Mass Effect : Interview with Casey Hudson
- Project Director at Bioware -

August 2007

Casey Hudson

English version
Pour la version française, cliquez ici.

Casey Hudson , project Dirctor at Bioware, was kind enough to answer some of our questions concerning their upcoming game : Mass Effect.

Xbox Gazette : Can you please introduce yourself and your involvement with Mass Effect ?
Casey Hudson : I'm Casey Hudson, and I'm the Project Director for Mass Effect.

Xbox Gazette : How long has Mass Effect been in development, and where are you in development now? Do you think that the time of development will be identical for the next episodes?
Casey Hudson : We've been working on the game for a little over 3 years now. Early preproduction started at the beginning of 2004 when we had released the PC version of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and were fully transitioned to what would become MASS EFFECT.
The great majority of the work has been in the development of special technology and workflow that allow us to make this kind of game, with extremely advanced digital actors, exploration, squad combat, etc. But since that technological basis is now in place, we can expect future MASS EFFECT titles to have a shorter development cycle.

Xbox Gazette : What means the Mass Effect ?
Casey Hudson : Inside the game universe, mass effect is a newly-discovered physics phenomenon that has properties along the lines of other physics forces such as gravity and electromagnetism. It's what physicists in real life are currently calling "dark energy".
In the game, similar to the way some creatures in the real world can sense or apply electromagnetism (like sharks and electric eels), some people have a natural ability to sense and control the "mass effect" field. This can be greatly amplified by implants, which allow particularly adept individuals to release awesome and devastating powers. This control of mass effect with one's body is called "Biotics", and is the superhuman ability that some classes of character can perform in the game. One really cool example of Biotics is "Telekinetic Lift", where you can cause an object to become immune to gravity - thereby lifting extremely heavy objects that block your way, or causing large enemies to drift helplessly off the ground so that your squad can launch an open assault on them.

Xbox Gazette : What is the story of Mass Effect? And what were your sources of inspiration for this game?
Casey Hudson : The story takes place around 200 years in the future, as humans are taking their first steps into a larger galactic community. You are Commander Shepard - a veteran of the human alliance - an "N7 Elite", meaning you're the best of the best among human military types.
In the opening scenes of the game - the prologue - you discover that long ago, a race of ancient machines harvested and destroyed all civilized life in the galaxy. And with the help of a rogue Spectre agent (a supposed top-ranking protector of the galaxy), they're about to return. You are then reluctantly granted status as the first ever human Spectre, to track him down and put an end to the plot that could end life as we know it.
Much of the inspiration for Mass Effect is based on creating the ultimate science-fiction experience - a space adventure that fulfills one's fantasies of exploring the galaxy as part of an intensely exciting story. So we've drawn inspiration from a number of places, perhaps mostly from the classic science-fiction movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan, and 2001: a Space Odyssey. The tangible atmosphere and serious cinematic tone of these movies serves as a great reference for creating a more immersive experience than we've been able to achieve before.

Xbox Gazette : Who is the Commander Shepard? What will be his role in the story and universe?
Casey Hudson : Shepard is a member of the Spectres (Special Tactics and Reconnaissance). Spectres are elite military agents who answer only to the Citadel - the enormous space station that is the center of political and financial power in the galaxy. They deal with major threats to galactic security and have the authority to do whatever it takes to secure their mission objectives. With the fate of the entire galaxy at stake, Shepard must accomplish his mission at all costs. He must act without remorse, without hesitation, and beyond the limits of the law. How he does that is up to you.

Xbox Gazette : Why did you decide to impose this character to the player? How will we be able to customize the character?
Casey Hudson : Commander Shepard can be designed and created however you want, thanks to a very detailed character customization system. Between the development of your character's abilities and the customization of your equipment, vehicles and even other members of your squad, you will have a ton of opportunity to customize your game experience. Mass Effect starts with a deep character customization system, allowing you to choose Commander Shepard as you've seen him before or to create your own Commander Shepard. Your character can be male or female, and you will have an extreme level of detail in creating your character's appearance. You can choose a character class to get you started in defining your starting set of abilities, and you can even choose your back-story so that you can define what your life has been like leading up to the start of the game.

Xbox Gazette : Can you please present the main classes, skills and types of characters we can choose from?
Casey Hudson : There are six distinct character classes in Mass Effect, each with a different package of starting and unlockable talents. In addition, if you play well enough to survive the physical and political dangers of the galaxy, you will gain the ability to unlock six more specialization classes later in the game.
- Soldiers are combat specialists ideal for the front lines of a firefight. Soldiers begin the game trained with skills in both pistols and assault rifles, they have improved health and the ability to wear medium combat armor. As you progress through the game you can unlock assault training, skills with shotguns and sniper rifles, become able to perform first aid on yourself and party members, and wear heavy combat armor.
- Engineers are tech specialists. Using the holographic OmniTool they can decrypt security systems, repair and/or modify technical equipment, disrupt enemy weapons or shields and heal their party. Even though they begin the game with only pistols and the OmniTool, engineers can unlock the ability to wear light armor and to reverse engineer enemy technology. They can also learn to put up protective shields and to heal the party.
- Adepts are biotic specialists. Starting out equipped with pistols and light armor, the true strength of the adept is through the upgradeable implants that give them their biotic powers. These powers can be used to lift or throw objects, shield the party and disable or destroy enemies.
- Infiltrators combine combat and tech abilities, and specialize in killing or disabling enemies at long range. Infiltrators are trained to use OmniTools, but the focus is on decryption and offensive abilities rather than healing. They can train with pistols or sniper rifles, and can learn to wear medium armor.
- Vanguards are biotic warriors. They combine offensive biotic abilities and weapons training to quickly take down opponents, and are especially deadly at short range. They can train with pistols and shotguns, and can learn to wear medium armor.
- Sentinels combine biotic and tech abilities. Typically they use biotic abilities and advanced healing skills to defend allies, though they can also disrupt opponents with biotic or Tech attacks. They are more efficient at tech and biotics than other classes, but at the expense of combat. Sentinels can only use light armor, and receive no advanced weapon training.

Xbox Gazette : Can you describe some of the alien races that we will encounter? Will there be some alien spoken languages like in Kotor?
Casey Hudson : You'll see all kinds of strange alien species, but there are really 4 main alien species that hold influence in the Mass Effect galaxy. The Asari are a blue-skinned species that all somewhat resemble human females. They are extremely intelligent and spiritual, but are sometimes exploited for their openness with sexuality.
The Turians are a bird-like race with bony features, and were humanity's first encounter with an alien civilization - naturally, a violent war broke out but was quickly resolved by intervention from the larger galactic civilization. Some of them hate humans for that, but in general Turians are tough soldiers and very logical.
The Krogan are a species that were genetically bred for war. Due to their enormous size and thick outer shell, they are practically impossible to injure through normal means, making them some of the toughest enemies you'll fight in the game.
Salarians have salamander-like qualities, and although they are not physically strong, they have tremendous will and are one of the most respected galactic civilizations.
A majority of the key characters you'll encounter in the game are alien, and all of these different perspectives will have an effect on the way you experience the story.

Mass Effect alien races
Mass Effect alien races

Xbox Gazette : How does the combat system work?
Casey Hudson : Combat in Mass Effect definitely has an intense and action-packed feel, but to actually play it is a very tactical experience with more of an RPG pacing. Combat is fully real-time, where you can look and shoot anywhere at any time. But, you can also pause the game at any time to think strategically about your combat situation, and then issue specific orders to get your squad members to move and target enemies exactly how you want.
You can also switch to directly control other characters in your squad, and you also have many more things to do in combat than just shooting, including the use of aggressive tech skills that are extremely dangerous in combat, and the release of violent bursts of dark energy through various powers called Biotics. So combat in Mass Effect has the familiar and intuitive interface of a 3rd person shooter, but the pacing and tactical options that make RPG combat extremely challenging and fun!

Xbox Gazette : Can you present what seem to be the two main vehicles from the game, the Normandy and the Mako?
Casey Hudson : Players will be in command of their very own starship, the Normandy. This ship will allow players to explore the galaxy both in terms of solving the mysteries of the main plot as well as discovering - and landing on - uncharted planets, asteroids and derelict spaceships. This installment will not include ship-to-ship combat, but there will be opportunities to customize vehicles - including the MAKO, the planetary rover that is used to explore the surfaces of uncharted worlds.
The MAKO vehicle is fully combat-ready, so it's something you'll rely on to not only cover great distances on hostile alien worlds, but also to get through battles against very large and dangerous enemies. You'll be able to modify the MAKO throughout the game to give it enhancements that will give you access to other areas, or to make it more dangerous in combat. Most of your adventures will put your vehicle to good use, both in and out of combat.

Xbox Gazette : The exploration system seems really interesting. Can you explain the main phases of exploration, how open it is, and give some examples of what kind of rewards the player will have by doing this? How did you managed to keep this phases not too much repetitive?
Casey Hudson : The goal is to create a believable sense that there is an actual galaxy out there beyond the core story locations, so there will be hundreds of places for the player to visit. As in real life, not all stars have planets, and not all planets are ones that you would be able to land on. But there is some interactivity in each location and there are a large number of planets that you can land on and explore - each of them with cool things to discover and interesting subplots that may span several star systems. Beyond the normal astronomical locations, you'll also discover derelict starships floating in space, secret bases on alien moons, lost satellites… the possibilities are amazing. And ultimately your exploration of the galaxy is in the context of an intense mission where everything you discover is another resource or clue to help you uncover a dark plot that threatens all life in the galaxy.

Xbox Gazette : Concerning the exploration, can we expect something "realistic"? Like to have to use space suit on certain planets, movements influenced by gravity, use a small exploration rover for hostile atmosphere in a mini-game, ...
Casey Hudson : Exploration in MASS EFFECT has a basis in real space exploration and science, but takes you much further into space and far into the future, where we can have some fun with the kinds of things you'll encounter. So while you may pass familiar things like the Horsehead Nebula, you'll also discover creatures and locations that are very unlike anything in real life.
You explore planets in the Mako, which is like a tank, but with 6 wheels and smooth high-speed maneuverability. It also has thrusters that allow you to jump over crevasses and enemy attacks, in addition to giving you access to terrain that will sometimes have special objects to discover.
All armor in MASS EFFECT comes with a helmet that you can choose to wear, and if you are in an area with a toxic atmosphere or the vacuum of space, you can breathe by wearing the helmet along with a breather that provides oxygen and an air-tight seal.

Xbox Gazette : Will there be some big cities, with a lot of NPC, to explore (like Earth or the Citadel)? And how many areas will there be for "free exploration" with the Mako or on foot?
Casey Hudson : The Mass Effect universe is designed to take players to all possible extremes of environments - in fact, the scope of the story spans the entire galaxy. Specifically, some examples of environments you'll see are the sulphur deserts of a mining planet, an ancient lost city overgrown by jungle, and the Citadel: a gigantic floating city in space. We can't say specifically how many areas there are to explore, but there are a lot.

Xbox Gazette : Concerning the dialogues and the morality system, will they be comparable to Kotor and Jade Empire?
Casey Hudson : With each of our games, the moral system is designed to support the core experience of the game. As KOTOR was a Star Wars game, we established the "Light" and "Dark" paths for them to choose between to capture that aspect of dealing with the Force. In Jade Empire, players were able to follow the way of the Open Palm or Closed Fist, supporting the martial arts setting and providing options that weren't necessarily just "good" or "evil".
In Mass Effect, you are the only person that's able to stop the gravest threat to the galaxy - one that could destroy all known civilization. That means that you're justified in smashing through anything that stands in your way, completing your mission at any cost. In other words, you'll be able to do bad things for good reasons. As you make important decisions throughout the game to be compassionate, selfish, or brutal, the entire galaxy is watching you - learning about what the upstart human race is like through your actions. As the game develops, you're actually determining humanity's ultimate role on the galactic stage!

Xbox Gazette : You recently explained on your blog on IGN that Jack Wall and Sam Hulick are the music composers. Why did you choose them, and why two composers? What will the music be like?
Casey Hudson : Much of the inspiration behind the atmosphere and artistic qualities of MASS EFFECT came from the great science-fiction movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s - movies like Alien, Blade Runner, and Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan. At that time, composers like Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams were demonstrating the tremendous power of an orchestral sound for delivering memorable moments in science-fiction. At the same time, movies like Blade Runner featured electronic music that was densely atmospheric and undeniably futuristic. The vision for the musical score of MASS EFFECT was to blend those styles together, creating something universally familiar and yet with a sound that's fresh and original.
We had worked with Jack Wall before on Jade Empire, and he is an excellent composer capable of producing a wide range of musical styles - all with rich sound quality and truly soulful melodies. Jack brought Sam onboard to develop the electronic sound further, and together they developed a unique blend of futuristic electronica on a classic orchestral foundation. I'm very excited about how the music has turned out, and so far we've had an amazing response. I'm looking forward to hearing about players' experiences in some of the key moments in the story, where the music really delivers the tremendous emotional power required to support the amazing visuals and dramatic story revelations!

Xbox Gazette : Why did you choose to make a trilogy with Mass Effect? Will the same team at Bioware be in charge of all three episodes?
Casey Hudson : So much of what we wanted to achieve with MASS EFFECT was about creating something truly definitive. We wanted to create a story that was as big as we could possibly make it, putting the player in the center of an adventure where their decisions shaped the entire galaxy. By thinking about what we would want to do with a trilogy, we're able to not only create an amazing first title, but we know where we want to take it in the future, so that you can take your character through three huge titles in the biggest science-fiction story we can tell.
Though we naturally intend to do the sequels ourselves, and have plans for story and technology developments for them, our efforts are entirely focused on making the first MASS EFFECT the best possible experience for players around the world.

Xbox Gazette : Which engine(s) did you use for the game? What new things does it allows you to do?
Casey Hudson : MASS EFFECT uses the Unreal3 engine as a foundation, and on top of that we've built BioWare's largest programming project to date: the technology for advanced digital actors, squad combat, space exploration, and character development that form the core pillars of the MASS EFFECT experience. With these additional components, we're able to deliver an experience that's like being immersed in a big-budget movie, where you have freedom to develop the story however you like, regardless of whether you're fighting spectacular battles, interrogating aliens, or exploring uncharted worlds.

Xbox Gazette : Besides the beautiful graphics, what makes Mass Effect a truly new generation game?
Casey Hudson : Pretty much every detail of MASS EFFECT is an order of magnitude higher-quality and more sophisticated than what was possible in the previous generation. Now that the technology is capable of nearly photorealistic environments and textures, everything from the animation to the camera programming must be equally more sophisticated. The result is an experience that is a dramatic step forward on every level.

Xbox Gazette : Why did you choose the Xbox 360?
Casey Hudson : Much of the MASS EFFECT team worked on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which was an Xbox and PC game. We enjoyed working on the Xbox, and it gave us great results - both technologically and in terms of sales, as KOTOR had multi-million unit sales on the Xbox alone. The 360 looked even better to us, with substantially improved processing power, and development tools and processes that benefited from experience on the previous generation.

Xbox Gazette : How many hours does it take to finish the main adventure and the side quests / exploration?
Casey Hudson : We estimate that if you generally follow the core storyline, it will take a similar amount of time as KOTOR, but if you were to do all the subplots and additional exploration, it could easily double that.

Xbox Gazette : Can you talk a little bit about the Mass Effect books from Drew Karpyshyn? Will there be three of them too, in order to make transitions between the three games?
Casey Hudson : Drew is the lead writer on MASS EFFECT, heading up a team of talented writers who create the dialog and storylines that make the game come alive. He was also the lead writer on KOTOR. The book, MASS EFFECT: Revelation, is an excellent supplement to the game, as it's a prequel that establishes a lot of the backstory to the universe and leads you right in to the start of the game's storyline. In the game, your mentor and voice of wisdom is a starship Captain named Anderson. The book reveals how Anderson's early career brought him in contact with Saren, a Spectre agent who would later become the force of evil that you'll scour the galaxy to hunt down in the game.

Xbox Gazette : Any closing comments for our readers ?
Casey Hudson : We're almost done our work - now we're looking forward to seeing how you'll choose to unfold your story in the MASS EFFECT universe!

Xbox Gazette : Many thanks for your time and your answers !

Related links :

- Mass Effect review

- Mass Effect 2 review

- Mass Effect videos

- Mass Effect wallpapers

- Mass Effect official site

- Other Xbox 360 interviews

Max73, Xbox Gazette, August 21st 2007

Thanks to : Casey Hudson, Alexandre Clerc, Bioware