Inspiration Behind “We’ve Got Your Back”

Posted: March 18, 2015 by writingsprint in Science fiction, We've Got Your Back
Tags: , , , ,

Spoilers ahead for the ending of Mass Effect 3.
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You might have noticed that I’m a bit of a nut for Mass Effect. I’ll own that. I haven’t played a ton of video games but I’ve played my share, and the game has better storytelling, better acting, and is more cinematic than any game I’ve ever played. It’s better than many of the movies I’ve seen. After I finished ME2, I posted on Facebook that it was the best movie I’d ever played.

I was touched by the end of Mass Effect 3. I had played as a paragon Shepard, having him try to do the right thing as much as possible, and making hard choices where he had to. The idea of him sacrificing himself to save all life in the galaxy made sense after all the sacrifices we’d seen in the rest of the game. In the end, he was still only a man, one of billions who had given their lives struggling against the apocalyptic threat of the Reapers. I considered synthesis, but my Shepard and I shared the belief of “to thine own self be true.” We are what we are, and it is enough.

As I started playing other games, the writer in me asked a question that we often do when we read a book or see a movie that gets us jazzed up: how would you have done it? It’s a tough call. You want to honor the way it was done originally, because that’s someone’s heart and soul out there. At the same time, the fact that they inspired you is the greatest compliment you can give to any writer.

So, again: how would you have done it?

The first question is, does Shepard die? The response hit me like a slap in the face: hell no! If anything, even if he wanted to sacrifice himself, everyone who owes him their lives–which is just about everyone else in the galaxy, and they know it–would stand up and say, “No. You’ve given too much, sacrificed too much, gone too far. We won’t let that happen. You’ve stood between us and death all this time. Now we’ll do the same for you.”

You’d better believe it, Commander Shepard. We’ve got your back.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s a poetic turnabout from the other two games in the series. In Mass Effects 1 and 2, the game ends with Shepard saving the galaxy. This time, we have to save Shepard. Shepard isn’t the only hero; his leadership has made the team more than they were; his lesson of the importance coming together has borne fruit; more than his own team, an entire galaxy owes the fact that it has a breath of a chance to survive on this day because of what he’s done.

The ball started rolling. I wanted to see Shepard holding on by a thread as he finished the job. I wanted Miranda to lead the rescue team, alongside team members from ME1 and ME3. I wanted to see other ships fighting to hold the Reapers off. I wanted to see the look on Hackett’s face when the fleet refused to leave. I wanted to see Shepard tell off Harbinger. And I wanted to see what happily ever after looked like.

The overall spirit of the story was inspired by the Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod, created by MrFob and the Mass Effect modding community–Captain Fob and the Nuremberg were inspired by their appearance in the mod, and his words, “We’ve got your back,” inspired the title.

As I started working on the story, I looked for music to inspire me. I came across John Murphy’s “Adagio in D Minor,” and it brought tears to my eyes picturing the scene. The soundtrack song would have been called “Ten Thousand Heroes,” for everyone standing up for Shepard. Sad to say, the title doesn’t work–there are a lot more than ten thousand people standing up for him at that moment.

Soon after that, I came across the Suicide Mission guitar cover by FamilyJules7x. I love “Adagio in D Minor,” but if ever a moment in Mass Effect deserved some rock, this was it. All bets are off. The regular soundtrack is gone. Hit that electric guitar and let’s go get Shepard!

Miranda had to command the Normandy, since she was the XO in ME2, and Ashley had to be the ship’s second officer, since she’s a badass soldier. Garrus, Tali and Jack had to be on the rescue team, because they were my favorite squadmates. Lopez and Grunt made the team because they’re the meanest, toughest members of the squad. (Zaeed’s a close third.) Randall and Inali from Mass Effect: Infiltrator had cameo appearances because I thought they deserved to be there, too.

Captain Holland is my alter-ego from my days playing strategy games like Starfire and Star Fleet Battles. The Sarajevo was my flagship. Captain Phillips is named for a close friend of mine whose feedback and ideas made the story possible. Matriarch Lidanya is already in ME3, and I invented Admiral Meridus as Lidanya’s opposite number in the turian fleet.

The prothean “puzzle” to arm the Crucible was inspired by two things. First, necessity. I had to give Shepard a reason to talk to Harbinger while arming the Crucible. It had to take time. Otherwise, he would just ignore the kid, throw the switch, and watch the fireworks. Second, I missed the mini-games from ME1 and ME2 from hacking systems and unlocking doors. I imagined Shepard solving an advanced Rubik’s Cube, while millions of lives hung in the balance.

The conversation where Shepard tells Harbinger to go to hell was inspired by, of all things, a drunken argument. This drunken argument, at the end of the The World’s End. My brother sent it to me as a joke. I sat there for a second after I watched it and thought, “But what would that look like, really? Shepard telling off Harbinger for a change?” Harbinger has it coming, and Shepard deserves to say it.

As I rounded out the scene, I was groping for a way to wrap it up. Harbinger wouldn’t roll over in the argument–but for me, that wasn’t the point. For me, everything it had to offer took away from our humanity–and for all we knew, the geth might not be crazy about synthesis, either. And even if everything it offered would be everything we ever dreamed of, did we want something we hadn’t earned yet, from beings that had no concept of empathy or love? It didn’t feel like a gift as much as a bribe. So the hell with that.

Harbinger’s death was a contribution from “captain” Phillips. We were brainstorming things that we wanted to see in the ending, and he thought it would be cool to have a Reaper charge the shuttle and have the entire fleet pounce on it to save Shepard. I grinned and said, “I have the perfect Reaper in mind.” At first, Phillips started coming up with ideas to justify why a Reaper would pick on a shuttle. He’s never played the game, but he became a fan because of everything I’ve told him about it. I told him not to worry. With Harbinger, it’s personal. We know how it turned out!

My favorite moment, the “tomorrow” scene, came to me long before I even started working on the story. I imagined Shepard recovering in the medical bay, lucky to be alive, and someone telling him that he had a big day “tomorrow.” A day before, the life expectancy of the entire galaxy might as well have been measured in hours. “Tomorrow” means life. Hope. The future. Children. Happiness, as well as sorrow. More importantly, the chance to make it better than yesterday. It’s staggering when you think about it. I liked having him share the moment with Miranda.

The epilogue was inspired by the ending scenes in Mass Effect 3: Vindication, a manual written by Gerry Pugliese on how to “fix” the ending of Mass Effect 3. I loved his idea of showing what happened to everyone, even the minor characters. They’re all family. (Now that I think about it, I forgot to mention Dr. Chakwas in the epilogue. Hmm. I think she retired shortly after the war, though she volunteered with rehabilitating veterans for a very long time. She and Shepard made it a point to meet once a year to share a drink of serrice ice brandy.)

The Reaper War Memorial scene seemed a fitting way to end the story. The entire team comes together again, only now they have their futures ahead of them, and their children, born after the war, are there to share the day. I scratched my head for a long time trying to figure out what the memorial itself looked like. A statue of Shepard? Not enough. Statues of the various worlds? Of a sunrise? No, not quite. Then I tried to settle on what “We’ve Got Your Back” is really all about. I think Liara’s words, “We stood together as a united galaxy,” were working in the back of my mind. Ordinary people, standing together. In the Reaper War, we were all soldiers, and all victims. We survived because we stood together.

“We’ve Got Your Back” feels like it was a collaborative effort. There are some amazingly creative people out there that do incredible work. I can’t get over the diversity of sources that inspired me. I just… had to say thank you. And I encourage you to keep your eyes open, and to write, play, game, sing, do whatever it is you do with whatever it is that inspires you. And connect! Often I think writers think they work solo. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Bounce ideas off your friends. It’s like Shepard would say: we can do more when we work together.

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