LG: It must be just a huge amount of text that gets generated.
CH: It’s actually something that is quite proprietary in the way that we have developed games over the years. I think there’s a real barrier for other companies who try to do what we’re doing because it’s taken us, 10, 12 years of doing specifically that. The tool itself has evolved over that time so we couldn’t have built it all in one game, so anyone who would want to do this kind of stuff would have to learn about how you build a tool for interactive dialogue and how writers can get that down creatively and yet it’s this incredibly complex piece of content.
GZ: And this is a great example, but each year the Writer’s Guild is now awarding video game awards for writing. The first year they did this was two years ago. They said, Hey we want the ME script. We want to review it for the writer’s guild. And we were like, what do you mean, script? And they said, we want to see the 60-page story of ME.
But there is no script. It’s inside a digital tool and we cannot actually generate a script. There are millions of scripts that are possible.
CH: And what we used to eventually create VO ended up being a couple crates of binders. And an actor will also say, yeah I’m pretty interested. Can you send over the script? So literally, we couldn’t apply for the writer’s guild writing award, and actually we couldn’t apply for dragon age either because we cannot deliver our game content in a way that they can actually review. So that sucks, but that’s the way it is. You just can’t read it. You have to play it. It’s over 35,000 words.
LG: That’s amazing. What about the creature design? I noticed that while the aliens do not look like each other, there’s a certain feel that they have.
CH: I think one thing we really try to make use of is the fact that we don’t have to put an actor in a suit, and since we don’t have to do that we try to do things that we can’t do otherwise. Well if you want a science fiction show on TV, they’ll put bumps on an actor’s nose. Different kinds of bumps make different kinds of variants. I guess one thing that we do is we’ll look at animal anatomy and try to draw reference and then we’ll allow that character to be humanoid but still have a really great look that makes sense for them.
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We spend a lot of time on our designs for characters, it’s one of the hardest things that we do. Like in the new species in ME2, the guy’s name is Thane and he’s a Drell. The goal for Thane was that he had to be a potential love interest for female characters. So coming up with the idea for an alien is hard. And coming up with an alien who is attractive as a potential love interest for women is 10 times harder.
With ME1, one of the things I wanted to make sure we did was to generally make sure we had cosmopolitan locations where there would be a reason that there would be a fair amount of humans there because we had no reason to believe that our aliens would be successful at being able to portray human emotion. So if you have something powerful happening and cinematically, everyone’s an alien, well we didn’t know that that would work. That was one of the surprise victories of ME1. Not only did it work, but I thought the aliens as well were not only able to express a real human emotion as our human characters. And our proof of that is that two of our characters that we didn’t plan on having as a romance interest, partly because of this uncertainty… two of them were Tali who has chicken feet and Garrus who has kind of a boney bird-like exoskeleton. Both of those characters are the number one requested characters for romance interests in ME2. And it’s on the basis strictly of the way that character is performed. Even Garrus, on paper, he’s a relative dry kind of guy. He’s a by-the-book character, so there’s no reason why he should be a break out appeal for people.
LG: Did you feel any pressure to rash up or rash down the sexual content this time around?
CH: No because the only complaints we had were from people who had made up stuff about what they thought was in the game, not from people who had actually played it. The people who actually played it got exactly what we intended, which was it was a really nice development of an actual development. The reason we do that is because we think about it in the same line of what you get in a PG-13 action movie where you’ve got a good story and witty dialogue but there’s also a love interest because it gives you a view of why there’s explosions going on and why you’re running around trying to save somebody. There’s a human aspect to it. There’s love and compassion for people. And that actually really changes things if you develop a relationship and you’re kind of flirting with a character on one hand and you get into a battle and you send them up ahead and you see them battling it out from behind cover you do think differently about the character and the fight. Than you would if it was someone you didn’t really care about. So that’s why we do it and I think it works very well. So in ME2 there are more chances for love interests and because of that if changes the interactions and the way relationships develop. So you’re developing a relationship with one character and another character and they know about each other and it’s a potential source of conflict and it’s just more sophisticated on the romance aspect.
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LG: Wow, I write novels. There’s only one option and I can barely do that. I can barely do linear. Non-linear…
CH: It’s one of the interesting reasons we have an ensemble of writers. If you do a movie with a dirty dozen-type story, everyone in the audience has to like everyone in the team for some reason. But we know there are different types of players. People like different things. We actually try to design characters that some people love and some people hate. Because then if there are 3 or 4 characters and because they’re love/hate type of characters then you love those characters and the others there are a few that you can’t stand, that’s perfect. Because you will play through the whole story and when they have a conflict with the characters that you don’t like, you love to see them fighting it out with those characters and for other people it’ll be different characters. But, if we make a character where everyone says, “Yep, we like them.” Then that’s not good, either.