Skip to main content

One of the original Mass Effect writers is making a sci-fi near-future action-adventure

New studio Worlds Untold includes former Assassin's Creed and Metal Gear devs

An image of a black hole with an accretion disc, created by Mac Walters' new studio Worlds Untold
Image credit: Worlds Untold

Former Dragon Age: Dreadwolf production director and veteran Mass Effect scribe Mac Walters has founded a new studio, Worlds Untold, with funding from NetEase. According to the official site, the studio will develop "triple-A action adventure games with an emphasis on narrative and worldbuilding": its first project is a single-player-focussed, "near future action adventure game in a breathtaking world filled with mystery and exploration".

Amongst other things, this reflects Walter's desire to move away from the "space opera" RPGs he's made in the past and develop a more linear, story-driven sci-fi game, whose universe might also host TV or novel adaptations. Which might not sound very appealing to BioWare diehards, but you can rest easy on one count: the game will have plenty of lore, though how it's served up to the player is another question.

Wccftech has a lengthy interview with Walters in which they talk through the studio's hiring process, recent industry developments, and the nature of Worlds Untold's currently untitled debut release. Asked if he decided to make an action-adventure because he's weary of developing role-playing games, Walters pointed out that the two genres aren't lightyears away from another, but added that he'd like to make a game with a greater emphasis on story than you'd find in certain RPGs.

"In the industry in general, we've really been seeing a merge between RPG and action adventure," he said. "There's the whole ARPG genre now, which is probably one of the biggest markets out there. They really lend and borrow a lot from each other. But I think ultimately what it came down to was a little bit of.... I've done RPGs and I love them, but I wanted to do something that led with story. It's an action RPG but with a lot of story and as much as we were always able to blend that into the RPG choose-your-own-adventure style, I really like the idea of telling something that's perhaps a little bit more linear. It looks at choice and consequence and things like that but in a different light.

"I was also looking at some of the games that I had enjoyed recently, whether it was The Last of Us, Uncharted, or Tomb Raider that I get kind of get swept away in," Walters went on. "I really wanted to focus on building a game that allowed me to tell a great adventure story."

Watch on YouTube

The first Worlds Untold game is currently in the concept design phase, so it's too early to discuss how "linear" it is, or how large the world will be, Walters continued. But he's definitely hoping to create a setting grand enough (literally and/or in terms of supporting themes) to accommodate a few follow-up projects, including works in other media. "Our focus primarily is, let's build the sort of origin story in our game. But from there, we want to create enough mystery and enough endless horizon and possibility in the world that we're creating that there's so many leaping off points that you could take into another genre or into another medium."

As for what exact species of sci-fi the game is, the studio name might suggest a space epic - Walters traces it back to "me as a kid looking up at my poster of the solar system as a kid and just wondering what's around those worlds" - but it won't be any kind of spiritual successor to Mass Effect.

"I guess what I can say about this game specifically is that it is science fiction, but we are looking more at the near future," Walters said. "And I can say it's not going to be a space opera. I loved working on space operas in the past. I grew up on that, you know, with Star Wars, but I want to try something a little bit different. The other thing I could say about it is it's definitely not like anything I've made before."

Still, the game will compare to Walters's previous games in that it'll involve a lot of lore and worldbuilding. "I love lore, even the lore that doesn't necessarily end up in the game," Walters reflected. "That's part of the process we went through. I was working with a team of writers in July and a lot of that was lore development, right?

"Like, let's build out the world," he continued. "Even if these are things that don't eventually end up in the game, it helps the developers understand the context for things, it helps the designers and the artists understand why something matters or how it all fits together. It also almost always leads to more interesting stories or story moments and things that we want to add in later."

Walters observed that "as a generic statement, I would say it's important if you're going to have that much lore in the game that you allow the player to feel like they have access to it throughout and not just that they read it once and now they have to move on." But he'd like to approach that in "a more diegetic way where it doesn't feel like the game's telling you that, but more where it's like something in-world". So you won't necessarily be delving into some kind of codex or encyclopedia to get at the nitty-gritty.

Current Worlds Untold studio members include audio director Sotaro Tojima, who worked on Metal Gear Solid and Halo, head of production Elizabeth Lehtonen, whose credits include Dragon Age and The Sims, head of art Ramil Sunga, who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda, Anthem and Dragon Age, and head of technology Benjamin Goldstein, who has worked on the Assassin's Creed series and For Honor.

Discussing his hiring plans at large, Walters said that "one of the key principles and I guess philosophies with the studio that I wanted to ingrain from the get-go was I didn't want to just do the same thing that's always been done, which meant I wanted to work with people I hadn't worked with before." While the aim is to build an "AAA quality product", he doesn't want to "scale up to this massive size studio that becomes very untenable", suggesting that the project team size might "peak" at around 250 people including external partners.

The other side to Walters's recent movements is what his moving on from BioWare says about the development of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. As Graham noted this January, the developer has weathered some significant departures in recent years - studio manager Casey Hudson and Dreadwolf executive producer Mark Darrah left in December 2020, Dreadwolf creative director Matthew Goldman left in November 2021, and replacement EP Christian Dailey left in February 2022. Relations between BioWare and former employees have been a little fractious: a number of laid-off Mass Effect and Dragon Age staff - some in-house, some external contractors - recently protested outside BioWare's offices over the terms of their dismissal.

Read this next