Tuesday, June 23, 2009

hopes for Mass Effect 2

While reading this Bioware interview, I thought of how important character moods are to stories.

I love the idea of party members in a game responding to my actions in ways that fit their individual personalities. If an NPC companion accepted or rejected a series of player actions in a dramatic way, like leaving the party, that would be an impressive story event. But it seems games up to this point have relied purely on dialog to lead up to such events.

It would be so much more effective and emotionally moving if each character's grade of approval or disapproval was represented in realistic ways... like facial expressions, movements, and tone-of-voice.

Anyway, that got me thinking about my hopes for Mass Effect 2.

Bioware seems to have addressed some of the issues of the first game, such as the time spent in inventory management. I'm looking forward to experiencing the adjusted combat.

I still believe it's important that not all conversations adhere to a single pace. Excited and heated conversations should be quicker than relaxed ones. That means shorter pauses in between lines of dialog and terser language.

I also think Alpha Protocol's team has improved Mass Effect's dialog system by limiting time for players to choose a dialog response. There can be a good argument for leaving it unlimited. But limiting time has the benefits of making dialog flow more naturally and also mimicking the impulsiveness of real conversation.

As I wrote at Write the Game long ago:
Mass Effect steps so close to realistic decision-making that the occasional frustration the player feels from being limited to only a handful of potential dialogue responses can be significantly greater than in past games, such as Bioware’s own Neverwinter Nights.

For example. An NPC once requested that I do something unethical to achieve a good goal. I was hoping for a dialogue option that would let me say that I approved of the goal but not the method. Instead, my only way of refusing the NPC’s request was to say the goal wasn’t worth my time.

Mass Effect enables the player to define Shepard’s personality to an unprecedented extent, but it may corner the player into acting in violation of that same personality at times. The game suffers from its own prowess.
Unfortunately, this problem will almost certainly reappear in Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, because games can't perfectly simulate the creativity and individuality involved in real human conversation. That said, Bioware can probably avoid the most disappointing conflicts by having many testers play each dialog tree to discover various persons' expectations.

Of course, my main concern and doubt is exploration. Will planet exploration be just as crude and boring as it was in the first Mass Effect? As an exploration-focused gamer, the first game was a huge disappointment for me. Bioware led gamers to expect a variety of solar systems and planets that could be explored apart from the main storyline. The sad reality was very basic and sparse content copied onto every planet, and every planet being only a slight variation of the same bleak and empty landscape.

Since Bioware hasn't discussed this problem in interviews or trailers, I'm inclined to think planet exploration will be just as uninspired in Mass Effect 2. But one can hope.

A less severe issue is that many of us who played the first Mass Effect -- especially those who had multiple characters making different choices -- will have forgotten what happened and what choices we made. And there's no way to review. We could only replay the original (start over) to refresh our memories. If Bioware could design some sort of flashback at the beginning of each sequel, it would be immensely helpful. The idea is that the player sees or hears a montage of the most important moments and decisions from the previous game.

Then, of course, there's the Mako controls. Halo 3's controls for tanks were much more intuitive for me. I don't know if most gamers feel the same way, though I did hear others complaining about the Mako.

Anyway, Mass Effect 2 isn't at the top of my list, but I do look forward to playing it. I expect exploration will disappoint again and I'll be annoyed by the lack of some dialog options, but the adventure and combat should be fun.

Are there other issues from the first game you hope have been addressed? Have your expectations changed since the first Mass Effect?


  1. More choices for voices!
    My shepard is black and his voice really doesn't suit him at all!!!

  2. From what I've seen, exploration is completely redone. I was disappointed with the exploration of the first game too, but it is quite a linear rpg as opposed to Oblivion, so I let it slide. I would love it if ME3 just dropped you in the galaxy with little or no main quest so you can explore for months and choose between many careers. I want the diversity of experiences in ME that you could experience in Oblivion. No space rpg has ever really done that. Its a massive task. One more thing: It would be awesome if regular expansions were added, like weekly, that add a couple of extra planets to explore. A year after the game is released, it would be satisfyingly massive.


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