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Assuming Direct Control

BioWare Co-Founder Promises Fans “Clarity and Closure” for Mass Effect 3

When I wrote my breakdown of the Mass Effect 3 ending kerfuffle on Tuesday, I didn’t think there’d be anything to add to the discussion for a while. It had only been two weeks since the game was released, and I figured that the very earliest we’d hear anything more concrete from BioWare would be at their upcoming panel at PAX East.

Oh, silly me.

Yesterday, BioWare co-founder and general manager Dr. Ray Muzyka directly addressed the controversy through an open letter to all players of the game. He humbly accepted criticism and acknowleged the “valid principles” behind some of the more prevalent complaints. He also promised that in April, we’d be hearing more about “game content initiatives” that would address some of the fans’ concerns, notably those of narrative clarity and closure.

Let me walk you through a few of the highlights while I try to reassemble the pieces of my blown mind.

As co-founder and GM of BioWare, I’m very proud of the ME3 team; I personally believe Mass Effect 3 is the best work we’ve yet created. So, it’s incredibly painful to receive feedback from our core fans that the game’s endings were not up to their expectations. Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics – but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility.

Muzyka acknowledges the “intense range of highly personal emotions” that players experience through the series, but admits to being surprised that the fanbase reacted to the ending as strongly as it did. He indicates that BioWare has been closely following fan reactions within social media and the official game forums, and that they are working to develop an acceptable solution.

Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April. We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received. This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.

Muzyka then gave a tactful call for civility, stating that while constructive criticism would be taken into consideration, “individual attacks on our team members” and “destructive commentary” would fall upon deaf ears (a stance we can all get behind). In closing, he requested not only that fans continue to share their input, but that they show positive support of the series that they have grown to love so well.

Trust that we are doing our damndest, as always, to address your feedback. As artists, we care about our fans deeply and we appreciate your support.

Encouraging, conciliatory letters are par for the course when you’ve got a fanbase to soothe, but this is no mere piece of PR fluff. To accept criticism and encourage dialog without making good on it would be professional suicide, and BioWare knows it. This letter is more than an olive branch. It’s an open hand.

Though the letter still leaves a lot to speculation, there are a few key changes from last week’s statement from Casey Hudson. Hudson assured fans that BioWare was listening and that public feedback had always been a key component to the development of this series, but he offered nothing further. Muzyka’s message is different: They’re listening, they understand, and they’re going to do something about it.

Of course, nobody knows what that “something” is yet (probably not even BioWare). Will they be making changes to the existing ending, or will they be tacking on additional content that helps to explain and expand the ending as is? I find the latter far more likely, but right now, your guess is as good as mine. However, if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that the phrase “game content initiatives” is going to fuel volumes of speculative theories between now and April.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. She blogs over at Other Scribbles, and she is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help get her first sci-fi novel off the ground.

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  • Kath

    “To accept criticism and encourage dialog without making good on it would be professional suicide, and BioWare knows it.”

    And yet Dragon Age 2 happened.

    Anyway, call my cynical but I reckon BioWare are only doing this because it’s *massively* impacted on the uptake of the game and it’s affected their image. I don’t, for a minute, believe they’re doing this “just for the fans”.

  • Kate Lorimer

    Oh how I’d love the “Indoctrination Theory” to be the great ace in the hole… but after reading the statement my heart tells me no.

    I rush-played through to the end on Tuesday night as I was so unnerved by all the furor of the ending controversy that I didnt want it inadvertently spoiled for me by the never-ending vitriol on my twitter feed!

    Consequently on first run I was kind of agog and flabbergasted, but also relatively ok with what I saw, if a little baffled by elements of it.  Ironically I felt distrust of the finale character, and so felt compelled to do the opposite of what was being hinted at as the “right” thing to do.  I felt bad afterwards due to the apparent aftermath, but I expected sacrifice.. so… was okayish.. again aside from somewhat nonsensical epilogue.  then I heard about the other endings… and then I finally allowed myself to dive into the ending discussions and came to terms with what was a totally bizarre way to end the series which has completely nullified my desire to go back and re-play any of the games.

    Anyhoo..  we’ll see what happens, I’d love to see the Indoc-theory come to light (as hinted to as a supposedly discarded plotline for the ending by one of the writers) – but I think it will be another amazing fan-hoped invention like the theories for LOST were during its run…

    I have my own thoughts on Mass Effect as a series on my blog if anyone’s interested!

  • J.S. MacDougall

    Bah, changing the ending based on fan criticism does not sit well with me. 

  • Anonymous


    …came to terms with what was a totally bizarre way to end the series which has completely nullified my desire to go back and re-play any of the games.

    This is something I’ve read *a lot* and really ought to be the scariest thing to the creators of the series.  They made an amazing and epic sci-fi story in a very well-crafted and detailed universe that people became incredibly emotionally involved in, and in 10 minutes or so, managed to ruin the entire story for many people in a way that kills their desire to ever replay the series.  That’s…not good story-telling, to say the least. 

    I have read some folks saying that ‘they understood what BioWare was trying to do with the ending” or something to that effect, and I’d really love for someone to hold my hand and explain the ending to me then, because I simply don’t get it.  It doesn’t fit thematically or logically into the universe, what is implied as the best choice to make is counter to everything fought for previous to those last few minutes, and Sheperd acts completely contrary to his/her character.  Taking the ending at face-value leaves a whole lot of questions about how some of your team got to the Normandy, how the hell Joker would turn tail and *leave* the battle, how synthesis or control *destroys* the mass relays, and how destroying the Mass relays doesn’t vaporize huge swaths of the galaxy, as has been stated previously in regards to the catastrophic result of destroying them.  The ending was poorly crafted, to say the least, unless indoctrination theory holds true — which makes much more sense than a face-value interpretation, imo. 

    I’m kinda surprised that BioWare folks were surprised at the response of fans to the ending.  I hope, at the least, that despite the seriously not ok vitriol and behavior of some folks, they understand that a lot of the upset is based on how amazingly well done the series was up until the last 10-15 minutes of the game and what a good job they did getting their fans deeply emotionally invested in the story and their resulting need for closure to the series, which this ending simply doesn’t deliver.

  • Anonymous

    yeesh, double post, sorry

  • Anonymous

    I understand a draft of the new ending has already been released…

  • Anonymous

     BioWare is in an odd position.  The vitriol can/will affect future sales, both of DLC, and for people who’ve yet to buy the game.  I said on the previous page, I started playing Mass 1 in response to the outpouring of love for the series, but hearing about the ending of 3, I was considering just stopping with 2.  And odds are they’re not going to “change” the ending as much as amend it, add another option where so many people don’t have to die, seemingly pointlessly.

    Plus, as so many have said, the reasoning behind the disappointment was so valid and reasoned, it is hard to discount.  If it was all “I want a parade and a house on a hill and little bluefish-pallored babies’ it would be easy to wave off. But the ending really does come off as “We’re a little late, folks, so bye now!”

  • Kate Lorimer

    That is going to get sooo many hits from hopeful naive internets.  I fully expected a RickRoll, however :D

  • Anna B

    They better do something about it. I personally *was* going to buy the ENTIRE Mass Effect series to start playing it but decided, because of this outrage by the fans, that I wouldn’t. The thought that I’d invest myself knowingly in something that ended so terribly seemed like a bad idea.

    (I’m late to the party, I know, but I had a lot of stuff going on in my life in the past that did not need the obsession and distraction of a game like Mass Effect)

  • Adi Rule

    [Mild Spoilers]

    Thanks for continuing to follow this story.

    I agree with potsherds that the most disappointing aspect of this is people not wanting to replay. I am a big replayer — I even did several playthroughs of DA2, and continue to enjoy that game despite the poor reviews it got from fans. But I have no interest in playing ME3, which is truly a magnificent game, ever again. There is no incentive. Get a different ending? Not really. Be better prepared for the endgame? Sorry, preparation doesn’t really matter. Fight for the survival of so-and-so? Well, we never find out who lives or dies. So what’s the point of a second playthrough? Blow up more stuff with better weapons? OK. But I don’t need Bioware to do that. Bioware has always promised more.

    I’m tired of the argument that fans just want a happy ending, or didn’t understand the ending, and at this point it’s not necessary to rehash the three valid issues people have (The three C’s: Choice (mattering), Consistency (of the world), and Closure). Still, at the end of the day, it’s Bioware’s game, and they can do what they want. I’m not demanding anything. It’s not my product.

    But, as the saying goes, the opposite of love is indifference.

  • Anonymous

    I’m willing to write off the “Explodey Relays will take out the whole system” issue – the THEORY was that doing so would produce such a result, but it wasn’t so, or the Reaper systems had a less-death-of-all-explodey way of self-destructing.  Having galactic travel brought to a sudden (and odds are permanent) halt is well bad enough.  millions, billions of sentients trapped in systems that they were not evolved to live in, likely resulting in death from starvation and infenction is MUCH worse.

    One obvious scenario is just to ask the reapers to look around.  Races united, organic and synthetic working together … there’s no NEED to wipe everybody out, the cycle is broken.

  • Kate Lorimer

    Yes, this is a REAL problem.  I have the xbox version of Mass Effect sitting here on the couch, as I was about to lend it to someone – but now I feel like stating the caveat: “AWESOME game! Gets even better in the sequel! Takes your choices from first to second game..  the third game is AMAAAAAZING too.. but… well…  its not really worth it because of the end.. so.. yeah.. not sure if the first two are worth playing afterall..”

    ..ofcourse the story ends on a high in the 2nd game (by which I mean excellent quality, happy or sad ending depends on you!) I empathize!  But I weep for your loss of 9/10ths of the story due to that last 10th….

  • Anonymous

    There doesn’t even seem to be much difference playing as paragon/renegade. In ME3, it seems like all the dialog choices are heroic or slightly different heroic. In ME1 & 2, I loved replaying the game as a renegade jerk. It was great fun to replay the game as a non-heroic hero, but that doesn’t seem to be an option in ME3.

    More depth cut in order to make the deadline, it would seem.

  • Anonymous

    Bioware does listen to players quite a lot. More than they maybe should. They can’t rewrite entire games (and they’re rather resilient to criticism when it comes to main story), but they usually fix agreed upon problems in future games, and they insert a lot of “just for the fans” content all the time.

    Also, a lot of people loved DA2, thank ya very much.

  • Ian Osmond

    If it massively impacted on the uptake of the game and it’s affected their image, then that IS doing it just for the fans.  The fans are unhappy with them.  BioWare does better when their fans are happy with them.

    Is BioWare doing this to make the fans happy, or, well, to make the fans happy?  It’s much of a muchness.  Responding to fan criticism — it is responding to the desires and opinions of the fan base for an artistically and emotionally satisfying ending, or is it bowing to market pressure?

    In this case, aren’t those basically the same thing?

  • Kath

    A lot of people also criticised DA2, and its sales figures dropped off incredibly quickly. There was also quite the controversy with one of the review scores, at least in the UK. It wasn’t as big a commercial success. Heck, I’d even go so far as to suggest it was a flop relative to their other products.

    I’m not disagreeing that they listen to the fans, but they don’t do so correctly. ME2 was a massive change from ME1 in so many ways, and not for the better – DA2 was a change from DA:O on a lesser scale, but was still large. Instead of fixing things with ME1, they removed them for ME2. Mako, inventory, levelling, armour and so on. Just completely wiped it all away, added a few simple mechanics and “done”. With ME3 they appeared to actually try to fix it, but I wonder if it’s too little too late.

    There was also the ending to DA:O. Worked fine, until Awakening came along. What did they do? Completely and utterly negate all levity from it. “You chose *that* end? Well, nevermind, we’ll overlook it for the expansion!” for example. I believe DA2 also contradicts a number of player choices from DA:O.

    It would be good if they actually stepped back and listened to the fans when developing, rather than just running head-first into decisions. Maybe, if they did that, things like DA2 or ME3 as a whole just wouldn’t happen.

  • Kath

    They’ve changed endings on a whim before (Dragon Age: Origins when Awakening came out), so changing it based on fan feedback isn’t going to be much different.

  • Kath

    The fans are already pissed. Doing this won’t repair that, and the ME3 ending controversy will remain with them for many years to come regardless of whether they ‘fix’ it or not.

    The reason they’re going to fix it is because they want to win back those who’ve deferred or outright cancelled their purchases of ME3 based on the feedback to the ending. They’re not doing it for fun, they’re doing it because there’s commercial gain to be had from it – whether financially or in terms of “good will”, the latter of which can sometimes be worth more in the long run.

    The fans will benefit, but I think it’s naive to believe that they’re doing it solely for the fans – there is *definitely* a marketing/financial aspect to it. There are sales to be gained from it, and BioWare are in the business of making sales. They will do what they can to gain those sales, and if that means taking a hit then they will do it.

  • Anonymous

    What you’re asking them to do is release their game before its released, so that they can change it based on feedback before releasing? Now I know the ME3 script was supposedly leaked, but if that had not happened, what you’re asking is not plausible and could have not happened, and even then, they asked for players to play everything in context the way it was *meant* to be seen, which is a very reasonable thing to ask. There’s really no way the ending could have been prevented by stopping to read their forum, because no one was giving feedback based on the finished product. This. This time right now. This is when they’re supposed to start listening.

    Because, believe me, I hated DA2 … before it was released. Then I played it. And I loved it. And I’m glad that they didn’t stop production to listen to an idiot like me raging in the forums about how the darkspawn looked different.

  • Kath

    No, I’m saying they should consider feedback to their games during development (e.g. Mass Effect 2 feedback should affect Mass Effect 3), and they have given signs this is the case. The RPG mechanics (e.g. skills) and inventory return in ME3 should be proof enough of it, but Mass Effect 2′s approach should never have happened in the first place.

    This is the perfect time to listen – I agree – *but* BioWare should not have let this situation happen in the first place. They’ve been around long enough to know how fans act, they know how much time, money and emotion they have invested in this series. Sometimes playing it safe is better than doing something a bit different, and BioWare went the ‘different’ route and were punished for it.

    But, then again, BioWare wouldn’t know what consistency was if it slapped them in the face. They can’t even keep the art style consistent between two games (well, excepting BG/BG2, but they had little control over that).

  • Robin Burks

    I’m one of the fans that liked the end (and yes, there are many of us out there). I thought it was simple but had a lot of depth. But of course, I saw the entire game as an end, rather than the last 15-20 minutes. Maybe I was spoiled because I’d read about all the backlash first and was expecting the entire thing to be a dream or something as horrible as that. But the ending I got was better than expected.

    Personally, if we consider video game storytelling as art, telling the artists/writers to re-write it is just insulting and I hope that Bioware doesn’t do that. 

    I see this as no different than those people who were outraged at the ending of the television series “Lost.” Or any other t.v. series. There is no way Bioware can please 100% of the people 100% of the time. All they can do is stay true to their own artistic integrity.

  • Stewart Grant

    Honestly most of what you are talking about is personal preference. I personally loved ME2 way more than ME1. For me the changes to gameplay made it a much more enjoyable game. Bioware does take customer feedback into account, just because they didn’t ask you specifically isn’t a reason to blast them. If you don’t like their games or their approach don’t buy them. Pretty simple. 

    Also DA2 has sold over 2 million copies, had 4 DLC packs, and has spanwed a sequel in the forth coming DA3. That’s pretty impressive for ‘a flop…’

  • Kath

    Obviously you missed the bit where I said “relative to their other words”. The number of DLC releases means nothing in terms of sales figures. In fact, I would guess that the shortness of DA2′s DLC cycle points to a failure *relative* to DA:O and ME2, which both had relatively long DLC cycles. Two million copies over four platforms is a little pathetic for a company the size of BioWare, don’t you think? DA:O did, according to a DA fansite, 2.5m within weeks. DA2 did not manage to beat or even equal that.

    Did ME2′s gameplay work? Yes, it did. Rather well. But it doesn’t change the fact that instead of fixing and improving the gameplay of ME1, they largely redesigned it. View point changed, weapon loadouts changed dramatically, inventory was removed, so on and so forth. It worked for ME2, but it was undeniably an extreme change.

  • Dalendria Lotro

     I finally finished my 2nd playthrough on Renegade (first was Paragon Shepard).  I forced myself to the end.  I can say that people who do not want or see no reason to replay are right.

    1. Things characters said in replay became laughable when during my first playthrough they were sad or poignant.  I know some will say “well of course, you now know how it ends.”  Sorry that is not it.  I am one of those persons that can replay games or watch movies over and over and still enjoy them.  While the surprise is gone, I still feel the emotional “twinge” on subsequent viewings.  The 2nd playthrough of Mass Effect 3 became hollow for me in key parts.

    2. I collected more war assets this time and did multiplayer to get to 100% readiness.  I had over 6.800 effective military strength (EMS).  How did this change the final battle for me?  Shepard took a breath in the rubble.  Nothing else was different.  The battle chatter was the same.  My forces were depleted at the same rate.  The hopelessness of it all was the same as when I only had 3.400 EMS.  All the cutscenes during the battle for earth were the same.  The dialogue was the same.  I purposely chose the Destroy Reapers both times.  Nothing changed.  I at least expected that during the earth battle, I would have maybe seen more troops, heard more positive chatter or had different dialogue during the final goodbyes because the outlook was better.  Nope.  And yes, I already knew that getting over 5,000 military strength would give me the Shepard breathing scene.  I just wanted to see for myself if that truly was the only difference between having maximum EMS and lower EMS.

    So unlike other Bioware games, Mass Effect 3 has no satisfying replay value if you are trying to move towards a different conclusion/earth battle.

    I can confirm that there are interesting differences leading up to the battle for TIM base/Earth.  But once you hit the ending sequence it is pretty much the same no matter what choices you made or how many war assets you collected.

  • Dalendria Lotro

    I actually loved the ending of Lost and Battlestar Galactica.  Did they have some issues? Yes.  But I found those series finales to be compelling and sensible within the overall context of the series.  The ending to Mass Effect 3 was inconclusive, in stark contrast to even the other 95% of the game, and full of inconsistencies.  No, not everyone is going to love the way a series ends.  Lost is a good example.  But when people who even accept the ending, admit that it was unclear and seemingly unfinished, then something is not right. 

    You enjoyed your swordfish dinner but many of us in the restaurant are saying the “fish tastes funny.”  Should our complaints be ignored?  Do they have no merit? or Is there something possibly wrong with the seafood?

  • Mark Krijgsman

     if you would have looked at companies fror the games you would understand,
    DA:O and ME were bioware only’s ME even an xbox exclussive, than EA bought them , and implied changes to speak to a more broader audiance and multiple platform, they have a hughe finger in the porridge there.

    People simply HATED the mako parts, it was utter useless on insanity and the “stick” driving annoying, if you follow the bio ware social media , you will see fans asked to take the mako out, bioware nodded and said , ok lets do that , we take the mako out, but than when ME2 happend a fraction of the fans went ” we want the mako back we liked it”  so bioware , propably sighed mumbled, and then did a customer smile and said ” we have this dlc its called the fire….. (forgot the name) the bracket of mako lovers went YAH,w hile the larger mako haters went complaining that hey had to do mako stuff AGAIN in ME 2  compare this to twins where one goes ” i dont want pudding no more i hate pudding” so you say ok  hun we wont get pudding , but than the other goes ” but i like pudding bring it back “  so you say , ” we get custard than” where the first one goes again” but thats just like pudding and i dont like pudding”  most parents would say  ” to bad and eat it  now you wont leave the table” . bioware didnt, they went and be the parrent that got icecream for the pudding hater and small pudding for the lover.

    a big chunk of information most “fans” forget is that bioware said that ME3 is the end of the SHEPARD trilogie, as they were always planning on the universe they created and a lot of fans (like me) would love to contineu in , so the fact that the ending of ME3 is not upto par is sad, but it shows bioware takes things to heart, they dont just say  ” thank you comeagain” when you leave a comment or complained they keep them , they read them and to co founder’s letter says ” we take them to heart”  is noble,

    and if you look at ME 2 and ME 3 they HAVE LISTEND,  casey hudson said ” the fans seem to hate the scanning planet stuff so we are taking it out” and they did, ok you still need to scan some planets for assets , but you doont have to if you dont want to.
    and i myself loved dragon age 2 and sure it “just” sold 2 million copies, i am from a time where games did nnot have to sell trillions and trillions of copies to be good, for instance look at halo  that game sold a whole lot of copies, and a whole lot of people simply jhate the guts of it, (as do i ) so by saying  ” look at the noumbers” is like saying a rich mans dollar is worth more than a poorman quarter when they both give it to charity .

  • Mark Krijgsman

     ”The reason they’re going to fix it is because they want to win back
    those who’ve deferred or outright cancelled their purchases of ME3 based
    on the feedback to the ending”

    thats the short sighted bunch of gamers who do that , i played ME 3 , 4 times already (main story) and yes the last 10 minutes might be not what i hoped for, but the journey to the end is amazing, i see that  as sperms going ” were gone let him win we just found out that if we fertilize the egg, were gona die”

  • Mark Krijgsman

     when the beam hits you you hear some one say ” their dead theri all dead,”  so if i was joker i would have radiod the ” lets get the  frunk out”  call and run, becuas  he thought shepard had also died (how it is possible for one of your team members to be on the normandy after crash is indeed plothole)
    as shepard says to the thingie, ” so the illusive man was right” that after the illusive mans speach ” are you like this old dog only seeing the world through the barrel of a gun” shows that the ending is infact intune with the story you created,  would you destroy them as you set out to do, or would you control them  , or rewrite dna (i choose that  felt the best at what my shep would do)
    the relay bit is just fan ignorance in the arrival you hurl a planetoid into it and it explodes, in ME3 they spi n rapidly send the beam onward and break appart,  that is why it doesnt destroy star clusters as it did in the arrival, not that easy to mis.
    and the fact the fleet is at earth without massrelays, is also not a biggie,  for example liara is just 300, her race  lives fairly long, so they can just fly back to their home system and not be stuck near earth like so many people say .

    no ending should ever be taken at face value for the simple reason that there is always more to it.

    yes i miss the back story, i miss ” the what happend to” part of the game,

  • Mark Krijgsman

      you do mnow that after your born you will die right? so why bother living if you know so many people are angry and sad when somebody does die?

    or why consumate love if you know it will end (in a lot of cass) baring something that dies old too?

  • Mark Krijgsman

      I purposely chose the Destroy Reapers both times.  Nothing changed.

    if you chose to press the b  button twice you get 2 b’s  , thats why flies keep flying in windows

  • Mark Krijgsman

     i like theending too in a way but would have loved to see what happend to.
    like edi and joker

  • Kath

    The Mako? No, I don’t think there was really a call for it to be removed, merely for it to be improved. Instead, BioWare removed it. The inventory, again, people asked for it to be improved, but instead BioWare removed it.

    As for the scanning, people hated how boring it was and how different it was to the rest of the game. I’m sure a few people wanted it removed, but all it needed was some improvements – some were delivered in a patch – not removing.

    That’s the thing. Instead of fixing stuff, BioWare just remove it.

    As for your point about sales – 2m copies is low. It doesn’t matter one jot what games sold 10-20 years ago, because that was then. This is now. For a company the size and reputation of BioWare, 2m copies is a low number. Consider that Dragon Age: Origins did twice that at least. Mass Effect 3 has likely hit 2m already. DA2? It was a flop compared to every other recent BioWare game.

    Sales do not mean quality at all, but tastes are subjective. High sales do not mean a game is crap. It might not be to your taste, but it doesn’t mean it’s crap. I, personally, have a slight nostalgic fondness for Halo 1 and 2, but I likely wouldn’t pick up another game in the series as the community is horrific.

  • Mark Krijgsman

     lost  was like
    fans in season 1 : they are already dead and in purgatory
    lost people : no they are not
    lost people season 4: see their not dead the island moves
    fans season 5: that is so cool the escaped and came back, their not dead wow what amazing
    lost people final season: whahahahaha they are all areayd dead and in a ” form” of purgatory SCREW YOU FANS.
    the fans final season: what the beef? we said in season one that exact same thing.

    thats a big  finger to fans, something i do not see bioware doing

  • Mark Krijgsman

    ” but Mass Effect 2′s approach should never have happened in the first place.”

    if we all thought like this we would still be in caves