Category Archives: Brain droppings

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.