While out in Germany a couple of weeks back, we sat down for a brief chat with Mass Effect 3's Associate Producer, Mike Gamble, to grill him on a few things about the upcoming finale to BioWare's space opera trilogy. Expect details on how the third game will welcome new players into the fold, how BioWare is ramping up the customisation options for this game and whether or not the studio feels constrained by rigid genre distinctions.
Matt Gardner (Dealspwn): We heard in the presentation that Mass Effect 3 will offer a really good entry point into the series for new players. In a series where story matters so much and emotional connections have been made with a number of characters, how are you hoping to pull that off?
Mike Gamble: Well what you just said lends credence to what I'm about to say. Having played both of the first two games, you feel that it's important to play through those games before this one because of the emotional connections that you've made with the characters through that experience. Players who haven't gone through those games don't have those connections. But what we've tried to do with Mass Effect 3 is make it so that players can form those emotional attachments just by playing this game, they don't need a backstory to go on.
In terms of accessibility, the Reapers have arrived. When they arrive war breaks out, and you basically spend the game trying to rally everyone to take the fight back to them. It is self-sufficient in that sense: the beginning and the end of the Reaper war all in one game. Previously, we had only really alluded to the Reaper invasion, with a big story thread running through the two games, but now they're here, they're attacking and you have to defeat them. It's very self-contained.
Matt Gardner: We saw a shift from a rather more traditional Western RPG model in the first game to something more action-oriented with the second - a move that, whilst widely celebrated, was criticised in some areas by fans complaining that BioWare were 'not making RPGs' any more. Do you think that's true? Does it matter? Do rigid genre distinctions annoy you guys?
Mike Gamble: They don't particularly annoy us as such, I mean we try to make the best game that's possible and we try to do it in the best way that we can. So, in Mass Effect 2 we definitely wanted to elevate the shooter mechanics and so we went there. At the end of the day we want to tell the best stories that we can, and we want to tell them in the best possible ways. So whichever is the best way that you can convey that sense, that emotion, that's the biggest consideration for us.
For Mass Effect 3 we did want to personalise more. We really wanted to bring back that feeling that you're playing as Shepard, and that Shepard is you. So we brought back certain RPG elements, made it a little more deep to reflect that, so now you can customise between classes a lot more. We do listen to people, we do listen to our fans, but at the end of it all we want to tell the best stories possible, and we'll do that in the best ways that we can.
Matt Gardner: You mentioned customisation there, and the notion of making your Shepard in the game. Could you outline in a little more detail just how BioWare are ramping the levels of customisation for this third game?
Mike Gamble: Sure. So, let's start with the weapons model. Now, as any class, you can use pretty much any weapon. So, for example, the Infiltrator can now use the Assault Rifle and you can go to the Weapons Mod bench, throw it down and start customising. There are certain slots you can put mods into, such as scopes, different types of barrels and chambers etc., which not only have an effect on the statistics within the weapon, but also change the look and feel of it too. You can do that across a wide range of weapons, with a wide range of mods, so the possibilities really are kind of endless.
Powers is another area that we've really deepened. Within each power ,the progression system is far more expansive. You now have six possible evolution choices for each rather than the two you had before, giving you a load more places in which to spend power points and delve deeper into personalising your character.
Matt Gardner: Exploration is a huge part of the series, particularly in the first game. Will those elements be returning? Could we see an improved return for the Mako, perhaps?
Mike Gamble: In terms of vehicular exploration in and of itself, we're not saying that we're completely done with it, but the narrative doesn't really support it. Your path in this game centres around the war with the Reapers, so we're not really going to have vehicular exploration as such.
We will probably want to maintain the exploration. Exploration is always key. Even in Mass Effect 2 a lot of the side missions, the N7 missions and the planet scanning were about exploration and discovering new worlds. So we're definitely looking at ways to bring that into Mass Effect 3, but in terms of how we do that, I think we're still sussing out a few things on that.
Matt Gardner: We've heard how this game will tie up a lot of loose ends. But Mass Effect has evolved into an incredibly lucrative series if nothing else. Surely there'll be more?
Mike Gamble: In terms of it being a fan favourite, a lot of people love the franchise, the worlds, the races and the universe we've created. Sure, there are a lot of stories to be told in the Mass Effect universe, what we choose to tell next, if we choose to tell any, is still to be determined.
But for Commander Shepard and his story and the Reapers, that's coming to an end. That's it for them, we won't be bringing them back.
Matt Gardner: Will we finally get to see Tali's face?
Mike Gamble: (After several seconds of conferring with an EA rep) Yeah, I'm going to have to leave that.
Matt Gardner: With BioWare now set up as an EA label, and with EA leaping onstage with Nintendo at E3, are there plans to bring the Mass Effect franchise to the Wii U at all?
Mike Gamble: At this point, we really have nothing to talk about with regard to the Wii U, but anything is technically possible. Sure, EA is supporting Nintendo, and the Wii U looks really exciting and really great, and the hardware has a lot of potential. But for the moment Mass Effect 3 is all about PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 - those are the platforms we're focusing on and if we have any further developments we'll announce it in the future.
Matt Gardner: Finally, what is the most badass thing in Mass Effect 3?
Mike Gamble: The most badass thing in Mass Effect 3 has to be the ending!
Thanks to Mike Gamble for taking the time to talk to us.