Mass Effect voice actor Mark Meer admits he never expected to play the game’s male lead, Commander Shepherd.
Speaking with SBS PopAsia at Oz Comic-Con in Sydney, Meer - who has worked with the RPG development studio Bioware since the 90s voicing very minor roles in Baldur’s Gate II and other classic RPGs - admits he never thought he would be the protagonist of Mass Effect.
“When Mass Effect came along, I was actually already working on the game,” he says. “I was brought in during the concept art stage to develop the way the various alien races would sound.”
“When they asked me to audition for the lead, I was, of course, flattered, but I didn’t think I would get it. I think, the fact that I completely put from my mind any chance of getting it probably helped because I was relaxed about it."
Much like Bioware’s other big epic role playing series Dragon Age, and Bethesda’s Fallout and Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect’s storyline is told through player-driven progression. As Commander Shepherd, you choose how to respond to scenarios and conversations from options selected using a dialogue wheel, shaping the character how you want to play. This made Meer’s work a lot more unique and challenging than other more traditional roles.
“Normally when you’re approaching a role, you know what your character is like,” he says. “You know that, ‘ah, this is what they’re going to do in a given situation…’ There’s a wide variety of backgrounds Shepherd could have [and] a wide variety of experiences, so yeah, it’s a unique way to approach a character.”
“I also got to do a fair bit of comic relief characters [in Mass Effect],” he says.
Mass Effect was Meer’s first major role in a video game, having played mostly monsters and small-scaled villains up until that point. As such, he admits that it was a “very steep learning curve.” Despite describing Mass Effect 3 as the culmination of everything he and Bioware had done, it wasn’t until they were recording Citadel, the final post-game DLC, that he started feeling emotional.
“Often [in] interviews people would ask, ‘this is the end of your long journey, it must be very emotional,’ and it was,” He says. “It was certainly. But we all knew that there was future DLC to come. There was still Leviathan and whatnot, so it wasn’t quite saying goodbye yet at that stage.”
“The Citadel DLC was the true culmination and true end of the project. It was just so great. It was filled with, as they say, fanservice, lots of in-jokes and also a lot of emotional closure. The big party where you get to say goodbye to all the NPCs, and getting to see, for example, [the two Krogan companions in the series] Wrex and Grunt interact for the very first time...Citadel is my favourite DLC on the Citadel.”
Since Mass Effect, Meer has returned to one of his other passions in life at his local improvisation community theatre company called Rapid Fire Theatre in Edmonton, Canada. He's voiced a character in Hinterland Studio Inc.’s survival adventure game, The Long Dark, alongside the voice of Female Commander Shepherd, Jennifer Hale. Still, he admits that no fandom will ever be as passionate to him as Mass Effect’s.
“[The voice of Commander Shepherd’s pilot, Joker,] Seth [Green] was the one that was so amazed that Mass Effect has so much investment from the fans,” he says. “He’s worked on a lot of big projects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Robot Chicken and whatnot, he was just amazed by how much the fans supported Mass Effect. He says that coming from some very dedicated fandoms.”
“Voice actors tend to be a bit more known than they were before,” he adds. “Not just in terms of those who’ve done animation but just people who work on games. That certainly worked out well for me, coinciding with me getting the lead role and the spotlight being put on voice actors.”
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