GP: Can you give us a bit more of an idea about how the character transition will work between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2?
Greg: Yeah absolutely! Well, I think we frightened a few people earlier in the year when we suggested that Shepard may in fact be killed in action, then we followed that up with the comments around keeping your saved game. So right from the beginning of Mass Effect we always intended to do a trilogy, and we always wanted you to be able to keep your character and your decisions for the entire arc. You have to have the right data structure in your saved games to be able to carry it all the way forward. So we planned to do that from the beginning, and the key things are who is alive, who is dead - these are the key events that happen in the game. Those are the things we keep track of. It will become more apparent when you play the real thing - at the moment we're being purposely dodgy about how it will all work because we don't want to reveal secrets. But the mechanic of how the game starts is pretty unique, we think, it's something that fans will dig. The key thing is, when you play the game, and you see the fruits of your labour, it's very exciting to have the sense that your personal story is continued.
We had a lot of questions about the follow-through from the first Mass Effect being a requirement - in other words, if I want to play Mass Effect 2 but I haven't played the first Mass Effect, do I have to go back and play it? And it's helpful to know the universe from Mass 1 before you play Mass 2, but if you haven't seen it then you'll go through a tutorial where we'll teach you what the new features are, what the gameplay is like. We don't hold over your head the fact that you don't know the story. You're introduced to the world in a good way - you know you're important but you don't know all the details. But it doesn't hold you back in any way.
GP: My Xbox was stolen a couple of weeks back - how do you deal with people who no longer have their saved game from the first Mass Effect? Is there any way to tell the game what you've already done?
Greg: That's actually a good question. During some of our testing, before we had the game actually working properly, we totally did that - it wasn't part of the game, it was completely separate, and it would ask you some questions, that sort of thing. If you've never played the game though, we just build a set of data that we think will be interesting to you as the player. If you have your save game then you know how that will work - but if you don't have it, well, I'll have to ask about that. That's an interesting one.
GP: How have you tacked the planetary quests this time around? Have you made the planets more interesting places to visit?
Greg: Absolutely. One of the things we were pretty confident we could build upon were the worlds from the first game. We had them there as a sort of alternate activity, where you could go and enjoy yourself, but everybody pointed out there maybe wasn't enough to do on them. So our focus on the sequel is to integrate them more into the story, so the actual custom content will be deeper on the planets themselves. There's a few other mechanics that we've added into the whole deal, visiting planets will be made a whole lot more fun, and finally for the planets themselves, there's a real purpose to it. There's a gameplay reason and a story reason that makes it worthwhile to visit the planets. Because with the overall arc of the game, it's not entirely clear what's going on initially, but fairly quickly you'll figure out what you have to do and where you have to do it. Really what it is is literally a suicide mission to this incredibly well defended planet, and you need to gather the best possible team. So a lot of the planet stuff, where you visit these worlds, is about finding these unique characters, these amazing rapscallion scoundrels, and ex-secret agents that you can get. So everything has a nice tighter purpose, to tie into that focus of the end game.
GP: So what sort of changes to the vehicles have you implemented this time around?
Greg: We haven't announced it, but we have made significant modifications. That was one piece of feedback that we'd gotten. It's interesting - one of the challenges is where you build something and you kind of get used to it, and you master it because you've spent so much time on it. A player can learn any kind of mechanism or mechanic, but at the same time it might not be the best one, or easiest one to learn. I think that's one of the lessons we took back. So with the vehicle stuff, there will be a lot of interesting changes in that regard.
GP: In the first Mass Effect, if your class didn't specialise in, for example, the sniper rifle, you couldn't realistically hope to use it well. So with Mass Effect 2 being more of a shooter game, are you giving the player more freedom with weapon choice?
Greg: There's a bit more freedom. I won't go into too much detail on it, but I will say that I think what you're pointing out there is that there was a built in kind of shakiness, and when you levelled up the shakiness was reduced. We've actually modified how all that works, so the actual opportunity and possibility for weapon choice is more open for folks. The key thing being, as you said, it's more of a shooter mechanic - we've modified a lot of the gameplay to put the player in a position where they need to be choosing the right weapon, and we don't want them to be disadvantaged where they don't have the skill for a certain weapon and actually really need to use that weapon to succeed. So that's a good question, that's one of the things we've had to change. We'll have a big reveal of all the design changes at some point, but that's a high level one we've had to do.
GP: In regards to the PC DLC, is it likely to be limited to the EA Store, or will we see the likes of Steam hosting it?
Greg: We have to work out how we're distributing all that stuff. I think we've honestly been focussing on getting the game done, and we've got a pretty big remap on how all the DLC pipeline works. That's a very fundamental thing for us. On the Dragon Age side, for example, you can actually get DLC right from in the game, there's actually a store within the game where you can get DLC on all platforms. That will take you various places to process the transaction. On the PC if you have the points you just get the DLC immediately. So that's something we're looking at with Mass 2 as well, we had a lot of big plans on the DLC side for Mass 1 and we discovered that we hadn't done enough of the DLC pathways and methodology before we launched the game, so it was very hard to retrofit those. So like with Dragon Age, we took the lessons from Mass Effect into Dragon Age where we built it ahead of time. With Mass 2, that's one of the areas we had to make sure of, that we had a good DLC pipeline, so it's not complicated to buy stuff, or to find stuff, that's pretty important for us.
GP: How do you want the player to feel in Mass Effect 2, and how do you go about setting the mood?
Greg: In Mass 1, we set out to challenge the player in the sense that humans were new on the galactic stage, and there's an inherent feeling of distrust toward the human race from everyone, and a feeling that they're trying to prove themselves. With Mass Effect 2, the game begins when a human shipwreck has had a momentous effect on another galaxy, and humans are held in much higher regard. So there isn't that "prove yourself" mentality. Shepard has more of a swagger this time around, not in the sense that he's really egotistical or bossy - you can play him that way - but even the "good" Shepard is a fairly flippant, "swaggery" guy. So what we're tying to establish is not entirely that Shepard is a badass, but that's a big part of it, and second, he's trying to figure out his place in the universe too - he's the hero, but what does he do next? All of these things kind of play into the players goals. It provides a different set of emotions from Mass 1.
GP: So will we finally set foot on planet Earth?
Greg: That's a good question, I don't actually know the answer! (laughs) Didn't we go to the moon in Mass 1? I think you kind of look back on Earth in the sky, but we never got there. I think in some ways that would kind of spoil the fun, in a sense that that would ruin the magic of the game, where you're really focussing on being outside of where we live today. So I kind of doubt it - maybe it's something we'll do, maybe a space station above Earth! But I doubt we'll go to the surface any time soon.
Next page: Dr Zeschuk discusses Dragon Age: Origins...