If you’re a Mass Effect fan, you might have heard about a guy named Gerry Pugliese over the past few days. As a longtime fan of the Mass Effect series, Pugliese, like many other fans, was naturally more than a little disappointed with how the trilogy closed out at the end of Mass Effect 3. However, while other disgruntled fans sent colored cupcakes and signed online petitions, Pugliese decided to take his skills as a blogger and amateur screenwriter and do the unthinkable: he changed what he didn’t like.
The fruit of Pugliese’s labors is a 539-page document titled Mass Effect 3: Vindication. The document details the changes he made to virtually every element of the game including not only the controversial endings but also how the various characters were presented, how missions played out, how romances were handled, a new playable class for Shepard, new missions, romances, and dialogue, and even new additions to the multiplayer. Vindication has only been out in the wild for a few short days now (Pugliese put it up as a free PDF download on January 16th) but he has already received a ton of positive feedback from fans and members of the media; so much so that he even made a separate Twitter account for Vindication (@MassEffect3V) just to keep up with it all.
I recently got to speak to Pugliese via email and fielded him a few questions about Vindication and the process he went through creating it. Read on to see my full one on one with the man who pretty much single-handedly turned Mass Effect 3 into a much more cohesive and satisfying narrative. You can download and read Vindication for yourself by following this link.
Naturally since we discuss the game’s endings and other events there are spoilers so if you haven’t completed Mass Effect 3 yet, consider yourself warned.
Nate Hohl: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Gerry. Ok, first off, during Vindication’s introduction, you talk a bit about how it was Mass Effect 3’s endings that mainly inspired you to sit down and write up your own alternate take but Vindication ended up being so much more than just reworked endings. When did you first decide you wanted to go back and rework the entire game? Covering things like character dialogue, how missions played out, romances, even alternate character outfits, you could have just presented the alternate endings and called it a day but what made you decide to go the extra mile (and then some)?
Gerry Pugliese: Mass Effect 3: Vindication was a giant rabbit hole. When I started writing about one thing, be it the endings or a random bug, I would immediately say, “Well, what about this? If I fix this, then I need to fix that. Oh! I can’t ignore that. But to do this, I have to do that.” That was the constant conversation in my head. So…I just went with it. I never told myself “no” on any idea. I explored it. I ran with it. I exhausted it. Of course this piled up the revisions, content, etc., but I didn’t start Vindication to round off any corners. I wanted to beat this thing into the ground – take everything as far as I could, and that pretty much ended up being the whole damn game! The Mass Effect series is all about details, I tried to address as many as I could. I just kept pushing myself.
NH: The amount of detail you put into each section of Vindication is staggering! Everything down to the minute differences in dialogue that can happen when picking different response options for Shepard all the way up to the major differences in which a mission can play out based on past and current choices. Was Vindication mainly a solo endeavor or did you have help from friends/colleagues/fellow Mass Effect fans?
GP: When it comes down to the writing, it was 100% all me, nobody else. I have an awesome group of artists who created all the concept art. Without their hard work – and putting up with my constant nagging – Mass Effect 3: Vindication would not be what it is. I owe them a lot, but the writing? All me…all crazy me.
NH: Having Shepard live in the new “Alpha” endings you wrote seems like a bold move considering BioWare originally wanted Shepard’s death to be a major impact at the end of Mass Effect 3. However, I admit I struggled for a long time with having to accept Shepard’s sacrifice, especially since I had built such a personal connection with the character over the course of the three games. Getting to finally see (or at least read) what could have happened if Shepard had lived was actually quite a cathartic experience for me. What made you decide to include not one but several endings where Shepard actually gets to live happily ever after?
GP: It was a no-brainer, honestly. I wanted to create a bunch of different ending scenarios; Shepard living was an obvious choice. Shepard lives! Let’s throw a bunch of crap against that wall and see what sticks. Shepard dies! Now let’s throw a different bunch of crap against that wall. To me, Shepard living was just as a logical of an outcome as he/she dying. And as you can see in my endings, Shepard living or dying is a big factor in each ending, and a fun variable to play with. Plus, whether Shepard lives or dies does not affect the end of the series. The endings are too varied, too different, whether Shepard is alive or dead. It still means Mass Effect cannot proceed forward in that direction – the galaxy is just too different, too unique to your choice.
NH: Can you talk a bit about the revisions you made to the romances? I liked the little additions you made here and there (especially the bathroom make-out scene with Jack) and including new romances for James and Khalisah was a nice touch. What made you decide to go back and re-examine Shepard’s romantic escapades?
GP: There is a degree of “keeping format” here. I tried to balance it all out, and make sure each romance was given enough action – no pun intended. I tried to ensure every romance received an adequate amount of screen-time. Take the Citadel DLC for example, every romance character gets an “alone time” scene up in Shepard’s apartment, so I had to do the same for the new romances I added in Vindication. Call it…balance. Also, every single Mass Effect fan waits in anticipation for the “romance scene,” so a little more content there is a good thing, right?
NH: As someone who also enjoyed the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 (I still play it to this day!), I naturally found your section on the new multiplayer “campaigns” and N7 Vindicator class to be quite intriguing. The campaigns in particular are something I feel the multiplayer could have benefited greatly from as the standard “horde-esque” mode, even with all its randomized objectives, did start to feel stale after a while. Where did the ideas for campaigns and the N7 Vindicator/Savant single-player class come from?
GP: The multiplayer campaigns were born out of my OCD. Listen, even though I play every DLC and do every side mission, I still won’t launch the final space battle until my Galactic Readiness score is at least 95%, and I know I’m not alone! So the multiplayer campaigns were a gift to my OCD comrades. It’s a simple way to add variety to the multiplayer games, while using existing content, and to get that pesky score up. Now you can go to sleep at night and not worry about losing those cursed percentage points! As for the N7 Vindicator, that happened because of the Earth DLC. I made a new character class, the Savant, so I had to make the Savant available for multiplayer too. I played copycat there, but, if you look at the N7 Vindicator’s powers, I do think outside the box, as they say.
The Savant itself was something I have thought about since Mass Effect 2. It’s no secret, every character class in the Mass Effect series draws from the three power disciplines: biotic, tech, and combat, i.e. soldier stuff. I figured it would be cool to have a character class that is comprised of all three, with cool new powers, and an interesting back story. I’m pretty proud of the Savant, actually. I think the idea of Shepard’s Lazarus implants going bat shit works within the story, and guarantees at least a second play-through. First, you play as your beloved character class, and then you go for the Savant. Obliterate them!
NH: Last question, and it’s kind of a tough one. We already know that BioWare is working on a new Mass Effect game that won’t involve Shepard. What do you hope to see in this new game in terms of story, characters, gameplay, etc.? Are you hoping BioWare will take a page from your Vindication playbook and ensure that their attention to detail is properly applied to all aspects of the game, even the minor ones? Do you want this new game to be a sort of separate stand-alone one-off game? Or should BioWare try to tackle another trilogy now that they (hopefully) have a better idea of what fans want to see?
GP: I hope Mass Effect 4 is a prequel. I can’t even imagine the amount of “spin” BioWare would have to pull off to make the game march beyond the events of Mass Effect 3. The outcomes are just too different. How do you make the fallout of Destroy, Synthesis, and Control universal? If you chose Synthesis, your galaxy is now part organic, part robot. If you chose Destroy, just a bunch of stuff is blown up. And if you chose Control, Shepard is watching you! Mass Effect 4 would be best as a prequel, or a total re-imagining of the Mass Effect brand, i.e. “rebooting” the series. I would prefer a prequel though.
I think if you go prequel, all you have to do is stick to the lore of Mass Effect, i.e. the Rachni Wars, Krogan Rebellion, Geth uprising, etc. That should be easy to do. BioWare did an awesome job establishing the Mass Effect lore. Plus, a prequel would be a great opportunity to learn more about Saren. Maybe Saren starts off as an honorable member of your team, but then we witness his fall from grace, and exactly how he became part turian, part robo-turian. There is a lot of gold to mine in Saren’s story alone. So yeah, I vote prequel! And hey, maybe at the end of the game you have a chance meeting with a new Spectre candidate, who happens to look just like you…or default Shepard.
NH: Thanks so much for your time Gerry!
You can go and check out Mass Effect 3: Vindication right now and I highly encourage any Mass Effect fans out there who may not have been totally satisfied with the original game’s ending to do so. During Vindication’s introduction, Pugliese mentions how he hopes the document will open some doors for him and maybe even land him a job as a video game writer; personally I think BioWare (or any other game developer looking for writers) would be crazy not to utilize Pugliese’s talent and dedication. Either way Mass Effect 3: Vindication still stands as a shining example of fan service to an already beloved series and will likely continue to do so for many years to come.