Every Saturday, Richard Cobbett digs into the world of story and writing in games - some old, some new.
So, this is Dorian, and if you don't already know, he's one of the new companions in Bioware's Dragon Age Inquisition - a mage, a Tevinter, a man who knows how to rock a lion tamer's moustache, and the designated Team Snarky Guy for the titular Inquisition. Of course, what he's most known far right now is being Bioware's first 'fully gay' party character. That's not my words, by the way, but his writer, David Gaider. (Prior to this, party members have been either straight or bisexual, though there have been exclusive opportunities for both genders with supporting characters - notably Traynor and Cortez in Mass Effect 3. There was also Juhani in Knights of the Old Republic, but she's a complicated case due to both canon and cut-content.)
I don't want to reduce the character down to just his sexuality, because as you'd expect from both Gaider and Bioware, it's not particularly what defines him - nationality, magic, friends, family all play a far larger role in his conversations and snarking, as you'd expect for a world where nobody particularly cares who you sleep with as long as it doesn't create a terrible god-baby. Sometimes not even then.
It's interesting to see the implementation though, and some of the details that Gaider makes a point of adding - not least that he's introduced with a young and admirable man, Felix, who he's clearly enamoured with on multiple personal levels, but is genuinely surprised at the suggestion that anything might have been going on between them - at both the idea, and that he'd be impolite enough to abuse his former master's hospitality so. At the same time though, his personal quest does go more or less exactly where you'd expect - his father who once tried to change him, and the attempted reconciliation between the two that probably deserves a tinkling bit of music and an "It Gets Better" type slogan appearing for good measure.
This feels both appropriate and unfortunate; appropriate because it's what's expected, and unfortunate for exactly that reason. It's a tricky problem for any writer, addressing the elephant in the room while still pointing out that there's other stuff in that room, and one that often goes wrong - the second X-Men film's infamously ham-fisted "Have you tried not being a mutant?" line springing to mind.
(It's also somewhat notable given the evolution of Traynor's story in Mass Effect 3, which the writer originally had following similar lines in focusing on her sexuality, before being given a polite dope-slap by colleagues and managers to not be so specific and reworking her story as a fish out of water tale that would ultimately lead to gaming's funniest joke about a toothbrush. Again, Citadel is fantastic.)
What matters though isn't really the execution, but the willingness to try. Bioware is a fascinating study into sexuality both for what they've gotten right, and what they've gotten wrong over the years. Mass Effect 2 for instance dropped a major clanger when BioWare co-founder Dr Ray Muzyka declaring Commander Shepard to be straight due to being 'a defined character with certain approaches and worldviews'. This isn't in itself an issue, and it's perfectly fine for any developer to give their characters whatever sexuality they choose. It did however jar severely with the multiple Asari relationships on offer for a Shepherdess (and really, it'll take more than a codex entry for them to not be outright blue-skinned space babes) and the bonus romance with her PA, Kelly Chambers for an unattached Shepard at the end.
With each game though, Bioware has gone out of its way to Do Better, and not always by heading down the obvious path. Dragon Age 2 for instance infamously made all of its romanceable characters (the entire party save for Varric and Aveline) bisexual so that any player would be able to get with anyone they wanted. Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect 3 reverses that approach, deciding that sexuality is an important part of the characters and that it can be as jarring for everyone you meet to be an option as to be politely refused. Some characters are still bisexual. Most now have their preferences, with Dragon Age expanding on gender to factor in species as well. Qunari especially seem limited in who they can give the horn.
This doesn't however mean that Bioware is stepping back from the trickier issues. One of the new secondary characters is a transgender man in a Qunari run mercenary group, who hotly denies any suggestion of simply 'passing'. Like Dorian, the implementation of the scene is a little on-the-nose, mostly by having his boss make a point of adding that his people are cool with that so that there can be an unspoken "Don't say you're less tolerant than the Qunari?" It works though, largely because the character in question gets plenty of screen time before that point to reinforce that they've neither earned what they got because or despite of this, but because they're tough. It's also interesting that this very PC scene is immediately followed by the entire group, male and female, cheerily singing a rowdy drinking song with lines like "No man can beat the Chargers, cause we'll hit you where it hurts. Unless you know a tavern with loose cards and looser skirts!" in a pretty clear statement of "And now, relax..." It's a game, not a sociology passion play.
The fact that Bioware's push for inclusiveness and increasingly not defining characters by their sexuality first makes for better and more well-rounded games though isn't the real reason we should be glad that they do it. The big advantage is that in doing it, it demonstrates to the rest of the world that it can be done. Lest we forget, in the last few years Bioware has been taken to task by Fox News for simply showing a few seconds of alien buttocks on screen, been inundated with letters about LGBT content in its games, and even had to fight its own fans over expectations and entitlement. This is not a small amount of pressure, and the path of least resistance is to crack, especially in the US where fears over sex trump those of violence any day of the week. Instead, Bioware repeatedly doubles down on diversity, which is all the more notable when put next to its capitulation over the Mass Effect 3 ending. That was simply a matter of spaceships and explosions. Whatever. This however is something very close to its creative heart, and is treated as such.
The result of this is that smaller, more vulnerable companies get to see directly that even if someone does make a flap, it doesn't actually mean a damn thing, as well as being able to point to an increasing range of high profile examples of different character types, sexualities and storylines. By and large, things are only controversial once, provided they're wide enough spread to draw attention. Being big enough to have the spotlight and willing to take that hit for the industry as a whole, even if it is primarily because they think it's worth taking for their own games, makes Bioware a very important company. It's not that if they do it, everyone else has to do it, as some people fear. It's that if they do it, other people who want to do it can, or at least, have the tools to make a powerful argument in its favour to the powers that be.
It's for everyone's good. Really. The more taboos are broken, the more uncharted ground explored, the more exciting the possibilities we get to see. And before anyone starts throwing around letters like SJW, there's a side for you too. Where for instance was Fox News when, say, The Witcher 2 was doing graphic sex scenes like this one? Nowhere, that's where, because that battle was done, over, and deemed boring right from the second that the world did not in fact end. May Bioware sign itself up for many more such fights in the future, because they're in all our interests. In success, hurrah, fantastic. In stumbling, they show how much further we still have to go, and how even the best of intentions doesn't always pay off as you might think. Either way though, I'm grateful they keep trying, and setting an example worth following.
That said, if they ever do a Towers of Hanoi puzzle again, I'm nuking 'em from space.
When Mass Effect fan Jackie sought BioWare Montreal's help in proposing to her partner, the studio pulled out all the stops. A small team made up of level designer Colin Campbell, writer Ann Lemay, and QA analyst Barrett Rodych put together a completely new level loaded with subtle references to their relationship, then studio manager Marie-Ren e Brisebois cooked up a fake contest as a way to bring them into the studio to play it.
A letter sent to Jackie and her partner, Amy, informed them they'd won "A Day With Our Devs" contest at PAX East, and that part of the prize included playing a new Mass Effect level in order to provide feedback to the developers. Lemay, Rodych and other employees made the whole thing look legit by watching and taking notes as she played.
"I was really nervous, even having gone through the level 20 times on my own making sure all the doors were working and all the message boxes were working," Rodych said. "But I would do it again in a heartbeat."
The final room contained a single console and Jackie and Amy's names for one another painted on a wall in 50-foot high graffiti. When Amy activated the console, a message popped up stating, "Dear Amy, Jackie would like to ask you something. Love, all of us at BioWare."
Jackie then took out the ring and proposed. "When she got to that room, everyone around was riveted and hoping she d say yes," Brisebois said, and of course, she did. "It was a beautiful sight to see. No matter how grumpy you are, when you see a thing like that you can t help but smile and maybe even tear up a bit."
A happy story with a happy ending—isn't that nice? Well done, BioWare.
The beginning of BlizzCon is obviously the big news of the day, but it was also N7 Day, the annual 24-hour celebration of all things Mass Effect. BioWare held a live Mass Effect developer roundtable on Twitch, which you can catch up with here if you missed it, and also released more than a half-dozen pieces of concept art for the next game in the series.
The images don't nail down any particular aspect of the game beyond what we'd expect: spectacular technology and alien landscapes that look like they'll be a blast to explore. It's great to see the Mako too, even though we've known of its return for awhile now.
There's no word on when we'll get to see the actual, real next Mass Effect in action, but for now I take comfort in knowing that things are happening. It won't be the same without ol' Shep, but looking at this art, I think I could get used to it.
BioWare has announced that the lead writer of the next Mass Effect game—fingers still crossed for M4ss Effect—is Chris Schlerf, perhaps better known to the gaming world at large as the writer of Halo 4.
Schlerf joined BioWare in November 2013, and managed to keep his work on Mass Effect a secret until today's announcement. "Every day is a revelation and every day I get to play in a new corner of the universe," Schlerf said, reinforcing the idea that Mass Effect 4 will be entirely separate from the original trilogy. "To be able to look three steps ahead to, Where does this take us and how does it add to the way we look at the Mass Effect trilogy? You couldn t ask for a better playground."
"As a writer, I write for characters," he continued. "To me, it s always about what makes my characters tick and what stories I can tell through those characters that will actually engage people about their own lives. It provides a mirror to that player s experience [so that they are] not just sitting back in an armchair."
The announcement also revealed a number of other lead developers on the game, including Senior Development Director Chris Wynn, Producer Fabrice Condominas, Lead Designer Ian Frazier, Art Director Joel MacMillan, Creative Director Mac Walters, Producer Mike Gamble, and BioWare Montreal Studio Director Yanick Roy. BioWare's Montreal studio is leading the development of the project.
BioWare will reveal more about the game during a Mass Effect developer roundtable that will be broadcast live on Twitch at 10 am PST/1 pm EST.
N7 Day is upon us, and BioWare is marking the moment with a Mass Effect "developer roundtable" that will be broadcast live on Twitch.
BioWare has thus far been very tight-lipped about the next Mass Effect game, whatever it's ultimately called (and you better believe that my fingers are crossed for M4ss Effect). It won't include Shepard and it may or may not have anything to do with his story at all, although I'm not sure how you dodge that whole "end of life as we know it" business; it apparently will, however, see the return of the Mako.
The developer roundtable thus represents our first opportunity to get a look at what BioWare has really been up to, although there's no indication what will actually be discussed or revealed. It's even possible that with Dragon Age: Inquisition less than two weeks away, the studio will continue to keep things low-key in order to avoid distractions from its launch.
The truth will be revealed soon enough: The Mass Effect developer roundtable hits Twitch at 10 am PST/1 pm EST.
Jennifer Hale has voiced characters in a huge number of games, including Metal Gear Solid, Planescape: Torment, Diablo III, and BioShock Infinite, though I know her best as Shepard in Mass Effect. Most recently, Hale shows up in The Long Dark, a survival game currently on Early Access in which she voices a playable character (watch my video, in which I play as Hale's character, below).
I recently had the opportunity to email Hale a few questions about her role in The Long Dark, her acting experience, and the kinds of game characters she hopes for more of.
PC Gamer: How did you approach your character in The Long Dark?
Jennifer Hale: I sat down with [Raphael Van Lierop, Founder and Creative Director] and [David Chan, Audio Director] to go over where she fits into the world of The Long Dark and how she functioned in the world before the change. She's a person who's used to demanding situations, but still taken a bit aback by the situation she finds herself in.
Do you have any specific method for getting into a character?
For me, it all comes from the writing and the vision of the team. From there I look for the common humanity in any given situation and how the person I'm playing moves through the world, how they get what they want, which qualities are their go-tos and which are unfamiliar.
You've talked before about the rigid adherence to the script that was required for Mass Effect. Was there any ad libbing here? Do you have a preference?
We are dealing with a different technical setup so there's more room to play around a bit. I like the collaborative nature of that and the potential that polishing things in the moment brings.
Do you have a favorite type of character or subject matter?
Anything with a cool dev team, anything outside of what people are expecting from me.
Have you ever voiced an animal or an inanimate object? What was that like?
Yes and I love it. It's a blast. Silly is good.
You've done a lot of work in film and television, too. How is that different from voicing games?
In terms of the acting it's much easier to me, you have actual humans there to feed off of in a scene and actual sets to walk around. The pace of production is quite a bit slower, as you're shooting in an actual environment. I often say voice acting in games is 'acting on steroids.' You have to create so much in your imagination, the environment, the other person, where you are on the timeline from line to line, things like that.
How has video game voice acting changed in the past few years?
I've seen a fantastic evolution as the visuals have progressed, we as actors are able to bring the acting style along to one that's more film-like, less pronounced. It feels more honest to me and I'm loving where it's headed.
What kinds of characters do you wish there were more of in video games?
Average people doing extraordinary things, women playing an even greater variety of roles, though that's changing. Some body types that are more normal and less fantasy/perfection based. Games have a tremendous amount of potential to make the world better and I look forward to how they do that.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (John Walker)
Every Sunday, we reach deep into Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s 141-year history to pull out one of the the best moments from the archive. This week, John’s interview with voice actress Jennifer Hale. This post was originally published July 27, 2011.>
Jennifer Hale has appeared in a great many more games than you probably realise. The person behind the voice of the female Shepard in all three Mass Effect games is also responsible for Metal Gear’s Naomi Hunter, SOCOM’s HQ, the spookily good British accent of KotOR’s Bastilla, and even the grunts and groans of Metroid Prime’s Samus, among literally hundreds of others in gaming, TV and film. We caught up with Jennifer as she drove through LA, to ask how she came to provide so many of gaming’s iconic voices, the combination of anonymity and fame, and which of the Commander Shepards she’s voting for to appear on Mass Effect’s cover.
Warning! The following article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the Mass Effect, Baldur s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age series.
With a new Dragon Age on the way, we've been reminiscing about our favourite, and least favourite, BioWare companions. Interesting buddies, and sometimes enemies, have been a staple of BioWare games since Baldur's Gate, and the studio is famous for creating people you actually care about. So I decided to ask the entire PC Gamer team who among the vast pantheon of BioWare NPCs they hate, and who they love. Some of the answers may surprise you. Especially Chris Thursten's.
Loves... Minsc (Baldur's Gate)
One of BioWare s most beloved characters, Minsc is a massive, tattooed ranger who wields a two-handed sword and travels with his faithful companion, Boo, who he says is a miniature giant space hamster but is probably just a regular hamster. Minsc typifies that anarchic sense of humour that pervaded the Baldur s Gate games, and his eccentric battle cries ( Go for the eyes, Boo! GO FOR THE EYES! ) are the stuff of RPG legend.
It wasn t until Baldur s Gate II, when BioWare realised just how much fans loved him, that his character was given more dialogue and depth. He became more sympathetic after the cruel death of his partner, Dynaheir, at the hands of evil sorcer Irenicus. Minsc is not as rich or nuanced as many of BioWare s more recent creations, but he makes up for it with sheer personality.
Hates... Tali (Mass Effect)
People love Tali, and I don t know why. She s just so goddamn earnest, telling endless, boring stories about the her pilgrimage, droning on and on about quarian tradition and how hard life on the flotilla is. The only interesting thing about her character is that she wears a mask, and even that s just a cheap way of making her seem mysterious.
I genuinely cared about the majority of the cast in Mass Effect, but I avoided Tali at every opportunity. She has a loyal following, including former PC Gamer writer Rich McCormick, who replayed 25 hours of Mass Effect 3 just to prevent her death, but I really don t understand the love for her. One of the dullest characters in BioWare history.
Loves... Ashley Williams (Mass Effect)
I know, I know. Ashley the space racist. Ashley who only survived Mass Effect 1 because she s not as boring as Kaidan. I ve heard every argument against Ash in the last couple of years - often the same argument, over and over - but she s still one of my favourite BioWare characters. She s a rare example of a love interest for a male protagonist that doesn t really need anything from him. Ashley s background is defined by stable, positive relationships - with her sisters, her parents, her religion.
Her motivating crisis is a smear on her family name that she s had to struggle with to get where she is in the Alliance military, a struggle that she s already largely overcome by the time she meets Shepard. It s a sore spot, but also a point of pride. In a series largely defined by people that Shepard fixes , Ashley demands to be understood on her own terms. I respect that. As for the space racism: well, yeah, she says some unfortunate things. But it s not who the character is. If you bring her with you when you encounter the Terra Firma rally on the Citadel, she ll angrily condemn their leader for using political pragmatism to disguise the racist element of his party. People tend to forget that about her.
Hates... Sebastian Vael (Dragon Age)
I struggled with this one, because there aren t really any BioWare characters I truly don t like. Jacob Taylor is boring, yeah, but his arc pays off in Mass Effect 3. I m a bit tired of the quirky little sister template (Imoen, Tali, Merrill) but all of those characters have their moments. So I m picking Sebastian, the launch-day DLC character for Dragon Age II who more or less totally fails to get on with any of the other characters in the game. Despite its faults, DA II portrays its companions as a diverse but closely-knit circle of friends: a revolutionary cell that grows out of natural affections and affiliations.
Sebastian, the Chantry-dwelling, revenge-chasing former dilettante doesn t fit into that family. He s too posh to slum it with Varric or Isabela, too straight-laced to indulge in the anger that motivates Anders or Fenris. He shows a bit of fire in the game s final act, but by that point I was too invested in literally everybody else to side with him. He s that guy you see in the hallway at work that you have nothing in common with but you feel obligated to talk to anyway; he s your friend s boring boyfriend from university; he s the person you invite to your house party while secretly hoping that they don t show up.
Loves... Alistair (Dragon Age)
Dragon Age is a very serious game. You're juggling issues of lineage that'll decide the fate of the entire realm with the threat of impending genocide at the hands of an ancient evil. A little laughter goes a long way, and Alistair shines as the self-aware bastard contender for the throne. A great comic vocal performance and a bottomless bucket of quips instantly earned him a permanent role in my party, but his capacity of sudden seriousness gave him an interesting edge. At heart he's a nervous hero forced into a position of remarkable pressure, which makes him enormously sympathetic, especially in the final act when the kingship is decided.
The kicker is that he's probably not good King material. I ended up accidentally exiling him from the kingdom while attempting to put someone more decisive in place. The fact that I still feel bad about that shows how much I came to like the poor man. I hope he's running a thriving tavern somewhere, entertaining his regulars with some of the finest one-liners in Ferelden.
Hates... Samara (Mass Effect)
Samara has a fascinating backstory. She's been hunting one of her three vampire daughters across the universe for hundreds of years, and now enforces the pious rules of her order with lethal force. This is great for driving plot, especially when her laws clash with the local customs of the planet you're exploring, but her personality has been entirely subsumed by the code.
Her outlook and actions are bound to a list of rules that she can never break, and she'll tell you that relentlessly during your observation deck chats during Mass Effect 2. She's a boring space paladin. You're interacting with dogma, rather than a person, which means there can be no evolution to your friendship with her. She could kill a dozen enemies in seconds with her mind, but ended up leaving her to her cross-legged meditation in the observation bay. I think we both preferred it that way.
Loves... Varric (Dragon Age)
Varric wins out for me because he s the closest your main character gets to an actual best buddy in a BioWare title (other than maybe Garrus in Mass Effect). He s just good to have around, and also has the interesting distinction of being one of Dragon Age II s narrators, so his perception of Hawke is oddly important to me as a player. I love that he frequently refers to his crossbow, Bianca, in third person a la Jayne s gun Vera in Firefly (but slightly less silly), and that he s technically spent years in Kirkwall s pub, The Hanged Man, by the end of Dragon Age II.
Controversially, I think Dragon Age II might have my favourite set of companions or possibly tying with Mass Effect 2. I must point out, though, that picking one BioWare companion I love is nearly impossible. I have a list of twelve names here that I ll spare you from, but the thought of Varric being around again in Inquisition is pretty exciting to me.
Hates... James Vega (Mass Effect)
James Vega is an easy target for least likeable BioWare companion he s not that bad, and I wouldn t say I hate him by any stretch. I think it s because I got it into my head that he was a cipher for Call of Duty players picking up Mass Effect for the first time with the third instalment, and couldn t handle sci-fi unless they had a way in via standard soldier guy.
That was a bit too harsh, and I think Freddie Prinze Jr does a fine job with the character s performance, but aside from beating him up in the shuttle bay of the Normandy, I can t recall enjoying his company that much. I just don t need someone being that grumpy on my Normandy. I would have put up a sign, politely asking that anybody trying to brood sexily on my ship has to get off at the next civilised star port. I ve been saving the party sequence from the DLC Mass Effect 3: Citadel until I m finally ready to say goodbye to Mass Effect, and I m told Vega s attendance is mandatory. Aww.
Loves... Garrus (Mass Effect)
Characters my character has loved in BioWare games: Aerie, L'iara, Thane and Alistair. But the character I loved was never a romantic possibly. Well, technically he was in Mass Effect 3. What I mean to say is that he was never a romantic possibility for my Shepard. Like Sam with DA2's Varric, Garrus filled the role of best pal. By Mass Effect 2, he's reinvented himself in Shepard's image, and that leads to a common understanding between the two. He's got his shit together, even when he hasn't.
Many have criticised Mass Effect 3's actual ending. The truth is it was a game filled with endings, and many of them were note perfect. Garrus's ending takes place before the final battle, shooting cans with Shepard at the top of the Citadel's Presidium. It's a scene laced with humour, rivalry, sadness and, yes, friendship. The best way to remember BioWare's best companion.
Hates... Khalid (Baldur's Gate)
Poor Khalid. You didn't really deserve to die every time I played Baldur's Gate. You were, I guess, fine. Adequate. Non-offensively present. My disdain for your life is really down to the way the first BG handled party members. Many of them were paired up their inseparable buddy being a requirement to them joining your adventure.
If you wanted Jaheira, you had to take Khalid, and, in a game filled with interesting characters and variables, I really didn't want to waste one of my five companion slots on the cowardly complaining of an effete fighter. And so you were sent to your certain death; one of the few ways you could part these pairings without pissing their partner off. It was an inelegant solution, but a necessary one. BioWare, it seems, agreed, and in Baldur's Gate 2 they removed such dependencies. They, like me, killed Khalid off.
Loves... Thane Krios (Mass Effect)
Everything about Thane is fascinating. He s a Drell, a reptilian species rescued from their dying planet by the Hanar. Unfortunately Drell aren t suited to their new world s humidity, and many develop a respiratory disease called Kepral's Syndrome. Thane has it, and he agrees to Shepard s suicide mission as a gesture of penance. He s an assassin, you see, and thanks to his photographic memory an adaptation to an environment where Drell must remember the location of resources across vast distances Thane involuntarily relives his kills in vivid detail.
This weighs heavily on his conscience, and it s not unusual to catch him praying in his private quarters. I never feel more badass than rocking up to the Citadel with Thane. I remember him once commenting on the 14 flaws in C-Sec security that a skilled assassin could exploit, and how eight of them were there ten years ago.
Hates... Kaiden Alenko
Who? Ohhh yeah, that guy. That s the reaction Kaidan Alenko usually garners, for me the only forgettable companion in the Mass Effect games. Just look at his boring face. In a galaxy featuring psychic purple jellies, bright blue seductresses, and monotone elephant men, here s this...dude. His backstory is dull a biotic born into a military family and his conversations with the captain are unremarkable. I guess he s just too similar to male Shepard, his role already served.
I play Mass Effect to interact with strange new beings, not hobnob with brown-haired white guys. Literally everyone I work with is a brown-haired white guy. In the first Mass Effect he shares an interesting conflict with Ashley, her a pro-human xenophobe and him an equal rights advocate, and as Shepard you can persuade him to be either less or more sympathetic to alien races. It s an important subject to explore, but Kaiden feels superfluous to it. Ashley gets the job done.
Loves... Liara T'Soni (Mass Effect)
Lovely Liara. It s testament to the skill of BioWare s writers that she isn t reduced to just being the drippy, peace-loving, science-y one. I mean, she s all those things, but she s also more complex. Old by human standards, but a child in terms of Asari lifespan, she s naive and hopeful, but at the same time proud of her people and conflicted about her relationship with her mother.
She wants the best for the universe but fears the worst. I ended up taking Liara on most missions, partly because I liked having an all-girl Charlies Angels-style squad, but also because her enthusiasm and curiosity invariably added nuance and emotion to the plot lines that was otherwise lost with the more workaday companions. Her arc, leading up the excellent Lair Of The Shadow Broker DLC, is also some of the most interesting stuff in the series. Damnit, Liara, it was always you. You made me want to be a better Shepard.
Hates... Thane Krios (Mass Effect)
Look, I wouldn t say I hate Thane pity, maybe it s more that I can t think about him without feeling the intense embarrassment that only comes with a truly disastrous one-night stand. After Liara was sidelined for Mass Effect 2 my Fem Shep couldn t be expected to live like a space nun, could she? So, reasoning that she was an experimental girl of the galaxy, I decided to bunk up with Thane. Largely to cheer him up because, hoo boy, badass assassins have rarely been more depressing.
Whether it s moping over his dead wife, praying for forgiveness after whacking some schmuck, or musing on what a terrible dad he is, Thane is just a big green cloud of glum. (Bonus bad times: he s also slowly dying of Kepral s Syndrome, the specifics of which I forget and have no desire to Google.) After the sex he s awkwardly grateful. Which, honestly, is a sure sign you ve made a terrible romantic mistake. Ugh.
Loves... HK-47 (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
For all the well-rounded, nonarchetypal, and sensitive characters BioWare has thrown at us, I delight in the silliest, most murderous, and one-dimensional partner they ve written. HK-47 is more bloodthirsty than Jack or fellow assassin Thane, and most reliable source of bad advice in BioWare games.
He s essentially a bad-ass, malicious one-liner dispenser ("Observation: We can begin by slaughtering the inhabitants of this building, master. Would that be impressive?"), but he also shows us a dark side of droids not seen in the Star Wars I grew up with--compared to the placative C-3PO, HK-47 shows zero concern for the needs of humans. The Star Wars wiki is a fine source of HK-47 quotes, most of them containing meatbag as a perjorative.
Hates... Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect)
Miranda is the closest to furniture that a BioWare character has ever been. What do we remember about her, other than her skintight bodysuit and the way Mass Effect 2 s camera suggestively frames her hips? Her loyalty missions were among the least interesting, and her fluctuating relationship with Cerberus, which could ve been a great opportunity for genuine betrayal in the series, never made me feel uneasy.
Loves... Mordin Solus (Mass Effect)
Mordin is great for the following reasons: One, he s a scientist, and science is neat. Two, he blinks upwards. Three, he speaks in sentence fragments, and it is a proven fact that omitting pronouns is super endearing. Four, he is the very model of a scientist salarian. Five, he gives practical sex advice and totally doesn t judge. Six, he has a cool thing around his neck.
My cynical side says Mordin was designed to be quoted by fans more than be an interesting character, but he s a very interesting character. His practical, logical morality is a bit Data-like, but unlike The Enterprise s android, he s emotional. He s just so sure of his pragmatism that he can stay upbeat despite the weight of his actions and then he s not. It breaks my heart when he yells I made a mistake! in Mass Effect 3. Even if he was still talking about variables and potential outcomes, there s regret and hope there, too.
Hates... Jack (Mass Effect)
Jack has lived a ridiculously shitty life. She s been experimented on, tortured, and used and tragically, all that abuse turned her into a boring character who sucks. She s that garden variety violent psychopath who s always wiping something off her lip with the back of her hand (saliva? blood?) after saying shit. She s mad, and she should be, but her conflict with Shepard isn t interesting. It s just she s mad. She s really mad, and that s about it.
Her grisly past means she doesn t have any interesting space culture to talk about, either it s just a story about how Cerberus is bad and we shouldn t like them. That insane chest belt costume from Mass Effect 2 didn t help, either, and neither did the equally-stupid Biker Mice From Mars-inspired look in Mass Effect 3.
Loves... Aveline (Dragon Age)
For most of my time in Kirkwall (after a long absence, I m only just now finishing the game), Guard Captain Aveline was merely an interesting character: stoic, hard-nosed, a fine example of how DA2 s rivalry system can work. She often didn t agree with my actions, but our mutual goals united us. We re not friends, but we re companions.
Her companion quest is what turned me around. In most BioWare games, your goal with companions is to make them like you more and most likely, fall in love with you enough that they ll join you in an awkward, unromantic sex cinematic. Aveline s quest is different: she has a crush on a subordinate guardsman, and wants your help to get his attention. The captain of the guard is awful at flirting, however, which leads to an amusing series of scenes where you entertain Aveline s future boyfriend while she works up the nerve to talk to him.
It works because it s not really about you, but about the character who is supposed to be your friend, and it s one of the most realistic character moments in a game that s supposed to be all about character. Now, not only is Aveline the best tank I can bring to a fight, but she s also an actual friend.
Hates... Yoshimo (Baldur's Gate II)
I ll never forgive BioWare for Yoshimo. When I first met him in the game s starting dungeon, he was a welcome help to the party good in a fight, great with a lockpick, and the only pure-class thief players get in the game. I kept him around in the team because I needed him, but also because I liked him. But then it turned out that he was Jon Irenicus puppet, and was forced to betray me to save his life. Not that it helped, because I had to kill him. It s a very Joss Whedon move, to make me kill a character I love, and while that might sound like praise for BioWare, it doesn t make me any less angry about it.
Loves... Niftu Cal (Mass Effect)
Over the years, BioWare has written tons of interesting companions who journey and grow along with you. Characters with depth and humanity. In Mass Effect, those characters are often aliens with detailed and unique physiologies. But how many of them are biotic gods? Only one. Only Niftu Cal, the funniest throwaway character BioWare ever created.
Hates... Carth Onasi (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
It takes Knights of the Old Republic all of five minutes to pair you up with the most self-righteous soldier in the galaxy. There I was, walking through the streets of Taris, just trying to help out the local alien races by relieving them of their credits. That money was just weighing them down! And then here's Carth, lecturing me. So what if I goaded someone into a fight and killed them, just for the fun of it? What gives you the right to guilt me, Carth?
I loved to hate Carth in Knights of the Old Republic, sneering at his honor and reason and that smug, holier-than-thou voice. He was an uncool Han Solo. Even playing as the most honest light side Jedi warrior, Carth was too bland for my tastes. I grew to hate him so much, I kept him around just so I could ignore every piece of sage advice and insult him at every opportunity. Carth's voice immediately made me angry. I'd recognize it anywhere, so as soon as he showed up disguised as Kaidan in Mass Effect, I knew that he'd be off the squad. Ashley may be a xenophobe, but she's better than the most annoying man in the universe.
Casey Hudson's long career at BioWare took him from a technical artist on Neverwinter Nights and MDK2 to the head of the Mass Effect franchise. Now, after 16 years, he's decided to call it quits, saying that it's time for "a much-needed break."
Hudson's credits at BioWare also include Baldur's Gate II and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but his greatest impact undoubtedly came by way of the sci-fi RPG epic Mass Effect, on which he served as the project director from the beginning to the end. But in a letter posted in full on the BioWare Blog, he said it's time to move on.
"This is without a doubt the most difficult decision of my career," Hudson wrote. "BioWare is as magical a place today as it was when I started. The projects we are working on are some of the most exciting and prestigious in the world. The talent in our teams is second to none. And the people here are some of my closest friends. I ve spent more time with many of you than my own family, and I have enjoyed every day of it."
He also acknowledged the fans, saying he's "profoundly appreciative" of the part he played in making so many memorable games. "The very idea that so many of you have enjoyed spending time in the worlds we ve created is the defining achievement of my career, and it s your support over the years that made it all possible," he wrote.
His departure is unexpected and surprising, but Hudson said that with development on the next Mass Effect well underway and the Edmonton studio ready to begin preproduction on a new IP, this was the best time to make the move. He offered no hint as to what he'll get up to next, however, saying only that he wants to "get perspective on what I really want to do with the next phase of my life, and eventually, take on a new set of challenges."
A full-length recording of BioWare's Mass Effect panel at Comic-Con has been turned loose on YouTube. "Charting a Course: Developing the Next Mass Effect" doesn't reveal anything we didn't already know, but die-hard fans with 30 minutes to spare will probably want to check it out anyway.
Despite its half-hour running time, the video isn't a massive info-dump by any stretch of the imagination. As Mike Gamble puts it in the introduction, BioWare wants to share information with its fans but "we're years from being able to say, 'This is the exact game we're making.'" The Q&A that takes up the final two-thirds of the video is a bit flat for that reason too, and in fact the moderator almost immediately warns people to stay away from story-related questions because they can't be answered.
A few tidbits do make it through, though: Gamble said the game will feature "new races" and promised that the female casual outfits will be more in line with the male character's this time around. The highlight, though, has to be the crowd reaction to the news that the Mako is returning: It seems the old off-roader is a lot more popular than BioWare expected.