Mass Effect 3: 'We've brought back a lot of what was missing in ME2'
6th Feb 2012 | 12:39
BioWare has a lot on its plate at the moment.
Along with a Star Wars: The Old Republic and Command & Conquer, there are rumblings of a new entry in the Dragon Age series. But of its numerous projects, arguably none garners as much attention as Mass Effect 3.
The third, and supposedly final chapter in Shepard's story, stands to be the studio's most ambitious yet with new multiplayer modes and a new focus on action driven gameplay.
We had a chat with Michael Gamble, producer at BioWare Edmonton, and discussed how the studio is juggling projects, approaching multiplayer and crafting an experience that everyone can enjoy.
How does the multi-studio thing work with Mass Effect?
Throughout the game's development, we've been sharing responsibilities between Edmonton and Montreal. The game is completely developed - multiplayer, singleplayer, all facets - between the two studios. The Edmonton studio's a bit larger, but both studios have complete skill sets.
Is BioWare doing too much at the moment? Do you feel like you're spread too thin? Dragon Age, Star Wars, C&C, Mass Effect, and now multiplayer Mass Effect as well as single-player.
We have an amazing set of teams. Obviously, teams on different projects help each other out when they can, but we all keep busy, we make sure we're passionate about the project we're on, and, if you love a product enough, you don't mind keeping on working on it.
The challenge of a story-led series by the third instalment is kind of weird, right? Nobody says, I hear that's a really good book, I'm going to start reading at the last chapter.
That is completely dependant on the story arc that you're telling. Some game series continually build a narrative throughout the games. For Mass Effect, we're in a unique position where we've continually been talking about this Reaper war for two games now, and finally they've arrived. Mass Effect 3 immediately turns into a war story: that impending threat turns up, attacks, and you have to deal with it all within the course of a single game.
If, in some alternate universe, we'd done the trilogy differently and the Reapers had attacked Earth at the very beginning, that would have been really different. For us, giant sentient robots attacking Earth, Commander Shepard has to rally the truth: that's a good place to jump in.
Has the structure of the story changed over the course of the games?
We knew the overall arc, we knew Shepard's story from the beginning. How each story gets developed, the individual missions come out of their specific developments. We also listen to feedback from fans all the time. The audience, when they give us feedback in terms of being inclusive of this element, or combat stuff that doesn't work - we bring all that in. And, to be honest, you're crafting your Mass Effect story as much as we are anyway.
How do you ensure, when there are so many narrative threads and possibilities, that what comes out of every player's choices is a story that's worth telling?
Without sounding facetious, it's just a really talented team. We have an amazing group of writers who have to conceptualise all of the myriad possibilities of relationships and who might still be alive at certain points and come up with amazing story arcs based on these permutations.
The first ME was very much an RPG that looked at its world down the barrel of a gun, and by now it feels like a shooter with the RPG elements receding - the morality and the levelling seems to be in the background. Has it been a battle of genres?
We just want to tell the best story within the context of an amazing shooter. I think in ME3 we've actually brought back a lot of the customisation elements that were missing in ME2: Weapons, armour, powers, each power now has nine possible ways of evolution. We brought back all that customisation. Like any transition between games, we want to polish everything. I wouldn't say one genre is winning out over another.
This game seems to be a lot more gymnastic than the previous games? Do you still spend a lot of time on things like aiming and traversal and cover?
Absolutley. That stuff is important. How the player interacts with the gameplay space is one of the most important things, as players spend most of their time doing that. We've added a lot of new melee stuff, and it's all part of making combat seem more dynamic. Enemy behaviour is also different as enemies will now try and flank and come up close. There's definitely been an emphasis on making combat spaces into open battlefields in this game. We're trying to get away from corridor shooters.
Has part of that come from trying to find a multiplayer approach that suited ME?
Multiplayer, when we decided to do it, we wanted to make it tie in seamlessly to the singleplayer and that story of the Reapers attacking. That idea of locking down an area and holding a position, it just fit well. I wouldn't necessarily say that we took multiplayer design strategies and moved them into single-player, but at the same time, we wanted to make a lot of single-player missions filled with options. That happens to translate, but we didn't want to replicate them.
What's next for Mass Effect? You've spent so long building this world, it would be weird to end it with this story arc?
Basically, in terms of what you've just said, we've spent a lot of time building the IP and building this amazing world. We don't have anything to announce, and ME3 is the end of Shepard's story of course, but who knows? We may tell additional stories in the future.