Mass Effect Community Commanders Interview

While attending the MCM Expo in London recently, I encountered an extra terrestrial raiding party including a human Spectre agent, another human female and what I can only assume was a Krogan male. I confronted them and the following encounter was the result. This is my favourite interview on the Citadel.

Launching probe…
Life signs discovered…
One human female. Identified as Commander “Hollie Conrad” Shepard — Rank = Cosplaying Commander.
One human female. Identified as Col. “Jessica Merizan” — Rank = BioWare Community & New Media Manager.
One male, species unknown, possibly Krogan. Identified as “Chris Priestley” — Rank = BioWare Community Specialist.

Launch shuttle to intercept? Yes.

Intercept in…5…4…3…2…1.
We have first contact. Please proceed with caution.

[WARNING! Massive SPOILERS ahead for all of the Mass Effect Trilogy]

Chris: I don’t think we will ever make the JRPG irrelevant. There are so many great games; Final Fantasy is going no where and there are still many great JRPG’s being made — but thank you, we try to make great games. Obviously practice — we have been in the business now for over seventeen years, admittedly, our first couple of games weren’t Role Playing Games, [with] giant Mech robots in Shattered Steel and MDK, that sort of thing, but it really started with Balder’s Gate. Then moving on to Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) and then into Mass Effect and the Dragon Age series.

Lots and lots of practise and we try to get better every time. So it’s constant revision on the product, looking at what we have done before and taking the feedback from our fans, as to what they liked and didn’t like and looking at how we can make the games better each time.

Jess: I think the cool thing about our games is the level of choice and the customisation — you can be who you want to be. That is a pretty standard concept to Role Playing, but not [just] as a hardcore RPG player, that appeals to everyone. Everyone wants step into a fantasy, to escape and be whoever they want to be — and be able to customise that.

Chris: You have to remember that a lot of people will play our games and only play them once — and hopefully really enjoy it — but they will play it once to completion and then be done. It is a very hardcore audience that will replay a video game as something completely different — I played as a Paragon Male Shepard and now I’ll play as a Renegade female Shepard or I played as a lawful good knight and now I’m going to play as a chaotic evil thief — Lots of gamers as players will only play through a game once and it’s that first role that they play.

Jess: A lot of people when they are experimenting will go with default male Shepard, and I think that Mark Meer, in his tone and the way he speaks, he does a great kind of ‘diplomatic’ Shepard and that is his strong point. I think Jennifer Hale is so cheeky and clever, that her Renegade is just amazing. Mark Meer’s delivery is very neutral and you can almost put yourself more into that role. With Jennifer Hale you are more along for the ride and she is very distinctive. So a lot of people have gone Renegade [with her] for those reasons.

Chris: Certainly KOTOR was a major influence. Casey Hudson was project director of KOTOR and a lot of the team; Preston Watamaniuk, Drew Karpyshyn and Dave Falkner — who came from KOTOR into Mass Effect — were part of Casey’s team. So it definitely had a major influence, whether it was the most is hard to say. It’s not just because Star Wars was the first science fiction game that we made…Everybody at BioWare, we are all huge nerds. Everything affects us; the movies, TV, the books we read, the other companies’ games that we play. Everything has it’s influence.

Tim: One of the things that I found fascinating about visiting your offices in Edmonton, was the reference section of books you had related to your back catalog of games. Can any medium influence you when making a game?

Chris: Absolutely. In fact, sometimes it’s the strangest or oddest thing that influences you that you would not expect. I mean obviously if you are going to be working on a science fiction project you are going to be influenced by; Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Gallatica and all the other great sci-fi properties and movies, but sometimes it’s something from history, like real world history.

Tim: The example I was shown when I was seeing Dragon Age 2, was influences from Japanese cinema. That is something you wouldn’t immediately associate with it.

Chris: All sorts of things. The inspiration that comes to our teams comes from so many historical or cultural references that you never know what is going to come up in the games.

Jess: Everyone knew the ending was going to be controversial and the not everyone was going to like it. That was always understood. I don’t think anyone anticipated that people would have such catastrophic understandings of the ending. For instance; Tali starving and eating Garrus! – Something like that.

That is not something that the team anticipated and I think that those kind of sentiments that came out of it that was the first kind of “Wait! No, no no!” We thought this had a lot of hope and a lot of underlying metaphor and layers of messages. So, it became apparent that when this hadn’t come across to people, that was when the team said; Okay, there are a lot of people confused and have plot issues.

I think in the Extended Cut we still left a lot of those questions that could have multiple meanings — Did Shepard have a last breath? Or was that Shepard coming back to life. You don’t know and both are valid.

Chris: If anything we underestimated the passion that our fans have for the game. There are people that have played Mass Effect for hundreds and hundreds of hours. Having played multiple times through 1, 2 and 3 together. I think Jessica summed it up really well; The team, by making the Extended Cut, were trying to provide clarity and a little more conclusion, while still leaving a lot of the choice up to the player. At no point did we want to say; This is it! He lives, she dies, that happens and you’ll like it! — We wanted to still leave it in the hands of the player to make their choices.

Tim:  What was the first sign that something actually needed to be done? What made the team say; “Actually we need to look at this”?

Jess: Before the game even came out actually. I don’t know how, some Gamestop or Walmart were selling a few copies or someone was selling one on eBay, things like that. People were already starting to live-stream and we were watching that whole time. So before the game even came out we were starting to think; Okay this is not the reaction that we want to be getting.

Hollie: I was actually confronted by people in interviews unrelated to Mass Effect completely. Because they knew that I dressed as Fem Shep, am a big fan and work for BioWare. I was doing stuff for the Morgan Spurlock documentary that we were in. I was in Qatar and someone said; “Well, what about the Mass Effect ending?” — and I was like; “I didn’t mind it! Thank you!” It was so bizarre.

Jess: I have always liked the suicide mission speeches. When I was playing Mass Effect 2…I don’t want to say that is my favourite BioWare game, but…Well, I’m a big Doctor Who fan and you always ask; Who was you first Doctor? And for me the answer is Christopher Eccleston. I don’t necessarily think he is the best Doctor, but he is the one who introduced me to the series. I had played a little bit of Mass Effect 1, but it was 2 that really got me into the series. We making costumes and we would just sit the garage quoting the suicide missions;

Jess & Hollie: “It’s been a long journey and no one’s coming out without scars!”

Jess: I think my favorite moment from any part of the series was at the very end of Mass Effect 3, with your final speech with Anderson. I was just so overcome with emotion and I realised how important Anderson was to me. Not just to Commander Shepard, but to me! I didn’t want to let Anderson down and for Anderson to be proud. That was really moving. So, that was my favorite moment.

Hollie: I have so many! I would say the Spectre induction from Mass Effect 1. That was what really hooked me on the franchise of Mass Effect. I bought 2 right when it came out, but I was like; Well, I can’t play this till I play 1. So, I started 1 — and I was a big medieval, Dragon age or Balder’s Gate fan, but I had never played Sci-fi — and right when I got to that Spectre induction, I was like; THIS IS AMAZING! It was so cool and so epic. That was what hooked me on all of it from the Mass Effect side.

Chris: For me? Up until Mass Effect 3, my favourite bit had been from Mass Effect 1. And it was odd because it didn’t involve Shepard or any of the major party, they were present, but it was Captain Kirrahe’s speech with the Salarians of hold the line; “I thought it was the best…” It’s kind of like Jess’ suicide speech, but it was this great motivational speech. And I loved it because  it wasn’t Shepard, who you expect to be the hero. They were just soldiers, doing what soldiers do; “We will hold the line!”

That was my favourite bit, right up until Mass Effect 3 — and I have mentioned this in panels before — And it’s the first point where I almost raged! And it’s…the death of Mordin. When I first encountered that. I hate it. But I thought it was so well done. It might be more of my most memorable moment rather than my favourite.

Tim: Who are you favourite characters from the series?

Jess: Miranda! I love Miranda!

Tim: I expected men to say that!? Or is that just me?

Chris: We have a blown up Miranda poster covering one of the elevator doors on the third floor of the BioWare office. And when Jessica saw it, it almost got obscene!

Jess: I kissed her!

Hollie: I love Garrus. I am such a Garrus fan. I romanced him in all fifteen of my games. All fifteen! Garrus is your bro, he’s got your back.

Chris: For me it was either Mordin, because I love the scientist Salarian or Wrex. I remember when we were developing, we said; “Well who is everybody going to like?” — and I said; “Wrex!” — “Why will it be Wrex?” — “Because it’s a talking Tyrannosaurus with a shotgun!”

Chris: I don’t think it changed Mass Effect 3 at all. If anything…I was joking with the team, after the whole ending thing came about to the extent it did, I said: Wow! If you had gone back three months before we launched I would have said that everybody loved the end of Mass Effect 3 and we’d be trying to get people to get to play multiplayer. Trying to convince them to play it. And it actually ending up being differently. People said that they did not think Mass Effect would work with Multiplayer, but people LOVED the Multiplayer and had problems with the end of Mass Effect 3.

The team put a lot of time and effort into making it good. We knew it didn’t really belong in the game itself, we weren’t going to try and make Mass Effect 3 a multiplayer game. The team worked out that it was fun to play Mass Effect with your friends, with all the characters, weapons and powers. We can do it and we can do it well. So, they spent a lot of time balancing it, but it turned out to be a real positive.

Hollie: I have always wanted to see more of the history of the world. We had a big climatic finish and now it’s all like, flowers and puppies. I would like to see a prequel. I would really like to see the First Contact War. With the humans finding the tech on Mars and ended up going through the Relay — and then running into the Turians. I think that would be a really interesting thing to see. Or at least in a comic or book in the future as I would really love to read more about the lore of that situation.

Jess: I am going to cheat and say all of the above. I think there are so many cool platforms and different stories that can be told. Maybe one story will work for an epic RPG, but maybe there is a side story that can be told on the iPad or something. Paragon Lost, the movie that came out that tells the story of what James Vega was doing in Mass Effect 2 was just brilliant. That is so cool to see what James is doing this whole time.

Personally, I want to see a story about the Keepers! You get clues about the Keepers, but let’s turn the clock back and let’s find out what happened with the Keepers. Their little hazard vests — what’s going on there?

Chris: I actually hope that Casey and the team come up with something that no one is expecting…


Chris: …When we named Knights of the Old Republic, everyone just said; Oh Bioware are making a Star Wars game, but then they changed it to 3,000 years before. Whether it ends up being a prequel, like Hollie said with the First Contact War, I just want it to be something that I’m not expecting. So, let’s see what they come up with.

Tim: What can you tell us about the Mass Effect live action movie?

Chris: It is still in the works. Casey Hudson is directly involved with Legendary Pictures, the folks making the picture. It’s still in the works, but the good thing is that both BioWare and Legendary really want to make it a quality picture, so that hopefully, maybe we can make another Mass Effect movie in the future. We are not rushing in, but until they get screenplays written and things taken care of like that, it’s a slow go.

Jess: Hollie has already been picked up as a wardrobe consultant for it. So you will know that Fem Shep has her claws into it.

Hollie: Right. [Raises her Omniblade] I will make sure all the Space armour is incredibly uncomfortable for everyone.

Tim: So what else can we look forward to from BioWare in the known future?

Chris: The next thing that will be coming out is Omega DLC, which is Mass Effect Single Player DLC, towards the end of November. We do have the Trilogy Edition coming out and the Wii U Edition of Mass Effect 3. And then we have Dragon Age 3 in the Fall of next year. So, lots in the works for BioWare.

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  1. Omicronus

    I enjoyed that read.

    I think the only thing they can do with the series is a prequel now. Although I could be wrong..

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