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Video: A chat with Mac Walters on the unsolved mysteries of the Mass Effect universe, Ars Technica

Video: A chat with Mac Walters on the unsolved mysteries of the Mass Effect universe, Ars Technica


    

      i should film –

             

We trek to the frozen north and pry into the true fate of Commander Shepard.

      

          –

  

           

Video shot by Justin Wolfson and Raoul Bhatt, edited by Aulistar Mark.Click here for transcript.

Our “War Stories” and “Unsolved Mysteries” gaming videos have gotten us some amazing interviews. We’ve talked to folks likeDead Space’sGlen Schofield; the power duo ofFred Ford and Paul Reiche III, who madeStar ControlandThe Ur-Quan Masters; and evenLord British himself. But BioWare was one company that I never expected to actually answer our e-mails — until, one day, they actually did.

So, in early October, we loaded up our film crew and made the flight across the Canadian border to Edmonton, in the northern reaches of Alberta. Our mission: to visit the enigmatic studio behind theDragon AgeandMass Effectfranchises and to throw a bunch ofMass Effect lore questions at creative director Mac Walters — and to see what interesting information he’d be willing to let us have.

It was a special trip for me, as one of Ars’ two residentMass Effectcrazypants fans (the other beingKate Cox, a true BioWare aficionado). I’vereviewed the series, talked about thebest romance choices, and evensnuggled a Garrus body pillow or two– but taking a pilgrimage to the Mecca ofMass Effectwas a capstone experience.

      

      

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                          The lobby of the EPCOR tower has some awesome canvas prints. Like a dork, I snapped a pic of every image.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Mister Illusive himself.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          TheNormandy,wearing her Cerberus colors.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Everybody’s favorite lizardperson.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Sara Ryder (I think), all dressed up and ready to storm the Heleus cluster.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          The one true romance choice for FemShep.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          “Does this unit have a soul?”

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          “I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite painting of the Citadel.”

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Nobody expects the Dragon Age Inquisition!

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          I wonder what Cassandra is saying to Varric here. I bet it’s not nice.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          OK, can we all agree that “Journey to Skyhold“is just one hell of a motivational piece of music ?

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          The fam.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          I love the smell of dragonsbreath in the morning.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Hailing the Inquisitor.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          This frickin ‘guy. You either love him or hate him. (I come down pretty firmly on the “throw Solas down the well” side of things.)

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Edmonton was considerably bigger than I expected — they have a legit downtown and everything. This was the view from my hotel window.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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A peek behind the curtain

Everyonein Edmonton seems to know what BioWare is, even the Canadian customs agent who greeted me after I’d picked up my bags at the airport. My entry into Canada went like this:

Him : “What’s the purpose of your visit to Canada?”
Me: “Business.”
Him: “What kind of work do you do?”
Me: “I work in media.”
Him: (Somewhat exasperated) “Fine, but why are you here?”
Me: “I’m going to talk to a company called BioWare -“
Him: “Oh yeah, OK, that’s fine, go ahead.”

The Uber driver that took me to the hotel knew BioWare. The hotel desk staff knew BioWare. Even the Starbucks folks knew BioWare. In Edmonton, BioWare is a homegrown institution.

The BioWare crew was still engaged in moving into their new offices when we rolled up for interview day, and the space — located across three floors in the shiny EPCOR Tower — was still going through the last round of setup and decoration. There were lots of bare shelves where awards would normally live and long rows of desks sat empty, awaiting eager developers to come and occupy them and spin us some new stories.

Still, even with the space unfinished, it was surreal to look around and see so much BioWare (stuff.) ***************************** (Full-sized) **************************** (Anthem) suits were scattered around the office, and many of the conference room and hallway walls were plastered in floor-to-ceiling murals (which I’d love to be able to buy — hint, hint, BioWare –sell these things in your store). I even spied the elusive (though not illusive) Casey Hudson a few times as he walked through the lobby to places where we weren’t allowed to go, talking about things we weren’t allowed to hear.

      

      

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                          Working hard, Grunt, or hardly working?

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          A view from the BioWare lobby.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Looking at one of the life-sizedAnthemsuits.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Exploring some of the office’s common areas. We were kept away from the places where real work was happening.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          It’s not a developer office without table tennis.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          At the other end of the lobby was a full-sized Cypher Pod.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          It was very cool, in a Terry Gilliam-esque kind of way.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          This is how I know it was a Cypher Pod. (I’m not really anAnthemplayer — it’s not my cup of tea.)

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          BioWare’s mantra.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          The studio’s tentpole properties.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Looking back at the elevator lobby, featuring a cool BioWare “B” screen.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          The “B” was cycling through a cool animated loop.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          One of several murals in the space — this one was in a small huddle room. Because whodoesntwant to have a meeting with the Illusive Man?

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Another mural, this one fromAnthem.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          We did our shoot in a the large conference room attached to this hallway. At the end was anotherAnthemsuit.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Also, props!

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Lots of high-detail hero props!

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Bioware let us bring these into the conference room to help dress the set. They wereextremelyheavy.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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And speaking of “things we weren’t allowed to hear,” alas, dear readers, I have no secret scoops or teases — beyond the answers to the questions we asked Mac, at least. Our BioWare PR handler (Chris Morgan, who displayed endless patience and cheer in the face of a tight one-day shooting schedule) was Johnny-on-the-spot with keeping us out of sensitive areas where real work was going on, so my plans of making like Kasumi and pulling off aMass Effect info-heist were thwarted before they ever got off the ground. (Probably for the best, as I’m not really built for a form-fitting thief catsuit.)

But once we were set up, Mac did give us some info — more than I anticipated, actually.

To ask, perchance to dream

We’d gathered about 40 – ish questions from Ars readers and theMass Effectsubreddit, and we threw them all at Mac, rapid-fire. Mac sidestepped many of them, of course, which we were expecting — we got no new info on the resolution of the “Ryder Family Secrets”quest, for example, nor did he answer many of the background questions we had about the Leviathans or go into details on how to square (Mass Effect 2’s) dangling dark energy plot threads withMass Effect 3’schange in direction.

      

      

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                          We swiped the (fan-made!) Grunt mask for use as a set dressing.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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    (SHEPARD.)

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          His xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian! I’d pay real money to be able to buy a Mordin prop like this.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Playing with filters!

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Setting things up for the shoot.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          Doing my part — standing in for the talent while our crew dialed in the lighting.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          This is what the shoot was like from my perspective, following along as Mac ran down our list of questions.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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                          And this was the scene at Edmonton International Airport as I departed the next morning — windy and snowy, even in early October.

                                                            

                                                  Lee Hutchinson

                                      

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On the other hand, wedidget him to talk a bit about an area where BioWare has been reluctant to tread: establishing acanonical (ending to) Mass Effect 3. The answer he gave us provides the first hint we’ve gotten about the shape of the Milky Way after the Reaper threat’s elimination.

There’s a lot of info in the above video, including a peek at the tools BioWare used to generate the properties of all the planets in theMass Effectgalaxy — and we hope it helps scratch your N7 Day itch.

As for any word on a newMass Effecttitle — alas, we have no news . However, as we were reviewing our questions prior to rolling film, therewerea number of topics where Chris and Mac asked us to do some rewording. There were lore questions, it turns out, that they wanted to stay away from answering.

Was it just because the questions were unanswerable, or was it because they plan to address those questions in a futureMass Effect game? When I askedthatquestion, I was met with innocent smiles and polite redirection — which, to my mind, indicates that the answer is likely a little bit of column A, and a little bit of column B.

Hope springs eternal in this BioWare fan’s breast. Happy N7 Day, everyone!

                                 

                  

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