The Making Of Mass Effect 2’s Jack

A large crane unlocks what looks like an industrial-grade sealing device, before hoisting a cryogenic pod out of a secure chamber. A young, tattooed woman with a skinhead is held in place by hefty restraints. “Jack is small,” Grunt says.

Jack’s eyes snap open. She gasps for air, tugs at her bindings, and lunges toward three mechs with the explosive fury of a volcanic eruption.

“Oh, I want to see this,” Grunt says. “Let’s go!”

The reason I’m including Grunt’s dialogue here is because I think it sums up Jack’s introduction perfectly. Before you meet her, she becomes this near-apocryphal character who only exists in shadows and whispers. All you know is that she’s one of the most powerful biotics that has ever lived – in fact, you don’t even know that she’s a “she” yet. This was something Mass Effect 2 writer, Brian Kindregan, consciously had in mind when he was writing her – you don’t know who Jack is before she shows up on screen and, almost immediately, completely explodes.

“Jack’s archetype was The Convict,” Kindregan tells me. For those unacquainted with “archetypes” in Mass Effect 2, they were essentially fundamental guidelines that were used for writing every single character. Zaeed was “The Veteran” and Kasumi was “The Master Thief.” Grunt was “Grunt.”

“Not every aspect of [Jack’s] original archetype survived,” Kindregan explains. “I remember Jack’s archetype description was a tattooed prisoner with a drug addiction. I think as development went on, the drug addiction part fell off, as I recall for two reasons. I think there was concern about drug use at the time. Even with an M rating, there were parts of the world where if drug use seemed to be aggrandized in your game – even if that wasn’t your intention – your game just wouldn’t be sold in that country. The other reason it fell away was me, personally – as I started to develop her as a character, I didn’t see anyone who had as many control issues as her ever letting their guard down. Maybe if she could lock herself in a time-sealed vault nobody could get into, maybe [then] she’d wanna have a drug experience. But for the most part she’s not gonna cede control of herself like that.”

 

As you can see, Jack’s original archetype was gradually changed as development went on. The next major part of her narrative trajectory had to do with recruiting her for your squad. In Mass Effect 2, every character arc was split into two parts: acquisition and loyalty. The only two exceptions to this rule are Kasumi and Zaeed, who automatically join the team and therefore only have loyalty missions. This is because they were cut from the main game before being added as DLC later on.

So, Kindregan got to work on the first of Jack’s major missions, which tasks you with helping her to escape the prison mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

“The way [Jack’s acquisition mission] came into being – someone had a one-sentence idea,” Kindregan says. “‘You’re breaking her out of a prison ship as it falls into the heart of a sun.’ The falling into the heart of the sun part didn’t materialize.

“I took that [idea] and started to structure a mission based on it. At some point, the animators came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’ve been working on a walk-and-talk system we really want to use, could you walk down a hallway with the Warden and have a conversation with him.’ You get, sometimes, almost arbitrary things coming in. What was nice, as the storyteller of the mission, you did have power. If my sense had been ‘walk and talk would be weird’ and it would skew the mission, I could have fought back against it.”

But the walk-and-talk mechanic was included and actually ended up serving the mission really well. As you walk through the prison with the Warden, you begin to form a mental image of Jack – which, most likely, isn’t remotely accurate. Kindregan actually wanted to include about five NPCs in this sequence, all of whom have never seen Jack and have only heard rumors about her. The idea was for all of them to say contradictory things with a grain of truth, cementing a coherent picture of Jack by making radically different, partially-accurate claims to one another. Ultimately, it was too difficult to execute within the provided time frame.

As you progress through the game, Jack isn’t really interested in you. She hangs out next to the engineering room below deck and will lazily entertain your attempts at smalltalk. Eventually, however, she – like all characters – has a loyalty mission. This is the most dramatic part of her arc, but it’s also extremely unlike Mass Effect 2’s other loyalty missions, largely because Jack is extremely unlike Mass Effect 2’s other characters.

“Everything about Jack is – you have to consider her a bit differently,” Kindregran says. “It’s a different calculus with her than with many characters, simply because of her background. The way that she processes and understands things means that all of the usual answers get reversed. None of that is meant to imply that other characters are less distinct, they [just] have a different way of operating.

“The first time you see that is your first conversation with Jack – Shepard has the chance to say a paragon line, ‘You’re in a bad situation and I’m here to get you out.’ Normally in Mass Effect when Shepard says a paragon line, everyone around him goes, ‘Oh, Shepard, you’re so cool, that’s great.’ I’ve written plenty of those, and that’s good. That’s your expectation. If you go around being a paladin, you should get treated like a paladin. But your first wake up call with Jack is you say that and she says, ‘Shit, you sound like a pussy.’ And it’s like, ‘Wait, I said a paragon line, you’re supposed to tell me how great I am?’ I think that’s your first sign that this character is going to operate a little differently.”

Kindregan explains that this shows up in her loyalty mission later on. If you tell her to spare Aresh, she’ll kill him. Conversely, if you say you’re OK with her killing him, she’ll decide it’s not worth it and leave him alive. Both of these scenarios can be altered if your Paragon or Renegade is high enough, but with standard dialogue options, Jack is going to do the exact opposite of what you say.

“Or she tells the story about the time the guy fell in love with her and you think the story’s going to end with her going, ‘And I’m mad because when it really came down to it he abandoned me,’” Kindregan says. “And instead she’s mad because he fell in love with her and got himself killed, and that’s so stupid, and he should have abandoned her. Everything with [Jack] is like Opposite Day. And I think that leads to an interesting dynamic for her.”

Aside from her acquisition and loyalty missions, Jack’s romance is also unique in that it’s the only one with a major squadmate that involves an option for a fling. Like everything else mentioned above, this is much more complex than it appears at face value. If you decide to sleep with Jack on this occasion, before the actual romance manifests later in the game, you’ll lose her loyalty and lock yourself out of a romantic relationship permanently.

“My hope was that by the time the fling comes up, that you’re already seeing enough of her to go, ‘Oh wow, we’re going to get it on, that seems like a good thing’,” Kindregan says. “Not just because I get a cool cutscene of PG-13 sex, but also because it’s another step in our relationship – [but] that you might [also] have that little voice going, ‘Ah… but is it?’”

If you had that little voice and realized that impulsively sleeping with Jack is the wrong move, you’re able to pursue a genuine relationship with her before embarking on the suicide mission. But the fling is just one of two ways that can cause you to forfeit Jack’s loyalty, meaning that she won’t make it to Mass Effect 3. The other way has to do with a confrontation with Miranda, in which you need to either pick a side – thus losing the loyalty of the person you don’t agree with – or resolve the situation with high Paragon or Renegade.

“My involvement with that conversation was to try to make Jack’s case for why she was right,” Kindregan says. “But I think whoever was working on Miranda – and that changed a couple of times… Theoretically, there should be a journey that you can go on with Miranda that arrives at that same moment where you’re like, ‘Yeah, maybe Miranda’s being really cold or even shady, but I sort of understand.’ Maybe she’s a ‘[the] means justify the ends’ kind of person or the danger to humanity is too big.

“There should theoretically be a journey with Miranda that arrives with her in that confrontation, and you can be on her side as well. Those kinds of moments, to me – when they work out well, they’re gold for BioWare. You think you understand the playing field and everything is proceeding the way you thought. You’re like, ‘I’m just getting loyalty here and there’, and then all of a sudden the game goes, ‘Nope, now you gotta make a choice.’ In theory, I think it’s good. I also felt like Jack came off pretty well in it. To be fair, Miranda would probably have to be one of the hardest characters in the game to write. The philosophy that she espouses is ‘[the] ends justify the means,’ which is something I think we’re all taught all the time is not real. It’s authoritarian, which we’re all taught is bad. It’s a tough gig. I am glad I didn’t have to write Miranda.”

Kindregan’s comments perfectly capture the reasons as to why Jack is one of the most complex characters in Mass Effect 2. A lot of her trajectory is unique – the fact that she does the opposite of what you say, the connotations of pursuing her romance too early, and so on. Ultimately, though, this all makes her character feel far more cohesive and palpable.

And so, it’s no wonder that Grunt says, “I want to see this” right after Jack breaks out of her prison cell. He was gifted with all of the knowledge in Warlord Okeer’s famously impressive brain – he definitely knows Jack is going to be a legend.

If you want to know even more about Jack, be sure to check out our interview with Courtenay Taylor, the actress who voiced her. Somehow, she’s even more badass than Jack is.

Next: Mass Effect Andromeda Had Designs For Up To Ten New Alien Species, But They Were Cut For Budget, Scope, And… Cosplay

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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