Here’s something for you: Spaceships, space marines, guns that shoot lasers, aliens, aliens with laser guns, aliens with sinister universe-crushing ambition, foreign worlds, ugly space aliens, sexy space aliens, sexy space marines with valiant universe-saving ambition, and, finally, hyper-light speed travel.
Plenty of sci-fi properties have those elements, but not all of them have been able to captivate and engage an audience in the same way BioWare’s Mass Effect role-playing games have. Mass Effect 3, due next week for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, looks to expand on the critical and commercial success of the first two entries.
It’s BioWare’s careful attention to storytelling, character development, and setting integrity that has propelled the series to the upper echelon of sci-fi video games. And although the Mass Effect series does incorporate many standard sci-fi elements, BioWare manages to create relationships and meaning for each of those ingredients, whether it’s protagonist Commander Shepard’s ugly and agitated alien crew member, or the spacecraft itself.
Casey Hudson, based at BioWare’s headquarters in Edmonton, has been at the helm since the beginning of the franchise, which debuted in 2007. BioWare is known for incorporating feedback from a wide variety of outside sources in order to improve the Mass Effect games, and squeeze out another Metacritic point or two.
But as each game in the franchise closes in on the 100 percent mark, the team has found it needs to rely on its talent and instinct to give fans something they had no idea they wanted.
So let’s get caught up with Mass Effect 3. Did the development of the game begin right after Mass Effect 2, or was Mass Effect 3 already in development to some degree?
Casey Hudson: Development really began as soon as we finished Mass Effect 2, which for us was still a couple months before Mass Effect 2 even came out. So we finished it and then it went off to manufacturing for a month or two, and in that time we were already kind of planning for Mass Effect 3. But [Mass Effect 3 development] didn’t really start until we started getting feedback on Mass Effect 2 once it actually shipped, and then we could start integrating the feedback that we were getting.
As Mass Effect 2 was better reviewed than the first one, did feedback still play quite a large role in key choices in the making of Mass Effect 3?
CH: Yeah, absolutely. We think it’s really important to listen to feedback. When we think something is a good idea and then we put it in the game and then millions of people play it, that’s when you really find out about how people play your games or how they receive your ideas. And you get kind of a different take on how you’re used to doing things, so we definitely want to incorporate feedback.
And the bar’s always being raised, so we do need to constantly improve what we’re doing. The best place to start is sort of an accommodation between our own goal for what we think we can be doing better, combined with the feedback that we get from players around the world, who are very forthcoming about what they love about the experience, what they want to preserve and what they want to see improved.
Can you be a little bit more specific about the process that BioWare goes through with the feedback?
CH: Yeah, we did something similar with Mass Effect 2 as we did with 3. But we ended up taking kind of a different format because Mass Effect 2 was so widely reviewed, so well-received. Mass Effect 1 was well-received as well — it’s a 91 Metacritic game — but it was the kind of game that I think had a reputation of being a flawed masterpiece.
So with every bit of incredible acclaim that it would get, it also came with caveats about very specific things that people wanted to improve. And Mass Effect 2 was a little bit different, because there were so many positives about it. We had to take a different approach and design a different format that was meant to really, really align the positives that we wanted to preserve, and then really prioritize the few things that we wanted to change and improve.
It became more about [interpreting] qualitative things in the feedback, instead of [examining] a long list of things we had to improve. We then would fine-tune things. So it became a process of fine-tuning versus overhaul, which is kind of a different approach than we had to do for going from Mass Effect 1 to 2.