Category Archives: Brain droppings

Fixing ME2 : Part I

One thing that pisses me off about ME2 is how badly the ball was dropped on so many characters.

With the exception of Tali (walking infodump), I can’t really complain too much about the ME1 cast — they were distinctive, original, and strong. And there were certainly characters that fit that description in ME 2 as well — Mordin, Miranda, Zaeed — certainly the Illusive Man.

But there were other characters —  important characters — that were either neglected or, more commonly, were simply clever writing tacked onto boring, repetitive shit we’ve seen elsewhere.

Urdnot Grunt is not given enough introspective, nor enough of a chance to demonstrate what it means to be krogan outside of mindless violence. Worse, the message is sent that such violence is NOT actually part of the krogan mindset — the calm and quiet krogan on Korlus proves that. Instead of using Grunt’s childish antics to show a softer side of the krogan, we get silliness like a one-ton alien playing with action figures.

Worst of all, Grunt’s biggest failings are highlighted by the glimpses of something else only hinted at,like him reading Hemmingway. Ugh.

Morinth is a criminally badly written thing. Let’s add up the stupid cliches : stupidly hedonistic even after hundreds of years, check. Lack of maturity after hundreds of years, check. Kills a young single white female to establish her as the evulz, check. Vampy, gothy, and playing the victim card, check. Stupidly cliched ‘irresistibly attractive’ statement without any display of such? Double Check.

Who in their right goddamned mind would fuck that, even if you didn’t know she’d eat your brains? Goddamn it, Bioware, at least fucking try.

Jacob Taylor pisses me off even more because I am a black man, and this is the single most insulting stereotype I’ve ever seen. Jacob has a father who abandoned him, just like all Black Males. He was basically a criminal in his Alliance Service, just like all Black Males. He uses stupid ‘cool’ slang that was dated in the fucking 90’s, like ‘spill some drinks’, just like all Black Males.

Bangs you and leaves you for some other chick he knocks up? Check. Volunteers for an assignment he can’t handle in the SM so the black guy dies first? Check. Rejects any attempt by FemShep to actually get him to open up, dismissing it as ‘grade school psyche and a crying jag’? Check.

Supposedly emotionally stable, but comes off as emotionally stunted. And, of course, facial bumps from shaving. Nice. Fucking assholes.

Thane is wasted, more because they crafted him to be ‘attractive to female players’ and to have a goddamned sob story. Repentant assassin with a spiritual side? Check. Soft-spoken and eloquent? Check. Humanoid yet exotically handsome?

Get the fuck out of here. What he tells us about drell culture and his own experiences is so contradictory and self-fellating in it’s calm acceptance of morality being something external to the soul that it’s vomitous. If you have nothing to feel bad about, Thane, why in fuck are you coming along on a suicide mission to redeem yourself!?

Fucking Bioware.

Jack is a strong character, but a stupid concept all the way around for two very simple reasons. First, if you are trying to create a superbiotic to serve you, that is NOT how you gain loyalty or even initiate Stockholm Syndrome. Cerberus (once again) comes off looking like incompetent idjits who wouldn’t be able to run a taco stand without killing the entire planet it was on, just so she could have reasons to hate them and be tragic and have runny mascara when she cries.  There is ZERO (ha, get the pun) logic in her setup and presentation. Every bit of it — naked to the waist, the stupid cutscene only biotic power that blows up fucking ZEUS mechs, even her foul-mouthed defiance of Miranda — all of it is to push an image and background that makes no sense.

Secondly, her concept doesn’t work because that is NOT how abuse victims reclaim their body. People who are victimized and abused do not go out and victimize and abuse other people they don’t know, period, fucking ever. They often abuse those close to them, those they say they love, or those much like them — because that’s how they know to interact. They do not become wild pirates playing queen bitch of the hill — their self-esteem was destroyed, how would they find the strength to do such a thing?

Finally, Kasumi pisses me off because they just took two cliches (dashing master thief + ninja) and slapped them together without any more development than “oh her boyfriend died”.

I know she was an add on character, but WHAT THE FUCK. SERIOUSLY. Zaeed had tons of badass background, a completely plausible psychology, a consistent set of moral reactions to the world around him, and a perfectly good reason for being an ice-cold asshole. Kasumi acts like someone stole her out of a fucking anime.

 

These six characters I intend to change almost entirely. Their backgrounds, motivations, roles, and even classes will change. When I get done with them, they will share very little in common with their canon counterparts.

 

Perspectives of Character : On Jack Harper

Our place in the universe is more fragile than we’d like to think.


There are many interesting, multifaceted characters in the ME Canon Universe. But none of them are as nuanced, as difficult to actually transform from merely parroting words into a fresh new take, as the Illusive Man.

When we first meet the Illusive Man in ME 2, he seems confident, knowledgeable and powerful.  His most basic precept never wavers — that humanity should be the dominant power in the galaxy. His belief in this is absolute, overriding all other considerations — in canon, it drove him to nearly destroying the galaxy with his mad plans.

But this certainty is not part of what it means to be Jack Harper. That’s merely a goal. You can still have TIM be TIM, regardless of his ultimate goals, as long as they they are bigger than one human man could normally achieve.


 

The Personality of ol’ Blue Eyes

Salvation comes with a cost. Judge us not by our methods, but by what we seek to accomplish.

When taken in series, a few observations can be taken away from TIM, both from his in-game speech and the Shadow Broker’s files.

  1. He is supremely confident, yet never reckless. As a leader, he focuses on leading by inspiring confidence, by gathering together those who can use the resources, tools, and intelligence he gathers to complete goals. But he never risks himself in these ventures, always staying back, out of sight. TIM should never be used as a physically aggressive character, even if he has been one in the past and is certainly capable of it. He sees himself as both beyond and above such things now.
  2. He comes across as emotionally cold, often with a neutral expression that betrays nothing except occasional condescension, irritation, or slight amusement.  Yet he is clearly capable, during the comic, of many strong emotions — love, hate, fear, sorrow, despair. Whatever has happened to TIM, his emotions are damaged. He can still feel love, but he chooses to believe he can’t. He sees himself as immune to emotional damage like that he took when Ben and Eva died if he simply doesn’t care about people , instead only becoming passionate about objectives and end results.
  3. TIM surrounds himself with mystery. From his demeanor to his location, from whatever his real goals are to his effortless mastery of almost any situation, he never lets any truly understand all of him. He perfectly embodies that Art of War’s stricture about being chaos, for one cannot predict the wind.
  4. Perhaps most critically, TIM embodies an aspect of humanity. If Shepard embodies humanity’s heart and spirit, then TIM represents humanity’s intellect. He is reflective, yet determined to see through his goals to the end. He is never reactive, always seeking to control the pieces on the board. Even when at bay or thwarted, he never lets his anger get the best of him, always thinking of a new way to proceed.

Taking this into consideration, in my AU Jack Harper’s personality is much the same as in canon, with several modifications.

Many people start off with the old canard that “TIM hates aliens”. Even in canon, this isn’t true. TIM hates turians, sure, but given what he went through on Shanxi, this is hardly surprising.  But even in canon, he is complementary and impressed by Mordin Solus, agreeable to the concept of enlisting a mostly-alien crew for the fight against the Collectors, and based on what the Shadow Broker wrote, banging an asari matriarch.

TIM does not strike me as the kind to engage in that level of hypocrisy, thus he never hated aliens. He hated the idea that humanity would be subjugated by aliens, much as the krogan and quarians have been. He hated that aliens dominated the galaxy and yet gave humanity no room to share in the wealth.

Another person who did an analysis of TIM summed it up thus:

He felt that the human race had done everything it needed to do to earn a firm place within the galaxy. When they still were faced with hardship and an uncaring Council, Cerberus stepped in to ensure that this would be changed. If the humans wouldn’t be welcomes, they would make themselves be welcomed.

Thus, a great deal of his personality can be driven by his outlook on the nature of how humanity interacts with the galaxy, and more importantly, how they are treated.

Goals and motivations

Cerberus isn’t just an organization or the people behind it. Cerberus is an idea. That idea is not so easily destroyed

In canon, we are given a pleortha of motivations and goals for TIM, but they all boil down to one thing:

He feels humanity is at least as good, if not better, than the aliens. In my AU, this doesn’t change.  What changes are his ultimate goals.

In Canon, he felt that aliens would never accept humans as equals, mainly because most of them seemed blind to anything but their own internal squabbling. The sheer focused idiocy of the Citadel Council makes one question if he’s all that wrong that humans are superior.  The only way he sees being able to safeguard humanity is through outright human dominance. Unfortunately, the only path to dominance is over the broken corpses of those already atop the galactic heap, but the gap between human might and the aliens is narrow enough that, if he’s careful and cunning, he can be the push to put Earth on top.

His canon goals are simple and ugly:

  • Ensure humanity is the dominant military, economic, scientific, and covert power in the galaxy
  • Kill or at least cripple alien races that provide a current or future threat to humanity.
  • Steal or otherwise acquire alien technology and abilities that could enhance humanity
  • Build some form of shock-attrition army (geth, creepers, rachni, or eventually indoctrinated humans) that are superior to all other races’ military forces to aid in suppression.
  • Sabotage alien economies, disrupt political movements, and prevent anyone from coming to power in the SA that would seriously opposes him
  • Infiltrate all levels of SA governance and acquire military technology of a level to allow Cerberus to act as a ‘third flank’ for conventional human forces
  • Eventually, reduce all other aliens to either subservience or outright slavery, to ensure human dominance never fades.

This list sounds like the goals of, at best, a monomaniacal dictator, and at worst a sociopath. They end up doing nothing to strengthen humanity, and in the end TIM’s entire rationale is defeated by indoctrination, bad aim, and a pistol. Pathetic.

In my AU, however, he is equally convinced that, while some aliens may tolerate humanity being on par with them, they would never accept humanity as superiors. The technological, financial and military gulf between humanity and aliens is so vast that the SA resorts to sickening, Cerberus-like actions to bolster their strength, and the aliens themselves commit atrocities that would impress the Dark Eldar of Warhammer 40k. In this environment, humanity pushing for supremacy is not only mind-bogglingly unrealistic, but likely to simply unite the other aliens into an assault on humanity.

His goals are thus much more … demure.

  • Ensure humans have an equal voice in galactic society, with enough respect to inspire partnerships, and enough fear to prevent conquest.
  • Ensure humans eventually break free of the confines of the current SA government before humanity becomes as corrupted, power-hungry and wretched as the salarians and asari.
  • Ensure humans are not subsumed into another culture, such as the asari, or flung into suppressive exile, like the batarians and quarians
  • Push forward human technology, economic might and knowledge so that humanity isn’t dependant on technical handouts, financial aid and alien ‘advisers’.

The goals are at least achievable, and do not end up uniting the galaxy against humanity out of self-defense or outrage. Furthermore, UNLIKE the canon goals, they allow him to stay in the background and work from the shadows, which is one of his core personality points.


 

Methodologies and tools

Information is my weapon, Shepard.

The Illusive Man does not rely on, in my AU, the massive use of force. He prefers to use three things that are often much more effective — intelligence gathering, economic manipulation, and disruptive technology.

TIM rarely needs to resort to direct violence, and when he does it is very surgical — he relies on a pair of supremely skilled and very dangerous assassins, Pel and Kai Leng. Both were (in the AU) contemporaries of such figures as Anderson, Ahern, and Preston Kyle, and as such have abiltiies on par with them.

But he only uses violence when other methods have failed, and never before they have at least been tried.

His greatest ability is information. His network of spies and information brokers rarely if ever even know they are reporting to him, and many are aliens. He has contacts at every level of human society, allies who would rather die than betray him, and a reach that even the Shadow Broker or STG can’t match. He has deals with powerful figures — the salarian crime boss Edat Valern,  with Aria, with the turian shadow-master known as P. , and with many disaffected officers of the human AIS. He even has a couple of Commissariat contacts with faulty conditioning allowing them to work for him.

His network is only half his power, though — his mind allows him to sift through data and make instinctual connections instantly. His ‘upgrades’ at the hand of the Arca Device didn’t indoctrinate him, but they did affect him, letting him translate all alien languages as well as literally decrypt things by merely looking at the patterns.

Added to this is his vast wealth, which is only augmented of that of his allies — Henry Lawson with his billions, the Ashlands and Eldfells, who are the wealthiest humans in the galaxy, smaller groups who support humanity’s independence, even his asari partner , Trellani. Added together, Jack Harper can move more money than the entirety of the Noveria Development Corporation, and he is a master at making investments to not only allow it to grow but find more influence in corporations.

His reach and influence allow him wide access to a staggering array of technologies. Rather than pick the most potent, he often selects and invests in things others have written off. He was one of the primary investors in volus missile research that lead to the development of the modern M/AM matrix missile — which the volus of course sold to humanity, boosting it’s combat power. Many of the science initiatives he (and not the rest of Old Cerberus) is responsible for are researches into communications, stealth, encryption, VI-driven combat, and AI.

He is aided in this later on (in my version of ME2) by acquiring a very potent ally with technology beyond the asari or salarian abilities, which he uses sparingly but with good effect.

This ties into Jack never getting involved. He prefers his operations to be like him — in the shadows, dealing with issues at arms length, and never facing exposure or danger directly.


 

Final Thoughts

You think because I’m willing to use the enemy’s tactics, they’re no longer my enemy?

TIM’s ultimate fate in my version of ME3 is different than canon, both due to the fact that my ending is vastly different and because he’s not a goddamned idiot this time around.

At the end of the day, though, some things remain the same. If the choice is decency or humanity, TIM will always choose the latter. If the choice is between keeping the Reapers around to prevent something worse from happening to the Galaxy, or destroying them and gambling humanity’s future on the unknown, TIM  will take the safer bet. While he does not betray Shepard the way Canon TIM does, and certainly never gets indoctrinated, the ending I have planned highlights how TIM is different from Shepard — any Shepard.

Jack Harper sees himself as a catalyst of change, a bridge between an uncertain dangerous present and a bright, shining future for humanity. No intepreation of him should ever alter his fundamental belief that he, and only he, is the one who has the answers to save everyone, be it to lead them to dominance or to survival.

Every Shepard, from all three canon backgrounds and all three canon life events, and from every fanfic Ive read, doubts themselves at some point. They see themselves as a savior, or a protector, or a predator, or merely a clean-up man — some are saints, others criminals. But they all wonder and doubt if they’re good enough, if they have made the right choices, if the decisions they have now committed to will work.

Jack Harper never doubts himself. Not even once.

Perspectives of Character : on Tali’Zorah

Of all of the core canon characters, I think Tali’Zorah is the hardest to write correctly.

Much of ME and many fanfics portray her in what has to be an unrealistic light.  She is a civilian teenager, barely old enough to be on her Pilgrimage, yet somehow magically is a better engineer than people with years of experience and is capable of handling fights that challenge trained marines and experienced C-SEC types.

Tali is presented as some kind of bizarre admixture of Roma Gypsies, Middle Eastern stereotypes, with a dash of Jewish history thrown in for good measure. Instead of being able to develop an actual character aside from Hartman Hips and a cute accent, she’s instead used as a walking quarian-culture infodump.

The intent is of course to build her as some kind of ‘little sister’ character with cutesy overtones, and in ME 1 I supposed they succeeded at that. She didn’t really ‘do’ anything in Engineering, after all, and we never get to see her really pull out anything impressive in terms of skills.

Then comes ME2, and all of a sudden when she joins the Normandy’s crew, she’s some kind of super-engineering expert, even showing up the two engineers with the ship on some obscure techno-bullshit. It’s designed, I suppose, to establish her ‘engineering’ chops. But it comes of hackneyed, since how in shit would someone working on quarian ships this whole time know more about a cutting edge design than the human engineers who’ve been working on it for months?

(Hilariously, in ME3 we see her incompetance — her ideas to extend the ships’ stealth endurance by using weapon sinks fails totally, just like the human engineers said it would.)

Her criticisms of Cerberus are also hilarious. Her comment that Cerberus should be reviled because “Cerberus thought that enslaving Thorian Creepers and rachni was a good idea” would come off as less hypocritical if her people weren’t exiles for first enslaving and then trying to genocide the geth. Additionally, she has no alternatives — Cerberus is bad in her eyes even when literally no one else is doing jack shit to stop the Reapers or even respond to missing human colonies.

Likewise, her leader-role on Freedom’s Progress and Haestrom is supposed to show growth, and instead only shows an inability to actually lead. She can’t control her men (the VERY first thing required of any leader) and instead of providing inspiration she cowers at Haestrom to retrieve data  she doesn’t even know the significance of.

Her trial for treason is completely , utterly nonsensical. Leave aside the fact that the treason accusation is stupid. Sending back geth parts that had to be re-assembled and repaired in order to form a geth is no more a crime than sending raw materials and circuit boards that that had to be assembled to form a geth.

What bothers me the most is the trial is supposed to be some kind of contextual crap about the ‘direction of the quarians’ , yet no matter what choices you make they still do the same stupid shit in ME3. Worse, the politics of it all don’t make sense in a culture supposedly about communal burden-sharing.

We’re given almost nothing on Rael’Zorah save that he was a massive dick with no real characterization.  And all of the attributes of the admirals shift entirely around from ME2 to ME3 for no good reasons.

Tali is ‘exiled’ from a society that she clearly wasn’t fitting into anyway, a society that saw fit to use their daughter’s friend as some kind of bargaining chip to convince quarians down one path or another, and then end up attacking anyway. It’s the illusion of choice, the fake effect of your actions meaning something.

It is also hilarious that even after being double-crossed by her own people, she hates Cerberus, who only attacked due to the actions of yet another exiled quarian, Golo.

Tali’s choice as a possible romance was handled with heavy-handed insistance.  My main issue with it is that she’s frame as, aside from Liara, the only choice for many players. Miranda is a bitch who will stop talking to you if you criticize her for defending the torture of children. Jack is a criminal with a plethora of issues that are turn-offs for lots of people. You can’t sleep with Samara, Morinth will kill you, and Kelly is a slut in a shiny stripper outfit.

By contrast you have polite, kind, loyal, exotic Tali. Real subtle, Bioware.

By the time ME3 rolls around, the image is entirely warped and stupid. Suddenly Tali is an admiral, for no goddamned reason we’re ever given that makes any sense. All the other admirals are in charge of entire fleets and are older.  She is made an admiral because … why?

“Due to her expertise with the geth.”

What fucking expertise? Shooting them? The geth data she submitted — oh wait, that was GIVEN to her by Shepard, she had jack shit all to do with it. Getting her ass shot off in Haestrom?

It’s a bullshit excuse. Even WORSE, it’s the same excuse they use if they bring her back after they exiled her, even though exile is supposed to the the worst punishment for unforgivable crimes in the Flotilla.

So basically , bullshit.

Trying to find a way to re-write Tali so she isn’t a pile of badly designed sterotypes in a cutsy but illogical package is difficult. The main themes I am trying to achieve are as follows:

  • A conflict between her duty to the Flotilla and her personal life. Given that in my AU the quarian situation is not as dire, she begins to question if she has to sacrifice her happiness and life for that of the Flotilla, especially given what doing so has cost her father.
  • A conflict between her views on what is ‘correct’ in terms of engineering and technology based on quarian methods and her growing understanding that quarian methods aren’t always the best. Her tiresome devotion to things quarian in canon never was shaken even when the quarians clearly were making suboptimal choices.
  • Her relationship with Jeff, her self-confidence issues, and her lack of feeling like she has choices in life.

I want to recreate Tali, to make her something interesting that references but moves beyond the Tali in Canon. I find myself not needing to recreate Garrus, or Liara, or most of the other characters, but Tali has the feel of a character they repeatedly threw in as a last minute gesture without trying to develop her more fully.

Talimancers will dislike my opinion, but I challenge them to show their work on why I’m wrong.  Merely stating she is nice, loyal, has sexy hips and an awesome voice and is good with a shotgun is not character development.

 

Updates and Hilarity

So obviously we are off the schedule!

The plan to be able to get some work done by February is obviously bust. That’s because about a day after my last post, we had a nice little round of lay-offs, and then another, and now I’m doing the work of two people and getting buried in additional work.

The good news is that I’m pretty much done with the next chapter of OSABC and the Cerberus Files: Humanity about the SA military. I just need to clean them up this weekend.

I also got a set of absolutely hilarious reviews from some attention whore on FF.net who thinks I or anyone else gives a single flying fuck about his opinions.

I refuse to listen to anyone who has nothing to say. I will pay attention to those comments that have a modicum of intellectual underpinning.  So I’ll address the few things he brought up that he clearly misunderstood.

1) Shepard is lesbian:  Shepard spent her youth being sexually abused by males. She is bi-sexual and probably was that way at birth, but the events she went through in her early life shaped her as well. I am fully aware that rape does not one make someone a lesbian. However, it will make a person with bisexual tendencies more likely to pursue female rather than male relationships.

2) Hilarious lack of information on the military:  I’m a functional paranoid and they let me in. The military (especially in times of war and when recruiting is low) has very low standards for entry. That’s why we have so many issues today with rape, abuses, drug abuse, etc.  As to the PT part, there are women TODAY who can do that workout, you idiot.

3) Rape charges: Shepard was (and is) dysfunctional on several levels. Psychologically speaking she was trying to perform role based reclamation, which is unhealthy but hardly unusual for victims of abuse.

I remain amused at the number of people thinking the fact that they can hold an opinion means anyone else is entitled to bother to listen to it, especially when it’s riddled with racist, sexist, bigoted overtones.

And of course, he/she/it calls me out on Christianity, basically saying I can’t be a Christian if I don’t act like the fucking Westboro Baptist Church.

On the Alterations to the storyline : influences and themes

(Edit: This was added to an expanded on 10-12-14)


 

There isn’t much point in deciding to writing an Alternative Universe if you don’t actually alter the Universe in a fundamental, not interpretive, way.


 

When I set out to work on my AU, I had no idea how AU it was to be.

It ended up having:

  • Shepard who is violent and cruel, without the super-talky ability of canonShep.
  • Saren and Benezia in a romantic relationship, with a more complex interaction and Benezia being the ultimate Big Bad, not Saren
  • Cerberus being responsible for Saren knowing about things he couldn’t have otherwise even knew existed, like the Thorian or the Beacon.
  • The Systems Alliance and other aliens species being twisted, darker versions of themselves, complete with alien analogues of Cerberus and a more hateful and violent FCW.
  • A Council made of skilled and intelligent political operators with the ear of their races, not talking heads.
  • A human ambassador who is less of a mindless bureaucrat with a hard-on for being a jerk and one who uses his asshole status to actually work for humanity
  • Anderson who is less Magical Advice Negro and more father figure
  • Quarians who aren’t whiny bitches. Asari who actually dominate the galaxy like the Codex says. Turians who are not mindless goddamned order-following zombies.
  • Reasons for the shit side missions, like Major Kyle and going after Cerberus,  that actually made sense.
  • A more active and realistic Shadow Broker who has terrifying agents to speak for him instead of fat mouthy volus.
  • Combat beyond a rehash of cover-shooters, including platoon combat, large-scale battles, space battles both small and large scale, and the intelligent use of tactics beyond yolocharging.
  • Galactic players like Aria, Blue Suns and Eclipse actually being terrifying enough to prevent the Council from wanting to piss them off.
  • An Illusive Man who isn’t a goddamned moron.
  • Rationales for stupid in game things like having to buy weapons, or why the SA issues it’s troops armor so shitty that Ash was willing to buy her own just so she would die when sneezed at.
  • Reapers who are actually fucking terrifying instead of merely annoying.

And so on. Why did I do this? Because I had to.

Let me preface and explain this rather bald statement by making a few points.

First, at the time I started, Mass Effect 3 had just come out. I was pumped about the game and (frankly) glad that I had something to distract myself, as April 13th is the anniversary of my wife’s death.  When I made up my mind to write an AU it was mostly about changes I wished to make to Shepard.

Second, when I decided to make it an AU beyond just Shepard, it was originally just to fill simple plot holes with simple answers and adjust things to make Shepard ‘fit’.

Third, when it finally went completely off the rails, at Feros, I had no idea how far I’d end up warping the setting.

When I started writing OSABC, I didn’t have a lot of anger at the ending of the games yet, and was pretty satisfied with the way things were going. The plot holes in ME1 and ME2 bothered me, but they were still a blast to play.

I figured that I’d have to make some minor changes to the world, but not many. My first few chapters were mostly close to canon, even drawing on verbatim words from the game.

But as I began to write, I realized two things. First of all, the SA was always presented in this goody-two-shoes light. Torfan notwithstanding, the SA was unlike to tolerate someone as brutal as my Shepard. So the SA had to be … darker. And once I started thinking along those lines, a second epiphany hit me — that we’d already had hints of a darker SA — whatever drove Kyle crazy, the experimental ‘VI’ on Luna, the complete lack of surprise or even comment on finding the Thorian, the callous manner in which Shepard was dispatched to kill off ‘problems’ by Admiral Hackett.

These all hinted at an SA that may not have been as clean as it appeared, and I immediately was struck by the concept of actually making not just Shepard but the entire universe much darker.

I had just read Renegade Reinterpretations,  and a lot of what was written struck me as less ‘renegade’ and more ‘desperation’.  Is it evil to act in a certain manner when there are no other choices beyond slavery and death? To distrust aliens when all they’ve done is enslave you or ignore your suffering?

No, right then and there I decided to change things massively.

Once I had a basic outline of what I wanted my Shepard to be, I had to justify the type of existence she’d gone through. I always found the portrayal of the SA to be far too squeaky-clean, too Roddenberry, and much too trope laden, and I intended to deconstruct every aspect of the too-perfect glittery white goodness we were shown.

First, I knew I wanted to incorporate certain dark themes into my verse.

The Warhammer 40k universe was one influence. Humans under siege is a big part of that setting, as well as human dislike of aliens and a larger-than-life military where civilians seem a mix of afterthought and collateral damage.

Charlie Stross and his book Accelerando were another, especially in terms of how I viewed the Reapers, along with a healthy helping of the Cthulhu Mythos. We are told we can’t understand them, that they are beyond us. They can make devices that make a mockery not just of physics, but of everything we know about the laws of thermodynamics.  They see all living things as insects not even worthy of their direct attention except in the gestalt. They have existed for millions or even billions of years, and they have technology we can’t even learn about without going insane. That sounds EXACTLY like H.P. Lovecraft.

Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game, and Armor were also influences both on Shepard and the SA, mostly in how marine combat should be constructed. It always struck me as particularly retarded that Shepard would be expected to fight superior numbers with, and I am blunt here:

  • a disgraced human NCO probably suffering PTSD from losing her entire unit
  • a flawed human biotic with no prior combat experience
  • a civilian teenager who only got involved in this mess because she was trying not to be killed by geth and found an audio message
  • another civilian teenager (basically) who has no combat experience and no military skills except some okay biotics
  • a cop who has a tendency to ignore orders and go all Dirty Harry
  • a murderous krogan mercenary with clear ties to an illegal shadow figure of dubious legality

That’s it. No marines. No intel assets. No support figures to help you track anything. Just six fuckups, at least four of whom have ZERO PLACE in any real world military or any form of combat against the most dangerous special agent alive and his horrifically powerful biotic billionaire sidekick.

Wut?

Shadowrun and Conspiracy X RPG games snuck in at some point, mostly because I am a big fan of conspiracy, cyberpunk, and the themes within. We’re told of cybernetics, in Kai Leng and Garrus and others, but don’t get to see them.

Finally, at least some nihilistic dead-end haterage from the Punisher was included, along with the concept that moving on is not something that happens without both a good reason and a lever to make it happen.

Second, I knew WHY I wanted to change these things. I realized it was a lot more fun to write things in a way that made sense than in a way that fit the game. Flux was the first example of why the hell I didn’t like Mass Effect for so long when I started playing, and I was determined to make things better, while using the influences listed.

There is no purpose in enslaving yourself to canon if it doesn’t make sense and flies in the face of what you’re trying to achieve.  ME Canon was about determination and hope. ME2 was more about sacrifice and the gray nature of morality vs. necessity. ME3 , I suppose, was about the call of unity and standing together against the darkness.

Except it didn’t end that way. These themes were powerful and important, and never used. It wasn’t the story of a hero, it was literally the story of a man who never made hard choices, who avoided them and refused to make them, and then was given no choices at the end and acted shocked.

I wanted my Shepard to have to choose hard things. And for those things to have more impact than an EMS change or War Asset.

Finally, I knew that the setting would alter the contents of the MEVerse, and I wanted to watch it interact. There is very little ‘bright’ in any of these settings. They all speak of dehumanization and violence, in a culture blind to the effects of such. A setting they all had influences in would not care much about it’s poorest citizens, or the fate of the average person in the light of the needs of the many.

From these concepts I extended the likely goals of the SA and other alien races. It was brutal, throat-slitting survivalism. They were distrustful. Every one of them was wounded in some fashion, and they plotted and planned and did horrible things because they were sure if they didn’t, someone else WAS.

They tell themselves they have no choices, but they do. The asari tell themselves they are right to dominate the galaxy, the salarians tell themselves they’re right to pursue science regardless of cost, the turians have brainwashed themselves into sacrifice without common sense and duty without brains.

We aren’t given any real insight into the motivations of cultures in the game except for laughable infodumps about the quarians and statements that blatantly conflict each other. Turians are all about unity and discipline, but revolt and kill each other constantly? Asari have a history and culture organized around unity but bicker between city states and argue over breeding choices?

No, if I was going to remake things, they had to be consistent.

It was about this time that the Extended Cut endings hit, and I’m afraid my fury was rekindled. I decided then and there that the story I was in the process of writing would be a complete, total AU, to completely destroy every and all frameworks of the original ME that were stupid, and to instead go after things that not only made sense now, but would resonate with the ending.

Most stories try to hit the high points, either changing things about the big scenes or focusing on the moments between them. I was having none of that — I was going to rewrite the entire goddamned series myself and do so correctly, without any ass-pulling bullshit about synthesis, Starkids, or above all else, the fate of the universe being decided by whether or not my Shepard can beat some guy with a sword.

It is my firm belief that there is nothing wrong with the canon endings.  The problem is that the endings are diametrically opposed to everything the game stands for, but that is not, as some have suggested, bad writing. What it strike me as is more of a lack of understanding on how to move from high sci-fi space opera with a backdrop of Cthulhu to some form of philosophical statement about the direction life should go after the singularity. The endings would have made sense if they’d addressed this at ANY POINT during the game.

They didn’t. They had an idea that they wanted to roll with, and it was flawed but hey, it’s their endings. But the problem is the story leading up to those endings.

 

Overview of Creation : Sara Shepard, Part One

In a way, every Shepard a fanfic writer comes up with is an OC. Sara was no different.

As with most of my OCs, Sara is based on real people. She is a composite of several broken figures I knew. One was a rape victim, another was a gang-banger I helped get out of that lifestyle. One was a buddy who had PTSD and ended up killing himself.

They are all dead, the people Sara is based on. Unlike her, they never found their strength, nor could they bring themselves to rely on others to provide that strength.

Who they were no longer matters. I had a long conversation with Progman (who, along with Michael1110, have shaped more of OSABC than they could possibly know) discussing Shepard. He told me the greatest headshot to canon I could make was making Shepard weak.

Shepard? Weak?

Indeed. Shepard (and case in point, the entire Premiseverse) are deconstructions of something that I found ultimately revolting, the Boring Invincible Hero syndrome that led to so much shock and cries of foul at the end of ME3.

Bluntly, Shepard always wins. Shepard is strong enough to overcome anything. The first time we see any REAL doubts that last longer than a few seconds is deep into ME3 , where most people would have cracked under the pressure.

Shepard is not a God.

When I started, I knew I wanted a Shepard who was physically powerful, sexy, and striking. A Shepard with an agile, strong mind, and the ability to master everything she put her mind to. I built her deliberately to be as Mary Sue-ish as possible.

Then I broke what I had built until it was a festering mass of hate and loss. I crafted a story that stripped away every support and source of human kindness except a very few. I gave her pathologies she couldn’t accept, and a background that she couldn’t get over.

Progman and Owelpost both pointed out Shepard never got over her past and losses and wounds. She never grew up, in a way. It’s hard to see but there is still a tiny frightened girl somewhere in her psyche, eyes shut and tears streaking down her face, waiting to be hurt again, betrayed again, abandoned again.
In canon, no matter what, Shepard overcomes. Akuze? Mindoir? You can make the most sad-sack bastard in galactic history and he/she is still possessed of indomitable will, vast political savvy, endless battlefield competence, blah blah blah.

Given how Shepard is built up in game I remain astounded ME3 didn’t end with Shepard killing Harbinger with his dick.

I rejected that. I wanted a broken image. I wanted that shattered figure who had not risen above their losses because they didn’t have a reason to do so. In a way, I wanted to rewrite the fate of my buddy, with PTDS, who should have been able to (with all the support he had around him, begging to help) get back on his feet and on with his life. I wanted to rewrite the life of that gang-banger, who after pulling himself out of hell fell right back in out of arrogant stupidity.

I wanted  a Shepard who needed people around her to become the best, and when they weren’t there, became the worst. A monster.

Shepard is not and has never been a ‘reactive’ figure ,  instead always following others.  Even in canon, Shepard was not proactive. Shepard made no hard, defining choices that changed his/her OWN life. Yes , they had to pick between Kai and Ash, or to save the council or destroy it. Choose Anderson or Udina. Decide the fate of worlds in ME2, in ME3.

Yet, consider those choices. Much like the catalyst, you were just given choices on a plate. You never were able to point at why you made the call and say “this and this and this” … it was just a menu wheel choice. And while said choices affected the story, it was never fundamental!

You never got to choose whether to side with the Council or the Alliance. You never got to choose whether to abandon Cerberus and work for Liara when she became the SB.

And Shepard avoided the truly ugly choices. She let Anderson take the lead on springing the Normandy. She accepted, all too quickly, Cerberus’ invitation to work for them, even in the face of clear clues that not all was right with the state of events and that Cerberus had not changed it’s stripes in the past or present. She followed the orders of Hackett, a man who had cut her loose in many ways after ME1, and ended up standing trial for events beyond her control.

Shepard, no matter which way you cut it, disgusted me in canon because the hard choices and decisions were never, ever made, until the very last minutes of the game.

I get it. Some of that is just the nature of gameplay.

But to me, the Boring Invincible Hero with no personal weakness, endless strength and willpower, and all the flaws of , say, the Hope Diamond, is just that. Boring. You never wondered if your Shepard would just crack one day. You never had your Shepard’s very ability to understand the world around them compromised on a fundamental level. Your choices were ultimately made meaningless by the simple fact that EVERY choice made Shepard a winner.

Sara Shepard is not a winner. Lethal? Yeah. Powerful? Oh yeah. Smart? Yes. Sexy? Sure.

But she’ll never be Branson. She’ll never have the charm and grace to stop the geth and quarians from fighting.