Building a Character: Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi

Krem

(Note: This article contains spoilers for the Iron Bull’s character arc up to his personal plot, but not including it. If you’ve already had drinks with the Bull’s Chargers, nothing in here should be spoiled for you.)

The Idea
A couple years ago, BioWare did a BioWare Base panel on LGBTQ representation in our games at PAX. We heard concerns, praise, and a lot of heartfelt discussion about how we present characters from the LGBTQ community. One of the most repeated requests was for representation of transgender and/or genderqueer characters in a way that did not make them either a monster or a joke. When the panel was over, some of us kicked around ideas about what we could do.

Talking over drinks at the bar later, we hit two major challenges. First, any conversation about the subject had to come up naturally in-game. A minor character like a shopkeeper would have no reason to explain that she is trans, so either the conversation would never come up or it would come up because her voice was clearly masculine, at which point it would look like a joke to most players, no matter how we tried to write it. Second, the character had to serve a purpose beyond “being there to be a genderqueer person.” Every character in our game serves a purpose—reinforcing the theme of a plot, character, or area—and we do not have the budget for someone who is just there to tick off a box.

As we discussed ideas, the possibility came up of Iron Bull’s lieutenant being such a character. Bull needed a lieutenant. He’s a mercenary commander, and even if we didn’t have the memory budget to have his entire company around all the time, I needed to be able to remind players that Bull has a history of command. In addition, Bull’s loyalty is pulled between life under the Qun and a life of freedom, and I needed a character on each side who could represent that pull.

Cremisius “Krem” Aclassi met both challenges. His conversation could come up naturally, along with discussions of life as a mercenary, and he could serve a vital role in the story as a grounding force who would remind the player that Bull is more than just hired muscle. Krem’s status as a trans man, rather than being just tacked on, could emphasize Bull’s character by opening up discussions of Qunari gender roles.

The Execution
Once we had decided what we wanted to do, we tackled the concept of Krem with other departments to figure out how to do it correctly. In doing so, we saw how much of our game’s engine was based on set gender assignments, from voice to face to animation set to localization plan for foreign languages. Every single department stepped up enthusiastically to make sure that Krem was created with respect. Colleen Perman gave Krem his fantastic face using the character art team’s head-morph system, John Epler nailed his animation and body language, Caroline Livingstone and Jennifer Hale found a great voice for a trans man in a world without access to transitional procedures, and Melanie Fleming made absolutely certain that Krem was gendered appropriately in all languages.

On the writing side, I wrote Krem as best I could, and the editing team looked at every line and cleaned up dialogue and paraphrases that could give the wrong impression. I then passed him to two friends in the GQ community… at which point they showed me where I was absolutely messing things up and gave me constructive feedback on how to improve. In the first draft, Bull was the one who brought up Krem’s binding as a friendly joke. My friends pointed out how incredibly hurtful such a callout was for many trans people in real life (“Hey, by the way, you’re actually a woman, just wanted to remind you!”) and that it made Bull into an incredibly offensive jerk. This was not at all what I wanted—people playing now will note that Bull and Krem give each other grief about little things all the time, but never attack truly sore spots—and I rewrote the scene so that Krem is the one who brings it up first. This makes it clear that Krem is comfortable discussing being trans, and the player will not be offending Krem by asking questions about it.

In the investigate hub where you can ask Krem about his past in Tevinter, the first draft had him deserting after fighting off someone who discovered his secret and tried to assault him. My friends noted that this played directly into the sad “attacked trans person” cliché, and while it was plausible, it was an ugly event that could well trigger trans people who have experienced harassment in real life. The goal was for Krem to be a positive character who was living his life happily now, and I revised his departure from Tevinter accordingly.

(Very few writers enjoy talking about things they messed up in their first drafts, and I am no exception. That said, I am hugely grateful to my friends for helping me avoid some obvious-in-retrospect mistakes. Their help was amazing, and any stuff that still bothers people is on me and me alone.)

The Reception
We are all proud to have brought Krem to life in the game, and seeing people in the genderqueer community respond positively to him has been wonderful. We are also listening to feedback on how we can improve with characters in the future. (For example, some trans folks feel I wrote the player choices to be too clueless or uninformed, and wished for options to speak from more personal experience. I’ve heard the feedback, and I intend to do better next time.) It would be a lie to say that this was as easy as creating any other human character—it was uncharted territory for all of us on both the technical and the artistic side—but it was worth the extra effort. The world of Dragon Age has room for people of all backgrounds and identities, and it was a pleasure to show that in one more way.

Same-Sex Relationships in Mass Effect 3

Same-sex romances have been part of previous BioWare games, but until now, these romance-option characters could be attracted to a player character of either gender. Mass Effect 3 characters Samatha Traynor and Steve Cortez represent the first time BioWare has written full romances that are exclusively for same-sex characters. Patrick Weekes and Dusty Everman wrote these relationships and talk about their experiences here.

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Reputation in Mass Effect 3

Although our main job focus is developing plots and characters and writing dialog, most writers at BioWare also work on other tasks, such as galaxy map logic and planet descriptions (Chris Hepler), enemy combat barks (Jay Watamaniuk), or embarrassing me at Vanguard (Sylvia Feketekuty). One system I’ve worked on over all three Mass Effect titles is the reputation system – and, like most of our systems, it has found some improvement in Mass Effect 3.

What is it?

Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Over the course of a war raging across the galaxy, you are going to do a few things that catch people’s attention. And if your reputation gets impressive enough, people who would otherwise ignore you are going to take you seriously when you say something like, “I will wipe out your entire species unless you put the gun down.” Having a powerful reputation unlocks dialog options that wouldn’t be otherwise available, usually with better results than the normal options would offer.

Sometimes, Reputation carries a Paragon or Renegade connotation. Paragon actions are usually about building alliances, obeying galactic law, and basing decisions on sympathy and trust. Renegade actions usually involve a pragmatic, results-focused approach, breaking laws or taking extreme steps as required to get the job done.

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Turrets: An Informed Debate

Point: Oh Crap, a Turret.

by Chargina McCharge, Alliance N7

CHAAAAAAARGE! Aaaaand Nova aaaaand Melee and wooo, how do you like that, Cerberus flunkie? Oh man, I am CARRYING this wave. I am in the ZONE. I just wish I weren’t halfway across the map from those goofballs riding my coattails, because it’s sad that they can’t see how well I’m doing right now.

Well, looks like they disabled Device Number 3. Man, we’ve only got a minute left. Maybe I should stop drawing aggro and help out. Hey, the last one is right over there just across the street. Cool! All right, guys, no worries, I’m on this one!

Oh crap, a turret.

No no no ow crap stop YES I KNOW MY BARRIERS ARE DOWN, okay, cooldown done, let’s take this thing out! Chaaaaaaarge! Nova!

Oh no, it didn’t go through knockback. It’s still firing. And I don’t have any barriers MELEE MELEE MELEE–

Oh no. It’s all red. The little health countdown is ticking down. Looks like I’m sitting out the rest of the–

Wait, who is that? Don’t come over to revive me! Take out the turret first! Don’t you see the – stay away, IT’S A TRAP!

No, the team hasn’t flatlined! Don’t say that! Maybe someone’s got some medigel, or…

Nooooooooo!

Damn you, turret. Damn you to hell.

 

 

Counterpoint: Hello, New Friends!

by Archon V Automated Sentry Turret, SN# CERB-1337

 

Hello, new friends! I’m a turret!

I am the Archon V Automated Sentry Turret! My creator calls me AVAST for short. He says that it sounds like a pirate! Do you like pirates?

My creator used to carry me on his back. I was up so high, but I could not say hello to any new friends. Then he put me down and told me that it was time to grow big and strong and say hello to anyone I see who doesn’t have a Cerberus-authenticated friend-or-foe combat VI signature.

I am very small, but even small things can make a big difference. I am a good helper.

I love saying hello to all my new friends!

My purpose is to say hello to them at approximately 1200 rounds per minute until they fall over and go to the happy place. My creator went to the happy place shortly after he put me down. He went around a corner, and a new friend ran into him very fast.

Now that new friend is coming toward me! Does she want to be my friend?

I am feeling shy. I will sit here very quietly. Maybe she will go somewhere else. I will be sad if she does, because I love saying hello, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She might have other things to do besides making friends with such a small thing like me.

Maybe she does not even like to say AVAST like a pirate.

Oh, here she comes! She DOES like me! She wants to be my friend!

Hello new friend! Hello new friend! Hello new friend!

She’s charging at me! Her hugs feel like sunshine! Hello new friend! Hello new friend! And now she has fallen over and gone to the happy place! Yay!

I am good at making friends! I don’t have to be shy at all!

Here comes another person who lacks a Cerberus-authenticated friend-or-foe combat VI signature! He is running toward my new friend! I bet he is saying, “She has gone to the happy place already! Who is the nice person who helped her do it? I wish I could go to the happy place!”

He is running so fast that he doesn’t even see me!

Hello new friend! Hello new friend! Hello new friend!

Now everyone is happy! Avast! Arr!

Team Vanguard & Happy Turret by Sara (aka Mwar).

Discuss this!

Mass Effect: Special Forces Trailer

So Your Friend is a Vanguard
Patrick Weekes

 

You’ve finally gotten your hands on the Mass Effect 3 demo, including the new and exciting multiplayer. You start a match, invite your friends, and get ready to lay your enemies to waste with an awesome four-player combination of skills — overloading their shields, blasting through their armor, biotically tearing them apart at the molecular level, or, as in my wife’s case, clubbing them to death with your rifle.

 

You’ve taken a defensible position. A Singularity is blocking the side doorway to keep you from getting flanked. Everyone is ready to turn the street ahead into a veritable killzone as soon as the enemy comes around the corner.

 

And then your friend zips halfway across the battlefield in a burst of blue light like Leroy Jenkins and you’re all left sitting there going, “Umm… so… should we run after her?”

 

Don’t panic! Everything is going to be fine. You’re just experiencing a common condition known to the BioWare Dev Team as “Someone’s Playing a Vanguard.” And we can help you through it.

 

Step One: ABC: Always Be Carnaging

 

If you’re a polite and respectful player, as I assume that anyone playing a game in the Mass Effect franchise is, you likely frown on firing weapons at your allies. So when you’re hosing down a Warp-stunned Cerberus trooper with an assault rifle, it can be disconcerting to see your friend suddenly rocket into your line of fire as she charges your target. Your first instinct might be to go, “Whoah, sorry, Sylvia, I’ll stop firing!”

 

Do not stop firing.

 

In the technological era of Mass Effect, the same advanced user interface that highlights enemies and displays your squadmate’s names automatically adjusts weapons fire precision targeting to prevent inadvertent friendly fire incidents. Or in layman’s terms: you cannot hurt your friend by firing at her. (We verified this fact when my friend insisted that my wife try to Warp her, to no effect.)

In fact, given that she may have charged into a group of four or five heavily armored Cerberus troopers, your friend might even appreciate a hail of gunfire coming her way.

 

Once you get used to this, you can even start using your vanguard friend as an advanced targeting system. Can’t quite see where the enemy is off in the distance? Cerberus shock troops obscuring the battlefield with smoke grenades? Well, if you’re having trouble seeing the enemy, remember that every time the vanguard charges, she’s charging at an enemy. Therefore, logically, wherever she ends up, there must be an enemy nearby.

 

So just keep shooting at your friend. It will work out for the best.

 

Step Two: Wakeboard the Rhinoceros

 

Having a vanguard in your squad completely changes the nature of the battle. As an infiltrator, you’ll find that a lot of formerly hunched-down enemies now have a tendency to stand up with startled exclamations of “My goodness, where did she come from and why is she elbowing me in the kidney?”, offering you a chance for an easy head-shot. As an adept, you’ll find that the vanguard tends to attract enemies into nice Singularity-able clumps. As an engineer, you’ll find it easy to think of your vanguard friend as a slightly less-controllable version of your combat drone, annoying your enemies and getting them to shoot at something that isn’t you.

 

However, you will also notice that your vanguard friend, in her enthusiasm at charging headlong into the enemy ranks, may have left a few things unresolved back behind her. Things like the assault trooper who still has a bit of health left, or the sniper who just took down your shields, or the three guys with riot shields who have you surrounded and are giving a Taiko drumming demonstration with their shock batons.

 

In these cases, remember that your friend is essentially a charging rhinoceros. She is wreaking havoc upon the enemy ranks, disrupting people who might try to set up turrets or find a perfect cover location, and generally being the most shootable thing on the battlefield.

 

Your job is to follow along behind that rhinoceros (as closely as you can given your inability to instantly charge to the nearest enemy) and clean up these little straggly bits. Kill anything she can’t reach, and as noted above, keep shooting at the things around her. Abilities that stun enemies also offer the vanguard a fun and easy charge target, and a charge target lets her refresh her shields and continue her quest to be the thing that enemies shoot at instead of you.

 

Stay too far back, and you leave her exposed to enemies that can target her at long range, like snipers. You also risk being too far away to help her if she goes down. You also also risk letting her kill all the bad guys herself and mock you.

 

Step Three: It’s Not Kill-Stealing, It’s Kill-Helping

 

At some point, you will be good enough to be concerned about the fact that you had finally gotten that sniper’s shields down and were about to unload a Warp bomb of epic proportions only to have your friend charge in and shotgun them to death before zipping off to a few assault troopers that will be dead by the time you reach them.

 

For right now, just say “Thank you,” and move along.

 

Conclusion

 

Watching your friend play a vanguard will always raise questions. Questions like, “You’re aware that the Atlas you just charged still has shields, right?” or “Did you not see the turret over there?” or “Do you seriously expect me to get past two snipers, a phantom, and a guy with a riot shield and revive you?” But with this helpful guide, it can nevertheless be a fun and worthwhile experience for everyone.

 

Until she zips out and leaves you surrounded by husks. That’s just uncalled for.

 

Playing the Vanguard: A Measured Counterpoint
Sylvia Feketekuty, Vanguard Expert

 

Hahaha I don’t know why you haven’t tried Vanguard yet, this is awesome. Watch, you can solo an Atlas if you don’t get too close to it when it

 

Rez pls

Rez

Right by the atlas and turret

Phantom too

Rez?

 

Discuss this (Opposing Forces Trailer)!

Discuss this (So Your Friend is a Vanguard)!