February 7, 2010 -
With the worldwide release of Mass Effect still ringing in the air, we sat down with Ray Muzyka of BioWare to pick his brain about the successful sci-fi franchise.
IGN: Mass Effect 2 has been exceptionally well received, and even though it's only January, we've been hearing that it's already a contender for game of the year. What's that like for you to hear?
Ray Muzyka: Well, it's very gratifying. The team worked really hard to make a great game, and it's really satisfying for them to read the reviews and see the critical acclaim that's there, and on the commercial side we can see now that the game has been selling really well, and preorders have been exceptionally high - it's been exceeding our forecasts. You know, it's great to see that.
At our studio, one of our core values is humility. We tend to look at things in a very practical way. We're always looking at the future, how to make each game better than the last. The team's already working on the next installment, and we're working on how to make the next one bigger and better. It's just how we operate. We've had a lot of critical and commercial successes over the years; this is certainly one of the best. It's the best thing we've done to date. I thought when Dragon Age came out, that was the best thing we had done to date, and I want our next project to be the best thing we've done to date.
IGN: Where do you think is left to go in the Mass Effect series?
Ray Muzyka: We've always had a trilogy in mind for the first three games in the Mass Effect franchise. And it is a franchise; it's not going to necessarily stop at number three. We've always had in mind a story arc for this trilogy, the epic sweeping story of going across the universe as Commander Shepherd. Within that context, figuring out the details and the features and how the gameplay unfolds, that's more mutable depending on the feedback we get. So we've always said that the first products will be a trilogy. Beyond that, we'll figure out where it goes.
IGN: There's a renewed focus on the shooter aspect for Mass Effect 2. Was there a concern that it would put off BioWare's more traditional RPG fanbase?
Ray Muzyka: The RPG features are still there. A lot of the reviews I've read are very interesting and accurate, because at first glance the RPG features are not as strong, but keep playing and you can see that they're there in a different fashion. For example, you can grab weapons off the rack when you send your team off on away missions, and you progress your ship, which is almost a character – that you're adding research modifications to increase your chance of surviving the final battle. That's a progression mechanic in its own right, and it's pretty satisfying and deep.
And there's lots of new tactics and abilities, all embedded in the squad command wheel now. It's not an inventory management system now as much as your commander's quarters – you can change your armour, appearance. And then ammo and other things like that, you break down on your squad command wheel, so it's done tactically in the heat of battle, so you can change from incendiary to freezing to disruptor ammo and so on.
And always throughout that, the other important elements are the emotional engagement, which is to make it feel very human, real and credible. We want to reach a wide audience, because I think everybody wants to be entertained on an emotional level. It's satisfying.
So the depth of the experience is still there, but it's manifested differently. Which is think makes an approachable game for the wide audience, and yet still satisfying to the core fans. But there are core shooter fans as well as core RPG fans, and I think a lot of them enjoy a progression mechanic and a system where you can improve your character as well, so maybe this is broadening the types of games they're interested in playing, and maybe in the future you'll find this kind of progression more widespread.
IGN: Did the action focus of Mass Effect 2 make you want to return to developing that style of gameplay, such as…MDK 3?
Ray Muzyka: You'll have to ask Interplay, they have the license for that. MDK 2 was a fun project to work on. We learned a lot from that. In fact, a lot of the people who worked on Mass Effect 2 worked on MDK 2. Casey [Hudson], the executive producer, was an artist on MDK as well, when he started at BioWare.
IGN: And while we're here, what about Baldur's Gate? We saw Boo at the Citadel souvenir shop…
Ray Muzyka: Hey, that's just a space hamster. Boo's brother. And again, you'll have to talk to Atari about that, they've got the license.