No Choice, No Change: BioWare’s Extended Edition Interview Disappoints
Defying expectations, BioWare honcho Casey Hudson and Mass Effect 3 lead writer Mac Walters sat down to a no holds-barred interview timed to coincide with today’s surprise announcement that the Mass Effect 3 Extended Edition goes live this coming Tuesday. Subjected to a stinging barrage of hard-edged questions about the controversial ending of that game and the decision to amend it, they acquitted themselves handily, and managed to ease numerous concerns about the Extended Edition’s quality.
At least that’s what I’d like to have written. What actually happened is that Walters and Hudson sat down with BioWare Community Manager Jessica Merizan, fielding a series of softball questions that sidestepped the more contentious aspects of the controversy. Interestingly, despite the obvious safety of being interviewed about a contentious subject by one of your own employees, the interview yielded some surprising information about the mindset of the men responsible for the most divisive story ending in video game history, and some clues about what to expect.
In short, it’s probably best to keep our expectations low.
The most striking element of the interview is that at several points, Hudson and Walters indicate that they simply failed to conceive of the possibility that people would react poorly to their ending. “I think that when we ended Mass Effect 3,” Walters said in response to a question about the origins of the controversy, “we knew it was going to be the end of Shepard’s story, and in our minds and imaginations, the characters are still going to be together, the characters that Shepard had brought together (assuming you’d kept them alive), and maybe it didn’t come across enough, that those characters still had a future, that they had a hope going forward.”
Hudson expressed similar confusion. “In some cases,” he said, “people feared the worst, that no matter what decisions you make, the entire galaxy is destroyed, everyone starves to death. Which of course wasn’t our intention, it wasn’t the way we saw it, and it wasn’t the intended message of how the Mass Effect universe would end.” (Emphasis mine.) He further added that “the endings left a lot to the player’s imagination.”
Yes, the irony of professional storytellers asking the audience to rely on their own imaginations to fill in the gaps they didn’t bother to cover, and then being somewhat surprised when they weren’t able to do it, is indeed funny. But it suggests something broken during the last days of production. Comments attributed to another Mass Effect 3 writer alleged that Hudson and Walters went so far as to shut out everyone else on the writing staff just as they began to work on the ending. We’ll never know why they did this – though there is an interesting correlation between the alleged timing of Hudson’s and Walter’s action, and the beginning of Electronic Arts’ current stock plunge – but it’s indisputable that those other writers might have pointed out contradictions, or called attention to story issues that people who aren’t living inside Hudson’s and Walters’ minds might have noticed.