Apex Legends: Defiance sees the popular shooter kick off Season 12, and heralds the arrival of a new Legend – Mad Maggie. A fast-talking, quick-to-hit warlord, with a distinctly Kiwi cadence, Maggie has been a labour of love for Respawn. The team sees Maggie as not just a gameplay opportunity, but a chance to bring an authentically realised Māori character into the game.
“It became apparent very early on that we had an opportunity and responsibility to make the character not Pākehā like me,” says Sam Gill, Narrative Lead on Apex Legends and New Zealander abroad. “Not some white European, we’ve covered that. To expose multiple cultures to the world at large, that’s a really big deal for us. We’ve got a user base in excess of a hundred million, to have ‘Kia ora’ and ‘Kia kaha’ be heard around the world contextually, so people understand what these phrases mean, is a career highlight for me.”
To ensure they got it right, Respawn partnered with Maui Studios, a New Zealand-based creative and digital studio focused on Māori representation. As the team developed Maggie, Maui Studios was there every step of the way.
“They provided input and offered suggestions on all of Maggie’s dialogue, as well as held workshops with our animators to act out facial expressions and hand gestures and body movement styles that would fit Mad Maggie, and be recognisable to New Zealanders,” Gill says. Throughout development the team would hold weekly presentations, inviting Maui Studios to offer advice and feedback on the progress being made. According to Gill it was all done “to make her as excitingly and authentically Māori as possible.”
The fruitful relationship even led to the team at Maui Studios, led by Vincent Egan, creating a haka just for Maggie, which can be heard in the Judgement cinematic short below.
A Wrecking Ball
For Respawn, representation is a big focus for Apex Legends, whether that be specific cultures, genders, or sexualities. With a player base that spans the globe, it’s not hard to see why it’s an important part of the game’s ongoing development. “This doesn’t necessarily define which character we make next though,” Gill says when asked about the broader subject of creating a new Legend. “But, we’re always very aware of who we haven’t represented. In terms of how we pick each character’s background, it really is case by case.”
In the case of Maggie her origins are pretty clear. She played a background role in Apex Legends’ first taste of foul-mouthed Oceanic verbiage, Fuse. The Aussie needed a foil, and the team decided “who better than a Kiwi?”. “Back then she was never considered a Legend who would have abilities,” Sam Gill says. “She was just a really interesting, fiery, passionate, kick-ass woman. Fans reacted well to her, and that was kind of why we’ve elevated her to Legend level.”
That transition to Legend is no small undertaking. There’s designing and playtesting new abilities. There’s writing and recording over 1,600 lines of new dialogue. And there’s the process of refining and defining her look. This challenge meant incorporating Maggie’s personality, background and culture into every part of her visual identity. Right down to the smallest detail.
“As artists we tend to be drawn to the cool visuals, but the more you learn about Māori art, the more it becomes apparent how much history is behind it, and how important it is that the meaning is preserved,” Brett Marting, Concept Artist on Apex Legends says. “It was amazing to have our partners at Maui Studios guide us along the way.”
This runs from the patch on Maggie’s jacket to the distinctive tattoo on her cheek. “The tattoo is worn by the heartiest of Māori females,” says Vincent Egan, CEO of Māui Studios and Cultural Consultant, explaining the ink’s meaning and significance. “Mad Maggie’s tattoo has a clean line through the centre and it represents the strength of her heart. The spiral or koru that come out of the middle, form the shape of a hammerhead shark or Mangopare, who in old stories represents the undying will of hammerhead sharks that continue to fight even after they’re dead. This power is imbued into the wearer and has been inspired by Tuatini Arahanga, the creator of these tattoos, or moko.”
This level of detail extended to the design of Maggie’s Māori Warrior Legendary skin (below), which was based on an interpretation of the war god Tūmatauenga. As discussions and presentations took place, Maui Studios would regularly send reference material over to Respawn, which the team would use as the basis for fleshing out the look of the new Legend.
Of course, Maggie exists within the wider Apex universe, where the Apex Games, owned and operated by the mysterious Syndicate, act as a futuristic bloodsport set in the distant future. With its diverse line-up of Legends, who run the gamut from mercenaries to astrophysicists and even stunt performers, Mad Maggie’s path to winding up in the Apex Games is fleshed out in the excellent ‘Stories from the Outlands’ cinematic short ‘Judgement’.
In it we see Mad Maggie, or Margaret Kōhere, a rebellious outlaw fighting for her homeworld of Salvo, captured by the Syndicate. Put on trial she’s eventually sentenced to fight to the death, but not before she spits one of her own teeth at the presiding judge in a pure display of sheer kick-ass rage. “That the infamous ‘tooth shooting’ moment was in the very first draft of the script,” Sam Gill confirms. “But I never believed we’d get to actually make that. It’s too extreme, it’s too silly, it’s too impossible. I’m so delighted to see that moment not only survived, but has become iconic in the fan community. It’s very Maggie.”
“Storytelling in Apex is always very collaborative,” Gill adds. “Once the script was locked, we worked closely with The Sequence Group to help find the right visual style, tone, and rhythm for Judgement. As long as the story is dealing with human pain, human need, and good old fashioned human conflict, the audience is going to be able to emotionally connect.”
“Since Maggie is a proud Salvonian with a long history of resisting the Syndicate, we felt it was important that she felt like an outsider, so her particular visual identity was informed by that,” Brett Marting says. “We wanted her to be rougher around the edges than the rest of the Legends, even rougher than her old ‘friend’ Fuse, our first Salvo character. If Fuse is Rockabilly, Maggie is raw Punk Rock. If Fuse is a cold beer, Maggie is a shot of grain alcohol. While Fuse plays to the crowd, Maggie stands by her roots, and doesn’t feel the need to change for anybody.”
“If Fuse is Rockabilly, Maggie is raw Punk Rock. If Fuse is a cold beer, Maggie is a shot of grain alcohol.” – Brett Marting.
Maggie is a ferocious 55 year-old resistance fighter who has fought against oppression her entire life. And while her initial introduction was that of a rage-filled mercenary in Fuse’s debut, “we’re now seeing Maggie’s story from her perspective,” says Gill, “and that’s giving audiences a chance to understand her, and empathise with her.”
In developing Mad Maggie’s gameplay, having an established personality and history within Apex Legends meant creating her abilities was a relatively straightforward process for the team.
“I’m a big believer that people are what they do, not what they say,” Sam Gill explains. “Behaviour is character. Therefore, a Legend’s abilities are expressions of that Legend’s personality.” That philosophy can be seen throughout Apex Legends. Gibraltar’s gun shield is representative of his protective nature, Horizon can mess with gravity and air flow because, well, she’s an astrophysicist.
“When she was introduced we saw Maggie as uncompromising, vicious, and willing to do whatever it takes to free her homeworld,” Sam Gill says. “So, what could be more Maggie than a wild Wrecking Ball that charges into combat causing mayhem? One of her abilities is related to shotguns, and Maggie herself is something of a shotgun – loud, abrasive. A laser is kind of technical, whereas a shotgun is more gritty and mechanical.”
In-game the Warlord’s Ire passive rewards Maggie when she’s close to the action with a shotgun in hand with a speed boost. It’s a fun mechanic that plays into everything about her. And this sort of tangible action really helps her character come to life. So too does Nicola Kawana’s exceptional vocal performance, which adds another awesome one-liner layer on top of the care and attention to detail that went into Maggie’s creation.
“I was brainstorming a bunch of what we call ‘intro lines’, which are badass one liners that trigger when a player selects a Legend,” Sam Gill says. “I’d written a few that weren’t quite ‘Maggie enough’, and then one fell into my lap. ‘I’m gonna get a bag, fill it with knives, then beat you to death with it.’ It’s brutal. It’s over the top. And no other character would form that phrase.”
That’s a classic kind of line for a tough character like Maggie, but others lean more into her heritage and cultural background. “The classic insult in New Zealand,” says Gill, “is to call someone an egg, ‘Don’t be such an egg, you egg!’. To hear Nicola, the amazing voice actor behind Maggie, in a VO booth calling all the other Legends eggs has made me happier than I can ever describe.”
Mad Maggie is live in Apex Legends now so don’t be an egg – go check it out.