Why Ambrov X and Why Me? – Jennifer Brandes Hepler
Why Ambrov X?
When Aharon Cagle first approached me about Ambrov X, I was skeptical, as I’m sure most of you are. Who was this little company making what looked to be a complete Mass Effect rip-off? And how were they possibly going to manage that on a Kickstarter budget? But then we talked, and I read the source material, and I started thinking… What if when Ash/Kaidan turn against Shepard in the Citadel coup, Shepard’s own life literally depended on convincing them back to his side? What if Hawke could have used Anders’s addiction to her life-force to keep him from turning fully Vengeance? How much more intense could your relationship be with your followers if they were more than friends, more than romances – if they were both a part of your soul and the greatest threat to it?
Over and over again, the majority of Bioware fans tell us that a large part of what draws them to a character is their involvement in the main plot of the game. Fans like to have the chance to put their lover/best buddy Alistair on the throne, or have Morrigan end the Blight by carrying their baby. In the writers’ rooms, we spent long hours trying to respond to this by giving every follower a shining moment in the plot, but it’s hard for a single story to support 8 or 9 equally important co-starring roles. And the reality is that on a large game, things change – followers get cut, or downgraded to non-romanceable, or gender-swapped. And in a party-based RPG, it has to be gameplay that guides such decisions – whether a follower is the much-needed mage or rogue is often more important than how well-written they are, or how much their personal arc might get under your skin.
In Ambrov X, it is the player and his/her symbiotic relationship with the other half of their pair that are the center of the game. While there is also a sprawling space opera plot that players will navigate and world-affecting decisions to be made, the key moments hinge on the tumultuous relationship between the two main characters. Though they may fight, make up, take opposite sides and love and hate each other in equal measure, they cannot survive without each other… and humanity cannot survive without their alliance. But this doesn’t mean the story is limited to a single playthrough with a single paired character. Our intent is to have a distinct paired character for each race/gender combination the player can choose. When combined with the choices the player makes in the plots, Ambrov X will be a deep story with extensive replayability. By producing the game episodically, we get the opportunity to develop these all-important characters in conjuction with the fans. By hearing fan feedback early and often, we can tailor the characters to players’ interests, so that by the final installment, any surprises in the ending should be the kind that make you gasp… not groan.
And Why Me?
The themes in Ambrov X are ones I’ve always been fascinated with: What makes us human? At what point does having powers or needs different than most people’s make you no longer human? How can freedom be justified if it places other people at risk? How do the quirks and personal relationships between individuals get magnified when those people have the power to influence a whole world?
I have been a writer at Bioware for 8 years, and have worked on all three Dragon Age games as well as Star Wars: The Old Republic. During that time, I have received a lot of praise for my work from fans who were deeply moved by finding such deep themes explored in a videogame. My goal as a game writer has always been to convince players to do something that is bad for them as a character, that they have no good meta-game reason to do, just because an imaginary person said it was important to them.
I have also, as most of you know, received a fair amount of vitriol about my stance that games are for everyone. But I continue to firmly believe that we have not come of age as an industry or a hobby, until you no longer have to ask someone “are you a gamer?” because everyone plays games, and you only need to ask “what kinds of games do you play?” With Ambrov X, as with Dragon Age and SWTOR, we are reaching out past the “straight white male” demographic and trying to create a game for anyone who loves a good sci-fi story. Players can play any gender and romance any gender they want. Because who am I to come into your living room and tell you how to play?
What I like, personally, in a game or movie or story of any kind, is a dark, deep story about characters with larger-than-life personalities, who need every ounce of their super-human willpower to survive making decisions that will affect the lives of millions. I like to have the chance to explore the kinds of difficult, co-dependent and damaging relationships I avoid like the plague in real life. And I like to have dialogue that sings, with lines you can quote to your friends or wear on a t-shirt and every time you hear it, you’re reminded of the thrill that scene first gave you.
As lead writer on Ambrov X, that’s the kind of game I want to make. And I hope it’s the kind of game you want to play. Please support us!