Lotta really good posts in this thread.
I seriously can't wrap my head around the plot twists, contingencies and the multiple vectors of each faction and sub-faction, all behaving with more knowledge than the player himself (that is us), and this tiny annoyance is repeated ad nauseam throughout BP ("You still don't know what is happening") which gives the series its own detective feel (each chapter giving one more piece of the puzzle for us to suss out), but at the same time continues the Freespace tradition of "**** you you're only a pilot you operate on a need-to-know-basis" shtick.
Which is fine, I don't mind it, with the proper caveat: that the underlying plot actually makes sense and is not filled with holes patched with ever increasing laborious and convoluted writing (creating ever more holes, etc.), only letting the reader / player notice this at the end when all the increasing complexities actually never successfully mesh together up to a concise intelligible narrative. IOW, a kind of a "LOST" problem.
I have high hopes this won't happen. My instincts warned me from LOST in the very first episode where I could smell the lack of any actual plot beneath all the (rather impressive) smoke and mirrors thrown at the audiences. The same instincts tell me that BP will deliver.
Having said all this, I am still shocked at the very high number of weaves and threads that this plot is multiplying at this point, with the many apparent contradictions still afoot and unexplained. If there is a damned criticism I can make against BP at this moment is that it communicates to the player (at least to chapter 3 of WiH) an unnerving feeling of unexplained urgency to do something you don't understand for reasons you weren't told, at the same time you are told to behave nihilistically and amorally because said objectives require such monstruosity of dedication and focus.
It's difficult to have it both ways like that. I can see a player trying to figure out what the hell is going on but maintaining his moral compass of a sort. I can see a player going full "beyond morals" nihilistic fashion "for the greater good", but that requires this "greater good" to be damned well explained and clear in the player's mind (a simple "I'm telling you you either do this or Earth gets it" doesn't cut it, you really have to understand the situation properly).
At the end of WiH chapter 3 I'm left with a lot of confusion in my brain. What the hell is going on? It's clear it's about humanity's own survival, but what the hell is the right course after all? Should we really defeat the GTVA? Sould we believe in Ken? Should we believe in the Elders instead? This confusion is not a bad thing at all, but I fear that the 4th chapter can start with the wrong impression that the only thing the player needs to do at this point is to follow orders by a badass faction.
Seriously guys, watch that thing. If chapter 4 starts like that, my reaction would be numbness. Why should I follow these orders if I don't even know if they amount to something directed to what's good or not? Should I just mindlessly kill anything on sight because I belong to a killing clan and not the other killing clan?
This is a really cogent and well-thought out post. As I'm sure everybody knows, we always planned to ship Act 3, 4 and 5 together. We've known what happens through the end of BP3 for a long time now, so I can
assure you that it's not a Lost situation, and we're not trying to patch together an ending to a narrative Ponzi scheme that buys a sense of mystery and engagement by answering every question with two and a half questions.
But you're completely right that the ironically named 'Universal Truth' copped out on one thing - it's not explicitly clear what Laporte's mission is or why it's so urgent and vital. The narrative has told us that humanity's destruction is coming unless Ken's bargain is carried through, but we don't know why, when, or how, and in what way Laporte's actions might help avert it.
In retrospect, I wish we'd provided one
more piece of information. The notion that Laporte is a deniable asset for the Shivans to use against the Vishnans is thrown out there, but we don't get her ultimate target. She's still a heads-down payload responding to guidance she doesn't understand.
We wanted to draw the narrative focus at the end of Act 3 back to the war, since Act 4 is very focused on the military situation rather than the metaphysics. But I can make two promises:
First, the story going forward is not going to be purely about vast incomprehensible ultraminds manipulating the player. Now that Laporte and her Fedayeen allies have hard information, they can start exerting agency in this game of civilizations. Of course the Vishnans and Shivans are enormously intelligent, and it'd be ridiculous to 'trick' them - but their own capabilities are constrained by each other, which leaves the little players some wiggle room. Blindsight this isn't.
Second, by the end of BP2, we'd like the motives and ultimate goals of each factions to boil down to a couple easily described sentences, and hopefully we can present those goals - no matter how cosmos-spanning - in an easily digested fashion. Obstructionism, portent, and allusion are powerful tools in constructing mood, but in the end we do want players to know pretty much what's going on in the broad scheme of things.
When I read some of the fantastic speculation here, especially the more metaphysical stuff, I actually worry about disappointing people when we provide answers that are merely political, merely comprehensible - 'Ah, I clearly see how this plan functions and what its intended goals are' as opposed to 'I tremble before the awesome scope of this universe-spanning design'. But unlike the writers of Lost, I don't think we feel that awe and grandeur can only be maintained by mystery.