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.

Inside the Temple of Dragons with Composer Trevor Morris

Enter the iconic Ocean Way Studios in Nashville, where award-winning composer, Trevor Morris, works with strings, brass, and choir to bring the music of Dragon Age: Inquisition to life. Trevor shares his process, inspiration, and what it’s like to create a brand new voice for an established franchise.
Listen to the main theme for Dragon Age: Inquisition here.

This video was first shown to subscribers of the Dragon Age Newsletter. If you’d like to be the first to see tips, tricks, and behind the scenes material from Dragon Age: Inquisition, you can sign up here.

Happy N7 Day!

N7BlogHappyHappy N7 Day, everyone. Here’s a recap of everything that’s happened so far this week:

Watch our N7 Day developer roundtable with creative director Mac Walters, studio director for BioWare Montréal Yanick Roy, producer Mike Gamble, senior development director Chris Wynn, and producer Fabrice Condominas.

Read the bios of some of our team leads for the next Mass Effect.

You can also check out these newly released concepts from the next Mass Effect and discuss them with other fans on our facebook page.

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We also have some amazing new items in the BioWare store, and are currently offering 25% off all tees and hoodies through til November 10th.

There’s a 19” Tali’Zorah statue by artist Gurjeet Singh.

Keep Miranda and the Citadel close to your heart with these sublimated tees.

The triumphant return of the N7 faux-leather jacket.

Show off your inner Garrus and Tali with these Sherpa costume hoodies

Limited edition art from Sam Spratt.

A limited edition N7 shooter jersey from Black Milk clothing.

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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.

Casey Hudson’s Departure from BioWare/EA

CaseyFrom Aaryn Flynn, BioWare Studio General Manager

After nearly 16 years of game development at BioWare, Executive Producer Casey Hudson has made the decision to move on from BioWare and enter a new stage of his career. We thank Casey for his hard work and dedication as we look back on his time with BioWare.

Starting as a Technical Artist on Neverwinter Nights and MDK2, Casey moved into the Project Director role with 2003’s Game of the Year Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He then led the team in the development of the Mass Effect trilogy, an award-winning series that I and many others consider to be one of the most important science-fiction universes of our generation. Casey’s focus on production quality, digital acting technology, and emotionally engaging narrative has made a substantial impact on BioWare and the video game industry as a whole.

Casey shared his thoughts with his colleagues in a letter earlier today:

After what already feels like a lifetime of extraordinary experiences, I have decided to hit the reset button and move on from BioWare. I’ll take a much needed break, get perspective on what I really want to do with the next phase of my life, and eventually, take on a new set of challenges.

Though there’s never an easy time to make a change like this, I believe this is the best time for it. The foundation of our new IP in Edmonton is complete, and the team is ready to move forward into pre-production on a title that I think will redefine interactive entertainment. Development for the next Mass Effect game is well underway, with stunning assets and playable builds that prove the team is ready to deliver the best Mass Effect experience to date. And the Dragon Age: Inquisition team is putting the final touches on a truly ambitious title with some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve seen in a game.

But while I feel that the time has come, this is without a doubt the most difficult decision of my career. BioWare is as magical a place today as it was when I started. The projects we are working on are some of the most exciting and prestigious in the world. The talent in our teams is second to none. And the people here are some of my closest friends. I’ve spent more time with many of you than my own family, and I have enjoyed every day of it.”

Casey also had a message of appreciation for BioWare fans:

“Long before I worked in games, I was fascinated by their ability to transport me to places where amazing and memorable experiences awaited. When I made my very first asset that I knew would actually make it into a game (the laser bolt in MDK2!) I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to contribute in some small way to the process of creating interactive entertainment.

Now, having led the development of four major titles, I’m profoundly appreciative of the role I’ve been able to play in creating these games. The very idea that so many of you have enjoyed spending time in the worlds we’ve created is the defining achievement of my career, and it’s your support over the years that made it all possible.

Thank you.

I know that I leave our projects in great hands, and I join you in looking forward to playing them.”

As we say a fond farewell, I know I speak on behalf of the entire studio when I say that we will be forever grateful for Casey’s hard work, passion, and everything he has taught us over the years – a methodical dedication to quality, a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie, and putting fans above everything else. But most of all, Casey has challenged every one of us in the studio to be better tomorrow than we were today. It is in that spirit that as we finish Dragon Age: Inquisition, we will continue working on the next Mass Effect game and our new IP project, confident in our goals and progress.

Thank you Casey. This is not an ending, but a new beginning.