When Mass Effect 3 launched in March of this year it was met by two resounding, yet very different, reactions. Critically praised with exceptional review scores on the one hand while simultaneously being slammed by many long term series fans for an ending that left players feeling unfulfilled on the other. The reaction, from either a large majority or a very vocal minority, was so negative that BioWare released an Extended Cut in June in an effort to appease the criticisms directed at the title. Some gamers rallied around groups like Hold The Line while others looked to the so called Indoctrination Theory as a means of making sense of what they saw as the shortcomings in Mass Effect 3. Others went even further. As anyone who has played the game through to its conclusion knows on Shepard’s final approach to the Citadel the commander is confronted by a lone Reaper soldier, Marauder Shields. This soon gave birth to the meme that Marauder Shields died trying to save gamers from the ending. It also brought about a series of comics by a Polish game developer who prefers to go by the name Koobismo.
In this exclusive interview for New Gamer Nation Koobismo details why he started the comics, discusses the games’ industry generally and talks about where he might go from here.
NGN: In your recent Game Front interview you revealed that you “really needed more” could you describe why you felt this way about Mass Effect 3?
K: Another way to phrase “really needed more” would be “I didn’t get enough”. Once Mass Effect 3’s credits started rolling I was sitting there in my pyjamas, with a huge question mark floating above my head. Was that it?
As far as I was concerned, the ending didn’t deliver on any of the fronts [it needed to] – no emotional closure, no storytelling pay-off — it definitely wasn’t a fitting conclusion to the themes and questions presented in the previous games… Just a hodgepodge of stuff that, in my opinion, didn’t belong in Mass Effect.
NGN: That ‘hodgepodge’ led Koobismo to look for a better ending, first turning to Indoctrination Theory, and then to Marauder Shields. The comics, which started as a joke, soon turned into something more. A new, fan-made ending, aimed at crafting the conclusion Koobismo and his team feel Mass Effect 3 should have had.
K: My first reaction was disbelief. When I stumbled upon the Indoctrination Theory, assuming that BioWare was conducting a massive PR stunt to announce the true ending at a later date, I believed the hell out of it. I mean, come on, that would be something glorious if done right.
Once my “insider sense” kicked in, that belief started fading away… And I decided to work on my own alternative ending, which brought the “serious” stuff into the comic, a definitive tonal shift of the whole thing.
NGN: Generally how would you describe the response to the comics and the change in tone after episode six particularly?
K: The tone shift slipped in almost undetected for some, others recognized it right away – but it was widely accepted by the time episode 9 rolled out, and applauded by most, if not all.
The ongoing response has been amazing, blew my socks off and I’ve been walking around sockless ever since. Really, it’s hard to describe how much each comment, each e-mail and each note means to me – the comic became an important part of my life, helped me overcome a few things and opened me up to some incredible people.
Hell, if you hear about your work being discussed at Comic Con, people giving BioWare comic printouts and Marauder Shields masks to sign and BioWare responding in the coolest way possible… Isn’t that just damn uplifting? We’re now at a point where people start using terms like “the Marauder Shields community” or “Koobismo readers” which makes my mind explode from [the] awesome.
NGN: You cite J.J Abrams and comic books like Batman when discussing the aesthetic of the Marauder Shields series, apart from Mass Effect itself, are there other sources of inspiration who you draw upon when creating the comic each week?
K: I’m a nerd. A big, giant, colossal nerd. I’ve been raised on a mixture of Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, [the] original Star Trek and a healthy ration of comic books and 80s cinema.
I freaked the hell out of myself with Lovecraft before going to high school and had a crush on Kari Wuhrer when Sliders was the only sci-fi TV show I was able to receive. To pinpoint a single inspiration would be extremely difficult – my mind is a battlefield of weirdness, awesome clichés, classic sci-fi concepts, over-the-top pathos, Dyson spheres and Kirk’s inner monologues, with a few innovations and synthesizer music thrown in for some extra spice.
Everything I ever read, saw, played or poked with a stick is an inspiration.
As far as J.J. Abrams goes – truth be told that was supposed to be a lens flare joke, but I will admit – I’m a fan. Everything he does feels just natural, like something done by a guy who really enjoyed making it. I had a blast with the Star Trek remake, I loved both LOST and Super 8, felt like a kid again while watching the latter.
NGN: What are your thoughts on the Extended Cut for Mass Effect 3? Do you think BioWare could have done more to fix what you described as “a nonsensical twist coming out of nowhere”?
K: Done more to fix that ending? Nope, I really don’t think so… There are things that are impossible to fully repair just because their very premise is just… wrong.
Let me be clear about this – BioWare has some incredible writers on their staff — it’s just that this single storytelling decision, the very concept of the finale, was unfixable as soon as it was introduced… In my opinion, of course.
What they could have done is take the easy way out by using the fan-made Indoctrination Theory – not all Mass Effect fans liked it, but if applied correctly, it could end up not only appeasing the doubters, but also becoming a pretty significant moment in gaming history.
Alas, whether someone is satisfied with the EC or not, it’s all up to them. As I’ve said already: I’m not.
NGN: How would you defend the Marauder Shields comics, and the Hold the Line and Retake Mass Effect movements, from those who argue that players are ‘entitled gamers’?
K: I think there’s not much that can be said to a person that puts these little nonsensical tags on you and behaves like he knows you better than you know yourself. If a guy comes up to me and says I’m a douche, even though he knows nothing about me, I’m not exactly inclined to prove him otherwise… I just ignore him, show him the back of my ginger fro and carry on.
Here’s the deal – the Retake movement has been the biggest thing organized by a gaming community since the late Middle Ages, and whether someone likes it or not, it comprises of some incredibly talented, passionate, generous and generally awesome people. People genuinely caring for the storytelling experiences they live through, people who don’t see “emotional engagement” as just a PR shtick – the best kind of audience, but also a demanding one.
If someone is willing to write off their passion as “entitlement” or “whining” then so be it… We show them the back of our heads and carry on.
NGN: As someone who has written for and designed games what do you think your response be if you were involved in the development of a game that was met by a similar reaction to Mass Effect 3?
K: It always sucks when people criticize your work, it really does. And I know the feeling – I’ve done a lot of hack-work in my life, just because it was demanded of me… “Give me a story in 10 minutes” kind of situations.
[I’m] not suggesting Mass Effect 3 is a hack-job, just saying that I know what it means to get your balls kicked when it’s not exactly your fault… Well, at least not always your fault. Sometimes it just is.
Some of my writing was butchered by deadlines, some by the specifics of the market I work for, where creativity is often discouraged and stories are being crafted out of a single template, sprinkled with some random stuff here and there…
“Add a sexy Dracula, because vampires are so on the money this summer!” “Dude, yeah, cool, but we can’t have an enemy that’s invisible for the whole game…” “So what if your whole story concept is based on that? Make him a big spider! Or a witch!”
So, I know exactly what my reaction would be like: pour myself a glass of whiskey and sigh loudly. And then do something glorious and creative to get up on the horse.
Because no matter how many people talk about never believing in BioWare anymore, BioWare guys are the ones that delivered us with 2.7 awesome Mass Effect games and I’m pretty sure that they will give us more awesomeness in the future.
Also, Knights of the Old Republic 3, please.
NGN: Working on casual games how do you feel the industry is faring as we head into the next generation of home consoles? Do you believe there will continue to be a market for AAA titles like Mass Effect or will we see a move towards more casual experiences?
K: Casual games are here to stay – they’ve become a big thing lately and they will remain a big thing. But, let’s be honest here, the glory is and always will be in the big-budget titles.
They’re shiny. They can deliver various experiences in a much more effective way than casuals. They are our summer blockbusters, our thrill rides, some better, some worse – but if someone’s telling you that they’ll fade away… Nope.
The very fact that we’re talking about a next generation of home consoles? Yeah, the only part of the industry that’s pushing for that, aside from console manufacturers, is the big boys club – they really want to go a step further. And you know what? That’s a good thing.
At this point big name publishers have either already endorsed the casual shift or are on their way to endorse it, but the AAA section will remain their main field of interest.
If I’m really to make some asspulling predictions about the future, I’d say that the indie market will diversify a bit, start delivering genres that have been either watered down or forgotten by the big players – hardcore strategy games, brilliant turn-based tacticals, classic roleplaying experiences… That’s what I’m looking forward to.
NGN: What are your thoughts on the Ouya and Wii U platforms? Do you believe that those platforms can succeed?
K: Some may hate me for saying this out loud, but my interest in whatever Nintendo does wasn’t too high since, I don’t know, [the] GameCube. I’d like to be proven wrong, but right now I can’t see myself buying a Wii U.
As far as Ouya goes… First of all, let me comment on the horrible, horrible name that makes me think of the Ouija boards – last time I saw one was in the opening of “The Exorcist”.
All in all, I think it can be a viable and interesting product, especially if its creators put some effort into promoting the console as a dock for indie projects.
This is connected to what I’ve said earlier – I can definitely see interest niches being a big thing in the future, if their budgeting is handled correctly, and Ouya could – just could, not sure if they’re willing to – become a good platform for many of them. Know your limits, know your audience… And love your audience. So they can love you back. That’s how niches work.
NGN: While Koobismo isn’t an artist professionally he drew upon his love of comics to provide the inspiration for Marauder Shields as a means of having his work stand out and be noticed.
K: As mentioned before, I love comics myself. I’m an avid reader of whatever I can lay my hands on and I find the medium truly fascinating, I always did. From comic books and webcomics to graphic novels – I spent tons of time reading them all.
The very idea behind Marauder Shields was to give Mass Effect fans a choice, allowing them to supplant the original endings with something different, an alternative story, presented in a way that makes it easy to jump right into it after playing the game.
Using nicely done, coloured and often dynamic pictures allows that, bridges the gap between the way this story is presented and the games themselves, even if just a bit.
And let’s be honest here – if you want people to notice and enjoy your little fan production, you have to put some effort into it, you have to go the extra mile. So I went two. And it kinda’ went above and beyond what we normally think of as a “fan production”, which I’m really proud of.
NGN: At what point did a team begin to build up around you and your work? And have you ever changed part of the comics as a response to their feedback or the advice of others working on the series?
K: It was all a one-man operation until episode 19, when Jeff (Daniel) & Adoree (Lyssa) – an awesome nerdy couple – basically stepped up to the plate and told me: “reporting on deck, sir, we want to help.”
After a few chats that, fun fact, lead to discovering a possibly shared ancestry between me and Jeff, we were ready to take this comic to the next step. Adoree’s a professional editor, while Jeff spent half of his life jamming with Grammy-awarded singers… So, cutting up the responsibilities cake wasn’t a problem.
Soon enough, Jeff became my XO, the Spock to my Kirk, running not only the audio portions of our project, but also handling stuff like VA recruitment, media contacts, organizing future side projects and other day-to-day operations.
And speaking of voice actors – the audiobook portion started out when Matt “Calavera” O’Connor sent in his recording as Nihlus, he was the man responsible for jumpstarting that. One thing lead to another and we soon had a full voiceover cast in place, which is still growing.
As for changing the comics due to feedback – the main plot points have been constructed at the very beginning and I haven’t touched a single one of them since.
I have of course changed some dialogue throughout the series, with a lot of input on that from Adoree, but also Jeff, Calavera, Natalie Loftus, Nokyo-Chan, AssaultSloth and the rest of the team on occasion…
We’re pretty open about giving each other feedback and it really helps to make sure that what we’re putting out into the world is as good as it can be.
NGN: You have 60 Marauder Shields comics planned as well as the audio work, do you have any additional plans to carry on the series in some format afterwards or work towards another comic series?
K: Our current plan is to transform the story into motion comics and an interactive comic in the end – this is pretty ambitious, truth be told, but if we can keep up the interest, if we still have an audience, I do believe we can get it done.
Beyond that – I have some quick concept sketches for another comic series once Marauder Shields ends, but I don’t want to go into too much details right now. Let me just say this – if you enjoy the Marauder Shields comics… Stick around.
NGN: The comics are being turned into a single audio book and fiction is being crafted around the series, when you began making the comics did you ever suspect Marauder Shields would become the massive success that it has?
K: Oh, certainly not, it came as a total surprise. At the very beginning it was just a series of mediocre jokes, and even when I switched to the full-on “alternative ending” mode, I wasn’t expecting such a huge audience.
As we’re arriving at 1,3 million views right now, all I can say is… The support we’re getting is the best thing in the world, and I freaked out when I started seeing the new characters created by me popping up in various Mass Effect fanfics. To all of you reading the series – thank you.
NGN: Some of the staff from BioWare have expressed their enthusiasm for the comics did you ever expect to have their support and, in some cases, even participation in the series? What can you tell us about BioWare’s involvement?
K: At first, it was just a few back channel messages from two splendid gentlemen that worked on the original Mass Effect… But, with time, the support started flowing in from multiple channels, including public ones.
I can tell you for sure that Jessica Merizan, Tully Ackland, Chris Priestly and Michael Gamble are some of the awesomest people in the industry right now. I’ve got tons of respect and love for them, as I do for the whole Mass Effect team.
This is actually something I’d like to emphasize, as a lot of Retakers were surprised by BioWare’s support for us, seeing as how I’ve basically thrown everything I own at the StarChild and considered buying a group of monkeys just to shove poo at his face… I was, am and – most probably – always will be a Mass Effect fan.
And even though I despise Mass Effect 3’s endings, I still have nothing but respect for the people that poured their hearts into creating the original trilogy.
Shiaw-Ling, a friend from the team, calls this “making fanlove instead of fanraging” – be vocal, yell out your concerns, say it out loud if you hated it, just do so with respect… I just don’t have it in me to be a hater. Even though the StarChild deserves all that monkey poo.
NGN: And in terms of future collaborations would you be interested in working on the developer’s other IP?
K: I’ve been orbiting around BioWare ever since Baldur’s Gate. If I ever move onto creating a new series within other IPs, BioWare’s will surely be the first to consider. Plus, David Gaider’s such a cool dude I’d love to run towards him someday, a comic in my hand, yelling “look! Look what we did out of our love for Dragon Age.”
Also, I’d be carrying bacon crisps. [It] would be awesome.
NGN: What would you say to those who have decided not to purchase anymore BioWare games after what they perceive as the studio’s failures?
K: I have nothing against people venting their dissent and feelings of being let down – and hell will freeze all over before I say anything bad about any reasonable boycotters, I’m a big fan of voting with my wallet. I actually think that’s what being a responsible consumer is all about – if you feel like it, you act like it, don’t buy stuff you’ll hate.
Don’t go to the next Transformers movie if you know you won’t enjoy it, why force yourself to do so? Because I’m pretty sure a fourth one will be in production soon, seeing how much cash the last three gathered, despite everyone bashing them all around the clock…
(A fourth Transformers had already been announced for a 2014 release before this interview took place)
Anyhoo, what I’m trying to say – always assaulted by my own stunted digressions – is that you do what you feel you have to do. But… Whatever your grief with BioWare is, you’ll most likely be missing out on some awesome stuff, one-of-a-kind experiences that no one else is putting out right now. Mass Effect remains my favourite sci-fi universe of all time. All it needs is… a bit of saving.
NGN: And for those of you who have been longing for a full production of Elcor Hamlet since the original Mass Effect Koobismo says there is still hope.
K: Pensively: Why not? I never say no to good ideas. It would have to be a separate, side thing though, as my schedule for the comic is already packed to the max. You know, with all those Reapers getting their… Oh, wait. Spoiler. Carry on.