If you’d have told me that I’d be writing about Ricky Gervais in a video game and not referring to his rather questionable stand-up routine in Grand Theft Auto IV (as pictured above), I would have just assumed there was a David Brent Soundboard app. But no, here I am, writing that the British comedian actually inspired one of the most iconic pieces of modern game design.
BBC sitcom Extras ran for two years between 2005 and 2007 and it probably best remembered for the late David Bowie playing the piano and insulting Gervais’s character, Andy Millman, or for TV host Les Dennis seemingly having a breakdown. But it’s these interactions and scenes that inspired the look of the conversation camera BioWare title Mass Effect.
That’s according to game animator Jonathan Cooper, who listed ten things about Mass Effect‘s animation to celebrate the game’s tenth anniversary in a recent Twitter thread. Cooper’s current job is as an animator with Naughty Dog on The Last of Us 2, Uncharted 4: A Thieves End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. But he was also an animator for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2.
4. The close over-the-shoulder camera style I used for conversations in Mass Effect was inspired primarily by Ricky Gervais's The Extras. This is not a joke – that entire series was built on awkward, close conversations. pic.twitter.com/YHHBqnucu7
— Jonathan Cooper (@GameAnim) November 20, 2017
So. How accurate is this? Well, very. While the actual mechanics behind the conversation wheel were borne from BioWare’s earlier work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which had a list of options, the camera positions for them were very close and interactive. Either standing in front of the player in a slightly off angle camera (as shown below) or from a much wider angle like in the introductory ship assault.
However, when we see a screenshot from Mass Effect and the camera positioning that shows the player, we get a similar view to the ones Gervais and Stephen Merchant directed in Extras that focus on the protagonist for its question and subject for the answer.
It’s a fascinating insight. Another couple of interesting points are that the game has perfect lip sync in all of its localised languages because the animations for the speech were procedurally generated as systemic lip-sync and that one of the mo-cap actors actually got punched inadvertently while capturing animations for the Udina/Anderson confrontation.