I wouldn't say that in the past the numbers have limited the games itself. I think if you properly extract what the game is about, the core themes from that, you can still have a really successful piece. It's just a matter of navigating those waters.
I like having my choices rendered in-game, but I suppose it's hard to strategise without menus and tables.
Yeah, exactly. And plus sometimes that degree of customisation, that level of role-playing is apparent simply because a game itself is essentially an engine that runs on top of things like that. Again, it's a matter of just finding the clever and best ways to extract those kinds of concepts. So if you choose to play the game your way, that is shown because the game world is affected by the decisions you make - but if you choose to go back and delve into the numbers aspect of it, you can. But it's not a requirement, right?
If you had to take away every RPG mechanic or feature in Mass Effect 3 save one, what would that remaining mechanic or feature be?
The relationships have to be emotionally engaging, I have to care about the characters. If you take away everything else, if you take away all the combat, the stats, the weapons, everything. If I don't care about the characters, the people I'm interacting with, both the main ones and the more casual interactions throughout the world, I have no reason to be engaged. So that, in my opinion, that's the number one thing that I'd keep.
How does Mass Effect 3's plot account for Mass Effect DLC storylines without walling out the people who didn't buy them?
So when we started development for Mass Effect 3, we wanted to make it accessible for people who've never played Mass Effect before. You want to be able to jump into Mass Effect 3 and realise "this is my quest, this is what we have to do". Because of that we didn't want to punish players if they didn't play previous Mass Effect games, and we didn't want to leave them out.
So, there's multiple branches to this. If you play and you've never played before, the dialogue choices that are shown reflect that. If you don't import a save, it'll be more descriptive, giving you more back-story, it will assume you know less. Whereas if you did import a save, the dialogue choices will be more to the point of what you've previously played. So that allows us to satisfy the existing audiences and help new players who don't know who the characters are.
That's one hell of a trick. Your writers must be exhausted.
It's literally trees and trees of dialogue lines.
How long is your script? Do you have a page count?
The way we write our text, we don't really do it by the traditional Hollywood read off a script. We're over 40,000 lines of recorded, video dialogue though, which is our biggest Mass Effect so far. It's taken a long time, and we're fully localised in many languages as well.
Looking to the future, what sort of Mass Effects are possible without Shepard?
Without going down any specific path, you can think of many, many different areas throughout the IP, throughout the history, where there are large wars to be won, large battles to be had, and a lot of development to be done around where these races came from, how they came about. We have so much to draw from.
We haven't made a decision about whether we'll do anything in the future, but if we were to do something, we just have a lot of information to choose from. If you boot up Mass Effect 3 and look through the codices you'll see we have tonnes and tonnes of backstory. Obviously, for Mass Effect 3 it's Shepard's story and this is where Shepard's story finishes, but the future is wide open for what we can possibly do.