notes from the Lore of Mass Effect panel at Dragon*Con

One of the very few downsides of being a panel participant at Dragon*Con is that one can miss out on Committing Acts Of Being A Fan, i.e. attending other panels and events. This time around, I was able to make time to attend one of the panels involving the key game developers of the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series at Bioware, this one involving the Lore of Mass Effect. They invited any question that people want to ask, but noted that most queries pertaining to the still in-development Mass Effect: Andromeda they would be unable to answer. The group decided on the code word “banana” as a response in those cases, which seemed a fair choice. Some notes from the discussion:

-Panelists: Colin Campbell (Lead Level Designer, ME: Andromeda), Jessica Campbell (Level Designer, ME: Andromeda & DA: Inquisition), Ian Frazier (Lead Designer, ME: Andromeda), Patrick Weekes (writer on the entire ME trilogy & DA: Inquisition), & Karin Weekes (Lead Editor for ME 2 & 3, DA 2 & Inquisition)
-huzzah for 2 of 5 panels (and important people to Bioware) being women!
-“Can you comment on the ME lore in the the next game?” – “it’s in space… it’s in a new galaxy… BANANA”
-cannot say when the game occurs re: the first trilogy, i.e. before, during, or after
-someone in the audience congratulated them on the ending of ME3, the panel was very happy to hear that (for once), some people in the crowd muttered dissent
-panel noted that DA has a more concrete canon from game to game, while the ME canon is more about your playthrough, which makes doing the ME games (especially ME3) far more complex in terms of writing dialogue and accounting for plot points based on choices in prior games
-BANANA on whether Shephard will be referenced in future games as alive/dead re: if you play the game through to the best ending where she was seen drawing breath briefly in the end sequence
-from the inception of the first game, Shephard was always viewed as making a sacrificial choice at the end of the trilogy and intended to die
-panel asks Patrick if that means he is MEAN, he says yes
-question about more female races and female models/choices in races – answer BANANA on specifics but that they are acutely aware of the fan desire for more female focus, one issue is limitation of time/resources in making multiple gender models for each race instead of just one
-question about design concepts for some races, inspiration from real world elements – answer: some, they tried to design the architecture/ships for each race to reflect their body type and philosophical outlook
-Asari – started with idea of them being monogenedered, no military, emphasis curves/softness to reflect less military outlook, tentacles chosen and designed for head to make them alien but also give the impression of a hairstyle to make them feel more human, there is no “medusa” animation hiding somewhere
-Turians – conceived as ancient roman bird-aliens, spiky and more angular ships and architecture
-Pre-nuke Krogans – showing older bits of architecture was important to see Krogan have hope re: genophage decision, so important to note they formerly had a great society
-architecture designed to evoke Greek and Polynesian elements to imply that they not only had a previously grand civilization but also were not previously warlike yet lived under threat (Greeks and Polynesians lived in the shadow of possible volcanic death), on their home world they were the prey species so creature design/eye position reflect prey species on earth as opposed to predator
-example of adjusting to prior playthrough decisions – if Jack lived, Grissom Academy mission is emotionally awesome with her going all “mama bear”, if she did not live it ends up being a very grim story of near-child soldiers, they didn’t want to say there’s a right or wrong way to play the game, so there was never an option not to give you the mission if Jack died
-there were up to 12 different permutations of the genophage ending based on prior choices
-Patrick enjoyed writing Mordin Solus, because of the challenge of making a character who is responsible for the genophage, understands all the far-reaching conseqences of it, and is simulataneously believable and sympathetic
-question about all the little planets and moons you run across in the exploration missions that have ruins or other interesting things on them, do they have a bible of all of those planets and what their story is – answer: there is no big plan, but if something “pops” with the fans they may develop it later
-the Leviathan of Dis is an example of this, as it was a one-off line on a planet in the original ME, fans really were interested in the story behind it, so they felt the need to expand on it in ME3 but that wasn’t in their original plans
-Batarian plotlines are an example of something that weren’t emphasized in later ME games because they didn’t seem to hook fan interest as much as other things
-elevator dialogue and news reports were originially developed to fill load screen time, when the PC version of the game was able to cut the load screen times, they left the dialogue/news in because enough people were entertained by it
-the genophage plotline was made prominent in ME3 because fans responded to it strongly in prior games
-question: why were the design of the Protheans design changed from what was seen in the beginning of the trilogy – answer: practical, done so that Javik would “look like something you could play as”
-panel would love to see non-bipedal party members, such as Hanar and Elcor, but from a gameplay and resource standpoint would be very hard to implement (after saying this, Ian adopted a deep Elcor voice & said “shouted boldly” to much laughter)
-Karin says ME has been described as “That dating sim with the save the universe minigame attached”
-panel feels they have more freedom with dialogue and plot with non-romancible characters, which is why they don’t try to make more characters romancible
-Patrick claims that if Bioware had more time, they’d all enjoy doing a striaght-up dating sim
-the star Dholen (around which the planet Haestrom orbits) behaving oddly was a potential hook for the “dark energy” theme that was originally going to play a large role in ME3, but that was never followed up on
-panel would love to explore the yahg race more, as they are as angry as the Krogan and as crafty as Salarians, but this didn’t come through enough in the Shadow Broker mission
– question: if Quarians wear their suits to protect them from environments outside of their ships, why do they wear them on their own ships? – answer: they wear them on their ships because of fear of hull breaches and further immune system degradation, also no art/resource budget for not suited Quarians in the game
-question was asked about their science team that advises them, Patrick responded “It is so awesome that you think we have a science team” – they utilize their own employees with STEM backgrounds to get a sense if an idea makes sense in a general way scientifically, or not
-goal from a science and tech standpoint was to get buy-in from the players on the concept of element zero and mass effect fields as a thing, then make sure that all of the tech and science in the game was internally consistent and derived from that
-question: given the way mass relays work and their range limitations, how did humans get to the Andromeda galaxy – answer: (sung in chorus by the panel) BANANA
-on favorite characters: Jessica – “once you go Garrus you can’t go back”, Karin – “Rex doesn’t give a shit in the best of ways”
-re: Harbinger, there was minor bug that made it into the final version that was responsible for possessed collectors talking to you all the time, as the cool down on that was supposed on be 50 seconds not 5 seconds, leading to memes and Harbinger beatboxing videos on YouTube
-as such, while Harbinger was intended to have a much larger role in ME3 and continue to hunt Shepard in a specific & personal way, they chose not to include him in a big way because it would have been too “silly”
-in terms of creating and developing romantic animations and sex scenes, in terms of time and resources, “nookie is expensive”
-female Shepard couldn’t romance Ashley because it felt wrong for that character

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