Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy was one of the most critically acclaimed experiences in the last generation of video games. Originally an Xbox 360 exclusive, later expanded to PS3 and PC platforms, the RPG shooter followed space soldier (your name here) Shepard in a deep, intergalactic tale of exploration, intrigue, and survival. Much was made of the choices available to gamers. Relationship, political, and battle decisions had ramifications that carried over from the first game, all the way through the third, via an inter-episode save transfer mechanic. Unfortunately, not everyone was a fan of the eventual conclusion to the trilogy, which boiled down the fate of the universe to a trinary option via dialogue tree, and whose only tangible payoff was a color coordinated alteration to the “space rays” that allegedly were making a dramatic, intergalactic difference. Bioware later expanded the experience with a free downloadable “extended cut”, which patched a few glaring plot holes, gave more resolution, and added a fourth option (self-righteous refusal to make a choice), which dooms the entire galaxy. Many fans were unappeased.
James S.A. Corey is the nom de plume of the writing duo responsible for The Expanse, the science fiction book series, whose television adaptation is currently entering its second season on Syfy. Half of this duo is Ty Franck, who has some strong opinions about video game storytelling. In fact, The Expanse was originally conceived as an MMO, only to later be reconfigured as a book series.
“The first two and a half games promised so much and set up such a fantastic universe, and then the end of the third one, it just… It made everything that had come before irrelevant. It was just a fucking terrible ending. It really felt like there was a fantastic ending that I had been promised, and then when I got to it… You know what? The ending of Mass Effect for me was like the ending of Lost, where [you] became aware that they really didn’t know where they were going the whole time and they’d kind of just been making things up.”
“When we hit book nine of The Expanse, that will be the last book—and we’ve known the ending from the beginning. That’s because I like endings. I think great media, great art, whatever, is all about the edges of the canvas, and anything that you try to string on too long gets a little threadbare. I also think that because of that—because endings are so important—you better know what your ending is and you better be setting that ending up right from the beginning. Otherwise, it just feels muddy and unsatisfying.”
While Mass Effect‘s ending has its fair share of supporters, it’s good to know that The Expanse is in the hands of a writer so passionate about building a compelling series. Many fans have been burned in the past by investing in episodic stories that start strong and then fizzle out. With any luck, writers like Franck will set a standard that will push long form storytelling into a positive direction.
The Mass Effect trilogy is currently available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Mass Effect: Andromeda hits Xbox One, PS4, and PC on March 21, 2017.
The Expanse television series continues next Wednesday with ‘Static’ @10pm on Syfy. The book series continues with Persepolis Rising, currently scheduled for a June 2017 release.