The Mass Effect
franchise has set the bar high for sci-fi RPGs of our era. With Mass Effect 3 just
around the corner we wanted to get some more info on the game while we
had the chance. We caught up with Michael Gamble of BioWare who is the
Associate Producer of the game.
TTH: Is Mass Effect 3 a continuation of the Mass Effect story, and how does it present itself to new players?
Michael Gamble: It is a continuation of the story, but it is a piece that could be easily compartmentalized. After playing through the first two games, you know that weÂve been alluding to the Reapers and to the question of whether they exist or not. Obviously, Shepard has been a lightning rod for the Reaper attention. Coming forward, the first thing that happens in Mass Effect 3 is that the Reapers arrive and all the naysayers learn pretty quickly that the Reapers exist. So, Shepard spends the entire game rallying the troops, rallying the forces of the galaxy behind him to more or less defeat the Reapers. ThatÂs how itÂs basically set up to be compartmentalized. ItÂs basically a war story. You have a really bad enemy, a really evil enemy to defeat and you go out to try and defeat them.
In terms of creating a character and stuff like that, you can create a brand-new character and how the plot points are set in terms of what youÂve done before, weÂre still kind of working out what is the best mechanism to set those. We had some experience in the past with the PS3 with an interactive comic. Those kinds of things definitely help us, although we donÂt have anything solid right now. Once we have that, itÂs more or less along the line of take your character and then play through Mass Effect 3 and then you can replay Mass Effect 3 with that same character as well.
TTH: The interactive comic for Mass Effect 2 allowed players to generate a new character based on the critical choices of the first Mass Effect, without having to play through the full first game. So that's something you're going to be doing with ME3 too then?
Michael Gamble: WeÂre looking at something. I donÂt know if itÂs going to be comic based or what, but we definitely understand that a lot of people havenÂt played the first two.
TTH: When I was watching the demo yesterday I liked the fact that it looks familiar. ThereÂs nothing thatÂs so new there that it would be like learning a whole new game for people whoÂve played it before. Some things have changed though. Can we talk a little bit about whatÂs changed for the new game?
Michael Gamble: On the system level, Mass Effect 3 is all about quick iteration and polished pass to the combat maneuverability. In combat now, you can go back and forth, do cover switches, and that kind of stuff. ItÂs a lot more fluid. In Mass Effect 2, you could take cover, and the way you took cover was an evolution itself from Mass Effect 1. Now we want to make it so that you can move around the battlefield a lot more smoothly. I believe that the demo also showed ladders and things like that. It just changes the layer of the battlefield, and thatÂs kind of the combat stuff.
RPG systems and progressions, weÂve deepened that. Every power has a lot more customizability. You have multiple evolution options; six instead of two. And the weapons mods stuff obviously. Now all classes can use all weaponry, which is great. WeÂre expecting to see a lot more even usage of classes rather than everybody using Soldier because he has the coolest weapons. What you can do is customize your weapon based upon the mods that you pick up throughout the galaxy.
TTH: One of the things that I found challenging was trying to figure out which weapons were actually an upgrade in the previous games. Is that system sort of the same in ME3 as it is in ME2?
Michael Gamble: Well, if you look at the weapon mod bench, you can actually see the kind of bar graph, very mathematical, academic breakdown of how weapons are and compare them based on that. Really, at the end of it, you can compare by numbers and you can compare by feel and you can compare by trying it out. I know that there are a lot of weapons in Mass Effect that behave differently and theyÂre actually, by design, supposed to be different so you can learn to feel and pick up on how one works. Then, almost like a real gun, you can say that actually feels good. For example, the SMG. It has a small clip and traditionally, a really, really quick burst of fire. Some people like to play that. Other people like to play a just really heavy hitting gun, something like a semi-automatic. So, itÂs less about the stats and more about how it feels to you and how it feels in gameplay.
TTH: And the weapon upgrades are working a little bit differently now, I noticed. Can we go over how the upgrades are working?
Michael Gamble: All the weapons that are created are accessible to all classes. You find little mods and upgrades throughout the galaxy in various places. You might get a mission, you might buy them, and things like that. Basically, you put your weapon on the weapon bench, attach different mods to it to affect different stats so you could affect the type of shot, put scopes on, put extended clips on, things to kind of customize them. For example, with the SMG that I just talked about, if you really liked the SMG and you want to kind of take a hit in the stopping power, but you really want an extended clip, you put the extended clip in. So you can kind of do that for pretty much all the weapons that we have and make them your own.
TTH: You do that at a weapons mod station now too?
Michael Gamble: Yes.
TTH: Stations are readily available?
Michael Gamble: Yes, throughout the levels. Obviously, we want to make sure that you can balance it with being accessible in the level. All the sudden, thereÂs different enemy types and you need to change out your weaponry, you can change them out at the station.
TTH: What about the paths of Renegade and Paragon? That's still a big part of ME3?
Michael Gamble: Contextually, it didnÂt make sense to have one of those choices in the gamescom demo, but, yeah, there are a lot of renegade and paragon choices throughout the game.
TTH: Which ties in to what we noticed in terms of the choices being made. During the demo, we saw what seemed to be the right choice made with a child involved, and, at the end, the kid ended up getting killed anyway. How often does that sort of thing happen? Are you going to start saying, "the choices are arbitrary. I should just choose whatever?Â
Michael Gamble: I get the direction for that. But the problem of making choice available all the time is that we donÂt want it to be a one-to-one correlation all the time in terms of predictability because then thereÂs no emotional up to it. You choose this and youÂre going to get this. In real life, you make choices all the time and things donÂt always happen the way you want. Now with the Reapers and the galaxy at war, you can make a choice. You also have to know that thereÂs an underlying layer of sacrifice thatÂs going to happen, an underlying layer of unpredictability. In Mass Effect 3, you make choices and your outcomes come out of them, but how the outcomes come, there might be some repercussions. Never assume that everything is going to be straightforward.
TTH: Can we talk a bit about the new abilities? You mentioned that youÂve split them off to six instead of two choices. Are they similar to what we saw in the previous two games?
Michael Gamble: You have three choices that you take at the beginning that you level up to make better. Once you hit a certain point, you basically run through a half-tree and you have six possible choices, and you choose three of those. That basically gives you six evolution choices for each power. Now, across all powers, you can do that, so what happens is: I have an engineer Shepard, and engineer Shepard gets access to this subset of skills. First of all, you have to make a choice. I can customize only six of these ten because I only have enough points over the entire game to focus on these six instead of ten. Within each of these six, how am I going to customize it? Am I going to do heavy damage? Am I going to do damage over time? Am I going to do a slower recharge rate? Things like that. You can make them all completely yours. At the end of the game, you have a very different Shepard than your buddy, who also played a soldier, but he decided to play a little more defensive or that kind of stuff. It takes time and it takes a lot of progression, but itÂs worth it.
TTH: And what about DLC? Do you have any DLC plans?
Michael Gamble: We are starting to do DLC. Mass Effect 2 DLC was amazing. Overlord, Shadowbroker, Rival, all those patches were really hard hitting packs, and people appreciated it. Because of that, because people appreciated it and will come back to Mass Effect 3, we think itÂs a good idea to do it. But at the same time, we havenÂt shipped the game yet. Obviously, all our attention is going into shipping the game and making as much content as we can and stuffing it all on the disc before we ship. Once we ship, then weÂll talk about DLC.
TTH: Mass Effect seems to really be shifting more towards an action game. ItÂs evolving: the second was more actiony than the first, and the third looks to have even more action. Particularly when we saw Shepard going back to Earth. There was a war going on, ships crashing into buildings, and all that kind of stuff. It had an incredible environmental feel to it. The question becomes how long can you maintain that? Are you putting that much effort and emphasis into all the side quests and everything?
Michael Gamble: IÂll use a movie as an analogy. You watch a movie and if itÂs hard hitting, crazy, turn it up to 11 every moment of the movie, it dulls your senses and you donÂt really appreciate the moments. Just like any movie, a game is like that, especially Mass Effect 3. You have your critical moments where decisions are important and big set pieces are absolutely critical to telling the story. Then you have your other moments where itÂs more along the lines of you go to other worlds and you do things that arenÂt necessarily inspired by huge set pieces. ItÂs not about always turning it up and always making it action-packed, because without the downtime, the other part of it, you donÂt see the effect the war is having upon the galaxy. You donÂt actually appreciate it as much the moments when youÂre up and close and personal to the Reapers.