Interview: Mass Effect is in manufacturing as we speak, BioWare's Robyn Théberge is very happy with the final product.
In less than a fortnight, the long battle for the Earth, for the galaxy, will finally be joined in earnest. Millions of Commander Shephards will take the field, countless commandoes will join him, and, once and for all, the Reapers will be defeated.
Well, I hope so, anyway.
Mass Effect 3 is really quite unique in gaming. No other title has managed to personally invest so many gamers in the outcome of its three-part story. With some simple character choices, the masterful illusion of impactful choices, and some great writing, BioWare has re-written epic space opera for a new generation. And, soon, it will end.
Or not, actually. “We’re wrapping up the game, yeah, but this is a really rich world, with a lot of cultures and aliens to explore,” Robyn Theberge told us on her recent trip to Australia. She should know – as the Associate Product Manager across audio, visual effects and GUI teams, she’s got a unique insight to the game.
“I’d say you should stay tuned,” she added. We all know there’ll be a raft of DLC, like every Mass Effect game so far, but this sounds a lot more positive about more stories set in this admittedly great universe.
If there is more to come in the series, it’s going to mean a mess of work for Robyn. “You know, there are companies out there that are too small to have a production teams, but this one [at BioWare for Mass Effect] is big,” she told us. “It’s been a two year project with up to 300 people working on it, in all kinds of fields.” Robyn’s own work has been to make sure that her teams have all the resources they need, and to set priorities in terms of workflow.
“We’re kinda lucky though,” she went on to say. “A lot of my stuff, like audio and GUI work, and the effects, they come right at the end, so we get to be a lot more seamless in how we work.”
Which, of course, begs the million dollar question – just what’s so different in the ME3 UI?
“It got really stripped back for Mass Effect 2,” Robyn said, “but we’ve tried to bring back a lot more customisation. The game’s gone deeper again with the things you can tweak and upgrade, so we’ve had to make sure the GUI is up to all that.”
“There are more powers, now, more detailed progressions with skills, and armour and weapon customisation is much more detailed.” The lack of detailed gear, and an inventory, in ME2 was possibly one of the most contentious changes between the first and second Mass Effects, and some loved it, others... not so much. “You can do all kinds of things with weapons now, like adding different clips, scopes and ammo,” Robyn told us, sounding quite pleased. “We’ve added a lot back.”
And it’s even better to know that the PC version is going to be just as well-looked after. “It will have full Eyefinity support, fully customisable keybindings, and what we hope is a solid keyboard and mouse setup, on top of a wholly different HUD.” Chances are folks who’ve already played the demo can back this up – or not – but, well... I’ve been avoiding spoilers, so I’m taking Robyn’s word for it. For now.
With recent... discussions regarding user feedback and how it’s received and taken on board, it’s an interesting topic to take up. “We listen a lot to customers; we’re always on the forums and trying to keep on top of constructive criticism.” This must be a difficult spot to be in, having to sort through some alarmingly negative feedback to work out the good, positive stuff you can learn from, from the folks who just want to you die in a fire for ruining ‘their’ game. But that’s interesting in itself; Robyn’s only worked at BioWare for a couple of years, so what was her prior experience of the game?
“Oh, I played Mass Effect before getting this job, and I loved it!”
So is the game just all spoilers now, actually working on it and helping craft the final part?
“You know, I try to outsmart the game, I really do, but even knowing what I know I can still get surprised. When it comes out, I’ll be opening up my boxed copy like everyone else.”
Just like the rest of us.