

-Gamer_152

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4 Comments
Posted by Gamer_152

The backlash against the Mass Effect 3 ending may have been the biggest fan outcry against a story in a video game to date. In some ways the bar was set impossibly high for the game, and even for a developer like Bioware closing out the series was never going to be an easy job. While in some cases the reaction did seem a little over-the-top, and many people were ignoring the genuinely amazing work that Bioware had done with Mass Effect to focus their attentions on the areas in which they’d fallen down, the fanbase had a point.

While Mass Effect 3 was a great game, the ending had more than it's fair share of problems.

The problems with the Mass Effect 3 ending were numerous and impacting, and it was surprising to see something of such low quality coming from a series that been so well-done up to that point. Still, if there was a silver lining to the Mass Effect 3 ending rage, it was that all the emotion and the endless analysing reflected that people were becoming invested in a video game story like never before. While the medium often plays second-fiddle to books, TV, and films in the narrative department, Mass Effect 3 acted as an example of a game had managed to connect very deeply with thousands of people on a story level.

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few months since all of that, but on June 26 EA and Bioware released their extended ending for Mass Effect 3. While it was stated outright that they knew they couldn’t please everyone, the effort had been made to try and address at least some of the fans concerns. I’ve played the DLC, read the discussions on it, gone back and looked at the original complaints of the game, and created a rundown of what the Extended Cut DLC has fixed, and what it hasn’t.

What Has Been Fixed

The Mysterious Crash of the Normandy

In the original ending the shockwave sent out by the synthesis and control choices hit the Normandy and caused it to crash-land on an unknown planet. There was really no logical reason this would have happened and Bioware has addressed this. In the new synthesis and control endings Joker tries to pilot away from the shockwave, he lands on the planet, but the Normandy doesn’t crash.

The Mysteriously Disappearing Squad Members

One of the most confusing things about the original Mass Effect 3 ending was the way your squad mates seemed to follow you on the charge towards the Citadel Beam, only to be mysteriously lost for whatever reason, and then be seen somehow exiting the Normandy onto the planet it crashed on. The Extended Cut manages to fill in this blank, showing Shepard saying a proper goodbye to his injured crew members before they are evacuated to the Normandy, giving a legitimate reason for why they ended up back on the ship.

The Lack of Closure

This time Shepard gets a proper send-off.

This may be the most important thing that the DLC does. In the original ending we knew little of what happened to the crew and what the world was like in the immediate wake of Shepard’s decision, an important part of the story considering Mass Effect’s emphasis on consequences for player actions. In the Extended Cut not only does Shepard get to say goodbye to his/her two squadmates, but the DLC also provides a touching end scene where the surviving crew members pay their respects to Shepard and Anderson, and some rather uplifting epilogue speeches. Some real kudos go out to Bioware for this addition to the game.

The Lack of Variation in the Endings

While at their core the previous endings had very different consequences for the galaxy, the events we got to see in them were essentially identical. Not only is there a little more variety in the events we see in Extended Cut, but again the post-game epilogue really helps out here and lets each ending feel more specific to the action you took.

The Lack of a Fourth Option

In the original ending Shepard was forced to choose between control, synthesis, or destruction, but there was really no reason this should have been the case. He/she should have logically had the choice to choose none of these. Personally I don’t see why you’d choose to let the entire universe die out like that but for those who want it, you can give the big “Fuck you” to the Catalyst and his solutions, and let the Reapers harvest the universe. It’s a grim choice, but it’s there.

What Hasn’t Been Fixed

The Deus Ex Machina

The endings still revolve around and are facilitated by a character and systems we discover at the eleventh hour. For all the troubles that Shepard overcomes with his/her own skills and co-operation with his/her crew, it’s a kind of “God of the Reapers” and three magic space machines that come out of nowhere at the last minute which solve everything.

Most of the Plot Holes

I won’t go into any great detail in this paragraph, but if you want to see a more in-depth look at the remaining plot holes I have written them out in the spoiler tag below. They include such key problems as Harbinger just flying away and leaving the Citadel Beam unprotected for seemingly no reason, the basics of the Catalyst’s “Reaper Solution” being flawed, and the fact that we still don’t really know what the synthesis ending does.

The Approach to the Beam

The sequence of events wherein various characters storm the Citadel Beam are still a bit strange. After Shepard is knocked out by the Reaper beam he wakes up to hear radio chatter reporting that all of the Hammer teams were decimated in the Reaper attack. It’s possible that maybe they just missed the fact Shepard and another soldier were left alive but it seems odd that Anderson is clearly alive (as you meet him later in the Citadel) and yet he’s nowhere to be seen after Shepard awakens. Where exactly Anderson went and why he was thought dead remains a mystery.

The real crazy bit that they left in is that as Shepard is waking up, he/she sees the Reaper guarding the beam just fly away for no easily discernible reason. It seems to either not care about the fact that Shepard and another soldier are alive, or actually believes everyone capable of getting to the beam is incapacitated or dead, and all it took to fool one of the smartest creatures in the universe was to “Play dead”. What’s more, it just flying away left the beam open to attack from any further forces. You’d think they’d try and protect the beam a little more carefully. It also remains strange that after this Hackett seems to get a report of someone making it to the beam, but not a second person. How did they figure out that Shepard made it to the beam but didn’t see Anderson follow him up?

The Catalyst and His Solution

I’m not trying to be mean to Bioware here but it’s hard to really know where to start picking apart the plot holes involving the child and the Reapers which still exist in the Extended Cut. To give a little sampling though:

  • The idea that synthetic beings always destroy their creators doesn’t seem to be backed up by any logic or evidence, why would synthetics inherently be so hostile? In fact a lot of Mass Effect 3 shows synthetics being very co-operative and organics even being the more dangerous beings.
  • If sentient beings which are created always rebel against their creators and destroy them, then the idea of the child creating the Reapers as “a solution” is flawed.
  • If Shepard is able to control the Reapers then that’s proof that synthetics and organics can co-exist peacefully and proof that the created don’t always rebel and destroy their creators.
  • It is never explained why Shepard’s presence in the area housing the Catalyst means the old solution can no longer work.
  • For an AI created by a highly advanced civilisation to manage the existence between organics and synthetics, stuffing all advanced organic life into a heartless shell and calling it a Reaper seems like a rather inelegant solution and one that has very little regard for organic life. Especially considering the child says his goal is to prevent “chaos”.
  • If the Reapers store organic life and not synthetic life, where are all the synthetics from previous cycles? Even if you assume the Reapers destroyed them both, why destroy both organics and synthetics when the desired goal could be achieved by only killing one off?

What’s more Shepard still accepts all of this as fact, questioning little that doesn’t make sense.

The Final Solutions

It still seems strange that the scientists of the galaxy were able to construct the Crucible from start to finish without even a vague idea to its intended function and that the Protheans didn’t leave even the slightest clue in their designs. The “Synthesis” ending in particular also retains its problems, with it not really even being clear what combining organic and synthetic DNA is meant to mean. DNA, no matter whether naturally or synthetically created can have many different combinations, what are we supposed to presume the Crucible technology does to it?

Additionally, in all of the endings the Mass Relays are destroyed. It was established in The Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2 that the destruction of a Mass Relay decimates entire star systems, yet no such thing seems to happen when all the Mass Relays are destroyed in the Mass Effect 3 ending. What’s more, most of what the Catalyst says contradicts what Reapers have said before.

The Rewriting of the Story

Filthy, lying space squids.

Most of what the Catalyst says contradicts what Reapers have said before. Depending on your perspective this may or may not be a plot hole, but I’m being generous and assuming it’s not here, and that the Reapers said what they said because they were being controlled by the Catalyst. None the less, that means that up to now what the Reapers have said largely means nothing and that the writers mislead us about a lot of key characteristics of the Reapers. Here are some of the things the Reapers claimed which conflict with what the Catalyst says:

  • The Geth have limited viability as material for Reapers (they in fact are not eligible to become Reapers at all).
  • All Reapers are independent beings acting for themselves.
  • The Reapers have always existed and always will.
  • The Reapers are the pinnacle of evolution (the Catalyst claims combined synthetic and organic lifeforms are the pinnacle of evolution).
  • That Reapers are “The end of everything”.
  • That Shepard could not comprehend the true purpose of the Reapers.

Choices Throughout the Games Are Not Recognised

Perhaps one of my biggest problems with the ending that remains is despite Mass Effect often being a game where your actions have consequences, and you’re given choices that mean something, your choices throughout the trilogy still have little bearing on the ending. The Galactic Readiness and EMS scores you have may unlock an extra ending, and apparently your decision to keep or destroy the Collector Base has some effect, but the score systems seems a shallow way of doing it, it’s not clear from playing the game how your choices factor into the ending, and beyond these things, the decisions made over the series or even in Mass Effect 3 really don’t count for anything.

Mass Effect 2 probably stands up as a better example of how to take into account player actions than 3 does, with who lives and who dies in the ending being dependent on who’s loyalty missions you completed, how you upgraded the Normandy, and what people you assigned to what tasks during the final mission. Mass Effect 3’s endings are still almost entirely about whether you picked A, B, C, or D at the last minute.

The Loose End

If there’s one thing the Extended Cut doesn’t give closure on it’s that “special” ending scene where a soldier with the N7 dog tags draped around them wakes up in the rubble, presumably this is Shepard awakening in the ruins of London. This scene doesn’t just show us that Shepard is probably alive but also raises the questions of how Shepard is alive and where exactly things go from that ending if the Shepard trilogy has ended. It is only a small chunk of the plot and I don’t think it’s the biggest problem, but none the less putting a cliffhanger at the end of a trilogy does seem like a bit of a writing misstep.

Duder, It’s Over

It's far from perfect, but overall the new ending is very effective.

With the expectations for Mass Effect 3, disappointment of the original ending and all the ruckus surrounding the game it’s hard to form an opinion that feels entirely unbiased. In my personal opinion, I think the Mass Effect 3 ending still has more holes in it than some are giving it credit for. In an ideal world I would have much preferred to see them pick up and run with the fan’s indoctrination theory. It could have been a smarter and more surprising ending that didn’t have to resort to a deus ex machina, but I appreciate that developing such an ending under the conditions Bioware were creating the Extended Cut was most likely impossible.

Despite my qualms, I do feel that overall the Extended Cut finally gives Mass Effect 3 a good ending. For whatever problems it may have, it’s a very touching close to the trilogy and managed to evoke a kind of emotional response in me that most games haven’t come close to. For all the talk of how EA has corrupted Bioware and turned them evil, Bioware proved that they still care about fans, and EA proved that they’re not always nickel and diming customers. The original ending was obviously a big mistake on the part of Bioware, but when fans said “This ending is not okay”, they and EA responded by dedicating their own resources and effort over a period of about three months to create free content for their fans. This is something which I think is a great move on their part and has the potential to be very underappreciated. Thanks for reading.

-Gamer_152

Moderator
Edited by Mento

Very comprehensive write-up. I've seen a few of those videos that do the whole Plinkett thing of thoroughly debunking what is by anyone's estimation a piss-poor ending, and I agree that there's generally way too many flaws which limits how much damage control this last minute "clarification" DLC can provide.

Ideally, they would've left the Reapers' motivation alone. Either because it maintains their terrifying mystique or simply because we don't need to hear about it, because it'll be something utterly stupid and incomprehensible just like it turned out to be. I did like that the Crucible was in some way beneficial to the Reapers, as the implication was that the technology behind it - once again like people's misconceptions with the Mass Relays - belonged to the same civilization that created the Reapers themselves. If it got activated and it turned into another Harbinger (the original Reaper), that might've been a fun "oh crap" moment, especially if Shepard got to be its core.

In my eyes, the only way this multiple ending mess could be salvaged is if each of the endings spun-off into a separate Mass Effect sub-franchise: Synthesis could be a intergalactic exploration game using that collective knowledge of the Reapers to escape the current galaxy and help build crazy shit like Dyson Spheres, Control might be an RTS where you take the Reaper fleet and defend the galaxy from an even nastier incursion (what are the Yuuzhan Vong up to these days?) and Destroy perhaps another shooter. Types of game that would befit the attitude of the ending choice they come from. Maybe turn Refusal into an identical series of RPGs with a different set of races some 50k years later? Dumb ideas, perhaps, but having a bunch of separate franchises with separate continuities might be a fun way to make the best of a bad situation. You know BioWare and EA will be looking at every option to keep the Mass Effect train a-rollin'.

Moderator
Posted by Goggen240

Thanks for this, it was a very good read.

I've been trying to write something along these lines since the Extended Cut launched, but you wrote down most of what I thought far better than I ended up doing. On the whole I think you did a very good analysis of it.

I am a bit more negative on the new endings than you; outside of what you bring up, I found the drop in production quality going from in-engine and pre-rendered cutscenes to static concept-art-like photos to be very disappointing, but that's nitpicky. Overall though, I found the new ending a great improvement, just not good enough to be "worthy" of Mass Effect a series, and certainly not good enough to make up for the original disappointment. On the other hand, I'm pretty grateful for BioWare at least trying, even though I think the general opinion is going to be "too little, too late". And I kind of agree. Being given this chance for a do-over, they could have done much more with it; with their previous DLC history, like Lair of the Shadow Broker, I was hoping for a lot more, and I don't think they fulfilled their potential.

But, like you, I'm hopeful that we can all learn from this, and maybe next time someone decides to make a three-part epic role-playing game that carries your choices forward across the games, hopefully they won't fumble in the last few minutes.

I'm also happy to see that finally, gamers actually play through to the end, and care that the ending is well-made. (Or isn't.)

Edited by Ujio
"...they and EA responded by dedicating their own resources and effort over a period of about three months to create free content for their fans. This is something which I think is a great move on their part and has the potential to be very underappreciated."

I think it should be underappreciated and not praised that they had to release something for free. Of course it had to be free because can you imagine the pure anarchy that would have erupted had they decided to CHARGE people? Forget the Mayans and their predictions; that would've been the end of the world right then and there. Of course I'm being facetious, but I'm sure you understand the magnitude of that situation.

So their "decision" to make it free was less out of the kindness of their hearts than it was pure obligation with their backs against the wall; they had no choice but to make it free. Other than that, thoughtful blog ;)