Mass Effect : Interview with Casey Hudson
Project Director at Bioware -
Hudson , project Dirctor at Bioware, was kind enough to answer some of our questions
concerning their upcoming game : Mass Effect.
Gazette : Can you please introduce yourself and your involvement with Mass
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.
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
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.
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
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?
: 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.
: 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.
: 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
have salamander-like qualities, and although they are not physically strong, they
have tremendous will and are one of the most respected galactic civilizations.
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
Effect alien races
: 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!
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
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.
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, ...
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
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.
: 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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
Gazette : Many thanks for your time and your answers !
Related links :
Effect 2 review
Effect official site
Xbox 360 interviews
Gazette, August 21st 2007
Thanks to : Casey Hudson,
Alexandre Clerc, Bioware