Commander Shepard Uncovered with Mark Meer At MCM Midlands Comic Con

Mark Meer

Since being released in 2007, Bioware’s hit game series Mass Effect has been met with huge acclaim around the world, receiving recognition for its great storyline and amazing characters, particularly its protagonist, Commander Shepard. At this month’s MCM Midlands Comic Con, fans of the games were given a special treat when Mark Meer, the talented voice actor behind Earth’s greatest hero, Commander Shepard, appeared on stage to talk about his experience of the iconic franchise.

To get things started, Mark told the story of how he first got the part of Shepard. He revealed how he used to work for Bioware long before the first game came out.

“The first game I ever did for them was Baldur’s Gate II back in 1999″.

For that game, he only recorded one line, but it must have been a good one, as Bioware kept asking him back to do more voice roles for them. He then mentioned that he was already a part of Mass Effect before being cast as Shepard.

“When Mass Effect came out, I was the guy who determined how all the alien races would sound. This included the wheezy noise that the Volus make and the decision that all the Salarians would sound like Steve Buscemi.”

During this process, Mark was asked to audition for Shepard. Holding out no hope, he agreed, and much to his surprise, he was successful.

“I was floored,” he said. “It was such an amazing thing for me to find out!”

Asked about when he realised how huge Mass Effect had become, he replied that he had always known that Bioware produced top quality video games. But for him, the game’s success hit home when he first attended a convention.

“I was at a con and I wasn’t even a guest, I was just attending Dragon Con as a fan. I was walking along and a man dressed as Commander Shepard walked past me. That’s when it started to sink in just how successful Mass Effect was.”

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During the panel, Mark revealed that he loves to cosplay as Commander Shepard, pointing out that he was doing so even as he spoke.

“I’m Casual Commander Shepard!” he joked.

More generally, he said that he was a huge fan of cosplay and of Halloween.

“I’ve always loved Halloween. I had a lot of supervillian costumes before I ever costumed at a con, so when I started bringing costumes to Dragon Con, it wasn’t Mass Effect stuff, it was all Marvel and DC comic villains stuff,” he said, adding, “Everyone here can agree, it’s all about showing off your cool costumes… While drinking beer.”

Asked about the most random cosplay he would like to do, Mark replied that he loved obscure villains.

“I’ve had a few ideas: Bat-Zorro would be one of them. Deadmen, because I also tend to gravitate towards the weird, creepier-looking characters. Stiltman would be good, and Bat-Mite,” he said, though on reflection, he decided that the last of these might work better as a puppet.

After the laughter in the theatre died down, it was time for the fans to ask their questions. Asked if he would fight to play the role of Shepard if a Mass Effect movie was ever made, Mark replied that he has the body type for a Salarian, not Commander Shepard. Nevertheless, he said that he wouldn’t turn the role down if it was offered to him. He sadly couldn’t comment on whether or not he will appear in the upcoming Mass Effect 4, either.

A fan then asked the actor to say Shepard’s iconic line: “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite store on the Citadel” to the camera. Mark glady agreed, jokingly asking for a discount afterwards.

Asked about his opinion on the highly controversial ending to Mass Effect 3, he said that he hadn’t had a problem with it when it first came out, but he knew that fans wanted an ending with more closure.

“People had spent years spending time with these characters,” he said. “They needed that emotional closure.”

However, he did also mention that he thought that the extended cut of the ending gave fans just that, especially with the Citadel DLC (Downloadable Content) He said his favourite of all the extended endings was the “Control” one because Shepard became a Galactus. His favourite romance option, meanwhile, was harder to choose.

“For my playthroughs, my renegade started with me romancing Ashley, and the second game, I moved onto Miranda. For Paragon, I started with Liara and I eneded by romancing Tali.”

That’s a lot of romance! Asked if he would change anything about the story of Mass Effect, his reply was simple.

“I often petitioned Bioware to include a chimpanzee sidekick for Shepard.”

Keep an eye out for a Chimpanzee Shepard costume coming to a comic con near you soon!

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In terms of future stories he’d like to see explored, Mark’s answer chimed with the feelings of many Mass Effect fans: he said that he would like to what happened in the first contact war with the Turians. That said, he emphasised that there were no limits to where the franchise could be taken.

“They could go anywhere. The universe is so fully realized,” he said.

Next, he discussed the infamous indoctrination theory that has surrounded the franchise for many years. While he admitted that it was very well thought out, he stated that Bioware has confirmed that the theory is not correct.

Discussion then moved onto Mark’s ideal video game companies to work for.

“I’m a really big fan of the Fallout games,” he said. “So Bethesda would be up there most certainly.”.

Asked who he had drawn inspiration from when voicing Shepard, Mark said that while he was partly inspired by Han Solo, it was also important that Shepard was a unique character, adapting to whoever the played wanted him/her to be.

“Shepard could be male, female, a paragon, a renegade. Essentially, the player could play Commander Shepard as a selfless noble hero or an utterly ruthless bas***d who would shoot his mother in the face, if it would hurt the Reapers.”

Adapting his voice to such a character can’t have been easy. Speaking of how he does this, Mark said that in the case of Mass Effect, he was able to work with the model for Shepards’s face, Mark Vanderloo, to help him.

“But at the same time,” he continued, “I couldn’t work with any concept art because anyone could have a different looking Shepard.”

Ultimately, he concluded, it is the script that helps him most in getting into character.

The conversation then turned to other characters. When asked who he would choose if he could build a squad of characters from any game, he said that he had always loved non-human ones, and would love to play a mission with the villains Dr Doom and Thanos.

“It’d be good to have those guys back me up!” he joked.

Explaining that Dr Doom was one of his favourite characters, Mark said that he would love the chance to use his voice acting skills to bring the villain to life.

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Briefly discussing his Mass Effect colleagues, Mark interestingly mentioned that he had never actually met the voice of Shepard’s pilot, Joker (Seth Green), until his friend Nathon Fillion set up a meeting between them at a social event.

Discussion then turned to Mark’s improv TV show, Tiny Plastic Men, which is available to watch on Youtube.

Comparing acting on-camera to voice acting, Mark joked that “one of the major advantages of voice acting is that you do not have to wear pants.” He went on, “With live action I have to show up an hour before anyone else, but with voice acting I just breeze into the studio and act.”

Mark then talked about his improv show in London, which sees actors improvise for an astonishing 50 hours. Mark explained that audiences were free to stay for as long as they liked.

“It gets very surreal sometimes,” he admitted. “But it’s one of my favourite things to do.”

On the subject of surreal experiences, Mark was asked whether he’d had any strange fan encounters. He replied that his interactions with Mass Effect fans had been really positive.

“The most surreal thing for me is seeing the amazing stuff that people build for cons.”

In particular, he talked about a fan-made Reaper he had once seen that was as tall as a person.

When asked what he thinks the biggest advancement has been in gaming over the last few years, Mark was keen to talk about how important story is becoming. He then declared his love for the Telltale Games on account of their brilliant characterisation and storytelling.

Asked who he would like to provide his voice in a game about his life, Mark chose Jennifer Hale, who voices the female Commander Shepard, without a moment’s hesitation, joking that the story of that game would be about a man who pretends for a living, and who plays games and reads comic books.

Asked which of the Mass Effect games had been his favourite to work on, Mark said that it had to be Mass Effect 3.

“This was because it was the end of that journey, the culmination of everything that happened up to that point.”

He praised the Citadel DLC for being a great send off for the fans and Lair of the Shadow Broker for being an amazing piece of DLC. He also mentioned that his favourite loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2 was Grunt’s (The Genetic Krogan).

“I have a soft spot for the Krogan,” Mark said.

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Finally, he spoke about the biggest personal thing he would take away from being involved in the series (other than paying his mortgage). His response was genuinely touching.

“The biggest take-away that I have is that it opened me up to an international audience and I got to meet people whose work I had admired for years and years. But even more than that, I got to meet the Mass Effect fans,” he said. “Mass Effect fandom is intensely dedicated. I would stack Mass Effect fans up against any other fandom. They always impress me with the passion and creativity they bring and the way that they keep the universe alive.”

And with that, the discussion drew to a close as Mark thanked his fans for their questions.

Photographs by Caitlin Jenkins.

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