Mac Walters Talks Mass Effect Comics with Save Game
New York Comic Con was a crazy time and I was lucky enough to get to interview, Mac Walters, Lead Writer on the Mass Effect series and author of the awesome Mass Effect comics from Dark Horse. A brand new issue is hitting stands tomorrow, October 19th and Mac was nice enough to talk to me about it and some other Mass Effect tidbits.
SG: Video games and comics are obviously completely different mediums. What are some of the differences and challenges going from one to the other?
MW: I think for me, fortunately now I’m on my third series with the comics so I’m not a noob anymore and Dark Horse has been very patient with me. I think a lot of it was just understanding the nuances of writing for comics. Reading them doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to write them, per se. And fortunately one of the the similarities is that I think very visually when I do my writing and comics is a nice translation for that. You have to think visually when you’re doing it. For me it’s just pulling back on it, probably. They always tell me you can’t do that much on a page, you can’t do that much in a panel. So those are some. But I have a great editor, Dave Marshall. He’s very patient with me. And I don’t get too many things wrong. It’s usually just the fight scenes, the action sequences, stuff like that where I’ve imagined something crazy and they’re like “No. No you can’t do that.” Otherwise I find it easier writing for the comics because it’s a linear story. I’m telling a singe story. The reader doesn’t get to make their choice like they do in the game. So I just say hey this is the story we’re gonna tell and we tell it.
SG: Is that kind of refreshing to be able to tell that kind of story?
MW: As a writer, yes it is. I love the challenges of branching narrative and making sure there’s player agency in the game, that the player can choose what they want to do. I’ve always enjoyed it. I think that’s what drew me to video games and drew me to Bioware specifically. But sure, when you’re pulling your hair out trying to figure out how to do it in the video games it is nice to just say yep we’re just telling this story.
SG: The characters in Mass Effect are all very complex, interesting and deep, so it’s great to see someone like Aria getting her own comic. Are you planning on doing more of that with some of the side characters we’ve seen throughout the games?
MW: We don’t have anything announced or planned right now but we see all the passion and all the interest that there is in Mass Effect, and I’m biased, but as a writer I think it is the characters. It’s the characters that draw people in, that they’re attached to and they want to know more about it. So right from the start we made a conscientous effort with Dark Horse to say these all have to be about a character that people love and know. And yeah maybe not everyone is a fan of Liara or The Illusive Man or Aria or whoever, but there are fans out there and they want to know more about them. So I think as long as we keep doing these things in the future – and at this point there’s no plans to stop – they will be character based. Whether it’s introducing new characters to the universe or new timelines or whatever we want to do or whether it’s taking the existing characters and expanding on them more which is always a lot of fun to do.
SG: So would we then maybe, possibly see some of our main squadmates starring in some of these?
MW: I think that would be a logical place to start from, some of the main characters, especially the ones who have been through all three games – your Ashes and Kaidans, Tali, Garrus, whoever. We know the fans love them so its an obvious place to start.
SG: That’s hard to do if some of them aren’t even alive in some peoples’ games. How do you work with canon for this sort of thing?
MW: It’s very hard. If you’ll notice in the comics we’re very careful to sort of avoid certain things. We never see Shepard. If you’ll notice in the last comic, Conviction with James Vega we had a little shot in there of Shepard at one point shackled. But really we had to keep that ambiguous – is it a male or a female – so yeah we’re very careful to talk about things in the comics that we know happened. And the other nice thing is we try to find little moments in time where we can kind of tell a completely different story that doesn’t deal with a lot of the issues, a lot of the decisions you could have made.
SG: Do you think there might be some point in the future where you might actually have to determine a few things about Shepard or are you pretty committed to the whole non-canon storyline?
MW: As much as possible we try to stay with that. That’s what makes the game so powerful. It’s that people do get to choose and decide what their Shepard is. So I don’t see any reason for us to suddenly say “no this is what Shepard is.” Someone just brought up the point of what do you do with the movie? That’s a different beast. Someone can jump off that bridge when they get to it. But for the comics I think there are so many stories out there that we could tell that won’t interfere with the Shepard story and won’t step on the toes of people’s choices. There’s no excuse to do it.
SG: You mentioned the movie. Is there any idea right now about whether it will be a pre or post Mass Effect story?
MW: At this point I don’t have any real details about the movie. I know people are hungry but no details.
SG: In Invasion are we going to get to know a little more about Aria and her past what makes her tick, or is this kind of a straight action story?
MW: We’re gonna learn a little more about Aria and what makes her tick. And we’re hopefully going to do, much like we did with Lair of the Shadow Broker dlc that sort of followed up Redemption, we’d like to do something in the future that follows up on Aria’s story as well. That’s not announced or planned officially but if we could do it that’s what we’d love to do. And of course when you get to Mass Effect 3 Aria will be there waiting and you’ll want to ask her a lot of questions.
SG: Does it ever hurt your feelings when people bash a character you’ve written or one of your favorites or does thick skin kind of come with the territory?
MW: It’s partly thick skin, A. B, I also understand -even since I started working on Jade Empire – People love certain characters and don’t like other characters. The character you write isn’t gonna be everyone’s favorite. There are gonna be people who love him or her and people who are ambivalent. I don’t remember anyone saying anything particularly negative about anything other than “that person isn’t my favorite.” Fair enough. That person isn’t their favorite. But you also know that for every person who says that there’s probably one or two that just love that character. So you take the good with the bad.
SG: Mass Effect 3 is the end of Shepard’s story and you mentioned on Twitter that there would be big emotional highs and devastating emotional blows. I know a lot of people out there want to know, will Commander Shepard get to fly off into the sunset and live happily ever after with his or her love interest?
MW: (laughs) You have to play the game to find out! I can’t say more about it than that. It is the end of Shepard’s story so you have to tune in to see how it ends!
SG: You know I had to ask that.
MW: Of course!
SG: You and most of the development team are on Twitter, which has been great for the fans because we’ve been able to get some instant answers from a lot of you guys about things. How has that affected your feedback process if at all?
MW: Well I don’t know that it’s changed. We have a huge community fanbase that’s existed on the forums since way back when. It’s one of the best community set ups I’ve seen anywhere and so we’ve always been in touch with the fans. The only thing that’s different now is it comes directly to me as opposed to “oh that Mac Walters” on the forum and someone sends it to me. I don’t think its really changed the process much other than I think I engage it more because It’s 140 characters. You can never stop at 140 characters on the forums. It’s just not gonna happen. It’s almost an extention of things like this, like Comic Con where people come and they want something signed and you can have a very brief conversation with them about what they want to talk about. It’s the same thing and yeah if I can answer that I’ll answer it. It’s great.
A big thank you to Mr. Walters for talking with us! Mass Effect: Invasion will be available October 19th!