Femshep is Only Shep


A pretty interesting tidbit finally put the debate between which Commander Shepard is the canon Shepard to rest. M-Shep or FemShep. Coming by way of developer Jonathan Cooper over Twitter revealed that the first animation test for Commander Shepard was in fact a female wireframe.

Cooper was with Bioware at the time and made the Tweet in commemoration of a decade passing since that original animation’s creation. He worked as the animation lead for both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, animation director at UbiSoft for Assassin’s Creed III and is currently at Naughty Dog serving as an animator for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

I joke about FemShep being the definitive Commander Shepard, but she remains one of my favorite characters in the past decade of gaming. Nothing quite like Jennifer Hale’s voice as a Paragon Shepard with that little bit of snark that I always gave to Udina.

Cooper followed up the initial Tweet by elaborating that the animation was repurposed from Bioware’s Jade Empire as a building block and that Shepard’s was always designed to be chosen by the player. That is unsurprising given Bioware’s track record with allowing users to create their own characters.

Just seeing that wireframe run back and forth is enough to bring back memories of the original Mass Effect, a game that despite its rough shooting and crazy inventory system, I consider my favorite in the series. Cooper and his teams have done some fantastic work on the Mass Effects and even Assassin’s Creed III’s animation was spectacular. I can only expect his pedigree will be an asset to the already stellar team at Naughty Dog.

Polygon – Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard was created as a woman

The Mako is Back in Mass Effect 4

Mass Effect - Mako

The most bad-ass, six-wheeled, cannon toting, planet exploring, thresher maw exploding vehicle in the Mass Effect universe is making its triumphant return in the next Mass Effect. Announced at this year’s Comic-Con, the next Mass Effect will feature the return of the Mako and will have a strong focus on planetary exploration.

Found only in the original Mass Effect, the Mako was a six-wheeled all terrain vehicle used to explore planetary surfaces. A world of difference from the scanning of planets in the following Mass Effect 2, the Mako was both beloved and beguiled for its terribly (wonderfully?) clunky handling and propensity to crash into everything (to become awesome?). All I know is that the Mako had rocket boosters and you could skip happily across the surface of a barren planet. I loved the awful thing so much that I missed it dearly in the following games.

Mass Effect - Mako

In all honesty, what the Mako represented was the grand promise of exploration that the original Mass Effect was built upon. The original Mass Effect was still a typical BioWare-styled game filled with morality driven choices and their signature cause and effect storyline, but the simple fact that the Mako could be put on a planet, driven around like an idiot and given mundane taskslike discovering crash sites, minerals and thresher maws, represented the opportunity to explore this world freely. What do they give you in the follow-up? Corridors and scanning a planet for minerals.

So here’s to the Mako.

Mass Effect - Mako

Polygon – The next Mass Effect will see the return of the Mako, focus on exploration

Exploring Ludonarrative Dissonance

ludonarrative – a portmanteau of ludology and narrative, refers to the aspects of video game storytelling that are controlled by the player. (source: Wikipedia)

I play a lot of single player games. This isn’t due to an aversion of multiplayer matches but rather a love for a good interactive story. Ludonarrative is exactly this. It is the combination of game design (ludo) and story (narrative) that create a wonderful single player experience.

Assassin's Creed II

The trick to sound ludonarrative is a balance in game design and story. If the story of a game is the player’s muse, be it motivating them to hunt terrorists, stave off alien invasion or rescuing a princess, then the design of a game needs to adhere to the guidelines set by the narrative. For example: a counter-terrorist must never kill an innocent bystander. And while simple instances like desynchronization in Assassin’s Creed when innocents are killed are commonplace, there are still examples of contradiction in ludonarrative. This contradiction, coined by former Lucasarts creative director Clint Hocking, is referred to as ludonarrative dissonance. Continue reading

My favorite BioWare moments

Gaming blog Screen Play, written by Jason Hill of The Sydney Morning Herald, featured a fan driven competition in search of gamer’s most memorable moments from BioWare’s many successful franchises. The contest, which ran in recognition of the release of BioWare’s Dragon Age II highlighted gamer’s memories every BioWare title from Baldur’s Gate to Mass Effect.

Popular choices included game shaking plot twists in Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect II, praises of gameplay elements in Jade Empire and Dragon Age: Origins and celebration of characters including everybody’s favorite blue alien Liara T’soni, the evil (and sarcastic) protocol droid HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic and the incomparable ranger Minsc from Baldur’s Gate and his miniature giant space hamster Boo.

Sadly, I have not received my copy of Dragon Age II yet as finding affordable shipping to my island state is difficult to say the least. I am however, excited for the game (as mentioned in my impressions of the demo) and have had my share of experiences to BioWare’s many franchises. I’d have to say my favorite BioWare moments have to be: Continue reading