Apex Legends Developers Explain Why Catalyst Announced She Was Trans
Apex Legends Season 15 is, as usual, adding another new character to the battle royale. Catalyst is a ferrofluid-wielding, scan-blocking defensive character and the game’s first transgender woman, which is almost surprising considering the diversity of the existing roster. As the dust settles on her reveal, Catalyst’s lead writer, Ashley Reed, is still impressed with fans’ response to the new Legend.
“The amount of people who've been really excited about her and are already really excited to see how she's going to interact with the other Legends has been awesome,” Reed says. “I've seen a tonne of really great fan art. I mean, full transparency, obviously, we're getting some people who may take issue with the fact that she's a trans woman, but they're vastly outnumbered by the amazing response we're getting from the fan base who just love her already. So that's been incredibly exciting.”
Despite potential backlash from transphobes or ‘get politics out of my games’ types, Catalyst’s reveal trailer unabashedly proclaimed that she’s transgender, which contrasts with most Apex Legends characters. Legends’ genders and sexualities are more commonly woven into in-game stories and comics posted in-game or on social media. Catalyst, however, explicitly references her transition in a move only marginally more subtle than staring directly at the camera and proclaiming, “I’m trans.” According to Reed, this was a direct request from transgender developers, consultants, and Catalyst’s voice actor, Meli Grant.
“If you sprinkle it in, people will be able to deny it,” she explains. “They will look at it and say, ‘oh, that's not what they meant.’ So the ask was, ‘can you be 100 percent clear?’ That came straight from members of the community who said, ‘please just say it outright.’ So we did.”
Reed believes that Respawn is still doing right by the characters that it isn’t so explicit about, despite, in my own anecdotal experience, many casual players not knowing that Gibraltar is gay or misgendering non-binary Legend Bloodhound. She reiterates that the developer is doubling down on all characters’ identities through in-game stories and lore tidbits, as well as individual developers being very vocal about these facts on social media.
She admits, however, that they keep those kinds of players in mind when designing and announcing Catalyst: “I will say some of those learnings, [when] we see people who people really aren't catching it, have definitely helped inform how we proceeded with Catalyst.”
There’s a fine line to tread, though, in that Catalyst’s gender should not be the only aspect of her identity. Reed says that she’s lazy, a notoriously bad cook, and makes plenty of awful jokes, and the trailers have shown that she cares deeply about her friends and saving her planet – even if she’ll stop short of ecofascism to achieve her goals.
“In the conversations we had with folks throughout the process, [they’ve said] it's not the only aspect of me, but it’s important enough to bring up,” she says. “So it’s a tightrope to walk. But obviously it does very much help to have people within the team itself and consultants helping us out saying, ‘okay, here's where you've maybe gone too far. You've gotten too aggressive with it.’ But one of the big things we tried to do was look at, obviously this is an important part of her character, this is a big deal for her. But what are some other things about her that are really important that are unrelated?”
It’s these unrelated aspects of Catalyst’s personality that impact the gameplay, which involves creating barriers using ferrofluid. This material is utilised on the moon Cleo, which is the setting for Apex’s new map, aptly named Broken Moon. In the battle royale, her barriers will have multiple uses. Here are her abilities in full:
Passive – Barricade
Using her ability to manipulate ferrofluid, Catalyst reinforces doors, strengthening and locking them to enemies while allowing teammates to pass freely. You can barricade two doors at a time.
Tactical – Piercing Spikes
Catalyst can throw out a patch of ferrofluid that turns into deadly spikes when enemies are near, while Catalyst herself remains immune to enemy spikes.
Ultimate – Dark Veil
Catalyst can raise a permeable wall of ferrofluid that will slow and partially blind enemies who attempt to push their way through it. Players can use these barriers to divide the battlefield or resurrect their team in a safe place. This lasts for 30 seconds and blocks all scanning abilities.
Gameplay engineer Chris Wilder explains a little more about the abilities, and why Respawn chose to add a counter to the scan meta in Season 15. “It wasn't an ability born out of ‘we need something to counter the scan meta,’” he says. “It was more that the ability was kind of more conceived as a vision blocker. It’s not a physical wall that's going to stop bullets, we have enough of those already. This is about blocking vision. And I think in our game, with scans and and all the ways that the characters can see through objects and things like that, that vision is meant to be all encompassing.”
When it comes to balancing Catalyst with the existing roster, Wilder takes a slightly different approach to how I imagined. Instead of comparing the strength of her barrier with those of Newcastle or Gibraltar, and analysing the strength of her Barricades with Wattson or Caustic, the designers try to find a niche for every new Legend to fit into.
“The biggest challenge that we have when we're developing new Legends is finding new, original play spaces for those characters to exist in,” he says. That’s why Catalyst’s mighty veil blocks sight and not bullets, as there’s no other character who does that. Wilder also explains that, while every Legend has a different skill ceiling and every tier of player, from casual to competitive, will want different things from them, the designers prioritise “fun and unique” playstyles over catering to a specific audience or countering a specific meta.
On the subject of balance, though, Catalyst’s Ultimate was originally much worse than the ability you’ll see when you jump into Season 15. “At some point, we made the wall 30 percent longer than it was in development because we felt like it needed to cover more space, and it also grew three times its original height since the first thing we prototyped,” he says.
Balance tweaks will likely continue well into the new season and further (remember how Seer and the Bocek launched?), but Catalyst is bringing something new to the table, both in terms of her gameplay and her lore. Will Apex’s first transgender woman become a meta staple and usurp the likes of Valkyrie as the most picked Legend on the competitive scene? It remains to be seen. At the very least, we might see fewer Seers in public lobbies next season. Whether you’re intent on utilising her or countering, one thing’s for sure: don’t ask her to cook you dinner.
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