When publishers give VideoGamer.com an inch, VideoGamer.com takes a mile. After putting Shepard an co through their paces during our behind closed doors gamescom Mass Effect 2 demo, we cornered BioWare associate producer Jesse Houston and scored some hot new gameplay details on what's quickly becoming one of the most anticipated games of 2010. Read on for massive Mass Effect goodness.
VideoGamer.com: Miranda [one of Shepard's party members] - she's got a gob on her, hasn't she? What's her story?
Jesse Houston: Um, there's not a lot I can tell you directly about her. Actually... [whispers to BioWare publicist]. Sorry, I'm just making sure I don't kill myself!
BioWare publicist: I'm meaner than I look.
JH: She is, trust me. She'll come and kill me in my sleep! Not a lot I can talk about her, yet. I know there's some stuff coming down the pipe that's out very soon. She's our leading actress this time out.
VideoGamer.com: She seems to have some anger issues.
JH: She's just aggressive! Let's put it that way.
VideoGamer.com: What about Jacob [another party member]? Are you allowed to talk about him?
JH: There's not a lot to talk about yet. He's still being fleshed out anyway in the storyline. A lot of his stuff is done. He's kind of like Kaiden. He's our leading male. I don't want to have a lot of discussion about him because he is our leading male.
VideoGamer.com: There are some new weapons I noticed. Tell me about the new pistols.
JH: What we've done is we've taken the pistol and split it up. There's a heavy pistol and a machine pistol. What we wanted to do is we didn't want everybody to be complete pistol maniacs.
VideoGamer.com: The pistol was pretty powerful in the first game.
JH: Yeah. It's funny that. A little bit of a side story - I came to BioWare as Mass was ending. I, like everybody else, played with the pistol. It kicked ass. You talk to the game designers though, they're like no, no it's totally balanced. Really? So at any rate we basically wanted to split it up. We didn't want the solider to be such a pistol class any more, which kind of makes sense. So we split it up, given it to some of the other classes, and then made one that's more of a... I don't know how to describe it. The machine pistol is basically weaker, something closer to a sub machine gun. And then the heavy pistol definitely has got that punch. It's a little more punchier than the old pistol, but the overheating range is a little less.
VideoGamer.com: So it won't be as overpowered this time, then?
JH: No. But what we also want to do is for the non shoot-ey classes, like the biotic, we want to give them weapons they can use at a pinch but let their powers be the mainstay of the damage. And you're going to find when you play with some of the new powers that they're really heavily power oriented.
VideoGamer.com: I noticed a few of the new powers - pull I think is new. Can you take us through them?
JH: Pull is brand new. Literally every ability that was in Mass 1 that we've carried over into Mass 2 has been completely revamped. For example pull is new. Throw has been revamped though. In pull's case, its reason to have is if you've got a guy behind some cover and you want to pull him out, then you can let the shoot-ey guys take care of him. Or you can start using some combo abilities. For example, one of the things I'm doing all of the time is I'll use Jacob to pull them out and I'll then fire a concussive shot off at an angle that will up and arc around and knock the guy off the bridge, or off of a ledge.
VideoGamer.com: How does concussive shot work exactly?
JH: Basically it's like a fireball type thing. It's there to deliver a physics punch though, so it's not direct damage like, say crush is for example. You have to make a line of sight. But it also does arc a bit. If you've still got the guy selected but you're off him a little it'll arc around. So you can get guys from behind cover. You can get them from the sides to have the physics hit them on the side or more up front. It'll also knock them out of cover a little bit and send them flying. That kind of thing.
VideoGamer.com: The shotgun seems to have changed quite a bit as well. Tell us about that.
JH: It's still a shotgun, but we've basically changed it to be definitely a lot more close up and a lot more damage.
VideoGamer.com: There was one ability I used as Shepard that slowed down time. What was that?
JH: Heavy adrenaline rush.
VideoGamer.com: Yeah. How does that work?
JH: We wanted to give you the ability to get in close and personal with the shotgun, for example. Once you get up there, move up there real quick and then be able to blast them without getting all the fire. Let's say you're going up against a tech or a biotic, which is going to completely kill you from range. The ability to close that gap is massively important, right? We wanted to give you an ability that can let you close that gap, or at least help you to subvert some of the damage that you're going to eventually receive.
VideoGamer.com: There was a moment in the final dialogue-based scene where I saw an icon for the left trigger pop up briefly, but I missed it. What would have happened if I had pressed it?
JH: That's the new interrupt system. The icon itself is correct but the timing is a lot quicker than it will be in the final game. Right now it feels a little bit more like a quick time event. We're trying to make it not feel so much like a quick time event. But what it does is, in longer conversations we're putting them in to help the player control the pace so they don't feel they have to just mash the X button to get through the conversation quicker. You can still do that, but if you want to speed up the pace a little bit, take more control over the conversation - at E3 for example we showed Shepard pushing someone out of a window - in this case what would have happened is Shepard would have got a little bit more aggressive and Nassana would have stepped through the conversation a little bit sooner. Thane would have then come down and had at her a lot sooner, so you wouldn't have gone through the dialogue.
VideoGamer.com: Do the interrupts affect your alignment?
JH: Absolutely they do. The ones that we've shown are both Renegade, but there are going to be Paragon versions as well.
VideoGamer.com: How will you know what effect your interrupt will have?
JH: It'll be on different sides of the screen. That's the current design anyway. That's subject to change, obviously. We're doing a big HUD enhancement right now. This HUD that you see here right now [points to television running hands-on demo] is definitely not the final one. In fact this one doesn't exist in any form or fashion right now. We've recently pulled it out and replaced it with something that fits the speed of combat a lot more.
VideoGamer.com: Tell me about some of the changes you've made to the controller layout.
JH: I believe the quote unquote reload, which is actually more of a... it's a heat dump right now... we've changed a lot of the dynamics around heat. We're still changing them quite a bit. Right now when you hit X it dumps your heat instead of waiting for you to hit the overload or whatever they called it before. We've also changed controller mapping, so you have the ability to map more powers and more follower powers. Also you'll notice the d-pad has changed. The buttons say they've remained the same, but actually they're more contextual. For example, in this demo if you hit left Miranda's going to go to wherever you want. Or, if you have a guy selected she's going to engage in the appropriate combat for her class. Miranda's biotic based, so she's going to move up, do whichever mapped biotic you've got, then get into some cover and start hammering away with her selected weapon. It's a lot more context sensitive now. What we're trying to do is allow the player not to need to go into menus any more, or into the wheel if they don't want to.
VideoGamer.com: But I loved the sound when you bring up the power wheel. That was one of the coolest things about Mass Effect.
JH: Like what we're doing with the conversations, where we're putting some pacing ability in there, the same thing we're trying to do with combat. We've sped up combat a lot. We don't want to punish our core RPG players who like a slower paced combat. So we've improved the pause and play, the tactical combat. In Mass 1, pulling up the wheel didn't pause indefinitely. Now it does, so you can actually hit pause, take a look at the battlefield, analyse the decision you want to make, select your powers, cue up the powers you want your guys to use and away you go.
VideoGamer.com: I think there's a bit of confusion online about what will happen to the abilities you've gained when you carry your game saves over from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2. What exactly will happen?
JH: Some will transfer. Some will not. We're still tweaking over which ones are going to transfer, which ones are going to give you bonuses, basically. The big thing to remember is we don't want to punish people who haven't played. And we have a really large gap in between beating Mass 1 once and beating Mass 1 17 times. For the players who are level 60, absolutely max level, the whole nine yards, these guys, we want to give them appropriate bonuses, but not so much that they don't have any fun and don't feel challenged in Mass 2. And the guys that are level 20 will want to do the same thing, but obviously we want to reward players who have played more, with more.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell me how players will be rewarded depending on the level of their Shepard?
JH: Not specifically because we're still tweaking it. Right now we're in the polishing phase of the game, and this is one of the things we're trying to leave till last so it feels like we've put the right amount of effort into it. All of the other game save features are basically done. This is the last one. We're literally pushing it up, all right, focus testing it, keep pulling it back, pulling it back, pulling it back, till we get that right balance.
VideoGamer.com: For me Wrex pretty much stole the show in the first game. I understand if you didn't kill him in Mass Effect 1 he will turn up?
JH: Absolutely. He is in the game. Well, if you didn't kill him.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide not to have him play as big a part in Mass Effect 2 as he did in Mass Effect?
JH: Well we've never officially said that he wasn't a large part in Mass Effect 2. I'm not saying he is. I'm not saying he's not. I don't want to put any more spoilers than there already are. I can just tell you straight up that we've never actually said, and if you've heard this it is absolutely not the case, we've never said he's not a large part of Mass Effect 2. If he's there, he's going to be a part of the story. To what degree I can't say, but we haven't said one way.
VideoGamer.com: What can you tell me about Grunt, the new Krogan you announced during EA's gamescom press conference?
JH: Grunt is your up close ass kicker. One of the things that we've been doing in Mass 2 compared to Mass 1 was, you know Mass 1, the henchmen AI was very similar across the board, as was the enemy AI. There was not a lot of variation. There was some, but not a lot. But every henchman has now custom AI built for them. Grunt's role is to be the guy who's literally in your face with the shotgun and the melee and he's there to kick the living crap out of you. Krogan in general cross the board are scary. He's even scarier in combat.
VideoGamer.com: Is he bigger than Wrex?
JH: Well he's a Krogan so physically he's around the same size, but he's one scary mother fucker! When I play Mass I like to play a bit more in range...
VideoGamer.com: I played infiltrator in Mass Effect.
JH: You'll like the new infiltrator. I'm not going to tell you any more, but you'll love the new infiltrator. I'm in the same role. I love the sniper rifle and I love pistols, so infiltrator was great for me. At any rate, having Grunt in my party right now is an awesome experience. I just let him go up front. He takes a lot of fire, he just kicks the living crap out of everybody and I just sit back and have a good time of it. We wanted to give you more choices on how you build your squad, have each of them be unique and fill their own role to match your gameplay and be able to fill out that gameplay more. They're not the basic classes any more. Thane is an assassin, it's not one of the archetypes you can take. It really is its own class. Grunt's the same way.
VideoGamer.com: So you will be able to pick up party members that will be classes you won't be able to be?
JH: Absolutely. Some will be definitely be classes you can't be. Thane and Grunt are both prime examples. There is no Krogan weapon of mass destruction.
VideoGamer.com: Is that the name of his class?
JH: I wish! It should be!
VideoGamer.com: Finally, one of the things I enjoyed most about Mass Effect was messing about on the Citadel doing more role-playing stuff, picking up quests and working on my persuade or intimidate skills. What you've shown so far of the game has been combat focused. What balance will there be between the two in Mass Effect 2? Are we still going to have an area in the game that will allow players to get knee deep in role-playing?
JH: I won't tell you how many, but I can definitely tell you there is going to be more than one area this time around. So Citadel is still there. You can't have Mass Effect without Citadel. We've also talked now about Omega, which is another large hub area, as we call them. There may or may not be more [laughs]. That being said, one of the big changes that we wanted to make is not have you spend so much time running around these areas, but still be involved in them. So you'll find the area layouts are designed to be quicker but still giving you that RPG experience, that role-playing experience. And you're going to find that they feel a lot more like cities, too. They're much more populated. We don't have the same kind of constraints that we had in Mass 1. The population in Mass 1 was so limited. The Citadel felt a lot emptier than we ever wanted it to feel. This time around you're going to find that it feels a lot more populated. Omega especially, when you go into Afterlife, which is the bar in Omega, you're going to see how completely filled it is.
Mass Effect 2 is due out early 2010 for Xbox 360 and PC.