Liara’s new look

Even though Mass Effect‘s Liara Tsoni was probably conceived as an object of titillation, the character is one with a far deeper personality than many a video game heroine. The promiscuity of her race and the fact she’s not too bothered which sex takes an interest in her didn’t tempt BioWare design her as an object purely for the camera to linger over her curvatures. That’s what Miranda is for. So why then has the company commissioned Kotobukiya to make a Bishoujo (meaning cute girl in Japanese) version of the space sorcerer, turning a military ally into little more than a pair of boobs?

Yesterday, BioWare released three images of an unfinished Liara statue on their official Facebook page (via Kotaku) and want fans to give feedback on how it’s looking. So far, the response hasn’t been good. Many share the same feelings as I do and are confused as to why an anime version exists at all and disappointed that it’s made a favoured member of the Normandy a bit of a joke. I’m not sure what BioWare expected but it probably wasn’t the negativity they’re currently receiving. But then again, these aren’t for the western market and it’s the East, particularly Japan, where figurines like this are really quite popular. However, with estimated sales of the franchise being under 1 million units in Japan, I wonder if the avid Bishoujo fan would know or care who she is.

BioWare’s massive effect on the female gamer

Having only ever played the Mass Effect series as a male character, I’ve only ever heard the celebrated voice work of Jennifer Hale, who plays female Commander Shepard, on the odd occasion. But word is Hale out performs her male counterpart and has done so relatively unnoticed by the majority of players so far. Because the games give you the choice to change pretty much all aspects of Shepard from appearance to attitude, BioWare had to design a default character to work on advertising campaigns and box art and until now, it’s always been a dude. But for the third game, the company have begun including the default female Shepard and so far she’s been spotted in a trailer and collector’s edition packaging with BioWare marketing chief, David Silverman, saying there could be more of her to come.

In an interview with VG247, Silverman discussed the debate over male and female Shepard and rattled of a few statistics to boot. Like how only 13 per cent of players use the default Shepard with the rest opting to make changes as they see fit. In total, 18 per cent of gamers will play Mass Effect as a female so whether or not Hale provides the brilliant performance that she does, it starts to look less like stereotyping and sexism that the male Shepard has always been the hero. Not to say that perception can’t change or at least make way for a co-hero. As Silverman points out in the interview, the games industry is lacking in strong female leads so the fact Mass Effect has one is worthy of celebration. But not just because she’s voiced by a talented actress but because a female Shepard represents a quality that BioWare are masters of; giving players choice. Despite a few angry forum posters, gender and indeed the choice of sexuality is something BioWare, for the most part, treat with a great deal of respect. In Mass Effect 3, players can now choose for their male Shepard to be gay which was only reserved for the female Commander in the first two games. Hopefully the implementation will be as humorous as it is poignant since most male Shepard players only chased women in Mass Effect 1 and 2.

On the subject of sexuality, Silverman defended BioWare’s inclusions of the many, many, butt shots and general curvature close-ups of Miranda in Mass Effect 2. Being a guy, I wasn’t overly bothered by them though did find them a tad gratuitous but according to VG247, female players were less than impressed. Silverman insisted the shots were necessary: “The fact is, some characters are defined by their attractiveness, such as a woman who is genetically engineered to be perfect. Camera angles help tell the story and portray key aspects of each character – in Miranda’s case, her curves and sexuality. We had similar shots of Jacob.” I didn’t notice the scenes of Jacob but arguably I wasn’t really looking. While I fully understand the fact that Miranda was meant to be ‘perfect’ so showing off her various curves helped get that point across, I can’t help but think the angles were mainly conceived to show off a nice butt. Now the adolescent heterosexual in me may be shouting “Yay, bum!” but if I listened to him for too long, I’d only be playing Dead or Alive games.

Free Mass Effect comics!

Next week is San Diego’s Comic Con and among the cosplayers and artistry will be a couple of dudes from BioWare and Legendary talking about the Mass Effect movie. With no cast or director officially on board the expectations are possible announcements of who these will be and maybe even a few pieces of concept art. Something a little more substantial regarding the extended fiction of Mass Effect is happening today however with every digital comic based off the franchise being available for free on the Dark Horse website. The offer ends tonight at 11pm BST which may seem like plenty of time but the scurry of fans trying to download their freebies has actually caused a few issues with the site. At the moment, it’s only partially loading though so you may want to keep refreshing now and again for that magic moment of calm before another inevitable storm of interest.

I already have one of the comics series, Redemption, set before Mass Effect 2 telling the story of Liara and her ill-fated partner who becomes part of the Shadow Broker storyline in the game. The second series on offer is Evolution following the rise of the Illusive Man though without Martin Sheen’s voice, I wonder if he’s as cool. Lastly – yep, there are only three bundles of comics so far – is a seven-page teaser of Invasion, a series linked to Mass Effect 3. The full comic will be out later this year but Dark Horse and BioWare felt like wetting our whistles with a peek.

Novels and comics based on video games goes back as far as I can remember but the newer books, especially the Mass Effect tie ins, are the most worthy of reading. After finishing the first game I picked up Revelation written by Drew Karpyshyn, head writer at BioWare and really enjoyed the tone and pace of the book. Since then I must admit, I’ve not invested as much time video game books as I’d like so a promotion like this, giving away easily digestible chunks of story is greatly appreciated.

The spirits within Mass Effect

I must be in a very small group of people who actually enjoyed Square Enix’s CGI flop, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within but at least some of the people in my gathering include BioWare’s art team. Derek Watts, Mass Effect 3’s art director, chatted with Xbox World 360 magazine about the franchise’s influences which pretty much owes a lot to the 2001 movie.

“Yeah, you know we actually reference a lot from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. We used a lot of their GUIs and the way they did their ship – that was kind of like in some of the early designs for the Normandy.” Of course! It’s so obvious once it’s pointed out! The funky holographic GUIs on Shepard and his (or her) compadres look a lot like those in the film. Blade Runner is the usual comparison but come to think of it, that’s a bit too gritty. Watts wasn’t shy of just how much he and his team use Final Fantasy as a well for concepts: “Our attack helicopters are loosely based off that movie. There’s some great stuff, especially their glowing GUI screens; we used those a lot. I keep a folder of that stuff and I still actually tell the guys ‘just go back and look at that. Change it like that!'”

What particularly tickles me about an off-shoot of the Final Fantasy franchise is how the end of Mass Effect 2 made me cancel my pre-order of Final Fantasy XIII. I completed an incredibly action orientated sci-fi space opera that still resinates to this day and shortly after began watching a new trailer for the Japanese RPG. The complete difference in style and execution left me wondering if a traditional JRPG was the kind of game I wanted to play at that moment in time (I have played it since then…). So to think one of the reason why I love the Mass Effect series – its art – is so heavily influenced by a frequently ridiculed aspect of Final Fantasy amuses me so!

Prey 2, the Boba Fett story

Human Head’s Prey 2 was announced late last week to a fanfare of “Wha?!” from gamers who thought they’d seen the last of Tommy and the sphincter corridors he navigated in the first game. Turns out they were half right. The first chunks of info have been revealed in Game Reactor and conveniently translated via one NeoGaf user who states that Tommy has been replaced by one Killian Samuels, a sheriff and prison guard. That may explain the funky get up seen in early promo imagery (seen above). Xbox 360 will be the lead SKU but a PC and PS3 version is also in the works and has been for three years using an updated version of id Tech 4.

Since Prey was, to over simplify it, Doom with portals and gravity manipulation so the guess would be that Prey 2 furthers those ideas. However the game’s producer said Kilian’s adventure is heavily inspired by Mirror’s Edge with a dash of Mass Effect, The Chronicles of Riddick and Blade Runner for good measure. It sounds as if Human Head are pulling lots of mechanics from different games because the article claims you’ll be doing battle in large scale arenas comparable to Assassin’s Creed II, utilising shadows for stealth kills or popping in and out of a Killzone or Vanquish-like cover system. The Mirror’s Edge inspiration comes from Killian’s skills in Parkour and the world is said to have the freedom of Mass Effect.

Tommy hasn’t been forgotten so to speak because Prey 2 will take place along side the first game. It begins (spoiler!) pretty much at the start of Prey 1 but has you playing as Killian rather than the stereotyped native American. Human Head gave a Star Wars analogy to the storyline saying: “If the first Prey was the Luke Sywalker version of the story, Prey 2 is Bobba Fett’s story”. So does that mean the rumours of Prey 2‘s protagonist being a bounty hunter are true also? Oh an there won’t be any multiplayer either since the developers prefer to focus on making a stella single player game instead of adding a half-baked multiplayer mode, “Who would pick the MP mode of Prey 2 ahead of the one in for example Halo Reach?” they said.

Prey 2 sounds good. Really good and draws its influence from a lot of great games. It’s not expected until some time next year which gives plenty of time for the hype to build but seeing as Prey 2 will almost definitely be providing an experience completely different from the first game, why make it a sequel and not a new IP? It’s not as if Prey was a big name in gaming back in 2006. Good yeah but not something you’d expect to receive this kind of treatment. Hey, I’m not knocking what Prey 2 could become just find it a little perplexing. But whatever, this game, regardless of its lineage, has got me already psyched for a 2012 title. Well done you!

Mass Effect 3’s swan song

This year’s, or possibly this decade’s, favourite movie composer, Clint Mansell, has confirmed in an interview with Quietus (via Badass Digest)that he’ll be writing the score for Mass Effect 3. When asked whether he’d consider composing video games his response was: “I’m doing a video game this year actually. Mass Effect 3,” adding “I’m definitely interested in different outlets – that’s one of the reasons I get involved in short films. It’s not so much that I can experiment as it is to be in a situation where nobody’s looking over your shoulder. Short films are usually made by young people and they’ve got ideas I can bounce off. They can take me in a different direction.”

Mass Effect 3 will be Mansell’s the first video game soundtrack and it comes with an awful lot of pressure to get it right. The original Mass Effect had a phenomenal score from large scale set pieces all the way down to three-second bursts. Inspired by Blade Runner, Jack Wall was behind the music and BioWare brought him back for Mass Effect 2 though the sequel changed direction becoming less memorable and subsequently less popular. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a fantastic game soundtrack as Wall is one of the best video game composers, just not quite as noteworthy as the first.

With Mansell’s previous work including Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, it’ll be interesting to see what a major Hollywood player can bring to the holographic table of Mass Effect 3. He certainly understands how music in games works: “With something like Mass Effect you’re more like a DJ, with all these elements. You’ve got the holding pattern, then the big explosion where you need the score to kick in. Then you need to take it off on a tangent. You’ve got all these different elements that change depending on what the player does. You have to figure out an overall symphony, but be able to break it down into component parts. You can bring the pain when required.”

Nom nom Dragon Age nom II

The release of Dragon Age II is almost upon us with only a month or so left to wait. As with all games, the ESRB who rates games for the appropriate audiences, have updated their site (via Video Game) detailing the kinds of things that can be expected. It’s a Mature game, so 18 in the UK and features “Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Content and Violence.” Nothing new eh? Sounds like the description to Dragon Age: Origins. Dismemberment and copious amounts of blood splatter are yet more inclusions that aren’t out of place in a BioWare fantasy game in fact, Dragon Age is known for coating characters in blood even when fighting rats.

That’s all fine, sure some would like these types of games banned for their gore but the biggest upset to those with an overly moral statue comes when any kind of sexual encounter is mentioned, especially same-sex couples. Rockstar’s Bully caused a stink when the main character could engage in the act of kissing with another boy and Dragon Age: Origins raised a few eyebrows because it allowed players to be gay (heaven forbid!) Again, thankfully, such dated critics tend to get ignored by the majority but BioWare are tempting them out of silence with Dragon Age II and its fellatio scene. Yep, in between slaying all kinds of nasties, players can find alternative ways to unwind with a chosen mate: “In one cutscene, a woman kneels in front of a male character and appears to perform fellatio – there is no depiction of the sex act; the camera pans out to the rest of the room. The words ‘a*s,’ ‘bastard,’ and ‘sh*t’ appear in dialogue.” Lets be clear, there is NO depiction of the act just the suggestion though the fact that one of the two begins cursing up a storm would indicate something isn’t quite right…

This seems to be a move forward for BioWare who, in Mass Effect, showed some side-boob and a love scene similar to any prime time TV show. In the first Dragon Age the sex was toned down and Mass Effect 2, although full of clever camera angles to show off Miranda’s ‘best side’, was relatively tame with its bedroom gymnastic scene. The usual kissing and cuddling ending in two people laying in bed has always been the acceptable way of including sex but anything else, like fellatio, tends not to be part of it. ESRB’s description sounds as if BioWare are keeping the adult themes classy so not too rattle anyone’s cage and make a case for sex in games not to be a churlish mini-game. Greg Zeschuck and Ray Muzyka, the top guys at BioWare, have always expressed their interest in making adult focused video games and this to me seems like another step towards that and should be applauded. Just wash your hands first.