‘Mass Effect’ video game director explains what happened with the scrapped movie adaptation and why TV would be better

Mass effect legendary edition video game
‘Mass Effect: Legendary Edition.’ Electronic Arts/BioWare
  • TV adaptations of hit video games are on the rise as media companies search for bankable IP.
  • Mac Walters, the director of “Mass Effect: Legendary Edition,” said TV is the best way to adapt games.
  • He thinks it’s a “matter of when, not if,” Hollywood takes another crack at adapting “Mass Effect.”
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The anticipated video game “Mass Effect: Legendary Edition,” developed by BioWare and published by its parent company Electronic Arts, was released last month, collecting the original three games of the hit sci-fi series in one remastered package.

It landed at a time when Hollywood has taken a keen interest in video games, from “Resident Evil” and “Assassin’s Creed” (Netflix), to “Last of Us” (HBO), “Fallout” (Amazon), and “Halo” (Paramount+).

Mac Walters, the project director for “Mass Effect: Legendary Edition,” told Insider that it’s “not a matter of if, but when” Hollywood takes a crack at “Mass Effect.”

“It’s such an expansive world, and so many people I know in the TV and film industry have reached out to ask me when we’re going to do it and saying we’ve got to do it,” Walters said.

Video-game adaptations have often flopped in Hollywood. But with media companies battling for IP to boost subscription streaming services, and video games seeing record sales, Hollywood is mining the games industry. Game sales hit a record $56.9 billion in 2020, according to a report by the research firm NPD.

As streaming has surged, so have series adaptations (as opposed to movie ones). Walters sees this shift to TV as beneficial for game adaptations: “If you’re going to tell a story that’s as fleshed out as ‘Mass Effect,’ TV is the way to do it. There’s a natural way it fits well with episodic content.”

“Mass Effect” is a series of role-playing, open-world games, giving the player the ability to customize their character, explore different planets, and step away from the main story to complete “side missions.”

“When we build out a ‘Mass Effect’ game, we have a backbone, or an overall story that we want to tell, but each level or mission is like its own TV episode,” Walters said. “It doesn’t get written ahead of time. It gets written at the time that we get to it. So it gets added to the main story and sometimes the main story gets adjusted because we did something really cool in that ‘episode.’ So long-from storytelling is a great place for game franchises.”

And he’s speaking from experience. A “Mass Effect” movie was in the works in 2010 when Legendary Pictures landed the rights to a film adaptation, with Warner Bros. on board to release it. But it never materialized.

“It felt like we were always fighting the IP,” Walters said. “What story are we going to tell in 90 to 120 minutes? Are we going to do it justice?”

He added that after a change in Legendary leadership, the studio wanted to move more toward television, at which point the producers thought it would be best to start over.

“But then it never picked up again after that, not for lack of trying,” he said.

While he sees TV as advantageous for game adaptations, Walters said Hollywood should avoid the wrong lessons from video games. He mentioned Netflix interactive movies like “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend,” which allowed viewers to choose different story scenarios.

“It was cool as an experiment, but I don’t know if that’s the thing we should be taking away from games in terms of storytelling,” Walters said. “There are plenty of rich worlds with amazing characters and that’s something we share in any of the mediums (movies, TV, and video games), so we should leverage that and lean into it.”