Spoilers for Mass Effect 2 below:
In Mass Effect 2, if players opt for the female version of Commander Shepard, they’re eventually presented with the chance to romance Thane, the green-skinned drell assassin. Thane’s a bit of a complicated fellow. He’s an assassin who prefers to kill his targets up close and relatively painlessly, and being intensely spiritual, he prays for his forgiveness after each assassination. Unfortunately, Thane’s line of work eventually caught up to him and his family. His wife, Irikah, was killed by a band of mercenaries whose leader had been assassinated by Thane, and Thane left his son Kolyat in the care of his extended family.As the player, we learn a lot of this during our major conversations with Thane, where the duality of Thane’s troubled life and his softspoken nature clash. Literally moments after Thane reveals details about his wife’s tragic murder, the player is presented with two dialogue options: “Just focus on your son” and the laughably unsubtle “I want you, Thane.”
Weekes took the opportunity to explain how a combination of a tight schedule, bug reports, and the restrictions of 2009-era game development (no major game patches) resulted in one of the franchise’s most awkward dialogue paraphrases.
“Late 2009. I’m on Mass Effect 2,” Weekes says. “Given that we’re only a few months from ship, Mass Effect 2 is also on me. I’m one of a few writers left on the project, tackling bugs. A bug comes in saying that there’s a lack of clarity around the opt-in to Thane’s romance — you only get one chance to choose to romance him, and they’re missing it, and therefore missing a bunch of content. And some folks are opting in by accident, too. Thane’s writer has left the team, so I look at the conversation. It’s a great conversation! But I can also see how you could look at the dialogue options and not realize that one of them is you saying, “Let’s start a relationship.” So, yes, needs to be fixed.
“2020 Brain: Wouldn’t the big heart icon make that clear? Aha, but this is 2009. ME2 (and even ME3) didn’t use icons to indicate that you were entering a relationship. No hover text on big choices, either! (See also, “How people accidentally ended up showering with Traynor.”)
2020 Brain: Wouldn’t the big heart icon make that clear?
Aha, but this is 2009. ME2 (and even ME3) didn’t use icons to indicate that you were entering a relationship. No hover text on big choices, either! (See also, “How people accidentally ended up showering with Traynor.”)
— Patrick Weekes (@PatrickWeekes) May 22, 2020
“2020 Brain: Okay, so let’s rewrite the end of the scene, touching the original writer’s lines as lightly as possible, to add a clean chance to opt into a romance with Thane.
“Aha, but this is LATE 2009. This scene is LOCKED. No dialogue changes possible. Game DONE, yo. Thane is talking about how his wife died. He’s never told anyone. A Shepard who wants to romance Thane tells him she’s there for Thane to lean on, whatever he needs.
“Original paraphase was something like, “I’m here for you.” The writer (Chris L’Etoile) did an amazing job.
“But players who wanted to romance Thane didn’t understand that this dialogue choice was their one and only chance to get onto a romance path with him.
“And players who DIDN’T want to romance Thane didn’t like stumbling onto it by accident.
“2009 Me: So I have no heart icon, I can’t change the dialogue at all. Literally I can do is change the paraphrase, and I have to change it so nobody has any doubt about what this line indicates.
“2009 Me: Nailed it.”
“Did 2009 Me think this was a good paraphrase?” Weekes continued. “WOW NO! Was it the best 2009 Me could come up with to be 100% clear, with no other changes available and paraphrases limited to 30 characters? APPARENTLY YES! Every time I see this play on Twitch, the player makes fun of the paraphrase. “Subtle, Shepard!” And they are totally right! I wish we’d caught this earlier, so I could’ve changed the lines or done SOMETHING less clunky than this. But this is what last-minute fixes look like.”
Weekes finished their Twitter thread saying they’re glad that game developers have the tools to include more explicit icons and text that makes it clear what you’re character is getting into before committing to a dialogue choice. When asked what they’d do differently using that same 2009 tech, Weekes said they’d change the prompt to you “‘You matter to me, Thane.’ < 30 characters, about as clear, and much cleaner as a topic transition.”
Years later, it’s still pretty funny.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN, and he’s here for you. Romance him on Twitter.