Mass Effect 3: BioWare Interview
We speak to BioWare’s Ray Muzyka about Mass Effect 3, discussing
To kick things off then, with the Femshep idea, where did that come from?
To enable a more diverse selection of female Shepards. Is that the femshep you’re talking about?
Well basically, it came from fan feedback. We wanted to give them an opportunity to help drive the look and feel of female Shepard. As so many of our fans enjoy playing as females in our games, we want to help support that and embrace that. Give them a chance to help shape the visual identity.
In the same way we have a really compelling male Shepard, we have an amazing voiceover for both male and female and we want to enable the fans to have a say in what the female Shepard looks like. It might have come out of some Twitter discussion between David Silverman and some of the folks in the community. He realised and we realised there’s a lot of fans and we wanted to give them a voice in this.
Last time I checked blonde female Shepard was leading by some distance.
There’s a couple, there’s like two or three who are close.
Were you surprised by how the voting was taking place?
No, I mean…
[EA PR interrupts: “Actually we’re in wave two now. So blonde won the first one, now we have the hairstyle, we’re giving them a second round of choice with different colours for the same hairstyle. That’s what we’re doing right now.”]
Right. So were you surprised the blonde won out?
It’s good to hear the fans speak. We want to enable them to have a different look available as well for the default female Shepard.
Following Mass Effect 2, some fans are worried that Mass Effect 3 will lean towards shooting over RPG. Are those concerns valid?
I think the perception is that they want more RPG elements. We have to address that and the thing is, we are. We took that feedback to heart. As great a game as Mass Effect 2 is, and we’re really proud of it, there’s always opportunity to improve. So in Mass Effect 3, we’re improving the moment to moment action.
We are improving that but we also are improving the RPG elements too so there’s more customisation, aggression options, more interesting choices, the tactical choices, the weapon modification… you can make Shepard the way you want him to be. That personalisation, along with choice, is really the essence of RPGs. Mass Effect 3 has that in spades.
The Mass Effect series has spanned the lifespan of this current generation. As we’ve seen the consoles mature, has development process changed?
Yeah. We’re always trying to improve the kind of games we make, each game better than the last. We’re also trying to improve how we build them. We refine our development process all the time. Our tools, pipeline is tighter now. It’s nice to have an engine and technology that we’re familiar with.
From a team perspective, that allows us to focus on the art and craft of the game and making sure the content is as great as it can be. So we’re able to focus on that now and less time trying to understand how to use the hardware optimally. Now that we’ve done Mass Effect on multiple platforms, we can focus on making all those versions lovingly handcrafted for each different platform.
That leads into the next question – Mass Effect 3 is the first game that’s multiplatform from day one. Has that changed things at all?
No. I think we’re pretty used to the system now. So we’re really excited to develop it for Xbox, Xbox Kinect, PlayStation 3, PC… having had the consumer feedback with all those platforms, we can make the next version even better. So from a development perspective, the team’s pretty familiar with them. They’ve had it planned right from the beginning of development for all the different systems, all the different interfaces are really polished. Things are tracking really well.
The Kinect integration in Mass Effect 3 got a lot of attention, as I think we’re still getting used to the idea of seeing it integrated into high-profile titles. I know it’s a young medium but looking forward, what do you see as the future of Kinect?
I think we wanted to try and take an interesting approach to the controller interface. It didn’t replace it but augmented it. Calling out voice commands is something we thought would be interesting and fresh, and it turns out it is. Microsoft is excited about it as well.
It works really well with the squad-based controls in Mass Effect 3. You can issue orders to your squad on the fly, you’ll be able to read out the dialogue as well and enact that as well. It doesn’t replace the controller but makes an alternative control mechanism, which really enhances the moment to moment gameplay.
Onto Dragon Age 2 – I know you’ve previously stated you complete all BioWare games before they’re released. Given you’ve played through Dragon Age 2, were you surprised by the reaction to it?
We were somewhat surprised. I think we got a polarised response and it was a surprise to us because on the one hand, we attracted a lot of new fans. The innovations were applauded, the combat, the story-telling, the gameplay, they were really exciting and fun. We were delighted to see that.
On the other hand, we also realized there were fans who were expecting more of the things we did in Dragon Age: Origins. We have to really make sure we take the core fans along with us on our journey, so we’ve taken that feedback to heart. One of our core values is humility, and that means listening to our fans seriously and also trying to improve.
We haven’t announced the next Dragon Age yet but I’ll tell you, the team that’s working on the Dragon Age universe, what they’re trying to do is take the innovations of Dragon Age 2 but also we’ll look be back at Dragon Age: Origins too and say, what do we need to bring from that too? That the core fans really, really are passionate about? How can we combine them? How can we marry them and get the best of both worlds?
When we’re ready to announce that, we’ll give you more details. We’re taking it seriously. We’re taking it really seriously. When we polarise our fans, that’s something that doesn’t sit well with us. Trust me. So we’re going to do our best to make sure all of our fans are satisfied with a high quality experience.
So is the BioWare response to go back to what worked or to try something new again?
We’re always trying something new. I think that’s one of the things the fans can expect. For them, we’re always trying to innovate and bring something fresh to the table. We also want to bring the things that they love from prior games to bear so it’s really an evolution and a revolution at the same time.
Trying to find the areas where we focus on the innovation and try to bring the things that fans love as well. And bring the core fans, as part of the larger community, along with you as you release new games that have a lot of innovation in them. But don’t lose them along the way.
What is BioWare hoping for from the next generation of consoles?
I think we’re getting to the point where the stories we tell and the artistic direction of the gameplay is becoming more important than some of the technology advances. That’s not to say technology advances aren’t critical. They are. They’re the foundation on which we build amazing experiences and immersive worlds, emotionally engaging worlds. But the technology’s getting so good now, it’s getting better and better, we’re at the point of diminishing returns in terms of in the amount of detail you can have, the amount of AI.
There’s still further work to be done. I think the next technology generation will continue to improve our ability to tell stories, create immersive, make people believe and get emotionally engaged. But it’s more and more now about the art and craft. I think it’s exciting to be a creator in that universe. Where you have a more stable technology bed to build on, the tools are more consistent and you can focus on building a more emotionally engaging universe.
Will 3D and motion control help with that?
They could because the barrier of entry for games is the interface and the interface is conveyed through traditional media and controls. The more you can make that as transparent and accessible as possible, the more you can deliver emotionally engaging experiences that keep people compelled and having a ton of fun at the end of the day.
You’re working on a free to play title now…
Yeah, a different few things, actually. We have a really diverse portfolio. We’ve got seven studios worldwide, Edmonton and Montreal, Boston, Texas, Virginia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ireland… we’re working on play2free titles, social titles, mobile titles, console titles, PC titles, MMOs, light MMOs, browser based games…
How do you keep track of everything? How do you make it so you don’t expand beyond what you can deal with?
You focus on your core values and have great people to work with, people who are committed to maintaining the core values. Never losing sight of that. You’re only as good as your next games. Our workplace is full of amazing employees. They’re passionate, hard-working and creative. And they’re really working they build the best games in the world.
And entrepreneurship, always trying taking creative risks and bringing something new to the table. Humility, listening to our fans feedback and trying to improve game after game and integrity, being honest and straightforward when we realise we can improve. And if you focus on core values, the rest is easy.
You have all your strategy based on the environment of players and platform mix and business models, those are always changing. And it’s really fun, it’s exciting. This industry is one of the most interesting in the world because of that dynamic nature but it’s those core values that ground us at the same time.
Focus on your staples. Focus on your customers. Focus on your employees. Focus on your investors. All of those things are equally weighted. Never lose sight of that. Never lose sight of the fans that keep you in business. You’re only as good as your next game.
Finally, we’ve recently done a Q&A with Casey Hudson who says BioWare thought about multiplayer in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Obviously there’s been a lot of talk of multiplayer in Mass Effect 3. Are you surprised it’s been such a focal point?
It’s good to know people find that concept exciting.
So can you comment on multiplayer in Mass Effect 3?
We don’t comment on rumours.