It's only two weeks until Mass Effect 3 goes on sale, so we caught up with Robyn Theberge, associate producer for the title, to talk about what fans can expect.
Game Console: Do you want to start by telling us a little bit about your role?
Robyn Theberge: My role is working with some of the development teams – specifically, the GUI team, the audio team and the visual effects team – and my job with them is essentially to keep them working, to do the scheduling, to track dependencies, to be organised for them and just make sure that they’re successful and that they meet their deadlines.
GC: Do you also have a role in the decision making, and what goes into the game?
RT: To some extent. A lot of it is divvied out in ownership of that. But I am involved in all of the high-level reviews, and production meetings as well – I sit on the production team, there’s other representatives from the other teams and we sit down and make decisions of when we’re going to do what.
GC: So you get a pretty overall view of the game and how it’s coming together?
RT: Yes, exactly.
GC: So Mass Effect 3 is due out in two weeks, what are fans going to notice that’s the most different?
RT: We’ve made quite a few significant changes. Of course it’s still the same universe, but some of the key changes we’ve made have been to our combat and gameplay mechanics. That’s the heavy melee attacks – the famous one now is the omni-blade with the soldier – but there’s also some different variations of that with each class. You can also now roll in and out of cover, you can mantle over top of things, you can jump across gaps, so there’s a bunch of different mechanics there that we’ve taken to a more intuitive level.
Then we’ve also added game experience, which I think will be the most initial change that our fans see. The second they turn on their game they’re going to be asked to choose whether they want to play the story experience, the action experience, or the traditional RPG experience.
GC: And what’s the difference between those?
RT: With the action experience, most of the conversations play as cinematic, so you only play the key decisions in the game, and the combat is slightly more difficult. With the story experience it’s kind of the other end of the spectrum, there’s additional exploration, there’s a lot more story there, and you also have slightly less difficult combat. Then the RPG is the traditional Bioware experience, so you play full dialogue and you also have a very good combat experience.
GC: So you’re sort of trying to cater for a range of audiences?
GC: Is that a pretty risky thing to do? You can try to cater for a lot of people and wind up not quite pleasing any of them.
RT: I think with role playing games it’s all about building that fantasy and allowing the player to customise their experience. We allow them the option to do their appearance, and to play it how they want – they make all the decisions, and decide what storyline they’re going to pursue. I think it adds value for the player. It’ll allow everybody to tailor the game to exactly how they want to play it.
GC: Is it the sort of thing you’d go back and play again in the different form?
RT: Yeah, I think so. I think some people will get it bang on right off the hop, and will get the experience they want, but it definitely offers that opportunity. You may choose the action experience, and you only get those key decisions, and then they’ll go back and maybe play as an RPG experience or the story version and be able to make different decisions and get to see the direct effect on the outcome of the game.
GC: On the subject of making the decisions, the choices that have been made in 1 and 2 still influence the story in 3 – is that starting to get really complicated?
RT: It is. There’s not a lot of studios out there that are making games like this, with that level of variety, where you have to import characters and you have to take into consideration who’s survived and who hasn’t. At the end of ME2 a lot of people made different decisions, so we had to add all of those different varieties into the dialogue in Mass Effect 3 to account for those decisions.
GC: Our reviewer tried the Kinect function a week or two ago and was really impressed, are there any more plans to bring in more of that later on?
RT: I think definitely. We have a very close partnership with Microsoft and Sony as well, and we’re always looking at what they’re doing with their consoles. With Kinect it was a very good time for us to look at what they were doing with their voice command option, so that’s what we focussed on, and I definitely think we’re just starting to chip the surface of what the potential is there.
GC: So, what else for the future? What sort of DLC can we expect for Mass Effect 3, and are there any plans for a fourth?
RT: I’ll start with your second question first. Right from the start of Mass Effect 1 it was planned as a trilogy, and we are wrapping up this storyline with Mass Effect 3. That being said, it is a very rich universe, with lots of stories to tell, so I would definitely stay tuned.
We also do of course have a very extensive DLC plan for Mass Effect 3. We’ve announced From Ashes which is for free with the collector’s edition on day one, but as to the rest of our DLC plan, you can expect some details on that closer to launch date.
GC: What you were saying about the universe sounded like it could make a good universe for an MMO – is that a possible direction?
RT: I can’t comment on that one. Nice try though.
GC: Worth a shot. Well, thanks very much for speaking to us today, Robyn. We’re really looking forward to the release, and hope it goes well.
RT: My pleasure.
Mass Effect 3 is due out on March 6.