The epic conclusion of the space-opera Mass Effect is finally landing this week, and countless gamers are excited to find out what happens in this carefully crafted sci-fi universe. As Commander Shepard, you’re once again charged with saving life throughout the universe -- this time from an advanced race of machine-like aliens called Reapers.
Red Bull USA spoke with "Mass Effect 3" lead writer Mac Walters to talk about what it was like creating the story, his favorite character in the series, and what his all-time favorite stories in gaming are.
Without any spoilers, what should we expect from Mass Effect 3?
It’s the pinnacle of the series in many ways. You’ve got the whole context of the galaxy at war, and it allowed us to bring in some of the biggest moments in the entire series. What was challenging, was trying to get it all to mean something both to old players and new players. This game is full of big moments, but in the end, it all should come down to something personal for these characters. There’s going to go on an amazing roller coaster ride, but hopefully also entranced by the plight of these characters. So, it’s an interesting mix of the two.
When you were making Mass Effect 1, did you have the end game mapped out at all?
We had certain guideposts out there that we knew we were headed for. In the first 10 minutes of "Mass Effect," you had this introduction to everything and it was set it up so that we always knew that it would end in a big galatic war between Sheperd, his team and Reapers. But we wanted to treat each game as its own. "Mass Effect" 1, a lot of it was creating the whole universe and telling that story. The second game was expanding it, bringing in the “dirty dozen” and the suicide mission and then incorporating the interesting middle ground with Cerebrus and the Illusive Man -- they’re kind of ambigious. I love that about it. So, it’s taking all those loose ends and wrapping them all up.
Mass Effect 3 Video Trailer
In many ways, Mass Effect is like an elaborate Choose Your Own Adventure book where choices you've made from previous games affect the later games. How difficult is that to write, especially for this third game?
It was of the most difficult game I’ve ever worked on. Take, for example, the 12 henchman from the suicide mission in "Mass Effect 2." Any of those characters could be alive or dead and we have to deal with that in "Mass Effect 3." It took us months to deal with that. It was like, what roles will these characters have? Then there’s the added complication of, well, OK, what if you’re a new player? How do we integrate that? We spent six months planning out just the logistics of it and mapping it out and figuring out all of the choices and we had to be flexible all the way through. Yeah, we had flowcharts, documents, wall charts, and sticky notes everywhere. It was a lot of banging your head against the wall, especially early in the project, but it was a fun challenge.
"I think the romance is a natural extension for these characters because it’s a part of human relationships."
Another unique aspect for Bioware games is the emphasis on romance. I know people that don’t remember a lot of the plot points, but they’ll know all about which characters they fell in love with. Do you hear a lot of people say that?
One of the interesting things about Mass Effect as an epic trilogy is the interactive fiction and the characters in it, where we’ve created these unbelievably grounded characters that people love. We ‘ve been to Cons and there’s all these people dressed up as these characters, and it’s great. I think the romance is a natural extension for these characters because it’s a part of human relationships and it’s an extension of these games becoming more cinematic.
Did you have any character in mind from movies or TV shows when you were writing Commander Sheperd?
Internally, we’d just to say he was like Jack Bauer from “24” but I think that was more the decision making aspect of the character.
What are your top five favorite stories in gaming of all time?
Well, there’s sort of the ones that most people pick, but I wanted to pick ones that aren’t as common and sort of more personal to me -- the ones that stick with you and mean something.
1. A Bards Tale (1985) PC
"It was the first time I got totally sucked into a game space and an entire universe. It was a farily simple story, but very enthralling."
2. Karataka (1984) PC
"You really couldn’t ask for a more simple story. Rescue the princess. Fight this dude, rinse and repeat. But it was an epic adventure when I was young."
3. Myst (1993) PC
"Technology has a lot to do with the experience in gaming and this was during the convergence of tech where PC was platform of choice and you had this new CD-ROM technology that allowed new things. I got into "Myst" and was just enthralled, the way they weaved these puzzles into this world. Loved it."
4. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1984) PC
"It was a text adventure, so there wasn't much to look at, but I’d read the books, and I still really enjoyed it the game. I was laughing the whole time."
5. Knights of the Old Republic (2003) Xbox, PC
"Yeah, it's a Bioware game, but I didn't work on it. It's a game with an amazing twist in it and the first Star Wars game where I really felt like I was part of the universe."
For more from Ryan Smith, follow him on Twitter: @RyanSmithWriter