BroShep's voice actor played so many weird alien side characters in Mass Effect he doesn't mind if people prefer FemShep: 'I'm afraid you'll be forced to encounter me as Niftu Cal and Blasto and any vorcha you run into'

 Commander Shepard.
Credit: EA

I didn't hear Mark Meer as Commander Shepard when I first played Mass Effect. I played FemShep, voiced by Jennifer Hale, on my first run through the trilogy. It was only when I went to replay Mass Effect 2 (my favorite, don't @ me), that I gave BroShep a chance. He's good! I think Meer improved over the course of the series, and as Phil Savage has pointed out, there's at least one part of Mass Effect 3 where he's arguably better. He's the more popular choice overall too, with 68% of Mass Effect Legendary Edition's players playing default male.

"I occasionally get told by people, 'Oh, I've never played female Commander Shepard. I only play you.' And I'm like, why are you denying yourself the excellent performance of Jennifer Hale?" Meer says. "That's the thing about Mass Effect, it has so much replayability. I certainly don't mind though, if people are like, 'No, I just play Jennifer as Commander Shepard,' because I'm afraid you'll be forced to encounter me as Niftu Cal and Blasto and any vorcha you run into and various other things in the game."

Before he was cast as Shepard, Meer was hired by BioWare to come up with soundsets for the alien species, which he describes as the audio equivalent of concept art. "Laying down what a typical krogan would sound like, a typical turian, that sort of thing." He not only ended up playing a bunch of different alien characters, he's the one responsible for ideas like the asthmatic inhalations of the volus—those heavy-breathing, wombly little guys in gas masks.

"Not rocket science," he says. "Obviously they're wearing some kind of breathing apparatus so I threw in that wheeze sort of sound. There are some alien races that I ended up playing all of, for example, the vorcha. I think I'm almost all of the hanar and have played a number of volus, I think I've done at least a few elcor and batarians certainly. So yes, I'm sprinkled throughout the games in a variety of roles."

One of the most memorable of these is Niftu Cal, the drugged-up little guy who gets so high he thinks he's become a biotic god. "That was a lot of fun," Meer says, "and perhaps lesser well known but equally important, the pizza volus. And speaking of hanar I got to play Blasto, who is in some ways one of my favorite characters—no offense to Commander Shepard. But Blasto was a lot of fun, especially because it started as an audio in-joke."

Blasto is a parody of action movie heroes like Dirty Harry and James Bond who you first hear about in ads as you're exploring Mass Effect 2. He's a tough-talking alien jellyfish with "a lover in every port and a gun in every tentacle" who becomes a running gag through Mass Effect 3 and its DLC. Interact with the poster for Blasto 6: Partners in Crime on the Citadel enough times and you'll eventually hear an 11-minute audio drama that riffs on Lethal Weapon.

"Jennifer Hale played an elcor in that," Meer says. "She's playing the sister of Blasto's partner Bubin, who Blasto winds up having an affair with. Embedded as an audio easter egg is both commander Shepards having an affair—as a hanar and an elcor."

So yes, BroShep doesn't mind if you play as FemShep. Even before she was cast, he was an admirer of her work as Bastila Shan in Knights of the Old Republic, and in various cartoons. "I'm a big comic fan," he says, "so I was a big fan of Justice League Unlimited and the old Batman animated series. I'd loved her work as Zatanna and she was the go-to Giganta and Killer Frost for the Justice League stuff."

Even if you don't play BroShep, you end up hearing a lot more of Meer in Mass Effect than you do in his first videogame role, which was Baldur's Gate 2. "The very first game that I did, I had one line of dialogue in the final cutscene," he says. "You needed to play a 40-hour game to hear my one line."

Mark Meer will be a guest at PAX Australia, which runs from October 11–13. Keep an eye out for part two of this interview, where Meer talks about tabletop roleplaying games and being the Keeper of Arcane Lore for the official Call of Cthulhu actual-play series Bookshops of Arkham and Graveyards of Arkham.