Lesbian jelly wrestling cut-scenes aren't what BioWare was going for with gay romances in Mass Effect 3.
The third game is the first of the series to offer exclusively gay or lesbian love-lines via Specialist Traynor and lieutenant Cortez. Before now, you'd have the option of romancing Liara as male or female Shepard, for example.
"Liara's relationship in Lair of the Shadow Broker can be with players of either gender, so I was familiar with writing dialogue that needed to work for a same-sex romance," explained Patrick Weekes, writer of Specialist Traynor, on the BioWare blog.
"Nevertheless, I'm a straight white male - pretty much the living embodiment of the Patriarchy - and I really wanted to avoid writing something that people saw and went, 'That's a straight guy writing lesbians for other straight guys to look at.'"
With advice from gay friends within BioWare, Weekes set about writing a "positive" romance that didn't end in "tragic heartbreak".
"My first draft of Traynor's pitch was all about how her character arc would be about identifying and overcoming the challenges of being gay. And my friends and managers called me on it," he recalled.
"I'd been so focused on writing something positive that I hadn't made a real-enough character. So in the next draft (closer to how she shipped), the focus was on her as a mostly lighthearted fish out of water, a very smart lab tech trying to adjust to life on the front lines, with her identity as a lesbian present but not shouted from the rooftops."
Nevertheless, there is a shower scene.
"Traynor's shower scene has also raised some eyebrows," Weekes accepted. "I liked it, but for a while we were on the fence about whether to have that scene or just do a fade to black as Shepard stood up.
"We put it in because this scene was Traynor's biggest romance moment from a cinematic perspective (her endgame love scene is very short and simple), and I didn't want to say, 'Romancing Ash? You get a big cutscene. Romancing Traynor? Fade to black.' And also because I think it's a lovely, funny scene from Guillherme Ramos (who also brought you the Liara cabin scene in Lair of the Shadow Broker)."
All in all, Weekes is "really proud" of the Traynor relationship, and complimented voice actress Alex Wilton Regan and the cinematic team which brought the whole thing to life.
"It's also entirely possible that, writing a same-sex conversation for the first time, I still created something that plays into stereotypes," Weekes concluded.
"I really wanted to avoid writing something that people saw and went, 'That's a straight guy writing lesbians for other straight guys to look at.'"
Patrick Weekes, writer, Mass Effect 3
"Everyone I showed the scenes to knows me, and knowing me might have caused them to give some scenes the benefit of the doubt. That feedback - places where I can improve in writing a character, places where I broke immersion - is what helps me do a better job next time I'm writing a romance character who isn't a white male game designer."
Dusty Everman wrote the lieutenant Cortez romance line, and shared Weekes' concerns.
"Also, there seemed to be extra pitfalls associated with a male same-sex romance. Some players have concerns over being 'ninja romanced'," he shared, "where a relationship shifts from friendly to romantic to the player's surprise - and those concerns seem greater for same-sex romances."
"My approach was to have the majority of the relationship be about building a friendship," Everman explained. "Everyone, straight and gay alike, can get to know the character, and romantic feelings only surface towards the end of the arc.
"I wanted to support the ME3 theme of a massive war, where everyone is dealing with loss. Normally, I don't like stories about prior lost loves, but here it makes sense. When Cortez says 'I lost my husband', every player knows his sexuality, so precious word budgets aren't spent to establish that fact. Instead, the time is spent bonding over past losses and future hopes."
He added: "I believe that by the 22nd century, declaring your gender preference will be about as profound as saying, 'I like blondes.' It will just be an accepted part of who we are. So I tried to write a meaningful human relationship that just happens to be between two men."
Everman expected that his work on Cortez would be scrutinized "more than anything I've ever done", but said early feedback has been "encouraging" and he's "eager" to hear your feedback.