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Exclusive: Bioware's Doctors Talk Mass Effect 3

by Bryan Vore on Apr 13, 2011 at 12:53 PM

Bioware's main men Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka talk about Mass Effect 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, future unannounced games, and much more in an exclusive interview with Game Informer.

The good doctors co-founded Bioware back in 1995 and are still running the network of studios as part of Electronic Arts, which purchased the developer in 2007. Both hold a menagerie of impressive titles. Greg Zeschuk (pictured left) is the president of Bioware, general manager of Bioware Austin (developer of The Old Republic), and is a VP at EA. Ray Muzyka is the CEO of Bioware, the group general manager of Bioware Group, and a senior VP at EA.

With introductions out of the way, we present the interview as part of our month-long coverage of Mass Effect 3.

How does it feel to have the end of the Mass Effect trilogy in sight?

Ray Muzyka: Well, it’s exciting. That would be the word that comes to mind for me. It’s exciting to be able to deliver an epic trilogy and wrap up the story in a way that’s going to be really satisfying, and high impact, and intense. And answer a lot of questions for the fans and bring it to a really satisfying conclusion.

Greg Zeschuk: Another thing that’s cool is that we’ve been able to do it all on the same platform, as well.

Muzyka: We’ve added a platform to the trilogy, too, with PS3.

Mass Effect 2

Speaking of the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2, a lot of fans are wondering why the first game was not ported as well.

Muzyka: Well, it’s a range of factors. We made the determination that the game we thought represented the franchise the best was Mass Effect 2. And we brought it over and are really happy with the result. And as a result of investing a lot of effort into ensuring that it ran well and looked great and played great on PS3, now we can bring the trilogy to a close on PS3, and 360, and PC.

We knew the fans would want an introduction to the Mass Effect story arc so we added a special introductory sequence for the PS3 fans that kind of brought them into the mix and allowed them to make some epic choices that made the story their own and made it that much more personal.

One of the things that we’re really aware of for Mass Effect 3 as well is that we have a lot of new fans that are entering the fiction every time we launch one of these games. So we want to make sure it’s accessible and can appeal to someone who hasn’t played the first two games. Regardless of whether you played Mass Effect 1 or not or Mass Effect 2 or not, we want to make sure you have a great experience in Mass Effect 3. If you’ve played the first two games we want your choices to mean something. It’s really about building it for all of the different audiences we have to accommodate and delivering it at high quality.

With the release of Sonic Chronicles, the sentiment at the time was that Bioware was interested in exploring more portable development. Are you considering the 3DS and NGP for future projects?

Zeschuk: Possibly. It depends. We’re starting to think of things in a more franchise basis. We think of our games as not just one-off but as a big portfolio. So you look at Dragon Age II, there’s also Dragon Age Legends on Facebook. Those two platforms bring some new stuff to the table. Figuring out how we connect to them is an interesting thing for us to explore.

Muzyka: We look at all the new platforms very carefully. All the platforms that are out now and all the ones we’re aware of coming in the future.

Bioware is juggling a lot of triple-A franchises right now. Is there room for new IP?

Muzyka: Well we have a mix of old and new and licensed and internally built properties that have turned into licenses over time. I think we’re interested in all of those possibilities. We have some games that haven’t been announced yet and some new platforms, some new genres that we haven’t announced yet that we think will be pretty exciting. Obviously, we love science fiction. We love fantasy. We’d love to extend into some new things in the future, too. Some of the stuff we haven’t announced yet I think the fans will really enjoy and hopefully be surprised and delighted.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

What have been the exciting and challenging aspects of getting into the MMO business with The Old Republic?

Zeschuk: Obviously, MMOs are an enormous undertaking. There are a lot of technical challenges that you have to accomplish. It’s just the size. Historically, Bioware’s been known to make a lot of big games. Now working on an MMO, it’s very eye opening to see just how big they are.

There are some really successful ones out there. You have things you need to do to reach the bar. But it’s really rewarding though. We’re at the stage right now of doing a lot of internal and external testing for Star Wars and it’s really shaping up. It’s exciting. There are so many moving parts and it’s an interesting challenge, but we like that.

A lot of people around the office are excited to play it. Are there any plans coming together for a public beta?

Zeschuk: You’ll have to watch our website and see. At this point we’re still in more of a closed beta period. We’re definitely making great progress on it. The feedback’s been great. There’s always lots to do, but it’s really really shaping up. Before too long you guys will get a little crack at it. Keep an eye out for that.

Dragon Age and Mass Effect have had big marketing campaigns. Does Bioware have much input in regards to marketing?

Muzyka: Very much. The marketing is driven by Bioware marketing and PR people, and we’re part of EA. We’re part of a publisher now. We have dedicated marketing and PR resources that are part of our team. They attend meetings with the team. They collaborate on the design. They give us feedback from the fans, and that’s really important to us.

For both Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the marketing has focused on male protagonists. Since players can create both male and female characters, why isn’t the female side represented?

Muzyka: That’s a great question. One of the things we really embrace in our games is diversity and enabling people to take on different roles so, obviously, we have strong female leads. We have amazing voice acting talent for both the male and the female roles.

That said, for the marketing face we have to make a choice. And it’s a tough choice to pick an iconic face -- the face of the brand. You have to pick an iconic representation for the brand and it comes down to the marketing team’s intuition. It’s not easy because we know a lot of the fans enjoy playing the female lead so we always make sure it’s just as high quality as the male lead for the main characters in our games.

Looking back at Dragon Age II, there was some fan disappointment with certain aspects of the game. Is there anything behind the scenes that you think contributed to that and are there any big changes in store for the next installment?

Muzyka: It’s been polarizing to see the feedback, frankly. There’s been a lot of people that have been really delighted about what we’ve provided in Dragon Age II. People rating it 90 to 100 and really being happy with all the features and the focus on action intensity and the voiced protagonist and the way the story unfolds with the framed narrative and a lot of the things that are quite innovative and different.

There are other people that were expecting more Dragon Age Origins and more of the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. Some of them have expressed disappointment. It’s something we really take seriously. We’re taking that feedback to heart and we’re seeing what we can do to continue to surprise and delight our fans in the future.

We’ve actually attracted a lot of new people to the franchise. Dragon Age II is selling faster than Dragon Age Origins. It’s probably part because it’s drawing a lot of new fans in. And that’s exciting to us. But our core fans are really important to us. I can’t emphasize that enough. They helped get us to where we are today. They’re the core of what we do, and we want to make sure we’re making games that satisfy them.

Since Mass Effect 3 is the end of the trilogy, will fans face a Mass Effect drought for a while before they get to revisit that universe?

Zeschuk: We’re pretty big. We have lots of teams. Lots of possibilities. Even though we will effectively finish the trilogy it’s not like it’s over in the sense of “Hey, we’re going to put the Mass Effect world on the shelf forever and never come back to it.” We’ve already been thinking about that.

We’re deep in development on 3 and it’s chugging along. So really an objective for us at this point is get that done but also think of the future of the universe. One thing that’s really clear is people love the Mass Effect universe. We really want to make sure that what we’re doing next is going to satisfy them and really move it forward.