A Movie For The… Movie: An Open Letter to Bioware

Dear Bioware,

First, let me just say that I am a big fan of the Mass Effect series.

Now that the obvious pre-argument suckup is out of the way, let’s get down to business:

This was old news (over a year ago), but it was reported that y’all were planning on a Mass Effect movie.  To quote the wikipedia article:

On May 24, 2010, EA announced that Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. acquired the rights to a Mass Effect film, with Mass Effect’s executive producer Casey Hudson as well as Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuck from BioWare serving as the movie’s executive producers. Legendary Pictures plans to produce the film with Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni and Avi Arad.[18] The producers are in negotiations with screenwriter Mark Protosevich about penning the script. The Mass Effect movie is in the nascent stages of development.  [Source: IGN]

As I read the IGN article over and over again, I kept rolling those words around in my head, trying to see a potential finished product in my mind’s eye.  And each time I did, I kept thinking back to the games.  And after I had compared each prospect, I had suddenly come to a question:

Why do you even need a movie?

Seriously, why?  Considering the success of the game and it’s accolades, I’m not sure why you’d need to go into the stereotypical “video game adaptation graveyard”.  Your game series is good enough already, it doesn’t need a film adaptation, especially if it turns out to be a retread of the first Mass Effect.

I know that a movie has a much better chance at making money and catching the attention of much more people than the gaming community, but I don’t believe the transition to film will be as strong as your gaming origin.  And I can think of three good reasons to back that belief up.

  • #1: Interactivity

To put it bluntly, your ME games are already cinematic enough to the point that they could be movies on their own merits (especially Mass Effect 2).  Sure, you’ve got game-y sections where you shoot about an average of 15 guys every 15 minutes, but I think that’s one of your better selling points for the games.

Every game that has ever come out  shares one common trait: they’re interactive.  They require someone to press an analog stick or push a button in order to advance the game.  And if you play your cards right, they’ll enjoy every second of what would otherwise be considered a boring job akin to manning a console to a machine that installs caps onto toothpaste tubes (even though I’m almost positive those are automated, but that’s beside the point).  It’s the mixture of graphics, setting, characters, and (most important of all) gameplay that not only encourages the player to finish the game, but to also love playing that game, and maybe even play it again once the story’s ended.

A movie is (ultimately) a collection of frames and sounds put together in a cohesive sequence that tells a story.  Sometimes, those frames are pleasing.  Other times they’re not.  Sometimes, the story is good.  Sometimes, it’s bad.  But once that play button has been pressed, that story is gonna play until someone either pauses/stops the movie, or unplugs the power source.  That’s about the only interactive moment people get when watching a film.  Otherwise, they’re staring at the screen for 90+ minutes just taking it all in.  At that point, you’re leaving the chance for the audience to be engaged with the story entirely on the story/characters/settings.  And that’s a riskier move than giving them something to do so they can go from point A to point B in story progression.

I have a deep appreciation for film.  There are many good films out there, or, at the very least, films that I like.  But I believe that video games can have the upper hand in engaging an audience because it requires them to do something.  It may be a small something, like inputing commands on a controller, but it’s at least a step towards cognitive awareness.

  • #2: Cinematic production

With the recent release of L.A. Noire, it’s become rather apparent that games are nowhere near the level of movies that we would like them to be.  Even that game is still very obviously a video game, but it was produced in a way that made it appear to be cinematic.  Funny thing?  Mass Effect 2 was done the same way: it was presented like a movie except in video game format.  Granted, it’s gonna be hard to come back to the ME series after having spent the better part of two weeks watching the fruits of MotionScan, the process of taking an actor’s face and having it not only recreated digitally, but also allowing nearly each facial expression to be animated in realtime rather than having it be programmed.  That’s rather neat.

But I digress.  The point is that your series was made with an obvious cinematic perspective.  Even the first game, which could be considering a brave first step, had movie angles working for it.  Sure, the majority of the character dialogues were done in the same static position throughout the game, but the other scenes to the game had the ability to appear movie-like.  Of course, when ME2 came out, that cinematic perspective increased to an amazing degree.  This game suddenly took on the appearance of a summer blockbuster film, but with the intrigue and writing of an ambitious team of storytellers.  This was just about as close to The Dark Knight as any developer could attain in the gaming industry.

So, after such a critical success, there would be a plan to have someone who wasn’t directly involved with the creation and building of the ME universe to make a movie about it?

As in, someone to make a movie on a game that already handled like a movie?

Does that make sense to you?  Cause it doesn’t for me.

Why take the risk of letting someone make a film that may not be equal to your series?  Why chance a mediocre studio not giving the movie choice graphics that the ME series have been known for?  Why put up an effort that will be compared to the series, with the very possible chance that it will lose because of how cinematic the games were made?  I can appreciate if you want to have a different perspective of the ME universe, but I’m not gonna lie: there are some people out there who aren’t that complicated.  They’ll look at both products and most likely say “I like the video game better.”

But maybe other people will like it.  Who knows?

All I know is that since you’ve alread put up a product that can rival a movie not only in production method but also with interactivity, it’s going to make it difficult selling the film.  Especially if you get an actor that won’t make a good Sheperd.

Remember when they said Mark Wahlberg was going to be Nathan Drake?


  • #3: Choice

This, I believe, is the most important factor in why the movie will be inferior.

Let me ask you a question:

What is your series best known for?

To me, I think your series is best known for it’s customization.  Far more than your graphics, your sounds, your characters, it’s the level of choice that you offer that makes it different from any other game series out there in the market today.  And we’re not talking about a karma meter.  We’re talking about choices that branch to multiple games.  When you were on Vermire, who did you decide to rescue: Ashley or Kaidan?  Did you settle Wrex down, or were you forced to kill him?  How about the council?  Did you feel the need to save them despite their continual refusal to really help or support you?  These are choices that appear in the first game.  The consequences may have been seen in the second, but from what I can gather, they probably won’t scratch the surface until ME3 comes out next year, when the true weight of those decisions will be revealed.

And those are just in-game plot choices.  That’s not counting the Paragon/Renegade options that dictate how Sheperd will be.  Each one is a completely opposite viewpoint, with nothing to relate the two other than the circumstance both find themselves in.  Even the neutral options are completely different from either option in exactly the way they are labelled: neutral, meaning neither good or bad.

How about facial constructs?  The ability to change the face of your Commander Sheperd from the default options?  And game classifications?  Are you a Soldier or an Infiltrator?  Adept or Vanguard?  And what about weapon customizations?  Squad power-up decisions?  Armor options?  Love interests?

Do you see where I’m getting at?

Your series has a level of customization that is staggering.  But when you make a movie, you have to stick to one particular setting for all of them.  The only way I could forsee you getting away with different classifications and choices would be if you released several movies simultaneously.  And without going into how insanely expensive that would be, it still wouldn’t approach the level of customization that your game series already delivers.

This is what people like about Mass Effect: customization.  Even if people would rather play as a Soldier and probably didn’t make their own Commander Sheperd outside of the default option, you can’t deny that how they treated a certain situation would probably not be the same as another player, least of all with the same intentions.  You’ve made it so that people could have a varied selection in what they would do; and while the two moral poles have the same outcomes, the Renegade approach of Sheperd is drastically different from the Paragon’s.  Unfortunately for you, movies can only portray what has been predetermined by the writers, which usually consists of only one straight path from beginning to end.

Why limit the greatest selling point of your series by creating a set-in-stone movie that contains zero choice in what happens?

– – –

In any case, all of what I said is my own opinion.  I’m sure you have been dwelling on the same issues for the past year (and I seriously wouldn’t blame you), and perhaps you have come up with solutions that work around what I have brought up.  Your book series, for instance, contain stories that are set around the main narrative, what with talking about The Illusive Man, Anderson’s previous dealings with Saren, even how Liara came to be on Illium.  Who’s to say that you can’t write a completely different story that involves the Mass Effect universe in a way we haven’t seen before?  It’s entirely possible.  And there’s always the chance that y’all will go the route of Batman, The Matrix, and Halo by releasing an anthology set that contains different stories set in your universe.  That is also a possibility.

But my primary concern for a Mass Effect film is how limited it will be in comparison to the game series, not just in content, but also in execution.

And I hope you take this into consideration.


– Jackson


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