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Jeremy Jastrzab
23 Oct, 2007

Mass Effect Interview Part 1

360 Interview | Part one of a Mass-ively Effect-ive chat.
Overall, some would argue that it has been a quiet year in the gaming industry. With all the major consoles released and a lot of the year's biggest games already out or delayed till 2008, you can almost see why. Still, it's been quite a big year for Microsoft, but they have one last hurrah for 2007. Mass Effect from RPG powerhouse Bioware is looking to take out the Xbox 360 on a high this year, and we've recently had a chat to Bioware's Community Coordinator. We had quite the yarn, so we've split the interview into two parts. Check out this first part for some in-depth info into the actual game.

PALGN: Good afternoon, and we are here today with…

Chris Priestly: My name is Chris Priestly and I am Bioware’s Community Coordinator and I’m down here in Australia showing off Mass Effect.

PALGN: Just quickly before we talk about Mass Effect, could you give us a brief background on your history with Bioware? What previous titles have you worked on?

CP: Sure, I’ve been with Bioware for about seven years now. I started off in the company in the Quality Assurance department, testing our games, helping us make them great and I worked my way up to Design QA Lead for Jade Empire. Then, Bioware really began to focus on the community event and there was a possibility for me to move departments. I already had quite a bit of presence on our community forums, so it was kind of a natural switch over, because I’m a show pony and I like the attention.

PALGN: For the unaware, please outline the premise behind Mass Effect.

CP: Mass Effect is the next great role-playing game coming from Bioware. You are Commander Shepard. You are the first human ‘Spectre Agent’. The Spectre is something of a galactic peacekeeper/black ops agent, who patrols the galaxy dealing out justice and kicking the occasional arse when its needed. You (humans) are new to the galactic world as it were. The game is set in the year 2148, the far future and humanity is new to the Galactic Council. There are much older and more established races like the Asari, the Turians, the Salarians and so forth. Humanity is something of a newcomer and they’re not sure how they’re going to fit in. So it’s your job to do the best you can as an individual, come off as well as you can for humanity in general, in the face of oncoming dread. There is a race of intelligent hypermachines, which essentially want to eradicate all life from the galaxy, so it’s your job to stop them.

This is Mass Effect.

This is Mass Effect.
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PALGN: Bioware have always been liberal with their character creation – how is it this time in Mass Effect?

CP: Mass Effect has the most customisation of a character that we’ve ever had at Bioware. You do have to play a human being, either male or female character, but other than that, the customisation options are really up to you. You have different skin tones, different nose shapes, eye dimensions, colours, if you want to increase the size of your cheek bones, if you want hollow cheeks, change the jaw line, if you want to add facial hair for the men or makeup for the women, different hair-styles, different hair colours. You name it, it is the most character customisation we’ve ever had.

PALGN: So effectively, everyone is still playing as a character named ‘Shepard’?

CP: Absolutely, you’ll be playing Commander Shepard. You can choose your own names, but the default names are ‘John’ for the male and ‘Jane’ for the female.

PALGN: Have you or anyone at BioWare or Microsoft ever tried to create a 'celebrity' version of Shepard? How did it go?

CP: Oh sure, we do that all the time. We started off by trying to copy other people in the dev team, including Casey Hudson who is the project lead. Of course, it’s always fun seeing him in danger in the game. Yeah, famous actors and actresses, I saw a really good Foxy Brown from the 1970’s Black Exploitation film with a big afro, she was great. So there are a lot of good faces in the game.

PALGN: Bioware games have a great history of excellent dialogue. Please explain how it will work in Mass Effect.

CP: The writing staff and the lead writer, Drew Karpyshyn, have done an excellent job with Bioware, and we have a new dialog system – the dialog wheel. Something which bothered me personally as a gamer, was that frequently in games, you’d see the words up on the screen and you hear the exact words being spoken. I comes down to “why am I bothering to read this when I can already listen to it?”. For us, we have this great immersive dialog. It's really rich and the game is fully voiced over, so can listen to anything that you say. However, the word choices on the screen are sort of a small summation, two, three or four words, just giving you and idea of what the dialogue is. So whether it’s a happy/friendly response or a rough/brisk response, when you’ve chosen the option, the actual words that you’ll hear the character say will be completely different. They could be shorter, they could be much longer sentences, but they have the same idea. So it really brings forth the character through the emotions, really, really well.

A talkative one?

A talkative one?
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PALGN: Will the combat be more turn-based, as it was in KOTOR, or will it be closer to Jade Empire? What other aspects to the combat are there?

CP: Of the two, it’s probably closer to Jade Empire. The combat here is definitely not turn-based. It’s live, real-time, 3rd person combat. If you want to draw a conclusion, it’s probably closer to Jade Empire crossed with something like Full Spectrum Warrior. This is where you do have real-time combat, whether you’re using the guns that are available such as the assault rifles and the shotgun or a combination of you biotic powers and technical abilities, along with simple to use squad combat. We have a really good AI system for the party, as well as for the enemies. So they’ll move behind cover, not just stand there and wait to be shot. You can also issue simple commands such as ‘move to this point’, ‘stay where you are and guard’, ‘attack my target’ with a simple control on the d-pad. So it’s a much faster, much more in-your-face combat system.

PALGN: You mention the different tech abilities and ‘biotics’, could you please explain a bit more on these.

CP: Depending on your starting class, we have six different classes in the game for you to choose from. Some of the characters have either what are called technical power abilities or biotic power abilities. The technical power abilities are almost an elevation of your modern day hacker. You can use your powers to do things such as take over enemy machines or enemy gun turrets, to turn them on their own troops, you can decrypt computer files, work up shields, drop opponents shields when they’re not expecting it and so forth. The biotic powers are sort of a dark energy power, almost like magic in nature. You can do things like lift opponents up into the air, hurl them across the room. You can move your body out of sync with the existing universe, so that bullets will pass through you and take less damage. You can even do things like create quantum singularities, that start whipping all the loose objects and people into the centre of the room, creating a maelstrom of damage.

PALGN: How does a player go about earning these powers?

CP: Everything is based on the class that you choose. So for example, if you pick a Soldier, you’ll be skilled with the assorted guns in the game, but you won’t have any biotic or tech abilities. This is opposed to the Adept, which is a biotic warrior. You’ll have all the biotic abilities but less skill with guns and tech powers. We also have a couple of blend classes, that allow you to use some weapons and some abilities at the same time.

As you level up through the game, you’ll gain experience points from the choices you make, the enemies you kill, you’ll gain points. You’ll be able to assign the points into whatever skills or abilities you want. You’ll be able to increase your throw ability as biotic power, until you go far enough to unlock the lift ability. From there, you can continue increasing the throw or start on upgrading the lift.

PALGN: Bioshock, while it was a great game, didn’t really deliver on the promise of real moral choices. In KOTOR and Jade Empire, you could easily reverse your paths at the end of each game. How will morality handle in Mass Effect.

CP: In Jade Empire, it’s what we called the see-saw effect. It really didn’t matter what you did up until that point. The Mass Effect team really looked at that and though, “well, that was fun and all, but it really doesn’t really make much sense”. For Mass Effect, we have this system called Paragon and Renegade. You get the similar sort of choices that you had in both KOTOR or Jade Empire, where you had some choices that were a little friendlier, nicer or more pleasant, which are the paragon choices. You have those that are little harder, a little more dark, which would be the renegade choices. But rather than have that see-saw effect, where you made three minor ‘good’ choices and you make one major ‘bad’ choice, and suddenly, you’ve change orientation. Mass Effect keeps track of everything that you’ve done through out the whole game. So it’s not a one or other situation, so it totally balances through out the whole game. And depending on the choices that you made, the game will end accordingly.

A shooter with RPG or RPG with shooting?

A shooter with RPG or RPG with shooting?
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PALGN: Just how big is the world in Mass Effect? What means of travel will players have? Besides land-able planets, are there any space station and / or spaceships which players can interact with and explore?

CP: It is huge. It’s not just one simple world, as it was in say, Jade Empire. It’s similar in nature to KOTOR, in that you’re looking at this great big galaxy, that is really quite wide open for you to explore. You’re going to be using the Starship, the SS Normandy, which is going to be your ship. It’s not going to be a small, X-Wing fighter sort of ship, it’s actually this big frigate stealth ship with a full crew of doctors, pilots, engineers, navigators to get around the galaxy. You’re in charge of it, so you’ll be setting the destinations, such as the star cluster, the system and then the planet. Some planets don’t have much going on. So, for example, if you were going through our solar system, and you went to land on a planet like Jupiter, you'd find that there’s not much there. You scan it and will be told that it’s a big ball of gas and there is not much else going on here if you were thinking of landing, it can be quite deadly due to the giant storms so you might as well move along. But if you were to fly to somewhere like Earth, for example, you’d find that this is a place that you could set down and explore (Note: Earth isn't actually in the game).

Different planets have different sizes. Sometimes you’ll be able to explore on foot, sometimes the planet is so large, you’ll land in what’s called a MAKO. This is sort of a combination all terrain vehicle and combat tank. Sometimes you’ll have to drive it, because walking wouldn’t make sense. There are around 200 to 250 separate locations such as planets, asteroids, derelict freighters through out Mass Effect. Not all of them can be explored but a good 10-20% of them will have stories and playability attached to them. You have a collection mini-game that runs through the whole game to see if you can find or land on them. Sometimes you’ll scan them and find a new mineral or a strange gas. You collect this information for experience points and to open up other stories within the game. So there are lots of things to do in Mass Effect. It’s really up to the player to see how much they want to explore.

That's all we have today. Tune in tomorrow, for the second half of the interview, where we talk some more Mass Effect and also some Bioware and the future that awaits.

Related Mass Effect Content

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Mass Effect 2 release date announced
17 Oct, 2009 What a start to the year.
Love to Hate #10
31 Aug, 2009 Massively ineffective exploration of the planetary kind.
1 Comment
6 years ago
just when i thought i couldn't want this title any more.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  22/11/2007 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  Microsoft
Genre:
  Action RPG
Year Made:
  2007
Players:
  1

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