The latest in GameSpot’s documentary series explores the story behind Mass Effect: Andromeda and its developer BioWare Montreal. As part of this video feature, we travelled to Boston and spoke to various members of the development team, ranging from studio executives and writers, to designers and creative directors.
While some of these interviews are featured in The Story of Mass Effect: Andromeda, a great deal of the interview material was unused. In light of this, we decided to publish each of the interviews in full and make them available to anyone interested in reading more about the development of the game.
The interview below features Mac Walters, creative director for the Mass Effect franchise. Further interviews are available through the links.
Mass Effect: Andromeda Interviews
- BioWare Montreal Studio Director Yanick Roy Interview
- Mass Effect Franchise Creative Director Mac Walters Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Producer Michael Gamble Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Level Designer and Space Lead Jessica Campbell Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Producer Fabrice Condominas Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Lead Designer Ian Frazier Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Level Designer Chris Corfe Interview
- Mass Effect: Andromeda Lead Writer Cathleen Rootsaert Interview
GameSpot: Can we start with an introduction and your history with the Mass Effect franchise?
Mac Walters: Just that little small thing?
Yeah, just a tiny small part of your life.
Mac Walters: Just my history with it, the last 12 years of my life?
Can you just summarize that in about 10 seconds?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ll do my best. My name is Mac Walters. I’m the creative director for the Mass Effect franchise. I’ve been with it since the very beginning. I started as a senior writer on Mass Effect 1. I was a lead writer. Then on Mass Effect 2 and on Mass Effect 3 as well. And now the helm of the ship at Mass Effect: Andromeda, so exciting times.
You guys started working on Mass Effect after KotOR. Right?
What was the thinking of from going from a massive sci-fi property into being like, let’s make a massive sci-fi property? Surely that must have been like an incredible feat and daunting task for you guys to come up with. Why was it a sci-fi RPG that you wanted to go into again?
Yeah, you know I think a lot of the vision for Mass Effect: Andromeda probably was inspired by the fact that we got to work on something as amazing as a Star Wars franchise. I mean it’s so huge, and there’s just so many stories you can tell in it. I think that just is one of the things that drove us. I know Casey Hudson was a huge fan of Aliens, Blade Runner, and that was a lot of his motivational space offers that sort of hearkening back to the 80s, and I think he wanted to do something that was a little bit more mature, a little bit more for the adult side of things, and something that was also a little bit more hard science.
Casey is an engineer. Star Wars is great, but it is very much science fantasy, right? Sort of being able to take science fiction seriously again I think was a big part of it. That’s something that we always took very seriously in the opening days of planning out Mass Effect was the science should matter. This is something that’s grounded in humanity. It’s one of the possible futures of Earth and of humanity, and I think it was important for us to stay grounded in that.
Mass Effect came out in an incredibly busy year where some of the greatest games of all time and most influential games of all time came out. There’s Call of Duty, Portal, BioShock, and a whole bunch of other stuff that defined gaming for the next following years. What was it about Mass Effect that you think made it stand out amongst all those games?
You know, that’s a really great question. I think one of the things was right from the start we said that the trilogy anyway was going to be a trilogy, so that helped it stand apart immediately. We said that this is a story that’s going to go over three different games, your choices are going to matter. We’re going to carry that forward. We’re going to have romances that carry from game to game, and that was original and new and people really hadn’t done that.
I think then the other thing I would call it is just this cinematic nature of it. People really weren’t pushing that, at least not in games. Certainly games had cinematics, and a lot of times you’d see them at the beginning of a mission, at the end of a mission, but they were pretty much pre-baked animations, everything that you’d see. It would be good, but we wanted to do that in-game. We had started to push that with KotOR and then even with Jade Empire which I worked on.
It was important that we really gave it a mature, cinematic feel to it, and part of that was of course remember the dialog wheel. That was also new. It’s been a long time since we talked about this, but just hearkening back, one of the things that the dialog wheel was supposed to do was supposed to allow you to have a conversation in real time so that the paraphrase system that we came up with was, you don’t have to read that line. You just have to get the gist of what’s there so that while the NPC is finishing their line, you can be selecting your line, and then the conversation flows naturally so you don’t get this awkward pause.
Of course, with all the big choices and decisions we put in there that we generated some pause as there were people who were not wanting to make their choice right away, but I think that combination of things and then taking an RPG genre and then trying to push it more into the shooter realm. It was a lot of unique elements that we were bringing at that time, and there’s also just that indescribable magic that all comes together at the end, and it made something special and people related to it. It was amazing.
I think it’s really interesting that you said that the idea that it was a trilogy was something that helped it stand out. For me it’s … I never thought of it until you said that, but like the idea of investing in a universe is what makes Mass Effect interesting, a what a lot of people are looking at Andromeda and thinking about. Right?
It’s the idea of throwing themselves into a universe that is going to tell them a story over the course of initially maybe like 50, 60 hours, but then with the hopes of maybe two more games, three more games, whatever it may be. How do you guys approach knowing that there’s people out there that are expecting so much from this game, having played this? When you first approached it, how did you go into it? Because, you know, you had the idea of making three games, and when you’re doing it now looking at Andromeda and being like, there’s people out there that want to throw themselves into this for years. How do you approach that?
Well, interestingly, I think it’s hard to go back in time, but when we were working on Mass Effect 1 there was no Mass Effect yet. It’s almost impossible going back and putting yourself in that head space where everything was possible. We didn’t have anything defined yet and we weren’t sure exactly where we were going to head or if people were even going to respond to it. We were just going on our instincts and looking to things that inspired us and really looking to the future and saying, “Well, what, what could we do with this, this franchise? What can we do with it?” I think it’s a really good point that when you commit as a developer, as a creator, as an artist and say, “Look, we’re going to do something that’s big. And it’s going to be around, and we’re committed to it.”
I think that probably resonates with people when they start playing it because they go, “Oh, well, this is amazing. Like, I love this world, I love the characters, and you’re already telling me you’re working on more, right?” I don’t think we looked at it in that way. As ourselves we just want to try something new, we want to try something bold, but that’s how people responded to it.
Then certainly when we started up Mass Effect: Andromeda, I think one of the interesting things is you would assume we’ll talk a lot about the trilogy and how popular it was and it’s highly rated. There is an assumption of, “Of course they’ll do another Mass Effect,” but hat wasn’t an assumption when we finished. It was designed to be a trilogy, and we wanted it to end with Shepard’s story, and even though the ending wasn’t for some people what they wanted, and it didn’t always come off … It wasn’t that great hurrah that we might’ve wanted at the end.
At the same time, there was a closure to it that we were like, “Okay. Well, we’ve done Mass Effect. That was, that was eight, nine years of Mass Effect. What now?” Myself and a lot of the Mass Effect team actually moved on to work on BioWare’s new IP at the time, and there wasn’t a for sure that we were going to do another Mass Effect. I think you give it a little bit of time and you give it a little bit of space, and it’s such, again, much like what we’re talking about with Star Wars, it’s such a huge IP. There is so many stories to tell.
We knew that we wanted to start telling other stories in that sort of world, and then we just started to ask ourselves, “Well, if we were going to, how do we get back to doing it the way we did it before?” And I think that was one of the keys of going to Andromeda, was not so much to distance ourselves from the trilogy but to actually put the developers and everybody working on it in a place where they could be back to thinking in a space where almost anything is possible.
Obviously we want to keep as much of what’s there, but at the same time you want part of that magic of the first one, [which] was the ability to just say, “We can do almost anything, and we can look to the future.” I think one of the things we wanted to avoid at the beginning was we didn’t want to just make a Mass Effect 4 if we were going to do this. We didn’t want this to be looking backwards say, “Okay, well, we did this before, so we should probably do this now.” We wanted to actually open up the possibility space quite a bit and allow people to really imagine and create.
You obviously you said that you spent eight, nine years your life working on the trilogy. Going into Andromeda, was it difficult to leave that part of Mass Effect behind? Like those characters, those stories, or was it exciting to make a new mark on that world?
Much more the latter. It was very exciting. I sat in several voiceover sessions at the end of Mass Effect 3 teary-eyed with actors and people as we read some of the final lines. That was really the closure for me. It really felt like it ended, and like I said, had the ending gone off a little bit more smoothly, I think we would’ve really personally, emotionally had that closure a bit more. As far as saying goodbye to the characters and the world, I had already done that. I felt like I had done that through the process of just putting that out there and developing it.
Once we finally came around and started talking about Andromeda, it was really that idea of, “Alright, anything’s possible. What do we want to do?” We started to ask the questions of, “Okay, well, Shepard was like this. That was the core of our story. How do we create a protagonist that feels unique and different from Shepard? And how do we create a universe that feels like it’s Mass Effect but at the same time explores different themes, um, and allows us to try new things?” That’s where, going to Andromeda, I think really set the stage for that.
I know you said the excitement of having everything to do any possibility. The idea of someone working on a series for however many years you have worked on it, and then you had an opportunity to make a clean break, try and make a mark in a different way and work on a new IP with BioWare. What was it about that universe that made you want to come back and do it all over again? The idea that the stresses and the pressures of starting from scratch and knowing that the people out there are going to be scrutinizing every single bit of it and investing in it, like that would just much be just overwhelming. What was it about that made you want to go, “Yeah, I’ll commit another 20 years of my life to this”?
Yeah. It’s funny. For me anyway, I don’t know if it’s an artist thing or if it’s just a creator thing or whatever, but every game I’ve ever put out, there’s always been that nagging, “[I] wish we could’ve done this,” and, “Oh, man. We were so close. We could’ve done this.” Mass Effect 3 was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like, “Wow. We accomplished something that we set out to do,” in the sense that Mass Effect 3 really fulfilled a lot of the vision of what we imagined Mass Effect 1 would be. It just took us a long time to get there, but as far as the way we developed the characters and even the gameplay that we imagined. We were even talking about multiplayer in Mass Effect 1, but we just couldn’t find a way to make it work. All of those different things.
After a while, even though I’m working on this new IP, it’s very exciting, you do have that nagging. It’s like, “Oh, you know, we never really got to do this.” Look at the Mako. It’s just like we tried in Mass Effect 2 to improve it. We didn’t quite get it there, and then we just said, “No. We’re, we’re going to give up in Mass Effect 3.” That was one of those things where it’s like–and I love racing games. I’m a huge racing fan, and to leave that like, “Eh, we never really got to do it as well as wanted.”
Then also just seeing the promise of where we had taken the gameplay as well. I think the multiplayer was probably easily the single most thing that moved our gameplay forward. Obviously, I think the switch from more of a role-based sort of gameplay system in Mass Effect 1 to more of a twitch-based in Mass Effect 2, that was a big shift, but to actually … It just felt like we finally achieved something in Mass Effect 3, and I really want to see where we can push the gameplay elements in that as well.
Stepping back a bit. You start this new IP with Mass Effect 1. What do you think is the lasting legacy of that game within gaming history? For us, for example, as fans it’s the scope of world-building and the scale of it and the characters. That’s what sticks out to us, and it’s what we highlight as, this is what Mass Effect brought to gaming. I know we were talking about it yesterday. I was like, it’s the first time console gamers could experience a world on that scale outside of, that was kind of like exclusive to PC MMOs at that time. From your perspective, as someone who authored the game and knows it inside out, what do you think is the legacy of that first game?
You’ve answered it well yourself, but I think a lot of it really comes down to the fact that it is not easy to create a new intellectual property, a new world that people can live in, and I think to build one that is so large and so many stories can be told and people still want to hear those stories in is really, again, it gets back to that magic. All the elements coming together in a perfect way and, you know, pushing into a fairly difficult genre to move into. Space opera, science fiction, there’s been a lot of IPs that come and go in that in different mediums. It’s difficult to hold on to that.
The heavy hitters out there are really heavy hitters, so finding your space in that and being recognized just as a legitimate, like, “This is a viable world that people want to spend their time in.” We’ve done everything. Comics to books. We’re talking to people about doing movies.
It was a real–I don’t want to say stroke of luck because there’s so much hard work–but when you see all of those elements come together, sometimes it’s hard to explain. How did we achieve it? I don’t know. I’m Canadian. I’m too humble. It’s hard to look back at how we did it. Even when we were in the midst of it, we just look at each other and say, “Is this real? Okay, great. Well, let’s do another one.”
I think we were talking about this yesterday and we were trying to figure out how to express the way we felt after we finished playing Mass Effect 1. For me, I remember playing Super Metroid on the SNES and then being completely immersed in it. When I was done, I was holding the cart and there was this weird existential crisis, almost, where I was looking at it, I was like, “This plastic thing contains an entire world that I’ve just loved for the past, you know, 12, 13 hours, whatever it may be.”
It was the same for me when I finished Mass Effect. I was holding a disc and I was like, “I don’t understand how the world works right now, because I’m holding a galaxy in my hand and I love it on a, on the scale that I loved people in this game more than I love actual people in my life right now.” It was like magic and that kind of thing. That is a thing that people expect from the series now. Do you think about that when you’re creating something like Andromeda? How do you approach that, knowing that people are going to derive so much from it?
Yeah, that’s a hard question. I think that it does come back a lot to that sense of, we always want to do more than what we’ve done in the past. That’s not just me. I know all the people at BioWare feel that way. That’s one of the things I think that allows us to keep striving for quality, even though it seems like it’d be easy to go, “Well, look at, look at Mass Effect 2. 96-rated game [on] Metacritic. Let’s just stop now, right? There’s no need to go forward.”
For all of us, we felt, “No, no. There is more that we can do,” and I think when we start building the worlds, we want them to be as rich and detailed as possible. We are all, up until the last possible minute, until they drag it out of our hands, we’re continuing to fill those worlds with the things that excite us. I think that’s part of it too, is, on Andromeda specifically, one of the things I found that was really new and interesting with that was that a large part of the team actually had never worked on a Mass Effect game.
Many hadn’t even worked on a BioWare game, but they were fans of the franchise so they had only ever seen Mass Effect as a player, and they’d come in and that’s how they envisioned the world. They were able to bring a whole new passion but a whole new perspective to the world-building and to how we wanted to build this game out.
It was great because, like I said, we wanted to look forward, we want to keep an eye on the future but, at the same time, I had these people that are ardent fans and they would very much let me know–it’s like, “Well, I feel like maybe we’re drifting too far away from what Mass Effect should be,” and we’d have a discussion about it,and I think that really helped us find that fine line between something very fresh and very new but also very clearly Mass Effect.
There’s a poetic reflection in that you’ve got this team that’s filled of new people and veterans and you’re trying to find this new home in the game and also as a franchise. As someone who’s been there for a while, how do you balance however you control that stuff? Because I imagine you have this personal connection. You’re like, “This is what we should be aiming for.” Then you almost have to leave it to the new guys to make their mistakes and figure out a new future for this franchise. How do you approach that?
Ideally what you do is you set out a very strong vision, and it’s not something that’s very prescriptive in the details. It’s just something that’s clear and everybody who’s working on the project, whether they’re an artist, whether they’re a programmer, writer, they can look to that vision and the idea is like a north star that they can head towards. Within that, they’re very free to interpret what their contribution to the game is.
That’s where I find the best result comes from, because you don’t want to constrain people. You don’t want to constrain their creativity, but at the same time, there are parameters. There’s a bounding box within which we have to work. Some of that is time, some of it is money, and some of it is a vision as well, right? Where we actually go, “Okay. Well, this is what we’re trying to accomplish.”
I think, for Andromeda, it was things like, we want this to be a slightly lighter tone from the get-go. We want to also make this about exploration. That was one of the key themes. There are other things about [how] we wanted to make sure that we did, in some ways, narratively cut the ties to the Milky Way so that people weren’t always wondering, “Are the Reapers going to show up here?” It’s like, “Nope. That’s never going to happen.” Making sure that some of those things are very clearly spelled out for the team and then just give them free rein. They know what Mass Effect is. If they don’t, they’ve got so many people around them who can help them identify what that is. And then see what they come up with.
The best things that I’ve always found are, when you challenge and say, “Okay, this is something that we need. This is how I envisioned it,” and they come back and they present you with something that you hadn’t even thought of. That’s the beauty of this collaborative experience that we make games in. That’s how the magic happens, really. It’s when you let people do that.
Going back to Mass Effect 2. You finished Mass Effect 1. You got this universe, almost a framework of a universe, laid out. What was your discussion going into Mass Effect 2? Because Mass Effect 1 is strongly about exploration. Mass Effect 2 seems, from my perspective, strongly about characters.
Mass Effect 3 is almost like ending that. Bring it all together and capping it off with this climactic event. What was your approach for Mass Effect 2 and what were you thinking about when you’re going into it? Was it always like, “We need to build characters right now in this game”?
We always started off again with the discussion of what worked, what didn’t work. Mako, you know, we took another kick at it, but we didn’t want to lean too heavily into those worlds. We didn’t feel that we had the ability to really double down on what we’ve done now in Andromeda, where those worlds could be rich and full and you can really feel like there’s a lot of story and characters on those worlds.
What we did find was that people had once again in a BioWare game gravitated towards those characters and really loved this ability to really feel like they were not only interacting with them, romancing them, but also even just shaping the way some of those characters like Garrus behaved or Wrex, right?
I think, for us, when we came up with this idea of a suicide mission, we said, “What’s going to make that important to you as a player is if you care about the people you’re going into that suicide mission with,” right? We looked at movies like The Dirty Dozen and things like that to inspire us for that.
At that point, that’s when the characters became so key to us. It was challenging because we’d already created some amazing characters in Mass Effect 1 and now we were like, “Well, let’s double that or even add more to that. And how do we keep them all unique and how do we keep them all interesting and so they all have their quirks?” I think that’s where ideas of loyalty missions came out, so it’s like you got to spend that time with that character and it was focused on that character.Same with the acquisition missions. Then also some of the conflict stuff we did there to really bring those characters to life more, where some of them just wouldn’t get along. If you couldn’t get them to get along, that was going to mean trouble for your suicide mission later.
I often hear, I’d say more often than not, that Mass Effect 2 is people’s favorite, and I think that’s probably why. It was because, in a world where you’re invested in characters and whether they survive or not and you know that there’s another game coming after it, it just had all the recipes for letting people really dive into the thing that they love most.
That investment of character is like, there’s a lot of people out there that they invested in characters in Mass Effect in a way that’s unlike any other video games they find. They see themselves in there. They see the ability to push through their real-world problems, of stuff like depression or anxiety, that stuff, or racial things that they might be going through, they find solace in Mass Effect. Is that something that you’re thinking about going into Andromeda, and the pressures of that? How do you deal with the pressures of knowing that you need to create characters? Or you’re creating characters that people will almost live their life by. How do you approach that in a game like Andromeda?
Actually, I think one of the things I started to even realize over the course of the trilogy, and 2 is probably one of the points where I went, “Oh, yeah. This is what we need to be doing,” is that a lot of times people call BioWare a story company or story-based video games, and it’s true. I mean, story is important to us, but where I was at with writing was it really just, again, it doesn’t matter if you don’t care about the characters, and I kept pushing us to be more character-focused and less story-focused.
That’s not to say that we didn’t care about the story, but it was like more of a situation of let’s create a scenario, let’s put these people in it, and then let’s see how they react. That’s where we’re going to get the juicy bits. That’s where we’re going to get something really compelling and interesting. That’s something that I focused a lot on on Andromeda, which was every character and, if you think to it, if you have a lot of people who are coming onto the Andromeda and Mass Effect series for the first time to work on it, how do I live up to this? How do I create a character that’s so different and so unique and so interesting?
A lot of times I would say, “Look, don’t worry about it being the most interesting character ever. If you start with that, you’re actually going to just spiral and and spin on that forever. What you need to do is take a character who’s relatable. Think about something in them that people–it doesn’t have to be everybody, but somebody; you, someone you know–can relate to. Now put them in a crazy situation. You’re going to another galaxy and then everything goes pear-shaped. What would that character do?
That’s where the interesting moments come from, and I think that’s one of the prevailing principles I try to push on people, which was everything that we present in the game should be represented by a character. If there’s a system or if there’s a world, who are the characters I would meet there, and how did they embody what you want the player to learn about that world, and then what’s the experience that they’re going to have when they’re there? That, of course, applies to the player character as well.
Over the course of the trilogy, there’s always been these characters and situations that have helped people. [We] mentioned anxiety and depression but, more often than not, like sexuality and stuff. What kind of stories do you hear from the fanbase when they are sharing their own experiences with the characters? When you’re going into a game like Andromeda, do you feel pressure that you need to recreate those for a new audience, or do you want to just tell the story you want to tell?
I’ll answer the second part first. I don’t feel a pressure to create characters or stories for that purpose, because then I don’t think it’s genuine. That gets back to my previous comment. As a writer, or as a character artist who’s putting their love and passion and effort into creating these characters, I want them to just bring out whatever is there. Like I said, I think the story will help shape it, and I think the world that we built in Andromeda is one where it is relatable. We want relatable characters. We want them to be going through things that are common struggles, but maybe in a unique situation obviously, again, in Andromeda.
That stuff just finds a way to bubble up. I looked at some of the stats before; I think Mass Effect 3 had something like 670 unique characters in it and Andromeda has over 1,200. The dialog lines, we just want to look at that, as far as content, [Andromeda has] basically Mass Effect 2 plus Mass Effect 3.
We’ve doubled down on characters, and yet our story isn’t necessarily, like the critical path story, I would say, isn’t necessarily that much longer. It’s probably on par with 3, which is one of the shorter ones, actually, but then there are all these worlds with all these characters. They all have their stories and there’s unique and interesting narratives happening on these worlds. I think, just with the way we’ve designed it, there’s going to be something for everybody, people are going to find something.
The characters you guys built, you defined your studio as a studio that makes characters now and the reaction to the Mass Effect 3 ending was focused on the broader narrative, which we would kind of dismiss as just a framework, a setup for it. How do you approach Andromeda knowing that people are paying as much attention to the nitty-gritty of a broader narrative outside a lot of the key characters within it that you focused on?
For me, with the trilogy, what I found was it was the narrative, the story, that was bringing everything to a conclusion, which ultimately meant that the characters themselves were concluding. I think that’s the thing that I would assume, from the outside looking in, you look at and you go, “Well, why would you end it that way? I don’t like that story.” That’s the thing that you can call out as not being what you were expecting or wanting or whatever.
For Andromeda, I think, again, this is a fresh start and that was one of the key things we wanted to do with the story. It’s a fresh start for the characters, as well. This is very much more of a hero’s journey, as opposed to Shepard was very much the hero already when we met him or her, and then they became a legend? Versus this is, “Nope. You are about to become a hero.”
I think the other aspect of that is, this is just the first step. Although we’re not calling this a trilogy, it’s a series, and we’ve infused the story and the characters with a sense of permanence, like this will continue. Other things will happen, and we want people to become invested in those characters so that they are curious about, “Well, okay. Well, what would happen next?” even after Andromeda.
One of the things that we were thinking about yesterday in relation to the ending was like, it felt like a suicide mission for BioWare. Like you guys have to account for so many variables in ending a story, which means it’s almost impossible to do that. You have a series about giving people the options to make decisions, to find their own characters, create their own path for a story, and then to end that, to put a full stop in that story, you have to take that away from them for a moment and wrap it up. It’s difficult to see how it’d all end well. How are you thinking about that for this game and perhaps the games that follow it? You’re given more options to create your own story than ever. Inevitably, you’re going to reach a point where you’ll need to wrap it up. How are you going to do that and try to avoid the same mistakes again?
I think one of the things is we’re approaching each game to be a little bit more standalone, even though I said there’s a lot of mystery in it that will carry forward, but we want each game to stand on its own and feel like it has a satisfactory conclusion. Even just the type of game that we’re making now: This is the first Mass Effect game we’ll make where, when the story ends, the game continues. The world continues and there’s much more you can still do.
Whenever we get to, we’ll call it the last Andromeda–for now–game, it’ll very likely be a game that feels like it continues even past the story and people can still stay in the world and see the characters that they love and be invested in. I think, even just that in and of itself is probably going to change the way people perceive it. Who knows? By then, maybe people will be ready to go back to the Milky Way.
What do you want people to take away from Andromeda?
For me, there is this thing that with exploration where I remember as a kid, less so now, looking up at the stars and just wondering what’s out there. In that real sense of what I’m seeing now, like when they’re putting rovers on Mars and SpaceX is talking about going to Mars and all these things, it’s invoked that wanderlust in me. That wanderlust, it goes beyond just travel on Earth, but what could possibly be out there?
That’s one of the key things that drove just the inspiration for Andromeda. I really hope that people take away that sense of wanderlust and what’s possible out there. That sense of exploration and discovery and really going to a place unique for the very first time. Also just, I talked a bit about the mystery. I think that’s a big part of it too, which is we won’t tell you everything when you go there the first time, so we want people to come away going, “And now tell me the rest.”
What’s your fondest memory of the original trilogy? Is there a specific moment that really sticks with you? I know we all have our own ones to that line; I had a discussion with Thane, Lucy has her own one. What is your one that you look back on and say, “This is what Mass Effect is. This moment is what Mass Effect means to me. Like it’s the most personal part of it for me.”
That’s a really good question. It’s hard because, as a developer, I’ve never had the opportunity to experience the games as games. In fact, I’ll be honest, I’ve never played the games after we’ve shipped because I’ve played them so much during production, and you’re finding the bugs, and then it’s almost painful to go back and look at all the bugs. I played elements of them, but I’ve never gone back and fully completed them again.
That said, the moment as a developer that really struck out to me, and I’ll try to think of some from each game so I don’t show favorites. In the very first game, and this probably speaks to where we are now with Andromeda, when we finally got the worlds, the uncharted worlds that you could drive around on, because they were just barren for a long time. The Mako worked, but there was nothing there. Then one day, all of a sudden, Art just did a pass like that and it was… I literally probably spent a week not doing my job, just driving around on these worlds, and I was just blown away. I was like, “This is incredible. I am now somewhere.” That fulfilled it for me. That was really incredible.
For Mass Effect 2, it was not so much a moment but it was the creation of the Illusive Man. We hinted at Cerberus,and working on the Illusive Man, I loved the grayness of this character and what we could do with him. We’d come from KotOR, Jade Empire, and we’d gotten to this state of binary good and evil a lot, and even Paragon/Renegade was based off of that. To have this character who you think, “Eh, I don’t know if I can trust him, but he seems to be doing something right,” I just loved playing in that. Aria was very similar in Mass Effect 2. She was one of my favorite characters I got to write and create.
Then for Mass Effect 3, it probably was a moment. It was actually the Anderson death scene, that whole sequence there. Personal for me because it felt very special when I wrote it, but then working with Martin Sheen and the other actors in those scenes, the Shepards, it was pretty memorable. It felt palpable, when we went through that moment. For me, anyway, it embodied bringing all of this trilogy to a conclusion. In that moment, there’s a line there. Anderson says, “You did good, kid.” There’s something very special about that.
Now that you’ve worked on Andromeda, have you seen moments that really stick with you in that game?
Do you anticipate seeing people coming away with it from that game being like, “Yeah, I remember this moment from Andromeda”?
Yeah. You know, there’s a lot of those moments, and the trick in Andromeda is that it’s such a big game. One of the things we’ve really been focusing a lot on is freedom, and it is more of an exploration game, so trying to find those moments–even as the guy who should know where all those moments are–I still get surprised. I’m still finding moments in there. There are definitely some great moments.
One of my favorite narrative threads is what we call the Ryder family secrets and, without giving away any spoilers, but it deals a lot with obviously the Ryder family: Your sibling, your father, but also the strange connection that you all have with SAM, the AI. SAM is like this conduit between you that all of a sudden gives you access to parts of your family’s memories that you shouldn’t have in a normal world and all the interesting things that that creates.
It creates these really interesting moments that not only talk about families and the things that people are struggling with as they make these big decisions. Do we go to another galaxy or not? Then it layers in this whole other thing with, well, does that mean that SAM is somehow either part of us or is SAM sentient? Is SAM alive if they can share these and express these with us? That whole blurring of the lines between what is life and what is not life. For me, it’s this story that I think is very compelling but also very unique.
I imagine, going into Andromeda, you were seeing the legacy of the series as being quite daunting. Regardless of how confident you are in your vision for a new game, the idea of living up to that is probably something that you think about. Now that you’ve completed Andromeda and you’re looking back on it, do you feel like you’re in a position where you live up to legacy and you feel that fans will really hit the expectation of fans and everything that they want? The fact that they are so ready to throw themselves into a universe that they appreciate what they see there, and are you confident in it?
Yeah. It’s always hard to know until it actually is in the hands of the fans. That said, we’ve done more focus testing on this game than I’ve ever seen before, and we are always very inclusive of our fans. We want to bring them in and get their opinion on it. So far, everything I’m seeing is that they’re loving this as a Mass Effect experience and also enjoying the fact that it is a fresh start, a new beginning. I feel very confident now that we’re going to strike a chord. We haven’t strayed off the path. This will be both something that scratches the Mass Effect itch but also sets up the franchise, the character, everything for more going forward, and people will continue to be excited about where Andromeda will go next. Yeah, I’m feeling really good about it.
Where do you see Mass Effect five years from now, and where would you like to see it? Where do you hope it is five years from now, or maybe even six years from now?
You know, I think the interesting thing is that Mass Effect: Andromeda, even though it’s the fourth in the series, is really, like I said, I’ve said it several times, it’s a new start. It was a new start on a new engine. It’s a new console cycle. It’s a new team. More so than any of the games since Mass Effect 1, this one feels like it’s got all of those things that we wish we could have done because we were really doing them for the first time. Even though we knew what a Turian looked like, it wasn’t like we had a Turian built that we could use. We actually had to go and re-concept it and rebuild it and put it in.
We spent a lot of energy and a lot of effort literally just rebuilding the universe so that we could portray it here, plus bringing forward all these new things. Now that we finally got it to that stage, it’s like, “Okay, now we can really play.” I really want to see where we can take it. That’s what you saw on the trilogy. It was like, the first one, it worked, it was all there, all the pieces were there. It was great, but then we really started to have fun with it with the loyalty missions. We start to push the engine and see what it could do, both in gameplay and in story and all those things.
For me, it’ll be more of the same but really taking a lot of the elements a lot deeper. We’ve introduced crafting, we’ve introduced exploration, vehicles again. How deep can we take all those elements and really improve upon them so that your next Mass Effects are even more immersive?