Mass Effect 2 Interview (PC)
Strategy Informer: So, Mass Effect 2. Are you excited?
Adrien Cho: *Laughs*Well we're tired, it's been a good two years in the making, but we're definitely excited. Mass Effect 2 is the greatest game we've made in the history of our studio, so as you can imagine it's pretty exciting. We can't wait to release it out there and show it to the people of the world, show them what we've been building and improving on these past few years. It's going to be a good Christmas!
Strategy Informer: Did Bioware succumb to the fear of competing with Modern Warfare 2, like so many others did?
Adrien Cho: No actually, we had always aimed it at that date (Late January 2010), we simply looked at the schedule and the amount of time we needed to do it, so yeah... It was great actually, and kind of eerie because for the first time, on a development side, the date we agreed to ship Mass Effect 2 is actually the date we're shipping, and the Producers are very puzzled because they're thinking "No, that's not going to happen", and yet here we are, the game is finishing up, we're putting on the final touches on it, and they're like "Wow".
Strategy Informer: From the beginning, Bioware had wanted Mass Effect to be a trilogy that connected to each other on a technical level - which hasn't really been done before. How did that affect things on the development side?
Adrien Cho: It was a unique challenge, but from the beginning the Mass Effect Trilogy was always going to be this story arc for Shepard, as the player's character. We definitely know where we want Shepard to end up though, which is good because it's all part of this huge arc. The second game was really fun because we really just took all the characters, and flung them into the pits of hell just to see if they could climb back out. That's going to be really fun for the player too.
Strategy Informer: The original Mass Effect was a little on the small side, and a bit repetitive. What have you done to prevent this from happening again?
Adrien Cho: There's going to be a lot more worlds to explore, although we felt the problem was more to do with repetition than the game world actually being 'small'. But there's going to be a lot more variety in the worlds you can explore. I mean the whole point of side quests is to flesh out the game universe and show off the different environments you can visit. Because everything was similar in the first game, it made the game 'feel' constricted, but we've definitely improved on that in Mass Effect 2. It's a bit like Star Trek in a way, lots of different worlds, species, cultures and people to interact with and explore.
Strategy Informer: What other lessons have you learnt from the first game?
Adrien Cho: I think the big thing was flow: making sure players stay engaged and finish the game. That principle kind of drove a lot of the design decisions for the second title, which is mainly about action, but also character progression as well. We've got to keep the player engaged in the story, and make them want to see the whole thing because we crafted this huge amazing tale and we want them to see what happens and we don't want to lose any players.
From that point of view it actually drove a lot of decisions. It changed how our combat worked, made things a lot more visceral and engaging. We also looked at the other areas where we lost players and tried to analyse what the problem was so that we would not repeat those same mistakes. Sometimes players would get confused or lost, or just not sure of their objectives, so we changed it so that the player always knows what their mission is.
Strategy Informer: In the first game, you play through it and you form this kind of emotional attachment with your teammates. In this game you seem to have simply done away with them so that you can chose a new one. Was that a necessary design choice?
Adrien Cho: Well not exactly. We haven't wiped the slate clean. A lot of your former teammates will return in this game, like Tali and Garrus, and some other surprising ones which I won't reveal right now. This game was a good opportunity to bring in new characters because it is a different tale, and we wanted to explore different aspects of the Mass Effect universe. In Mass Effect 1 you meet Wrex, but in Mass Efffect 2 you meet this younger Krogan called 'Grunt', and he really presents the players with a different side of Krogan culture. You also have Miranda and Jacob, who represent the Cerberus element of Humanity that you only touch upon in the first game.
Strategy Informer: The great thing about Science Fiction is that there is a lot you can do with it creatively. But there's always a danger that you can get a bit too 'silly' or too weird & wonderful. How did you maintain a balance in the creative process when expanding on the Mass Effect universe?
Adrien Cho: Interesting side story: When we first set out to do Mass Effect we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the Star Universe. We had just finished doing Knights of the Old Republic so obviously there were going to be some lingering ideas from that. The main difference was that Star Wars was more of a space opera, whilst Mass Effect was always about leaning towards more pure science fiction. We looked at movies and books that inspired us, like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Ender's Game, and we really looked to those as sources of inspiration. Hopefully that's kept us grounded to more 'real' science fiction. A lot of the technology and related elements in Mass Effect came from real-life applications. We tried to look at our current trajectory and tried to extrapolate from there - what would space travel be like? We also kept real-world concepts alive within the game like singularities and dark matter.
Strategy Informer: Bioware has a lot of projects going on at the moment: You've just finished Dragon Age, you're working on the Star Wars MMO, and of course there's Mass Effect. What core principles do you draw on from all three to help improve the creative process in general?
Adrien Cho: That actually goes back to our founders. You know the mantra for all Bioware games is that it has to be the best story driven experience possible. That's great because not matter who you are, either a writer, artist, designer, etc... you know exactly what you're striving to do. Everything else is kind of gravy after that, and each project brings with it different flavours - so Dragon Age obviously is the fantasy element, and Star Wars is the more grand space opera, and then we've got Mass Effect which is more grounded in pure science fiction. It's a really good question actually because you sometimes forget the backbone of projects like these.
Strategy Informer: As you've said you know where you want Shepard to end up, and despite the fact that the games are very reactive to the choices you make, how much 'fixing' will you have to do coming into the final act? How much will you have to set in stone, regardless of choices?
Adrien Cho: Obviously there are certain elements that you just have to keep in for the sake of drama or whatever. You simply can't have all these different option affecting everything. But I think we've done this in such a way that it certainly respects the choices that players have made, and we try to incorporate everyone's tales so that they form their own unique take on the Mass Effect story.
That's why we really worked on the import process to ensure that there's a continual tie. You're not playing someone else's idea of canon - you're playing your idea. I think that choice is a big thing. When we go see a movie we're passive reciprocators for whatever the director wants to show us. In videogames we have this really unique opportunity to give players direct control, and the great thing about Bioware games is that you have direct control AND choice, so you don't have to follow these linear paths.I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited. This interview, along with the preview that was also done at this event, will probably be the last look in on this game until the review code comes in. As much as I love this job, sometimes the really big games can't get here soon enough, you know? Stay tuned, and Merry Christmas.