The Mac Walters/Mass Effect Interview, Part 1

A while back, Mass Effect genius Mac Walters and I had a talk about the art of writing in the science fiction videogame series, the latest iteration of which tops many year end lists this year. About one-sixth of this five-part series was published in EGM.

But, as writing in games begins to get the attention that graphics do, I think it’s important to let Walters wax profound about both the writing within the game and the adjunct comic book series. So, beginning today, here is Part 1 of the full interview.

HG: Is the comics series something for people who don’t know Mass Effect?

MW: For the people who haven’t played Mass Effect or read the comics or novels, I think if you like a good story, you’re gonna like Mass Effect. It’s a fantastic story. The characters are interesting and fun and it’s a fantastic shooter/adventure RPG. If you haven’t played the game, you might think, “It’s an RPG. That scares me a little.” We’ve gone to a lot of lengths to make the game accessible. You can go deep into it if you want, but you’re not forced to. You can pick it up, play as a soldier, run in, fight, kill some guys and along the way you get a fantastic story and get to explore this amazing universe.

HG: But the game is such a big game. How do you go about organizing your life and your mind to do these kinds of varied and branching stories?

MW: And it gets more complicated in the sequel because it gets more complicated than in the first game. So it really is a lot of planning, more work and documents than I’d like to admit to. But I work with a team of from four to six writers. So it means a lot of meetings, not just hey, write a great story, but write a great story and keep this in mind.

It’s like, here is the main story. But if you want to do your Jack Acquisition plot, that’s great. But keep it in a certain context. All the stories can branch, but they need to come to a common end point. And you always have to look at this: what consequence does this story have on the main game? You ask, Is it too big of a consequence? Does it happen too early in the game? Don’t have the consequence happen right away. Instead, build up to it so you can deal with it fully in separate cut scenes.

HG: When you start a game, you have tons of ideas for story. Can you detail some things that were cut, but you wanted to stay in?

MW: There were whole plots of mine that were cut for Mass Effect 1. I originally came up with the whole Cerberus plot line, which has a bigger role in Mass Effect 2. You join the Illusive Man and his group. There was a whole global plot, a plot that spanned many worlds involving Cerberus in Mass Effect 1 that we ended up cutting. A few hints of that plot remained, and that’s what we built on for ME2. The plot was completely gone and the characters were gone. We built so much around the Illusive Man for ME2.

-Harold Goldberg

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