By John Gaudiosi
Electronic Arts’ BioWare studio has come a long way since first launching Mass Effect on the PC. What began as an epic single-player experience has expanded into a new cooperative gameplay mode with Mass Effect 3. Up to four players can engage in exclusive co-op firefights on top of the epic conclusion of the single player campaign. And speaking of Epic, that game studio’s Unreal Engine 3 technology continues to push the visuals and gameplay experience of the franchise thanks to BioWare’s many technical implementations over the years.
The man responsible for guiding this bestselling space role-playing game, executive producer Casey Hudson, talks about Commander Shepard’s final confrontation with the Reapers in this exclusive interview.
John Gaudiosi: What were your goals heading into Mass Effect 3?
Casey Hudson: As the third in the trilogy, this really is the main event for us. It’s the beginning and the end of all the biggest events in the Mass Effect universe. With Mass Effect 3, we’re really focusing on improving the action experience. Delivering really intense action is a big part of the game. You’re going to see Commander Shepard doing combat roles, leaping over cover while running. We’ve got a whole bunch of things where you’re falling and climbing. There’s lots of little cinematic action moments built right into gameplay.
We also have a new melee weapon called the Omni-Blade. It really works a lot with the new agility that Shepard has where you’re able to reach over cover and around cover and do these skewering brutal finishing moves. Essentially, it’s like a switchblade version of a hologram. You can have this whole new level of brutal attacks as Commander Shepard.
J.G.: How are you evolving the franchise’s rich RPG experience?
C.H.: We really focused on providing that deep RPG experience that players remember from Mass Effect 1 and maybe thought was missing from Mass Effect 2. We want to add a lot of the customization and a lot of the decision-making as you progress through the levels.
For example, you’re now able to throw your weapon down on a workbench, take some of the weapons accessories that you found or bought, actually start plugging them in and physically see your weapon change as you’re adding these different things. We’re also doing things in terms of customizing your powers. As you start getting toward the higher power levels, they become evolved powers. From there, every time you advance one of your powers, you’re actually making a choice about which version of the power you want and what flavor. Again, you’re making decisions about how you want to play. It’s a much deeper RPG experience.
J.G.: How are you pushing the story forward with this swan song experience?
The big thing that everyone wants to make sure we do is to really end the series on a high note. We want to make sure that we take this story and create the biggest possible ending to the series.
We’ve been talking about the coming war against the Reapers. Mass Effect 3 is the story about war. It’s a great place for new players to enter for that reason because you start out as Commander Shepard. You’re a marine on the earth. From there, the story really blows out into a full-scale galactic war. That’s the story that we’re telling here. We’re taking the most intimate relationships that you’ve developed over the course of the game and using that to really tell the biggest possible story we can.
J.G.: How have fans impacted the direction of this third game?
We always try to listen and understand the way people have played our games, the way they get feedback. A lot of that has contributed to a focus on really enriching the role-playing aspects of the game. It also ties in with things like understanding favorite characters, how people want to see characters return and what they’re hoping to see in the story as we’re developing it throughout the course of the series.
J.G.: What role will the different choices that fans have made in previous games play in the culmination of the trilogy?
For new players of Mass Effect 3, and even for players who’ve played previous games, we want to bring them into the story in such a way that we remind you of what’s happened in the story before. Of course, there has been a story leading into 3, but from there it becomes a self-contained story.
For those people who have played Mass Effect 1 and 2, you can start Mass Effect 3 by pulling in your saved game and the game will instantly know all the things that you’ve done before. You start out as your character. You look the way you did previously. From there, it knows who lived and died. It knows who you had friendships and romances with. Those things will actually change the way that you experience the story in Mass Effect 3.
J.G.: Do you have a favorite new enemy that players will be fighting in Mass Effect 3?
A lot of the different enemies are going to have amazing new behaviors that really tie in with how you need to fight them as a squad. One of the cool new enemies -- one of our bigger types -- is called the Atlas Infantry Fighting Exoskeleton. These mechs are probably 20 feet tall and they’re piloted by a Cerberus trooper. If you’re able to destroy the trooper before you destroy the vehicle, you can actually get in the Atlas and control that mech as a vehicle and really dominate the battlefield. It’s one of the tactical decisions that are pretty fun for the player. As you’re fighting through a level, if there’s an Atlas, he’s pretty devastating to you and your squad as a player. If you can figure out how to get in there, then you will definitely dominate the battlefield.
J.G.: How have you evolved your technology from the first game to this one, and how has that improved the gameplay experience?
We’ve been working on this series for quite a few years now and so much has changed. When we started, the Xbox 360 hadn’t even come out yet, but we still had to design a game for it.
Now, looking back, we’ve been working with the Unreal Engine 3 for quite a few years. Even with Mass Effect 3, we’ve been able to find huge new improvements to the performance. That’s allowed us to do everything from much better additional acting with the characters, better storytelling methods, but also just the overall ground pics, the cinematics. Those things can be better. We’re also spending some of that performance toward making the game richer in terms of more enemies onscreen, a lot more stuff going on, more people for you to fight.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv