BioWare’s Mac Walters had some big shoes to fill when he was promoted from a simple member of the Mass Effect writing team (he was responsible for Garrus Vakarian’s dialogue) to Lead Writer for the series. This was after Drew Karpyshyn moved onto Star Wars: The Old Republic and, ultimately, retired from gaming.
Mass Effect revolutionized the Action/RPG genre by striking the perfect balance between choice and narrative. The dialog wheel, which made its way into BioWare’s Dragon Age 2, has been lauded by most and decried by some. Regardless of your feelings about it, Mass Effect, and its particular style of storycraft, have forever transformed the gaming world.
With Walters at the helm, Shepard’s story continued to evolve in Mass Effect 2. He and his team demonstrated a clear vision for the trilogy’s narrative arc. The story began when our Universe entered an unprecedented period of prosperity and relative peace. The sequel told a much darker tale, built upon the mystery of disappearing human colonies and the looming threat of invasion. The stakes reached an all-time high, but Shepard and his team succeeded in their mission, averting a terrifying threat that would imperil all sentient races… or so we thought.
Now, we must take back Earth. It has all come down to the thundering finale as the Reapers descend upon us, obliterating everything we know and love. With the clock ticking down to Mass Effect 3‘s release next week, we took the opportunity to ask Mac Walters some of our more pressing questions. He offered a little insight into his process and what you can expect from the thrilling conclusion to this epic tale.
RipTen: So much has happened throughout the Mass Effect series, but will we really get all the answers to our questions with this game? What would you tell fans who are worried about the end of their Mass Effect experience?
Mac Walters: Mass Effect is an expansive universe with more possibilities than any of us can possibly imagine. And while it’s unlikely that we will answer every question that our fans could come up with, we’ve been very intentional about wrapping up this trilogy in every conceivable way. It’s been our goal from the beginning to ensure that Mass Effect 3 players with a fulfilling conclusion to Shepard’s story, including all the characters and plots that surround them.
RipTen: What can players expect from their romantic choices during the resolution? In Mass Effect 2, the romance options were much more diverse, but some fans thought that their culminations seemed brief and unrewarding. Will players have to settle for another headbutt? Are we going to see any unique squad interactions outside of combat from characters’ love interests? In fact, one of the first Facebook “missions” on the Mass Effect page dealt directly with Shepard and Liara’s relationship. Are romances going to play a more significant role throughout?
MW: I recently wrote a blog for our website titled the “Roadmap to Love and Happiness” that answers many of these questions. Overall, the relationships in Mass Effect 3 should feel more rewarding as you play them. They were written to be less of a means to an end (the final romance scene), and more of a journey that you go on with the characters. Each scene is intended to be more dynamic, more memorable and more personal to your Shepard’s story. And to this end, we have been more focused on the relationship, than simply the romance. Romance is a legitimate part of certain relationships you can have with the characters in Mass Effect 3, but it’s just one component. The goal was to create characters that feel more believable, more grounded, regardless of whether you’re friends, lovers, or enemies.
RipTen: What was the biggest challenge in writing for such a diverse cast in terms of personalities and cultural backgrounds? Who was your favorite character to write?
MW: Actually, having such a large and diverse cast is great. We have 9 writers on Mass Effect 3, each with their own style and influences. Each of us has our and with so many characters, it’s easy for everyone to have something they can really sink their teeth in to. For me personally, I really enjoyed writing James Vega. He’s so blunt and straight-forward but he can also be a real charmer… and the things that come out of his mouth are often so unintentionally entertaining I often find myself smiling when I’ve got him in my squad. And with Freddy Prinze Jr. doing the voice, the character came together better than I could have imagined.
RipTen: Throughout the series, there have been numerous memorable main and side quests where Shepard must make a critical decision. How did you decide which of these past choices would come back to help/haunt the Commander in Mass Effect 3? What kind of repercussions can players expect from their actions beyond the major plot points. We’re pretty sure the Rachni Queen and Collector Base decisions will affect the story, but what about those side quests?
MW: Most of the choices, and certainly the critical ones, will be reflected in Mass Effect 3 to some degree. The real work comes in trying to decide just how much each choice will impact Commander Shepard. If we addressed every choice with equal weight, we’d end up creating nothing more than a customized cutscene of all your past choices. But each game needs to stand on its own, with its own unique story, plots and choices. At the core, my job is to create a compelling framework for the story using the current status of the galaxy. Once that backbone is created, we can start to find ways to weave past choices and their consequences in to the story… to flesh out the main plot. But first and foremost, the core story has to be amazing. It has to blow you away, regardless of the different possibilities. That way, we can more certain that every possible version of the story is one that people will love, and hopefully remember for a long time to come.
RipTen: Even with the influence of the player’s decisions taken into account, which character has changed the most over the trilogy? How so?
MW: Shepard. Hands down. Just look at all the Commander’s been through: A top solider thrust on to the political stage as a Spectre and agent of the Council. Only to later be killed and brought back to life by a shadowy pro-human organization. And now, in Mass Effect 3, everything Shepard has been warning the galaxy about has come to pass. The amazing thing is, the player decides just how much Shepard has changed and in what ways. And in Mass Effect 3, you’ll get a chance to express how all the incredible events of Shepard’s past few years have impacted them (or you can just be the strong silent type if you prefer). Either way, we’ve given Shepard more depth and character in the final act, for those who wish to pursue it. Shepard is a complex character, and the Commander’s been through so much, we felt it was time that you got the opportunity to say it out loud to those characters that matter most to your Shepard.
Your wait is almost over, Mass Effect fans. Shepard’s story wraps up next week on March 6, 2012, when Mass Effect 3 arrives on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.