RPGamer Feature - Mass Effect 2 Interview
Mass Effect 2
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 01.26.2010

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The first Mass Effect was a shooter-RPG hybrid that became one of the best titles available for the Xbox 360, and later also released on the PC. Mass Effect 2 will continue Shepard's story and take him to many new places as he and his crew try to discover why humans are disappearing from the galaxy. Choices made in Mass Effect can be loaded from a saved game, but that won't make this suicide mission any easier.

Casey Hudson, Project Director for Mass Effect 2, was kind enough to take some time to sit down with RPGamer to go over Mass Effect 2 in detail, and to give us a little background on the Mass Effect series in general.

First of all, how did the Mass Effect series come about? Was BioWare looking to make an RPG with FPS elements, vice versa, a sci-fi space epic, etc?
Casey Hudson: I also worked on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and a lot of the core team working on the Mass Effect series are veterans of the KOTOR team. When we finished that game we worked for about six months on the PC version and it gave us a lot of time to think about what we want to do with the next thing. I think the interesting thing about KOTOR was that we took a piece of real estate in the Star Wars universe that hadn't been used and turned it into prime territory that is now being used for much more including BioWare's upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic. We launched a sub-brand within a larger IP, but we were also interested in seeing if we could launch our own IP that we could have within BioWare.

So, it started with the KOTOR team and an action-RPG, but in terms of what it could become we wanted to broaden it so more people could play it. KOTOR was still a pretty hardcore RPG that many people loved, but if your neighbor came over he might have a little trouble with it due to the turn-based ruleset. The third-person shooter genre is something more pick-up and play. KOTOR brought new players into the RPG genre that may not have thought that they liked RPGs before, and some even enjoyed it by just watching others. Mass Effect's interactive dialog system was also meant to increase that movie-like aspect.

The camera is more cinematic in Mass Effect 2, almost becoming part of the characters' personalities. Is a more dynamic camera a focus in the game?
Casey Hudson: Yes it is. Part of that comes from the fact that our team has worked with these tools for a whole game prior to this and their skills have really ramped up, and the other part is that we've been able to do some technical improvements that allow us to have more camera movement and staging on the characters. There are more situations where you can have conversations that aren't just people staring at each other; scenes where you're walking with someone touring a facility as he points things out but you're having a conversation at the same time. Mass Effect 2 breaks that sense of when you enter a conversation everybody stands upright and faces each other.

Will there be surprises in regards to playable characters in Mass Effect 2?
Casey Hudson: There will be, yes. The story in Mass Effect 2 is really about the characters, and part of the surprise is actually who you get. I think we'll do one or two more character reveals before the game releases, but the rest will remain a mystery until people play.

One of the more mysterious characters in Mass Effect 2 is Subject Zero, what is her overall role in the game?
Casey Hudson: She's a powerful biotic with a troubled past. The interesting thing about her is that everything we've shown has only been at the surface level. People are worried that Mass Effect 2's characters are not as deep as the original Mass Effect's, but actually it's through all of the character's backstories that you get to know them and their loyalties and things like that. Subject's Zero's is really interesting as she's one of the more real characters because most people know someone like her. She's tough, but when she shows a little vulnerability it seems so real and it's very compelling. She's a love interest, and when she shows that vulnerability it really pulls on your emotions.

There was a Mass Effect game for the iPhone, and BioWare has also done a Dragon Age flash-based game that was really cool. Is there anything like that coming for Mass Effect 2?
Casey Hudson: Our focus has mostly been making sure the DLC stuff is going to be a really full and complete experience for people.

Can you talk about Mass Effect 2's DLC at all?
Casey Hudson: The big thing is that with the first game we just weren't able to add in the extensions to all the different types of assets in time, so we only had one type of expansion we could do which was a big chunk of gameplay. At the same time we were also working on Mass Effect 2, so we were able to do the first one ourselves, and worked with Demiurge Studios to do the second one, but it's very hard to find people that can do content for Mass Effect.

Now we've extended the technology so you can get armor pieces and weapons through DLC packs or big retail size packs and we've got people in place working on that stuff. That's part of why we let you play past the credits which is a big feature we wanted to do in the first game. When you actually finish the game and feel that sense of victory, it puts you right back into the game and you think about characters that died and your missions and the post-state game becomes important. You can get new DLC and your character is just sitting there on your Xbox waiting for you to come to play, it's a different kind of experience.

Is there a planned timeline for DLC?
Casey Hudson: We have some specific plans already for the first few months. After that we'll have a team in place that will listen to how people are playing Mass Effect 2. An example was how the Need for Speed team used telemetry and found out that people were playing the game differently than they expected. The DLC we might want to do now eight months after release will probably be different than what we would learn once we listen to what people want. This is telemetry you can opt-in to that has no identity information attached.

Are certain parts of the storyline set in stone for Mass Effect 2, or do all of your big choices made in Mass Effect carry over?
Casey Hudson: No, if it was only a few big moments we could just have a conversation at the beginning of the game where we ask you what you did. I'm not sure the exact number of choices that Mass Effect 2 pulls in from your savegame, but it brings over every appearance detail, as much as it can from the character progression system, only differing by the changes implemented in Mass Effect 2, where it can reward you for being a renegade or paragon or whatnot, and it also looks at all of your choices. It's actually the same data that the original game uses, just like if you load up your original saved game. If you started a bar fight with a character in the first game, he may be in one spot or another in Mass Effect 2 and he remembers you or doesn't depending on your choices.

You've said that you can die in Mass Effect 2, but that would obviously have to change to allow for a Mass Effect 3. How is that change handled?
Casey Hudson: You would have to pull a different character into Mass Effect 3.

So it wouldn't be Shepard in Mass Effect 3?
Casey Hudson: No, it's always Shepard, but a Shepard that survived. I don't think people would have a problem with that because, in general, even for people that are not completionists, the ending will be probably a little bit of a bloodbath but you'll still survive and you may get to the end and say "Oh, well, so-and-so died, but I really wish that person was in my post-game." So you go back and gear up and do a few more things and do it again.

Can you talk about the new vehicle at all (the replacement for the Mako)?
Casey Hudson: We're doing some things with the new vehicle, but we can't really talk about it just yet. It'll be an evolution of the Mako.

Will planet exploration return?
Casey Hudson: It will, but we took a different approach where every planet has to be unique and special. So instead of approaching it as "light content" and seeing how many we could do, we acknowledged that people want variety because you're out in deep space and people want something weird and wonderful. Now we call those N7 missions and they're actually based on something that's maybe a different kind of gameplay or a neat plot that connects to other worlds, and then you have really good on-foot combat or exploration that feels like it's part of the core game because of how its crafted.

The way the you find those is through galaxy exploration minigames. The galaxy map is pretty much the same except now you actually move the Normandy instead of moving a reticule, and it's a planet scanning minigame. Instead of trotting around, hopping out to click on rocks, you now rotate the planet and scan it, feeling the rumble indicating anomalies, and you're firing probes and pulling up resources. You can find a radar blip and then land at that spot to engage in a mission.

Each class in Mass Effect 2 is said to be more of a representation of the fantasy fulfillment of that class. Are abilities specific to each, are they shared, or will each class play completely differently?
Casey Hudson: There's some sharing of powers, but they do have their special powers like the Vanguard that can do Charge, shooting across the level to body-check someone at high speed. We thought about each class and figured out where it's supposed to get to.

If you're a Soldier, you should be able to get every weapon, all of the mods, armor stuff, and if you have powers they should be about your weapons and mods. All the classes should fit that.

The Adept is another one where you used to need to use your sidearm quite a bit, and you still can, but as an Adept now you can throw powers in different directions controlling where people are being pulled and thrown and whatnot and recharge times are faster. You might use the sidearm to take down their shields, but then start throwing guys around repeatedly with the new shorter recharge times, so you feel more like Superman.

The Vanguard is high-risk high-reward: you charge up to enemies with the shotgun, slow down time and blast them out of the air, and can later upgrade to better equipment like a Krogan shotgun, and you embrace that playstyle. Each class gets into something a bit deeper and it's amazing combat.

There is a new ammo system that uses thermal clips in Mass Effect 2. What happens if you run out?
Casey Hudson: You still have your squad and you still have your powers. The new thermal clip system adds a sense of tension and makes players think about their gameplay a little bit more. As a last course of action you have melee which is better in Mass Effect 2.

Has a toolset ever been considered for the Mass Effect series?
Casey Hudson: It's a possibility at some point, I guess, but it takes a lot of work on our part. Dragon Age did it. It'd be interesting to see how 2009 and 2010 communities respond. Games used to be PC-focused which is why I think toolsets are big. Maybe if it's big for Dragon Age we can consider doing it.

I always think the toolset is kind of an aspirational thing. You see the bullet-point on the box and go "I can make my own levels!" But when you load it up you say "Wow, this is really complicated, I wonder if I can put a character in a level," and then you do it, and then you put a hundred in a level and it bogs down the framerate and you say "Oh, that's hard." That's what I used to do with toolsets before I worked in the industry, using the Half-Life toolset to drop facehuggers around and that was neat. It worked great for Neverwinter. It's interesting for us, because the people who are most interested in making that kind of content are the best people for us to hire. A lot of the people that work here were mod creators for Neverwinter.

How does the newly revealed fish-collecting work exactly?
Casey Hudson: Basically it's just a side fun thing for your quarters. We saw Shepard's quarters as a place to have fun with, with easter eggs and fun systems. You can find something in a store and come back and its in your quarters, allowing you to personalize them.

Do you already know how the Mass Effect series will end? Is it mapped out?
Casey Hudson: Somewhat. All of the threads have trajectories through the next one that we know. It kind of starts out as a skeleton and then based on how we're feeling at the end and how the feedback is, what people want more of, then we'll kind of work that in to the final design.

Lastly, Shepard is not a clone right?
Casey Hudson: Hmmm... Shepard is not a clone.

Very special thanks to BioWare for its generosity and to Casey Hudson for the interview! Mass Effect 2 is currently scheduled to release on January 26, 2010 for the Xbox 360 and PC. Check out the Mass Effect 2 official website for more info, and stay tuned to RPGamer for more coverage very soon.

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