Telltale’s The Expanse Features Romance Options And Severed Legs


The Expanse: A Telltale Series shares the same setting as the TV show and book series upon which it is based: a colonized solar system set in the 2300s, where tensions between the U.N.N. (Earth and its moon, Luna), Mars, and residents of the (asteroid) Belt often bubble over into outright hostilities. Starring Camina Drummer–a beloved character from the show played by her television actress, Cara Gee–the game serves as a prequel that allows player choice to control some details of the compelling backstory the development team has created for the character.

Upon attending the preview event for the game, it became immediately clear to me that Telltale, Deck Nine, and everyone else involved with the game’s creation–including Cara Gee herself–cared deeply about the franchise and wanted to maintain as much authenticity as possible. After entering the event space–which was transformed to mimic the interior of a spaceship–I and my fellow attendees were asked to suit up, provided with both a jumpsuit and an LED-powered AR HUD visor, and herded through the « airlock. » But it wasn’t just the atmosphere that conveyed the developers’ commitment to the game–Cara Gee was also in attendance, and her enthusiasm was palpable.

Now Playing: The Expanse Gameplay Reveal | Gamescom ONL 2022

« We put a lot of our blood, sweat, and tears into it, and I just really, really hope that you enjoy it, » Gee said of the game during a short speech given on the event’s stage. I’d soon have the opportunity to learn more about her take on the game–and her experience voicing the main character–but first, Telltale and Deck Nine wanted to give preview attendees a better idea of what else is coming in the game’s first season. After witnessing a currently-unreleased story trailer, we were shown a collection of behind-the-scenes clips about the making of the game itself.

« We looked a lot at what Jeremy Benning, the cinematographer from the show, did [with the camera], » Deck Nine cinematic director Alistair Ebinger said in the short documentary. « We really wanted to maintain that look and feel. So it was really important that, in our zero-g scenes, we would have stuff like this camera roll [effect] that would actually make you feel like you’re in zero-g. »

Based on what I’ve seen so far, quality cinematography is one of the game’s greatest strengths, and the cinematography in zero-g scenes is genuinely breathtaking–especially when we see Drummer engaging her magboots to walk up the side of a wall. But cinematography was only one piece of the puzzle–motion-capture, it appears, was where the magic really happened, and the documentary contained various clips of mo-cap footage, showing just how much work went into making actors look believably weightless.

The dizzying way the camera tilts when players traverse the game's environments via magboots only adds to the game's tense atmosphere.
The dizzying way the camera tilts when players traverse the game’s environments via magboots only adds to the game’s tense atmosphere.

A contraption referred to by developers as the « spider sling » was the main secret behind the game’s realistic zero-g animations. The spider sling consists of a large metal hula-hoop-esque object with netting in the middle and sections designed for an actor to slip their legs through. Once inside, the actor resembles a sort of synthetic, cyberpunk ballerina, as mo-cap team members circle around the hoop, lifting the actor off the ground and helping to direct their movement. As hilarious as it looks in real life, the spider sling functions beautifully in the game, creating believable zero-g effects.

Another source developers tapped for mo-cap inspiration was Cara Gee herself. The actress suited up for a great number of motion-capture scenes, and game director Stephan Frost told me Gee was a priceless asset when it came to getting things right.

« She’d always be stopping us [in motion-capture scenes] and being like, ‘Wait, do I have the magboots on in this [scene], or am I just walking?' » Frost told me when I sat down to speak with him and Gee. « Cara really kept us mentally aware of Drummer’s surroundings in those moments [in mo-cap] where you’re kind of relying on imagination to navigate. »

When I asked Gee about the biggest challenge she faced while performing as Drummer in a game instead of on television, motion-capture once again became the topic of discussion.

« I aspire to be very still and to have the movements that I do perform feel purposeful and motivated, and I feel like with Drummer in particular, she is extremely still in motion capture work on a video game, » she explained. « If you stand that still [in a game], it kind of looks fake, glitchy. It looks a bit funny. So to find a way to bring a breath of movement to a character that is so still, for me that was one of the biggest acting challenges. »

A special mo-cap device was used to achieve the game's weightless scenes.
A special mo-cap device was used to achieve the game’s weightless scenes.

« I would say another [challenge] is having to do the reverse engineering to match this storyline of the video game–the multiple storylines in it–to the very concrete point where we meet Drummer at the beginning of season two in the TV show, » Gee continued. « So that has to line up. No matter what branch we’re on, no matter what happens to her in the game, it has to make sense with where we meet her. So that was like, I did a lot of noting. It’s just like a bunch of really nerdy work, hugely challenging and very satisfying. [laughs] I’m quite pleased with myself! »

Naturally, I was also curious to learn what Gee saw as the biggest difference between the Drummer we see on the show and the Drummer we’ll meet in the game.

« This Drummer is younger, » Gee told me. « She begins a little bit more open and vulnerable. Hopefully over the course of the story we see the things that shape her, that force her to become the Drummer we meet in the show. »

From what I’ve seen of the game’s first episode, that vulnerability is on full display. Players will hear Drummer’s internal monologue when inspecting in-game objects, broadcasting her fears and insecurities to the player without diminishing her hard outer shell. Even wordless moments do an excellent job of conveying this younger, greener Drummer, with subtle facial expressions that previous Telltale offerings have historically lacked. In one scene, after discovering the wreckage of the U.N.N. Urshanabi and stumbling across a bridge filled with the floating severed heads of the ship’s massacred crew, Drummer spends a good few seconds taking in the sight. Fear, disgust, and confusion are clearly written on her face, depicting a side of Drummer that’s not often seen on the television show. But the shot doesn’t linger too long, as she quickly pulls herself back together and begins to bark orders at her crew.

Drummer observes the severed heads of a slaughtered U.N.N. ship's crew.
Drummer observes the severed heads of a slaughtered U.N.N. ship’s crew.

« Cara’s amazing at that stuff, » Frost said of Gee’s facial motion-capture and vocal performance. « I mean, considering we’re in this kind of white-walled room with a bunch of cameras everywhere and a face cam that’s on you, you’re dressed up in black pajamas, basically, with like, weird little balls all over it. We have art and previews and stuff to look at so that [the actors] can kind of imagine what it’s going to look like. But to extrapolate that feeling of, ‘Oh my god, this is completely crazy and messed up, and I can’t show to my crew that I’m riled by this, that I’m bothered by it. I have to get back into it and turn it around. We got a job to do, let’s go,’ is very much, I think, a testament to the writers and also to Cara’s ability to sell that feeling to the point where you can get that [feeling] from just looking at it. »

It seems that Cara Gee can invoke this split-second change in demeanor at-will. After seeing Drummer’s drill sergeant-like performance on the television show, her real-life temperament was almost jarringly calm. Always wearing a friendly smile, Gee came off as very low-maintenance, with a surprisingly soft voice that wouldn’t be out of place on an ASMR YouTube channel. That is, until I asked her what Belter phrase every Earther should know.

« Tenye wa chesh gut! » she practically yelled in a thick Belter accent, her mouth stiff, eyes narrowed, Drummer-mode fully engaged. Then she cracked a wide grin and laughed, immediately back to her bubbly, laid-back persona. I didn’t know what the words meant, but I recognized them as Drummer’s final words to a significant side-character on The Expanse television show.

« It means ‘good hunting,' » she explained, still smiling.

Even without Drummer’s signature dramatic eye makeup, Cara Gee can seemingly invoke the tough spacefarer’s commanding presence at a moment’s notice. But Drummer’s dark, smokey eyeshadow is another detail from the show I noticed the game hadn’t skimped out on, and it’s something I’ve always been curious about. Wanting to know more, I asked Gee about the makeup’s significance.

« Oooh, thank you for asking that! I actually wore that to my audition! » she explained, appearing to have fond memories of the experience. « So I watched the whole first season [of the show] before I even knew I had the audition–I was a big fan, loved it. So when I got the audition, I was like, ‘Okay, I can see how this person could sort of fit into the world.’ I had this sort of vision of her, and I think the eye makeup speaks to that, like, warrior, that hard defensiveness–y’know, there’s just something metal about it, about her. It feels kind of punk, kind of ‘F*** you!’ Like, that’s how a woman says ‘f*** you’ with her eye makeup. »

Frost nodded in agreement, but added that « this Drummer is a lot less pessimistic. »

From her makeup to her movement, this Drummer is still very much the character fans of the show know and love--she's just a few years younger.
From her makeup to her movement, this Drummer is still very much the character fans of the show know and love–she’s just a few years younger.

While we were talking personality and pessimism, I asked the pair what they like best about the new Drummer players will soon meet, and whether her sexuality is represented in the game. (In the show, Drummer is depicted as bisexual and polyamorous.)

« We wanted to make sure that there was a romance option in the game. So you don’t have to engage with Maya in that way if you don’t want to, or you can, » Frost said. « Drummer is definitely queer and we wanted to make sure that that was represented in the game as best we could. »

It seems the game’s many twisting plot threads made a polyamorous relationship too daunting a task to tackle, at least this early in the series–Frost tells me there’s a definite possibility that the game will be getting a second or third season, but that all of it depends on how Season 1 is received.

« She’s poly in the show, and in [the game] she’s only got [the option to be with] one person, » Frost clarified. « I think we didn’t have the time fully to go down the poly route, so we decided to go with Maya as this option because we also thought it was interesting that Maya, being from Mars, was sort of a candidate for a character that you maybe wouldn’t expect. It might explain why [Drummer] has a somewhat of a soft spot for Inners [non-Belters] as you play through [the game]. »

« What’s interesting about Maya [is] that she’s very ex-Martian. You know, she doesn’t really see eye-to-eye with what Mars was or the dream of Mars or the highly militaristic society that it is. I think that there’s something appealing about that to Drummer who’s like, ‘She’s telling them basically to f*** off and, I can get behind that as a Belter.’ She’s smart and capable and strong and, you know, she’s cute on top of that. So all of those things sound like someone Drummer would be into. »

« I hope it’s interesting for people who play the game to get a glimpse of a Drummer with an ever-so-slightly more open heart, » Gee told me. « I think that that is one of the key differences that we see. I mean, she’s still the same badass and great at who she is. But yeah, I think there’s a sense of her being a bit younger, a bit more, I don’t know, brash? I was going to say optimistic, but she doesn’t quite go [that far], she’s not optimistic, but optimistic fo–. »

« Optimistic for Drummer, » Frost interjected with a mischievous grin.

« –which is basically just less pessimistic, » Gee added, finishing the thought.

Players will have the option to romance Maya Castillo, the ship's Mars-born mechanic,
Players will have the option to romance Maya Castillo, the ship’s Mars-born mechanic,

To say these two were in sync would be an understatement–Frost and Gee seemed to be on exactly the same page at all times, and this got me thinking. The trailers for the first episode of the game have all shown one pivotal choice players will be forced to make: Drummer’s crewmate’s leg is trapped in the door of a cargo hold, and players must choose between saving the man’s leg or saving the cargo (which includes enough supplies to sustain Drummer and her crew for months). I couldn’t resist asking the two of them the same question I asked every developer I’d spoken to about the game: You get only one playthrough–do you save the leg, or save the cargo?

Gee answered without a moment’s hesitation: « Oh, I save the leg, » she asserted, nodding as she repeated, « Save the leg. »

Just as I had decided that this must be the official « canon » choice that Drummer would make, I heard Frost groan, rubbing at his eyes. »That’s… I mean, that’s rough, » he said, sighing. « I think if it were me, it’s hard because I know where [the story] goes, right? But look, if you lose the leg, I get it because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, right? »

« Yeah, like is everyone going to die because I don’t have the cargo that we needed? » Gee chimed in, only adding to my imminent moral crisis.

« You just, you can’t know, and in that moment, that’s a really hard decision to make… » Frost trailed off for a moment.

« Hard work to cut off someone’s leg, though, » Gee declared, seeming to reference what will evidently happen if players choose to save the cargo hold: a gruesome amputation.

« I know, I was there, » Frost replied, confirming my fears about the fate of the leg and its owner.

But motion capture wasn’t the only place where Frost pitched in–after playing the game, I noticed his name listed in the credits–not just as game director, but also for voice acting. Though fans will be pleased to know actress Shohreh Aghdashloo reprises her role as foul-mouthed, fabulous Chrisjen Avasarala in the Telltale game, actor Jared Harris–who voiced fellow Belter and Drummer’s sometimes-colleague Anderson Dawes–does not appear in the game. Instead, a nearly perfect imitation of Harris’ Dawes accent is performed in the game by none other than Stephan Frost. He’s also credited as the voice of another character, Tor.

Finding actors who could perform the unique Lang Belta accent proved to be challenging for the game's developers.
Finding actors who could perform the unique Lang Belta accent proved to be challenging for the game’s developers.

Later on, I asked Frost about this, and learned that although he’s not professionally trained, Frost is a member of SAG, and has done some voiceover work in the past.

« It’s sort of a side project hobby thing. If I wasn’t doing game dev, you know, maybe I would try to do that all the time, » Frost said when we spoke about the topic. « But yeah, the weird thing about that was, yeah, finding anybody who could do a Jared Harris impression, let alone a Belter Jared Harris… We kept trying to find people and seeing what we could do. »Previously, Frost told me that one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome while creating the game was locating voice actors who could reliably perform in the fictional Lang Belta/Belter Creole language and maintain a steady accent. Evidently unable to find a suitable Dawes replacement, Frost stepped into the role.

Warning: TV show spoilers ahead:

« [Dawes] has this great monologue in the first season [of the TV show] where he’s talking about his sister… So he made this really good decision, and he has this line where he says, ‘You ever cry so hard that your tears turn to blood?' » Frost explained. « And when I heard that, I was like, ‘F***, that’s a really cool line, and also, I think I can do an impression of that. »

Frost isn’t the only one with hidden talents, however. Before parting ways, I had one more question for Cara: Is she a gamer? »I play Toon Blast on my phone! » she blurted out with a grin before shrinking back a little and looking to Frost. « Should I stop saying that?

« No, absolutely not, » he laughed.

« Okay, well I’m really good at it, » she informed me. « I get recruited sometimes in the chat. The people will come in there and be like, « We noticed you’re a really good Toon Bast player. Join our team!’ And obviously, I’ll be playing The Expanse. »

The Expanse: A Telltale Series launches its first episode on July 27, 2023, with four subsequent episodes set to release every two weeks after that. The game will be available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. There are no current plans for release on Switch or mobile devices.

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