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Mass Effect 2 Interview: Director Casey Hudson

by Ben Reeves on Jan 21, 2010 at 11:38 AM

It’s been a long weary road for Mass Effect fans. Mass Effect 1 did such a good job of setting up the universe and pumping us up over its sci-fi story that the last thing we wanted to do was wait two years for the sequel. Somehow we made it through that terrible ordeal. Now that the second game is almost upon us, we decided to talk with Mass Effect director Casey Hudson about what it was like building a sequel off of such a successful first launch, how they went about referencing players' old saves from the first game, and the company’s plan for DLC.

Here we are for the second time. You released a Mass Effect game once already, so how to you feel going into this release as compared to the first time?

I think with the first one we were happy with what we had produced, but it's a lot harder to tell what the reception is going to be like when you create a new science fiction IP and a new package of gameplay features. It's all completely brand-new and we were about to unleash it on the world. There was a lot of uncertainty about how people were going to receive the first one. Now, I think we have a touchstone, and we can look at how the first one was received, what we've done differently, and I think we have a much better idea of what reactions are going to be like. We're really excited. We think players who’ve played through the first one and also players who are new to the Mass effect universe are going to have fun with it as well.

It’s the point of a sequel to change and grow, so do you find it hard to take a series and have it continue to evolve while still staying true to the original thesis?

Yeah, I think it is definitely a challenge. The biggest difference people are going to notice in Mass Effect 2 is the quality of gameplay, and the moment to moment experiences, because the overall breakdown is very much the same and the concept behind the combat is very much the same. You still have a squad of three characters and you can still position them around the action and issue orders, but at the same time we decided to be very unapologetic in making the game as good as it could possibly be, even if that meant we had to be surprising or controversial at times. I think people who get a few hours into Mass Effect 2 will see the changes we’ve made as a significant and much appreciated evolution to the overall quality of the game.

How do you guys approach fan feedback? Do you feel it’s dangerous to change a game too much based on feedback, or that you could lose your original audience if you cater too much to those who didn’t like the first game to begin with?

Ultimately, we value feedback more than anything else, because ultimately we make games for people to play. We have our goals that we want to achieve, but ultimately we are trying to create a really magical experience for players, and want to listen to the criticism of those who bought the first game. That's also different from letting people design our game for us. So there is an interpretive stage that has to happen. People might say they really didn't like this part of the game, and they wish it wasn't there, that might be what the feedback is, but that doesn't express exactly what people are asking. We will interpret what people are saying and ask, “Why are people saying this? What do they really want?” Our solution might be a little different than what other people think the solution should be.

BioWare has always taken a mature approach to sex in games, but the press reaction to the sex scene in the first game seemed a little unfair. What was your reaction to that, and did it affect anything you were planning for the sequel?

Well, I wouldn't say that was the press reaction. I would say it was one guy's reaction that was picked up by one TV news site. Typically people will report on things that they have actually seen for themselves and have knowledge about, and that wasn’t true in this case, because the people who were reporting on it actually hadn't seen the game. So of course we can't participate in that kind of discussion. But the people who have played the game and who have responded to us thought it was a really tasteful way to carry through on the concept of a love interest. We thought the love interest was a good was to add a touch of humanity to the story. Why do you want to save the universe? It brings in other emotions that you might not otherwise get, and I think we did a very good job of that in Mass Effect 1, and so we're doing something very similar in Mass Effect 2.

Player’s actions in Mass Effect could leave the universe in various altered states. How did you guys approach the problem of building a sequel that picked up from any point that the player might have left off?

It was probably the biggest challenge we had in developing Mass Effect 2, and an ongoing challenge that we’ve had throughout the trilogy is to honor the high-level promise that the whole trilogy responds to the decisions that players have made. When you think about it, if you have a trilogy of games, there is really no point in it being a trilogy or an ongoing story if the decisions you make don’t cascade from one game to the next. Otherwise we would have to tie everything back together, to the same starting point, at the end of each game. And at that point they become separate stories. What we wanted was for each entry to be part of this larger overarching story, but also be their own separate pieces of fiction that have a beginning, middle, and end. So that's probably the most complex part of developing these games. You really do feel like you're starting where you left off. If you come across a minor character in Mass Effect 2 that character will remember how you reacted to a certain situation in the past and it may come back to haunt you or it may reward you. It’s a very complex part of the Mass Effect trilogy.

BioWare has always been really good at creating believable characters. Where did these characters come from?

It starts with the story and the role each character has in the game. A large reason why we always like to have an ensemble cast in our games is that players themselves have different personalities and like different things. So if we can create a character that some people love and other people hate, then that is the perfect character for us. Subject Zero is really perfect for that, because there are players that instantly responded to her because she's different. She's honestly got a strong personality, and they really like what she's all about, but there's also a reaction with other players just based off the brief introduction trailer we had, where they really hate her and don't want to recruit her. But the thing I'm really looking forward to is how people respond to these characters as they develop throughout the course of the game. Like in real life, the exterior is one thing, but there's always more to someone in a BioWare game and the characters we make. There is always something more to the exterior, and revealing that inner side – that vulnerable side – is a lot of fun.

When BioWare first announced this series you guys talked a lot about DLC, but we didn’t end up seeing much downloadable content the first time around. Will we see more DLC for Mass Effect 2?

We would've wanted to do a lot more DLC for the first game. The big difference now is that we've made some changes to the technology that allow us expand the game a bit post release. In the first game a lot of the pieces of the game were not possible to expand in DLC; we couldn’t just release a small pack of weapons and whatnot. We also had a bandwidth issue in terms of the content was very demanding to produce and very time consuming. We also didn’t have a lot of people to put towards that. We fixed both of those issues for Mass Effect 2. Our technology makes it a lot easier to add content to the game. We also have the ability to extend really every piece of the experience from a weapon or helmet to larger packs like Bring Down the Sky, or even expansion pack-sized downloadable content. We have that side covered, and the other side is that since the content is easier to develop, we have people that are dedicated to developing ongoing content. I think we'll have a much better potential to develop content and we also have a really strong schedule of DLC ready to go throughout the coming months.

Can you tease anything to come regarding Mass Effect 3?

Not really in terms of Mass Effect 3. We’re working on it – we have a team working on it already, but beyond that, that’s pretty much all we can say. We do intend to continue to tell the online story through downloadable content. One of the cool things about Mass Effect 2 that will help us do that is the fact that when you finish Mass Effect 2 – as long as you survive the ending – you are returned to the game and you can continue to play even after this story is done. So you can keep doing your side missions or more of downloadable content as that becomes available.