I posted an article on PhoenixDown that showcased some of the first concept art that contained cut ideas from the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age 2. The “what-ifs” went insane. Particularly while I looked at the visual ideas of how Tali should look beneath her mask as well as the first unsuccessful communication between writers and artists about Merrill’s appearance. It really made me wonder just how different these beloved games could have been, but it also made me think of some deeper questions. What do we find aesthetically pleasing in characters? I first asked myself this after seeing Tali’s concept images. How would we have reacted if one of those had been used, especially if Tali had actually been unmasked in the 3rd game? Would her voice match our assumptions? Would our feelings change toward her if she didn’t carry the “pleasing” qualities that normally make alien characters like the asari beautiful?
I can’t honestly answer that question. And that makes me question my own preferences toward what I find “pretty” or “beautiful” in characters. Is it possible that I wouldn’t find Tali pretty enough if she had been fitted with this image? Would my Shepard still love her if they had previously initiated a romantic relationship? Or is it simply impossible to develop an actual answer toward a picture that only shows a glimpse of “what if”?
But I guess the opposite could be the same. What if Tali was actually a bombshell?! How would her voice and personality accompany this sudden realization? Would I be able to actually accept the connection between them? Or what if Tali was just something… unexpected? Not necessarily frightening or unpleasing, but something you just couldn’t possibly imagine while listening to her prattle along about engineering beneath her mask? It’s difficult to answer because I adore Tali’s character. I love the challenges she faces beneath her protective gear, knowing that just one foreign particle outside of her suit could potentially kill her. I love the tension her predicament creates when she realizes that she truly wants to be with Shepard romantically (if that’s the route you took in the game).
It’s so strange knowing that these tiny details in the span of such massive games could have potentially changed the way we looked at our favorite characters. When I first saw Merrill’s images, I was shocked… and a little bit terrified. Matt Rhodes, the BioWare artist that posted the early concept art on his blog, wrote about the challenges and communication that occurs between writers and artists.
“Designing Merrill was a great exercise in Writing and Concept Art learning to speak one another’s language. In her early descriptions I picked up heavily on her willful dabbling with blood magic. On paper she was scary, so early drawings reflected that. After the writers understandably freaked a little, it was explained how those more deadly aspects of her curiosity would unfold and we reined her in a great deal.”
Merrill could have been one freaky blood mage… definitely not someone Isabela would call a kitten, and certainly not a character I could babble about. Merrill is supposed to be cute! Her danger is supposed to stem from her inexperience and endless curiosity, as well as the desperation to reinvigorate something as mysterious and dangerous as the Eluvian. She is meant to be the character you say “yes” to when you should definitely say “no,” and that’s what makes her character so riveting to me.