Mass Effect developer – “The PlayStation 3 is a really amazing platform to work on”
The current issue of Play features an interview with BioWare CEO Dr Ray Muzyka, in which he talks about Mass Effect, Dragon Age and how much he loves the PS3. We couldn’t fit it all into the mag, so here are some ‘extras’…
Play: How are you finding it being part of EA? How has the acquisition changed BioWare?
Ray: We’ve evolved every year we’ve been in business and I think we’re at a good place. It’s great to be part of a large stable company. Another benefit is also that we’re now a developer, but also a publisher. Obviously development is still a big focus for us, but it’s great to be a publisher at the same time so we can get to combine everything and make sure you’re doing all things right. We have to adapt. We’re part of a larger company now. We have a whole bunch of products of our own, but EA’s a very big company overall.
Your older games on the PC are known for their depth and detail. Is it difficult to maintain those qualities when making a game that has to be accessible to console gamers?
We have an obligation always to make our games as accessible as possible, and yet you don’t have to lose the depth and richness of the tactics, the systems, the customisation and progression and storyline and exploration – all those great features of RPGs – in the process. You don’t have to lose anything in the translation to become accessible. And accessibility can be achieved in a range of ways too. It doesn’t necessarily mean simple or that it’s not good. On the other hand, you have to be careful how you do it. You have to make sure you’re focusing on interface and control systems and usability, and make sure that you’re not losing the deep, rich systems that people do love. The key is to make it so that it’s easy to play, fun to play, easy to pick up with a nice, smooth learning curve and a great progression system so that you can pick up more depth as you go along. We have to spend a lot of time building tutorials and building the interface and controls to make sure it’s going to reach as wide an audience as possible. But the kind of games we make, games like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, you can see there’s a lot of depth there. We’ve still got that same level of depth, we’re just trying to make it easier to use and make it feel like you’re not even using an interface, make it feel like you’re just connected to this world and you’re a hero walking around in this world. Ideally you shouldn’t even be aware that you’re using an interface. You’re ideally just enjoying the storyline and enjoying the vistas and if you pause for a moment you think you’re looking at a real world. It may be an alternate reality, but you should still feel like you’re there.
Do you miss those old, ‘hardcore geek’ games you used to make for the PC?
No, I think we’re still making them, but we’ve augmented them, we’ve evolved them and we’ve taken them into a new direction. They are, at their core, the spiritual successors to the stuff we used to do. It definitely has a lot of parallels. The pillars are still the same – exploration, progression, customisation, combat and story. We’ve had to evolve along with the systems. PCs are a lot more interesting and technically more capable than they used to be, just as console systems are. The PlayStation 3 is a really amazing platform to work on, so is 360. Wii is as well. All of them are really advanced relative to the systems of 10-20 years ago. That’s why I think it’s exciting to be developing on any system right now in the videogame space. If you look at the history of videogames – it’s maybe 30 years that videogames have existed – it’s like the first 50 years of movie development. Look at where movies came to 50 years after the invention of the movie camera, and then look at where they went in the next 50 years – that’s what our future is, the evolution of our craft. We’re at the mid-point now. We can look forward to seeing all the great things people love about the great games of the past being taken into a new direction, yet spiritually they’re still going to be the same, and still fun to play, with great stories and characters and universes.
How do you think advances in development technology have affected your approach to game design?
The technology is an enabler that allows the emotion and the artistic vision to be delivered. It’s no longer a technology challenge to try to make the [development] architecture deliver, and squeezing every last pixel out of it. It’s more of a challenge artistically. Can you make an experience that moves people and delivers emotionally powerful content that makes people feel that there’s an emotional vision and a point to what they do. I think that’s ultimately what our vision as a studio is – to deliver genuine emotion, and to make people feel something.
Sony has been making a lot of noise about making the PS3 into a major platform for MMO (massively multiplayer online) gaming. Is that something BioWare will want in on?
Maybe. There’s challenges with the interface – making sure that the features players expect in an MMO are enabled and are feasible on a console. If those can be overcome, and I think it would be a good challenge to try, then yeah… people like playing with other players. That’s true whether it’s a limited multiplayer setting or a massive multiplayer setting.
Star Wars: The Old Republic we’ve only talked about PC, and that’s our development focus. Will we explore other systems in the future for other MMO games in the future? Yeah, maybe. We have nothing we’ve announced on that front. Our main focus with The Old Republic is to make sure that the PC version of the game is awesome, and to make sure that it’s a high quality experience.
Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic is generally considered to be the best Star Wars game ever. What do you think set it apart from all the others?
In all of our games, we always strive to deliver high quality and if we have a licence deal we spend a lot of time researching and understanding what it is that makes that IP exciting to our fans, and then we work to make sure we deliver an experience that’s going to emotionally engage them, that they’re going to feel is really compelling. But with Star Wars I think there have been a lot of great games that LucasArts has done that are really good. I know we’re excited about The Old Republic and so is LucasArts, so is EA. Knights Of The Old Republic, I agree with you, is a great game – we had a great team working on it.
For the rest of the interview pick up a copy of Play at your local newsagent.