The grand finale in a gaming series that has driven its fans to near Star Wars levels of obsession has arrived. Mass Effect 3 is here and it's sapping away every waking moment of our day as we fight our way through to the conclusion of Shepherd’s story.
In between our day-long play sessions, Pocket-lint has managed to catch up with the game's executive producer Casey Hudson at the Xbox Spring Showcase in San Francisco. Lucky us.
Sitting in front of a life-sized Shepherd cutout is Casey, looking fairly nondescript in the conventional ceremonial robes of a game designer - jeans, jacket, T-shirt and skate shoes. A set of closed doors behind him are home to muffled cries of “shotgun!” and “James move!” as fans of the series play test the title’s Kinect functionality.
Confronted with such gaming royalty, we are slightly taken aback by it all and find ourselves thrown off guard by the man responsible for a series that hooked us from the outset.
“It feels to us like this is your Return of the Jedi,” we say, Hudson quickly interjecting: “Without the Ewoks!”
He adds: “The whole series has been very ambitious. Because it was so big not everything could be as polished as we wanted. We have been building and building to this and now it feels like it’s made up of a lot of different strengths.”
So Mass Effect 3 is his grand finale, the combination of the best from both ME1 and 2 and, of course, a few new tricks - which you will see from our review - thrown in for good measure.
“All the biggest things in the series are going to start here. You are going to be the one who decides what happens when everything comes to an end,” Hudson says.
“With the first one, we were trying to figure out what this universe is, then for the second one we had millions of players who could tell us what they wanted to see. With the third one, however, the biggest challenge is making sure people are satisfied. So what that means is making sure that we do resolve the big questions.”
A lot of people are going to be worried about what is going to happen to the Mass Effect universe after the third title has come and gone. Years of work has been invested in building up an incredibly in-depth and complete gaming world - something which those who read through any of the in-game codecs will no doubt be familiar with. We quiz Hudson on this and, from the sound of it, this is most definitely not the end of the world of Mass Effect.
“If you look at the way the first two ended, certainly the first one, we like to give satisfying endings, but the universe is still out there and there is still stuff to do.
“With Mass Effect 3 we needed a more definitive conclusion because it is the end of Shepherd’s story.
“There are games out there that do parts one and three and then another one. There is obviously a Mass Effect universe outside of Shepherd’s story but we wanted to bring this series to an end.”
Storytelling has become a far more complex beast on the current console generation. Spearheaded in part by the likes of Mass Effect and helped along by the more powerful technology available to programmers, it is now possible to create a rich and diverse world all within one single game. But what next from gaming's master storyteller? Are the likes of Kinect and other hardware advancements opening up doors for the way we play games?
“There is always a lot of really exciting things we want to do in terms of developing the innovation behind truly interactive storytelling," says Hudson.
No word on future Kinect activity yet then?
“I think its about trying to use these things in a way that isn't gimmicky and is instead emulating what you would do in real life.”
For those who have played any of the games in the series, you will be familiar with its incredibly distinct sci-fi style. It’s something we wanted to quiz Hudson on, as not once so far has there been a single part of the Mass Effect universe that has felt out of line.
“We thought about things we liked. They were movies like Space 2001 or the early 80s, later 70s Ridley Scott films. But it was specific things, like the industrial design of 2001. We wanted to make a living universe but to have these really great larger than life science fiction designs," he says.
“What we did was create a design guide. It says how you should design characters, creatures and how many wheels a vehicle should have. It's a set of rules and principles that we apply to everything. Once you have those rules, then everything takes on a Mass Effect feel."
Rather unsurprisingly, Casey Hudson is a major sci-fi fan. Less interested in the rusted metal look of the majority of science fiction material, it is the clean lines of Kubrick and Scott films, as well as the lighting from the likes of Blade Runner, that particularly interest him. You can see this clearly in just about every environment you are introduced to in Mass Effect 3. But which ranks as his favourite?
“I think I would pick Alien. I like a movie that has the time to develop pacing and you can live in the world before it really gets going. I just love the aesthetic.”
So what next for Mass Effect? We had to ask the question as we know that number three is going to see the end of Shephard’s storyline. Always the perfectionist, Hudson is waiting on players' opinions before starting anything new.
“It’s hard to say what we are going to do next because we need to get an idea what people thought of Mass Effect 3 and what they want more of," he says.
“It’s great to have a lot of energy around this series, the advantage of planning a trilogy is you know that it's going to be more than one game; but you know there is going to be an end to it as well. Then you can re-imagine things later.”
So is that the end of Mass Effect on the Xbox 360? Or is there going to be another title pushed out before the end of the console’s lifespan? Hudson understandably stays tight-lipped on this one, but does at least hint that it might not be the end.
“We don’t have any specific plans, we don’t really know how much further this generation is going to go. We are just going to have to see with that one.”
And that's it. Our time with Casey Hudson is up and we're told to go off and play the game for ourselves. An understated grin from its producer as we trot off to get to work with his grand finale, you can tell Hudson is a man proud of what he's created. Pocket-lint, on the other hand, is much more keen to test out our English accent on the Kinect functionality. A tip: “bugger off” doesn’t do anything.
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