You may not realize this, but the “primary” folks at Constantly Calibrating tend to be fans of Mass Effect. Who would have guessed, right?
Steven and I have gone into our love of the universe at length, probably to the detriment of some of our fans, but what it comes down to is pure love. I know that sounds crazy, to claim you have a pure love for a universe; one you didn’t create yourself. But, that’s how I feel about the world of Mass Effect. Prior to the original game’s release I had heard snippets of information from a few friends of mine, but from my perspective it was just another game. At the time I liked BioWare’s games enough, though they never truly engrossed me. Knights of the Old Republic was an outstanding part of what was at the time my favorite fiction universe, but that’s all it was to me: part of someone else’s universe. I played through the game twice — once light and once dark — when it released and then didn’t touch it again for years. It didn’t enthrall me in the same way it had pulled in so many other people. As such, when people started hyping up Mass Effect I would vaguely listen to them and then shrug it off. Why care about yet another sci-fi/fantasy world when I am working to create my own universe?
[pullquote]In that mall food court I created Commander James Shepard, soldier and colony-kid; the “Butcher of Torfan”.[/pullquote]Then, one day maybe a month out from Mass Effect’s November 2007 release I was out, lurking around the old City of Heroes Comics & Pop Culture forum — I’m forgetting the exact name — to kill some time and to see what the forum users were saying about the latest episode of WWE Raw. Just below the wrestling thread was a post showing off all of the Mass Effect art and trailers that had been released at that time. I glanced through it, reading snippets here and there until I came across a trailer that had debuted at E3 2007. This trailer featured intense music and a gorgeous art style, plus gameplay featuring Force powers. Just remember, at this point I knew nothing of the universe and like most people it looked like a shooter — my most hated genre at the time, regardless of it being 1st or 3rd-person — that featured soldiers using the Force. I watched the trailer through twice as well as some gameplay footage showing off the characters ship and I was intrigued. I didn’t really care enough at the time to research the universe or look more in-depth than that.
Mass Effect looked enjoyable, with its choices and what I later learned were called “biotics”, but nothing about it really jolted me into immediate fandom; certainly not like Assassin’s Creed with its use of genetic memory and history. With that, the month leading up to the game flew by at its normal pace. I picked up the original Assassin’s Creed at launch and played through it over the subsequent week, relishing in the story and the beauty of its world; then Mass Effect launched.
My girlfriend, now my wife, and I stopped by the GameStop at Arizona Mills in Tempe because I thought to myself something like, “Hey, this game looks kind of cool; guess I can pick it up.” Thinking back, it’s funny how such an innocuous thought ultimately shaped a large portion of my life. We picked up the game and then stopped by the food court so that Charnell could grab a bite to eat. I figured since I had a few minutes to kill, why not read through the game’s manual. It was either that or have a conversation with the woman I love. (Garrus forbid!) The funny thing is that the manual enraptured me so much that her food was cold before I ever let her get a bite in; I just wanted to discuss everything I was reading: terms like Paragon and Renegade; Biotics; something called a Mako; and where my Commander Shepard would come from. In that mall food court I created Commander James Shepard, soldier and colony-kid; the “Butcher of Torfan”. This Shepard ultimately was embraced across nine playthroughs of Mass Effect 1 and three of Mass Effect 2. He was my Shepard for a very long time and still holds a special place in my heart.
I won’t delve too much into the specific moments playing through Mass Effect, due to the fact that I’ve gone over many of them across multiple podcasts. In addition to that, there is the fact that some of these moments are really special to me. One thing that does bear mentioning again is the moment when I got Mass Effect. I had just convinced a rogue Spectre that he was indoctrinated — before indoctrination was even a recognized word for me — and watched him take his own life. I had battled his Reaper-possessed corpse and watched Sovereign defeated. A few minutes later Commander James Shepard was standing before Captain Anderson and Ambassador Udina, being asked what to do about the death of the Council. All I could do was wonder why I was being asked these questions. The game was over, wasn’t it? At the time I had only heard about the game being a planned trilogy with the ability to transfer save data in passing. What little information I had heard sounded like simple hype that would never come to fruition, so being given these choices was perplexing.
Then the credits kicked in and “M4 Part II” by Faunts came on.
I sat, controller in hand, through the entire credits sequence. I sat there for close to five minutes afterwards, simply speechless. Somehow this song caused a catalyst (ha!) effect within my mind. Watching the credits crystallized my thoughts and pulled me fully into the world. After those five minutes of introspection were up I loaded up a new game+ with Commander James Shepard and before lunch the next day I had beaten the game a second time. By the end of the following week I had created two additional Shepards, an Adept and Engineer, and had beaten the game an additional three times. I started keeping a journal of my choices in these playthroughs, figuring out exactly how I wanted these characters to behave and act.
After my dozenth playthrough I stopped playing as pure paragon or renegade; I instead began playing as that particular Shepard would play. Commander James Shepard was a ruthless warmonger, but he had a deep respect for most aliens and a love for one Liara T’soni. Commander Sarah Shepard, my engineer, however was a complete psychopath intent on getting things done with as much blood spilled as possible. Yes, I play mostly renegade-based characters; I’m that style of gamer. Less than a month after Mass Effect’s release I found myself putting more thought into the game’s world than I was putting into my own stories. It occurred to me that I had devoted more playtime to this game than any other in the past. As of the last time I checked I had close to 550 hours of played time clocked just into Mass Effect 1. That’s over 22 days of played time! They weren’t all full playthroughs either as I found myself doing speed runs from time-to-time if I had 5-6 hours to kill.
Mass Effect also has the distinction of being the game that taught me that I didn’t ‘need’ to play on easy any longer. I was always far more interested in story when it came to video games, so I kept the difficulty setting down to aid in my enjoyment. It was with Mass Effect 1 that I felt compelled to up the difficulty setting, realizing that I could enjoy the game and embrace the story more-so when truly fighting for my life. Well that is except for the Mako sections, because fuck the Mako on Insanity.
There are so many more stories that I have never told of my time with Mass Effect or of my love of the series. I realize that this rambling diatribe may not fully explain why I feel a pure love for the series. I’m not here to really explain that, but to inform you that it exists and for some reason my wife is okay with it. I haven’t even brushed the surface of my love of the Mass Effect universe or how I pulled my best friends deep into its world with me. There are plenty more stories to tell, and maybe I’ll write them up sometime. I’m sure I’ll go on a tangent on a podcast about it if Steven or Brad get me started.
I should go…
This post has been focused more on the original Mass Effect, but I feel like I should probably post the original article that I started to write before the Reaper indoctrination took a hold of me.
Above you will find the Mass Effect 3 retrospective that BioWare put out today at PAX East. The above video, and the panel it was debuted at, being the number one reason I wish we were able to afford to be in Boston this weekend. I think the best thing about the video is watching the evolution of visuals across the trilogy; seeing Mass Effect 1, 2, & 3 clips jumbled up together really gives an idea of just how much has changed over the last five and a half years. It really was “the best”.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it might be time to do a long overdue full-trilogy playthrough. Maybe I can stop intermittently to harass Drew Karpyshyn, Jessica Merizan, Mark Meer and Casey Hudson about getting one or all of them on a podcast someday soon. Ooh, I like that last part!
Quest: By the end of the year I will chat with them, and more from the Mass Effect team for either a short interview or for a full podcast.
The above post was originally published to Constantly Calibrating and has been republished here with the author’s (read: my) permission.
Joshua is the Director of Gaming for Geek News Network and Editor-in-chief for Constantly Calibrating. He is a co-host of both the GNN Gaming Podcast, Constantly Calibrating Podcast, and further podcasts that even he is unaware of. You can read more of his thoughts on gaming and everything else on Twitter @BearPunch.