interview

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Squadmates, Fandom, And Mass Effect's Future: The Latest On Andromeda From BioWare
by Javy Gwaltney on Feb 23, 2017 at 02:05 AM
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Bioware
Release:
Rating: Mature
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

At a recent preview event hosted by EA and BioWare, we got the chance to play sections of Mass Effect Andromeda. After the play session, we also sat down to chat with producer Mike Gamble about the legacy of the series, the love for its characters, and what fans can expect from (and after) Andromeda.

Game Informer: Mass Effect Andromeda was pitched to the public as a standalone game apart from the trilogy. What have been some of the challenges in breaking away from the first three games to create something that has to stand on its own legs while respecting the legacy of what came before?
There have been a few definitely. So moving away from the Unreal engine to Frostbite, there’s been a lot of tech and engineering around that, which took us some time to do. Frostbite allows us to do some cool things, which we couldn’t do before.

In terms of the trilogy itself, we have a lot of fans who love a lot of characters – whether it’s Liara, Javik, Garrus – they’ve grown to love these characters over a decade nearly. Starting out with a new game and introducing new characters, you have to make the characters interesting from day one, make sure they’re fun to romance and get to know. That was a focus for us because we don’t have the inheritance of 10 years of being with these characters.

The story as well. We wanted to do something fresh and new in Andromeda and to do that from the ground up just means we have to make it so new players don’t feel ostracized at all. If they don’t understand what a Turian is, it doesn’t matter. All that kind of stuff, we have to build into it, but at the same time we have to build in things for existing fans. So bringing all these things together is probably the biggest challenge.

For us, it’s not only “let’s make a new Mass Effect game in Frostbite,” but also, “how can we take Mass Effect back to its roots and make it the game we’ve always wanted to ship. So you’ve got the open exploration planets, you’ve got critical path stories with characters, but you’ve also got a lot of side content to do in the game. It’s the biggest game we’ve got.

What makes the new cast stand out?
It depends on the character, honestly. They’ve all got their quirks, their idiosyncrasies, and luckily we’ve been able to build on a decade of knowledge and building that knowledge of the franchise in order to make them cool.

PeeBee, for example, is bubbly and whimsical and wants to give the impression that she really ties into the exploration mission. And Vetra, first of all she’s very organized, very logistical – the person who keeps the wheels on.

So she’s Ship Mom?
[Laughs] Yeah she’s kind of Ship Mom.  And then we’ve got Drack, who’s older than any Krogan we’ve ever had, wisdom way beyond his years, he’s seen some stuff. He’s been in the Milky Way and he’s been around and he can bring that knowledge to Andromeda. Having that narrative of the trilogy to build these characters on really does help. Returning players know what Krogans are and who Wrex and Grunt were, so they can say, “oh, this is how [Drack] is cool and new.”

The squad rounds itself out nicely. We haven’t introduced everyone yet, but when do I think players will be like, “Oh yes, there’s ship mom, there’s old and wise, angry Krogan guy,” and so on.

We’ve seen fans get really hyped up over Mass Effect and Dragon Age characters before, but it also feels like fandom has reached its zenith in the past year with the likes of Overwatch. Do you think the characters of Andromeda will hit that level of fever pitch?
I hope so! I really hope so. I mean, you want these characters to get a life of their own and then we build on that. For example, Garrus in the first Mass Effect was not Garrus in Mass Effect 3; we grew him with the players and we hope to do that with these characters as well.

So is there a hardcore defense force for the Mako at BioWare?
Some people like the Mako, some people like that it’s an attack vehicle, but it didn’t work for this game because we have massive planets and we have to be quick. I mean, some people like the way the Mako handled, but let’s say that most people didn’t so we had to do something about it or we’d be in trouble.

So the Nomad is the response to that. It’s quick. It’s agile. It can go around planets quickly.

The planets in the game are all crafted, not procedurally generated, correct?
That’s right. No procedural generation.

No Man’s Sky was the center of quite a bit of controversy because of its planets and how many people felt there was nothing to do on them. Is the team nervous about how players will react to planetary exploration, if they’ll feel that these planets are huge but have nothing to do on them?
I mean, all they have to do is play it, really. People can come in with preconceived notions that they have because of other games they’ve played, but once they come in, play it, and see how the narrative ties in and once they see the gameplay stuff they can do on the planets, once they see how the planets have been hand-crafted – I think all those concerns will be addressed.

If someone mainlines the story, how long will it take them?
We don’t talk times, but this is certainly larger than any other Mass Effect game. The critical path is larger. The side content is certainly larger. You’d be hard pressed to find any Mass Effect experience that didn’t take longer than this one.

Video game series seem to escalate, in terms of action, as they go on. Gears of War did it, as did Resident Evil, and it seems Mass Effect is doing it now as well. Is Andromeda a de-escalation for the series?
I’d say the scope of the story is tighter. Mass Effect has always had these epic threads. Andromeda still has that, but we wanted to tell a focused story, a story of explorers, a story of coming to a new galaxy and being the alien, basically.

And call it what you want but it is definitely a more central, a more grounded story. So you’ve got the story aspect and the exploration aspect, and I do harken those things back to the first Mass Effect. That was a game that was about becoming the first human Spectre or wandering into the Citadel and thinking, “wow.” We want to try and capture that again with Andromeda, so it’s less about a fight against the Reapers or a threat and more about, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we just decided as a species to go to Mars.”

So much of the appeal for the original series was tied into having one character and going on a journey with that one character for three games across a number of years. Will Andromeda remain its own self-contained story or will there be a continuation?
Honestly, it’s impossible for us to say that right now. We don’t know how many people are going to fall in love with the Ryders. There are definitely stories we want to tell that are related to this story, there’s definitely continuation, escalation, a metastory that ties everything together. But it’s too early to say whether it’s going to be one of the Ryders. What I don’t want to do is tie players into… “Well, if you don’t know what happened with the first one, you have to play the first one to understand the second.” We have to do better at that because that’s isolating for certain people, but at the same time we have to maintain character continuity and choices and all that kind of stuff. And I’m not saying we have to import anything at all or anything like that. What I’m saying is the Helius cluster is a living thing; things are happening in it, decisions are being made, and we have to make sure we reward players for that.

If you want more Andromeda coverage, you can check out my impressions from the time I spent with the game here or our cover story hub by clicking on the banner below.