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Interviews

Mass Effect 3: BioWare on intense combat and overhauling AI

Part 3: Gameplay designers discuss shootout upgrades

In the first part of Xbox World 360's BioWare interview series, Mass Effect 3 exec producer Casey Hudson and art director Derek Watts discussed their surprises, inspirations and the tough decisions behind creating the eagerly anticipated sequel.

Part two saw lead sound designer Rob Blake, and senior environment artists Don Arceta and Noel Lukasewich reveal their audio and game world secrets.

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Now, in the third and final part of XBW's Mass Effect 3 chats, BioWare gameplay designers Christina Norman and Corey Gaspur answer a few questions aimed at combat and AI. Enjoy. It's been emotional.

Mining aside, what elements from the last game needed fixing for Mass Effect 3?

Christina Norman: Well, we want to make it so that when the player's fighting in the moment they feel like they have more options than just aiming, shooting and using powers. We really want to make mobility a factor - like, "am I in the right position on the battlefield? Where are my enemies? How am I going to get from point A to point B? How are they going to get from point A to point B?" So the player is never thinking, "I'm walking into this safe place with great cover, I'll stay there and fight" but more "how am I going to move through the battlefield as the enemies move through the battlefield against me?"

And the AI has been overhauled to support the new things Shepard can do?

CN: We do an AI overhaul pretty much every day! If there's one thing the programmers always want to do better it's definitely the AI, so we've done a lot of work on that. We still have some more work to go, but we want you to feel that the enemies you're fighting are more complex, that they have multiple behaviours, and that they're reacting to what's going on.

Corey Gaspur: And enemies like the Cerberus Troopers are elites. They can do everything that Shepard can do now as well, so you're fighting a force that's a lot more intelligent this time around, and a lot more punishing. The game is just intense even when you play it on Normal.

How has enemy design changed over the years?

CN: With Mass Effect 2 we had this 'let's come up with cool enemies' approach, and we made each enemy as an individual. Now we look at enemies as a force, with units within the force, and each of them has a role. You end up with this really cool chessboard thing, where you have a knight and a bishop, they'll work together in one way but if you have a knight and a rook, they'll work together in a different way. It's giving our level designers and combat designers a lot more opportunities, not with heavy scripting, but just by combining these pieces that work together in new and interesting ways.

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And the system in the new game will make them harder to fight, even on Normal?

CN: Yeah. And in Mass Effect 3 it's not just that the game is harder on Insanity, it's that this creature actually behaves differently on higher difficulty levels. On those harder difficulty levels we can make the enemies exhibit specific behaviours more often, or even give them new behaviours that we think will work for a harder difficulty level, but which won't work for an easier one.

And enemies are bigger too, right? A six hundred foot mini-Reaper and the new Atlas Mechs - how do you make such behemoths interesting to fight?

CN: Without going into the specifics of any of the enemies you'll face, I can say it needs to be more about smart ways of taking them down. If a large enemy is nothing but a bullet sponge where you shoot him until his hit points go to zero then that really doesn't work. If you can interact with the enemy in specific ways by shooting at weak points? Use the environment against them? Those are the factors that make larger enemies more interesting to fight.

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