With the Mass Effect 2 dust now well and truly settled, we can look back on the game and see it in a new light. What of the romance, the adult themes, the suicide mission and - more importantly - Mass Effect 3? OXM chats to Mass Effect Director Casey Hudson to get the lowdown...
There's a scene at the very beginning where your Commander Shepherd is interviewed by Miranda and Jacob that's clearly there to determine what happened in everyone's Mass Effect 1 game, but it feels like it got cut short. What happened?
Well, in Mass Effect we track literally hundreds of decisions, and most of them wouldn't make for a very interesting conversation, especially for a new player. A new player wouldn't know Conrad Verner or Gianna Parasini [two incidental characters that feature in both games], so it wouldn't make sense for a new player to be answering questions on events they've never experienced before.
A little known thing about Mass Effect 2 is that while everyone knows about the save game connectivity and how well that works, I think that overshadows the fact that we really designed Mass Effect 2 to be a good entry point for new players. So that's why we don't give all these choices about what's happened before.
Is that something you're planning for Mass Effect 3 as well? You want it to be another smooth entry point?
Absolutely. We like to have this continuity and its payoff, but we also want each game to allow people to enter into the series at that point. If you haven't played either game we still want you to be able to play Mass Effect 3.
It's a tricky balancing act. So, Mass Effect 2 was obviously much darker than Mass Effect 1, with not only the combined angst of your crew but the extra emphasis on romance and the emotional consequence of your suicide mission. With gamers getting older, do you think adult themes need to feature in RPGs more prominently?
Well, I think that as well is also a tricky balance. Ultimately our highest level goal is to make a game that's really fun, both to people who have and haven't played our games before. It's something we're always trying to figure out.
But Mass Effect 2 got such an incredibly positive response. I don't remember reading anyone saying that Mass Effect 2 got too heavy at any point- gamers respond well when they're treated as adults. Doesn't "figuring out" come to an end here?
I think there's a difference between a game feeling grown-up and it having to go to a dark place, because you can go too far with the darkness and troubles in your subject matter. But there is a certain amount of fun that comes from the realism of a story, if it resembles a mature movie or TV show and resembles real adults interacting.
That's part of what we're always trying to pursue - how do we bring on the realism and the humanity of the experience? Because it makes you care more. Having a realistic reason to upgrading a weapon can put the entire game in the right context and make it seem more real.
The argument could be put forward that RPGs are all about escaping into their worlds. The more believable those worlds are, the better the RPG.
So should we be expecting something even more mature for Mass Effect 3?
[Laughs] Well, we're not talking too much about Mass Effect 3 right now, but the second story in a trilogy is where you traditionally end up in a fairly dark place. The third story is where you try and bring some fun and lightness back into it. One thing we tried to do with Mass Effect 2 was as well as bringing in the more mature stuff, we also tried to bring in a lot more humour so that we can go to these places without making it an overbearing experience. I think we have a lot more fun this time through characters like Joker and EDI. Mass Effect 3 is going to be the epic conclusion... so, a lot more darkness but also a lot more humour.