Everybody’s Talking About FemShep

Everybody’s Talking About FemShep

Confession: I hate creating characters in video games. Despite the fact I’ve spent 40 hours with him in Tamriel, I couldn’t even tell you what my Skyrim character looks like. My Shepard in Mass Effect? He’s the guy on the box. I can’t be bothered. I just want to be the guy on the box.

But Mass Effect has never been about being the guy on the box. It’s about choice. Personal choice. Everyone has their own Shepard. Everyone has their own story.

Perhaps that’s why Bioware’s decision to crowd source an official look for FemShep, the female version of Shepard, was so problematic. The iconic male Shepard came pre-designed. He was created before we knew we even had a choice. As a collective, we were asked to chose FemShep’s canon look after two games, after forging our own experiences and memories.

“The idea was to just to let fans have a voice,” claims Robyn Théberge.

Robyn Théberge is an Associate Project Manager at Bioware. She’s just finished work on Mass Effect 3, and has two playthroughs of the game under her belt. One as a male Shepard (“he has a little more hair than the iconic Shepard — I just tweaked him a little more to my tastes”) and another as FemShep.

“I’m the type of gamer that likes to model characters after themselves,” laughs Robyn. “The male Shepard not so much, but my female Shepard looks like me!”

Bioware allowing fans to vote on how the ‘iconic’ FemShep would look in Mass Effect 3’s marketing caused a bit of a backlash, for numerous different reasons but, according to Robyn, the biggest issue was the fact Mass Effect fans have such a personal investment in their own character, their own creation.

Everybody’s Talking About FemShep

“I think everyone had their own impression of how she should look,” she says. “People are almost protective of their Shepard, and there are always going to be differences between fans. Mass Effect really is such a personal experience and we just put it out there. It was up to them.”

Well, not completely — Bioware did put together the original character designs. Not only asking fans to choose between facial types, but reselecting the hair type afterwards.

“With the original batch of models we tried to cover as many different ethnicities as possible, and as many different features,” says Robyn. “There weren’t a lot of similarities between them other than their body type. We just wanted to make sure that when we chose an iconic FemShep look we took on board as many opinions as possible.”

But does the fact that we, as fans of the series, collectively chose how the ‘iconic’ FemShep looks affect things in any way — is there an argument to be made that crowd sourcing this sort of design makes a character lose its impact?

“I don’t think so,” says Robyn. “We still offer players the opportunity to customise their Shepard in any way they want. It’s just when you’re marketing the game it makes sense to have a face. In a way Shepard is the story. You are choosing how he or she looks and their personality. It helps us give a face to that hero, but you can make Shepard look however you want.”

How about the fact we were asked to choose our female Shepard but simply shown what the male one looked like. Does that say something about the way female characters are judged on their appearance in video games?

“Again, I don’t think so,” continues Robyn. “Because you have the ability to make Shepard look any way you want — male or female. You have the choice to make your Shepard look attractive or unattractive.

“I wasn’t involved in the decisions in the first Mass Effect to go with the initial iconic male Shepherd — I wasn’t there — so I couldn’t go into specifics, but Mass Effect is an RPG game where you have the option to customise your character, and we wanted to open things up to discuss her appearance.

“Ultimately it’s still up to the gamer to decide how their Shepard looks.”


  • The reason I tend to go for default characters, such as in ME and fallout, is that the ones I try and creat always look a little… well… DERP. Like their eyes are too far apart or something.

    • Same here. I tried creating my own Shepard, but what looked OK in the designer ended up in-game looking like what Mr Potato Head would have looked like if he’d been co-designed by Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso while on a really bad acid trip. I endured it for 2 hours before quietly deleting the save file and starting again with the default Shepard.

    • The problem I’ve had with both ME games (well, actually, all Bioware games with character creation systems) is that the lighting in the character creation section is different than the full game. My guys always end up looking deathly-pale despite looking fine in the creator, it’s incredibly annoying.

      • I find this in the majority of games I play with Character creation. Stop with the realistic or mood lighting and just make it bright and even so I can see what they actually look like. Skyrim’s was in-game but still had bad lighting and scenery. Half the face I was trying to make was covered by dramatic shadows so I couldn’t quite tell what I was doing.

  • The problem with BioWares FemShep is she looks far too young. Like some 20 year old anime looking girl. Not at all mature enough nor experienced enough to be a commander, leader and saviour. She needs to be about 35. old enough to have those qualities and yet young enough so as not too look old and unappealing to the fans.

  • My Shepard has a pencil mustache and is as likely to help an orphan as he is to shoot someone for mildly insulting him!

    As for Skyrim the character creation is WORSE than Oblivion.

  • Why is the default female version of Sheppard wearing make up while charging into battle? Granted, if someone wanted to design their Sheppard with make up that’s their choice, but it seems odd a default “Soldier” would.

  • I’ve chosen to carry my Shepard through from the first game and while she looks a bit…off…I was surprised to discover how close the defalt femshep in the demo was to her.

  • I hate the way they dismiss the backlash
    as if it were a “Shepard is a personal thing” issue, when most complaints were about the inherent sexism of what came across as a beauty peagant.

      • Of course Mark, by that point they were damned either way – if they admitted the contest was a bad idea, the right thing to do would have been to ignore the votes and ask one of their artists to develop a unique femshep. Then people would have been whining about a fake vote.

        Sometimes you can’t win in this industry. You’ll make some people mad about one thing, others mad about the opposite, and people like me mad about whatever you do.

        “ME3 comes with a year of free DLC”.

        “Oh does it now… ho ho ho. I guess Bio(dome)ware thought no one would buy it, so their passing it off as a gift”.

        “But I have some of it, and its really good”.

        “EA has you!”

        “But you can just try it for free…”

        “Lalala… EA is the devil”.

        *I want to point out that even though I’m mocking my one posts about this game, I still think EA is the son of Satan. Ubisoft is, of course, the devil himself.

  • I wonder when we will be able to import/take photos of ourselves and literally create a character looking like us. I know some sports sim’s have done this (Fight Night), but I mean on par with LA Noire level of detail. How awesome would it be seeing youself in all the cutscenes. Maybe in the next console generation.

  • You guys left the party before a bunch of us made the Ugliest Shepard possible on the preview builds. He was pretty ugly. We couldn’t get photo clearance though.

    • haha yeh wasnt there a blog site dedicated to ugly Shepherd. I remember he looked like a monkey and the vids were hilarious.. Also I seen some YouTube clips of this messed up Shepherd with a bionic eye and f’ed up face.. Probably more realistic after his resurrection at the start of ME2.

    • I dunno, I think being in a grumpy-ass mood would be the ideal time to blow reapers away. Plus most guys are so terrified of menstrual blood that they’ll follow whatever orders a woman bleeding out of her vagina gives them. So having a period = beneficial to saving the universe.


    But yeah, Beauty pageant thing has been covered, and as I’ve said (and Warcroft said), that image makes her look way young.
    She looks pretty okay (in-game) in the trailer though. Definitely not as young as presented in that image up top.

    • I still say they should have asked Jennifer Hale to serve as the “face” from day one – and no one would have complained. After all, I think we can all agree that Hale’s performance is one of the main reasons why so many enjoy playing as “FemShep”.

  • In total, I have about 70 hours of life drawing under my belt and I think that, as well as general cartoon doodling, helps a lot when creating custom characters for games.

    This is my most recent creation, from UFC Undisputed 3: http://i.imgur.com/skYGc.jpg

    There are a few simple principles you need to adhere to when crafting a face from scratch.

    This image explains it quickly: http://i.imgur.com/i2x6G.jpg

  • You got it Mark, default male shep is ‘iconic’ , you could literally use him as an icon for ‘standard video game character’.

  • I tried to make my femshep look like a harder version of Rosario Dawson with red hair. Needless to say, I wasn’t successful. o_0

    When I played as Manshep, he was pretty close to the default but I made his lips less pouty, then gave him slightly longer hair and a healthy covering of stubble. Because in my book, you don’t know hotness until you’ve been with a bearded man!

  • I chose the default male Shep, purely because it’s the only face that’s actually designed by the game designers – everything else looks too.. IdentiKit for my liking.

  • I’m of the opinion that for games where you do get to create your own character and make choices there shouldn’t be any sort of canon appearance for the character or canon versions of choices made in the game.

    All pictures for both the male and female versions of Shepard should have shown the character wearing a full helmet that hid the face. That way BioWare could still use Shepard to advertise the game but each person could imagine it was their Shepard behind the helmet.

  • If they had done a similiar ‘community vote’ leading up to the release of the first Mass Effect I wonder what ManShep would have looked like.

  • I got bored with “White guy action hero” so I made a “black female action hero” due to so FEW of those in cinema.
    (Last one was what? Niobe? And she was a freaking CO-STAR! Enter The Matrix doesn’t count!)

    For the record: I’m a white male. I love my Arnie and Willis movies. But FFS, it’s getting OLD and NUMEROUS.
    (I swear, if not for Samuel L. Jackson, the percentage would be HIGHER!)

    • Colombiana with Zoe Saldana for one.

      If more people, black or white, were willing to pay to see black actresses in action movies then there would be more made.

      But MAYBE i should USE a few ALL CAPS WORDS to make my POINT.

  • Hmm, I was pretty happy with my Femshep. Angular, tall, Asian features. Just like me but female. Ahem.

    On the attachment to Fem/Bro/Man Shep. I personally didn’t give a rat’s ass about the default, or the “inherent sexism of the process” (did you guys SEE what some of the characters wear in the game itself?). It’s probably because I’ve played enough RPGs from early pen and paper days that my characters are automatically different from any default. Femshep could look like Rosie O’Donnell after a bender and it wouldn’t bother me. It’s not MY Femshep or any way indicative of the experience.

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