Mass Effect might be last console generation’s best series. Scratch that, it is the best video game series in the past ten years. This rich space opera blends together life-like characters, political intrigue, romance, and a fight to save the galaxy. It is a hit among fans and critics alike. Whether you are a Paragon or Renegade, prefer biotics over weapons, or just liked fighting aliens, this game covered the gamut when it came to content. But how much do we know about the series?
Sure, there are fun Easter Eggs left for the gamer to find throughout the four games. We all love Mordin’s song and even sent a probe to Uranus. There are romances to explore and side quests to complete. There are even references to other BioWare games and pop culture references. Those fun surprises can be found by any gamer stumbling through a Mass Relay. You want to know what is behind the curtain and to go deeper into the lore, inspiration, and people that made this iconic series.
The Mass Effect universe holds way more secrets than you can find in any of the four games. Everything from the development of the universe, to plot lines the gamer can choose to explore all have stories to tell. There is so much more to the series, characters, and developers than even the most obsessed fans might know. So, spin up your FTL, set a course, and strap in – and try not to let these facts blow your mind, too much.
When LucasArts approached BioWare to make a Star Wars video game, they gave them two options. Either they could make a video game that took place after Episode II focusing on the Clone Wars or create a game hundreds of years before any movie ever took place. BioWare went for the latter and created Knights of the Old Republic.
Working on KOTOR gave BioWare the idea to create their own interstellar universe. They wanted to branch out and shape a universe all their own. The success of the game gave them the greenlight from EA to pursue their dream of creating their own IP. KOTOR is the best Star Wars game of all time, so no wonder BioWare was trusted to build this galaxy spanning epic.
Most voice actors of protagonists usually stick with the title character, but Mark Meer covered a range of characters throughout the series. In addition to being the voice of male Shepard, he lends his voice to a number of other major characters.
Meer is the voice of Vorcha which is kind of crazy when you think about it, as Vorcha sounds nothing like Shepard. That really shows of Meer’s range and talent. Meer is also behind Hanar, the lethargic aliens you encounter on the Citadel. You might recognize that the Catalyst “child” has a man’s and a woman’s voice layered over each other. That is because both Shepard voice actors recorded lines for it and then they were played back simultaneously to create that effect. But it doesn’t stop there! As the games went on, Meer recorded for even more characters proving he is one very talented voice actor.
Not to pour more salt on the wound, but the developers did have plans to see one aspect of the story end in a satisfying way. The original idea was for your crew to heroically make that last charge with you and die in the process. Admittedly this would have created tons of drama, would have been a perfect end for this rag tag crew, and also would have made gamers weep uncontrollably.
It would have been emotional and fitting to see each crew member not only sacrifice their life for the galaxy and all the races, but for Shepard. It could have been a moment where each crew member finally addressed the long-standing fear they all had, while Shepard was going to be the one to save us all. Only Shepard can do it and that would mean they would probably die in the process. This end would have elevated the series more and might have lessened the blow back from the original ending.
After Mass Effect was released, diehard fans could not shut up about how they wanted Garrus to be a romance option going forward. However, the developers had no plans for this at all. Garrus was meant to be a hardened soldier and if you wanted alien romances, the developers tried to provide that with the other crew members. That wasn’t enough for these fans.
Gamers who do pursue the Garrus romance have fan art to thank for showing the developers the want and need for this relationship. The Mass Effect creative director admitted that seeing the fan art and fan fiction about Shepard and Garrus made them rethink the relationship and write it into Mass Effect 2. This is one of those rare moments in video game history where the fans not only got what they wanted, but it added a layer of depth to two characters the developers were not even thinking about.
Speaking of fan art, the developers enjoyed looking all the fan created pieces during the development of Mass Effect 2 and 3. The developers admit that it comes from a curiosity to know more about the fans and how they see the series.
What developer isn’t curious what people think of their characters? Fan art is such a huge facet to gaming culture that many fans make a living off of creating original works. As mentioned above, fan art can even influence the developers to change future games. BioWare openly discussing fan art shows a very human side to the video game process. Once a game is published, it takes on a life of its own and the creators can sit back and watch where it all goes.
Fans of Extraterrestrials might have thought the Salarian race looked a little familiar upon seeing them the first time. That is because BioWare artists based the race off the little grey guys from Area 51. Hoever, they are much taller and more colorful than the race they are based off. The developers focused the Salarians’ society around science to match the Greys’ association with advanced technology which appears throughout pop culture.
If the big foreheads and giant eyes weren’t a dead giveaway for you, then you probably didn’t know that Mordin was based off Clint Eastwood’s weathered mug. From the scars on his face from battle to how Mordin purses his lips, it is hard to unsee. You might want to think twice before demanding the cure for the Genophage from Mordin next time. Or do you feel lucky, punk?
Mass Effect 3 ends on a somber note. I’m not talking about the three or four choices you can take to stop the Reapers, but the scene where an old man and a young boy look up at the stars and talk about tales of “The Shepard.” You may not have recognized the voice at the time, but it was one of the most famous space explorers in our galaxy, Buzz Aldrin.
While you can certainly argue, it wasn’t the best acting Buzz has done, as that goes to his appearance on 30 Rock for sure. Regardless, Buzz’s inclusion in the Mass Effect universe is a nice bookend to the series. The second man to ever walk on the Moon reminiscing about a Herculean type hero in the Mass Effect universe is pretty cool, as most people talk about Aldrin with the same respect. I’m not sure how Aldrin would have fared against the Geth and the Reapers though, and who knows what choice he would have made when he reached the Catalyst.
Romance is a big part of BioWare games, as it allows players to fully immerse themselves into the characters’ lives. Over the years, they have honed the depth and authenticity each romance option can reach. But developing romances through the player’s interaction is only one facet to this, as player inaction can cause romance as well.
If you forgo romancing both Tali and Garrus, you will walk in on the two of them getting together. Well, they were not going to spend three games waiting around for you to flirt with them! The end of civilization is imminent, so why not take a chance on a Turian-Quarian romance? In the Citadel DLC, Ashley and Vega hook up if you don’t show any interest in either of them. Heck, engineers Gabby and Ken couple up too. The crew can have just as much fun as Shepard.
That’s right, the original name was something a little blander. The first game was originally called “Science Fiction X.” Thank God, they changed it. That sounds like something out of a 1940s pulp fiction magazine. and it does not capture the impact this series has had on media and gaming.
The only problem was the developers kept that name so long that they didn’t want to change it. They even thought of shortening it to “SFX.” However, then the developers came up with ten finalists for a new name and the rest is history. Mass Effect won out over the other names because the game is built around the energy fields that drive most of the technology. The name just made sense when you think about it. Name it after the most powerful thing in the universe. Also, the choices and missions the gamer influences have a “Mass Effect” on the galaxy. They got a two for one deal with that title change.
Ever since gamers first encountered the Quarians, specifically Tali, they have wanted to see the face under the mask. Fans know the Quarians’ home world was overrun by the AI they developed, the Geth. They have since been nomadic people traveling through space in a large armada. Since they no longer live in their homeworld’s atmosphere, they need to wear special suits to thrive in other environments. Naturally, we all wanted to see what was under the hood.
Well, the developers had plans to do so in Mass Effect 3, but abandoned it for the final game. You can have a complete romance with Tali in the series, but you can never see her face or any Quarian’s face for that matter. It left a lot of gamers feeling cheated. I guess there is always fan art depicting what Quarians could look like.
Cinema buffs might have thought Edi looked familiar and that is because the developers based her model on Maria from the 1927 classic Metropolis. The film was the first of its kind, blending science fiction and modern day social commentary. The Fritz Lang silent film showed the plight of a society in a dystopian future in the far away year of 2026 (which is not so far anymore).
In the film, Maria’s consciousness is transferred to the icon robot, much like Edi’s was in Mass Effect. A lot of parallels between the film and the game series can be drawn. Metropolis tackles the plight of the working class struggling to get by while the rich seem unconcerned. Mass Effect deals with organic versus synthetic life and if both can coexist peacefully together. Metropolis not only served as a base model for the developers to draw from artistically, but the film’s themes also apply to the Mass Effect series.
Cerberus was the big bad baddies that knew all about the Reapers’ plans and Indoctrination, so it would have been fitting to take out their boss to save the galaxy. When Shepard encounters The Illusive Man on the way to the Catalyst, gamers had that feeling of gearing up for one last fight with Cerberus. Then it never happened. The developers did originally have the fight to save the galaxy run right through The Illusive Man. In the end, they thought better of it.
What turned the developers off to the idea was how similar it was to the Saren fight from Mass Effect 1. Couple that with a really video gamey feel, so they opted for an intense dialogue scene showing The Illusive Man’s total surrender to Indoctrination. The scene over all fits the emotional and all encompassing end BioWare was going for. But having a short action scene between Shepard and The Illusive Man would have been a nice cathartic end to the employer-employee relationship.
That’s right, it cost $40 million to make the last game in the series. Now it isn’t as much as some Hollywood blockbusters that hit $100 million or higher, but it is no small amount of change. They had to drop more money than any previous Mass Effect game because everything had to be right from the improved mechanics, better graphics, and the over the top expectations.
Developers don’t like releasing total budget figures for several reasons, with the obvious one being that you can then measure how much of a success or failure a AAA game was. With that in mind, trying to find final budget estimates on the first two games is tough.
Clint Mansell is a well known composer in Hollywood, but he made the jump to video games with Mass Effect 3. Jack Wall was the composer for the first two games, but he stepped aside to allow Mansell to create the best soundtrack of the series.
It was Mansell’s first video game and he admitted he was excited to expand his horizons and try new types of media. Fans of Mansell’s work know him from his work with Darren Aronofsky on Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan. BioWare wanted a big impact soundtrack to go with their trilogy ending game and they got it from Mansell. I think I know where some of that $40 million went and it was money well spent.
Mark Vanderloo is a Dutch model who has had some remarkable success in his modeling career. He even was the face of Hugo Boss since 2005, but take one look at him and gamers will think one thing, Shepard.
Unlike the other character models and voice actors from the games, Vanerloo has never appeared in any of the promotional materials for the games. He has also never attended a public event in support of Mass Effect. He is on record refusing to appear in full N7 armor at a cosplay event. It is safe to say that he was the inspiration for Shepard, but that is all the contact Vanderloo wants with BioWare and the Mass Effect franchise. It's really a shame because we would all love it if he wore that armor just once. Then we would shut up about it.