Video Games

How Respawn Created Catalyst and Championed Inclusivity in Apex Legends

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played a more empathetic character,” enthuses Meli Grant, the voice actress for Apex Legend’s Catalyst, the game’s first transgender character. With her big smile on her face, it’s clear that she loves playing her November 2022 first appearance of Controller Legends. It’s a Venn diagram of Catalyst’s sense of humor, her sarcastic, sarcastic energy, and what resonates with my life. ”

Since then, Catalyst has become a hugely popular character in Apex and an LGBTQ+ icon, joining the already diverse roster list in the game. This is very important to the Respawn development team. “One of the things we try to do is have a really diverse cast,” explains Apex Narrative Lead Ashley Reed. “We’re always thinking, ‘What opportunities do we have, what do we want to do, what are the different experiences and identities we want to add to the cast?'” has been interested in creating a trans female character for some time and saw an opportunity to do just that with this character. So we thought very early on, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do it, now’s the time.’

“What we at the Apex team really care about is creating a sense that this game is taking place in the future of our world, and the diversity of the world we see today, and how that We want to express our hopes for what it will look like in the ‘future,’ says Reid. “And as creators, it’s more interesting to portray characters who have different experiences and identities and who have unique lives within the entire cast.”

“Like it or not, we still live in this world, and the media we consume and the stories we engage in do not necessarily reflect the actual world we live in and the people who live in it. It’s not that I do,” he continues. forgive. “And a lot of the time, even this year, we somehow managed to get more women in our stories, more people of color in our stories, transgender and non-transgender people. Some people think that having more binary people and stuff is somehow a political statement rather than justice, actually creating a story that looks like the real world. I think it’s important because people need models of what they can do with their lives and what they can aspire to be.A lot of our culture is based on live action television, movies, We’re all about storytelling, be it anime, manga, etc. And it’s very important to see examples of people just like us to understand what the world is going to be like for us. ”

Of course, Catalyst is not the work of one person, but the culmination of many, Reed continued. “The way we develop characters in Apex usually starts with artists, writers and designers coming together and talking, ‘Okay, what do we want to do? What kind of kit do you use? ?What personality would fit in those kits?’ Something like that. And so was Catalyst. ”

“It’s been an incredibly collaborative process,” adds Meri Grant. “So as we went session by session, maybe twice a week, four hours a day, and we kept recording for a few months, it really started to feel like we were making this together. This may not be the first time I’ve started working in an anime that often recreates works in English, but it’s the first and definitely the biggest I’ve ever been a part of. It’s one of those projects where you discover and create characters from scratch, and it’s been incredibly exciting.”

We still live in this world where the media we consume and the stories we engage in don’t necessarily reflect the real world we live in.

Catalyst’s evolution was in flux, and the developers had a clear idea of ​​what they wanted, but welcomed suggestions. “I had a completely different idea of ​​what they were going to do with Catalyst,” Grant admits. “There were multiple examples of character prototypes on the side of the first audition, but they were all in English and had an English accent. So I remember writing a letter to my agent and saying, “Are they looking?” [someone] Like Maleficent or some kind of British character? The agent then wrote back, “Oh yeah, I spoke to the casting director and they said, ‘Don’t worry.’ Do whatever you feel comfortable doing.” accent).

“So I did something smart, but I quickly overthinked it. Gears turned in my head and I was like, ‘Yeah, they say that because it’s a very small talent pool out there already. Because there aren’t that many trans women working professionally, probably because they don’t want to shrink the talent pool.”

That wasn’t true, but a few weeks later, Ms. Grant was contacted. “Whether it came naturally or they continued to discover the character in the weeks between my audition and my callback, Phil the director put me in the heart of my comfort zone. And I left that callback with a lot of confidence because I didn’t expect it to come in. And the next time I realized, I just had an instinct It was exciting, but also terrifying, because the ones who feel the most successful in nailing them are usually the ones who don’t. I thought, “It felt so good. Oh no!”

Catalyst is played by voice actress Meri Grant, who said she felt a lot of sympathy for her character.

In terms of character design, Respawn started with many options and tweaked them as we got to know the characters better. The design team worked with the narrative team to help her personality and story shape the look of her Catalyst. His 3D character artist Mirim Lee explains this process in more detail. “I asked Ashley, ‘Can I get more information about her? [Catalyst]She then sent me all the story and background, her personality, her lines, and a great playlist – a playlist of music she envisions for her subject. It was really nice and a very smooth process.

In fact, the idea for this playlist came from concept artist Brett Marting, who worked with Reid during the development process, as she explains: And as I was explaining his Catalyst, he came up with some ideas of his own. It’s still on my Spotify for him. It’s really great. ”

“The original idea for the Techno Witch character was put forward by the designer on the team, a former designer who is a trans woman, so we were very attached to it,” said Reid. increase. “We liked the techno witch concept so much that we had a trance developer represent us early in the process. I also thought that because no group is monolithic and different people have different opinions on things, so I always wanted to be careful not to give out any false information. .”

The line that meant the most to me was the line they announced [Catalyst] It was, “Everybody deserves a chance to stand up.”I connected with it a lot

So Respawn partnered with GLAAD, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change, to help develop Catalyst. “GLAAD was really essential at the point where we said, ‘Okay, Catalyst is very well developed at this point. ‘s backstory, we’re happy with her character — let’s check this out to see if we haven’t fallen into any pitfalls,” Reed says. “They’ve been really supportive in that regard, educating the team on transgender representation in the media, so they’re not only better at what we’re doing, but also the situation we’re starting out in. They were very helpful in reviewing the content we created, both Brett and Milim’s work on the dialogue and art side. , not only gave us information, but also checked us out on what we were working on during development.”

One of the main ways Catalyst’s personality shines through is through her conversations, which can be mean, sometimes mean. “I think the line that meant the most to me was the line they announced to me, and it was, ‘Everybody deserves a chance to stand up,'” Grant admits. “I was going through the ups and downs and trying to build a career, but I didn’t feel like the people around me were literally giving me that, so it resonated with me. People who have expressed confusion to my face about where I fit in the work I was doing in the first few years of my career…so it was very powerful to be a part of this story. It’s big and it means a lot, and it felt like it was speaking directly to me, especially with the announcement that everyone deserves a chance to stand up. ”

Grant continued, “My LGBTQ-majority community loves little fun references to her transgenderness and queerness. I mean, just lines like, ‘I’m the dreaded trans witch my parents warned me about.’ Or something like, “If you can’t produce your own liquid metal, store-bought is fine. I’m here for all witches.” . ’ These are usually words that at least the community I have built on her Twitter and her Twitch worship. ”

For a long time, my insistence was on making sure the characters were properly cast so that marginalized groups of people were given a chance to tell their stories.

Catalyst had already made a big impact on Apex Legends at the time and was popular within the community. Including trans characters in mainstream games is a big step forward, but there is still a lot of work to be done. “For a long time, my argument has been to make sure that characters are properly cast, to tell their stories to marginalized groups, to participate in the process, and to give them the authenticity they need. It was about giving them the opportunity to add authenticity, creating it in the stories we tell,” says Grant. “But they also benefit and benefit from telling their stories to marginalized groups that have traditionally not been afforded to gay or people of color actors. It is also about giving opportunities.

“The next step is to focus on the characters themselves, and on the creators behind the characters, as artists, as developers, as writers, as actors like myself, and as people from all walks of life. The marginalized group that represents that character thrives and becomes part of the process so that we can become a blueprint for all who follow. .

“I hope that the work I do now as a Catalyst, and all the other work I’ve done and will do in the future, will serve as a starting point for anyone who comes after me to do it. I hope it’s a little bit better. ”

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