Mass Effect 3 developer interview: exec producer Casey Hudson and lead writer Mac Walters

Mass Effect PS3 Developer interview

Now you’ve had a chance to get a taste of the Mass Effect 3 demo, here’s lead writer Mac Walters and executive producer Casey Hudson to talk character creation, the changes to this instalment, and blowing up Earth. It’s completely spoiler free as well (unless you’ve not played the first game, in which case there’s nothing for you here). 

OPM The galaxy’s at war, there are some big problems going on – how does the balance fall between the relationships and this big, over-arching story?

MW It’s tricky to balance, but it’s something that was intentional, and something that we planned for. It was a challenge I literally gave to the writers and said, ‘We’re gonna have opportunities to have probably the biggest moments in this franchise’s history in this game.’

We get to bring everything to a close, which means no holds barred. Great. That’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be action-filled, people will just think it’s fantastic – but it’s not going to mean anything if it doesn’t come down to some kind of personal experience. When I say that, it doesn’t necessarily have to be personal for the player, but it should be personal for Shepard and for the characters that are involved in the story.

Their homes are being destroyed, their loved ones are being killed, they’re missing, there’s so much drama and story there to tell. What I said was any time we’re gonna experience some of these big moments – or even medium moments – keep in mind it has to be wrapped up in something personal. And if you experience it as an action person you’ll go in there and be like, ‘Yeah yeah, cool. I get that this guy’s upset about something. Boom. Done. Move on.’

But people who love those characters, who care about those characters – and I think even if you’re new to the game you’ll start to love those characters – then it’s just gonna add that much more, right? You’ve seen the [E3 gameplay] opening now. It’s not so much that the child dies, it’s that Shepard senses the loss. So we’re feeling that through Shepard’s eyes, as it were. You see the look on Shepard’s face and you say, ‘Yeah I can understand how that would be hard for him.’

OPM When you’re building up a character, does the voice actor ever start to take a character in a different direction than you originally intended?

MW I would say [yes] for sure, and almost always in a positive way. There’re two sides to it. A good example for me is that I wrote the Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2 and we knew that it was going to be Martin Sheen. I actually went back and rewrote a bunch of lines because I knew it was gonna be Martin Sheen. So I had that in my head and I could picture him from all these different films and moments. I wanted to write it to fit for that character.

And then of course, the other side of it is [the actors] bring whatever they bring to it. They often take the role to a place that you didn’t even think it would go, and that’s actually kind of true throughout. A lot of times I picture a scene in a certain way and then the cine guys will work with me on it, but then when you see the final part, you’re like, ‘I hadn’t even thought of it like that but wow, that’s awesome.’ They add their own expertise to it and that’s what you’re hoping a talented voice actor brings when they come in.

Obviously I’m mentioning some of the famous ones, but there are a lot of very talented video actors [whose names] people will never know. But they bring the characters to life, and it’s always amazing to watch that.

OPM I’ve always felt scared to go overly renegade, in case I take too many small-scale renegade choices and cut off a crucial decision. Does that system really exist in ME3, or are you a bit freer?

MW I think you’re free. One of the things – and I’ll admit that it’s one of the areas we maybe fall down in – is we don’t always convey a sense of, ‘This isn’t right or wrong, this is just a choice.’ You get to play however you want. We’re pretty careful not to penalise you for making a choice. It’s not about putting them in front of you and [making you] pick the right one… we try not to do that. We’re really just saying to play it the way you want to, and see what happens.

I’m trying to think of a good example… [SPOILER WARNING] Wrex. So you’ve got to be a bit renegade, a bit cut-throat to off the guy in ME1 on Virmire, right? That changes everything going forward – now he’s not in ME2 you’re with Reed instead, and what does it mean for Mass Effect 3? So yeah, in a certain sense, some content’s just not available.

People who kept him alive are going to be playing with Wrex and seeing stuff in Mass Effect 2 and 3 that you didn’t otherwise. Doing certain things can do that but by and large if you say to someone ‘piss off’ or something like that, you’re just being renegade, and it’s not gonna set something off later on.