Several of my fellow gaming press members and I got the opportunity to have a chat with Dr. Ray Muzyka of BioWare about the upcoming Mass Effect
sequel. Although he’s careful not to reveal too much of the storyline (which we should really be grateful for), you can get a taste of what the game will feel like from some of the questions posed at the roundtable conference. The first and fourth question are from GamingNexus, the rest are from our peers in the industry.
Ray divulges the intensity of the shooter/RPG experience of Mass Effect 2
, mostly due to the enhanced combat system. If you’ve seen some of the videos we have posted, you’ll know what he’s talking about. He’ll also get into some of the details of the storyline in how vastly complex it is: optional content can truly expand the breadth of your gaming experience, while importing saved games from Mass Effect 1
can change the settings of your game drastically. Read on for the full story and some more details on the game that Ray calls their best yet.
Quick intro to Mass Effect 2
from BioDoc Ray Muzyka:
This is the dark second act of the Mass Effect trilogy and I'm really incredibly excited about this. The quality is outstanding, I'm so proud of the team across the board. Listening to the feedback from the fans and the press and internally on the first team, we amped up the intensity of the shooter experience, amped up the depth and richness of the RPG experience. You have all the things you love from Mass Effect 1: great story, amazing dialogue, Commander Shephard. But you also have incredible intensity, combat tactical choices, moment-to-moment intensity, how you deploy your troops, and the emergence of different abilities and how they all interact. It’s bigger and better in every way, and I think it’s going to be the best thing yet from BioWare when it comes out. I can’t wait for you all to get your hands on it to see what we're so excited about. I love the game.
With developments in AI, visuals, combat, storyline, etc, which was the most significant for developing with Mass Effect 2 to stand out against the original?
I think it's really a fusion of the shooter and action, and role playing those two sides of the shooter experience and the role playing experience we're really bringing it to bare in Mass 2
and that's one of the reasons why the adding is so innovative. The game is really combining things that haven’t been done in that fashion before. For us, it’s not one thing alone it’s really all those developments that combine to that shooter/RPG experience. As a result you got a great exploration of an amazing galaxy.
You have intense action and combat sequences with tons of tactical depth, and you have a great customization, progression, an amazing narrative flow, and characterization. It’s got all the elements that you’ve come to know and love with a BioWare game, but with this added mix of really intense shooter combat that takes it over the top, and the way they all fit together is awesome. The pacing moment-to-moment pulls you through the adventure and you've always got something to look forward to.
No element alone can be below the bar; they all have to be good. The AI has to be amazing, the visuals are amazing, and the frame rate is locked and loaded at 30 frames a second. Textures will look smoothly; there's no popping. Combat is awesome and story line, if anything, is even better than the first game. I think really across the boarders it’s outstanding.
We've heard that the Dragon Age team and the Mass Effect team have been learning a lot from each other. What kind of things is the Mass Effect group learning and implementing from the Dragon Age team. What kind of difference between the versions of Mass Effect, including gameplay and BioWare social network site functions, can you comment on?
In Edmonton we have a matrix structure, so people move back and forth between projects quite often. We have a lot of people that worked on the original Mass Effect
that worked on Dragon Age
, and a lot of people who worked on Dragon Age
who are working on Mass Effect 2
. That's very organic and you get a lot of knowledge transfer between teams just as a function of people moving around. The EPs share a lot of knowledge with one another. The Exec Producers share knowledge between the projects very actively. Our mission basically is go for the best story-driven games in the world. Our vision is to deliver this genuine emotionally engaging experience and evolve it.
Every game has to be better than the prior ones for that to really be true. So as great as Dragon Age
was, I think Mass Effect 2
is going to be better because we're taking everything we learned from that game and are applying it. But at the same time they're very different games and that's intentional. I love the idea of BioWare having a diverse portfolio. You look at the rich deep fantasy role playing experience – this dark heroic fantasy of Dragon Age
– and it’s very different and very satisfying, but different than the sci-fi futuristic vision of Mass 2
They’re both very complimentary, and I think they're going to attract different kinds of fans. In some cases some fans are going to love both games, and I personally love them both. We learned a lot of things, as well, from Dragon Age
. The outstanding reception we're getting of post-release downloadable content [for example]. Those are some great lessons we're learning there. Dragon Age
is having a lot of success and we have a lot more PDLC planned for Dragon Age
. In Mass Effect 2
we're going to apply those concepts, and we already have teams working on PDLC plans for post launch for Mass Effect 2
. Our commitment is trying to deliver some great PDLC on both games as an ongoing service to our fans.
The inventory system of Mass Effect was fairly streamlined and some players thought it inhibited character customization. How is the inventory system changed with Mass Effect 2?
There are two different ways to answer this. One of them is that we built all the interfaces from the ground up. From the feedback received, we wanted to try to deliver a really deep customizable experience. One of the ways we're providing that is enabling even more tactical depth than Mass 1
, but we're trying to make it even easier to use and more accessible. It’s got that richness and depth and it’s incredibly accessible. Part of the way that works is that we really want to focus on the intensity of the combat experience when you're in the heat of action, and then when you're preparing for the missions we want to provide all the different choices and different tactics and allow you to select your squad and really customize the equipment and every detail that you want to customize – should you want to do so. The choices you make are going to have tremendous impact on the way that the game unfolds, and as you explore or as you progress through the game you engage in different types of combat.
The way we approached it is taking all the feedback from the first game. Our first principle was to rebuild the interfaces in Mass Effect 2 to make sure that in every case possible we're improving them and improving the depth and the richness of the experience at the same time. When you play it you'll understand how it works in terms of equipping your party: it’s really straightforward and really easy, but it’s really deep as well. It's got a lot of different choices, a lot of progression, and abilities as well. It ties into the exploration aspect, too, so it’s such that as you explore the galaxy you find new kinds of research and modifications for your weapons and armor and so on. You can have new equipment and it’s really up to you to discover those things. If you do so, you're going to be even more badass at combat. Have you retained the same set of classes from Mass Effect 1? Are there any changes?
We still have the same set of classes from Mass Effect 1 but we really added a ton of powers and really refined the abilities of the classes and the way they use them such that there's a lot more tactical depth and a lot more impact from the choices you make during battles. Both for your main character, and also the two squad-mates you can bring alongside you at any point of time. I think players are going to be really excited to see all the emergent abilities and the way that the tech and biotic and ammo abilities, etc. all interact and intersect. You'll be able to pull off some really cool moves just by trying different things out. If you choose different companions to bring alongside you on different away missions, different combats, and different battles - you're going to have very different outcomes. That’s really satisfying to know that you could make a difference in how things unfold. It’s part of why this is so cool because it’s a shooter and it’s an RPG, so the choices you make have a big impact on the way the gameplay unfolds.
Mass Effect has pretty basic squad commands: go here, kill this, regroup, etc. Is Mass Effect 2 going to offer any additional micromanagement?
Yeah. Some of the differences might seem small, but they add up to a huge impact in aggregate. For example, you can deploy your troops in different points on the battlefield and that actually leads to a lot of tactical depth where you can flank enemies, try to create a positional advantage, or try and create an ambush. It’s cool to try and play different scenarios to see if you can lure enemies in or trap them, and if so take them out one at a time focusing all your attacks on one enemy. The abilities are easy to access for each of your characters so you can choose different tactics in your battles. Biotic abilities, tech abilities, and changing ammo is loaded on to the power wheel as well, so it’s really easy to access that. It makes a material difference in battles depending on what kinds of ammo you select. We're pretty much trying to refine the interface to make it really easy to have full and complete control on the battlefield, and yet make that really easy to access at the same time.
In following that, are we always going to be locked into the role as Shephard or is there potential to control other squad members?
This is a very personal story; you’re playing the role. You're playing the role of Commander Shephard, and you get to define who that character is and make a lot of choices. You get to customize the appearance, and progress your character in different ways – but it’s really about you. You're playing as Commander Shephard and you get to bring alongside you different companions as you explore, as you progress the story arc, as you go to different places in the galaxy. You get to have two companions with you at any time. And then of course, back at your ship, you have your whole retinue of squad mates and teammates that are there. You can talk to them, learn more about them, and figure out who you want to bring alongside you next time you head out of your ship. But it’s really your story, so we really focused on that and making sure that’s an amazing experience.
The inclusion of characters from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, for instance Rex and Garrus, was done both to carry the story and because of the fans liking some of these characters. Which characters were your favorite and least favorite?
We've really focused on emotional engagement, and that's our vision for our whole group, and the Mass Effect
team has embraced that as well. I think that the outcome of that is when you focus on making characters that are emotionally engaging, really compelling, you develop love/hate relationship with them. You might hate some, you might love some, but they're all going to be incredibly interesting to play with and travel with and explore. Some of them that you might initially dislike quite viscerally, like subject zero, when you progress through the game with that particular character and learn more and more about the character, you're going to find a lot of nuances and detail that you never imagined. You might end up having a completely different impression by the end of the game – I know I did – than you did at the first impression. Which defines you’re really creating characters with emotional depth and credibility and they can provoke reaction – a genuine emotional reaction – and I think we're getting better and better at that with every game that we launch. Mass Effect 2
is the best yet from BioWare.
Some of the major upgrades to Mass Effect 2 are the inclusion of limited ammunition. Will this be for all weapons, or only certain weapons?
Part of the development of Mass Effect 2
is focusing on it as much a shooter as it is an RPG. They’re equally important to the game and part of the things we realized as a recognition on the team is the tension, and the excitement during the action sequence during a shooter game. There’s a certain tension to having a limited supply of ammo or bullets, and just realizing you gotta make sure every one counts. They really do have a tremendous impact. There's part based damaged, you can have increased damage from headshots; some weapons will use more ammo up. A sniper rifle is very powerful, but it uses a lot more ammo per shot and say you're pistol-whipped and that makes you think in combat. You have to really be sparing and focus on how you apply different tactics in battle, and using the ammo strategically and tactically is one of those choices you have to make. So yes, basically there's limited supply of ammo for all weapons. There's two different categories: there's heavy weapon ammo and there's the ammo used for all the different weapons. Even there, different weapons use different amounts of it, so there's a lot of tactical depth and every single bullet you use you have to think about it, which is pretty cool.
How difficult or easy will it be for people who have not played Mass Effect to step into the middle of the Mass Effect 2 universe?
We really provide a seamless introduction to the Mass Effect 2
experience when you start out, so you don’t have to play Mass Effect 1
at all, but if you do you're going to have a richer experience; in some respects, a more personalized experience because you're going to see some of the choices you made in the first game reflected as you encounter new characters that you might have met before or know of some of the characters or choices you made in the first game. The end game for Mass Effect 1
will influence some of the choices that you see in Mass Effect 2
. Some of the things you did or didn't do with characters in Mass Effect 1
will be reflected in Mass Effect 2
, as well. But if you haven't played Mass Effect 1
, that’s totally fine because you get a great story arc that makes certain assumptions as to what occurred in the first game. It’s basically a self-contained adventure with an amazing beginning, middle, and ending, and it’s part of a running story arc trilogy. So there's incentive for you to bring the save games forward, but certainly no requirement, and I think players who approach it fresh are going to have just as great a time as players who played Mass Effect 1
.What kind of inspirations is the team looking to for the game’s shooter/action aspects?
We looked for inspiration from a range of sources. We played pretty much everything out there. All of our competitors’ products: we play them. I think that this is the kind of game that's going to stand up against any of those – against the best shooter experiences that are out there – and not only that, I think we bring something new to the table that a lot of shooters don’t have. That’s the strong focus on the pillars of our role-playing games. The exploration, the customization, progression, the combat, and the strong narrative flow of choices and consequences. Because those are all seamlessly merged in with the shooter aspects, it's an incredibly rich shooter RPG experience. I've never seen anything like it before.
Do you think Mass Effect 2 may successful raise the bar for action-RPG initiating element?
A number of Mass Effect high points composed of science fiction landscape, dialogue selection, and flat-out intense characters will return streamlined and amplified. But what are these people going to bring to the Mass Effect universe? What are people going to remember long after they've set the game down?
I think it comes back to these memorable moments. The memorable moments for me are the ones that have emotional impact and emotionally engaging consequences that really pull you in and really grabs you on an emotional level. Mass Effect 2
is just full of those kinds of moments. I just finished a completions’ path recently where I did everything I could find and tried to do all the nooks and crannies: did all the unchartered worlds, all the back stories of my companion characters, and just went through everything and had an amazing time. What struck me playing through the game was how many of those memorable moments were in the optional content, and how good that option content was. The fidelity of it is the same as the main game, and is virtually indistinguishable because they're totally integrated.
The optional content will have a material impact on the success of your main mission, and has the potential to turn it from a suicide mission to a mission that eminently survivable. But it's up to you to make the choices to fall through and pursue some of those things that might seem like they're optional, but really will improve your chances of survival. It’s pretty neat when you see the end game, and you'll understand why and how it all fits together and you're like "ugh man I gotta go back there and try that again." I want to see how I can make this happen, and that happen, and how can I survive this part. It's really pretty amazing when you reflect back at your progression through the game and just think all these amazing things have happened. It’s about the emotionally engaging moments, these memorable moments. The game is full of them.
After the first game, I'm assuming you were able to identify what part of the game critics and customers liked and which parts they didn't. How does that information inform the way you steer the stories and characters in the second game?
On the one hand, we have a story arc for this trilogy that has a beginning, middle, and end. This is the dark second act: humanity's entrance onto the galactic stage, and after they've realized there’s a darker, seedier underbelly to the whole thing. You enter into the first game feeling a little more naïve: you enter the citadel and it's like “wow this is amazing! This amazing alien technology is freaking awesome!” But then you realize what it is. If you’ve played through the end of the game, you'll know it's not quite as innocent as it might seem, and when you enter Mass Effect 2
you have that knowledge and you get that update in the context whether you started the game afresh or whether you played Mass Effect 1
or not. As a result it feels like a dark second act.
We've always had a goal in mind of how this story is going to unfold in this dark second act, but naturally we listen to feedback from fans and press and internal sources on what we can do to make the gameplay more amazing, more over the top. If I was going to categorize the things we’ve done in Mass Effect 2
to improve the gameplay over Mass Effect 1
, it's probably 3 major buckets of things that call out. One of them is the intensity of the shooter experience: the moment-to-moment tactics and gameplay of your squad on the battlefield. It’s so tight it feels like a shooter when you're playing the combat, and that really immerses you into the action complete and utterly and actually allows for a more emotionally engaging experience.
The second bucket of things we focused on are technical improvements. Frame rate is locked at 30 frames plus throughout the game. It's smooth, silky smooth. Textures are loaded in, there's no popping. The graphics fidelity is really high. There's fast loading. Elevators are really fast now. Basically everything is sped up, and that makes the game that much more intense and immersive, as well. Third bucket would be the optional content and the way it’s integrated in more tightly. So it's still optional, but it’s got a material impact on the outcome of your main quest.
The fidelity of it is just outstanding. It's indistinguishable in terms of the quality of the entire world when you explore down the beaten path with your characters. It looks customized, it's all personalized, it’s all unique, it’s all hand crafted. That was one of the feedback we got from the first game, is that we could do a better job on the entire worlds just acting up the fidelity and integration of it all. We've done that pretty much across the board. Things we haven't lost are independent of things we've improved. It's still got the amazing dialogue and narrative and characters that you've come to know and love, and the way the story unfolds and the choices with consequences. Those things are there, so anything you loved from Mass Effect 1
you're going to see in Mass Effect 2
, and everything in Mass Effect 2
that we could have improved from Mass Effect 1
: we've done it. I'm so proud of the team because they've really improved all those things in ME2
One of the biggest challenges in telling a genre story is to find a new and fresh angle on familiar settings and characters. What's BioWare's approach to breathing life in the science fiction through the Mass Effect series?
One of the derivatives in how we approach delivering any kind of story, let alone the story of Mass Effect
or science fiction, we're inspired by. We certainly are inspired by a lot of different science fiction movies, games, and novels. The team collectively probably have watched everything there is to watch, read everything there is to read, and played everything there is to play. We love a lot of the great classics. But the way we are inspired by those things, we try to think about common principles, common guiding lights that we can look to for inspiration and we really put customized spin on them and fit them into a universe we think is pretty unique and differentiated from anything else out there that's in science fiction futuristic kind of game. The net is something that's feeling very familiar and at the same time it feels very unique, and I think that the team has achieved that.
The galactic map of the first game allowed for a sort of episodic approach to storytelling. Shephard popped from planet to planet, became involved in local problems and, once they were dealt with, followed the main plot to the next destination. Does Mass Effect 2 change or tweak this approach? Are there more diversions? Different paths Shephard can take?
The neat thing about the diversions is that when you start down different paths of the seemingly optional content (some of it is optional, there's a lot of optional content in the game) it’s quite a large game actually. If you consider all the different things you can do optional, is that they’re not totally diversions in that way. When you progress down some of these optional paths, you might get a research modification that if you research it, watch it improve your weapon, modify your weapon, make you stronger and better at battle and allow you to progress faster or easily through some of the more difficult battles. It might make your characters and companions more loyal to you and unlock some new quests, or make it more likely that they’re going to be by your side backing you all the way when you head to the final conflict. Those things may not even realize at the moment that they’re going to improve your chances of survival, but they will. That's part of the reason why this optional content is so cool: you don’t have to do it and it’s so good and so fun you'll probably want to do all of it and it will make the main quest that you're completing as Commander Shephard more likely to be survivable.
Mass Effect grabbed headlines for its alien-based sexcapades. Is Mac Walters [head writer] looking to push boundaries a little further this time around?
The people who played the first game, Mass Effect 1
, realize that the way we delivered romance and relationships was actually contextually very appropriate, and very tasteful. I think that’s true in Mass Effect 2
as well. We are certainly not shying away from having meaningful human interactions. They could be romances, could be friendships, and could be a variety of different things just as in real life.
That’s basically the way the game unfolds. You invest time and start to care about characters in the game, and they start to care about you if you make the right choices. That can lead to certain outcomes, just as it can in real life. Everything is done in a very tasteful, appropriate way. We're certainly not shying away from it.
There are more character choices in Mass Effect 2
in terms of who you can get to be in your party. As a result, there are actually more potential romance outcomes in Mass Effect 2
, as well. Although, you might want to cover all of them in one play through. The neat thing about the game is: the replayability is tremendous. Even in the office people have stories of how they progressed through the game, what choices they made – not just romance, but in terms of variety of outcomes like choices – the way the story unfolds, the way they made choices and different consequences unfold. There are so many different outcomes, that the end game is this range of combinations, permutations that are very dependent on the choices you made through the course of the game. I think there's a lot of replayability as a result, and a lot of emotionally engaging moments where you realize that it was you that made the choice that led to this outcome. That's true in romance, and it's true in other things too. Everything in the game we're trying to deliver in a way that’s really credible, and I think the team has pulled that off.
Are there plot threads from the first game that didn't manage to get woven back into Mass Effect 2? If so, how do you guys pick and choose? Conversely, which threads do you wish you developed better in the first game?
We're not revealing all the details of what threads are in Mass Effect 2
or not. The neat thing is that this is a trilogy after all, so some of the threads that you might not see developed in Mass Effect 2
might actually be continued in Mass Effect 3
. There's this grand plan right from the beginning to have continuity of the trilogy, and we're doing some pretty interesting stuff with the import of saved games on the 360 and PC from game to game. So if you continue your saved game from Mass Effect 1
into Mass Effect 2
, you continue that into the third installment of this trilogy, which we haven’t even announced yet, but you know we obviously have talked about a trilogy for awhile. That's going to have an impact on the way that unfolds, too.
We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves. I think the way we developed the certain threads is we tried to pick the ones that were the most emotionally engaging in the first game, and made sure that it got the fans who played through Mass Effect 1
that pay off and satisfaction, that personalization of seeing those things carry forward in Mass Effect 2
: at least to see what happened to some of the characters you've met and see what happens with some of the choices you've made, and the choices in the end game and so on. A lot of that we want to keep a surprise; we don’t want to spoil it for the fans because we think it’s going to be a delightful experience.
How do you balance the adult storyline with mature content appropriate only for adults in the Mass Effect game with concern those elements will be taken from your sensationalism.
I see games as an art form. I see them as a commercial art form, but they're an art form. We try to do things that we believe are true to the art, true to the emotionally engaging experience we're trying to deliver. As new art forms emerge, they come under attack or criticism from people that may not understand them: who haven’t really gotten into them yet. I think that video games are an emerging art form that more and more people are playing, and more and more people are finding compelling and satisfying on an emotionally engaging level, and some people don’t. Some people haven’t really played them; they're still stuck in the arcade game era and they think Mortal Kombat, Pacman is the standard of games. They don’t realize that things have progressed a lot.
The justice in other forms of art: movies and literature, television and books and music, there’s a whole spectrum of different kinds of content that are available and it’s just the understanding that not all games are one kind of game. RPGs are one of the most difficult games to develop and maybe to understand and play because there’s so many ways you can play through them. There's the exploration, the progression, the customization, and there's characters and story and there's combat, and they all intersect and they really enable different kinds of play style. BioWare games are very rich and deep, and I think there are a lot of different ways you can play through them. If you take elements out of contexts and just splash them up on the screen and try to make a sensationalist story, you can try to spin the story all kinds of ways. I think the key is to understand that this is the part of a grand whole. It's an art form, it all fits into its larger context. When you play through it you'll understand that it actually is done very tastefully and appropriately, and I think it’s emotionally engaging and very satisfying and it really is an art form.
There seems to be a darker shift in tone to Mass Effect 2. Why did you decide to shift to a darker tone for the sequel? Are you following the Empire Strikes Back model?
We’re really pursuing our own paths, we're not following one model or the other but this is the middle act of the trilogy. I mentioned earlier it comes from the first game with humanity's naive entrance on the blackest stage: they kind of ran alien technology, they visited the citadel. It’s like “wow!” Bright-eyed, bushy tailed: "isn't this amazing and just incredible" and then they realize what this citadel is. They realize there's actually this ominous presence at the edge of the galaxy that’s threatening all organic life, and they have to make this tough decision throughout the course of the game – Shephard does – and all of humanity is impacted by those decisions. So when the second game begins, you're playing as Commander Shephard still, but humanity as a whole has a much deeper understanding of this ominous threat. As a result its no longer the naive entrance where everything is bright and beautiful. Its’ darker, it’s the dark second act. That’s really what Mass Effect 2
What would be one or two additions to Mass Effect 2 that you're most excited about?
I think I can sum it up in one word: intensity. Just the intensity of the experience, the pacing of it pulls you along. You always have something to look forward to. The combat elements of the game – I keep talking about them cause they're awesome. They're totally integrated with the role-playing elements. It’s this solid role playing game, but it’s also this amazing shooter. It’s totally integrated in such that it’s a shooter with incredible depth and intensity. It just grabs you and never lets go. You'll always have something to look forward to. You're always being pulled along: always have more exploration, more entire worlds to go to, more characters to acquire, more back stories to uncover, more exciting combat, more progression to look forward to, more story choices. You’ll always be curious about what the outcome of this quest or that quest is, and moment-to-moment and long term it’s incredibly intense.
Various BioWare employees have alluded to a number of possible closing scenarios based on decisions made in the game. Without spoiling too much, can you put a number on the possible conclusions? Are they all radically different?
I think it's really showing you the impact of your choices. There are many different endings in a game, and they all reflect the choices you’ve made. It’s not even like one single point in time where you see an ending. It's not like: bam, you see this cut scene or that cut scene, “Congratulations, you're finished, the game is over.” It doesn’t work that way at all. Mass Effect 2
doesn’t end when you finish the game. You can actually continue to explore the galaxy afterwards, walk around your ship, talk to all the people that you survived with, or not. I don't want to say more than that, but there are different permutations of how that can unfold. The people that survived on your team are going to say different things to you depending on what you did during the course of the game. It’s almost like an adventure to see what they are going to say to you at that point, and figure out which adventures you still have left to continue. Of course, the adventure continues with post-release downloadable content, extensions and so on in the game universe that we're planning to deliver and we’ll have more news on that later, as well.
Also, as you head to the endgame, as you progress through it, some things happen based on the choices you’ve made to that point in the game. That’s part of the final stage of the game. It’s showing you the consequences of your actions. Who survived alongside you, who doesn’t survive, and why. Is it because of the choices you made where they couldn’t survive? Some cases it is. It really leaves you feeling profoundly moved in a lot of cases. “Wow, I didn’t expect that to be the outcome. I’m really sad about that. I didn't expect that at all.” Or “Wow, because of the choice I made before I had this happen and that’s really satisfying. That was me that did that.”
That’s sort of the way we are doing the endgame. It’s not one moment in time, one cut scene, congratulations you’re done, walk away. Instead it is this emotionally engaging, satisfying experience that progresses over the course of hours at the end of the game. It doesn't even stop there. You can walk around and talk to the people and discuss what's happened and learn more and more about them in the process. I think it’s a unique approach to an endgame that both RPG and shooter fans are going to find very satisfying.
When you started to think about Mass Effect 2, what were the main goals you decided to achieve?
There are many ways to answer this. It's part of the trilogy, so we wanted to deliver something that would fit into the framework of story that we had planned from the beginning. We wanted to do something that would be equally satisfying whether you played the first game or not. We wanted to listen to feedback from fans on the first game and make sure, in terms of gameplay experiences that the shooter experience that I alluded to before – the technical improvements, the integration of fidelity of optional content, those big buckets of changes – were integrated fully. We didn’t want to lose anything in translation from the rich role playing experience, depth of how you progress your character, abilities, exploration, story, narrative, choices and consequences as you play as Commander Shephard and the way that you interact with companions and so on. All those things we wanted to bring, people loved them from the first game and we really upped the intensity and credibility of character interactions and the role-playing experience, as well. Those are some things we tried to bring when we started this second chapter.
Did you ever think you'd be part of one of the most important development teams in the world when you started your ventures into the video game industry? The BioWare studio has always been regarded as one of the top studios. How do you imagine the future?
Greg and I, my co-founder at BioWare, never really thought much about the end point. We still don't. We don't really think that there's any end point to more building at BioWare, and now with our larger group with Mythic and BioWare Austin, BioWare Montreal part of the group that we manage. I think our future is brighter. I think our best work is still ahead of us. I think the vision we have of creating, delivering, evolving the most emotional and engaging game experiences in the world is a vision that actually has no endpoint to it. You can always improve, thrive, and get better at that. Mass Effect 2
is the next step of the evolution of our craft. The work we have beyond that, we will refine even further. I think that our best work is always still ahead of us because we have great people that we work with here, and for me I love working here. I like medicine, I enjoyed that, but I love video games. Everyday is a new adventure, always something cool to do, and the teams are always surprising me and delighting me with all the cool things they're bringing into the games.
I was just talking to Casey earlier in the day - he's the project director, exec producer of Mass Effect 2
– we were talking about our different experiences playing through the game and the different outcomes we had (which I don’t want to spoil) but I was telling him I had this happen. He said, "Really? I had this happen. I have to go check that out".
This game is so big, the team supports so much into it, that it's impossible to know all the outcomes in one play through or even multiple play throughs. We're getting continually surprised even when we finish the games. We spend a lot of time on it. We're still getting surprised by some of the amazing things in the game, and he was telling me about some of the other things that I had never seen. I'm like, "holy crap! I gotta go play this game again just to see." So for me, that’s the stuff that delights me about being at BioWare. The people, the really passionate, dedicated, loyal, hardworking people we have at BioWare pour their hearts and souls to make each game the best we've ever done. The quality of the products, we're always striving to push the envelope in what we do for all the things we're trying to add in: different styles, gameplay from other genres to mix in as we're doing Mass Effect 2
– this idea of taking the best features of a third person shooter and putting it into something that's a very familiar and loved by our BioWare fans and the rich role playing setting. Our best work is still ahead of us.
The integration of Dragon Age: Origins with the BioWare community site is simply amazing. Do you know what we'll be seeing from our future tracking story, characters and skills from Mass Effect 2? Are there new integration features planned for the full game?
Our goal is basically to take what we started at social.BioWare.com and extend it to our portfolio of games. That's something I’m really passionate about. We see social gaming developing, and it’s not a fad, it's actually something I think that is enduring. You have 300 million people using Facebook now. That's powerful; that's cultural change. That's a force and change agent that's moving across our culture. As creators we have to embrace that, we have to realize that that's a powerful thing if we can integrate it into our game experiences. It strengthens them, makes them more social, such that you can display your hero's journey in Dragon Age
on the social.BioWare.com site and really show choices and consequences in action.
Even in a single player game you can do that, which, for me, is amazing. It's turning a single player experience into an online multiplayer experience in a sense. It’s a social experience. We have lots of cool stuff planned for all our games in the future – Dragon Age
and Mass Effect
franchise, other things we haven’t talked about yet. We have some social apps that are being released even for fun things that are coming up soon. There's going to be an announcement next year or two about something we're going to release just for our fans as a holiday present, but it hasn't been announced yet. I think when you get to play it you'll see why it's kind of fun and exciting. But we're always innovating, always pushing the envelope, and as a credit to the team: they're in the role of the changes in this dynamic industry, which is one of the reasons that video games is one of the most exciting industries to be a part of. The industry itself is both really dynamic and fun and also really challenging. It's challenging to work in an industry that’s based in technology and entertainment, and I give a credit to all the people in our industry collectively that they're able to adapt to that over time.
We’d like to thank Dr. Ray Muzyka and the BioWare and Mass Effect 2
team for arranging this conference.
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