Toonzone at MCM London Comic Con May 2013 - Mark Meer & Raphael Sbarge Q&A
Meer took to the stage initially in the company of his Mass Effect co-star Raphael Sbarge. This led to the opening question of how many in the audience had allowed Sbarge’s character Kaidan to die. A majority of hands were raised to Sbarge’s amusement, including Meer’s.
Asked if he ever guessed that Mass Effect would have such a large cultural impact, Mark discussed his previous work for Bioware on titles such as Baldur’s Gate and how this had made him aware of the quality work put out by the studio in addition to being a gamer himself. But the success of Mass Effect, having even been compared to the likes of Star Wars, was an amazing honour for him to be a part of.
Footage was then shown from Mass Effect 3 of the male Shephard, voiced by Meer, delivering a speech to his allies before the final battle. Discussing the morality system of the series, he revealed that initially he would pick Renegade for playthroughs before ‘redeeming’ himself as Paragon. In contrast Sbarge chose Paragon but still opted to allow his in-game counterpart to die, joking he couldn’t stand listening to himself.
Although he’s completed personal Paragon and Renegade playthroughs of the first two games, Meer has yet to do so with Mass Effect 3 and has only played it in Bioware’s testing room. This also allowed him to see much of the game’s concept art, prompting him to reveal his initial involvement with Mass Effect had been to offer vocal concepts for the various alien races. He retained the role of the Vorcha, whose lines were often done at the end of a recording day due to the vocal strain provided. The large number of actors required for each Mass Effect game meant they all had to record their lines separately, though new technology was used in the production of the second and third instalment which provided the actors with better placement of the relevant line they were responding to in order to better hone their own performance.
In terms of ad-libbing, the fact that both Mark and Jennifer Hale were required to read generally the exact same lines meant that which ever one of them performed a given sequence first meant that they would have some slight leeway as long as it didn’t affect the plot. Although they had been in correspondence Meer didn’t actually finally meet Hale in person until 2010. They also both attended Martin Sheen’s final day of recording for his character ‘the Illusive Man’.
Asked if he uses the Shepard voice in daily life or gets recognised as the voice of the character, Mark mentioned that as the voice is only slightly removed from his normal tone he usually finds that people comment he sounds similar to Shepard or familiar to them. The audience was then shown ‘the Commander Shepard song’, a YouTube song tribute to the character. Discussing the Mass Effect fan community Meer mentioned its creativity and his involvement in some of its projects such as Red Sand and Mass Effect: Assignment. Asked if he made his Shepard look like him when playing, Meer joked that Kaidan holds the monopoly on sideburns in-universe and so after failed attempts to create a facsimile of himself he opted for the default face. Following from this, Sbarge shared an anecdote of drinking coffee with the actor who was the facial model for his character and asking a stranger if he’d mind taking a picture of the two given their connection. Asking if they were starring in some indie game, the stranger became instantly excited upon hearing it was indeed an ‘indie’ game known as Mass Effect.
For favourite lines, Meer offered the default Shepard catchphrase of “I should go” though admitted a fondness for the Renegade option lines such as “I’ll relinquish one bullet. Where do you want it?”. For favourite scenes he offered most anything from the Citadel DLC, especially Shepard getting to meet Blasto as he voices both characters. For Raphael it was the final scenes he recorded, as this was when it struck him that the experience of producing these games was over. He cited that during the recording process they are shown slides with a quick summary of the meaning of the scene followed by the needed lines. The slide for the final scene sunk in the realisation that this was the end of the journey for this cast and characters. Mark added that although the book was now closed, he hoped fans would take it off the shelf now and again to revisit.
As Raphael had other appointments to keep, the floor was briefly open to ask him and Mark questions and perform line reads, the most notable answer being that for the second game Mark’s actual wife served as the stand in voice for the relationship dialogue with Tali.
Although he has yet to play the game fully, Mark believes Mass Effect 3 is his favourite primarily for the various DLC. Although he is aware of the controversy over the game’s ending as originally released he doesn’t quite agree with it but does enjoy the extra facets the DLC added, especially the alternate Control ending. Asked if he had a preferred fate for Shepard in mind he answered that as an actor it isn’t his place to enforce such views but to embody what the writer’s script has decided on. Further, Shepard is a unique character in that much of his background and personality is decided individually by the player. Thus, promotional material aside, he doesn’t believe there is a ‘canon’ Shepard but a majority of individual Shepards unique to everyone who has followed the story.
The Paragon dialogues are recorded first followed by the Renegade ones. Complicating things were neutral lines which have to fit both sides and even players who have not chosen one of the two strictly. As such, these had to be recorded with a neutral balance with no obvious bias to Paragon or Renegade.
Asked about his current work schedule he mentioned that he has returned to the first game franchise he ever worked on by working with Overhaul Games on the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Editions in addition to Dragon Age 3 for Bioware. Non-game work includes writing and co-starring in the comedy series Tiny Plastic Men on Canada’s Super Channel, The Irrelevant Show for CBC Radio and the Toronto-filmed web series Versus Valerie.
Asked if he would be willing to return in some role for future Mass Effect projects he reiterated his voice work for the alien races and would be happy to resume said parts. Although he does not know what the future holds for the Mass Effect universe he believes there are a high number of possibilities for the creators to explore.
The floor was opened again to a second Q&A. On casting Shepard for a theoretical movie adaptation he suggested Firefly stars Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin for the male version and Jennifer Hale and Katee Sackhoff for the female version. Questioned on if in any possible future returns he’d want to be more involved with writing the character he mentioned that having served both as an actor and as a writer on different projects he’s understanding of the need to step back as required and support the ideas of others. Favourite games consist mainly of open world and RPGs such as Fallout, Batman Arkham Asylum/City and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Recently he’s been enjoying Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead and Marvel: Avengers Alliance on Facebook.
Asked if he slapped the infamous reporter character on his Mass Effect playthroughs he said he had as Renegade but the situation was awkward for him as the character’s voice actress, April Banigan, was a close friend, with her brother having been best man at his wedding.
On playing any other characters in the series he’d love to have a crack at voicing some of the villains. Returning to his reaction to the original ending for the third game he admitted that being involved with production he had been privy to information that the fans wouldn’t have and he’s glad the revised ending now better clarifies some of those points that were more vague in the originally released ending the public saw.
One attendee raised the question of the recent recasting of David Hayter as Snake in the Metal Gear franchise, asking how Mark would have responded if he had been similarly recast in the middle of the Mass Effect trilogy. He stated he would have been greatly disappointed and is hopeful Hayter’s situation works out for him. Asked about his Rapid Fire Theatre production Improvised Dungeons and Dragons, Mark said that the greatest difficulty of the project (which is attempting to chart a consistent D&D campaign) was getting all the necessary actors together for each session.
The final question saw a fan ask Mark to perform the chorus of the earlier played Shepard song in the character’s voice. This led into the final stage of the event where he performed a series of reads of wild and wacky suggestions from the audience: