Set to launch in conjunction with Mass Effect 2 in January, BioWare and Dark Horse Comics have teamed up for a 4-issue miniseries dubbed Mass Effect: Redemption. We sat down with co-writer John Jackson Miller of Star Wars: KOTOR fame to talk about space operas and Shephard, among other things.
The setting for this story, The Terminus System, sounds like a sci-fi wild west. ME has been termed a space-opera in the past. Do you think either of these terms apply?
John Jackson Miller: I think popular interest in space operas and westerns springs from the same thing, which is a desire to get out and explore unknown frontiers and find adventures in places we’ve never seen before. Places where the rules may not be exactly the same as what we’re used to, or comfortable with. Places where we can really see heroes tested, somewhere far from safety, where they’re flying without a net. In space, you can’t call 911.
As the story of MASS EFFECT: REDEMPTION progresses, you really do have that feeling. There isn’t an authority that Liara T’Soni can appeal to for help — on the space station Omega, even people that seem to want to help her have their own interests and motivations. They may not be reliable. You get the feeling that you’re well beyond the realm of law and order, where if you want to do the right thing, as she does, you’ve got to convince others that it’s in their self-interest, too.
Heroism isn’t impossible on the frontier — it just takes a little more work. And that’s why I think we see so many stories set there. It boosts the difficulty factor.
Is it difficult turning off your ‘human’ nature when writing for dozens of alien species? How do you go about creating so many different cultures and having a setting where they are all familiar with one another already? Did you ever feel like you were recreating Mos Eisley?
JJM: A bit — but then had a bit of experience at this writing STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC comics for Dark Horse and Star Wars prose for Del Rey. In all these cases you’re dealing with various different peoples that have shared living space for a long time — in Mass Effect, the humans are actually relative newcomers to the galactic community. They all have their own distinct cultures and histories, but they all have this intersection of interests that requires them to interact in places like the Citadel and, in the comics, Omega. No two species have the same attitude about events going on around them — and everyone sees humanity in a different light.
It’s a great help in writing that the species are already very well-defined, so I have a good idea where they’re coming from and what sorts of things they would be likely to say to one another. There’s no generic aliens anywhere — just about any character that has something to say is someone we know something about.
It was also helpful working with Bioware’s Mac Walters, who plotted the series; he went over all the dialogue carefully and made sure it meshed with what we know of the different species from the game world.
How much care did you take to accommodate readers who have never played the original game or who might not play the second game? Are there necessary lead-ins or planned cliffhanger endings that either game would expand on?
JJM: Every comic book is someone’s first. So I’ve always tried to approach every story I’m working on — whether it’s Star Wars, Iron Man, or Mass Effect — with the new reader in mind. We always try to lay the groundwork in dialogue or captions, even if we’re in the middle of the action. And then, we also have a recap page in the inside front cover to help as well.
We handle the game situation in the same way. We don’t assume that everyone has played MASS EFFECT, so we really try to establish the flavor of the universe and some of the rules of how things work. We identify biotic powers when they’re being used; we name different species when we meet them. But it’s not all exposition: In the case of the Elcor, we get a good idea about how their species acts and is seen by others right in a single conversation.
As to lead-ins, the comics do address things that happened in the previous game — like events at the Citadel — and we also get into some of the material that’s in the prologue content for Mass Effect 2. Again, the assumption is not that everyone’s seen everything already — but we do hope that comics readers will find the world interesting enough to go explore the games for themselves.
One of the hallmarks of games done by Bioware is that the players can choose some very noble or very despicable actions. Is this freedom still felt in this story? If I was a real bastard in ME will Dr. Liara T’Soni’s actions still make sense here?
JJM: Without giving anything away, we do handle that challenge pretty well. Whatever decisions the character made as Commander Shepard, we are presuming that the game was completed — in which case some things hold true regardless of how the character played. Shepard is still a vital player in the cosmic drama that’s going on, and the focus of a lot of attention. A lot of galactic players have an interest in where Commander Shepard is; in our story, we get to see quite a few of them.