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The Home of the Cyber Shark(s)

BBBAAAAAWWWWW is the sound they make…. that's descriptive enough, right?

Having just come off of beating Mass Effect in… like… a week… I felt like I had to write something here about BioWare. I felt compelled, because I realized that, of the few games of BioWare’s I have played, I’ve noticed something: the story is all the same.

Of course, this is hardly BioWare’s fault. I’d go so far as to call it their genius. See, you can do a lot with a storyline that is tried and true – a group of rebels over coming an evil empire? This is hardly a new idea, but there are any number of novels, movies, and video games that tackle this subject, and some manage to do it well – Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Final Fantasy VI are the first things to come to my mind. What comes to yours?

BioWare’s genius doesn’t lie in the story itself, but in the telling of the story.

First of all, it doesn’t hurt, at all, that BioWare employs writers; there is an entire group of people working on BioWare games that have nothing to do with administrative work, or coding, or QA: their job is to craft a brilliant story that people are going to want to play. Rule number one to that is have the story have a familiar shape (hence the “save the world” trope).  Rule number two is to have believable and engaging characters that the players can connect to, especially the main character.

It’s a brilliant move for BioWare to hire writers, because, as something of a writer myself, people often take the ease of writing a good story for granted (plus it’s more people to pay, and any industry wants to cut down on costs as much as possible). It’s not that no one can write  a story, but it takes a lot of skill and practice to write a good one. Hiring writers mean hiring people who understand the structure of a story, what build up is, where the climax should be. Writers know how words and dialogue work to be as effective as they need to be. And hiring multiple writers for the same project ensures a project will benefit from collaboration – multiple viewpoints on a story element can do wonders for writer’s block, and help you see new directions the story could go in, meaning that the project shouldn’t feel stale (there’s always the possibility that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but so far BioWare seems to know what they’re doing).

The this writing is the most important part of BioWare’s paradigm. Now, I am in no way undermining the tremendous efforts, and results, of the programming, sound, and art departments. They do a phenomenal job of bringing the story to life. But this story is the heart of it. And at the heart of these stories, are the characters.

It is these characters that get you involved in the story of saving (or, in the case of KotOR, daming) the world/galaxy. And it is the main character, that engages us.

Now, let’s talk about the Main Character, shall we? BioWare has done the smartest thing they could possibly do, and give you dialogue options that ACTUALLY EFFECT THE GAME.

Now, back in the day, it was a simple matter of “But thou must…” You could choose “No” and the game will either end, or go in an infinite loop until you say yes. Here and there were little bits of this semi-autonomy, the most exciting of which, at the time, was Final Fantasy VII’s relationship mechanic. Star Ocean 2 perfected that, IMO, but that’s it. Until I gave up on JRPGs, they hadn’t done anything more interesting than that. So when KotOR came along, and my actual dialogue choices changed the game, I was astounded.

But with this mixture of excellent writing, and the option to punch the crazy person (and feel justified), comes one more not so little piece of the puzzle. The voice actors.

BioWare knows what they’re doing when casting for voice actors. They are believable and awesome, and I appreciate them re-using the same voice actors.

Which has led to what I’m calling the Carth Effect. I know you know I think Carth Onasi is a dream boat. Of course the writing is key to liking Carth – also being a girl apparently – but it takes a lot of skill to bring any character to life, and Raphael Sbarge did such an amazing job that, to me, Carth has become his iconic role. So, when I heard him voice Kaidan Alenko is Mass Effect, I automatically associated Carth with Kaidan, making me like a decent character more than I would have otherwise.

This can either be used to good effect, or lead them down a dangerous slope of relying on their talent to bring their characters to life.

But the subject of the relationship between actors and writers is something else entirely. For now, I’ll leave you with a very obvious situation that occured because of the Carth Effect

I was watching an episode of L&O: SVU, where Raphael Sbarge was some sort of horrible rapist or something. He was in his cell, being interviewed by a guy. He talked about seeing corpses, and describing them, and the only thing I could think of when he said that was:

“Saw a lot of that in the Mandalorian Wars, didja’ Carth?”

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