Mass Effect 2 Interview


posted 12/5/2009 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
One Page Platforms: 360 PC
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.
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