RPGamer Feature - Mass Effect Interview
Mass Effect
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 11.20.2007

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Earlier this month, RPGamer had a chance to attend a special event to celebrate Mass Effect's upcoming release. During our visit to BioWare, we were invited to take part in an interview with the Mass Effect team leads. Preston Watamaniuk, Drew Karpyshyn, Casey Hudson, Kim Hansen, and Derek Watts took time to answer many questions from the various sites.

Which came first: the type of game or the story?
We started with what type of game we wanted to make. After deciding on a science fiction style of game, we had to decide what kind of sci-fi game and what kind of universe. The story was built around that.

At what point did Mass Effect's dialogue mechanics work into development?
It was really early--one of the first things designed into the actual gameplay. A lot of the design came from feedback from players of previous titles. That's really they way we can learn to make our games better. One complaint that Mass Effect looks to improve on is that in prior titles the story was good, but the delivery wasn't. So we wanted to fix that in Mass Effect to make the dialogue less wordy and more like an actual conversation.

How does the relationships that can be developed between characters in Mass Effect modify the plot? Does your gender selection affect plot?
Of course, the relationships will be different depending on whether you are male or female; however, there is a crossover character that works both ways, though the relationship is handled differently for each gender.

What are some things that got cut that you would have like to have kept in the game?
As game developers, it's difficult to cut out plot, areas, and characters, but in terms of size, you have to. Typically we over-design areas and then scale back to what is usable for the project. There was a location of the Citadel that we decided not to use, and little pieces here and there that just didn't seem necessary.

What plans do you have for downloadable content?
Mass Effect is planned out as a trilogy, so we know the direction we want to go. Any downloadable content would likely have more meaning later in the trilogy. Everything will tie in and with this first title, we are setting the stage, so downloadable content will be an extra bang for your buck. It's not just little pieces of the game like 80 points for five weapons.

Where did you get inspiration for the art?
We looked at a lot of movies and other sci-fi art both current and past. That was the start of it, and we just had to draw and get Star Wars out of our mind.

How did you decide to blend a third-person shooter with a rich story and RPG elements?
A lot came from looking at our past games. We were trying to understand our players. We looked at rule systems and decided that a lot of the focus should be the character. It needed to be customizable and offer a lot of interaction with other NPCs. We wanted a rich story crafted around the action. Nothing about this had to be turn-based. With Mass Effect, we wanted to find a way for someone to just jump in and start playing, then to unfold the depth of the game. The combat experience is very similar to KotOR, but it's a lot easier to get into.

Is the Mass Effect team one of your biggest teams you've put together and how does that effect creativity?
Yes, this is our biggest team by far. On smaller games, developers get to have more personal communication, so it was hard to adjust to having a bigger team. But as development progressed, it was great to see everything come together.

Should we expect any more from the Mass Effect universe?
Yes, of course: the follow-up novels. The first one is a nice setup to the game. There are plans for a second Mass Effect novel probably titled Mass Effect: Ascension set between the first and second games. It will not be critical to read to understand the second game, but it will enhance the experience. More novels are possible, but are not set in stone.

How do you keep Star Wars and Mass Effect separate?
You've got to take a few weeks to get clear-headed between each one. They are both science fiction, but are very different.

Halo is a marketing monster, what are you going to do to compete with it in terms of graphic novels, figures, or clothing?
It's a supply and demand thing. There's the Shepard figure. But most of it would come from the demand from fans. One of the reasons we designed the universe the way we did is to be able to tell a lot of stories from it. It's highly detailed and huge, so there are tons of things we could do with it. Unlike KotOR, which was all up to Lucas Arts, so we have control this way.

How do you create a trilogy around a character like Shepard and move on to the second game? At the end of the first, he would be a lot more powerful and you want to keep that attachment to the character you've made.
We can't answer that fully, but we've agonized over that for months. We want to keep the Shepard you made and we've finally figured it out. It will be really awesome, but we can't say what it is. It would ruin several surprises, but we are quite happy with the way it will work.

Was Mass Effect always the clear title for this game?
No. It was actual much easier to name my child, because with Mass Effect we had extremely ambitious ideas. It had to be something great, so Mass Effect may seem kind of bland. It just needed to be simple and be able to stand the test of time. Finally at a meeting about titles someone just said "Mass Effect" and it wasn't hated. It was painful and took about a year. Someone is always going to have a problem. Element Zero was one of the rejected names for many reasons.

Can you share anything about the collaboration between Pandemic and BioWare on the creation of Mass Effect?
They showed us some of their tools for creating worlds and characters. It helped to break down barriers in the sharing of technologies.

What kind of impact do you think you are going to have on first-person shooter storytelling?
I don't know the exact answer to that. People are excited with interactive storytelling, like we just invented it. It didn't capture the general public before, but now we can show off the story and the interactivity in much better ways. If you have a great game, that's one thing. If you have a great game with a great story, that's even better. If you throw interactivity into the mix, you've taken it to the next level. If you give people dynamic, well-presented story, it will add to your game. When you go back to other games, you could feel cheated, because Mass Effect has that little extra in interactivity.

What can you tell us about Mass Effect 2?
We've started the groundwork on Mass Effect 2 and 3. As part of a trilogy, all of the games are part of the same thread. We're working on story details and structure for the entire trilogy.

Are there any future plans for multiplayer options where two people could mold a story?
Future development will be based on what players want to do based on feedback and what we can do with the technology.

RPGamer would like to thank those at BioWare and Microsoft who made this interview possible. Mass Effect will be available in some stores tonight and other tomorrow with a suggested retail price of $59.99 and is rated "M" for Mature by the ESRB.

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