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Getting To Know The Tempest: Mass Effect's New Normandy

by Joe Juba on Nov 21, 2016 at 10:00 AM

When you’re exploring the far reaches of space, it helps to have a home away from home. In the Mass Effect series, your ship serves a variety of purposes. It can be a military base, where you plot your next tactical move; it can be a clubhouse, where you hang out with companions and get to know them better; and it can be a command center, where you make decisions about your character’s progression.

In the Mass Effect trilogy, players had the Normandy, which became almost as iconic as Commander Shepard. In Mass Effect Andromeda, you have the Tempest, a ship that functions like the Normandy in some ways, but also stands out with its own distinguishing features and innovations. Since players will spend a lot of time aboard this vessel exploring its corridors and interacting with its crew, we’re taking a closer look at what you can expect from the Tempest and how it helps in your mission to find a new home in Andromeda.

Areas of Interest
During our trip to BioWare’s Montreal studio, we got a limited virtual tour of the Tempest. The team wasn’t ready to show off every corner of the ship, but we saw some of the major areas, like the bridge, the galley, the garage, and the Pathfinder’s quarters. You can seamlessly travel between these locations, with no loading screens or painfully slow elevators to hold you back.

The bridge will be a more regular destination than it was aboard the Normandy. You still can drop by to talk to the pilot (a salarian), but handling navigation is your most common task there. Instead of going to a galaxy map in the middle of the ship, you stand on the bridge and stare out at the stars in front of you as you select your destinations.

After passing through an elliptical corridor (similar to one seen on the Normandy), you are in the galley. This area has more of an atrium-like feel, with windows offering a nice view and stairs leading up to a seating area on a second level. One of the most conspicuous objects in the galley is a holographic interface that allows Ryder to modify skill-point distribution, which is how you change your abilities between missions.

Farther back is the garage, which is where the Nomad (your Mako-like vehicle) is parked. Any visual customizations that you’ve made to the vehicle, like its paint job, are visible as you look down on it from the upper part of this tiered area.

The Pathfinder’s quarters is Ryder’s personal space. BioWare tells us that players will have some control over the décor here, and the room gets more of a moved-in feeling as the game goes on. You might see various mementos in this room, like reflections of your progress in the critical path, or simple souvenirs like a rock.

The Look
The Tempest isn’t just a smaller version of the Normandy. It’s a sleeker ship built for scouting, and its overall design reflects that purpose. The differences might not be so apparent when you see the ship flying through space, but the distinction shines through once the Tempest has landed.

“The whole look I wanted for the Tempest is that extremely cantilevered balance to the ship,” says art director Joel MacMillan. “So you have this very long, thin fuselage, but then the landing gear would be situated at the back. I love the image of that being parked on a cliff face – it’s almost like it’s on a perch, and you see the nose extending off the cliff face.”

Unlike the Normandy, the Tempest isn’t necessarily a one-of-a-kind ship. It is the scout ship for the human ark Hyperion, which means that the arks for the other races theoretically have similar ships. However, that shouldn’t make you feel like your ship is any less cool. “The idea is that there are other ships out there,” says creative director Mac Walters. “We don’t tend to see the other ships. We wanted to make the Tempest feel unique and special to the player.”

Being There
Letting players move throughout the Tempest with no loading screens helps immerse players in Mass Effect Andromeda, and that goal manifests in other ways aboard the ship. For instance, what you see out the windows will reflect your location in space and change as you fly to different celestial objects.

In the Mass Effect trilogy, you were met with a static backdrop in the few places you could look out into space from the Normandy. That isn’t necessarily a bad solution, but it doesn’t do much to make players feel like they are part of the world. That’s why the team pushed to make your surroundings aboard the ship more convincing. “When you look out the window of the Tempest, you should see space out there,” Walters says. “If you’re parked in front of a planet, you actually see that planet everywhere you go on the Tempest.”

If you decide to go explore the planet sitting outside your window, the team also wants that to happen with minimal interruptions. Selecting your destination, flying there, landing on the planet, and then rolling out onto the surface in the Nomad is going to be as continuous a process as possible. “With memory limitations, with loading limitations, there was a real problem; if you wanted to go from one place to another, you had to unload everything, you had to reload everything – it was a long time,” says technical director Harold Chaput. “It really broke the flow of the game. Now, it’s so much smoother to be on the ship, land on a planet, jump around, go inside a building. It’s all very seamless, so breaking down the barriers frees up the player to explore and do activities. It makes it easier to make a rich and full environment.”

One piece of immersion you won’t have? Flying the Tempest yourself. “Part of what made it hard is, we had debates about whether you should be able to manually fly the Tempest all the way around,” Walters says. “Ultimately, we had to say ‘Not in this game.’ If you try to do too many things, everything starts to suffer. But we had working prototypes of that, and it was compelling, but it wasn’t compelling enough.”

Your Crew
As much fun as it is to roam around a spaceship, the characters of the Mass Effect series have always been a bigger draw. Like previous games, your party gathers aboard your ship, and they find their own areas of the Tempest where you can seek them out. However, they won’t always be standing still in one spot. They stick to a general vicinity, but they might be doing different things in that space. This extends beyond your fleshed-out companions to regular NPCs, too. One goal for Mass Effect Andromeda is to make the Tempest feel more active than the Normandy, with fewer stock crew members standing around inert.

“There are some limitations to what they can do; they won’t be running around the whole ship as you are,” says space lead Jessica Hara Campbell. “But they’ll be doing things and interacting with the ship, because it’s a small crew and everybody has a job. So they need to be looking like they’re active. They may be doing things that draw you toward them, or they may be calibrating.”

The Tempest fills many roles in Mass Effect Andromeda. It gives players a home base to return to, it functions as a hub for social interactions, and it acts as your gateway to the rest of the galaxy. Hitting the right balance is a challenge, but BioWare is looking closely at what previous Mass Effect games did correctly on those fronts. “Mass Effect 1 did a good job of using the Normandy for those pinch points in the critical path, and Mass Effect 3 did a good job making it feel alive with the way the characters moved around the ship,” Walters says. “The Tempest is a combination of those two things. Much more of those ‘Hey, we’re a team, let’s figure this out and have a chat’ after a mission, but also lots of interactions.”

The Normandy is near and dear to the hearts of many Mass Effect fans. From what we’ve seen, the Tempest offers everything Shepard’s ship did, plus some new innovations to make the ride even smoother.

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