Sr. Writer John Dombrow: ME series' finest moment? ME3's Tuchanka

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#1 Edited by onan (1284 posts) -

To be clear: this thread, by nature, will be full of spoilers for everything from the entire series.

Full story here on the bioware blog: http://blog.bioware.com/2012/04/02/interview-with-senior-writer-john-dombrow/

Can you tell us about one of your proudest moments working in game development?
Lately, that would be experiencing the Tuchanka genophage mission. I had spent so much time thinking about it and then writing it, that to finally see it in all its final glory, with finished cinematics, music and sound FX, was incredible. I was so proud that we’d hit all the emotional beats we had hoped to hit and successfully brought closure to a complex issue with all the characters fans had come to love. Even better, was seeing the fan reaction to the mission. As a writer you hope that maybe once in your career, no matter the medium, you’ll emotionally move people, and I was so proud to see that was happening to players when they finished this mission. And I stress “we” because a mission of that size, scope, and ambition doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a true team effort.

I had an awesome level designer, Dave Feltham, who was in sync with the story, the themes, and what the mission was all about and how to pack with all these amazing action moments. Boyd McKenzie’s artwork was incredible, and then I worked with two great cinematic designers, John Ebenger and Richard Boisvert to bring the scenes alive, along with our cinematics team that handled the Reaper vs. Thresher Maw fight. Then another writer, the very talented Patrick Weekes, who had created Mordin in Mass Effect 2, got involved in shaping and writing Mordin’s final goodbye in this mission to give him a proper sendoff (along with one last chance for Mordin to sing a song). Add the final touches with sound and music from our audio department, and all cylinders were firing. There’s pride in that – pride in knowing you and your colleagues have brought your “A” game to the table, infused it with all your own individual talents, and created something whose sum is greater than its parts.

This was posted today on the Bioware blog, with comments closed (I can only imagine why).

Interesting takeaways: Props are given specifically to Patrick Weekes, who was allegedly the Bioware leak during the Penny Arcade forum brouhaha, coming out against the existing trilogy conclusion specifically as not being a team effort. Also worth noting is that Patrick is specifically being called out and credited by a senior writer on staff completely divorced from that controversy, so from the sound of it, his job is safe and secure. Mostly though, I had no idea he designed Mordin, one of the greatest gaming characters of this generation. To find out he was also responsible for what I feel the emotional climax of ME3, I'm absolutely going to have to follow this guy's progress in the event he ever strikes out on his own. (Also: How did this guy not have his own wiki page here yet? I just made it now, if anyone can contribute some content please feel free.)

Glad to see my opinions seem to line up with the writers' opinions as far as what made the Mass Effect series great in general, and ME3 great specifically, though.

Any other triumphant moments from the series where people felt Bioware was firing on all cylinders?

#2 Posted by Deathmachine117 (377 posts) -

The suicide mission in the second game I remember being on the edge of my seat for the entire time and also when the collectors invaded the Normandy.

#3 Posted by leinad44 (506 posts) -

Mordin and Samara's loyalty missions have always stuck with me. Especially Mordin's reaction to the dead female krogan, though he was a comic relief character at points, that scene showed that his character had real depth. If it was Patrick Weekes who wrote the Mordin parts of ME2, then give that guy a damn medal.

#4 Posted by Sooty (8082 posts) -

Whoever wrote the "You're working too hard" part of Mass Effect 2 needs a medal.

#5 Posted by Village_Guy (2546 posts) -

Personally I think the Quarian / Geth choice on Rannoch was the best moment in the Mass Effect series - as long as you don't get the easy-way-all-happy-and-alive-choice.

#6 Posted by Bumpton (445 posts) -

While some of the interaction with Wrex didn't feel quite right, all of the rest of Tuchanka was amazing. That really was a great segment in ME3. And that dude who invented Mordin is a damn genius. While I butted heads with the character occasionally, I always totally understood where he was coming from (which seems like a crazy amount of analysis to put into a virtual relationship). Mordin was easily my favorite character in the series because he had a CRAZY amount of depth to him.

#7 Posted by TaliciaDragonsong (8698 posts) -

I agree with Tuchanka in ME3, that mission was intense!
Perfectly executed too with all the characters present.
 
Overall I'd say I prefer the stories in Mass Effect 1 over the rest though.
Chasing Benezia on Noveria, facing the Thorian on Feros, followed by the chase on Illios and the rush to the Citadel.
I will never forget those moments nor the music.
 
  

#8 Posted by 2HeadedNinja (1602 posts) -

That scene was great, the ending including Mordins last song and the "It had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong"-line had me actually tear up ... and that rarely happens to me.

#9 Posted by Irvandus (2877 posts) -

I would say it's one of the best part of the ME series, I don't know about the best though.

#10 Posted by babblinmule (1262 posts) -

Definitely in the top 3 moments in the trilogy for me. I dont think I've ever been so shaken by the conclusion of a mission on the current generation of consoles.

#11 Edited by Mr_Skeleton (5144 posts) -

Definitely had the most emotional impact, I almost cried when he started humming and exploaded just as he was about to sat scientist Salarian.

#12 Posted by onan (1284 posts) -

@2HeadedNinja said:

That scene was great, the ending including Mordins last song and the "It had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong"-line had me actually tear up ... and that rarely happens to me.

Did you see the alternate Renegade outcome of that mission? I really appreciated the Paragon ending, but the Renegade ending I saw on youtube just fucking blew me away. I don't think I've ever felt so bad for a noble character in a videogame ever.

I just saw this version, which is a combination of both the Paragon and Renegade outcomes, and is probably the best version of it. He doesn't even sing his silly little inappropriate song.

#13 Posted by WarlordPayne (700 posts) -

@onan: I liked his silly song but man, "I made a mistake!" was pretty powerful in that second clip.

#14 Edited by tourgen (4478 posts) -

@onan: Great stuff! I loved that mission. The writing did seem a little bit above the rest of the game as well.

I also enjoyed Miranda's mission. I thought the Sanctuary idea played out well. I liked the level design and artwork. I like the Miranda character and her plot line with her sister and father. The whole thing had a The-Horror-of-Eugenics theme going but set in the Mass Effect world without feeling out of place at all. You get to see some cool bio-manipulation themes explored on a personal level with a character you get to know pretty well, and on a much larger scale at the Sanctuary facility.

Really cool stuff.

I personally also saw it as a very strongly worded cautionary message against the Synthesis choice at the end.

#15 Edited by Dany (7887 posts) -

Mordin "Someone else may have gotten it wrong" "I'll study sea shells" and him singing as he is about to die MADE ME CRY MANLY TEARS!

#16 Posted by onan (1284 posts) -

Wow, this one was completely new to me. And what's really amazing is that it takes into account every single major interaction you had with Mordin and Wrex over the course of the three games. You know, I hate to beat a dead horse here, but as the top commenter on this youtube says "It's sad that this mission has more variance than the actual ending of the whole trilogy."

There's something wrong in the world if you ever find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with a comment on youtube.

#17 Edited by Dany (7887 posts) -

@onan: Damn, thats true.

That makes me sad :(

#18 Edited by Yummylee (21547 posts) -

@onan said:

Wow, this one was completely new to me. And what's really amazing is that it takes into account every single major interaction you had with Mordin and Wrex over the course of the three games. You know, I hate to beat a dead horse here, but as the top commenter on this youtube says "It's sad that this mission has more variance than the actual ending of the whole trilogy."

There's something wrong in the world if you ever find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with a comment on youtube.

Oh yeah, that was the conclusion to my second Renegade playthrough I was genuinely astonished to find that finally something from the prior ME games, in this case deciding to kill Maelon, actually rippled through to ME3 and had a severe effect.

The only other somewhat notable story occurrence I can think of was if Thane died in ME2, then Kai Leng will actually manage to kill the Salarian Councilor. There's no repercussions or anything mind you. Oh, and if Miranda died, then you can potentially allow her father to live when you're negotiating. Small stuff in comparison to whether Eve can survive the experiments or not, though, given without her, a lot of Krogan clans won't unite under Urdnot.

#19 Posted by csl316 (8475 posts) -

@leinad44 said:

Mordin and Samara's loyalty missions have always stuck with me. Especially Mordin's reaction to the dead female krogan, though he was a comic relief character at points, that scene showed that his character had real depth. If it was Patrick Weekes who wrote the Mordin parts of ME2, then give that guy a damn medal.

Yeah, Mordin was an extremely deep character. His past, his approach to problems, and his emotional core made him a god damn hero character. Shame he died in my initial ME 2 playthrough, so I'm curious to see him play his part when I play ME 3 again with my alternate Shepard.

#20 Posted by onan (1284 posts) -

@tourgen said:

@onan: Great stuff! I loved that mission. The writing did seem a little bit above the rest of the game as well.

I also enjoyed Miranda's mission. I thought the Sanctuary idea played out well. I liked the level design and artwork. I like the Miranda character and her plot line with her sister and father. The whole thing had a The-Horror-of-Eugenics theme going but set in the Mass Effect world without feeling out of place at all. You get to see some cool bio-manipulation themes explored on a personal level with a character you get to know pretty well, and on a much larger scale at the Sanctuary facility.

Really cool stuff.

I personally also saw it as a very strongly worded cautionary message against the Synthesis choice at the end.

How so? That was completely different. What Cerberus was doing there was bringing everyone down, turning them all glowy blue and it was all depressing. With synthesis, it's pretty much the same thing except in life-affirming green. I for one am looking forward to the DLC that upgrades the technology to rave-inducing pink bio-circuitry. Give those banshees some pacifiers so they don't griiiind, woowoooo~!

No, but seriously, what's your reasoning? I didn't make that connection.

#21 Posted by Encephalon (1251 posts) -

Yup. Tuchanka is absolutely Mass Effect's finest moment.

I'll never forget you, Mordin.

#22 Posted by Red (5995 posts) -

Yeah, Tuchanka was pretty great, as was the liberation of Rannoch. As for missions in other Mass Effects, I'll always be partial to Garrus' recruitment mission in ME2, and the Collector Base assault. If I'd have to say my favorite, I guess it would be Virmire, especially the ending. Talking with Sovereign, fighting Saren, and the final choice all combine into a great mix of sci-fi intrigue, action, and personal drama. Basically, what the series is all about.

#23 Posted by Undeadpool (4924 posts) -

I am not too proud to say that I BAWLED at the end of that Tuchanka mission. I couldn't believe how much I was affected by the death of a video game character.

#24 Posted by EXTomar (4688 posts) -

I agree that the Tuchanka is a complex and complete example of what Mass Effect is all about. Did you save Wrex or Mordin? Did you do Mordin's loyalty mission? Did you save the data? Do you go with the plan or take the secret offer? Do you tell anyone that you were given the offer? All of that has twists and turns that result into an facinating situation that can play out very differently.

Online
#25 Edited by Yummylee (21547 posts) -

@Red said:

Yeah, Tuchanka was pretty great, as was the liberation of Rannoch. As for missions in other Mass Effects, I'll always be partial to Garrus' recruitment mission in ME2, and the Collector Base assault. If I'd have to say my favorite, I guess it would be Virmire, especially the ending. Talking with Sovereign, fighting Saren, and the final choice all combine into a great mix of sci-fi intrigue, action, and personal drama. Basically, what the series is all about.

Plus the music during that mission (Virmire) was so catchy and fitting.

#26 Posted by zombie_bigdaddy (131 posts) -

Man, this thread just makes me sad. WHY Bioware, WHY? :C

#27 Edited by onan (1284 posts) -

@zombie_bigdaddy said:

Man, this thread just makes me sad. WHY Bioware, WHY? :C

Maybe this will help. I couldn't let my pink Banshee raver idea go without a bad photoshop job.

Screenshot from the upcoming "Synesthesia" Alternate Ending DLC
#28 Posted by BrockNRolla (1702 posts) -

@onan said:

@2HeadedNinja said:

That scene was great, the ending including Mordins last song and the "It had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong"-line had me actually tear up ... and that rarely happens to me.

Did you see the alternate Renegade outcome of that mission? I really appreciated the Paragon ending, but the Renegade ending I saw on youtube just fucking blew me away. I don't think I've ever felt so bad for a noble character in a videogame ever.

I just saw this version, which is a combination of both the Paragon and Renegade outcomes, and is probably the best version of it. He doesn't even sing his silly little inappropriate song.

Wow, I hope no one comes in hear not expecting spoilers because, seriously, those are the most memorable moments of the entire game and those youtube clip titles straight up ruin them. Probably should have put spoiler blocks on those videos.

#29 Edited by onan (1284 posts) -

That should be a given, the title implies a retrospective of the entire series and we're discussing it more with the tone of a post mortem.

edit: I went ahead and updated the OP with a big honking spoiler warning for the thread if it wasn't obvious. That should cover it.

#30 Posted by Phatmac (5725 posts) -

Easily the best part of Mass Effect 3.

#31 Posted by zombie_bigdaddy (131 posts) -

@Undeadpool said:

I am not too proud to say that I BAWLED at the end of that Tuchanka mission. I couldn't believe how much I was affected by the death of a video game character.

Don't worry, you are not the only one. Mordin and Tali's dead scenes actually made me tear up, which had not happened with a video game since MGS3's ending.

#32 Posted by tourgen (4478 posts) -

@onan: well the way I took it was that "perfecting" biological life through direct manipulation is evil. If it's Josef Mengele doing it, or Henry Lawson, or the magic god star baby, it's always evil. No matter what our intentions are, the evil is in the details and the path you have to take to get there.

Synthesis is the ultimate destruction. No one is the same afterwards, and no one had a say in it. They are destroyed and rebuilt up with synthetic elements incorporated at the DNA level. ... hrrrm yeah. The story really falls apart somewhere in there. Not my fault.

Anyway that's my personal interpretation of the Miranda Mission. I thought it was powerful. I liked the characters quite a bit too so that helped.

#33 Posted by onan (1284 posts) -

@zombie_bigdaddy said:

@Undeadpool said:

I am not too proud to say that I BAWLED at the end of that Tuchanka mission. I couldn't believe how much I was affected by the death of a video game character.

Don't worry, you are not the only one. Mordin and Tali's dead scenes actually made me tear up, which had not happened with a video game since MGS3's ending.

Does it feel like they left out a major arc? I know it feels that way for me. From the beginning when I was presented with the three council members, and a way to get the Turian member to sign on to Team: Retake Earth, I figured I'd have to do two other major mission arcs, one for the Salarians, and one for the Asari. When the Salarians got involved with the Krogan too, I'm like, ok, 2 down, but then I'm going to deal with the quarians and geth conflict, and then have a set of missions with some epic conclusion in Asari space that deals with the fate of Illium, recruiting a bunch of Justicars, etc, and it's going to be awesome, bit it feels a bit like there was this disconnected bit on some out of the way monastery, and then a quick pitstop on Thessia to pick up some info on an artifact, completely ignoring the plight of the Asari (or the Salarians, to be honest).

As a follow-up to the mission on the Palaven moon when you could see all of the destruction the Reapers were causing on an earth-like planet every time you looked up, it felt like something was missing. Especially the way both the turian/krogan and quarian/geth conflicts were so damn epic. It sort of felt like I'd need to resolve at least three galaxy-changing conflicts before I could count on the support of everyone. Two just seemed like less than what was needed before heading into the final battle.

#34 Posted by zombie_bigdaddy (131 posts) -

@onan: For me, It felt like a lot more than one arc. The game just feels kinda rushed in some places, like Thessia and even the Earth battle, specially when you compare them to how well paced Tuchanka and Rannoch were.

#35 Posted by Brendan (7778 posts) -

So much of ME 3 is masterful. Much of it is the best ME game by far.

#36 Posted by Pinworm45 (4088 posts) -

Maybe ME3s best moment, but not the best moment in the series.

#37 Posted by onan (1284 posts) -

@Pinworm45 said:

Maybe ME3s best moment, but not the best moment in the series.

Well, that's in the opinion of one of the lead writers. What would you say takes its place?

#38 Posted by Pinworm45 (4088 posts) -

@onan said:

@Pinworm45 said:

Maybe ME3s best moment, but not the best moment in the series.

Well, that's in the opinion of one of the lead writers. What would you say takes its place?

Everything after taking the Conduit in ME1.

#39 Posted by Brodehouse (9887 posts) -

Mordin's loyalty mission in ME2 is something I think they should show in games writing classes in twenty years.  It is the best moment of the entire Mass Effect series, without a doubt.

#40 Posted by DrDarkStryfe (1107 posts) -

Getting to see a peek into the past of the Krogan was the high point of the sequence. It was all just done so well.

The series high point is the Geth/Quarian war on Rannoch, every conclusion is amazing.

#41 Posted by Aleryn (704 posts) -

The Tuchanka episode was really good, nice to hear more detail on it. And yes Mordin was incredible. I did not like him initially in ME2, felt too much like comic relief. I was quickly and happily proven wrong as I progressed through the game. It was somewhere in the medic-bay of ME3 that I realized I liked Mordin as much as his super-fans. Murdering him to better the chances for the galaxy has stuck with me in a way few game scenes have.

#42 Edited by andrew2696 (312 posts) -

You know I was worried when I heard that Mordin's voice actor wouldn't return for Mass Effect 3 but damn was Mordin's story amazing and William Salyers carried it fine. I loved it so much. Michael Beattie maybe could have done it better but that's a parallel universe in my mind.

Though his replacement had a good moment I saw saying he fought Mordin once.

Online
#43 Posted by onan (1284 posts) -

@DrDarkStryfe said:

Getting to see a peek into the past of the Krogan was the high point of the sequence. It was all just done so well.

The series high point is the Geth/Quarian war on Rannoch, every conclusion is amazing.

I might agree if the reason for having Legion "die" wasn't so contrived. Why did he have to die? Even if he did have to destroy his data for whatever reason to complete the upload (???!! wha??), why couldn't he just restore from internal backups or something? The geth AI "soul" is just data, after all, being executed by a platform.

I think the execution of everything involving the geth in the series has always left me feeling a little... ehhhhhh. As mindless minions of Saren in ME1, they were fine, and it was interesting to learn more about them as a "people" in ME2, but it's things like the execution of the Rannoch mission, and the moral issues around the Legion loyalty mission in ME2 that makes you wonder about things you should never wonder about... like how do the geth reproduce? There are apparently billions if not trillions of geth, after all. It's not like that number has remained the same since the Quarians were exiled. I'd imagine they don't bother making new geth until sufficient amounts of data have been lost and they find themselves shorthanded for tasks of interest to the group, or in situations where they expect combat and heavy losses.

The idea that the loss of the heretics could have any real impact on the strength of geth forces rang a little hollow, but I went with it, sure, ok, whatever. It was just a side story, not like it was going to pretty much much be the exact same thing as the choice at the end of the trilog-- *cough*.

Anyway, Legion did humanize the geth in a way not unlike Data from Star Trek TNG, but with Data, at least you had a reason to worry about him. Yes, he was the sum of his programming, but there was something unique about his platform and his positronic brain that couldn't be replicated (but it could be teleported, which is pretty much the same thing, but I digress). The geth don't have that limitation. What the series needed was some sort of clarification as to why we should give a shit at all about the plight of the geth. If you end up with the Paragon conclusion to the Rannoch thing, the Quarians end up with geth living in their enviro-suits with them. Come on now.

They needed to go one way or the other with it, and they didn't. They needed to make the geth truly alien and unknowable as far as their behavior and "lives," or truly humanized and mortal, like TNG's Data. As it stands, the Rannoch thing just made me cock an eyebrow, not the least of which because the entire point of the geth schism in the first and second game was because they didn't want to take the Reaper upgrade shortcut to improvement, they wanted to develop naturally. By allowing Legion to truly integrate those upgrades into the geth, it's basically doing the complete opposite of what the geth consensus claimed to prefer for this entire time leading up to it.

I liked Legion as a character, but in many ways, he made little to no sense. Making him critical to the solution at Rannoch and effectively the entire resolution of the franchise seems like it was a bad idea. I probably would have been much more satisfied with a more computer-y resolution, like resolving the geth civil war by simply reprogramming everyone to think the same way with a virus. This "peace between two peoples" thing is sweet until you start thinking about it.

#44 Posted by Subjugation (4720 posts) -

"Would have liked to run tests on the seashells." :'(

#45 Posted by jmic75 (263 posts) -

@onan: Yeah it wasn't done great, but I really liked how they fleshed out the first geth/quarian war and uprising in cyber space, made the geth more likeable...but I still chose the red ending :P.

#46 Posted by EXTomar (4688 posts) -

+ Legion dying was the exclamation point on the seminal question constantly asked: Do we/I have a soul?

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#47 Edited by AndrewB (7592 posts) -

Why do I feel like that was literally the weakest moment in the game, gameplay-wise, besides the fights with Raiden?

To me, it was "here's an excuse to put you in a wide-open area that looks different," where the wide-open area made the following combat sequence all but broken (I had killed 90% of the enemies before they had even made it in range to hit me). The latter half of that was just throwing a bajillion unbeatable enemies at you to get you to run to the button press sequences. If that's a triumph of game design, we've set out standards low. I don't mean to take a shit on their work or a game I otherwise enjoyed, but I couldn't think of anything but how weirdly designed that whole level was while I was playing it.

Come to think of it, that's pretty much exclusively a level design issue, and nothing to do with everything else surrounding it. Mordin's scene was one of the most touching moments of the game. Series.

#48 Posted by morrelloman (608 posts) -

@onan I had no idea that Mordin could live!

#49 Posted by D_Bones (365 posts) -

The mission on Tuchanka was definitely my favourite in the game. Mordin was obviously the largest contributor to that as well as the ending where Wrex and Eve are ready to gear up and give their people a new day. Also the gameplay moment when you have to ring the hammers and brutes start dropping from the sky I started to fight them....and then saw how many there were and was just like oh shit better just run fools. Was a great moment of panic.

#50 Posted by Zero_ (1973 posts) -

It's funny to see why Tuchanka is probably the best part of the entire series for different reasons - people are saying it has more choices and permutations than the ending of the trilogy, but even without that knowledge, let's just pretend for a second the outcome of Tuchanka was entirely linear - it still would've been great, because your play through of it could very well just be the "linear" versino if you get what I mean. The setup of Tuchanka, the emotion, the part in plays in ME lore - it's all so good.

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