23 NovRaphael Sbarge Audioblog: Mark Meer Q&A Part 2

In part 2 of their Q&A, Raphael Sbarge (Kaidan, Mass Effect) and Mark Meer (Commander Shepard, Mass Effect), discuss the ME fanbase and what it's like to play a game that you're starring in.

Raphael: When you sort of approach a character—I mean, again, obviously, Shepard being kind of, in a way more down the center—but any character that you would sort of tap into … how do you find your way in? Do you use the drawing? Is there something in the writing? How do you find your hook in, to find the voice?

Mark: With aliens, and things like that, generally, yeah—the drawing will sort of inform what kind of voice you’re bringing. Especially if you’re in the early stages. As a matter of fact, I was brought in—before I was cast as Commander Shepard, I was working for BioWare on the game in the very early stages, just from concept art and everything. I was the one who decided how all the various alien races would sound—so the Turians …

Raphael: Amazing.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. So that kind of thing? Definitely, you’re using the art and what information you have about the species. For Commander Shepard, of course, it’s much different because Commander Shepard is unique as a character, in that he or she is almost completely formed by the player, and their decisions, like the background, the personality. So it’s hard to say who the definitive Commander Shepard is, because everyone’s Shepard is going to be their definitive Shepard.

Raphael: Right. Of course. But, then again, it is your voice that takes us through, right?

Mark: Of course. Yeah, yeah. And that was the challenge that faced both Jennifer and myself, is playing essentially a character who could, literally, be anything—who could be a completely noble, selfless hero, or an utterly ruthless bastard. Or anything in between.

Raphael: I’ve got a weird question, which is: Being that you’ve sort of been through the game, and you’ve, effectively, gone through every sort of tangent—all the flow charts on this, obviously, are—I can only imagine…

Mark: Yes; we used to kill a lot of trees before we moved to paperless…

Raphael: Yes, I remember those stacks.

Mark: The early days.

Raphael: But having sort of gone through all the trajectories—is it still fun to sit down and play the game? Even knowing, kind of, what might be in store?

Mark: Well, no, I usually get to play the games months after, because you know, one thing or another—work and other projects. So it’s sometimes hard to find the 40 hours or so to go through the games. So there’s usually a gap of time. Like, I haven’t actually managed to get to Mass Effect 3 yet. I’m looking forward to it, certainly. But I usually do, like, two play-throughs—one Renegade, one Paragon of each game. But I haven’t got to that yet.

So the fact that some time has passed helps. But, yeah, when you are playing … I’ve likened it in other interviews to—I’m not sure if you’ll get this reference, but being Dr. Manhattan, from The Watchmen, in that you can see the entirety of every possible future branch ahead…

Raphael: Right…

Mark: You know, I’ll be playing a mission, and realize, “Oh yeah, this is the one,” and remember all the ways it can be possibly end, and then, “Well, I’ll just be a puppet who can see the strings, going through the motions.” Yeah, yeah. So in some ways, playing a game like Mass Effect is, ultimately, like reviewing my work, as opposed to playing a game like, say … one of the Dragon Age games, where I’m some random bad guys and monsters and can sort of encounter myself, and then kill myself and move on.

Raphael: That’s fantastic. Forgive this question, but someone asked me this once, and I wondered how you might respond to this, but: Once you’re actually in the game, what is it like playing with yourself?

Mark: Well, I’m clearly too much of a narcissist to ever, ever consider playing as Jennifer. I would just want to hear my voice—that’s the other thing, is that, you know, I’m doing two play-throughs, but one is Paragon, one is Renegade. So I’m seeing different lines each time. It is an interesting sort of experience—I guess I’m used to it now. I’ve had a few years to get used to it.

But how could I not play myself when I am the main character in this video game! And I’m a nerd, so, yeah.

Raphael: Whee! Yeah, how fun. I think it’s probably everyone’s dream, right?

Mark: Yeah, it’s pretty great.

Raphael: Oh my gosh. You know, the question I have for you is just about, sort of Mass Effect in general. I mean, I, and again, you have this sort of, I think, remarkable and distinct view into this whole world because you are both sort of at the center of this game, as well as, then, also, in a way, kind of, you know, you represent part of the target audience. I mean, you are, you love these games, and you know them so intimately and vividly. And they’re important to you in a way that maybe, someone who would come and just do the work, wouldn’t be. Which makes it thrilling, I think.

But, that said, I have found … because I’m less of a gamer than you are, by far, but I’ve found the Mass Effect fans to be quite remarkable, in both their passion about what they feel is right or wrong, or their passion about these characters, or their engagement. Their level of engagement is just really high. Is that your experience? Or is it sort of more of the norm. I mean … are most games kind of like…

Mark: I mean, of course, every game has its fanbase, and every fanbase will tell you that they’re the most dedicated fanbase. I may be somewhat biased, of course, because I’ve got a connection with the Mass Effect fanbase, obviously. But I do have to say their dedication has impressed me from day one … I don’t know. There’s few other fan groups that can rival them for their passion—I would say maybe the Browncoats? The die-hard Serenity and Firefly fans?

But I think it’s the fact that BioWare has done such a great job of building such a rich universe … that people can dive into. And beyond that, the games themselves, of course, draw you into Shepard’s experience, and make it your own experience.

I was actually, when I met Seth Green, that was one of the things he mentioned. He’d never seen this kind of dedication to a relatively new franchise, and certainly among games. So, yeah, I’d have to say the Mass Effect fans are among the most dedicated. I, of course, was at Dragon*Con, and I’m sure you saw some of the costumes that Mass Effect fans had made there.

Raphael: Oh, my god, yeah. It’s incredible.

Raphael Sbarge and Mark Meer

Mark: Including a suit of armor for me. I, actually, a friend of mine, who I had known from before, David Carpenter, who does work with Evil FX Props. He builds Mass Effect armor, and I’d of course met him before, and I’d seen him in his Shepard outfit. So a few months before Dragon*Con, he got ahold of me and said, “Hey. I’ll build you a suit of armor.” So I said, “I’ll wear it in the parade.”

So I have N7 armor now. And a rifle from the game, as well. And another fan, Eric Jarman, from Jarman Props, built me a fantastic light-up Shepard helmet. So, yeah—I’m accruing quite a bit of excellent swag as a result of being in this game—all thanks to dedicated Mass Effect fans.

Raphael: So great. Just because you’ve done the 50-hour extravaganza onstage, essentially, what is the longest time that you’ve ever played an RPG game before the controls absolve from your hand, I wonder?

Mark: Oh, yeah, I do tend to do marathon sessions when I play RPGs. I gravitate towards RPGs, as opposed to other kinds of games. So yeah, I’ve certainly clocked long, long hours with the controller in my hand. I’d say up to 10-, 12-hour stretches wouldn’t be unusual, depending on what I have to do.

I’ll book some time off, and then I’ll just enter the world. And not just BioWare games—like, Fallout. Long time playing Fallout. And Red Dead Redemption. I like those open-world games, as well. They can be quite fun. Skyrim, of course, and before that, Oblivion. I like Bethesda games.

Raphael: That’s fantastic: So, 12 hours and stopping, essentially, to shove a hamburger in your mouth and just keep going, I guess, right?

Mark: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, depending on what you’re doing, you can probably eat with one hand while you, you know…

[Editor’s note: Talking over one another … something about saving the universe, I think?]

That’s the thing, well the games now, they can let you have grand adventures, but also let you do completely, you know, meaningless, bland tasks like arranging the bookshelves in your house that you bought in Skyrim. I did, literally, once spend hours doing that—arranging all the books in my house according to subject.

Raphael: I guess, is it relaxing? How is it at that point? Is it just sort of … is there order in the world?

Mark: Yeah, I guess so. Or it’s just like, ah, well, my character will just put everything nicely in his house, and put his trophies on his walls… You want your orc to have a nice house to live in.

Raphael: Absolutely!

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