Understanding Video Games

Over the last several months, BioWare has been working with the University of Alberta to help create a massive open online course. Covering topics ranging from mechanics and story to sex and culture, Understanding Video Games explores the impact of games on society.

The 11-lesson course is available online and is free to anyone (there is an associated fee if you want to write exams and receive credit from your institution). The course features interviews and discussions with several BioWare developers, including Senior Creative Director Preston Watamaniuk, Editor Karin Weekes, and Artist Matt Rhodes.

Each lesson is broken up into a series of short interactive video modules, accompanied by readings and quiz components. No background is required; the course teaches the terminology and theoretical framework necessary for discussing and interpreting games.
Understanding Video Games launches September 3, 2014.

We’re proud to have been a part of this course, and to continue working with UAlberta to foster learning and understanding around video games.

Valentine’s Day: I Was Lost Without You

Imagine that you’re sprinting across Firebase White during a Mass Effect 3 multiplayer session. Wave after wave of Reapers fall at the hands of your friends and an unknown N7 Slayer. Now imagine that several months later, you’re walking down the aisle, about to marry the person behind that N7 Slayer. For Jameela Cameron, that’s exactly what happened.

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Jameela still clearly recalls the night of April 13, 2012. She received an invitation to play Mass Effect 3 with her friends Sean and Estevan, but wasn’t really in the mood. After some consideration, she decided to join them.

A couple of games later, another player joined their session: Tyler, a mutual friend of Sean and Estevan. “I was really quiet at first,” Jameela remembers. “I figured he’s probably a friend of theirs, but I didn’t want to talk.”

Tyler, on the other hand, had no problem breaking the ice. After engaging in a deep discussion about Mass Effect lore with the group, Tyler joked about their having nothing better to do on a Friday night and mused, “Man, we are, like, undateable.”

Little did he know that it was his sense of humor that first attracted Jameela. “I liked the fact that he could make fun of himself,” she says. “He was obviously smart, and he was very witty.”

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Picking up on the brewing chemistry between his two friends, Estevan seized the opportunity to play matchmaker in between waves of Geth Primes and Rocket Troopers. He encouraged Jameela to connect with Tyler through Facebook and sent them each text messages of praise about the other.

The two bonded quickly, and it wasn’t long before Jameela made the first move. She started signaling her interest by always being the first to revive him after he fell in battle, a luxury she did not extend to her other teammates. Eventually, she came right out and told him he was “gorgeous.”

“I don’t know what came over me that night,” she laughed. “That is not how I normally work.”

The two played until the sun came up the next morning, leading to a discussion about their options. A month later, Tyler and Jameela met in person and knew they wanted to be together. Unfortunately, a Harbinger-sized roadblock stood in their path: over 2,000 miles of distance.

As luck would have it, plans were already in motion for Tyler to move back to Michigan, a six-and-a-half hour drive from Jameela’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the meantime, overcoming time-zone differences and conflicting schedules put a lot of pressure on the young couple. They combatted those challenges with Skype video chats, playing co-op games, and texting.

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Tyler proposed to Jameela on June 22, 2012, and they set a wedding date of October 26—news that their friend Sean took to PAX Prime later that summer. While visiting the BioWare Base, Sean met lead editor Karin Weekes and shared the couple’s story.

“Sean is the nicest person, and I was so touched that he took the time to come and talk with me and tell me Tyler and Jameela’s engagement story,” Karin said. “It was the coolest feeling to have been a tiny part of the stage for the early part of their relationship (plus, I’m a complete sucker for weddings). When Sean told me their favorite characters were Garrus and Tali, I thought, ‘OK, we must have a screenshot of the Tali/Garrus hookup scene somewhere…’ Back at the studio, I tracked one down and got it printed out—the team loved the story, and everyone was really pleased to sign and send the poster to Tyler and Jameela (through Sean, the best best man ever!) for their big day!”

The gift arrived at their hotel just in time for the wedding and now hangs above the TV in their living room.

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Twenty of their closest friends and family attended the wedding that fall. Jameela walked down the aisle to Sam Hulick’s “I Was Lost Without You” (she also had the song title engraved on Tyler’s wedding ring as a surprise). For the reading of vows, they selected the accompaniment of “I’m Proud of You,” also written by Sam for the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack.

In preparation for PAX Prime in 2013, the couple got Mass Effect tattoos, paying homage to how the series had affected their lives. For Tyler, Garrus was an obvious choice. “In the Mass Effect games, I always took Garrus with me in my party,” he said. “He was a symbol of true loyalty and friendship.”

Jameela identified with Tali’s loyalty to her father and her people, even in times of disagreement. She also appreciated the quarian’s “nerdy” side, as she refers to it. “She’s cool. She can handle her own,” Jameela said of Tali. “She’s extremely smart and honorable, and that always stuck with me.”

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Nearly two years have passed since they first met, but Tyler and Jameela still make time to play Mass Effect 3 multiplayer together. In fact, they plan to celebrate the anniversary of their introduction by getting the original group back together, a tradition they hope to continue every year in addition to their wedding anniversary.

“We’ll probably celebrate both of those dates forever,” says Tyler. “Two anniversaries.”

A Reaper is Born!

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The build took copious amounts of foam, paint, and additional odds and ends, but after four weeks of extensive labor and craftsmanship, a Reaper model was born. Best we can tell, no colonies were harvested during its construction.

Meet Daniel and Justina of Denmark, creators of this awesome Reaper. Together, they are Roses and Boltshells, a prop-and-costume-building duo performing all manner of miracles in their home workshop. Their creations, showcased in their [online portfolio], are fueled by a mutual love of video games, movies, and art.

Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?

Daniel: My name is Daniel and I primarily work as a welfare and education assistant. In this role, I often get to work with roleplaying and arts and crafts. In my spare time, I like to think of myself as a prop builder, though sometimes I would even classify myself as a freelance artist. My passion is to create and build costumes and props from video games, movies, and known franchises. I often visit expos and conventions in our country with my fiancée Justina, with whom I share Roses and Boltshells, our creative outlet and possible future hobby business.

Justina:  My name is Justina, and I am interested in all sorts of geeky things, but mostly video games, sci-fi literature, and cosplay/costuming, which I have been into for five years and counting. I am also an eager convention-goer, whenever I can afford it.

We are a couple, who met each other precisely through these lovely hobbies and then decided to create a page where both of us could share our artistic expression.

How many are you and how often do you work together? Is it a hobby or a business?

Daniel: RnB consists of Justina and I. We live together and use much of our spare time creating new things. While it is primarily a hobby, it can often feel like a full-time job. In the future, it would be nice if we could make a profit off some of our work.

Justina:  We almost always work together, even when we are busy with different projects. I have learned a lot from Daniel. He has been into the whole costuming thing for longer than I have. What we do is a hobby; it is done for our own enjoyment. As delightful as it might be to think that Roses and Boltshells would one day be producing props for movies or games, I think only a very select few ever get that privilege.

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Recently you finished your Mass Effect Reaper project. What started the whole thing?

Daniel: For a long period of time, Justina insisted that I play the Mass Effect games. I had never played any of the games before, but after some Renegade persuasion, I finally played the first game. Naturally, I had to complete the whole trilogy and play many hours of multiplayer afterwards, not to mention study up on the universe, read the comics, books, etc. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with many great aspects of the universe. As I’ve always been a sucker for merchandise, it’s only natural that I went searching for a mini Reaper! Sadly, the only thing I found was both too pricey and too small. So I thought to myself: why not just build one? Four weeks later, I had a model that, size-wise, fit most popular tabletop war games.

Justina: I am a longtime fan of Mass Effect. Problem was, Daniel didn’t find the game attractive! It took a fair bit of convincing and some multiplayer, but he came around. On an occasional visit to a geek store, he suddenly came up to me with The Art of Mass Effect Universe book. He particularly admired the Reaper design, and he wanted a nice, small, creative project. That’s how the Reaper Destroyer model project was born.

How long did it take to plan, build, and assemble the Reaper?

Daniel: I started by researching the drawings and artwork as shown in the book The Art of the Mass Effect Universe. It’s a fantastic book with plenty of inspiration for model constructors, prop builders, and costume creators. After that, I made a few, rough sketches in order to segment the various parts of the model. The research and planning probably took a few days, while the building itself took close to four weeks.  

Justina: …and some painting still was literally done the night before its debut. But that’s what happens with artistic projects on deadline. You’re always sitting up late the night before.

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Can you go into detail about how the Reaper was built and what materials you used?

Daniel: When I work with costumes and props, I usually work with various kinds of foam. There was no need to change that with the Reaper. I went and bought a few supplies from our local crafts stores. I used EVA foam, cold foam, and thin yet dense craft foam. I also used a few bits and pieces I had laying around, such as paint canisters, tubing, mesh, etc. I started with the head shield, as it’s a very iconic part, and I usually need something iconic to keep my motivation going. After that, it was the more laborious task of getting the body right, with inner structures made from cold foam, outer shell made from EVA, and all the details made in craft foam. The legs are still in need of some love, but as with many costumes and props, usage means wear and tear, which in turn means further repairs. Overall, construction, paint, electronics, and effects took roughly four weeks.

Will you be adding a Normandy to keep your Reaper company?

Daniel: It would be a very nice challenge at some point, but there are already several near-perfect Normandy scale-models out there with both lights and interior detailing. It would be hard to try and outshine such awesome work, but as always, we’re up for the challenge. Though if it needs to fit scale-wise with the Reaper, I’m not quite sure our workshop (a.k.a. our living room) is big enough!

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What are your favorite characters from BioWare games and why?

Daniel: Renegade Shepard from the Mass Effect trilogy, because despite his simple methods and brutish cruelty, he often symbolizes what the oppressed, weak, and frail wish they could do. He’s a powerhouse and the ultimate badass, which is also represented by Mark Meer’s wonderful voice acting. I was also a keen fan of MDK2 back in the day. That whole trio of characters just made me smile.

Justina: Though I am planning to soon investigate Dragon Age, Mass Effect is so far the only BioWare game I have played. My favorite single player team is usually Liara and Garrus. My favorite multiplayer race is Turians—Sentinels and Infiltrators in particular.

My favorite characters in Mass Effect are Garrus and Tali, with Thane being a close third. Out of all the girls, Tali is my favorite because I can relate to her a lot. I also love the quarian suit design, which was one of the reasons Tali was my cosplay choice.

How does the future look for Roses and Boltshells? What projects do you plan to begin or finish in 2014?

Daniel: We’re currently planning Mass Effect costumes and props. We’re also making sure to plan ahead for expos and cons. If we’re lucky with local competitions, and only if, then we could win a chance to go to London MCM Expo. It never hurts to dream big ;)

Justina: I will certainly complete my Tali costume in 2014. I want to make this costume as accurate and neat as possible. I would also love to visit a few conventions as I really miss the cheerful con surroundings and meeting new, likeminded people.

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If any of our fans would like to talk about cosplay, props, or any of the other fascinating things you’ve worked with, where might they reach you?

Daniel: You can always find us online! Sadly we don’t have a real location for a workshop that you can visit, but we try to inform our friends and followers about any and all events we’re participating in. If you do spot us at a convention, never be afraid to come up and say hi. We love to meet new people and chances are we’ll talk long about some common interest. We usually visit anime expos, as those are the most frequent in Denmark. But we have plans for other events too, including the Scandinavian Sci-fi, Game & Film Convention. We’re also always open to suggestions and invitations, as long as they’re somewhat realistically priced or sponsored.

Justina:  What Daniel said. Please, if you see Roses and Boltshells somewhere: don’t be shy, come say hi! I know personally that costumers sometimes seem unapproachable, but we are a crazy fun bunch and we love likeminded people and our followers.

 

This interview has been translated from Danish. Special thanks to the BioWare Nordics community team, Tomas Hartvig and Lion Martinez.

Santas Anonymous

During the holiday season, we feel it’s important to spread cheer to children. As big kids ourselves, we know the joy of finding presents under the tree, and we want to make sure every kid can share in that feeling.

That’s why our BioWare Edmonton employees raise money every year to buy toys for Santas Anonymous. The local charity, which has operated since 1955, delivers toys to the homes of 25,000 local children aged 12 and under.

This year, we donated $3,000 in toys to the organization in the hopes that we can make a few Christmas mornings that much brighter.

For more information, see SantasAnonymous.ca.

Music:

“I Saw Three Ships”
by Matt Norris & the Moon
via Wikimedia Commons

“O Christmas Tree”
by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
via Wikimedia Commons

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

On September 10th, BioWare’s “Gamers with Gams” strutted their stuff for YWCA Edmonton’s fourth annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event, the international men’s march to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence.

Our men stuffed themselves into high heels and wobbled down to Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton to raise eyebrows, funds, and, most importantly, awareness. Participants who raised more than $150 followed through on the promise that they would shave their legs for the event, and waxing was in order for those who were lucky enough to raise over $300. Let the evidence below show that fundraising efforts were a success!

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