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On the Process of Effecting Mass 55

Posted by Zonk
from the lots-of-it-to-move dept.
Dean Takahashi, of the San Jose Mercury News, has up a lengthy interview with Mass Effect project director Casey Hudson on the almost four-year-long development of the title. The two men go into some detail on BioWare's approach to game creation, as well as discussing the numerous technical and storytelling leaps they made with the game. "Hudson said, 'One thing I'm hoping people see in it is how much more there is for a player to make decisions on. It makes it really hard for us to develop, given the customization that we make possible in the game. For example, from the beginning, you are not pre-made as a character. You can play Commander Shepard. But you can also create your own character, male or female. You can choose your special abilities. Those are ways to make your game different and unique. These are things that make it much harder for us to make the game so that it is consistent all the way through, given your choices.'"
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On the Process of Effecting Mass

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  • Decisions are good for games

    I'm kind of an old school gamer and I always thought in time games would evolve not only to provide better realistic graphics but also to increase the freedom you have in them. When a game really touches you, you automatically get trapped withing its unique universe, and your experience is so much better when you really feel that "I can do almost everything" feeling.

    It's a shame current state-of-the-art games usually just focus their appeal on graphics and pre-scripted sequences
    • by LingNoi (1066278)
      Ah yes half life 2 and its invisible walls I kept bumping into. Wait.. How is that different from CoD4? There is no freedom there too. Infact you changed your argument to fit HL2.

      A better example would be nethack. Complete freedom.
      • i was thinking the same thing... HL and HL2 is a really bad example of environmental freedom in a game as it is the very definition of keeping the player on rails and making them work though various set pieces (ending of HL2 ep 2 not withstanding)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Take Half-Life 2. When I played this game for the first time I really had bad times figuring out gameplay mechanics. Nobody in the game tells you can use flammable barrels as grenades with your gravity gun. Nobody tells you a lot of things in that game. You just figure them out as you play, in a way maybe intended by developers, but perfectly dressed to make you believe you actually come with the solution by yourself.

      (Italics by me)

      Portal. That game is designed around coercing the player into figuring things out themself. Play it through, then play it again with the commentary on and see how many times they taught you how to do something without you even noticing.

    • by PopeJM (956574)
      I completely agree with you. I've always felt that Games shouldn't be "How do I beat this system?" They should be "What should I do next?" In terms of thinking for many games, there are huge logical flaws in how "real world" they feel and so you have to create specialized thinking to the game itself instead of approaching things from a more free, individual way. This can be easily seen in MMORPGS where character classes are often constructed in such a way that the player must choose to fulfill a niche role
  • by Tetsujin (103070) on Monday November 26, 2007 @12:22PM (#21480009) Homepage Journal
    Man, what is with these spellening errors. Clearly you mean is affecting [xkcd.com]...
    • by avalean (1176333)
      Mass Affect
    • by Aladrin (926209)
      To 'effect' something is to make it happen, or being it into existence. Since they are creating a game called 'Mass Effect', I guess maybe they know what they are talking about after all.

      Learn what words really mean before you try to be a grammar nazi.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tetsujin (103070)

        To 'effect' something is to make it happen, or being it into existence. Since they are creating a game called 'Mass Effect', I guess maybe they know what they are talking about after all.

        Learn what words really mean before you try to be a grammar nazi.
        Good god, did no one actually follow the link I provided in my post??

        whoosh....
        • by Aladrin (926209)
          No, I think maybe we all thought you didn't understand the comic.

          Maybe you were a bit too subtle. Sometimes the difference between subtle and oblivious is indistinguishable on the net.
          • by Jackmn (895532)

            Maybe you were a bit too subtle.
            It was blatant. I saw that it was a joke immediately after reading the comic.
      • Actually I think 'Mass Effect' works without using the secondary definition of effect:'to create'. It's not the Mass affecting objects, it's a change in mass resulting in the effect of objects being affected.

        The full title for "Mass Effect" should be:
        "The resulting Effect of Advanced Space Technology(tm) manipulating the Mass of a given object is people with super powers and an excuse for spaceships to fly around the galaxy faster than the speed of light... by Bioware the company who made Knights of t
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      No, no, if the mass is already existing and you want to do something to it, you're affecting mass, but if you want to actually create this mass, to cause it, to make it happen.... then you are actually effecting mass.

      Think of it this way, if you're so inclined: Effecting a reduction in carbon emissions is likely to affect global warming.

  • What they need to do is hire some of those old school D&D GMs that have been wrangling players for years. If anyone knows how to make a successful campaign that allows people freedom but still keeps the story rolling forward these guys could do it. One thing playing D&D has taught me, is there's no replacement for a great DM, and the DM makes or breaks the game.
    • by seebs (15766)
      This wouldn't help.

      The thing that makes a great DM is the ability to improvise in response to the unexpected. You can't improvise in response to the unexpected two years before it happens, write up a detailed response, and burn it to DVD.
      • This wouldn't help.

        The thing that makes a great DM is the ability to improvise in response to the unexpected. You can't improvise in response to the unexpected two years before it happens, write up a detailed response, and burn it to DVD.

        Yeah, I realize that, but I think a seasoned DM would have a better idea of what could be tossed out by the players in a given instance. At least a good DM would start by looking at the script and going "Ok, if I was the player, where would I try to pull this sucker off the rails?". A game of course is always going to be more constrained than a pen and paper system for just the reason you state, it's all canned responses, no intelligent thought (in the Turing sense of the word) to drive the decisions. Of c

        • by seebs (15766)
          That's an interesting point; I've noticed that I am much more likely to think of abuses of a game than people who never did much DMing. My text adventures have gotten praised for responding coherently to incoherent behavior. :)
          • Yeah, DMs learn pretty fast after that first time when they're in the middle of something and a player does something they completely didn't expect. Some players actually take fun in watching the DM scramble for his notes and the rule book to see if there's some way he can cobble together some semblance of his original plot after an enterprising character manages to kill of a key NPC.

            Player: while the town mayor is giving his intro speech I sneak up behind him and backstab him...
            DM: uh... what? WHY?!
            Player: I don't like the way he's looking at me, and I'm chaotic neutral.
            DM: But... he hasn't finished giving you your quest yet.
            Player: so?

            A new DM would refuse to let him do it, or let him then panic as the campaign falls apart. A seasoned DM would figure out s

  • One nice feature that would have really put the story over the top for me is: Remember the Madden Superstar mode a few years back that let you select from a HUGE! list of surnames and they had voiceovers for each name. Instead of limiting a character to shepard it would be cool to put in your last name. It's ton of extra work given all the dialog but you could just smoothly tack on the name instead of creating the same thing 8 times with different surnames
    • It's been done. KOTOR 1 and 2 let you choose your own name, so did NWN 1 and NWN 2, etc.

      The trick is that basically people seem to not mind it much if their name only appears in the subtitles. The subtitle can say "I thank you Master Jedi Shawn Cplus, saviour of the universe" while the voice over just says "I thank you Master Jedi, saviour of the universe." Noone seemed to mind it that much.

      But as a counterpoint, you could even pull a Gothic 1, where noone asked for your name at all. IIRC the opening conver
      • While deftly parrying a key story point is one way to go, giving the character a name (even if restricted to Shepard) gives you even more to grab onto to pull yourself into the story.
        • by Tetsujin (103070)

          While deftly parrying a key story point is one way to go, giving the character a name (even if restricted to Shepard) gives you even more to grab onto to pull yourself into the story.
          It depends. If you do too much to determine the player character's identity, then the player may lose the ability to identify with that character... while if the player is free to imagine the character however they like, they may feel more comfortable in that character's role.
      • "Unbelievable. You, _subject name here_ must be the pride of _subject hometown here_."
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday November 26, 2007 @01:12PM (#21480739)
    One of the things that most impresses me in Mass Effect is the sophistication and depth of the speculative science in the "Codex." If you go around and outside the Normandy and look at all its systems, you get some pretty heady entries into the Codex that deal with how the engine works, how faster than light travel works in this fictional universe, etc. It's the first time I've seen concepts like "red shift," "blue shift," relativity, etc. used seriously in a videogame (these aren't exactly everyday concepts for your average dullard). One of the sections I found particularly amusing concerned the fictional problem of heat on a combat spaceship. Since excess heat can only be vented into the vacuum of space via radiation, each ship has strips that run along the hull for conventional heat dumping, with combat ships also having the option to drain superheated coolant out into space in heavy combat situations. I've never seen a videogame deal with an issue with that much understanding of real world physics.

    I don't know who wrote all these codex entries, but they must have put quite a bit of effort into them. Unfortunately, this isn't always matched with the rest of the game. For example, one of the weapons entries explains the "unlimited ammo" aspect of the game by the nature of the guns themselves. Rather than fire "bullets" as we think of them, the complex computers in each weapon actually shave an appropriate small mass of metal off a large solid block "cartridge," with its mass based on the velocity it will be fired at, the desired effect, the range to the target, and adjusting for other factors like wind, gravity, and planetary conditions. It's a pretty clever way of explaining a lame game convention. Unfortunately, the other game designers must not have gotten the memo about this, because in the equipment section the ammo is shown and treated exactly as if it were conventional bullets in conventional shell casings (the ammo graphics all show bullets and the text all refers to "rounds").

    • by Gravatron (716477)
      IF there is one thing about this game, its the shear mass of background info they provide. I think I annoy my roommates when i'll spend an hour just looking for codex entries, talking to random people, and doing seemingly random quests just to get information. The Heat thing was a nice touch, as i'd never considered that as a problem for space combat.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by orclevegam (940336)
        One of the things that's always bugged me about space combat, and that even most sci-fi books fail to address is the physics of space warfair. I read some books in the Night's Dawn series (Peter F. Hamilton) a while back that did a really great job dealing with space combat, even if they blew off a lot of other science in other areas (as well as delving into some serious religious issues, they were major plot points in the later books of the series). I particularly like how he treated energy weapons (ships
        • Try the Chanur series by C. J. Cherryh (apologies for misspellings, but my books are packed away).

          Her space battles are chaotic, pretty realistic, and deal with the issue that velocity = power. A ship moving at a fraction of the speed of light can do a lot of damage to a ship that is stuck at dock or that has just undocked.

          • A ship moving at a fraction of the speed of light can do a lot of damage to a ship that is stuck at dock or that has just undocked.

            No fancy ass rail guns needed either. Just head towards the target, open a hatch, and have the cook dump some trash.
    • I would say that the discrepancy between the gun description and the ammo you find is more for the player's understanding than the general atmosphere. If I were running around and picked up a "mass cartridge" I'd be very confused.
  • Traditionally, in an RPG, you start out weak, and build up skills and abilities as the game progresses. Which is fine if you're some naive farmboy who's come home to find his family killed and his house burned down, and who has vowed to make those evil (plot points) pay for what they've done. Start with a leather jerkin and a quarterstaff, and build your way up to being a parahuman by the end of the game.

    But how do you handle level progression when you're supposed to start the game as a fully trained w
    • by Moraelin (679338)

      But how do you handle level progression when you're supposed to start the game as a fully trained whatever-it-is?

      Go after even tougher guys, and become even better trained.

      Fact is, in most armies you'll have an inherent difference between recruits trained back at some boot camp, and guys who've already survived an enemy shelling and assault. Half of the latter will probably wake up screaming for the rest of their life, but be better soldiers while they're on the front line anyway.

      You can see the same in all

    • by flitty (981864)
      Maybe I missed the "supreme badass" option in a starting character, but I only recall 3 psycological profiles, being a sole survivor, a war hero, and a renegade, none of which say that you are some ubersolider. On top of that, who wants to play an RPG where all your stats are maxed out? Go play a shooter or something if you don't want to level up. There's a fine line between creating a story, and having a game in there somewhere.

      You create the game you are insisting on, and you no longer have an rpg,
      • I agree with a lot of your comment, but I think there's potential in the idea of giving a player all their points up front and letting them allocate them however they see fit. The idea there of course is not to make a traditional RPG, but something along the lines of a RPG/Action hybrid. Essentially you have a story (Think God of War, Metroid, or even Mario Galaxy), and many different ways to progress through it (this is the RPG part), but rather than the player spend all their time grinding for XP and scro
        • After thinking about this a bit more I think there's as much or more potential in this style of game than in a traditional RPG style (game in this case being computer of video, as opposed to pen and paper). Originally the whole idea behind character progression in pen and paper RPGs was to give the player a constantly moving goal. If you set a fixed point (I.E. you only get say 5 levels) once the player reaches that point that's it, they have very little drive to progress unless you give them some sort of r

          • by flitty (981864)
            I think you just found the way to make Mass Effect 2 (since they are talking about doing a trilogy) similar to the original, but new and different. Make a character transfer option, where your character from the first game continues with the same skills you spent the entire first game earning, and then a character creation (for those who didn't play ME1) and give them the points and let them spend them willie nillie right off the bat. Then, instead of focusing on becoming a certain style of character (ste
        • by Rolgar (556636)
          I've seen D&D run that same way. The GM wants to run something with 8 or 16 level characters, they let the player build a level one character, and stack each additional level until they reach the desired level, even allowing prestige classes, etc. Doing this adds time and effort to the upfront character creation time, but allows the GM to run advanced campaigns or modules without having to spend time going over the barely able to survive era early in a character's lifespan. Of course, there is little
          • I've actually done this in the past. We decide we wanted to play around with some of the templates and make a band of misfits so to speak, but part of the challenge is making hybrid characters essentially added 5 "virtual" levels to our characters. In order to pull it off we had to scale a level 4 encounter up to a level 6 (level 1 characters, with 5 extra levels due to the racials from the templates). All in all it went off pretty well until we reached the last encounter of the dungeon. Well, the final enc

      • "Supreme badass" isn't available as a starting option as that's the default setting for your character! You're meant to be a tough, battle-hardened marine who's survived to make N7 - highest special-forces rank in the game world. I'm saying that's an inherent problem for an RPG - starting with a character who's already supposed to be fully skilled and experienced - once you do that it isn't a classic RPG any more. To answer your other point - it's unlikely that competent game design would allow you to ma
      • by mcvos (645701)

        On top of that, who wants to play an RPG where all your stats are maxed out? Go play a shooter or something if you don't want to level up. There's a fine line between creating a story, and having a game in there somewhere.

        Starting as a badass does in no mean require your stats to be maxed out. In a well-designed system, there should be plenty of room to advance from "badass" to "better badass", "even bigger badass", and "badass with more diversity". Plenty of paper RPGs do that. Why can't CRPGs? Because

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by nutshell42 (557890)
      VGCats once had a comic [vgcats.com] about that.
    • by mcvos (645701)

      It's just that everyone's going on about the brilliant story, and yet completely missing the fact that in order to shoehorn it into a traditional RPG engine, they've had to bend it all out of shape. Why would you make your elite troops buy their own guns with their own money? Because hoarding gold and trading it for stuff has been a mainstay of D&D since pencil and paper days. Why would you issue special forces soldiers with guns that overheat after firing three rounds? Because shitty starter weapons ar

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