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Mass Effect Preview

publisher: Microsoft
developer: Bioware
genre: RPG

ESRB rating: M

release date: Nov 20, 07
» All About Mass Effect on ActionTrip

In a sea of titles that invade retail each year, how many of them become the glittering white foam on that perfect wave? (Experiment with substances much? -Ed) Even to this day, we can find but a handful of titles that managed to stretch beyond some of the restrictions of our favorite pastime (mostly its immaturity and catering to the mainstream audience - as the demographics "wizards" see it). As it so happens, a lot of these games were developed by Bioware.

The Canadian boys (who have since invaded Texas - and you said it would never happen) are currently swamped with multiple projects for various platforms. Bioware, once again, has something up its sleeve and is, amongst other things, involved with a sci-fi RPG, entitled Mass Effect, which is slated to appear on the Xbox 360. A few days ago, we were able to get hold of Mass Effect Project Director, Casey Hudson, to find out how the game is coming along. In the process, we were able to get additional information on characters, races and other cool details related to the gameplay. Enjoy!

ActionTrip: It takes a lot of time for a unique concept to take shape. How long did it take you guys to come up with the storyline, characters and the backdrop for Mass Effect?

Casey Hudson: We developed the high-level story and setting for Mass Effect in pretty fine detail within the first 6 months. But what we're building is truly enormous - a galaxy of subplots, species, and locations that are wrapped in a huge storyline. So even today, we're still refining the story and characters to further reinforce the experience we want to create. One interesting challenge is that because of the speed at which technology advances, when we start a three-year project we're aiming for a level of gameplay and graphical quality that's actually never even been seen before. So as our vision becomes reality, we learn a lot more about what we need to do to complete that vision.

ActionTrip: Does the presence of friendly NPCs influence the progress of the main storyline?

Casey Hudson: Yes. Your choice in bringing along different squad members will affect how well you can defeat certain enemies in combat, solve problems in certain ways, and will even open up new subplots.

ActionTrip: As revealed, Mass Effect takes place in a huge universe, one that is distinctly larger than the world we've explored in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Just how large is the universe anyway? How many planets are there?

Casey Hudson: There are literally hundreds of locations you can travel to in your ship, and what you'll find there can be anything from a barren asteroid to a large explorable location involving its own subplots, new characters, and extremely valuable rewards.

ActionTrip: The dialogue system we've seen in Knights of the Old Republic creates a unique atmosphere and adds a more personal feel to the whole experience. Has the development team altered this particular pattern, in terms of storytelling, changing the character's alignment via talking with NPCs, etc?

Casey Hudson: It's an evolution of that experience into something that keeps it more interactive. It really does add a personal aspect to the story when you experience it through the perspective of the characters around you. But we've made those conversations happen more ambiently, so that you're not pulled into a conversation when you don't want to be. And if one of your squad members tells you about something you're interested in, you'll be able to interact with them through an interface that's a lot more fun and interactive than ever before. Conversations are no longer about dealing with piles of text that you have to read - in each conversation in Mass Effect you can react so instinctively that you become immersed in how you feel about what's going on around you.

ActionTrip: In what way does Mass Effect allow gamers to customize their characters? Are there any pre-determined character profiles available before the game starts?

Casey Hudson: The character customization in Mass Effect allows you to really decide who you want to be, what you want to look like, and how you want to fight through this tremendous story experience. For those who want to jump straight into the action, you'll be able to choose our pre-made Commander Shepard character. And even if you choose this pre-made character, you'll still have countless opportunities to customize and develop this character over the course of the game. And for those who really want to specify every detail of their character, you'll be able to do so through a very deep character creation system. Starting with an interface where you create your own appearance, you'll be able to create your own male or female Commander Shepard to look however you want. You can then decide what kind of gameplay experience you want by choosing the class of your character's expertise, such as combat, tech abilities, or superhuman abilities that use dark energy. And by spending your available experience points, you can develop specific skills throughout the game - even leading to completely new abilities that open up as you become an expert in certain areas.

ActionTrip: Give us a brief description of The Normandy.

Casey Hudson: The Normandy is a prototype stealth ship of the Human Alliance. It is capable of faster-than-light travel, and has the ability to make itself invisible to sensors so that it can enter a star system and land undetected. The Normandy is about the size of a 747, but is extremely sleek and on the inside it resembles something more like a large Navy submarine - with a substantial crew and even a large bay to store ground-based vehicles. You can explore the entire ship any time you're on board, and you can talk to any of the crewmembers - you're their Commander!

ActionTrip: Could you possibly describe any specific races or creatures we'll be able to encounter in the game?

Casey Hudson: You'll encounter a wide variety of alien races in the game, but some of the major races are the Asari, Turians and Salarians. These are the three races that make up the Citadel Council. You may have seen in our demo videos that there was a Turian officer as part of your squad. He's the one that looks pretty aggressive, with bird-like facial features. There's also the Geth, a race of violent synthetic creatures that are extremely deadly in large numbers. You can read about them and see more images of other alien races on the Mass Effect website.

ActionTrip: We'd like to know more about character development and the way players will get to improve the skills and attributes of their avatars. Can you reveal any specific abilities or special powers we'll be able to enhance as we proceed through the game?

Casey Hudson: As you complete portions of the story or survive new combat engagements, you'll gain experience that can be put towards developing your character. Improving your character's ability in a certain area is as easy as spending some points on it. When you reach a maximum in certain abilities, that may unlock new areas of expertise that you can start developing. In demos we've shown how you can use these things in combination during combat to pull off some amazing combinations. For example, at X06 we showed how one character in your squad can use an electromagnetic pulse attack to destroy an enemy's shields. Then we ran up and fired a "carnage" shotgun attack which involves overloading your shotgun for an extremely powerful close-range attack. The result of that combination tore a huge mechanical enemy to shreds! You'll also be able to develop abilities such as creating temporary dark energy force fields to take cover behind, attacks that use gravity-like effects to squeeze enemies to death, and tons of other combat, technical, and dark energy abilities.

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