Sunday, April 24, 2011

ME1 - Introducing Meriel Shepard

I'm extremely excited that Mass Effect is just around the corner.  Please read on to see an introduction to Shepard's personality and character makeup.  Following this introduction you will find my guidelines for Mass Effect's gameplay.


Name - Meriel Shepard
Origin - Earthborn
Reputation - Ruthless
Class - Vanguard

About Her Name - Normally when naming characters I try to find a moniker that vaguely connects to an aspect of their history or personality.  This time around, Shepard's first name "Meriel" does none of those things.  A version of the first name Murial, her name roughly means "sea nymph" or "shining sea" depending on where you look.  I didn't find that out until after I named her though.  Meriel just seemed right, so that is what made it into the game.

About Vanguard Class - From the Mass Effect Wiki:
Vanguards are feared for their high-risk high-reward combat style, closing quickly on enemies and destroying them at close range with weapons and biotic abilities. They are outfitted with L5n implants, enabling them to perform a biotic charge that strikes the opponent with incredible force while bringing the Vanguard in close for close-range combat.


The term biotics refers to the ability for some lifeforms to create mass effect fields via Element Zero within their body tissues. [...] The various realizations range from the ability to knock adversaries over or lift them helplessly into the air, create barriers impervious to enemy fire, or even unleash small gravitational vortices that draw in enemies and environmental debris.
Considering information in the next two sections, the Vanguard classification seemed like a natural choice for Meriel. With a combination of normal combat and what equates to jedi powers, this classifications seems like it would appeal greatly to someone who is not afraid to wander off the beaten trail and ultimately relies on no one but themselves in tight situations.

About Pre-service History - Mass Effect describes the "Earthborn" history like this:
As an Earthborn, you had a rough childhood in the slums of Earth, and have a gritty edge to your personality.  You enlisted at the age of eighteen, in order to avoid falling into the trap of gang culture and poverty.
Coming straight off the heels of Perra, who also was from the slums, it would be easy to say that you see a trend in my character creation.  That isn't really true though since I saw this as the better of three choices.  "Spacer" was a past where both of Shepard's parent had been in the military.  She would have grown up on ships and in stations, moving locations every couple of years, and then followed in her parent's footsteps at the age of eighteen.  The other option "Colonist" was a history where  Shepard would have been born in a small border colony that was attacked by slavers when she was sixteen.  The slavers slaughtered her family and friends, and she was saved by an Alliance patrol.  A couple of years later she enlisted.

As a Earthborn we know that it was Shepard's choice to join the military.  She did it because she saw it as a way out of the slums.  Unlike the other two scenarios. she did not join the military through a sense of obligation or a feeling of indebtedness.  No parents (and their friends) were encouraging her to follow in their footsteps, and she did not owe her life to the Alliance.  Going into this game I know nothing about the Alliance, the Citadel, or anything else culturally.  I just feel that someone with Meriel's history would have a better chance of looking at the world objectively.  She initially joined out of necessity, and that (from what I gather) was a while ago.  Any loyalty (or lack of loyalty) she currently feels for the Citadel or the Alliance had to have been earned.  Being Earthborn also makes it easier for her to justify being loyal to her crew but not to the government, should that end up being the case.  With any of the other backgrounds she would have to worry about disappointing her family (be they dead or alive), or feeling like she had betrayed the people who saved her life.

About Psychological Profiles -  I have given Meriel the profile of "Ruthless."  Mass Effect describes it in this way.
Throughout your military career, you have held fast to one basic rule: get the job done.  You've been called cold, calculating, and brutal.  Your reputation for ruthless efficiency makes your fellows wary of you.  But when failure is not an option, the military always goes to you first.
The other two options were "Sole Survivor" and "War Hero". The Sole Survivor had been part of a mission once that went horribly, horribly wrong. Everyone they worked with died as they (and you) found themselves trapped in an extreme survival situation. The game says that "You had to overcome physical torments and psychological stresses that would have broken most people ... now you alone are left to tell the tale." The War Hero, on the other hand, had found themselves, early in their military career, extremely outnumbered by a military force. This character risked their own life to save fellow soldiers, and the enemy was defeated despite great odds. The War Hero's bravery has earned her medals of honor and recognition from the Alliance fleet. I chose not to go with these two "psychological profiles" for a couple of reasons. The first I will get to in a second, but the second lies in the fact that one paints Shepard as a "I can do anything" character with a traumatic back story I can't even begin to get my head around. How on Earth do you role-play someone who has been through a situation like that that you can't even hope to relate to? It almost sets the character up for perfection, which does not give a lot of leway.  The other, War Hero, seemed a little too goody-two shoes.  Selecting that background would make it too easy to project myself onto Meriel's character.

The other reason I chose "Ruthless" is this. On the surface it is so easy to read the description as "bad" or "evil". I, however, see this as the psychological profile of someone who understands the fact that you have to follow your gut. You can't save everyone and sometimes doing what is "right" means doing what society deems as "wrong". This doesn't mean that Shepard is a cold-hearted, callous bastard. This doesn't mean that Shepard doesn't have feelings. This doesn't mean that Shepard can't have affection for, or loyalty to, people she works with. Most importantly, it certainly doesn't mean that Shepard doesn't have a moral compass. What it does mean is that Shepard has learned to evaluate situations, knows that sacrifices sometimes have to be made, and isn't above bending or ignoring the rules if it gets the job done. Growing up in the slums taught her that in the end you can only rely on yourself. You can't let other people sweet talk you into doing something you have a bad feeling about, and you have to assume that promises are just words unless there is something to back them up. She rarely takes anything at face value, is not afraid to challenge decisions, and doesn't hesitate to ask questions if something doesn't seem right. Some people may read this as "cold, calculating, and brutal", but Meriel sees it as doing her job and living to see another day.

Complete Personal History - The Mass Effect Wiki lists Meriel's complete predetermined history as follows:
You were born on Earth, but you never knew your parents. A child of the streets, you learned to live by your wits and guts, surviving in the hidden underbelly of the megatropolises of humanity's home world.

Eager to find a better life, you joined the Alliance military when you came of age. You were assigned to the campaign to rid the Skyllian Verge of batarian slavers and other criminal elements. The final battle came when Alliance forces laid siege to Torfan, a slaver base built miles below the surface of a desolate moon. The superiority of the human fleet was wasted in the assault on the underground bunker, but you led a corps of elite ground troops into the heart of the enemy base.

Nearly three-quarters of your own squad perished in the vicious close-quarters fighting, a cost you were willing to pay to make sure not a single slaver made it out of Torfan alive.

About Appearance - I've tried to tailor Shepard's appearance in order to show that Meriel knows her own power.  Not only that, but she also sees her appearance as just another weapon in her arsenal.  This is a skill that I imagine she would have learned while living on the streets.

For practicality sake she wears her hair in a maintenance-free style.  Buns and updos can get in the way of her helmet or produce headaches.  Both are nuisances which could distract her in the field.  (Nothing is worse then a bun-induced headache.)  At the same time, her hairstyle is of a less severe, more feminine nature which may cause some people to underestimate her.

As a rule my female characters do not wear make up.  It's not that I'm against make up or anything since I happen to be quite fond of dark purple  and red lipsticks myself.  It's just I figure that if someone is fighting in a war, the last thing they will do on the eve of battle is say, "Hold on guys, I have to fix my face.  I'll be back with you in about fifteen minutes."  No, the odds are she would be donning her armor, grabbing her weapons, and readying for a fight.  From a "realism" perspective, one should also consider that any lipstick able to withstand the kind of wear cRPGs demand would have to be some seriously industrial strength stuff.  Meriel is my "makeup exception" so to speak.  I mentioned earlier that she sees her appearance as a weapon, like a gun, that can be used to her advantage.  Wearing red lipstick demonstrates a certain care for her appearance that a nude lip would not.  Red is a more severe color then pink or brown, but it also has a classic appeal to it that makes her appear professional instead of girly or frivolous.  In human circles a red lip is also considered attractive.  This fact may work in her favor should Meriel end up in a situation where she needs to talk her way out of a tight spot.  As for the "realism" factor?  I figure that if a society can have brain implants that give you Jedi-like powers, then its scientists can most certainly invent the lipstain to end all lipstains.

Because of a scar slicing diagonally across her face, the result of close-quarter combat, she had tailored her eyebrows for visual impact.  They are thin enough that her scar transversing the left (her right) eyebrow is relatively unobtrusive.  At the same time, however, the eyebrows are thick enough that Meriel's scar is still visible.  It is a subtle reminder that she has fought a number of very difficult battles and survived every one.  Don't push her if you don't want her to push back.  Meriel's not antagonistic,  but she wants to let people know that she is serious about her job and isn't afraid to "go there" should the situation warrant it.  She is a calculating character, but that does not necessarily mean that she must look unapproachable.

About Morality - Unlike Dragon Age: Origins which flirted with grey morality, Mass Effect relies on a more traditional binary model.  There are, of course, decisions you can make which are morally neutral, but discussions and decisions often result in a moral shift towards "Paragon" (read: white) or "Renegade" (read: black).  From the get-go, Meriel is at a disadvantage.  By checking out the Mass Effect Wiki after my character creation was complete, I discovered that classifying oneself as "Ruthless" adds bonus Renegade points to a character's profile.  Likewise, "Earthborn characters gain a large bonus in Renegade points received, allowing them to max out their Renegade bar faster."  The game appears to believe that classifying oneself as one or both of these categories means that one's Shepard is greater inclined towards "evil" acts. As explained in an above section, however, I do not see it that way.  As a result I am revising what the Mass Effect  morality system means. Instead of being a gauge of how "good" or "evil" Meriel is, it will be a gauge of how "good" or "evil" the world perceives her to be.  I have already established that Shepard operates within her own definition of morality, so there is no reason that actions classified as  Paragon or Renegade should affect the decisions she makes.  Instead she will make the decision which she perceives to be correct or most advantageous at that given time.  I'm not sure how I'll explain away facial scarring that, I believe, is supposed to appear if a character descends too far into the Renegade side of things in ME2.  Should that become an issue I'll take it as it comes.  Maybe we will just consider it general "battle scarring" and be done with it.

Edited to add - It has come to my attention since writing this (thank you friends who have already played the game and love dropping hints) that some achievements may be difficult to ... well ... achieve if you are not all Paragon or all Renegade.  Be this true or not, it is not a concern for me.  If my goal in playing Mass Effect was to get certain items or achieve certain things then this would be an issue.  Since my goal is to roleplay, however, then the game will just go as it goes.  I am not entering in with any preconceived notions about what "side" Meriel will take.  It is likely she may end up being completely one or the other, but it is also just as likely that she will walk a middle line or only slightly favor one type of action over another.  Everything I have written about her character still holds.

About Blogging - As far as blogging about Mass Effect goes, I am allowing the process to change as circumstances dictate since, unlike with DA:O, I have never actually played the game before.  I'm going to try and keep a lot of things similar to the DA:O blogs, but I beg you to bear with me as I figure out what works for this particular title.  Expect Mass Effect entries to be slow for the next few weeks as 40-60 pages of my semester end research comes due.   Non-RP posts, however will keep their usual blogging schedule and Mass Effect entries should increase once those papers are no longer hanging over my head.

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