Walters and Francia on "Mass Effect: Redemption"

With the release of "Mass Effect" in 2007, BioWare once again proved that they excel when it comes to creating rich characters and epic storylines in an RPG. "Mass Effect" put players in the role of Commander Shepard, the first human named to a prestigious law enforcement unit known as the Spectres. Leading the crew of the SSV Normandy, Shepard embarked on a sweeping sci-fi adventure filled with ancient civilizations, political conflicts and threats to the universe. The original game was billed as part of a trilogy, and with its critical and commercial success, there was no doubt that a sequel was on the way. "Mass Effect 2" is slated to arrive this month, with the storyline will pick up a couple of years after the events of the original game.

With the first "Mass Effect," BioWare went beyond the game with novels that explored events and characters from before and after events in the game, adding depth to existing characters while introducing new ones as well. With the countdown for "Mass Effect 2" underway, BioWare has teamed with Dark Horse to produce a four-issue comic series entitled "Mass Effect: Redemption." The story for the series is written by "Mass Effect 2" Lead Writer Mac Walters (and scripted by John Jackson Miller), and artist Omar Francia ("Star Wars Legacy") is providing the pencils for the book. CBR News caught up with Walters and Francia to discuss the miniseries.

CBR News: Mac, what can you tell us about the story in "Mass Effect: Redemption" and how it relates to the "Mass Effect" games?

Mac Walters: Well, without giving away too much of the surprise, we wanted to take a moment in time from "Mass Effect 2" and sort of expand it out. So the story actually takes place shortly after the beginning of the game. The story revolves around Shepard being lost, and what events transpire before and after what happens in the game. We get to explore some of the other characters - some from the original "Mass Effect" and then some new characters as well.

Speaking of other characters, one of Shepard's companions from the first game - Liara T'Soni - is featured on the cover of the first issue. Will she be the primary character in this series?

MW: Liara is a prominent character in the series, but "Mass Effect" really is Shepard's story. The "Mass Effect" trilogy revolves around Shepard - I mean, obviously there's a whole bunch of things going on - but it's Shepard's experience in those events that we're developing the games for, so Shepard is always going to have a major role. But, we kind of enjoyed the idea of saying "Let's take another character and explore them in a new way," and that's what we've done with Liara.

Did you find it challenging to come up with a story that would appeal to both fans of the games as well as new readers?

MW: It's always a challenge. I have to thank Dark Horse, as they've given me lots of information - what to expect, what to look for, things that we could do and things that we couldn't do in this format - obviously it's very different than a video game. The comic is a really interesting read on its own, which is something Dark Horse was really careful about when working with us. They wanted it to stand alone - you could read it, never play the game, and you could enjoy it. I think we've done a really good job with that. Having their expertise in this process, that's how we solved the challenge.

Were there certain places or events that you were able to explore through the comic that you couldn't in the "Mass Effect" games?

MW: Not from a story perspective, but when you're making a game, you're telling a story a certain way. This was a chance for us to see the "Mass Effect" universe in a different light artistically, and also through the eyes of different characters. When you play the game, you're playing as Shepard, and that's who you see the world through, but now this is a chance to see it through the eyes of other characters in the "Mass Effect" universe.

Omar, how does "Mass Effect: Redemption" compare stylistically to the work you've done on "Star Wars Legacy?"

Omar Francia: It's not too different, but you'll see that I prefer to finish in ink instead of pencil. It's a cleaner look, less shadowed, with more line drawing. I'm also trying to detach from a too-realistic style and get closer to a more dynamic and expressive look with the figures. When it comes to backgrounds, vehicles, and props, "Mass Effect" differs stylistically, using more curved shapes. The logic behind designing technology is different; the engines of the ships, the armors, and the weapons are all unique. Also, the human and aliens are more unified: you may see an alien with a humanoid figure wearing human armor or using human weapons, for example. And you find influences of alien technology among humans as well. It's a very complementary universe, but it also has thousands of its own elements I can use to create new characters.

How closely did you work with BioWare in creating the look for this series?

OF: Not all the locations in the comic will be seen in "Mass Effect 2," so we had to invent some streets and alleys for the book. The look of the comic is a little dark and dirty because of the events happening on Omega - a rusty, decadent place. Above all, the look for this series is based on screen captures, renders and designs used in the first game, all provided by BioWare. Also, I've been happy to have the chance to design some stuff, like Liara's armor. All my designs were approved by BioWare as well. Some of the characters in the comic will be part of the new game, so [for them,] I had to stick exactly to the designs done for "Mass Effect 2."

So even though "Mass Effect" has an established look, you still feel like you were able to put your stamp on the universe through this series?

OF: Hopefully you may find my stamp when you see some variations of the standard morphologies and shapes of the characters. You will see some fat batarians or large salarians, as well as mercenaries of all sizes and faces, which was really fun to draw! Also, I wanted to imagine these books as more than a video game adaptation and really give them their own personality as a comic series. I felt free to gesticulate faces and use plenty of body language on the characters, as well as use many camera angles for the storytelling. And, as I mentioned before, I had the chance to design the outfits of the main characters, some ships, some props, but always trying to follow the "Mass Effect" look, of course.

Are you a fan of the original "Mass Effect?"

OF: Yes, I am! I finished the game a couple times with different Shepards! It's one of the most amazing games around. I love games that you can explore so much, move as you wish, and end missions the way you want. I love when games are not an established adventure to follow in a straight line from start to finish. You can relate with the characters on a high emotional level, and it feels like a great tool for the imagination, because it's all so creative and free. At the end of the adventure, you feel that you wrote your own story. I'm looking forward to "Mass Effect 2!"

Was there any particular element of the comic you enjoyed illustrating the most?

OF: I really enjoy drawing everything, but I can say it's a lot of fun to draw turians, Liara's poses and Feron's expressions. Designing the backgrounds and props was a lot of fun, too. It took a lot of time, but I feel the effort was worthwhile when you see the finished pages. Hopefully I will have the chance to tell you more of the stuff I loved to work on when I finish all four issues!

Mac, assuming this series proves successful, are there other "Mass Effect" stories you'd like to tell through comics?

MW: I've got two stories I sort of have on the back burner now, simmering away. If it's successful - and Dark Horse is interested - I'd love to continue doing it. I've really enjoyed the time I've spent working on the comic and I'd love to continue doing more.

Issue #1 of "Mass Effect: Redemption" is scheduled to arrive in stores on January 6, 2010. "Mass Effect 2" arrives for the PC and Xbox 360 on January 26, 2010. You can find out more about the game here.

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