So, of course, today is the day before the official launch of Mass Effect 3. Those of you who preinstalled the game should find it unlocked for play…er…well, at some point today, probably quite close to midnight. Or it may be already enabled; I haven’t tried it out yet, myself. The email from Origin just said it would be playable on “the 5th”, which is today. Still, in the interests of completeness, here’s the usual round-up of BioWare-related news…which, yes, is rather Mass Effect-heavy. But you knew that was going to happen.
Is anyone surprised? I’m not.
One hopes not, and one hopes that Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka were just joking about with Kotaku:
Me: I’ve seen armor from one BioWare game appear in the other. Do any of these games take place in the same universe? Are Dragon Age and Mass Effect in the same universe? Would that break a rule?
Ray Muzyka: I did wear my Dragon Age blood dragon armor for a good period of Mass Effect 2.
Greg Zeschuk: I don’t…Is Mass Effect the past or the future?
Muzyka: Maybe [Mass Effect hero Commander] Shepard enjoys the look. He just enjoys the aesthetic. He has a TV in his cabin. So he gets to play great games and decorates his armor with…
Me: So you’re telling me Dragon Age is a video game series within the Mass Effect universe. I like that idea. Shepard is playing Dragon Age.
Zeschuk: In the future, it’s the greatest franchise ever.
That said, it would be fun if Thedas (or, rather, the world on which Thedas is situated) were a planet that one could land on in Mass Effect 3. I’d love nothing more than to introduce some darkspawn to my M-96.
Of course, by the logic employed above (which seems to have something to do with cross-over armour styles between games), there should also be a planet Amalur in Mass Effect 3.
IGN praises the way the game wraps up plot threads from both of its predecessors, and also notes that vehicle control seems to be entirely gone from the game. No Mako, no hover-tank…no vehicle of any kind during normal gameplay. I know a couple people were wondering about that, so to those folks…there is your answer.
PC Gamer, on the other hand, highlights an area of concern:
Enter stage left Mass Effect’s controversial Galaxy at War system, a sort of social metagame hub where your success in ME3′s horde-based co-op multiplayer (and the Facebook games and apps) serves as a multiplier to your proficiency against the Reapers on the approach to the endgame. You’re presented with the forces you’ve amassed, including characters such as Samara and contingents of Asari Commandos and Mindbenders, and encouraged to shuttle them between Reaper troublespots. It’s a needless addition, but a forgivable one if it turns out to be fun. Shepard’s adventures tend to consume body and soul, so being able to aid the war effort while on the bus has a certain allure.
I will probably pick up the Infiltrator iPhone game, just because. I’m less sold on the accompanying Datapad app.
Mac Walters offers up some commentary on the means by which characters in the game can interact, and the different conversation types that can crop up. It certainly sounds like the companion interactions have been expanded upon from what I thought was the very excellent direction they were taken in by Mass Effect 2. If so…well, I look forward to chatting with folks on the decks of the Normandy.
Ms. Théberge is an associate producer at BioWare. I can’t embed the video, but AusGamers helpfully provided a transcript. There’s not really anything worth highlighting in an excerpt; the discussion ranges over topics like Galaxy at War, DLC, and character imports (if you’re importing from Mass Effect 2, you keep your experience and possibly a bunch of equipment).
But have a read, Dragons and Dragonettes; you may see something I’ve missed.
Georg Zoeller, the game’s lead combat designer, shares a few details about what’s in store for the in-game economy:
Massively Multiplayer Online games are built around living, breathing worlds that are always evolving, and Star Wars: The Old Republic is no different. In our upcoming Game Update 1.2, we’ll be introducing a wide assortment of new features and content, while also introducing a number of improvements and changes to the in-game economy.
As we work to create a more player-driven economy, you can expect significant improvements to Crew Skills, and an extension of Crew Skill gameplay, such as item creation and research, into the Elder-Game content. You’ll also see new items brought into the game, including new schematics, Legacy items, a new tier of Player vs Player and Player vs Environment weapons and armor, and the ability to extract base-mods from purple items, as well as many other changes and improvements.
Weekly patch 1.1.5 (which is now on the Public Test Server) implements a number of changes in preparation of the upcoming Game Update, including the much requested removal of light side / dark side requirements on color crystals.
As it is expected when large scale changes are made to an economic system, enterprising players often find interesting opportunities to benefit from their knowledge about the changes beforehand (for example by studying test server patch notes).
Player-driven anything is almost always a welcome thing in an online game, no?
Well, if you’re on a Mac, that is. I think other systems already received the patch. This one includes lots of companion-related fixes, and a few DLC-related corrections as well.
IGN asserts that it does:
[The game's] stringent scientific outlook, which gives the Mass Effect universe its Hard SF backbone, was there from the very beginning. A lot of research was done during the development of the original Mass Effect. “The entire writing team was constantly reading and researching and reviewing anything we could,” remembers Walters. “Everyone was thoroughly immersing themselves in science at the time, and where these things could really go.” After all, they had an entire universe to create.
It’s even got to the point where a procedure has evolved at Bioware to deal with those niggling situations when the science is at odds with story. “Say we want to introduce something new – be it a new type of ship or a new ability – and it doesn’t quite fit into the IP: we have someone who is our IP science guy. We’ll often pass off the idea to him and say, ‘How would you explain this in ‘our science’?’ He goes away and comes back usually a day later, scratching his head, with a few ideas, and we make sure it’s in there.”
While this exacting scientific aspect appeals to some, from personal experience Walters knows that the series also connects with those who have no interested in the special relativity whatsoever. “I have friends and what they love about it is the characters that they meet. They might be blue and have tendrils, some of them might be reptiles – and that’s definitely in keeping with the Sci-Fi genre – but what’s more interesting to them is the characters and what they’re experiencing. For them Sci-Fi is context, a background; they’re really in it for the characters and their relationships.
“Essentially, Mass Effect is a Hard Sci-Fi experience at the boundaries, and what’s in between is more of a lite Sci-Fi experience for people who want it to be that as well. And that’s the kind of fun of the Mass Effect Universe – it can be what you want it to be.”
If you actually poke around the in-game codex, there is indeed an immense amount of lore and “in-game” science to be found in its…er…pages. The writers at BioWare, from day one, worked very hard to establish a huge amount of backstory for the game, the better to make it seem like they were dropping you into a universe that had been around for a while. And for the most part, they succeeded at doing so, I think.
Because it certainly challenged Rowan Kaiser’s:
The first thing I noticed when I started playing Mass Effect was its aesthetic. It’s not the graphics, though, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s the lens. It’s all grainy and spotty. A quick trip to the options menu reveals something interesting: it’s intentional. There is a checkbox called “Film Grain,” and it begins the game turned on.
One of the last things I noticed when played the Mass Effect games was that it broke my definition of “role-playing game.” This is a definition that has worked for me for well over a decade. I can, using it, effectively separate controversial games from one another. Mass Effect was the first challenge my RPG definition (see below) has had to face.
The biggest thing most people seem to have noticed when playing Mass Effect 1 or 2 is the moral decision-making process. This mechanic, so common to role-playing games since Fallout and early BioWare and Obsidian games, was suddenly injected into a much different style of game, a cover-based science fiction shooter. It helps that Mass Effect is arguably the best example of the form: the Renegade/Paragon division flows naturally from the game’s setting, and the writers and voice actors are both in fine form throughout both games.
Although different at the surface level, all three of these aspects of Mass Effect point toward that same genre tension BioWare’s new options indicate. So just what kind of game is Mass Effect? I do not mean this in a philosophical, artsy-fartsy sense. I mean it in a straightforward, and traditional one: what genre is this game? And if you were really looking forward to the artsy-fartsy stuff, also this question: what does Mass Effect say about genre, and what does genre say about the game industry?
Do read the whole thing, Dragons and Dragonettes.
You know, Gamasutra picked the perfect picture of Casey Hudson to accompany this article…he looks positively trashed. Which I suppose any franchise’s executive producer would look like, if he spent too much time giving too much weight to the opinions of fans who mistakenly assume they are not unlike co-owners of their favourite game.
“Anytime you introduce something new it’s controversial. Because fans will say, ‘Well, we never asked for that’, you know, ‘We want you to keep doing exactly the other things that we’ve liked before.’”
The problem, he says, is that if you don’t innovate, you’ll also be accused of “doing the same thing all the time.”
And sometimes fans seem to contradict themselves, he says.
“A great example was the new characters that we added for Mass Effect 2. When we started publicly introducing these new characters that would join your team in that game, it was tremendously controversial because people didn’t want these new characters that they didn’t know; they wanted us to recreate the experience of Mass Effect 1 with those characters.”
“Now we’re having a similar challenge with Mass Effect 3, where characters that we’re introducing are seen as controversial because people only want their Mass Effect 2 characters, characters which, previously, were kind of met with resentment because we were adding them in the first place.”
While it’s arguably not a good idea to piss off your entire fanbase, it’s also not a good idea to invest too much energy in serving their every whim and demand. Doing either will only yield diminishing (if not outright negative) returns. Just ask Origin Systems!
Contra what the name might imply, this isn’t really about how your companions view you, and instead concerns how the Paragon/Renegade system that has characterized Mass Effect games thus far has been revamped for the third installment.
“In Mass Effect 2, if you wanted to get the hardest Charm options, you had to play an almost completely Paragon character,” Patrik Weekes explains. “We intended many of those Charms to be fun Easter eggs, but many players felt like they had to play pure Paragon to avoid being penalized by the loss of a dialog option. In Mass Effect 3, your Reputation score determines both Charm and Intimidate options, and that score is determined by adding your Paragon and Renegade scores together.”
That should let us choose to act as a Paragon one moment, and go Renegade the next, making decisions based on the situation rather than a need to grind for maximum morality points. Many important acts in Mass Effect 3 will increase Shepard’s overall reputation score without changing the Paragon/Renegade balance. In these cases “the bar on your screen will grow, but the Paragon/Renegade ratio will remain unchanged.”
Mass Effect 3 will have one overall reputation measurement instead of two separate bars. New conversation options will unlock as your actions push the bar past four progression points on the bar. “If you see that you’re a bit short of hitting a new line, and someone has just said something like, “Let’s head down to [that person's homeworld] and finish this once and for all,” it may be worth your time to go do a couple of side-quests first,” says Meekes.
I’m actually not sure I like this development. I mean, it’s a less restrictive way of giving players access to dialogue options that are reputation-dependent, but I actually quite liked how Mass Effect 2 didn’t allow you to access e.g. certain Paragon conversation options if you had played a mostly (or entirely) Renegade game to that point.
Why? Consistency. If I’ve been playing through the game as a Shepard who has been curt and flippant with everyone he meets, who has demonstrated no concern for sparing the lives of civilians in heated combat situations, and who has willingly defenstrated a disarmed Eclipse trooper…is my Shepard really going to be the sort who suddenly shifts gears and tells a prison guard that it’s beneath him to oversee the possibly frivolous beating of an imprisoned mass murderer? Or would my Shepard be…er…rather more forceful and blunt in resolving the matter?
On the other hand, this revision to the system sounds like it might let me play Shepard as kind of bipolar, which could be amusing.
So if you have tickets to the annual gaming conference in Boston, which this year will be held on the Easter weekend (April 6th to 8th), you’ll be able to find them there. Though again, that really shouldn’t come as surprising news.
It’s a quite beastly-long article, actually, running to three pages. But it does contain a few interesting snippets, including this one…which hearkens back to Origin’s way of making games:
The [Martian] ruins provide a great example of the new focus on more varied level design in Mass Effect 3. Shepard can climb up small barriers and ladders, jump across gaps, and generally explore the environment more thoroughly, and these tools allow BioWare to mix up the gameplay in interesting ways.
“Once we added all those tools to the toolbox, we challenged the designers to figure out ways to make the missions and the story unpredictable,” Hudson says. “In Mass Effect 2, often you would see where you’re going down at the end of the hallway and know, ‘That’s settled, that’s where I’m going.’ In Mass Effect 3, we constantly try to change your perception of what you need to do.”
Origin had this habit as well, that of building the game’s engine and functionality up as much as they felt they could before turning around and asking what sort of interesting story they might be able to tell with the well-oiled machine they had just put the finishing touches on. BioWare likely haven’t done so to the same scale, but it’s still nice to see hints of that same spirit where one can find them.
And hey…more variety in level design is always a good thing.
GamesRader publishes a list that, I guess, serves as a basic primer to the world of Mass Effect. It’s kind of a groaner of a list, though, including some very…er…basic facts like: “[the Council] really are twits, the lot of them.”
Rock, Paper, Shotgun are asking questions again.
Personally, if I had to pick a favourite portion of the series to date, I’d probably pick Ilos, the ruined Prothean world visited near the end of Mass Effect, and then for several reasons.
From a level design perspective, it’s one of the larger areas in the game, and is layed out rather differently from anywhere else that you journey to in your quest to defeat Saren and figure out what the hell these Reaper things are anyway. At the same time, the design style used on Ilos takes cues from previous areas (especially Feros) where Prothean lore and architecture were strong background elements. Ilos, though, goes one step further, showing a Prothean world in a much more complete, intact state…if rather overgrown by vegetation. And you get glimpses of Prothean culture as you progress through the area, especially the odd Cthulu-like statues that I guess must have been depictions of the Prothean gods or…well, something.
And from a narrative perspective, Ilos exists as the bridge between the emotional high-point of the game (the escape from Virmire and, potentially, the culmination of the romantic subplot — if you were pursuing it) and the final, Citadel-spanning action sequence. But rather than just simply ferrying you from point A to point B in a very perfunctory way, it pulls back the curtain on some of the game’s bigger mysteries. It’s on Ilos that you learn that the Citadel is a trap, and how the Reapers strike at the civilizations of the galaxy. It’s on Ilos that you learn about the last of the Prothean people and how they attempted to save themselves…and then, when that failed, how they made one last-ditch effort to save the next races of the galaxy by breaking the connection between the Reapers and the Citadel. It’s on Ilos that you’re treated to the sorrowing image of thousands upon thousands of once-inhabited cryogenic pods, the last hope for the survival of the Protehan race…all of which are now tombs, sequentially deactivated to preserve the “best and brightest” Protheans to the last, until there were not enough Protheans left to keep the species going.
Oh, and as far as RPS’ follow-up question: my favourite character is Garrus. Garrus is awesome. I’d play as Garrus if I could.
Another question-and-answer session between fans and developers. Some of the rewards that will be introduced to supplement the Legacy system in the game are discussed, as are maintenance issues…among other things, of course.
Here’s one notable excerpt:
GB: Were there any things you view as having…”fixed,” so to speak, when you moved from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3? Improvements that really make a big difference?
CH: Yeah. The overall gameplay has really come full circle. Commander Shepard is now really fluid in how you move around, get over cover, you can grab enemies, it’s very physical and visceral. Jumping and falling, you just have so many things you can do. But in addition to the action side, we also took a lot of feedback about how Mass Effect 2. It was a very valid point, that there was progression, but not a lot of intelligent decision-making about how you were progressing. And so we’ve added a lot of depth and decision-making into every step of progression, whether it’s your powers, deciding which kind of flavor you want at every stage. Every piece of your armor has stats on it, so that you can decide how you look, obviously, but each piece is also helping you optimize your gameplay towards a certain style. The same thing with your weapon. Now you literally see your weapon on a bench, you’re plugging in and out different mods that really help you play the way you want to play. You might choose entirely different things on one playthrough versus another because you’re actually making intelligent choices about how you combine all of these things.
If there was one criticism of Mass Effect 2 that I agreed with fully and without reservation, it was the subtraction of various roleplaying-type elements as compared to the first game. Though Mass Effect was, perhaps rightly, criticized for not having a particularly great inventory system, I for one missed having to compare armours, weapons, and mods for both on a regular basis. I missed reasoning through the implications of picking one ammunition mod over another, missed debating with myself whether the extra damage absorption of one armour set was worth the reduced resistance to biotics.
This doesn’t sound like a complete restoration of…well…all that. But it’s something, and it sounds like a welcome thing.
The Doctors BioWare and various other studio heads and developers chat about that very topic in this three-minute video from G4:
Mac Walters, Preston Watamaniuk, and Casey Hudson discuss their goals for the game…and how the Reapers combine victims from different species into terrifying new creatures:
Lone Star Gamer managed to catch up with BioWare’s Greg Zeschuk in Austin recently, and posted a short video of the interview online: