You’ve almost certainly heard of Mary DeMarle – even if you don’t know the name directly. DeMarle, with credits in the Myst, Homeworld, Deus Ex, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy series, has been head of narrative and writing at Eidos Montreal since 2011. She lead the way with the modern Deus Ex titles (that’s Mankind Divided and Human Revolution) before building a crack team of writers to work on the latter Marvel tie-in.
DeMarle knows story. Inside out. Just look at the critical reception to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – pretty much every outlet you care to mention went off about the writing (even if the gameplay came with some caveats). You don’t need me to tell you how highly regarded the Deus Ex games are, either – Human Revolution, in particular, is notorious amongst narrative games fans for its player-driven plot, ludicrously good characterisation, and freedom of choice when it comes to how things play out.
It was music to my ears, then, to hear DeMarle is joining BioWare. Via Resetera, we learned that DeMarle has joined BioWare as a Senior Narrative Director. Now, we know that the studio is working on both Dragon Age: Dreadwolf and a new Mass Effect. So which could DeMarle’s attentions be focused on?
Given that Dreadwolf is a way into development, it’s unlikely DeMarle is going to be taking over there – you’d hope the story of that game is locked in and ready to go. Instead, I think DeMarle is a Mass Effect hire. Look at her history; it makes sense, right? Branching narratives, player-led choices, sci-fi wonder, reckless heroes with nothing to lose? The bill fits. Plus, as PC Gamer notes, BioWare was even hiring for a Mass Effect narrative director recently. The stars are aligning.
Per that job listing, BioWare was looking for someone to “partner with the core leadership to establish the narrative, branching gameplay, and character vision.” In my humble opinion, the studio couldn’t have found anyone better than DeMarle for the job. Her approach to interactive narrative is inspirational; DeMarle isn’t content with merely having the story beats operate as units beholden to gameplay. No, DeMarle rather prefers gameplay and story to uplift each other, asking always ‘how can the things I write help to emphasize the things the gameplay needs?’
In an interview I did with DeMarle earlier this year, I learned how well she wrangled a team of non-comedy writers to make them genuinely funny. I learned how she plied her staff with free beer to loosen them up, help them lose their insecurities and share their work. I learned how she encouraged her writing team to tap into their own personal tragedies and life experiences to better uplift the characters in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. And all of it felt like second nature. DeMarle, truly, is a cut above.
To know that DeMarle can bring that same sensitivity, that same keen eye for human (and, I suppose, alien) nature, and that human-centered approach to writing to BioWare makes my heart skip a beat – think about what a team under DeMarle’s guidance can do with Krogans, with Salarians, with the Quarian. We already know the new Mass Effect game is going to deal with the Geth, too; DeMarle’s take on interpersonal and intergenerational trauma in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was exemplary – maybe now, she can tap into the nature of artificial intelligence, the problem with consciousness detached from a single physical entity, how a lone Krogan deals with the fact its race may not continue – and what that means for them, in particular.
Like the best episodes of Star Trek, Futurama, Black Mirror, or The Twilight Zone, Mass Effect is rich with opportunity for philosophical thought experiments. From what I’ve played in Deus Ex and GotG, there’s no single better person working in games right now to boldly go back into the Mass Effect world than DeMarle.
I wish her all the luck in the world with her new job, and I absolutely cannot wait to engage with the thought-provoking fruits of her labour.