In Which We Interview Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Casey Hudson from BioWare

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LG: Can you talk in a general way about how the development experience for ME2 was different than the first? Was there more pressure?

CH: I think there was less pressure. There was more pressure in terms of knowing that millions of people had played the first one and they had opinions on how it should be and we want to live up to that, but I think that’s a good pressure that we feel because we know that that’s out there anyway. We’re trying to make a game that millions of people are going to play but the challenge of ME and most of the other games we’ve developed at Bio Ware is that it’s something very new and that we don’t know for sure what people are going to think about it. So with the first ME, for example, we were creating an entirely new galaxy of fiction: new aliens, new ships, a whole aesthetic, a story. And there’s no reason why we can guarantee that people will like any of that stuff. So this whole package that we’re putting together, I think that’s where a lot of the stress was. It was the technology challenge of figuring out all of this technology and the game play and figuring out how it’s supposed to play, that was a lot of pressure and a lot of problems to solve. Fortunately, ME1 was really successful and highly rated. People really liked it. So we had that to build on. And we also had lots of feedback. If you look at the feedback as important, then it’s all there. Everything you need to make the experience better and to really perfect it is really there and so we had that to work from as well.

LG: Tell me about the feedback. What kind of responses did you get?

CH: I think our most passionate fans, many of them are on our community site, but they’re also the most critical. So that’s a good place to look for things that you should improve because they love the experience, but they’re therefore that much more passionate. We looked at everything we could find and we literally printed it all out into a huge document – every comment: good comment, bad comment. And then we categorized it based on the enthusiasm of the feedback, prioritized it and there were basically 40 categories of things that we wanted to improve or reserve for the next game. And that became part blueprint for how we designed the game.

LG: I’m curious about the ME aesthetic and where it comes from, where you guys are coming from.

CH: I think a lot of that the art director, David Watts, and myself, we’re really big fans of a type of science fiction that we don’t really see that much anymore, which is a Stanley Kubrick-type atmosphere and pacing, the future aesthetic like in 2001 and then also movies that have a lot of atmosphere like Alien vs. Aliens where it became more high action and less about the atmosphere and high aesthetics. It’s still a great movie. Or, even Star Trek: The Wrath of Con, where it still had an idyllic sense to it, there’s a darkness and a seriousness to it. We thought it wasn’t really being done that much anymore in movies, and certainly not in games. In games, it’s usually the dark, gritty industrial futuristic metal and stuff like that. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to create that kind of larger than life idyllic future that you see in a John Berkey painting or something. When you see these novels that have an incredible painting on them, it makes you want to live in that painting. It’s that kind of stuff that we want to try and build because weren’t seeing it in fiction.

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LG: That’s very interesting. What about writers? Are there writers?

GZ: Drew Karpyshyn was the writer on the original. He helped on ME2 and then passed the baton onto Mac Walters. Drew wrote the books (something I can’t understand) New York Times Bestsellers and then passed the baton to the new guy Mac who wrote comics.

CH: It’s sort of a tradition at Bio Ware. One of the things we really like to do, especially if we’re spinning things off is have internal writers do it so we can be involved in the initial project and get that consistency. It’s probably fair to say that some of the bad experiences of all of those ‘Something’ novels is totally separate thing.

GZ: There are a number of writers we’ve had probably 15 years. Some of the old, back to the good old days are some of the writers and there’s a consistency of tone. I think we’ve learned a lot. ME was a great example, ME2 particularly, of changing and evolving our writing style. At the end of ME, when you’ve finished it, you know how to use the tools and you know how to get it out of the digital actors, but you don’t know how to use the content, so don’t realize that if you adjust your arms, your facial expression can replace the “I’m Angry” line. Quite literally. Instead of saying “I’m Angry at you” he can just go ahead and say his next line. That’s when ME2 took off. Knowing what you can get out of the initial acting and then taking it further. Again, it’s funny, we (can’t understand) internal training for the non-linear stories that we describe. Some writers can do and some can’t. For those who are gamers, it’s pretty easy to get into, but we’ve tried to convert some of the more traditional linear gamers and sometimes it just doesn’t work so well.
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