For those who haven’t heard of it, Mass Effect is a military science fiction media franchise. While the series started with video games, it has spread into novels, comics and films. But for inspiration purposes, I’ll be focusing on the original trilogy of video games released between 2007 and 2012, remastered in 2021.
Before I get stuck into it, it is worth noting that Mass Effect is a role playing game (RPG). This means it has features that allow players to customise the main character Commander Shepard quite a bit. Not only that, but players are also able to make choices throughout the three games that heavily shape the story and player characters moral alignment – Paragon or Renegade.
Bearing the above in mind, my beloved experience of this series might completely differ to someone else’s. For transparency, my Commander Shepard’s name was Dan and he was predominately Paragon with hints of Renegade when he was sick of people’s s**t. This is him here:
I’ve taken a step back to analyse exactly how Mass Effect inspires me. I’ve come back with 4 ways it inspired my Nash film series (and my writing process in general) and thought about how I differ my writing from the series.
In the Mass Effect games, the codex is a database of background information about characters, technology, events – basically anything you might want to know more about. As I progressed through the games, I loved using the codex to learn more about the world I was in. I won’t pretend I read every entry, but it was always perfect for diving into topic areas you wanted to learn more on.
I loved the idea of the codex so much, it’s how I began the whole writing process for Nash when I turned it full science fiction. I spent tonnes of time developing what I now call an ‘info book’. This info book dives into the world, planets, characters, factions, technology and weapons for a particular screenplay I’m working on. The info book is designed to evolve with each sequel I might write.
Why do it? Well, it means I have an in-depth written record of the world I’m writing in. If I ever take time away from a project, I always have a reference to come back to. It’s also a reference for when I’m writing a scene and need to consider the parameters I’ve set up. And lastly, it’s something I can give to others if they want to learn more about my story world.
You can actually find some bits and pieces from my info books on this very website here and here.
One of the biggest parts of Mass Effect I find so interesting is the galaxy-wide society of different alien species, including humans. Together they have a functioning, centralised government. It’s a refreshing concept over the usual humans vs alien invaders.
Not too many people are keen or deeply interested in politics (it was a huge reason people didn’t like the Star Wars prequels at the time), however it’s such an important part of the society and story of Mass Effect. The unwritten hierarchy, racism, biases and other conflicts together form a living, breathing world that comes across as wholly believable.
While Nash has yet to introduce aliens, the idea of a society where aliens and humans learn to coexist together is the direction I would head for. This is true for Highton Heroes as well.
Grounded But Fictional
If you’ve read my post on how I categorise Sci-Fi, you’ll probably have noticed Mass Effect sits closer to ‘Authentic Feeling Sci-Fi’ rather than pure ‘Sci-Fi Fantasy’. That’s because I think it does a solid job of trying to feel real and legitimate, even if it isn’t.
It achieves this by telling a story that feels like it could actually be the future of humanity. While it’s a fictional element (Element Zero) that acts as a catalyst for all the big changes that help connect humanity with the rest of the galaxy, it’s not impossible that we could one day discover a singular thing that will change our future. And even though Element Zero is fictional, the way it fits into the Mass Effect universe and is delivered to the audience feels real and authentic.
This sort of authentic and genuine feeling is something I love and, for the most part, prefer in Sci-Fi over say, Star Wars – which is more towards the fantasy end of Sci-Fi. The feeling is one I fondly took from Mass Effect and seek to apply to my own work on Nash.
Like Mass Effect, Nash seeks to consider humanity’s position now and plot a plausible path to the future in which the films take place. The jump from where humanity is today to where it is in my series is fuelled by specific major discoveries. I know this isn’t an original idea (not even in Mass Effect), but it’s one that is powerful in connecting audiences to a Sci-Fi epic.
Artstyle and Atmosphere
Mass Effect has a fabulous art style and world. It really just has an awesome vibe. Any criticism people have of Mass Effect 3 aside, I think this is the game where they really nailed the look and feel of the world. When I say ‘look’, I refer to the impression and appearance of things like ships, vehicles, weapons and buildings.
For me, it builds on that grounded and authentic feeling I was talking about. It feels like a stylish but functional evolution of our technology today. Every species itself has a uniqueness to it that suits them, with some clear inspirations passed between species as they have connected their societies together.
This grounded and gritty art style is exactly how I would envision my Nash film series, maybe crossed with a hit of original trilogy Halo. Having such a strong visual reference to connect with is invaluable in envisioning the world I’m trying to create. It’s also super helpful when trying to articulate to others what your film series might feel like.
Mass Effect’s tone is also something I felt inspired by for Nash. It knows when to be serious, but can also have a bit of fun. This is true throughout the entire original trilogy, but especially number 3. In Mass Effect 3, the state of the galaxy is at its worst. Many are dying. The odds are against our heroes. Everyone knows it and accepts it. But they also know how to try cheer eachother up – to know when things are so hopeless that you just have to make a joke to keep yourself going. But to also put on a straight face when you have to focus.
I relate to this tone so much in my everyday life. In fact, I think a good majority of people can. That’s one of the big reasons why I want to capture it in Nash. Because it’s relatable and feels so real. Full comedy and drama still have their place in storytelling. But for a series that needs to connect a possible future state to the current state of humanity and sell a completely fictional world on top of that, I think this is the best tone to go for.
Things I Avoid
Now this whole spiel might make it seem like Nash is just Mass Effect written by me, but I don’t want you to take that away. Nash is its own thing. It’s just that Mass Effect heavily inspired me in many ways, and the magic of Mass Effect is something I seek to capture in my own work.
To help back me up, I want to elaborate on a couple of points I would seek to differentiate in my own writing. And it all really centres around the aliens.
Firstly, I don’t think each species is different enough in Mass Effect. I do admit this is probably due to production constraints, but nonetheless it’s something I’d try to steer clear from. Most of the main aliens have a simple humanoid form, very few push the biology boundaries. Additionally, the alien societies aren’t that wholly different from ours in several ways. For example, everywhere has a bar and alcohol. Multiple characters make reference to them as if their purpose is a common understanding. But when you drill down, would a bar and alcohol be something that matters to every other alien society?
The second thing I would change is the time scale. In Mass Effect (and a lot of movies out there), it always feels like way too much is happening in a short time span. In Mass Effect, humanity has found a way to connect to the rest of the galaxy, endured a war with other species, built alliances with new species and have become a member of the joint-species ruling Council – all by 2186. That’s less than 200 years from now. I personally struggle to see it all happening and humanity being in the position they are in by Mass Effect 3. I know big changes can happen in a short amount of time, but when you involve politics, it gets complicated.
That’s why I opted to give humanity much more time before the first Nash film kicks off in the 2400s. And even so, they still only live and function in a small part of the Milky Way. I actually think of Halo as a much more suitable reference to time scale. Nash humanity is in a similar position to Halo humanity in the 2500s.