Preparing for lift-off: BioWare talks Mass Effect 3

Published on February 4th, 2012

Preparing for lift off: BioWare talks Mass Effect 3

With the release of fast approaching, we sit down with Associate Producer Mike Gamble to discuss Shepard’s send-off…

GamerZines: How do you end a trilogy like Mass Effect, and how important is it to give Shepard a satisfying ending? Will there still be questions afterwards?

Mike Gamble, Associate Producer, Mass Effect 3: It was one of the most important things we looked at when making Mass Effect 3. We want the outcomes to be satisfying to the player, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all going to be happy or positive, but they have to be satisfying and they have to understand that the choices that they’ve been making in this game and in previous have an impact, and that they’re an architect in what happens.

GZ: Should players hang on to their Mass Effect 3 saves afterwards just in case?

Mike Gamble: [Laughs] It wouldn’t be a bad idea! Obviously I can’t say anything, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea…

GZ: What do you think Mass Effect as a series has brought to the industry?

Mike Gamble: I think that it’s a reflection of the power of choice and what a story-based, emotional-driven game can mean. By letting the player identify with the character that they’re playing – so by letting Shepard be their Shepard – that really ties people towards the story. We hear feedback all the time in terms of how emotionally engaged people were in the story. But it isn’t just about writing a good story – it’s because you’re a part of how that story turns out. Personally, that’s one of the things that the trilogy, and especially 3, brings to the industry.

GZ: Naughty Dog was quoted recently as saying it was ‘disheartened’ whenever other games are praised by reviewers for having ‘amazing’ stories. What would BioWare say in response to that?

Mike Gamble: You can’t really respond to that. I play Naughty Dog games and I love them, but I wouldn’t say one puts more work than the other. We present the best game that we can at BioWare and we’re extremely proud of Mass Effect 3.

GZ: From what we’ve seen of Mass Effect 3 so far, there seems to be a much higher emphasis on third-person shooting, as opposed to the narrative-led RPG elements that the first game was known for. What was the focus for Mass Effect 3?

Mike Gamble: There were a lot of focusses that we wanted to achieve when we first started the game. We wanted to bring back the level of customisation and RPG elements that players had seen in Mass Effect 1, and they fit well within the gameplay space. Of course, we wanted to polish and tweak the shooter mechanics and core gameplay to be as fluid as possible. It’s important; you spend a lot of time in combat so we want to make sure it feels right. But probably the biggest thing for Mass Effect 3 is the story in which it occurs. We’ve been talking about the Reapers for games now, finally they’re here and we want to make sure that every decision you make is reflective and impactful and that the game goes out in a bang. Tying off those threads and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion was really important.

GZ: There have been concerns that Mass Effect 3 appears largely similar in premise to ME2, in that you recruit species and a crew to help lead an assault/defend against the enemy.

Mike Gamble: I’d disagree with that. The scope and the scale is completely different. ME2 was about collecting squad members to go on a suicide mission. ME3 is a completely different setting; literally the entire galaxy is at war. All these races are now face to face with a war story that they have to overcome.

GZ: ME3 opens with planets players are more likely to identify with – Earth and Mars, rather than the fictional planets the series is perhaps better known for. Was that a reaction to fan feedback?

Mike Gamble: We definitely do appreciate being able to identify with Earth, Mars and the solar system. We’ve wanted to show Earth in the Mass Effect series for quite some time, and so we’re glad that this is the best spectacle as how we could have shown. The rest of the game, though, all of the alien planets are there and there’s a very diverse set of locations that you eventually get to see.

GZ: Does it follow a similar structure to ME2, where you’re able to navigate to new locations from the Normandy?

Mike Gamble: Eventually you do get to go to the Normandy and have some of that galactic exploration.

GZ: Has planet mining been dropped?

Mike Gamble: Planet mining was a way for us to encourage players to get out to those lesser-known planets and explore, much like the Mako was in ME1. In ME3 that hasn’t changed; we still want players to go and explore, we want to give them that sense of being in a huge galaxy. So we’ve architected ways for the player to get out to those planets – I can’t talk about the specifics as to how we do that, but you’ll usually be pleasantly surprised when you get out to a planet that may be off the beaten track.

GZ: Is the Mako coming back?

Mike Gamble: I can’t say how that gets executed.

GZ: We noticed during our playthrough that Mass Effect 3 has an ‘Alliance Network’. Presumably that functions similarly to ME2′s Cerberus Network, but is there anything else players should know about it?

Mike Gamble: I’m not going to talk about the Alliance Network or what that means, but part of it is ME3′s multiplayer. Multiplayer is an additional piece that works with the single-player as well, it all ties back together.

GZ: There were reports recently of DLC being bundled with figurines…

Mike Gamble: To the best of my knowledge – and we’re still having discussions about that – that was inaccurate information. They’re going to deal with that.

GZ: So DLC won’t be bundled with those figurines?

Mike Gamble: The stories that were going around were inaccurate. That’s all I can say. We are planning DLCs for sure, but what they’re going to be bundled with, or whether they’re going to be bundled with anything hasn’t been defined and hasn’t been communicated yet.

GZ: What kind of DLC are you planning?

Mike Gamble: For ME3, obviously no plans yet in terms of exactly what we want to do, but create engaging story-based DLC just like ME2 and just do it well.

GZ: BioWare has come under fire from some fans in recent years. Some players weren’t happy with Dragon Age II and others were disappointed with how some customers were being treated in Star Wars: The Old Republic. What would you say in response?

Mike Gamble: I think regardless of the game you put out, you’re always going to have aspects that fans aren’t happy with. I can’t speak for TOR or DA; those guys are committed to their craft. But I can speak on behalf of Mass Effect. We pour our hearts and souls into this game and we have been for the entire development cycle. We try to make the best game that we can even at the expensive of our personal lives, just in the hope that fans love what we have to put out, and we’re confident for Mass Effect 3 that we have. I wouldn’t say that this is a reflection of BioWare going downhill. I think we have a very strong studio with an amazing staff and we just do that the best that we can, and I think so far that we’ve been able to be successful.

Mass Effect 3 releases on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on March 9th.

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