Many games in the previous generation gave us choices about who would live or who would die. This was, I dare say, the best one.
In some games, like BioShock, we could do the math on a life or death choice and strip emotion out of it. Go with the most beneficial option for leveling up our abilities. And some choices, like many of the ones in The Walking Dead, were all emotion. It wasn't really going to matter, but we had to follow our hearts.
And then there was that big one in the first Mass Effect: kill Wrex? Or let him live? What was the right choice? Should we follow our head? Our heart? This was going to be a hard call.
The choice was shocking. Wrex was a loyal support character and spouted many of Mass Effect 1's best lines. Suddenly, it seemed, the game was giving us a chance to kill him off. In fact, the game was forcing us to decide if he deserved to live!
The stakes were high.
The choice comes up while the player was trying to stop the villainous Saren by destroying a facility he was using to breed Krogan warriors. Wrex is a Krogan. The Krogan were nearly extinct. Wrex didn't want this place destroyed. Suddenly, this was a face-off, with guns drawn. What was a gamer to do?
Don't shoot him?
Have someone else do it?
There was no obvious right answer. Whatever you decided, you lived with it for two more games. If you let Wrex live, he'd appear in Mass Effect 2 and be a good computer-controlled ally in Mass Effect 3. If you killed him, well, that was the end of that.
Back in 2007, I interviewed the cinematographers behind this and other scenes in BioWare's big game. This is how one of them explained the staging of that scene:
Notes on the Wrex scene from BioWare's Ken Thain:
In the first dialog with Captain Kirrahe we began building tension for the upcoming confrontation by having Wrex step into the conversation when the Krogans are mentioned. We brought the tension to a head with an extreme side-angle shot of Wrex facing off with Captain Kirrahe. The shot is unlike any other in the dialog; its composition really screams conflict.
After Wrex storms off, we focused on the digital acting by holding a single shot while the squad discusses how to diffuse the situation. By switching the player's focus to the relationship of the characters, we allow some of the tension to fade away so we can start ramping it up again with the next conversation.
For the confrontation with Wrex, we wanted to slowly build the tension to the extreme over the duration of the conversation. Shepard initiates the dialog from a distance as Wrex is staring angrily into the distance. As the conversation heats up, the actors move closer, and low angle cameras visually represent the struggle for dominance. Just when the two can't get any closer, they pull weapons on each other, sending the tension through the roof. The player is now dramatically engaged and has a tough choice to make. Wrex is a very strong and useful party member, but he has a shotgun in your face. What would you do?
Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku's look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we'll be celebrating the Heroes—and the Zeroes—of the last eight years of console video gaming. More details can be found here; follow along with the series here.